Fourteen wines that should be on your restaurant list

Fish and Chips at Small Town Food Bar

Fish and Chips at Small Town Food Bar

I taste a lot of wine. Lots of wine. Were I to manage a restaurant list with room for everything that deserves a place to call home, to share with the world the honest and the natural, a long list I would indeed create. The wine list at Barque Smokehouse I build is predicated on that premise but you can count on two hands the number of wines we offer by the glass. Necessity is our master.

Related – A resolution to drink honest wine

At the start of 2014 I penned that column and looking back eight months later, the ideas put out within that post-ice storm, mild January day apply to the concept of formulating a restaurant wine list. For the most part, a wine card should endorse the virtuous and the sincere. “Honest wine is juice that conveys the salient facts of a grape’s life. For a bottle of wine to be on the up and up it must not be disguised by the unnatural ways of artificial intervention nor should it make itself so available as to be obvious. Fruit should reside in the realm of the sequestered and the sacred. I am not alone in hoping for table wines to be stirring, gripping, unsweetened and unencumbered by an excessive coat of oak. My hard-earned dollars should earn the right to be stimulated .”

If your job title includes choosing what wine is poured at your restaurant, you should never dial it in. VINTAGES releases more than 100 new wines every two weeks. If 95 are what you might consider wantonly microdontic or overly tangential in influence, so be it. Five new wines every two weeks is more than enough to keep your list rocking, rolling, current and fresh. In Ontario the choices are many and the options endless. If driving the construction-riddled streets of Toronto is for you the time spent equivalent of root canal surgery in a Chilean coal mine then call an agent, request a tasting and let the cases be shipped to your doorstep.

“Wine only recognizes two temporal states. Fermentation and party time.” Be creative, read Tom Robbins, listen to the Tom Tom Club, mix it up a little, try new wines and add a spark to your wine program. Give it the genius of love. Guests just want to have fun. Here are 14 new releases, from VINTAGES and through some really terrific agents here in Ontario.

From left to right: Tenuta Le Velette Rosso di Spicca 2012, Tawse Gamay Noir 2013, Freiherr Von Göler Pinot Noir 2011, Coyote's Run Pinot Noir 2013, Lealtanza Reserva 2009, Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2012 and Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012

From left to right: Tenuta Le Velette Rosso di Spicca 2012, Tawse Gamay Noir 2013, Freiherr Von Göler Pinot Noir 2011, Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir 2013, Lealtanza Reserva 2009, Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2012 and Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012

Tenuta Le Velette Rosso di Spicca 2012, Umbria, Italy (Agent, $16)

The “Spicca” family owned the farm where the vines now grow. For a Rosso, from Umbria, Toscana or Piemonte for that matter to stand out (spicarre), it must have something unique and noticeable. Le Velette’s understated Umbrian blend of Sangiovese and Canaiolo is all about aromatics. Spicy cherries, leather and cinnamon with an underlying petrichor that seemingly bleeds fresh piquant juice straight from concrete. Like the oil exuding from lavender and rosemary growing out of the fissures of cracked terracotta over clay, after a warm summer rain. The palate gives a wee bit of spirited spritz and pizzazz. All this for $16 and change for a finishing espresso.   Tasted October 2014  @Noteworthywines

Tawse Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (322545, $18.95, WineAlign)

Darker berries define the Paul Pender take on Gamay for Niagara and in ’13 there is a level of tension and girth not yet approached. This third Tawse Gamay is overt in attitude, connotative of Beaujolais Cru staging, an ovule of rebellion and a disposition just as though in the grips of Asmodeus. The Tawse effect is entrenched in clay and possessive of  knowledge as if derived by an invitation only junket to the Gamay motherland. If the stance seems serious, the fruit is up to the task. A Gamay for now and fully capable of aging five or more years.  Tasted October 2014

Freiherr Von Göler Pinot Noir 2011, Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany (390971, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

You can take the Spätburgunder out of the nomenclature but you can’t take the nomenclature out of the Spätburgunder. The porcine dry, crunchy bits are front and centre, the pig offal under the crust. This is Baden red wine of a bitter and surprisingly sweet palate nature, a modern take on old male Pinot pattern baldness. So worth trying towards gaining a deeper understanding of varietal diversity.  Tasted October 2014  @HalpernWine

Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (53090, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Estate bottle represents a balanced amalgamation of terroirs with essential Niagara On-The-Lake Pinot Noir aromas, accents and distinction. Highly floral, thanks in kind to the red Trafalgar clay loam of the Red Paw Vineyard, as much as it has and will ever be. Extracted with reserved prejudice, with props to the dark Toledo clay loam of the Black Paw Vineyard, showing as a robust and retentive treacle, rich in tangy licorice and cherry pie. Much flavour is found in this Pinot Noir, so it will be well deserving of accolades and sales. If the sweetness prevails it is only because the fruit is shepherded in clean and Shepparded with blending acumen.  Tasted October 2014  @coyotesrun

Lealtanza Reserva 2009, Doca Rioja, Spain (208223, $20.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

Old, old school Rioja ramped up, given a natural injection of rock brine and garriga then sent out to play. Rarely does Lealtanza give so much fresh conjecture, so much considered condensation and dense consideration. Soft and muddled palate, mottled rocks seeping berries and an accent of candied tomato leaf. Funky finish keeps it real.  Tasted October 2014  @ProfileWineGrp

Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (36194, $21.95, WineAlign)  NWAC14 Silver Medal Winner

A dusty and gilded Cabernet Franc from one of the warmest Niagara vintages in recent memory. Vivid in Bench specific varietal tendency, as if the berries on the black currant bush were ripening and bursting in the late afternoon sun, right into the glass. A blueberry by you CF, spiced by the faint childhood memory of grandfather’s unlit pipe on the coffee table. There have been more tense and exciting Cab Franc’s by Richie Roberts but none so suave and grown-up as this 2012.  Tasted September 2014  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012, Doc, Piedmont, Italy (388660, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

Don’t worry Mr. Parker, this rare chance at assessing a Langhe made from the Freisa grape will not join the 100-point club but I can say with certainty that this take is anything but “totally repugnant.” Borgogno’s Freisa is rustic, with dried figments of raisin and fig, though zero notes of reduction. More dried fruit, in carob and licorice with biting, spicy notes and the seeping of black tea leaves. The whole Mediterranean potpourri seethes in altitude and attitude. A dry and sensual red with enveloping chalk and acidity. Perhaps “Bobbo” Butch Cassidy should give this Langhe a whirl.  Tasted August 2014  @TrialtoON

From left to right: Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, Rustenberg John X Merriman 2011, Pirramimma Shiraz 2011, Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine 2012, Millton Opou Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Ascheri Barolo 2010

From left to right: Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, Rustenberg John X Merriman 2011, Pirramimma Shiraz 2011, Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine 2012, Millton Opou Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Ascheri Barolo 2010

Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (26372, $24.95, WineAlign)

A classic Adam, amplified in 2013, riper and not as piercing as previously noted vintages. Still the layering is omnipresent but there is more juicy fruit and texture then ever before. This is a consumer friendly Adam, gregarious, outgoing, off-dry as never before. New slang for the bottling.  From my earlier, July 2014 note: “According to Cave Spring’s website this newer Riesling from older (18 to 35 year-old plantings) is from “a single block of vines in the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment, known as ‘The Adam Steps’. Really apropos, for this Riesling is the cantilever, the one with the outstretched arm. At 10.5 per cent alcohol and with an unmistakably stony, sweet and sour whiff the wine speaks of its off-dryness. The juiciest of all the Cave Spring Rieslings, with rounder acidity and good persistence. This is the all-around good guy, the one with an open invitation, the bridge from Estate to Dolomite to Csv. The well-adjusted one steps up its game to help win one for the team, especially out of the convivial 2013 vintage.”  Last tasted October 2014  @CaveSpring

Rustenberg John X Merriman 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa (707323, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

Despite the colour as dark as monster’s gore this is a relaxed X Merriman, not overly painted or rubbed by charcoal and rubber tree plant. The Bordeaux-styled blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (55 per cent), Merlot (37), Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec from South-West slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain, Stellenbosch opens its tight angled gates to reveal a cool centre, with juicy, rich, iced espresso, though in decomposed granite grit it’s tannic as hell. Makes judicious use of its (41 per cent) new and (59 per cent) 2nd and 3rd-fill 225L French oak barrels, along with balance in alcohol (14.3 per cent) integration. Solid South African red with just enough primal activity to pleasantly alter the temperature in the brain, without causing concussion or grey matter to go totally askance. Will drink well into the next decade.  Tasted October 2014  @WoodmanWS

Pirramimma Shiraz 2011, Mclaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (987784, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

A Pirramimma in the new vein from a warm and rich vintage. So hard to scale back when nature gives you this much fruit. Though 15 per cent is hardly a twinkle in its alcohol eye, there is only so much elegance that can be coaxed from this kind of hedonism. It’s big, juicy and just so alive. As simple as a candle, without magic and void of mystery. It will range hither and thither for 10 years before it makes the long, slow journey back home.  Tasted October 2014  @bwwines

Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (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. 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  @Brighlighter1  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd

Huff Estates Cuvée Janine 2012, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Looks can be deceiving so much so Janine might look as is she were leading a bubble to red dye number 40. Not the case, rather the expressive hue is winemaker Frédéric Picard’s colourful bleed from 100 per cent Pinot Noir fruit. So, it must be sweet and tasting cloyingly like a bowl of sugared strawberries. Again, not so. Janine’s aromas are very berry and her texture is certainly cheese and crème fraiche-inflected from a 12 month lees mattress, but dry she goes. Much demonstrative behaviour and perspiring humidity comes from vintage warmth and here results in layering. Janine is an earthy, funky squared sparkler, with nothing shy or demurred about her, but all of the outwardly screaming smells and tastes are in check. Strawberry cream and shortcake cease from wrapped tight acidity coming in from the backside. Big bubbles.  Tasted October 2014  @HuffEstatesWine

Millton Opou Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand (92478, $30.00, WineAlign)

From estate fruit on a single vineyard planted in 1969 on the Papatu Road, Manutuke, Gisborne. On Waihirere soils of heavy silt and Kaiti clay loam. A most mineral driven Chardonnay thanks in part to some Riesling in the mix. This varietal symbiosis, along with a co-planted orange grove gives what James Milton calls “the sharing of astrality.” The five year-old biodynamic Opou does whiff orange blossom, along with crisp green apple and the wet rocks of a summer rain. Quite full on the palate with a bite of black pepper and olive oil drizzle over toasted Ciabatta, smeared by churned, salted butter. The length indicates five more relish piqued years and five furthermore in slow decline.  Tasted October 2014  @TheLivingVine

Ascheri Barolo 2010, Piedmont, Italy (341107, was $35.25, now LTO $32.25, WineAlign)

Standard issue Barolo of a canonical character so bankable as Nebbiolo and nothing but. Classic Piemontese funk comes wafting out, along with licorice in as many ways as can be described; anise, Sambuca or fennel. The palate is creamy and slightly sweet, accented with pepper and a dusty, grainy sensation. This is Barolo of old with a cough syrup confection, wild herbs and grit. It could not be mistaken for Malbec though its disjointed ways could use some finesse and polish.  Tasted October 2014  @liffordwine

Good to go!

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Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday wines

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A day or two of anomalous warm temperatures aside, the dead of winter engulfs and conjoins 35 million Canadians in communal countenance. A weekend invite or beckoning may extract and cull us out of our homes to tempt fate for a visit, to dinner, or to the bar. Many will fill their time by travelling to hockey tournament towns. It’s those mid-week winter nights at this time of year where social activity dwindles, grinds to the proverbial halt and hibernation takes over.

Thankfully there is no shortage of food and wine events to help whiten the winter blues. Niagara’s 18th annual Ice Wine Festival just called it a wrap. Ottawa’s Winterlude is set to begin this weekend in the nation’s capital, as is the Brrrr! Winter Music Festival in Toronto, complete with the promise of Smoked Tacos. The Vancouver International Wine Festival begins next month. You can check out Ontario’s food and wine culinary calendar at Ontario Culinary Festivals and Events. Both Toronto (Winterliscious) and Vancouver (Dine Out Vancouver) have their own culinary event schedules and prix fixe dinner possibilities.

But it’s the middle of the week and you’re at home. You’re tired and not feeling particularly social. You want a glass of wine but you don’t want to open anything expensive. Some may call them daily drinkers, others refer to them as cellar defenders. Here are three more than affordable current release wines, a sparkler, a white and a red for those Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday winter nights.

The Sparkling

The grape: Riesling

The history: From Germany’s Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, inexpensive Riesling specialist Ernst Loosen

The lowdown: Loosen has always placed an emphasis on terroir over technology. This sparkler echoes the unbeatable value of the still, “Dr. L.” Riesling

The food match: Smoked Salmon Potato Blini, creme fraiche, caviar

Loosen Bros. Dr. L. Sparkling Riesling (296095, $13.95, B.C. 158501, $17.99) flaunts a Canada Dry attitude void of an alchemic or synthetic overtone that plagues so many a cheap sparkler. Citrus, notably lime, meets honey in atmosphere and replays in appetency. Not necessarily exciting but flattering and offers so much more than the average $15-20 fizz.  88  @drloosenwines

The White

The grapes: Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc and Gros Manseng

The history: From Côtes de Gascogne in southwest France

The lowdown: Ninety per cent of the estate’s production is white wine, out of the Bas Armagnac appellation

The food match: Poached Shrimp Salad, avocado, grapefruit, golden beet, mache, cilantro, tarragon oil

Domaine De Ménard Cuvee Marine 2011 (310201, $14.95) is a lean, mean, light, dry, aromatic, expressive and inexpensive fighting machine. Tarragon, pear, gros sel and orange blossom offer a glimpse into Gascony’s douceur de vie. Brebis buoyed by limestone and clay but also honeyed by a touch of Gros Manseng, this balanced Colombard and friends is a terrific Sauvignon Blanc substitute. Ménard has earned its stripes as an example to abide by.  89

The Red

The grapes: Grenache, Carignan and Mourvedre

The history: A negociant project out of the Costières de Nîmes from Michel Gassier of Château de Nages and oenologist Phillipe Cambie

The lowdown: I tasted through the portfolio in February 2012, minus this best G (70%), C (20%) and M (10%) value

The food match: Smoked Beef Tacos

Les Halos De Jupiter 2010 (309153, $14.95) is massively structured and modern for the appellation, packing a punch of black fruit into this stratospheric, southern French earth meets gas monster red. Bright, tight celestial hugging, Jupiter meets the moon conjunction junction. A Grenache-based beauty to allow you to “finally get the chance to dance along the light of day.” Get aboard this train. Very serious and straightforward juice for $15.  89  @MichelGassier @philippecambie

Good to go!

The Wine Diaries: A generous year

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When it comes to wine, the year 2012 was extremely kind and in so many ways. There are some who cringe at the term “generous” when employed in a tasting note to describe a particular wine. To me, there may not be a better word to wax dreamily and demurely about the year that was. The grapes were in fact generous in 2012, bursting better than ever with ripe, rich fruit, their ferment having flowed and poured freely at the hands of so many great people. Wine helped to fill the voids and soothed in times of stress, as if there were not a care in the world.

Wine events continued to proliferate. VINTAGES ramped up tasting opportunities, the importers shared lavishly and with munificent grace. There were mass assemblies of producers who came to share their wares from California, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Italy, Austria, the list goes on. A Halpern portfolio tasting was stellar and Stem Wine Group’s gala brought me to my knees. A relentless trafficking of the grape persists, especially by the likes of Profile Wine Group’s Mark Coster who’s omnipotence seemed to find him pouring everywhere. Dinners with fellow geeks threw complementarity caution to the wind while the affair with my wine card at Barque Smokehouse continued its wanderlust.

Tasting through local portfolios and young juice in barrel with winemakers and vineyard representatives really highlighted the year. Norm Hardie and Dan Sullivan showed me what Prince Edward County is and will surely be. Paul Pender twice ran me through his promising casks at Tawse. Vintners in Long Island opened my eyes to the future of its two forks. I am looking forward to tasting around the world in 2013.

Never before have I been privy to a sound as buzzing as our local wine scene. Social media exploded in 2012, especially on the topic of Ontario wine. The elevated level of discourse and discussion became palpable and necessary. The Wine Council of Ontario opened MyWineShop, an initiative aimed at transforming the landscape of wine sold in Ontario. The current harvest looks to be of the ‘best ever” variety. VQA Ontario wrote “conditions were close to perfect going into harvest,” then followed up with “harvest reports on grape quality were excellent for all regions.”

I liken 2012 to 1998. This vintage will see Ontario to wines of stunning fruit quality, acidity, balance and finesse to match what we continue to experience from the exceptional ’98’s, including reds. The 1998 Henry of Pelham Cabernet/Merlot I tasted last winter can testify to this. “You’ve come a long way baby,” I will say to our local, vinous heroes. Ignore the naysayers and keep on the path of the Rockafellar Skank. Just as in 1998, the “funk soul brother” is on your side.

Of the most profound pleasure and fortuitous circumstance is the opportunity I am given to imbibe and to share of other’s treasures.

These are the best wines I tasted in 2012:

The Wine Diaries: 2012

Château Pichon Baron Longueville, Paulliac 1988 (March)This PBL is throwing rocks tonight. I am dazzled by its youth. Purity, clarity, vitality. Embodies Cclaret’s dictionary entry. Opened in the heart of its window. While ’89 and ’90 continue to hog that era’s spotlight, here lies reason number one to endorse ’88.  The turkey of the triple flight.  95  

Corimbo 1 2009 (April) is sweet thistle pie. A cracker jack Tempranillo and nothing but Tempranillo. Candy coated with red licorice and an inexplicable apple flower sensation as if molecular gastronomy of the Ferran Adrià or Heston Blumenthal kind. Exotic and spicy, seeing through me, it “knows my name but calls me ginger.”   95

Tawse Chardonnay David’s 2011 (March) coruscates like the glare of a Koon sculpture, lambient and luminous. Searing tang of citrus and green apple. A crime to show so well, Zen in its persistence and long finish. This vintage and this vineyard may unseat Robyn.  93-95 (barrel sample)

Valdicava Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva Madonna Del Piano 2006 (October) is sacred Sangiovese, an inviolable reliquary of immaculacy deep beneath Montalcino’s altar. A vamp of essential Tuscan fruit. If you were to stand on a hill in Montalcino in winter time and listen carefully, you would hear a low sipping sound. That is the sound of the entire town drinking of the Madonna Del Piano.  97

Château Fonroque St. Emilion Grand Cru 2000 (September) unseats Talbot as the non pareil Bordeaux coalescence of value and longevity from that vintage. Resolute to immaculate balance, black fruit steadfast against crumbling tannins and yet I can see this pushing on for 10 or more. “You like drinking ghosts,” says JM. Yes I do, yes I do.  93

Mas Doix Salanques 2006 (April) is a revelation. A Pegau-esque perfume aux gasseuse leans Rhône but an amazing (65%) Garnacha sweetness veers Priorat. Iodine (Syrah and Carignan) of black slate soil, tar, smoked meat and bacon. A Parker and Galloni thesaurus of descriptors must be bequeathed on this candied (Merlot) wine loaded with acidity in magnums.  CVR** WOTN.  93

Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape 1998 (April) would be my wine of choice walking a boulder strewn vineyard on a misty morning in the Southern Rhône. Expressions are hurled around the table, “candified Pinot nose” and “tutti frutti.” For Beaucastel? I can’t believe the tripartite fruit freshness, ambient funk immersion and pencil lead sharpness. This ’98 is ”light as a feather, heavy as lead.” The Beaucastel will brighten up your tomorrow. WOTN  96

Château Léoville-Las Cases Saint Julien 1996 (March)Utopian, foxy, rubicund health. Voluptuous tomato, classy and luxurious on every level. Unabashed, showing off unblemished, curvy fruit. Pellucid, transparent, honest. A player, even if the highest caste keeps the dark LLC down. The sixth major.  94

Domaine Henri Perrot-Minot Morey-St.-Denis En La Rue De Vergy 1996 (March) The dark knight of the three red Burgundies. Smells like merde at first, a pumpkin left to compost long after the hallow night is done. A few swirls and the funk blows away, leaving behind a smashing MSD. Oracular utterances are in the air now. ”Lazer beam of acidity” says AM, “Pinot on a frozen rope” says I.  93

Castellare Di Castellina I Sodi di San Niccolo 1997  (May) of Colli Della Toscana Centrale IGT origins and the fountain of youth. How can it be so fresh? 85% Sangioveto and 15% Malvasia. The Sangiovese clone, also known as Sangiovese Piccolo is here a sweet and beautiful elixir. Polished deep purple Amethyst dipped in smokey, black raspberry water. No hard lines, void of animale and free from Tuscan iron. “No matter what we get out of this, i know, i know we’ll never forget.” Better with the cheese course to come.  93

Good to go!