Is Pinotage South Africa’s most famous wine?

Pizza and Pinotage?
The Paul Roos (biltong, feta and mushrooms) at Volkskombuis, Stellenbosch

An excerpt of this pinotage assessment appeared in my larger and more comprehensive South African profile, “Heritage and diversity in South Africa.”

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

With Sebastian Beaumont at L’Avenir Wine Estate

What do we know about pinotage?

Here are some essential facts about the grape variety. The year was 1925 when Dr. Abraham Penold of Stellenbosch University exorcized a Shelleyan right to marry cinsault with pinot noir in a successful attempt at creating a new varietal for the ages. Pinotage was born at the hands of a grafter with exceptional foresight. We’re not so far away from the 100th birthday and if you ask any one of the producers profiled here I’d wager most would agree. Pinotage is South Africa’s heritage meets signature red grape.

We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again, no no

To be clear there is a great chasm and worlds apart difference between most important and most famous. Research be denied or not, the distinction we are trying to establish concerns the latter, at least for the time being. Pinotage is indeed famous for being bad, insidious and effluent. It’s much maligned reputation and status is a concern borne from bad farming practices, misappropriated oak make-up and hands-on winemaking gone out of control. The mistakes are no longer rampant and there is a new game being played in Western Cape towns, in many ways same as the old ones established well before a generation of fools and horses took over the scene. Today and going forward the next generation of Pinotage young guns (and some older ones) are simply saying “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Pino Pistols – The next generation of Pinotage young guns

Heritage in South Africa is not just reserved for chenin blanc. “You know what old vines can give you,” says L’Avenir’s winemaker Dirk Coetzee. “We’re here to discuss a pinotage revolution. We’re here to discuss the next generation of pinotage.” Stellenbosch is host to the greatest concentration of Western Cape plantings and over the last ten years it has grown by 52 per cent. “Once we start making authentic product people will start thinking and the product will speak for itself.” In fact it has moved from being the sixth to the third most planted grape varieties. Beyerskloof winemaker Ani Truter adds, “what I tasted in the 80s was not pinotage, it was sabotage. It took 2,000 years for Burgundy to be successful. Don’t worry, it won’t take that long in South Africa.” Only a Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe winemaker could pay a compliment with such direct proposition.

Pinotage winemakers at L’Avenir

David Sadie continued the analysis with his take on soil and cellar as being the reasons for making good and bad pinotage. “If you look at a bad pinotage today you can look at the cellar and not at the cultivar.” This in explanation for how pinotage has improved and is moving on from rubbery, toasted and burnt flavour profiles. “It’s about site selection, planting in the right areas.” It’s also about pH levels. “Your attention to hygiene is really important, it’s pH driven.” And finally, Jacques de Klerk of Radford Dale.” They used to be made at high alcohol levels and the margin for error was very precarious. It comes down to over extraction and over use of oak.” The times they are a-changin’.

L’Avenir Wine Estate and Country Lodge

I tasted 23 examples of pinotage this past September and was impressed by the right, proper and forward thinking presence of them all. The future is already cemented in quality but more than that, in a culture that feels this direction of clarity and transparency is the right one to follow. The followers are coming, now quicker than ever, to get a glimpse and a taste of these dry-farmed, terroir-driven pinotage.

L’Avenir Glen Rosé 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

This dry Rosé is made from pinotage and it carries an amber, skin-contact styled notable tannin and orange skin scrape. Also enough fruit to call it a julep on the aromatic front. Not a major proboscis mind you but one that is classically herbal, never pointed and sweetness is just a faint idea. It’s a bit dangerous in how there is great ease in the knock it back department. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018 lavenir_wine_estate  selectwinemoments  @LAvenirWines  @SelectWinesTO  @LAvenirEstate  @SelectWinesCanada

L’Avenir Pinotage 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

When it comes to pinotage there are few producers capable of delivering the triumvirate of quality, honesty and ignoring of sickly trends. There is no mocha in L’Avenir’s take on the mistaken identity grape. In this case it’s like you’d expect pinotage to be but also completely unexpected because it takes classic relief, alters the perspective and turns the architectural rendering on its head. Pinotage needs to keep you on your toes, confuse with trompe l’oeuil drawn trickery and offer up great surprise. That’s what makes it special. Here richness is met head on by tannin, dusty fruit by bold acidity and spice mix at the gate of intensity. Just imagine the possibilities in the estate’s single block. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2018

L’Avenir Pinotage Single Block 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (AgentWineAlign)

Taken from dry-farmed vineyards and put to fourth/fifth passage barrels. Only 4,000L make up this single focused lot out of which both the depth and volume have been turned up. Extract talks in fruit density tannic decibel counts but even higher by acidity so all falls into place. Or will. Eventually. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Beaumont Family Wines Pinotage 2009, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

The vines would have been just past their 30th birthday and Sebastian remembers the vintage with fond memory, as he would considering he chose to pour this nine years later at a large pinotage tasting. Wood as it was and still is now wholly integrated though both acidity and length are still thriving so structure is the constant and the given. The tang afforded the fruit is spot on with legs stretching, the whole outfit breathing and now with a salty note to ties it all together. Much time remains for pure pinotage pleasure. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018  beaumontwines  @Beauwine  @Smallwinemakers  @beaumontfamilywine  @smallwinemakerscollection

Beaumont Family Wines Pinotage Sixty Barrels 2015, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

So interesting to taste this seminal pinotage by Sebastian Beaumont side by each with his 2009 “normale.” The same 1970s planted vineyard is employed, here from two blocks, one 44 years of age and the other being a spritely 21. The salty note on the aromatic top is faint, hidden beneath massive fruit ability, but it depends (of course it depends), on vintage. This one is full of wealthy possibilities and stealth opportunity, especially when the salt rises to the surface in thew clay. That clay effect is a fulsome one, really notable from 2015 to claim fruit, stash it away in reserve and wait for structure to build, crest and relent. Many years will pass as a result of this pinotage process. This is how you build varietal wealth and worth. One of South Africa’s finest. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Kaapzicht Pinotage 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (AgentWineAlign)

Winemaker Danie Steytler says “we think pinotage is like grenache, or cinsault” and he would be correct in that if you allow it to speaks its own very specific language it will be readily identifiable. And enjoyable. As here, with perhaps the highest level of glycerin content found anywhere in Stellenbosch. Intensely viscous, not as syrup but certainly living the silky dream. From a warm vintage the alcohol is noted and the youth as well, from 19 year-old bush vines planted in weathered granite soil. It may be counter intuitive but the wood is also stronger than the Steytler, having seen 33 per cent new French oak barrels for 18 months. The vintage is even stronger and so the combination makes for a pretty powerful wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  kaapzichtwines  @KaapzichtWines  Kaapzicht Wine Estate

Kaapzicht Pinotage Steytler 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (AgentWineAlign)

This is a pure pinotage, a generational wine that carries the family name and the current varietal centrepiece for winemaker Danie Steytler. Low yielding vines are planted in weathered granite topsoil on a layer of gravel, above a crumbly clay sub-soil. The terroir plus a warm fermentation make for pinotage of high glycerin, ethereal texture, generous alcohol ann general warmth in abound all around. Plenty of fresh red fruit and a dry constitution in a structured pinotage pays great homage to George Steytler who farmed Kaapzicht for 33 years. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Beyerskloof Pinotage Reserve 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Tasted with winemaker Anri Truter, the Reserve is aged in 20 per cent new barrels with the remainder second through fourth passage wood. Quite rich and full in terms of pinotage fruit without any mocha make-up though there is quite a level of smoulder. Both the acidity and the tannin are set quite high so overall this presents a structured gambit worthy of the designation. Long and lasting seals the deal. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  beyerskloof  churchillcellars  @Beyerskloof_  @imbibersreport  @Beyerskloof  @imbibersreport

Beyerskloof Pinotage Diesel 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The bush vines are in the 20 year range on gravelly Oakleaf and Klapmuts soil for this highly credible example of what is possible with pinotage, especially in Stellenbosch. This is nothing but a structured red, housed in 100 per cent new French oak barrels for 20 months. After maturation, only 20 barrels were selected out of a possible 300. The fruit is richer, the texture denser and the extraction at the top end of the ideal. There is more of everything here, including savour and it’s anything but reductive or ball bouncy. Big, roasting, boasting and blasting with an exceptional level of quality. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

B. Vintners Pinotage Liberté 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $41.99, WineAlign)

Two oceans facing granitic soils at 250m are the impetus to raise this Cape dialectical, Atlantic meets Indian pinotage. It’s also a whole bunch matter, something that in increasingly important in the varietal lexicon. The plantings are east-west in orientation to avoid overbearing sun exposure, which is really a thing in pinotage and often the culprit for its unwanted “thickening.” Baking spice is all over the notes and fruit purity is duly counted. A very characterful red, spicy, smoky and just plain pleasurable, if on the confident side of all things being equal. Nice work between cousins Gavin Bruwer and Bruwer Raats. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018  raatsfamilywines  liffordgram  @RaatsWines  @LiffordON  Raats Family Wines  @liffordwineandspirits

B. Vintners Pinotage Liberté 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $41.99, WineAlign)

From the cousins Raats and an ode to Cape of Good Hope heritage for pinotage. There is some (20 per cent) modernizing whole bunch maceration giving more lift and chalky texture. Quite a variegation from ’16, with grit and grip, not exactly powerful but there is some tannic structure to be sure. Very floral and so it sure seems like the intention and the goal was centred around and expressly focused on lifted aromatics. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Radford Dale Pinotage Frankenstein 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (AgentWineAlign)

It took a few decades for someone to give Shelleyan props to Dr. Abraham Penold of Stellenbosch University, 1925 grafter of cinsault and pinot noir to create pinotage. It’s a literary sidestep of a stretch to compare the science to Mary Shelley’s creature created by mismatched donors, but more than that it’s a cheeky shout out for a varietal often mistaken for a monster. Winemaker Jacques de Klerk grabs fruit from the white marl at the foot of the Helderberg Mountain for a pinotage troika of intention, ability and expectation. Three properties born of terroir, house and winemaker. All are on the same page written by an unspoken agreement to not abuse or confuse this grape. Frankenstein is smoky, curative, red raspberry ripe, right proper and built to last. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted September 2018  radford_dale  reveriechenin  noble_estates  @Radforddale  @deklerkjacques  @Noble_Estates  @RadfordDaleWine  @NobleEstates

Kanonkop Pinotage Kadette 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (630756, $19.95, WineAlign)

Before penning this review of 2015 there was a taste of the next level ’16 four months later. The two way-street perspective is more than educational because when pinotage is made with this sort of clarity you can really see the glaring differences in vintages. In 2015 the replay of old-school, earthy and chalky is readily recognizable, unavoidable and properly exulted. This send label spends time in second and third fill barrels, for red fruit charm, mildly tannic structure and proper finality. Spice, spirit and warmth define the Kadette in salute to pinotage and Stellenbosch. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted September 2018  kanonkopwineestate  noble_estates  @KanonkopEstate  @Noble_Estates  @Kanonkop  @NobleEstates

Kanonkop Pinotage 2015, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

Vines are between 30 and 60 years of age for this prototypical ode to how things were and going forward can almost certainly be in the world of pinotage. Wrinkled, gnarled, grizzled old veteran vines, the Gordie Howe of the genre, Mr. pinotage if you will. Trees of a vinous sort, able to shake of draughts and new wave mochafied drafts, with a hat trick of checks, balances and grit. These vines are the past but more importantly are the future, typified and exemplified in this kind of pinotage, a modern classic made from a place by a maker who knows what’s what. Smoky red fruit with this uncanny variegation of hue, cloudy transparency and complexity of character. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Diemersdal Pinotage 2017, WO Durbanville, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Diemersdal is a sauvignon blanc specialist (don’t miss their eight rows) making pinotage. Sixth generation winemaker Thys Louw has coaxed as much site specific terroir into pinotage as any in the Western Cape. True their is one of exoticism in the aromatics, like the smell of Javanese Mubarak banana pancake drizzled with chocolate condensed milk but there is also the magical and unbelievable nose of spearmint. It’s the local fynbos and dry-farmed agriculture talking, inconceivably coherent and followed by so much far-eastern spice. This is fun stuff, wildly aromatic , with great pulse and intensity. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018  diemersdalwines  @diemersdalwines  Diemersdal Wine Estate

David And Nadia Pinotage 2017, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

David and Nadia Sadie’s pinotage is quite possibly and purposefully the lightest there is, clocking in at an impossibly low 12 per cent. It is both the next and other tier for the varietal reconnaissance with vanguard clarity and an honesty to speak of wine made under serious drought conditions. Bright red fruit and that low alcohol make it at once crushable but then sneaky structured. A maturity of vine, maker and grape conspire for such a dichotomy of bemusement though to be fair you could blindly be convinced that you were tasting lithe and ethereal northern Rhône syrah. The mixed magical condition certainly makes you take a step back and a seat to think. It’s a good conundrum and an excellent way to be drinking pinotage. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018  davidandnadia  @DavidandNadia  @DavidandNadia

David And Nadia Pinotage 2015, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Siebritskloof is the origin for David and Nadia’s ’15 pinotage, a wine from the early stage of drought conditions taken off of dry land bush vines planted in the early 1990’s in the granite mountains of the Paardeberg on the Paardebosch farm. This is layered and symbolic pinotage as aged salumi or pâté en croûte. The spice variegate runs high while the acumen of working with fruit to craft something so regionally specific treads a gastronomic line so fine. You and I could try to make this wine and fail miserably while David and Nadia just have the touch. Their’s discusses the days and the times with great precision and persistence. The tannins are so accomplished and resurrecting, leading to believe that this will drink at peak 10 years from vintage. That speaks to all of the above. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Stellenbosch Vineyards Credo Pinotage Reserve 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Vineyard source is 23-year-old bushvines in the Helderberg basin on decomposed granite, seven kms from and facing False Bay. From winemakers Bernard Claassen and Petri de Beer who deliver a pinotage that straddles the line between the old days and the new generation. From richness comes a meeting with salty oceanic influence towards a cleaner look at a brighter, not so tangy and tight future. The window is opening, the light is streaming in and the credo is on a correct path.  Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  stellenboschvineyards  @StbVineyards  Stellenbosch Vineyards

Stellenbosch Vineyards Pinotage Bushvine 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The Bushvine is also a Heldeberg basin pinotage though it’s more forward, modern and also weightier, carrying 20 per cent new oak plus six to eight months further aging. It’s a Bordeaux sentiment in a pinotage bottle, still with an eye and a nod to the past and yet despite the wood it expresses a real purity of red fruit. Tobacco smoulder shrouds that fruit with the resulting complexity standing to be noticed. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Elmie Pinotage Rosé 2018, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

This is really upscale, chic and perhaps even transformative Rosé, of a collaboration between ex-Delheim winemaker Reg Holder and viticulturalist Etienne Terblanche. The level of dry extract is exulted by fine tannin in a grape must meets pure strawberry distillate pinotage that feeds the imagination with place, varietal, execution and friendship. It’s a whole bunch, free-run, four month on lees exceptionality for Rosé, pinotage and Stellenbosch. So good straight out of a bottle just filled the week before. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  terblanche.etienne  Etienne Terblanche  

Pinotage Dorper 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The name refers to a black sheep in the family and a South African breed of domestic sheep developed by crossing Dorset Horn and the Blackhead Persian. The wink-wink connective tissue is because pinotage, as we all know is a crossing of pinot noir and cinsault and this Dorpman’s Afrikaans collaboration is between winemaker Reg Holder and viticulturalist Etienne Terblanche. This inaugural release from the virtual Stellenbosch winery is a truly satisfying pinotage, of red raspberry and other sundry red fruits. Blocks of 53 year-old and other 50-plus aged vines adds up to smoky and with just a bit of beneficial reduction. Important tracks put down and a solid future lays ahead. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Southern Right Pinotage 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $27.95, WineAlign)

As for pinotage, Anthony Hamilton Russell is dead serious about thinking about the varietal future and never furthermore to dwell on its past. So is winemaker Emul Ross who pours this ’17 like he means business. It should be remembered that in 1996, Anthony made a bet with Jancis Robinson saying, “one day South Africa’s most famous wine will be a pinotage or a pinotage-based wine.” It may be argued that in 2018 that prophecy came true and we have yet to see the highest potential from the grape and certainly not yet from the HR bookend properties that make Ashbourne and Southern Right. This comes from the western border of Hamilton Russell Vineyards behind Hermanus and it benefits from cold currents rising up from Antartica. The alcohol is handled with best yet ease and the fruit oozes from every pore. There is a tonic gelling with spice, faintly bitter cocoa and acidity to remind us of everything it is. In the end it opens up quickly with minimal tannin and wood in terms of overall structure. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018  olive_hamilton_russell  noble_estates  @OliveHR  @Noble_Estates  Olive Hamilton Russell  @NobleEstates

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Pinotage 2015, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)

It could be expected that this 2015 pinotage blend would already act somewhat to quite advanced when in fact the evolution is virtually non-existent. A side-by-side revisit with 2009 is all that is needed to drive the point. The ’15 is still quite demurred, tightly wound, not in a fresh to reductive way but more in terms of its finely-crafted pyramids of Giza architecture. The acidity and the spice are up there on the crests of the upper steps, very near to the pinnacle. Again it is the way the wine stays with you like a slowly rendered demi-glacé made from the lightest roast of bones that keeps the karst of stone sublime in your mind and mouth. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted July and September 2018

Good to go!

godello

With Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at L’Avenir Wine Estate

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

But first, October

steak

L’shanah tova, happy new year, peace, happiness and health to all the members of the tribe out there. New beginnings, sweet and good times to you and yours. I’ve just returned from Italy, specifically Verona and Valpolicella. While I was in transit a new VINTAGES release crept into stores.

Related – The most important red wine from Italy

Tuscany, Rioja, Thanksgiving. These are the main themes of the VINTAGES October 1st release. As from me for the first it is Chianti Classico’s Gran Selezione that occupies the best sangiovese position in the central thematic. Second comes entry-level excellence from Álvaro Palacios and for the last three, pinot noir from disparate outposts; Sonoma County, the Willamette and Hemel-En-Aarde Valleys. A further 12 recommendations explore 10 regions; South Africa’s Coastal Region, Veneto, Loire Valley, Beaujolais, Alsace, Piedmont, Calatayud, Montagny, Paarl, Arroyo Seco and 14 additional grape varieties; chenin blanc, garganega, sauvignon blanc, gamay, riesling, arneis, garnacha, sylvaner, chardonnay, grenache blanc, picpoul blanc, roussanne and nebbiolo. Something for everyone.

Boschendal Rachelsfontein Chenin Blanc 2015, Wo Coastal Region, South Africa (455881, $12.95, WineAlign)

Classic chenin blanc from Boschendal, tart, balmy, savoury, smoky and spirited. Conjures up simple pleasures, breathing and bliss. A morning walk in a glade, a bubbling brook, herbs everywhere, wildlife. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016  @BoschendalWines  @LiffordON  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada

San Raffaele Monte Tabor Soave 2015, Doc Veneto, Italy (277392, $14.95, WineAlign)

Always a good Soave buy and especially in the ripe and easily commercialized 2015 vintage. In fact this preface is a clear indication for such a wine because it can basically make itself so it smells, tastes and delivers just like itself. Citrus and herbs, Maresina, Pisacan, Sciopeti and then more citrus, followed by a mouth feel with an accent of stone. Delicious little commercial Soave. So correct. Drink 2016-2018.   Tasted September 2016    @RegioneVeneto

versant

Foncalieu Le Versant Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Vins De Pays D’oc, Loire, France (470336, $14.95, WineAlign)

Terrific scintillant of a sauvignon blanc with extract to burn and the gesture of giving generously. Pungency be damned this goes at it with vitality, energy and the great sweetness feigning, peachy sauvignon blanc equalizer. There are few Midi SBs that can both thrill and appease with ease like this Pays d’Oc. Crowd pleaser to pour at weddings and other large gatherings. The finish guarantees success. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016  @foncalieuwines  @LoireValleyWine  @azureau

aviron

Stephane Aviron Beaujolais Villages 2014, Beaujolais, France (468744, $15.95, WineAlign)

The juicy appeal of gamay. In its purest form it struts and flaunts in full peacock display as in this $16 Aviron Beaujolais. He or she who could not drink a tank full of this BV is missing out on one of the go to pleasures of the wine world. Fresh and outright getable, when risked with a more than slight chill this could do no harm. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016 @DiscoverBojo  @Nicholaspearce_

palacios

Palacios Remondo La Vendimia 2014, Doca Rioja, Spain (674564, $15.95, WineAlign)

Rioja to grab for, spread out the blanket, pull out the jamon and kick back. Fresh, juicy, slightly smoky and full of nothing but fruit with a quick shake of spice. The simple pleasures provided by Alvaro Palacios at the lowest of low affordability. You can find Rioja with a much greater and historically profound sense of place but it will cost an arm and a leg. And I’m not sure it will get you anywhere. So put aside the serious face and embrace this modish value-driven sketch by Palacios. I too will abide. “It’s not that I care any less for that philosophy, but I would spend one night with you in trade for all that I’ve achieved.” Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016  @WoodmanWS  @RiojaWine

kuhlmann

Kuhlmann Platz Riesling 2014, Ac Alsace, France (196741, $16.95, WineAlign)

From the cooperative Cave de Hunawihr where the winemaking is overseen by Nicolas Garde here is a typically tart and citrus-driven riesling from alluvial flats. Salinity and a touch of brine with a minor note of spritz makes this nothing but fun. It’s certainly lean and direct but such an Alsace riesling line is fine when done with no agenda in mind. Well made with enough complexity to add five years onto its life. Drink 2016-2021. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted September 2016  @VinsAlsace  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace  @ChartonHobbs

arneis

Cordero Di Montezemolo Langhe Arneis 2015, Piedmont, Italy (455162, $21.95, WineAlign)

Prodigious and revered producer meets resurrected varietal in this hear me roar and highly expressive roero arneis. From Langhe vineyards in La Morra, Guarene and Govone. The level of extract and texture is elevated to where the grape can go but we so very rarely get a chance to enjoy. This has mineral, loads of mineral, like a chew of rocks in bubble gum form. With this on offer who wouldn’t choose to chew every day. More acclaim for arneis and that makes me smile. The freshness will offer perfect window drinking in years one through three but why not put one or two aside and watch them develop some honey and petrol in years five through ten. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted September 2016    @ProfileWineGrp

breca

Breca Old Vines Garnacha 2013, Do Calatayud, Spain (329086, $22.95, WineAlign)

Very floral garnacha from gravelly slate with more than enough blueberry and blackberry to bake into a hundred pies. As per the modern norm this 100 per cent garnacha from typically regional (upwards of 100 year) old vines pushes the scales in extraction, weight and alcohol. If any Aragonese garnacha can handle such largesse it is Calatayud because the combination of gnarly vines and rocky soil gives essential nutrients to fruit for balance. It may only be a distraction but when the wine is polished (albeit sweetly so) the looming alcohol is kept in threaded check. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2016  @CSWS_ON  @WinesofGarnacha  @GarnachaOrigen  @docalatayud

wildewood

Wildewood Pinot Noir 2013, Willamette Valley, Oregon (462994, $23.95, WineAlign)

If mountain herbs and tea could burrow or seep their savoury ways into a Willamette Valley pinot noir this Wildewood would be a viable candidate. It’s a global, pinot from everywhere and for everyone affair in here so call the aromas what you will; fynbos, rooibos, Peloponnese clandestina, wild thyme, rosemary, lavender. So pretty in its sauvage, so suave in its ruggedness. This pinot noir understands what it is saying and selling. Unlike the gritty poet, it is in complete control of its phenolics and its faculties. The palate pales but delivers straight to structure. The aridity and the salinity seal the deal. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016     @Nicholaspearce_

Maison Roche De Bellene Montagny 1er Cru 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (470476, $26.95, WineAlign)

Such thews and texture are wonderful to elevate Montagny and you can tell that important Nicolas Potel time was allocated into turning this into something rocking. Plenty of citrus and wood intertwine in layers of chardonnay flesh. This is quite something. Gregarious, talkative and alive. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016  @RochedeBellene  @vinsdebourgogne  @Nicholaspearce_  @BourgogneWines

sylvaner

Domaine Loew Vérité Sylvaner 2013, Ac Alsace, France (462598, $25.95, WineAlign)

The truth of sylvaner explodes into olfaction with the flats left for others and the slopes of Alsace greasing their way into this wine. A wow factor of 13 on the texture scale brings it here. Oily doesn’t due this sylvaner justice. You could run heavy machinery on this juice. Beyond the oléagineux there is great bite from old wood, tonic from the varietal necessity and bitters so very artisan crafted in nature. More British aperitif than Italian digestif in that sense but strictly Alsatian and in requiem for a match made in Foie Gras heaven. Needs two years to settle. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted September 2016     @VinsAlsace  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace

avondale

Avondale Armilla Blanc De Blanc 2009, Méthode Cap Classique, Wo Paarl, South Africa (451930, $29.95, WineAlign)

From a farm dating to 1693 purchased by Johnathan Grieve’s family in 1996. Poster bubbles, for the Blanc de blancs habitation and for the Avondale oeuvre, the Armillary sphere, Roman “circle of life” and ancient astronomical instrument used to show the position of stars around the earth. Traditional production, with a kiss of oak and a final act of dosage. Five total years on the lees, including two on coarse and one in bottle. Picking was accomplished at the end of that January, in purpose of stylistic elegance and beautiful bitters born of natural and integrated acidity. Terrific dip of biscuits into honey. Like Baklava in a glass though equally savoury to dessert. Baller bubble, balanced and with the sense to envision evolution, to the look ahead of an adult age. Would retail for approximately $28 CAN. Drink 2015-2027. Tasted twice, May and September 2015  @Avondalewine  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  @RareEarth_Wines

doon

Bonny Doon Beeswax Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Central Coast, California (95331, $34.95, WineAlign)

The Beeswax Vineyard is not just a pretty face. That this blend reeks of the bee’s work can’t be a coincidence. The ‎Rhône is but a mere smirk or memory here with fruit so ripe and vital you can hear yourself think. Arroyo Seco does cool chardonnay but it works for these varieties in another worldly way; with viscosity and texture. The pitch from the lemon and the flesh of creamy tropical fruits come together with a party gathering crafted tonic. And yet there is this rhythmic, low-toned, folk-roots-blues riff tenderness to Le Cigare Blanc. Really. J.J. Cale (by way of Don Nix) if you will. I’m going Doon, Doon, Doon, Doon, Doon, Doon. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2016  @BonnyDoonVineyd  @RandallGrahm

ama

Castello Di Ama San Lorenzo Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2011, Docg Tuscany, Italy (418897, $48.95, WineAlign)

Castello di Ama has chosen their signature San Lorenzo Vineyard to qualify for Gran Selezione designation, one of three such highest level Chianti Classico produced at the estate. The high Gaiole elevation and argilo-calcaire soil make for a specific style, still deep and mineral but not so much like what happens from sangiovese raised on Galestro or Albarese solis. The liqueur here is a grander kind of sangiovese ooze (with 20 per cent malvasia and merlot), more hematic and of a purity only it can express. There is more liquorice and less leather, more iron and less cherry. Certainly less fruity but not as mineral. Here the umami is conspicuously undefined and so I am oriented to say it is simply San Lorenzo. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted September 2016  @CastellodiAma  @HalpernWine  @chianticlassico

ratti

Renato Ratti Marcenasco Barolo 2011, Docg Piedmont, Italy (713479, $53.95, WineAlign)

The Ratti Marcenasco is in a league of it own but it shares the club with like-minded nebbioli, wines that steep in tradition and breath an aromatic liqueur only its kind resemble. Deep waters here, always mysterious and hiding sunken treasures. Candied roses and liquid tar, savoury forbidden forests and intricate tannic chains. You have to exercise extreme patience with Marcenasco, avoiding years five to 10 and best to look in at 15. Everything will rise to the surface. Drink 2021-2031. Tasted September 2016    @LiffordON

hr-pinot

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $57.95, WineAlign)

In 2015 the hyperbole of the Hemel-en-Aarde shines bright in magnified reflection with fruit and land combining for full effect. I get cola and beet root in ways I cant necessarily recall from most recent Hamilton Russell pinot noir and I also get depth like I’ve not encountered before. This is a massive expression in 2015, not a gentle one. I imagine the vintage was raging with adrenaline and testosterone so you have to take what is given. A masculine wine is the result, muscular, chiseled and ripped. At present the Hamilton Russell homiletic Hemel-En-Aarde verbiage is a tad evangelical. With such Adonis-like features and marbled structure it will need a few years to recoil, recalibrate and recharge. By next decade it will soften and preach with a bold style yet remain humble enough to change. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2016  @OliveHR  @hermanuswine

flowers

Flowers Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, California (215202, $68.95, WineAlign)

Pinot Noir that is all coastal, from vineyards far and wide but inclusive of some fruit from the Sea Ridge Estate Vineyard. An extreme brightness of being pinot noir with that distinctive Sonoma Coast feigned red candy nose, first raspberry and then strawberry. Exquisitely perfumed and gainfully rendered with mindful, purposed and calibrating acidity, propped up and misty fine. Such effete fruit and unassuming character does not materialize with enough regularity out of these parts. The finesse and fineness of this wine is what California does best when it comes from the heart and not from the hand. Though his chardonnay is otherworldly you just have to appreciate David Keatley’s touch with Sonoma Coast pinot noir. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted twice, February and September 2016  @FlowersWinery  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Eleven Chardonnays to the coolest show on earth

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,  Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,
Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

In eleven days, as the Chardonnay grows, the coolest wine conference will return to the Niagara region on Friday, July 17th. The School of Cool will call to assembly with the annual intendment to recalibrate a global palate at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

Related – The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind

In anticipation of my third consecutive trip to taste and report on upwards of 100 variants in the name of ichneutic varietal centralism, 11 tasting notes are here laid out in preparation of the hunt. Too much Chardonnay you say? Bah. Allow me to paraphrase the lads from London.

“Wanna tell you about the Chardonnay I love, my she looks so fine. She’s the only Chardonnay that I been dreamin’ of, maybe someday she will be all mine.” Yes I do love Chardonnay, especially cool climate Chardonnay. Chardonnay with acidity, backbone, texture and aromatics. Chardonnay made by monks who know.

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

Here is a list of events happening at and links to buying tickets for the Cool Chardonnay Conference:

July 17: The School of Cool https://kiosk.eztix.co/kiosk-optimised-event/46859/49090

July 17: Barrels & Bonfires https://kiosk.eztix.co/kiosk-optimised-event/46859/49091

July 18: Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner https://kiosk.eztix.co/kiosk-optimised-event/46859/49092 

July 19: The Moveable Feast: Brunch on the Bench https://kiosk.eztix.co/kiosk-optimised-event/46859/49093

Photo © Stephen Elphick and Associates Cool to be Cool. Godello, Nicholas Pearce, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson, Zoltan Szabo and Tony Aspler at Barrels & Bonfires, 13th Street Winery, Cool Chardonnay 2014. From #VINTAGES Magazine

Cool to be Cool. Godello and friends at Barrels & Bonfires, 13th Street Winery, Cool Chardonnay 2014 From #VINTAGES Magazine Photo © Stephen Elphick and Associates

The Cool Chardonnay concierge notes that “It’s Cool to the Cool – it says so in the LCBO ‪#‎VINTAGES‬ circular for July 11. Six pages of Cool Chardonnay and i4C info, including a one-on-one with keynote speaker Matt Kramer, 10 great i4C Chardonnays” and a photo of Godello and friends at last year’s Barrels and Bonfres event at 13th Street winery.

Related – 50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more

These picks are from the VINTAGES July 11th release, as well as some Cool Chardonnay samples that arrived floating on a cool climate carpet into the WineAlign office. These combined 11 whites are cumulatively capable of Chardonnay foreplay. On the weekend of July 17-19 hundreds, perhaps even thousands will descend in a beeline down to the Peninsula at the valley foot and foothills of the Escarpment to gather, to do nothing but celebrate the intricacies and the base pleasure of the most planted white grape variety. For a full schedule of and essential sundry information on i4C15, click here. See you in Niagara.

From left to right: Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay 2013, Westcott Vineyards Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012, Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2012 and Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay 2013, Westcott Vineyards Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012, Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2012 and Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2012

From the VINTAGES July 11th Release

Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay 2013, Margaret River, New South Wales, Western Australia (350900, $18.95, WineAlign)

Flinty and cool, gathering up Margaret River righteous Chardonnay fruit and weathering an encouraging, blanketing and receptive barrel storm. Comes out a child of good climate, with green apple and gemstone crispness and simple, matching acidity. Not overly constructed to kneel down in the name of holy complexity but effective like a hand knit shawl in lieu of prayer. At $19 the River might have given a “girl with the parking lot eyes,” a Chardonnay in which “Margaret is the fragment of a name.” At $19 this over-achieves and makes a strong case for all that is produced from this cool regional place. Signature signed emphatically and with cool, downcast beauty, like Neko, if she were Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015  @RobertOatleyAUS  @EpicW_S  @WestAustralia  @MargaretRiverWi

Westcott Vineyards Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Arthur Harder makes no bones, excuses or sets the goals too lofty in this second Lillia’s unplugged. “What you get is what you get,” from seven year-old estate, pristine fruit in 2013. Infrequent but texture stirring lees has mottled the nose with glycerin and avoirdupois while bottling early in the spring in advance of warm days has locked in freshness. Expression arrives by way of herbiage and lime. Continues where ’12 left off, further akin of Chablis. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2015  @WestcottWines

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (1552, $24.95, WineAlign)

Accumulated cognizance exudes from the laid back Shed, here as relaxed and user-friendly as it has ever been. If the texture is not vintage induced and made of low yield than I’ll sell my LP’s and switch outright to Songza and Neil’s PonoMusic. The herbs are basil and chervil sweet, the verbena and lemon balm redolent, the flavours beaming, bolstered by preserved lemon and candied ginger. The stuffing must be questioned, but not the elegance. This Chardonnay is porous, blessed, void of rust and of an interior with plenty of space in the shed. Let it fill.

From my earlier note of February 2014:

There will be 660 cases of this barrel cherry-picked, now iconic Bench Chardonnay. The warm vintage called for a combo-malo approach, part batch all in, part arrested development. Gravity influenced top down blending also work to seek a svelte elegance and this ’12 really straddles the humid line. Thinks to be ribald but remains chaste, only allowing a kiss from the barrel and a caress from the rocks beneath the soil. Accept immediate but know that deferred gratification is the hallmark of this bottling.

Last tasted March 2015  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon (273334, $29.95, WineAlign)

When you taste an Oregon Chardonnay made by Thomas Bachelder you must first picture yourself somewhere. At lunch, with Lucy, on a promontory overlooking the sea, gazing up at a cloudless sky, in a dream. The warmth and kaleidoscopic layering of the 2012 might put you “in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies.” The sweet scents are like blossoms, with the air thick and palpably perceived in texture by way of an omnipresent Oregon salinity. This is the effect of the Bachelder diamond tannin, as pronounced and geologically-driven as any set of Chardonnays from out of the Willamette Valley. The personality of this villages is bright. The Single-Vineyard Johnson iridescent. This is a fine vintage for Oregon, more about ripe but early fruit and even more about soil. The algebraic cauldron that is the barrel simplifies the equation in ’12, to allow for a smooth climb out of a clean, pristine and rocky earth. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay Cuvée Dix Neuvieme 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (303602, $35.20, WineAlign)

The style has changed for this Chardonnay though it is now more in line with other Pearl Morissette varietal wines. The oxidative, natural bent has increased with anti-furor, succour and sublimity of a sordid sort. It remains to be seen what will happen because 10 years will be needed to fully denote the PM evolution, but what remains from the larder is true blue lemon that will turn, curdle and hold honey tight in five to six years time. Could be earlier considering the vintage. The flint and natural yeast are big on the nose while the palate is softer than most years. More like ’10, nothing like ’09 and yet full bodied to the maximum density it can be. So much flavour and yet at present the acidity plays anything but a vibrant tune. Story to unfold. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @PearlMorissette

From left to right: Bachelder La Grande Châtelaine Côte De Beaune 2011, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2013, Saintsbury Chardonnay 2012, Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013, Lailey Barrel Select Chardonnay 2013 and Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Bachelder La Grande Châtelaine Côte De Beaune 2011, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2013, Saintsbury Chardonnay 2012, Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013, Lailey Barrel Select Chardonnay 2013 and Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2012

Bachelder La Grande Châtelaine Côte De Beaune 2011, Ac Burgundy, France (332536, $37.95, WineAlign)

The last of the Beaune mohicans to grace the Ontario market is the least understood, the quiet type, the cool underground dweller. This has weight and dug presence. Quite an underground salinity. Chisels into rock and friable earth, burrows into wood and still has not emerged. A floral sense of confection caused by gelid solids popped from Chardonnay tannin, like marigold petals frozen in dry ice, is a sniff to behold. La Grande Châtelaine is a precise and slightly bitter Beaune with life yet lived. With this level of Beaune complexity Thomas and Mary have smartly priced La GC a mere cut above the basic Bourgogne, Niagara and Oregon bottles yet coyly beneath the single-vineyard and lieu-dit offers in the Bachelder diaspora. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2015  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2013, Wo Hemel En Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa (931006, $37.95, WineAlign)

Perpetuates the typically, stunningly effective flinty, deeply aggressive and layered Hamilton Russell style, here as warm and unctuous as its ever been. The candied flower and acacia aromas are early dusk intoxicating, the flavours of lime, honey and hard limestone candies reminders of life flashing before one’s eyes. The winemaking is so desperately clean, the diamond precision cut with perfect sight and the length driven by acidity and pure, essential grape tannin. Yet another chapter on the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Grand Cru site is written, with prodigy and legacy authored work by vigneron Anthony Hamilton Russell. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted June 2015  @OliveHR  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  @TrialtoON

Saintsbury Chardonnay 2012, Unfiltered, Carneros, California (359281, $39.95, WineAlign)

A dream from Carneros. Soft, buttery, creamy, demurred and slightly toasty, full on flavour nougat goodness of nuts and creamy tropical fruit. The pre-positioned, sequestered minimal age has come to this; texture, composition and length ready to please and willing to accompany an open-minded variety of summer fare. Take this west coast, well-structured Chardonnay to the east coast and seek out a Digby scallop, a Malpeque Bay oyster or a fleet of lobster along any maritime crag. Come to think of it, stop at all points in between and drink it alongside whatever comes to the table. Anything. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015  @saintsbury  @TandemSelection  @CarnerosWine

Tasted at WineAlign

Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $26.00, WineAlign)

The barrel fermented and aged Estate Chardonnay spent 12 months in two-thirds new and one-third second fill wood. Lees stirring is slightly increased as compared to the unplugged. Again, it’s about aromatic intensity leading the way to palate density. By the sounds of Westcott’s comments “we’re pleased with its remarkable irony — dry and sturdy, yet creamy and rather curvy,” you might think the team was stirring with impunity. Not so. The Estate Chard does the dance of mild spice and butter on toast to reach a texture that would appease savages. Unavoidable and typical low yields from the Vinemount Ridge picked at the right moment and handled with caring tabula rasa are the spirit in this wine. Delightful and charming. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015

Lailey Barrel Select Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $26.00, WineAlign)

Not only carved out of a careful selection of Lailey’s barrels but this ’13 is an eco-rich barrel expression. The toast mind you is mild and so both elegance and structure are avowed of glissade and glide. There is nary a heavy note here. The aromatics are compact, the flavours expansive and the finish lingering to effortless. If the vintage afforded more fruit the overall composition would champion with the best of them, but the understatements are laudable and stamped in approval. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2015  @laileywinemakr

Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $40.00, WineAlign)

In 2012 there is a weight in the aromatics that belies any recent recollections of the Claystone style. The vintage warmth is a major player here, a cement and a glue that adheres to the adage of vintage being the driver for making wine. Winemaker Sébastien Jacquey listens to the wind, putting aromatics, texture and structure at the fore while allowing the sun to say its peace. This glides dutifully and seamlessly to the palate which is just as fleshy as the nose. The honey continues from ’11, as does the candied flower. Wood remains as unobtrusive as before, allowing a fruit to mineral continuum to find harmony. Though acidity lays lower, there is plenty of push to see this evolve for up to five or more years. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted July 2015  @LeClosJordanne  @CBrandsCareers

Good to go!

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September 27th at VINTAGES rolls into October 2nd with Taste Ontario

Taste Local, Love Local Photo (www.lcbo.com)

Taste Local, Love Local
Photo (www.lcbo.com)

This coming weekend’s VINTAGES release will parlay values from around the globe into the meeting place of Ontario stores. Many of the bargains tie directly into a PB and J campaign, a parochial bandwagon advertising juggernaut. The LCBO and Wine Country Ontario‘s #Tastelocal, #Lovelocal and #LCBOGolocal slogans are currently omnipresent, fast forwardly gaining both steam and traction with restos, critics and consumers.

The late, great VINTAGES wine facilitator David Churchill once told me that putting together Taste Ontario was one of the LCBO’s great endeavors. David said the work and time that VINTAGES allotted the event was extraordinary and great care was always afforded the exercise. Next week the chance to taste the most current, largest and impressive cross-section of Ontario wines in one setting will happen with the annual Taste Ontario gala event. When Wine Country Ontario comes to town and joins forces with VINTAGES, it is the writers, sommeliers and restaurant wine junkies who collectively jump trains, catch flames and do what they do. This in the name of getting to know Ontario wines.

On September 27th VINTAGES will release the following 17 wines, though most will already be on shelves before you skim through this tasting note report with all the brevity you can afford. This week’s recommendations come by way of one Sparkling, four Chardonnay, two Riesling, three Pinot Noir, a Sangiovese, a Malbec, a Veneto, a Zinfandel, one Rhône and two Bordeaux blends.

From left to right: Delmas Cuvée Tradition Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Château Des Charmes Paul Bosc Estate Chardonnay 2012, Kistler Chardonnay Les Noisetiers 2012, Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, Errázuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2012, Henry Of Pelham Estate Riesling 2012

From left to right: Delmas Cuvée Tradition Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Château Des Charmes Paul Bosc Estate Chardonnay 2012, Kistler Chardonnay Les Noisetiers 2012, Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, Errázuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2012, Henry Of Pelham Estate Riesling 2012

Delmas Cuvée Tradition Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Ac, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (179978, $19.95, WineAlign)

Organic and Biodynamic sparkler with a personality all its own. Made primarily from the local grape variety Mauzac (with some Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc), Blanquette is the dry and sylvan style of Limoux. The “little white one” is a lovely little lemon curd Blanquette pulsating in spatially atomic subtlety. Aerified notes hint at sulfur but the breeze is so minor so as not to obstruct the citrus and crucible of candied ginger.  Green apple flavour delights with really good gin and tonic (juniper), lime bitters and a muddle of basil. Pertinent and invigorating example.  Tasted September 2014  @AOCLIMOUX  @RareEarth_Wines

Château Des Charmes Paul Bosc Estate Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (179978, $21.95, WineAlign)

Much oak and buttery crustaceans in this need to relax and settle into a self-induced state of Chardonnay. Quite lactic but that’s not a detractor; it’s a textural overlay that with time will turn lacy, organza even. I would imagine the wrong kind of attitude will not see the acidity for the forest and instead feel that malic is short for malicious behaviour. On the contrary. This is a very good vineyard giving fruit of the right St. David’s kind. With five years it will prove its merit and play matronly with that fresh catch on your plate.  Too big and clunky you say? Put it down. Let it breathe. Take a good inhale/exhale yourself. From my earlier, August 2014 note: “It would be a shame to have missed the found ardor in this tractile, careening Chardonnay. Chances have been taken in 2012, from a vineyard near and dear to a proprietor’s heart and perhaps even his soul. Picked bright and early, vinified bone dry and sent to a Burgundian school, the Paul Bosc Vineyard Chardonnay suffers from ESS (early stricture syndrome) because it (and particularly its shaken lees) have yet to settle. The barrel is confusingly, hardly noticeable and so the ’12’s awkwardness must then be attributed to a milky, marmalade and blues-influenced free-form run. It’s as if the crowd is waiting for one (Garcia-Saunders) song to end and another to begin. The new “anyway you do” slang take on an old blues riff may be misconstrued but, when all is said and done, that’s alright mama, there’s jam and space for your kind too.”  Last tasted September 2014  @Mbosc

Kistler Chardonnay Les Noisetiers 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (251223, $75.95, WineAlign)

Expansive, all over the coast display of Kistler ambition and conceit. Fully ripe and not shy to swim with splinters. Lemon meringue pie, baked Alaska and tarte au citron on one gorging dessert plate. Then the flavours kick in. A lemon Negroni (is there such an animal?) and lemon Hollandaise atop white aspagarus. Decadent, even for Kistler, without the poise and subtlety of the single-vineyard bottlings.  A full on glass of California sunshine. From my earlier, (tasted three times), July 2014 note: “Long distance runner built for endurance, a cool customer able to withstand the heat from a season’s relentless, though moderate, gentle sun, from start to finish. No shortage of ripe fruit and certainly not wanting for the micro-oxygenated slow release of a prized barrel. This might be the two-bit Kistler bottling but it offers up exemplary Sonoma fruit with the temperament and conceit of high caste Burgundy. The style is culled from two poles and pulls in two directions.  At once sharp and piquant, then golden and in mirth. All in all it’s exactly what should be wanted for the buyer who wants what it has to give.”  Last tasted September 2014

Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (208694, $33.95, WineAlign)

Intimates warm sunshine but can’t hide from its cool nights. An element of periodic surprise wafts straight up and grabs the little nose hairs by the tips, tugs and then let’s go. Hatchoo. Wisps green apple skin, daikon radish and a metal tang. Full on fruit-mineral-earthy expression. Big Chardonnay as ripe as its gets for the Okanagan but carries a hefty (though you might ponder an inordinate exorbitance of 14.5 per cent abv) with relative ease. Goes on at length, about what, I do not yet know, but I’m willing to hang in there for 5-7 years to find out.  Tasted September 2014  @BurrowingOwlBC

Errázuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile (738393, $22.95, WineAlign)

The wild ferment Francisco Baettig oeuvre brings into focus a nicely balanced and intimately-integrated-aligned Chardonnay. There is wildness in the form of a toasted bread, rich enzymatic energy and a leather strapping, bullied brawn. The countrified personality is tempered by a roundness, thus limiting its ability to display like an alpha male. Though not delicate or elegant by any stretch, this is Chilean power unleashed and reigned in. It represents really good value.  Tasted September 2014  @errazurizwines  @Dandurandwines

Henry Of Pelham Estate Riesling 2012, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (557165, $17.95, WineAlign)

Classic Short Hills Bench Riesling, magnified by and exemplified in the vintage. Soda enriched fresh juice, bursting berry nose, off-dry palate. Meets all expectations for the realms of juicy and savoury. One of the best yet from H of P at this price. Great value.  Tasted September 2014  @HenryofPelham

From left to right: Wegeler Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett 2012, Kim Crawford Small Parcels Rise & Shine Pinot Noir 2012, Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2012, omaine Marchand Grillot Morey Saint Denis 2012, Viticcio Chianti Classico 2011

From left to right: Wegeler Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett 2012, Kim Crawford Small Parcels Rise & Shine Pinot Noir 2012, Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2012, omaine Marchand Grillot Morey Saint Denis 2012, Viticcio Chianti Classico 2011

Wegeler Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett 2012, Prädikatswein, Rheingau, Germany (378083, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the steepest Rheingau vineyard named after the nearby castle (Schloss) ruin “Ehrenfels” which was built in 1211. The stony terroir for this definitive Riesling is quarzite from the Taunus region with layers of slate. Oh, this has the sultry charm of most excellent Kabinett. Aerified to the stratosphere, dry, toasty and buoyant. The soda blows away into the sky with just a vigorous swirl and the aromas turn to fruit and to stone. Rocking great intensity of many fruits, of trees and of natural grape sugar (in the 80-90 g/L residual range) that is everywhere and nowhere. Acidity is linear and impossibly round at the same time. Typically low in alcohol (around 8 per cent by volume), this rude boy is a crazy Kabinett. It’s like a Barbadian songstress rated “R.” You may ask it “is you big enough?” It will answer, I’m as good as it gets.  Tasted September 2014

Kim Crawford Small Parcels Rise & Shine Pinot Noir 2012, Central Otago, New Zealand (35337, $29.95, WineAlign)

Rich, ripe black cherry and just a hint of earth. Some cola but of the cherry kind. Tart yet sweet, hot and roomy. Built of a scrupulous structure where tannin and astringency bend in many ways.  Does its yoga poses with reluctance then hits the gym. Confounding for Central Otago with what may perhaps be a great future ahead but for now, really wonky. Where is this going? To the dark side, to return in five years and to offer good value in aged CO Pinot Noir.   Tasted September 2014  @kimcrawfordwine  @CBrandsCareers

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2012, Wo Hemel En Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa (999516, $44.95, WineAlign)

he right and fantastic Pinot Noir stuff from the winemaker with the King Midas (or in this case the Queen Modjadji) touch. The Walker Bay Burgundian specialist fashions some most elegant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It seems that every vintage is turned to gold, or brings rain when there is drought. The 2012 is marked by bright cherries and really pungent, compressed earth. Fantastically ripe but just before the fall. Pleasure of the incarnate kind. The coat of South African red wine arms is animatedly there but it’s contained, restrained, elegant and yet still powerful. Long, fashionable flow with no visible finish line. This will age for a minimum 10 years and get that smoky glaze and glare.  Tasted September 2014  @TrialtoON

Domaine Marchand Grillot Morey Saint Denis 2012, Ac, Burgundy, France (210906, $54.95, WineAlign)

Here the entry is musty, blows off considerably and leaves the leaf and sweet fruit from strawberry and raspberry. For the spell it’s clean, crisp, pure and inviting. Roses and red fruit, violets and violent rocks careening with a rushing spring river. Those musty notes do persist again, blanketing the dolce, disguising that red fruit. Sharpness stings like Kiwi. Packs a punch of tannin, a bitter, mineral rangy streak that elevates the middle hallows and sends this MSD into really lengthy elasticity. Creamy vanilla comes to the palate with herbal undertones, like Lavender ice cream. This is old school with a modern twist. A really fine example. Tasted twice, September 2014, including blind at the WWAC14  @AmethystWineInc

Viticcio Chianti Classico 2011, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (283580, $24.00, WineAlign)

Big, bad and brooding. Black fruits are intense but surprisingly not overbearing or huge in demanded extract. Chalky, tannic, acidic, long. This is neither average nor to be ignored. It’s in the 13.5 per cent proper Chianti wheelhouse and marches in hipster stride without ever acting obnoxious. Some sanguine activity, along with iron and tension. The real deal. Not the brightest Chianti in the hills but one of a raw, unleashed power.  Tasted September 2014  @chianticlassico   @MajesticWineInc

From left to right: Versado Malbec 2013, Luigi Righetti Campolieti Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2012, Seghesio Zinfandel 2012, Domaine Brusset Tradition Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas 2012, Creekside Laura’s Red 2011, Château Léoville Las Cases 2006

From left to right: Versado Malbec 2013, Luigi Righetti Campolieti Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2012, Seghesio Zinfandel 2012, Domaine Brusset Tradition Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas 2012, Creekside Laura’s Red 2011, Château Léoville Las Cases 2006

Versado Malbec 2013, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (317008, $25.95, WineAlign)

The rocks beneath the earth precede the rich, dark fruit. After the berries and the candy beets and the spices subside the flowers grow and take over the room. The vintage brings more layers than before. Malbec of character and belief, even a touch of good VA, a coat that only the Southern Hemisphere can provide. It is not usually present in Mendozan Malbec so it’s really a breath of fresh paint here in the Versado. Great purity. Protracted length. Most expansive and intriguing vintage to date. The Reserva will be killer. Tasted September 2014  @VersadoWine

Luigi Righetti Campolieti Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2012, Doc, Veneto, Italy (695890, $18.95, WineAlign)

Classic really. Juicy must, musty juiciness. Earth and fruit. Fruity earth. Simple but so effective. Never gets beyond itself or out of its mind. Just the right amount of funk. Maybe the best yet. Great value.  Tasted September 2014  @Smallwinemakers

Seghesio Zinfandel 2012, Sonoma County, California, USA (942151, $29.95, WineAlign)

Rich plum and spicy Zinfandel. Young and tightly wound on a spindle. Needs time to unravel and reveal its charms. In a varietal sense this vintage of the Seghesio has got everything Zin needs and more. More specifically, the definition is out of a cooler vintage, with clear, well-delineated fruit and acidity. Sharp,spicy, focused and full, without ever acting hot, or bothered.  Tasted September 2014  @seghesio

Domaine Brusset Tradition Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas 2012, Ac, Rhône, France (960104, $29.95, WineAlign)

A thick, baking cake of a Gigondas, full of expected dark red Rhône fruitiness, but all in balance. Soapy sandalwood and chalky tannins. Quite grainy. Big, brawny and teeth staining, its “teeth ready, sharpened to bite.” It’s warm but not too hot. Cool centres, some spice and garrigue. Nothing to run away from. Though firm and loyal in the tradition of place, this has rolling stones in its blood so it will age gracefully in a well respected, cool, calm and collected manner. Will grow and grow on you as you work with it. This will age forever as there is just so much fruit. Hedging my bets on 25 years, safe to say.  Tasted September 2014  @rogcowines

Creekside Laura’s Red 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (117960, $19.95, WineAlign)

The most dead red Laura to date, juicy and earthy, like a licorice, plum and pomegranate demi-glace. Really expressive of earth and fruit.  Traditional house blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot. A no coat unfastened Niagara, consumer-friendly but also swelling with stuffing. “The light is red. The camera’s on,” the strokes are rich in energy though the tannins dry out a touch. Drink now and for two more years.  Tasted September 2014  @CreeksideWine

Château Léoville Las Cases 2006, Ac St Julien, 2e Cru, Bordeaux, France (566661, $299.00, WineAlign)

The LLC Grand Vin vineyard is very close to the Gironde river, creating a micro-climate that tempers the vines in climate control and matronly comfort. Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc develop here as well as anywhere in the world. Here is an interesting retrospective look at this formidable St. Julien, now having reached the tender and yet developed age of eight. Earthbound distance fruit by way of a chocolate (real dark) truffle and layers of soul stew. Still chalky and tannic, there is enough fruit to keep this going for a decade and a half, or more. Licorice, Cassis and graphite. Wow. Very broad across the late palate, indicating an integration that has begun to realize the potential of this wine. A very good vintage looking back, not one for the ages, but certainly expressive and rich.  Tasted September 2014  @Noble_Estates

Good to go!

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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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‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

Golden globes, Trius Winery at Hillebrand
PHOTO: ESTHER VAN GEEST OF STEVEN ELPHICK & ASSOCIATES

as seen on canada.com

In July of 2011, the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Association held their inaugural event, the celebration, the fourth “C.” On the weekend of July 19-21, 2013 the third Cool Climate Chardonnay conference occupied the greater good of the Niagara Peninsula, cementing a legacy begun two years previous.

Backtrack a few years, when in 2009 Ontario’s Le Clos Jordanne’s ‘Claystone Terrace’ Chardonnay 2005 made by winemaker Thomas Bachelder trumped international competitors in a Montreal grand tasting. A light bulb went on. Fast forward to April 2010 and a group of romantics from 28 Ontario wineries get together to defend a grape. Were they singing “that’s what I like about Chardonnay?” No, but the grape had been down on the rock for so long and the panel felt compelled to come to its defense. To suffer an indignity like “Anything But Chardonnay” was an aggression that could no longer be tolerated. Thus an idea was born, a manifesto drafted and i4C was soon to become a reality.

For such a gathering to succeed there necessitates grand effort, partnership, passion, star power and serious thematic examples. Germination began with those first cool thoughts back in 2010 and the journey has since laid song lines by way of a barmy march of vignerons with rootstock firmly dug in Niagara (Harald ThielAngelo Pavan) and those with a second foot tracking terroirsbeyond and abroad (Thomas BachelderFrancois Morissette). Mix in some of this generation’s best wine-producing and marketing minds; Ron Giesbrecht formerly of Henry of Pelham, now Niagara College, Stephen Gash (Malivoire), Peter Bodnar Rod (13th Street), Del Rollo (Inniskilin, Jackson Triggs, Le Clos Jordanne), Suzanne Janke (Stratus) and Jeff Aubry (Coyote’s Run). The yeoman’s load has been in the multi-tasking hands of those who will work ’till their fingers bleed. Give it up for the cool concierge team; Dorian Andrewes, Trisha Molokach, Elena Galey-Pride, Britnie Bazylewski, Magdalena Kaiser-Smit and an army of volunteers.

Partnered in kind with Wine Country Ontario, the Grape Growers of Ontario and the LCBO, Cool Chardonnay has gone forth and prospered. Success can be directly attributed to community and a profound connection to the fruit of the land. Famous wine folk have come; Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator, Stephen Brook of Decanter, winemakers and vintners wherever cool Chardonnay is grown. Pours have been the best of the best.

For three straight days in 2013 they walked, talked, sung praises in favour of and flat-out got dizzy with Chardonnay. White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa became vinifera central for the visiting cognoscenti, including 1976 Judgment in Paris and Decanter Magazine’s Steven Spurrier,U.K. wine writer Jamie Goode (The Wine Anorak), Master of Wine Christy Canterbury and traveling winemakers from all over; Louis Jadot’s Jacques Lardière, South Africa’s Anthony Hamilton Russell, New Zealand’s Ruud Maasdam and Spain/California’s Marimar Torres.

The Cool Chardonnay weekend-long event is the stuff of dreams. The level of local and global wine excellence on display is sweeping and staggering. The congress acts both as social function and unprecedented academic experience. Most of all, i4c fosters and develops relationships for people within the wine industry and with its fans.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Brock University CCOVI

 Dizzying was the operative word of the weekend. Each time I had only just digested, assimilated, internalized and committed a group of wines to memory, another gala event and tasting was upon me. Friday morning began with “Global Perspectives on Chardonnay,” a winemaker’s panel discussion at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, moderated in minimalist, less is more fashion by Mr. Spurrier. The colloquium was augmented by a tasting of seven wines attributed to panel members. “The base for all wines should be harmony,” began Spurrier, followed by ”simplicity and clarity are the key points in wine.” Four matter-of-course questions were put to the panel and the dissertations ambled in many directions. Could the room of several hundred not question, “why is this symposium different from all other symposiums?” There was plenty of talk on barrels, clones, rootstock, soil and climate but what about the heart of the matter. How and where does Ontario Chardonnay go forth and prosper? How will exceptional quality translate to financial success? The answer lay buried in the polite, respectful and viniculture responses of the panelists, all of whom chose not to ruffle any wine making philosophy feathers nor to breach the moderator’s benign agenda. There were highlights:

Grape grower Albrecht Seeger:

Thomas Bachelder on behalf of and in support of the eloquent and verbose Jacques Lardière:

The outspoken and candid Francois Morissette:

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Chardonnay at Brock University CCOVI

Friday night at Trius (Hillebrand) in Niagara-on-the-Lake set off under blazing sun only to be swept away in tempest. What began with the promise of seemingly limitless and linear structured wine and food stations turned into weather induced, scrambled chaos. I may never see a group of cooks, servers, winemakers and volunteers work harder to save an event and satiate a crowd as I saw at Trius that night. Their efforts were nothing short of brilliant. It was difficult to focus on tasting but the scene afforded some priceless time spent with Niagara winemakers and Brit Jamie Goode as the event wound down and on the shuttle back to the hotel. Wine tastings rarely afford such personal moments, to talk about something other than phenolics and malolactic fermentation.

PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates
Marlize Beyers at of Hidden Bench, Mikael Falkman of Champagne Taittinger and Michael Godel at Trius Wines

Lunch events and tastings on Saturday were held at StratusPillitteriHidden Bench and at Southbrook, which I attended. While the first three conducted more formal, seated, panel discussion style luncheons, the scene at Southbrook was more of a walk about, casual nature. Once again this allowed for one-on-one time with some of Niagara’s wine minds. Great time was spent with Shiraz Mottiar of Mailvoire (Moira’s Chardonnay 2010) and Sébastien Jacquey of Le Clos Jordanne (LCJ Chardonnay Claystone Terrace 2010). Special thanks to Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier for their hospitality.

PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates
Mother Nature announces a change of plans – at Trius Wines

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre was host to the Saturday gala event. The gamut of Chardonnay flowed freely, including fizz by Cave Spring, Angel’s Gate and Taittinger alongside Tide and Vine oysters. Food stations adorned the lawn and the army of volunteers poured all available Chardonnay well into the night. My ABC moment came early Sunday thanks to Mike Di Caro and a very much alive bottle of ’98 Henry of Pelham Riesling. Sunday concluded with more, you guessed it, Chardonnay at Ravine Vineyard and some terrific eats. Pizza from the outdoor oven, prosciutto by Mario Pingue and great rib-eye hamburgers hot off the grill.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Chef Vikram Vij at Vineland Research Centre

In excess of 100 unique expressions of Chardonnay were available to taste throughout the weekend. More than half were presented in an experiential way, with a present winemaker or a carefully crafted food pairing. I sampled 72 to be exact. Much as I have thus far avoided the questions, and they have been asked more than once, I am willing to address the demand for ”what were the highlights and what were your favourites?” Apologies in advance to those I either missed or could not properly assess due to the sheer enormity of the weekend. Also to the little ones, the hard-plodding, day-to-day pleasing value Chardonnay. With so many top-tier, global examples from Burgundy, California, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, British Columbia and Ontario on offer, the under $25 set may not have felt the love. Here are notes on 13, guilt-free, bring ‘em on Chardonnay poured at #i4c2013.

Wines were tasted at the following venues:

Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI)

Trius Winery at Hillebrand (TWH)

Southbrook Vineyards (SV)

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (VRIC)

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre Rittenhouse Media Room  (RMR)

Ravine Vineyard (RV)

Southbrook Chardonnay Whimsy! ‘Sirgue’ 2011 (344531, $34.95) may come from the ‘masculine barrels’ but the integration is already seamless, in soft French cream spooned over a grove of ripe lemon dessert. Sister ‘Damy’ (sampled at 5-Star Casa Loma) is certainly ultra-feminine but together they speak of the symbiotic relationship between winemaker (Ann Sperling) and cooperage. Stone-free Chardonnay, “free to ride the breeze.”  90  (TH, SV) @SouthbrookWine

Poplar Grove Reserve Chardonnay 2011 (335760, $34.00) is not so much a more concentrated version of the estate’s normale as a hotter sister. Like her sibling, the reserve does not rely on any one feature but she is classically styled, quaffed, a marble bust made up as maenad. Sappy white and savoury, meloniuos winter fruit, spiced apple butter and cool, steely goodness alights. “Felonious my old friend, So glad that you’re here again.”  90  (TWH, VRIC) @poplargrovewine

Staete Land Chardonnay ‘Josephine’ 2010 (332494, $57.00) is built upon a Marlborough hendiadys, a complex conjunction of rocks and earth. Sharp, focused and broad across the palate. Ruddy specimen this Josephine and simply gorgeous.  90  (VRIC)  @liffordwine

Miguel Torres Chardonnay ‘Cordillera De Los Andes’ 2011 (296624, $18.95) out of the cooler Limari Valley impresses in structure from mountain top to valley floor. Candied lemon peel, spicy bite and a crisp, cool centre make a case for value Chilean Chardonnay of the year. I might go so far as to say the highest quality ever from Chile.  91  (RMR)  @MarimarTorres

Tawse Chardonnay ‘Lenko Vineyard’ 2011 (344796, $44.95) ”from wiser men who’ve been through it all” is the kind of one-off we should all wish to re-visit in 10 years time. The study: Daniel Lenko’s fruit in the hands of winemaker Paul Pender out of a most confounding vintage. That 2011 in terms of Ontario Chardonnay strikes and speaks to me in tongues is no secret, so the Tawse treatment fascinates in ways to make me giddy. Tension and elasticity are present here in super-hyper Beamsville Bench concentration. Apples pile upon apples, in magnetic purée and layered maceration. A full-on body attack and phenolic structure will see this Lenko to a future (five to seven years) in grace and gorgeous line. A Chardonnay to “scheme the schemes, face the face.” Tasted three times.  91  (TH, VRIR, SV)  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011 (931006, $32.95) may just be the most fascinating wine of the weekend. Aromatically it’s so understated and semi-breve spoken the oak-driven note is of the quasihemidemisemiquaver kind. Taste and find it ”is bathed every veyne in swich licour.” Chaucer-esque form, texture and meaning.  91  (VRIC, RV)  @WOSACanada

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2009 (303644, $40), tragically singular in expression, regardless and in spite of the terroir, mixes metaphors and pulls it off. “Takes arms against a sea of troubles,” by convincing ADHD fruit of an uncertain vintage to settle, play nice and “by opposing, end them.” Now entering the load out zone, this Hamlet cuvée is “the first to come and the last to leave, working for that minimum wage.” A sentimental ballad here to stay, be remembered and to set the stage for all dix-neuvième to come.  92  (TH)  @Pearl Morissette

Domaine Genot-Boulanger Meursault Clos du Cromin 2010 (331660, $59.00) intimates a sunshine daydream future carrying on wistfully in lustful fruit. Longevity will be supported by tight citrus and the wine, long on life, is long on deliverance.  92  (VRIC, VRI)

Bachelder Chardonnay ’Saunders Vineyard’ 2011 (324103, $44.95) takes the baton from Wismer ’10 in a transfer of power, tension and excitement. Clarity of textural fruit is driven by Beamsville Bench clay-silt soil. Highly dependent on yeast chains, sticking, spreading and expanding. Sapid, savoury, buttered stones show negligible encumbrance due to vines that will not carry an excess of new oak.  92  (CCOVI)  @Bachelder_wines

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011 (346049, $35.00) toasted low and slow enervates and implodes to its very core. Then it sparks, revs the engine and climbs to 140 fearlessly and without peer. For those who can withstand the atomic launch, what follows is a reward of the highest quality Berkshire porcine whip, melting in the mouth like adult cotton candy.  Slow simmered apple paste, spiced and cooling reaps moisture and vacuums in the cheeks. Madness in Prince Edward County Chardonnay.  92  (RMR)  @normhardie

Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2010 (120311, $90) is a study in Russian River Valley emotional depth, structured belief, reserved compassion and stoic understanding. Yes John Milton, there is intensity of the California sun present yet expertly judged in ripeness, concentration and restraint. Smooth, glabrous, luxuriant and prurient Chardonnay. Sip it, “look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth.”  93  (RMR)

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2011 ($40) is a child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or NOL in 2011?  93  (CCOVI)

Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche 2010 (332270, $129.00) is sinfully young to assess, enjoy and evaluate. Stinging nettle, metal and silken, concentrated wildflower honey think mellifluous thoughts. “Him that yon soars on golden wings” sings in gold ingot yellow, in sweet harmony. Milton meets Costello, not quite in its Utopian place but will one day achieve peace, love and understanding.  94  (RMR)

Good to go!