On tasting blind and VINTAGES April 30th

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

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

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

Related – Heading out for the west coast

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

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

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

Blinds

To blind or not to blind, that is the question

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

I don’t know what it is

Something in me just won’t give it a chance

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

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

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

And it’s no big deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildass

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

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

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

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

From my earlier note of December 2014:

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

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

Chianti

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

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

Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania

Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania

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

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

Grendel

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

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

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

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

Crawford

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

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Seven snow day whites for VINTAGES February 20th

Scallop and Shrimp, avocado, grapefruit, tomato, cilantro, lime, lemon, garlic, olive oil

Scallop and Shrimp, avocado, grapefruit, tomato, cilantro, lime, lemon, garlic, olive oil

A confession. Herein these pages there might seem to be the appearance of astonishing disorder. With music as a muse and a foil to wine, I prefer to look at it as an enjambment, or, as James Woods might explain it, as “the desire to get more in, to challenge metrical closure.” No form, structure or cohesion you think, you mutter, you say? Oh, well.

Over at WineAlign I share my February 20th VINTAGES release picks in the Buyer’s Guide, along with colleagues John Szabo, Sara d’Amato and a travelling David Lawrason. Here at Godello the list expands. First here, with seven whites for snow days and well, just snow. Look for the reds on Saturday.

The white wines of VINTAGES February 20th, 2016

The white wines of VINTAGES February 20th, 2016

Hugel Gentil 2014, Ac Alsace, France (367284, $16.95, WineAlign)

A bottle blend soft and inviting, teasing tropical fruit but grounded in the continental orchard. Warmth on the nose and cool effervescence on the tongue add up to a waxy, airy finish. This opens up, rises and elevates on the back end. Terrific aperitif out of 2014 with some legs to last through the night. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @FamilleHugel  @HalpernWine  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace  @VinsAlsace

Creekside Estate Riesling Marianne Hill Vineyard 2014, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (443572, $19.95, WineAlign)

Like a gypsy boy, the idea of Riesling, winemaker Rob Power and Creekside Estates do not occupy overtly obvious territory so here, “come over to the window, my little darling. I’d like to try to read your palm.” In it the perfected Cohen lines of classic Bench Riesling, of stalwarts Thirty and Hidden Bench. Same stoic, non-gentrified possibilities unfollowed and new concepts surreptitiously proposed. Terrifically tart, dangerously darting and tasked for mouth watering righteousness. Such succinct lemon-lime continuous balance. Winemaker Rob Power may not have a storied history with Riesling but now that he has gone Marianne Hill he can’t go back. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @CreeksideWine  @hobbsandco

Ilocki Podrumi Premium Grasevina 2013, Hrvatsko Podunavlje, Croatia (369421, $21.95, WineAlign)

Such potential from Croatia found, packaged and articulated in this bottle. Classic Furmint in Grasevina clothing, right along the wire where Pinot Gris looks over towards Chenin Blanc and says “let’s spend the night together.” Honeyed, unctuous, spicy and floral to the stones and back. For days when “I’m going red and my tongue’s gettin’ tied,” turning to white never tasted so good. You gotta try this. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @WinesofCroatia  @RolandRussell

Greywacke (Kevin Judd) Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, New Zealand (164228, $23.95, WineAlign)

From the town of bedrock, Kevin Judd’s Greywacke is a modern, stone-age Sauvignon Blanc. Grown out of vineyards in the Central Wairau and Southern Valleys in Marlborough, Judd’s exploratory to trailblazing SB announces its aromatic arrival like a pick struck on granite. Tannic from the get go and forged with precise angles and friezes, always tied by an indenture with texture. The vintage is a fruit first forward, neighbourly one and it takes a winemaker to keep things etched in stone. This one strikes me as one that could have got away but the reigning was accomplished in lope, guiding the fruit through a precise pattern of circles, spins, and stops. The success lies in the canter of acidity to extend the effect towards a turning and returning, again and again. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted February 2016  @greywacker  @Greywacke  @oenophilia1

Trimbach Réserve Pinot Gris 2012, Ac Alsace, France (971762, $29.95, WineAlign)

Immediately reminds of 2008 and will go down a similar, slowly turning and evolving path. So purposed and direct though there is a slight elevation in residual sugar as compared to the four four beat four years ago. Pinot Gris of pears and operas, with some spice on the finish. This will aria into something lovely at the age of seven and beyond. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted February 2016  @trimbach  @WoodmanWS  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace  @VinsAlsace

Béjot Les Bouchots Montagny 1er Cru 2013, Ac Burgundy, France (438002, $27.95, WineAlign)

Tidy, tide and vine Chardonnay the way with oak it needs to be. Unobtrusive and just a sheet between fruit and acidity, enough for warmth and not too much to bring on the sweats. Snug, spruced, agitated, resplendent even. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted February 2016  @HannaNealWines  @BeauneTourisme  @BourgogneWines

Josef Chromy Sparkling 2010, Tasmania, Australia (393629, $29.95, WineAlign)

If 2008 has just recently settled into its low heat unit skin then the consideration here can’t yet touch the thought. So much lees and so much time, so little evolution and so little mind. Jeremy Dineen must be grinning from ear to ear with the thought of where this fizz will go, carrying so much wisdom in its autolysis and Tazzy vernacular in its mousse. Great citrus benchmark OZ outpost where the bubbles work hard for their money and offer up nothing but charm. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted February 2016  @JosefChromy  @bwwines  @Wine_Australia

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign: Michael Godel

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Twelve days of wine to get you through the holidays

Charcuterie and Appetizers @barquebutchers by the GSF

Charcuterie and Appetizers @barquebutchers by the GSF

More reasons are requested, given, offered, presented and needed for purchasing and consuming wine during the month of December than at any other time of the year. And so, 12 more suggestions, falling this time within the realm of mortal affordability yet special enough to gift and to make you feel like you’ve done something nice for yourself. Go ahead, indulge. All from the November 28th VINTAGES release.

Casas Del Bosque Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Casas Del Bosque Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Casablanca Valley, Chile (974717, $13.95, WineAlign)

Could not be anything but Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc, movie quotes and all. Tossed like a cayenne dart at a yellow plum tree board. Sweet and salty, like white taffy and sprigs of rosemary on a bacon-wrapped scallop. Odd combo and why not. On the edge of tomatillo and nettle? Perhaps, but also composed with an acerbic wit, as time goes by. “It’s still the same old story. A fight for love and glory.” Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted November 2015  @CasasdelBosque  @azureau  @DrinkChile

Delheim Family Chenin Blanc 2014

Delheim Family Chenin Blanc 2014, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (429720, $17.95, WineAlign)

Flinty, smoky, reductive Chenin, certainly produced with quantity and accessibility in mind. Typically, succinctly Stellenbosch, with a level of sweetness available and in balance with the stony fruit that is marked by a mineral mine. Has good acidity and even better length. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September and November 2015  @Delheim  @Noble_Estates  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

Arnaldo Caprai Anima Umbra Rosso 2012, Igt Umbria, Italy

Arnaldo Caprai Anima Umbra Rosso 2012, Igt Umbria, Italy (434266, $19.95, WineAlign)

So unexpectedly and remarkably fresh Umbrian of red fruit and ripe acids without any overkill from wood or tannin. This is a pure breath of fresh air in a world dominated by barrel, heat, over-extraction and covert winemaking operations. The fruit may not be Caprai’s most prized but it works a basic stratagem of interpretative and integrated, integral magic. It must be lauded for its honesty. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted November 2015  @Arnaldocaprai  @StemWineGroup

Josef Chromy Pepik Sekt

Josef Chromy Pepik Sekt, Tasmania, Australia, (429704, $26.95, WineAlign)

A whole whorl of aromas kick up the dust from this pearl of a Tazzy with an arid and saline sense of destiny. Density and weight are surprising features, along with orchard fruit and wild machinations. Jams and swaggers with so much personality, from lime lining the velodramatic slopes of its groove to fish jumping out of its waters. Calling it alive would be an understatement. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted November 2015  @JosefChromy  @bwwines

Jean Max Roger Cuvée G.C. Sancerre 2014

Jean Max Roger Cuvée G.C. Sancerre 2014, Loire Valley, France (189126, $28.95, WineAlign)

Sweet scenting and spicy wafting Sauvignon Blanc, with white pepper and cool herbiage (mint, savoury, tarragon and basil). Good solid Sancerre, always, organically developed and of a verbiage that is modern, proper and articulate. Always spot on. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted November 2015 @oenophilia1  @LoireValleyWine

Spy Valley Envoy Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Spy Valley Envoy Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Waihopai Valley, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (429308, $29.95, WineAlign)

Elevated, reductive, flinty tones, noticeably crash course modern and reactive for New Zealand. Capsicum and juicy fruit gum, matchstick and tropical fruit, then citrus on the palate with opiate numbing. This is Sauvignon Blanc like Semillon, as if the winemaker at Spy Valley, with the best fruit possible from Waihopai Valley, had the intention of making the most serious SB on the planet. With a bit of barrel effect, though that may be a stretch I’m looking at a 10 year development here, into honey, rocks and a blast of propellent. Uncharted territory. Will have its share of naysaying anti-stylistic poo-pooers. Drink 2016-2026.  Tasted November 2015  @spyvalleywine  @SpyValleyUK  @nzwine  @TrialtoON

Château Bernadotte 2005

Château Bernadotte 2005, Ac Haut Médoc, Bordeaux, France (431775, $32.95, WineAlign)

A really nice drop of Bordeaux that has fully resolved from the semi-heat of 2005. This is good to go, with both acidity and tannin gracefully interconnected while the fruit remains. A good leathery hide and a slight ferric bleed fills the nooks. Lovely semi-old Bordeaux. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted November 2015

Majella Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Majella Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coonawarra, South Australia (301531, $33.95, WineAlign)

A massive combination of fruit, tannin and wood whorl in a ferric, tough, gritty and ready for nothing in any particular hurry Cabernet. That said, it is silky smooth, spicy and velvety too. A really big mouthful of so much goodness to last 20 years or more. Out it aside for all the major players to get in tune and it will be music to your ears. And pleasure to your lips. Drink 2017-2032.  Tasted November 2015  @aussiewineguy  @HalpernWine  @CoonawarraWine

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2004

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2004, Doca Rioja, Spain (976662, $35.95, WineAlign)

Rioja of another era, of tradition, curated history and the famous rusty liqueur. Steeping cherries, elongated acidity, rifling ripples of leather, cedar, cypress and chestnut. The right kind of Rioja with just a hint of plum and plenty of naturally orchestrated enjoyment. Drink 2015-2024.  Tasted November 2015  @RiojaWine  @Select_Wines

Stags' Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2012

Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2012, Napa Valley, California (590356, $39.95, WineAlign)

Dark, dusty and devilishly rich. Must be noted from the start that this is quite restrained for Petite Sirah, cautiously oaked and modest in alcohol. It’s no introvert mind you. A note of volatility keeps it on the edge and the flavours are steeped in tea, coffee and cocoa nib. The vintage agrees with the varietal transplantation and the burgeoning acidity makes for a relationship built on mutual respect. Good and plenty. The handshake is currently quite gripped so waiting another 18 months or so should and will soften the clasp. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted November 2015  @stagsleapwines

Künstler Hochheimer Stielweg Old Vines Riesling Trocken 2013

Künstler Hochheimer Stielweg Old Vines Riesling Trocken 2013, Qualitätswein, Rheingau, Germany (425041, $42.95, WineAlign)

Along with Rudesheim and Johannisberg, Hochheim was anointed by Goethe as one of the magnates of the Rheingau. From a singular cone-shaped hill locale on the unshaded east-west aspect of the Rhine River. The mediterranean micro-climate makes for, simply stated, stupid good Riesling. Riesling of richness and minerality, strength and length, perfectly good bitters and even better health assisting tonics. Fruit density in the realm of peach and apricot lives in due part because of the Cyrena marl and its soil matrix of dark, alluvial loamy loess. Bounty buoyed by energy. Layers and layers of health, wealth and old vines wisdom. Drink 2018-2035.  Tasted May and November 2015  @Noble_Estates  @germanwineca  @WinesofGermany

Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (959965, $46.95, WineAlign)

A very pretty, floral and flirtatious Cabernet, supported by extremely ripe and ripping tannins currently caught in a veritable uproar. Elongating drivers are chalky but not grainy and while the sweetness of those conduits are astonishing, the immediate gratification tells me I won’t see this continuing to develop for the better after the ten year mark. Five to ten will be just right. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted November 2015  @CatenaMalbec  @LauraCatena  @winesofarg  @ArgentinaWineCA  @TrialtoON

Good to go!

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Can Chardonnay get any cooler?

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Five is a big number. Any annual convention that survives and thrives into a fifth caucus must be divined by some unseen force, a guiding hand perhaps, by avatar or prosopopoeia. And something other. The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration has priceless equity on its side. Three aces in the hole. Canadian climate and geology, adroit farmers and winemakers, simpatico of communities.

West coast writer Alder Yarrow spent three days in Ontario and referred to The Brilliance of Canadian Chardonnay. Wine Spectator contributing editor Matt Kramer said that Ontario is possessive of a “luminosity of flavour” and that its Chardonnay offers up “the element of surprise.” In Modern Wine Myths he tells the world about the measure of Canadian wine.

What is it that draws foreign winemakers and journalists to Canada? If people will come, their work meets vacation migration must want for a cause and effect to be a part of something special. South Africa’s Anthony Hamilton Russell said that “a layered, complex wine has to have completed its phenolic journey.” Despite what the world might think and think they know, peregrination by wine grapes, from bud break, through fruit set, véraison and into ripening, is a beautiful reality in Canada.

We walked away from the fourth Cool Chardonnay Conference last year wondering, asking that ubiquitous question, the same one we ask at the Expert’s Tasting every year.

And where do we go from here?
Which is the way that’s clear

Who among us had not believed that the pinnacle of hype had been compassed? Had four years of gatherings not fully realized a conspiracy to inject more than enough cool Chardonnay into thousands of minds and veins? Had anyone not wholly submitted to a seemingly seized reality in apogee of conversions, of maximum, critical mass?

Godello in the media room, White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa

Godello in the media room, White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa

Yes, we thought these things and then year number five blew our minds. We had been wrong. We found out that the bar had yet been breached. Further was still out there, not yet claimed, hovering in the realm of the possible and still, going forward, yet remains plausible. Looking back on the weekend of July 17-19, 2015, at locations blanketed across the Niagara Peninsula, Chardonnay got even cooler.

Related – Eleven Chardonnays to the coolest show on earth

Eleven days in advance of the fifth International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, known in hashtag locution as #i4c15, I tasted and wrote notes on eleven examples of Chardonnay and it was good. On a weekend built for beauty in Wine Country Ontario, at Jackson Triggs, White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa, 13th Street Winery, Westcott Vineyards, Ridley College and at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery, I tasted upwards of 50 more. I will admit that previous Cool Chardonnay weekends laid a beating on my palate. Not in 2015. On July 20th I wished for more Chardonnay.

Godello and Magdalena Kaiser of Wine Country Ontario at Barrels and Bonfires, 13th Street Winery (c) Elena Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca

Godello and Magdalena Kaiser of Wine Country Ontario at Barrels and Bonfires, 13th Street Winery
(c) Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca

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

With a cavalry in cavalcade of Chardonnay volunteers making it real and sealing the deal, the surfeited excellence of events crossed with happenings rolled on, from the School of Cool – Viticultural and Winemaking Sessions, through Barrels & Bonfires, past Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner and into The Moveable Feast. There were maestri to applaud – Master Sommelier Bruce Wallner, Angie Jewell and MJ Macdonald – trumpeters of Chardonnay. Did you seek out and thank Dorian Anderson, Trisha Molokach, Magdalena Kaiser and Joanna Muratori? – concierge and purveyors of cool climate heaven. Had you a word or two with Del Rollo, Suzanne Janke and the vintners of the i4C? – gatekeepers of the plans and secrets, where Ontario schemes, greets, welcomes and celebrates frore, global brilliance.

The school of Cool, White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa

The school of Cool, White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa

The School of Cool presented by Wine Country Ontario and the Grape Growers of Ontario moved to White Oaks Conference Resort & Spa for the first time in 2015. Panel partners included the passer of the torch Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University, VineTech Canada, Kerry Canada and Riedel Canada. Master Sommelier John Szabo once again moderated three sessions focused on international perspectives to viticulture and winemaking in cool climate regions, with a special feature on Sparkling Chardonnay. In 2011 Wine Spectator‘s Matt Kramer was the keynote speaker and he reprised that contribution in 2015.

Dr. Belinda Kemp, CCOVI Brock Univeristy and Godello at The School of Cool, White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa

Dr. Belinda Kemp, CCOVI Brock Univeristy and Godello at The School of Cool, White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa

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

The School of Cool 2015 sessions were controversial, heated and extremely effective. On them I will need to expand upon at another time, in another post. For now, the crux of the conversation concerned two intense Chardonnay algorithms. First, consequence versus cosmetics. Said Kramer, “Niagara has the ability and the opportunity to create Chardonnays of consequence.” Marlize Beyers of Hidden Bench allowed this. “I do believe Chardonnay needs a little bit of cosmetics. Mouthfeel is important.” Discuss.

The second and most managed thread of discussion concerned the idea of minerality. Is it real? Dr. Gary Pickering: “Who cares?” Dr Alex Maltman: “It’s a lovely idea, journalists love it, has marketing capability, but it doesn’t hold up.” Paul Pender: “It’s a great story. I’m not 100 per cent sure its true. It’s more complex than that.” Albrecht Seeger: “Minerality is part of the terroir.” Matt Kramer: “The scientists don’t know a goddamn thing about wine.” Discuss.

Barrels and Bonfires, 13th Street Winery

Barrels and Bonfires, 13th Street Winery

On Friday night at 13th Street the theme was “boots & blue jeans,” to compliment Chardonnay, with a smoke-inspired feast, live music and cozy bonfires set amongst the vines.

Jay Johnston of Flat Rock Vineyards and Godello at Barrels and Bonfires, 13th Street Winery

Jay Johnston of Flat Rock Vineyards and Godello at Barrels and Bonfires, 13th Street Winery

On Saturday Chardonistas blanketed the Niagara region.

Westcott Vineyards

Westcott Vineyards

I spent the afternoon with winemaker Arthur Harder, Grant, Carolyn and Victoria Westcott at their Vinemount Ridge Westcott Vineyards property.

Fresh Salmon hors d'oeuvre by Lorenzo Loseto of George Restaurant, at Westcott Vineyards

Fresh Salmon hors d’oeuvre by Lorenzo Loseto of George Restaurant, at Westcott Vineyards

George Restaurant Chef Lorenzo Loseto and Sommelier Christopher Sealy came to cook and pour. They went to town. Appetites were whetted, palates amused, bellies satiated, hearts skewered, minds hooked and time was lost to well spent.

Lunch at Westcott Vineyards

Lunch at Westcott Vineyards

The main event’s setting was St. Catharines’ Ridley College, at which Chef Paul Harber (Ravine Vineyard Restaurant) and Chef Craig Youdale (Canadian Food & Wine Institute) assembled a dream team of the region’s top Vineyard Chefs to present an Ontario-centric family-style feast. Beer and red wine, “oh my,” “gasp,” “what sacrilege,” followed dinner.

#ILiveChardonnay at the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting and Dinner at Ridley College

#ILiveChardonnay at the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting and Dinner at Ridley College

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

On Sunday morning the final convene took place, as it always does, at Ravine Vineyard. More stellar bites, oysters from Tide and Vine, Niagara cured gold Pingue prosciutto from Niagara Food Specialties and ping-pong in the vineyard. In the end, the love was felt, for the community that celebrates Ontario wine, for all the cool climate folks who came thousands of miles to participate and for Chardonnay.

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

The events provided opportunities to taste the Chardonnays on hand and with thanks to Wine Country Ontario, a media room was set up at White Oaks with full representation. Many of my tasting notes were formulated in that space. Here are twenty-five new Chardonnay reviews from the weekend at i4C15.

Cool Chardonnay in the media room at White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa

Cool Chardonnay in the media room at White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa

Calmel & Joseph Villa Blanche Chardonnay 2014, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (375071, $13.95, WineAlign)

Quite simple and surprisingly lush with more than ample acidity to keep vitality in the air. A balanced effort in a pretty plush Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted July 2015

Malivoire Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (573147, $17.95, WineAlign)

If you reside in Ontario or happen to be passing through before September 13, 2015, the perfect value storm of Chardonnay swirls in your corner. It may be the most excellent 2012 you will find on shelves but looking forward to this (2013) vintage you will encounter a varietal tempest, a house crafted dictionary entry and in retrospect, memories regarding that two dollar limited time offer price reduction that doled out 10 per cent more satisfaction. The essentia of fresh glade aroma, cream in your corn texture and a gaol of circulating acidity add up to one seriously fleshy ($20 and/or $18), cool-climate, hovering in and around the Beamsville Bench Chardonnay. The Malivoire base wine is one of no beginning and no end so in that sense it will always get inside you. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar

Toro De Piedra Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Maule Valley, Chile (417493, $17.95, WineAlign)

Rich, toasty and nutty Maule Chardonnay, full on, out and in favour of ambitious, lofty heights. Has massive creamy meets chalky mouthfeel and tropical fruit with spice by wood in spikes, not to mention high toned acidity and alcohol. It’s an aggressive if clumsy expression. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted twice, June and July 2015  @VinaRequingua  @DrinkChile

Hillebrand Trius Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2013, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (46595, $19.95, WineAlign)

Sur-lie barrel fermented Chardonnay all in for texture and fabric with a taste of soft French cream. Very ripe, especially in consideration of the vintage. The late flavours recall lemon curd and a touch of rind. In the end an elemental tonic push carries this skyward, as opposed to downward in earthy dredge, so imagine forward to a petrolish driven future, the engine leaving a trail of disposed energy. Quite complex and certainly fixed with boards to add nuts to the melting, oozing bolts. I would recommend leaving this for two years for the tension to subside. Then the creamy centre will spill out from beneath the pastry crust. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted July 2015  @TriusWines

13th Street June’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

The vineyard speaks louder and clearer with every passing vintage. In 2013 the level of atomic and aerified atmospheric pressure is unparalleled, from June and for any Chardonnay produced in the Creek Shores sub-appellation. At this early stage the ’13’s awkward, backward and racy character is uncomfortable but impossible to taste away from. This is Chardonnay on gym candy to be sure, rocking like a hurricane, dancing up a storm. The terpenes are titillating, the enzymes discharging. There is a bronze/patina/inside of a pipe metallic feel that adds to the texture improvisation. Nothing about this says drink now nor does it let you settle into a comfort zone. It’s just that all over the place. Will revisit in three years.  Tasted December 2014 and July 2015  @13thStreetWines  @Noble_Estates

Kirsten Searle, Matawhero Wines

Kirsten Searle, Matawhero Wines

Matawhero Chardonnay 2014, Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand (Agent, $21.95)

Unoaked but full malo crisp up this true blue, north island Chardonnay. A bob of fruit from the oldest (40 years) winery in the region and under current ownership for the past eight. You can tell after tasting with Kirsten Searle that the project has been a labour of love. Her words seem to say “heading out for the East Coast Lord knows I’ve paid some dues gettin’ through. Tangled up in blue.” Round and properly bitter, the world should not be demanded. East coast will do. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (377770, $21.95, WineAlign)

A strength in aromatic temper initializes the confrontation and the relationship. Once hooked, lemon and a waxy texture usher the palate through the middle reaches, then a swirl, tongue on a swivel, off to glide with sweetness into a gin and tonic backside ride. Goes fat and caressing for a spell, through a toasty phase and yet the wood is hidden or at least negligible. Could very well pass for unoaked in a way, especially considering the tang and the persistence. A very solid wine at a very workable price. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted twice, June and July 2015  @Quails_Gate  @hobbsandco

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

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

Domaine Laroche Chablis Saint Martin 2013, Burgundy, France (289124, $24.95, WineAlign)

Climbs more than a rung or two up the reverent Chablis ladder to mingle with the Cru boys. Something about 2013 strikes as more serious, punctilious and free. This is benchmark Saint Martin, chalky and textured from soup to nuts, of spirits high and sky-scraping tang. The acidity is frank, the structure unwavering and the fruit to mineral dichotomy of a pure, mature and essential hookup. From verve to intensity and back again. Up and down, primary and natural. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted July 2015  @DomaineLaroche  @Select_Wines  @BIVBChablis

Chamisal Stainless Chardonnay 2014, Central Coast, California (416065, $24.95, WineAlign)

Quite classically cooled and unplugged yet intensely sunshine tangy. Fun yet on a seesaw of play and a boat on a rough sea up and down in balance. That is not to say that acidity does not exist but the tang is like heavy salad dressing, emulsified and sultry. No malolactic equates to green apples and blanched nuts, or those hulled direct from the tree. Texture is the thing, a child of crisp, cool fermentation. Freshness could use just a bit more ventilation. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted twice, June and July 2015  @ChamisalVyd  @LiffordON

Chamisal Estate Chardonnay 2013, Edna Valley, California (Agent, $24.95)

French oak (45 per cent) and (25 per cent) of it new mixed with (50 per cent) malo has created an herbal cream piqued by spice. It’s kind of a chewy Chardonnay, well-judged, blended and crafted with both stainless steel and wood ramifications in meld together mind. A true dichotomy of pleasures, green and red, old and new, yes and no. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted July 2015  @ChamisalVyd  @LiffordON

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay ‘Tradition’ 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $24.95)

From vines planted by soil guru Alain Sutre, two km’s from the lake, close to Green Lane. If you make a comparison to Bench sites, this is an understated, hyper elegant version of a Chardonnay. It’s an underdog, plain and simple. Sixteen months of élevage has raised a beautiful, bitter green dignity, pith nicety and polite terpenes. A child in many ways who’s offspring will only serve to honour the family name. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted June and July 2015  @QueylusVin  @LiffordON

Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2013, Margaret River, Western Australia (Agent, $25)

At a third of the cost of the Heytsbury, expectations for the Filius need not exceed prediction. Screw cap has sealed in reduction, sulphur and acidity so that upon liberation the wave of anxiety is nearly overwhelming. The Filius transmits waves of complexity, layers of predilection and outright Margaret River coolness but decanting that character is not unthinkable. Smoulder, struck match and green apple fruit are massively intertwined. Bold Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2015  @vassefelix  @bwwines

Jean Bourdy Côtes De Jura White 2008, Ac Jura, France (Agent, $28.00, WineAlign)

Tasting his Jura whites with Jean Bourdy can’t help but funnel the exercise into a tunnel, a vacuum and a bilateral directive inward and centripetal. Tradition is everything and this ’09 is neither the exception nor the anti-establishment rebel to the rule. Herbal balm and oxidized character persist but nowhere in the world can so much implosive energy exist in wine such as a Bourdy Jura. This vintage does not reinvent the oueille but the four fermenting years in oak, as per the centuries-old Côtes du Jura method seems to improve with the cleanliness of the process. Another white to follow well into the third decade of this century. Drink 2015-2035. Tasted July 2015  @CAVESJEANBOURDY  @LiffordON

Westcott Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

The 2012 early picked Reserve Chardonnay was the raw player, the talented yet unproven one, all about foreplay. Here in ’13, from fruit picked on October 7th is a different rock ‘n roll animal, wiser to vintage, mature in acumen, confident, a Ziggy Stardust. This charismatic leader of the Vinemount Ridge Chardonnay band, “could lick ’em by smiling, he could leave ’em to hang, came on so loaded man, well hung and snow white tan.” Works opulence with prejudice and here acts, sings, dances and displays equipped with nothing short of immediate distinction. There is nothing held back, no remedial work in progress and wisdom oozes beyond its years, in and of learning. The right time and the right place for the winemaker, the accomplice, the peer and the confidence of the partners. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted July 2015  @WestcottWines  @VWestcott

Westcott Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

What should small Vinemount Ridge yields, collected solar units and wise, thinking ahead of the curve decision making combine to procure? Grace under pressure. This is what winemaker Arthur Harder, proprietors Grant and Carolyn Westcott and Chardonnay have conspired to achieve out of the warm and challenging 2012 vintage. They picked in very early September. They laid the fruit down for 12 months in (four) 1st, 2nd and 3rd fill barrels. They sat back and waited for amalgamation. If 2012 shows this level of restraint, respect and reserve, well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is deserving of meritorious accolades at a very reasonable price. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of February 2014:

From vineyards planted in 2005, this new kid on the Jordan block spent 12 months in oak, half of it new. To a taster, you would never know it. In clone cousin to Le Clos Jordanne’s Chardonnay, this special project is the nephew of a set aside, four-barrel selection. Winemaker Arthur Harder (Calamus) has fashioned a head-turning clean, pure and most mineral-driven Chardonnay from impossibly young Vinemount Ridge vines. A quartz chord runs through it and with just two or three more years of vine age the fruit and adjoining texture will catch up to the rock. That integrated, subtle oak impart is of a Granny Smith apple kind, crisp and taut. Such a memorable inauguration with so much promise that lays ahead.

Last tasted July 2015

Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (529941, $29.95, WineAlign)

The omnipresent Escarpment stone etched, nicked and saturated into ferment from out of the Cave Spring Vineyard may never have extolled virtue any more so than out of the 2012 vintage. A tropical CSV and its accompanying mild, understated toast combs the faces for balance and bobs its keel in well-structured, puff pastry layering. A bitter sachet of schist on the back end steps into a really fine linger. CSV of real presence even in the midst of a summer swelter. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted twice, June and July 2015  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGro

Lailey Brickyard Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (2908, $30.20, WineAlign)

There are many variations on the Lailey Chardonnay theme but none speaks as clear a Brother Derek Barnett vernacular as the Brickyard, a wine composed in clarity of Niagara River fruit. The former cherry tree and yes, brickyard site is blessed with a red clay soil and Niagara micro-climate that just circulates with enunciated vowels, consonants and graceful intonations. That this seminal vintage will be Barnett’s Lailey swan song is not lost on gist or preponderancy. The full intention, weight and breadth of fruit circles the wagons, prepares the last supper and the silence that follows knows this. This winemaker and this Chardonnay work harder than a great bulk of the competition and in the end, they together are a seamless, relentless and unflappable study in cool climate success. This wine must hold a rightful place in every wine country Ontario inamorato cellar. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted July 2015  @LaileyWinery

Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania

Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania

Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2014, Tasmania, Australia (416339, $30.95, WineAlign)

Jeremy Dineen’s 2014 takes over the conversation at the precise moment the previous vintage left off, grabs attention and travels further along. With baton firmly in grasp, the ’14’s acidity dances in a filly’s realm, jittery, agitated, ready to jump out ahead of the pack. The citrus flavours are implosive, concentrated, in demand, distinctly Tasmanian. Though our time was short, to this Texas Tazzy I say, “we were together, I was blown away, just like paper from a fan.” If the ’13 was a creeping crooner, this ’14 is more a smoky-voiced songstress, trotting a longer track. It would be hard not to imagine seeing this Chardonnay as nearly unchanging in its first decade of life. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted July 2015  @JosefChromy  @bwwines

Gérard Bertrand Domaine De L’aigle Chardonnay 2013, Limoux, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (Agent, $33.00, WineAlign)

A purposed effort from 2013 with even more direct precision, spice, freshness and linear strike flurry. A vital Limoux, of higher yield, lowered oak and acidity defined simply as the real deal. A tremendously exceptional and experiential vintage and one to help define the true identity of cool Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted July 2015  @GBvins  @FwmWine  @LanguedocWines

Megan Clubb of L'ecole 41 Wines

Megan Clubb of L’ecole 41 Wines

L’ecole 41 Chardonnay 2013, Columbia Valley, Washington (416370, $34.95, WineAlign)

A co-composed 60 per cent Yakima Valley (planted in the 1970’s) and 40 per cent Evergreen (mineral slope) Chardonnay extensive and extended of orchard fruit with a penchant for texture. The house style reached for uniformity, employing mostly older barrels and laying out bed linens for a brief five-months slumber. Hear this though, the 41 is the sum of its parts and may sport a fat lip but it’s no “victim of your conformity.” Texture is the thing, a result of a warm vintage, cool Evergreen nights in the fall and rampant malolactic fermentation (despite attempts to block it). A Chardonnay “strollin’ to the party like (his) name is El ninio.” Arabesque weave and flavours that go punk and pop. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015  @lecole41  @TrialtoON  @WineCommission

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment Oliveira Vineyard 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $36.20, WineAlign)

If the 2011 Wild Ferment spoke in treble clef, this ’12 pounds out a deeply resonating bass note, from instruments wooden and speaking on behalf of the vintage. Deeply smoky, layered and rich beyond yeasty belief, this is a massively structured wine for Niagara, specific to the Lincoln Lakeshore and its ability to ripen fruit of such density. The tang factor is set to 12, above and beyond what winemaker Craig McDonald has reached for before. This vintage, surmised with such yeast, takes ’10, layers it with ’11 and pops out the most plush to date. Missing is the exceptional acidity of 2011 though the overall anatomy and architecture can’t be denied. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted July 2015

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (381699, $38.00, WineAlign)

The 2012 Felseck is a wine dramatically and diametrically opposed to many other vintages from out of this fundamental Hidden Bench vineyard. Here oozes Chardonnay so very lees layered, emulsified, misty-eyed and far from reductive, having left the 44 per cent new, 14 months in barrel behind. From fruit culled off of east-west Felseck rows in a hot year that saw fundamental leaf plucking/canopy management. The wondrous emotion is condensed in taste and texture, with the bitters turned up a notch, though in their finale they use spice to conjure up ardor, for to melt into length. Unwavering Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2015  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay ‘Reserve’ 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Agent, $39.95)

Winemaker Thomas Bachelder combed the blocks of the lowland “villages” sites and in slow-forward cohorts with the most subtle barrels, came up with the cuvée for the Reserve ’13. The same percentage of new oak fed the fruit with love, time, juncture and encouragement. A creamy lustre careens into honey, giving retrospective cue to suckle and accumulating richness. What fortune to work with 2013 for the purpose of announcing a Queylus take on tiers of Chardonnay to the world. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June and July 2015

Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (215210, $64.95, WineAlign)

If 2013 is turning out to be the first truly great Chardonnay vintage of the century out of Sonoma, the Flowers SC is categorically up front and centre in that discussion. The epic’s lead paragraph initializes here in a wine that is severely accurate, a blinding and gorgeous expression that brings the flowers in its game. A wield of pulchritude and balance by acidity spot on. Pure flavour extract expands and the components zing on the finish. Could there lurk a Meursault notion in its lace? You know what, forget that. Strike comparisons from the record. The Flowers is extraordinary of Chardonnay, by Chardonnay and for Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted July 2015  @FlowersWinery  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners

Taittinger Comtes De Champagne Blanc De Blancs Vintage Brut Champagne 2005, Champagne, France (Agent, $225.00, WineAlign)

From a warm vintage out of the top Grand Cru terroir of the Comptes. Essential white flower essence, pure driven snow and liquid chalk. Even though at this 10 year mark this is essentially a gift to assess, the Comtes is entirely approachable in requiem for no further delay. Plenty of energy drives the flavours straight to the back of the buds and were they to linger longer than they prolong to do, the wine would be an utter stroke of genius. As it is, that bench is nearly marked. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted July 2015  @Taittinger_FR  @TaittingerUSA  @FwmWine

Twenty-five previously reviewed Chardonnays poured at the 2015 Cool Chardonnay weekend:

Angels Gate Old Vines Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116350, $23.95, WineAlign)  @angelsgatewines

Angels Gate Archangel Chardonnay 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (227009, $23.95, WineAlign)

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

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (VINTAGES Essential 302083, $29.95, WineAlign)

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

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

Bachelder Chardonnay Johnson Vineyard 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA (416644, $44.95, WineAlign)

Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (213983, $29.95, WineAlign)  @CaveSpring

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (681247, $18.95, WineAlign)  @Winemakersboots

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

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (383315, $24.25, WineAlign)

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at Ridley College

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at Ridley College

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

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

Henry Of Pelham Chardonnay Speck Family Reserve 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

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

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

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Unfiltered 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)  @normhardie

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (303602, $38.00, WineAlign)  @PearlMorissette

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (303602, $38.00, WineAlign)

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario  (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)  @StratusWines

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (111989, $35.95, WineAlign)  @Tawse_Winery

Two Sisters Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $24.00, WineAlign)  @2SistersVine

Two Sisters Chardonnay 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Westcott Vineyards Lillia’s Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)  @WestcottWines

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

Good to go!

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This week bubbles, next week summer

Roast Pork Belly, red wine, soy, cassia, star anise, sichuan peppercorn, clove, ginger, garlic

Roast Pork Belly, red wine, soy, cassia, star anise, sichuan peppercorn, clove, ginger, garlic

The architecture behind the June 13th VINTAGES release is predicated on many a premise but the cover girl and centre of bubbling attention is Sparkling wine. For this I applaud with as much robust positivity in prejudice as I can afford. The ad nauseam used adage “Sparkling wine goes with everything” is actually ad hoc, meaning it is always the solution, no matter the situation.

That VINTAGES has chosen to put fizz in the spotlight at this juncture is nothing short of brilliant. Yes, brilliant. It’s inconspicuous and dubious (incommensurate to December) and so appropriate (unlike the dead of February winter). Think about it. Father’s Day, on the verge of summer, sitting on decks, patios and porches. Grilling sea-swimming creatures, eating snacks and tapas, enjoying the warmth of life. All these roads lead to bubbles.

The JC Penney VINTAGES catalogue will have you believe that Sparkling is a remarkable entity and that it goes with all these things; lunch, casual dinner, snacks, summer days and evenings, date night, week night, the cottage, weekend brunch and a formal evening. And that would be entirely correct. The catalogue rolls out 20 variations this weekend. I’ve tasted them all and here are the seven to pop, pour and elevate your game.

From left to right: Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé Crémant d’Alsace, Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling Sparkling 2013, Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Josef Chromy Tasmanian Cuvée, Méthode Traditionnelle, Trius Showcase 5 Blanc De Noirs 2009, D. Henriet Bazin Carte D'or 1er Cru Brut Champagne 2007 and Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne

From left to right: Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé Crémant d’Alsace, Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling Sparkling 2013, Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Josef Chromy Tasmanian Cuvée, Méthode Traditionnelle, Trius Showcase 5 Blanc De Noirs 2009, D. Henriet Bazin Carte D’or 1er Cru Brut Champagne 2007 and Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne

Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé Crémant d’Alsace, Méthode Traditionnelle, Ac Alsace, France (39016, $17.95, WineAlign)

Graceful and pink lithe, like cold smoked salmon, delightful Pinot Noir Rosé fizz. Nothing earth shattering, breath-taking or barrier breaking, just well made blush bubbles. The structure and balance are really spot on. Finishes strong and with confidence. Helps to define this genre of Crémant’s creamy texture, matched in contrast by its stony, flinty and mineral style.  Tasted November 2014  @ProfileWineGrp

Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling Sparkling 2013, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (370361, $19.95, WineAlign)

Only a year and in conjunction with an improved Sparkling wine vintage for Riesling, short work has elevated the young Spark’s game. A repeat lees performance initiates the conversation, of cheese melted overtop composite laminate, with yeast burgeoning about. In 2013 the concrete crispness is cemented deeper, etched into stone and thus completing the sub-$20 legacy. That winemaker Paul Pender can coax Riesling character, striking Sparkling wine resolve and yet hover in the air of litheness, well, this is the kneading. Silty, salty earth and soft transitions to citrus acidity are a requiem for success as per the Twenty Mile Bench/Limestone ridges vouchsafe common. Can even imagine a bit of time turning this into sparks and honey. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted May 2015  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Méthode Classique, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (234161, $22.95, WineAlign)

This is a very effective bottle of bubbles, consistently produced, vintage after vintage. Some reserve on the nose, notable in its pear and yeasty aromas. Crunchy feel for fizz with a replay in flavour much like prickly pear and the tropical esters of yeast. Really good length. Simply well made.  Tasted November 2014  @Jackson_Triggs

Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Josef Chromy Tasmanian Cuvée and Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling Sparkling 2013

Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Josef Chromy Tasmanian Cuvée and Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling Sparkling 2013

Josef Chromy Tasmanian Cuvée, Méthode Traditionnelle, Tasmania, Australia (409102, $28.95, WineAlign)

Obvious and exemplary cool-climate Sparkling wine, traditionally swayed out of Tasmania where bubbles are meant to be. Composed of northern Tasmanian (Relbia) Estate fruit, of Pinot Noir (67 per cent) and Chardonnay (33). Classic numbers (12.0 per cent alcohol, 7.2 g/l acidity and a pH of 2.91) with 18 months on the lees and triaged with no malolactic fermentation. The result is a stoic and aerified expression, to the upper reaches of the atmosphere, gently toasty and of an aridity that tricks, foils and emanates sweetness. Sharp, tacking and grooved in acidity grippy enough to firmly grasp the frozen, suspended finish. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted May 2015   @JosefChromy  @bwwines

Trius Showcase 5 Blanc De Noirs 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (420521, $55.00, WineAlign)

Auspicious opening for the top end, new Trius Sparkling wine, based on Pinot Noir (70 per cent) from Four-Mile Creek (Lawrie Vineyard), with support from Pinot Meunier (30). Five is the number of years slumbering on lees, a voyage into triage to transport this singular Niagaran into the stratosphere of the region’s pantheon. Arid, toasty and slightly oxidative as per the wild ferment, Craig McDonald style. The toast is spread with a tapenade of (more) lightly toasted nuts, tarragon, morel and earth. There is a feeling of berries, void of pigment, slightly tart and very fragrant. Also the not so pungent but forest emergence of basidiomycete fungus. Delicate, complex, creamy and simultaneously, so very dry. A wine to sip at a large gathering around an antique harvest table or deep into the next decade. Drink 2015-2028. Tasted May 2015  @TriusWines

Henriet Bazin Champagne 2007

Henriet Bazin Champagne 2007

D. Henriet Bazin Carte D’or 1er Cru Brut Champagne 2007, Ac, Champagne, France (415596, $57.95, WineAlign)

In the realm of Champagne theory, this vintage-dated fizz plays a role of the belletristic kind. The characteristic rhetoric of style; beauty, sublimity and propriety all contribute to the old-school way. Composed of 60 per cent Grand Cru Pinot Noir and 40 lieu-dit-esque Chardonnay, from an early bud break (beginning of March) and picked vintage (early September). Has body and depth of fruit, humanistic stratification, density and compression. Bitterly, properly oxidized and rampant in acidity, offering a dance on the back tongue, of paralysis, palaver and paradox. Concentrated and imposing, far from the delicate or easy-going modern Champagne. Has guts and determination, risk-rapport, esteem and respect for vintage dated bubbles. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted May 2015

Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne, Champagne, France (384529, $73.95, WineAlign)

As direct, elegant and pinpoint accurate as ever. The ever so faint oxidative lean is uncompromising with a floating sachet of ginger, mace, absorbing toasted biscuit and caper brine. From phite to sweet crouton. Composed of 85 per cent Grand and 15 Premier Cru fruit from all over Champagne.

From my earlier note of October 2014:

A wine of social heredity, the Bollinger is tranquilized, entreated and centered by meditation. An arid, atomic and piercing Bollinger. Fine and misty, with ultra-classic subtlety, a living, breathing embodiment of a beloved house style. Exotic to a degree, these are bubbles in colourful pageantry, the Bollywood of Champagne, in grace, of flowing robes, hues in ochre and pastels, flowing like song and dance. There are beautiful bitter tonics on the finish. How can you not admire and be entranced by this style? What’s not to like?

Last tasted May 2015  @BollingerFrance  @andrewhanna

Good to go!

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Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence

Over the past few years I’ve published some pieces on Sparkling wine, from technical to fluff and from focused horizontal tastings to scattered, random accumulations. The one aspect about bubbles I’ve not concentrated on, whether it be Champagne or from Ontario, is vintage.

Related – ”Ten Sparkling wines “to life!”

Vintage dated fizz is all the rage and I for one can’t really understand why. The most consistent Sparkling wine made anywhere and everywhere is the non-vintage produced stuff. Drawing the majority of juice from a single vintage and topping it up with a smaller amount from one or more previous (or even book-ending years) allows the winemaker to strike a seamless accord in continuity. It proliferates a house style. I had this to say in 2012: “The production of vintage-dated fizz in Ontario is certainly fashionable, as witnessed by more than 60% of the wines present, but for the purposes of consistency, local weather conditions should see the future trending a non-vintage path.”

Related – Lock, stock and sparkling wines

Vintage issued Sparkling wine has lost its luster. If the vintage is anything less than ideal, whether it be too cold or too warm, under ripe or over ripe grapes are hard to hide. Keep in mind that the grapes for bubbles are the first to be picked, no matter where you are, to preserve acidity. In funny climatic years modifications must be made. The blender will have to resort to either chapital or acid tricks of the trade. Another argument for non-dated fizz.

Related – New fizz on the Brock

Does the average, or even effervescence geek care about vintage bubbles? British wine journalist Jamie Goode doesn’t seem to think so. On vintage dated bubbles, Goode spoke (at the 2014 Brock University Technical Wine Symposium) from an unequivocal marketing perspective. “People don’t really care about vintage.” On the emerging Canadian and British sparkling wine industries. “Do English or Canadian wines need a special name?” No.

On the puffery side of the tracks I gave this: “Sparkling wine, fizz, bubbles, bubbly. Champagne. Mousseux, Crémant, Asti Spumante, Espumante, Cap Classique, Cava, Prosecco, Franciacorta, Oltrepò Pavese Metodo, Brachetto, Sekt. Méthode champenoise, charmat, méthode ancestrale. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chenin Blanc, Arbois, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois, Macabeu, Parellada, Xarel-Lo, Glera. It’s all just an amazing confluence of pressed juice, yeast, sugar and carbon dioxide. Nothing in the world screams “party!” like an effervescent bottle of fermented grapes. Who isn’t looking for a Sparkling wine to pop open this month? Should we put up our hands so we know who we are?”

A year later, back into the throes of the holiday season, a new batch of bubbles are on the scene. Here are 12 new picks, from $17 to $95, from Crémant d’Alsace to Champagne, to tolerate winter and ring in the new year.

From left to right: Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé Crémant d'Alsace, Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut Cava, Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2009, Josef Chromy Sparkling 2008

From left to right: Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé Crémant d’Alsace, Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut Cava, Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2009, Josef Chromy Sparkling 2008

Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé Crémant d’Alsace, Méthode Traditionnelle, Ac Alsace, France (39016, $17.95, WineAlign)

Graceful and pink lithe, like cold smoked salmon, delightful Pinot Noir Rosé fizz. Nothing earth shattering, breath-taking or barrier breaking, just well made blush bubbles. The structure and balance are really spot on. Finishes strong and with confidence. Helps to define this genre of Crémant’s creamy texture, matched in contrast by its stony, flinty and mineral style.  Tasted November 2014  @ProfileWineGrp

Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut Cava, Do Penedès, Spain (392548, $19.95, WineAlign)

A stonking Cava this one, or the Spanish (enervante) equivalent. Relishing in quite high acidity, which is necessary and useful, considering the residual sugar left behind. Good tang, verve and a with a push to succeed in elevating everything it seeks to uphold; aroma, flavour and tannic texture. As good an example of Cava as I’ve tasted in recent times.  Tasted November 2014  @freixenet  @DionysusWines

Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Méthode Classique, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (234161, $22.95, WineAlign)

This is a very effective bottle of bubbles, consistently produced, vintage after vintage. Some reserve on the nose, notable in its pear and yeasty aromas. Crunchy feel for fizz with a replay in flavour much like prickly pear and the tropical esters of yeast. Really good length. Simply well made.  Tasted November 2014  @Jackson_Triggs

Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25,00, WineAlign)

Just released today, the anterior sniff and first sip procure a sense of immediacy in declaration: This is Jonas Newman’s finest Ancestral to date. Amethyst methustos bled from Prince Edward County Gamay. If a continuing study on such sparkling wine were to be conducted in the méthode ancestrale diaspora, the anthropologist would lose time in the County. Say what you must about the method and the New World place, this elevates an old game, in fact it creates a new one. Strawberry is again at the helm with the sugar number high and balanced by three necessary portents of chemistry; low alcohol, savor and acidity. The finish is conspicuously dry, conditioning the palate to activate the phenotypic sensors. Hits all the right bells, traits, whistles and behaviour. Careful, it will make you want to go out and make babies.  Tasted November 2014  @hinterlandwine  on the card at @barquebbq

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

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

Josef Chromy Sparkling 2008, Méthode Traditionnelle, Tasmania, Australia (393629, $29.95, WineAlign)

Love the balance and graceful point this has come to six years post much fine lees staging. So very elegant and demurred, like an actress on a silver screen imagined in a near-falsetto progressive rock singer’s croon. A strange but beautiful mismatch, given ambiance and vindication by a classical musician’s playing. Silent stardom take on cool climate bubbles to sip along with “early thirties gangster movies, set to spellbind population.” A friend to Mr. Cairo with a palate adding weight and a texture lustful in a creamy affair. Just a hair across the oxidized threshold, holding steady, acting very much like Champagne. Flies like a Mediterranean bird of prey, a Maltese falcon everyone is searching for. Always “shoots between the eyes.”  Tasted November 2014  @JosefChromy

From left to right: Benjamin Bridge Brut Methode Classique 2009, Delouvin Bagnost Brut NV, André Clouet Silver Brut Nature Champagne, Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne 2004, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Vintage Champagne 2004

From left to right: Benjamin Bridge Brut Methode Classique 2009, Delouvin Bagnost Brut NV, André Clouet Silver Brut Nature Champagne, Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne 2004, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Vintage Champagne 2004

Benjamin Bridge Brut Methode Classique 2009, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (381533, LCBO $47.95, 1018464, NSLC $44.99, 313106, B.C. $49.97, WineAlign)

L’Acadie used for a parochial teaching moment effect. Winemaker Jean Benoit Deslauriers embracing its Gaspereau ability, coaxing acidity within a context of optimum fruit attention. Brings a level of texture and structure rarely, if ever seen from the region, this contrived blend and the imagined attempt. The parts roll into and through one another seamlessly. This impresses from a point of expression, that being the BB vineyard. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “Essentially, or at least philosophically a Blanc de Blancs, the blend is 57 per cent L’Acadie Blanc, 25 Chardonnay and 18 Seyval Blanc. The acidity is key and certainly elevated (12.8 g/L), keeping line tabs on the stone ground, clean fruit in gingered mousse. A defined elegance and accumulated synergy of site comes from a lower-slope perceived sweetness, down by the river. By no means piercing, there is a length here that lays down the foundation for the high-end, Vinifera-driven Sparkling wine program. The Brut ’09 conveys the growing environment, in freshness and in ripeness. A wine with such a refreshing upside. ” Last tasted November 2014  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

Delouvin Bagnost Brut NV, Récoltant Manipulant, Ac Champagne, France (385369, $47.95, WineAlign)

The level of baking apples and yeasty aromas are overwhelming, at first, then settle down. Yeasty boy, screaming its oxidative angst. Big acidity, wild ginger tang, whipping and gesturing wildly as it raps in your mouth. Speaks its mind this one, breaks down stereotypes, wins the crowd.  Fans go wild. From my earlier, August 2014, WWAC 2014 (tasted blind) note: “Tends to a trend in sweet aromatic beginnings which is nothing but endearing. A leesy pear and ris de veau nose split by a bowie and filled with pearls of sugary syrup. To taste there is the metallic gaminess of uncooked other white meat. Sweet meat, sweet thing. The gathering sensation is an elemental display of ethereal, aerified climatic conditions. Though made in an oxidized style, the complexity of character is not to be denied.  “Runs to the center of things where the knowing one says, boys, boys, it’s a sweet thing.” In the end the burst of energy is invigorating and heart piercing.”  Last Tasted November 2014

André Clouet Silver Brut Nature Champagne, France (Agent, $57.95, WineAlign)

Zero dosage, 100 per cent Pinot Noir, grower produced and affordable. These are the attributes of Jean Francois Clouet’s Champagne. If any three are what you look for in righteous fizz, you have found what you need, for any occasion. The Clouet Silver (Blanc de Noir, Grand Cru from Bouzy) has that stark reality of aridity so necessary for Sparkling wine to knock you upside of the cerebral cortex. Sweetness is superfluous because the fruit is so exceptional. There are dried spices and ginger in many incantations; exotic, wild, dried and slowly dripping into every sip. The vacuous voids are filled with combustion, the lingering strands of texture elegance defined. This is exceptionally made Champagne, to the point and with confident, boyish presence.  Tasted November 2014  @GroupeSoleilTO

Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, France (268771, $64.95, WineAlign)

A most expressive house style, crowd pleasing and one step further into complex territory than many of a similar ilk. Creeping aromas, big flavours, enveloping texture, noble bitter finish. Citrus pith and darkening honey. So well made. Score an extra point. From my previous, August 2014 note: “The house style in this Pinot Blanc (55 per cent), Chardonnay (30) and Pinot Meunier (15) is amped on yeast and baked brioche. The elevation is of a modern and ambitious producer with a wild, expansive and yeast-moussy feel in the mouth. Spiced and spicy accents really help to open up the wine. An exemplary rendition of Sparkling wine if not quite willing to last as long as others.”  Last tasted November 2014  @LouisRoederer_

Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne 2004, Ac Champagne, France (69831, $91.95, WineAlign)

Sometimes Champagne is blessed with a dirty presence that is just beautiful. This Moët could go either way. Struts with a copper hue and metal cruelty in its every move. Like cheese melting on a pipe. Like bonito flaking off a rusty anchor. Earthy and really into the oxidative souse but on a tasting line-up day when everything seems oxidized. Bitter pith and grapefruit flavours with a hint of coriander and a texture so damn divine. Is that corpulence enough to rescue it from the depths of bitter disdain? If at first you are not so sure, Rosé up and try again. This ’04 will take advantage of your every insecurity and grow on your unconscious.  Tasted November 2014  @MoetUSA

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Vintage Champagne 2004, Ac Champagne, France (508614, $93.95, WineAlign)

This Veuve 2004 just keeps coming, does it not? Fashioned in an evolved style, typical for the house, not so atomic and not so wild. Ginger beer and tropical fruit aromas give simple pleasure, followed by more ginger and green mango on the palate, drying and turning to a fine, pungent powder re-hydrated on a whippy, elastic finish. Better vintage than would have been expected.  Tasted November 2014  @VeuveClicquot  @ChartonHobbs

Good to go!

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Let the gems begin

Wine review at VINTAGES of Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Unfiltered 2012 by Godello

Wine review at VINTAGES of Norman Hardie Chardonnay County Unfiltered 2012 by Godello

If the premature lashing of cold, snow and ice weren’t enough to get you thinking about holiday shopping, get thee to a Liquor Control Board Ontario store on the weekend. Same time, every year. The LCBO stocks the shelves, isles and pyramid displays with more booze than anyone should ever be faced with in one visitation.

Related – Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

The bi-weekly VINTAGES release calendar whirs, undulates and clutters in rataplan overload at just this very juncture in preparation of the Christmas rush. Shoppers will tear down the walls of wine, beer and spirits, only to hear the burloque fall silent when the clock strikes closing time on the evening of December 24th.

There are exactly 35 days left in 2014 to do the right wine thing for that father, cousin, colleague, mentor or loyal, long-time suffering employee. Please heed the warnings and do not buy crap for the one you love or think you should. No matter who you are picking up a bottle for, treat them well and with fermented grape respect.

There are three category of wines to look for, at least within the context of this buying guide. First there are the values under $20, wines made so properly they should cost double or triple what they do. Second are the expensive but honest wines. These are the true gems that make most $100 bottles look bad. Last are the $100 examples that are truly iconic, despite their cost. Though priced beyond the means of most, they are not a mistake to take a flyer and give as a gift. After the hand off is complete, the all-knowing, unspoken nod will follow.

Here are 22 picks from the VINTAGES November 22, 2014 release, in stores now.

From left to right: Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Louis Bouillot Perle D'aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, McWilliam's Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012

From left to right: Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Louis Bouillot Perle D’aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012

Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Pdo Nemea, Greece (295618, $17.95, WineAlign)

Nemea strikes again. Dark rust, earth juiced on and of the rocks. Like Sangiovese with attitude, made by Romans, like Syrah the way it was made in mythological times, by Greeks. A classical garden. This is actually quite modern and expressive for Agiorgitiko. Acts as if it were a touch clay (or amphora) baked but it’s really just a Peloponnese take on oak aging (18 months) and further bottle rest (12 months). This is right in its window and will be friendly for three to five years more. What a steal.  Tasted November 2014  @DrinkGreekWine

Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Doc Pomino Bianco, Tuscany, Italy (65086, $19.95, WineAlign)

With thanks to Chardonnay, the Castello di Pomino 2013 elevates Pinot Blanc to a level not really found anywhere, save perhaps for one or two examples out of B.C. This one really leaves a tannic impression, not unlike some impossibly off-dry Pinot Gris from Alsace. There is a really sophisticated level of ambiance and a semblance of a distinctly rocky intent. Like high quality Sancerre or Chenin from Silex soils, the grain and veins running through the palate and the texture are coarse and cursive. This one writes a new script for Frescobaldi’s Florentine, Apennine mountain estate. Fresh, ventilated and airy as if breathing from blue skies at high altitudes. I can’t recall tasting this level of excellence before and would look forward to no less than five years of enjoying what it brings to the Tuscan table.  Tasted November 2014  @FrescobaldiVini  @liffordretail

Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (992560, $19.95, WineAlign)

A primarily (90 per cent) Sangiovese with smatterings, though not inconsequential, of Merlot and Syrah. From (non-estate) vineyards in Poggio La Mozza (Grosseto). Morellino Di Scansano, to a wine and exemplified here, sports a firm jaw and an air of tragic nobility. The question is why should it only find occasional psychic prominence as a Sangiovese go to. Moris Farms makes the lesser-known accessible, with a (sees no oak) modern accent of dark fruit and spice atop simple, pleasurable Sangiovese. Pleasantries exchanged, the 2012 MdS will work dinner, inside a Tuscan vernacular and out.  Tasted October 2014  @Morisfarms  @oenophilia1

Louis Bouillot Perle D’aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, Ac Burgundy, France (48793, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Bouillot Rosé, for my $20 is the most impressive of their line-up, always tender and ripe as if just picked fruit, namely strawberry and raspberry. The Perle D’aurore is a faintly hued and lighthearted take but not light on effort. Elegance defined in Bourgogne bubbles with a savoury edge to give it strength.  Tasted November 2014  @JCB_Wines  @ChartonHobbs

McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (724492, $19.95, WineAlign)

The 2007 is another fascinating study in Hunter Valley Sémillon. Like the ’06, egressing secondary notes have emerged, in equatorial garrigue and fruit having already met its aurulent stenosis. A honey note persists though less so in ’07, as does the level of tempering acidity. This vintage brings out the calm and the clam, though the petrol and the mineral are omnipresent, perhaps elevated. Must keep in mind it’s only $20 but it does fall a bit short in texture and acidity. There is lemon drop and the essential atomic Sémillon stoicism from the Hunter Valley, but it’s a bit thin and hollow up the middle. All that acknowledged, not having a look or two would be a shame. Tasted November 2014  @MtPleasantWines  @PRAXISpr

Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012, Tasmania, Australia (162990, $22.95, WineAlign)

Pepik has elevated aromatic tones and though it appears lithe it reads like a weighty tome. Unique and of its Tasmanian self. Plums come to mind, as does red earth. The phenolic ripeness and varietal indications are ushered in with managed exceptions and are simply spot on. This does not strike as a Pinot Noir that will be long-lived because its black cherry and spice are riper than many contemporary editions in a similar price range, but it will offer great pleasure for two to three years.  Tasted November 2014  @JosefChromy  @bwwines

From left to right: Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Cvne Gran Reserva 2008

From left to right: Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Cvne Gran Reserva 2008

Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany (394155, $23.95, WineAlign)

Thoroughly interesting study in German Pinot Gris despite the timid and reserved tonal nature. Aridity in as much as the variety can muster and in the largest, atmospheric sense. Though the palate has some fine-grained texture and feigned sweetness, it’s as if Baden can only do Pinots this way, in Gris and in Noir. Acidity is tempered and a willing accomplice to the diminished components of sugar and pH. A well designed Pinot Gris.  Tasted November 2014  @TheLivingVine  @WinesofGermany

Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (390336, $28.95, WineAlign)

The Trad ’11 has a classic toast and yeast aromatic waft and so it goes that everything that follows is embraced with curiosity and an open mind. Ginger, citrus, bronze and the sweet scents of the inside of a candy machine, its candy long gone. Creekside’s winemaker Rob Power will never be accused of dialing this sparkler in. Tasting trials help determine the necessary, final blend. The single, Queenston Road Vineyard puts 56 per cent Pinot Noir and (44) Chardonnay, aged 2 years in bottle, together for a highly effective, expansive but not explosive fizz. At 8.7 g/L of residual its dry but not quite falling off the bone. The sweetness is tempered by elevated (9.98 g/L) acidity and tension. Spent 24 months on the lees and was bottled back in February. There is balance and pleasure and a good, stretchy finish. No band-aid. Clean, precise, fizz of the day.  Tasted October 2014  @CreeksideWine

Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (64329, $34.95, WineAlign)

Rubber dust, road macadam and strawberry jam. Fierce Bordeaux Blend home from a hot climate. This has gritty obduracy and doggedness. Like a red blend with a gun, walking the mean streets. Acidity shot through the roof. Bordeaux meets South Africa in every shared, resplendent and promising way. Rasping tannins contain bursting dark fruit, the grain running in multiple directions. Respect. Wait two more years on this and drink comfortably to 2020.  Tasted November 2014  @TrialtoON  @WOSACanada

Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Igt Toscana, Italy (727636, $34.95, WineAlign)

This is not the modern Crognolo as witnessed in the previous five vintages. In 2011 we have been granted the complex Crognolo. This has must and earth. It has grit and girth. Best Crognolo I have tasted. Tangy Sangiovese, with some chalk in tannin. Will live longer and offer unrequited love seven to 10 years down the road, to the patient and the faithful. Tasted November 2014  @TenSettePonti  @TrialtoON

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Doca Rioja, Spain (976662, $35.95, WineAlign)

It amazes me how kept wines from Rioja keep appearing as if they were just bottled yesterday but not this famous Gran Reserva. Syrupy and caramelized, bright and earthy. Mulled plum and clove with citrus accents. Bretty like a barn’s floor. Cedar and leather, big oak doors. Real mutton Rioja, still tannic, energetic and searing. Kicking it old school but wild and alive. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Were a full-term lecture taught on the pros and cons of the Brettanomyces brannigan, this Rioja might be exhibit A. Absolutely manifest fruit meets earth, meets game perfume compendium. Call it funky yeast if you must but here is a wine that can be approached by nose only and if the relationship were to end there, novels might be written. Lives on a fermented, catalytic and plucky edge but never submits to the bacterial spindrift. Leaden fruit, red and black, smooth and layered with a tension in tang that is paralyzing to the mouth. Thirteen years old and just hitting a secondary stride, with the oak slowly dissolving and not a hint of coffee or chocolate to be found. Sexy and down to earth at the same time.” Last tasted November 2014  @bodegasfaustino  @Select_Wines

Cune Gran Reserva 2008, Doca Rioja, Spain (393553, $38.95, WineAlign)

Old school. Smells like Rioja. Smells like Spanish spirit and weeds, sinew, gristle and braising pig, all parts in. Smells like cedar, like American oak and a soak in a tub of spa earth and mineral salts. Like “Spanish boots of Spanish leather.” This has already done the evolutionary dance so if you are looking for something to float your natural, honest boat, go here now. In a Rioja world where the times they are a changin‘, it will sail you back in time and away into a Mediterranean sunset.  Tasted November 2014  @Cvne  @vonterrabev

From left to right: Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

From left to right: Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (928028$49.95, WineAlign)

Firm and in a rustic vein, as per the Barbi dole, this one a bit funkier at the outset than many. Welcome to the classic firmness of 2008, antithesis of the flamboyant ’07’s but plan for 20 plus years of slow food elegance emission. Classic rose petal, tea leaves, dates and earth caked metal in this guy. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “As expected, this is a gritty effort from Barbi, in part the impart of a testosterone-laden vintage, along with the dryer and cooler climate from Barbi’s southeastern Montalcino vineyards. A low and slow ripening will surely translate to extended longevity, but the rusticity and leather/cherry continuum will never disappear. No doubt a classic example and very well-priced for such authenticity, still it can’t be helped to see Barbi’s ’08 as entrenched in an earlier period of time. The wine will need 10 years to soften its edges and reveal the refinement and elegance of a well-documented Brunello.”  Last tasted November 2014  @FATTORIABARBI  @Noble_Estates

Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (287854, $58.95, WineAlign)

A study in precision, exceptional quality and poise. Golden rays mixed with misty wisps, cool nights tempering warm days. Just a touch of wood spice pricks the finish. So much flavour.  Tasted November 2014  @DuttonGoldfield  @TheVine_RobGroh

Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Burgundy, France (390534, $59.95, WineAlign)

This Pinot Noir speaks for the two sides of every Burgundy argument, especially considering it comes from the gritty nook of Pommard. First impressions are floral and pretty, with spice and some sort of tropical flora whispering in cooing scents. The hill offers a buoyancy, a lifted spirit and a view of its own sweet regard. Travels through a mid-village weightless hover, then returns to terroir in prime time acidity and tannin to keep time. There is a sweet tart medicinal aspect ratio on the finish and overall this does things correctly. Does not finish with the same suave seduction that it teased at the start but it does continue to impress.  Tasted November 2014  @Select_Wines  @BourgogneWines

Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $60.95, WineAlign)

Aromatics are racing and rising from the glass. A red rain pouring in and out. Has yet to change course. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “The floral emergence is a lodestar as periscope just now peering up from the seamless cake layering in Versado’s most liberally applied oak-imbued Malbec. The 2010 adheres in sticky savour though it remains two to three years away from finding its true gliding form. From my earlier notes through tastings on Oct. 25 and Nov. 14, 2013. “This ultra-premium Mendozan from the Canadian winemaking team of Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling boasts fruit from “the finest barrels from the finest blocks.” While certainly riding a splintered and jammy horse (what fully extracted Mendozan does not), this reserve Malbec has so much else happening, I owe it my time and focus. Dances to a triple jump height in oozing berry, compacted, brick wall infrastructure and overlapping delineation. Really like the consistency here, with no hollow middle, no umlaut, no pregnant pause. Very well made.” Last tasted November 2014  @VersadoWine

Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004, Champagne, France (983874, $84.95, WineAlign)

The reappraised vintage that was once considered good, now revealing itself as better than good uses examples like the Laurent Perrier Millésimé to drive the point. This is a classically symmetrical blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir possessive of much chaste class, incredible balance and held lotus posture. Through its waves of idiosyncratic brioche and linear citrus lines drawn in tactile angles this Champagne is unbent and unbroken. Its seamless transitions glide from delicate aromas, through a textured palate and groove forward in elastic length. Additionally graceful with an ever so slightly advanced and mature style from a mature world in vintage-dated Champagne.  Tasted November 2014  @ChampagneLPUSA  @Noble_Estates

From left to right: Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sassicaia 2011

From left to right: Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sassicaia 2011

Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Mclaren Vale, Australia (242732, $114.95, WineAlign)

While the price is just about as absurd as a “yoga class for cats” or Raine Maida’s voice, it seems logical to wonder aloud how one could question this Carnival as not being one of the biggest and baddest Shiraz you will ever encounter. It’s a veritable run on sentence of Shiraz adjectives, adverbs and hyperbole. If your hankering remains entrenched in elevated alcohol, enormity of fruit, condensed and compressed mineral, lest to be forgetting the viscous ooze of Mclaren Vale syrup, well, then this jester should fill your stocking along with those of the rest of your circle of fortifying friends. From the maw of the beast here – blood gore and fruit guts. Holy crap is this extracted, tannic, mired in impropriety, full conceit and in zero jealousy of other Shiraz. It doth joust. Certainly no lady of peace. Wow.  Tasted November 2014  @MollydookerWine  @bwwines

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, California (936039, $139.95, WineAlign)

Magnificent and munificent wine. Really special, magnanimous in every way, ultra-luxurious but not over the top. Alcohol, oak and extraction judged and held in check, equity and in balance. The fruit is pure and delicate, marked by plum, blackberry and hovering licorice, anise and spices. Long in chain and really sweet tannins. Like gazing into a pool of real nineties Napa and across the pond to an older school of reasoning. Tasted November 2014  @SilverOak  @HalpernWine

Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Ac Margaux, 3e Cru, Bordeaux, France (261552, $167.95, WineAlign)

A heightened sense of Margaux reality in 2010 comes from the château with the hybrid name; first from Simon Malescot, King’s Counsel to Louis XIV at the Parliament of Bordeaux. Second, from the post French Revolution château purchaser, Count Jean Baptiste St Exupéry, grandfather of the aviator and writer Antoine de St Exupéry. This has to be the most hedonism ever bottled in a Malescot, within reason of course. The house does not know from over the top, save perhaps for the cost of this 2010. Cassis is certainly here, as is a medicinal tension, firm acidity and the most formidable tannins known to Margaux. The grain, chalk and tincture combine for full effect. This will need 10 years to chill, then go 10 plus 10 more to much applause and the request for a final curtain call. Tasted November 2014  @VinsdeBordeaux

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, California (399592, $167.95, WineAlign)

Wow. Aromatics are off the charts. Pine forest, leather, chestnut and cedar, savoury in every wild and sauvage way, but also pure. Berries, tobacco leaf, classical logic, structures and axioms lead me to imagine mid-nineties Paulliac. Seamless texture, ripe but not overripe, rich but never overly grainy. This is super fine and dialed back (with exotic spices and wood spice filling in the holes) in the cooler 2011 vintage. A Cabernet Sauvignon of the most savour and the most class. A ten to twenty year Spottswoode.  Tasted November 2014   @Spottswoode  @Smallwinemakers

Sassicaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $199.95, WineAlign)

Certainly a Sassicaia borne of the earth and the vintage. Cooler, with increased sapidity and elevated aromatics. While not volatile there is certainly an intimation at acetic behaviour. Though supportive in only 15 per cent of the two Cabs blend, Cabernet Franc stands firm in its concentration of tobacco, peppercorns a-popping in the pan and a smoldering of currants over an open fire. This will age for decades and return to its beautiful natural state with time-weathered, rugged facial lines. A leathery Sassicaia this, with tight, drying tannins and in need of two decades to show off its birthright. The 2011 Sassicaia is a loyal, aristocratic example to the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s dream of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine where the ideal was Bordeaux.  Tasted November 2014  @Smarent

Good to go!

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