March of the Canadians

Shrimp, mussel, kale, salsa verde #jacksonpollock risotto

Shrimp, mussel, kale, salsa verde #jacksonpollock risotto

If you’ve yet to see the CBC video discussing the success of Canadian wine in the UK, do it now.

Brits love our wine

The British, reports Aaron Saltzman, are developing a taste for fine Canadian vintages, and not just Icewine. “It’s a niche market, but it’s being received quite well.” Even though Icewine still accounts for 75 per cent of sales in England (1.2 out of a total 1.59 million Canadian dollars), in 2015, Canada sold $168,500 worth of table wine to the U.K. That number was five times lower in 2013, at $34,889.

In Decanter Magazine’s April 2016 issue they discuss “The best Pinot Noirs in the world (outside Burgundy).” Five from Canada are nominated out of more than 80 total. Ian d’Agata included the Bachelder 2013 Lowrey Vineyard, along with two others from Ontario, Flat Rock Cellars Gravity 2012, Twenty Mile Bench and Norman Hardie Winery, Cuvée L 2012, Prince Edward County. The two recognized from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia are Meyer Family Vineyards 2013, McLean Creek Road Vineyard and  Tantalus Vineyards 2012.

The Canadian wine renaissance is attributed to high-end, artisan winemakers like Norman Hardie and Thomas Bachelder. That’s the cool factor. The truth of the matter is that Canadian winemakers have realized and capitalized on the significance and exceptionality of their terroirs in regions such as Niagara, Prince Edward County and the Okanagan Valley. Journalists and buyers from around the globe know it and have begun to spread the Canadian gospel.

Dr. Jamie Goode has had a profound effect on alerting fellow Brits to the Canadian thing and that ambassadorship has filtered through to the wine shop owners and trickled down to the consumer. Much of the education is attributed to Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Global Practice Lead for Canadian Wine, Beer and Spirits, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada in Ottawa. Dr. Dorozynski has brought the wines and their makers to England and pried open the doors to perception.

Last week I tasted through a hundred or more Ontario wines at Taste Ontario and at Cuvée 2016 in Niagara. Those notes are coming soon. For now let’s concentrate on the VINTAGES March 19th release. Here are some of the Canadian wines up for grabs.

Tawse Sketches Riesling 2014

Tawse Sketches Riesling 2014

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89029, $17.95, WineAlign)

Really striking Sketches Riesling here in 2014, aromatically wild and full of complex flavours. So representative, lemony beyond lemon and full of juicy acidity. Almost too much of a good thing but it should settle a bit and replace some of that stark contrasting acidity with copacetic sweetness. Great fruit in 2014. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse

Culmina Decora Riesling 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (444836, $24.95, WineAlign)

Judging from the ripeness, strength, density and effective grape tannin this may as well be noted as pulchra, decor, charissima, that is, powerful, beautiful, charming. All three are apropos in this really forward and mineral tangy Riesling. Could this come from anywhere but the Okanagan Valley? Should develop with intellect into a honeyed, elastic expression. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted November 2015 and March 2016  @CulminaWinery  @winebcdotcom

Riesling squared- Culmina Decora 2013 and Charles Baker Picone 2012

Riesling squared- Culmina Decora 2013 and Charles Baker Picone 2012

Henry Of Pelham Estate Cabernet/Merlot 2012, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (395855, $24.95, WineAlign)

Exceeds elegant expectations with poise and presence, a Bordeaux blend so refined it pleases. Effectively restrained and remedies with tonic. Circulating acidity ranges while chocolate whips, but wholly within reason. Spice accents assist in the celebration (why not?) to effectuate this red’s firm grip and grasp of Claret reality. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015 and March 2016  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Foreign Affair The Dream 2012

Foreign Affair The Dream 2012

Foreign Affair The Dream 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (364380, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Dream is a ripping, layered and well executed appassimento from Barclay Robinson. Much oak influence but with that fencing there is more than the spice is right. Sweetness is valued in the context of ripeness, acidity and burgeoning tannin. Here we find a big wine and well within the parameters of the sensibility. Tasting and thinking on the dried and rehydrated grape approach can leave you “lost in the dream, or just the silence of a moment, it’s always hard to tell.” With the ’12 Abbraccio, “Il Sogno” shares the passion for the planning and shows that “love’s the key to the things that we see.” And a little bit of unknown appassimento magic. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @wineaffair  @BarclayRobinson  @EpicW_S

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

A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  Last tasted March 2016  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

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Catch 22 wines

Godello's garden meets Greek Horaitiki

Godello’s garden meets Greek Horaitiki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From my earlier note of August 2014:

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

Last tasted August 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Down $1 in price from this time last year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From my earlier note of June 2014:

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

From my earlier note of March 2014:

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

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

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

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Path straying wines

Risotto

Risotto

The idea that something veers away from or afield of the norm is almost always intriguing. Fascinations with antidisestablishmentarianism, marching to the beats of different drummers and walking lonely roads is as essential as breathing. For the curious, the hungry and the alive.

Though the concept is a sound one, it need not always be about searching for wisdom and enterprise off the beaten path. There are times when the abstruse may be lying directly underfoot. Wine is a commensurate animal, altricial such as it is, acaudal, acersous, agnostic, aculeate and allocryptic such as it is not. Wine that is not so much off the beaten path as actually growing on one.

Two of the six wines recommended here jive with the idea, a Sicilian varietal wine made from the local Nerollo Mascalese and a Venetian dessert beauty crafted from who knows which and exactly how many chthonic varieties. No wine-producing nation knows about the concept of varietal celebration and keeping a historical watch on the relationship between path and vine more than Italy. No other agglomeration crafts from indigenous or endemic varieties with as much diversity.

This summed it up. “Finally, I find the irony in the idea that for a winemaker or vine grower to step off the quotidian they need to plant, cultivate and make wine from grapes once considered the norm and the go to in their region. You can’t help but notice that modern winemakers with a wistful eye are casting reflexively into the past with a hunger for vinous resurrection. By grafting their pre-Phylloxera ancient vines onto healthy root-stock they have turned the varietal compass on its head. As they have moved through their days with an open-mind to the panoply of grape interactions, they have beget the endemic revival.”

Related – Off the beaten Italian path

You see, winemakers don’t always have to champion the obscure, the endangered and the forgotten. There are times when place and plot are good enough to create an aura of obscurity and adventure. The wines in this column’s conspiracy are in cahoots to drive the point.

Related – Why hate wine?

A white Port; who drinks white Port? Sometimes you just need to walk along roads you never seem to take, take in the backstreets or sip along with something that’s always there but you just never bother. Port can be nondescript and it can also be like the Cálem Lágrima.

How about a Barossan, a Shiraz no less, but here because it is a wine from Neolithic soils, consumed and procreated on and upon itself. Then there is a South African white blend of such natural indeterminate plodding it has caused a break in critical ranks; is it sound or at fault to the point of no return? Last but certainly not musical least, a Napa Valley vintner with an infatuation for pairing wine to song. Sound familiar?

Related – WineAlign guide to VINTAGES April 4th and Easter recipes

In anticipation of the first April list to hit Ontario shelves, Sara d’Amato and I have compiled what you need to know and why. Click on this link to WineAlign to see the full report.

Off the Beaten Path, from East to West and a Battle of the Corkscrews

Here are my six path straying wines from the VINTAGES April 4th release.

From left to right: Cálem Lágrima White Port, Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart Of The Barossa Shiraz 2012, Lammershoek Roulette Blanc 2011, Calcagno Feudo Di Mezzo Nerello Mascalese 2011, Monte Faustino Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico 2008 and World's End If Six Was Nine Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

From left to right: Cálem Lágrima White Port, Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart Of The Barossa Shiraz 2012, Lammershoek Roulette Blanc 2011, Calcagno Feudo Di Mezzo Nerello Mascalese 2011, Monte Faustino Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico 2008 and World’s End If Six Was Nine Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Cálem Lágrima White Port, Dop Douro, Portugal (912568, $15.95, WineAlign)

Viscous and semlessly crafted White Port. There is very frank aridity in nuts and peels on the nose, along with tempering agave and citrus. The positable tug between sweet, sour and salty harks to older times and the munificent wafts of the warm nut cart. The agave drips thick on the palate, the spiced nuts are expertly roasted. Cool mint and eucalyptus fill the middle and fine acidity comes ’round the back. Terrific value. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @PortoClem  @WoodmanWS

Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart Of The Barossa Shiraz 2012, Barossa Valley, South Australia  (167189, $19.95, WineAlign)

Tasted from the 750 mL, this old vine Barossa vineyard bottle is reminiscent of the wise and precocious 2009. Nothing can be taken for granted here, this Shiraz from ancient, gnarled vines, many over a hundred years of age. A wine from neolithic soils, consumed and procreated on and upon itself. This is brash and once opened, the aromas are “orbiting your living room.” Makes me think of fig jam on venison wurst and a sauce made from licorice, clementine and dates as big as sausage flies. Tart, tight, racy and religious. Has a fisting Reggae beat, like The Clash doing Tosh and Dub. It may not transmit the only Barossan pirate radio Shiraz but it may just be one of the better values. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted March 2015  @DandelionWines  @Wine_Australia

Lammershoek Roulette Blanc 2011, Wo Swartland, South Africa (225458, $21.95, WineAlign)

Talk about the passion. Fruit and reduction. Fruit and oxidation. Contradictions and oxymorons. This reeks of upside down passion fruit, apricot, honey and almond cake. Dripping syrup, parrafin and citrus. Waxy, like Sémillon and that’s where the advance comes in. The Roulette Blanc is meant to flesh, not wane in texture. The question is “combien, combine, combien de temps” does it take for a wine such as this to travel from wild and fresh to used and confused? The 2011 exhibits all the signs of great, complex fruit and corresponding accents. It has it all going on but a current stale, R.E.M. sleepy state clouds its future. “Not everyone can carry the weight of the world.” A really interesting wine with a long, bitter and tangy finish. How much longer will it age? Long enough. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @Lammershoek  @WOSACanada

Calcagno Feudo Di Mezzo Nerello Mascalese 2011, Igt Siciliy, Italy (408187, $34.95, WineAlign)

The Sicilian was treated to extended maceration under strict temperature control and the bleed is evident, modern, pitchy and black as a cloudless night. Then 12 months later “an improvement” is fashioned by the classic French oak “barriques” addition, followed by a minimum further four months in bottle. The result is a warm, alcohol elevated (14.5 per cent) state of the art Nerello Mascalese with a wonderful earthy grounding. Tenderly volcanic, the fruit comes from Passopisciaro between the Etna park and the Alcantara river park. Ancient lava flows leave an indelible mark on a wine without creases. Yet this is a direct, in your face expression that shares thoughts and feelings with deep clay and stray island sand. An extremely well-made wine even if it wanders away from the wonders of time. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @oenophilia1  @VisitSicilyOP

Monte Faustino Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico 2008, Docg, Veneto, Italy (403857, 500ml, $45.95, WineAlign)

Once in a while there comes a Recioto in reserve of its own preciousness. A Recioto comfortable in its own skin, does not have to try too hard, posits only what it is safely made of. This elegant example whiffs dried fruit, strawberry, rhubarb and lovely aromatic, natural fruit tea. Licorice and fresh fennochio. A citrus poke. Good underscored, understated and under the radar personality. Great length. A real success. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted March 2015

World’s End Cabernet Sauvignon If Six Was Nine 2010, Napa Valley, California (396127, $72.95, WineAlign)

What if “six turned out to be nine?” What if 14.9 per cent alcohol was just 14.6 instead of what really must be 15.9? What if the song in your head was sung by the tender emotional voice of Todd Rungren instead of the fuzz in Jimi’s clouded world? This Cabernet Sauvignon is so much more Hendrix, a full-throttle, heavy-layered, all-in barrel and total extract package. The fruit is hulking and the tannin equally so. Look ahead eight to ten years then fire up the black top. Heave on some marbled elephantine chops and all will be fine in the centre of the dizzying universe. “Wave on, wave on. Fall mountains, just don’t fall on me.” Maybe listen to a verse or two of Todd as well. “Hello, it’s me.” Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted March 2015  @ProfileWineGrp  @NapaVintners

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Italian wines of the week

Wines of the week

Wines of the week

Fear not dear reader. This is not a top ten list or a call to promote the best of the worst. It is not, most thankfully, a post on what wines are being released at the LCBO through VINTAGES. No, a one or two-day break is being granted, mercifully, to explore some wines over at the SAQ in Quebec and others available, by the case, in consignment by way of Ontario agents.

WineAlign is ever so surely becoming the tasting office of choice. It offers the opportunity to explore that critic’s dream realm of “so many wines and so little time.” The home office checks in a close second, with samples ready and carefully kept under temperature control.  I tasted and scribbled with much verve last week and over the weekend. There will be more to follow, but for now, the Italian notes.

 

Torraccia Di Presura Leneo 2013, Chianti, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent, $18.95, WineAlign)

Leneo is 100 per cent Sangiovese, half of which is matured in small oak French barrels for approximately six months. From vineyards near Greve in Chianti, this is the epitome of fresh. The strawberry and raspberry aromas are so very height of summer, the tension having long left the ferment. Fruit and buoyant acidity remain to lift and cut spirit. A late flavour of rosemary and olive adds a nice Mediterranean touch.  Tasted March 2015  @TorracciaPresur  @TheVine_RobGroh

Capoverso Cortona Syrah 2013, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent, $18.95, WineAlign)

There is noticeable volatility in this Syrah though it strikes a congenial balance between fruit and alcohol. The wine is not hot but is currently unsettled. That comes through in the sooty sinew and tree sap aromas. Black raspberry fruit abounds, as does liquorice and black tea. The overall accord works the parts but some time will be required for reconciliation. Sweet and sour is accented by a savoury, though moderately lengthened finish.  Tasted March 2015  @TheVine_RobGroh

Cantina Roccafiore Rosato 2014, Umbria, Italy (Ontario Agent, $20.95, WineAlign)

A Sangiovese blush made from organic grapes, arid as the Corso Vannucci is long, linear and direct as la strada centrale leads to the Fontana Maggiore. Has a savoury flex and a salinity that central Italian Rosé almost always displays, a pull from two seas not hard to reach heading either east or west. The glycerin texture and tangy, just this side shy of reductive aromas are a propriety of pure yet driven fruit. Has the slant of Sangiovese, even in the absence of its sour edge and devitalizing tannin. A very fine example of Umbrian Rosé.  Tasted March 2015  @roccafiorewines  @TheVine_RobGroh

Cantina Roccafiore Fiordaliso Grechetto 2014, Umbria, Italy (Ontario Agent, $20.95, WineAlign)

Fashioned from organic (and specialized clones of) Grechetto di Todi and Trebbiano Spoletino. The ordinary is abutted with prejudice in this Roccafiore take, in full mineral action out of Umbria. This one speaks to me, never mind the current reductive accent. The organic vines exude healthy fruit and this fleur-de-lis is regal, royal and full of life. Wet stones, not flinty but certainly crouching on the rocky forefront. The balance between orchard fruit, the rocks and the load carrying acidity is spot on. This is an expertly crafted, intelligent and gratifying white.  Tasted March 2015  @roccafiorewines  @TheVine_RobGroh

Cantina Roccafiore ‘Melograno’ 2013, IGT Umbria, Italy (Ontario Agent, $20.95, WineAlign)

Sangiovese and Montepulciano combine forces in this organic Umbrian, the punica granatum or pomegranate. Like the uniquely variegated, sour, sweet and highly mineral fruit, this red mimics the savoury pleasures. It’s dry, possessive of natural salts and fruity, but not in a sugary way. The acids are citrusy, much like pomegranate, but void of true citrus. Very pure, penitent, clean and crisp, with mild tannins and a ferric touch. Very Umbrian, regal, Franciscan, Friars Minor to bigger, bolder Sangiovese. Tasted March 2015  @roccafiorewines  @TheVine_RobGroh

Brancaia Il Bianco 2013, Tuscany, Italy (SAQ 11797174,$21.35, WineAlign)

Sauvignon Blanc stands soprattutto to Viognier, Gewürztraminer and Sémillon in this tannic white wine from Castellina in Chianti, in the far south-east corner of Chianti Classico. Five months on yeasts has not only built breadth but also compensated for no oak or malolactic. The repercussion is a curtailment and a feigning of qualitative casting, as if from sea stones and ancient feelings. Pretty pleasures are a supraliminal by-product of the effect, in a leavening of lime and rock. This reminds me of a young, petite Stratus White, in which a mélange of grape varieties combine and effectively cancel one another out, with nary a dominant, alpha varietal limelight steal. This Bianco would create even more buzz with a 10-20 per cent barrel influence.  Tasted March 2015  Brancaia

Capoverso Rosso Di Montepulciano 2012, Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

Here is Prugnolo Gentile with a swagger and quite the attitude. Don’t be fooled by the new adventist-adventurist, retro-romantic label. This Rosso has a mean streak. Funky aromas of the barn and the compost heap may be secondary to red fruit but they are definitely there. High iron content, less so in botany and rich like a long braise of dark veal shank ragu. Complexity is in, basics are out and there is much to dwell on in this Rosso, event if its intent is to induce simple pleasures. This needs salty protein, like the aforementioned idea of ragu.  Tasted March 2015   @TheVine_RobGroh

Argiano Non Confunditur 2012, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent 72397, $24.95, WineAlign)

The Argiano NC-IGT must be awarded points and applause for the sheer felicity it affords the discerning drinker who knows when they have been pleased. This is juicy stuff from a terrific vintage. A latin lover of voluptuous body and luscious-laden lips. A flirtatious Tuscan ragazza, outgoing, friendly, hand-holding and demonstrative. Liquid freshness, with layers of red fruit and circulating acidity. Very modern, in an Aussie Rhône-blend way, with liquorice, cocktail beginnings and Tawny Port ends. Quite a swirl of flavours and pulsations. Drink now and for another two years.  Tasted March 2015  @Argianowinery  @TrialtoON

Fontanafredda Barolo 2010, Piedmont, Italy (Ontario Agent 20214, $30.00, WineAlign)

Traditional Nebbiolo that is neither austere nor of such a hard shell to crack. Roses and street cover in summer give sweet and fume aromas. Has an elemental scent, like a science lab but with experiments that broadcast harmony, synthesis and balance. Glycerin and tannin revolve around in the Nebbiolo oscillator. Some late funk creeps in, indicating some time (five years) needed to see a proper fruition. Represents very good value at $30.  Tasted March 2015  @Fontanafredda_  @Noble_Estates

Tolaini Al Passo 2011, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent $37.99, SAQ 11794344, $28.40, Manitoba Banville and Jones $34.99, WineAlign)

This IGT from Castelnuovo Berardenga blends Merlot into Sangiovese, a push and pull varietal relationship if ever there was one. The Sangiovese is Mary while the Merlot whispers. The sacred and the profane. The ancient and the modern. “Uh-will the wind ever remember the (Tuscan wine) names it has blown in the past?” A red house of aromas, a gypsy’s soul and balance are found in this whirling, flavour-filled glass of noise. This is wild Tuscan magic, if a bit disjointed and occupied by strange, though harmonious bedfellows. Rippling red wine, tannic and in need of a few years to soften. “After all the jacks are in their boxes and the clowns have all gone to bed.”  Tasted March 2015  @TolainiWines  @BanvilleJones  @bwwines

Capoverso Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

In antithesis to the angular ’12 Rosso, this ’11 Vino Nobile is Prugnolo Gentile at its liquor-like most. This is a painted Sangiovese, with impasto, with style that is strong of colour and meaning. With very plush, oak-managed Caciotti brush stroke and thick creamy flavours. Intensely glycerin, polished and agreeable, especially considering the often tannic and ferric side of Vino Nobile. This will not be a 20-year Tuscan as it already exhibits signs of age, in dried fruit, velutinous toffee and baking blackberry pie. Oh but it will go beautifully with a rare slice of roast and a side of truffled spuds. Tasted March 2015   @TheVine_RobGroh

Tolaini Valdisanti Tenuta S. Giovanni 2009, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent 137786, $49.00, Manitoba Banville and Jones $54.99, WineAlign)

The opposite, the antithesis, the polar paradox of to egregious IGT Tuscan blending is here in this delightful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc. Oak plays a prominent, spicy and sandalwood barmy role, as does the (mere five per cent) CF, giving currant energy and savoury plug-in to the softer CS. The middle notes and flavours are all Sangiovese, which is a good thing and a wise winemaking decision. The request begs for more Cabernet Franc in Tuscan composites, please. The Castelnuovo Bereardenga and Tuscan climate as a whole agrees with the variety, fleshes it, embraces it, encourages it to support Sangiovese and the less animale Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Here squares off a total package, in substance and in familiarity. Tasted March 2015  TolainiWines  @BanvilleJones  @bwwines

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Mind blowing wines of 2014

Bouteilles de la collection Méquillet de Kientzheim, Confrérie Saint-Etienne

Bouteilles de la collection Méquillet de Kientzheim, Confrérie Saint-Etienne

In January it began with A resolution to drink honest wine, “juice that conveys the salient facts of a grape’s life.” It continued with New year. Try new wines, where the goal was “the resolve to drink outside the comfort zone.” If the issue was Feeling under the weather? Drink wine, success was had. “Wine is your friend. When approached, integrated and embraced in the right way it can help to promote a healthy lifestyle. The defence rests.”

January was a busy month, complete with Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and ice wine, not to mention Super Bowl XLVIII wine odds. In February the opined focus zeroed inwards, to Ontario. What’s in a wine vintage? asked to reach out and touch Ontario’s 2012 whites, the best wines made to date. Harsh words were spoken against Rosé, but only because of the obviousness of it all when said, You can kiss my sweet pink wine, Valentine. Thomas Bachelder showed us Synchronicity in three terrors and he will do so again this coming Sunday when we break wine together down on the Peninsula. Calming influences saved days, having once more expounded on the music immersion, in and with wine, from Three-chord wines, hold the rants. The month concluded with more healthy advice and the question Are you getting your daily serving of wine?

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing? Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?
Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

In March the annual pilgrimage to Niagara produced more tasting notes and verbiage than was previously thought possible, in a three-part series. Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventureWhen experts break wine together and Wine experts Brock and roll, Brock on were also joined by a visit to Flat Rock Cellars in Bottles, barrels, tanks and a vertical. A two-year impassioned body of submissions to canada.com culminated with the final column, The death of wine scores?

Scores were subsequently dropped from godello.ca but continue to be sidled up to the notes at winealign.com. In April I found out what happens When Sangiovese comes to townBurgundy will always be royal and that it’s always Go Gamay go time. In the name of Somewhereness, The group of twelve was once again called to assembly. In May there was the omnipresent Kalon of MomPaul Pender’s Tawse and effect and a fascinating look at cooperage in Every barrel tells a story. Prince Edward County again proved its mettle in ’14 and consumers were encouraged to Take them home, County wines. VQA stood under scrutiny in The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom and another chapter was written in The Stratus-Momofuku continuum.

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

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

Sparkling wine bubbled over in New fizz on the Brock, was Talkin’ ’bout my Generation Riesling and a trip to Alsace in June put me In a Grand Cru state of mind. I was Down on the Ornellaia and found out first hand, on a boat trolling across Lake Erie that The South Coast is clear. I offered up The froth on Crémant d’Alsace and in July told you that Chardonnay is cool. The eponymous conference yielded in excess of 10,000 words in August with 50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more and The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind. I branded Olivier Zind-Humbrecht The cru chief of Alsace and felt what it was like to be Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes.

Tide's Out, Big Cove, New Brunswick

Tide’s Out, Big Cove, New Brunswick

A 5500 km trek to the tip of Cape Breton and back yielding poetic and prophetic expression in The tides that bind: East Coast swing. “The tractive is a thing to and of itself. The pauses to gather at points along the process remember lobsters roasting over an open fire, a cottage visit with new-found friends, a hike into the cavern of a waterfall and a swim in a tidal river. Memories are made in rites of passage, though in the end, like the photographs, they too will be demurred by time. Indelible stamps they are, cemented in commitment to reaching and by necessity, descending summits. A  road trip to the eastern part of Canada realizes the bigger plan. The key is making it safely home, before the tide rolls in.”

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

In September I tasted history with Taylor made Port and insisted on Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due. I ignored a publishing embargo to announce how The LCBO and WineAlign go local and went Rocking out with the 2014 WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada by judging the best of the best. A recall to Consider the Gaspereau Valley brought me back to Benjamin Bridge, a visit with Peter Gamble and the declaration that “I have seen & tasted the future of vinifera in Nova Scotia and its name is Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards.” Gamble’s work with partner Ann Sperling in Argentina is simply and skillfully The artfully applied science of Versado Malbec.

My report, Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality was met with lukewarm avoidance then rebounded, thanks to the tunes, From VINTAGES for Thanksgiving, in wine and with songA hip of wine from Hidden Bench gave way to Fourteen wines that should be on your restaurant list, in which I insisted “if your job title includes choosing what wine is poured at your restaurant, you should never dial it in.” I enjoyed some Wine on company time and Americans take note when Sonoma peaks from out of the fog.  For the third consecutive year I gave Yet another 10 reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween.

Local wines, notably Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases and in direct contrast, I went Off the beaten Italian path to discover endemic varietals. The Bloody vivid 2011 Vintage Ports had me reeling. “The 2011 Vintage Ports have balance, well, the best do, but they are, and I speak in very general terms, collectively over the top. Though it may seem an oxymoron to put Vintage Port and elegance in the same sentence, what is a great wine without a sense of humility and restraint?”

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Two exposés on Alsatian wine, A Blanck slate in Alsace and It was Josmeyer’s imagination covered two distinct theories, of tabula rasa and wayfinding. On Sparkling wine I gave you Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence and Eleven 11th hour holiday bubbles. If value is your thing, I hope you read The final 14 bargains of 2014 and if great Canadian wine and cuisine float your gastronomic boat, my judging experience was captured at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014.

This is the third in the trilogy of best of reports for 2014. The first, 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014 was about “wines that are extensions of their maker’s personality, philosophy and temperament. Wines that are indicative of their terroir.” The second, Top 15 under-$25 wines of 2014 was meant to to “create the sociological, world of wine equivalent of splitting the atom. To celebrate the triumph of laic heterodoxy and the arrogance of modernity.  To seek purity from beneath the massacre caused by an avalanche of contrived wines.” The third instalment is meant purely to celebrate and to thank those who shared their bottles with me. Here are 16 wines tasted in 2014 that simply blew me away.

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Domaine Paul Blanck et Fils Muscat d’Alsace Réserve Spéciale 1983, Alsace, France (From A Blanck slate in Alsace, December 1, 2014)

From Altenbourg, a lieu-dit located at the base of the Furstentum vineyard. Here is Blanck’s “fairy tale,” a wine you would have always heard about but never had a chance to taste or likely ever seen. The terroir is limestone mixed with clay and you will have to excuse my Alsatian, but a single sniff and taste releases the expression, “are you fucking kidding me?” This 31-year old Muscat is an impossibility, a first time feeling, a never before nosed perfume. Speaks in a limestone vernacular, of grapes given every chance to survive long after their innocence had been lost. A forest herb, tree sap, evergreen resin, lemongrass and bitter orange coagulation rises from its viscous mist. The acidity has lost nothing on the fruit, acts in perfect foil and leaves you with a sense of loneliness that is just beautiful.  Tasted June 2014  @DomaineBlanck

Pearl Morissette Gamay Cuvée Mon Unique 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery) From The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom, May 26, 2014

In July 2013 Francois Morissette made this statement. “If we can’t make Gamay in a Cru Beaujolais Style, I’m not interested.” In May 2014 his ’13 Gamay causes Bill Zacharkiw to comment with blatant honesty, “just line up at the tank. Forget the bottle.” From 100 per cent whole clusters sent to cement fermenters. Once again the hue is just impossible. Sulphur-free, this walks a fine and perfect line of Cru banana Gamay. Pushes the Gamay envelope in that it’s gulpable but with a duress to remind you not to overdo it. A Gamay with a chamber of 32 doors. In it “I’d rather trust a man who doesn’t shout what he’s found.” François Morissette.   Tasted May 2014  @PearlMorissette  @3050imports

Laughing Stock Vineyards Amphora VRM 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (agent, $30.00, WineAlign) From A day in WineAlign life: 15 new releases from Ontario and B.C., August 8, 2014

Here blends one-third each Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne, a veritable Rhône orgy in wild fermentation, aged on the skins in terra-cotta and amphorae. While I would not go so far as to call it an “orange wine,” I will use the “N” word to describe its agrarian ways. As natural as anything you are likely to taste out of B.C., this is a most untamed experiment and should not be missed. It verges on oxidation but refuses to climb over the edge. It’s floral, spicy and crowded. The texture is chalky and so full of rusty, clay rubbed streaks. Everything about this is unkempt and exotic, including the never cease and desist fermenting lychee and longan feel. Hard not to be wowed by this blend’s presence.  Tasted August 2014  @lfngwine  @liffordretail

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2006, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula (241182, $35, WineAlign) From When experts break wine together, March 4, 2014

Only Charles can follow Charles, as only Jimi could follow Jimi. Just ask Peter Townshend. The combined forces of vintage, off-dry level of residual sugar (23.9 g/L) and age have ushered this Picone into a realm of adipose, butyraceous, chewy texture. The ’06 is emblematic of its time, stunning, psychedelic, experienced. It speaks clearly and with conceit. Tasting it eight years on you can hear Baker’s 2006 voice saying “if you can just get your mind together uh-then come on across to me.” We have and continue to follow Charles, and we are paying close attention to every vintage along the ride.  Tasted March 2014  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Sémillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (371484, $47.95, WineAlign) From Thirteen wines ‘ere Friday the 13th, June 12, 2014

A lifelong search for great Sémillon is fraught with peaks and valleys. Finding greatness is so rare it’s blue. The Hunter Valley in New South Wales beckons for a rush to strike gold. Many roads lead nowhere and others, like the dusty lane up to Brokenwood’s Maxwell Vineyard, lead to OZ. This young one has barely broken bread, or even a sweat. Sémillon of primary concern, like a tank sample. Varietal beauty as a cryogenically frozen specimen inundated by the table, the whole periodic table and nothing but the table. Guided by a laser beam of focus, great intent and expectations. Bob’s your uncle this David to the world’s white wine Goliaths. Son of racing studs and mares. Wow Sémillon. Not a faint moment about or in it.  Tasted May 2014  @Brokenwood

The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, California, USA (662015, $59.00, WineAlign) From The death of wine scores?, March 26, 2014

A seminal bottling from a game-changing year, for two all important reasons. One, it was a great vintage for Napa reds and two, the Mount Veeder sub-appellation was established. While only 24 years ago, a mere five wineries existed there at the time, including Mayacamas, Mt. Veeder and Hess. No hyperbole to say this is tasting a piece of history. Despite my “shouting all about love,” this splendidly aged Cabernet is not so much about resilience as it is persistence and infinite wisdom. All those years ago there were Napa reds made at a mere 12.5 per cent alcohol, with finesse and a sense of George-like calm. With little aeration there is fig, prune and toffee gently weeping but with air the aged fruit is swept away by a wave of gob stopping Cassis before its time. Preconceived notions of banausic, early days Cabernet are smothered by the magic dust of this Hess religion, a Dharma of licorice, ash and enlightenment. A wine to make you forget where you are. Depth, length and up to a half decade yet of reserved life lay ahead.  Tasted March 2014  @HessCollection   @liffordretail

Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($143.00, WineAlign) From Burgundy will always be royal, April 22, 2014

The Fèvre take on Les Clos is the cradle of all the domain’s wines, in every respect. Intensely concentrated, this is Chardonnay expressive in every facet of its surroundings. The impart from compressed white limestone, ancient fossils and Jurassic minerals in distillate may seem abstract in description but how else can the feeling of a mouth full of rocks be conveyed? The remarkably complex Les Clos and its structured palate that goes on forever has come out of its Chablis vineyard cradle and will live on as one of the best ever. “It’s not a place, it’s a yearning. It’s not a race, it’s a journey.” There is no rush to drink it up. It will offer immense pleasure for 20-25 years.  @WoodmanWS  @BourgogneWines

Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino 1997, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0961714 $145.00, WineAlign) From When Sangiovese comes to town, April 7, 2014

From a golden vintage, this ’97 is crazy good. A fixed, double-edged blade fighting knife dipped into a warm pool of developed liqueur-like sweetness. Seventeen years of languorous modulation and wood-fruit integration had resulted in a gracious Brunello, intrinsically delicious and living large in senescence. Life for the Col D’orcia ’97 is a bowl of cherries. Open one now and for the next three to five years and you’ll know exactly what you’re going to get. Me, “I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years. Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years.”  Tasted April 2014  @Coldorcia  @ConsBrunello

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 2001, Doc Bolgheri Superiore (Agent, $189.95, WineAlign) From Down on the Ornellaia, June 24, 2014

The blend of the 2001 Rosso Superiore is Cabernet Sauvignon (65 per cent), Merlot (30) and Cabernet Franc (5). Though strange to say and admittedly a retrospective comment, the minute quantity of Cabernet Franc and not yet inclusion of Petit Verdot result in a more straightforward and not as heavily layered Ornellaia. The structure is more linear and understandable, the fruit not as variegated. Complexity and Tuscan spiritualism are not compromised by the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominant line, in fact, assessing the evolution at 13 years on reveals the Bolgheri terroir in ways the magnanimous and opulent more recent vintages just don’t reach. There is a refreshing acidity in this young and developing ’01 in a streak that again, the baby Superiore do not seem to possess. This is a striking Ornellaia, a wine that would work with exceptional cuisine of varied cultures. It can be enjoyed now and will respond with grace and thanks for 30 plus years more.  Tasted June 2014  @Ornellaia  @AuthenticWineON  @sherry_naylor

Château Léoville Las Cases 1995, Ac St Julien, Bordeaux, Left Bank, France (402529, $599.00, WineAlign) From A Bordeaux family of wines, September 29, 2014

This 2nd Growth, Grand Vin is a product of nurturing and environment, a study in 12 superb soil subsets, from sand to clay to stone. From mature, edified vines split between Cabernet Sauvignon (70 per cent), Cabernet Franc (16) and Merlot (14). The LLC ’95 is grounded and centered on its highly confident axis while swirling within a centrifuge of inwardly concentrated, ripe but not ripest fruit. Merlot here is the anchor, Cabernet Sauvignon the mast. This is a relationship of pure linear fruit meets acidity. The full and fresh attack is refined with soft-pedaled tannins. It’s neither St. Julien nor Paulliac. It is Las Cases. No other Bordeaux is such an island, a distinctly personal expression, an event of its own. This is a window to the greatest vintages, a portal to extend to the benchmarks of 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2009, but also to step into the history of physiological cortex, to gain insight into previous legendary vintages, like 90, 89 and 82. The ’95 is silky, caressing, rapturous enveloping in a reverse osmosis of fruit and acidity, acidity and tannin. Another sip notices the layering, the grain left in tannin, the lingering richness of the fruit. The absolute sweet caress.  Tasted September 2014  @Noble_Estates

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977 at Splendido Restaurant, September 2014

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977 at Splendido Restaurant, September 2014

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy

Though the vintage was reported to be less than exceptional, the chance to taste this 37 years in/on and the longevity it displays combines for full, blow me away effect. The first vintage of Sassicaia was 1968 and this 10th try hits the mark of experience. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (85 per cent) and (15) Cabernet Franc, the fruit came from vines over top soils of clay and limestone. The wine spent 20 months in Yugoslavian oak barrels (half of it being new, and half used once or twice before), while for the remaining 60 per cent, French oak was used (2/3 new and 1/3 used once or twice before. Tasted blind, the swirling and searching thoughts of Genesis retrospection assimilate aromas of truffle and mushroom, but at first there is no reply at all. Landing on a plot of excellence somewhere between Bordeaux and Piedmont, Tuscany rises from its hills. A silent conversation ask the Sassicaia “I get the feelin’ you’re tryin’ to tell me;
Is there somethin’ that I should know?” Its condition is near perfect, its body full, its nature pristine and finally, so obviously in balance. After 30 minutes it begins to slide, to no surprise, but you can’t believe the expression it gives and the impression it leaves. And so, it is confirmed. 1977 was a fine vintage for Sassicaia.  Tasted September 2014  @Smarent  @Splendido_TO

Contino

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1974 at XocoCava, with Chef Chris McDonald and Rob Groh of the Vine Agency, October 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1974, Rioja, Spain (Agent)

An impossibly youthful 40 year-old Tempranillo, even surpassing the more evolved ’80 in that regard, with aniseed, coconut and beeswax in its current aromatic state. Less gamy and animal funky, yet persistent in earthy beats. The vegetal scents act as conduit to the light bulb shining brightly of circuitous flavours and resolved textures. Lingers in mouth feel, its layers of time slowly peeling back, revealing in length, a slide show of the wine’s life. With many year’s still ahead, this is a Tempranillo revelation and from one going back this far that gained no support from Graciano (because it was planted in 1979). Its apostle following instead comes by way of the white Viura. Pair with Chef Chris McDonald’s Foie Gras and Partridge Croquetas.  Tasted September 2014  @TheVine_RobGroh  @Cvne

Decanted Château Margaux 1989, The National Club, Toronto, May 1, 2014 PHOTO: Michael Godel

Decanted Château Margaux 1989, The National Club, Toronto, May 1, 2014
PHOTO: Michael Godel

Château Margaux 1989, Ac Bordeaux, France (176057, $1,645.00, WineAlign) From Château Margaux hits the road, May 5, 2014

The 1989 Château Margaux wears the response to a mondo Bordeaux axiom on its sleeve. Are First Growth wines made for people who want darts of instant pleasure?” Twenty years earlier and now like the 2009, here is a quintessential and exemplary vintage, from day one of bud break to the last day of harvest. Its appraisal as anything but incredible is to assassinate it as if it were the Franz Ferdinand of Bordeaux. The examination 25 years later sees a mellow funk meet a peerless and sublime perfume. A wine cast in utmost density, complexity and length. It noses strength, warmth verging on heat but only for a fleeting moment, to gain attention. The iconic wine has reached the first major peak, up a ways from base camp. In this second phase of young adulthood it looks with conceit to the top of the mountain, seeing 25 to 50 more years on the climb. Mr. Pontallier regrets he won’t be around to taste this wine at full maturity. Moi aussi. The fruit lingers in its full, original state, from the moment it passes lips and for minutes onward. Violets trump roses. Château Margaux 1989 is from a vintage that offers the blessing of ethereal balance. Hear her sing, “Ich heisse Superfantastisch!”  Tasted April 2014  @Noble_Estates

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009 (From The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht, August 5, 2014)

A south-facing, very steep slope of grey marls and gypsum. A vineyard that yielded a miniscule 10 hl/H. A stratospheric residual sugar quotient (in the realm of 500 g/L) and incredulous acidity to prevent the development of the yeasts. A fermentation that finally finished in the late winter of 2012. A wine aged in demi-guid. Selection of grapes of a botrytis so pure and dry. These are the specs of a wine I may never taste again. Olivier concedes he “really tries not to obtain the highest sugar concentration possible” but this 2009 is a “monster of a wine.” It will take forever to assimilate and digest the sugar. Unctuous, lush, rich and gorgeous does not do it justice. Pure distillation of fruit and stone, accented by spice, wild herbs and flowers. Like an injection of pure, Pinot Gris adrenaline. All this from dry extract, slowly rehydrated with magic pixie dust and the wonders of the natural world.  Will live for a century and then some.  Tasted June 2014  @olivier_dzh  @TrialtoON

Schlumberger

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945 (From In a Grand Cru state of mind, June 18, 2014)

From an area of sandstone soil that predates the appellation. “This is an old story,” says Sommelière Caroline Furstoss by way of introduction at a Millésime master class. “This is a wine of God,” in allusion to the success of a vintage immediately following the end of World War Two. So emotional to taste, of a Riesling with 20-25 g/L of residual sugar and a recondite, balancing level of acidity. Complete and clean, persistent in its power and vitality. There is orange peel and spice, cinnamon and spike. Must have been a warm yet somehow perfect vintage. Sixty-nine years on there is the slightest hint of toffee and nougat with a whispered promise to age for at least 30 more effortless and graceful years. The length lasts for minutes. The heart and the hearth. Just the thought of producing this wine at that time is unfathomable and mystifying. There are no superlatives to do it justice.  Tasted June 2014  @VinexxWine

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863, Douro, Portugal (Agent, $3,995.00, WineAlign) From Taylor made Port, September 2, 2014

The two casks of 1863 reached the Taylor family in pristine condition, from one of the last great pre-Phylloxera vintages of the 20th century. This wine came from the cool and damp Port lodges of Oporto, “the cathedrals of wine.” This was a once in a lifetime chance to taste a piece of history, a most natural and organic fluid encased for 151 years in its integument of time. The year 1863 was significant in many respects, including being the birth year of Henry Ford and Franz Ferdinand. This is Port that creates the future and yet dwells on the past. The hue is both progressive and fathomless in subterranean fantasy. Its many shades of warm, advancing colours resemble the faux brown rings of Mars. The aromas are built around toffee and with accents of many mints; spearmint, chocolate and pepper. You can smell the 1863 from rooms and world’s away. It conjures up many songs. “When you’re half way from a dream, is it hard to work out what is real?” That is its love illumination. It has the strange advance “of killing time and dreams.” The flavours are extreme and exotic, with South-Asian spices highlighting its deep, late night humidity. The finish is endless. Is this brilliance or a stroke of incredible luck? It is certainly pristine and wondrous. It has to be considered a perfect wine, for its niche and genre, by its makers, David Guimaraens and Adrian Bridge. Having let the days of 151 years go by, this is not a wine to compare with others, it is not the same as it ever was. In the end, “you may ask yourself, well…how did I get here?” Thanks to Stephen Marentette of Sylvestre Wines and Spirits.  Tasted August 2014  @TaylorsPortWine  @Smarent

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14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 silent auction guitar signed by Canadian musicians

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 silent auction guitar signed by Canadian musicians

In 2013 the number chosen to highlight excellence in Canadian wine was 13. Symmetry and permutations with repetition are one thing, quality in winemaking is yet another. The expectation is fully understood that next year there will be 15 wines on the list. And so on and so forth.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

What force has thus far driven and will continue to drive the wines of Canada? By sifting through leads in geography, in the orientation of escarpments, mountains, rivers and valleys, in the gestalt of the archaeology of tomorrow, in the vineyard landscape of today, we can perchance unlock the riddle of the what and the why for varietal planting. The end game is to unlock the mystery within the puzzle of terroir, to figure out what grapes will thrive and where they can be given the best shot at success. It is not just about what happens beneath the soil, but also what happens above, around, beyond and in the minds of women and men.

Picking a top anything list is both a chore and a labour of loyalty. The opportunities to learn more about Canadian-made wine, especially the processes and the efforts, were numerous in 2014. Canadian winemakers opened their doors and when people came, they taught. They walked the vineyards, showed off their prized barrels and walked through the processes of making wine. Tasting and barrel rooms make for the greatest classrooms. Get out there in 2015. The experience is priceless.

Winery visits were numerous in 2014. Thanks must be dispatched to all who opened their doors, to those with established roots and to risk takers who through their new planting, began burrowing their own. Like Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario. Like Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Tastings that go beyond the pale shed new élevage and barrel light. The light shed by such practices was no more in evidence than at Tawse with Paul Pender and Norman Hardie, but also at Flat Rock Cellars with Jay Johnston and Ed Madronich.

Memories of 2014 lead to thoughts of Cuvée, the Expert’s Tasting and the Sparkling Wine Symposium at Brock University. Taste OntarioSomewhereness, County in the City. July visits to Niagara and Nova Scotia gave up 10,000 words of free-flowing wine-speak about the Cool Chardonnay conference and with Peter Gamble in the Gaspereau Valley.

There were a few wines that should have, would have and could have made the cut were there time, space and a better headline to write. Gray Monk Riesling 2012, Okanagan Valley at ($15.00, WineAlign) is the best value for the niche in B.C. This is old-school, west coast Riesling with attributes to reflect and look back on generations of acumen. Tawse Carly’s Block Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($31.95, WineAlign) forms a bridge and meets the twain, from atomic to tropic and was a NWAC14 Platinum Medal Winner.

La Face Cachée de la Pomme 2011 Neige Première Ice Pink Cider, Quebec ($22.95, WineAlignspeaks to me in waves of demonstrative, Floydian verse. There is Icewine on the bright side and then there is Iced Cider on la face cachée. Leaning Post Lowrey Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench ($38.00, WineAlign) though just recently re-tasted, was actually first assessed in November of 2013.

This list certainly concentrates on new releases, save for a few exceptions where older wines left a modern impression. Wines that found a way to break new ground also factored into the decisions. Here are the 14 Canadian wines tasted in 2014 that simply did it for me. Wines that are extensions of their maker’s personality, philosophy and temperament. Wines that are indicative of their terroir.

From left to right: Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013 , Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Merlot 2002

From left to right: Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013 , Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Merlot 2002

 

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign) From The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014

Who has not waited for Elevation to hit out of the 2012 vintage? Straight up it must be noted that this will rank over and above the best from the St. Urban Vineyard. The ’12 Elevation will not only find long-term success among the great values in Bench Riesling, it will go down as one of the best ever, at any price. The vintage impart is a natural for this wine. At the moment it is the most primary of all because of the layers that texture bring. The Elevation will go thirty years and climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, gaining flesh and personality. The already seamless gathering of fruit and mineral is palpable. And still a reminder, the price is $20. This is a Schmidt gift to Ontario, for anyone and everyone to be one of the lucky ones. To purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling.  Tasted November 2014  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (578625, $19.95, WineAlign) From The Group of twelve, April 28, 2014

Just add three months and witness a new evolution, a density, from a honeyed thing. Entering a pre-adolescence with a new bounce in its step. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “A champion cyclone of forces combined to elevate the already incumbent position of this Twenty Mile Bench Riesling. An ideal growing season magnified transmission upon a paradigmatic two and a half-acre block. This southern-most and highest altitude section of Flat Rock’s vineyard rests aboard a solid bed of limestone and wake me up if that rock was not drawn up into the vines in this stellar Riesling vintage. Sure its warm and nearly off-dry but such an effortless squeeze of lemon hydrates and elevates orchard fruit and honey out of the year of the lemon. After each sip its “every time you kiss me, lemon crush.” Love this prince of a Twenty Mile white in 2012, the dynamism smiling on the tart, succulent fruit. The length is one of outright bravado. This will develop for 20 years, of that I am convinced. There is just so much fruit. A Nadja for the ages.”  Tasted April 2014  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, B.C. $20.90, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014

The purity of fruit in Blue Mountain’s Gamay is without question in a distinct class of the few and far between. Older barrels (four year-old, fifth fill) were used and the impart should not be dismissed. While quintessentially Okanagan Gamay, the fruit is elevated, lifted, ripe like warmer Cabernet (dare it be said) with more berry and Cassis-like aromas. The palate tension and round acidity bring Morgon to mind. Just a bit gamy on the back end, which is nice. Planning to drink this through the end of the decade would not be a mistake.  Tasted October 2014  @BlueMtnWinery

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 Cabernet Franc comes of age out of a preternatural and ontological perfect storm. Casts odds into the river of ideal weather, procures phenolic grape ripeness out of the vineyard, avoids the green and embraces the brown stems. Ferments under the natural eye of indigenous yeasts and settles into its silky skin at a low, low 10.8 per cent (give or take a lab sample) alcohol. Cabernet Franc of impossible soul, its “burden is the weight of a feather.” Pepper and currants are noted, tobacco and tomato are not. Comes “bearing a sword” but seduces with primal proclamations. Radical County red.  Tasted April 2014  @normhardie

Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $26.00, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014

High altitude expression from a vineyard perched atop a gravel bed, a rocky pool of stone that seems to toss-up pebbles at Sperling’s window to see if she would like to sneak away for a midnight drive. A crisp, clean and linear style, full of night-air freshness, white flowers and white fruit. This is undeniably picked early and ahead of any possible oxidative or overripe window, yet there is a rich quality about it that rages against the machine, calm like a bomb, “its narrative fearless.” Very mineral in its direct back and to the side of the mouth attack, full of salinity and lemon-lime acidity. Long, long Okanagan that will flesh with five years time. The slate bass line will soften, allowing the white fruit to further shine.  Tasted twice, May and July 2014  @SperlingVyds

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign) From Got two Chardonnays, June, Ivan and Picone, July 15, 2014

A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  Last tasted June 2014  @cbriesling

Pilliteri Estates Merlot Family Reserve 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71753, $39.95, WineAlign) From Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine, January 17, 2014

Served from Jeroboam, one of 23 produced and a testament to the precocious, facile touch of then winemaker Sue-Ann Staff. The extreme five litre format has certainly been kind to the hermetic 11-year slumber of this Merlot, as has the above average red Niagara growing season. Charlie pulled out this rare behemoth “for the special occasion” and despite and with thanks to the perfect vintage meets size storm, it has held up with dramatic fortitude. Unmistakably predicated Pillitteri chocolate perfume, brushed violet, mulberry and oven-warmed baking spice. Holding in sustained concentration, the toffee, caramel and umami of wizened, oxidized fruit not yet a twinkle in its soapy sandalwood eye. How could Sun-Ann have known what time-cheating lengths her Merlot would see to?   Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

From left to right: Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008

From left to right: Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008

 

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign) From Chardonnay is cool, July 9, 2014

Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.  Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (20906, $45.00, WineAlign) From A hip of wine at Hidden Bench

Tête De Cuvée by Hidden Bench, like a Champagne best of the best abstraction, makes an appeal to self-esteem and esteem for others, to consumers who have come to recognize Niagara and even more specifically, the Beamsville Bench for head of the class, cool climate Chardonnay. That mouthful congregates and works in congruence with the quality in the Tête’s composition; full-on freshness, density, weeping cerate texture, toasted and popping kernel, fine-grained localization, utterly integrated barrel. There was scant quantity (32.5 hL/h) from some very old and wise vines, pronounced like others but louder than most, from the bullhorn of a stentorian vintage. What is felt and spoken about the quality inherent from out of the finest parcels in the Locust Lane and Rosomel Vineyards Chardonnay fruit is more than a patent observation. The ability to take on toast cuts to the nougat and the synoptic rises to the ethereal ozone. Not to mention gross minerality. On the shortlist for best Niagara Chardonnay to date. Drink now and beyond 2025.  Tasted twice, September  and October 2014  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, VQA Beamsville Bench (winery, $50, WineAlign) From When experts break wine together, March 4, 2014

Mind bending to taste a piece of recent history, a Riesling rooted in the rocks, blues and pop of the limestone, sandstone and shale Bench, but a wine also futuristic, distorted and soulful. From 25 plus year-old vines, this foxy lady has entered into true, secondary territory. She’s softened and her perfume is cast in vanilla butterscotch so much so she might mess with tasters’ minds in a flight of oaked Chardonnay. She’s “a cute little heartbreaker.”  Tasted March 2014  @CaveSpring

Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign) From The Stratus-Momofuku continuum, May 30, 2014

The declared alcohol on this is 14.6 per cent but to all of me, that is really hard to believe. Really elegant, 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly unabridged in phenolic ripeness but in such fine rhythm and blues. Were it a score it would be euphonious without encumbrance and void of splinters. The most subtle and gentle J-L Groux crafted red wine I’ve yet to encounter, with a back palate combination of mushroom and citrus to follow pure red fruit. Resoundingly circular with curves, no hard edges and “perfect imperfections.” This Cabernet goes at it with Graves character and poise. It will be a Niagara legend.  @StratusWines

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (34561, $65.00, WineAlign) From Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases November 4, 2014

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

Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (46470, $65.00, WineAlign) From Up on Creekside Estates, April 14, 2014

Just 60-80 cases are made from the tips of the best barrels through a process that takes 56 months to complete. The secret ingredient is Sangiovese and bless the band‘s soul if the ferric, iron and animal musk is not attributed to the addition. This is a different kind of wine, with lees in the bottle, not unlike some big, bad Spanish wines. It’s ’07 and still reductive which makes it seem peculiarly modern (note, Spanish) but it’s really not. Despite the monster tannins, it “just gave my heart a throb to the bottom of my feet and I swore as I took another pull,” the Lost Barrel can’t be beat. Up on Creekside Estates.  Tasted March 2014  @CreeksideWine

Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, WineAlign) From Consider the Gaspereau Valley, October 1, 2014

The 2008 Brut Reserve is composed of 61 per cent Chardonnay and 39 Pinot Noir. If any wine in the Benjamin Bridge continuum defines the legacy left behind by Raphaël Brisebois and passes the sparkling torch to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, this ’08 is it. Here is the vintage that begins to emulate the grower’s Champagne of the motherland, in deeper learning, understanding and connection to the estate’s vineyards. At present this is such an infant, reductive and with a blowzy palate that suggests a fidgety, elemental state. The attack is in burgeoning mousse. After spitting, the wine persists, as if there remains a mouthful, causing the cheeks to expand. The citrus is weighty in texture and this ’08 goes deeper than the previous Brut reserves. Three years will be required to allow for a settling and 20 years lay further ahead for secondary, tertiary and quaternary development.  Tasted at the winery, July 2014  @Benjamin_Bridge

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Consider the Gaspereau Valley

Benjamin Bridge, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia

Benjamin Bridge, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia

No one gets us like we get ourselves. Not so long ago that statement still held more water than the combined towers in all of Canada’s small towns. Here’s another grandiloquent statement. Exceptional wine is made in British Columbia and in Ontario. The proverbial and parochial Canadian wine thinker is privy to that erudite credence, as are many global wine experts, but what of Nova Scotia? If you didn’t already know, Benjamin Bridge and more specifically, Peter Gamble have launched the revolution.

Related: The tides that bind: East Coast swing

Just past the mid-point of my July 2014 east coast swing there happened a planned yet improvisational reconnaissance with Gamble, Canada’s flying winemaker and A-team consultant. Gamble’s work with Stratus, Southbrook and Ravine Vineyards in Niagara, his partnership with Ann Sperling in B.C. and at Versado in Argentina are well documented. His work with Benjamin Bridge Vineyards is already the stuff of Canadian wine lore. What he will touch in his new appointment at Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards will make Nova Scotia history.

Godello, Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Proprietor Gerry McConnell

Godello, Consulting Benjamin Bridge Winemaker Peter Gamble and Proprietor Gerry McConnell/Godello, Benjamin Bridge Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Proprietor Gerry McConnell

I noted that “it is there, in the heart of the Gaspereau Valley, that the essence of Nova Scotia’s wine industry walks out from beneath the fog to reveal itself in an elongated moment of clarity.” I tasted with Gamble, Benjamin Bridge winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and proprietor Gerry McConnell at the Gaspereau Valley winery. The next day I toured the vineyards of Lightfoot & Wolfville with Peter, along with owners Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot, as well as winemaker Josh Horton. We also tasted through barrels. Other visits and tastings were done at Gaspereau and Luckett Vineyards. After the visit with Lightfoot, I was duly impressed.

Nova Scotia is home for Peter Gamble. When Gerry McConnell invited him to assess the potential for making wine in the Gaspereau Valley, Peter insisted, without equivocation, that the concepts of Vinifera and Sparkling be the driving equation. McConnell always wanted to make Sauvignon Blanc so the first idea was a given. But Sparkling wine? In Nova Scotia?

Peter Gamble had more than just a hunch. The Gaspereau’s cold, yet specific micro-climate was perfectly suited to ripening Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the classic varieties that make up traditional method, Champagne-styled Sparkling wine. The grapes in the Valley could be developed and harvested with the right level of brix (sugars) and acidity, as well as pH. Though still wines from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc were less obviously suited to the climate, setting their place in Nova Scotia’s wine future had begun.

Hans Christian Jost was the first to plant in the Gaspereau Valley, in 1992-1993. Gerry McConnell bought his (seventh generation Westcott family) farm land in 1999. “We know what we don’t know and we don’t pretend to know what we don’t know,” admits McConnell. It was Gamble (recommended to McConnell by Jost) who sparked the idea of bubbles in 2000.

“Our mission was sparkling wines, world class,” says McConnell. They hired the late, great Champenois expert, oenologist Raphaël Brisebois to consult after Peter went to England for some collaborative discussion with Tom Stevenson, the British writer who many regard as the world’s leading authority on Champagne. Then in 2008, Jean (Lebron) Benoit Deslauriers was drafted from California on Raphaël’s recommendation.

McConnell wanted to plant all 50 acres “but I talked him down,” jokes (not) Peter. It took nearly 10 years but in 2010 they began to release what they considered to be their first (2004) crop of world-class Sparkling, a Brut Reserve and Blanc de Noirs.

Benjamin Bridge Vineyard

Benjamin Bridge Vineyard

So what makes Benjamin Bridge tick out of a region that resides in relative global obscurity? Number one, the river that runs through the valley doesn’t freeze; it’s a tidal flow. That water keeps the lower part of the vineyard safe, like a warm winter blanket. It conveys the moderating effect of the Bay of Fundy. Two, the soils are extreme in granulation, in rocks and stones under clay. Three, there is great air flow, between, in and out of slopes. Four, the vineyards are south-facing, almost direct and in full advantage of the westerly sun. Last and just as important, “there is always a factor of luck.” Words to make wine by, from the ever thankful and pragmatic Peter Gamble.

The Benjamin Bridge pansophy adheres to low-yielding productivity. The average yearly production (excluding winter effect) is one to one and a half tons per acre. “We consider the fruit from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on this property to be Grand Cru,” insists Gamble. ” The climactic micro-reality is really important here,” adds Deslauriers, in reference to the BB style. “All great wines have the acidity to express a sense of their environment. We want to express the vineyard in the bottle.”

Related – Notes on previously tasted Benjamin Bridge Sparkling wines:

Nova 7 2013, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $25.95, WineAlign)

Nova 7 2012, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $25.95, Nova Scotia $24.99, WineAlign)

Nova 7 2011, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $25.95, Nova Scotia $24.99, WineAlign)

Brut Reserve Méthode Classique 2007, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, NSLC 1012526, $74.79, WineAlign)

Brut Reserve Méthode Classique 2005, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, NSLC 1012526, $74.79, WineAlign)

Benjamin Bridge

Here are notes on four new wines tasted.

Benjamin Bridge Wines from left to right: Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Brut Rosé Sparkling 2010, Brut Methode Classique 2009, Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008

Benjamin Bridge Wines from left to right: Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Brut Rosé Sparkling 2010, Brut Methode Classique 2009, Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008

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

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.  Tasted July 2014

Brut Rosé Sparkling 2010, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (1015073, NSLC $44.99 WineAlign)

A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the 2010 Brut Rosé is possessive of intricate intensity and unparalleled elegance for the style and genre. It is the watershed bottle, anywhere in Canada. These bubbles are the confluence of early picked red berries, distinct platinum minerality and bitterless savoury edges. Whether or not the bitter principle is masked or eliminated by a feigned sweetness matters little. “You taste so bitter and so sweet, oh I could drink a case of you darling and I would still be on my feet.” This sets the new benchmark for Rosé sparkling out of Canadian soils. It’s so blush and melodic it’s blue. In fact, the treatment here is tender, slow and steady, sad even, also spare and beautiful.  Tasted July 2014

Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, WineAlign)

The 2008 Brut Reserve is composed of 61 per cent Chardonnay and 39 Pinot Noir. If any wine in the Benjamin Bridge continuum defines the legacy left behind by Raphaël Brisebois and passes the sparkling torch to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, this ’08 is it. Here is the vintage that begins to emulate the grower’s Champagne of the motherland, in deeper learning, understanding and connection to the estate’s vineyards. At present this is such an infant, reductive and with a blowzy palate that suggests a fidgety, elemental state. The attack is in burgeoning mousse. After spitting, the wine persists, as if there remains a mouthful, causing the cheeks to expand. The citrus is weighty in texture and this ’08 goes deeper than the previous Brut reserves. Three years will be required to allow for a settling and 20 years lay further ahead for secondary, tertiary and quaternary development.  Tasted at the winery, July 2014

Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (1019689, NSLC $27.79,  WineAlign)

The 2013 marks the inaugural release for a wine that is “the by-product of an unconditional labour of love in commitment.” Gerry McConnell always wanted to make Sauvignon Blanc, Peter Gamble fostered the dream and Jean-Benoit Deslauriers made it a reality. A de facto Sauvignon force is behind the wine, 13 years in the making. Fashioned from drastically low yields, the ’13 SB is concentrated in literally handfuls of berries. It’s a style that could almost be considered eccentric. It feigns lees effect, slow fermentation, years of barrel age and late harvest. It’s a magnetic, beast of intensity, goes sweet up the middle (7 g/L residual sugar) and finishes extremely dry. There were 206 cases made.  Tasted July 2014

Lightfoot and Wolfville

This apple farm turned organic and biodynamic winery will take everything anyone has ever thought about the Nova Scotia wine industry and turn it on its head. Hybrids and local varieties will continue to be a part of the stratagem. In the unpredictable climate of Nova Scotia’s wine growing regions that is a necessity but it’s what Chardonnay and Pinot Noir will do that will put the province on the map and the world’s stage.

Young Vines in Lightfoot and Wolfville's Oak Knoll Vineyard

Young vines in Lightfoot and Wolfville’s Oak Isle Knoll Vineyard

Up on a hill near Avonport with a view of and at the head of the Gaspereau Valley is “Le Corton,” the Oak Isle knoll. It is here that Lightfoot and Wolfville, with the expertise of Peter Gamble, are banking on the future success of Vinifera grapes. There is more vigor up here in these vines (as compared to Benjamin Bridge) and the varieties planted are dual in purpose. One hand can make a serious Chardonnay, the other a Sparkling. It’s a question of vintage and ripening. The plan is essential for making wine in Nova Scotia.

Owners Jocelyn and Mike Lightfoot in the cellar at Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards

Owners Jocelyn and Mike Lightfoot in the cellar at Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards

The winery will manage Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Chasselas and Scheurebe with New York Muscat and Vidal. I tasted through the 2013 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir resting in barrel, along with a most intriguing 2012 Late-Harvest Chasselas.

Lightfoot and Wolfville Winemaker Josh Horton with barrel samples of 2013 Chardonnay

Lightfoot and Wolfville Winemaker Josh Horton with barrel samples of 2013 Chardonnay

Pinot Noir 2013

This will be L &W’s first Pinot Noir, from 15 year-old vines in Canning, near Blomidon Estates and aged in three year-old (Stratus-used) barrels.  The fruit comes by way of a grower named Al McIntyre, who was convinced to reduce yields by dropping fruit, as he traditionally made Sparkling from more vigorous vines. The profile is both fresh fruity and gravelly, like Burgenland, or perhaps Baden. Bright, black cherry meets marly earth. The tannins are present and accounted for post-traditional two-year Burgundian élevage. This is Nova Scotia Pinot Noir and it is remarkably pure.  Tasted July 2014

Chardonnay 2013

From a sample out of a neutral barrel transferred halfway through the process into two year-old barrel. The old world autolytics are textbook and this Chardonnay has already added much of its weight. The reduction at this stage is at a nearly indiscernible level. If this does not intimate Chablis, it would be tough to imagine what does. Beautifully clean Chablis, with a wild yeast accent and tropical accessories. The tannins head straight for the back of the cheeks. This is Chardonnay from Nova Scotia? Yes, it is.  Tasted July 2014

Chardonnay 2013

From a sample out of a brand (medium toast) new barrel with Meursault the intended target. It certainly leans Côte de Beaune, with a lemon, honey and wet glade aromatic soup. The latter note comes across as something herbal without being earthy and sorry to use the M word but the minerality is definitely in here. Rich and glaring in grape, not wood tannins, the length is a testament to future endeavors.  Tasted July 2014

Chardonnay 2013

A blend of the two samples brings the ghosts of the farm’s apples together in the glass. Overall the fruit came in (early November) at 21.5 to 22.8 brix. The pH falls in at 3.18-3.2 and the total acidity 9-10 g/L.

Chasselas Late Harvest 2012

A sweet wine with stinking acidity and a dry finish. At 100 g/L, this has both sugar and acidity through the roof. “It wanted to be this,” notes Josh Horton. “We didn’t plan to go this route, but we did.” Unleashed and wild LH.

Gaspereau Vineyards

After a morning spent with the Lightfoots, Peter Gamble brought me to taste at Gaspereau Vineyards with Rebecca Griffin, Associate Winemaker & Vineyard Manager at the winery’s parent entity, Devonian Coast Wineries. Gaspereau winemaker Gina Haverstock, who I tasted with at Brock University’s Technical Sparkling Wine Symposium in May, was away on holiday. After being guided through Haverstock’s Rieslings, I can safely say that I will look forward to tasting future (and hopefully library vintages) with her on my next visit east.

The Rieslings of Gaspereau Vineyards - Front Label

The Rieslings of Gaspereau Vineyards – Front Labels

Griffin led us through renditions of Nova Scotia’s signature white Tidal Bay, an Icewine and five exceedingly promising Rieslings. The tightly wound and magnanimous acidity of the lot impressed not just for their food versatility but also their kinship with some of the greater Riesling producing regions of the world. Both Clare Valley and the Beamsville Bench came to mind, as well as the Okanagan Valley and Alsace. Here are notes on the wines tasted.

The Rieslings of Gaspereau Vineyards - Back Labels

The Rieslings of Gaspereau Vineyards – Back Labels

Riesling Black Dog 2010

The vintage gives rich fruit, tempered by a mineral and lime layering. Though very dry and somewhat angular with a clamp down bite, the warmth inherent and abundant flavours give it bounty.  Tasted July 2014

Riesling Black Dog 2011

Tighter even, full-on snare driven Riesling. Less luxuriant than the ’10, with more pierce, a zigzagging beat in angles and relentless drive that’s “gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove.” Gets the lead out with a juicy burst of orange zest. This Black Dog is a howler and goes on for minutes on end.  Tasted July 2014

Riesling Warner’s Vineyard 2011

This single vineyard Riesling shows more brightness, in white fruit and an increase in mineral. Conversely it also displays a reductive funk. Wild, in ferment, with eyes that never lie and a timeless, earth-driven, low and slow layering.  Tasted July 2014

Riesling Estate 2011

Bottled in a 500 mL format because of drastically low quantities. Only 125 cases in the half litres were made. At first it’s fresh, bright orchard fruit with a minor key in funk. Moves into ginger, lime and the white heat of lit limestone, or more specifically, gypsum. Smells a bit like machine gun powder, leading to a plugged in “ignited fever and I can’t put out the flame.” Hot Riesling in a band of gypsies, with a rat tat tat sound and a nose for excitement.  Tasted July 2014

Riesling Tri0 2012

The Trio is assembled from Warner, Black Dog and Estate vineyards. Richer, warmer, rounder Riesling. The aromatics are more pronounced but also muddled together. Not as stark as compared to the others. Not so much sweeter as rounder, fuller and less piercing. Still, the Gaspereau Riesling funk persists.  Tasted July 2014

Good to go!

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