Friday wine bites

Wine bottles

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

as seen on canada.com

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

Related – Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

Between a Flat Rock and an escarpment

Flat Rock Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara PeninsulaPhoto: Brian Barton - Guelph, Ontario

Flat Rock Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula
Photo: Brian Barton – Guelph, Ontario

as seen on canada.com

I attend many tastings but none are better than the ones accompanied by the growers, the negociant and the vintner. To a maker, the adage is repeated again and again. Wine is made in the vineyard. Here is part two in the series on land, vineyard and terroir.

Related – Vineyards, winemakers and their sense of place: Bachelder and Leaning Post

Flat Rock Vineyard

PHOTO: Flat Rock Cellars
Flat Rock Vineyard

Assuming the essential information about Flat Rock Cellars proprietor Ed Madronich is on a need to know basis, know this. Madronich is entirely sure about what matters to him, his vineyard and how he approaches the science of making wine. He and winemaker Jay Johnston have embarked upon a new Pinot Noir project. The Block Series investigates the magic of Pinot Noir through a series of a vineyard’s three blocks and plots. Flat Rock’s is a study in soil, slope and altitude.

Notes Johnston: “We can’t learn or get better about our Pinot unless we enter into this type of experimentation.” Adds Madronich, “just don’t screw it up.” They don’t call him Unfiltered Ed for nothing. On Pinot Noir? “When I think about it, I think Burgundy, Oregon, New Zealand and Niagara.” On winemaking? “Jay may be hands on in the vineyard but we are strictly hands off (in the winery).” On closures? Only screwcaps. “The alternative closures are the only way to ensure the wine we make is the wine you’ll drink.  Simple as that.” On taking risks in Flat Rock’s locale as compared to Beamsville? “He’s always had a crop,” says Madronich about a fellow Bench grower. “I’ve always made a better wine,” confirms the unfiltered one.

Flat Rock Cellars

PHOTO: Flat Rock Cellars
Flat Rock Cellars

Soil. Flat Rock’s vineyard set on the Twenty Mile Bench is built of deep clay and till, limestone and shale. The Micro-block Pinot Noir share a commonality from that composition but each plot is possessive its own variation on the rock to soil ratio.

Slope and altitude. Flat Rock lays claim to the biggest elevation change (60 metres from top to bottom) of any vineyard in Niagara. Located approximately (as a function of proximity) 7 – 7.5 km from the lake, propitious air flow dries out the vineyard and mediates humidity. Yields are lower and vines are more vigorous on this part of the Bench, with more rocks dotting the earth. “A super vineyard, great for ripening,” notes Madronich. It’s all about the elevation.

Flat Rock’s Pinot Noir blocks would normally produce 100 or more barrels. Launched with the 2011 harvest, the Block Series encapsulated a selection of 12 barrels, four each from what Ed and Jay considered the “best expressions” of the grand cru determined blocks. Neutral oak was employed to guarantee a fresh, direct and unhindered capture of Flat Rock’s top Pinot fruit. Will this experiment persist vintage after vintage, regardless of cold winters and/or warm summers? Notes Johnston, “we can mine for gold, from block to block, but not necessarily in every year. We’re not trying to razzle dazzle with alchemy in the winery.”

Flat Rock at Crush Wine Bar

Flat Rock Cellars The Block Series Pinot Noir 2011 tasting

Crush Wine Bar, 455 King St W, Toronto, ON M5V 1K4, 416.977.1234 @CrushWineBarTO

BRUCE ($29.95)

From the northern most block, up at the Escarpment/Bruce trail. Thin, one foot deep soil meshes flaky limestone at this elevation. Smallish berries predominate and an earthly mote accents the flowers, cherries, strawberry and classic purity of this bonny Bruce. A Oregonian lightness of being, if you will. From one of the few south-facing slopes in Niagara (because of 20 Mile Creek), where the limestone chalk imparts fine-grained tannin so apparent to taste.  91  Tasted Oct. 23, 2013

SUMMIT ($29.95)

This block’s base is slightly deeper, spreading over dolomite limestone. Diminished average temperatures mean berries develop lower and slower, hang longer (up to three weeks) resulting in higher phenolic ripeness. Summit may be the caveman of the three, seemingly in dire straits, covered in leaves, snapped twigs, truffles and porcini mushroom but damn if impossible Burgundy does not come to mind. This is one to ask where do you think you’re going? It will surely reply, “if you ain’t with me girl, you’re gonna be without me.” 92  Tasted Oct. 23, 2013

POND ($29.95)

Crosses the twain between Bruce and Summit. A cottony touch, most pronounced perfume and of the three, the lowest acidity. Mellow, easy, J.J. Cale peaceful, void of chalk, grain or angst. Speaks in a cherry voice, smells like cherry and returns that cherry to taste. Ripe and soft. “Sweet as a morning sunrise, fresh as a mountain dew.”  89  Tasted Oct. 23, 2013

Two more Pinot Noir

ESTATE 2011 (1545, VINTAGES Essential, $19.95)

A blend of all 13 blocks, made in a rounder and more accessible style, but still consistent with the Blocks and Gravity. Hand-picked, gravity fed, naturally and in a search for fruit truth. Bottled early (August of 2012), the earth, cherries and plant phenol are all here. Blessed with 20/20 Bench vision, in price and location. Really pure expression and unsevered length from beginning to end.  88  Tasted Oct. 23, 2013

GRAVITY 2011 (1560, $29.95, Coming to VINTAGES Nov 23rd.)

From a blend of eight different blocks, 25 barrels were held back for the Gravity. Less made in ’11 due to the Block Series initiative. Magnified pierce, plum, freshness, flow and complexity, a completely gathered Pinot feeling Gravity’s pull. “Reason had harnessed the tame.” A fable of reconstructed Pinot Noir, the Gravity is Flat Rock’s most complete expression.  From my earlier note: Top wines shine at taste Ontario 2013, “may at first strangely seem that it had ”stepped out of the wilderness all squint-eyed and confused” but my how a swirl elicits gorgeous red berries and an emphatic oomph, even without a sip. Impressively ripe, blooming red rose and cinnamon from the heart of a winemaker’s boots. A mineral streak brings to mind Volnay, in spirit and tragically hip Pinot essence.” 92  Tasted Oct. 10 and 23, 2013

Good to go!