Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2017

Go Time @GoldMedalPlates Toronto #gmp2017

It was my fourth Gold Medal Plates Toronto as wine judge, culinary taster and olympic athlete groupie. In 2014 WineAlign partner, colleague, mentor and friend David Lawrason invited me to join the festivities and help decide which three wines should be crowned Gold, Silver and Bronze. Two weeks ago a panel of Ontario wine experts tasted, assessed, debated, deliberated and ultimately decided this year’s top three. David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Michael Vaughan, Margaret Swaine and Godello. The winner ran away from the pack but two through six were separated by one point increments. It was a photo finish for Silver and Bronze.

The 2017 Toronto event featured emcee Scott Russell of the CBC’s Olympic coverage. Russell was joined by dozens of Olympic medallists and future hopefuls. Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy led the on-stage entertainment; Anne Lindsay, Danny Michel, Jeremy Fisher, Devin Cuddy and Sam Polley. The inimitable and eloquent James Chatto was once again at the head and the heart of the culinary judging panel with seats occupied by an illustrious five; Sasha Chapman, Anita Stewart,  Christine Cushing, Amy Rosen and Chef John Higgins.

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014

For a little bit of GMP history please click on this post I penned after that 2014 gala event. The culinary winners then were Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 bronze, gold and silver medal winning chefs Damon Campbell, John Horne and Jason Bangerter. The top three wines were Norman Hardie‘s Niagara Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011, Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012 and Creekside Estate‘s Iconoclast Syrah 2012. But what about 2017? My top seven in no particular order were Flat Rock Cellars Riesling Nadja’s Vineyard 2016, Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2014, Charles Baker Riesling B-Side 2016, Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catherine Brut Rosé, Stratus White 2013, Leaning Post Chardonnay ‘The Fifty’ 2015 and Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road 2013. The actual medalists are listed below in David’s report.

National Wine Advisor David Lawrason’s Wine and Spirits Report

Nadja’s Tops a Bounty of Great Whites in Toronto

“The Gold Medal Plates campaign came to a booming 800-person conclusion at Toronto Convention Centre on November 16, and it included the largest selection of wines seen in any stop on the ten-city national tour.  We judged 26 donated wines, beers, spirits and even a lavender mead, but it was a core of great Canadian white wines that caused the most excitement, and produced the winner of the evening.

The “Best of Show” Gold Medal went, by a very clear margin, to Flat Rock Cellars 2016 Nadja’s Riesling, from a single block of maturing vines in Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench appellation. I was personally stunned by just how delicious, well-balanced and nuanced this wine is – in my mind it is the best vintage of “Nadja’s” ever produced.  Other judges agreed – we all placed it as either our first or second choice.  This beauty also took a rare Platinum Medal at 2017 National Wine Awards.

It will go on to compete for Gold Medal Plates Wine of the Year at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna in February, and it appears there will be a riesling showdown, as it will be tasted against rieslings from Tantalus, Cave Spring and Norman Hardie, plus six other wines.

For second and third place the voting in Toronto was more varied, and only one point separated the second, third and fourth place wines.  The Silver Medal went to Mission Hill 2015 Merlot Reserve, a swarthy, plummy and ripe red from the Okanagan Valley.  And the bronze medal went to Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catharine Brut Rose, a delicate refined pink sparkler with subtle berry aromas.

In very close 4th place came Tawse 2013 Quarry Road Chardonnay from Niagara’s Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation. I have become very familiar with this solid, complex Burgundian chardonnay as it was generously donated by Tawse to the Celebration in three cities this year. It was also a Platinum Award winner at the 2107 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

Tawse was one of three Gold Level sponsors. Mission Hill was a national sponsor as well, donating a variety Reserve wines to seven city events across the country, and stepping even higher in Toronto with smaller donations of their more expensive “Legacy tier” red Compendium 2013 and Perpetua 2015 Chardonnay.

Arterra Wines, the recently re-named company with several wineries in Canada, was a gold sponsor donating to six cities.  In Toronto there was a selection of reserve whites and reds from Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin, as well as a rare public showing of the new Arterra 2016 Chardonnay and Arterra 2016 Pinot Noir.

Toronto’s Silver Sponsor also donated to Ottawa. Cave Spring of Niagara donated their 2015 Cabernet Franc.  Although better known as a riesling producer, Cave Spring is doubling down on its efforts to produce fine reds from Ontario’s most widely grown grape.

Flat Rock Cellars was one two Bronze level sponsors for the Toronto event, providing Nadja’s riesling for the VIP Reception and Celebration tables. The other was Henry of Pelham, which split their donation between the 2016 Old Vines Baco Noir and yet another strong 2016 Estate Riesling.

Among other notable and high calibre wines donated to the chefs, I gave my first-place vote to Stratus 2013 White, a very complex, now maturing, barrel aged blend of several white varieties. Ravine 2014 Chardonnay Reserve, another power white, also earned top-five votes.  Leaning Post 2015 Mile 50 Chardonnay was a leaner style that paired well with Gold Medal Plates Chef Lorenzo Loseto’s winning dish.  And riesling specialist Charles Baker chose the occasion to show his new, bracing B-Side Riesling.

Interestingly, no red wines were paired with chef’s creations this year, but there were two ciders, including the fine, crisp Brickworks CiderHouse Batch 1904 and a lighter cider called Pick Up 66 from Hoity Toity Cellars. Rosewood Cellars donated their exotic, fragrant Lavellener Lavender Mead, and Zirkova Vodka set up shop during the VIP Reception to sample Zirkova One, a vodka designed to be drunk “neat” and Together a version designed for cocktails.

The Best of Show judging is held prior to each event, as way to highlight the generous donation of beverage by Canada’s wineries, brewers and distillers.  In Toronto I assembled four wine pros/sommeliers.  Three are amigos at WineAlign.com and two are judges at the National Wine Awards of Canada; including Master Sommelier John Szabo, and wordsmith extraordinaire and former chef Michael Godel.  Margaret Swaine is a veteran wine and travel writer, and the spirits columnist at WineAlign.  Michael Vaughan publishes Vintages Assessments, a detailed critique of every wine released by the LCBOs Vintages stores.”

Chef Lorenzo Loseto’s @GoldMedalPlates winning dish @georgeonqueen paired by @brieish with @leaningpostwine The Fifty Chardonnay 2015. Congratulations Chef and the entire team.

Culinary Medals

Gold

Lorenzo Loseto
George Restaurant

Pairing: Leaning Post Wines, 2015 ‘The Fifty’

Silver

David Lee
Nota Bene

Pairing: Brickworks Ciderhouse, Batch: 1904

Bronze

Jesse Vallins
Maple Leaf Tavern/PORT

Pairing: Tooth & Nail Brewing Company, AGRARIA Modern Farmhouse Ale

Nota Bene’s David Lee

Here are my tasting notes for the 20 wines entered at Gold Medal Plates 2017.

Henry Of Pelham Family Estate Winery Cuvée Catharine Brut Rosé, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (217505, $29.95, WineAlign)

A whole new base, a whole new wine, the departure point exacted by a new wisdom and understanding. But it’s somehow like looking in the mirror, reviving a good memory, going back to wine childhood. Consistency is your friend with non-vintage fizz and the Catherine(s) are the undisputed leader in the Ontario biz. Brings back the Niagara orchard of a take your pick red apple, lovely creamy texture, a mild blanch of nut and fresh baked bread. Terrific class and of its own accord. Drink 2017-2021.  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2017

With its fine, strawberry mousse is at the head of its Ontario class. Vanilla, Ida Red apple and bitter nut combine like a smooth, creamy, Mediterranean spread to dip the warmest, fresh-baked bread.  Tasted December 2012

Henry Of Pelham Riesling Estate 2016, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (557165, $17.95, WineAlign)

A rash of aromatics straight away and marked warmth verging to humidity. More weight, substance and depth than most vintages deal when youth is the tempo so this riesling plays the notes and the hand quick after the draw. What you nose, taste and feel is what you get, with lime, gassing up to petrol quickly and flavours already in developing mode. Five years of riesling together for the best of times, from beginning to end. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted November 2017

Charles Baker Riesling B-Side 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Vinyl records sound different because they are designed with grooves carved in that mirrors the original sound’s wave form. Their analog recording delivers a sensory feeling of warmth, an aural of texture, nuance and soul. There was a time when the hits spun over and over were also pressed onto the A-Side of 45 rpm singles. The discovery of a never before heard B-Side was a revelation because is was extra material from a favourite band and it was a great song. It meant the record was already too strong for that song to make the final cut and to choose it for a B-Side meant it would elevate the quality of the album. A well-chosen B was not an afterthought. This is the accomplishment of the first Charles Baker’s B-Side, for itself and for the vineyards of Ian and Picone. Baker digs about in the Niagara Peninsula’s escarpment dirt for young vine, not ready for prime time riesling fruit. If perchance it seems like cheating on his per se Vinemount Ridge Picone and Ivan bottles so be it but one look at him and he’ll say “Hey, hey, what can I do?” His 2016 B-Side delivers a spray bottle Zeppelin expressing heady aromas, high in the stratosphere and raining down upon the earth. The notes are an all in, breath of classic Baker riesling air, blanketing from up above and with a landscape that reeks of lime and quivers with classic agitation. The fruit is wild and full, the salty grit infiltrating and gripping the bloody omniscience of this package. What is this B-Side and where will it be lead? To the top of the ridge, from earlier harvests, younger fruit and higher yields. Scratch the single vineyard elitism, just listen to the song and raise one up, to getting ‘er done before the conceptual singular side one and side two, Ivan and Picone. The Beatles? Forget it. Led’s flip side to the ‘Immigrant Song’ A is the one. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted November 2017

Flat Rock Riesling Nadja’s Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (578625, $24.95, WineAlign)

Nadja, like the Bréton novel begins with the question, “Who am I?” A surrealistic trigger is incited by the first taste, with excitement running in many directions but like the book, Nadja’s non-linear structure is grounded in Twenty Mile Bench riesling reality. She is an elite varietal wine in 2016, excitable girl, gregarious, punchy and so bloody juicy. I don’t recall the last Nadja with so much up front zest fervency and writhing aromatic gait, “exploding international, the scenes, the sounds, and famously the feeling that you can’t squeeze ground.” The lime flesh and cordial infusion brings the flavours into a once tropical, twice bitten realm. The vintage delivers the electric version, the new pornographer for the vineyard and the song sung loud swan song for departing winemaker Jay Johnstone. Was it all for swinging you around? Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted October 2017

Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Sauvignon Blanc Grand Reserve 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.95, WineAlign)

Arterra’s JT sauvignon blanc is youthful and even a bit reductive, with wood notable and a real sauvignon blanc pungency. Its character and a bit of risk are tied up in the aromatics though it settles for mild-mannered and middle of the road on the palate. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted November 2017

Mission Hill Family Pinot Gris Reserve 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (537076, $24.95, WineAlign)

Reserved to be sure and also still in pulse mode, with some tongue pin-pricking, not quite effervescent but moving in time. A bit of skin-contact hue and plenty of orchard fruit notes are present in both aromas and flavours. Solid gris that will improve in six months or so. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2017

Inniskillin Okanagan Pinot Gris Reserve 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($19.99, WineAlign)

Noticeable skin-directed hue, chalky to soapy, with a taste that reminds of Topps hockey card bubble gum. Childhood memory revisited in pinot gris. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted November 2017

Arterra Chardonnay 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Arterra’s chardonnay comes from a famous Peninsula source, formerly made into just as famous wines by Le Clos Jordanne The site is on the Escarpment’s Bench above Jordan Village and this is the second vintage at the hands of Jackson-Triggs winemaker Marco Piccoli. Picks up where the fine and ambitious first vintage in 2015 left off but here with some light strike and reduction. You can just feel the buttered toast and kernels behind the flinty curtain, with blanched nut and some fine elasticity. Will benefit from a few more months in bottle to gather thoughts and flavours. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2017

Leaning Post Chardonnay ‘The Fifty’ 2015, VQA Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

This is chardonnay that had a cup of coffee in the big leagues and was then moved to the fresh confines of stainless steel tanks soon after its 15 minutes of barrel fame. It’s a unique chardonnay specimen this Fifty, barrel fermented but not aged, a wine crafted with pragmatic reverse psychology so that it may solicit great appeal. If you’ve never tasted Ilya Senchuk’s entry-level foray into Peninsula chardonnay you’ve been missing out, but by starting here in 2015 there is certainly no harm, no foul. This is the most pleasing and palatable Fifty so far, barrel creamy, suety and magically malolactic on the nose. The flavours are cooler, of an anti-Senchuk subtlety and versatile food amenability. I can think of 50 reasons to pour this by the glass, at home, on a restaurant list or on a campsite under the stars. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2017

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

The Reserve is 100 per cent estate fruit that spent 18 months in (50 per cent new) barrel. As it’s both barrel fermented and aged the variegation locks the fruit in so bloody tight so even now it’s reductive, smoky and flinty. A mineral chardonnay needs balance from over the top fruit and so track record, acumen and love will have it so. Marty Werner and Ben Minaker’s is a big, summery and gold platinum expression, very expressive, the two-lb steamed in seaweed lobster chardonnay, seemingly Meursault but just as likely from California. But as Ravine’s Reserve on the St. David’s Bench it is purely Niagara Peninsula. Fruit intensity, extract and controlled oxygenation shows off the best of what these men can do. It speaks to their efforts, knowledge accumulation, trials and finally to the culmination of their stamina. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2017

Small @RavineVineyard village looking pretty sweet at @GoldMedalPlates 2017 #gmp2017

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Vineyard 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (111989, $35.80, WineAlign)

When I tasted Quarry Road 2013 out of four barrels three years ago the purpose was to take in the nuances and see only the trees. I for one could not help seeing the forest through the trees and imagining percentages of each combining for the final blend. Neutral Mercurey wood looked over infant three year-old vines spoken here with surprising density, tang and tropical melon in both aroma and flavour. This sits on the front palate right now. The mineral Ceres qualifies older fruit as the pretty and the gemstone, essential for Quarry Road, the most like (Meursault) in Burgundy. This fruit transferred to stainless on the lees from September to March before going into bottle now renders to make Quarry the purest expression from the best vineyard. The CLL toast delivers the taut, not yet reductive wood tightening, then and again now, mainly on the finish. Compressed citrus notes are late arriving and even if it is splitting hairs, the oak really impacts the finish. The larger CLL toast Mercurey barrel reveals a fresher, more reductive, less oaky feel. All together we now have one of Paul Pender’s most accomplished to date and all chardonnays considered, one of the finest higher end values around. I think he would agree. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Mission Hill Perpetua 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $73.03, WineAlign)

Perpetua is a different sort of chardonnay for the Okanagan, with not completely obvious fruit and leesy notes that outdo the effects of wood, plus a lactic edge that also smothers the smoulder. This is not the toastiest of chardonnays but is does deliver a saltiness so ultimately the reference point is flint and stone, a.k.a. Chablis. A bit of crème frâiche adds to the dairy mystique. Perpetual chardonnay motion leads to persistence. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted November 2017

Stratus Vineyards Stratus White 2013, Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.20, WineAlign)

There can be little doubt that anticipation would haver to run high for the aromatic, elongated and coolest of Niagara white wine vintages, especially for the chardonnay, but also for the iconic, four-varietal (with sauvignon blanc, sémillon and viognier) blend. The five sensory tenets are solicited and provided for; salty, sour, sweet, briny and umami. The last is exotic and punchy, so this White does it all, speaks for it all and completes it all. It is the most designed and seamless their’s can be. Last tasted May and November 2017

In 2013 viognier is back in the varietal mix, in reprise of its earlier role in support of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling. A different sort of vintage here for the White, seemingly led by a circular turning of chardonnay and viognier, like a cat chasing its tail. This really goes round and round with no obvious signs of where it will stop. Quite fleshy and lime juicy with stone fruit flavours in righteous abound. Really amalgamated and seamless even for itself. It is here that I think of it as The White. Niagara’s White. Lake Effect™. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted November 2016

Arterra Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Wow the cherry pie delivers a healthy slice oozing in reduced cherry syrup. Could only by an effect created by some appassimento on pinot noir. It’s so concentrated, full of glycerin and sweet fruit. Were it not pinot made with some drying of the grapes it would be an amazing feat of growing, picking and pressing. A panoply of cherries wells in this ripe of ripest Marco Picoli red. Wow, as I said. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted September and November 2017

Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (523001, $17.95, WineAlign)

As with the other Niagara Escarpment reds in the portfolio it is the limestone that stands out, in a good way, to bring about this mineral-red citrus cutting through the rich fruit. That stone-mineral note also does everything to temper and even mute what bitter-tonic-astringent notes might try to distract because that’s what capsicum-bell pepper is wont to do in cabernet franc. This is clean and focused, light and eminently quaffable juice. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted September and November 2017

Inniskillin Merlot Reserve 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is really pressed and pushed merlot, cool and savoury, minty and spirited with lots of wood spice and equal amounts of tannin. The really tart finish dries out with grip and force. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2017

Jackson Triggs Grand Reserve Meritage 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (594002, $24.95, WineAlign)

Now here is a nice little bit of diesel of dust, with more than a fair shake of dark raspberries and a mix of chicory, nettles and chalky tannin. Pretty wondrous quality and complexity here. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2017

Henry Of Pelham Baco Noir Old Vines 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (459966, $19.95, WineAlign)

This is finely rendered baco noir, rich and tangy, with bright cherries and what just feels like beeswax. The most elegant baco noir ever made in Ontario and just foxy enough to be itself. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted November 2017

Mission Hill Merlot Reserve 2015, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Agent, $24.99, WineAlign)

This is aromatically rich and lush merlot, with a full compliment of palate richness and silky tannins. For fans of the California style with all in hedonism and a side of nettle. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2017

Mission Hill Compendium 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Agent, $86.25, WineAlign)

Compendium 2012 carries a great wealth of aromatics, very floral and rusty, with dried strawberries and so much more. A bit reserved on the palate but its elegance and seamlessness are special. Great length even while it’s just not that much of a concentrated beast. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted November 2017

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Fontodi’s one hundred per cent sangiovese

In @chianticlassico mano nella mano 1986, @fontodi #vignadelsorbo & #flaccianello thank you Giovanni Manetti for sharing these two opposing forces of the Tuscan paradox #chianticlassico

I have spent quite a bit of time in Chianti Classico over the past two years, most recently during the last week of September. The occupation of study and discovery and the investigation into the intricacies and multiplicities of the region’s sangiovese prepossess a lifelong infatuation. If the cumulative is a factor of compulsive obsession so be it and while decades of learning are left to attack, an essential visit can now be crossed off the bucket list. With Giovanni Manetti at Fontodi.

Fontodi is a certified organic estate which extends over 130 hectares of which approximately 70 are planted to vines. When you break down the name into two parts, first fonte or “source” and odi, “hate” you paint an image in etymology that couldn’t be further from the truth. Take a walk through the estate’s vineyards set in Panzano’s Conca d’Oro and the exact opposite unfolds. Fontodi’s estate vines are as described (and for the effects on health and happiness) prescribed as a place of “high altitude, calcaire-clay-schist soil, lots of light, and a fantastic micro-climate – warm and dry with a marked difference in day and night-time temperatures.” Lots of light is really key, “un sacco di luce,” or as it could be construed, “a source of love.” Spend three hours with Fontodi’s proprietor Giovanni Manetti and you’ll get the picture. Fontodi as Fonte di amore.

Related – All in with Chianti Classico

Giovanni Manneti showing the sangiovese of the 2017 harvest

Today is September the 23rd. First we take a drive down into the Conca d’Oro and walk in the vines. The sangiovese blocks with the finest exposure and the most sun have just recently been picked. Others are coming in as we speak. The rest will be harvested by the end of the week. It has been a most unusual vintage in Chianti Classico. One of the warmest and driest winters on record is interrupted by a near-devastating spring frost then followed by scorching summer temperatures and no rain. The grapes dry up and desiccate to nearly nothing with the danger of an empty harvest looming. Then a miracle happens and the rains fall during one crazy week in early September.

There are producers who make a fateful mistake. They pick their sangiovese ahead of the rains. Sugar and alcohol are high in the shrivelled berries but phenolic ripeness lags well behind. The stems and seeds in these preemptively harvested sangiovese are green, underdeveloped and bitter. The tannins will follow suit. Though these wines will be jammy and flavourful in the first year or two, the hollow feeling on their mid-palate and the astringency on their finish will expose their weakness. Giovanni Manetti makes no such mistake. He allows the grapes to swell with the much-needed watering and then watches them develop their phenolics over the following weeks of warm weather. His sangiovese are beautiful, lower in yield, with many of the bunches and their berries smaller in size, but ripe nonetheless. It may not turn out to be a great year for Chianti Classico and Flaccianello economics but the 2017 wines will shine.

Have not seen a prettier cow than the #chianina raised for @dariocecchinimacellaio on the @fontodi organic farm in Panzano

We move on down to visit the Chianina. The Chianina are an ancient and very large Italian breed of cattle raised mainly for beef. The beautiful, regal and majestic cows are famous for producing the meat for Toscana’s bistecca alla fiorentina. Giovanni’s herd are nurtured for one specific purpose, to supply the most famous butcher in Italy Dario Cecchini with his meat. Says Cecchini, “The Officina della Bistecca is our convivial way of answering the difficult question of the perfect way of cooking Her Majesty the Bistecca alla Fiorentina and Her Sisters the Costata and the Panzanese steak.” The farm to table relationship between Fontodi and Antica Macelleria Cecchini is witnessed right here, first hand.

Pinot Nero in Amphora at Fontodi

Back in the winery Manetti is fully cognizant of a group of seasoned journalists and sommeliers having visited more than their share of estates so we skip past the stainless steel tanks, barrel cellars and bottling lines to get down to what is really right. Along with John Szabo M.S. (WineAlign partner and author of Volcanic Wines), Brad Royale (WineAlign judge, Wine Director of Rocky Mountain Resorts and most interesting man in Canada) and Steven Robinson (First Ontario Ambassador of Chianti Classico and Sommelier at Atelier Restaurant in Ottawa) we talk amphora with Giovanni. Much experimentation is taking place at Fontodi even while much of the world may not associate their iconic sangiovese with this sort of side work. Along with decades of producing tiles, the hand-made wine Amphoras manufactured by Manetti Gusmano & Figli are the result of eight generations of experience in the production of Cotto and high quality handmade terracotta.

What makes the Manetti Amphorae special is the uniqueness of the clay; the abundant presence of Galestro in the terroir of  Chianti Classico, the salts and the calcium carbonates confer the right microporosity, enabling the wine to breathe correctly. This feature, the antioxidant and antibacterial action and the high thermal insulation capacity make the terracotta Amphora  an ideal tool for the production of great natural wines. Fontodi and natural wines. Another partnership so worth exploring.

Fontodi vineyards in the Conco d’oro, Panzano

After the amphora we sit down to taste through the wines of Fontodi. There are good solid sessions and then there is the kind of catechetical research afforded with a proud and humble man of Giovanni Manetti’s stature. First the presentation and sangiovese appetite whetting pour of Meriggio, a sauvignon blanc from the Colli Toscana Centrale, a rest in the shade, “and as for compensation, there’s little he would ask.” Then the Chianti Classico from Fontodi and neighbouring Lamole in Greve in Chianti, for perspective and contrast. Manetti gets down to the greatest of Chianti Classico/Toscana IGT contrastive verticals with eight vintages of Vigna del Sorbo (now labeled as Gran Selezione) and Flaccianello della Pieve. When asked what he thinks of the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione category moving to 100 per cent sangiovese he laughs. “What do I think of the idea? It’s my idea!” The notes will explain the rest.

Fontodi Meriggio 2016, Colli Toscana Centrale IGT, Italy (WineAlign)

Meriggio is 100 per cent La Rota vineyard sauvignon blanc, whole cluster pressed with native yeasts, 75 per cent stainless steel ferment, no malo, 15 per cent in amphora and 10 per cent in French barriques. That said, without temperature control some malo, like it, happens. To go to Meriggio means to go and have a rest in the shade, from the verb meriggiare in reference to the (not Tuscan) poet Eugenio Montale, “merrigiare pallidio e assorto.” Empty is the literal translation but it’s more a case of the unoccupied mind at rest. Sauvignon should always be so calm and yet spirited, here with little to no oxidative character but rather metallurgy, saltiness and pure tang. The leesy reductive environment and Panzano acidity conspire with calcaire for a demonstrative locution. Bloody delicious sauvignon blanc for the man in me. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted September 2017

Sangiovese of Fontodi

Fontodi Chianti Classico 2014, Tuscany, Italy (933317, $36.95, WineAlign)

No surprise here from stalwart Fontodi, to take a difficult vintage, push vanity aside and select the best fruit for a pure expression of sangiovese, natural and organically made, with precision and clarity. The red Panzano fruit spikes with cran-pom-rasp-currant bursting freshness. It’s just the right amount of tart and sapid, carefully rippling in acidity. So well made. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted February and September 2017  #Fontodi  rogersandcompanywines    @rogcowines  Az. Agr. Fontodi  #fontodi

Fontodi Chianti Classico Filetta Di Lamole 2014, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $35.95, WineAlign)

The old Lamole winery is owned by Giovanni Manetti’s cousins, where the grandfather made important wines until he passed away in the 80s and the grapes were then sold to bulk. Then Giovanni began working with the family in the 2000s and this first vintage was ready because the finesse of 2014 spoke to him, to begin the new journey. This has seriously improved, settled, come together, developed its excellence with seven months added in time to bottle. Its characters of amaro, earth and texture are now as one, inseparable and fully vested in the calm. Drink 2017-2023.  Last tasted September 2017

From the “forgotten corner of Chianti Classico,” Lamole of Greve in Chianti is perched in a natural amphitheatre between Volpaia to the south and Panzano to the west. Some of the vineyard’s older vines are still pruned in the alberello (bush) style. This is Giovanni Manetti’s inaugural vintage of the Filetta in cohorts with his cousin. So, decidedly a diffident partner and opposing force to the Fontodi Annata because the earthy-subterranean dwelling aromatics brood beneath the red, verging to riper and darker fruit. There is a liquor, aperitif amaro-ness to the Lamole. The clay must be darker and more compressed. The balance is struck though on deeper, more brooding and warmer alcohol-felt lines and in 2014, as if it were a Riserva. It’s an oak “vessel’ aged 100 per cent sangiovese, as opposed to other the estate’s usual use of barriques. It is perhaps counterintuitive but this acts more evolved than the “normale.” Neither better or worse but enjoyment time is now.  Tasted February 2017

Father and son- Giovanni and Bernardo Manetti @fontodi #panzano #chianticlassico

Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna Del Sorbo 2014, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $83.95, WineAlign)

The older vines are between 52 and 54 years old, the first vintage being 1985 and until 2011, contained some cabernet sauvignon, vines that have since been pulled out. The now site-specific, 100 per cent sangiovese Vigna del Sorbo may have been muscular in 2012 but no such hyperbole exists in 2014. The vintage determined this and despite the deep black cherry chalkiness the true spirit and stripped down honesty of sangiovese is in display. Purity has returned, floral like an artistically-rendered natural, realist and perpetual field of flowers in bloom, in installation, of violet light and rose-scented glass. I can imagine drinking this for decades, with its albarese-galestro saltiness and effortless concentration. Sometimes sangiovese never relents and at the same time never tires. Meraviglioso. Drink 2020-2038.  Tasted September 2017

Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna Del Sorbo 2013, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $81.00, WineAlign)

Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo 2013. (Takes deep breath). Just imagine a box filled with all things sangiovese, in all its incarnations and permutations, each aspect teaching something about what you need to know. History, legacy and tradition. Risk taking, forward thinking and progress. What is learned (in retrospect) from two poles; heat and power (2012) and cool savour and elegance (2014). The ’13 is not a matter of being in between but rather an exceptionality, a sangiovese of energy, precision, clarity, purity and a pure reflection in the window of honesty. Everything this vineyard can offer is in the 2013; florals, herbs, fruit, acidity and fine, fine tannin. All in, together, as one. Perhaps its best years will end sooner than 2014 but the time spent will be unparalleled. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted September 2017

Fontodi Chianti Classico Vigna Del Sorbo 1986, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Fontodi’s Vigna del Sorbo was obviously not a Gran Selezione designated Chianti Classico in 1986 but it was at the top of the pyramid. A sangiovese in which the acids and fine pear bitters stir in the tray, with a fruit from the (Sorbo) tree that was used to mix with grapes for Vin Santo. Not any more. In 2017 the freshness is impossible, implausible, perpetuated in the most floral and fine acidity combination of any older sangiovese ever experienced. This is like sucking on the most perfect lozenge of fruit, salt, mineral and Panzano mystery. This is Panzano sapidity perfectly realized, preserved and expressed. There is a touch of Cassis, less pyrazine but you can detect the cabernet sauvignon character, even in 10 per cent but combined with sangiovese it’s this frutta di bosco feeling. Just fantastic. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted September 2017

#nebuchadnezzar @fontodi #flaccianello

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 2014, Tuscany, Italy (Agent $125.00, SAQ 12123921, $97.25, WineAlign)

Flaccianello comes off of a different slope, aspect and exposition than Vigna del Sorbo, here facing straight south, collecting all the sun it can in the golden glow of the Conca d’Oro. The richness celebrates the legacy of this 100 per cent sangiovese, once so atypical and untraditional back in 1981, now the most legacy defining there may just be for varietal Panzano and for the territory in the sense of the greater good. Pure, nonpartisan just, unadulterated and perfectly powerful sangiovese with length from Firenze to Siena and back. Drink 2021-2036.  Tasted September 2017

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 2013, Tuscany, Italy (Agent $125.00, SAQ 12123921, $97.25, BCLDB 55392, $109.99, WineAlign)

The Flaccianello is the Fontodi expression of uva nostrala, “our grape,” explains Giovanni Manneti, the most important local variety owned by Chianti Classico, protected and exalted by Fontodi. Sangiovese the solo act that must define Gran Selezione, to explain what is Chianti Classico in its purest form and to separate how it grows and what wine it produces, particularly when you are to compare it from commune to commune. This Flaccianello separates itself from the Vigna del Sorbo vineyard and Gran Selezione category, even from itself, with another bonafide elegant layer of Conca d’Oro stratified limestone richness and this ultra-savoury umami level of minty-herbal intensity. What else is there to say? Drink 2020-2034.  Tasted September 2017

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 2006, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Tell it to the vintage perhaps but 2006 is so very floral, more than any Flaccianello in the memory bank and expressly sangiovese in temper. It’s a year with massive tannins and extreme acidity. For these reasons there is a tightness of being and even at 10-plus years it’s silly young to work with but the concentration impresses. Fruit at a premium indicates some citrus, in orange and lemon with compound interest calculated in further variegated acidity. The most sapid Flaccianello of them all has 15 years more initial development ahead before true secondary character will take over. It’s amazing when you stop to think about sangiovese of such structure. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted April 2017

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 2005, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

“This is the vintage I open when I host a party or an important dinner, because no one asks me to open it.” The words are Giovanni Manetti’s and for him none truer are spoken, with a smile. The younger vines and super-selection from the “Bricco” part of the top of the hill in the exceptional vineyard make for a sangiovese of fine-grained tannin plus what the smallest berries of the smallest bunches gift. Their integration with wood has become a matter of balance, in terms of delicasse, even while supported by such structure. Secondary character is happening, in herbal, balmy and savoury, slightly pulsed and edging into balsamico. But it’s such a gentle and slow-sliding slope, years yet away from tertiary. Drink 2017-2026.  Tasted September 2017

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 1986, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Flaccianello in 1986 is actually though not surprisingly so different from Vigna del Sorbo, more than any other reason because of the cabernet sauvignon, but in a more philosophical way, because they have built a paradox, from the Super Tuscan ideal in revolution. Now the sangiovese going forward will be the most important and also the best wine, like looking back at this 1986, OK, not better than Sorbo but purer, honest, a clearer picture from which to learn from and ultimately a model for the future. Beautiful power, restraint, structure and yes, the kind of wine that deserves to be praised with the term elegance, overused, or not. Perfectly rustic, earthy and full of fruit with its accompanying complimentary, enervating and necessary acidity. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted September 2017

In @chianticlassico mano nella mano 1986, @fontodi #vignadelsorbo & #flaccianello thank you Giovanni Manetti for sharing these two opposing forces of the Tuscan paradox #chianticlassico

Good to Go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Pop goes VQA

Having just spent a full experiential week crushing vendemmia 2017 sangiovese grapes between fingers and teeth in the heart of Chianti Classico it’s more than exciting to be home in Ontario in the throes of wine country Ontario’s own ’17 raccolto. Every grape harvest has its challenges, intricacies, twists and turns but the antithetical coming about that has happened in both regions is nothing short of a set of miracles.

In Chianti Classico one of the longest droughts in recorded history threatened to suffocate and desiccate what tiny berries there may have been but an early September deluge filled the sangiovese with hope and a recharge towards quality and even quantity. The opposite happened in Ontario. A full summer of rain and mild temperatures has given way to an unprecedented warm Septenmber and now into October, the continued spell of gorgeous weather means that all parties should be celebrating. A glorious September has done more than save a vintage, it has elevated the quality and stretched the quantity so that winemakers can and will process their grapes into a wide range of exciting 2017 wines.

At a time when wine promotions are happening around the province with great intent and public positivity, the VQA-LCBO pot is simultaneously stirred, a recurring theme it seems in the world we call Ontario wine. The provincial board recently announced that “Ontario wines take centre stage at the LCBO ahead of Thanksgiving. The LCBO celebrates and savours the taste of Ontario. Local favourites featured online and in-store.” The four wines featured are a drop in the bucket of what is both capable and impressive about Ontario wine production so it is the LCBO’s “Taste Local Pop-up Experience” that digs a little deeper.

From Friday September 22nd through Sunday October 15th you can drop by 600 King St. West in downtown Toronto for a joint LCBO-VQA pop-up with an ongoing discovery tasting bar, flight tastings, classes (including life-drawing and chocolate bark making) and tutored events led by sommeliers, product consultants and local winemakers. You can also shop for your favourite VQA wines in the LCBO’s retail and digital store. In fact it was last night only that the irreducible Peter Boyd could be found working the first floor of The Spoke Club with a talk on “how to order wine in restaurants.” VQA wine, that is.

Back in March of 2017 while reporting on the VQA wines Taste of Ontario event I remarked how “new assessments are so important to understanding and gaining new perspective on not just how our (Ontario) wines age but also how they are affected by early reductive environment shock and their ability to change (for the better) after a mere six to 12 months in bottle. The first snapshots are not always the clearest.” The same attitude might apply to what happens when wines are presented to a VQA tasting panel. Only the most experienced palates, best winemakers and a select few Ontario wine cognoscenti can forecast evolution and are therefore capable of making immediate, correct decisions. Left to less experienced hands there are sure to be feathers ruffled.

Related – Fifty ways to Taste Ontario

On the heels of a summer during which VQA Ontario wines were celebrated at the 7th annual Cool Chardonnay conference with unprecedented zeal something is amiss, once again, but this time for curious reasons. An article published in the National Post last week goes on the all frontal attack, in short to the LCBO and long against VQA, the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario. The story contends that the best wines produced in Ontario do not make it to LCBO shelves. It states “all wine made in Ontario needs to pass through the VQA’s tasting panel if it is to be sold at Wine Rack and the LCBO.” The blame is placed squarely on the VQA tasting panel. The equation is simple. Fail VQA and no LCBO for you. Sounds correct but it’s not that simple. The two problems are only connected for the sake of argumentative convenience. As an Ontario wine producer, even if your wine passes VQA it may never be purchased to be sold at the LCBO. Such an equation takes liberties without substantiation. And, as John Szabo M.S. correctly points out, “there’s no law preventing the LCBO or Wine Rack from selling non-VQA wines. In fact, many wines at Wine Rack are offshore blends.” But even this diverges from the point.

Related – How can i4c the future through cool chardonnay?

More important are the questions of taxation in the discrepancy between VQA and non-VQA approved wines and whether or not a wine industry can grow and flourish when many of its makers feel stymied, both economically and philosophically, by a regulatory board they contend tells them what styles of wine they can make. They argue against a panel that carries the authority to send them to the highest level of appeal before granting approval, all the while bottling, labelling and delivery schedules may be compromised along the way. The bureaucracy is hardest on the smallest fries. Some are vocal about wanting to do away with the VQA establishment, or at least the tasting panel and to ask that they just concentrate on regional policing and labelling. Still others would like to see the end of that arm as well. Australia has gone that route, so why not Ontario? There is much talk about this golden era in which foreign wine writers and sommeliers around the world are raving about and drinking wines from Ontario’s great fringe terroir. Ontario is hot and the fear is that if more is not done to discourage mediocre wines that pass with ease and instead encourage risk-taking styles the mojo will be lost and the region be passed up for the next cool climate producer. Is this a fear based in reality?

This story is as old as Ontario wines time immemorial. There isn’t a local writer worth his or her words in salt that has not touched on the subject of the LCBO and VQA. I’ve read the most eloquently rendered articles of sophistication by David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Rick VanSickle, Christopher Waters, Tony Aspler, Beppi Crosariol and countless other excellent scribes about what’s right, wrong, fine and inexplicably deplorable about our monopoly and regulatory provincial systems. Even Godello has touched, broached and breached the subjects. A recent, arguably superficial National Post article by a young writer has caused a minor stir in wine circles though not surprisingly has fallen on deaf consumers ears. There is no new revelation here but I really have to thank the NP writer for her take because for one thing she is a very good writer. She should not feel unwanted if the comments sections remain quiet, nor should the winemakers who feel their plight is falling on deaf ears. I’ve made a living off of being ignored. I’m also not a fan of attacking writers and their work. It takes a great deal of dedication, passion and hard determination to produce such a story. Editors on the other hand are not what they used to be. My editor while I was at Canada.com was an expert in the art of knowing what to print and how to make adjustments for the greater good of the story. The National Posts’s editor was flat-out lazy and yet while the writer’s tirade in crusade against VQA is rife with errors and fact checking inconsistencies (like contending that VQA pumps “inordinate sums of money into promoting Ontario wines”) the provocation has provided me personally with a quick period of genuflection and ultimately, an epiphany.

The average wine drinker in Ontario is not privy to the inner circle of goings on with respect to what is typical and acceptable and how the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario screens the wines submitted for approval, thus deciding the financial fate and economic viability of selling said wines. There was a minor trickle of comment chiming to the article. Ontario Wine Chat’s Shawn McCormick noted “there’s a few facts wrong in the article, but they hit the key point that unless you regularly visit Ontario wine regions, you have a very narrow view on Ontario wine.” Ottawa’s Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Canadian Wine, Beer and Spirits, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada noted, “pprovocative title and interesting perspective by a new-to-wine writer but as there are many factual errors NP editor would be wise to fact check before publication. And Ontario is not really so unknown anymore.”

André Proulx pulls no punches. Proulx writes “another lazy criticism of VQA. Cites 2 wineries issues failing to mention most wineries pass sans problem. Fault doesn’t make a wine daring…The VQA has its faults… but I’m sick of hearing the same two stories about Norm and PMs wines failing ” Hidden Bench winemakers states “this article makes it appear that the only artisanal wineries producing terroir driven wines are those who have had wines rejected by VQA.”

It is WineAlign’s John Szabo that really picks apart the article. On the idea that “many of the world’s greatest wines have naturally occurring faults, which are the result of the soils and wild fermentation processes,” he replies “ridiculous statement. Stay away from subjects you don’t understand.” In response to “in other words, some of France’s best wines would not pass VQA certification because their high reductive notes would be considered faulty,” he answers “more extrapolated nonsense.” Reacting to “many smaller Ontario wineries have begun experimenting with naturally occurring faults by fermenting their wines with wild yeast,” he says “you insult many smaller Ontario winemakers, and some yeasts, too. Nobody strives for faults.” And finally, when the story notes “adding conventional yeast to grape juice is a bit like buying insurance.… it can also stifle the terroir of a particular vintage,” he retorts, “countless top winemakers around the world disagree. Faulty tastes homogenize wine a helluva lot more than any yeast.”

One of our most esteemed and leading winemakers Norman Hardie had this to say. “It’s great someone has had the guts to take on the VQA…have great difficulty with the quote from the VQA claiming “one of our strengths of our model is our ability to flexible and responsive to be both winemaking and consumer trends”. .this couldn’t be further from the truth..it is a factual error given directly from.the VQA..says alot about our governing body.” I followed up by having a lengthy conversation with Norm. He contends that his statement is indeed one grounded in fact and I listened.

Winemakers feel they should not be told how to practice their craft or be penalized for pushing boundaries. Anyone who thinks this just isn’t so is not paying close enough attention and likely drinking boring wine. It is also a progressive imperative that winemakers seek ways to break from tradition, rules and etiquette, to challenge norms and traditions, but does a wine have to be a bad boy to be considered the most important expression of a local terror? And what fun or excitement is there is a governing board saying “yes “and “of course” in response to every submission? The financial ramifications can certainly be damaging but what’s so special about being accepted at every turn? Would William S. Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Frank Zappa, John Coltrane, Henry Miller, Robert Mapplethorpe and Jean-Michel Basquiat been half as interesting if their art did nothing to challenge or subvert? Immediate commercial acceptance comes at a price and much harder to those who choose to make a difference. Just as vines have to stress to produce exceptional grapes, so must a winemaker face adversity and suffer for his or her art. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have your grapes and drink them too.

In 2011 David Leyonhjelm wrote in Business Spectator, “some believe that Australia’s policy of exporting fault-free but relatively bland wines has done more harm to Australia’s wine reputation than anything that might have been sold without Wine Australia’s approval…The market is a very efficient mechanism for sorting out these sorts of things. It is most definitely anti-entrepreneurial.” Hard to argue against this but a devil’s advocate position would say that undrinkable and or grossly faulted wines made by less than experienced producers can get lumped in with quality bottles in shared categories. What if the consumer was unable to remember one from the other or which was which? Would it not be better to rid the market of the shite before it makes it there in the first place?

After Wine Australia squashed their export vetting panel, wine journalist Max Allen wrote “anybody assessing whether a wine is ‘sound and merchantable’ need to be exposed to the incredible diversity of styles out there: from big, black, overoaked, over-alcholic shiraz to cloudy, orange, amphora-fermented sauvignon blanc, almost anything goes out there in the modern wine scene.” Indeed this is what we want to see, allow and encourage, though in Ontario, can it be done without some form of compromise? It must suck to make a great wine, have it applauded, reviewed with great scores and requested by international sommeliers, only to see it stalled before being accepted by a local tribunal. Something is obviously missing in such an equation but is the full-out scrapping of the tasting panel the solution? Doing so would mean eliminating an identity consumers have come to trust. Ontario wine not only needs VQA, it is VQA. In this part of the world you have to seek diplomacy.

The article in question notes “this is a situation unique to Ontario,” that wines must pass a tasting panel, when in point of fact most appellations make use tasting a panel. VQA continues to carry the function it was built for, just like its AOC, DOCG and VDP European equivalents, with a standard to protect for the greater good of the wine region it has been entrusted to promote. Is it perfect? Far from it. Has eliminating it helped Australia? Sure. Is the free for all system working in South Africa? You could say yes. But Ontario is not a form of the wild west. It’s diplomatically Canadian to a fault and inextricably linked in political and cultural fashions to Europe more than most would like to admit. Bureaucracy is part of the reason so many moving parts manage to get along. The system fails some and more often than not benefits the largest players even while it saves countless others from getting sick, though continued discussion and journalistic discourse will render said governance continuously relevant or perhaps moot, eventually in time.

If as a winemaker you want to forge your own path and make unusual, risk-taking, anti-establishment wines with character and personality you have to be prepared to suffer the financial casualty of making such products within the parameters of an organized and civilized society. VQA should seek a clearer picture so that wines either pass or fail, not string them along if they are just going to pass them in the end. Neither side benefits when good wines are held hostage. That said, when the system weeds out others which are neither curiously subversive nor special then the consumer will benefit. As for ground-breaking winemaking it can take years, sometimes a lifetime and in Bukowski-like cases, a posthumous party for great art to truly be recognized. The system can only change so fast. It’s not realistic, very frustrating and counterintuitive to creativity and productivity to think otherwise.

The VQA system is certainly flawed. So are the AOC and DOCGs in France and Italy. Even Ontario wine industry peeps who have to support VQA’s function and back its credibility could not argue against that statement. The panelists who decide the fate of submitted wines may not always be best equipped to deal with every fleeting snapshot placed in front of them. Even the best make mistakes. Only the most experienced referees and umpires get to work the NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB postseason. Same in World Cup, Champions League and Premier League Football. Why not in wine? At major wine competitions around the world only the most qualified judges get the nod. The same goes for the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and Intervin and the latter includes some of Ontario’s finest winemakers as judges. Who’s better to make these decisions then they? Anyone who thinks that VQA’s processes don’t need any tweaking is hiding under a rock.

Illustrious panel @TerroirTalk ready to rock #orangewine @winecouncilont #vqaontario #vqa #skinfermentedwhite #faultsandall #terroir2017

So let’s talk a bit about progress and picking battles. Back in May of 2017 the annual Terroir Symposium was held and the first of three masterclass wine sessions focused on VQA’s new category of Skin-Contact Whites. That it took somewhere between 12 months and two years for VQA to get this far is not surprising nor should it be called out for taking so long. It’s a step. Italy would still be working on it. The hottest trend to grip the wine world in the last five years is indeed a style that has been the focus of winemakers in Europe for centuries but as a PDO (wines of protected origin) it is most certainly a relatively new ideal. You can’t just snap your fingers and expect everyone involved to know what’s going on.

The standards development committee has decided that 10 days is the minimum time needed on skins. Again, it’s a step and after review may soon be adjusted. This sub-committee of VQA made up of winemakers, educators, etc. arrived at “how long it would take to attract the typical characteristics of a skin fermented wine.” The number 10 was decided upon as a “good starting point, but it’s a living document and not carved in stone.” Vineland Estates winemaker Brian Schmidt added “the characteristics of orange wine require fermentation, as opposed to cold soak.”

As the distinction needs to be for skin-contact white wines, John Szabo asks and answers his own question. “What is the fundamental core character? Fundamentally they are about complexity and structure, about the tactile components of wine’s phenolic compounds and tannins. Heat and alcohol rip out aggressive tannins, so whole berry fermentation improves texture and structure. A cold soak gives you the salty component but not the structure you get from fermentation.”

Brent Rowland of Pearl Morissette adds, “Orange wine is not an in between wine, but skin-contact wine is just that, without texture and structure. You need the minimum 10 days to get to that point.” Or do you? But the argument agrees that the extended use of stems and seeds will lead you down that textured road. Just keeping it to stems and seeds you will be shortchanged in certain years because they may remain green, bitter and unpleasant. So more flexibility is needed. Are we just adding a category of trendy wine or are we adding a category of value?

“A small but significant number of consumers are excited by it” admits writer Fionna Beckett. “As an outsider I say why not. It’s a white wine that behaves like a red. A wine made from white grapes but made like a red.” Are they always oxidative? She says they are “white wine but with more structure?” Kind of seems counterintuitive because many whites are laden with texture and structure. So, Szabo asks if skin-contact wine enhances or hinders distinct regional character and what wines would you like to see excluded from this category?” The answer is dominant traits that make wine one-dimensional; but we haven’t set those parameters yet. “We’re looking to weed out flaws, like excessive sulphur, just as with any wine,” says Schmidt and adds Rowland “when you skin ferment white wine they produce glutamate, a precursor to umami. And there is a predisposition to enjoying umami, or not.” Ay, there’s the rub. There is also a predisposition to passing wines through VQA, or not.

Here are my notes on the skin-contact white wines tasted at Terroir in May 2017. After all, what would a post by Godello be without some tasting notes. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously, after all.

Does skin-contact wine enhance or hinder distinct regional character? @terroirtalk #vqaontario #terroir2017

Norman Hardie “Tornado” 2016, VQA Ontario (WineryWineAlign)

Tasted blind this strikes with immediacy in that it presents as so very much like chardonnay of high acidity, not to mention tannin and a Savennières meets somewhere in Alsace like texture and tang. So as varietal pinot gris it does confound and yet this really fine calcareous notion can’t be denied, so there is knowledge in that it would be there regardless. Not technically orange with its (maximum, if even) 12 hours on skins but under the rules of the appellation it more than qualifies as a skin-contact white. With more pronounced and less oxidative fruit than most, without a doubt speaks of its place. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted May 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  @NormanHardieWinery

Southbrook Vineyards Vidal Skin Fermented White, Small Lot Natural Wine 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The first time I tasted this blind (at Terroir Symposium) I noted it to be “vidal-like,” a touch oxidative, of this elegant paste or salve, with notes of green plum and just a touch of grapefruit. The second pass confirms it to be a fine vidal orange wine, with more texture than should or would be expected. It delivers lemon and tannin, plus a calculated layering of ample and enough acidity to carry it along. A fine example. Really mouth coating and so tannic. Takes what was learned from 2014 and 2015 experiments and with VQA category approval in its back pocket, begins the true journey forward. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017  southbrookvineyards  @SouthbrookWine  @SouthbrookWine

Sperling Vineyards Natural Amber Pinot Gris 2015, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

So much beeswax and honey wine attribution. Porcine, delicate and quite elegant for the statement. Plenty of acidity and even more relish. Why not give a little Grauburgunder love to the winemaker for giving the style a shot, and succeeding. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016  sperlingvineyards  @AnnSperling  @SperlingVyds  @SperlingVineyards

From my earlier note of January 2016:

Ann Sperling is not merely fussing about with natural ferments, skin-contact macerations and non-sulphured, self-preservations. She is learning about winemaking, opening doors to perception and interested in doing things in different ways. Her second go ’round with a natural Amber Pinot Gris furthers the non-plussed discussion and the understanding. While pouring the inaugural 2014 from keg on tap last year at Vancouver’s Belgard Kitchen, it was Sommelier David Stansfield who so succinctly noted “this wine is a raw expression of vineyard, grape, and time.” This gets right to the heart and the crux of the Orange matter, especially within the context of a North American account. Sperling has many supporters in her corner, including husband-winemaker-consultant Peter Gamble, the folks at the Casorso-Sperling Kelowna Farm and Bill Redelmeier at Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara. This 2015 is a veritable pink cloud, anti-orange, still so very musty, funky, tanky, with great Sperling acidity and pierce. There is so much exuviation to evanescence and back again flavour. There is feigned sweetness that purposes towards and with gearing second wind into length. How much pleasure is this from and for Pinot Gris? Drink 2016-2017

Cos Rami Sicilia 2014, Sicily, Italy (Agent, SAQ, 12461525, $31.50, WineAlign)

The ornate “orangeness” of the Raimi is patterned and woven across a flat and linear map, introducing itself in a way no other wine can or will be willing to do. Still equipped with this fine acidity but it is the flavours and the texture that cause and solicit so much more sensory approbation, first savoury, then sapid and finally umami. A melted salve of orange skin, bergamot-scented and hazelnut-essential oil secreted beeswax. You gotta get into it to get in to it. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted May 2017  #cosvittoria  #aziendaagricolacos  thelivingvine     @TheLivingVine  @cosvittoria  The Living Vine inc.

Domaine Viret Dolia Paradis Ambré 2015, Vin De France (Agent, $65.95, WineAlign)

Philippe Viret’s orange wine resides in a cosmoculture world, class and category of its own. Cosmotelluric principles, magnetic fields, homeopathic applications, natural preparations and ancient architectural rules destine this so very naturally flat, rusty and rustic wine into a nether world. The coppery blend of muscat petit grain, bourboulenc, clairette rose, roussanne, vermentino and grenache blanc spent 60 days on the skins and with transparent clarity leaves nothing behind. It does leave much to the imagination and requires some metaphysical fortitude, especially because it lingers, long after it has left the glass and the room. As for amber wine it’s as close to paradise as you are going to find. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2017  #domaineviret  nicholaspearcewines  @CosmocultureFR  @Nicholaspearce_  @ledomaineviret  Philippe Viret (Domaine Viret)  Nicholas Pearce

Norman Hardie Pinot Gris “Ponton” 2016, VQA Ontario, Canada (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

Unlike the Tornado, Hardie’s Ponton is the most Rosé like in this newly created skin-contact category. It’s pink and rosey, of great acidity, salinity, regional limestone and even liquid dusty. In its quantifiable sapidity and wispy lime-zippy personality it could actually pass for riesling and having spent up to and only 10 days on skins this continues to state such a case. The number is actually nine days in cold soak and then it began fermenting, so really just one day of fermentation to confound the category, then put into barrel. The natural fermentation and zero adjustments add up to this, neither white nor red, but comfortably in the land settled between. A clear and focused SCW in the natural world. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017

Pyramid Valley Vineyards Growers Collection Kerner Orange White 2015, New Zealand (Winery, WineAlign)

This Kiwi skin-contact blend almost smells like Icewine what with its tropical, exaggerated fruity nose but conversely and impossibly bone dry despite that aromatic sweetness. Kerner is the vineyard and its actually a one month on skins ferment of pinot gris, gewürztraminer and riesling. Tres cool. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted May 2017  pyramidvalleyvineyards  @pyramidvalleynz  @PyramidValleyVineyards

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Blu 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The amphora (qveri) fermented Cuvée Blu makes use of 100 per cent whole cluster chardonnay in blend with pinot gris, riesling and (in 2016, sauvignon blanc). This singular, go it alone fantasy spent three and a half months on skins pressed and aged in foudres. It may just dance with the funkiest R & B gait of them all and to the semi-trained noggin can only be Pearl Morissette. The risk taken here is done without fear, into sheep’s milk, unwashed rind, saline, earth-crusted, stoned immaculate. The accumulation of glutamate-umami-polyphenolic-brettanomyces and volatile acidity takes it to great lengths and yet all this might disappear around the next aromatic corner. So much interest and so playfully dirty at the same time is this geekiest of them all, whole bunch, aged in 60 year-old (Alsatian) oak vats SCW. The numbers show 14 per cent abv, though it’s not yet in bottle. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Vineland Estates Chardonnay Musqué Skin Fermented White 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Though Brian Schmidt’s floral chardonnay “experiment” might be considered the simplest and easiest of Ontario’s “orange” wines that is only because it’s so bloody delicious to consume. The character is rusty and textured and in a way tastes just like warm iced tea and all the tannic variations that come from such a profile of flavour. This chardonnay musqué spent 55 days on skins and in turn developed its tannic backbone though it seems to have lost its intrinsic chardonnay character. That said it soaked up its Bench terroir so if something is lost much has been gained. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017  vinelandestates  benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy  @winery.vinelandestates  Brian Schmidt

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Valpolicella, Ripasso Valpolicella

#rondinella #valpolicella #novaia

In September of 2016 seven Ontario friends, colleagues and I paid visits to 18 Valpolicella estates over four days. We stayed at the perfectly situated Hotel Villa Moron in Negrar. We were formally introduced to the Veronese gastronomy and a set of Valpolicella wines at Locanda ‘800, a Negrar Valley institution. I expect some of you will know it. We visited the following estates. Buglioni, Pasqua, Santa Sofia, Ca’ La Bionda, Novaia, Sartori di Verona, Nicolis, Tenute Salvaterra, Valentina Cubi, Fidora, Cantina Valpolicella di Negrar, Ettore Righetti, Tenuta Santa Maria Alla Pieve, Massimago, Corte Adami, Bertani, Zonin and Ca’ Rugate. Dinners were also taken at Osteria Numero 1 in Fumane, Antica Osteria Paverno in Marano and Ristorante Nicolis in Verona. It is my pleasure and, indeed, my privilege to tell you this Valpolicella story. Such as it is.

Valpolicella 101 for i canadese #locanda800 @C_Valpolicella

The permutations are many but well-defined. Valpolicella, a style of wine as much as anything though qualified as a set of possibilities all capable of being labeled as a DOC; Valpolicella, Valpolicella Superiore and Valpolicella Classico Superiore. Ripasso, a next level stylistic, a traditional technique that promotes a second fermentation through the basic Valpolicella’s contact with warm dried grape skins from which Amarone has been pressed. This practice slightly decreases the acidity and increases the alcoholic content and enriches the wine with a greater concentration of sugar, glycerine, dry extract, polyphenolic substances and aromas. Ripasso intends to promote a heavier structure and longevity.

Amarone knowingly set aside, at least outside the terms of this report, tradition looks to Ripasso as the top of the pyramid for Valpolicella wines but when we talk of terroir, of marl, clay and limestone, of 11 valleys and all the hills, what represents the truest expression of Valpolicella? Authenticity must be borne out of spontaneity, in a product that shows itself in different ways, in every year. It should never act the same way twice. Valpolicella must remember the primaries; geology, geography and climate but also colours, uncontrollable forces and natural tendencies. Memories are only built on that which is not forced. “The importance of little details,” with thanks to Camilla Rossi Chauvenet.

Lavoro stradinario da cuoco Diego Donatelli #locanda800 #negrar #valpolicella

It’s all about the valleys. Do the grapes grow in the Valpolicella Classica or not? Corvina is king, corvinone and rondinella (often for colour) support while molinara may or may not bring up the rear. Sometimes there is croatina and oseleta. Pergola or Pergoletta Veronese is perpetuated as the training system of record, at times in double Pergoletta style. Guyot and high density planting continues to creep into consciousness. The Burgundy ideal will always play into the minds of all.

Valpolicella hails from the hills north and east from Verona. To the immediate west is Lago Garda and further to the east, Venezia. The Valpolicella extends from Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella to Val Tramigna in three sub zones, Valpolicella DOC Classico, Valpolicella DOC Valpantena and the eastern or extended Valpolicella DOC. The valleys; Fumane, Marano, Negrar (Valpolicella Classica), Quinzano and Avesa (Valpolicella), Vaplantena (independent), Squaranto, Marcelisse, Mezzane, Illasi and Tramigna (Eastern Valpolicella). The area is 80,000 hectares of which 7,600 are planted under vine. The Classico area is 45 per cent of the total. More than 60,000,000 bottles are produced annually, 45 per cent of which are Ripasso and (32) Valpolicella. For an in-depth analysis of the appellation production zone and a proposal for the delimitation of the principal viticultural areas of the hillsides seek out the map of Valpolicella Crus by Alessandro Masnaghetti.

Masnaghetti contends “however vast and variegated it might be, the Valpolicella is rather easy to sum up and describe.” Geographically speaking, that much is true. From a quality standpoint, there can be much debate. Tradition, even if spoken in terms of dry red wines, is hard to break and in Valpolicella the collective style is virtually unparalleled anywhere, considering the breadth and quantity of wine produced. Over the past 20 years the area of vineyards has doubled in the Valpolicella and the 60M bottles produced put it highest for any Italian PDO. The consistency of homogeneity is clearly a harbinger of sales and quality but sustaining such growth without a compromise to quality is surely the tallest of orders. Those producers attempting to challenge the current order are necessary for diversity and to preserve the perpetual health of Valpolicella.

When the light is just right #verona

A trip to Valpolicella is a most intense, concentrated and often repetitive exercise, much like and in mimic of the wines produced throughout the vast area and so pit stops in and out of Verona are both obvious and necessary. Verona may be most famous as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but it is truly one of the unconscionably beautiful cities of this world. It is a place that brings characters and events to you. With eyes open wide and faculties able to maintain focus you will continuously look and carefully listen, so that the stories come to you. Verona repeatedly delivers moments of awe. At dusk overlooking the Adige from the Ponte Pietra. At night in the busy Piazza delle Erbe. Musing over several hundred varieties of Gin at the Frz Lab Bar. Sipping on Champagne outside of Osteria Alcova del Frate and Patrick Piuze Chablis at Antica Bottega del Vini.

Via Marconi, #verona #frzlab #ginbar

I’ve included some examples of IGT Verona at the end of this report to expound on two polar bookends of the 21st century ideal. Winemakers make use of the designation to fashion Super Veronese, wines of local meets expatriate varietals bathed in oak. Still others make Valpolicella doppelgängers with traditional varieties that can sometimes act more like Valpolicella than so many legal examples approved under the DOC. The IGTs with international grape varieties blended in and subjected to new oak need time to develop and will age into their bubbles welling with balsamic, chocolate, espresso and even truffle. There is no disputing the modernity and mimicry of other Italian brethren and sistren. Recent changes to labelling say that a wine exceeding 80 per cent of a local variety (like corvina) could in fact now be called a Classico Superiore though if the methodology of winemaking (and/or growing) messes with the plan there are some that don’t resemble one in any shape or form.

More pertinent to this investigation is in holding hope that wines produced under the auspices of rogue decisions will soon find their way out of the scrap heap piled high due to discriminatory DOC penalties. Things like bottling under screwcap, omitting sulphites and exploring “the terroir and grape varieties to the fullest by pushing all boundaries.” Valpolicella is and can be even more progressive, not just to increase market presence, Amarone sales and the bottom line of all Valpolicella wines riding the skins of their provider, but also to lead with innovation.

This report is due with great respect and thanks to Olga Bussinello, Director of the Valpolicella Consorzio Tutela Vini. Also to John Szabo M.S. and Federica Shir. The trip and subsequent 8,500 words would not be possible without the company of esteemed, stupid smart and even funnier colleagues; Julie Garton, Joshua Corea, Annette Bruley, Lauren Hall, José Luis Fernández and Nick Chajoglou. Last but certainly at the top of the list are the Valpolicella wineries, their proprietors, winemakers, export and marketing folks who received us. Tiziano Accordini, Roberta Speronello of Bertani, Mariano Buglioni, Alessandro Castelanni of Ca’ La Bionda, Giorgia Lanciai of Ca’ Rugate, Valentina Cubi, Gabriele Righetti (and the whole family) of Ettore, Eugenia Torelli and Emilio Fidora, Camilla Rossi Chauvenet of Massimago, Luca Bissoli of Cantina Valpolicella Negrar, Martina Fornaser and Giuseppe Nicolis, Marcello Vaona of Novaia, Chiara Pinamonte of Pasqua, Gianpiero Rotini of Salvaterra, Alex Guardini, Elisa Biasolo and Giancarlo Begnoni of Santa Sofia, Carmen Stirn and Andrea Sartori, Gaetano Bertani of Tenuta Santa Maria and Francesco Zonin.

I give you 64 reviews; Valpolicella, Ripasso Valpolicella and IGT.

Great old table, Villa Mosconi Bertani

Valpolicella

Bertani Valpolicella DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

Bertani’s Valpolicella is not classified Classico because the grapes come from Valpantena and Valpolicella Classica, 80 per cent corvina and 20 rondinella. Fermented in stainless and aged one year in concrete. Basic, commercial, effective, red cherry and tanky leather, seamless and untouchable. Commercially corrected and correctly traditional Valpolicella. Low in alcohol, acidity and complex capability. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted September 2016  cantine_bertani  churchillcellars  @CantineBertani  @imbibersreport  @cantine.bertani  @imbibersreport

Cantina Di Negrar Valpolicella DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy  (467936, $11.95, WineAlign)

It gets neither more obvious or direct in a perfectly commercial Valpolicella package, one that is highly fruity with a sidle over to the funky cherry side and would always benefit from a slight chill. A leathery note more suede than new strop distracts but only for a moment because of the omnipresent acidity. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted June 2016  cantina_valpolicella_negrar  noble_estates  @CantinaNegrar  @Noble_Estates  @CantinaValpolicellaNegrar  @NobleEstates

Ca’ Rugate Valpolicella DOC Rio Albo 2015, Veneto, Italy (Agent, SAQ 10706736, $18.00, WineAlign)

Rio Albo is drawn from vineyards in the hilly area of Montecchia di Crosara and is a blend of corvino (45), corvinone (40) and rondinella (15). Fresh fruity, very tangy, viscous, liquorice and plum Valpolicella. Firm but very juicy, with quite a bit of concentration. Very modern and forward but not overly extracted or pressed. Just up there with the ambitious, confident and in balance. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016  carugatevini  @carugate.aziendaagricola

Tasting at Fidora

Fidora Valpolicella DOC Monte Tabor 2015, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

Monte Tabor is the name of the Sant’Ambrogio estate and this is pure delight from the purest, cleanest and most honest red fruit found anywhere in Valpolicella. Fermented and aged in only stainless steel, to push the fruit borne in requiem of a proper selection, even in the giving 2015 vintage, but pushed by higher learning from the challenge of the previous one. Establishes a base, like a song in celebration tells Emilio Fidora. “We are very good farmers, even if we are not super with making wines.” Joking aside there is no cheating here, just honesty and back to basics ethics. The notes talk of cherries at peak but then there is this calcari and marbling as per the mimic of the terroir. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2016 and July 2017  fidorawines  thelivingvine  @eugeniatorelli    @TheLivingVine  @fidorawines  The Living Vine inc.

Fidora Valpolicella DOC Monte Tabor 2014, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the Illasi Valley, composed of 50 per cent corvina, (30) corvinone and (20) rondinella, another singular effort in its inaugaural vintage, rusty and rustic, not exactly light in spite of its transparency. Great visceral soil tang, in line with a top notch bardolino and while firm there is a brightness about it. A moment of tonic. Could drink this often and with thanks to some good length in its persistence. Excellent for the vintage with 5 g/L of RS and also richer than you think. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016

“I gotta have some of your attention, give it to me.” @massimago #special #brassinpocket

Massimago Valpolicella 2014, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)

Few reference points can prepare you for Massimago’s style of Valpolicella so simply use this as the ingress. Plucked from vines in the Mezzane Valley in the east part of Verona province, rising from the village of Vago towards Mezzane di Sotto. Camilla Rossi Chauvenet’s precocious blend is the crisp, crunchy, pure as driven white limestone portal into the soils laid out in amphitheatre vineyard grid. Camilla uses only stainless steel tanks here to accentuate a basal clarity brush stroke on her Valpolicella canvas. This from a selection of the grapes that will not enter the Amarone process, the second and third pass harvested bunches. Cherry and silty saline mingle at the interces of limestone. How can you miss the white stone in the naked Valpolicella? You can’t. It’s without make-up, transparent, naked to the world. The wine speaks a natural vernacular and the land is spoken for. If villages-level Bourgogne were made like this all would be well in the world. Lithe, delicate and perfumed. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Marcello Vaona of Novaia

Novaia Valpolicella DOC Vino Biologico 2015, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Family history matters. It begins with Paolo Vaona, then Bruno, followed by two sons, Gianpaolo and Cesare. Today it is Marcello (Gianpaolo’s son) and Cristina (Cesare’s daughter) who have transformed Novaia, or “new courtyard” into the organic farm it is but also to the new age for Valpolicella, predicated on experimentation, mistakes, triumphs and changing the way the region will think about its storied wines. Because, as Marcello reminds us, “in the beginning there was only Recioto. So getting to this moment was a long journey and Novaia’s Valpolicella named Vino Biologico can’t be labled Classico because it’s under screwcap. That will change. It’s fresh, spicy and of no oak. It’s natural ease and yeasty feel mesh with saline, terroir-drawn variegate and it’s so very specific and focused. Love the cherries and the lithe 12 per cent frame. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016  bwwines  @NovaiaAgricola  @bwwines  Marcello Vaona (Novaia)  @bwwines

The last tasting with The Master and the Canadian apostles at #fumane

Valentina Cubi Valpolicella DOC Iperico 2014, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Iperico (St John’s Wort) is made of corvina (65 per cent), rondinella (25) and molinara (10), a wine confidently in purport of the ’14 intel., with an early note of musty, damp forest floor, currants and flower compost. All of the earthy components are exaggerated by the vintage with nothing to cover it up, but the palate is silky in a transparent way and acidity that softens, like a saline streak, as an ancient underground river would impart, as if by Willamette Valley pinot noir. This is singular stuff in Valpolicella. As before, raised only in steel. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Valentina Cubi Valpolicella DOC Iperico 2013, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Iperico is a blend of corvina (65 per cent), rondinella (25) and molinara (10), similar in character to 2014 but with a compressed reduction to the compost and yet a striking come about from an increase to the sharpness. The acetic push is a key factor in the linear definition. Torched marshmallow skin, bitter herbs, umami savour, the flowers still fresh, the fruit vibrant and all tolled, a beautiful vitality. An intense wine, again like pinot but also like Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol teroldego or Piemonte alter-ego varieties, specifically grignolino. As with Sin Cero, raised only in steel. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016  #valentinacubi  @valentina_cubi  Valentina Cubi

Good times in #valpolicella with @johnszabo

Valpolicella Classico

Buglioni Valpolicella Classico DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

In 2014 the entire crop was sold off to bulk wine because the quality was not considered up to standard. The Valpolicella Classico 2015 is composed of corvina, rondinella and 18 per cent croatina, with no oak and a flash raised three months in stainless steel. An increase in quality might arise from training by Guyot (2-4 but generally 3 kilos) says Mariano Buglioni, but this Valpo is from vines trained by pergola to yield quantity (3.5 to five kilos per vine). Certainly some warmth on the nose and the result here is both floral and acetic, fully crushed, simple, firm and fruity, though not too firm nor infirm. The vintage is promising across the range and here this lingers quite long, clean, crisp and a bit chewy. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016  buglioni_azienda_agricola  marianobuglioni    @cantine.buglioni.9

A sense of wonder beneath the pergola, Vigneti di Ettore

Vigneti Di Ettore Valpolicella Classico DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

From the Righetti family, from grandfather Ettore to grandson Gabriele, Vigneti di Ettore’s Valpolicella Classico may just be possessive of the most quaffability of any Classico, all red fruit and in the optimum bring it on zone. The acidity and whatever momentary firmness accorded is functiional and better still, beautiful. As basic and categorical as life in Valpolicella grapes should be and only made more complex because it pleases so. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016 vigneti_di_ettore     @vignetidiettore

Vigneti Di Ettore Valpolicella Classico DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Stylistically this Ettore Valpolicella Superiore ’14 is a departure, or perhaps it is ’15 that changes course. I get the feeling there is more grandfather Ettore inherent here and grandson Gabriele drives the ship next season. Or perhaps it’s just a case of vintage. Nature versus nurture arguments aside this ’14 takes a step deeper and away from simple red fruits into a more variegated gathering that includes blue (berry) and black (currant). Still quiet and quite restrained, elegant even, said despite the creative license employed with that word. Greater acidity balances the more developed and deeper fruit and so balance is fully realized. More pleasure in a slightly adjusted bell-curve way. I’d drink up some ’15s for a couple more months while waiting for the more awkward 14s to come around. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016

Cantina Santa Sofia

Santa Sofia Valpolicella Classico DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

So simply pure, clear, concise and precise. Ripe cherry, brightness, transparency and unadulterated. Every day Valpolicella, the way it was and the way it needs to be encouraged to remain. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016  santa_sofiawines  @SANTASOFIAwines  @SantaSofiaWines

Tasting and lunch at Tenute Salvaterra

Tenute Salvaterra Valpolicella Classico DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

A post oxidative must has made transference to personality lifted by a reductive odour within and expressive of ripe, firm fruit without. Dark but not exactly black cherry, with little to no oak but certainly cariries the characteristics of a wine that has had a cup of coffee with wood. The collection is ultimately reductive, smoky and dangerous. The caramel finish is a sign of a wine not unlike some new world takes on old world grapes. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016  tenute_salvaterra  tre.amici.imports  @vinosalvaterra  @treamiciwines  @tenutesalvaterra  

Buongiorno from @sartori_verona @C_Valpolicella

Sartori Valpolicella Classico DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy (378109, $12.95, WineAlign)

This silly inexpensive blend of 45 per cent corvina, (30) corvinone, (20) rondinella and (five) croatina spent five months housed in the big barrels. Valpolicella of stronger, deeper, traditionalist methodology. Firm and low tonal, baritone Classico, mahogany and leather, naugahyde and deep black cherry. Clean and balanced. Old school with a great understanding of things done right. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016  sartoriverona  fwmcan  @Sartori_Verona  @FWMCan  @SartoriVerona  @FWMCan

Zonin Valpolicella Classico DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy (475145, $13.10, WineAlign)

Zonin’s Valpolicella Classico 2015 is corvina with some molinara and rondinella, aged in 2nd and 3rd passage large barrels but no barriques. Clean red fruit and despite some tonneaux time really quite fresh. Sour cherry, textbook, elevating, commercial, technically sound. Clean as a whistle. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016  zonin1821  @Zonin_USA  @zonin

Ponte Di Castelvecchio

Valpolicella Superiore

Massimago Valpolicella Superiore DOC Profasio 2012, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $54.95, WineAlign)

Profasio establishes new territory for Valpolicella Superiore from Mezzane Valley fruit in a wine over dinner “that lets you talk.” A careful and specific selection of Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella (65/30/5) is subjected to “un leggero appassimento,” or a “slight withering” from one month of drying and the rest kept thankfully and respectfully fresh. The child is raised in stainless steel for five months plus one year in 2nd and 3rd passage barrels. This is Valpolicella meant to partner up with dinner for two, replete with secret recipes and crossing glances. “We feel the appassimento method is about levels of aromatics,” tells Camilla Rossi Chauvenet. In such a contrary to Superiore belief we find freshness and anti-jam the goal and as a result, the wine is allowed to tell a story. A script written cursively, crisp and pure, crunchy like the normale with an addendum of aromatic profiling; cherry, leather and red citrus. Profasio is a wine of good temper and vision (and could mean profezia, or prophecy, or perhaps a surname in reference to Dante and the Veronese ebraico’s Almanacco Perpetuo), a Valpolicella into a second level of contemplation, but not too much. The wine causes no worries, no anxiety and shoes are left at the bottom of the mountain. Profasio with its hint of dried momentum is a wine of communication and a new way of communicating. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted September 2016  massimago  @Massimago  Massimago

Valpolicella Classico Superiore

Buglioni Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2013, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Mariano Buglioni’s Valpolicella Superiore 2013 sees a blend of French and Slavonian oak, aged for two years, the first 18 in Inox plus six months in the barrels. The blend is nearly the same as the Valpolicella Classico 2015 but with eight to 10 per cent croatina. A well-balanced split between fresh and dried fruit comes through on the nose, with some fennel, tar and rosemary. Firm and mildly tannic, black cherry and bokser to the palate, chewy again, of texture, with structure and the slightest tingling fizz. Not so much a fizz as much as an electric current tang. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016

Good morning @C_Valpolicella from @accordinilgino

Stefano Accordini Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC ‘Acinatico’ 2015, Veneto, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

From the Fumane Valley, an airy, aerified, soft and blowsy, carbonic felt Valpolicella, at once to a whole bunch sensory response and then for thoughts to big hose pumpovers. Saline, from vineyards stretching up the hillside from 350 up to 500 plus metres high. Classic red fruit and nettle meets impartial red limestone, citrus with as much salty sting as their can be. Many Valpolicella turn out this way but few are as blatant and obvious as this. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016  accordini_stefano  majesticwinesinc  @AccordiniIgino  @MajesticWineIn  @accordini  @majesticwinecellars

Once you go Casal Vegri you can never go back, Eh @lesommelierwine ?? #calabionda

Ca’ La Bionda Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC ‘Campo Casal Vegri’ 2015, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $32.95, WineAlign)

In 2015 the blend is 70 per cent corvina, with 20 corvinone, rondinella and molinara. Some producers decide not to produce this level in Valpolicella but Alessandro stresses its importance. It allows him to make a selection for the other categories and the young vines can better service this wine. Only in stainless, bottled in February, this is beautifully natural. Molinara has less colour but brings salinity (a.k.a minerality). Here plays the opening card for the cellar. Fresh cherries, inviting acidity, such freshness, bright, effusive, so drinkable. Began the harvest on September 2nd. Must have been the first in town. The acidity is that special. As a footnote, no Amarone is made from this vineyard. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016  #calabionda  lesommelierwine    @LeSommelierWine  Azienda Agricola Cà La Bionda  @LeSommelierWine

Ca’ La Bionda Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC ‘Campo Casal Vegri’ 2014, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $32.95, WineAlign)

In the world of Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2014 was a difficult vintage with lots of rain, some development of botrytis and as a result many bunches were dropped, reducing the output from 120,000 to 80,000 bottles. It was also (and concurrently) not a great vintage for Amarone so some of the vineyards that would feed the big wine were diverted to the Superiore. Aged 18 months in oak barrels, averaging 20 years (16-25) from Casa Vegri vineyard, the wood is by now integrated, the vintage compendium resolved with kept freshness and ripe tannins. Very young, alive, in and out of biting but never sharp. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016

Ca’ La Bionda Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC ‘Campo Casal Vegri’ 2012, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $32.95, WineAlign)

It was a warm vintage, similar to 2009, here at four years with a stand up and be counted, noticed and no questions asked applauded level of maintained freshness, despite the heat of the moment. I say this because there is a slight elevation in volatility, a hyperbole as compared to 2014, but also more compression and mineral tonic. With eyes shut tight I get to this point with such properly rendered corvina, corvinone et al swirling in my mouth and my senses acute to the variegated fruit character. And I know this is more serious and of a Campo Casal Vegri structure to let it age another seven to eight, at the least. How does this apply to later vintages? Only time will tell. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted September 2016

Dry, baby dry. Corvina at #calabionda

Ca’ La Bionda Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC ‘Campo Casal Vegri’ 2010, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $32.95, WineAlign)

Alessandro Castelanni comments how “it’s nice to taste old vintages because we have to stop and note the things we need to do. To figure out how to get acidity, freshness, lesss quantity, more quality.” Looking forward to 2016 Campo Casal Vegri will be the first vineyard of full organic certification and looking back 2002 was the last year using selected yeasts. And 2010? “One of my favouritre, classic vintages,” smiles Alesandro, “cool, with some rain but not too much.” A season of the enervating diurnal shifts in temperature and with “the colour of corvina.” Late September harvest, now here, suddenly, the magical Classico Superiore impossibility, shy but real, the moment of volatility anything but, the plum-cherry-strawberry current running through with live wire elegance. Natural wonder of corvina and subsidiaries, with secondary character just beginning though they were always there, fennel, the territory occupied by he who may not be named, but fresher, cleaner, more precise. Again, not a baby Amarone and not giving the market what it ignorantly thinks it wants. This wine can establish or re-establish the market, to bring back (or bring the contiguous and contagious style from out of the dark and into the mind of tasters that need to be directed. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted September 2016

Ca’ La Bionda Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC ‘Campo Casal Vegri’ 2008, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $32.95, WineAlign)

A little bit more rustic than the foward ’10 and ’12 vintages, more liqueure and from a smaller production, more bretty volatility, certainly concentrated, with colour and yet the acidity is still buzzing. “Too rustic for my tastes,” insists Alessandro and here greener than the younger vintages. The linger is quicker and the drying tannin a force more blunt than the forward years. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted September 2016

Generations of Ca’ La Bionda

Corte Adami Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2013, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

When the vintage offers great fruit ambition often follows and so the strength, volatility and power comes with little surprise. A really dense and equally tart Superiore has this citrus streak running through. After an hour in the glass it’s all chocolate and the perception of heat units increases though 13.5 per cent alcohol is a reasonable frame on which to cling. Give it a year to come together and see it seduce with some secondary notes, including balsamic, dried fruit and spices. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2016  corte_adami  coliowinery    @ColioWinery  @CorteAdami  @coliowinery

#lastsupper #nicolis #verona

Nicolis Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

The traditional wines of Nicolis are mostly from the Valpolicella Classica region which are night and day different than those from Valpantena (central Valpolicella and eastern Valpolicella “alla garta,” the stertched boundary. Their Classico shows high acid, cherries, past red before black fruit, liquid pomegranate, red ruby chalk. Reduction keeps talking, a bit hot methinks but with some air it cools off and just acts simple, amenable and what it needs to be, which is fruity. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016  nicoliswinery  #thevineagency  @NicolisWinery  @TheVine_RobGroh  @NicolisWinery  The Vine – Robert Groh Agency

Novaia Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2012, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

This Valpolicella is ahead of the Ripasso in terms of quality because it is a particular Superiore, from a volcanic soil and single vineyard, “I Cantoni” at 400m. The wine submitted to a 10 per cent loss during the one month drying process plus 18 months in wood in a combination of barriques but also 1000L and 1500L larger barrels. An expanded, airy, moussy, floating fresh Superiore. There is spice in its step and so it dances on the tongue. Not so much floral as ambrosial in its rich and thick aromatics. Definite bitter chcolate and cimmerian dried fruit but the palate is not heavy or cloying. Some mushroom and truffle demi-glace, savoury, umami initialization in in the stages of the begin. But it can still improve. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2016

Vero @SantaSofiawines @C_Valpolicella

Santa Sofia Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC Montegradella 2013, Veneto, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

Montegradella is 70 per cent corvina and corvinone plus 30 rondinella that saw 40-45 days of drying. The grapes come from the Valpolicella classica region, from vineyards planted on loamy marl in the hilly countryside of Fumane, San Pietro in Cariano and Marano. A special multi-vineyard designate Valpo aged for two years in 70 per cent large oak and 30 per cent small barriques. Some of the terse corners receive the smooth couverture of the amalgamation of barrels, the amore and aroma deeper into black cherry and beginning to hint at chocolate melting into espresso. Structure forms like the first sculpted clay to practice and prepare before switching more permanently to work with the marble of it to receive its first chisled stroke. Persistent and concentrated, Montegradella is a full cupboard of slow-developed spice. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Valentina Cubi Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC Il Tabarro 2014, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Il Tabarro (The Cloak) is an opera in one act by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Giuseppe Adami, based on Didier Gold’s play La houppelande. Il Tabbaro the Valpolicella is a house-consistent blend of corvina (65 per cent), rondinella (25) and molinara (10) plus some wood aging after the steel. The use of selected yeasts, temperature control and some sulphite addition separate it from Iperico though the Guyot, Pergola doppia and Pergola semplice growing methods are the same. A selection is completed both in the vineyard and in the winery to pick the right grapes for this classification. Deeper and richer but still pure red fruit, wild cherries and because of the treatment, an extra level of refinement. I would still drink this any day over a high percentage of the region’s Classico Superiore. Bright and alive palate with nothing but fruit and spice. And length. Plenty of length. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016

A #verona right of passage #getinthere

Ripasso Valpolicella

Bertani Ripasso Valpolicella DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy (395087, $17.95, WineAlign)

Just released, also a combination of Classica and Valpantena fruit, 85 per cent corvina, 10 merlot and 5 rondinella. Not much distinction from the Valpolicella, of a similar fruit profile, cherry and leather, here restained in alcohol and in avoidance of seeling itself with sugar. Some firm grip, a step towards liqueur but very clean, celar and precise for Ripasso. Quite dry especially in relation to many other regional takes. Aged in Slavonian oak barrels. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Fidora Ripasso Valpolicella DOC Monte Tabor 2014, Veneto, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

Certainly carries the torch forward from the Valoplicella but with some pomace addendum, without the concentration and with a mere tacky furthering from the barrels. Older ones (225L) and for just six months. Same on the verge but quite shy of oxidative so that the fruit stands out and the rusty quality remains bright. Plums are fresh with that variegated purple skin/red fleshiness and then plenty of spice. The sugar level is 6.5 g/L RS but it’s negligible considering the style. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016

Massimago Ripasso Valpolicella DOC Marchesi Mariabella 2014, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $40.95, WineAlign)

Yet another new launching point, this time for the much maligned Ripasso category, acquiesced through the fresh urgency of the whimsical Marchesi MariaBella. The fruit is borne of a a much earlier ripening vineyard outside of Massimago, perched only at an insignificant 100m on Argileux soil. This a Ripasso I will wager large you have never tasted before. La Bella Poesia, “is different because its literary destiny has followed a strange path.” To say that a feminine disposition, temperament and engagement fills not just the aromatics but also the texture would be a Valpolicella understatent of this early century. There is virtually no dried fruit on the nose; there is more tension than the two classic Valpolicellas which is both counter-intuitive to terroir and to methodology. Ripasso needs to carry both weight and tension. It needs to have some elegance. It requires acidity and freshness. This walks that very line and it will age gracefully and with beauty. Incidentally to answer the query of whimsy each character on the label represents the democracy of the proletariat. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted September 2016

Novaia Ripasso Valpolicella DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

From a not very good to certainly difficult vintage, the alt-Ripasso is made in the following manner because Macrello Vaona explains that “it’s a strange way to make wine but we do it to improve the body and the structure.” No drying, just the use of the wet skins towards the second fermentation. This has a very elegant, smooth, controlled, cool (13.5 abv) temper. Sees one-year in barriques and larger tonneaux, very little new to gain the calming Ripasso. Black cherry though light and fresh but on the flip side firm and direct. “What I want to produce is a drinkable wine, without thinking too much because the wine is too strong and has destroyed the food.” Well done Marcello. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Novaia Ripasso Valpolicella DOC 2013, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

The vintage in Novaia’s hands is antithetical in terms of Ripasso, with more acetic notes but also elevated florals, more fresh than potpourri. It’s quite spiced but in deep, masala ways, into the umami of mushroom and a roasted forest wood smoulder. Plenty of tea and then a clearing of the skies with brightness at the finish. One of the more variegated Ripasso studies to ever come across. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016

Post i canadesi light lunch carnage @PasquaWinery

Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore

Pasqua Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC Romeo & Juliet 2014, Veneto, Italy (476903, $18.95, WineAlign)

In the realm of Ripasso this busy label Romeo and Juliet love letter of a Venetian is markedly more Valpolicella Superiore in style. No Ripsasso ever breathes so fresh and light and the Pasqua-made red is therefore part deception and part delight. I for one am pleased with the result, all fruit and little to less hydration and rehydration. There is a simplicity to it that leans nouveau but again, the simple and pure act of red fruit love is a laudable attribute. Just a bit of white peppery spice late reminds that fruit was once passed over some Amarone lees and that barrels parts were in the leavening mix. Chill this for best results. Many a consumer will enjoy the platitude. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted twice, September 2016 and February 2017  pasquawines  #ChartonHobbs  @PasquaWinery  @ChartonHobbs  @pasquawinesitaly  

Hey #rossettadimontagna endemic grapes drying museum #cantinadinegrar #valpolicella #totallycool

Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore

Stefano Accordini Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC ‘Acinatico’ 2014, Veneto, Italy (85159, $19.25, WineAlign)

An inviting initial feigned freshness but then a posit tug of structure in the difficult vintage. Plum fruit and the same balsamic tone afforded the Classico but here the darkness begins to cover the fruit, with the classic but modern secondary fermentation passage over the Amarone skins. One year in French oak plus some large Slavonian oak. Already showing some secondary mushroom and truffle. High acidity, stark and driven, like a Doors Texas back beat. The smokiness heads straight to the back of the brain. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016

Stefano Accordini Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC ‘Acinatico’ 2010, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Quite similar and consistent to the ’14 though with more personality and further resolved into the secondary character traits; mushroom, truffle, forest floor, savoury herbs, tart berries, juniper, tonic and nearly umami. Pretty much what would be expected. Some affirming vitality reappears at the end. Nice Ripasso. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016

Stefano Accordini Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC ‘Acinatico’ 2009, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Quite evolved, deeper into the boletus and digging into a spongy, mid-autumn forest. Composted pine and some limestone here with more chcolate than either of the two younger (’11 and ’14) were showing. Seems to be more oak impart in 2009, either because the barrels were newer or because the vintage made the request or showed some intrinsic accord with it. Acidity is still quite solid, tannins nearly past. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted September 2016

Stefano Accordini Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC ‘Acinatico’ 2008, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

More acetic vintage and not as much oak as expected, especially as compared to 2009. A consistency of secondary aromas is noted, from the woods and the boletus that appears every fall, depending on the vintage, in 2008 not quite as pronounced. Good persistence, very classic, totally in the zone. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted September 2016

Buglioni Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC ‘Bugiardo’ 2013, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Fermented on skins from the Amarone, Buglioni’s Ripasso went with four weeks of drying grapes, blended as 75 per cent with 25 per cent. Nicknamed “Bugiardo,” the liar, because this is what the wine is. Another electric Valpo but here with some salumi, quite a bit of salumi actually and some liquid cherry smoke. Also earthy with a truffled note and then more smoke, smoulder, in the chamber beside the fire. Quite an even keeled Ripasso, in between concentrations, acidity and tannin. Clocks in at a very reasonable 14 per cent. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Ca’ Rugate Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Here we are again fully entrenched in 2014, from whence it was nearly impossible to make a really fine, elegant and getable Ripasso. Again 45, 45 and 15 (corvina-corvinone-rondinella), the holes filled in with more extract and careful selection than many. The green current and tobacco are not instigators but rather spectators to the fruit. Perhaps a lower percentage of skins here and more fresh fruit. This has the liquid red ruby citrus-grapefruit and orange play and then some grain in the tart, quite tannic structure. Modernity again and a success for 2014. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016

Ca’ Rugate Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Produced in the traditional way where the pomace from the dried Amarone grapes are left to referment in a Valpolicella wine from the same vintage. The wine is aged half and half in tonneaux and stainless steel for approximately eight months. The gravel and limestone estate vineyards are located in the hills around Montecchia di Crosara. This 2015 perpetuates the house blend of (45 per cent) corvina, (40) corvinone and (15) rondinella, consistent and familial similar to ’14 but carrying more freshness, bite and intensity. It will require a year more settling to bring the Ripasso vigour and rigour into real time Valpolicella by way of Amarone connectivity. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2016

Cantina Di Negrar Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC Le Roselle 2014, Veneto, Italy (620831, $17.95, WineAlign)

Le Roselle is a woman’s name, the diminutive of Rosa but in Valpolicella terms her character is both rich and acetic, fully consumed from Amarone skins and pressed to the maximum for colour and potential. Her name should see her as feminine from head to toe, but here in Ripasso she is highly permeable to the atmosphere of wherever she happens to be. She can repeat herself too, like the bird or parrot, so that her consistent nature will translate wherever she is consumed. In 2014 the results are quite intense, with full-on acidity wrapping up the optimum concentrated fruit in a Ripasso package so global, so far and wide reaching. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016

Cantina Di Negrar Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC Domìni Veneti Vigneti Di Torbe 2014, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Domìni Veneti Vigneti Di Torbe Ripasso is made with the skins of Recioto (as opposed to Amarone), drawing uopn the sweet-bleeding for refermentation towards a developing potential, with heavy fuel, dense compression and brooding character. Another Cantine Negrar cooperative stylistic to make the biggest wine possible from a variegated collection of Classica grapes. Full bore plum fruit, a rage of acidity and some Amaro tannin. Even bigger of an expreession than the already glycerin-listed Le Roselle. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Cantina Di Negrar Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC Domìni Veneti Vigneti Di Torbe 2013, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

This is the third of three Negrar Ripassi tasted side by side by each from a much better vintage without the necessity to over do, not from pressing, not for extract nor to dish hyperbole of concentration and last but so very important, accomplished without heavy oaking. The fruit is a bit baked but not without charm, the sun-ripened and passed over skins sets of berries turned to dehydrated plum and piqued by a contiguous found balance from major wood spice. The equilibrium here is quite improved and born that way. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Vigneti Di Ettore Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Ettore’s Ripasso comes from 20 year-old vines, of four grapes, corvina (45 per cent), corvinone (30), rondinella (15) and croatina (10). Needs air because of a minor reduction and a whiff of SO2. The first vintage was 2008 (as with all the Ettore labels) and here the small portion of dried grapes melds into passed over Recioto skins for a (5 hL) tonneaux experienced Ripasso of great spice and cool savour. This is arid and tense Ripasso with linear drive and vital spirit. Ripasso of clarity and direct connectivity, to the 40 million year old friable rock soil, the calcaire and the basalt. Well-made in a very difficult vintage. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Vigneti Di Ettore Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2013, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

The aromatic tones are quite high and even acetic (especially as compared to the bookend vintages) but this Ettore is as floral as they come. It’s a veritable potpourri flower bowl and then meaty, in dried charcuterie and splashed by balsamic. Deep flavours dip into chocolate and then a back bite into char-crusted, rare roast beef. Acidity pierces into the finish, with an injection of pure vanilla and finally some sour cherry. A satisfyingly gastronomic wine. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016.

Lunch at Ettore Righetti

Vigneti Di Ettore Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2012, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Assuming Ettore’s Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore ’12 grape make-up is the same as in 2014 the benefit is beautifully obvious from a most excellent vintage that is a gift (especially in comparison to ’14). The real purport to avoid the “sumo-warrior” Valpolicella shows in this bottle of finesse and one that you can finish. These are pure plum notes, in aroma and flavour, with balancing acidity and really fine tannins. This wine is so young still, spicy and spirited, jumping from the glass. What Ripasso can be. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016

Nicolis Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore Seccal DOC 2013, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $29.95  WineAlign)

Seccal is a single-vineyard Ripasso, 70 per cent corvina, (20) rondinella, plus five each molinara and croatina. It spends 16 months in big Slavonian oak barrels and takes the stylistic reigns from the fruit juicy Classico. With a firm grip it adds low and slow big wood time lapse release to develop breadth and slightly bretty volatility. Reductive again (a recurring Ripasso theme) dry and tangy, very soil-driven to supersede the volatility and so it really reminds of cooler climate grenache (top part of the southern Rhône Valley) or even salty, marine cannonau. I find this really terroir driven with the fruit less prominent but acids are high and tannin low. A very specific, old-school, the way it used to be Valpolicella but with a tie to the vineyard that is undeniable. Though the grapes comes from a single vineyard because Amarone grape skins are used for the second fermentation its single-vineyard status is changed. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016

The @garton_jules and #godello at such a nice place #tenutasalvaterra

Tenute Salvaterra Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2013, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

The closest of cousins to the Valpolicella Classico, from a different vintage but similar in styling. Reductive and silky in texture, with the dried grapes addition adding layers of impression and compression. Acidity is neither tough nor linear and while it is present, its support is a lift, not a distraction. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016

Santa Sofia Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2013, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $27.95, WineAlign)

The Ripasso 2013 is 70 per cent corvina and corvinone plus (30) rondinella, of no dried grapes, only secondary fermentation with amarone grape skins, simply and originally Ripasso. “Many Ripasso are like the small brother of Amarone,” explains proprietor Giancarlo Begnoni, “but in our case Ripasso is the big brother of Valpolicella Superiore.” Something added, augmented, not taken away. Aged only in old (up to 30 years) old (Slavonian) oak barrels. This is completely new and yet so very old, modern but ancient. The great dichotomy built through slow evolved structure. Tense, terse, direct, liquid yellow tufo rock with red citrus, pomegranate and the most refined tonic. More structure than so many but less freshness than some for sure. Superiore speaks only to the appellative minimum content plus context and speaks nothing to structure. That changes in the stylistic hand of Novaia. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2016

Andrea Sartori and our Lauren Hall

Sartori Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC Valdimezzo 2014, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $17.95, WineAlign)

Sartori’s Ripasso Valdimezzo is a blend of corvina (60 per cent), corvinone (20), rondinella (15) and croatina (five) in a mix of medium and large format oak casks. The deep mahogany wainscotting and black cherry notation is recognized for aligning house style clarity though the acidity and the vital tonality are elevated. The purple to black plum fruit controls the depth. Really high acidity. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Old school indeed @dobianchi @tenutapieve #gaetanobertani #classico

Tenuta Santa Maria Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Some vibrant bright red fruit bridging fresh to dried, right on that line. The kind of Ripasso that feigns fortified when it really isn’t that way at all. Lots of spice and once again the liqueur like old school, old barrel aged tempranillo or sangiovese but here on the fresher side. Plush texture and tannin. Very solid for a 2014 and not so dry, with 8 g/L RS. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016

Valentina Cubi Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC Arusnatico 2013, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Arusnatico is dedicated to one of the few underground groups that refused to submit to the Romans. This is hard to be believed as Ripasso, light, cool, crisp, very citrus (orange) directed and a bite into chocolate that might be white or dark I couldn’t really say. The nose does not speak to Ripasso (nor does the hue or the construct) but the palate does more so. Richness is observed and permitted with grace throughout and and as more than just an impression. Hard to believe that Amarone pomace is used and in fact it will be impossible to know what churns this Ripasso until we return and the similarly vintage-dated Amarone is tasted. Once again in a league of its own. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016

Zonin Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy (170142, $16.40, WineAlign)

Very similar, in fact impossibly consistent with the Classico, of red fruit first, freshness second and commerciality in confident control. Clean, crisp, here smoky and with just those slight notes of earth, forest floor, savour, tobacco, umami. The additions are the smokiness and the 2014 challenges unable to find their clear. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted September 2016

Zonin Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2005, Veneto, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

A test of time for this Ripasso is an all well and incredible Superiore certainty, now all mushroom and truffle, earthy forest, umeboshi plum, darkening soy sauce and bubbling brown sugar. The acidity is clearly alive, then tempered chocolate, dried and slightly torched espresso bean, ground and pressed. Very alive. One punch and a knockout, short finish. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted September 2016

Valentina Cubi

IGT Rosso Verona, Veneto and Venezia

Valentina Cubi Sin Cero IGT Rosso Verona 2015, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

The truthful or sincere one is the third vintage after 2012 and 2013 (there was no 2014), a blend of corvina (75 per cent) and rondinella (25), of zero sulphites and possessive of the naturalische, straight from the soil and a breath of fresh air. There too is a bready, yeasty, enzymatic air and this is IGT you are pleased to put in your mouth. Spontaneous fermentation and microbes no other Valpolicella varietal IGT (or approved) has thus far granted. Is it typical? No. Could it be labled Classico Superiore? Stylistically speaking why not. But it’s bloody atypical, potentially consumer confusing but there is every reason to drink it. It’s beautifully dirty and with a cereal quality, like sugar crisp but not the commercial, fructose glazed crap, but more like the bulk bags of slightly earthy, whole foodies stuff. Fermented and aged only in steel. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016

Bertani Secco-Bertani IGT Rosso Verona 2013, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

Secco Bertani is an IGT Verona composed from corvina (80 per cent), sangiovese grosso (10) plus equal parts merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Aged in (cherry and chestnut) Veronese barrels, this is IGT of high tones, red and black fruit and dry-aged beef bresaola. Travels through an acidity fire and comes out smouldering with tobacco and chocolate. Cimmerian IGT of high acidity and big, sweet tannins. Needs two years to settle down before beginning to age into balsamic and truffle territory. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2016

Vigneti Di Ettore Rosso Veronese IGT Arsi 2011, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Arsi is from 15 year year-old vines at 400m in volcanic soil. No malolactic and higher acidity bleed lava from corvina veronese (30 per cent), corvinone (30), croatina (30) and pelara (10). A different wine for Valpolicella and for IGT, the wine is highly saline, from grapes dried for 50 days, of lovely red fruit with the saline streak that is not found in the other wines. A wine I feel many winemakers, especially from the larger houses and cooperatives would not understand. Though there is some emptiness on the palate this highly distinctive, salty umami Rosso is in a world of its own and that world is one I am delighted to visit. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Nicolis Rosso Verona IGT Testal 2012, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

Testa, “the head,” from grapes at the head of the vine, left to hang for two or three weeks longer than usual. The Ripasso aspect is the short drying time on the vine. A late harvest IGT from Corvina (90) and 10 per cent other (not named) varieties. This alters the house style and does something other, something Classico Superiore but it can’t be this because it exceeds the DOC Corvina maximum of 80 per cent. The large casks have added more sheathing than you might expect. This is highly wooded and toasty with quite a bit of vanilla, lavender and clove. Certainly made for a crowd that loves this style. Changes to labelling mean you can’t call this Rosso del Veronese anymore but now this wine could in fact be a Classico Superiore. Though it doesn’t resemble one in any shape or form. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Pasqua Passimento 2014, IGT Veneto, Italy (141952, $13.95, WineAlign)

Passimento is “Passione Sentimento,” part of the Romeo & Juliet line, composed of merlot (40 per cent), corvina (30), and croatina (30). It’s somewhat experimental and yet traditional, from grapes partially dried for one month, half way between Valpolicella Superiore and Amarone, in weight and alcohol. Four months in barriques has given this lean and green red a decidedly merlot bent, with memories of stems and herbal dill plus some balancing corrected sweetness. At 14 per cent alcohol and extra body it represents market driven wine in a nutshell. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016

Tenuta Salvaterra Rosso Delle Venezie Igt Lazzarone 2011, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

The word Lazzarone comes from Campania, from the men who hung around the church either begging money or looking for a day’s work. Just a small portion of grapes are dried (30-40 per cent) and for a shorter period than Amarone, between five to seven weeks. A baby Amarone this one, maybe with a bit more umami or certainly a different one, wooly and weedy, herbal and crazy. Some teroldego is added in here with the corvina and rondinella. Some freshness and palate softness but still, it’s the modern house style. The soft back side is filled with plump raisins, fresh figs and a shave of truffle. Oh will people eat this up, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Elisa Biasolo and Giancarlo Begnoni of Santa Sofia

Santa Sofia Igt Rosso Del Veronese Arlèo 2011, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

Arléo is 85 per cent corvina, the wine Giancarlo Begnoni is proud to have invented, from a longer (60 day) dry-aging, more like Amarone, plus 15 per cent of (not dried) merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Two years in large Botti plus one year in barriques, for body, complexity and variegated intensity. Bretty volatility delivers in the great and righteous stylistic success that walks up to the threshold, teases to climb over, turns, grins and perches at the precipice. This shares a commonality with sangiovese, either Brunello or Gran Selezione, in more ways than you would imagine or think it should. But this is structure, traditional risk and wisely decided upon confident decision making, calculated and successful. The right grapes are essntial to pull it off and the winemaker musty have known otherwise or would not have moved them or this wine in this direction. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Tenuta Santa Maria Igt Rosso Veronese Pràgal 2013, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Pràgal is corvina (50 per cent), syrah (25) and merlot (25), all estate fruit and admittedly kind of foxy and boxy. Dried red fruit, fresh figs and grape must. Rustic and oxidative. Then an old Rioja or Chianti liqueur, so in some ways this walks the line. Quite the smouldering, bretty, lit up experience with a note of pickling brine and wet horse. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted September 2016

The Verona gang, Ponte Di Castelvecchio

Good to go!

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