16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

he-always-distracted-me-so-that-i-thought-of-nothing-else-while-listening-to-the-words-and-the-sound-of-his-voice

He has always distracted me so that I thought of nothing else while listening to the words. And the sound of his voice.

Compiling a best of wine list is never easy. Not when the subject matter is the most fleeting of consumables, a drink ever-changing, almost never tasting the same twice and destined for eventual failure. We know by instinct that wines cast the shadow of their own destruction before them and are designed from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins. Wine critics can only regard what is in the glass by what sensory enjoyment or displeasure is activated at that exact time. In most cases there are no second chances.

I do my best to taste wines twice before passing judgement. Too often I can’t fulfill this prophecy, especially when plodding through 100-plus on a VINTAGES release. In 2016 I made a great effort to visit these 16 wines three times before penning a review. It was not always possible but I tried. When it comes to Canadian wines and even more so with wines from Ontario, there are often second and third chances. And so I feel very confident in sharing this definitive list with you.

Hallelujah

It must be said that 2016 was a most difficult year. Too many special people were taken from us far too early. I lost two friends this fall as I’m sure some of you did as well. Many of us dwell on favourite celebrity deaths and especially the loss of musicians, some of us more than others. If you are one who takes to social media to mock the romantic who shares grief with others at the loss of a musical icon, well just skip past this and go straight to the wines. Or please refrain from comment and respectfully remain quiet.

David Bowie. Prince. Leonard Cohen. Sir George Martin. Glenn Frey. Paul Kantner. Leon Russell. Keith Emerson. Greg Lake. Alan Vega. Mose Allison. Bernie Worrell. Muhammad Ali. Gene Wilder. Arnold Palmer. Craig Sager. David Huddleston. Ken Howard. George Kennedy. Abe Vigoda. Ron Glass. Florence Henderson. Fuck 2016. And this tree fell on my house.

hows-your-sunday-going-so-far

How’s your Sunday going so far?

On a much brighter note 2016 was a banner year for tasting Canadian wines. It also provided a vintage of quantity meets quality and one that was desperately needed, especially here in Ontario. My tasting regimen saw no quit or slow down in 2016. I’m not sure how many Canadian wines I tasted but if it was less than a thousand I’d be shocked. I tasted more at home, assessed a greater number in the LCBO’s sensory lab, delved deeper at the WineAlign office and spread the web wider at events in Ontario. I judged with Tony Aspler at the Ontario Wine Awards, in Penticton at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and with David Lawrason at Gold Medal Plates.

Related – 15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

In 2015 I counted 15 on the filtered list. In 2014 the highlights numbered 14, just as in 2013 the number chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine was 13. And so forth will lead to 17 in 2017.

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Welcome @muller_brent to team RED! with nazlanmak captain @treve_ring #nwac16 @winealign

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

And again, I quote. “Picking a top anything list is both a chore and a labour of loyalty. The opportunities to learn more about Canadian-made wine, especially the processes and the efforts, were numerous in 2014. Canadian winemakers opened their doors and when people came, they taught. They walked the vineyards, showed off their prized barrels and walked through the processes of making wine. Tasting and barrel rooms make for the greatest classrooms. Get out there in 2015. The experience is priceless.” In 2017, trust in Canadian wine.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

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Return Syrah engagement @CreeksideWine pouring on tap @barquebbq and @barquebutchers #freshtap #wineontap

My wine on tap program at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar added some new wines in 2016 to follow those poured from Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus and Leaning Post. Between the Lines, Coyote’s Run, Vineland Estates and new offerings from Creekside continue to fill your glasses.

The year began with great excitement at Niagara’s Icewine Festival in January. In February I returned for Cuvée Weekend. In June we convened the WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards in the Okanagan Valley and a confession I need to make is that I wanted to publish with the title “Why you don’t know shit about B.C. wine” but chickened out at the last second and instead came out with Why you don’t know jack about B.C. wine. Before judging we paid a visit with The Wines of British Columbia for the Judgement of B.C. The second annual cage match was hosted by the B.C. Wine Institute and took place on Tuesday, June 21, pitting 12 B.C. Wines against 12 acknowledged global benchmarks. Riesling and Pinot Noir squared off, curated by DJ Kearney and judged by a who’s who of Canadian wine writers, critics and educators, along with international WineAlign Awards judges Dr. Jamie Goode and Elaine Chukan Brown.

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How lucky we all were to have her back in the captain’s chair. Happy Canada Day @djwines #nwac16

As the week progressed, the WineAlign judges paid visits to Okanagan Crush Pad Winery in Summerland, Culmina Family Estate Winery in Oliver, Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna, Rustic Roots Winery with the Similkameen Wineries Association and Deep Roots Winery on the Naramata Bench. I tasted more than 100 wines over the course of the five days from the appellations of Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Falls, Oliver-Osoyoos, Golden Mile, Similkameen Valley and Naramata Bench. At the awards I tasted more than 500 Canadian wines.

Of greatest importance was my return to the International Chardonnay Cool Climate conference that took place between July 22nd and July 24th in Niagara. Before attending for a fourth straight year I penned The democracy of Cool Chardonnay. It was there I wrote that “plus has joined the i4c, an ideogram of addendum, a character of diversity for the fluently persuasive and forceful congress. This gathering will open its arms for colour and to allow its constituents to regale with what they do best. For an event-driven pure as single-varietal snow and formerly known exclusively as chardonnay, is this really a shocker? This is the reality of democracy.”

#cool

People bitched and moaned. How can a chardonnay conference include other grape varieties? Sacrilege and foul play they (secretly and not so secretly) complained. In the end the inclusion of red varietals confused nothing and no one. Chardonnay remained the focus and the star. No chardonnay were harmed.

We broke cool climate bread and spread chardonnay gospel with Ian D’Agata (Decanter, Vinous.com), John Szabo M.S. (Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power), Jean-François Bordet and Françoise Roure from Wines of Chablis. We tasted with sixty winemakers at the School of Cool, “Flights of Chardonnay” at Niagara District Airport and the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner at Ridley College in St. Catharines, Ontario. Red wines were poured after dinner!

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Only American presidential candidates carry babies at #i4c @coolchardonnay

We welcomed writer Kurtis Kolt from Vancouver, sommeliers Carl Villeneuve-Lepage and Elyse Lambert from Quebec. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Tex-Somm Director James Tidwell made the long trip north and a second Canadian courting immersion in as many months was performed by visionary wine raconteur Elaine Brown.

So what did Godello learn from Cool Chardonnay in 2016? Well, he found out that we have to look at organoleptics and ask a very important question. Is your expectation of a Chablis going to be the same as chardonnay made from anywhere else? More important, who are we putting this wine in front of? Ian D’agata’s take struck a Canadian chord.  He talked of “a welcome astringency characterized by piercing flavours. These are cool-climate wines.  Cool climate chardonnay is not about a long litany of fruit descriptors. If you have a cool-climate viticultural area it behooves you to give the people what they are looking for.”

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Potential is the past @Somewhereness

After i4c16 I took part in an Impromptu tasting at Ravine. Four months later the intrepid sophist Scott Zebarth and I tasted with winemaker Marty Werner for a second time. That same day we visited with J-L Groux at Stratus and with Paul Pender at Tawse. Our focus was cabernet franc. That report is coming soon and I can promise this. The 17 in 2017 and 18 in 2018 will be graced by cabernet franc. Fall events were led by the constitutive Somewhereness, as fundamental and essential as any agminate Ontario tasting can and will ever be. Then there was the Great Canadian Oysters and Wine Experience at Rodney’s Oyster House. The event was hosted by Wine Country Ontario and paired a curated who’s who of Ontario VQA wines with the local iconic fare. Exceptional all around.

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“I’ll do what I can so you can be what you do.” @rodneystoronto #coasttocoast #oysters #winecountryontario #dukes #peioysters #bcoysters #elliotsmith #greatcanadianoystersandwineexperience

Where are we now?

Despite all the talk of rules, regulations and governing boards that restrict movement, labelling and profits, the Canadian landscape is evolving in a beneficent direction. Though the move to loosen monopoly control and increase competition has backfired in the short term, corrections to British Columbia’s wine trade will happen, sort itself out and right the ship. Decades of bureaucracy don’t dismantle and do right by the consumer overnight. Things always get worse before they get better. The move to supermarkets in Ontario is indeed one of smoke and mirrors but it opens the door to gaining advantage through loopholes and creative minds kickstarting new business ventures. The wave to privatization can no longer be averted or snuffed out. Momentum will gain traction and open the flood gates to wine trade nirvana.

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The man, the chardonnay @normhardie #princeedwardcounty ’14 #vqa #winecountryontario “As sure as fire will burn There’s one thing you will learn Is things you have cherished Are things that you have earned.” #tomwaits #littleman

Canadian wines run more or less of their own accord, not so much thanks to the winemakers or the condition of the current culture, as in spite of them. And certainly not by virtue of any particular ethos through customs and traditions going back over many generations of wines. No, success and cumulative proficiency exists by dint of these wines without any forced supervision. They are governed by themselves and indeed across the entire industry. Done are the blanketing days of spare and often powerful Canadian wines that were often too spare, so that the ribs of tannin showed through in painful obviousness. The embracing of cool climate idiosyncrasy and unique-somewhereness make Canada the envy of the developing wine world.

Controversy

Now this. VQA is expected to pass regulatory approval and introduce a new category of wines called “skin contact whites.” While Orange wines are the most notable example of skin contact whites, who’s to say the ambiguity of the designation could not impel the inclusion of other cabalistic and achromatic specimens? Let’s look at Riesling as a perfect example.

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Skin contact #Riesling from @MackBrisbois @TrailEstateWine Invisibly stitched and tart-pan curl. #burgunder less than 50 cases #hughes #lakeview #foxcroft

Leaning Post’s The Geek, Trail Estate’s Skin Contact Foxcroft and Pearl Morissette’s Blackball are all atypical, mad scientist outtakes. Will the new category allow these wines to pass easily through the borders of VQA? Will the wall regarding place of origin on labelling be the next to crumble? Let’s hope reason in the name of progress born out of trust for altruistic and dedicated producers will carry through to a new frontier. Right Bruno and Jens?

New Kid in Town

You might notice that all 16 wines I have chosen are from very established producers. The next wave of young winemakers and wineries is taking shape in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and especially in Nova Scotia. I would expect new kids on the list in the coming years. I want you all to know that I traveled through great pains, algorithmic calculations and much unavoidable emotion to arrive at this rocking list. For every wine that made the grade there were three more that narrowly missed. They are all important but these 16 combine lyricism with melody. They write the songs.

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

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

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (1552, $24.95, WineAlign)

It’s as if this label had bided all this time to be the benefactor of 2013 fruit. This Rusty Shed, this 20 miler with the track record to age, a wine that sheds baby fat over a 10 year mineral through echelon stratum, in ways few other peninsula to bench chardonnay can do. This Jay Johnston handled surfer of a wine, buoyant and balanced, centred and able to withstand turbulence, oscillation and tidal sway. Here with sumptuous and spiralled fruit gaged in lode intervals and a tartness held in lope and line by a membrane of extract and tannin. Best ever. Showing well, repeatedly and to forecasted repute. Impressing critics and consumers alike. Bravo. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted June 2016  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

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Sometimes there comes a wine, of the impossible, at the frontier. This by @SynchromeshWine #riesling #stormhavenvineyard #okanaganfalls #8.9%

Synchromesh Riesling Storm Haven Vineyard 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.90, WineAlign)

If this riesling is sweet I couldn’t say. That is the first thought that comes to mind. From Alan Dickinson’s home property, this is his baby, an Okanagan Falls derived riesling that lives an entirely holistic existence. No spraying, none, nada, niente. Not ever. The wine could not get any cleaner. Purity is its cognomen. The vineyard is subject to the highest diurnal temperature swing than just about anywhere in the valley. That might explain the risk-reward probability factor. The technical specs are a triumvirate of implausibility; 46 g/L RS, 11.5 g/L TA and pH below three. What? This is the most impossible wine made in B.C. In its concentrated velocity it wheezes like something ancient. We could almost be drinking Greek debina or 20 year-old Alsatian auxerrois. Dickinson makes three passes over each of the two blocks so even if the hands are off, the meticulous picking breeds asepsis. Citrus such as found in the Storm Haven fruit does not happen very often, if rarely. It’s like citrus soma. Citrus unknowable out of determination unthinkable. Direct misunderstanding by indirect whimsy. And so the vintage offers good fun but not greatness. Imagine the possibilities. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted June 2015  @SynchromeshWine

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Ah, geek out, le geek, c’est chic @LeaningPostWine #pinotnoir & #riesling lees experiments #pushingboundaries

Leaning Post Riesling “The Geek” 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Senchuk and swot-out cohort Ryan de Witte pulled 350 litres of riesling aside, accoutred with all readily available lees and shacked the whole gross mess in tank together, Vinification was completed at nine grams (RS) nearly-dry, in what can only be described as a reductive, cloudy, super-geeky riesling. Acquires an increased resonance from its designation stowed at a way station on what really is a longer, personal journey. The 2015 will be bone dry and like this ’14 will sit for 18 months in encouragement of a truly experimental, waiting for something to happen riesling. Time will act to fill in the gaps and increase its already developed texture. If you have ever had the pleasure you will see this as Jean-Pierre Frick-ish to be sure. When asked the question, he ‘The Geek’ will repeatedly reply, “I am not ready.” Drink 2018-2022.   Tasted March 2016  @LeaningPostWine  @Witte_Wine

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If the establishment wants what you got give it to them. Blackball ’14 #riesling by @PearlMorissette

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2014, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (416073, $32.20, WineAlign)

One whiff and you are hep to what can only be Pearl Morissette, but with a neoteric twist. Riesling that flaunts full-frontal, of furthered acidity, vitality and multi-tined nuance. Farther too of age advanced but without any quirky or funky naturalist intrusion. Already chill, relaxed and with thanks to the vintage, almost round. The precise weave is tapestry fine and deceptively simple, what François Morissette likes to call a “crystallized cream of texture.” The oversized 2012 still digests itself, ’13 is organoleptically structured, long and cool. But ’14? A ‘no foudres’ vintage, from 100 per cent concrete fermentation, wild through malolactic and with zero grams of residual sugar. Bone dry. Concrete was chosen for must intricacy, palate texture, flavour and necessary balance. Riesling borne of crunchy, concrete desire, bright, with preserved lemon across the palate, gentle, feminine and beautiful. This is the focused consistency in loyalty to ’12 and ’13. Try and stereotype this Black Ball to Vin Nature funk. I dare you. Pour it in an expansive Ontario riesling flight and it will stand out like a solar flare in a fulmination of fireworks. There will be no mid-life, black hole of disappearance crisis. It will always be fine and pristine, drink well, like an impossibly dry version of a Coulée de Serrant. Only 186 cases were made so yes, the Blackball is a wine of very small production. Establishes yet another reference point and just wait for ’15. That vintage will deliver the greatest of bones. The new age will really launch then. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted November 2016  @PearlMorissette  @lassvet

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Sincerity @CulminaWinery from Elaine & Don Triggs and a superfluity of @WineBCdotcom pours #ohwhatanight #hospitality #nwac16

Maverick Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Bertus Albertyn bottled a meagre 200 cases of this Golden Mile Bench sourced syrah after 18 months in three to four year-old French Oak. If you are a fan of fresh, well-spoken, confident and blessedly transparent syrah then look for the next vintage of this sold out beauty. So gauzy gossamer textured, peppery but of scant bite and driven by a northern, smoky beat. The cure and depth in its make-up nearly adds up to beefy but its form of athleticism is built upon the quiet politesse of its maker’s execution. The comparison must be made to septentrional Rhône and the lack of new oak is so appreciated. This is a wine to watch for. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @MaverickWinery

Charles Baker Rieslings

Charles Baker Rieslings

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

There was this intuitive moment with Picone 2013 as if it was waiting on me. Not doting or soliciting, but waiting. I will admit to have been wondering, reeling and speculating. To peer or peek into what Mark Picone’s Vinemount Ridge vineyard would adjudge and then bestow Charles Baker’s riesling in 2013? Would it be a case of weight, hyperbole, a hang in the balance out of misjudged necessity? Nah. Picone is no longer a mature 20 year-old vineyard but now a wise old thirty year-old one. Picone 2013 is in fact a fun park mirrored image of itself, with haughty, aerified aromas and variegated, leaning to tropical fruit flavours, taut like a flock in line with the vintage. The riesling berries just seem to have imploded and the results that have followed are nothing if not intense. Imagine a Yogyakarta market and a two-wheeled, glass-cased push cart stacked with a pyramid of tart mangoes. The fruit had been picked just as the sugars had begun to run like sap and bleed sticky on the cracking skin. A mango is sliced and doused with the intensity of Java lime juice and then sprinkled with Laut Jawa salt. The flavours are searing, sweetly saline and quenching. Only this tart is this, where tart and acidity meet, intertwine and connect on an emotional level. Picone 2013. The first non-inoculated riesling at first and then touched up near the end. “The best vintage you could ask for in riesling,” notes Baker, “cloud-covered, a meeting of the minds, vibrant.” The arid, cranky one will live without fret for 15 years. Drink 2018-2028.  First tasted in March of 2015, then twice, October 2016  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Csv Blanc De Blancs Brut 2008, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

As expected the Cave Spring 2008 Chardonnay Sparkling solicits thoughts and ideas centred around age. It elicits a complexity response and one taste means a succumbing to the contagion of its vitality. With its autolytic character shining bright, Cave Spring’s BdeB acts out a fantasy up on a silver screen. Another seven year itch is realized in guaranteed Ontario age ability. Has acted way past simple citrus and yet remains a little closed, just now entering the window of showmanship. Another year or two and this will vie for an Oscar. The bubble program production is unparalleled at Cave Spring, perhaps more than any studio in Ontario.  Tasted February 2016  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

Nuit Blanche is one of Canada’s most unique commodities, a White Meritage (of sauvignon blanc and sémillon) blended from exceptional and aromatically delicate Rosomel Vineyard fruit. As part of Hidden Bench’s “Terroir Series” it righteously expresses white Bordeaux varietal purity from the southern blocks of the Beamsville Bench vineyard. Expectation runs high because 2014 seems a perfect Fumé Blanc vintage if ever there will be one for (40 year-old) vineyards tucked snugly in abutment to the Niagara Escarpment. A struck flint nosing entry is followed by taut strung acidity and palate tension eased by a fictionalized adult cotton candy, wisps of smoke, honey and lanolin. The grace of it all is hidden beneath a filigree of molecular green apple caviar gastronomy. In 2014 Nuit Blanche reflects propriety, elegance and genteel balance, caressed from the hands of winemaker Marlize Beyers. It is as if Beyers let this ferment slip away as a parent would encourage a child who is ready to leave the home. After tasting it at Gold Medal Plates in Toronto I spent a sleepless night, not from restlessness or over-indulgent behaviour but because I wished to pull an all-nighter with the best ever sauvignon blanc bled and led Ontario white. I would suggest leaving this be for two years for the subtle though generous barrel to melt into fruit but time will gather for up to two decades before the sun sets on the 2014 Nuit Blanche. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted November 2016  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron  @ImportWineMAFWM  @MarkAnthonyWine

Mini #lonnasblock @RavineVineyard Cabernet Franc vertical. Loaded with the S-word...structure @marty_werner #i4c16

Mini #lonnasblock @RavineVineyard Cabernet Franc vertical. Loaded with the S-word…structure @marty_werner #i4c16

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Lonna’s Block 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

Lonna’a Block alights straight out from the retail shop to the west side of the driveway (and is named for Ravine owner Norma Jean Harber’s sister). The site was planted in 2004 and here, 10 years on, its warm St. Davids’ Bench fruit is simply welling, hermetically sealed and antithetically intense. The block has come to this, in production of cabernet franc with side-splitting, tongue tripping acidity to work lightning crack geometry into the wood-derived chocolate and the ferric-tannic tension. The fissures are filled but there is the right kind of cabernet franc fragmentation. The liquid metal mineral and deep blackberry ooze is smooth and polished. The fruit was “picked early,” or if you will, in Grouxian, Gambleized and risk, Werner reward exercised terms, mid-November. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted July 2016  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

Creekside Broken Press Syrah Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $42.95, WineAlign)

Creekside’s website waxes about the vintage, noting “the 2012 growing season felt like it had been imported up from California.” This is a type of pragmatic truth (as opposed to correspondent or coherent) because it is useful in applying winemaker Rob Powers’ gathering of phenolic ripeness in lieu of extraneous matter to make this Broken Press. When perfect provisos give you perfect fruit you listen to the winds of the vintage and just go with it. Viognier conditions the mess of richness with more pragmatism in 2012, lifting the aromatics and hooking the rug, up and away from drought conditioning. This BP dips into the earth of the northern Rhône to recover its fearless tactility. And so you feel the autumn’s moderate, crucial rainfall in this wine, its warm days and cool nights. The harvest on October 2nd from the St. David’s Bench Queenston Road Vineyard amounted to nine barrels, eight older French and one new Hungarian, leading to 210 cases. This is the best Syrah from QRV made to date. It will live long because of that aforementioned pragmatic truth. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted March 2016  @CreeksideWine  @AMH_hobbsandco  @hobbsandco

J.L. Groux, Winemaker, Stratus Vineyards Photo: Michael Godel

J.L. Groux, Winemaker, Stratus Vineyards
Photo: Michael Godel

Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (131037, $44.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus Red 2012 resides both in a virtuoso’s hollow and in a pantheon inhabited by some of Niagara’s great reds. The fact that such ripe phenology can anticipate and foretell to balance and freedom in the byplace of the blending process is nothing short of amazing. Sinuous and exact, of berries so indefatigable, layering raspberry over blackberry atop strawberry. Cedar and red citrus compound, without jamming the fluidity, but certainly accentuating the Fragaria vesca. Confident and fluid in movement, the ’12 neither shakes nor stirs and its acidity is flat out terrific. At this early point in its evolution it is showing as well as could be expected, or hoped for. Its core of fraises du bois will always be there. Time will be kind, gentle and patient. Drink 2015-2024.   Tasted April and June 2015  @StratusWines

bachelder

Bachelder Pinot Noir Wismer Parke Vineyard 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

Thomas Bachelder has never had a problem with timing. His first pinot noir from the specific Wismer Parke Vineyard (labeled as such) comes from a veritable cracking jackpot of a great varietal vintage. If you need some geographical placement here, The Parke is contiguous to the Foxcroft and Wingfield sections of Wismer in the eight farm-strong holdings on and around the Twenty Mile Bench. It is here that Bachelder concentrates the microscope on a sectional-cordoned off Wismer micro-terroir and its precision-apportioned mineralogy mined for sidetracked and step out of the box focus. What The Parke delivers in 2014 is a sweeter extract than Wismer proper and one that is stationary, static and accessible. The overall grasp is a mouthful easy on the spice or rather subtle in attack after it has climbed in and out of its barrels. Most polls would place Lowrey at the pinnacle of Ontario’s pinot noir vineyards but Thomas Bachelder’s 2014 work with Wismer Parke establishes a new player on the shortlist. This is an exciting entry point and the future will be bright. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted October 2016  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $45.20, WineAlign)

A second taste four months later confirms the impossibility from Hardie in 2014, a vintage that just begs for Norm’s magic handling, from exemplary, slow-developed fruit off of a vintage’s hyperbole of low-yielding vines. The low alcohol continuum persists, the freshness and richness of County berries magnifies and the development of flavour is beyond and above. The tart is a membrane and the sweetness a virtue, feigned and delicate. Tremendous work made easy by Norm and a pinot noir that will live longer than any he has produced before. Drink 2017-2027.  Last tasted August 2016

In Prince Edward County and for pinot noir there is no substitute and no comparison. Quixotically sweet pinot noir fruit, from the lowest of the low yields, scrupulously heeded and handled with care and yet also, somehow without a care to the world. As self-effacingly pretty and impossible as ever though in 2014 the tensity is lower, the anxiety bereft and not so crucially or dearly developed. There is almost no crisis from out of this first of the near-crisis vintages. This is an early to love Norm pinot noir, brought to life and with red citrus that only a Hardie low alcohol pinot can bring. Humility only exceeded by impossibility. Ready to enjoy younger than most.  Tasted April 2016  @normhardie

a-back-pages-cabernetfranc-moment-with-paul-pender-tawse_winery-wismervineyards-everythingfranc-2007-vanbers

A back pages #cabernetfranc moment with Paul Pender @Tawse_Winery @wismervineyards #everythingfranc #2007 #vanbers

Tawse Cabernet Franc Van Bers Vineyard 2007, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $49.95, WineAlign)

The state of freshness is static, a sameness that is mostly impossible but the perfume is settled and obvious, of violets and blackberries, closer to ’12 than ’10. Hot and dry but still, balanced. Tasted blind there would be no way of knowing where or from when this was. Sure Bordeaux could be imagined but Niagara, Beamsville Bench, Lincoln Lakeshore, Creek Shoes, or the confluence of the three? How could you know. Two years ago this opening began and now the invitation reads with utter clarity, the door widely agape. There seemingly is not a single moment of aromatic evolution and the acidity rages with great vibrancy. The longevity factor is in my friends. Paul Pender knew then what he knows now, at least with respect to cabernet franc. It’s like this. Just like this. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted October 2016  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

Benjamin Bridge Wines from left to right:

Benjamin Bridge Wines

Benjamin Bridge Brut 2011, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (381533, $49.00, WineAlign)

First sips were blind at #i4c16 with ripeness and yeasty lees so apparent early and smouldering, flinty and then turned to citrus, freshness and acidity. Burgundian-Champagne dichotomous directional pull, certainly, though with eyes shut tight imagination travels and falls on a far east Canadian clime, though likely from an early ripening site. As in October. The reveal presents the first Blanc de Blancs in Benjamin Bridge Brut form, taking the cue from an exemplary vintage for chardonnay to go it alone, leaving seyval blanc and l’acadie behind as Nova Scotian relics of a bygone era. Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers cants with insightful eloquence. “It’s in our collective consciousness to say that white wines will rely on acidity while reds are determined by phenolics. (The science of) pH will help to locate electrons between reduction and oxidation. It’s a very eccentric proposition, being on the edge of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. Lodi harvested pinot noir yesterday. We are harvesting in November. The beauty of moderation is that it’s a step away from the model of extremes. Our ability to ripen fruit and preserve the Titratable Acidity at unspoiled levels is going to translate into tension and ageability.” This Brut 2011 is far too young, extremely bright and blessed with so much citrus. The level of lemon is extraordinary. Just as recent past tastes of the Brut Reserve 2004 spoke of its remarkable youth, this ’11 is full of orchard fruit but it’s hard to fathom the extreme level of tightly wound strength that yet persists. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2016  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

CedarCreek

CedarCreek Amphora Wine Project Desert Ridge Meritage 2014, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $60.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Alexis Moore inherited the (Chianti sourced) clay amphora from former winemaker Daryl Brooker and this (second vintage) meritage is her first kick at the urn. The co-fermented, all natural, don’t even think about peeking and sneaking a taste blend is cabernet sauvignon (54 per cent), cabernet franc (35) and malbec (11). The hallmark desert notes of rich, caky and dusty are necessarily present but it is the preservation of red earth savour that gives this formidable flagon of magic juice its inimitable personality. Mature rows of fruit are to blame and thank for the just desert reward. Transferred to amphora the fruit is preserved in such a way no B.C. reds have ever really seen and the new territory is not so simple for making quick, on the spot judgements. I have thought about this wine for quite some time and the conclusion is positive for two important reasons. Spice and tannin. Together they combine for an infinite finish. Here is the crux of the vessel’s power, to preserve fruit and slowly release its charms within the structure provided. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted June 2016  @CedarCreekWine

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Earth and sky

apostolos-thymiopoulosvin-johnszabo-post-tastes-with-jaschabaraness-barquebutchers-xinomavro-naoussa-earthandsky-youngvines

Barque Butcher Bar, October 2015

earth-and-sky

Thymiopoulos Vineyards Yn Kai Oupavós Xinomavro 2013, Unfiltered, Naoussa, Greece (Agent, $31.00, WineAlign)

From a place with a mere 18 registered wineries and only five produce more than 50,000 bottles on any commercial scale. Most of the fruit is bought by the cooperative and many vines were ripped out in favour of cash crop plums and peaches. There are only 400 hectares under vine. Along comes Apostolos Thymiopoulos with his 2003 oenology degree and family xinomavro vines aged seven to 15 years on red granite slopes and only heavy soils in the valley below. His farming is organic and biodynamic with plans to be the first to achieve the Demeter certification. All his wines are estate except for the production of Xinomavro for Marks and Spencer – from 40 growers he has convinced to farm organically. The estate vineyards are located in two villages, Trilofos and Fytia. The blend of the two is Yn Kai Oupavós. The Earth and Sky separates itself, does relay new and “other” layers than the young vines. Whereas from quick stainless and painless you would say “who needs oxygen when you have young vines,” you now wish for a slow, micro-oxegynated development. The natural fermentation comes across to express xinomavro in its most natural way, in its natural habitat. Like looking a grape in the eye and it talks directly to you, revealing itself in ways that only it can, in this bottle. Still the tannins take over after a few minutes and convey a sense of future-documented purpose. Spent 18 months in 90 per cent French and 10 per cent Austrian barrels, 20 per cent new every year, used until the 5th fill. These are fully ripe tannins but from 30 days maceration they are elongated, stretched and oh so cherry chewy. In 2014 it was a difficult vintage so there will be a “declassified” generic Naoussa but in 2015 they will again produce single-vineyard wines. The crystal ball also shows some concrete eggs and large foudres. Apostolos has only just begun his long vinous journey into the heart of Naoussa. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted October 2015  @thymiopoulosvin  @VictoryWine  @NaoussaWine  @DrinkGreekWine

Related – Getting into Greece

Also available in VINTAGES November 12th, 2016

Thymiopoulos Vineyards Young Vines Xinomavro 2013, Naoussa, Greece (466474, $17.95, WineAlign)

The Young Vines is an orange to the Earth and Sky’s apple, of a change of fruit and a pace that is hot off the press. Yet it is not without some ancient wisdom. In some new world sites vines up to 15 years of age would be considered old growth adults. In a Greek vineyard like that of a Naoussan like Thymiopoulos, they are babies of the sun. The Xinomavro here is fresh, momentarily acts strikingly brazen, bracing and ultimately, blatantly beatific. With a glass of the young vines in hand to it I say, “it’s not the pale moon that excites me, that thrills and delights me. Oh no, it’s just the nearness of you.” Like Norah Jones in a glass, sultry, contemporary, lightly smoky, of a jazz aesthetic and a pop sensibility. And wild berries. So fresh, so good. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted May 2015

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Dews and redos with Pearl Morissette

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dews and redos with @lassvet from @PearlMorissette

This much is clear to me and at least two friends of mine. Just because you think you’ve been there, done that and have tasted everything there is to taste you may need to pause and recalibrate the idea of assessment. Though your convictions are strong and your beliefs unwavering, you may not know all there is to know. If you feel one taste is enough to etch a life in stone then maybe its time to open up and allow a wine to blow your mind.

Related – The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom

I sat down at Barque Smokehouse last month with Pearl Morissette’s Svetlana Atcheva, John Szabo M.S. and Gerardo Diaz to taste some things new and to re-visit some of Francois Morissette’s most iconic if controversial wines. We travelled from the Blackball Society through evo-revo-chardonnay-volution to atypical, outside the box skin ferments. Such a journey is not suggested for the faint of heart or the stubborn of mind. And as much as tasting with the winemaker himself is the shit, with or without necessary shotgun enlightenment from man Friday Brent (anomyces) Rowland, who would not avail to taste these wines alone with Svet?

Related – Why it matters to taste wines again

In the house of Pearl Morissette there is no dogma and there are no demagogues. There is nature, DNA, terroir, “no premeditated outcome,” and the “obstinate pursuit of truth.” The deferential and antithetical ways of Pearl Morissette’s wines are well-known and documented. Even more reason to taste them again, and again. That they change is not what separates them from other wines, but how they change. Structure dictates that wine will both evolve and deteriorate with time in bottle. Francois Morissette’s wines don’t so much develop secondary and tertiary character this way but rather read like the lines on an EKG. The tenets of rhyme and reason do not apply. You can’t know them or think you have them figured out. Don’t even try, just go along for the ride. Seven wines were tasted with Svet that day. Here are the notes.

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (416073, $32.20, WineAlign)

The only vintage to pass VQA (the subsequent 2014 failed), 100 per cent fermentation in foudres, full malo and not a moment of residual sugar, nada, niente, zero. It’s not oxidative nor does it offer up an electric shock as it may once have done. This milks texture, short of creamy and without oil. Has gained fruit if that is possible or moreso the fruit has now risen to the surface. The texture the catalyst has facilitated the rising. I really get Alsace, but the extended aging on the lees, without batonnage has caused an Alsace timing, post dumb, now rich, phenolic and out of hibernation. There has been no reabsorption of diffcicult properties and so the lushness of the vintage’s organoleptic fruit is all that remains. Well, not all but certainly the strongest aspect. Wonderful evolution. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted October 2016.

Let’s get something immediately out of the way. The wines of François Morissette are not meant to please curmudgeons, skeptics, contrarians or members of the wine media. This Riesling has no desire to kiss ass. This will not appeal to late harvest lovers, from Kabinett to Auslese. Is it ripe? Not quite. Is it different? Absolutely. This compares to almost nothing. Like a Champagne ginger, lime and bronze filings cocktail, the Blackball ’13 is so very developed and despite the colour, is a hyperbole in primary existentialism. That it has essentially no residual sugar and an achieved 11.5 per cent alcohol is a complication only the clinical doyenne has the answers to. Riesling in between dreams, “never knowing shocking but we’re nothing.” The Blackball has struck, is not yet stricken and will offer remote pleasure for another six months. Then it will deconstruct, dissolve and devolve into darkness and funk. Five years later it may emerge like a phoenix, jack up like a Rangen Riesling, into the ethereal. Will it happen. I couldn’t possibly tell you. We may never know. But I can say that then, and only then, will it truly tell its story. Tasted March 2015

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Metis Chardonnay 2013, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.20, WineAlign)

A blend of 50 per cent chardonnay from the high density home vineyard and 50 per cent from the Lincoln Lakeshore Redfoot (Kocsis) Vineyard aged in demi-muids neutral oak. And yet I’m surprised, even stupefied by the guts and glory of wood on the nose, followed by the blanched nut, creamy palate. No new oak. None. From a Pearl Morissette category of wines not 100 per cent blue-blood pure and for wines that are purposed and destined to texture. This is more recognizeable as chardonnay than the Dix-Neuvième in that it is approached with less risk, hyperbole and umami. The aromas and flavours are supermarket fruit diagnostic, specific and open to put a finger on. I could actually sniff out grapefruit, apple and banana. I can sense a drop or two of honey. I can taste almonds and cashews. It all ends up in a recipe, albeit of the Francois Morissette variety. Think of this as the school of Pearl Morissette. Antithetical and impossible. Consumer-friendly. Really friendly. Welcome to the invitation of the diversification of Pearl Morissette. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted October 2016

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (303602, $38.20, WineAlign)

The unidentified one, stoic, umami-laden, dangerous, in and out of reachable zones. Right now it’s hiding, slumbering, developing another gear and level of complexity. That will be a wine in the future without the aid of new oak (there was only 10 per cent in this stellar vintage) but will come about as a result of idealistic organoleptics.  Last tasted October 2016

The greatest surprise is a skeptic’s dream, that is, no surprise. The vintage was a gift for chardonnay as we all know and so Francois Morissette does what a wise winemaker does. He lets the fruit from such conditioning speak on its own behalf. The less is more approach allows his fruit to do more than most, to condense into pure elixir of terroir, to inflate with airy, philosophical heir and to exhale a perfume so very, very Cuvée Dix-Neuvieme. Like marzipan but more umami and like stone fruit but crossed with the orchard. The palate and the texture speak of resolution after the revolution and the level of calm post chaos is quietly dramatic. Hypnotizing clarity is what it is. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted June 2016

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (303602, $38.20, WineAlign)

Has this ’12 come around, come back to the land of high living, where the Jura meets the edge of life, polarizing, unidentified, and here me out, deal with it. Great compressed citrus, hard to opine curd and gelling ministrations. A machine of churning creamery and tense orchard fruit. A bit of buzzing, pulsing movement now, into the next honey territory. Wild sauvage. Amazing. Score increased as a result.  Last tasted October 2016

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

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Blu 2014, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The Cuvée Blu is not about colour, it’s about working with the skins, from fully de-stemmed 50 per cent viognier and 50 riesling. A five week introduction for those partaking mate skins, pressed and racked straight away and aged in qvevri. Here as a Pearl Morissette engagement, highly phenolic, floral and terpenic. The aromatics are pretty and muddy, the texture fleshing as the star, acidity fully intact in surround of tang, compression and tactility. Very long linger of lemon curd, wax above the honey pot and a chew of the fermenting vessel itself, as if concrete wed adobe. An earthiness hard to define. Quite a bit of chalk, lime and thyme. Wild thyme and honey. Volatile acidity? No way. Simple wine expression in the amber-orange-natural compendium? Yes. No need for labels or sterotypes. Outside the box, round and sound, the fun found on the palate. 1100 bottles made. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted October 2016

Pearl Morissette Gamay Cuvée Mon Unique 2014, Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Still reductive from a whole cluster fermentation in concrete followed by neutral demi-muid barrels. Pulsing and vibrating, firm and vibrant, with unreal ripe cherries, a consistency recognized and lauded, the wine having developed a second cru gear. The climb to another phenolic level is a pretty result of less funky fermentation and reduction lingering without air, on the nose, not the palate. The next go to gamay outpost. Must see gamay TV. There will be no ’15 but will return in ’16.  Tasted October 2016

From my previous note:

In December of 2014 I counted the ’13 CMU Gamay as one of my mind-blowing wines of the year. Once again we are witness to the authentic, raw and natural impossibility of the wine, from 100 per cent whole clusters sent to cement fermenters. The hue is just impossible, the wine sulphur-free. That ’13 Gamay did not last. I tasted again this winter and it failed me. It may return. This ’14 will never leave. It is natural to the 14th degree and yet its rich, smokey chocolate centre and structure of pure physical stature will not let it slide, into a dumb phase or oblivion. This Gamay will strut. It already does. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Madeline Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

In a word, striking, not for subtlety but out of sheer natural complexion. A concerted effort is needed to define the antithetical, whole cluster fermentation juxtaposed with Twenty Mile Bench varietal ripeness. Such an intense cabernet franc with a palpable sense of the earth from out of a 60 per cent (up 20 points from 2012) natural fermentation (in concrete open top fermenters plus 10 per cent new wood aging). The ripeness of fruit in cohorts is simply all in. No holes, ommissions or emissions. Very big right now at 12.2 per cent alcohol, of impossibilities and ambiguities, understatements and over necessitous demands. Specific and reeling. Cooler than most peers, spiced and linear. Taut and bracing, grippy, fine-grained, with tributary branches and brambles. Amazing. Needs three years. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted October 2016

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Greeks and other fish in VINTAGES August 6th

#nofilter

#nofilter

What sort of wine are you looking for? What do you want to find in that bottle you pluck from the VINTAGES shelf in your local LCBO? Do you wish for aromas unknown or unknowable? A reliquary filled with immiscible liquid? Flavours to incite a curious rictus? Would you hope for incredulity cut with familiarity? Enigmatic morsels or koans? None of the above?

No, none of the above. What you want in the here and now is to be satiated by simple pleasures. Whilst we find ourselves suspended in the throes of a scorching Ontario summer there can never be such a thing as too many thirst quenching wines, especially whites, like the Moschofilero I recommend below. Greece is the word and in terms of go to Greek whites Moschofilero may play second violi to Assyrtiko but Mantinia is a special place for the aromatic Peloponnese variety. Assyrtiko by the sea? Sure. Moschofilero by the lake or the pool? Bring it on. And 11 more great buys from today’s VINTAGES August 6th release.

Kir Yianni Akakies Rosé 2015, Ac Amyndeon, Macedonia, Greece (71050, $12.95, WineAlign)

Savouy rusty and varietally distinguished xinomavro with equal parts aridity and salinity to welcome the sapidity. Slightly bled for posterity and predisposed to Greekdom but from Amyndeon and with xino this finds relish and relishes brightness then finishes from the same straight from which it came. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted July 2016  @kiryianni  @KolonakiGroup  @DrinkGreekWine

Deus

Cavino Deus Mavrodaphne Of Patras, Ao Greece (452060, $13.95, WineAlign)

This is a rare sighting in Ontario for the Patras curated sweet mavrodaphne, a wine of history and tradition that price does nothing to indicate. The style is Tawny Port like, of dried fruits (figs and apricots) with a spicy edge from old wood and a long finish. This is a true divergence from just about any sweet wine you will have ever tasted because the red variety brings a tannic firmness and singular personality to the diversion. It’s balanced and worth checking out. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted July 2016    @DrinkGreekWine

Tsantali Reserve 2011, Pdo Naoussa, Greece (209627, $16.95, WineAlign)

Tart and taut, with bright to bursting red fruit and tones off the proverbial Naoussa charts. Quite wildly composed, with berries from the woods, smoky underbrush and a forest floor undertone. Resin, leather and respect. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted July 2016  @TSANTALI_wines  @KolonakiGroup  @winesofnaoussa  @DrinkGreekWine

Troupis Mantinia Moschofilero 2015, Pdo Mantinia, Greece (463422, $16.95, WineAlign)

Mantinia is a special place for Moschofilero and this ripping example from Troupis should not be missed. The straightforward citrus in the Fiteri version is lifted to hyperbole in the Mantinia with more salinity, mineral and top notch acidity. At this price ($17) the value quotient is simply crazy good bordering on ridiculous. The stony texture and piquant nature is revitalizing. There is also more weight and alcohol but never at a deterrent or a compromise to freshness. Whole grilled Branzino or Porgies with lemon and olive oil would make for a perfect foil. This Moschofilero also has the stuffing to age and develop some honey. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted July 2016  @TroupisWinery  @VictoryWine  @DrinkGreekWine

Thorn Clarke Eden Trail Riesling 2015, Eden Valley, South Australia, Australia (457242, $16.95, WineAlign)

A beautiful label gives way to a ripe and gregarious riesling from the most excellent of locales in the Eden Valley. The green mango and lime sherbet is a dry treat, stand alone and facing the crowd. Represents arid riesling from Eden for all the right reasons and succeeds without compromise. Will find peace in a land of milk and honey after seven years or so. Tremendous entry-level value to feign and accompany the single-vineyard and special selection courtesan kind from the Eden. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted July 2016  @thorn_clarke  @LiffordON

La Griffe Bernard Chéreau Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2014, Sur Lie, Ap Loire, France (948182, $16.95, WineAlign)

A rich and multi-crustaceous/mollusc edgy melon de bourgogne, briny, fleshy and beginning to develop. A most excellent example for a big chill and a mess of creatures edging out of their shells. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted July 2016 @HHDImports_Wine  @LoireValleyWine

Kloof

Mullineux Wines Kloof Street Red 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (460964, $19.95, WineAlign)

A six varietal blend with essential, yeoman’s work put in by shiraz (86 per cent) with bits of grenache, mourvedre, tinto barocca and cinsault. The schist and the simple combine to tell the world in entry-level vernacular of the Swartland revolution that’s happening right now. The purity found here is in an unidentified, free, indirect South African style of modernistic, red blend narrative. Chris and Andrea Mullineux are here represented at ground level with pure, unadulterated red wine joy. Everyone must spend $20 over and over to enjoy what this will offer. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2016  @MullineuxWines  @MullineuxChris  @Nicholaspearce_@WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

La Cadierenne Cuvée Grande Tradition Bandol Rosé 2015, Ac Provence, France (119453, $20.95, WineAlign)

Boozy (listed at 14 per cent) and beautifully balanced Bandol for the alternatively authentic and alliterative mouthful win. A citric acid, guava and himalayan rock salt spice rub for your mouth that with the level of saliva inducement turns to a slow developed variegation of flavour. Terrific mouthfeel and elongation. Tonic for and to your health. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted July 2016    @winesofprovence  @oenophilia1

Turtle

Alpha Estate Turtles Vineyard Syrah 2011, Greece (115295, $21.95, WineAlign)

Turtles is a southern block of infertile soil facing northwest (Greek for most excellent exposure) facing Petron Lake at Alpha Estate. The area was an ancient nesting place for the local species of Chelonii on the Amyndeon plateau in northwestern Greek Macedonia. A whiff of this rich and thoroughly modern red seems to shake the foundations of syrah and brings Amyndeon into the front page discussion. Some syrah in parts of Australia smell just like this; smoky, meaty, peppery and just plain strong. Built of big bones is the order of syrah call and here the gait and the structure is followed. This is quite emblematic of what can be accessed and accomplished from a special cool site that faces adroitly in the face of heat. The power and the corporeal design are nothing short of impressive. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2016  @EstateAlpha  @FlorinaAmyndeon  @DrinkGreekWine

Buena Vista

Buena Vista Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma County, California (396440, $24.95, WineAlign)

With thanks to the vintage and a smartly scaled ripeness versus barrel relationship, the Buena Vista Sonoma County chardonnay works out on the cool climate treadmill of style. The wood is proportioned with restraint in such a way as to allow fruit and acidity to spot one another. It’s still a commercial wine but it’s pretty, balanced and long. In 2014 the Buena Vista winemaker has smartly handed off this chardonnay to an implied community in village chorus, but the tune is new and improved. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted July 2016  @BuenaVistaWines  @sonomavintners  @UNIVINS

Eger

J. & J. Eger Kékfrankos 2011, Eged Hegy Vineyard, Hungary (446591, $24.95, WineAlign)

Though I have tasted this on no fewer than six occasions over the past 18 months, this is the first time I am penning a note on its behalf. It persists as ripe and succulent kefrankos with more than enough juice to stand up, be heard and defend itself. Here a wine of firm handshake and slight microbial aromas, tart and dripping humidity. There is still plenty of life as seen in how it cools itself, balancing the metabolic processes with savour and sapidity. Very charming red from Hungary. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted July 2016  @brixandmortar  @johnszabo  

Fiano

Colli Di Lapio Fiano Di Avellino 2014, Docg Campania, Italy (455253, $30.95, WineAlign)

Pitch near-perfect seafood companion from Campania, briny, stony, rock crag-crunchy and oyster shell myopic. Searing of sea breeze intensity with a calm demeanour so that it lingers without returning with storm-lashing discomfort. Fiano that gets to the crux of its own austerity is a beautiful thing as witnessed in the pure open vitality of this Colli di Lapio. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted July 2016      @Reg_Campania

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Impromptu tasting at Ravine

In the cellar at Ravine Vineyard

In the cellar at Ravine Vineyard

The winemaking at Ravine Vineyard is not so much deferential as much as it is a stylistic best described as post modern proletariat. Marty Werner’s modern enrichment often acts like subtraction, as opposed to traditional winemaking which effects the obvious, just and because less is more. His work reflects what once was (in turn of the century Niagara Peninsula) and upon what function emerged out of form, but also what could have been, from successes squeezed out of warm (2005, 2007, 2010) and from mistakes in challenging (2006, 2008, 2009) vintages. The current releases of 2014 and 2015 are wines of augmentation in the form of intensification in the structure rather than for weight or texture. Werner’s plebeian, blue-collar post-modernism is setting a new standard in Niagara. If his work (along with assistant winemaker Ben Minaker) can be viewed as sycophantic than all the better for the copycats and the apostles to hang on and around.

After a wild and multi-faceted chardonnay (plus) weekend down on the farms of Niagara’s flats, shores and across its escarpment benches, it is always the pleasure of pleasures to convene at Ravine Vineyard for a few oysters, a plate of great grub and more chardonnay. It is a time to breath and say another goodbye to the greatest collective consciousness of wine folk on the planet. Then Peter Gamble approaches. “We’re having a little impromptu tasting down in the cellar.” Marty and Ben lead a small group through these wines. We are captivated and motivated by their new work and their mini-vertical presentation. Ian D’Agata, John Szabo M.S., Michael Vaughan, Tony Aspler, Stephen Campbell, Magdalena Kaiser and I. Here are my notes.

John Szabo M.S., Stephen Campbell (Lifford), Ian D'Agata and Peter Gamble

John Szabo M.S., Stephen Campbell (Lifford), Ian D’Agata and Peter Gamble

Ravine Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

In 2015 winemaker Marty Werner offers up 100 per cent barrel fermented sauvignon blanc aged in 10 per cent new (or just one barrel). The fruit comes from Concession Road 2 between lines 8 and 9, on heavy clay and only four year-old vines. The recovering vineyard is a microcosm for the overall Niagara recovery and the vintage allotted 250 cases when it normally produces upwards of 350. The 2015 ripeness stylistic is up front fruit from young vines. “A pick when you want to, not when you have to vintage” notes assistant winemaker Ben Minaker. Metallic peach and fennel pollen emit and you must appreciate a wine of such tartness on the back end, as opposed to sour patch up front. Stylish is the yeast (one third wild) understatement of the day. Says Werner, “we leave the fruit a bit dirtier coming out of the press,” so it gains some funky complexity, but no malo though. The acidity counteracts in the mid to high sevens. Lush antiquarianism is the end result. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted July 2016.

Some cheesy pungency notes the entry. Some edge of ripeness too. Tropical notes, full, fleshy, enervating and dangerously, precariously close to seed, oxidative even. But it teases and walks a blade’s edge. Lacks grassy middle ground (and again, that is a strength) but varietally speaking it may just be the most sauvignon blanc of any in the flight. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016

Marty and Ben establish a new verity for #PinotGris @RavineVineyard ... There will be followers. #i4c16 #niagaralakeshore

Marty and Ben establish a new verity for #PinotGris @RavineVineyard … There will be followers. #i4c16 #niagaralakeshore

Ravine Vineyard Pinot Gris 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

From a vintage of purportless rainfall, this is expressly (24 hour) skin-soaked pinot gris in candid desire of flavour more than and in second thought to hue. Subsequently sent to barrel for a wild ferment. Picked ripe (so 13.5 per cent alcohol), perhaps a result of, if not necessary from a vintage where mid-october pinot gris fruit was the exception and a last minute decision to bring in this fruit led to an earned foray for such a wine. Seven year-old fruit from (Marty’s parents farm on White Road) really floats a divergent varietal boat with six months of barrel time (25 per cent new). Frankly speaking, it carries such an air of benevolence so you would never know how alternative it really is. If there is a precursor or a reference point I stand at attention to be enlightened. Marty (winemaker Werner) and Ben (assistant winemaker Minaker) establish a new verity for pinot gris. There will be followers. This 2015 needed air, splashing and sloshing and it responded in kind. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted July 2016

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Rosé 2015, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Ravine’s Rosé spent the most minimal time on skins, from a posterior fruit position left out in the elements long and aided by leaf removal to break down the pyrazine. These were the second last grapes to pick (because the acidity is high in slightly overcropped fruit), on Slingerland Farm between lines five and six halfway up from Ravine to Highway 55. Though seemingly dry, the 6.0 g/L of RS is used “to bring it into balance for the consumer,” notes Marty Werner. This has some strawberry funk, as if it were macerated in a clay-calcaire bath, like balm as if steeped, cooled and poured over ice. It may be imagined as a saline, faintly honeyed berry granita with just the right amount of gelid texture alongside cool and savoury charcuterie. Simply put, what cabernet franc must be in warm niagara country. Drink 2016-2019. Ravine’s Rosé spent the most minimal time on skins, from a posterior fruit position left out in the elements long and aided by leaf removal to break down the pyrazine. These were the second last grapes to pick (because the acidity is high in slightly overcropped fruit), on Slingerland Farm between lines five and six halfway up from Ravine to Highway 55. Though seemingly dry, the 6.0 g/L of RS is used “to bring it into balance for the consumer,” notes Marty Werner. This has some strawberry funk, as if it were macerated in a clay-calcaire bath, like balm as if steeped, cooled and poured over ice. It may be imagined as a saline, faintly honeyed berry granita with just the right amount of gelid texture alongside cool and savoury charcuterie. Simply put, what cabernet franc must be in warm niagara country. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted July 2016

Mini #lonnasblock @RavineVineyard Cabernet Franc vertical. Loaded with the S-word...structure @marty_werner #i4c16

Mini #lonnasblock @RavineVineyard Cabernet Franc vertical. Loaded with the S-word…structure @marty_werner #i4c16

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Lonna’s Block 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

Lonna’a Block alights straight out from the retail shop to the west side of the driveway (and is named for Ravine owner Norma Jean Harber’s sister). The site was planted in 2004 and here, 10 years on, its warm St. Davids’ Bench fruit is simply welling, hermetically sealed and antithetically intense. The block has come to this, in production of cabernet franc with side-splitting, tongue tripping acidity to work lightning crack geometry into the wood-derived chocolate and the ferric-tannic tension. The fissures are filled but there is the right kind of cabernet franc fragmentation. The liquid metal mineral and deep blackberry ooze is smooth and polished. The fruit was “picked early,” or if you will, in Grouxian, Gambleized and risk, Werner reward exercised terms, mid-November. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted July 2016

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Lonna’s Block 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

From the same (2004 planted) rows and stylistic as 2014 here cabernet franc desired the requiem of an extra year in bottle to solicit understanding, with a 2013 dried fruit component here and now. The resolve already inherent is indicative from a challenging growing season, in a year from which Peter Gamble chided “I guess you guys (Marty and Ben) really earned your stripes.” Some of these grapes were left on the vine until December 15th. That is not a stretch. This will live into the next decade and though it will surely walk into the barn with the balsamic, the soy and the nibs, it will carry its acidity and its 180-day, growing season development. A cabernet franc of most excellent desiccation, with thanks to thick skins and then variety’s variegated character. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted July 2016

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Lonna’s Block 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

From the block dedicated to Ravine owner Norma Jean Harber’s sister, planted in 2004. Though hailing from a recent, post-2010 reach for the sugar stars vintage, there is freshness and vitality mixed with a Napa cabernet from elevation sensibility (think Laurel Glen and Korbin Kameron). This has presence. Real stage presence, gracing the battleground encompassing an intensification of the things that people normally associate with the varietal – fruit, acidity and extract. A cabernet franc granted and given early promise that has crossed a certain varietally correct threshold to travel weightlessly into its current accomplished state. It knows who it is and where it’s going. It will live long. Five to seven, perhaps even 10 more years easy. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted July 2016

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The dawning of the age of Austrian wine

At a loess for words. Exceptional multi-vintage #grunerveltliner tasting with thanks to @austrianwine

At a loess for words. Exceptional multi-vintage #grunerveltliner tasting with thanks to @austrianwine

On Tuesday, October 27th, 2015 Grüner Veltliner supervened in Toronto. It was long past due for the community of Sommeliers, Media and Austrian advocates to convene for the purpose of a vertical tasting followed by an Austrian wine bar of product currently available in Ontario. An ausbreitung of the highest Grüner order. I was fortunate to be a part of the Spoke Club fest and thought it high time I said something about it.

The Austrian Wine Fair comes to Toronto’s St. James Cathedral, Library & Snell Hall on April 14th, 2016. The Austrian Wine Marketing Board and 30 Austrian vintners will be showcasing 165 wines, to media, trade and in partnership with WineAlign, to an evening reception for consumers.

The Schedule

Tutored Tasting for Sommeliers and Media, 11 AM – 12:30 PM.

Trade Walk-Around Tasting for trade professionals only, 12:00 PM – 4:30 PM.

Austrian Wines – A Taste of Culture, consumer tasting 4:30 PM – 6:30 PM. Only $55 for WineAlign members (regular cost is $60). Reserve your tickets here.

WineAlign’s John Szabo, MS has this to say. Austria has a terrific culture of wine, producing and drinking. Beyond the world’s best Grüner Veltliner, you’ll also find astonishing Riesling, as well as more exotic white grapes with singular flavours. But it’s the Austrian reds – Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent & co. – that may shock you most, in tune with the zeitgeist of the modern drinker. I look forward to reconnecting with the folks who make them.”

For more information contact Birgitta Samarvarchian, toronto@advantageaustria.org, 416 967 3348. The closing date for registration is April 13, 2016.

Traditionally known for its white wines, few realize that one third of Austria’s vineyards are planted to red. At the Austrian tasting an educational seminar will feature flights of the three red aces, the indigenous grape varieties Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, plus a rare flight of Austrian Pinot Noir. Two years ago I concurred:

“The whites, mainly centered around the signature variety Grüner Veltliner, showed the mineral and salinity so necessary to the grape’s success. Reds made from Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch are Austria’s trump card, ready and willing to take on the world’s reds imbued of elegance and finesse.”

Related – A ramp to Austrian wine

Back to that October tasting. Outside of making the trip to Vienna and forging an itinerary that includes no less than a dozen high profile producers who generously agree to crack open some older vintages, what other setting could present Grüner Veltliner in such light? The age ability recognition factor knocked another one off the bucket list and opened new doors to perception. If for no other reason, and there are many, he Austrian tasting coming to Toronto should not be missed.

On the road w: @zoltanszabo & @tonyaspler we concur. Expert overture @austrianwine #grunerveltliner via @johnszabo

On the road w: @zoltanszabo & @tonyaspler we concur. Expert overture @austrianwine #grunerveltliner via @johnszabo

Flight #1

Stift Göttweig Grüner Veltliner Göttweiger Berg 2014, Kremstal, Austria

Freshness, with a minimal amount of Co2, herbal certainly, with pears and stones. The fruit finale is up, up and away. Very flavourful, almost tropical Grüner.

Fritsch Grüner Veltliner Ried Steinberg Ruppersthal 2014, Wagram, Austria

Has a candied meets medicinal nose and more than its share of mineral to taste. Lingers with a sweetness that is not sugar. It’s a tang derived from grape tannin.

Weixelbaum Grüner Veltliner Reserve Ried Wechselberg 2013, Kamptal, Austria

Very ripe, so tropical to nose and smells like candy floss, like enticing spun sugar. Mouthfeel is more like unoaked Chardonnay. Global entry strategy for Grüner to take the market by fresh storm turns exit strategy without reason.

Edlmoser Grüner Veltliner Ried Himmel 2013, Wien, Austria

The mineral expression of the young Grüner. Elemental and metallic. Good range of motion, right side of the mineral tracks. Really fine tracking and length.

Liegenfeld Grüner Veltliner Ried Himmelriech 2013, Burgenland, Austria

Full-ish and bullish, especially in flight comparison. Quite the fruit monster here, with a sugarless sour candy sensation and savoury linger. An eastern European cough candy with enough subtlety to keep it from crossing any uncomfortable lines. The outlier.

Flight #2

Holzappel Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Achleiten 2012, Wachau, Austria

A tiny bit of botrytis giving off a mushroom and truffle note, perfect at this stage for a ’12 though it will likely increase going forward, possibly at the compromise of the stellar fruit and even deeper mineral passion play. This is an intense wine with acidity that may be waning but the wine cuts a deep and serious bowie wound. The lees really rules and reigns in the rest. Turns to cider after 10-15 minutes. Changes. “Oh, yeah, Mmm. Still don’t know what I was waitin’ for. And my time was runnin’ wild.”

Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Kellerberg 2012, Wachau, Austria

Quite stoic, clear, clean, steely, like unoaked Chablis. Wondering where the lees are in this, how much and for how long because it has that distinct mineral tang that lees will give to a wine made like this. Exemplary but simple. Though the acidity is low so it finishes fat. Still, proper and simple.

FJ Gritsch Mauritiushof Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Singerriedel 2012, Wachau, Austria

This has the candied nose, the tropical fruit and the lactic feel. Quite a mouthful of same flavours in repeat on top of the aromatics and an overall layered tang. Like those white blends again.

Leth Grüner Veltliner Ried Scheiben “1ÖTW” 2012, Wagram, Austria

Powerful loess in concentration, smells like scraped wet soft tuff-like rocks, almost powdery and not a fruit-driven Grüner. Better acidity than some and finishing bitters. The first to do so.

Allram Grüner Veltliner Reserve Ried Gaisberg “1ÖTW” 2011, Kamptal DAC, Austria

Age is creeping in, with a petrol and tannic note that take this into steep slope, white stoicism. The slate is really in, the acacia barrel giving a near-nutty note and certainly white flower distillate. Like eau de vivre. Got a spark.

Salomon Undhof Grüner Veltliner Reserve “Von Stein” 2010, Kampstal DAC, Austria

Gas and stone again, with more verve and life. The first to give soil funk without sweetness or botrytis. A slight Co2 note, a spark, very mineral character. Old vines give concentration, rocks do tannin and acidity lingers nicely. Got stein. Old Riesling reduction and energy equals implosive energy. Flight #2 really speaks to the loess and here is it definitely on high.

Flight #3

Rudi Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Wösendorfer Hochrain 2008, Wachau, Austria

A fine slow decline in grace, elegance, bald, striking. Here the reason not to fear and for any and all decisions to protract age from Grüner. There has been no discernible deterioration and without a doubt the cleanest fruit in its original state. No flaws. So in that sense an ageless wonder. Strikes as so much younger; colour, aroma, flavour, tannin and linger. Ageless.

Brundlemayer Grüner Veltliner Reserve Ried Lamm 2007, Kamptal DAC, Austria

Certainly showing age here, through all its components and has a sugary gaseous feel. Says Trocken so I wonder what the RS really is. Mineral and acidity are in great interplay. Good length. Really smart and necessary look into aged Grüner. Reductive torque from a top vineyard. The French paradox in analogy is Sémillon.

Hiedler Grüner Veltliner “Familienreserve” 2006, Kamptal, Austria

There was some dirty fruit here, past its prime, late harvest certainly, smelling of tropical fruit past ferment and into decay. But, there is acidity so there is life. Lots of bitters. Some volatility. In a way, The Frick of Austria. Heavy lees, acacia barrels. No fining, no filtration, some biodynamic principals applied to grape growing.

Malat Grüner Veltliner “Das Beste vom Veltliner” 1999, Kremstal, Austria

I find this so much fun at 16 years of age with burnt orange, caramel, white pepper, spices, and an elemental, aerified glory that is some kind of serious inhalant and intoxicant. Late harvest again, clementine segments of flavour, with citrus acidity and great mental acuity. Great bitters. This is on par with some aged Alsace, somewhere between Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Weighs in and integrates its 19 g/L of RS with distinction.

Flight #4

Herbert Zillinger Grüner Veltliner Reserve “Radikal” 2013, Weinviertel DAC, Austria

Oxidative, spontaneous ferment, leading to tang upon tang. The methodology has led to tannin in layers, some orange segment and bitters. Acidity is not striking and its aridity means drink this early.

Geyerhof Grüner Veltliner “wildlux” 2013, Kremstal DAC, Austria

I get terpenes, like cool-climate Chardonnay, well, more cool than Chardonnay and then it gains in salinity, sea salts, brine, groove but not necessarily mineral. Has real verve, life and yet again, not for age. Known for their natural winemaking.

Zillinger Johannes Grüner Veltliner “Numen” 2013, Osterreich, Austria

Amphorae wine, old vines, certainly oxidative, thick texture from lees, but there is acidity. Orange again and edgy, with a piercing limestone tang that runs directly through. Numen “natural spirit inhabiting a place or just natural genius (of spirit).” No external intervention.

Sepp Moser Grüner Veltliner Ries Schnabel “Minimal” 2013, Weinland, Austria

Here is the Alsatian Grüner, natural and with the addition of slow micro-oxidation of old barrels. Eighteen months seems almost on the lee side of time, as we find so much preserved lemon and a lack of Grüner impression. Certified biodynamic. “Will not meet the expectations of wine consumers today.” Dill pickle meets a tomato of volatility.

Wimmer-Czerny Grüner Veltliner “Pur” 2012, Wagram, Austria

Hard to believe this is only 2 g/L of RS. Real Muscat character in aromatics and again terpenes but with a naturally oxidative bent.

One in the April 2nd, VINTAGES release

Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2014, Dac Kamptal, Austria (142240, $21.95, WineAlign)

Flat out delicious Grüner Veltliner with a nice split between fruit and mineral, mas o menos, neither really leading the other. Citrus and a bit of an airy, gravel feel. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016  @LeSommelierWine  @FredLoimer

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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The natural wines of Emidio Pepe

Chiara and wines

Chiara De Lulis Pepe and the wines of Emidio Pepe at Barque Smokehouse, March 10, 2015

Emidio Pepe‘s granddaughter Chiara De Lulis Pepe says that in 5o years of winemaking nothing has changed. Nothing, save for a conglomerate-like expansion from 1.5 to 15 hectares of farming vines in Abruzzo. No seriously, do the math. Emidio Pepe remains and likely always will be a tiny, boutique, garagiste, artisan producer.

To say Emidio Pepe is unique and singular for Abruzzo and outwards into the natural winemaking diaspora is as gross an understatement as can be made. Consider the approach. Natural, healthy viticulture. No chemicals ever. Ever. Organic, biodynamic, only indigenous yeasts (more on that later), no fining or filtration. Red berries de-stemmed by hand. White grapes trod by foot. Fermentation in concrete. Bottling in early March and laid to rest. Then the bottles are decanted by hand, re-corked and released. The entire premise begins and ends with amazingly clean and pure fruit.

Pundits and critics will sit across a table and discuss. Point. “This is the essence of natural wine. No manipulation and zero handling.” Counterpoint. “There is no such thing. All wine is handled. All winemakers influence the outcome of their wines.” Point. “It’s all about the yeasts. They and their grapes are the heart and soul of natural wine.” Counterpoint. “To sell the wines, those yeasts and their grapes, once inside the bottle, must travel on planes, trains and automobiles. What is natural about that?”

The fact is Emidio Pepe‘s wines do not have to travel. They do not produce enough for that necessity but by heading out on tour they spread the gospel and bring a natural crush to the people. They are spokes-wines of history, health and possibility. They defy the naysayer’s argument because they are the godparents of natural wine.

If there is one single winemaker who defines natural, who lives, breathes and embodies the much maligned phrase “minimal intervention winemaking,” Emidio Pepe is the one. Not because of the techniques, practices and religious adherence to undomesticated viticulture, unadulterated and soulful viniculture. The reason Emidio Pepe is the benchmark and the region d’essere for natural wines to matter is because the wines are impossibly fantastic.

Chiara De Lulis Pepe and Emidio Pepe

Chiara De Lulis Pepe and Emidio Pepe © https://www.facebook.com/emidiopepewines?fref=ts

The vineyards are located 10 km from the Adriatic and 45 minutes from the Gran Sasso D’Italia mountains. The unique saddle and its clay-limestone soil encourage roots to burrow five to six metres downward, to a subterranean comfort zone, where the temperature is always constant.  Hand de-stemming is a tradition “but we believe it makes a superior product,” says Chiara. Concrete fermentation is done “to keep the integrity of the wine.”

For Emidio Pepe it begins and ends with the yeasts. Complexity and richness comes from “the family of yeasts that started the fermentation.” Chiara truly believes that yeasts will determine the flavours of the wine. “Selective yeasts make for simple wines,” she insists. “If you use them in different countries, 50-60 percent of the taste of those wines will be the same.” With indigenous yeasts, “the years will put a stamp on the personality of the wine.”

I sat down with Mark Cuff and Zinta Steprans of The Living Vine, John Szabo M.S., Will Predhomme and Peter Boyd to taste with Chiara De Lulis Pepe at Barque Smokehouse in March. Chiara brought some special wines to the table. Here are the notes.

The line-up from Emidio Pepe

The line-up from Emidio Pepe

Emidio Pepe Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2007, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $154.95, WineAlign)

Skip straight past the naming and intimating of aromas and flavours. Here it is not the point. Trebbiano that is a product of having finished fermentation in bottle, with natural CO2, now virtually dissipated but persisting in echoes, to act as a natural preservative. The moniker natural does this little justice. The sweet sapidity and etching of acidity are so very grown-up, classically-styled, mature, precise. Trebbiano in which texture, above all else, stands out and firm. There is a dichotomous relationship, between viscosity and delicatezza. Natural respect, of a grace on a face, in twinkling wrinkles and gossamer flowers tucked impossibly into an aigrette of golden hair. In every facet to acting natural with a stupidly frank elegance to defy age, showing no signs of movement after eight years. The Robin Wright of white wine, expressive of tenderness but certainly not shy. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted March 2015

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2003, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $94.95, WineAlign)

At the teenage (in wine years) number 12 this is showing less evolution than expected, especially in consideration of the European year that was 2003. Another divaricating Abruzzo, with a dried fruit component that pullulates in a very hydrated way. From a scorching season where anxiety was felt by both the vines and their keepers. Possessive of a bricking that gives of the cracked earth, of dusty, ambivalent rocks and warm, pulpy air. Through the humid tones and with thanks to pergola trellising, balance prevails with close encounters in acidity of the rampant kind. Tannins rage as well, strong and bullish above the earthy notes and peppery berry bites. The old vines and sleight of winemaking hand are ensconced to this vision, void of faults and yet advancing from the frame. Needs just a few more years to find the median point on the chonometer. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted March 2015

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2001, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $169.95, WineAlign)

If the ’03 acts a bit like a hormonal, impulsive, testy, cavilling or petulant teenager, this 2001 is the adolescent. Full of boundless energy, willingly and excitably adventurous and ready to participate in the game. This from a terrific vintage with great aging potential, here Montepulciano manifests with gravity defying weight, like careful Nebbiolo or graceful Burgundy. Where this separates itself from other Grand Cru varietal infinity is in its yeast directive. Singular, remarkable, devoid in spice as if by wood. The structure is innate, indigenously calculated, developing in bottle, verbalizing flavour. Like a bone from the skin of the clay, piaculum by limestone, passed through and brought to light by the leavening catalyst. Drink 2020-2036.  Tasted March 2015

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 1983, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $279.95, WineAlign)

Give Emidio Pepe’s reds thirty odd years to develop and the impossible happens. To postulate in a moment’s assessment without remembering the pious tradition with which this was made would be a crime against Pepe, Abruzzo, the natural world and the wonders of the universe. With this much passage the spice cupboard that emits is wow times a thousand. Clove, cinnamon, cardamon, orange peel, galangal and like golden raisins that pass through quarries to become rubies. This wine is perfect. It has not broken down an iota. It requires no decanting. It defies logic, perception and time. There is no sediment, only energy. Speaks from the glass as if it were a child of destiny and mythology. The 1983 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva arrives from along the same road taken but its transmogrification proves that the result, with thanks again to the endemic froth, is different every time. Drink 2015-2029.  Tasted March 2015

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