Tasting the village heart and regional soul of Burgundy

One Moment, One Bourgogne Wine... www.bourgogne-wines.com

One Moment, One Bourgogne Wine…www.bourgogne-wines.com

I would never turn down an invitation to taste des Grands Crus de Bourgogne. I would not hesitate to partake in a free for all of Premiers Crus. If the call came to experience the village heart and the regional soul of Burgundy’s Appellation wines, I would run, not walk to the show.

One Moment, One Bourgogne Wine... www.bourgogne-wines.com

Bourgognes

So, that’s what I did. At the gracious invitation of The Siren Group and Sopexa Canada Ltée I attended the One Bourgogne Wine event at Hôtel Le Germain, along with François Labet, Burgundy viticulture pioneer and chairman of the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) and Communication Commission. Mr. Labet expounded on terroir; from climats to lieux-dits. Burgundy is a geographical and geological landscape of Jurassic age and proportion. Its heritage is ancestral and has been shaped by twenty centuries of activity. The appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) acts as its guarantor of quality, of terroir, production methods and what typifies the most famous Chardonnay and Pinot Noir anywhere on the planet.

John Szabo presents 15 wines from Burgundy at Hôtel Le Germain's Victor Restaurant on April 8, 2014

Master Sommelier John Szabo of WineAlign presents 15 wines from Burgundy at Toronto’s Hôtel Le Germain Victor Restaurant on April 8, 2014

The Bourgogne event was presented and moderated by Master Sommelier and WineAlign principal critic John Szabo. At the heart of the presentation was the regional diversity that defines real and affordable Burgundy. Mr. Szabo’s chosen wines delved deeper into the soul of the village and regional appellations beyond the Côte de Nuits and the most iconic parts of the Côte de Beaune. Textbook examples from Chablis to the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais were chosen to offer a true representation of the immensity that is the region.

Bourgogne Menu, Victor Restaurant

Bourgogne Menu, Victor Restaurant

The lunch that followed by way of Hôtel Le Germain’s Victor Restaurant was a reconnect for me and the cuisine of Chef David Chrystian. I first encountered chef’s raw and rooted flavours when he assuaged the Garlands at Café Societa on College Street. I remember with fond confusion his earthly layering foiled by the sterile mall, futuristic canvas of the Colonnade (Patriot). After Chef Anthony Rose left the Drake it was dead to me so mistakenly missed Chrystian’s lauded stint. Thanks to the Siren Group for luring me to Victor to reconnect with Chef David Chrystian once again.

Chef David Chrystian's  Sushi Pizza

Chef David Chrystian’s Sushi Pizza

Here are notes on the 15 wines poured and discussed at One moment, one Bourgogne wine.

Domaine Gautheron Chablis 2012, Burgundy, France (207902, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES February 15, 2014 release

Canonical Chablis by the hands of independents. Family farmed and fruit fastidiously judged in timely picking and traditional vinification methods. Produced in allegiance to regional typicity, its nose is pierced by limestone’s necessary metallic tang. Apple tart yet ripe and balanced by plumbic weight. Proper, enjoy it all summer long, Chablis.  @ProfileWineGrp

La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2010, Ac, Burgundy, France (265090, $28.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES November 23, 2013 release

La Chablisienne alone represents nearly 25 per cent of the region’s plantings. The orchard’s juicy fruit brings expression to this Chablis though it’s more savoury than many and it’s document is read in an angular accent. That and patina transposing into aroma, like the smell of a wet, platinum pipe breaching the fruit’s ability to flesh out. Lubricant at the pipe’s elbow and a moment of quince, even melon, offer weight. This is very good but lacks heft and only shows fossilized mineral on the back palate. Good length but a bit carbonic and needs more flesh and bone to elevate its stratus.  Tasted twice, October 2013 and April 2014   @purechablis

Louis Jadot Chardonnay Bourgogne 2013, Ac, Burgundy, France (933077, $20.95, WineAlign)

Jadot’s Bourgogne Blanc is so essential it calls itself Chardonnay. From a vintage in which weather wreaked some havoc and fruit maturity was anything but consistent, the Jadot enterprise found a continued way to get it right, no small feat considering the quantity of triage required for a wine of such quantity. This entry-level white made full use of the warm summer heat, picking was clearly done in advance of the October chill and sorting found the right mix. It’s buttery, nut-browned and figuratively bubbly. The thick and rich texture is key to romancing the fruit into a riper realm than it likely really is. Commendable success from Jadot.   @ljadot

Joseph Drouhin Mâcon Villages 2012, Burgundy, France (356956, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES February 15, 2014 release

Simple, pleasant, solid and effective Chardonnay. A true and literal portrayal of the Bourgogne goût de terroir. Warm, gently expressed fruit along with requisite mineral, chalk and lime. Made of a quick resolve to satisfy, quench and move on. An open door to true Chardonnay with nothing shocking, striking or problematic.  @JDrouhin

Domaine Jaeger Defaix Rully 1er Cru, Mont-Palais 2011, Burgundy, France (Agent, $41.99, WineAlign)

From the holdings of Chablis specialist Bernard Defaix, the domain’s variegated clay/chalk vineyards are located in the south of Côte de Beaune. The Mont-Palais vineyard comes from the Niepce family, winegrowers since the 16th century. Now managed by Hélène Jaeger-Defaix, this Rully is utterly unique to Chardonnay. There is a steely, patina Chablis quality to it, but also a concentration in magnetic aroma, whirling in an unstoppable centrifuge, not yet ready to spill those aromas forth. Screams both southern and cool climate, new world Chardonnay, in forward ways like South Africa and like Niagara on the Lake. Not to mention a silty, white salinity. Roger Wilco that. “There’s a light, what light. There’s a light, white light.”  @liffordnicole

Château Vitallis Vieilles Vignes Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Burgundy, France (360495, $27.95, WineAlign)

From 45-70 year old vines, from clay and limestone (Marls). Really, really smart, succulent and mathematical Chardonnay. A stony example who’s tangent space is complexified by a vector of gritty, spiked leaden aromas, like lime, ginger and lemon zest but also by a second vector of herbiage, as in torn, sweet basil leaf. Length stretched by a scalar multiplication, engaging another consideration. Would such a fine example not benefit, at least in theory, from a Premier Cru classification? Surely the winemaker and the vintner would abide.

Château De Beauregard Vers Cras Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Burgundy, France (agent, $48.99, WineAlign)

The famous “Cras” climat on the windy and chalky plateau of Beauregard means “chalk” in the local dialect. Not surprisingly, the chalky mineral impart takes centre stage and the oak treatment fleshes the fruit out in the early stages of the wine’s life. This Pouilly Fuissé solicits attention, love and engagement. An example in clarity of débourbage, the strict sorting technique employed before pressing. Exuberant fruit acts as if it were of a higher caste, a higher Cru. This is a testament to treatment, to extreme minerality. This makes the expression. A very good vintage, ready to consider and expect it to keep on seducing to at least 2020.

Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Chassagne Montrachet 2011, Burgundy, France  (364141, $55.95, WineAlign)

The quality of Girardin’s Chassagne Montrachet is clear, the age and maturity of the vines explicitly noted. There is an increased sense of depth and density that clearly required attention and coaxing. The 14-month, scaled down (15 percent) new oak barrel concept pushes substance to the forefront and wood to the rear. This is rich without being fat, textured but not splintered. The stirred lees add layers to the essentia, accruing a woven tapestry of phenols, lunar-driven gravity and anaerobic activity.  Tasted twice, January and April 2014  @HalpernWine

From left to right: Domaine Gautheron Chablis 2012, La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2010, Louis Jadot Chardonnay Bourgogne 2013, Joseph Drouhin Mâcon Villages 2012, Château Vitallis Vieilles Vignes Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Château De Beauregard Vers Cras Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Chassagne Montrachet 2011

From left to right: Domaine Gautheron Chablis 2012, La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2010, Louis Jadot Chardonnay Bourgogne 2013, Joseph Drouhin Mâcon Villages 2012, Château Vitallis Vieilles Vignes Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Château De Beauregard Vers Cras Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Chassagne Montrachet 2011

André Delorme Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2010, Burgundy, France (366427, $20.95, WineAlign)

The thought here is catholic Burgundy, entry-level, old-school, from antiquity and for the people. Smells like and tastes like grand-père’s Bourgogne Rouge. Cherry fruity, dare I say, Gamay like and marked by tannin that doubles the astringency on the drying finish. Nothing scandalous and well-plundered.

Domaine Thénard Givry 1er Cru Cellier aux Moines 2008, Burgundy, France (Agent, $32.50, WineAlign)

The Thénard family has owned land in Givry since 1760 and this Cellier aux Moines vineyard dates to 1258, named by the Cistercian Monks of the Abbey of Ferte. This is iconic 1er Cru for Givry, from relatively old vines (35-40 years) on a single plot, in mid-slope of southern exposure. Straight out notes of sinew, stem and savour. Esses all around. A vegetal and rustic infirmity comes across and travels through the wine as you work with it. Smells oddly like…hemp. Or perhaps it’s a more delectable weed than that, like rapini, or dandelion. The charred back-end scent reminds of a just extinguished joint. The flavours are dubious, maritime and of the antediluvian earth. For the brave Burgundy heart. Perhaps five to 10 years will soften its edges, peel away the foreign matter and allow a hidden fruit purity to shine.

Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune Du Chateau Rouge 2009, Burgundy, France (325142, $36.90, WineAlign)

If today is the day to splurge on red Burgundy but crossing to the dark side of the VINTAGES section is not going to happen, take comfort in this LCBO general (Signature) listing. Dictionary entry actually, but also something funky this way Beaunes. Produced from a whole whack (17 parcels) of Premier Cru, the animal is strong but decidedly feminine. Clear, precise, distinct perfume with each swirl and replayed with every sip. Like raspberries and the sweet smell of the trodden earth after the dew subsides. Could drink this for breakfast with organic bacon post morning stroll and before a dreamy nap.

Maison Roche De Bellene Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 2010, Burgundy, France  (Agent, $46.95, WineAlign)

So very primary, this Beaune, from the work of Nicholas Potel and winemaker Matt Chittick. Some of Les Grèves vines are nearly 110 years-old and there is clear wisdom beyond the edgy, masculine fruit. Those vines are selected for selection massale, a propagation technique that breeds perpetual health and consistency of style for present and future wines. A different sort of animal resides in this one, of musk, and mineral. Like the Beaune equivalent to traditional Brunello. Yet this Beaune from a very desirable vintage is nimble, moves with quick steps and cat-like reflexes.  @RochedeBellene

Albert Bichot Domaine Du Pavillon Clos Des Ursulines Pommard 2011, Burgundy, France (23820, was $49.95, now $40.75, WineAlign)

The funk in this Pommard is unflappable, modish, flirting and so elevated in stained high-acid and tone. Incredibly tight and sour upon sour. A strenuous Pinot Noir to ponder and even harder to ignore. If the tasting were to last for hours into the afternoon I could imagine a resurgence but often the old adage is true. If it isn’t there to begin with, it will never be. Would like to look ahead and say “it’s not what it was before,” but this is either lacking fruit or it’s just so far away. The texture is plush, the mouthfeel aching, breaking hearts. Mineral, astringent long finish. Tough as nails.  Tasted twice, November 2013 and April 2014

Aurélien Verdet Morey Saint Denis ‘En La Rue De Vergy’ 2010, Burgundy, France  (353416, was $44.95, now $36.25, WineAlign) From a storied vineyard just above the very famous Clos Du Tart in the Côte de Nuits. This producer may not be a household name for its holdings in this Burgundy plot but step aside Bruno Clair, Lignier-Michelot and Pascal Marchand. Verdet can handle the terroir of Morey-St.-Denis. Was and still is an unexpected gem. Rich, textured, layered cran-raspberry and earthy flavours. Persistent though sweet and engaging tannins. From my earlier, September 2013 note. “Noses my kind of MSD aromatics. Soft vanilla, black cherry, smoke and obdurate limestone toughness. Coated in fine, tinny tannin and stretchy length, this represents big value for the appellation.”  Last tasted April 2014

Daniel Rion & Fils Vieilles Vignes Nuits St Georges 2011, Burgundy, France  (356600, $53.95, WineAlign) Classic and as representative as it gets for the appellation, this is firm, time-honoured Burgundy. The old vines, the earth beneath its tendrils and the medieval forest are all in the glass. Though terse and tense, this Pinot Noir will come around to fill glasses with humanistic pours 10 to 15 years down the road. That extended wait will be needed to integrate the earthiness into the formidable tannins so that the lurking red fruit can rise to the top. A fine example with a model, lengthy finish.

From left to right: André Delorme Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2010, Domaine Thénard Givry 1er Cru Cellier aux Moines 2008, Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune Du Chateau Rouge 2009, Maison Roche De Bellene Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 2010, Maison Roche De Bellene Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 2010, Aurélien Verdet Morey Saint Denis ‘En La Rue De Vergy’ 2010, Daniel Rion & Fils Vieilles Vignes Nuits St Georges 2011

From left to right: André Delorme Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2010, Domaine Thénard Givry 1er Cru Cellier aux Moines 2008, Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune Du Chateau Rouge 2009, Maison Roche De Bellene Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 2010, Maison Roche De Bellene Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 2010, Aurélien Verdet Morey Saint Denis ‘En La Rue De Vergy’ 2010, Daniel Rion & Fils Vieilles Vignes Nuits St Georges 2011

 

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

A taste of New Zealand’s Villa Maria

Villa Maria Auckland grapevine

Villa Maria Auckland grapevine
Photo: villamaria.co.nz

as seen on canada.com

Villa Maria Production Winemaker Josh Hammond had to be on the verge of exhaustion when he sat down with John Szabo and I at the WineAlign office last week. Hammond was a Montreal stop away from a near coast-to-coast, Canadian jaunt to promote the wines of the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir pundit. I will assume that Hammond is usually more animated than he was that afternoon and will hedge my bets he is customarily content to let the wines speak for themselves. After 52 pioneering years, Villa Maria has earned the latitude.

Josh Hammond could pass for the second coming or be the separated at birth doppelgänger to The Who lead vocalist Roger Daltrey. I am very familiar with those kind of piercing blue eyes, having gazed into them repeatedly from my 9th row floors Maple Leaf Gardens seat at the December 16, 1982 iconic band’s “final” concert. Hammond has that Face Dances, You Better You Bet, maturing British glam look, marked by rock-star tussle, salt & pepper hair. Petite too and always behind blue eyes. OK, I hear you. Godello digresses.

Villa Maria Tasting with Josh Hammond

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Villa Maria Tasting with Josh Hammond

The 27 year-old wine facilitator’s globe-trotting efforts are in support of an amazing, sustainable journey, aka the vision of Villa Maria founder Sir George Fistonich. Villa Maria is a Kiwi leader in organic grape farming and carbon footprint reduction. Sir George and team are keen to peddle the concept in their literature, employing buzz phrases like, “there is no end point,” “leave something for the next generation” and “overriding business objective.”

Worm farms, vineyard rows wildflowers and snaffling flocks of sheep are all a part of the Villa Maria world. And yet, the discussion and tasting with John, Josh and I virtually ignored the notion of sustainability. No hidden agenda or bad intent was meant to label the Fistonich organic principles as Milquetoast, but this tasting concentrated solely on vintages, terroir diversity and the bottles at the table. Good wine is good wine, no matter the virtuous or commendable maker’s actions.

I got the feeling that Josh cares most about the finished product. Though he’s a child prodigy of the land he now juices to fashion Villa Maria’s large yet manageable output, the peculiarities of the process did not steal the tasting’s limelight. That worked to great effect. We talked about how the 2013 vintage shone on Sauvignon Blanc. We were introduced to the ways of Villa Maria’s unshakable, panoptic Pinot Noir. Here are notes on the six wines tasted.

From left: PRIVATE BIN SAUVIGNON BLANC MARLBOROUGH 2013, CELLAR SELECTION SAUVIGNON BLANC 2012, PRIVATE BIN PINOT NOIR 2011, CELLAR SELECTION PINOT NOIR 2009, and SOUTHERN CLAYS SINGLE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2010

From left: PRIVATE BIN SAUVIGNON BLANC MARLBOROUGH 2013, CELLAR SELECTION SAUVIGNON BLANC 2012, PRIVATE BIN PINOT NOIR 2011, CELLAR SELECTION PINOT NOIR 2009, and SOUTHERN CLAYS SINGLE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2010

PRIVATE BIN SAUVIGNON BLANC MARLBOROUGH 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand (426601, $16.95, WineAlign)

Ferly opening wine with winemaker Josh Hammond and surely not anticipated. Opulence upon first aromatic gather, pure and spirited from cold fermented, stainless steel treated 50/50 Wairau and Awatere Valley fruit. The latter adds typical herbaceous and inimical character. Plugged in stellar 2013 vintage, yet with grass uncut, low on mow, left to grow. Still, the herbiage is exaggerated so thanks is owed to the lemon, paraffin and lanolin. Juicy, fresh, crisp value SB.  88  Tasted January 2014

CELLAR SELECTION SAUVIGNON BLANC 2012, Marlborough, New Zealand (974527, $21.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 season was not Sauvignon Blanc philanthropic so extended time on lees pays off towards supplemental body and texture. What speaks loudest is the odiousness of capsicum and even more obvious green cubanelle pepper. More green runs amok, in peppercorn, green tea ice cream and lime sherbet. Unique and conspicuous expression. A cooler year so some residual sugar accords the balancing act. Not able to shake that omnipresent layering of all things pepper.  87  Tasted January 2014

PRIVATE BIN EAST COAST GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2012, New Zealand (357509, $14.95, WineAlign)

Grapes sourced from three growing areas; Auckland, Gisborne and Waipara. Warm, aesculapian tonic, with a coursing note like the spiked heat of a drop of venom in neutral alcohol. Ethereal, jazz/R&B Gew, tropical, unctuous but not chewy, angled by wood sealant spice. At this price, in comparison to other North Island renditions, with a good bitterness, it does the variety proud. Gewurztraminer a world away might say I “see your eyes in mine, leave the rest behind.” Though it may hit the ground running, it makes quick work of itself.  87  Tasted January 2014

PRIVATE BIN PINOT NOIR 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand (146548, $21.95, WineAlign)

That Villa Maria can make 80,000 cases of Pinot Noir this proper is nothing short of remarkable. Aged in French oak for 8-10 months. As Pinot like as could be hoped for considering the case amount. Every drop must go through Malolactic fermentation. Winemaker Josh Hammond and crew insist upon it, though it’s nothing but painstaking cellar/lab work. The Pinot character initially shines, with loads of plum and black cherry, but there is a momentary lapse. But, “if you’re standing in the middle, ain’t no way you’re gonna stop.” So, the definitive Marlborough ectodermal line painted through the in door speaks quickly and leaves by the out-door. From a smoking gun, rising like a Zeppelin. Large volume, big production, drinkable in the evening Pinot Noir.  88  Tasted January 2014

CELLAR SELECTION PINOT NOIR 2009, Marlborough, New Zealand (285361, $32.95, WineAlign)

A selection of Villa Maria’s best fruit is siphoned out of 12-month aged, 30 per cent new French oak barrels. Seemingly entering or hinting at an oxidizing, metallurgical time coming soon. The current holding pattern is a beautiful one, behind blue eyes, very floral and prompts thoughts of the same 2009 vintage in Ontario. From a who’s who of Awatere and Wairau Valley vineyards, sites chosen to qualify for the Reserve wines. From ultra-healthy, crop-thinned vines, the Cellar Selection gives a scent of candied flowers and a taste of rosewater molasses. Fine and warming. Keeps me warm, let’s me wear its coat. Could be confused for $50 Sonoma it’s just so pretty, sweet and fruit forward. The time in glass breathes life back upon itself. Flourishes and finishes with a touch of pipe smoke, signalling quality.  91  Tasted January 2014

SOUTHERN CLAYS SINGLE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand (Agent, $59.95, WineAlign)

From Villa Maria’s Rutherford Vineyard, a gentle north facing slope set upon heavier clays. An SV whose world is a flood…one with the mud.” A heavier style, a jar of clay, yet not overtly varnished by any particular coat. Small berry, dark fruit concentration, in some ways anti-Pinot or rather Pinot of a new religion. The spice is classic Marlborough, vanilla sneaks in and the texture is grainier and loamier than the Cellar Selection. Big, ripe and communicative of a confected sensibility. As far as New Zealand goes, this one floods piously of Adventist Pinot Noir. Leap of faith.  90  Tasted January 2014

Good to go!

Much ado about Napa

When Napa Valley comes to town, wine people (I know, peeps) show up and take a seat.
PHOTO: NAPA VALLEY VINTNERS ASSOCIATION

as seen on canada.com

I would be lying if I said that I’m not a fan of Napa Valley wine. If you read hidden meaning into that statement it’s not because I dislike that to a red, so many examples are gorgeously voluptuous and decadent, it’s just that I seem to feel less insecure when they’re not around.

As a wine taster, when faced with any more than two or three massive, young California red wines at a time, I begin to sweat. In tentative waves of anxiety I question my palate. Will I be able to note the nuance, the terroir, the dreaded question of “will this wine age, will it stand the test of time?”

Doug Shafer, arguably one of the three or four household names in modern Napa, summed up the entire quagmire in one fell swoop sentence.” Funny thing, if they age well out the chute, they age well.” Napa Valley winemakers, or at least Doug Shafer, are demanding of an attitude that wine must not be assessed based on ageability. That’s the kicker. When the discussion centers on bold California reds, I gotta disagree. Who is shelling out $100-300 on a bottle of wine to pop and pour?

When Napa Valley comes to town, wine people (I know, peeps) show up and take a seat. As Russ Weis (Napa Valley Vintners & Auction Napa Valley Board Vice President and General Manager, Silverado Vineyards) noted, “reputation is large, the area is small.” No doubt. The famous place responsible for a pittance (four per cent) of California’s wine output has risen meteorically to legendary status in just a few decades. I’m not sneezing.

What I am doing is pushing the point that reds from Napa and I’m really talking about Cabernet Sauvignon and associated blends, that these wines are beasts to taste and enjoy while they are young. Surely I am making unforgivable generalizations here but for brevity must serve the purpose of a personal hermeneutic. Longevity is the key to unlocking Napa Valley’s secrets.

The Napa Valley Vintners Association rolled through Toronto in October. WineAlign’s very own John Szabo, M.S. moderated a short but so very sweet tasting and libertine discussion on 10 then and now Napa reds. Mr. Szabo dug into the concept of ageability, “what is it and what causes it?’ he asked. “How does vine age affect it?” Looking squarely back at 1997 as being the watershed vintage, “a changeover year,” Szabo noted that ripeness became very important in terms of critical and by extension, commercial success.

Chris Howell, manager/winemaker of Cain Vineyards stressed “no analytic attribute will tell you whether your wine will age or not.” While Mr. Weis did not directly speak to the question of aging, his notations “we are cooler than the Mediterranean, we’re farming for high intensity and “the long form is in the glass” all point to the very question.

The ten wines poured at the seminar, while just a minute cross-section of what Napa Valley does well, proved my idiosyncratic and parochial point. Napa Valley’s big reds, especially those made in an era defined by hyper-ripeness, elevated brix and new oak influence, are most impressive in their immaturity. To belay any accusations of contradiction, the follow-up to that statement argues that the wines are far more interesting in their maturity. Time does not make them taste better but it does add provenance to their story.

Here are my ten notes on the wines poured at the ROM’s Peter Bronfman Hall Napa Valley trade tasting.

Clockwise from left: CAIN VINEYARDS RED BLEND 2008, LONG MEADOW RANCH WINERY CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2005, SOMERSTON CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2007, and SILVERADO VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON STAG’S LEAP DISTRICT ‘SOLO’ 2009

CAIN VINEYARDS RED BLEND 2004 ($125, release price)

Chosen from 25 lots, divided between Cabernet Sauvignon (47 per cent), Merlot (25), Cabernet Franc (21), Petit Verdot (4) and Malbec (3). A quiet child of “gentle, moderate ripening conditions” which saw grapes harvested over a span of 43 days. Has completed its graceful aging and with the fruit beginning to wane, the tannins remain in grain. A Brett-tinged vintage to be sure though punched down by Cassis, vanilla crème and a gravel relish.  89  @rogcowines

CAIN VINEYARDS RED BLEND 2008 ($124.95, consignment)

The second vintage, marking a return to 100% Cain Vineyard, Estate Bottled, which means 100 per cent of the grapes were grown in their Cain Vineyard, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. A composition consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon (61 per cent), Merlot (15), Cabernet Franc (13), Malbec (6) and Petit Verdot (5). A small crop from a dramatic, wailing and tumultuous (rain, sleet and heat) growing season. The nose is especially top ranking, smelling fresh as the day it was bottled. The thin soils and Pacific weather here translate to rigour, anxiety and conviction. Though “they don’t want us to unite…they don’t want to see us come together,” these fab five find brotherly and sisterly love.  91

LONG MEADOW RANCH WINERY CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2005 ($65.00, winery)

Fully organic vines, reasonable brix meets abv number (13.2) and a tiny yet helpful two per cent Cabernet Franc added in for good measure. Exceptional showing from an endearing vintage. Pure black raspberry and red aspalathos tea integrated with the positive attributes of a bound stem fire starter of bell pepper, splintered cedar and twiggy black currants. All together they blow a blanket of background fog across fruit in a gentle holding pattern.  91  @LMRwine

LONG MEADOW RANCH WINERY CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2009 ($65.00, winery)

From a warmer yet moderate growing season the ’09 LMR solicits 10 per cent Merlot along with two per cent Cabernet Franc. Noticeably riper, with more cherry depth, lush mouthfeel and a dry, chalky, yet comfortable lengthy finish. Acids are lower and tension surely does not run high but the wine achieves a pleasant balance, if less complexity and offering increased pleasure.  91

SHAFER VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON ‘HILLSIDE SELECT’ 2003 (NA)

Persists in full-blown hedonism. One would never accuse this of being treated with tartaric acid. Youthful, gorgeous and alone at 10 years-old. Cherry, berry, dusty grain swirl, a twister of iconic development and potential, realizing that potential in the here and now. Showing remarkably well with a transparency of ego, alcohol and a blender flurry of fruit and wood. While it holds court and its course now, flying time will likely be another three to four years.  92  @ShaferVineyards

SHAFER VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON ‘HILLSIDE SELECT’ 2009 (735712, $285.00)

A huge SVCSHS from 100 per cent Shafer’s Hillside Estate Vineyard in Stags Leap District including vineyard blocks such as Sunspot, John’s Folly, Upper Seven, Hitching Post and Venado Ilegal. An absolute killer B; bigger, brawnier, bolder, badass. “Engines pumping and thumping in time.” Mouth attacking, saliva stealing, inner cheek suffering Cabernet that spent 32 months in 100 per cent new 60-gallon French oak barrels. Mercy. The skin contact, in colour and tannin, is a nearly unforgivable act. White flag. Tempting to compare it to huge Cabernet-based IGT’s. Waves of unctuous raspberry and blackberry in perpetual maceration. Has so much cake (15.5 per cent abv), built for speed and distance. Never finishes. In fact, I think it’s still going. For two decades.  94

SILVERADO VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON STAG’S LEAP DISTRICT 1989 (NA)

From a vineyard originally planted in 1884, by Abel McFarland and fast forward – replanted between 1992 – 1996, by Ron and Diane Miller. This red may be heading for a graceful descent beneath a Pacific sunset and the vintage may have dumped diluting rain upon harvest but complexity will not be denied. Rare, seraphic fruit lingers on, enveloped in the resinous aromas of wood, leather and tobacco. There lifts too an elder/lingon-flower/berry beckoning and something mint-metal cool. Classroom Cabernet, to thank the procurer and to seek higher learning.  90  @SilveradoSolo

SILVERADO VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON STAG’S LEAP DISTRICT ‘SOLO’ 2009 (89482, $119.00)

Built on the academic intuition, augmentation and advancement of UC Davis oenology Silverado clones. Reneges and makes waste of the past in a hurried two-day harvest, October 7th and 8th, 2009. A product of reasonable brix (23.5 degrees) and alcohol (13.9 per cent). Uncommonly shy, a young introvert, lost in dark, layered abstraction, in blues, blacks and hues in between. Dried herb, withering blueberry, a ballad in ode to greatness that came before and a promise for a promising future. “There’s more to the picture than meets the eye,” though no guarantee.  90 

SOMERSTON CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2007 ($120.00)

From proprietor F. Allan Chapman and winemaker Craig Becker, this is the flagship wine, distilled from two individual parcels, Soda Valley and Elder Valley, located high in the hills above Napa Valley. High brix (26.5 degrees) and alcohol (14.9 per cent) mark this cured Cabernet, something to ponder, to drink on a night like this. High-toned, in the realm of fig and prune, a big show of chocolate froth, mocha, vanilla and more. Thick and luminous, “it goes dark, it goes darker still. It goes deep, it goes deeper still.”  88  @SomerstonWineCo

SOMERSTON CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010 ($120.00)

A scarcity of production (380 cases) and elevated further still, in brix (26.8) and alcohol (15.5). Sourced from the estates two best vineyard blocks; Queensberry block 30 and Oriental block 23, both hillside vineyards with an average elevation of 1250 asl. Shares an aromatic, cured profile with the ’07, though in its youth it waxes rich, lush and overtly tannic. Inflated drupe elongated by a magnitude of  Napa love. “I don’t care if Monday’s black…dressed up to the eyes, it’s a wonderful surprise.”  91

Good to go!

He spits, he scores: World Wine Awards of Canada results

Fresh off the presses, here are the results from World Wine Awards of Canada 2013, presented by WineAlign
Photo: kotoyamagami/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Drinking, by definition, includes consuming and that would obviously be counterproductive to the wine evaluation process. So, wine writers and critics spit for their living. Why would anyone buy a wine on the recommendation from someone who spit it into a bucket? Good question.

Consider another question. How many wine critics does it take to change a light bulb? If the answer were 10, that would be because it would take one to hold the bulb and nine to spin the room. Or the answer might be three. One to decant, taste and spit, and two to take him to the hospital before he bleeds to death. Is the joke and are these responses indicative of how the general public feels about wine criticism? If yes, then the wine consumer’s attitude towards the relevance of wine competitions and the doling out of awards may not exactly be positive and indiscriminate.

A bit of insight for you into the modus vivendi of those who judge wine. Chew over this. A wine is submitted to a concours, tasted several times by a minimum of three critics, all of whom are kept blind as to the clues regarding producer, appellation, region and country. These wine professionals are chosen by and with their peers to judge, sniff, sip, spit and repeat. They consider, contemplate and formulate on the spot tasting notes and then discuss the attributes with a panel before passing final judgement. Seems like a perfectly and indisputably sound and reasonable approach, don’t you think? But what about the spitting part?

Whatever you might think about the use of such an exercise to determine the merit of a bottle of wine, competitions, when run and operated with unbiased integrity, do in fact empower justice to the entrants. Poke fun at the wine critic if you must, felicity knows they can take it, but know their modus operandi is just the same as yours. To seek out the most worthy and best value wines available in their market. The wine critic is self-taught, to internalize the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of a wine without swallowing it. It takes focus and years of practice to figure it out.

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2013

PHOTO: WineAlign.com
WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2013

The WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada (WWAC) held in September featured a week-long evaluation process for nearly 1,000 wines (996 to be exact) from around the world. Assembled and organized by an army of volunteers, the Herculean task was orchestrated by one of North America’s most respected wine critics and WineAlign Partner Anthony Gismondi, aka The Spitter. The Vancouver Sun columnist was also responsible for the immeasurable and exacting task of overseeing the pouring and the critical timing of delivery to the judges. Not to mention piles upon piles of tasting notes and scores.

WineAlign WWAC13 Wine Room

WineAlign WWAC13 Wine Room

The WWAC is open to both imported and domestic wines for sale in Canada, provided the wine sells for less than $50 somewhere in the country.  This affords an unparalleled opportunity for all wines sold in Canada to show that they can compete in quality and value with wines from anywhere in the world.  Wines are tasted in three price categories based on the lowest selling price in Canada. Less than $15, from $15 to $25 and from $25 to $50. As a consequence WWAC is really three competitions in one with wines being tasted alongside their peers by price and with awards given by price category.

I was invited to join the other 17 judges for the preliminary rounds. If I were to measure my prosperity by the company I keep, I would indeed be a pecunious wine scribe. I was joined in Mississauga, Ontario by David Lawrason, John Szabo, MS, Steve Thurlow, Sara d’Amato, Bill Zacharkiw, Janet Dorozynski, Rémy Charest, Marc Chapleau, Rhys Pender, MW, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson, DJ Kearney, Treve Ring, Brad RoyaleJulian Hitner, Evan Saviolidis, Anne Martin and Zinta Steprans.

WineAlign WWAC13 judges John Szabo, Julian Hitner and Sara d'Amato

WineAlign WWAC13 judges John Szabo, Julian Hitner and Sara d’Amato

Judges sit three or four together at a table, taste solo through flights of like varieties, procure notes and assign individual scores. Each flight of (three to 12) wines is then discussed, argued, debated and an ultimate meeting of the vinous minds either pushes a wine through to the next round or relegates it to the discard heap. This method of awarding by committee ensures that good wines receive their due blessings and flawed specimens are put in their rightful place.Here’s the kicker. Aside from knowing the price range and specific variety or varieties in a blend, the judges taste all the wines blind. Continent, country, region, appellation and vineyard are not part of the equation. This ensures the most equitable results.

So, fresh off today’s presses, here are the results from WWAC13, presented by WineAlign. Special thanks go out to Head Wineaux, Bryan McCaw, along with Steve Thurlow, Carol Ann Jessiman and Sarah Goddard.

2013 World Wine Awards of Canada Results

Each judge was asked to write reviews on a specific cross-section of wines they were a part of assessing during the competition. Here are my notes on my 28 of them, across a wide range of categories.

From left: Gustave Lorentz Cuvee Amethyste Riesling 2011, Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013, Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2012, and De Vine Vineyards Vrm 2011

Riesling $0-15

Gustave Lorentz Cuvee Amethyste Riesling 2011, Alsace, France $14.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice WWAC 2013 Best of Variety Under $15

Peppery, perspiring, basal, nasal fruit. Propellant driven with a bite of crisp golden delicious apple and green goddess acidity. At under $15 this achieves Trocken success. Unshakable, abecedarian if not the most formidable Riesling.  88  @AmethystWineInc  @drinkAlsace

Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling 2012, Qualitätswein Mosel, Germany $13.95

Pressed and packed with tropical fruit, as if a roll-up, in liquid form. Thoughts head east and south but the textural, angular and vertical intensity peels back that inclination. The extended play and fruit replay is a study in delineated Riesling depth. There must be some history behind the bottle.  87  @drloosenwines  @Select_Wines

Jackson Triggs Reserve Riesling 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, $13.99

Drawn to the off-dry resonance which is both tropical and florid in citrus maxima. That pomello repeats to taste but it falls under a balmy and herbal spell, in a relaxed way. A valley’s elongated attitude, at the foot of a mountain and architecturally sound. Re-mastered, utilitarian Riesling.  85  @Jackson_Triggs

Chardonnay Oaked $15-25

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2012, California, USA $16.95

Deft, lissome touch of oak. Subtle, determined orchard fruit, namely pear, barely kissed by a rose and the barrel. Exiguous yet meaningful and pragmatic aromatics. Bright Chardonnay so “a light hits the gloom on the grey.” Seals the deal astir with tang on the snappy finish.  88

PHOTO: Michael Godel White wine flight at the WineAlign WWAC13

Sauvignon Blanc $15-25

Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile $9.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Great show savvy, really great show. Outright fast flint, white pepper, citrus and fresh herbs. Luscious texture, convincing up the middle and goes deeper than many. Grapey and succulent. Clean, concise winemaking.  90  @Caliterra  @imbibersreport

Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand $15.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Equatorial and profuse but not over the top. Quick, painless slice of jalapeno, a sweet heat capsicum moment. Sauvignon Blanc with a drop of Sriracha, spritz of lime and pinch of salt on ripe tree fruit, like papaya and mango. Add in golden pineapple and kumquat for good salad measure. Nearly great value, if only it were graced with a bit more finesse.  88  @yealands  @TrialtoON

The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand $15.99

Stoic initially, with acute notes of gooseberry, grass and blanched legume. Turns tropical and balmy with a sense of orange marmalade. Confounding in that it could be South Island or Sancerre, but being subjected to such toe tipping is this Sauvignon Blanc’s calling card.  88  @MariscoWine

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand $18.95

Commodious Sauvignon Blanc, candid, candied and calcified. Tropical from what must be an intense vintage, whiffing dewy teak gold plum and prickly pear. Full-bodied and blessed with a long aftertaste. A slice of southern hemisphere confiture on toast.  88  @kimcrawfordwine

White Blends $15-25

De Vine Vineyards Vrm 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $23.00

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice WWAC 2013 Best of Variety $15 – $25

A Rhône-ish boy with a tithe of Marsanne in support of equal 45′s of Roussane and Viognier. Mutters in rhyme, beating the drum slowly, in a subtle white flower, pretty print dress. Nothing muddy about the waters this graceful swimmer treads. Sidled by just enough rigor to replay in refrain, “I’m a natural born lovers” wine. Egalitarian revolutions per minute.  90  @deVineVineyards

Road 13 Honest John’s White 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada $25.95

A group of seven grapes, riding on a carousel. A who’s who of white varieties going “round and round and round and round with you. Up, down, up, down, up, down, too.” Elegant and in control, like the stationary horses, this endearing and human blend. Nectarine and longan make appearances in the by committee, ensemble performance.  88  @Road13Vineyards

Pfaffenheim Tete A Tete Pinot Gris Riesling 2012, Alsace, France $15.49

A 50/50 split of Riesling and Pinot Gris, please do not adjust your set, go head to head, mano a mano to duke it out, agree to disagree and ultimately settle to blend and accept the results. Together they procure Époisses and worn socks. On the bright side there is orange zest and fresh squeezed grapefruit. “So they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.” Tangy and pithy finish. Abbreviated and horizontal.  85  @AlsaceWines

From left: Jackson Triggs Merlot Gold Series 2008, Road 13 Syrah Malbec 2011, Creation Syrah Grenache 2011, and Cassiano Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008

Syrah $0-15

Fifth Leg Old Dog New Tricks Shiraz 2011, Western Australia, Australia, $15.95

Less calamitous fruit compression in relation to the rest of the flight. Blueberry pie and a concord of baking spices predominate, along with unsettling though bracketing elevated levels of tannin and acidity. Wild and whacking lack of overall integration but possessive of many positive moving parts.  87

Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $19.60

A convection of raspberry jam and forest floor verdant wildness. Notable in not being nearly as wood-driven in relation to peers in adjacent stemware. An inelasticity and diaphanous texture suggests Syrah. Simpatico Shiraz.  87  @MissionHillWine

Red Blends $0-15

Hardys Stamp Series Shiraz/Cabernet 2012, South Eastern Australia, Australia $10.05

Initial thoughts lean towards flattery, in finesse and generosity. Rhône-like rocks and stones trot out the red fruit, spiked by citrus (ripe orange, juiced and reduced). Structured in oxymoronic astringent elegance. Decent to medium length.  87

Sumac Ridge Cabernet Merlot Private Reserve 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $14.99

Stands apart from the under $15 Red Blend flight as an axiomatic, soft conifer in a forest of hardwoods. I was admittedly fooled into thinking Niagara when it really calls the Okanagan Valley home. Semi-hemi-ripe, red stone fruit soused in halogen, spiced by Ween’s seventh album and Korean red pepper. “Even If you don’t” like the alternative character you will be charmed by its friendly production and likable wine/musicianship.  87  @SumacRidgeWine

Louis Bernard Côtes Du Rhône Rouge 2012, Rhone, France $13.00

A copacetic Grenache and Syrah Côtes du Rhône blend that just seems to exist in an Iberian state of mind. It’s the modernity speaking, in deep mauve, lilaceous essence and a palate clotted with poached tomato. Stops adroitly short of cooked or stewed fruit character. Juicy fruit from presumably young vines. Quick yet resplendent.  87  @LouisBernard84  @AuthenticWine

Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2011, Mendoza, Argentina $13.95

Malbec and Venetian Corvina in Ripasso’s Argentinian hands. Raising, hair-triggering, eye-opening aromas in acerbic Daikon intensity. Black bean paste and cedar, earth and char. The flavours echo and further Ripasso’s absorptive ability. Tack on a  snippet of sour mix and an elevated, grizzly bear, altitudinous attitude. This one leaves me “frozen in my tracks.” Certainly not gun-shy85 

Merlot $15-25

Jackson Triggs Merlot Gold Series 2008, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $23.99 WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Like a wine lover’s dessert, this JT Merlot spoons gobs of sun-dried fruit, anise and dried raisin over a compressed and chalky cake of balmy green tea. Youth purloined by developed character, marked by the sauce, not unlike some manic red advance cassettes from Italy’s Mezzogiorno. Now long in the tooth, “how you wound me so tight,” with your unique style, so “don’t say that I’ve lost you.” Its heft will carry it through.  88  @JacksonTriggsBC

Michael Godel, Zinta Steprans and David Lawrason at the WineAlign WWAC13

Red Blends $15-25

Musella Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2009, Verona, Veneto, Italy, $15.95

Soaked and sappy, with braised tree fruit flavours, concentrated and passed over upon itself. Certainly trying very hard to entice and invite hedonistic pleasure. Like an upside down plum and fig cake, dripping in macerated syrup but with enough mineral tension to prorogue another day. Good rehydrated example.  88  @3050Imports

La Fiole Cotes Du Rhone 2010, Rhone, France $15.05

Simultaneously juicy and brooding. Tension from the get go. A depth of dried, fruit leathery plum, soaking in spiked Kefir grain. Bound tight but aching to race free. In Rhône ranger territory, or a Rhône acting on a Hollywood set. Tannic, oaky, manly yes, but I like it too. Admirable length.  88

California Square Paso Robles Red Bland 2012, California, USA $18.95

Downy soft, delicate, cheerful red blend. Pastel watercolour, flower-patterned print as perfume. Warm climate red licorice, plum permeate and cherry saturate, well-integrated acidity and some iron astriction. Would gain weight alongside rich foods.  86  @TrialtoBC

Vignoble Rancourt Meritage 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada $19.80

Chalk dust followed by quality, perceptive, frank and just red fruit. Understated, not overly expressive and walking softly down the road.  85

The Cloof Cellar Blend 2009, Wo Darling, South Africa $20.00

Leaps from the glass with earth expanding aromas. Strapping Pinotage java component shows accommodating restraint in advance of a Turkish viscidity. Red fruit is bright, adhesive and enervetic. Overall a bouncy, tannic and splintered affair.  85  @Cloofwines_ZA

Red Blends $25-50

Road 13 Syrah Malbec 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $25.00

A count five psychedelic strawberry and savoury rhubarb aromatic behemoth. Crazy cherries too. Then, a mind-altering, animal hide moment, not exactly gamey, but something other, enough to cause a psychotic reaction. “(Shouted) And it feels like this!”  90  @Road13Vineyards

Creation Syrah Grenache 2011, Walker Bay, South Africa $32.50

A requiem for an exaggerated swirl, or at least the respect of a decant. Quite a head-smacking whack of mineral-iron-metal, with the tempering lift of a citrus-scented candle. Kirsch, vanillin oak “and my time is a piece of wax fallin’ on a termite, who’s chokin’ on the splinters.” I am the loser, the wine is the winner. Very berry, big and beautiful.  90  @gradwellwines

Cassiano Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008, DocVeneto, Italy $35.25

Quite the animal, this plum juicy and high-octane alcohol, cloying acetone and chocolate-dipped red licorice Venetian red blend. Sounds ridiculously Ripasso and near-Amarone delicious and were it endowed with the balance and structure to walk with the giants I’d sing its praises. Even so, I really believe it’s a “soul who’s intentions are good” so please don’t let it be misunderstood.  87

Masi Costasera Amarone 2008, Veneto, Italy $39.95

A stew of red fruit, prune and fig. Cauterized, steroidal, excessive, welling sensory overload. Leaking car fluids. Certainly a problematic, off-bottle from a reliable, age worthy brand.  80

Pinot Noir $25-50

Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir 2012, Leyda Valley, Chile $45.00

Beaucoup de terre, or more likely, mucho suelo. An extreme example of Pinot Noir, a flamboyant king, ostentatious, peacockish and wired by a constriction of spices. There is perhaps too much earthly, saftig body. Though my first impression was admittedly old world, there is no way that theory will hold. A glass in and the thrill is gone, “And now that it’s over, all I can do is wish you well.”  87  @BadDogWine  @WinesofChile

Good to go!

Come together, over wine

Stratus Vineyard
Photo: Stratus Wines

as seen on canada.com

Intensity is in the air. The artists are at work, blessed with a geographical, geological and climatic canvas unique to the planet. They share arts and letters, compare and contrast methods, style and results. The sense of community is palpable, obvious and quite frankly awesome. They are Ontario winemakers and they are coming together. Right now.

Somewhereness

Somewhereness is not just a buzz word, it’s the operative word. The notion is attributed to Wine Spectator Magazine editor Matt Kramer and the application has been conceived, depending on your take, by osmosis, by derivative extension or through extrapolation, by the original six founding member wineries of Stratus, Charles Baker, Tawse Winery, Norman Hardie Winery, Flat Rock Cellars and the Malivorie Wine Company. The group has now grown to 12 Ontario winemakers, embracing Cave Spring Cellars, Hidden Bench Winery, Southbrook Vineyards, 13th Street Winery, Thomas Bachelder and Hinterland Wine Company. That this forward and fast thinking gang, collectively conspicuous like another famous gathering of Canadian artists, has embraced Somewhereness, mandated, habituated and held it dear in unequivocal belief, speaks of their collective consciousness. Terroir feeds their raison d’être,” imprinted with a vineyard’s sense of place, its soil, climate, seasons, vintage variations — and its maker’s methods.”

Mr. Kramer said “Somewhereness is more than just an event. It allows us to recognize the particular beauty of a place. Since Ontario’s wines have just such a particular beauty, the Somewhereness celebration makes sense in a single sip.” It was also Mr. Kramer who said that Somewhereness is something you can’t take, nor is it something that you can really define, or figure out its source. Somewhereness is not something undefined, like umami, nor is it akin to karma, or zeitgeist. It’s very real. In the soil, the vines, the fruit and in the wine. The sparkling, white and red wines of Ontario are obvious and recognizable. They should never be mistaken as having been made anywhere else.

Recognition

A concept like Cool Chardonnay takes it to the road to spread the prophecy and also plays host to events that attract dignitaries from around the world. More organizations like i4C are needed to spread the Ontario gospel. The next summit of #i4C2013 (third annual) will take place this coming July 19-21. Still, something is missing. Industry folk share an understanding, celebrate internally and not unlike any well-organized clique, pat one another on the back. But what about the local consumer? Do they realize they’re missing out on the illustrious muckle right under their noses? There’s the rub. It’s not just Americans and Europeans who are ignorant to the exceptional quality of Ontario wine. Abeyance be gone, these next few years have the potential to cement an industry’s power. Only a minority has even the slightest clue that liquid gold is mined out of the peninsula’s glacial clay and limestone. The time is ripe to tell the world the story of Somewhereness. The embryo is about to grow in a major way. Financial reward is within reach. So how to alert the world?

Education

When Canadian agencies send wine abroad, its best foot must be put forward. West coast wine writer Anthony Gismondi made this point to Canada’s quintessential wine ambassador, Janet Dorozynski:

More than anything, retail stores that specialize in cool climate wines are necessary to force feed confidence to the buying public. Shops devoid of cloying Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec or Shiraz that cloud the wine IQ of young minds. I’m guessing you don’t see Gamay as a great hope for the future of sales out of this province. You are not the only one. If Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are considered essential varieties for success, how can Gamay be excluded from hanging out at the top of the list? Only three were poured at Somewhereness, two of which were from Malivoire. Tawse, Stratus and Cave Spring should all have been pouring theirs. Consider this statement. “Wines produced between 41˚ and 44˚ north are more aromatic, lighter in body and higher in acidity than their warm-climate cousins.” If that does not shout Gamay, please tell me what does. The #GoGamayGo troupe is in full tweeting mode:

Simply put, more Gamay (Noir) needs to be planted in Ontario’s vineyards. OK, so the name isn’t the sexiest. Could you call it Niagara Noir? I don’t think so. Gamay and its small berries (especially from new clonal plantings) are ideally suited to the climate and the wines are drop dead delicious. The bandwagon is growing, with zealots like @thespitter, @winetrackmind, @BillZacharkiw@mkaisersmit@TheGrapeGuy@zoltanszabo and @johnszabo leading the charge.

Caretakers of the Earth

Indeed, Ontario is a special place to grow grapes. Our 12 winemakers feel this way about their wines, noting they offer “deeper refreshment, exquisite harmony with food, and great ageing potential. Welcome to the coolest fine wine region on earth. Our wineries sit on a fortuitous composition of earthly constituents: some 12 meters of glacial clay and silt capped by a few feet of clay and limestone-laced topsoil. Clay limits a vine’s ability to produce large crops. Instead we get tiny berries in small yields, giving us high concentrations of sugars, acids, minerals and wantonly exotic flavour compounds.”

On Tuesday, April 16th the group of 12 poured their best at the MaRSDiscovery District. A warm thank you goes to Cool Chardonnay, i4C VIP Concierge Trisha Molokach for helping to set the Somewhereness table. Here are eight shining examples of the coolest wine made on earth.

From left: 13th Street Cuvée Rosé NV, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling ‘CSV’ Estate Bottled 2009, Malivoire Wine Company Gamay ‘Courtney’ 2011, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2009, Charles Baker Riesling ‘Picone’ 2011, Norman Hardie County Chardonnay 2011, Hinterland Wine Company Rosé 2010 Method Traditional, and Tawse Pinot Noir ‘Lauritzen Vineyard’ 2010

13th Street Cuvée Rosé NV ($24.95, winery only) is autolytic, Brut-finished, traditional method sparkling that has that something in her style. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay emitting so much strawberry energy you might find yourself lost in the fields forever. But there is more than that, “something in the way she woos me,” maybe the rhubarb replay, or the tarragon, or the faint tang of cheese. You gotta like the Jean Pierre Colas style and to like her, you need to like her style.  89  @13thStreetWines

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling ‘CSV’ Estate Bottled 2009 ($29.95, winery only) comes from the oldest, lowest-yielding vines at the estate grown on the limestone, Beamsville Bench terrace. A three month rest on its lees imparts honey on the nose though the palate is dryer than off-dry. Mineral, pop-driven even. A hoovering, wizened Riesling, puckering, turning inward, yet to hydrate. Unique for Escarpment ’09 and will realize a quenching later than most. I for one will put this aside and revisit at the end of the decade, when “golden slumbers fill your eyes.” 89  @CaveSpring

Malivoire Wine Company Gamay ‘Courtney’ 2011 ($29.95, winery only) spent 14 edifying months in French oak and will live adroitly for another five years as a result. So much plum inherent in all its faculties, berries and currants too. The winemaker star of  Shiraz Mottiar is rising higher into the cool climate stratosphere with each passing vintage. His wines walk a haute couture runway of class and style.  91  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2009 ($32.95, winery only) occupies hallowed Beamsville Bench middle ground between the beastly corpulence of 2008 and the rich, voluptuous 2010. Puzzling blend. Approachable and formidable. I sip and sip and sip her majesty in spite of her necessary acidity and tenacious tannin. “I want to tell her that I love her a lot but I gotta get a bellyful of wine.”  92  @HiddenBench

Charles Baker Riesling ‘Picone’ 2011 ($35, winery only) trembles with nervous energy and will need some bottle time to shed its shocking, A16 soda popping feeling. Right now “he got joo joo eyeballs.” Give it a year, or even two for the Vinemount Ridge clint (citrus and flint) to come together in a fit of focused, piercing acidity. This is Baker’s sharpest, knife-edge Riesling in the block and while I never thought it possible, this one is sure to outshine 2009. For Charles Baker “one and one and one is three.”  93  @cbriesling

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay 2011 ($35, winery only) is not merely a window into the vintage but the portal. Bright, golden fruit, freakish level of mineral and longer than the old Greer Road. Norman will always have ’08 but the newbies will be lucky to discover 2011. Who wouldn’t fall for its charms. When it comes to this Prince Edward County Chardonnay, “one and one don’t make two, one and one make one.” I call that a bargain.  92  @normhardie

Hinterland Wine Company Rosé 2010 Method Traditional ($37, winery only) is imbued faintly and sweetly in pink hue and lithe bubble. The grace and ease of Prince Edward County is forgotten when the wine hits the tongue and attacks with force. A peppery anesthetization ensues, followed by a soma-like, numbing sensation. She’s no cheap date, gives you no money, “but oh, that magic feeling.” Like a two-side playing of Abbey Road, she reels you in slowly, works to a feverish pitch and drifts off slowly into dream. A bit exhausting but worth the trip.  90  @hinterlandwine

Tawse Pinot Noir ‘Lauritzen Vineyard’ 2010 ($44.95, winery only) from the Vinemount Ridge is dry and cut with spice, a favourite for winemaker Paul Pender. The sour acidity from fruit such as cranberry and pomegranate are here in deep, concentrated and naturally sweet tones. Niagara limestone casts a Burgundy mineral shadow and the wine is iron tough yet silky due to the warmth of the vintage.  91  @Tawse_Winery

Good to go!

Lock, stock and sparkling wines

PHOTO: MICHAEL GODEL, FOR CANADA.COM

as seen on canada.com

 

Some invitations are just better than others. On the rarest of occasions the thrill is easily won, such as my recent inclusion at an epic wine and food tasting. On Tuesday I sampled nine delectable dishes prepared by Chefs Todd Clarmo and David Chow at Stock Restaurant in the Trump Hotel Toronto.

The invite came by way of Wine Country Ontario and PR Director Magdalena Kaiser-Smit. The purpose? To sample 18 Ontario sparkling wines, presented alongside Chefs’ cuisine, by house Sommelier Zoltan Szabo. The food and wine pairings were sublimely orchestrated, elevated by the assistance of and in turn, kudos is to be fired out Master Sommelier John Szabo‘s way.

Be immersed in the emerging industry that is Ontario Sparkling wine and you will find yourself amazed. Angelo Pavan of Cave Spring Winery spoke to the group and was emphatic in saying “Niagara is not trying to make Champagne,” but, he added, ” I think we in Niagara can do Sparkling wine better than anywhere in the world, with the exception of Champagne.”

Lead by the pioneers Château des Charmes, Trius and later, Henry of Pelham, production of Ontario bubbles began to take off after 2000. Pavan didn’t want to try at first because, “it was too much work.” At some point he realized that our climate is more than ideal, most notably because acidity does not drop off in Niagara, due to an extended harvest time. Warm climate producers (like California, South Africa and Australia) may have a two to three-day harvest window and they have to pick at night, or else the grapes begin to oxidize. Pavan sees warm climate, New World fizz as very drinkable, if soft, lacking in acidity and balance.

The production of vintage-dated fizz in Ontario is certainly fashionable, as witnessed by more than 60% of the wines present, but for the purposes of consistency, local weather conditions should see the future trending a non-vintage path.

Sparkling Wine Tasting

Stock Restaurant at the Trump Hotel

December 11th, 2012

First Group of Nine

Casa-Dea Estates Winery, Dea’s Rosé 2011 ($19.95) charms like Strawberry seltzer with a sappy tang and the chalky, calcareous limestone schist of Prince Edward County.  87

Château des Charmes, Rosé Sparkling Wine, Estate Bottled 2009 ($28.95) elevates pink bubbles from a good, acidified vintage with red pear, pink grapefruit aromas. A bit unpronounced, though that works for balance, keeping the A16 and confiture in check.  87

Angels Gate, Archangel Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs 2010 ($21.95) bursts forth in a big, barm way. I hope that I don’t fall in love with this B de B. Inflection the colour of lime and duly scented, but also pithy lemon. Parochial attitude, cutting to tonic at closing time and “the music’s fading out.” Didn’t happen.  86

Mike Weir Wine, Sparkling Brut 2009 ($24.95) shows off a premium mousse with the finest mist yet. Minor atomic note, with pear, mild toast and a touch of residual sweetness. Honeycomb gives way to the slightest charred, cabbage accent. Not unlike Loire Vouvray in that sense.  88

Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate, Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2009 ($22.95) is a sweet-smelling misty mousse waterfall where white grapefruit replays from vapor to flavour. Dryest fizz yet playing the Angostura angle. Good length.  88

Cave Spring Cellars, Blanc de Blancs Brut NV ($29.95) sees no malolactic fermentation and sits at the top end of dry (12-14 dosage). Most of the fruit is 2008, despite the NV designation. A soda fountain of argon and nitrogen bunsens forth through clean lines and carries an entire cider house orchard of Spartan apple. This one certainly hints at Champagne-like characteristics, of brioche and toast. The apples never relent.  89

Flat Rock Cellars, 2008 Riddled ($24.95) is a completely different animal. “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key.” The key might be the yeast that brings animale to the wine. A bit fat and flat, with tropical notes of lychee and almond. Speeds up but is a bit of an acquired taste.  87

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery, Cuvée Catharine NV ($29.95) is a classic bottling, quite refined, offers the most yeast yet and is obviously the most Champagne-like of the eight so far sampled to this point. A go to Pinot and Chardonnay blend, essential bubbles for holiday cheer.  89

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery, Cuvée Catharine Estate Blanc De Blancs ‘Carte Blanche’ 2007 ($44.95) turns the brioche quotient up several notches and is consistent with last month’s note: “combines the exceptional ’07 growing season’s rich fruit with early harvested acidity and extreme patience to result in one serious Ontario sparkling wine. A frothing tonic of citrus zest, baking apples, soda bread, cut grass and creamy grume. Long and true.” 90

Ontario Sparkling & Culinary Tastes

Begin

Baby Kale & Heirloom Carrot Salad

russet apple, québec goat cheese

Cold Poached Lobster Salad

organic greek yogurt & bergamot dressing

Hamachi, Fennel & Citrus Crudo

chilli and tarragon

The Grange of Prince Edward, Sparkling Riesling 2010 ($24.95) seems more late harvest, Spätlese than Sparkling. Nectarous juice with a squeeze of suspended honey and a light citrus spritz. Waited for the sear but it didn’t arrive. Good Riesling though.  85

Trius Winery, Trius Brut NV ($24.95) emerges as elegance defined for dry, Niagara effervescence. Pear, poivre and candlenut do battle then the wine turns and walks silently away. Had its moment in the sun but is perhaps not so refined.  87

Tawse Winery, David’s Block Chardonnay “Spark” 2009 ($39.95) has thankfully shed its baby fat, the cheesy whey that sat atop all else last time I tasted. Today the epoisses is now mild Niagara Gold, or a creamy, Triple-Cream Brie. Still a wine of lees and leisure, with tangy green apple and sharp, piquant flavour.  88

Continue

Braised Veal Shank

yukon potato gnocchi, picholine olives

Roasted Magret of Duck a L’Orange

buttered savoy cabbage

Maple Broiled Black Cod

edamame puree

Huff Estates, Cuvée Peter F. Huff 2008 ($39.95) works expertly alongside the veal. Austere, dry, flinty wine of slate, like Chablis. Green apple, lemon, lime and almond. A bit tough but well-built.  90

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery, Cuvée Catharine Rosé NV ($29.95) and 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.  91

13th Street Winery, Premier Cuvée 2008 ($34.95) perpetuates the apple theme but here it is subdued, sweet and with blossoms too. There is honeycomb, citrus and an herbal, grassy component no other wine has shown. Lean, perhaps but that’s the minerals talking. Very pretty.  91

Finish

Coffee Crusted Pecorino Romano

clementine gratin

White Chocolate Ganache

greek yogurt, carrot, yuzu

Pain Perdu

tangerine, lychee, marcona almond

Cave Spring Cellars, Blanc de Noirs Brut 2006 ($34.95) is age apparent, tanning ever so slightly. Dry, amber toast, nutty notes, really well-balanced. Fun to see this development, even if it’s fading gracefully.  90

Inniskilin Wines, Sparkling Vidal Icewine 2011 ($79.95) is delicious, don’t think it isn’t, but the high proportion of ice wine makes it just that. Not convinced the bubbles add any depth. This is Icewine first and Sparkling wine second.  Novelty.  88

Hinterland, Ancestral 2012 ($25.00) is not the best wine but it steals the show. The dayglo colour should lead to a cloying sweetness but no, it’s remarkably off-dry. Cherries, not strawberries are here and yes, in a Kool-Aid kind of aromatic way. The taste is very savoury and the sweetness is brought out by the Pecorino.  90

Good to go!