Like a weather map, when you take account of a wine, you are leafing through time. One could chart a wine through location, soils, geology and climatic influences. The biographical footprint is also measured after the vine has been stripped and in the winemaker’s hands.
The reconstruction of biography is about as arbitrary as predicting the future. It’s just as puzzling, untraceable and like running through a maze, is fraught with wrong turns and dead-ends. It’s about hunch work, gauging probabilities, accounting for what has come before and extrapolating towards what might be. It involves using unsubstantiated and even unrecorded information to try proving a current state of affairs.
The conjuring of a wine to define the present and the future deals not with what is extant but what may never have been. It relies on tastes, sensations and feelings that have done the big vamoose and left no trace. Wines are reticent subjects, unable to defend themselves, posthumously fudged together. We gorge on the lives of famous wines and those culled from beneath overturned rocks, impressible with the fixations of our own.
We are lovers of wine; eager and desperate to be one with their psyche, to imagine it synched in sycophant fixation with our own. Yet all the salient facts and aspects of a wine’s journey, in viticulture, pH, residual sugar, total acidity, élevage and in tasting, are really nothing if we are unable to find the theory the wine and by extension, the winemaker live by.
In Ontario, wine writers spend an inordinate amount of time tasting new releases, generally the most current vintage of wines we have made acquaintance many times before. The bright lights of revelation dim increasingly out of sight due to the nature of that redundant beast. Yet on a Thursday in January at WineAlign the kid in a candy store factor presented through bottles yet discovered from wineries lined up and waiting to be counted.
A few weeks ago David Lawrason, Sara d’Amato and I assembled to have a go at four new (or not nationally recognized) Canadian wineries. Redstone Wines is the newest venture from Moray Tawse, with director of winemaking Paul Pender as headmaster to the rising, structured elegance of winemaker Rene Van Ede‘s compositions. Two Sisters in Niagara has pounced on the scene with precocious nerve, having released a few vintages in a short time. Some older wines were crafted in virtual virtuosity by current Ravine winemaker Marty Werner. The Sisters (Angela Marotta & Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli) have come to the present with Adam Pearce at the helm and his affinity for aromatic whites is the newest Niagara revelation. I will look forward to seeing him push some envelopes, with barrels, hang time, micro-plots and fermentative experimentation.
Though I’ve not tasted more than a handful from the Okanagan Valley’s CedarCreek Vineyards, all thus far have touched gold. Winemaker Daryl Brooker‘s varietal wines are pure, precise and affordable. This may just be one of the most exciting wineries to watch out for in British Columbia. Fort Berens does Burgundy in the shadow of Fraser Canyon’s Mountains. A taste of Rolf de Bruin‘s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offers terrific insight into DNA and in them you can read B.C.’s varietal future. Daydreamer Wines is winemaker Marcus Ansems‘ collective energy of intention, wines to sip again and again until you taste them for the first time.
Here are the notes on 23 Ontario and B.C. wines tasted on January 22, 2015.
Where there’s Lincoln Lakeshore there is red clay and with it winemaker Rene Van Ede goes it old school. Staid and static, Viognier is the star, in as much as it can be in the solid soil by the lake. On the leesy side, a sprite of lime and a dusting of chalk give texture, augmenting an already noticeable, package deal Redstone white wine portfolio. A yeast strain trend seems to be the uniting force. This is weighty but not dense, solid for the varietal and indicative of the winemaker’s style. Tasted January 2015 @
Part Cabernet Franc and parcel Cabernet Sauvingon, this Redstone spent 16 months in French oak. Having melded wood into savour, the plum fruit is more than up front ample, with a pepper over and a chocolate under. A fair shake of spice and insistent tannin makes for quite a bracing red mouthful, indicating needed air and age time. Like the Tawse Bordeaux-styled reds that have come before, here is yet another slice of red fruit meets the iron life. Tasted January 2015
If a Niagara Sauvignon Blanc could be endeared with the term ‘calcaire,’ Rene Van Ede’s Limestone Vineyard would lead the shortlist, not only because of the eponymous vineyard but because it oozes of the rock’s chalky chafe. Plenty of orchard fruit belies the lime, in an unoaked Chardonnay way and the wine makes full use of limestone’s hematic shed. This is one of the most stylish Sauvignon Blancs made in Canada, even if the average consumer were not able to recognize it as such. A winemaker from Sancerre would know it immediately and intuitively. Here a crushed reef of limestone memory permeates the wine from beginning to end. One of the more outstanding Sauvignon Blancs made in Ontario to date. Tasted January 2015 @
Such a stoic, atomic, inwardly myopic, microscopic Riesling. Dry and drier on the not yet quite ripe pear side of the tree fruit diapason. A juicy, tangy palate follows, with viscous treasures tasting of lime curd kicked up by spice accents. A kinship here with the Tawse Limestone Ridge Vineyard, with minerals that have not forgotten what it’s like to think about magma. So much lime continues to kick in and the stone it acidulates. Narrow, focused, long and rising Riesling. Tasted January 2015
Fruit for Redstone’s Pinot Noir is sourced from a 15 year-old block and it saw 16 months in French oak. A wine defined by up front spice, oak obviousness and a candescence in extraction. This the vintage gives, to clamber along with the barrel, in addition to red fruit tones that trump earth. The glass is filled with a waft of raspberry pie and a drizzle of macerated cherries. A ferric streak, as would absolutely be expected, line the red fruit basket and keeps the Redstone savour animated. Know this about Twenty Mile Pinot Noir. It is alive. Tasted January 2015 @
The Redstone Vineyard is a plot of red clay and large stones, set within the 38-acre estate. This red beauty saw an extended stay (18 months) in French oak, a relevant encounter to see it come out with remarkable purity, not to mention sensuality. This from out of the 2011 vintage, one that did not flatter many Niagara reds though on the Lincoln Lakeshore much success has been found. Plum and strawberry scents emerge from a wine warmer than would be thought, sanded by chalky and grainy parts in synch. A well-delineated progressive and fine-tuned machine should age for a minimum five years. Tasted January 2015
A very buttery Chardonnay, warm, tropical, steeped from rich soil, seeping orchard fruit and yet soaking from the generous amount of French oak. Handled with poise and ease, the fruit just seems to inuit its amalgamated Peninsula place and understand its place in the Niagara Chardonnay spectrum. This grows and grows, like a vine, upwards yet inwards, with instrumental interplay and no excess notes. Just the bare Chard essentials; no waste, all focus, trim and elegant. Tasted January 2015 @
An auspicious coming out vintage from winemaker Adam Pearce with fruit sourced from the Foxcroft block of the Wismer Vineyard. So very Twenty Mile Bench, with fleshy, near to bursting exotic aromatics in the vein of other Foxcroft Rieslings, like those made by Paul Pender, Ilya Senchuk and Kevin Panagapka. The classic stone fruit, their stones and the soil’s stones trampled underfoot. The kinship goes deeper, with Jay Johnston’s Nadja and Pender’s Limestone Ridge. Pearce’s take endears with notes of clementine and creamy mango pudding. Though the residual inflates more expansively than all the others, there is an aridity in the end, one that intimates modern Alsace. A pleasure to taste, with good (though not great) acidity and low (10.6 per cent) alcohol. The finish improves with each pass of the lips. Tasted January 2015
From the Creek Shores appellation, a precinct of the Peninsula with a habit of firing citrus shots into Riesling and Chardonnay. The injections are at their hyper best from June’s Vineyard and here, in this Adam Pearce crafted, barrel-broaching bottle of white stone immaculate. Tons of character graces this Chardonnay, with a salinity drawn from the heavy Creek Shores soil overtop solid rock that permeates the wine’s earth. Lees affected, this may well be Petite Chablis, what with its texture and sugary smells. There is a perceived effervescence, a lively streak that gives it life and a swelling of its heart. The acidity is rampant and despite the inkling of SO2, the wine is quite expressive and a step-up from many cut of the same genre. Tasted January 2015
Here is a veritable, potable example of Niagara SB 101, breath freshening, varietal refresher. Crafted with the lightest Sauvignon Blanc touch, with hints of grass and goose feathers, hold the berries. Soft, slight and slightly herbal with a thin veiled membrane of circular acidity. Amiably done. Tasted January 2015
Not unexpectedly, the Two Sisters oaked Chardonnay is a dramatically opposing force to the unplugged abbess. If not for the pierce afforded a Creek Shores drawn Chardonnay, winemaker Adam Pearce might have found himself stuck with a big, buttery bag of popcorn on its way to becoming a can a of creamed corn. The wooden ship is thankfully mitigated by citrus and sails calmly across buttery seas in search of herbal lands. The handling is not one fumbled by heavy mitts and the cool climate intent is managed bravely. There is admiral balance with just enough wood incantation to see it stretch across a few years time. Tasted January 2015
A Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that is very savoury, with a dry and dusty white/red pepper component. This has good verve from out of the challenging 2011 vintage. It forges ’10 louder, amps the dial up to ’11, in tempo and sapidity. A very persistent and intense heritage, with chalky tannin and grains running crosswise. Though the final wish would be for more length, it is a dogged specimen with a few years left ahead. Tasted January 2015
This was a “virtually” made wine at the time by current Ravine Vineyard winemaker Martin Werner. From the warm and high ripening 2010 vintage, with additional blanketing and layering from the Niagara River appellation. Oak provides a creamy flannel swaddle. Certainly soft, dreamy and downy, void of tension and so easy to consume. Though by now it has fully evolved and is rapidly descending into the river’s sunset, its flavour temperament is more than Merlot palatable. Were the price considerably lower it would please on more levels. Tasted January 2015 @
With a component of this wine having been housed in mammoth, old-school (2250 litre) oak barrels, the wood is spread like citrus honey butter, evenly and judiciously, through every sip. Chardonnay of tang and by lees, with apples everywhere, along with a streaky flint mien. Fine Chardonnay. Tasted January 2015 @
From a vineyard planted in 1995, this wild yeast inoculated Pinot Noir is tough, sinewy, rigid and masculine. Dark red fruits are surrounded by racing, bracing, running on the spot acidity. Here is a west coast wine that needs enough time, somewhere in the area of five years, to soften and bring flowers. When it does, they will be roses. Tasted January 2015
With Fraser Canyon’s mountains as the backdrop, the sandy soil and sage brush make for a cool yet herbal Chardonnay. The foothills earth gives Lillooet mineral, not unlike Chablis but in B.C., with a tropical twist. This has plenty of leesy, Chablis character. Quite spirited, chalky and with a hint of soft metals, as if the cold world melts, “the noise a song.” Any way you look at it or listen to its electronica grooves, this is another cool-climate beauty. With good oscillating texture and length, it could easily be imagined to be drinking a tankful on a hot summer’s day. Tasted January 2015 @FortBerens
This wine of many clones came together from Lilloet soils and was housed in barrels from many coopers. It’s bright, funky, meaty and fecundated with a clafouti of red fruits. Though jammy it’s neither hot nor over-extracted. The jam is a compote, teased by citrus rind and rubbed herb stems. In the end the sweetness prevails so find some salty charcuterie to match and drink up. Tasted January 2015
Here a small batch Pinot Gris from winemaker Marcus Ansems out of an organic (Naramata Bench) vineyard. Dry and inhabiting atmospheric space, tightly wound, aerified and vacuous. Smells of fruit and blasted bits housed in concrete; pits, stones and blocks of rock. Flavours come from tree fruit, citrus and crushed seeds. Clean like Alsatian Pinot Gris (Schoffit comes to mind) and really balanced, with a soft crooning lilt. It’s quite elemental and elementary dear Watson, approachable and comforting. “When my head is heavy on my shoulders, daydreamer gonna make it over.” Linear acidity gives further meaning, in planar and stretched grooves. Deserving of the generic comment “really good food wine.” Tasted January 2015 @Daydreamerwines
This blend of Merlot (83 per cent) and Cabernet Franc is a dry, dusty pepper, mace and plum red with a silky texture and some advanced character. In retention of necessary acidity it manages to stay on the wire, with a citrus ability and a lees meets cheese rind cure. The flavours carry this forward with a chew of dried jerky, only to return to the aromatic takeover of dried flowers and cracked nasturtium pods. The great appeal here is on the nose, nothing to sneeze at or take for granted. The lasting appeal is a smell of salt pulling lilacs into the sea, or like a garden of flowers of trance inducing aromas that have absorbed many daydreams. Tasted January 2015
The organic B.C. winery presents a northern Rhône dreamer singing like a bird on its very personal Okanagan hejira. Composed of (90 per cent) Syrah and more than a dash (10 per cent) of Viognier, it also hits you like a linebacker, with waves of pepper and steeping cherries, or perhaps plums. Silky smooth and haunting up the middle, but the cure is in, the meats drying and the flavours massive. The fruits dehydrate in a way to question, have you got a date? Dates this Syrah has, in clusters, made saline by capers and sage. Leaves “vapor trails across the bleak terrain,” with streaks of octane fruit and tannin in refrain. This should be left to rest for a few years, to play out the song, to avoid “dreams, Amelia, dreams and false alarms.” Tasted January 2015
A weighty example in excess of the chameleon Chardonnay’s necessities, skittering with jerking movements and changing rapidly within the assessment in minutiae. Plenty of scorched earth and toasted barrel putter about and the aromatics remind of an old Eastern European home. Braising biennial Brassica, Pot au Feu and a wood smoker linger into a leesy and citrus tang. The sapidity takes charge and warms to the glass and the senses. A more than serviceable if scattered Chardonnay here brings much character to the table. Tasted January 2015
This Golden Mile Bench, west coast red leans northern Rhône with pronounced cured pork belly and smoked meat aromas. The savoury edge is like capers growing from cracks in limestone, the olives and other pickled berries coming by way of warmer, more southerly climes. Modern, violaceous and a touch oxidative, with some southern hemisphere gauze and rubber mercurial style points. There is a smell like that of baked potato, baked underground, after lightning has struck. A big wine from a little known pocket for Shiraz lore, the Ansems Shiraz will appeal to a masculine palate. Tasted January 2015
God to go!