December 10th in VINTAGES: New World

squash

We’re going to do this three days in a row because it’s December and next week will just be too late. Canada, new world, old world. Mayhem in stores will begin this afternoon and carry through to the end of the weekend. It will slow for a day or two and then get crazy mid-week. By next Saturday these wines will be hard to find. The VINTAGES December 10th release is not a stellar one by any means, the best of the holiday season offerings having appeared in the previous two November releases. What is worth thrill seeking for drinking, cellars and gifts is encompassed in this triumvirate set of posts.

Related – December 10th in VINTAGES: Canada

As a reminder my full tasting notes can be found on WineAlign for a small fee, a pittance actually, for mine and those penned by David, Sara and John. Eight more recommendations are here from new world locales, some of them big, brooding and Christmas boozy. Happy hunting.

zuccardi

Zuccardi Serie A Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (167619, $16.95, WineAlign)

@FamiliaZuccardi  @SebaZuccardi  @DionysusWines  @ArgentinaWineCA  @winesofarg

wynn

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Chardonnay 2015, Coonawarra, South Australia, Australia (468728, $17.95, WineAlign)

@WynnsEstate  @sueatwynns  @Wine_Australia  

crema

La Crema Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, California (962886, $29.95, WineAlign)

@LaCremaWines  @sonomavintners  @bwwines  @thesirengroup

lane

The Lane Vineyard Block 14 Basket Press Shiraz 2013, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, Australia (470591, $29.95, WineAlign)

@thelanevineyard  @Wine_Australia  @EpicW_S

chocolate

The Chocolate Block 2014, Wo Western Cape, South Africa (129353, $39.95, WineAlign)

  @UNIVINS  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

bella

Two Hands Bella’s Garden Shiraz 2014, Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia (636407, $64.95, WineAlign)

@twohandswine  @Wine_Australia  @bwwines

stag

Stags’ Leap Winery Ne Cede Malis Petite Sirah 2012, Napa Valley, California (589572, $89.95, WineAlign)

@stagsleapwines  @SLDistrict  @NapaVintners  

cliff

Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley, California (14217, $114.95, WineAlign)

@CliffLedeWine  @NapaVintners  @HalpernWine  @SLDistrict

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

If I could buy only thirteen

Look at all that chicken

Look at all that chicken

Over at WineAlign we recently introduced a new feature in our already comprehensive coverage of the bi-weekly VINTAGES releases.  If I Could Buy Only One offers subscribers a first in line, get inside the minds of four Ontario critics. As part of the overall recap on each release David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato and I are asked the question: “If you could buy only one wine from this release – which one would it be and why?”

When it comes to tasting, assessing and scoring VINTAGES wines there is simply no equal to what WineAlign covers in Ontario. As a group we four are sure to collectively provide at least one tasting note and score for 100 or more wines per release. In most cases there are two and sometimes three or even all four. Where else in print or online can you access such a synoptic scope of sweeping current information?

We are not alone but we are at the head of the game. Our colleague Michael Vaughan is the only critic who tastes every wine on every VINTAGES release. His nearly three decades of utter dedication and encyclopedic memory is nothing short of incredible. Tony Aspler covers the releases and contributes to Vaughan’s newsletter. Tony’s decades of experience are invaluable to both his and Michael’s readership. Beppi Crosariol offers a handful of concise and epigrammatic weekly recommendations in the Globe and Mail, Carolyn Hammond in a Toronto Star nutshell and Rod Phillips meaty and marrowy in the Ottawa Sun.

The LCBO media tasting lab is frequented by many Ontario writers. Most notable is Tim Appelt. Tim sounds off extensively on the releases. Eric Vellend publishes recos in his column “Bottle Shop” for Billy, the Toronto Island Airport’s magazine. André Proulx brings his own ignited take to his website, Andre Wine Review and Michael Pinkus publishes his broad brushstroke on his Wine Review. Erin Henderson does so on The Wine Sister’s website and Dean Tudor at Gothic Epicures World Wine Watch. If you follow what comes through VINTAGES and sequester help and ideas, who do you turn to? The answer is simply WineAlign.

When asked to single out just one I chose another Chablis from the current September 17th release. Look for the stellar Simonnet Febvre & Fils Côte De Lechet Chablis 1er Cru 2013 review in my upcoming report on Chablis in Ontario. Today I’ve got 13 other solid recommendations from a wide range of places.

first-6

Man Family Warrelwind Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Rocca Delle Macìe Chianti Classico 2014, Dominio Dos Tares Estay Prieto Picudo 2012, Les Darons 2014, Pazo Das Bruxas Albariño 2014, Talley Vineyards Bishop’s Peak Chardonnay 2014

Man Family Warrelwind Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Wo Western Cape, South Africa (461004, $13.95, WineAlign)

Man’s upper reaches sauvignon blanc whirls and winds around open-affable, semi-pungent fruit and churns like citrus juice through a windmill. This multi-purpose white speaks with great acidity and deep tart flavours. Just a touch of sweet peach with lime zest and a spritz keeps it spinning. Lots of bang for just a few bucks. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016  @MANVintners  @vonterrabev  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

Rocca Delle Macìe Chianti Classico 2014, Docg Tuscany, Italy (741785, $10.95, 375ml, WineAlign)

Tasted from a half bottle, The Zingarelli Chianti Classico 2014 is as expected, classic. Hits all the appropriate and life-affirming sangiovese notes; cherries, fresh leather, dried figs, old wood walls, bright acidity and fine-grained tannin. When commercial, protective and attention to detail get together in Chianti Classico, this is what comes out. Expectations met and dinner accompanied. Ready to drink now and should be so because of the freshness afforded. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016  @roccadellemacie  @chianticlassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Dominio Dos Tares Estay Prieto Picudo 2012, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla Y León, Spain (393140, $15.95, WineAlign)

Flat out juicy prieto picudo if you must know is 100 per cent employed out of Castilla Y Leon. Drinkable and gulpable don’t get much better than this, like spicy gamay but with more weight. You can put the truck in reverse and open the back doors wide for this and its sultry sway from French and American oak. The oak does not intrude mind you but it certainly adds texture and punch. Utterly delectable. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016  @DominiodeTares  @oenophilia1

Les Darons 2014, Ap Languedoc, France, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (448464, $17.95, WineAlign)

Fresh and dramatic Languedoc with amazing floraility, namely violets but also rose bushes in a mid-summer swelter. Vitality is ensured by the top notch acidity and the tempering here has nothing to do with chocolate. Tart just right and back bite. While some from the warm region seem “toujours le cup entre demux chaises,” this Jeff Carrel red is right where it needs to be, comfortable in its own skin. No Ogres des Barback. Simply Les Darons. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016  @LanguedocWines

Pazo Das Bruxas Albariño 2014, Do Rias Baixas, Spain (417667, $19.95, WineAlign)

This is a fine example of Albarino bringing miles of rich, ripe fruit into a brew of ripping acidity. Very mineral motive as as well, so with so much stewing in the pot you can expect a whole lot of vigor, revelry and magic. The citrus on the back side is nothing short of scintillant-spurred from lemon and lime. Miles from balmy, this is quite electric Galicia. Witches’ Brew, Bitches Brew in a Spanish Key. May not be a revolutionary bottle but it’s as close to jazz-rock fusion Albarino as you are likely to find. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016     @RiasBaixasWines

Talley Vineyards Bishop’s Peak Chardonnay 2014, Edna Valley, Central Coast, California (318360, $27.95, WineAlign)

Another well-managed, keep it in the cool-climate family entry-level chardonnay from Brian Talley, keeping the faith and the successful streak alive for the idea behind Edna Valley as an important haven for chardonnay. It’s nearly unoaked, with just some neutral barrels to keep it leesy and creamy but acidity and umami are clear to lead the way. Excellent effort if on the lean and mean side. Good length. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016  @TalleyVineyards  @TheVine_RobGroh

From left to right: Roger & Didier Raimbault Sancerre Rouge 2013, Schiopetto Sauvignon 2013, Thirty Bench Sparkling Riesling, Emile Beyer L'hostellerie Gewürztraminer 2012, La Crema Chardonnay 2014, Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf Du Pape Blanc 2014 and Pascal Marchand Gevrey Chambertin 2013

From left to right: Roger & Didier Raimbault Sancerre Rouge 2013, Schiopetto Sauvignon 2013, Thirty Bench Sparkling Riesling, Emile Beyer L’hostellerie Gewürztraminer 2012, La Crema Chardonnay 2014, Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf Du Pape Blanc 2014 and Pascal Marchand Gevrey Chambertin 2013

Roger & Didier Raimbault Sancerre Rouge 2013, Ac Loire, France (446401, $28.95, WineAlign)

Cured, natural, direct and experiential red Sancerre. A case of hands-off winemaking if there ever was, leaving exceptional fruit to walk the road and find its own way. Red berries, currants and just a hint of natural smoke. Savoury not even on its radar. Very fresh and alive. Freedom in red Sancerre. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016  @LoireValleyWine

Schiopetto Sauvignon 2013, Doc Collio, Friuli, Italy (165027, $32.95, WineAlign)

Ripe, pungent and forthright Collio sauvignon blanc from the regional leader Schiopetto, culled from top level terroir and exercised with great intent. No Aqualung here, no “start away uneasy.” Dives into stony, flinty and mineral tangy waters then emerges to tell a tale of richness and mille-feuille layering. Top level sauvignon blanc for anywhere but from a very specific, agriculturist place. Finishes with a creamy lemon curd and a shot of adrenaline. If any sauvignon blanc could help solve the answer to the distinction between religion and God, Schiopetto’s could very well be the one. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted  September 2016  @schiopetto  @LeSommelierWine

Thirty Bench Sparkling Riesling, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (469478, $34.95, WineAlign)

I will stand to be corrected but this first such sparkler from Thirty Bench (it’s my first) and its dry riesling stoicism is a first in its singular way for Ontario. Using a small dosage from Steel Post Vineyard riesling fruit, the quality level in this non-vintage bubble (but I would think that the primary vintage fruit is 2014) is elevated with that world-class juice and yet aridity is not compromised. The subtle, rich, elongated and amalgamated orchard fruit aromatics are pure Beamsville, Thirty Bench and Emma Garner with well-rounded Niagara Peninsula Sparkling couverture. One, Garner wouldn’t waste a thimble-full of her riesling to make less than stellar sparkling wine and two, it’s really good. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted  September 2016  @ThirtyBench  @PellerVQA

Emile Beyer L’hostellerie Gewürztraminer 2012, Ac Alsace, France (462556, $39.95, WineAlign)

The tense and focused aromatics lead the way in this very generous gewürztraminer, classically styled to be off-dry but the sweetness is the furthest thing from your mind. Seeping rose petals and pure lychee syrup are graced with lemon zest, fennel frond and a curious note of rooibos tea. An exemplary vintage for an elixir that never cloys but just touches on something spicy and thinks about the bitterness of nuts though never really goes there. Subtle, refined and Eguisheim cultured from Emile Beyer. So impressive and a steal to drink in its first 10 years. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted September 2016  @EmileBeyer  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace  @VinsAlsace

La Crema Chardonnay 2014, Los Carneros, Sonoma County, California (184929, $39.95, WineAlign)

Experience, vintage and location will conspire to deliver profundity when the winemaker is attuned to available excellence and in tune with the vines. La Crema’s Elizabeth Grant-Douglas has a large, who’s who and what’s what portfolio to plate. She does so with broad, brushstroke ability and triads. In 2014 she has simply dialled into Los Carneros. The cool, temperature mitigated rolling hills, wind and aspect/exposure of this largest appellation straddling Napa and Sonoma does wonders for Chardonnay. Here in ’14 the third of the drought vintages is cradled with zest, vitality and pure energy. If you like nougat then have a chew of this one. If rich and unctuous Champagne with a bit of age is your thing you may just sit back and sigh. This wine was fatter previously, vegetal and just too easy. Here it sings “cause it fits in well with the chords” its playing. Right in tune. “Getting in tune with the straight and narrow.” The line that runs through Carneros with chardonnay the voice and La Crema the orchestra. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016  @LaCremaWines  @bwwines  @sonomavintners  @thesirengroup

Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf Du Pape Blanc 2014, Ac Rhone, France (704429, $56.95, WineAlign)

This is quite closed for white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, remarkable that way and dramatically caught between the rocks and stones of its upbringing. There is nothing yet fleshy or flashy about it but considering how tightly wound it is you just have to know that revelry is up around the bend. So many stone fruits will reveal during the unravel. At this rigid dry extract and carpeted stage something microbial stands out but this too shall pass. The grip is firm and the focus leering. A structurally imposing La Nerthe with the will to live 15-20 years. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted September 2016    @WoodmanWS  @VINSRHONE

Pascal Marchand Gevrey Chambertin 2013, Burgundy, France (286450, $59.95, WineAlign)

Sweet, expertly extracted and gently pressed fruit provides the bassinet for a subtle, charming and effluent pinot noir from Pascal Marchand. This falls on the lithe and graceful side of pinot noir with well-managed oak and an inherent structure that speaks as softly as the fruit but that does not mean its not capable of stretching this into a second decade. This is really pretty stuff. Would love to see its secondary stage and later fruition next decade. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2016  @pasmarchand  @Burgundy_Direct  @BourgogneWines  @vinsdebourgogne

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

VINTAGES March 19th beauty is a joy forever

Shanks for the memories

Shanks for the memories

If reporting on the VINTAGES wine release wheel were considered as a species of religious writing, say like Marilynne Robinson in her Emersonian Gilead, then the bi-weekly offer would be like the morning, a splendid dawn passing over each of our houses every two weeks on its path to Ontario wine stores. We the consumer roll out of sleep and into the constant, grandly announced VINTAGES light and we just turn over in it.

Related – The Italian cometh

So every VINTAGES release is in fact the selfsame release, materializing every two weeks and within which everything turns to light. Or like Keats, “therefore, on every (wine), are we wreathing.” The $15 Chenin Blanc, the $24 Méthode Cap Classique and the $58 Pinot Noir, all from South Africa. The $18 and $27 Syrahs, from Chile and France. The $29 Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc and the $32 Sonoma Pinot Noir. The $40 Spanish Tempranillo, the $47 Châteauneuf Du Pape and the $57 Haut Médoc. There are many others that might be invited up to the sanctuary in one of the most unconventional conventionally popular wine programs of the 21st Century. Limits must be imposed for reasons 0f space and clarity and so these are the 10 wines on the March 19th altar.

Related – March of the Canadians

Vinum

Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2013, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (739995, $15.95, WineAlign)

Flinty, reductive, lemon scented and weighty Chenin Blanc with just the right amount of strength. A Winery of Good Hope product of master blending by winemaker Jacques de Klerk. Always great value. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016  @WineryGoodHope  @Noble_Estates  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

Ninquén Antu Chilean Mountain Vineyard Syrah 2014, Colchagua Valley, Chile (675371, $17.95, WineAlign)

Fathoms of red fruit, tones to match and the unwavering smoky beat of slow meat roasts and smoulders beneath herbal branches. Black olives, their brine and aromatic bark are thrown into the pit. Pitchy tannin and then finally, after the smoke clears, that fruit, unquestioned in its ripeness. A well-crafted and priced Colchagua Syrah that finishes with heaps of tar and tannin. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @WinesofChile  @DrinkChile  @KirkwoodDiamond

Graham Beck

Graham Beck Premier Cuvée Brut Blanc De Blancs 2010, Robertson, South Africa (907568, $23.95, WineAlign)

Robertson Chardonnay with a purpose, a Champenoise intent and success by way of controlled and slow-evolving micro-oxidation. The autolytic effect is one of slow release, the oxidative lean just a tease at present. There is near-ethereal weight (or lack thereof) on the palate and the citrus injects drive and meaning into airy mousse. Some bitters, pith and stone fruit pit add complexity. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2016  @GrahamBeckWines  @Vinexxperts  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

Château De L’ou Infiniment Syrah 2012, Igp Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon, Midi, France  (440610, $26.95, WineAlign)

Massive, brooding, full on chocolate Syrah with enough structure to house an addition with no further need for supports. The cantilever of fruit, wood and grain is synched to impossibly obscene. Can a wine be so bloody versed in the ways of modern Syrah architecture and still achieve balance? With tannin and length to match the effective conclusion here would seem to say yes. That’s the objectivity of assessment. Will it please? You get to answer that. Maybe wait a year to find out. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2016  @ChateaudeLou  @Vins_Roussillon

Clos Henri

Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand (675629, $28.95, WineAlign)

Full on flavour wildly maxed out, all in Sauvignon Blanc, with bright acidity, ripe fruit and a mineral quality. Beautiful from start to finish. carrying itself with class and focused, positive direction. Grapefruit is juicy, lemons are preserved and lime is sweet. Very nice. Should age into honeyed territory. For now serve this darjeeling limited SB as a refresher to passengers settling in their cars. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted March 2016  @ClosHenri  @ChartonHobbs   @nzwine

La Crema Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (732040, $31.95, WineAlign)

The brightest red cherries infiltrate the notes in every aspect of this Sonoman crafted from vines in Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Los Carneros and Green Valley. Then exhilaration of a great Pinot Noir vintage comes across with mid-palate spice and late structure bite. You can’t deny the quality of 2013 fruit nor can you argue what the winemaker has left for it to pursue. Really good length lines the immediate to near future time frame. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted (from both 375 mL and 750 mL) March 2016 @LaCremaWines  @sonomavintners  @bwwines  @thesirengroup

Muga Selección Especial Reserva 2010, Rioja, Spain (712067, $39.95, WineAlign)

A rich, concentrated and effectively tangy Tempranillo, full of cedar, leather and baking spice. The Muga Seleccion Especial straddles the north/south, old school/new class line better than any with one foot mired and the other wired to new social convention. The flavours are flirtatious and yet markedly sunken into the sands of Riojan time. Many grains gather, sift and re-collect to speak of history and filter progress. This drink now Tempranillo will give five years more of elementary pleasure. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted March 2016  @bodegasmuga  @RiojaWine_ES  @Vinexxperts

Château Mont Redon Châteauneuf Du Pape 2011, Ac Rhône, France (959627, $46.95, WineAlign)

Ripe and warm though structure from the outset is a thing in 2011. Mount Redon celebrates firm fruit, tannin and acidity no matter the level of phenolics so in 2011 the all in mentality will carry the torch and send this deep into the next decade. The level of concentration and intention is less than massive but there is decadence to be sure. This is a balanced Chateauneuf with temperament and understanding resting comfortably on its side. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted March 2016  @MontRedonWines  @VINSRHONE  @RhoneWine  @FWMCan

Château Coufran 2005, Ac Haut Médoc, Bordeaux, France (446666, $56.95, WineAlign)

Bang on righteous, well made and properly preserved Haut-Medoc that while not inexpensive is a must buy for those who can afford and want to drink older Bordeaux. There is some earthy complexity and cheveux de cheval but there is plenty of brightness and unshaken personality. Does not swagger but rather dances. A show piece for the dinner table without having to raid someone else’s cellar. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @imbibersreport  @BordeauxWines

HR

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2013, Wo Hemel En Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa (999516, $57.95, WineAlign)

It’s a funny direction to go, having tasted the 2014 HR back in September, six months ahead of this 2013, but one whiff and I get the feeling the order was pre-ordained for a reason and a purpose. This 2013 needed the extra time. It must have been a demanding drop in its early youth, as it still is, but the fine-grained fruit and even finer tannin can now speak its Hemel-en-Aarde vernacular mind. Only that valley brings this type of sweetness, not sweet, but sweetness. The red fruit, painted ochre and then mineral, juxtaposed, intertwined and bled from the earth. Though the days of $40 and $45 are gone, the price is justified for such Grand Cru South Africa. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @OliveHR  @TrialtoON  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA  @hermanuswine

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel

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Sonoma peaks from out of the fog

Sonoma Coast Photo (c): http://www.sonomawine.com/

Sonoma Coast
Photo (c): http://www.sonomawine.com/

Sonoma County is so massive a wine region it’s really quite futile to take account of a singular, defining personality. Diversity of wine styles and viticultural approaches are what elucidate Sounty County and its 16 AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas). That much is true but the sheer geographical scope of California’s coastline, inward valleys and mountain vineyards make it all but impossible to distill the entire region into one simplified and understood junction of compounding synchronisms.

Imagine Sonoma in terms of soils and geology the way the Clare Valley and Barossa are making plans to split their vineyards into new sub-regions. “Rather than create a hierarchical system, proponents say the plans are part of a cultural shift in Australia’s wine industry that seeks to make technology in the cellar subservient to geological understanding and vineyard management.” Though erroneously, people talk about Sonoma wines as being the same, as sharing a commonality that allows for overused generalizations.

Sonoman varietals need to be characterized by an interpretation of sundry realities. Pinot Noir loses focus when simply labeled “Sonoma County.” Its actuality is much more specific than that. Dutton Goldfield’s Pinot Noir is a prime example; not exactly Russian River Valley nor Sonoma Coast. If its vineyard and those of countless hundreds of others were pinned down into a more micro-specific locale of soil and geology, justice might be served. Yet through all the talk of fining sub-appellations there is one constant in Sonoma. There is one manifest vital spark that runs through all of its fiords and chords, spuming with an irrepressible puissance. Fog.

Growing grapes in Sonoma is all about the fog cycle prone zone, warm by day, cool by night. Grapes above the fog line on the mountain ranges and upper reaches have the highest chance of ripening. Wind screams in between the mountains and through the valleys to dry out the vines and protect them from disease. The region lies at the western edge of a hyperbolic, tectonic geology, causing not only earthquakes but also dramatically different soil structures. From out of this super active geology, this volcanic action and this movement of tectonic plates, is a cool climate viticulture along 100 km’s of Pacific Coast frontage.

The cool nights and days that rarely get oppressively hot (above 26-28 degrees celsius) contribute to layers of oceanic fog that creep into Sonoma’s interior valleys through numerous spots like the Petaluma Gap. The Russian River, meandering through a lush valley of vineyards, provides a conduit pulling fog through Healdsburg and into the Alexander Valley, as well as forming its own appellation.

Sonoma native Elizabeth Linhart Veneman, author of Moon Travel Guides, sums up Sonoma’s fog in one fell swoop statement: “Perhaps no aspect of the weather here is more important.” Then there is the most amazing time lapse video shot by Nicole Tostevin of Tostevin Design. Tostevin (not to be and to be confused with Tastevin, which means a taste of a wine and a small, shallow cup or saucer with a reflective surface, traditionally used by winemakers and sommeliers when judging the maturity of wine) was born in San Francisco. She is a 5th Generation Californian living in West Marin; she’s an independent freelance artist, interactive art director and motion graphics animator. The video titled, “Sonoma Morning Fog Dance” was shot using time lapse footage of The Anvil Ranch in the Annapolis Valley in Sonoma County, California.

This time last year, in November 2013, San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné wrote, “today, the state of the art for Pinot Noir – along with Chardonnay and, to some extent, Syrah and even Cabernet – has shifted into the coastal fog lands.” Green Valley is defined by fog. Fog discourse and computerized, animated maps are front and centre on the AVA’s website. “Green Valley is the first place where the fog comes in and the last place where it burns off, making it the coolest, foggiest part of the Russian River Valley.”

Walmart's Sonoma Fog Area Rug

Walmart’s Sonoma Fog Area Rug

Sonoma fog can even be defined as a colour, like Siena brick red, or at the very least as a style. At Walmart you can buy a “Sonoma Fog Area Rug.” The mist of California’s coast has even had a couple of cocktails conceived in its name. The Sonoma Fog and Sonoma Fog Vinotini are sweet and sour variations on the Kamikaze or the Cosmopolitan, using Grapefruit and Icewine.

Sonoma’s fog is a stern exertion of soda and salt and when its atomic dipoles get together to dance with ripe grapes and the puffy gaieties of yeast, the syntagmatic rearrangement in the region’s wines are all the merrier and made most remarkably interesting. Fog complicates and makes complex the ferments from Sonoma’s hills and valleys. The second fiddle status to Napa Valley’s hugeness is both ridiculous and absurd. Sonoma Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is already known for its kinetic inquisitiveness but other varieties are also gaining major traction. Cabernet Sauvignon, when ripened upwards of that fog and yet inextricably linked to the miasma, gains a level of synergistically precipitated elaboration that blows Napa out of the water.

WineAlign's John Szabo MS says Sonoma County "is this big."

WineAlign’s John Szabo MS says Sonoma County “is this big.”

Sonoma Vintners came to Toronto’s ROM for a trade tasting on October 9, 2014. With the ever resourceful moderator John Szabo MS of WineAlign at the microphone and nine winery representatives on hand to speak of their land, Sonoma was defended, savoured and celebrated. Here are notes on the 10 wines presented.

Sonoma County at the ROM

Sonoma County at the ROM

Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée 2006, Carneros (Agent, $37.00 – winery)

The brand was developed for the 1987 visit of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain. Seventeen base wines were blended to create the final (66 per cent Pinot Noir and 34 Chardonnay) cuvée. The Chardonnay is planted on lower sloped with deeper soil and the Pinot nicked from locales higher up where it’s rocky and volcanic. “Oh they’re ready for a tussle.” The immediate query is how can it act so fresh? Aged 7 years, the incongruous to electric power is mind altering, though the reaction in the seminar room is muted and should instead be filled with oohs and ahhs…am I wrong? Intense wine, highly lactic and dancing on tongues. Citrus, ginger, pear and Pinot length from the rockpile. And so it goes.   @GloriaFerrer

Quivira Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County (Agent, $15 – winery)

Quivira’s expressive Sauvignon Blanc sells for a song what with its high level of minerality from gravelly soils, typical of Dry Creek Valley. Low acidity, and a quietude of heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds comes aided by a musky, Musqué SB clone. The terroir and the grapes speak for themselves, mostly out of stainless steel, with a bit of neutral oak, plus Acacia barrels, for texture. All in all, there is an elevated pattern of harmony. Biodynamic since 2006, Marketing Director Andrew Figelman notes, “going through biodynamic is like going through an IRS audit.” And worth it in the end.   @quivirawinery  @KylixWines

La Crema Chardonnay Saralee’s Vineyard 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma (Agent, $39 if it were available – winery)

So notable from the get go is this SV Chardonnay’s possessiveness of a muscular rhythm, where oak meets butter. High quality fruit comes from Saralee’s Block 89, a gravelly loam, with less vigorous vines and of course, much fog. Nine months in one third new French oak and a generous, if in check, 13.9 per cent alcohol.  A mere 500 cases are produced of this new and titillating brand. Much orchard fruit on the nose, mineral on the palate and a wrapping of lemon curd. Has chalk and grain. La Crema’s (Ontario-born) winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas has teased us. “You can taste it but you can’t buy it,” Just don’t call it creamy.  @LaCremaWines  @bwwines

Patz & Hall Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County  (Agent, $56, WineAlign)

The Dutton’s have owned the farm for more than a hundred years and have been serious about viticulture for the last 40 or so. The fluffy, porous soils are composed of Goldridge loams, in which moisture runs right through. There is very little if any precipitation making this a sort of “dust bowl” Chardonnay, from five different sites. Distinctive, exotic, old vines give a Muscat-like character, plus mineral and structure. It reminds of a mildly spiced Gingerbread cookie on a dry, cold winter day. The Dutton receives the same elevage treatment as their other 13 Chardonnays; it’s the land that’s different. “We’re allowing these wines to be different by virtue of the terroir,” notes Donald Patz. This is mildly restrained in many ways. A very balanced wine, full of class.  @PatzHall  @TrialtoON

Dutton Goldfield Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley (Winery, $72)

From the Estate’s 1996 planted Freestone Hill Vineyard, from the middle reach (far southwest corner) of the Russian River Valley, a full-on sunshine of fruit spent 17 recondite months in 55 per cent new oak. The resulting door affronting 13.8 per cent alcohol is a so very, if anoetic welcome mat. The Dutton family were the local pioneers. Says Warren Dutton, “if I can ripen apples, surely I can ripen Chardonnay or Pinot Noir,” Ripe red apples and a savoury candy shell have turned to grapes with aid in influence from the Petaluma Wind Gap, in an accruing of elegance and finesse from high acids and low sugars. If the common feeling is that it’s difficult to ripen fruit in this region, the bar must have been set to beanstalk heights. The Freestone Vineyard (which is almost in the Sonoma Coast appellation) is colder even than Green Valley, with an elevation just above the fog, for even ripening margins. The Duttons thought the vineyard not too cold for Pinot Noir, a thought even more astute than the idea of ripening coconuts in Fiji. This really is unadulterated Pinot, from a process that included (20 per cent) whole berry fermentation. The simple elevage turned into a simple yet complex result, with high toned fruit character, tangy black cherry, really fine grain tannin and acidity. Length is ascending and enveloping, from the hill.  @DuttonGoldfield

Buena Vista Pinot Noir 2011, Carneros (304105, $24.95, WineAlign)

Buena Vista was California’s first commercial winery, dating back to 1857. Winemaker and Sonoma native Brian Maloney, formerly of De Loach Vineyards crafted this tight and bracing Pinot Noir from the cooler vintage. The vintage may have been a result of global chaos but the wine is an unmitigated success.  From my earlier, August 2014 note: “This is really quite impressive Pinot Noir. Fastidiously judged if bullish fruit having way too much fun, causing varietal envy amongst other price category peers. Clearly fashioned from stocks of quality fruit, providing an environment for the coming together of many red berries and the earth of contiguous vines. All roads lead to a grand palate marked by exotic, spicy and righteous fleet of wood tones. I wonder if I’m in over my head and tell it “your mood is like a circus wheel, you’re changing all the time.” Quite something this MacPinot specimen and though I wonder if it’s a bit too much, it always seems to have an answer and it sure feels fine.” Tasted blind at World Wine Awards of Canada.  Last tasted October 2014  @BuenaVistaWines  @TandemSelection

Seghesio Zinfandel Rockpile 2011, Sonoma County (Winery, $38)

From three ridgetop vineyards 1,200 feet above Dry Creek Valley; Westphall Ranch, Porcini Hill and Mauritson. Rockpile comes from the late 1880’s, founded by the local Sherrif Tennessee Bishop. Prisoners broke up rocks to make roads and they called it the rock pile. Near extreme elevation matters deeply in this wine, as do three clones, all in the name of layers of flavour. There is a massive waft of florality in Rockpile and a Zinessence that can only be Seghesio. A large yet somehow fog-tempered cool wine, the result of a unique marriage between an altitudinous though indispensable Sonoma climate. Fresh ground spices join the flowers at the hands of winemaker Ted Seghesio. To the palate and texture the wine turns a boisterous phrase, with natural acidity and that structure is defined by tannin and personality. There is heat, a bit of a heavy grain and lifted alcohol though it carries it well. “Veraison thinning is key,” notes Pete Seghesio. Narrowing the harvest window by removing berries from the double sorting table is practiced, along with halting the brix from rising at the hands of hydrating raisins releasing sugars during fermentation. The must is weighed down a touch, even if the practice in fear is just one of splitting hairs, as obviously this has everything Zin needs to be fresh and elastic. “If you miss Zinfandel by five days you have Port,” admits Seghesio. The 2011 got it right.  @seghesio

Kunde Family Estate Zinfandel 2012, Sonoma Valley (965921, $24.95, WineAlign)

Rich and utilitarian to a fundamental degree. Nothing but plum delicious, instilled with structure, tannin and early acidity. More spice and less florals by way of red volcanic rock soil, interspersed with a bit of sand and clay. Winemaker Zach Long is very specific about “that harvest moment” so Kunde’s Zinfandel can never be accused of hanging too long or cheating on the wrong side of ripeness. Cold soaks for five days with a low and slow, geek’s native yeast add layers of complexity to the ferment. With a peppering of Petit Sirah in the mix this has more tar, char and less brightness. It actually leans to black cherry, in Pinot-like dulcet tones which, in that particular direction, is a good thing. The only deterrent in the SV ’12 is a waning of finishing acidity at the end.  @KundeEstate  @imbibersreport

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County (943472, $89.95, WineAlign)

International Sales Manager Vivien Gay introduces the Silver Oak by talking about the Alexander Valley as being the most fully planted AVA in Sonoma. This ’10 is warm and intense, hot to nose, potentially volatile, like a bouquet of hacksaws. Dusty, full-on mulberry fruit is indicative of Merlot but there is none – it’s 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon. That teasing and varietal perplexity is an indication of complexity and also American oak, the usage of which began in 1972. Vanilla, coconut, then spiced, round and soft tannins come by way of 50 per cent new and 50 per cent one-year Missouri white barrels. The fruit quivers, like blackberry bushes in sweltering conditions, trying to shake themselves of the heat. Two years in oak plus one in bottle is a loyal and sentient journey, nearly devout and religious. A highly polarizing wine.  @SilverOak  @HalpernWine

Rodney Strong Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Brothers Ridge 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County (Winery, $75)

This is the flagship Cabernet bottling from the winery that bears the ballet dancer’s name. Has layers of sweet Cassis, black cherry and blackberry fruit. Serrated with heat from a warm vineyard, picked at a generous (27.3 brix) and vinified (15.5 per cent alcohol) in a very big style. The Brothers Ridge fruit spent 21 months in 100 per cent French (43 per cent new) oak. The heat transmits through all the layers. So much java is espressed in this big boned Cabernet. Looking, sniffing and tasting the Brothers Ridge gives the impression of “a great big tall fella, about six foot tall. I shivered and I shook, couldn’t do any more.” Despite it’s heavy kinks, the BR is flat out delicious, hedonistic and as decidedly rich as any Cabernet from the Alexander Valley. Perhaps it is a lover, not a fighter.  @rsvineyards  @ImportWineMAFWM

Good to go!

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