Valpolicella, Ripasso Valpolicella

#rondinella #valpolicella #novaia

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

Valpolicella 101 for i canadese #locanda800 @C_Valpolicella

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the light is just right #verona

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

Via Marconi, #verona #frzlab #ginbar

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

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

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

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

Great old table, Villa Mosconi Bertani

Valpolicella

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tasting at Fidora

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcello Vaona of Novaia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good times in #valpolicella with @johnszabo

Valpolicella Classico

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

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

A sense of wonder beneath the pergola, Vigneti di Ettore

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

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

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

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

Cantina Santa Sofia

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

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

Tasting and lunch at Tenute Salvaterra

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

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

Buongiorno from @sartori_verona @C_Valpolicella

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

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

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

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

Ponte Di Castelvecchio

Valpolicella Superiore

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

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

Valpolicella Classico Superiore

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

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

Good morning @C_Valpolicella from @accordinilgino

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dry, baby dry. Corvina at #calabionda

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

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

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

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

Generations of Ca’ La Bionda

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

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

#lastsupper #nicolis #verona

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

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

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

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

Vero @SantaSofiawines @C_Valpolicella

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

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

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

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

A #verona right of passage #getinthere

Ripasso Valpolicella

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post i canadesi light lunch carnage @PasquaWinery

Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore

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

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

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

Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch at Ettore Righetti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrea Sartori and our Lauren Hall

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

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

Old school indeed @dobianchi @tenutapieve #gaetanobertani #classico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valentina Cubi

IGT Rosso Verona, Veneto and Venezia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elisa Biasolo and Giancarlo Begnoni of Santa Sofia

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

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

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

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

The Verona gang, Ponte Di Castelvecchio

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

We’ve Garnacha covered part one: Campo De Borja

Estación de Delicias de Zaragoza at dusk #CarlosFerrater #aragon #espana

Estación de Delicias de Zaragoza at dusk #CarlosFerrater #aragon #espana

In October of 2015 WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato and I travelled together with Christopher Waters of Vines Magazine.  The trip’s mission was to discover Spain’s Wines of Garnacha in their natural habitat, the five distinct and allied Denominación de Origen in the regions of Aragón and Catalonia.

Related – For a comprehensive report by Sara d’Amato and I read WineAlignDiscover the Flavours: Wines of Garnacha

Christopher Waters, Ivo André Alho Cabral, Sofía González Martínez and Sara d'Amato in Zaragoza

Christopher Waters, Ivo André Alho Cabral, Sofía González Martínez and Sara d’Amato in Zaragoza

Our host in Zaragoza was The Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior, ICEX), the Wines of Garnacha campaign and the office of Garnacha Origen. The trip was orchestrated with expertise by Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio (Nacho) Martinez de Albornoz and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro. Our chaperones Sofía González Martínez, Ivo André Alho Cabral, Roser Mestre and Ignacio left no Aragonese or Catalonian stone unturned during a week-long investigation, immersion and intercommunication with the vineyards, winemakers, mayors, restaurateurs, residents and cultures of Aragón and Catalonia.

Rare rain all day in Aragon did not deter Los Canadienses @waters_wine @saradamato #lovegarnacha

Rare rain all day in Aragon did not deter Los Canadienses @waters_wine @saradamato #lovegarnacha

As a rule, the provincial link between traditional varietal and felicitous region gathers together ancient history and existentialist wine culture in the most acute of ways. The racking path from endemic to modernist is trod for the purpose of explaining why this place is an essential source for affordable wines of exceptional quality. This is the crux of what the Aragón and Catalonian vignerons are after. For decades they have been farming century-aged bush-vines, harvesting fruit that sells for one euro per kilo (plant) and seeing their wine demand a paltry $12-15 CAN (often the equivalent of $9.99 US). The lack of congruent nature of the equation and let’s be serious, the undignified injustice of the flow through is something that needs to be addressed. The challenge is one of necessity and immediacy.

The five DO’s of Aragón and Catalonia are heavily populated by cooperatives and very few wine-producing countries or regions (save perhaps for Chablis or Barbaresco) achieve so many positives from that kind of wine-producing philosophy and execution. This weight of such a collaborative culture is not lost on anyone.

Where didn't the Romans build a wall? #citieswithruins #Zaragoza

Where didn’t the Romans build a wall? #citieswithruins #Zaragoza

The argument as to why the wines of Garnacha origin will not command justifiably higher prices defaults to geography and history. This northeastern quadrant of Spain (including Catalonia) has seen a lion’s  share of war, famine, poverty and neglect. The people have suffered and persevered, albeit in a state of relative isolation. Terra incognita within a stone’s throw of (less than two hours to either Madrid or Barcelona) civilization. It is ironic that the wines are perhaps too comfortable, likewise fruit juicy and easy to consume. Global perception would imagine the wines of Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Somontano, Terra Alta and Calatayud as inaccessible, austere and rustic. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I would contend that the problem is that the wines are not tough enough. Garnacha is supported by all the fight corner help it needs but it’s just too darned soft. The lack of rain, abundance of wind, embarrassment of altitude and slope riches allow for levels of diversity and complexity other wine regions would kill for. Very few pockets of wine growing acreage have any trouble ripening grapes. Day and night temperature fluctuations are constant and in some areas, extreme. Disease is nearly non-existent thanks to the prevailing winds that blow nearly two out of every three days year-round. Soils are chalk full of rocks, stones and vine-affirming mineral. Plants must work hard to penetrate the poor soils. Climate, geography and geology are not the problem.

Why complain about wines that are perfectly ripe? Isn’t that what every farmer wants from his children, for them to complete their phenolic journey and grow up fast? I would argue no, that the grapes need to be picked when the graphing of ripeness and acidity are protracted at the crossroads of their perfect vertices. I would also argue that pressing needs to be done at colder temperatures and for the younger grapes, in certain situations, with some carbonic maceration.

As far as the old vines are concerned, the primary concern is shelf life. Most of the Garnacha produced in this part of Spain carries with it a potential for aging of no more than five years. Many producers keep that maximum goal in mind. A week of tasting through red and white Garnacha reinforced the point but there were a handful of wines that begged to differ. Laying down Garnacha is possible. The winemakers must be willing to take some risks.

Think of this. A producer presents two bottles of Garnacha Tinto, one from younger vines and one from 50-plus year-old bush vines. The first sees only stainless steel fermentation or perhaps three to six months in older oak barrels. The second sees an extended élevage though only a frugal amount (less than 20 per cent) of new wood. They both come in at a maximum 14 per cent alcohol, carry residual sugar numbers of less than 3 g/L and yet both maintain a vibrant acidity number of at least 5-6 g/L. In some cases concrete egg fermenters and/or large foudres are part of the processes. Their pedigree is brimming with history, tradition and physiographic earth sciences. Their agriculture is essentially organic (though they require no formal certification), the fruit is picked early to preserve optimum natural acidity and their fermentations are as wild as the day yeast came to be on this earth.

The young wine if fresh, clean, crisp, pure and full of vitality. It will drink well from now and up to five years. The more serious Reserva-style bottle will have the potential to evolve and develop, though it carries with it that impossible feeling of having already aged right from the start. It will drink beautifully for up got 20 to 25 years. The wines retail in Canada for $18.95 and $34.95, respectively. Which one would you buy? Seeing as how they compliment each other so well, why not both?

Campo De Borja

The Empire of Garnacha

The Empire of Garnacha

The Empire of Garnacha

Of the five DO’s (Denominación de Origen) that comprise the collective wine growing regions located in Aragon and Catalonia, none walk with a swagger like Campo de Borja. President Eduardo Ibañez Aranda and Secretary José Ignacio “Nacho” Gracia Lopez rule the Empire of Garnacha, a self-proclaimed stewardship for the grape and for Campo de Borja as the centre of its universe.

The Cistercian Monasterio de Veruela

The Cistercian Monasterio de Veruela

The two proud men have reason to state such territorial claim. Campo de Borja will play host to Grenaches du Monde. “The Weekend of Garnachas,” organized by the Roussillon Inter-professional Wine Council of France (CIVR). Grenaches of the World was held in France in its first three years. In 2016, Campo de Borja plays host to the competition.

Monasterio de Veruela

Monasterio de Veruela

The oldest vineyards in Campo de Borja date back to 1145. A visit to the 12th century Cistercian Monasterio de Veruela, home to the offices occupied by the Denominación de Origen, wine shop and wine museum (Museo del Vino), answers the historical query. Marble columns in three-dimensionally sculpted relief show grape leaf craftsmanship dating back to the middle ages.

Veruela was the home of one of the most important Romantic Spanish poets: Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, who lived in the abbey during 1863. He is the author of the following verses, maybe among the most famous pieces in the History of Spanish literature:

Qué es poesía?, dices mientras clavas en mi pupila tu pupila azul. Que es poesía? Y tú me lo preguntasPoesía… eres tú.

What is poetry?, you say. As you fix my eyes with yours of blue. What is poetry!… You ask me that? Poetry… It is you!

Rima XXI, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer

In Aragón, diverse soils, altitude, slopes and prevailing winds all contribute to grape growing excellence. Campo de Borja’s trump card is a mountain. Other regions such as Cariñena find benefit from Moncayo, but nowhere does its 2,315m in altitude have an effect on vines as it happens in Campo de Borja.

“Cierzo que almuerza y cent, dura tuna quincena”

Museo del Vino Campo de Borja

Museo del Vino Campo de Borja

More than 2,000 hectares are 30+ yr-old vines. The climate receives an Atlantic influence and above all else there is the famous wind. El Cierzo blows 234 days a year, the “strong wind” blows after the rain, dries out the vines, eradicates disease and elicits increased probabilities for grape concentration. The saying goes “today is raining, tomorrow it will blow.” El Cierzo, as it has been called for 2,000 years, “has lunch and dinner lasts for a fortnight.” No one knows why. Maybe the Zaragozan Virgin of Pilar knows.

Campo de Borja is described as a “homogeneous physical space capable of producing wines with peculiarities.” Much of its viticulture, in kinship with the other four Aragonese DO’s, perpetuates the viñedo en vaso, “vines in a glass,” or bush vines, calculated at 2000 plants per hectare in density with three metres between rows.

The soils of Campo de Borja

The soils of Campo de Borja

Great fluctuations happen in this D.O., located 30 miles west of Zaragoza, where the earliest maturing, lowest section habituates the Ribera del Ebro at 239m and yet other vines are planted up to 1000m. At low altitudes (200-300m) there are finer, lighter soils. In between the vineyards of Ainzon, Borja and Fuendejalon are situated between 450 and 550 metres above sea level, occupied by the terraces of  La Huecha river, a tributary of the Ebro with soils composed of stones and ferrous-clay. The D.O’s top plantations are in the upper reach, Moncayo foothills area of Alta de Ainzon and Fuendejalon, as well as the municipalities of Tabuena, El Buste and Vera. At these higher climes (up to 900-1000m) there is more limestone and iron, so darker soils with obvious increase of mineral.

Yields are quite low (30-35 hL/L), very vintage dependent and in some areas, in certain years it can be as low as 20-25. Yields are the key to understanding the value of wines from Campo de Borja, that and the iron-rich soil minerality.

Vines here see long cycles, with late maturing fruit of soft tannins and high glycerol concentration. Garnacha is a pro at climate and poor soil adaptation. It can be picked well into November and despite the lower tannins, treated properly it possesses the flexibility to develop complexity with short-term aging.

Every Grenache growing region of the world (The Rhone, Australia, South Africa) have their own special aromatic identity, whether it by garrigue, earthy reduction or soil-driven funk. A mountain herb called tomillo (thyme) grows everywhere around Moncayo. In Aragon there is an expression “when it is foggy in the morning there will be walking in the evening” and when it rains there is an all-encompassing scent in the air. That perfume is what gives these wines their special something. The amalgamation of mineral, earth and herb.

Meetings of the minds: Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio Martinez de Albornoz, President Eduardo Ibañez Aranda Campo de Borja and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro

Meetings of the minds: Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio Martinez de Albornoz, President Eduardo Ibañez Aranda Campo de Borja and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro

Christopher Waters, Sara D’amato and I sat down at the offices of the Campo de Borja for a presentation and a tasting of the D.O. wines with President Eduardo Ibañez Aranda, Secretary José Ignacio Gracia Lopez, Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio Martinez de Albornoz and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro.

The wines tasted were Fagus, Coto de Hayas Garnacha Centenaria and Don Ramón Garnacha Imperial, by Bodegas Aragonesas; Ruberte Trésor, by Ruberte; Santo Cristo Garnacha Selección and Aletta, by Bodegas Santo Cristo; and Pdm, by Pagos del Moncayo.

Garnatxa of Campo de Borja

Garnatxa of Campo de Borja

Santo Cristo Seleccion Garnacha 2013, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Quebec Agent Ontario Agent, WineAlign)

From a cooperative in the town of Ainzon, a 100 per cent Garnacha distributed by Eurovin (in Quebec) from 30-35 year-old bush vines at 500-600m altitude. Smoking of a deep black cherry, with violets and mild anise giving the feigned attitude of a candied sweetness. Though it’s warm and accented with quite the spice, aridity reigns and folds into the voluminous mouthfeel. This is extreme velvet, approachable and really put together, structurally speaking. Will benefit from two years further in bottle. There is plenty of fruit to support such patience balanced by a char and a density on the long finish. Would retail for approximately $14 CAN. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted October 2015

Santo Cristo Seleccion Garnacha 2012, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Quebec Agent Ontario AgentWineAlign)

The 2012 vintage of the Ainzon cooperative’s 100 per cent Garnacha is a blend of separately vinified stainless steel tanks. The clean compound works in appendices here and there of liquorice, graphite and pencil lead. The simple, red fruit compounds upon itself in oak-less layers for straightforward, easy pleasure. Would retail for approximately $13.50 CAN. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted November 2014

Bodegas Aletta 2013, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Agent, WineAlign)

From vineyards of 15-25 years old in Pozos de Mata and Aliagares at an altitude of 400-500m. A combination of soil types leads to a complexity of dichotomies, drawing from terraced stony, rich organic brown-calcaire and Moncayo mountain more stony, ferrous clay. Low yields (less than two Kg per vine) in this 100 per cent Garnacha seek an ever increasing perfume and aromatics from ripeness, urged on by a skill set of diverse fermentations.  The minerals incite and an increase of tannin is found in this darker, deeper, yet persistently straight-up juicy Garnacha. Pressed straight to tank this is simply all juice and nothing but the juice. Still a highly clean and modern expression that sees no wood. Good length again. Would retail for approximately $14 CAN. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted October 2015

Blissful Zaragoza comfort food at <a href="https://twitter.com/AuraRestaurante" target="_blank">Aura Restaurante</a> local jamon, mushrooms, astir eggs

Blissful Zaragoza comfort food at Aura Restaurante local jamon, mushrooms, astir eggs

Bodegas Pagos del Moncayo Garnacha 2012, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Agent, Winery, WineAlign)

Pedro Aibar was oenologist at Viñas del Vero and El Coto and now crafts wines from Grenache and Syrah plantings in the hills of Sierra del Moncayo. Produced with the Export company Axial, this 100 per cent old bush vines Garnacha from the eco-certified vineyard of La Marga saw 10 months in oak. At 14 per cent alcohol and deep as a cimmerian night it inhales and exhales in balanced Garnacha breaths. The barrel gives vanilla, chocolate and a bit of espresso. This is a nearly massive yet somehow laid back and accessible expression of Garnacha, foot-crushed, traditionally natural, with depth in its meaty cure. There were 70,000 bottles produced in the singular Campo de Borja that reaches for another layer, of earth and mediterranean funk.  Would retail for approximately $20 CAN. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted October 2015  @louisgeirnaerdt

Bodegas Pagos del Moncayo 2012

Bodegas Pagos del Moncayo 2012

Bodegas Ruberte Tresor 2013, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Winery)

Made by Susanna Ruberte from 100 per cent Garnacha off of 10+ year-old vines. The winery was founded in 1948. From lower altitude Campo de Borja (350-400m) stony vineyards and of low-production, here is a very perfumed Garnacha, expressing the violet nature of the grape and also a tonality impressed by a touch of SO2. Just a hint of barrel (one month) inflects vanilla and spices, unrelated to fruit surrounded by near-acrimonious acetone. Spiked by an aridity that climbs inside the cheeks. Greatest asset is concentration and depth. Will price in the range of $13-14 CAN. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015  @BodegasRuberte

Solo Rosado Centofolia 2014

Solo Rosado Centofolia 2014

Bodegas Aragonesas Rosado Centifolia Solo 2014, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (WineryAgent, WineAlign)

Garnacha of different plots, “offering unique organoleptic qualities.” So very lithe and pretty, saline but not briny. The fruit is certainly strawberry though low-pitched, the hue a pale complexion from the most fleeting skin contact. A luminescent gemstone pink. Like a slice of strawberry angel short cake. Garnacha grounded by a “pretty pink ribbon” of Moncayo earth, without it would be blown by the Cierzo and “float down to the sea.” Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted October 2015   @B_Aragonesas

Bodegas Aragonesas Garnacha Don Ramón Imperial Roble 2012, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

Aragonesas farms 55 per cent of the total production of the area, largest in Campo de Borja. This 100 per cent Garnacha is culled from various (450-800m) elevations. Another prime example of so much concentration, marked by a push-pull of bright-volatile, with dark fruits and liquorice. A date with American oak for six months brings vanilla and cocoa powder, chalk and grain, tar, char and a faint vinyl rub. Good solid held finish. This has power, presence and persistence. It successfully handles and owns its volatility. Quite the polish. Would price in Canada at $14-15. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015

Bodegas Aragonesas Garnacha Centenaria Coto de Hayas 2014, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Winery, 94805, $12.95, WineAlign)

Young wine, old vines. A different sort of 100 per cent Garnacha, this time from arid slate soils close to El Moncayo. The scent of jamon, seemingly impossible, but it’s there. Four months in French oak. Vines are between 80-100 year old with drastically low (10-15 hL/L) yields and from 750m altitude. At 14.5 per cent the brightness pounds the volatility into relative submission but it’s still present, there can be no disputing that. Very smooth and silky, coming on the heels of those always in prevail violet and spice aromas. A smoky dash of Aleppo pepper. French oak, used for the higher end wine, gives a candied wood flavour and roasted flesh of a protein push and some sweet salinity to mineral compenium. Possessive of quite the inner vision meets juicing sensation. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015

Oh to be back in the truffle again. At Restaurante El Fogón, San Martín de la Virgen de Moncayo #verademoncayo

Oh to be back in the truffle again. At Restaurante Asador “El Molino de Berola” #verademoncayo

Bodegas Aragonesas Garnacha Fagus de Coto de Hayas Selección Especial 2012, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (WineryAgent, WineAlign)

Fagus is “beech tree” from the Latin and Coto de Hayas (small forest) from hillsides of the Cordillera Ibérica range. This ’12 is actually 85 per cent plus 7.5 per cent each from ’11 and ’13, all from 40-50 yr old vines. Yet another Garnacha of yields less than 1kg per vine and a slumber in French oak for 10 months. Fagus sweats the most prominent perfume though its level of volatility lies somewhere in the middle of the Coto de Hayas range. Here the OS is built on a foundation of earthy funk, sprites red citrus and is certainly the sweetest of the group. Like mixed berry play dough. A South African Rhone varietal style comes to mind, in earth meets vinyl. The special elaboration is of selected (toasted) barrels, with a hyperbole of vanilla, in waves, bean scrapes and baking elevation. Liquid chalk oozes on the finish, long and with bitters too. Would retail for between $22 and 25 CAN. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted October 2015

Restaurante Asador "El Molino de Berola" #verademoncayo

Restaurante Asador “El Molino de Berola” #verademoncayo

Bodegas Aragonesas Garnacha Fagus de Coto de Hayas Selección Especial 2009, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (WineryAgent)

Fagus is “beech tree” from the Latin and Coto de Hayas (small forest) from hillsides of the Cordillera Ibérica range. The 2009 shows the most minor notes of evolution, still in command of fruit and well within the threshold of balance within its generous oak conditioning. A really good example struts forth here, to show what red Grenache can be at midel age for the DO, not too hard and not too soft. Not too cold and not too hot. Just about right.  Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted October 2015

They call it cheesecake at <a href="https://twitter.com/AuraRestaurante" target="_blank">Aura Restaurante</a> but this is something other, extraordinary, ethereal.

They call it cheesecake at Aura Restaurante but this is something other, extraordinary, ethereal.

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel

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Angles of Leaning Post

Leaning Post Wines

Leaning Post Wines

Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario is a must stop on every wine pursuer’s bucket list. The budding to burgeoning vintner may not call Beamsville, Vineland, Jordan, Virgil, St. David’s or Niagara-on-the-Lake home, but turning off of the QEW and onto the Fifty Road need never be thought of as a time-wasting detour.

Set in a warm nook abutting the Niagara Escarpment, Ilya and Nadia Senchuk‘s base is but a mere stone’s throw from significant points metropolitan, rural and urban Niagara, from Toronto, Hamilton, the towns along The Bench, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Oakville and Burlington. I have meandered through portfolios, tanks and barrels with Ilya mano a mano three times now, twice during visits on spring pilgrimages. His wines reside in the complex realm of obliquity, in a physical zone known as the borderland between fracas and order. And while they seem to follow no comfortable or obvious pattern, without prevarication I can safely say there is such a thing as the Senchuk style.

Related – Lean on, Macduff

Ilya Senchuk has little interest is making wine like everyone else in Niagara. His modus vivendi is predicated on basic, unembellished and crucial tenets. Three V’s. Vineyard, vintage and variance. Senchuk truly believes that greatness is determined by varietal variegation, from vineyard to vineyard and from year to year. Perspective and point of view are an advantage, not to mention prejudice. Hands-off winemaking? Natural wines? Forget about it. Make the best possible wine using the best possible fruit and in the best possible way. End of story.

Related – Vineyards, winemakers and their sense of place: Bachelder and Leaning Post

Senchuk is on mission. He is a Pinot Noir specialist and is one of only three winemakers to produce from holdings in arguably the finest Grand Cru (sic) Peninsula site, a.k.a. the Lowrey Vineyard. The others are Thomas Bachelder and Wes Lowrey. He makes Riesling with impunity. His Chardonnay is modernity incarnate. Gamay in a class of its own. Syrah to redefine what can be done in the cool countenance of the New World. The 2012 was pressed the night (second son) Ruslan was born so the wine is (rightfully so) dedicated to wife Nadia. It is also in support of a farm growing Syrah purposed for greatness.

Ilya arranged a tasting through his current portfolio. Melissa Bogaert was tasting next to me in the barn’s renovated room with assistant winemaker Ryan Corrigan. It was nice to put a face to a Twitter personality. Senchuk and I followed the current selections with a ride through some tanks and barrels to get a sense of the resting ’13 Pinot, Merlot and Syrah. My interest in his agglomerated use of both French and American oak was certainly piqued, but we’ll save that talk for another, finished wine in bottle day. The notes here are (mostly) on the finished wines.

At the Leaning Post tasting

At the Leaning Post tasting

Rosé 2014 (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

A Gamay (70 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (30) split, all picked at an acidity weight-bearing 19 brix from Cattail Creek’s farm. Unlike 99.9 per cent of the Rosé produced on this planet, this fruit was explicitly grown and picked with complicity for Rosé, not red wine. Saigneé be damned, Ilya Senchuk has entered a world of savoury relish, as opposed to herbal pain. From berries to citrus and mouth feel only such blush can know. There is weight without density, more rutaceae on the finish and in a strange Winona way, like a red ringer for skin contact Sauvignon Blanc. So says just a messenger. Drink 2015-2017. On tap at Barque Smokehouse.  Tasted multiple times in June and July 2015

Leaning Post Gamay 2013 and Rosé 2014

Leaning Post Gamay 2013 and Rosé 2014

Gamay 2014 (Tank Sample), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00)

Increases the colline built of earth and endemic Gamay character. Keeps the funk grooving with a precise, focused beat. So very like Pinot, with grains and tannin interwoven to length. Chewy, sanguine and gamy, a manducate of meaty sashimi or a mouthful of raw, marbled rib-eye, seconded on charcoal for a split second. On tap at Barque Butcher Bar.

Leaning Post Rosé 2014 on tap at Barque Smokehouse

Leaning Post Rosé 2014 on tap at Barque Smokehouse

Gamay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

A year has clarified the must into a venerable, beneficial decay, like effulgent, liquid rust. The shine of antiquity and then a blast of cinnamon dominates for the first major swirl. So lithe and profound like wise Pinot Noir, minus the Niagara coat of arms and lacquered veneer. Whatever anxiety may have held down the brightness has eased to deliver this current, optimum drinking window. Drink 2015-2016.
 
From my earlier (tank sample) note of May 2014:

Guiltless and virtuous straight out of stainless, the meaty side of Gamay game boldly goes where few from the Bench have gone before. Like a rare venison steak sitting in a silky pool of lavender-scented demi-glace. Floral like Fleurie and despite zero new oak, vanilla joins the gravy. A Senchuk steal of quality Wismer (McLeary…sort of) fruit sets this Gamay up for easy sell success.

Last tasted May 2015

Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

Senchuk’s swallow of Lowrey fruit from rows part sloping St. David’s Bench and Niagara-on-the-Lake flats are heretofore known as The “Pommatago.” Stated with utter, dire, climeractic swoon, it begs saying that it’s actually pretty. I mean gorgeous. Florals range from roses to violets. A departure from ’09 and ’10 to be sure, this combines Pommard (al fresco detail) and Central Otago (potpourri). The late grip, girth and mirth rounds out like Nebbiolo, with a (13 per cent alcohol) finality in litheness with legs. Structure to age is written in blatant physiognomy. The tannic grain wields from out of 15 months in barrel, followed by eight plus months in bottle, to release its hounds. Says Senchuk, “I like what Pinot does after 24 months.” So will we. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted June 2015

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

Here, the numbers game. The 2012 Lowrey is riper and yet lighter than ’10, like taking ’10 and turning it up to ’11. A Pinot Noir of spine, tapped from Grand Cru Niagara Peninsula fruit, of St. David’s Bench underwritten by Niagara-on-the-Lake. From a year where 20 degrees was the new 28 (as in 2010) and so density at its very core is bankrolled by that vintage. Accents are the beast; spice, smoked brisket and still a hint of haute, though not quite as delicate like ’11. The delicacy is enriching even in the early absence of litheness. It’s gastronomy is old world, albeit a western one and then in retrospect on the finish, you realize it dances remarkably light on it hovering feet. The transition to tannin on the finish is seamless, moving beyond the fits, stops and restarts of ’11. The barrel sees it to this end. “Certainly, in the topsy-turvy world of heavy rock, having a good solid piece of wood in your hand is often useful.” Accessibility be thy Pinot name in 2012. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015

Pinot Noir McNally Vineyard 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

“I want you to see the difference between vineyards. That’s terroir.” This the crux and the impetus to abide and acquiesce fruit from McNally, a cooler, higher site of younger vines. For Ilya, this is “truffle hunting, eating roasted pig, at the base of an oak tree.” The forest floor and the catalytic funk come across more in flavour than smell, following cherries in the dead of an aromatic night. Modernity be damned, this strikes ripe, layered and nearly indelicate. The wine’s got some real chew to it, along with crispy flowers, like nasturtium and lavender. “I think this is the best Pinot that I’ve made,” boasts Senchuk, from 15 year-old vines at Peninsula Ridge. Ilya’s muse came from the 2010 made by winemaker Jamie Evans, along with the Voyageur ’10 made by Ross Wise at Keint-He. Wines that spoke in a vernacular that Senchuk could understand and relate to on a deeper level. Prime ripeness defines 2012. Though it teases of grandiose terroir, its complexities reign in the power with each sip, every time. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015

Five from Leaning Post

Five from Leaning Post

Syrah Keczan Vineyard 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

As much as Pinot Noir attempts to define what Leaning Post represents, this intoxicating inhalant from the Lincoln Lakeshore elucidates the bent and the intent for 2012. Rich in smoking meats, lavender and white pepper, the Hwy. 8 vineyard (where Quarry Road comes down) site transmits flavour, purports cool-climate necessity and is yet warm enough to purpose ripe fruit of a briny, Mediterranean cure. The plot is one km closer to Beamsville than the Redstone Vineyard and very near to Malivoire’s Stouck. More than just prime Cabernet Franc territory, Keczan is the epicentre of Niagara Syrah. This has layers of texture, at once gripping and then conversely popping. At 13.8 per cent alcohol it’s physical without being crazy, warm yet short of cured, rich but shy of acting nubilous. A benchmark. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted June 2015

Chardonnay ‘The Fifty’ 2014 (Barrel Sample), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00)

A oaked/unoaked split that Senchuk says this about.”I don’t like air in my Chardonnay. I like a bit of reduction (for freshness) but don’t want to make a reductive wine.” Tasted from barrel, on its lees (not stirred), this is all about texture. It is creamy with a hint of nuts in nougat. The reductive aspect is negligible to unnoticeable. Has kept its dextrous, youthful charm, inoculated by the lees, exhibiting nary a disparaging phrase. Will champion the style that is so very Senchuk.

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50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more

I arrived at Brock University for the Cool Chardonnay conference on Friday and we began tasting the first of 117 sometime around 11:00 am. On Friday night we convened under the stars st 13th Street Winery for the Barrels and Bonfires event. On Saturday I taxied up the Cave Spring Road runway for an afternoon in the Cave Spring vineyard with the Pennachettis and on Saturday bussed over to Vineland Research and Innovation Centre for the grand Cool Chardonnay dinner.

Related – The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind

On Sunday we wrapped up at Ravine Vineyard. In between events, we tasted Chardonnay in the Media Room at White Oaks Resort and Spa. All of this not would not have been possible without the efforts of Wine Country Ontario.  I posted 20 or so tasting notes in Monday’s column, scribbles apropos to the events associated with the presented wines.

Here are 50 more tasting notes in 5,000 Godello words, add or subtract a few hundred. If you follow doctor’s orders and take one Chardonnay every hour for 50 hours, this is the result.

I've fallen and I can't get up. @mikedicaro channelling his inner MacGyver to save #i4c14

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. @mikedicaro channelling his inner MacGyver to save #i4c14

Angels Gate Old Vines Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116350, $23.95, WineAlign)

The long hanging fruit left to develop sugar and richness, the new oak, the eight months rest on the lees. These are all winemaker favourite things, stylistic choices that contribute to a viscous mess of a Chardonnay. A full take has been liberally advantaged from the hot vintage. The alcohol is listed at 13.5 per cent but the wine sweats higher, in a sun-caramelized toast, leaning to oxidative, even bruised and battered orchard fruit territory. As a consequence and in retreat, the acidity dot does follow. The new wood has melded well and good so in terms of texture, the old vines feel right.  Tasted July 2014

Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116384, $15.25, WineAlign)

The Mountainview, despite being a value offering as compared to the Old Vines just seems to be in better temper. There is more mineral on the palate, too. Angles here are less extreme, fruit not as languid or encumbered. The persistence in length seems greater, thanks in most part to freshness, even if the fruit is not quite as fleshy as the OV.  Tasted July 2014

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 and Hidden Bench Felseck Chardonnay 2011

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 and Hidden Bench Felseck Chardonnay 2011

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

Has Wismer found a cruising altitude? Has this Grand Cru vineyard from a most perplexing 2011 vintage entered the telephone booth in civilian clothes, only to soon emerge as a super hero? Will it sing, “I am, I am Superman and I can do anything?” Wismer has rounded out a bit, at present in a grounded form, but we know it will fly to greater heights and at faster speeds. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice.” Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with it’s touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”  Last Tasted July 2014

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

Juicy and immediately perceived as existing in unwavering balance. The juxtaposition of the stainless steel and (three year-old oak for seven months) barrel aging intertwines fresh and reductive aromas to a common meld. More orchard fruit than I remember, more linear acidity, more expression. Raises the bar and the score. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Half barrel-aged, this Chardonnay has a silky mouth feel and as much nip as can be assimilated in a single mouthful. Green apple, blanched nuts and a metallic tickle give the sensation of chewing on crumbling stones. There is considerable girth and texture here, spicy folds and tangible tension. The alloy trumps the fruit so consider drinking up now and for another year or two.”  Last tasted July 2014

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

A thick, rich and medicated goo this ’11 Blue Mountain Chardonnay. “Mother Nature just brewed it and there’s nothing really to it I know.” A traffic of oak waves in not so much woody but more so simply tannic. The palate is clenched, those tannins angular and ever so slightly bitter, intense and want to be bigger than the fruit would be willing to allow. This is Chardonnay with personality and ability, if just a bit big for its own head. Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring wines

Cave Spring wines

Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (213983, $29.95, WineAlign)

Today a fine misty Blancs, looking very much the coppery, crisp slice of apple it need be. Slate stone tone directive, grapefruit very much in play. A slice of tart key lime pie. From my earlier May 2014 note: “The freshest style of the #ONfizz B de B flight. Fruit, escarpment bench stone layering, richesse, biscuits and toast are all in. Acidity meets complexity.” From my earlier, December 2012 note: “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.” Last tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Dolomite Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (902610, $16.95)

The Dolomite is the eponymous CS Chardonnay via 86 per cent Beamsville Bench (Cave Spring Vineyard) and 14 per cent Lincoln Lakeshore . Driven to the licensee market, this is 25 years of winemaking in a nut (or limestone) shell. Made in a fresh, clean, juicy and oh so approachable style, the Dolomite finishes with a slight bitter pith, very obvious citrus zest slant. Remains clean and pure throughout, thanks in large part to the 26 percent more aromatic and very presentable portion of Chardonnay Musqué.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2011, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $15.95, WineAlign)

Musqué is slowly creeping into the Niagara consciousness and into the hearts of winemakers across the peninsula. The aptitude with which it accedes to perfumed heights and respectable complexity without needing excessive coercion makes it both necessary and inviting, especially when a vigneron like Cave Spring is attempting to produce so many levels of quality juice. Chardonnay made easy and without compromise, exemplified here, though the CS take heads straight to the mandarin-clementine stage. Dry, direct, linear, fine and knowing Musqué, not unlike basic yet effective Gruner Veltliner.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2012, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (256552, $18.95, WineAlign)

The vine age on the Estate runs between 18 and 35 years, a wisdom not to be ignored. Usage of older Hungarian oak lends spice to Chardonnay on-line and always climbing the right and proper varietal tower. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Terrific balance to the warm and inviting fruit, certainly orchard driven and kissed by the Spring’s obvious mineral slate. Clean, open-knit, ready, willing and able.”  Last tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Csv Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (529941, $29.95, WineAlign)

Though currently subtle and reserved, if the Csv were once in a wonky phase, the doors to a new perception are now open. Soaked orchard fruit, the underlay of stone and a surround sound of chalky tenderness leads to length, for time is what this Chardonnay has got. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Here is a vibrant and wild at heart expression of Bench Grand Cru terroir, the Cave Spring Vineyard. While the first impression may be a warm one it seems (for the vintage) that is because it’s big, boisterous and a bit clumsy in wood right now. The acidity seems buried at times and at others on top. It is also a touch reductive so this will need more years to settle and to play nice. The aromas indicate green apple meets metal pipe, the flavours orchard and salinity by way of limestone minerality. The length is more than admiral and admirable.” Last tasted July 2014

Clois du Bois Calcaire Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, California, USA (421941, $28, WineAlign)

Inserting the calcaire nomenclature into your RRV label is to announce that your Chardonnay is influenced by calcium carbonate and the ancient, long ago decomposed bones of coral and foraminifera. A heady designation for sure and Clos Du Bois backs it up with its sedimentary and chalky textured ’11. There is a fine stone-ground spice and floral lilt, not to mention a demurred wave, like an under water coral and vegetative scene in slow motion. Clean, pure, lively fruit, picked just in time and left to develop low and slow. I can see this Calcaire gaining complexity for 10 plus years and always living up to its name.   Tasted July 2014

Creation Chardonnay 2012, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (379297, $29, WineAlign)

A macadam drafts from the Creation drawn from what might provocatively be a pair of gravel pits at the base of the Hemel En Aarde Valley. A soul 2012 brother to the Sumaridge though grounded and layered by the lower slopes. That said it does the heavy lifting, offers up more green apple driven fruit and less tannic mineral activity. A bigger wine but by no means a serf to its wood liege. Another stellar ’12.  Tasted July 2014

Creation Chardonnay 2013, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (378554, $32, WineAlign)

Creation brightens in 2013, lifts up to more intense rose flower and potpourri aromas. The intensity follows on the very viscous palate, bringing an increased ocean breeze salinity and scraped rock sensibility. There is a granitic feel that reminds of Rangen Riesling in its own tannic way. In the end the elegance factor takes over and the wine perseveres for a spell.  Tasted July 2014

Decelle Villa Savigny Les Beaune Blanc 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (378208, $40.95, WineAlign)

From low-yielding (20 hL/l) vines, like all of Burgundy (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), as opposed to the 40-45 quotient that might be expected from much of ‘lighter’ Savigny Les Beaune, especially for Chardonnay. Aged for 12 months in two year-old, 500l barrels, there is an alluring and rich feel here, though the wine is fresh, inviting and immediately integrated. A more than approachable White Burgundy to relish now and for a quick tour of the village.  Tasted July 2014

Decelle Saint Aubin 2012

Decelle Saint Aubin 2012

Decelle Villa Saint Aubin 1er Cru Sur Gamay 2012, Saint Aubin, Burgundy, France (377713, $69, WineAlign)

From the partnership of Olivier Decelle, Pierre-Jean Villa and the confidence of winemaker Jean Lupatelli. The town is Gamay, the variety Chardonnay. Only five barrels (125 cases) were produced by a trio of men with zero interest in speculating over land, fruit or success. Barrel fermentation is key, natural yeast a must and a kinship with Puligny uncanny. Not surprising considering the famed locale is but three kilometres away. This cooler fruit spent 15 months in two year-old barrels and though only bottled five weeks prior to tasting there is nary a shocky note. Such a well-adjusted Gamay. Entrancing and engaging Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Domaine Dublère Savigny-Lès-Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1er Cru 2011, AC Burgundy, France (376095, $58.95, WineAlign)

Unusual nose that begins with white candy floss, transforms to gun powder and finishes into the toasty mystic. Unexpectedly warm, buttery and tingling on the tongue, though that is just a faint and fleeting notion. A taste brings out apple-butter terpenes, though once again, that’s just for an instant. While looking for richness their instead ticks intelligence but everything is in foreign tongue shorthand. Balance is key and that it has but ultimately there lacks a certain level of depth.  Tasted July 2014

Domaine Dublère Les Terres Blanches Nuits-St.-Georges 1er Cru 2011, AC Burgundy, France (376079, $105, WineAlign)

Big, boisterous and highly terpenic, so steroidal in apples. MdC  “Donut wines…a hole in the middle.” A tang as well that just doesn’t sit right, a dog that bites. Bitter, tight, bracing, non repentant for its sins.  Don’t really get it.   Tasted July 2014

Gérard Bertrand Domaine De L’Aigle Limoux Chardonnay 2012, AC Midi, France (377671, $33.00, WineAlign)

Rich, honeyed and seemingly sweet, not from sugar (3 g/L) but rather the pressing, squeezing and juicing of stones. That limestone tannin is a trick only grape must and its parent vines know, wondrous and inexplicable. Great body and mouthfeel come from this baby Aigle, a Chardonnay with locally incomparable structure, if not quite the elastic length and girth of the Bertrand Royal. Exceptional quality from the Midi.  Tasted July 2014

Gérard Bertrand Aigle Royal Chardonnay 2012, AP Limoux, Midi, France (377689, $75.00)

Anxiety in high caste mineral, in ingot and in southern French platinum rock. Full textured beauty of attitude and high-slope altitude, with formidable weight, smouldering, perfumed toast and exceptional texture. Full in every way, taking every liberty in the name of equality, and quality. A who knew such bounds could be leaped by the warmth of the place.  Tasted July 2014

Godello and Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Winery

Godello and Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Winery

Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68817, $28.95, WineAlign)

Yet rigid in its youth, the wood is not yet settled. Bottled in September of 2012, the ’12 will need every day of its first year to be ready, willing and able to please upon release. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Always aromatically embossed and texturally creamy, the Estate Chardonnay finds a way to elevate its game with each passing vintage. The uplifting elegance factor acquiesces the poise needed to battle the effects of ultra-ripe fruit out of a warm vintage. In ’12 the middle ground exchanges more pleasantries though the finale speaks in terse, toasted nut and piquant daikon terms. Not harshly or witchy, mind you, but effectively and within reason of the season. When you look in the window at Harald (proprietor Thiel) and Marlize’s (winemaker Beyers) Chardonnay, “you’ve got to pick up every stitch.”  Last tasted July 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $38, WineAlign)

Bottled in March of 2014, the Felseck draws fruit from vines planted in 1988. Proprietor Harald Thiel notes a three-pronged picking regimen, early, mid and late, vinified separately and brought together to bring layering and tapestry out of this extraordinary vineyard and into the finished wine. The many folds and clay-silt soil provide a tannic structure dichotomously “champlant” in style, pastoral even, subdued and ethereal. The nerve in this Chardonnay comes by way of the active limestone, highest in Felseck as compared to any other HB block. This may be the most direct Chardonnay in all of Niagara, the house of permanent cards, the as of yet not witnessed balance achieved. This is the check that affirms a stand and a step towards a legacy.  Tasted twice, July 2014

Godello and Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines

Godello and Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines

Josef Chromy Chardonnay ‘Pepik’ 2012, Tasmania, Australia (378240, $22)

Chardonnay of stainless steel from Chromy’s estate vineyard at Relbia in northern Tasmania, cool, savoury green, spirited and grinding in tight, sharp angles. From what winemaker Jeremy Dineen describes as “a pungent must,” the Pepik is entry-level and anything but. There is a gentle, stable and clarified zesty personality in ‘er, fragrant, snappy and poignant. Versatile for a walkabout with many a pre-dinner flavour.  Tasted July 2014

Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2013, Tasmania, Australia (378232, $32, WineAlign)

In a world where 30+ degrees celsius is a veritable anomaly and the maritime winds spray salt to and fro, there can be little argument against the celebration of (winemaker) Jeremy Dineen’s Chardonnay at a cool climate conference. Sulphured early and housed in one-third new French oak, his lees were stirred often and always. Highly textured, he is succinctly clean, cutting and crunchy with an underlying chalky rationale and smokey, tonic toast. The Chromy ’13 is a demanding croon that must creep up to get a hold of you. Though you tell him “you treat me badly, I love you madly,” there is a miracle in his non-malolactic ways.   Tasted July 2014

Kistler Les Noisetiers 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (251223, $80, WineAlign)

Long distance runner built for endurance, a cool customer able to withstand the heat from a season’s relentless, though moderate, gentle sun, from start to finish. No shortage of ripe fruit and certainly not wanting for the micro-oxygenated slow release of a prized barrel. This might be the two-bit Kistler bottling but it offers up exemplary Sonoma fruit with the temperament and conceit of high caste Burgundy. The style is culled from two poles and pulls in two directions.  At once sharp and piquant, then golden and in mirth. All in all it’s exactly what should be wanted for the buyer who wants what it has to give.  Tasted three times, July 2014

Kistler Stone Flat Vineyard 2012, Carneros, California (agent, $80, WineAlign)

The Carneros vineyard of Tuscan clay is filled with giant river stones. It consequently offers up more of a stone groove, but also an everglade humidity, a lemony spray and a rub of savoury, evergreen. The palate brings a crisp, cool, mountain morning, a rushing stream of fresh water and the cool mountain air. There is a piercing bite on the mid-palate, a peppery spice that lingers than releases for a full wash, a cleanse in mineral. Amazing balance in tightrope tension and length to a horizon out of sight.  Great wine. Finds its elegance and its cool without any effort, like the power lift of a ballet dancer.  Tasted three times, July 2014

Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2011, Sonoma Coast, California (agent, $89.95, WineAlign)

This is from the vineyard in surround of Kistler’s home base and from soil anything but flattering to the host vines. Sandy, deficient in nutrients, “like beach sand,” says Geoff Labitzke, MW, that seemingly has no bottom. Irrigational tubing is employed and perhaps some nitrogen in mid-summer but as per the Kistler stratagem, the VH is dry-farmed. This has the most golden sunshine of the three Chardonnays tasted at #i4C14. It’s brighter, with linear acidity and a very toasty, nutty feel. Sitting with it a while is necessary to appreciate its charm and gathering power.  Tasted July 2014

Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyard at 13th Street Winery

Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyard at 13th Street Winery

Lailey Brickyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (2908, $30.20, WineAlign)

From a vineyard planted in 2004 on the east end of the Lailey property, right next to the river. The red clay soil, the cooler nights and the longer growing season produced just 70 cases of this highly singular and stupidly inexpensive Niagara Chardonnay. This is a vineyard transformed over 10 years from a brickyard and cherry tree farm, now rich yet elegant in simultaneous motion, not to mention seamless in transition, within and without. Brother Derek Barnett is generously giving this rare, small lot Chardonnay away, all the while “talking, about the space between us all…and life flows on,” along the Niagara River.  Tasted July 2014

Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay Old Vines 2012, VQA Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $40.20, WineAlign)

The old Vines were planted between 1974 and 1978, ancient by Niagara standards. Only gnarly old, gristle veteran dudes like these could handle the beastly burden of 16 months in 50 per cent new French oak, not to mention all the while sitting on top of the lees heap. It may ask you “am I hard enough, am I rough enough, am I rich enough?” You may tell it “you’re tropical, you’re subtle, you’re sweet yet cool in mouthfeel, you’re elegant and you’re “not too blind to see,” but you carry that oak with ease.  Tasted July 2014

Malivoire Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (573147, $19.95, WineAlign)

Essentially bone-dry, kissed by a minor peck of new oak and consistently established, here from fruit out of Estate, Moira and (10 per cent) Vinemount Ridge vineyards. The latter adds flinty complexity by way of an intangible, aeriform note, magnified by the warmth of the vintage. The humidity is very minor, thanks to prudent early (September 1 to 12) picking of Beamsville Bench grapes in ever-present rooted stability. Here is hospitable Chardonnay gaining traction and interest with each passing vintage, showcasing the work of winemaker Shiraz Mottiar and as a portal to the investigations of Small Lot, Moira, Mottiar and Cat on the Bench. Tasted July 2014

Malivoire and Riedel, Image (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Malivoire and Riedel, Image (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

In admiral control this summer, rich in stone-churned butter and in residence of a right honourable place. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Gamay may be winemaker Shiraz Mottiar’s decisive resource but Chardonnay is his thing. The Moira’s ranks as one of Niagara’s best, vintage in, vintage out and this Mottiar, from the winemaker’s home vineyard is the trump card. This Malivoire special agent is set in 2 – 5 year old 300 L French oak hogsheads and aged on the lees in barrel for 10 months. The result? Texture. With the use, or lack thereof in new oak, Mottiar’s Chardonnay becomes a study in compages, with strong abilities and the accents of green orchard fruit and a faint sensation of blanched nut. Nothing toasty mind you because it’s all about density and girth; a Shiraz thing. I find his Chardonnay is all about texture.”  Last tasted July 2014

Manciat-Poncet Crémant de Bourgogne Brut NV, Burgundy, France (378653, $28)

A tragically gingered peach, a candied rhinestone, a ready to bake hip cake for the easy oven. Safe bubbles here, “pale as a light bulb hanging on a wire, sucking up to someone just to stoke the fire,” from a distance, with simplicity and caution. Like getting caught in New Orleans with a sinking feeling.  Tasted July 2014

Marie-Pierre Manciat Les Morizottes Mâcon 2012, Burgundy, France (376137, $27, WineAlign)

There are some unhinged and unusual aromas in this Mâcon, of carbon copies, a stainless tank and Musa. Pears too, pinballing and ready for poaching. Faux or perhaps near-mineral texture, slightly saline, with flint and slate. The complexities are boundless and confounding. Highly expressive but the expressions are not all created equal.   Tasted July 2014

Marie-Pierre Manciat Les Petites Bruyères Pouilly-Fuissé 2012, Burgundy, France (376129, $39, WineAlign)

There is a deep rust, faded jeans vine wisdom in the Pouilly-Fuissé. It steps out with more richness and tension than the Mâcon. Balanced energy and stretched length.  Tasted July 2014

Marimar Estate La Masía Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, (331918, $49, WineAlign)

First notes are high in the hills of the tropics, in pineapple, mango and papaya. A veritable smoothie of very ripe, creamy fruit and though it carries a 14 per cent mark in alcohol there rests a jury of acceptable behaviour. Finesse has won the argument, leaving bits of white pepper, reduction and vineyard funk behind. There is a persistence that belies the price on this judiciously-oaked Chardonnay, complete with its avocation of high-powered notations in an expensive suit.  Tasted July 2014

THe Chardonnay of #i4c14

The Chardonnay of #i4c14

Maycas Del Limarì Sumaq Chardonnay 2013, Limari Valley, Chile (Agent, $15.00, WineAlign)

This unoaked Chilean is fresh yet herbal, though mildly so and lime-accented, but certainly not spiked in any Tequila or other southern hemisphere distilled spirit from a large seeping plant kind of way. Fine and subtle actually, so not overtly cool or lifted by altitude influenced climatic acidity. Peacefully, Pacifically tempered Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Maycas Del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2010, Limarí Valley, Chile (162040, $20.00, WineAlign)

This unoaked Chilean is fresh yet herbal, though mildly so and lime-accented, but certainly not spiked in any Tequila or other southern hemisphere distilled spirit from a large seeping plant kind of way. Fine and subtle actually, so not overtly cool or lifted by altitude influenced climatic acidity. Peacefully, Pacifically tempered Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Maycas Del Limarì Quebrada Seca Chardonnay 2011, Limari Valley, Chile

Known as the “dry cliff” this is from a southern parcel (Pinot Noir comes from the north), a calcium carbonate plot that leads to this stone-driven Chardonnay. Nearly 200 metres above sea level, the altitude brings more cool to this bottling, more ventilated salinity, an almost wet-air, asthmatic sense of breathing. Really defined by oyster shell, this has more fruit than the value-based offerings, increased density, more citrus, both dried and condensed. A lot going on here, quite unique and worth a good look.  Tasted July 2014

Niagara College Teaching Winery Balance Barrel Fermented Chardonnay Donald Ziraldo Vineyard 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.15, WineAlign)

From the St. David’s Bench, this avant-garde label saw 11 months in French and American barriques, along with regular lees stirring. Certainly hovering and circulating in wide-ranging textural graces. A whole lotta love and learning is in this bottle; it’s round and golden with a high-spirited tang. At once typical and contrived, it’s also reeking and soaking like a sponge. Many an orchard makes an aromatic class audit. A high-toned citrus exam demands attention and focus. The wood is obvious but it too will learn. All in all this is cool Chardonnay, well-made and ready for the world.  Tasted July 2014

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (173377, $24.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Martin Werner’s 2012 may just be the hardest working Chardonnay in showbiz and in Niagara. Winnowed from Estate (St. David’s Bench) and (Niagara) river fruit, there lurks within, a 20-30 percent perfumed compression of Chardonnay Musqué. The additive is a tonic fanned from the wine’s olfactic communicative nerve centre, adding tree fruit notes no more serious than should be gathered. Werner picked real early, like five weeks ahead (first of September) and the resulting noisome perfume makes for some funk. “It’s these little things, they can pull you under,” but they blow away and settle into a rich, viscous Chardonnay for the palate to collect, contain and command. “Oh, oh, but sweetness follows.” This Ravine works automatically, of the people, for the people.  Tasted July 2014

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (381905, $40.00, WineAlign)

From 100 per cent hillside Estate fruit, a limestone and slate parcel in St. David’s on the Niagara Escarpment. This is fruit from low yields that spent 24 months of unabashed pleasure in French oak. Though highly concentrated and bent in an oxygenated stratosphere, the reduction is in elevated citrus aromas and piercing mineral flavours. Bigger than many, than your head, than a yottabyte. The complex notations are elevated in so many ways. Strung tighter than a leer kite, the heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds are years away from settling so put this Ravine away. Come back next decade to see where it’s at.  Tasted July 2014

Rex Hill Dijon Clone Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon (378455, $46.00, WineAlign)

Palate cleansing Chardonnay, an attribute that can’t be stressed or praised enough when tasting 117 renditions in a span of 50 hours. The Rex Hill is lithe, crisp and pure, a wine with a sense of wisdom. He is a subtle act of wine generosity. He smells like clove-scented, fine-casted ingot and is full of health increasing salinity and minerality. A wine of direct discovery, simple professionalism, restraint and impeccable balance. There is a green apple flavour, gently pressed and juiced. There is a texture from quarry rocks, the creamed kind, slightly piquant, merely dusted. The Rex is a very fine, calm representative with a sure sense of place.  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! “Richness” Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

This special, specific and idiosyncratic batch by winemaker Ann Sperling is a whirlwind of terpene, wood and lees, all in a whorl. Though all three demanding notions make a play to bully the fruit, this is no ordinary fruit and touched by no passive hands. Complex and textured like angelic cake, there is a distinct aroma coming from the righteous barrel, a high octane, tropical nuance, in smouldering pineapple, creamy mango and mangosteen. This Chardonnay spits the vintage heat out through the gap in its front teeth, goes all tense and nervous, does not relax. There is chalk and stone, like slate, like Calcaire Riesling, all in at 14.3 per cent abv. An all out intense effort, a wow bit of Niagara, but what exactly is this monster? The amazing thing is that there is just a ton of fruit so you can let this settle down for 10 years or more. As BMS notes, “it’s raw and unleashed.”  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (366500, $50.00, WineAlign)

Has integrated nicely though certainly persists as a big, lush Chardonnay. If there were splinters or sinewy bits they have melted away.  From my earlier, May 2014 note: “The Poetica underwhelms at the present time, or perhaps hides in her youth. She’s a calm, buttery, mildly toasted, supportive softie and more accessible than her Sperling west coast sistren. Like a cool Chardonnay soffit hiding beneath a warm bench, the Poetica speaks not for the vintage but more for the current vineyard, a warm and hip spot in the Four Mile Creek appellation. The site remains (at least to me) understood but the unctuous aspect in texture and gathering sweetness with time in the glass will realize a richesse yet unseen. Poetica’s refrain is like “wind on the weathervane,” her tragically subdued fruit quiet, but able to travel long. Time will be the reveal, so be patient.”  Last tasted July 2014

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2012, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (378760, $35, WineAlign)

In direct antithesis to what was a more than commendable 2011, this follow-up takes the Sumaridge illustrious Cru torch and raises the Hemel En Arde bar to the most complex portion of the ridge. Proprietor Holly Bellingham notes the near perfect vintage, with rain falling gracefully and slowly throughout, unlike the heavy shelling just before the 2011 harvest. Here the seamless connections of ocean winds, granite give and beatific vines mean this ’12 is super bad. Sunshine intensity, cool godfather of soul moves and dancing nerve are all as one. This is like a mineral sponge, sopping up fresh fruit and the slightest notion of toasted nuts. “Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme. Heeeeey, (scream). Uh, come on!” How will Sumaridge top this?  Tasted July 2014

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2011, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (378760, $35, WineAlign)

Though it lacks the elegance of the astonishing 2012, there is a freshness and a vigor that still defines the Valley. The aromatics create an expectation despite the heavy rains at harvest, a deluge that had a thinning effect on the fruit. The kick or punch in the pith caused neither dilution nor disease and this ’11 rebounded to carry the fire. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Though it would be naïve to think every Chardonnay produced out of the Hemel En Aarde Valley is the stuff of grand cru, recent examples have done nothing but impress. Sumaridge joins Hamilton Russell and Creation on the Walker Bay dream team. Ocean breeze-cooled slopes and deprived soils of decomposed granite loam with quartzite manage rich fruit with cool ease. In this 2011 a most excellent trifecta of dryness (1.7 g/L), acidity (6.9 g/L) and PH (3.45) brings together texture and tannin. Though seemingly sweet it is anything but a cloying example. Buttery but mild in toast, quite piercing yet tempered by an herbal quality, not warm or balmy, but inexorably herbal. Schematically waxy, splashed by lemon and piqued by zest.”  Last tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA  (agent, $41.95, WineAlign)

Tasted with proprietor Brian Talley at Cave Spring Vineyard in a setting to do justice for a wine with an irrigated gully of heart. Barrel fermented, using wild yeasts and aged for 10 months in French oak, 20 per cent of it new. Pours thick, rich and viscous into the glass with a reality that is pure, light and elegant. This is so much cooler in direction than could be perceived or believed. “I want to make wine that tastes like our grapes and not someone else’s barrels,” insists Talley. That philosophy equates to a pansophy of orange citrus and the misty spray of its scored skin, so aromatic, so in blossom, so floral. Not sure there has been nosed such succulence in restraint from Arroyo, from California or from anywhere Chardonnay grows in warm climes.  Tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA  (winery, $61.95, WineAlign)

The Rincon Block was planted in 1984, the “home” vineyard next to the winery. Tight, bracing, savoury and bound by a tannic, mineral extraction. Only 17 barrels (just under 500 cases) were produced of this 100 per cent (14 months in 20 per cent new oak) barrel fermented Chardonnay marked by wow intensity. “Jump back, what’s that sound, here she comes, full blast and top down.” Wailin’ Halen Chardonnay trampled underfoot, what can you say, like chanting “Panama ah-oh-oh-oh-oh.” Talley’s Rincon ’12 never relents, stays on the throttle, puts the pedal to the metal and speeds the van towards a persistent, consistent finish. Bring on the Digby, Nova Scotia scallops, from coast to coast.  Tasted July 2014

Tantalus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (VINTAGES 378821, $42, BC VQA, 114884, $29.90, WineAlign)

The immediacy of this Chardonnay is felt, in perfumed poise, in palate roundness, in a velvet wrap of texture. A finely balanced and over-achieving elegance from out of a single vineyard, specifically “block 6,” which sits above a gravel bed, on an eastern aspect in South East Kelowna. A mild toast, a blanch of nuts and creamy citrus coagulate to create a transcendent B.C. Chardonnay experience, one that seems like it could be eaten with a spoon. “It peels off and ties that bind me,” and after tasting I saw the light. Chardonnay with an unconscious redirection of feelings, a transference unique and welcome.  Tasted July 2014

Thelema Mountain Blanc de Blancs 1994, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (376111, $28)

Méthode Cap Classique fine bubbles still motivated and in blender motion that if fading can be excused with a thousand pardons. With no more than 2 g/L of residual sugar it’s an Extra Brut style that has survived two decades. Far eastern spices and orange melon that remain cool, juicy and unfermented give it youthful aromas. One of those hard to believe 20 year-old success stories that will continue to give to 25. Wild yeast and grated wasabi square off the peg in this Stellenbosch ringer for vintage Champagne. Buy one now at VINTAGES Shop Online, bring it to a party, be the coolest Chardonnay cat around.  Tasted July 2014

A selection of international and Ontario sparkling wines on ice. Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

A selection of international and Ontario sparkling wines on ice. Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (20431, $23, WineAlign)

Fruit divides time and space from the (sandy, Black Sage) Diamondback Vineyard and the (sandy gravel, Golden Mile) Tinhorn Creek Vineyard. So what? So let’s dance to Andrew Moon and Sandra Oldfield’s fresh recognisance mission, to offer up a slight oak and stirred lees textural sui generis, but mostly the intent to keep things crisp and real. The sugar and PH are low, the acids medium to high. Overall there generates a cool orchard fruit blooming breeze and a south-west feeling of ease. Bring it on.  Tasted July 2014

Good to go!

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Nine big November best buy wines

The Canadian wine harvest is essentially done. The vines have turned, in cycle as per their natural perforce and in colour.Photo: Phil_Good/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.comLike it or not, the first week of November demands that we begin planning for the holiday season. The wine industry’s senses in Canada are highly acute to the preparations, as witnessed by the unparalleled number of tastings, travel, discussions, wine competitions and awards.

Our provincial liquor boards are especially proactive, wasting no expense to roll out glossy magazines and the proverbial red carpet for a host of high-end, super rich and ripe wines. When the clock strikes Christmas, anything that presents to the consumer that necessary combination of excellence and value will have long been sold through.

The Canadian wine harvest is essentially done. The vines have turned, in cycle as per their natural perforce and in colour. Another signal to seek advice from the wine retinue and to stock up for winter.

To get you headed down the white, yellow, red and black brick road to wine Oz, here are nine serious wines being released this coming weekend, to cellar and to share in these last frantic weeks of 2013.

From left: BELLINGHAM THE BERNARD SERIES OLD VINE CHENIN BLANC 2012, PRINZ VON HESSEN ROYAL RIESLING KABINETT 2011, and HIDDEN BENCH CHARDONNAY 2011

BELLINGHAM THE BERNARD SERIES OLD VINE CHENIN BLANC 2012 (12724, $22.95, SAQ 11154911, $24.75)

Though I was as first confused by the metal guts and bolts of this supertramp of a Chenin Blanc, in a short time I came to understand the greatness of its seasoned ways. From Niël Groenewald’s altitudinous bush vines, I put away the question, “who put Chardonnay in my Chenin Blanc” and replaced it with “don’t criticize, they’re old and wise.” His vines and their wisdom. Lemon drop, candied flower, buttered breakfast apples and apple pie. Can look into the pensieve and smell it in the morning from when I went to school.  91  Tasted October 4, 2013  @BellinghamWines

PRINZ VON HESSEN ROYAL RIESLING KABINETT 2011 (345769, $26.95)

An atomized and candied Kabinett brought into balance by zippy, ranging aromatic peaks. Porcupine tree of atmospheric disturbance, proving yet again that with German Riesling, “the more I get to know the less I find that I understand.” Royal flushed sweet entry, mid-palate plunging cliff jump and in the end a rising launch into the stratosphere of mouth watering acidity.  92  Tasted October 4, 2013

HIDDEN BENCH CHARDONNAY 2011 (68817, $28.95)A study in Beamsville Bench equitable tension, from its wagered ripe fruit in optimum extraction, to a responsible and fundamental barrel absorption. Woody but not wooden, woolly yet not woolen, would be greatness and not what would’ve been. Fine lines, linen and lace. A wine that echoes, acts and appears as an honest product of its makers. Further definitive stuff from Marlize Beyers, Harald Thiel and Hidden Bench.  91  Tasted July 20 and October 4, 2013   @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

From left: PEARL MORISSETTE CUVÉE DIX-NEUVIEME CHARDONNAY 2011, NORMAN HARDIE UNFILTERED NIAGARA PINOT NOIR 2010, and BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010

PEARL MORISSETTE CUVÉE DIX-NEUVIEME CHARDONNAY 2011 303602, $40.00)

A child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or Niagara as a whole in 2011?  93  Tasted July 19, 2013  @PearlMorissette

NORMAN HARDIE UNFILTERED NIAGARA PINOT NOIR 2010 (208702, $39.00, SAQ 11638481, $38.75)

That Norman Hardie can make Pinot Noir in Prince Edward County that could never be confused with any other makes it that much more incredulous to nose this Niagara cousin and know it can only be his. A barb on the very verge of ripe, tart cranberry and as smoky a nose as Hardie’s Pinot wants to be. Strawberry and raspberry red beret. Ashes to ashes but not funk to funky, we know Hardie is a Pinot junkie. Still, this is a warm and melodious Pinot with only one coat of primer. Impressive.  91  Tasted October 4, 2013  @normhardie

BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010 (73072, $41.95, B.C. $39.99, Alberta $44.99)

This Syrah will cure so many ails. Vouchsafe for a pepper-laced, plasmic mouthfeel, a maroon liquid pewter party of rocks and stones in the mouth. Playful and childlike, digs a pony, playing and offering really good fun. Does its own Okanagan thing becuase “ev’rything has got to be just like you want it to.”  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC

From left: CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, CHÂTEAU LE CAILLOU 2006, and JIM BARRY THE MCRAE WOOD SHIRAZ 2008

CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007 (156398, $49.95)

Stupid gorgeous Priorat and though inaccessible to most of us mere mortals, if you were to shell out $50 in November for one wine, this has to be considered. A blend of 65 per cent Cariñena, 22 per cent Garnacha, with a smattering of Syrah and Merlot. Pure purple pitch, an early summer Catalonian garden in bloom, air warm, breeze light. Wow. Blows high priced Napa and over the top Châteauneuf-du-Pape out of the water. The oak is so beautifully integrated.  94  Tasted October 4, 2013

CHÂTEAU LE CAILLOU 2006 (45682, $49.95)

She’s so very pretty, this righteous and bankable “girl with the right allocations.” She’s a lovely slice of layer cake, alternating in coffee, toffee, vanilla cream and mineral rime. Though her tannins are still grainy, her fruit lingers on. She’s “a girl with a smooth liquidation…a short skirt and a lonnnnng…. lonnng jacket.” Le Caillou continues to bite but she’s not huge, and that’s just right.  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @VinsdePomerol

JIM BARRY THE MCRAE WOOD SHIRAZ 2008 (737817, $59.95)

So, this 17th vintage tips the brix/alcohol scale in dangerous liaisons but it’s really quite a scorching, gorgeous number. A bomb to be sure, with layers and layers of the most savvy and sygian fruit. A realm of balance is achieved by way of a probing groove. Baking spice, blueberry pie, very peppery, tight, intense, tense, cohesive and righteous.  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @Jimbarrywines

Good to go!

Ten more reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween

Top 10 reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween
PHOTO: QUAYSIDE/OTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

If you missed or would like to be reminded of last year’s top ten list, care to tempt a fate of Sisyphean dread or comedic retribution, then click here:

Related – Top ten reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween

Halloween candidly breaks down continence as the most pagan, gluttonous and sickly-sweet, over indulgent night of the year. Sure, self-restraint takes a baseless plunge into holiday abysses; Christmas, Eid al-Fitr, Easter, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Hari Raya Puasa, Sukkot and the list goes on around the world. But a night of candy? Don’t kid yourself. Your not the only one. One Mars bar for the cute seven year-old in the Smurfette costume, two Oh Henry’s for you.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Cute seven year-old in a Smurfette costume

A few weeks post liminal to the Halloween hangover of 2012 I penned the entry, A toast to the endangered Twinkie. This Twinkie posturing was not only met with cries of “WTF?” but lambasted in the outright anger of many a hipster and political cognoscente who felt insulted and damaged by the hideous notion. The raillery between the lines in my faux ode to the extinct snack was clearly lost, despite a reference to the “Twinkieapocalypse.” So, I swear on the vinocratic oath and please, no wine and peanut butter cup pairings this year. No bubbles and sour candies, no port and milk chocolate bars. If it were available, I might however, have recommended this wine:

I’m no stranger in being an advocate as to the health benefits that can be enjoyed from a glass or two of wine. My column, A wine prescription for cold and flu was met with much love and even more sniggering. Yet the fact remains that a balanced meal and a glass or two of good quality (read: non-chaptalized, honest, light-handed) wine is good for the mind, body and soul.

My suggestion? Eat that early meal, pour yourself and your better half a glass and keep that bottle open for the neighbours and their begging to be topped up travellers.  Do be careful what you wish for – you might be the popular, go to house. Just don’t forget to stock up on extra treats. Here are another top 10 reasons to pour a glass of wine and the three bottles I plan to open and dole out on Halloween.

  1. So you will consider the phrase “trick or treat, smell my feet” as a compliment
  2. To build up immunity to better brave the cold and show off your sexy Halloween costume.
  3. So you have a proper excuse to turn down a creepy Blood Hemorrhage or Martha Stewart Blood Orange cocktail
  4. To help forget about traffic infuriating October construction, Ford more years, Miley Cyrus, Senate cheques and work for at least for one night
  5. To reduce the chances of having a heart attack or stroke at the sudden comeuppance of the neighbour’s $10,000 Halloween movie set
  6. Nothing says “thank you neighbour” like a good glass of wine on Halloween
  7. If you are not already, you just might become more tolerable of gay and lesbian rights and of children dressed up as Kathleen Wynne
  8. A person with a candy bag full of vodka is an alcoholic. A person with a candy bag full of wine is classy
  9. A good man can make the hot witch costume you are wearing make you feel sexy, wanted, desired…oh, wait… that’s a bottle of wine
  10. Nothing like a glass of wine on Halloween puts you in the mood to have another glass of wine on Halloween

From left: Château Des Charmes Old Vines Cabernet/Merlot 2010, Rosewood Estates Pinot Noir 2011, and Bodegas La Val Orballo Albariño 2011

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Cabernet/Merlot 2010 (222372, $19.95) from two Cabs and Merlot picked out of select estate vineyards, is aged for nine months in French oak. Sanguine, sweat and sweet-smelling, racing, pulsating red. Liquid adult candy, chewy licorice, a walk in the dark weald. Hallow wine, a thriller, “for no mere mortal can resist.”  88  @Mbosc

Rosewood Estates Pinot Noir 2011 (winery, $20) and her libidinous solid core of red fruit habituated by a fencing of skin-tight acidity will see prolonging returns. Will run on like a Dave Matthews jam, in wine years scads longer than the temperate Rosewood ’10 . An Escarpment’s native flint rocky note whispers “hey little dreamer’s eyes open and staring up at me…wait until I come I’ll take your soul.” Halloween wine indeed.  89  @RosewoodWine

Bodegas La Val Orballo Albariño 2011 (Profile Wine Group, $19.95) from the estate’s Pexegueiro vineyard in Spain’s Rías Baixas region is a brazenly, stony straight, sharpshooting white. Rock star sniper with a retinue of advising. aromatic angles, including citrus and green, tropical tree fruit . “Cold dry stone” granitic smile, nearly discernible effervescence and long, salivating freshness. Albariño in chains. On the card at Barque.  89  @BodegaslaVal  @ProfileWineGrp

Good to go!

Momofuku meet Henriot

Momofuku Daishō’s Roasted Rice Cakes
PHOTO: GABRIELE STABILE

as seen on canada.com

Stratus pairing last Spring defined modernity incarnate. Dinner at David Chang’s Má Pêche in NYC’s Chambers Hotel introduced me to “dishes as colourful canvasses, never over-painted nor as monochromatic abstractions.” Supper at Toronto’s Daishō this past September acquainted me with chef’s meticulous small plates and the finest crab dip the city has ever seen.

A 200 year-old Champagne house tasting was my fourth Momofuku experience and though it flashed before my eyes, it may have left the deepest impression. The Daishō kitchen and team, most notably Beverage Director Jonathan Gosenhauser and Front of House Manager Steve Sousa popped and poured five renditions of Henriot Champagne in expedient time. With out missing the beat of a room full of writers’ bleeding hearts, the gang then delivered six sublime courses in 15 minutes flat. Impossible. No.

The group was in a hurry to travel 20 minutes north on foot to the Royal Ontario Museum for the Napa Vintners Association seminar and tasting. With no disrespect intended, I would have been quite content to spend some further quality time with cellar master Laurent Fresnet of Henriot, our hosts Russell, Jason and Rachel Woodman, Mr. Gosenhauser and the all-day textures of Daishō’s plates. Another time.

PHOTO: champagne-henriot.com
Champagne Henriot

The wines of Champagne Henriot are a relatively new addition to the Ontario market. Founded in 1808, under Apolline Henriot, this is one of the last independent and family-owned houses in Champagne. Chardonnay is Henriot’s muse and each of the five wines at the Momofuku tasting stood singularly in contrast to one another. If I had to consider one to define the Henriot style, it would have to be the assemblage of their Blanc de Blancs. First, the plates.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Momofuku Daishō’s Falafel Bun, sesame, turnip, yogurt

Kimchi, napa cabbage
Falafel Bun, sesame, turnip, yogurt
Roasted Rice Cakes, pork sausage, Chinese broccoli, tofu
Hanger Steak, (McGee farms ON), kimchi, onions, bibb lettuce
Whole Speckled Trout, (kolapore ON), shrimp, tomato, smoked milk
Brussels Sprouts, fish sauce, puffed rice, mint
Crack Pie

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Momofuku Daishō’s Whole Speckled Trout, (kolapore ON), shrimp, tomato, smoked milk

Champagne Henriot Tasting, presented by Woodman Wines and Spirits

Momofuku Daishō – Monday, October 21, 2013

From left: Brut Souverain NV, Blanc De Blancs NV, Brut Millésimé 2005, and Cuvée Des Enchanteleurs 1998

Brut Rosé NV (Consignment) from 15 blended crus, contains a smidgen of Pinot Meunier along with a shade less than 15 per cent Pinot Noir to mantle the Chardonnay in bronze patina. Though not intended as a “visual wine,” Fresnet noted “We blend rosé in dark glasses so we’re influenced only by nose & taste, not by colour.” The quip that followed: “Perhaps everyone should blend in dark glasses.” Limitless aromatics, pear, ginger and the ticking kicker, the freshest peach. An alluvial toast, citrus emergence and a bull’s-eye of atomic probing all wrap this blush into one consumer-friendly basket of bubbles. Boundless beyond base.   92

Brut Souverain NV (959643, Nov. 9th, $59.95) from upwards of 25 crus hunts house parity in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Looking back in retrospect of the tasting, the Souverain is a brutally honest vampire in binding a consistency of the stable’s house style. So much so, “you found you’ve walked along these halls.” Faux-fumé, in a way, with toasted nuts, spice, grapefruit citrus and charcoal. An arid arrow through my Champagne heart, perfect for weekend sipping.  89

Blanc De Blancs NV (Private Order) is an assemblage of Chardonnay grapes mainly from the Côte des Blancs and village crus: Mesnil sur Oger, Avize, Chouilly, Vertus, Montgueux, Trépail, Epernay and the Vitry region. Though a blend of vintages, this B de B sulks and broods in adolescence. Red, skinless apple and citrus pith are its card of youthful exuberance. Gorgeous in reserve juice with a brioche waft on the back end. In a phase of careful consideration, this NV fizz will be held in kind hands for a good, long time.  91

Brut Millésimé 2005 (Private Order) is a du pareil au même complex union of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from 15 crus, mainly Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims; Mesnil sur Oger, Avize, Chouilly, Mareuil-surAÿ, Avenay, Verzy and Verzenay. In light of its own accord and magnificence from increased toast and an exotic level of perceived sweetness. The most ethereal of the line-up.  92

Cuvée Des Enchanteleurs 1998 (83774, VINTAGES Classics) is a mother of pearl, equipoise of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from six Grand Crus: Mailly Champagne, Verzy, Verzenay on Montagne de Reims, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Avize and Chouilly on Côte des Blancs. Shows plenty of lively, savoury goods; caper berry, herbal sauvage, marmite jam, baking orchard fruit, aromatic bitters. The elaboration is confounding and a lesson in 15 year-old Champagne humility. The deciduous, Crazy Mary of the line-up. One Champagne lover’s edulcoration is another one’s bitter pill. “Take a bottle, drink it down, pass it around.”  90

Cuvée Des Enchanteleurs 1990 (Private Order, from magnum) from 15 crus, including the most prestigious: Mesnil-sur-Oger, Avize, Chouilly, Mareuil-surAÿ, Oger, Verzy, Verzenay, Ay and Vertus. Showing more youth than that bottle of blooming ’98. Spoons out more segmented grapefruit, more saveur, more washed Langres rind. Blithesome like an evergreen forest after rain. Wild fennel and citrus in the most parched way. Linear nobility and mobility that appeals to my mathematical mind. Speaks as if to say, “I want to change your mind, said I want to set it right this time.”  Moving Champagne.  94

Good to go!