Sottimano a Sottimano

It was back in April when Bernard asked John and I to meet for a quick tasting because Elena Sottimano was in town. Several decades ago her father Rino Sottimano began his nebbiolo journey with just a few hectares but those precious blocks were in the Cottá Cru. It suffices to say that it was more than luck but also the Piemontese version of land meeting human intervention that have brought these wines to the pinnacle they are found to be at today.

Sottimano is the 18 hectare, Neive in Barbaresco project of Rino Sottimano, his wife Anna and children, Andrea and Elena. These are some of the most human, understood, necessary, gratifying and satisfying Piemontese wines you are ever going to taste. They make you think, smile, wink, cry and sigh. They speak of the vineyard and how properly they are treated. The nebbioli get under your skin, teach you what you need to know and tell you that everything is alright. They are good friends, therapists and if need be, they can be festaioli.

Elena led us through delightful dolcetto, ante-brooding barbera, worth twice the price Langhe and then six Barbaresco from four outstanding Cru; Pajoré, Fausoni, Cottà and Currá. Thanks to Le Sommelier, Sottimano’s Ontario agent and Taverna Mercatto, for hosting. Here are my notes on the nine wines.

John Szabo M.S., Godello and Elena Sottimano

Sottimano Dolcetto d’Alba DOC Bric Del Salto 2016, Piemonte, Italy (330738, $22.95, WineAlign)

From a vintage certified as classical for a modern and grounded dolcetto style in the vein of 2004 and 2010. This from the first vineyard planted by Elena’s father in 1975 and 41 years later turns out a purity of fruit for one of the most important modern vintages in Piemonte. Warm days, cold nights, easy and simple work in the winery, so overall just perfect conditions. Simply put this is found to be rich, salty, fresh and bright. Bric del Salto is a fantasy name, the “jump or peak of the hill,” made up for this combing of three vineyards. It’s curative, made ideal with hard crumbly cheese and a bowl of red sauce pasta plus a slice of pizza. And this bottle. Rendered only in stainless steel, fresh and perfect. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  az.agr.sottimano ElenaSottimano  @AzAgrSottimano  @LeSommelierWine  @AziendaAgricolaSottimano  Elena Sottimano  @LeSommelierWine</

Sottimano Barbera d’Alba DOC Superiore Pairolero 2015, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $33.95, WineAlign)

Barbera’s is a similar vinification, 25 days like Barbareso, a long maceration, bringing the magical, natural cure and understated barbera skin affection. Sees a small (10) per cent of new French wood plus second, third and fourth passage barrels, eight to 10 months sur lie and natural malolactic. There is nothing so wound, tart, tang and gently sour like this, in fact it’s perfect for barbera. Red fruit perfect, no darkness and no brooding. Vines are in San Cristoforo and Basarin, on sandy clay soil, keeping it mineral, salty, long and ultimately classic. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2018

Sottimano Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2015, Piemonte, Italy (454017, $32.95, WineAlign)

Langhe Nebbiolo is from the Basarin Vineyard, not used for single-vineyard Barbaresco because the vines are only 15-20 years old, planted in 2000. It is aged for one year in oak, eight to 10 months sur lie. Elena Sottimano admits that perhaps their fruit will be committed to Basarin as they age, but for now they are separated or if you will, de-classified. There is a cool, mentholated streak running through, with a particular spice and though it used to be 25 per cent new barrel, starting in 2015, it’s a mere 10 per cent new. The lees is so apparent, in texture but also in the way the wine knows itself from birth and doesn’t need time to announce who and what it is. Chalky and tannic in a greater ionic way, prosodic of two short followed by two long syllables, architectural in the way nebbiolo must be. At this price and labeled Langhe this from Sottimano slings more pleasure and as much structure as at least half af all Barbaresco twice its cost. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2018

John Szabo M.S. and Elena Sottimano at Tavrena Mercatto

Sottimano Barbaresco Pajoré DOC 2015, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $103.95, WineAlign)

Pajoré materializes off pure limestone soil at a hovering 380m of altitude. It’s really just a name this Cru, dialectical, as is its nebbiolo. Sees two years in 220L barrels made by François Frères, La Tonnellerie who receive a sample of your wines before deciding what barrels to send, if any. Time on lees is 20 months and there is no racking. This is pure nebbiolo in requiem of zero to next to no sulphur. It gets neither more natural nor more understated and exacting as this. The wine knows itself like a great human perfectly comfortable in its own skin and it might live to 2040 without experiencing one single moment of stress. It is truly a remarkable condition of the human meeting vine equating to wine spirit. Pajoré is a Cru worthy of a word to describe what you would get by combining ambiente with intervento umano. As in Climat, but Italian. Tannins are as formidable and elegant as there can dialectically be. Drink 2021-2035.  Tasted April 2018

Sottimano Barbaresco Fausoni DOC 2015, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $103.95, WineAlign)

Fausoni is a small one point five hectare plot of sand and clay only six kilometres away from Pajoré. The vines range in age from 50 to 70 years old and there is certainly more depth and richness though contrastively speaking, more freshness and open aromatic perfume. There is also a verdant note and then this taut fixture of body and architecture in structure through the overall feeling. Deeper and more pressing, an antithetical nebbiolo, intense and perhaps not what you would expect. Likely a matter of sub-strata, of mystery and enigma. Pajoré just seems to intuit its character while Fausoni will need to feel, shift and oscillate its way through life. As with Pajoré the wood is retrofitted by La Tonnellerie François Frères, surfeiting Fausoni for a life more passionate and hard-lived if not quite as calm and relaxing as the one enjoyed by Pajoré. Top quality nebbiolo irregardless of style or fashion. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted April 2018

Cottá Azienda Agricola Sottimano cru spoiled by Elena Sottimano and Le Sommelier, Wine Agency ~ going vertical with Barbaresco and John Szabo — at Taverna Mercatto.

Sottimano Barbaresco Cottà DOC 2015, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $103.95, WineAlign)

From the two point eight hectare vineyard with 45 year-old vines, Cottà receives the same élévage as Pajoré and Fausoni, on skins for 25 days and in Tonnellerie François Frères for 24 months. Fifteen per cent are new and the remainder of the barrels have been used up to four times. It’s like a combination of the other Cru, their best of both worlds in symbiosis, deep and exacting, comfortable and with a structure that never quits or breaks down. It’s unrelenting, with aromatic exoticism, power, precision, more fragrance and balance. The tannic building blocks are exceptional, verging into unparalleled. Drink 2022-2045.  Tasted April 2018

Sottimano Barbaresco Cottà DOC 2013, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $178.95, WineAlign)

A confounding vintage for thinking about drinking in 2018 because it is simply too young but there can be no discounting the acumen of restraint and the wisdom imparted. This from a Cru that knows full well what it will give. The 1970s planted vines add up to a shade under three hectares, southwest facing, in delivery of energetic red fruit, sweet herbs and that always present Sottimano cure. Cottà is the estate’s great constant, with the most layers needing to be husked for its kernels of wisdom and pearls of pulchritude to be revealed. Patience will be your virtue if you can just wait for the reward. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted April 2018

Sottimano Barbaresco Cottà DOC 2010, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $234.95, WineAlign)

While tasting through Pajoré, Fausoni, Currá and a mini-vertical of Cottá with Elena Sottimano it is here for the first time that some development appears in a wine. This glimpse into what might happen with their Barbaresco may only be a minor crack in the oasis but it begins to fall away from the curative, tannic intensity into something stretching its limbs towards the ethereal. I can ruminate with this nebbiolo swirling around in my mouth while I wonder how far along we are or have come. But it comes with knowing that no matter how much distance we walk there is still a marathon to run. There is this perfect wonderwall of wild cherry spinning like vinyl liqueur over the cheeks, tongue and gums, refreshing and working its magical fruit dance up to the edges of my nerves. “I said maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me. And after all,” you’re Sottimano. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted April 2018

Sottimano Barbaresco Currá DOC 2013, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $178.95, WineAlign)

Only 200 bottles produced from this single hectare Cru of vines edging beyond 55 years-old. The vinification process mimics that of Pajoré, Fausoni and Cottà but Currá remains in bottle for an additional six months because it is special and asks for this. There is humour in that minor extension because opening this Cru from such a recent vintage any earlier than seven or eight years into its life will deprive you of its magic and potential charms. The smell of the sea is in Currá, fossil shells briny and salty, certainly mineral. It’s measurable, quantifiable and verifiable. It’s there in the taste. The reaction is more than one of epiphany, it’s a revelation. No, in fact it’s more than that. If for a moment it is explainable it then moves on and flees, remaining out of grasp. Damn you Currá. Drink 2021-2045.  Tasted April 2018

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Big and bigger: Burrowing Owl

Dusty the Burrowing Owl Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Dusty the Burrowing Owl
Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

The Burrowing Owl Vineyard portfolio is a big one, in varietal scope and in style. That the winery is situated on the most northern outpost of the Sonoran desert, an arid and agriculturally inhospitable stretch of terroir that originates in Mexico, is not exactly so well known. That the Owl can produce such wines of extraction spinning on a compass of intensity is one of the wonders of the Okanagan Valley.

A second point of interest centres on the winery being at the forefront of a captive breeding program to help the endangered Burrowing Owl in British Columbia. Fundraising at the winery has helped make possible a recovery program to reestablish them in the Okanagan. The natural grassland habitats available to the owls comprises less than one per cent of the province. It’s a matter of burrows. Agriculture and civilization are taking away their space. Why save the owl? Because they are different – they nest in underground burrows rather than in cavities or in the branches of trees and they are often active in broad daylight. The winery’s co-operation is an example of the landowner’s stewardship agreements needed to ensure the owl’s survival.

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Burrowing Owl was started by Jim Wyse and its location in one of North America’s most diverse ecosystems is the source of one of the wine world’s most constant preoccupations. Caring for wildlife and wine don’t also coincide but they do at BO. Jim’s son Chris is now at the head of the portfolio. Wyse brought the show to Toronto Fine Wine Reserve along with their Ontario agent, Le Sommelier.

The Burrowing Owl wines do not shrink away from tasters, are not shy and to a bottle show their strength in elicitation. They are wines that give a hoot and leave a zaftig impression. Their strengths travel from big to bigger but in the end, after tasting nine examples, palate fatigue is not an issue. Balance is struck across the portfolio, as is diversity and a shared private moment. Thanks to Bernard Stramwasser, Jan Didriksen and of course, Chris Wyse. Here are 12 Burrowing Owl wines tasted in November at the FWR and at the LCBO Media lab for VINTAGES releases.

Burrowing Owl Vineyard Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Burrowing Owl Vineyard
Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Calliope Figure 8 Red 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (324582, $17.95, WineAlign)

For all intents and purposes this is Okanagan Syrah, in content (75 per cent), protein (meat and smoke) and cool climate aromatics (mint, eucalyptus and graphite). The (25 per cent) Merlot component adds little to nothing, save for mellow softening. That, or the simple fact of what four years of age will elucidate fruit made to simply please from the get go. Elevation may have once made a terse statement but is now resolved with an easy-going temperament. At this time the Calliope is a slice of sweet, tart and savoury cherry pie, at once “revved up like a deuce,” but now just “another runner in the night.” Still, at $18, painted and abrasive, it can leave one blinded by the light. Still has the legs to make it through the night.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Malbec 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $30.00 – B.C.)

The fruit comes from the southern reaches, near Osoyoos Lake. The Malbec differs from the other reds; it’s both stoic and pleasant, easy on the olfactory and gustatory senses. So very red, in direct proportion for smell and taste, of berries, in plum, for tea and spices. In condition of being a Burrowing Owl red, it tightens late but takes longer to not play nice, to turn away from its easy-going ways. Extended leisure time prevents an early turn to reach deeper into the bed of intensity and so this Malbec finishes more abruptly with shorter length than the others.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (208694, $33.95, WineAlign)

Intimates warm sunshine but can’t hide from its cool nights. An element of periodic surprise wafts straight up and grabs the little nose hairs by the tips, tugs and then lets go. Hatchoo. Wisps green apple skin, daikon radish and a metal tang. Full on fruit-mineral-earthy expression. Big Chardonnay as ripe as its gets for the Okanagan but carries a hefty (though you might ponder an inordinate exorbitance of 14.5 per cent abv) with relative ease. Goes on at length, about what, I do not yet know, but I’m willing to hang in there for 5-7 years to find out.  Tasted September and November 2014

Burrowing Owl Merlot 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (585737, $40.95, WineAlign)

The softest and only downy wine in the Burrowing Owl lot, elegant, pure, ripe and yet intimately Merlot. Just a minor crack of the whip shudders on the back-end, indicating some minor tannic matters that are yet to be resolved. Three more years of attitude reducing time will fully complete this ’10’s adjunct necessity. Though it’s not the most dusty of Merlots, nor masculine neither, overall it’s bright and vibrant.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (556613, $40.95, WineAlign)

The hot climate, sandy soil and water-deprivation all combine to intensify Burrowing Owl’s Pinot Noir, like desert fruit in a Sonoran landscape. It exhibits extreme unction in high tones; of cherry extraction, blanketed warmth and west coast favour. Sun, ripeness and a full hand scooping through the olive tart. Has heft and flavours in abundance, of rich plum treacle, like Christmas cake in Pinot Noir form. The angles are all on the back end, in voluminous, hydrated granules of gravelly fruit. The Black Sage vineyard runs through, infiltrating every pore. Crazy, overblown and over the top.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Agent 73072, $41.95, WineAlign)

Here there lists a depth of intensity, from out of a vintage that gave cause for struggle and the necessity in fortitude. Richly layered, full on red fruit, smoky, smouldering and mired in solder. Iron wine, on a horse, from out of the sinking depths of deep, deep sand. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “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 because “everything has got to be just like you want it to.”  Last tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (349019, $43.95, WineAlign)

The Owl’s ’12 Cabernet Franc is first real-time proof in magnified proportion of the true savour of the magnanimous red line up. This is the wine that proves the varietal transparency, the wise and sage terroir that all the wines can’t help but put on display for the world to engage. Cabernet Franc that is distinct, popping, bracing and very physical.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Athene 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (371336, $44.95, WineAlign)

A co-fermented, single tank Syrah (60 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (40) blend from vineyards in Oliver and Osoyoos. A generously oaked, eerily Barossan mimicked concoction that spent 18 months in 40 per cent new French and American barrels. The vanilla, chocolate, mocha, lavender and coconut shake texture and waft is uncompromising and concomitant. Burrowing Owl’s experimentations indicated that co-fermentation leaves a desired effect, much more so than separate vinification. While it’s a rich, hooting, wild-eyed and shivery red, this shows more elegance than the solo Syrah. It’s a different sort of intensity, of sage, Cassis and graphite, but also a sandy grit liquified. Shorter too and admissable as evidence of heavy blending, as a shrewd companion of heroes and a goddess of heroic endeavour.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Meritage 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (343038, $59.95, WineAlign)

The Meritage ’10 has integrated in niceties, settled into domesticated, symbiotic grips with its varietal relationships. Though it may have struggled earlier on, it has now entered its period of glory. The pitchy brood on the back palate persists, wrapped in strength to strength from texture and through structure. Epitomizes the attitude of a Burrowing Owl red. From my earlier, November 2013 note: “A National Wine Awards of Canada Platinum Medal winner. As massive a corporeal attack as can ever be ascertained from a B.C. Bordeaux blend, of the earth, or any other prodigiously structured Canadian red. Uproariously ripe fruit de rigueur and storming tannins. A boast of plum crushed by an intense, dry, rocky intent. To this Okanagan I say, “you’re the book that I have opened and now I’ve got to know much more.” Crazy stuff for sure, full of unfinished sympathy, with enough fruit to push it to 10 years and beyond. Priced at $45 (winery) and at a premium through VINTAGES.”  Last tasted November 2014

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Five more impressive, cool-climate, fog-injected wines from Sonoma County

Sonoma County vines Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/SonomaCountyVintners

Sonoma County vines
Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/SonomaCountyVintners

Sonoma, in terms of micro-climates, reckons itself as committed to three distinct turfs;  marine, coastal cool and coastal warm. Vines grow in all three spaces but it is only in the elevated mountain reaches upwards of the fog bank that the region considers itself anti-cool. Well, that’s just some people talking. Barometrically speaking, “coastal cold” is not on the radar.

Consider the moniker “cool-climate.” Can it mean one thing only? Is it to be labeled as a universal truth? Sonoma County can’t be compared to Niagara or the Okanagan Valley. That much we know. It’s no Prince Edward County. Chilling hours (below 45ºF) average approximately 1,300 per year but winemakers in Northern California are not “hilling up” or burying their vines to protect them from sub-20 degree zero Celsius temperatures in January and February.

Related – Sonoma peaks from out of the fog

Sonoma may not be the cool-climate region its winemakers and marketers make it out to be. To a true, we the north (verb-constricted) grape grower, Sonoma does not know from cold. But it’s really not a matter of direct comparison. Sonoma has a cool-climate bent no other geography can lay claim to. A fog bank all along the coastline blows in, accompanied by cold air capable of such rapid temperature shrinkage it can be measured by swings as much as 50 ºF. The manifest vital spark that runs through all of Sonoma County’s fiords and chords, spuming with an irrepressible puissance is that fog.

Sonoma Vintners passed through Toronto last month. These three producers and five of their wines must not move on to the next town without mention. Here are the notes:

From left to right: Gundlach-Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2012, Gundlach-Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard 2012, Ramey Syrah 2012, Thomas George Pinot Noir 2011, Thomas George Pinot Noir Cresta Ridge Vineyard 2011

From left to right: Gundlach-Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2012, Gundlach-Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard 2012, Ramey Syrah 2012, Thomas George Pinot Noir 2011, Thomas George Pinot Noir Cresta Ridge Vineyard 2011

Gundlach-Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2012, Sonoma County, California (397521, $30.00)

Shyness or hidden meaning are not a part of the MV’s MO. This is not brain salad surgery. What you see is what you get. Pure, unadulterated, separately vinified, last-minute blended, red and black indications of clean Sonoma fruit. Varietal barrel isolations are the key to nurturing individualistic phenolic development. The final composition’s hue shows no lack of anthocyanin and though not overtly long on tannin, the phenols have been laid bare on the same page. The first vintage of this circumstantial blend was in 2008 and by now the GB estate provides 70 per cent of the produce, helpful neighbours the remainder, though only in Cabernet and Merlot portions. Forty parts equal of those two are joined by Syrah (nine per cent), Zinfandel (eight) and smatterings of other Bordeaux grape varieties. Floral, juicy, pentose tannic and flat-out delicious is the struck chord at the hands of winemaker Keith Emerson. Not the most complex arrangement in the County, nor is it top 40, but it is certainly penned with a catchy hook. “It will work for you, it works for me.” Tasted October 2014  @gunbunwine

Gundlach-Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (Agent, 0400051, $34.95) Ontario Release date: March 21, 2015

An intimately affordable Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast fashioned by a family in its 157th year of production is a rarity. Even more so from a cool-climate region oft-marred by the misperception that its Chardonnay are fat, buttery, over-oaked fruit bombs. From fruit grown on the Rhinefarm Estate Vineyard on southwest slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, eight miles north of San Pablo Bay. Consider the antonymous solecism of zero per cent malolactic fermentation and you will see where this (20 per cent new) barrel fermented Chardonnay has come from and where it is going. Weekly battonage compresses and stirs up texture. Fog plays its part on the cool slopes of Huichica clay loam soils mixed in with gravel deposits. Acidity is preserved, hitting a classic number on top of healthy (14 plus per cent) alcohol. This is not a small Chardonnay. It stretches its legs and walks like a giant but not in 80’s or 90’s acid washed jeans or big hair ways. This is Chardonnay that leads in style and confidence of a most modern vernacular and fashion. It’s also a steal.  Tasted October 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Ramey Syrah 2012, Sonoma Coast (Agent, $47.99)

This is winemaker David Ramey’s sixth vintage composed from (91 per cent) Cole Creek Vineyard, with the rest coming from the Rodgers Creek Vineyard. Though not the first to draw roots and inspiration from a northern Rhône style, Ramey’s choice of co-planting five per cent Viognier is both curious and genius. The field blend supposition is gaining global traction and attraction, as witnessed by successes the likes we see with Marcel Deiss in Alsace. They are not just the rage; they are a philosophy and create a co-habituated/fermented energy. Though lifted by hedonism, this is a very pretty Syrah, yet it’s no timid lilac. A soft entry gives way to sharper tannins. The briny Mediterranean, smoked meat and roast pork belly notes arrive late, after the angles have softened and the integument has been cracked. There is much going on here, at once clear, other times in opaque fog, then back to blue skies. Follow this Syrah for five years to see the chains be connected by election.  Tasted October 2014  @RameyWineCellar  @BarrelSelect

Thomas George Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Agent, 729417, $57.95, WineAlign)

A blend of three estate vineyards; Baker Ridge (49 per cent), Cresta Ridge (30) and Starr Ridge (21). Rigorous sorting, punch downs and the use of basket pressing combine for an all-out Pinot Noir expression of RRV’s diverse terrors, albeit within a framework outlined in smouldering charcoal chalk and coated with smooth sugars of inscrutability. Ranging in ways akin to Central Otago, this Pinot is bright yet earthy, intense and piercing. It combines cherries with ash and has got all the thyme in the world. Oak is not out of focus (the wine was aged for 11 months on lees in 100 per cent, 38 of it new, French barrels) but it still needs time to integrate. Two or three years will suffice and seven to eight more will turn a trick or two.  Tasted October 2014  @TGEWinery

Thomas George Pinot Noir Cresta Ridge Vineyard 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Agent, 729417, $60 US)

The Cresta Ridge is unique to the Russian River Valley and to the Thomas George Pinot execution as its soils at some of the highest elevation in the area are of the Goldridge series. Very deep and well-drained, its composition is of material weathered from weakly consolidated sandstone. Like all of their wines, the 100 per cent estate fruit from this particular ridge is a ream of pure silk, clean, pure and so much quieter on the brushstroke and basalt tendencies of the combined RRV bottling. The tannins truss the fruit to seek a low and slow rotisserie of development. Could drink a boat load of this refined Pinot Noir, now and for 10-12 more years.  Tasted October 2014  @bwwines

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

A hip of wine from Hidden Bench

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

A visit to the Beamsville Bench on a warm September morning is a beautiful thing. Facilitated by their sagacious Ontario agent Bernard Stramwasser of Le Sommelier, the royal welcome was presented at Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery. Proprietor Harald Thiel and winemaker Marlize Beyers left no barrel, vine, wine or helping left to the imagination. What a terrific day.

Marlize Beyers is as close to artisanal perfectionism as it gets on the Niagara Peninsula. The texture and grace of the wines reflect their maker. Beyers showed off the underbelly of Hidden Bench, including the 600L concrete egg fermenter (which actually holds 700L of juice). The concrete must be primed with tartaric acid before use or the egg will de-acidify the wine. What will emerge from within the thick chitinous walls of that oospore is on my future tasting agenda.

Out in the vineyard, vigneron Harald Thiel tells the story of Fel-seck, the “corner of a cliff,” in the angled nook of the Niagara Escarpment. The soil is filled with glacial till left from ancient Lake Iroquois pulled up from four retreating glaciers. “The glacial till deposit IS the Bench,” says Thiel. His winery operates on more than a quarter of the Beamsville Bench, in high density plantings. All wines are made from estate fruit. The control centre manages that fruit 24/7. The crux of the operation. And leaves.

Harald Thiel in front of Pinot Noir vines in the Felseck Vineyard

Harald Thiel in front of Pinot Noir vines in the Felseck Vineyard

Leaves are a huge preoccupation at Hidden Bench. “Rule of thumb is you need 14 leaves to ripen one bunch,” confirms Harald. Canopy leaf management is a rigorous exercise, to compensate for wrong orientation. The inherited Felseck was planted east-west, but the south gets the sun, the north not so much. The spur pruning system (as opposed to double-Guyot) works to benefit in Felseck. To compensate for the winter of ’14 and to stop the “middle-age spread,” the leaves (shoots) are kept between wires. Other benefits include less disease stress and no fruit shadowing.

Sun on the fruit in the morning is key and to avoid sunburn, the leaf orientation is managed accordingly. “Manage the umbrella leaves,” notes Thiel. What about birds? “We use 32 km’s of nets,” and no bird bangers. “Pinot Noir is the favourite varietal of birds,” because they turn colour first. Anti-aviary veraison. Insects? “We use sexual confusion to ward off (insects).” There are 7500 pheremone ties (of the Paralobesia Viteana or female Grape Berry Moth) in the vineyards. Confuses the hell out the males. Translation: No insecticides.

Harald is proud to say this about Marlize. “Winemaking is an artfully applied science.” This was Beyers’ answer to the age-old question,”art or science?” So it goes without saying that grapes are picked on flavour, not sugar levels determined in the laboratory. You take what the vintage gives and make the appropriate, corresponding wine. Ideally Chardonnay is picked at 21-22 degrees brix, but regardless, at Hidden Bench it is always picked on flavour.

Pinot Noir comes from high density planting, with one cane and a single Guyot system. Yields are Grand Cru in quantity (1.6 – 1.9 tonnes per acre or 26-28 hL/L) but not at proportionate pricing. To many a consumer and outspoken wine trade professional they are exceedingly high. Spend some time with Harald and Marlize and you may just figure out why.

The two have developed a “Bistro” line bottled for the restaurant licensee industry. The Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Red Blend and Rosé are essentially the sum total of the collected and filtered run-off from the rich and select HB vineyard pool. The Riesling ’13 slings sugar and salinity in a push-pull, posit tug. It serves up typicity with bias and honesty. The Chardonnay ’13 is a perfectly round sipper, coagulating all of Marlize’s varietal plans; canopy management, earlier picking, gentle pressing, pumpover, the management of new wood barrels – all in the name of affordable structure. The Red ’11 is composed of Cabernet Franc (68 per cent), Malbec and Merlot. The CF smothers and smoulders above the M & M’s with all its currant, tobacco and black pepper power.

Here are notes on the 16 other wines tasted at Hidden Bench that day. Not to mention a sumptuous Coq au Vin.

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2011 and Select Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2013

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2011 and Select Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2013

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

The Estate Riesling is as vigneron-defining as any wine on the Niagara Escarpment. Hidden Bench is a 100 per cent estate-fruit operation so this Riesling is spokesperson, prolocutor, mouthpiece, champion, campaigner and advocate for the concept. The estate ’13 reaches deeper for nutrient pot sweetening, into shale and in conceit of its varied, positively cultivated terroirs. Compact and jelled, this is several steps up from most other entry-level Niagara Riesling and in fact, is really anything but. The transparency here is patent. This is Riesling that simply knows what it is; pure Bench, unequivocally real and forthright. Knows what it wants to be.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (28312, $28.00, WineAlign)

Felseck, “the corner of the cliff,” creates twisted Riesling, as per the directive in this angled, mineral nook of the Niagara Escarpment. Choose your planting politics if you will, left of centre Chardonnay or right of the compass Riesling, to determine which one speaks in the amphitheater’s clearest varietal vernacular. If sugar is a determinant or a catalyst in this ’13, it would take a zafrero to suss out that truth because sweetness succumbs to noble bitterness. The Felseck Riesling mixes ginger in tonic in a hyper-linear solution. It’s tightly wound, like a spooled reel rid of memory and twisting. A soldier marching in patriotic allegiance, to the soil and to the maker. There is no hurry to drink this ’13. Its pot will sweeten after the fighting’s done.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Roman’s Block Riesling 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Of the estate’s Rosomel Vineyard from vines exceeding 35 years in age. This is the belletristic Riesling in the Hidden Bench stable, handled with mathematical precision and utmost care; specific sun exposure, green harvesting, low yields (29.4 L/hL) and a free run juice cap at (500 L). The density and distinct crux of the Bench nook character circulates aromatics in through the out-door. Lime melds to lemon and returns. The wine is plentiful, nearly generous but not all is sweet and amenable. Roman is policed by wild sage in dusty herbal efficacy unleashed. Honey is a fleeting tease but the numeral knowledge indicates mellifluous viscosity down the road. This is Riesling of finesse to realize power and sting. “It’s murder by numbers, one, two, three. It’s as easy to learn as your ABC’s.” Wait five years and settle with Roman’s synchronicity for five years more.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (278812, $40.00, WineAlign)

Taking what the vintage gives, Rosomel’s Sauvignon Blanc was king in 2012, dominating at a 95 per cent share of the Bordeaux-styled blend with Sémillon. Barrels were stirred weekly during fermentation and the creamy texture thanks that regimen, as does the tannic fullness of the round back-end. It rocks out bracing, formidable and nobly bitter, in pear and its pith, in lemon, of rind and in curd. The SB lounges in tall grasses but avoids goose feathers and blanching veg. So very savoury, in gorse tension, thistle and nettle. These notes all cut through the roundness and are finally tied together by the flinty rock of Rosomel.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2007, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (278812, $40.00, WineAlign)

The varietal components of the 2007 NB were not blended until August 2008 and then filtered to bottle. That barrel time and prior weekly stirring provided the pelage texture and now developed, tepefying character. Rumour has it I’d tasted this ’07 once before when it fact it was the ’08 in March of 2012. Must be the “marzipan, musky and risky, on the edge of a roasted, toasted Nutella thing.” The Niagara white Bordeaux idiom and its use of prime vineyard space has yet to prove itself so to this Nuit Blanche I would say, “you made my heart melt, yet I’m cold to the core.” Perhaps by ‘21 that attitude will have changed.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Gewürztraminer Felseck Vineyard 2012, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $28.00)

The key to ripeness is sunlight, something both 2012 and the practice of leaf removal on the East sides of the canopy gave this Felseck stunner. Oh so full with a hint of that typical glycerin and bitter pith so necessary for definition. This reminds me of an off-dry Zind-Humbrecht take, with its late feel of residual sugar and planing finish. There is a wonderfully humid condensation of south Asian drupe and fruit moisture droplet, never in syrup, but rather on the glistening, post-rain skin. Top Bench example.  Tasted September 2014

East sides of the canopy to encourage fruit ripening

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 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

The richness has yet to melt away, nor will it likely do so any time soon. Must give credit where due; ’10 managed to seek out tempering acidity where it was not necessarily in sui generis mind, nor did it want to be found. From my earlier March 2013 note: “Akin to Russian River Valley, allowing the comparison, in platinum, edging to gold and in stony, mineral rigidity. Tends to the orchard in a fell swoop of swelling fruit. Nobody does it better on the Bench. The sec who loves me, “makes me feel sad for the rest.”  Last tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (20906, $45.00, WineAlign)

Tête De Cuvée by Hidden Bench, like a Champagne best of the best abstraction, makes an appeal to self-esteem and esteem for others, to consumers who have come to recognize Niagara and even more specifically, the Beamsville Bench for head of the class, cool climate Chardonnay. That mouthful congregates and works in congruence with the quality in the Tête’s composition; full-on freshness, density, weeping cerate texture, toasted and popping kernel, fine-grained localization, utterly integrated barrel. There was scant quantity (32.5 hL/h) from some very old and wise vines, pronounced like others but louder than most, from the bullhorn of a stentorian vintage. What is felt and spoken about the quality inherent from out of the finest parcels in the Locust Lane and Rosomel Vineyards Chardonnay fruit is more than a patent observation. The ability to take on toast cuts to the nougat and the synoptic rises to the ethereal ozone. Not to mention gross minerality. On the shortlist for best Niagara Chardonnay to date. Drink now and beyond 2025.  Tasted twice, September  and October 2014

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (274753, $29.95, WineAlign)

Now into the mid-point of its six to seven year life, this essential Bench Pinot brings worlds together. A toffee, taffy, salted (not caramelized) caramel mulch comes from pinpoint smoke oak. Has a palpable sende of chew and density. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Five months more in bottle has come to this, a Bench perfumed state of mind. On a red raspberry road to absolution. The international coat has now begun to surrender to the maturity and wisdom of the local vine’s intellect, its maker and overseer acting as artificers in planned execution.” From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Deeper, earthier, decreased propriety and more pelage than the previous two vintages. I sense longer hang time, more redress and slower slumber. In Hidden Bench I thought I knew and would always associate with a specific Pinot Noir feel but this ’11 confounds. In a way, that is a large compliment. Fruit reminiscent of a top Central Otago in that it grips my Pinot interest if not my Ontario heart.”  Last tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2007, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (274753, $29.95, WineAlign)

The summer swelter of the 2007 vintage was not lost on this Pinot Noir and although the black fruit spectrum was picked clean from all available plum, fig and cherries, they and their tannins have evolved in clemency and snug harmony. That and a whipped beet shake of hide, vanilla and lavender.  This would be a diverting and polarizing ringer to toss into a blind tasting.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

Transplants Nuits-Saint-Georges into the coliseum of Felseck with frisky and fine-grained tannin. The aromatic aggregate of flowers, orange grove and red cherry is akin to Les Perrières. This is micro-managed, micro-plot Niagara at its very core, the diminutive, wee berries singing the nook’s furtive, foxy and salient song. The late bitter note is both beautiful and honed in on the vineyard’s frequency. Graphite trails with back-end nerve. This Felseck has entered the zone. Drink over the next three years.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

On benches all along the Niagara Escarpment, each single-vineyard grown, vinified and bottled Pinot Noir has an affinity for a particular vintage. The Locust Lane and 2010 share a commonality that exceeds the level of companionship seen in the more rigid, bookend vintages of ’09 and ’11. Here is the richest density, though still teasing and leaning against the black cherry tree. There is a limestone, Alsatian, Albert Mann thing going on, rolling like thunder, bobbing like drinking birds. Still formidable, the stuffing yet burst from its cloud. A sniff and a sip of the ’10 “and the locusts sang, yeah, it give me a chill. Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody.” The vineyard takes heat and gives Pinot Noir its energy. The ardor will slowly release over the next eight to 10 years.  Tasted September 2014

http://rd3.videos.sapo.pt/playhtml?file=http://rd3.videos.sapo.pt/2GntSr2rbWHU3Gg0DLdK/mov/1

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.00, WineAlign)

With another summer beneath its brooding belt, the aromatics are now in full flight. From my earlier, June 2014 note: “The richest Terroir Caché to date, making use of its barrel in judicious but never obnoxious ways. Huge Bench wine, needs 10 years for sure. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “No other Niagara red and for sure no alternative Peninsula Bordeaux blend exists in such a vacuum of dichotomous behaviour. Act one is an out-and-out boastful, opulent show of Rococo. Act two a gnawing and gnashing by beasts. The pitch and pull of the Terroir Caché 2010 optates and culls the extraordinary through the practice of extended délestage, what Hidden Bench notes as “a traditional method of gently draining the wine and returning it to tank with its skins during fermentation.” The ’10 is about as huge as it gets, highly ferric and tannic. Still chemically reactive, you can almost imagine its once small molecules fitfully growing into long chains. Berries of the darkest night and he who should not be named black fruit are confounded by minerals forcing the juice into a cold sweat. Will require a minimum of 10 years to soften its all-powerful grip. From my earlier March 2013 note: “Has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine.”  Last tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $75.00, WineAlign)

Welcome to the world ’11 LB, the flotilla leader in the Hidden Bench brigade. This fierce Bordeaux-styled blend of exemplary fruit out of the three Estate parcels is composed from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Not home from a hot climate, and not the most likely candidate to be made in the 2011 vintage, La Brunante is “like a mudship becalmed in a rusty bay cracking with an emboldened abandon.” Bottled in a strong compression but without aggression, it lies in wait, creaking, twitching, smoldering and aching with desire. When it should be released, somewhere up to 10 years down the road, it will sail, cutting through waves of tannin, with multiple berries, dust, diesel and into a show that never ends.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The benchmark for such a rare Niagara animal is of course Alsace and more specifically the iconic and consumer-recognizable brands such as Zind-Humbrecht and Domaine Weinbach from the Hengst and Furstentum Grand Crus. This HB is decidedly not that. Even the kings of Alsace late harvest only go to bofttle in the finest vintages, when a level upwards of 50 percent botrytis is achieved. After a few freeze/thaw cycles the fruit was picked on the 28th of November. The ’13 Vendanges Tardives has the subtlety and attributes to call itself VT, with residual sugar (119 g/L) and alcohol (10.5 per cent) numbers in line. Near-needed acidity, PH and exceptional phenolic character mix to balance and so the reduction in sweetness is nicely tempered. Pears meet apricots in hinted whispers. As per the Alsatian requiem, this never enters the arena of the cloyingly sweet and absurd. Utilitarian to a fundamental degree, in the end I would have liked more acidity in this very pretty wine.  Tasted September 2014

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A ramp to Austrian wine

Rib Steak and Ramps PHOTO: Michael Godel

Rib Steak and Ramps
PHOTO: Michael Godel

‘Tis the season to partake of two things denied opportunity the rest of the calendar year. Wild leeks and Austrian wine. The first is just a seasonal thing. The second, entirely my fault. The forest and my backyard provide the ramps. Two most excellent wine agents, Bernard Stramswasser of Le Sommelier and Mark Cuff of The Living Vine are the messianic purveyors of the wine.

Mark came to Barque Smokehouse last month to share his wares, talk organics, biodynamics and to teach a staff what honest wine is all about. More on that extensive tasting coming soon. Bernard brought top estates from Austria with Andreas Wickhoff, MW to Toronto’s Fine Wine Reserve on April 16th, 2014 for a special portfolio tasting. The Master of Wine is deeply passionate and terroir obsessed when it comes to the Austrian landscape. The presented set of whites and reds rose up to incline an exemplary ramp to the nature of that country’s fine wine tradition.

The whites, mainly centered around the signature variety Grüner Veltliner, showed the mineral and salinity so necessary to the grape’s success. Reds made from Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch are Austria’s trump card, ready and willing to take on the world’s reds imbued of elegance and finesse. Here are notes on the 12 Austrian wines tasted.

From left: Meinklang Grüner Veltliner 2013, Burgenland, Sattlerhof Sauvignon Blanc Vom Sand 2013, Südsteiermark, Wieninger Gemischter Satz 2013, Vienna, Weingut Heinrich Blaufränkisch 2012, Burgenland, F.X. Pichler Federspiel Loibner Klostersatz Grüner Veltliner 2012, Loimer Spiegel Grüner Veltliner 2012

From left: Meinklang Grüner Veltliner 2013, Burgenland, Sattlerhof Sauvignon Blanc Vom Sand 2013, Südsteiermark, Wieninger Gemischter Satz 2013, Vienna, Weingut Heinrich Blaufränkisch 2012, Burgenland, F.X. Pichler Federspiel Loibner Klostersatz Grüner Veltliner 2012, Loimer Spiegel Grüner Veltliner 2012

Meinklang Grüner Veltliner 2013, Burgenland, (Agent, $15.95, WineAlign)

Meinklang is a passionate, biodynamic (Demeter farming) producer in eastern Austria, south of Vienna. Their practices include abstaining from the pruning of vines, called “graupert” and maturation in concrete egg-shaped containers. The vineyard is their biotope and they make compost from animal dung, pomace, plant cuttings and ground quartz. Their entry-level Grüner is so mineral dominant and saline it’s as if the stones are bleeding. Extreme tang, with that salinity that never lets go and so much lime. Then makes quick work of itself.

Weingut Loimer, Grüner Vetliner ‘Lois’ 2013, Niederösterreich, Austria ($18.95, WineAlign)

From Niederösterreich in the Kamptal region, from soil compositions of bedrock and loess, this is straightforward Grüner Vetliner made in 200,000 bottle loads. That it succeeds in spite of the quantity and the work with contract growers is a testament to Fred Loimer’s sense of quality control. A bit shy aromatically but really tangy on the palate. Clear, crisp, clean and appreciably pure. Lithe in body and with some salinity on the back-end. Versatile mingler.

Sattlerhof Sauvignon Blanc Vom Sand 2013, Südsteiermark, Austria ($19.95, WineAlign)

This is bewusst territory for the Südsteiermark producer, from organically farmed vineyards. An elegant Southern Styrian Sauvignon Blanc made from grapes previously destined to get lost with other traditional varieties. Most striking is the salinity on the nose, often abstruse for Sauvignon Blanc but most obviously explained by the land; sand, gravel and shell limestone. Estimable restraint in the whispered aromas of herbs, green vegetable and tangy tree fruit. Dewy finish that lasts well into the morning.

Wieninger Gemischter Satz 2013, Vienna, Kamptal, Austria ($20.95, WineAlign)

Though Grüner Veltliner, Weissburgunder, Welschriesling and Chardonnay make up most of the formidable aspects of this blend from the Vienna Hills, there are bit but integral parts played by 11 others. From bio-certified Bisamberg and Nussberg vineyard sites, this is antithetically seamless, the varieties drawing all possible logical relations woven by their finite collection. Approachable, gritless, effortless, integrated and bound together by a solid core of juicy acidity. Even if only because it agglomerates 15 grapes, this beats white Châteauneuf-du-Pape (by at least six varieties) at its own game.

Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2012, Kremstal, Austria ($21.95, WineAlign)

The locus point of Nigl’s single vineyard Grüner Veltliner is sharp and stinging in 2012. Although that chemically reactive laser pinning takes control, it is extremely refreshing to not have to talk about flat and flabby fruit. Mind you the fruit here is under stress so balance needs to be questioned. Ultimately there is a palpable sense of grapefruit, flowers and a finish marked by the scraping of stones.

Loimer Langenlois Grüner Veltliner 2013, Kamptal Dac, Kamptal, Austria ($23.95, WineAlign)

Increased hang time has put this Kamptal in a deeper state of focus and understanding concerning the intricacies of Langenlois Grüner Veltliner. Continues the pure, clean and crisp axiom of the basic Lois but here the aromatics are spoken in acroamatic terms, obvious to disciples and yet available for all to comprehend. Though five per cent big wood barrel aging does not seem significant, that practice along with four months of aging on the fine lees has had a textural impact. The added weight is a questionable thing, though arguably just splitting hairs. Will help carry this vintage through five to seven years of graceful settling.

Dirty Ramps

Dirty Ramps

Weingut Heinrich Pinot Noir Dorflagen 2013 (Tank Sample), Burgenland, Austria ($24.95)

From two sites in Gols, one being the gravelly Riede Goldberg on the Parndorf Plateau, the other a sand and loam slope of the Salzburg. Short-ish ferment in large-ish barrels. Marked by bright cherry of the upstanding young fruit kind and only a brushstroke of paint. Very linear in that a Rube-Goldberg Pinot machining ensues, as the dominoes fall into each other. One action creates another, mostly due to a fine-grained chain of tannin. As delicate and approachable as Pinot Noir ever was from this far east.

Weingut Heinrich Blaufränkisch 2012, Burgenland, Austria ($24.95, WineAlign)

From a combination of vineyards on both the eastern and western sides of steppe Lake Neusiedl, situated between the easternmost parts of the Alps and the western part of the Small Hungarian Plain. A Blaufränkisch with so much geological and climatic history behind it, with Alpine, Pannonic, Asian, Mediterranean, and Nordic influences. The inclination is to express this unique, later ripening red with terms of bright endearment but it’s much more serious than that. Deeper, earthier and entrenched in the limestone and slate vineyards on Burgenland’s Leithaberg slopes of the Parndorf Plateau. The terroir amplifies and cloaks the fathomage of what is ostensibly tangy, effulgent fruit. More tannin than one would expect, this is a complex organism from a variegated landscape.

Heinrich Zweigelt 2012, Burgenland, Austria ($24.95, WineAlign)

Though 2011 was the best vintage of the last three and Blaufränkisch is the estate’s signature red, this 2012 is a real charmer. The vines for this Zweigelt lay lower, on the flats east of the alpine, steppe lake. They benefit from gravel Heideboden soils and from a nurturing microclimate. The aromatic profile is of spice and dried fruit; licorice, tar, carob and even more specifically, Bokser. All the right pods. Hydrates to sweet cherry fruit and begs for slow-cooked, smoky protein.

F.X. Pichler Federspiel Loibner Klostersatz Grüner Veltliner 2012, Wachau, Austria ($37.95, WineAlign)

From the Loiben basin where eroding, rocky Danube sands mix with gravel to produce lacey and textured Grüner Veltliner. This Federspiel (classified as wines between 11.5–12.5 per cent with a minimum must-weight of 17 degrees) shows more richness, viscosity and body than many with a pronounced spicy edge on top of the highly floral citrus zest. It gives the strange sensation of chewing spicy gum. A Grüner of good temperament beseeching the imbiber to have more than just one taste.

Loimer Langenlois Terrassen Grüner Veltliner 2012, Kamptal, Austria (149674, $39.95, WineAlign)

Loimer’s Terrassen is a Kamptal four vineyard Premier Cru (“Erste Lage”) schmear that is fermented in big wood barrels. The increased weight and body is helped along by extended time on the lees. The ligneous weave is underscored by wood spice and a waft of buff, calcareous Aeolian sediment. The character is as if this Langenlois is scenting a barrel ferment aura in a Chardonnay vein. Classic Grüner Veltliner that is all about texture. Will last for 10 or more years without shedding its baby fat.

Loimer Spiegel Grüner Veltliner 2012, Kamptal, Austria (agent, $64.95, WineAlign)

A site-specific Grüner Veltliner from the Speigel “Erste Lage” vineyard site, this is exemplary and definitive stuff. The 2012 vintage saw a two-day (May 16 and 17) frost that meant a 30 per cent loss in fruit. Not all vintages are profitable but ’12 is showing what top quality wines it was able to produce. A 12-month lay in Acacia barrels, natural vineyard yeasts and five months of aging on the fine lees have conspired for a climb to great Grüner heights. Blooming flowers, mellifluous honey and the freshest, most natural acidity abounds, elevating the aromatics and the buoyant flavours of just picked and bitten into apples. Tremendously wise and elegant wine.

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Cleaned Ramps

Cleaned Ramps

 

Top 10 wines for May Day

PHOTO: FABIOBERTI.IT/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

If April was the cruelest month (and in 2013 it certainly seemed like it was), May has just got to be better. A good, proper and solid bottle of wine would go a long way towards fashioning sunny and warmer days. Wine stores can seem like a waste land, filled with a sea of monochromatic bottles from which it’s impossible to choose from. You might ask your local product consultant, “what branches grow out of this stony rubbish?”

Related – More Spring wine releases

Fear not, for the answers to your mayday distress calls are answered. Here are ten current releases to pour at tonight’s May Day table.

Clockwise from left: Angels Gate Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Lionel Osmin Mon Adour Madiran 2008, Smoke & Gamble Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2010, Wittmann Riesling Trocken 2011, Domaine Du Petit Métris Les Fougeraies Savennières 2009, The Good Earth The Good Wine Betty’s Blend 2011, Il Marroneto Brunello Di Montalcino 2007, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2009, Rainoldi Crespino Valtellina Superiore 2006, and Loan Wines Unwooded Special Reserve Semillon 2004

Angels Gate Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (277590, $13.95) in comely, pale gold flesh and peach blossom nose is well designed if not grape-specific “correct.” And I thank her for that. Leads like a Jack Johnson ballad, gathering then tempering the vintage’s acidity and finishing with a soulful refrain. Outright proper Beamsville Bench white wine, even if it bears little resemblance to the Loire or Marlborough. Good on her, this angel, “she gives me kisses on the lips just for coming home.”  88  @angelsgatewines

The Good Earth The Good Wine Betty’s Blend 2011 ($17.95, 327791) led by Bench earth that simply knew is front ranked by Chardonnay trailed by reserves of Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Crafted from a ukase towards “petite lot, low yield” production, this laundered and commendable blend is tart in a sour key way. Fleur de sel and aquatic chalk add seasoning and texture. An umami latté.  87  @goodearthtweets

Loan Wines Unwooded Special Reserve Semillon 2004 (301127, $15.95) from Australia’s Barossa Valley is nearing fruit nugatory at nearly 10-years old. Lands right where aged Semillon should be, dry as the desert and tonically restorative. The colour of crystal gold and soda suppressing, spirited if not so sound fruit. Continues to speak in stinging tongues. I wouldn’t overlook its history.  89  @LeSommelierWine

Lionel Osmin Mon Adour Madiran 2008 (246850, $17.95) is no shrinking violet, in pitch, weight, cassonade (14.5 per cent abv) and tannin.  Tannat of an acute purple demanding in ocytone to match its spices and baked heat. A thick and syrupy southwestern French river of tar. Balks at brother Malbec and asks, “who’s the boss?”  89  @OsminCie

Smoke & Gamble Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2010 (332825, $18.95) just makes you want to head on down to Norfolk on Lake Erie’s north shore and set up camp. Roast some game by the campfire echoed by this satellite St. Emilion-styled blend’s aromas of licorice, smoldering cedar stick and plums poaching in the earth and acidity of the wine.  Gotta love the fitting rustic and campy label.  88  @DoverVineyards

Wittmann Riesling Trocken 2011 (320366, $20.95) may just be the driest Rheinhessen ever released. While there are no bubbles this Qualitätswein is like soda under immense pressure, inculcate of so much tension and threatening spontaneous combustion. Profound gold bouillon colour and the right amount of jolt to match the sec. Will magically quench any thirst, not leaving you hung out to dry.  88  @sir_neville

Domaine Du Petit Métris Les Fougeraies Savennières 2009 (319855, $23.95) screams “I am Chenin Blanc,” in honey on the pedal and maximum mineral metal. Aggressive, pursuing machine “stealing honey from a swarm of bees.” Petrol stinky, tangy thick, sticky with honey oozing everywhere, in comb and sweet-smelling suckle. Seriously huge and flashy. Will be stunning when it settles down.  92  @Savennieresaoc

Rainoldi Crespino Valtellina Superiore 2006 (316331, $31.95) is composed of 100 per cent Chiavennasca (Nebbiolo) from Lombardy. Grace, flowing ruby robe, striking. Lit by cherries bathing in a silica and gravel mineral bath, tightly wound in a swirling pensieve of real vinous thought. Elevated by cool, altitudinous breezes and gothic, statuesque like a Mantegazza. Northern, alpine and proud.  93  @VinumValtellina

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2009 ($32.95, winery only) is akin to a Canadian dining experience; like the highest quality smoked meat sandwich, or rare, lean game, fruit purée and demi-glacé. All in a wine. From my previous note: “Occupies hallowed Beamsville Bench middle ground between the beastly corpulence of 2008 and the rich, voluptuous 2010. Puzzling blend. Approachable and formidable. I sip and sip and sip her majesty in spite of her necessary acidity and tenacious tannin. “I want to tell her that I love her a lot but I gotta get a bellyful of wine.”  92  @HiddenBench

Il Marroneto Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (190108, $46.95) in a tight, rusty-red dress flirts like a good ’07 should, sets her table with a bouquet of roses, dried fruit and herbs. She’ll be a star in five years,  reprising her role in alluring, candied rose perfume, cherries and fine leather.  92  @ConsBrunello

Good to go!