Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2017

Go Time @GoldMedalPlates Toronto #gmp2017

It was my fourth Gold Medal Plates Toronto as wine judge, culinary taster and olympic athlete groupie. In 2014 WineAlign partner, colleague, mentor and friend David Lawrason invited me to join the festivities and help decide which three wines should be crowned Gold, Silver and Bronze. Two weeks ago a panel of Ontario wine experts tasted, assessed, debated, deliberated and ultimately decided this year’s top three. David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Michael Vaughan, Margaret Swaine and Godello. The winner ran away from the pack but two through six were separated by one point increments. It was a photo finish for Silver and Bronze.

The 2017 Toronto event featured emcee Scott Russell of the CBC’s Olympic coverage. Russell was joined by dozens of Olympic medallists and future hopefuls. Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy led the on-stage entertainment; Anne Lindsay, Danny Michel, Jeremy Fisher, Devin Cuddy and Sam Polley. The inimitable and eloquent James Chatto was once again at the head and the heart of the culinary judging panel with seats occupied by an illustrious five; Sasha Chapman, Anita Stewart,  Christine Cushing, Amy Rosen and Chef John Higgins.

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014

For a little bit of GMP history please click on this post I penned after that 2014 gala event. The culinary winners then were Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 bronze, gold and silver medal winning chefs Damon Campbell, John Horne and Jason Bangerter. The top three wines were Norman Hardie‘s Niagara Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011, Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012 and Creekside Estate‘s Iconoclast Syrah 2012. But what about 2017? My top seven in no particular order were Flat Rock Cellars Riesling Nadja’s Vineyard 2016, Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2014, Charles Baker Riesling B-Side 2016, Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catherine Brut Rosé, Stratus White 2013, Leaning Post Chardonnay ‘The Fifty’ 2015 and Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road 2013. The actual medalists are listed below in David’s report.

National Wine Advisor David Lawrason’s Wine and Spirits Report

Nadja’s Tops a Bounty of Great Whites in Toronto

“The Gold Medal Plates campaign came to a booming 800-person conclusion at Toronto Convention Centre on November 16, and it included the largest selection of wines seen in any stop on the ten-city national tour.  We judged 26 donated wines, beers, spirits and even a lavender mead, but it was a core of great Canadian white wines that caused the most excitement, and produced the winner of the evening.

The “Best of Show” Gold Medal went, by a very clear margin, to Flat Rock Cellars 2016 Nadja’s Riesling, from a single block of maturing vines in Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench appellation. I was personally stunned by just how delicious, well-balanced and nuanced this wine is – in my mind it is the best vintage of “Nadja’s” ever produced.  Other judges agreed – we all placed it as either our first or second choice.  This beauty also took a rare Platinum Medal at 2017 National Wine Awards.

It will go on to compete for Gold Medal Plates Wine of the Year at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna in February, and it appears there will be a riesling showdown, as it will be tasted against rieslings from Tantalus, Cave Spring and Norman Hardie, plus six other wines.

For second and third place the voting in Toronto was more varied, and only one point separated the second, third and fourth place wines.  The Silver Medal went to Mission Hill 2015 Merlot Reserve, a swarthy, plummy and ripe red from the Okanagan Valley.  And the bronze medal went to Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catharine Brut Rose, a delicate refined pink sparkler with subtle berry aromas.

In very close 4th place came Tawse 2013 Quarry Road Chardonnay from Niagara’s Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation. I have become very familiar with this solid, complex Burgundian chardonnay as it was generously donated by Tawse to the Celebration in three cities this year. It was also a Platinum Award winner at the 2107 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

Tawse was one of three Gold Level sponsors. Mission Hill was a national sponsor as well, donating a variety Reserve wines to seven city events across the country, and stepping even higher in Toronto with smaller donations of their more expensive “Legacy tier” red Compendium 2013 and Perpetua 2015 Chardonnay.

Arterra Wines, the recently re-named company with several wineries in Canada, was a gold sponsor donating to six cities.  In Toronto there was a selection of reserve whites and reds from Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin, as well as a rare public showing of the new Arterra 2016 Chardonnay and Arterra 2016 Pinot Noir.

Toronto’s Silver Sponsor also donated to Ottawa. Cave Spring of Niagara donated their 2015 Cabernet Franc.  Although better known as a riesling producer, Cave Spring is doubling down on its efforts to produce fine reds from Ontario’s most widely grown grape.

Flat Rock Cellars was one two Bronze level sponsors for the Toronto event, providing Nadja’s riesling for the VIP Reception and Celebration tables. The other was Henry of Pelham, which split their donation between the 2016 Old Vines Baco Noir and yet another strong 2016 Estate Riesling.

Among other notable and high calibre wines donated to the chefs, I gave my first-place vote to Stratus 2013 White, a very complex, now maturing, barrel aged blend of several white varieties. Ravine 2014 Chardonnay Reserve, another power white, also earned top-five votes.  Leaning Post 2015 Mile 50 Chardonnay was a leaner style that paired well with Gold Medal Plates Chef Lorenzo Loseto’s winning dish.  And riesling specialist Charles Baker chose the occasion to show his new, bracing B-Side Riesling.

Interestingly, no red wines were paired with chef’s creations this year, but there were two ciders, including the fine, crisp Brickworks CiderHouse Batch 1904 and a lighter cider called Pick Up 66 from Hoity Toity Cellars. Rosewood Cellars donated their exotic, fragrant Lavellener Lavender Mead, and Zirkova Vodka set up shop during the VIP Reception to sample Zirkova One, a vodka designed to be drunk “neat” and Together a version designed for cocktails.

The Best of Show judging is held prior to each event, as way to highlight the generous donation of beverage by Canada’s wineries, brewers and distillers.  In Toronto I assembled four wine pros/sommeliers.  Three are amigos at WineAlign.com and two are judges at the National Wine Awards of Canada; including Master Sommelier John Szabo, and wordsmith extraordinaire and former chef Michael Godel.  Margaret Swaine is a veteran wine and travel writer, and the spirits columnist at WineAlign.  Michael Vaughan publishes Vintages Assessments, a detailed critique of every wine released by the LCBOs Vintages stores.”

Chef Lorenzo Loseto’s @GoldMedalPlates winning dish @georgeonqueen paired by @brieish with @leaningpostwine The Fifty Chardonnay 2015. Congratulations Chef and the entire team.

Culinary Medals

Gold

Lorenzo Loseto
George Restaurant

Pairing: Leaning Post Wines, 2015 ‘The Fifty’

Silver

David Lee
Nota Bene

Pairing: Brickworks Ciderhouse, Batch: 1904

Bronze

Jesse Vallins
Maple Leaf Tavern/PORT

Pairing: Tooth & Nail Brewing Company, AGRARIA Modern Farmhouse Ale

Nota Bene’s David Lee

Here are my tasting notes for the 20 wines entered at Gold Medal Plates 2017.

Henry Of Pelham Family Estate Winery Cuvée Catharine Brut Rosé, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (217505, $29.95, WineAlign)

A whole new base, a whole new wine, the departure point exacted by a new wisdom and understanding. But it’s somehow like looking in the mirror, reviving a good memory, going back to wine childhood. Consistency is your friend with non-vintage fizz and the Catherine(s) are the undisputed leader in the Ontario biz. Brings back the Niagara orchard of a take your pick red apple, lovely creamy texture, a mild blanch of nut and fresh baked bread. Terrific class and of its own accord. Drink 2017-2021.  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2017

With its fine, strawberry mousse is at the head of its Ontario class. Vanilla, Ida Red apple and bitter nut combine like a smooth, creamy, Mediterranean spread to dip the warmest, fresh-baked bread.  Tasted December 2012

Henry Of Pelham Riesling Estate 2016, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (557165, $17.95, WineAlign)

A rash of aromatics straight away and marked warmth verging to humidity. More weight, substance and depth than most vintages deal when youth is the tempo so this riesling plays the notes and the hand quick after the draw. What you nose, taste and feel is what you get, with lime, gassing up to petrol quickly and flavours already in developing mode. Five years of riesling together for the best of times, from beginning to end. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted November 2017

Charles Baker Riesling B-Side 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Vinyl records sound different because they are designed with grooves carved in that mirrors the original sound’s wave form. Their analog recording delivers a sensory feeling of warmth, an aural of texture, nuance and soul. There was a time when the hits spun over and over were also pressed onto the A-Side of 45 rpm singles. The discovery of a never before heard B-Side was a revelation because is was extra material from a favourite band and it was a great song. It meant the record was already too strong for that song to make the final cut and to choose it for a B-Side meant it would elevate the quality of the album. A well-chosen B was not an afterthought. This is the accomplishment of the first Charles Baker’s B-Side, for itself and for the vineyards of Ian and Picone. Baker digs about in the Niagara Peninsula’s escarpment dirt for young vine, not ready for prime time riesling fruit. If perchance it seems like cheating on his per se Vinemount Ridge Picone and Ivan bottles so be it but one look at him and he’ll say “Hey, hey, what can I do?” His 2016 B-Side delivers a spray bottle Zeppelin expressing heady aromas, high in the stratosphere and raining down upon the earth. The notes are an all in, breath of classic Baker riesling air, blanketing from up above and with a landscape that reeks of lime and quivers with classic agitation. The fruit is wild and full, the salty grit infiltrating and gripping the bloody omniscience of this package. What is this B-Side and where will it be lead? To the top of the ridge, from earlier harvests, younger fruit and higher yields. Scratch the single vineyard elitism, just listen to the song and raise one up, to getting ‘er done before the conceptual singular side one and side two, Ivan and Picone. The Beatles? Forget it. Led’s flip side to the ‘Immigrant Song’ A is the one. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted November 2017

Flat Rock Riesling Nadja’s Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (578625, $24.95, WineAlign)

Nadja, like the Bréton novel begins with the question, “Who am I?” A surrealistic trigger is incited by the first taste, with excitement running in many directions but like the book, Nadja’s non-linear structure is grounded in Twenty Mile Bench riesling reality. She is an elite varietal wine in 2016, excitable girl, gregarious, punchy and so bloody juicy. I don’t recall the last Nadja with so much up front zest fervency and writhing aromatic gait, “exploding international, the scenes, the sounds, and famously the feeling that you can’t squeeze ground.” The lime flesh and cordial infusion brings the flavours into a once tropical, twice bitten realm. The vintage delivers the electric version, the new pornographer for the vineyard and the song sung loud swan song for departing winemaker Jay Johnstone. Was it all for swinging you around? Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted October 2017

Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Sauvignon Blanc Grand Reserve 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.95, WineAlign)

Arterra’s JT sauvignon blanc is youthful and even a bit reductive, with wood notable and a real sauvignon blanc pungency. Its character and a bit of risk are tied up in the aromatics though it settles for mild-mannered and middle of the road on the palate. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted November 2017

Mission Hill Family Pinot Gris Reserve 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (537076, $24.95, WineAlign)

Reserved to be sure and also still in pulse mode, with some tongue pin-pricking, not quite effervescent but moving in time. A bit of skin-contact hue and plenty of orchard fruit notes are present in both aromas and flavours. Solid gris that will improve in six months or so. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2017

Inniskillin Okanagan Pinot Gris Reserve 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($19.99, WineAlign)

Noticeable skin-directed hue, chalky to soapy, with a taste that reminds of Topps hockey card bubble gum. Childhood memory revisited in pinot gris. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted November 2017

Arterra Chardonnay 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Arterra’s chardonnay comes from a famous Peninsula source, formerly made into just as famous wines by Le Clos Jordanne The site is on the Escarpment’s Bench above Jordan Village and this is the second vintage at the hands of Jackson-Triggs winemaker Marco Piccoli. Picks up where the fine and ambitious first vintage in 2015 left off but here with some light strike and reduction. You can just feel the buttered toast and kernels behind the flinty curtain, with blanched nut and some fine elasticity. Will benefit from a few more months in bottle to gather thoughts and flavours. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2017

Leaning Post Chardonnay ‘The Fifty’ 2015, VQA Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

This is chardonnay that had a cup of coffee in the big leagues and was then moved to the fresh confines of stainless steel tanks soon after its 15 minutes of barrel fame. It’s a unique chardonnay specimen this Fifty, barrel fermented but not aged, a wine crafted with pragmatic reverse psychology so that it may solicit great appeal. If you’ve never tasted Ilya Senchuk’s entry-level foray into Peninsula chardonnay you’ve been missing out, but by starting here in 2015 there is certainly no harm, no foul. This is the most pleasing and palatable Fifty so far, barrel creamy, suety and magically malolactic on the nose. The flavours are cooler, of an anti-Senchuk subtlety and versatile food amenability. I can think of 50 reasons to pour this by the glass, at home, on a restaurant list or on a campsite under the stars. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2017

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

The Reserve is 100 per cent estate fruit that spent 18 months in (50 per cent new) barrel. As it’s both barrel fermented and aged the variegation locks the fruit in so bloody tight so even now it’s reductive, smoky and flinty. A mineral chardonnay needs balance from over the top fruit and so track record, acumen and love will have it so. Marty Werner and Ben Minaker’s is a big, summery and gold platinum expression, very expressive, the two-lb steamed in seaweed lobster chardonnay, seemingly Meursault but just as likely from California. But as Ravine’s Reserve on the St. David’s Bench it is purely Niagara Peninsula. Fruit intensity, extract and controlled oxygenation shows off the best of what these men can do. It speaks to their efforts, knowledge accumulation, trials and finally to the culmination of their stamina. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2017

Small @RavineVineyard village looking pretty sweet at @GoldMedalPlates 2017 #gmp2017

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Vineyard 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (111989, $35.80, WineAlign)

When I tasted Quarry Road 2013 out of four barrels three years ago the purpose was to take in the nuances and see only the trees. I for one could not help seeing the forest through the trees and imagining percentages of each combining for the final blend. Neutral Mercurey wood looked over infant three year-old vines spoken here with surprising density, tang and tropical melon in both aroma and flavour. This sits on the front palate right now. The mineral Ceres qualifies older fruit as the pretty and the gemstone, essential for Quarry Road, the most like (Meursault) in Burgundy. This fruit transferred to stainless on the lees from September to March before going into bottle now renders to make Quarry the purest expression from the best vineyard. The CLL toast delivers the taut, not yet reductive wood tightening, then and again now, mainly on the finish. Compressed citrus notes are late arriving and even if it is splitting hairs, the oak really impacts the finish. The larger CLL toast Mercurey barrel reveals a fresher, more reductive, less oaky feel. All together we now have one of Paul Pender’s most accomplished to date and all chardonnays considered, one of the finest higher end values around. I think he would agree. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Mission Hill Perpetua 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $73.03, WineAlign)

Perpetua is a different sort of chardonnay for the Okanagan, with not completely obvious fruit and leesy notes that outdo the effects of wood, plus a lactic edge that also smothers the smoulder. This is not the toastiest of chardonnays but is does deliver a saltiness so ultimately the reference point is flint and stone, a.k.a. Chablis. A bit of crème frâiche adds to the dairy mystique. Perpetual chardonnay motion leads to persistence. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted November 2017

Stratus Vineyards Stratus White 2013, Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.20, WineAlign)

There can be little doubt that anticipation would haver to run high for the aromatic, elongated and coolest of Niagara white wine vintages, especially for the chardonnay, but also for the iconic, four-varietal (with sauvignon blanc, sémillon and viognier) blend. The five sensory tenets are solicited and provided for; salty, sour, sweet, briny and umami. The last is exotic and punchy, so this White does it all, speaks for it all and completes it all. It is the most designed and seamless their’s can be. Last tasted May and November 2017

In 2013 viognier is back in the varietal mix, in reprise of its earlier role in support of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling. A different sort of vintage here for the White, seemingly led by a circular turning of chardonnay and viognier, like a cat chasing its tail. This really goes round and round with no obvious signs of where it will stop. Quite fleshy and lime juicy with stone fruit flavours in righteous abound. Really amalgamated and seamless even for itself. It is here that I think of it as The White. Niagara’s White. Lake Effect™. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted November 2016

Arterra Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Wow the cherry pie delivers a healthy slice oozing in reduced cherry syrup. Could only by an effect created by some appassimento on pinot noir. It’s so concentrated, full of glycerin and sweet fruit. Were it not pinot made with some drying of the grapes it would be an amazing feat of growing, picking and pressing. A panoply of cherries wells in this ripe of ripest Marco Picoli red. Wow, as I said. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted September and November 2017

Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (523001, $17.95, WineAlign)

As with the other Niagara Escarpment reds in the portfolio it is the limestone that stands out, in a good way, to bring about this mineral-red citrus cutting through the rich fruit. That stone-mineral note also does everything to temper and even mute what bitter-tonic-astringent notes might try to distract because that’s what capsicum-bell pepper is wont to do in cabernet franc. This is clean and focused, light and eminently quaffable juice. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted September and November 2017

Inniskillin Merlot Reserve 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is really pressed and pushed merlot, cool and savoury, minty and spirited with lots of wood spice and equal amounts of tannin. The really tart finish dries out with grip and force. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2017

Jackson Triggs Grand Reserve Meritage 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (594002, $24.95, WineAlign)

Now here is a nice little bit of diesel of dust, with more than a fair shake of dark raspberries and a mix of chicory, nettles and chalky tannin. Pretty wondrous quality and complexity here. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2017

Henry Of Pelham Baco Noir Old Vines 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (459966, $19.95, WineAlign)

This is finely rendered baco noir, rich and tangy, with bright cherries and what just feels like beeswax. The most elegant baco noir ever made in Ontario and just foxy enough to be itself. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted November 2017

Mission Hill Merlot Reserve 2015, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Agent, $24.99, WineAlign)

This is aromatically rich and lush merlot, with a full compliment of palate richness and silky tannins. For fans of the California style with all in hedonism and a side of nettle. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2017

Mission Hill Compendium 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Agent, $86.25, WineAlign)

Compendium 2012 carries a great wealth of aromatics, very floral and rusty, with dried strawberries and so much more. A bit reserved on the palate but its elegance and seamlessness are special. Great length even while it’s just not that much of a concentrated beast. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted November 2017

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Master classes of Terroir

A Gamay Masterclass, Terroir Hospitality Symposium, May 11, 2015, Arcadian Court

A Gamay Masterclass, Terroir Hospitality Symposium, May 11, 2015, Arcadian Court

The Terroir Hospitality Symposium took place on May 11, 2015 at Arcadian Court in downtown Toronto. The one day food and wine colloquium was a massive simmering feast set in sprawling fashion within an undersized, intricate urban labyrinth. Despite the frenzied and condensed action in the downtown venue, that congress merely offered a look at the tip of the proverbial Terroir iceberg. With upwards of 3o team members leading the charge, the movement left the big fat city address and trekked to set up shop at a local farm and out to the rock at the eastern outermost edge of the country. Terroir moves outwards, onwards and upwards, taking it to the fields and the oceans.

The Terroir Best Practice Culinary Mission went to St. John’s, Newfoundland from May 14th to 17th. The One Fish expedition travelled “to meet fishing industry experts, to explore and examine both the history and the current realities of an Atlantic community built on an economy of the fishing industry.” There was also “the feast that keeps on giving,” at which the Feast Ontario team was hosted at Grandview Farms in Thornbury, Ontario

Led by Founder & Chair Arlene Stein, Vice Chair & Awards Rebecca Leheup, Terroir Talk the dextrosinistral/sinistrodextral enterprise is an undertaking of the extreme variety.

A look at #Terroir2015 in images

Terroir is an event, a series of gatherings, a notion, a philosophy and a way of life. Its mandate is this: “Terroir Hospitality brings together innovative and creative influencers from the field of hospitality, including chefs, food and beverage experts, writers and business leaders.” It’s also not without detractors. There are some who feel it is a negative representation of the culinary and cultural scene in Toronto. That it’s “white, urban, Euro-centric. It ain’t Canada, or 2015. Not funny.”

If the list of participating speakers, chefs and winemakers had been correlated with shortsighted discrimination, ill-curated and preordained with exclusive, malice prepense, you would have been hard-pressed to get an interview with any guest who would have chosen to speak about the called-out lack of representation or narrow-minded decision-making. If the culture and the colour of the event needs to change it will do so with holistic bias and sympathy, with the right sort of urging from the global culinary and vinicultural community. If the pundits are correct, future sessions will reflect the will of the people. In 2015, the atmosphere was wholly copacetic.

The 2015 Terroir wine sessions were marshalled with “an effort to raise the academic standards of the wine side of our symposium,” in three assemblies, to educate and entertain. These Masterclass jams, Gamay, Terroir, and Clone Wars were coordinated by Good Food Revolution’s Jamie Drummond and Magdalena Kaiser with great support from Wine Country Ontario.

The connection between food and wine is an intrinsic one. They are like chicken and egg, contrary to reason in electing which comes first. Chefs and winemakers, purveyors of the land from which their produce grows, transmuted into cuisine and fermented into wine. Facilitators of terroir, harvesting at optimum ripeness and then initiating the transmogrification with immediate haste, in urgency, to capture, lock in and bottle aroma, flavour and texture, before any chance of deterioration or spoilage.

But what the fuck is terroir? The most used word in the language of wine is in fact, terroir. Nothing else compares, comes even remotely close, or causes as much debate. Except for minerality, but those who concern themselves in the matters of ridicule, dismissal and denial ignore the fact that the opposite of fruit is simply, unequivocally and finally, incontestably, mineral.

Were the notion of terroir to be a belief as simple as “what happens in the vineyard, through environment, by geology, geography and topology, from naturally occurring elements and microbes in the soil, by air and of climate. Were it just a matter concerning “the impossible creator of perfect storms, from out of riddle and enigma,” well, then, we could all just go home. It’s much more complicated than that and real.

Most winemakers will agree, in principle, to this. “The final goal is to make the finest wines that express terroir.” Organic and biodynamic are important. Terroir is more important. But winemakers are no fools. They know that “during the grape’s life cycle, genealogy and climate shape its development. But even after it is plucked from the vine it still carries no true identity, in so far as what it will become as a wine. This is the point where nature gives way to nurture. Environment now acts as the catalyst to shape the wine’s life. Wine does not evolve because of natural selection. It evolves at the hands of the winemaker.” Anti-terroir?

At this year’s Terroir Talk Symposium, Gamay was chosen as the first wine session’s go to grape variety, to investigate both the serious and not-so serious sides of its existential weightlessness. To revel in its lithe, brightness of being and to unearth its deep roots. That we have come to a time in history where both aspects can be studied in Burgundy and in Ontario is fortuitous indeed. As a Gamay groupie, I feel blessed to be born under a good sign, at the right time.

As a reminder, it’s always the right time to be with the Gamay you love. I have been urging Ontario farmers to plant, cultivate and nurture Gamay; for winemakers to make it more and more. I made “a proclamation in favour of a great grape and one that forges signature wines out of Canadian soils. I am an ardent supporter of and a willing rider on the Gamay bandwagon, in the name of connaitre and savoirkennen and wissen, recognition and understanding.”

Related – Go Gamay Go

It’s working. Rosewood Estates just planted it for the first time. Gamay is poured at the cellar door, at tasting events and in private gatherings all the time now. Bottom line is Gamay costs half of the price compared to Pinot Noir and Syrah and it thrives in Ontario. It can make serious Cru quality reds and even at the highest end, sell for less than $30. It has been, continues to be and will always be #GoGamayGo time in Ontario.

Related – It’s go Gamay go time

Moderator Chris Waters and the Gamay Masterclass panel: Jamie Drummond, Magdalena Kaiser, Martin Malivoire, Shiraz Mottiar, Bill Zacharkiw and Guillaume de Castelnau

Moderator Chris Waters and the Gamay Masterclass panel: Jamie Drummond, Magdalena Kaiser, Martin Malivoire, Shiraz Mottiar, Bill Zacharkiw and Guillaume de Castelnau

The first Masterclass: Gamay The Next Little Thing

“The intent of the first of the three wine sessions, was meant to investigate how it performs in Ontario and elsewhere in the world.”

The Panelists:

  • Winemaker Guillaume de Castelnau, Chief Winemaker/Director, Château des Jacques, Louis Jadot Beaujolais (Beaujolais, France)
  • Vigneron Martin Malivoire (Malivore, Beamsville Bench, Ontario, Canada)
  • Winemaker Shiraz Mottiar (Malivoire)
  • Wine writer/Sommelier Bill Zacharkiw (Montreal Gazette/Wine Align, Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

The Moderator: Wine writer Chris Waters (Vines Magazine/Intervin, Ontario, Canada)

To many, Gamay is a wonderful drug and though much maligned, its suitors and supporters can never tire of its freshness and its lightness of being. Moderator Chris Waters refers to Gamay as “a gateway grape, to transition drinkers from white to red wine.” In a world according to Guillaume de Castelnau, “Gamay is lazy, generous and fragile.” Bill Zacharkiw minces nothing, not words, nor feelings. “I love Beaujolais.” In the Terroir Master Class, there were 13 variations on Gamay, from semi-carbonic to old and baked, with many shades, hues, intensities and variations in between. Here are my notes.

Ontario Masterclass Gamay

Ontario Masterclass Gamay

Malivoire “Le Coeur” Gamay 2014, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery)

Shiraz Mottiar refers to the young, Beaujolais impressionist as “Sammy Carbono,” a semi-carbonically macerated Gamay, with one foot in Nouveau and the other in a dusty, freshly spirited aromatic whirl. The tanky feel makes it accesibly gulpable. Like a leaping horse it is also twitchy, hopping in dressage, popping in the mouth. Fun if beside the point. Drink 2015.  Tasted May 2015

Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A month later the pepper runs from white to black, by way of red. Terrific sour edged fruit. Strawberry and cranberry tied together by citrus. Will need two years minimum to fully integrate.
From my earlier note of April 2015:
The profundity of tart, keen, briny berries dilates in its own very useful layers of citrus, tannin and concentration, beyond even what was observed in 2012. The zesty, spritely argot resonates from the unfurling of floral essentia out of a Gamay in desperate need of time. The flavours and overlay are somewhat impenetrable and yet leave quite an impression. While patience might be the virtue and the reward, if #gogamaygo is the modus operandi, a swig from the bottle like gentlemen of the road is certainly not out of the question. Drink 2016-2021.

Last tasted May 2015

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

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.  Tasted May 2015
 
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.

Fielding Gamay 2013, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Time has been a friend to the ’13 Fielding Gamay, a wine who’s elevated tones of floral fruit and acidity have settled in the name of structure. Dusty ground nubbins and mint swirl with layered if yet rigid fruit. Low-cropped vines are on display, in single-vineyard like attention to specific detail, akin to Malivoire’s Courtney. This is in fact sourced from a single-vineyard up on the cool Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation. The site is a couple of kilometres south of Peninsula Ridge’s McNally Vineyard, the source of Ilya Senchuk’s terrific Leaning Post 2012 Pinot Noir. The Procyshyn family has been farming this plot (without fanfare) for decades in Beamsville. The pristine fruit that Theo and Shelley Procyshyn grow, along with their three sons, Nolan, Dalton and Brayden, yield as low as 1.5 tonnes and up to 3.5 tonnes per acre, depending on the year. The ’13 was around 3 t/a. Fielding has never labelled this Gamay ‘single vineyard’ because they have always hoped to bring in new Gamay blocks on as part of that wine, but that’s not yet worked out. The ’13 is very, very red raspberry, with a craggy, spiked point of liqueur, like a weeping peak upon that Vinemount Ridge in the afternoon sun. Has Beamsville’s upper reaches written all over its corporeal self. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted May 2015

13th Street “Sandstone” Gamay 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

May just be the first Gamay with a simulacrum towards a style best described as appassimento, what with the overripe fruit, aromatic cure, baked and sun-dried flavours. Sniff the confluence of black raspberry, scorched earth and roasting game bones, its sinew crackling over humid old growth wood. Gets rich into the vanilla, reeking of late harvest lavender and then a mutton funk. Could easily pass for a wealthy, unforgiving style of Cru Beaujolais, like Chénas from Christophe Pacalet. Or it could just be acting older than its age, by seven or eight years. Most prepossessing and confounding Gamay. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted May 2015

Stratus Gamay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

Esteem elevated by structure, matched in poise and presence mottled in smears of darker, richer black cherry. If a slight absence of brightness is sensed due to the syrupy compression, like New World, west coast Pinot Noir, the gleaning from acidity and tannin times perfectly the effluent escape.

From my earlier note of April 2015:

It may not be the most idiosyncratic Gamay in Niagara but the Stratus 2012 is without a doubt the most advanced and complex. Gamay fusion is on display, at once a bottle of Niagara’s finest pulchritudinous veneer and then a charcuterie board laid ample with cured bovine parts and sun-dried grapes. Maximum ripeness and then even later picking, to no one’s surprise, have led to this. Two years of ageing in neutral oak barrels has brought about a humid roundness and yet the centre is controlled by Oz-like mint and eucalyptus notes. The jam is gelid, as opposed to temperate. Rarely does Gamay go to such depths, of blackberry, chalk and grain, with an overlord of tannin. Quite serious stuff. Drink 2017-2020.

Last tasted May 2015

Château-De-Jacques and Malivoire Courtney in the Gamay Masterclass

Château-De-Jacques and Malivoire Courtney in the Gamay Masterclass

Château-De-Jacques Morgon 2013, Ac Beaujolais, France (653584, $24.95, WineAlign)

The flushed scarlet animation is active and astir, like a soft serve swirl of dusty, cherry molasses, bathing in its own natural acidity. Has the presence of wine to integrate chalk, grain and Morgon tannin, in equal, opposite and variegated layers. Nothing shy about this gateway Cru Beaujolais. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted May 2015

Château-De-Jacques Morgon Côte du Py 2013, Ac Beaujolais, France (Agent, $53.95)

In this rigid and stoic Morgon, the south-facing, blue volcanic slopes of the Côte du Py have provided a measure of firm fruit that will require a minimum two to three years to crack. The gears of the Gamay machinery may be grinding but the windows are yet open, the doors locked tight. This is the least forward, most inwardly introspective and least gregarious of the CdJ Beaujolais. Sharp sapidity, biting tang and piercing penetrating tannin deny immediate or even short-term access. Even the middle palate seems lifeless, devoid of cherry fruit and seamless layering, medicinal even. Judgement should be reserved, with knowledge of pedigree and how a bottle such as this will suddenly, effortlessly spring to life with time. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted May 2015

Château-De-Jacques Moulin a Vent 2010, Ac Beaujolais, France (Agent, $36.95)

The undergraduate’s blend comes from the appellation’s Château des Jacques parcels; Carquelin, Rochegrès, Champ de Cour, Thorins and La Roche. Granite soils from each spice with symptomatic diversification and combine for a flippant funk that hitches straightforward out of the gate. Here Gamay leaves dusty behind with an urging away from humble and towards nobility. Richly aromatic, amplifying into palate. Such acidity and such grain. For this MaV the time is now, the arrival already announced. A late sense of veneer on the lengthy bitter finish indicates more good times ahead. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted May 2015<

Château-De-Jacques Moulin a Vent Clos de Rochegres 2010, Ac Beaujolais, France (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

From the appellation’s highest parcel, the red sandstone soils of the Clos de Rochegrès are gently sloping and fed by underground streams. I always sense salinity and an effusive, stony energy in wines blessed with subterranean irrigation. The drinking window for this 2010 is wide open and the funk meets age introduction has been made. Already in display of a dried fruit shrivel, the ’10 acts like Sangiovese of a similar senescence, like CCR or Vino Nobile with three to five years of age. The liqueur of roses, the earth and the cherries are culpable and yet the varnish and the baking spice crusting ensure that no one conclusion can yet be made. This is highly seasoned and not quite unfurled Gamay. Two more years should complete its conditioning. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2015

Château-De-Jacques Moulin a Vent Clos de Rochegres 2007, Ac Beaujolais, France (Agent, $43.95, WineAlign)

Poured from a magnum, the 2007 Clos de Rochgeres is the portal in which to peer, to see what can happen with Gamay. Baked, caked, figgy, funky and oxidative, more than ample fruit was present and persists, with the savoury edges now integrated throughout. Strawberry rhubarb pie comes to mind, with eyes closed and sniffing senses heightened. A bit indelicate, the humidity in tomato leaf and garrigue add to the idea of age though the citric punch and lactic texture are reminders of Gamay’s fun side. There is no shortage of complexity and evolution here. That said, consumption time is now. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted May 2015

Malivoire Gamay Courtney 2007, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The wow aromatics can’t be denied, fully explained nor perfunctorily taken for granted. Age has educated the fruit, stratified and fully saturated this Gamay. Strawberries have shot from an adrenaline cannon and structure has been fully realized with (non-Gamay) Old World confidence. A note of orange blossom, like an early evening Sevilla garden, is rousing. The natural evolve of such a Gamay, with wood, yeast and fruit in expert harmony, recalls the impossible acts of red wines like those made by Emidio Pepe. If the stretch is considered a conceit of poetic licence, so be it. The yet beating heart of raging acidity circling plenteous fruit and so much savour is nothing short of a Gamay miracle. Power and masculinity, by way of a conduit in oak, have been used to great advantage. This has life yet to live. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted May 2015

Château-De-Jacques Morgon Côte du Py 2006, Ac Beaujolais, France (Agent, $53.95)

Seamless and eminently structured, developed low and slow. The blue volcanic soil has procured an evolutionary subsumption, a roasted, developed personality. The seeping liquor oozes, of earthy cherries, again like Sangiovese, but inelastic and close-grained, as per the Côte du Py idiom. This ’06 offers clarity and gives reason to forgive the brutal ’13, to abstain for commenting further. This wine is quite ferric and still tannic. The oak remains a factor. Through the walls the Gamay fruit does transude and so the master plan is coming into effect, perhaps not immediately but will be very soon. Just around the corner. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted May 2015
Moderator Sara d'Amato and the Terroir Masterclass panel: Magdalena Kaiser, Dr. Jim Willwerth, Emma Garner, Stuart Piggott and Dr. Kevin Pogue

Moderator Sara d’Amato and the Terroir Masterclass panel: Magdalena Kaiser, Dr. Jim Willwerth, Emma Garner, Stuart Piggott and Dr. Kevin Pogue

The second Masterclass: A Different Look At Terroir: How Much Do Soils Actually Matter?

“In this seminar/tasting we ask what the term really means, and how much do its many different elements actually influence the character of the finished wine?”

The Panelists:

  • Dr. Kevin Pogue Phd. Geology, Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington State, USA
  • Dr. Jim Willwerth Phd. Biological Sciences: Plant Sciences; Oenology and Viticulture (CCOVI, Brock University, Niagara, Canada)
  • Winemaker Emma Garner (Thirty Bench, Beamsville Bench, Ontario, Canada)
  • Winewriter Stuart Pigott (Author of Riesling: Best White Wine On Earth, Berlin, Germany)

The Moderator: Wine writer/Sommelier Sara d’Amato (Wine Align, Toronto, Canada)

Dr. Willwerth offered up his opinion on how minerality is achieved in Riesling. “If you don’t get maturity in the variety at the end of the growing season, you won’t get the full expression of minerality. Overripe will eliminate minerality.” In Ontario, “The Bench is home to a mineral wealth of local Riesling, singular in composition not only by way of a global comparison, but also from plot to plot, soil to soil and vineyard to vineyard.” That persuasion has spread, down to the shores of Lake Ontario, by Niagara-on-the-Lake and in Prince Edward County. “Riesling brokers the nescient consumer with the gift of grape enlightenment.”

Seven Ontario Rieslings were tasted in the Masterclass. The notes.

Riesling Masterclass

Riesling Masterclass

Cave Spring Riesling Dolomite 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $16.95, WineAlign)

This is Cave Spring’s bridge, offering safe passage from Estate to CSV Riesling. Vinified with consistency in a quasi-Kabinett style, its elevated though classic numbers steadfast in sugar (17.55 g/L) and acidity (7.2 g/L TA). The dolomite limestone of the Escarpment means business in this calm, fit, chiseled and consumer-lissome Riesling. Palate is really the thing, seamless to attraction, from fruit to stone. Orchards and citrus groves alight to rock. Phenolically ripe yet shy of the tropical planet. Is there transference here? Absolutely. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted May 2015

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $16.95, WineAlign)

The happy place effect by age in the Château Des Charmes’ vines coupled with location is usually enough to carry this Riesling through an obvious and readily identifiable tunnel but 2013 confounds. The elemental ratio, derived from multiplying reduction by altitude leans thoughts to the Vinemount Ridge or the Cave Spring Escarpment Vineyard. The compound aromatic waft, or more succinctly, the deconstructed stone, the breaking down of periodic Hollywood squares is a force to reckon. That this arrives from such close proximity to the lake is nothing short of amazing. It’s as if this Riesling is the product of stressed vines and the pierce is just so pinpointed. Less accessible than ’12 for sure, so drink up previous vintages going back at least three before even thinking about getting to know 2013. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted May 2015

Norman Hardie Riesling 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Tank Sample)

At this prepossessed stage the terpenic fruit might fail in competition but succeed in the marketplace. Easy access, smelling of perfumed must, juicy, with citrus and burgeoning acidity. Low alcohol and good length stretch out an endless lemon summer. The wine will reverse itself within a year and beat impossible odds. A Hardie always does.  Tasted May 2015

Thirty Bench Riesling Small Lot Triangle Vineyard 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)
The brilliant hue slides through patina and heads for gold. Some fumes have emerged with age, part petrol, part pure mineral, but of what kind and more importantly how, or why? Viscous, near oily, waxy and the most Glück of the three Thirty Bench single-vineyard Rieslings. Tossed with spice, pepper, lemon and honey that is more molasses than clover. The mineral is a result of the lowest water retentive soil as compared to Steel Post and Wood Post. The transmission for (orchard or tropical) fruit is minimized, the vigour low. The result is mineral. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted May 2015

Thirty Bench Riesling Small Lot Steel Post Vineyard 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Balance is and therefore always was struck. The match percusses flint for a mere nano-second, with just a brush on cymbal, the rock bleeds but is quickly clotted because the fruit shines still, like around the clock light. The steely aspect is a posterior one, antithetical and yet purposed, from this vineyard. Youth tells common sense to think 2011. The Riesling behaviour seems to play that part, of a chalky, piercing acidity, so typical of that vintage and so distinctly Thirty Bench. That the wine is older is not a big surprise because 2009 is the bomb. It may just be the best Riesling vintage, from on that Bench, in the last 10. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted May 2015

Thirty Bench Riesling Small Lot Wood Post Vineyard 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Age is a factor but less so than its Bench sisters due to a fine sense of calm. Showing less evolution, less viscosity, less wax and honey. More than that, the periodic table has yet to fill in. The Wood Post exhibits more warmth, savour and balm. A taste offers a sapidity that combines toasted fennel and candied lemon. Poised and yet incomplete, the vineyard fetters this Riesling to breath slowly and take its (will get to) sweet time. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted May 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling Nadja’s Vineyard 2009, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (578625, $19.95, WineAlign)

Going back a few years, this Flat Rock Weis 21 clone Riesling from atop the Niagara Escarpment was made by former winemaker Ross Wise. Six years has concentrated both aromas and flavours while concurrently reducing the cutting drill. The hyperbole is read by tablet, of etchings in stone, immortalizing the terroir (not so) long before it was truly known how this could happen. What sticks out the most is the bleeding limestone texture and the striking aridity. Later vintages of Nadja improve on the flesh. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted May 2015
Clone Wars Masterclass

Clone Wars Masterclass

The third Masterclass: “The Clone Wars”: What Do Different Clones Bring To The Glass & Why?

“Looks at Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. The varying clones utilized are a point of pride for some winemakers, and yet not even mentioned by others. Over the course of this detailed seminar/tasting we hope to answer why this is the case.”

The Panelists:

  • Dr. Kevin Pogue Phd. Geology Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington State, USA
  • Dr. Jim Willwerth Phd. Biological Sciences: Plant Sciences; Oenology and Viticulture (CCOVI, Brock University, Niagara, Canada)
  • Winemaker Angelo Pavan (Cave Spring, Jordan, Ontario, Canada)
  • Winemaker Jay Johnston (Flat Rock, Beamsville Bench, Ontario, Canada)

The Moderator: Sommelier Katy Moore (Langdon Hall, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada)

Dr. Jim Willwerth asserts that “clones are essential for viticulture, propagated asexually, through cuttings.” Angelo Pavan notes “clonal research to cold heartiness is very important for Niagara and also for yields.” Clones no doubt drive the industry, at least behind the scenes, but when it comes to making great wine, is it the be all, end all? “I still believe plot trumps clone,” says Jay Johnston. The defence rests. Here are the wines tasted in the final Masterclass.

Clone Wars Masterclass line-up

Clone Wars Masterclass line-up

Greenlane Riesling Old Vines 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (351486, $21.95, WineAlign)

While aridity suggests Alsace Clone 49, this is actually Weiss 21, made saline and arid out of Lincoln Lakeshore soil. The herbal aspect has propagated to combine with Twenty Bench like distinction and with less citrus than Vinemount Ridge or Beamsville Bench. The Mosel density has developed with time in bottle. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of October 2013:

Cracks the mineral whip, froths lime into foam and atomizes stone fruit into sweet and sour heaven. Wants to be semi-dry but never quite goes there. Walks a fine line, a tightrope actually. Up there with Charles Baker and Thirty Bench for sheer madness.

Last tasted May 2015

Trius Winery At Hillebrand Showcase Riesling Ghost Creek Vineyard 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The Ghost Creek Riesling comes from the shadow of a river bed vineyard planted to the Alsace clone 49. The fruit is much richer than most, coupled with the aridity and salinity that former stony wadi plots and this particular clone will conspire to effect. The citrus intensity is however tempered by a humidity that comes from seemingly sunburnt fruit, tanned and wet down by the revenant reservoir. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted May 2015

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $15.95, WineAlign)

Produced from the 77 clone, the vintage has heightened the high herbal and feigned sweetness aromatic pastis. The palate is extraordinarily viscous, with Yellow Muscat and Gewürztraminer attributes, not so out of the ordinary considering Cave Spring’s older world execution. Drives from lemon to mandarin, through almond pit and into peach. Always solid Musqué. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted May 2015

2027 Cellars Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

In the hands of winemaker Kevin Panagapka, Craig Wismer’s fruit retains un underlay of power not recognized in other Foxcroft Chardonnays. Neither Thomas Bachelder nor Ross Wise (Keint-He) make anything near spirited as this 2027 take. Chardonnay loves the sun in the Foxcroft Block and Panagapka loves to see that sun hook up with the inside of a barrel. This ’12 makes a nice date for a wood wedding. A product of the Dijon 96 clone, the reduction in this Chardonnay drives its fresh, spritely if mettlesome nature, with a bark and a barrel bellow, but longevity will not suffer as a result. This could take 30 years to oxidize, it’s that audacious and also courageous. Let it and its buttered popcorn rest a while. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2015

Malivoire Chardonnay Moira 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (243113, $39.95, WineAlign)

When it comes to clones, winemaker Shiraz Mottiar distills the Moira Vineyard into the realm of “field selection.” Not to be confused with field blend though I suppose that’s what it is, of sorts. The ’13 is the dictionary entry for Moira, typically balanced, from pedigree, in warmth, amiability, gathered and distributed, from acumen and confidence, to customary placement. Fruit and acidity relax on a sofa of equilibrium, taking little in the way of risks, making no mistakes. Reduction isn’t even a twinkle in its fresh versus oxidative eye. The vintage and the handling purports to throw infantile, developed and matured into one big machine for a readout that grants immediate gratification. Exemplary take on cool-climate, Niagara Peninsula, slightly warmer Beamsville Bench Chardonnay proper. Not for the long-term. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted May 2015

Flat Rock Pinot Noir Pond Block 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Assessed blind it smells just like the Flat Rock’s Gravity Pinot Noir yet singled out in fractions. Here the mellifluent block, of sweet crooning fruit, careening and submissive to Siamese brother triplet Summit’s tension.

From my earlier note of October 2013:

Crosses the twain between Bruce and Summit. A cottony touch, most pronounced perfume and of the three, the lowest acidity. Mellow, easy, J.J. Cale peaceful, void of chalk, grain or angst. Speaks in a cherry voice, smells like cherry and returns that cherry to taste. Ripe and soft. “Sweet as a morning sunrise, fresh as a mountain dew.”

Last tasted May 2015

Flat Rock Pinot Noir Summit Block 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The most perfumed and yes, Burgundian of the three blocks, the Pommard in the group. Still limestone chalky and gaining weight. This is a single-block wine to me made again.From my earlier note of October 2013:This block’s base is slightly deeper, spreading over dolomite limestone. Diminished average temperatures mean berries develop lower and slower, hang longer (up to three weeks) resulting in higher phenolic ripeness. Summit may be the caveman of the three, seemingly in dire straits, covered in leaves, snapped twigs, truffles and porcini mushroom but damn if impossible Burgundy does not come to mind. This is one to ask where do you think you’re going? It will surely reply, “if you ain’t with me girl, you’re gonna be without me.”Last tasted May 2015

Flat Rock Pinot Noir Bruce Block 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The light and delicate place translates to hue, texture and ultimately elegance. Yet there persists an underlying anxiety, essential for gravity.

From my earlier note of October 2013:

From the northern most block, up at the Escarpment/Bruce trail. Thin, one foot deep soil meshes flaky limestone at this elevation. Smallish berries predominate and an earthly mote accents the flowers, cherries, strawberry and classic purity of this bonny Bruce. A Oregonian lightness of being, if you will. From one of the few south-facing slopes in Niagara (because of 20 Mile Creek), where the limestone chalk imparts fine-grained tannin so apparent to taste.

Last tasted May 2015

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14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 silent auction guitar signed by Canadian musicians

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 silent auction guitar signed by Canadian musicians

In 2013 the number chosen to highlight excellence in Canadian wine was 13. Symmetry and permutations with repetition are one thing, quality in winemaking is yet another. The expectation is fully understood that next year there will be 15 wines on the list. And so on and so forth.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

What force has thus far driven and will continue to drive the wines of Canada? By sifting through leads in geography, in the orientation of escarpments, mountains, rivers and valleys, in the gestalt of the archaeology of tomorrow, in the vineyard landscape of today, we can perchance unlock the riddle of the what and the why for varietal planting. The end game is to unlock the mystery within the puzzle of terroir, to figure out what grapes will thrive and where they can be given the best shot at success. It is not just about what happens beneath the soil, but also what happens above, around, beyond and in the minds of women and men.

Picking a top anything list is both a chore and a labour of loyalty. The opportunities to learn more about Canadian-made wine, especially the processes and the efforts, were numerous in 2014. Canadian winemakers opened their doors and when people came, they taught. They walked the vineyards, showed off their prized barrels and walked through the processes of making wine. Tasting and barrel rooms make for the greatest classrooms. Get out there in 2015. The experience is priceless.

Winery visits were numerous in 2014. Thanks must be dispatched to all who opened their doors, to those with established roots and to risk takers who through their new planting, began burrowing their own. Like Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario. Like Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Tastings that go beyond the pale shed new élevage and barrel light. The light shed by such practices was no more in evidence than at Tawse with Paul Pender and Norman Hardie, but also at Flat Rock Cellars with Jay Johnston and Ed Madronich.

Memories of 2014 lead to thoughts of Cuvée, the Expert’s Tasting and the Sparkling Wine Symposium at Brock University. Taste OntarioSomewhereness, County in the City. July visits to Niagara and Nova Scotia gave up 10,000 words of free-flowing wine-speak about the Cool Chardonnay conference and with Peter Gamble in the Gaspereau Valley.

There were a few wines that should have, would have and could have made the cut were there time, space and a better headline to write. Gray Monk Riesling 2012, Okanagan Valley at ($15.00, WineAlign) is the best value for the niche in B.C. This is old-school, west coast Riesling with attributes to reflect and look back on generations of acumen. Tawse Carly’s Block Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($31.95, WineAlign) forms a bridge and meets the twain, from atomic to tropic and was a NWAC14 Platinum Medal Winner.

La Face Cachée de la Pomme 2011 Neige Première Ice Pink Cider, Quebec ($22.95, WineAlignspeaks to me in waves of demonstrative, Floydian verse. There is Icewine on the bright side and then there is Iced Cider on la face cachée. Leaning Post Lowrey Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench ($38.00, WineAlign) though just recently re-tasted, was actually first assessed in November of 2013.

This list certainly concentrates on new releases, save for a few exceptions where older wines left a modern impression. Wines that found a way to break new ground also factored into the decisions. Here are the 14 Canadian wines tasted in 2014 that simply did it for me. Wines that are extensions of their maker’s personality, philosophy and temperament. Wines that are indicative of their terroir.

From left to right: Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013 , Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Merlot 2002

From left to right: Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013 , Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Merlot 2002

 

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign) From The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014

Who has not waited for Elevation to hit out of the 2012 vintage? Straight up it must be noted that this will rank over and above the best from the St. Urban Vineyard. The ’12 Elevation will not only find long-term success among the great values in Bench Riesling, it will go down as one of the best ever, at any price. The vintage impart is a natural for this wine. At the moment it is the most primary of all because of the layers that texture bring. The Elevation will go thirty years and climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, gaining flesh and personality. The already seamless gathering of fruit and mineral is palpable. And still a reminder, the price is $20. This is a Schmidt gift to Ontario, for anyone and everyone to be one of the lucky ones. To purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling.  Tasted November 2014  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (578625, $19.95, WineAlign) From The Group of twelve, April 28, 2014

Just add three months and witness a new evolution, a density, from a honeyed thing. Entering a pre-adolescence with a new bounce in its step. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “A champion cyclone of forces combined to elevate the already incumbent position of this Twenty Mile Bench Riesling. An ideal growing season magnified transmission upon a paradigmatic two and a half-acre block. This southern-most and highest altitude section of Flat Rock’s vineyard rests aboard a solid bed of limestone and wake me up if that rock was not drawn up into the vines in this stellar Riesling vintage. Sure its warm and nearly off-dry but such an effortless squeeze of lemon hydrates and elevates orchard fruit and honey out of the year of the lemon. After each sip its “every time you kiss me, lemon crush.” Love this prince of a Twenty Mile white in 2012, the dynamism smiling on the tart, succulent fruit. The length is one of outright bravado. This will develop for 20 years, of that I am convinced. There is just so much fruit. A Nadja for the ages.”  Tasted April 2014  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, B.C. $20.90, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014

The purity of fruit in Blue Mountain’s Gamay is without question in a distinct class of the few and far between. Older barrels (four year-old, fifth fill) were used and the impart should not be dismissed. While quintessentially Okanagan Gamay, the fruit is elevated, lifted, ripe like warmer Cabernet (dare it be said) with more berry and Cassis-like aromas. The palate tension and round acidity bring Morgon to mind. Just a bit gamy on the back end, which is nice. Planning to drink this through the end of the decade would not be a mistake.  Tasted October 2014  @BlueMtnWinery

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 Cabernet Franc comes of age out of a preternatural and ontological perfect storm. Casts odds into the river of ideal weather, procures phenolic grape ripeness out of the vineyard, avoids the green and embraces the brown stems. Ferments under the natural eye of indigenous yeasts and settles into its silky skin at a low, low 10.8 per cent (give or take a lab sample) alcohol. Cabernet Franc of impossible soul, its “burden is the weight of a feather.” Pepper and currants are noted, tobacco and tomato are not. Comes “bearing a sword” but seduces with primal proclamations. Radical County red.  Tasted April 2014  @normhardie

Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $26.00, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014

High altitude expression from a vineyard perched atop a gravel bed, a rocky pool of stone that seems to toss-up pebbles at Sperling’s window to see if she would like to sneak away for a midnight drive. A crisp, clean and linear style, full of night-air freshness, white flowers and white fruit. This is undeniably picked early and ahead of any possible oxidative or overripe window, yet there is a rich quality about it that rages against the machine, calm like a bomb, “its narrative fearless.” Very mineral in its direct back and to the side of the mouth attack, full of salinity and lemon-lime acidity. Long, long Okanagan that will flesh with five years time. The slate bass line will soften, allowing the white fruit to further shine.  Tasted twice, May and July 2014  @SperlingVyds

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign) From Got two Chardonnays, June, Ivan and Picone, July 15, 2014

A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  Last tasted June 2014  @cbriesling

Pilliteri Estates Merlot Family Reserve 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71753, $39.95, WineAlign) From Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine, January 17, 2014

Served from Jeroboam, one of 23 produced and a testament to the precocious, facile touch of then winemaker Sue-Ann Staff. The extreme five litre format has certainly been kind to the hermetic 11-year slumber of this Merlot, as has the above average red Niagara growing season. Charlie pulled out this rare behemoth “for the special occasion” and despite and with thanks to the perfect vintage meets size storm, it has held up with dramatic fortitude. Unmistakably predicated Pillitteri chocolate perfume, brushed violet, mulberry and oven-warmed baking spice. Holding in sustained concentration, the toffee, caramel and umami of wizened, oxidized fruit not yet a twinkle in its soapy sandalwood eye. How could Sun-Ann have known what time-cheating lengths her Merlot would see to?   Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

From left to right: Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008

From left to right: Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008

 

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign) From Chardonnay is cool, July 9, 2014

Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.  Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (20906, $45.00, WineAlign) From A hip of wine at Hidden Bench

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  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, VQA Beamsville Bench (winery, $50, WineAlign) From When experts break wine together, March 4, 2014

Mind bending to taste a piece of recent history, a Riesling rooted in the rocks, blues and pop of the limestone, sandstone and shale Bench, but a wine also futuristic, distorted and soulful. From 25 plus year-old vines, this foxy lady has entered into true, secondary territory. She’s softened and her perfume is cast in vanilla butterscotch so much so she might mess with tasters’ minds in a flight of oaked Chardonnay. She’s “a cute little heartbreaker.”  Tasted March 2014  @CaveSpring

Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign) From The Stratus-Momofuku continuum, May 30, 2014

The declared alcohol on this is 14.6 per cent but to all of me, that is really hard to believe. Really elegant, 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly unabridged in phenolic ripeness but in such fine rhythm and blues. Were it a score it would be euphonious without encumbrance and void of splinters. The most subtle and gentle J-L Groux crafted red wine I’ve yet to encounter, with a back palate combination of mushroom and citrus to follow pure red fruit. Resoundingly circular with curves, no hard edges and “perfect imperfections.” This Cabernet goes at it with Graves character and poise. It will be a Niagara legend.  @StratusWines

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (34561, $65.00, WineAlign) From Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases November 4, 2014

Certainly plays the most hard to get of the ’11 Chardonnays of fruit so fine and pure. Layered like Phyllo or Puff pastry, gathered and set back upon itself. Gains traction and intensity through developed flavours and overlays of texture, both solid like shale and lacy like organza. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “From sandy loam and limestone soils, here is a Chardonnay that winemaker Sébastien Jacquey is looking to fashion with low PH and elevated tannin. A most commendable effort in the enigmatic ’11 vintage, clean, anything but lean and un-gassed by a jet engine’s aerified stream. Chardonnay running instead on the vineyard’s biofuel, a chalky lees and lime texture that turns green in a savoury way towards the back end. Full, rich, gaining in stature as it breathes, thinks and feels. Atop the green there is an ambrosial aroma and a honeyed sense of flesh. A wine of great respect and biodynamic energy.”  Last tasted October 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (46470, $65.00, WineAlign) From Up on Creekside Estates, April 14, 2014

Just 60-80 cases are made from the tips of the best barrels through a process that takes 56 months to complete. The secret ingredient is Sangiovese and bless the band‘s soul if the ferric, iron and animal musk is not attributed to the addition. This is a different kind of wine, with lees in the bottle, not unlike some big, bad Spanish wines. It’s ’07 and still reductive which makes it seem peculiarly modern (note, Spanish) but it’s really not. Despite the monster tannins, it “just gave my heart a throb to the bottom of my feet and I swore as I took another pull,” the Lost Barrel can’t be beat. Up on Creekside Estates.  Tasted March 2014  @CreeksideWine

Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, WineAlign) From Consider the Gaspereau Valley, October 1, 2014

The 2008 Brut Reserve is composed of 61 per cent Chardonnay and 39 Pinot Noir. If any wine in the Benjamin Bridge continuum defines the legacy left behind by Raphaël Brisebois and passes the sparkling torch to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, this ’08 is it. Here is the vintage that begins to emulate the grower’s Champagne of the motherland, in deeper learning, understanding and connection to the estate’s vineyards. At present this is such an infant, reductive and with a blowzy palate that suggests a fidgety, elemental state. The attack is in burgeoning mousse. After spitting, the wine persists, as if there remains a mouthful, causing the cheeks to expand. The citrus is weighty in texture and this ’08 goes deeper than the previous Brut reserves. Three years will be required to allow for a settling and 20 years lay further ahead for secondary, tertiary and quaternary development.  Tasted at the winery, July 2014  @Benjamin_Bridge

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Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014

Gold Medal Plate, Toronto 2014: Canoe's Chef John Horne Grandview Short Ribs Glazd with Tree Syrups (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal winning plate, Gold Medal Plates, Toronto 2014: Canoe’s Chef John Horne’s Grandview Short Ribs Glazed with Tree Syrups
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

When head judge David Lawrason asked me to join him and fellow WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato to preside over the wines at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, I paused for a brief moment. I knew right away the answer was an emphatic yes but I had to breathe in the possibilities. One: Sample 10 wondrous culinary creations by 10 sacrosanct chefs. Two: Spend an evening with Canadian Olympic medallists and recording artists. Three: Taste and judge the sagacious efforts by some of Ontario’s most venerated winemakers.

Gold Medal Plates was founded in 2003 and is so much more than an organization. It is a Canadian institution. The primary goal of the coast to coast galas are to “celebrate Canadian excellence in food, wine, athletic achievement and entertainment.” The tour makes stops in 11 Canadian cities and raises funds for the Canadian Olympic Foundation to support Olympic athletes. Net proceeds are donated to support high performance programs such as Own The Podium. To date over $8.2 million has been raised. (Update: Gold Medal Plates tweeted on December 10th that the number is now $9.5 million).

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 bronze, gold and silver medal winning chefs Damon Campbell, John Horne and Jason Bangerter<br />  (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 bronze, gold and silver medal winning chefs Damon Campbell, John Horne and Jason Bangerter
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

In each city the invited chefs prepare a regional dish and in Toronto, more than 700 people tasted through a complex variety of creations. The gold medal chef in each city goes on to compete at the Gold Medal Plates Finale at the Canadian Culinary Championships. In 2015 the host will be Kelowna, British Columbia on February 6 and 7. The term “career changer” is used to describe the chef who is crowned tops in Canada.

With unprecedented support from the event’s title sponsor Deloitte, the Toronto event was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Wednesday, November 12, 2014. The culinary judging was headed up by former Toronto Life Magazine food critic James Chatto. Joining Mr. Chatto were chef/author Sasha Chapman, chef/TV personality Christine Cushing, author/CBC radio host Anita Stewart, George Brown chef school’s John Higgins and the 2013 Canadian Culinary Champion Lorenzo Loseto of George Restaurant.

Candian musicians and atheletes sing O Canada at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Candian musicians and atheletes sing O Canada at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

At the Toronto event, emcee skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were joined by dozens of Olympic medallists and future hopefuls. The entertainment on stage was an all-star Canadian band led by Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy. Cuddy was joined by The Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Roberstson, Barney Bentall, 5440’s Neil OsborneDanny Michel, Anne Lindsay and the astoundingly soulful guitarist Colin Cripps.

Slient auction signed guitar

Slient auction signed guitar

The plates in Toronto were really quite incredible. Canoe’s Chef John Horne was the gold medal winner. His Grandview Farms Short Ribs glazed with tree syrups was a ground breaker, an original composition of intrigue, a wild sequestered spot of gastronomy. The other plates were exceptional, each in their own right, but chef Horne travelled to a zone alone. Congratulations Chef.

Gold Medal Plates wines (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal Plates wines
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

In David Lawrason’s recap to the audience, he noted how close the wine judging really was. “It was the highest quality level from bottle to bottle I have seen in the country this year, making the judging of the Best of Show Award rather tough. But when each judged ranked their top five, the same five wines showed up. It was then the ordering that became difficult, and only two points separated first and second place.” In the end we chose Norman Hardie‘s Niagara Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011 as the Gold Medal winning wine. Hardie’s take on Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir is pure, complex and made with a deft, hands-off approach.

The wines ware all impressive, each and every one. The Hidden Bench approach on a Bordeaux-styled white is as impressive as any that have come before it, which is why the Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012 finished a very close second, taking home the Silver Medal. Syrah in the hands of winemaker Rob Power is a beautiful thing indeed. Creekside Estate‘s Iconoclast Syrah 2012 was the Bronze Medal winner. Pinot Noir by Leaning Post and Cabernet Franc by Rosewood Estates were fractional points behind.

David, Sara and I tasted and judged 12 wines, 10 of which were paired to the 10 chef’s plates. Here are the tasting notes and pairings.

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 dishes and paired wines

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 dishes and paired wines

Peller Estates Baco Noir Private Reserve 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (Winery, $17.95)

High acidity, negligible tannin and no surprise, the black burn of charcoal crushed, tarry fruit. A wallop of pepper for accented measure stings as per the effect of a Rhône, so like Syrah this is a good example of Baco. An airplane taxiing down a tobacco road. “But it’s home, the only life (its) ever known.” Definitely Baco.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @PellerVQA

Peller Estates Chardonnay Private Reserve  2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

Like bottled pastry, sweet, soft apples baking. Warm wafting aromatics, mild toast and caramelizing butter, effectively creamy and palate coating. Evolved to the point of full integration and absolute oak resolution. Drink now.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @PellerVQA

Creekside Estates Syrah Iconoclast 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (Winery, $18.05) Paired with Canoe’s Chef John Horne’s Grandview Farms Short Ribs Glazed with Tree Syrups

Winemaker Rob Power is on the fast track (if he is not there already) at becoming the King of Syrah in Ontario. The Queenston Road vineyard helps. Years of acumen development is key. Passion for the Rhône and Niagara’s climatic and stylistic kinship wraps the package. A ton of effort goes into the production of this $19 wine. The methodology here differs greatly from the co-fermented two-clone meets Viognier (and twice the price) Brokenpress Syrah. Here the fruit from three vineyards (including the Queenston Road) were fermented separately in stainless steel tanks and 1 tonne fruit bins. Malolactic fermentation took place in barrel where the wine aged for 12 months. The (30 percent new) barrel mix is (53 per cent) American, (42) French and (five) Hungarian. The result? In Rob Power’s hands, you can take Syrah out of the Rhône and Australia but you can’t take the cool climate out of the Syrah. Meat, pepper and smoke pique, pinch and pop. Pow! A totem in proclivity for the variety. The water is at times dishy but the fruit swells and fills in every gap.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @CreeksideWine

13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign) Paired with Bestellen’s Chef Rob Rossi’s 60 Day Dry-Aged Beef Crudo, B.C. Pine Mushrooms, Concord Grape Mustard and Truffle Sauce

Spice and rich fruit head straight to Gamay welkin derived direct from the soil’s core, of Sandstone, Schwenker and the winery’s home vineyard at Fourth Avenue. Swirl away the gathered must and moss to reveal more Cru fruit than you can shake a stirring rod at. Such verve, said grit, such persistence. The thing about Gamay is, “if you want inside of her, well boy you better make her a raspberry swirl.” 13th Street has certainly made the raspberry sing in the ’12 Gamay so “raspberry swirl, mmm let’s go.”  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @13thStreetWines

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign) Paired with Splendido’s Chef Victor Barry’s Smoked Rocky Point Oyster, Yukon Gold Potato and Chive

Less than six weeks after my first introduction to the NB ’12 complexity shines anew. Such a delicate and elegant take on the Bordeaux white axiom. Void of all the gangly G’s; grasses, gooseberry and green vegetable. Leans to custards and curds with a savoury accent and a limestone tang. Willing to be paired with a multitude of gastronomy. Long finish. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “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.”  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto November 2014  @HiddenBench

Marben Restaurant's Chef Rob Bragagnolo's Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond (c) Michael Godel

Marben Restaurant’s Chef Rob Bragagnolo’s Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond
(c) Michael Godel

Rosewood Estates Cabernet Franc Origin Series 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $26.20, WineAlign) Paired with Marben Restaurant’s Chef Rob Bragagnolo’s Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond

From fruit grown on the Estate’s Beamsville Bench (Renaceau) vineyard. As per the house directive, this is not oak shy. So as the house finds collective varietal success from inside a barrel, the Origin Cabernet Franc 2012 falls into line. Fruit is bright and sour-edged, softened, filled in and tempered by wood. Lush berries and plums, herbs and did I mention oak? A roasted kind of sweetness comes wafting and pan-dripping in, with currants, mint and eucalyptus with a far away look. Intensely modish CF, with a swath of chocolate, springy and extensible length.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @Rosewoodwine

Rosewood Estates Chardonnay Origin Series 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $28.20) Paired with Buca’s Chef Rob Gentile’s Ravioli alla Tonnara, Tuna Blood Pasta, Tuna N’duja and Stracciatella Cheese

The Chardonnay formerly known as Renaceau Estate Vineyard, followed by Reserve and now Origin continues to hail from the Beamsville locale and persists as one of the most viscous and rich of its ilk. The glaring mismatch in sugar (20.8 g/L) and acidity (1.8 g/L) could spell disaster but to the contrary, this finds its tongue. Quite drawn, in a southern sort of lobster dipped in butter drawl. Unrequited malo fermentative linguistics suppress any tension that might distract from the bounty of warm vintage, perfectly ripe fruit smothered in a creamy lather of French oak (nine months in 50% new and 50% seasoned).  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @Rosewoodwine

The Farm Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery) Paired with Café Boulud’s Chef Tyler Shedden’s Haida Gwaii Pink Salmon, Preserved Porcini Mushroom, Nasturtium and Smoked Sabayon

Those familiar with the Neudorf farm fruit know it well because of the single vineyard Pinot Noir “La Petite Colline” made by then Le Clos Jordanne winemaker Thomas Bachelder and carried forth by Sébastien Jacquey. Most of the harvest was then scooped up by Bachelder’s newest Niagara venture with some Quebec buddies at Domaine Queylus. In 2012 the Neudorf family decided to allocate a small commercial gifting of their own minuscule production of Estate Pinot Noir. Eleven restaurants in Southern Ontario carry this luxurious and humid red. The aromatics are pure Neudorf; a blackberry-rapt silt and clay-earth mingle with a sideshow of coated limestone primer. Just a smidgen past ripe, this blood pedigree redaction has plenty of charm if less earnest finesse than the Bachelder siphoned bottles.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014

Langdon Hall's Chef Jason Bangerter's Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Langdon Hall’s Chef Jason Bangerter’s Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

Leaning Post Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.20, WineAlign) Paired with Langdon Hall’s Chef Jason Bangerter’s Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root

One year later and in conjunction with stopping to think about them (other vintages and other reds at #GMP2014), the most terroir and aromatic focus comes from Ilya Senchuk’s ’10. Cherry, pomegranate and earth. Only Lowrey goes deep like this. Such a palate refresher. From my earlier, November 2013 note: “Can’t say I’m all that surprised but this is so much more approachable, pretty and glamorous. From an unrelenting hot vintage (picked Sept. 11th), a full six weeks earlier than ’09 and from the same vineyard. This was necessary as a means to preserve freshness. More sunshine, less earth but still there’s a cure and metal tendency that really defines Lowrey. Could of course be considered more of a crowd pleaser but it’s not as simple as that. That I can taste these two mano a mano, in my life is a rubber soul stamp. “All these places have their moments.” 125 cases.”  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @LeaningPostWine

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (208702, $39.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Drake Hotel’s Chef Alexandra Feswick’s Beef Tongue, Plums and Almonds

The tension in the ’11 Niagara Pinot is palpable, ongoing and yet, as noted previously, not like it used to be. Expertly judged in a major key of complexity. Like candied nuts strung along a chain of tannin. Layers of depth and active ingredients. From my earlier, August 2014 note: “Hardie’s 2011 Pinot Noir comes out of deep clay, 20 Mile Bench soil, an impart not lost in the rich though dusty character of the wine. The flesh is both corporeal and marbled and a chalky grain runs through, with thanks to what feels like smithereens of limestone blasted through. “It was long ago, seems like yesterday,” that Norm’s Niagara Pinot carried an unwieldy level of anxiety but here the tannins have settled, the volatility has relented and there is a curious combination now, of blood and roses. Though meaty, the ’11 Pinot’s juices are concentrated, contained, not running out. The aromas are floral, heightened and intoxicating. Once again, classic comes by way of low alcohol and minimalist intervention. Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @normhardie

The Chase's Chef Michael Steh's Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce (c) Michael Godel

The Chase’s Chef Michael Steh’s Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce
(c) Michael Godel

Stratus White 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Chase’s Chef Michael Steh’s Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce

Tropical notes are currently blanketing the radar on the long flight to future decades. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Quite possibly the most textured yet. A casted mass, like ingot or sélection de grains nobles, where viscosity meets candied fruit, apricot, quince and acacia flowers. A white moon with a medicinal and peaty tang that shows so much verve, earth floor even. This cracker jack ’10 will continue to add heft and flesh to earn its white stripes. Could be a classic for 20 years plus.” From my earlier, September 2013 note: “Sends me immediately towards Bordeaux, in neo-marmalade, but also buoyed in perfume and body by 25 percent Viognier. “This variety worked so well in the vineyard in 2010,” notes Groux. Niagara honey and near-botrytis via Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc void of grass, full of vigor. A sharp note, neither metallic nor mineral, but a combination of the two is present in this so very concentrated ’10. Of a warm vintage (self-explanatory) fully picked by October 23. Though loaded with early Spring maple sap, foie gras and appley terpines, its sharp and framed by “tannic” tang and protracted length.” Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014

The Shangri-La Hotel's Damon Campbell Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion (c) Ronald Ng Photography

The Shangri-La Hotel’s Damon Campbell Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (366500, $50.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Shangri-La Hotel’s Chef Damon Campbell’s Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion

There is still a tough outer layer to crack. A poem of many stanzas has only just begun. Mute yet delicate, the stratified vineyard is the Poetica’s poetry; tight, yet forwardly futuristic towards the ephemeral and the aerified. From my earlier July 2014 note: “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 at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @SouthbrookWine  @thesirengroup

Lean on, Macduff

Leaning Post Wines
Leaning Post Wines, PHOTO: Michael Godel

Leaning Post Wines was until very recently virtual and to the uninitiated, wholly abstract. The young Niagara Peninsula operation located at 1491 Highway 8, in Winona, Ontario is now the real deal, a bricks, barn board, mortar and hand fashioned nails winery. The risk taken and the effort put into establishing a winery in Winona is nothing short of heroic. LPW is the hands and knees, sweat and blood project of winemaker Ilya Senchuk and wife Nadia, Winnipeggers living the dream on the eastern edge of Niagara’s winegrowing Escarpment.

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

Grapes need the support of posts and wires, thus the name. With a couple of vintages under his actual Winona belt, new acreage planted and only a couple of years away from producing estate fruit, now is the time to lean on Ilya Senchuk for righteous Niagara wine. Senchuk is no Macbeth. His tasting room is no Dunsinane Castle. The alternative choices he has made are emphatic but not combative ones. He would not say, “Lay on, Macduff, and damned be him who first cries ‘Hold! enough!’” He’s confident his locale and his methods will lead to success. He believes in the microclimate and soil composition of the Winona flats tucked in like a pocket between the Escarpment and the Lake. Ilya has taken up the good fight. He is an antagonist and a hero in the Niagara play.

Winemaker Ilya Senchuk in the Leaning Post Barrel Room

Winemaker Ilya Senchuk in the Leaning Post Barrel Room

Senchuk is part of a breed of young and risk-taking Niagara winemakers ready and willing to push the envelope. Ilya’s wines may not fall into a stylistic category defined and categorized by standard Niagara varietal or appellative descriptions. Some of his wines challenge the notion of what is considered a true representation of the Niagara Peninsula. Though he may run into VQA panel consternation on some future occasions, he will be a part of the evolution and reworking of its mandate towards the open-minded acceptance of modern, varietal expression. He believes in ripe fruit. He’s a strong proponent of terroir, even if it means redefining or pioneering new plots.

Leaning Post Tasting Room

Leaning Post Tasting Room

The wines will offer a balance of Bench terroir, with its vigorous, heavy clay meets loam and the Winona landscape, where sandy soil is maculated by largish stones three to four feet down. This atop a bed of grey clay so the low vigor of the sandy soil will be offer up a flipside, a foil to the heavy clay of the Bench. The agglomeration should be more than interesting to follow.

On the occasion of the “eve eve” for two new Leaning Post releases, the 2013 Chardonnay ‘The Fifty’ and the 2013 Riesling, here are some notes on the wines I tasted two weeks ago at the Winona winery. Senchuk led me through the new releases, along with the comings along of his wines in barrel and in tank.

Leaning Post 'The Fifty' Chardonnay 2013 and Riesling 2013

Leaning Post ‘The Fifty’ Chardonnay 2013 and Riesling 2013

Leaning Post Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

The 2012 Chardonnay has now been in bottle four months, just enough settle time to grant access to its magnanimous 14.2 per cent alcohol frame. This from fruit that came in at 22.5 – 23.5 brix, or as winemaker Ilya Senchuk calls “the conversion rate of the century.” From a warm year that offered a sweet Smörgåsbord for the inoculated (as opposed to wild) yeast. Chewy, dense, catalytic toast with butter. Butterscotch flavour atop a waft of Crème Brûlée, the sugar in a feverish pitch to reach hardball. This is a really big wine, a confident expression, a national statement. Lean on this Chardonnay and let it lead because “everybody wants a sip of wine to drink, everybody wants a little more time to think.”  Tasted April 2014

Leaning Post Chardonnay ‘The Fifty’ 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

This is a barrel-fermented but not barrel-aged Chardonnay that borrows its name from the old town of Winona. From approximately 9-10 barrels of Foxcroft fruit racked off and thrown into tank. The aught omission of full Malolactic fermentation means a clean and jerk feel, though the wine’s lees perform the middle palate and textural duty. Bottled just eight days before sampling and yet eminently drinkable. “A wine to make friends” and make friends with. A soft and creamy sensation brings to mind Bordeaux Blanc, or more specifically Semillon’s contribution, but also the notion of Wismer Sauvignon Blanc. Make no mistake, it’s absolutely Chardonnay, in toto unique and still influenced by both the barrel and the vineyard.  Tasted April 2014

Leaning Post Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Marks a return to the variety for Senchuk, with a dynamic and resounding charge. This barely resembles what may be pigeon-holed as Niagara Peninsula Riesling as it disses the lean, citrus pierce of the dry norm. Don’t panic, it’s not that different, but it does comment on “homes, places we’ve grown, all of us are done for.” From 18 year-old (south block) Foxcroft vines, 15.8 grams of residual sugar and 11.3 grams acidity. Bottled just eight days ago, this is a wine that was “left to develop on its own,” on it lees and with no stirring. “It’s not late harvest, it’s mature, with just enough sugar to make it palatable.” Makes a cold play for warmth, extract, viscosity and natural sweetness. Reaches for complexity beyond acidity, to places old and new, to Germany and to Niagara. Gotta citrus back, endgame palate. I can’t say with certainty that in time this vintage will push the sweetness to the background and develop leathery, gamey and earthy characters. I can say that given some more experience, Senchuk will develop the acumen to make it happen. “There’s nothing here to run from ’cause here, everybody here’s got somebody to lean on.”  200 cases made.  Tasted April 2014

 

Notes on wines from barrel and tank

Gamay 2013 – 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.

Pinot Noir Lowrey 2012 – Sweet fruit, remarkable purity, length and certainly warm.

Pinot Noir Mcnally 2012 – The vineyard made famous by Peninsula Ridge. In Ilya’s hands and from young vines higher in elevation there is spice-spiked orange, in clove, cardamom and also black cherry. A bigger style, akin to Central Otago (as per the Senchuk half-beat). Only two barrels (45 cases) will be made.

Syrah Keczan Vineyard 2012 – White pepper, smoked meat, game all in but still somehow delicate. Mediterranean sensation, in black olive and with some salinity. The least ripe and the most savoury of all the wines. Has got grit, tang, florality, hubris and verdigris.

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

It’s go Gamay go time

First wild leeks of the season with grilled rib-eye steaks and burgers PHOTO: Michael Godel

First wild leeks of the season with grilled rib-eye steaks and burgers
PHOTO: Michael Godel

Not that there is ever a bad time to partake in the wonders of Gamay, but with the mercury rising, spring is the right time to be with the Gamay you love. If you’ve never experienced the nuanced pleasure of great Gamay, whether it be from Beaujolais in Burgundy’s southern reaches or from Ontario’s cool-climate hinterlands, its prime time you did.

Dr. Janet Dorozynski coined the hashtag #GoGamayGo and it’s a good thing she did. Sometimes a little catch is all you need to get a ball rolling. Rhys Pender MW has written two prime articles on the subject, Gamay – The Grapes of Wrath and Gamay in British Columbia. Canadian winemakers are expanding production so the Gamay train is puling into wine stations across the country.

Related – Go Gamay Go

In May of 2013 this column noted “I wait for the #GoGamayGo network to convince our councils, marketing boards and vintners to establish a Canadian Cru system, or at least a comprehensive tasting of Canadian Gamay.” A varietal togetherness has yet to materialize but the appreciation is growing. Ilya Senchuk of Leaning Post Wines will be releasing his first Gamay go round from Wismer Vineyard 2013 fruit. “Gamay costs half of what Pinot Noir and Syrah do,” he notes. Conclusion? A small operation like Ilya’s can make an “entry-level” and consumer affordable wine for less money and without compromising their winemakeing oeuvre.

Gamay from Beaujolais in east-central France is thin-skinned, low in tannin and (more often than not), in acidity too. It is extremely versatile in its chameleon-like abilities and matches to more types of foods that you can likely prepare with any sense of range or flair. It makes much better wine than you think and it can outsmart you. Dismissing Gamay as in any way inferior is short-sighted and lazy.

Recent Gamay sightings and tasting are the impetus for these tasting notes. Ontario renditions were on display at Somewhereness and at County in the City. Woodman Wines and Spirits presented the Fleurie of Villa Ponciago at a recent Burgundy tasting. This spring, it’s go Gamay go time.

Villa Ponciago La Réserve Fleurie 2012

From left to right: Manoir Du Carra Fleurie 2010, Villa Ponciago La Réserve Fleurie 2012, Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2012, Villa Ponciago Cuvée Les Hauts Du Py 2012, 13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2012, Villa Ponciago Cuvée La Roche Muriers 2011

Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2012, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A six-month lay in French oak for 60 per cent of the Gamay fruit sourced exclusively from Malivoire’s Beamsville Bench estate vineyard is just what the go doctor ordered. Only Malivoire’s Gamay smells specifically like this; of tart and savoury capers, of small, earthy gemstones, of peppery currants, of meaty braising Bouille. A striking wine from a fortuitous Gamay vintage and great value that puts me in mind of how special the Courtney will be. Though the soils may differ, proximity wise they are close cousins.  Tasted at @Somewhereness, April 2014

Huff Estates Gamay 2012, Prince Edward County, Ontario (winery, $25, WineAlign)

If $25 seems a premium to pay for Ontario Gamay, consider all that is on offer in winemaker Frédéric Picard’s take on the friendly French grape. Picard caddies for 13th Street (Niagara) fruit, vinifies it bone-dry with the minimalist edge of 14 months in 15 per cent new French oak.  The fruit is so very ripe, in raspberry and gritless, creamy blueberry. Like savoury adult ice cream, silky smooth and with nary a hint of chalky grain. Well-designed and consumer-friendly as any Gamay has ever graced the Ontario consciousness. So you’ve “got that going for you, which is nice.” Shack up with Huff’s Gamay treat.  Tasted at County in the City, April 2014

Leaning Post Wines Gamay 2013 (Tank Sample, Projected Release Price $25)

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 fruit sets this Gamay up for easy sell success.  Tasted @LeaningPostWine, April 2014

Manoir Du Carra Fleurie 2010, Ac, Beaujolais, France (364992, $24.95, WineAlign)

When the Gamay from Fleurie is spot on, the smells of meat and of flowers work both aromatic ends of the Beaujolais spectrum. Add some age to a solid core of black cherry fruit and voilà, get a nose of this Manoir Du Carra.  Clearly humid and drifting into a soft decline, the claymation action here weighs down and grounds this Gamay in an earthy impression. Would benefit by the company of some serious salty, savoury and roasted fare. In the name of balance. Fun to drink now, improvement with time is not in the Carra cards.  Tasted April 2014

13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula (130195, $29.95, WineAlign)

If roses were stones they would produce an aroma that only 13th Street’s Sandstone Gamay would recall. Some previous vintages have pushed the boundary to sky-high excess and a subterranean ferrous burrowing but in 2012 the perfume is both grounded and ethereal. The sandy tuff rock is so in that glass, like the smell of a rugged beach, mist and salinity spraying and rising off the rocks. The ’12 now knows “I don’t have to sell my soul.” Wholly singular Gamay and with hopes it will always be this going forward. Where as before it said “I want to be adored,” it now confirms “you adore me.”  Tasted at @Somewhereness, April 2014

Villa Ponciago La Réserve Fleurie 2012, Ac, Beaujolais, France (Agent Only, $30.00, WineAlign)

Slow ripening from up to 30 year-old vines on altitudinous slopes atop pink, granitic crystalline rock leads to increased elegance for La Réserve, beyond the paint and tar notes of the Millésime bottling. Cran-raspberry fruit gains density and vibrancy from the mineral-rich earth, transcending towards ripe strawberry. The lack of anxiety and tension is welcome and necessary for the simple pleasures given generously by this exemplary Gamay.  For the short-term, to 2016.  Tasted @WoodmanWines Burgundy event March 2014

Villa Ponciago Cuvée Les Hauts Du Py 2012, Ac Fleurie, Beaujolais, France (Agent Only, $37.00, WineAlign)

From a critical high ranging and angling vineyard of granite bedrock with a vein of quartz running through it. Les Hauts Du Puy suffered  during the 2012 season, with gloomy wet weather, storms and hail. Thanks to a September anticyclone return, the fruit was able to dry and then slowly mature, thus avoiding being blinded by the light. This single vineyard uses that white crystal like a thread of silk, allowing the coats of harder aromas to hang but never clamber aboard. More angst than La Réserve in the form of tannin and structure, something that can be attributed to the terroir of the Puy. Pure Gamay with a spring in its step, resolutely defined and with a cooler, blue fruit feel, tight, mineral-fed and charred on the finish.  Tasted @WoodmanWines Burgundy event March 2014

Villa Ponciago Cuvée La Roche Muriers 2011, Fleurie, Beaujolais, France (Agent Only, $60.00, WineAlign)

The harshest of the domain’s climatic and soil conditions lay a lashing of demand on this Gamay as much as any on the planet. It is nothing short of remarkable that it can maintain such a level of refinement and elegance so the fruit purity of this vineyard’s Gamay is noted and obvious. The most Burgundian of any Gamay out there today. Gone is the cranberry and tar of lesser locales, replaced by deeper tones and longer, elastic chains of tannin. A Gamay that nods knowingly and with impact.  Tasted @WoodmanWines Burgundy event March 2014

Good to go!

 

https://twitter.com/mgodello

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

In Ontario wine folks are constantly and consistently in debate as to what grape varieties should be farmed and on which tracts of land.
PHOTO: ELENATHEWISE/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Winemakers are very much like architects, in fact they are the architects of the agricultural world. They survey every square metre and scrutinize each handful of dirt to decide where to plant and cultivate their vines. No other farmed produce requires such specificity as grapes and where they are grown.The winemaker postulates with deep consternation the notion of terroir, the attributes that enable a plot of land as a conducive and necessary place to grow grapes. They consider the soil, the rocks within and beneath, the slope, the proximity to water, the air temperatures and the prevailing winds.

In Ontario wine folks are constantly and consistently in debate as to what grape varieties should be farmed and on which tracts of land. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are often at the centre of the discussion, as are Riesling, Chardonnay and more recently, Syrah. The most controversy concerns Pinot Noir. Passionate Pinotphiles can get outright irate at the thought of the difficult grape being cultivated in the wrong place. In Niagara, no variety receives more attention, causes growers and producers to lose more sleep and requires so many years of trial and error to gain headway into it’s mysteries.

Two local winemakers have made career decisions, to educate themselves and to discover what makes Pinot Noir tick. Thomas Bachelder produces wines in three countries, each imbued with its own unique sense of terroir. Ilya Senchuk of Leaning Post Wines is just a few years shy of launching a project that is both new and unique to Niagara. Three distinct Pinot Noirs produced out of three disparate and specific locales.

The common ground here, both figuratively and literally is the land. Micro-block Pinot Noir. Bachelder and Senchuk both make wines from a St. David’s Bench vineyard owned by the Lowrey family. Wilma Lowrey came to Thomas 10 years ago and said, “I think we’re going to grow a single vineyard, and call it Five Rows.” Thomas followed it from the start. It turns out that Wes Lowrey, their son, “is a great winemaker in his own right, and boom, he makes a brilliant Pinot at $50 a bottle,” says Thomas. “They define small grower.”

Small grower. Senchuk and Bachelder want to define what a négociant is, as opposed to a small grower. When it comes to Burgundy, the general idea says that the Beaune négociant is bad while small growers are good. Not necessarily. Notes Bachelder, “Jadot has, at most times been beyond reproach. Has Drouhin ever faltered? Their wines may sometimes be light, but they last, and are elegant.” The large négociant control all (44) 1er cru vineyards so there are not a lot of small growers working with Beaune fruit. Here Bachelder shows the other side of the conglomerate tracks. “At any big domain, how often is the winemaker in the vineyard? You can’t do it all. You have to be in contact with and trust your vineyard managers and growers.  You have to let them farm.” This is where a farmer such as Lowrey creates and defines the niche in Ontario. Grand Cru terroir and a small grower paying loyal, careful attention to their fruit.

Over the past two weeks I had the opportunity to taste wines with these forward thinking men of wine acumen. They both share a desire to seek out essential soil and to manufacture exemplary wines that speak of the land from which they have come. Here are my notes on a group of crazy, gifted Pinot Noirs, along with a fascicle of consummate Chardonnay and one truly exceptional Merlot.

Thomas Bachelder Wines

“My origins are Quebecoise, in Burgundy and coming to Ontario.” So says Thomas Bachelder, flying winemaker, architect of the Bachelder Project, of trois terroirs, in Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy.  Missing from that statement is a stopover in Oregon, making memorable wines at Lemelson Vineyards. Not to mention the more than significant detail of establishing a world-renowned set of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay while running the wine show at Jordan’s Le Clos Jordanne.

Thanks to the generous wine enabler Tony AsplerBachelder and partner Mary Delaney procured last week’s comprehensive tasting– literally a one-off only chance to taste the wines comparatively, in one room, side by each.  The LCBO missed the boat on the Bachelder Burgundian reds, all scooped up by the SAQ. The single-vineyard Pinots from Oregon and Niagara are already library bound. Bachelder quips, in quite serious tone, “I’d like you guys to have an influence on the tasting but we can only go one way.” Terroir over pedigree.When talking about Ontario wine, he’s adamant that technique should reveal Niagara terroir, the caveat being that he uses French oak.  ”If we had a superb Cooper in Ontario, we could put all the wines on the same stage.” On Oregon, “if you don’t like their wines, it’s because they are being made by an American palate.” Burgundy vs Niagara? “If you know it’s my favourite, I’m not pushing Niagara out of chauvinism.” Thomas is all about “bringing up your children the same way, but letting them express themselves in their own way.” Most importantly, he begs the question “how do you define an elegant, refined Pinot that has staying power.” Let the wines answer the question.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Bachelder Wines

Oregon

PINOT NOIR 2011 (333278, $34.95)

In its first year is mostly Johnston Vineyard fruit. Warm plum, cool femininity, linear acidity. A base and primal building block as foundation for future excellence. Licorice, a mother earth’s perfume, and I must disagree with the group. This can be nothing but Oregon. Reminds me of Lemelson Thea’s 2001.  89  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

PINOT NOIR JOHNSON VINEYARD 2011 (SAQ, 12065338, $44.25)

Here there wafts an increased “blister in the sun,” more terroir from a tight vintage full of pumped over tannins. An accented aromatic membrane envelops this Johnson, of orange zest and studded rind, in violet tendency, with more flesh. Even if she speaks in Frainc-Comtou dialect when she walks through the door, she walks out distinctly Oregonian singing as a Violent Femme. Pure and clean up front, she builds, then leaves a trail of tangy fruit behind. Tangled web of Pinot.  91  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

Ontario

PINOT NOIR LOWREY VINEYARD 2011 (361816, $44.95)

Defies logic in laying out the welcome mat. Fleshy St. David’s fruit, relentless aromatics, a glue of tannins pushing on the pedal. From my earlier note in Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013 “springs eternal from an ocean of cranberry and an island of spice. The somewhereness of this St. David’s vineyard can’t be denied, and in the hands of Thomas Bachelder the extraordinary happens. I am simply blinded by the light, by the weight and the weightless gravity. By a sweetness that just isn’t sweet, like exotic red fruit that knocks you sideways upside the cerebral cortex. Not to mention an iron madness that “plays that song with the funky break.”  94  Tasted Oct. 10 and Nov. 6, 2013

Beaune

PERNAND VERGELESSES 1er CRU ‘LA CREUX DA LA NET’ 2011 ($39.95)

Has the sense to be subtle, effortless and akin to Chambolle. Not so much openly ripe fruit but more the flowers that come before. Cherries dabbed by a citrus fragrance, or the spritz of squeezed zest and an unusually smoky musk. Insinuates new world (think Oregon) though it tells a rubble tale of its limestone slope climat.  90  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

BEAUNE 1er CRU ‘LES RÉVERSÉES’ 2011 ($44.95)

Concentrated with cocked flowers in aperture and libanophorous floral lift. Juicier cherries still, with emerging, higher grained tannin. Chewy throughout, with increased anatomy but also clean and pure. Leans to Pommard, noted by an austerity on the finish in demand for patience towards realizing a settled future.  91  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

Cotes du Nuits

CÔTE-DE-NUITS-VILLAGES AUX MONTAGNES 2011 ($37.95)

A yeomans work performs on the nose, though there is a fullness lacking on the palate. Still there is tension to tie the drone together. He’s a mason, hard-working, full of sauvage. Anti-plush,agréable mince, noted by Mr. Aspler, “a blue-collar Burgundy.”  88  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

NUITS-ST.-GEORGES LA PETITE CHARMOTTES 2011 ($58.95)

Is so floral, mineral, intense and hypnotic it might be dubbed the Serpent Charmer. Iron and wine indeed, the iron of Nuits, the perfume of Beaune. This provocative bottling represents the third year of production, is conspicuous in Anis de Flavigny and an underlying gate. Ifmontagnes is the harming one, this is the charming one. These are all from the same barrels, so what really affects the wines the most? Land and hand.  93  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Bachelder Line-Up

Oregon

CHARDONNAY 2011 (273334, $29.95,  SAQ, 11845359, $29.95)

While Burgundian in hopes and dreams, this is very much a $29 Oregon white.  No mask, no hidden altruism, simply the right Chardonnay for the right price. Bone dry, orchard driven, high acid, void of harmful terpenes. There is a salinity and piquancy not influenced by PH, perhaps by the ocean, by sandstone, but regardless it’s unique to place, unlike Niagara, Prince Edward County, or for that matter Burgundy.  88  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

CHARDONNAY ‘JOHNSON VINEYARD’ 2011 (SAQ 12065338, $44.25)

Increased in perpetual density, butter, tine and philosophy. The barrel ferment has moreagréable onctuosité  (verbal sic), like Meursault or Côte de Nuits Villages. Renders thenormale (classique) pedestrian by comparison, but only in relative, neo-tropical terms. Bachelder’s barrel ferments concentrate on micro-oxygenation, on air passage. That’s what matters. These Chardonnay may be the least favourite for Thomas, but he is amazed at how well they mature when treated properly.  91  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

Niagara

Bachelder: “When you are absolutely sure you that you can’t put all of a single vineyard into one bottle, that you only need some of the barrels, you move the ones that smell too much of specific things (butter, popcorn, lanolin) and send them to the blend, the classique. The ones that speak of the vineyard, the terroir, they become Saunders and Wismer.”

CHARDONNAY CLASSIQUE 2011 (302083, $29.95, SAQ 11873721, $29.95)

Lean and mean Niagaran, in a hue and a style that brings Burgundy to mind. Comblanchienlayers of limestone salinity, like a villages from Côte de Beaune. Tang, pine forest, Warheads sour candy and just a hint of the barrel but you know it’s there. A simple, Chuck Berry three chord arrangement. “I was anxious to tell her the way I feel,” even if I had no particular place to go.  90  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

CHARDONNAY ‘SAUNDERS VINEYARD 2011 (324103, $44.95)

From Beamsville, right beside 30 bench, has a texture, a depth and a mouth feel  in ’11 that bounds and leaps towards the ethereal. A dancing stag, displaying, performing a mating ritual dance.  Melons, ripe and fleshy are in this Saunders. “What’s carrying this wine is site, site and site.” A great clay slice of the Beamsville Bench. From my earlier note: ”Takes the baton from Wismer ’10 in a transfer of power, tension and excitement. Clarity of textural fruit is driven by Beamsville Bench clay-silt soil. Highly dependent on yeast chains, sticking, spreading and expanding. Savoury, buttered stones show negligible encumbrance due to vines that will not carry an excess of new oak.”  93  Tasted July 20 and Nov. 6, 2013

CHARDONNAY ‘WISMER VINEYARD 2011 (345819, $44.95, SAQ 12089591, $44.95)

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?  91  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

Burgundy

BOURGOGNE CHARDONNAY 2011 (SAQ, 11856040, $26.95)

Mines mineral in a funky key and electrolyzes the slightest bruise of a crisp apple upon a swirl. Goosed by a boisterous and tickling palate, a masticate of buttered toast, crunch of popcorn and a mercurial temperature as if St. Aubin. Brings in the inner cheeks with held suction.  89  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

BEAUNE ‘LES LONGES’ 2010 ($44.95)

This Chardonnay is forged sarcophagus tight and concurrently plush. Rocks for cubes in the glass, this a fantastic elastic Beaune, full of stretched and wound tension. Pulls on the palate and snaps it sharply back. Sometimes you taste the Beaune, sometimes it tastes you.  93  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

PULIGNY- MONTRACHET EN CORVÉE DE VIGNES 2011 ($63.00)

Is an enigma, its parts ensnared in current astriction. Fruit just scratching the surface, trying so hard to come up for air, “so far you have nothing to say.” I dare to say there is a hint of tropical fruit or a decoy posing as such (because it’s so tight). Classic stony salinity runs a direct line across its marbled façade. Very difficult to assess but in five years the saga will begin to unfold. 92  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

Leaning Post Wines

Ilya Senchuk may as well be Niagara’s fresh face poster boy for the young and brilliant but he already holds a wealth of Niagara winemaking experience. He worked for Daniel Lenko going back to 2002 and has made the wines at Foreign Affair Winery since 2008. In February 2011 Senchuk and his wife laid it all on the line and bought property in Winona, defined as Hamilton/Grimsby by geography, Lincoln Lakeshore by appellation.

Senchuk began making (virtual) wines under his private label in 2009 on premise at Foreign Affair. He made a 2009 Pinot Noir from the Lowrey Vineyard and a Riesling from the Foxcroft block of the Wismer Vineyard. In 201o there came another Lowrey Pinot and also a Merlot, from the McCleary block on the Wismer property. In 2011 there was only the Lowrey Pinot and 2012 was the first vintage he made on site in Winona, “in a barn” he notes. Just this past month he opened the tasting room. Virtual no more.

To the uninitiated, Senchuk’s chosen Winona locale may seem unconventional, curious and even peculiar to make wine in Niagara. Make no mistake about it. Ilya Senchuk is obsessed with Niagara soil and terroir. Set right off 50 road and straddling drawn circles within a Hamilton/Lincoln lakeshore Venn diagram, five of the 11 acres (10 plantable) were planted the past spring. Senchuk used clone 777 (reliable) along with 115, 667 for Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay are from clones 96 and 548.

Leaning Post has added Pinot Noir from the Mcnally Vineyard (Beamsville). By the time the 2015 harvest has come and gone, Senchuk will have made Pinot Noir from three Niagara terroirs. How many other Niagara winemakers will have that claim to make? There will also be Syrah from Keczan, from the east side of Beamsville and adjacent Tawse Winer’s David’s Block (formerly Thomas & Vaughan Estate). This unique spot is a clay bowl of climatic specificity, with a natural slope and dubious, vigorous vines.

I sat down with Ilya and tasted through four wines from his Leaning Post line-up. I was struck by the concentrated flavours but even more so by the language of the land clearly spoken in the vernacular of each sample. I have no doubt that Senchuk’s experience and deft hand will make the most from his soon to be realized young vines.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Leaning Post Wines

CHARDONNAY FOXCROFT 2011 ($34, winery)

Sourced from fruit split 50% each north and south blocks and picked a bit (September 26th) later than Bachelder, towards the end of a very warm vintage. Sharp, piquant and kissed ever so tenderly by older (100 per cent) oak. Full malolactic gauging, this 14 per cent ’12 comes across ripe, without pushing the envelope. A minute trace of tropical fruit draughts in a mineral wake. Quite an astonishing first solo Chardonnay effort, in constitution and viscidity where the solder is king. 170 cases.  91  Tasted Nov. 7, 2013

PINOT NOIR ST. DAVID’S BENCH ‘LOWREY VINEYARD’ 2009 ($38, winery)

From a tight, late-picked vintage (Oct. 25th), this Lowrey pushes chance’s unpredictable climatic envelope and scores a crouched, subjacent, slowly gained ripeness. Grapes come from the most sloped part of the farm, rows that are actually a hybrid of St. David’s Bench and flats of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Perfumed of the earth, where soil and beet meet raspberry. Wears its vigor on the palate’s sleeve, in spiking spice, as if new world Burgundy. “If central Otago and Pommard had a child,” this ripe but earthy Pinot were it. Tannins are still in effect so four plus years of downtime need be part of the package. 160 cases.  92  Tasted Nov. 7, 2013

PINOT NOIR ST. DAVID’S BENCH ‘LOWREY VINEYARD’ 2010 ($38, winery)

Can’t say I’m all that surprised but this is so much more approachable, pretty and glamorous. From an unrelenting hot vintage (picked Sept. 11th), a full six weeks earlier than ’09 and from the same vineyard. This was necessary as a means to preserve freshness. More sunshine, less earth but still there’s a cure and metal tendency that really defines Lowrey. Could of course be considered more of a crowd pleaser but it’s not as simple as that. That I can taste these twomano a mano, in my life is a rubber soul stamp. ”All these places have their moments.” 125 cases.  92  Tasted Nov. 7, 2013

MERLOT ’MCCLEARY VINEYARD’ 2010 ($38, winery)

Uniquely cultivated and fashioned at the top of the Escarpment, this “Niagara Peninsula” designated Merlot is lush, dusty, full of phite and barn door tannins. It’s cool, minty, cast by an iron, sanguine tendency and chalky, metal funk. No simple song this McCleary, whacking away at the shins. Were it listening, you might say to him, “I know that things can really get rough when you go it alone, don’t go thinking you gotta be tough, and play like a stone.” Never mind. Senchuk gets it right: “Merlot has to be in the right spot, treated the right way.” 115 cases.  91 Tasted Nov. 7, 2013

Good to go!