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

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VINTAGES Chile and Argentina preview

#seafoodrisotto ... mussels, shrimp, saffron, french beans, cherry tomato, cilantro, scallion

#seafoodrisotto … mussels, shrimp, saffron, french beans, cherry tomato, cilantro, scallion

Next Saturday, January 23rd, VINTAGES is set to roll out its cover superheroes in a South American feature dubbed the ‘dynamic duo.” Within the parameters of that pop culture reference, between Chile and Argentina, who is Batman and who is Robin?

Chileans and Argentines would each lay claim to elite crime fighter status and perhaps choose to consider the other a trusty sidekick. To pick one over the other is an existential impossibility. To say that one wine-producing nation has been exceedingly more successful than the other would be a skewing of data and facts. To postulate either as a more deserving micro-manager would create a disturbance and delve out a disservice to the one theorized as junior or inferior.

Separated by the long, rugged, dramatic peaks of the Andes Mountains, the two South American superpowers are anything but mirror images or parallel siblings. Argentinian vineyards climb slopes to the greatest grape growing heights possible to find cool climate balance. Their existence is predicated on verticality. Chileans are a horizontal viticultural group, looking to spread north and south across the vast plains, slopes and foothills on the Pacific side of the Andes.

Malbec has put Argentina on the map but the diversity of its varietal abilities goes well beyond. Like South Africa, ripening is the least of a grower’s problems and is used to great effect. When just about anything can complete a phenolic journey, the possibilities are endless. Multeity is the name of the game.

Chile has made Carmenère its poster child and to great effect but there is so much more happening, in obscure places and lunar landscapes. Original root stocks are key to heterogeneity on ocean coastlines and across slopes. Grapes grown on the edges and creeping into deserts give dry farming a whole new meaning.

Both Chile and Argentina are huge vinous success stories. They are legitimately proficient in creating some of the world’s best value wines and are equally adept at crafting both off the beaten path gems and high-end masterpieces. I will not choose sides. I will recommend the best buys from the upcoming release. Seven top my list.

Broquel

Trapiche Broquel Bonarda 2013, Mendoza, Argentina (55558, $14.95, WineAlign)

Big-boned Bonarda with just a mess of dark fruit and a brooding, badass bent in its behaviour. Ripe plums, rich liqueur and oozing tar. Drips with sweat and bittersweet chocolate. So much here for $15. Must like your Bonarda big and ready to brawl. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted January 2016  @TrapicheWines  @winesofarg  @ArgentinaWineCA  @Dandurandwines

Undurraga

Undurraga Sibaris Gran Reserva Pinot Noir 2013, Leyda Valley, Chile (439414, $15.95, WineAlign)

Lovely little Leyda,”you got the love I need. Maybe more than enough?” The flowers, the elegance, the lifted spice, the love, yes, the love. So much so to forgive the elevated (14 per cent declared), over the hills and far away alcoholic warmth. So let’s get this straight. Gran Reserva, $16 and this much fruit? Get the lead out. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted January 2016  @UndurragaWines  @DionysusWines  @DrinkChile  @WinesofChile

Carignan

Santa Carolina Specialties Dry Farming Carignan 2011, Cauquenes Valley, Chile (213520, $15.95, WineAlign)

Breaches the summit of warm, cozy, fuzzy and furry I must say but I’ll cuddle up into its up and up blanket any cold winter day and well beyond. The five-year wait has done this dry-farmed and wholly extracted Carignan a proud and elongated duty. Has that cure, that endemic pride and the return to the past. Rich, brooding and spicy with a very bearable brightness of being. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted January 2016  @carolinawines  @ChartonHobbs  @DrinkChile  @WinesofChile

Tonells

Toneles Tonel 22 Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (415018, $17.95, WineAlign)

Here an interesting nose on a Malbec with new intentions, sensations and bell ringing announcements. Very pretty, violet floral, blue fruit specimen that reminds me so much of the old Leasingham Clare Valley Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. A stretch of kinship proportions. Great balance of meaty, cured, black olive continental and sweetly tannic. This is fun. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted January 2016  @ElTonelWinery  @hobbsandco  @winesofarg  @ArgentinaWineCA

Carmenere

Concha Y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Carmenère 2013, Peumo Vineyard, Cachapoal Valley, Chile (169862, $18.95, WineAlign)

The dark Carménère, knight in purple armour, rich and distinctive for its clean layers, void in sour currant and light on the tobacco. Surely rich and full of classic Carménère fruit. Sweet too but more tang than sour. Proper if so very modern. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted January 2016  @conchaytoro  @DrinkChile  @WinesofChile

Cono Sur

Cono Sur Single Vineyard El Recurso Block 18 Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Maipo Valley, Chile (439364, $18.95, WineAlign)

Quite the reductive emanation from a varietally correct Cabernet indoor with the obvious intention to send this further down the agreeable cellaring road to freedom. Rich, cakey and red lactic fruit with plenty of sour acidity and some astringent tannin. Tar and char. Quite kindred with volcanic Sicily actually. Spicy wood endings. Might turn into something flowing with lava grace from all this power. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted January 2016  @ConoSurWines  @AuthenticWineON  @DrinkChile  @WinesofChile

Cobos

Viña Cobos Felino Chardonnay 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (119099, $19.95, WineAlign)

Very woody Chardonnay with intentions from full extraction, maximum ripeness and optimum flavour. Goes to those lengths with the wood in full control. There is a whole lot of wine here for $20, if you can handle it. One large tumbler is enough for me, gladly, happily. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted January 2016  @VinaCobos  @AuthenticWineON  @winesofarg  @ArgentinaWineCA

Good to go!

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WineAlign: Michael Godel

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Eleven Chardonnays to the coolest show on earth

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,  Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,
Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

In eleven days, as the Chardonnay grows, the coolest wine conference will return to the Niagara region on Friday, July 17th. The School of Cool will call to assembly with the annual intendment to recalibrate a global palate at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

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

In anticipation of my third consecutive trip to taste and report on upwards of 100 variants in the name of ichneutic varietal centralism, 11 tasting notes are here laid out in preparation of the hunt. Too much Chardonnay you say? Bah. Allow me to paraphrase the lads from London.

“Wanna tell you about the Chardonnay I love, my she looks so fine. She’s the only Chardonnay that I been dreamin’ of, maybe someday she will be all mine.” Yes I do love Chardonnay, especially cool climate Chardonnay. Chardonnay with acidity, backbone, texture and aromatics. Chardonnay made by monks who know.

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

Here is a list of events happening at and links to buying tickets for the Cool Chardonnay Conference:

July 17: The School of Cool https://kiosk.eztix.co/kiosk-optimised-event/46859/49090

July 17: Barrels & Bonfires https://kiosk.eztix.co/kiosk-optimised-event/46859/49091

July 18: Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner https://kiosk.eztix.co/kiosk-optimised-event/46859/49092 

July 19: The Moveable Feast: Brunch on the Bench https://kiosk.eztix.co/kiosk-optimised-event/46859/49093

Photo © Stephen Elphick and Associates Cool to be Cool. Godello, Nicholas Pearce, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson, Zoltan Szabo and Tony Aspler at Barrels & Bonfires, 13th Street Winery, Cool Chardonnay 2014. From #VINTAGES Magazine

Cool to be Cool. Godello and friends at Barrels & Bonfires, 13th Street Winery, Cool Chardonnay 2014 From #VINTAGES Magazine Photo © Stephen Elphick and Associates

The Cool Chardonnay concierge notes that “It’s Cool to the Cool – it says so in the LCBO ‪#‎VINTAGES‬ circular for July 11. Six pages of Cool Chardonnay and i4C info, including a one-on-one with keynote speaker Matt Kramer, 10 great i4C Chardonnays” and a photo of Godello and friends at last year’s Barrels and Bonfres event at 13th Street winery.

Related – 50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more

These picks are from the VINTAGES July 11th release, as well as some Cool Chardonnay samples that arrived floating on a cool climate carpet into the WineAlign office. These combined 11 whites are cumulatively capable of Chardonnay foreplay. On the weekend of July 17-19 hundreds, perhaps even thousands will descend in a beeline down to the Peninsula at the valley foot and foothills of the Escarpment to gather, to do nothing but celebrate the intricacies and the base pleasure of the most planted white grape variety. For a full schedule of and essential sundry information on i4C15, click here. See you in Niagara.

From left to right: Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay 2013, Westcott Vineyards Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012, Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2012 and Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay 2013, Westcott Vineyards Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012, Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2012 and Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2012

From the VINTAGES July 11th Release

Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay 2013, Margaret River, New South Wales, Western Australia (350900, $18.95, WineAlign)

Flinty and cool, gathering up Margaret River righteous Chardonnay fruit and weathering an encouraging, blanketing and receptive barrel storm. Comes out a child of good climate, with green apple and gemstone crispness and simple, matching acidity. Not overly constructed to kneel down in the name of holy complexity but effective like a hand knit shawl in lieu of prayer. At $19 the River might have given a “girl with the parking lot eyes,” a Chardonnay in which “Margaret is the fragment of a name.” At $19 this over-achieves and makes a strong case for all that is produced from this cool regional place. Signature signed emphatically and with cool, downcast beauty, like Neko, if she were Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015  @RobertOatleyAUS  @EpicW_S  @WestAustralia  @MargaretRiverWi

Westcott Vineyards Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Arthur Harder makes no bones, excuses or sets the goals too lofty in this second Lillia’s unplugged. “What you get is what you get,” from seven year-old estate, pristine fruit in 2013. Infrequent but texture stirring lees has mottled the nose with glycerin and avoirdupois while bottling early in the spring in advance of warm days has locked in freshness. Expression arrives by way of herbiage and lime. Continues where ’12 left off, further akin of Chablis. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2015  @WestcottWines

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (1552, $24.95, WineAlign)

Accumulated cognizance exudes from the laid back Shed, here as relaxed and user-friendly as it has ever been. If the texture is not vintage induced and made of low yield than I’ll sell my LP’s and switch outright to Songza and Neil’s PonoMusic. The herbs are basil and chervil sweet, the verbena and lemon balm redolent, the flavours beaming, bolstered by preserved lemon and candied ginger. The stuffing must be questioned, but not the elegance. This Chardonnay is porous, blessed, void of rust and of an interior with plenty of space in the shed. Let it fill.

From my earlier note of February 2014:

There will be 660 cases of this barrel cherry-picked, now iconic Bench Chardonnay. The warm vintage called for a combo-malo approach, part batch all in, part arrested development. Gravity influenced top down blending also work to seek a svelte elegance and this ’12 really straddles the humid line. Thinks to be ribald but remains chaste, only allowing a kiss from the barrel and a caress from the rocks beneath the soil. Accept immediate but know that deferred gratification is the hallmark of this bottling.

Last tasted March 2015  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon (273334, $29.95, WineAlign)

When you taste an Oregon Chardonnay made by Thomas Bachelder you must first picture yourself somewhere. At lunch, with Lucy, on a promontory overlooking the sea, gazing up at a cloudless sky, in a dream. The warmth and kaleidoscopic layering of the 2012 might put you “in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies.” The sweet scents are like blossoms, with the air thick and palpably perceived in texture by way of an omnipresent Oregon salinity. This is the effect of the Bachelder diamond tannin, as pronounced and geologically-driven as any set of Chardonnays from out of the Willamette Valley. The personality of this villages is bright. The Single-Vineyard Johnson iridescent. This is a fine vintage for Oregon, more about ripe but early fruit and even more about soil. The algebraic cauldron that is the barrel simplifies the equation in ’12, to allow for a smooth climb out of a clean, pristine and rocky earth. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay Cuvée Dix Neuvieme 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (303602, $35.20, WineAlign)

The style has changed for this Chardonnay though it is now more in line with other Pearl Morissette varietal wines. The oxidative, natural bent has increased with anti-furor, succour and sublimity of a sordid sort. It remains to be seen what will happen because 10 years will be needed to fully denote the PM evolution, but what remains from the larder is true blue lemon that will turn, curdle and hold honey tight in five to six years time. Could be earlier considering the vintage. The flint and natural yeast are big on the nose while the palate is softer than most years. More like ’10, nothing like ’09 and yet full bodied to the maximum density it can be. So much flavour and yet at present the acidity plays anything but a vibrant tune. Story to unfold. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @PearlMorissette

From left to right: Bachelder La Grande Châtelaine Côte De Beaune 2011, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2013, Saintsbury Chardonnay 2012, Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013, Lailey Barrel Select Chardonnay 2013 and Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Bachelder La Grande Châtelaine Côte De Beaune 2011, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2013, Saintsbury Chardonnay 2012, Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013, Lailey Barrel Select Chardonnay 2013 and Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2012

Bachelder La Grande Châtelaine Côte De Beaune 2011, Ac Burgundy, France (332536, $37.95, WineAlign)

The last of the Beaune mohicans to grace the Ontario market is the least understood, the quiet type, the cool underground dweller. This has weight and dug presence. Quite an underground salinity. Chisels into rock and friable earth, burrows into wood and still has not emerged. A floral sense of confection caused by gelid solids popped from Chardonnay tannin, like marigold petals frozen in dry ice, is a sniff to behold. La Grande Châtelaine is a precise and slightly bitter Beaune with life yet lived. With this level of Beaune complexity Thomas and Mary have smartly priced La GC a mere cut above the basic Bourgogne, Niagara and Oregon bottles yet coyly beneath the single-vineyard and lieu-dit offers in the Bachelder diaspora. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2015  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2013, Wo Hemel En Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa (931006, $37.95, WineAlign)

Perpetuates the typically, stunningly effective flinty, deeply aggressive and layered Hamilton Russell style, here as warm and unctuous as its ever been. The candied flower and acacia aromas are early dusk intoxicating, the flavours of lime, honey and hard limestone candies reminders of life flashing before one’s eyes. The winemaking is so desperately clean, the diamond precision cut with perfect sight and the length driven by acidity and pure, essential grape tannin. Yet another chapter on the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Grand Cru site is written, with prodigy and legacy authored work by vigneron Anthony Hamilton Russell. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted June 2015  @OliveHR  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  @TrialtoON

Saintsbury Chardonnay 2012, Unfiltered, Carneros, California (359281, $39.95, WineAlign)

A dream from Carneros. Soft, buttery, creamy, demurred and slightly toasty, full on flavour nougat goodness of nuts and creamy tropical fruit. The pre-positioned, sequestered minimal age has come to this; texture, composition and length ready to please and willing to accompany an open-minded variety of summer fare. Take this west coast, well-structured Chardonnay to the east coast and seek out a Digby scallop, a Malpeque Bay oyster or a fleet of lobster along any maritime crag. Come to think of it, stop at all points in between and drink it alongside whatever comes to the table. Anything. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015  @saintsbury  @TandemSelection  @CarnerosWine

Tasted at WineAlign

Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $26.00, WineAlign)

The barrel fermented and aged Estate Chardonnay spent 12 months in two-thirds new and one-third second fill wood. Lees stirring is slightly increased as compared to the unplugged. Again, it’s about aromatic intensity leading the way to palate density. By the sounds of Westcott’s comments “we’re pleased with its remarkable irony — dry and sturdy, yet creamy and rather curvy,” you might think the team was stirring with impunity. Not so. The Estate Chard does the dance of mild spice and butter on toast to reach a texture that would appease savages. Unavoidable and typical low yields from the Vinemount Ridge picked at the right moment and handled with caring tabula rasa are the spirit in this wine. Delightful and charming. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015

Lailey Barrel Select Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $26.00, WineAlign)

Not only carved out of a careful selection of Lailey’s barrels but this ’13 is an eco-rich barrel expression. The toast mind you is mild and so both elegance and structure are avowed of glissade and glide. There is nary a heavy note here. The aromatics are compact, the flavours expansive and the finish lingering to effortless. If the vintage afforded more fruit the overall composition would champion with the best of them, but the understatements are laudable and stamped in approval. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2015  @laileywinemakr

Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $40.00, WineAlign)

In 2012 there is a weight in the aromatics that belies any recent recollections of the Claystone style. The vintage warmth is a major player here, a cement and a glue that adheres to the adage of vintage being the driver for making wine. Winemaker Sébastien Jacquey listens to the wind, putting aromatics, texture and structure at the fore while allowing the sun to say its peace. This glides dutifully and seamlessly to the palate which is just as fleshy as the nose. The honey continues from ’11, as does the candied flower. Wood remains as unobtrusive as before, allowing a fruit to mineral continuum to find harmony. Though acidity lays lower, there is plenty of push to see this evolve for up to five or more years. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted July 2015  @LeClosJordanne  @CBrandsCareers

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Consider the Gaspereau Valley

Benjamin Bridge, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia

Benjamin Bridge, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia

No one gets us like we get ourselves. Not so long ago that statement still held more water than the combined towers in all of Canada’s small towns. Here’s another grandiloquent statement. Exceptional wine is made in British Columbia and in Ontario. The proverbial and parochial Canadian wine thinker is privy to that erudite credence, as are many global wine experts, but what of Nova Scotia? If you didn’t already know, Benjamin Bridge and more specifically, Peter Gamble have launched the revolution.

Related: The tides that bind: East Coast swing

Just past the mid-point of my July 2014 east coast swing there happened a planned yet improvisational reconnaissance with Gamble, Canada’s flying winemaker and A-team consultant. Gamble’s work with Stratus, Southbrook and Ravine Vineyards in Niagara, his partnership with Ann Sperling in B.C. and at Versado in Argentina are well documented. His work with Benjamin Bridge Vineyards is already the stuff of Canadian wine lore. What he will touch in his new appointment at Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards will make Nova Scotia history.

Godello, Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Proprietor Gerry McConnell

Godello, Consulting Benjamin Bridge Winemaker Peter Gamble and Proprietor Gerry McConnell/Godello, Benjamin Bridge Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Proprietor Gerry McConnell

I noted that “it is there, in the heart of the Gaspereau Valley, that the essence of Nova Scotia’s wine industry walks out from beneath the fog to reveal itself in an elongated moment of clarity.” I tasted with Gamble, Benjamin Bridge winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and proprietor Gerry McConnell at the Gaspereau Valley winery. The next day I toured the vineyards of Lightfoot & Wolfville with Peter, along with owners Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot, as well as winemaker Josh Horton. We also tasted through barrels. Other visits and tastings were done at Gaspereau and Luckett Vineyards. After the visit with Lightfoot, I was duly impressed.

Nova Scotia is home for Peter Gamble. When Gerry McConnell invited him to assess the potential for making wine in the Gaspereau Valley, Peter insisted, without equivocation, that the concepts of Vinifera and Sparkling be the driving equation. McConnell always wanted to make Sauvignon Blanc so the first idea was a given. But Sparkling wine? In Nova Scotia?

Peter Gamble had more than just a hunch. The Gaspereau’s cold, yet specific micro-climate was perfectly suited to ripening Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the classic varieties that make up traditional method, Champagne-styled Sparkling wine. The grapes in the Valley could be developed and harvested with the right level of brix (sugars) and acidity, as well as pH. Though still wines from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc were less obviously suited to the climate, setting their place in Nova Scotia’s wine future had begun.

Hans Christian Jost was the first to plant in the Gaspereau Valley, in 1992-1993. Gerry McConnell bought his (seventh generation Westcott family) farm land in 1999. “We know what we don’t know and we don’t pretend to know what we don’t know,” admits McConnell. It was Gamble (recommended to McConnell by Jost) who sparked the idea of bubbles in 2000.

“Our mission was sparkling wines, world class,” says McConnell. They hired the late, great Champenois expert, oenologist Raphaël Brisebois to consult after Peter went to England for some collaborative discussion with Tom Stevenson, the British writer who many regard as the world’s leading authority on Champagne. Then in 2008, Jean (Lebron) Benoit Deslauriers was drafted from California on Raphaël’s recommendation.

McConnell wanted to plant all 50 acres “but I talked him down,” jokes (not) Peter. It took nearly 10 years but in 2010 they began to release what they considered to be their first (2004) crop of world-class Sparkling, a Brut Reserve and Blanc de Noirs.

Benjamin Bridge Vineyard

Benjamin Bridge Vineyard

So what makes Benjamin Bridge tick out of a region that resides in relative global obscurity? Number one, the river that runs through the valley doesn’t freeze; it’s a tidal flow. That water keeps the lower part of the vineyard safe, like a warm winter blanket. It conveys the moderating effect of the Bay of Fundy. Two, the soils are extreme in granulation, in rocks and stones under clay. Three, there is great air flow, between, in and out of slopes. Four, the vineyards are south-facing, almost direct and in full advantage of the westerly sun. Last and just as important, “there is always a factor of luck.” Words to make wine by, from the ever thankful and pragmatic Peter Gamble.

The Benjamin Bridge pansophy adheres to low-yielding productivity. The average yearly production (excluding winter effect) is one to one and a half tons per acre. “We consider the fruit from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on this property to be Grand Cru,” insists Gamble. ” The climactic micro-reality is really important here,” adds Deslauriers, in reference to the BB style. “All great wines have the acidity to express a sense of their environment. We want to express the vineyard in the bottle.”

Related – Notes on previously tasted Benjamin Bridge Sparkling wines:

Nova 7 2013, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $25.95, WineAlign)

Nova 7 2012, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $25.95, Nova Scotia $24.99, WineAlign)

Nova 7 2011, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $25.95, Nova Scotia $24.99, WineAlign)

Brut Reserve Méthode Classique 2007, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, NSLC 1012526, $74.79, WineAlign)

Brut Reserve Méthode Classique 2005, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, NSLC 1012526, $74.79, WineAlign)

Benjamin Bridge

Here are notes on four new wines tasted.

Benjamin Bridge Wines from left to right: Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Brut Rosé Sparkling 2010, Brut Methode Classique 2009, Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008

Benjamin Bridge Wines from left to right: Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Brut Rosé Sparkling 2010, Brut Methode Classique 2009, Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008

Brut Methode Classique 2009, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (1018464, NSLC $44.99, 313106, B.C. $49.97, WineAlign)

Essentially, or at least philosophically a Blanc de Blancs, the blend is 57 per cent L’Acadie Blanc, 25 Chardonnay and 18 Seyval Blanc. The acidity is key and certainly elevated (12.8 g/L), keeping line tabs on the stone ground, clean fruit in gingered mousse. A defined elegance and accumulated synergy of site comes from a lower-slope perceived sweetness, down by the river. By no means piercing, there is a length here that lays down the foundation for the high-end, Vinifera-driven Sparkling wine program. The Brut ’09 conveys the growing environment, in freshness and in ripeness. A wine with such a refreshing upside.  Tasted July 2014

Brut Rosé Sparkling 2010, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (1015073, NSLC $44.99 WineAlign)

A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the 2010 Brut Rosé is possessive of intricate intensity and unparalleled elegance for the style and genre. It is the watershed bottle, anywhere in Canada. These bubbles are the confluence of early picked red berries, distinct platinum minerality and bitterless savoury edges. Whether or not the bitter principle is masked or eliminated by a feigned sweetness matters little. “You taste so bitter and so sweet, oh I could drink a case of you darling and I would still be on my feet.” This sets the new benchmark for Rosé sparkling out of Canadian soils. It’s so blush and melodic it’s blue. In fact, the treatment here is tender, slow and steady, sad even, also spare and beautiful.  Tasted July 2014

Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, WineAlign)

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

Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (1019689, NSLC $27.79,  WineAlign)

The 2013 marks the inaugural release for a wine that is “the by-product of an unconditional labour of love in commitment.” Gerry McConnell always wanted to make Sauvignon Blanc, Peter Gamble fostered the dream and Jean-Benoit Deslauriers made it a reality. A de facto Sauvignon force is behind the wine, 13 years in the making. Fashioned from drastically low yields, the ’13 SB is concentrated in literally handfuls of berries. It’s a style that could almost be considered eccentric. It feigns lees effect, slow fermentation, years of barrel age and late harvest. It’s a magnetic, beast of intensity, goes sweet up the middle (7 g/L residual sugar) and finishes extremely dry. There were 206 cases made.  Tasted July 2014

Lightfoot and Wolfville

This apple farm turned organic and biodynamic winery will take everything anyone has ever thought about the Nova Scotia wine industry and turn it on its head. Hybrids and local varieties will continue to be a part of the stratagem. In the unpredictable climate of Nova Scotia’s wine growing regions that is a necessity but it’s what Chardonnay and Pinot Noir will do that will put the province on the map and the world’s stage.

Young Vines in Lightfoot and Wolfville's Oak Knoll Vineyard

Young vines in Lightfoot and Wolfville’s Oak Isle Knoll Vineyard

Up on a hill near Avonport with a view of and at the head of the Gaspereau Valley is “Le Corton,” the Oak Isle knoll. It is here that Lightfoot and Wolfville, with the expertise of Peter Gamble, are banking on the future success of Vinifera grapes. There is more vigor up here in these vines (as compared to Benjamin Bridge) and the varieties planted are dual in purpose. One hand can make a serious Chardonnay, the other a Sparkling. It’s a question of vintage and ripening. The plan is essential for making wine in Nova Scotia.

Owners Jocelyn and Mike Lightfoot in the cellar at Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards

Owners Jocelyn and Mike Lightfoot in the cellar at Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards

The winery will manage Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Chasselas and Scheurebe with New York Muscat and Vidal. I tasted through the 2013 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir resting in barrel, along with a most intriguing 2012 Late-Harvest Chasselas.

Lightfoot and Wolfville Winemaker Josh Horton with barrel samples of 2013 Chardonnay

Lightfoot and Wolfville Winemaker Josh Horton with barrel samples of 2013 Chardonnay

Pinot Noir 2013

This will be L &W’s first Pinot Noir, from 15 year-old vines in Canning, near Blomidon Estates and aged in three year-old (Stratus-used) barrels.  The fruit comes by way of a grower named Al McIntyre, who was convinced to reduce yields by dropping fruit, as he traditionally made Sparkling from more vigorous vines. The profile is both fresh fruity and gravelly, like Burgenland, or perhaps Baden. Bright, black cherry meets marly earth. The tannins are present and accounted for post-traditional two-year Burgundian élevage. This is Nova Scotia Pinot Noir and it is remarkably pure.  Tasted July 2014

Chardonnay 2013

From a sample out of a neutral barrel transferred halfway through the process into two year-old barrel. The old world autolytics are textbook and this Chardonnay has already added much of its weight. The reduction at this stage is at a nearly indiscernible level. If this does not intimate Chablis, it would be tough to imagine what does. Beautifully clean Chablis, with a wild yeast accent and tropical accessories. The tannins head straight for the back of the cheeks. This is Chardonnay from Nova Scotia? Yes, it is.  Tasted July 2014

Chardonnay 2013

From a sample out of a brand (medium toast) new barrel with Meursault the intended target. It certainly leans Côte de Beaune, with a lemon, honey and wet glade aromatic soup. The latter note comes across as something herbal without being earthy and sorry to use the M word but the minerality is definitely in here. Rich and glaring in grape, not wood tannins, the length is a testament to future endeavors.  Tasted July 2014

Chardonnay 2013

A blend of the two samples brings the ghosts of the farm’s apples together in the glass. Overall the fruit came in (early November) at 21.5 to 22.8 brix. The pH falls in at 3.18-3.2 and the total acidity 9-10 g/L.

Chasselas Late Harvest 2012

A sweet wine with stinking acidity and a dry finish. At 100 g/L, this has both sugar and acidity through the roof. “It wanted to be this,” notes Josh Horton. “We didn’t plan to go this route, but we did.” Unleashed and wild LH.

Gaspereau Vineyards

After a morning spent with the Lightfoots, Peter Gamble brought me to taste at Gaspereau Vineyards with Rebecca Griffin, Associate Winemaker & Vineyard Manager at the winery’s parent entity, Devonian Coast Wineries. Gaspereau winemaker Gina Haverstock, who I tasted with at Brock University’s Technical Sparkling Wine Symposium in May, was away on holiday. After being guided through Haverstock’s Rieslings, I can safely say that I will look forward to tasting future (and hopefully library vintages) with her on my next visit east.

The Rieslings of Gaspereau Vineyards - Front Label

The Rieslings of Gaspereau Vineyards – Front Labels

Griffin led us through renditions of Nova Scotia’s signature white Tidal Bay, an Icewine and five exceedingly promising Rieslings. The tightly wound and magnanimous acidity of the lot impressed not just for their food versatility but also their kinship with some of the greater Riesling producing regions of the world. Both Clare Valley and the Beamsville Bench came to mind, as well as the Okanagan Valley and Alsace. Here are notes on the wines tasted.

The Rieslings of Gaspereau Vineyards - Back Labels

The Rieslings of Gaspereau Vineyards – Back Labels

Riesling Black Dog 2010

The vintage gives rich fruit, tempered by a mineral and lime layering. Though very dry and somewhat angular with a clamp down bite, the warmth inherent and abundant flavours give it bounty.  Tasted July 2014

Riesling Black Dog 2011

Tighter even, full-on snare driven Riesling. Less luxuriant than the ’10, with more pierce, a zigzagging beat in angles and relentless drive that’s “gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove.” Gets the lead out with a juicy burst of orange zest. This Black Dog is a howler and goes on for minutes on end.  Tasted July 2014

Riesling Warner’s Vineyard 2011

This single vineyard Riesling shows more brightness, in white fruit and an increase in mineral. Conversely it also displays a reductive funk. Wild, in ferment, with eyes that never lie and a timeless, earth-driven, low and slow layering.  Tasted July 2014

Riesling Estate 2011

Bottled in a 500 mL format because of drastically low quantities. Only 125 cases in the half litres were made. At first it’s fresh, bright orchard fruit with a minor key in funk. Moves into ginger, lime and the white heat of lit limestone, or more specifically, gypsum. Smells a bit like machine gun powder, leading to a plugged in “ignited fever and I can’t put out the flame.” Hot Riesling in a band of gypsies, with a rat tat tat sound and a nose for excitement.  Tasted July 2014

Riesling Tri0 2012

The Trio is assembled from Warner, Black Dog and Estate vineyards. Richer, warmer, rounder Riesling. The aromatics are more pronounced but also muddled together. Not as stark as compared to the others. Not so much sweeter as rounder, fuller and less piercing. Still, the Gaspereau Riesling funk persists.  Tasted July 2014

Good to go!

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Rocking out with the 2014 WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

The results are in. Closure has come. Category champions and Judge’s picks are now live.

The highly regarded WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada is categorized and justified as a “must enter” for winemakers and vintners who want to be a part of a genuine, above-board wine competition. For consumers in Canada it is a place to discover the best value wines available on the market today. Say what you will about the concours concept. The straightforward WineAlign offer implements an expertly designed bracket to ultimately crown a covey of thoroughly deserving champions. Wines are carefully scrutinized, judged with fair play and at times, brutal honesty. Each wine must impress the judges more than once. “Up to the task” is never in question. At “The Worlds,” the best minds are on the job.

Related – He spits, he scores: 2013 World Wine Awards of Canada results

Panorama of judging and wines at WWAC14 Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

Panorama of judging and wines at WWAC14
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

It was the week of August 18 to 22. Eighteen critics, two czars, a tech guy, a database custodian, a logistics steward, “her bitch” (sic) and a dedicated team of volunteers gathered to administer vinous justice for 1000 (give or take) hopeful wines. The tasting road was long yet filled with much success. Never have so many wines with the intention of offering value and simple pleasure shown so well and with so much grace.

Head judge Anthony Gismondi talks with Rhys Pender MW, Steve Thurlow, DJ Kearney and Godello Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

Head judge Anthony Gismondi talks with Rhys Pender MW, Steve Thurlow, DJ Kearney and Godello
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

In today’s WineAlign WWAC14 results dissertation, Anthony Gismondi tells us that “nothing has value unless you give it some.” The awards are about assessing daily drinkers, wines that the repeat consumer look for often, especially the bargains. They are for consumers first, of and for the common people. For the wineries, agents and writers, the competition is effectuated without bias. “The tastings are computerized from start to finish allowing wineries, agents or retailers to enter, pay, and eventually track their results online.” 

In 2014 my position is this. Oak and cheap tricks are on the way out, at least when it comes to wines submitted to the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada. Sugar, wood chips, agar agar, artificial colour, manipulated flavour, reverse osmosis and added acidity are trade practices reserved for wines out there in the fast food stratosphere. The judges at the WWAC14 were fortunate to be granted immunity from having to taste and assess such a most unnatural lot. These awards represent and foster an altruistic commonality between vigneron and critic. Make an honest wine and it will be judged with honourable intent.

WWAC14 Judging Panel

WWAC14 Judging Panel

The writers and judges that make up the panels evaluate wines under $50 that are sold somewhere in Canada in the year of the competition. Entries are judged in flights along with similar varietal wines in three price categories; under $15, $15 to $25 and over $25. Starting with the 2014 awards all wines entered will not only be posted on WineAlign with bottle images, but reviews will be included as well (many in both French and English). Again in 2014, orchestration was overseen by one of North America’s most respected wine critics, Vancouver Sun columnist and WineAlign Partner Anthony Gismondi, aka The Spitter.

Panel of judges DJ Kearney, Godello and Rhys Pender MW Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

Panel of judges DJ Kearney, Godello and Rhys Pender MW
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

Some startling results came out of this year’s tastings. Who would have ever put money on Carménère under $15 not only showing well, but blowing the collective minds of no less than five critics? Should Malbec in the $15-25 range, half of which are made by large and recognizable houses, have impressed with so much structure and restraint? A group of eight red blends under $15 were all good, five of them garnering very good scores. That same concept group of $15-25 were nearly all exceptional. Southern Italy fared with top value results in the under $15 category. Syrah/Shiraz $15-25 really surprised, as did Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the same range. Not to mention a flight of five fruit wines, four of which scored between 85 and 88. Not bad. All this can be attributed to one basic premise. WineAlign does not attract more producers than other concours. It attracts better ones.

WWAC14 judges Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

WWAC14 judges
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

As in 2013, this year I was invited to join the other 17 judges in Mississauga, Ontario. Fortune is measured by the company one keeps. The 2014 judges were David LawrasonSteve Thurlow, Sara d’Amato, Bill Zacharkiw, Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Rémy Charest, Craig Pinhey, Rhys Pender, MWDJ Kearney, Treve Ring, Brad RoyaleJulian Hitner, Evan SaviolidisBruce Wallner, MSMichelle Bouffard, Emily Maclean, Adam Hijazi and Jake Lewis.

Released today, here are the results from #WWAC14, presented by WineAlign. Wines were awarded for the categories of Top Value WinesBest of CountryCategory Champions and Judges’ Choice. In addition to the work of the judges, the Worlds were really made possible by Head Wineaux Bryan McCaw, along with Earl Paxton, Jason Dziver (Photography), Carol Ann Jessiman, Sarah GoddardMiho Yamomoto and the volunteers.

2014 World Wine Awards of Canada Results

WWAC14

WWAC14

Each judge was asked to write reviews on a specific cross-section of wines they were a part of assessing during the competition. Here are my notes on 30 wines tasted blind, across a wide range of categories, in August of 2014 at #WWAC14 and the songs they inspired.

Category champion wines from left to right: Villa Wolf Riesling 2013, Castillo De Molina Reserva Carmenère 2012, Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Chardonnay 2012, Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012, Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012, Buena Vista Pinot Noir 2011

Category champion wines from left to right: Villa Wolf Riesling 2013, Castillo De Molina Reserva Carmenère 2012, Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Chardonnay 2012, Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012, Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012, Buena Vista Pinot Noir 2011

Cabernet Sauvignon $15-25

Wolf Blass Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coonawarra, South Australia, Australia (606939, $24.95, WineAlign)

Funny thing about Cabernet Sauvignon, “sometimes they rock and roll, sometimes they stay at home and it’s just fine,” Wolf Blass makes all kinds. This Coonawarra GL seems to do both. It’s ripe and presumptuous, rocks in the glass but also has good, homebody, varietal tendency. It has a heart that’s on fire, a wolf parade of iron, sanguine tension and tannin, but also hung walls of home woven tapestry texture. The core of fruit, earth and tar cries out for prey. The finish is long and returns, back to base Blass.

Icewine – Riesling-Gewurz-Apple

La Face Cachée de la Pomme 2011 Neige Première Ice Pink Cider, Quebec (39305, 375ml, $22.95, WineAlign)

“Breathe, breathe in the air” of intensity, in apples. One hundred squared apples on top of one another. Never mind the few bruised and oxidative ones because the fresh and concentrated mass smothers those minor notes. Pink and ambient, the major sweetness and top-notch acidity speak to me in waves of demonstrative, Floydian verse. Here you will find a Québécois response to “there is no dark side in the moon, really. As a matter of fact it’s all dark.” There is Icewine on the bright side and then there is Iced Cider on la face cachée, “balanced on the biggest wave.”

Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Riesling Icewine 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, 375ml, $59.95, WineAlign)

A vanimated astral week’s of emotion is met by an animal musk, both hard to define. There is a high quotient of lemon, in curd, zest and pith. The sweetness is tempered by nudging acidity though it lingers long. All Riesling Icewine has to do “is ring a bell and step right up” so despite the electric Kool-Aid sugar syrup moments, this one spins and twirls, as Riesling does, just like a ballerina.

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Riesling Icewine 2012, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (601021, 375ml, $69.95, WineAlign)

Here sweetness, acerbity and a slightly advanced character are brought into balance by high grape sugar intensity and real linear acidity. Long and elastic, medicinally pretty and sacrosanct with seasoned complexity. Tasted this one and “felt a spark.” Tasted it twice and it tingled to the bone. What begun as a bob between evaluations ended with a simple twist of fate.  WWAC 2014 Category Champion

Pinot Noir $15-25

Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2011, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (146548, $21.95, WineAlign)

Deep earth and black cherry combine for the most extraction in the $15-25 Pinot Noir flight. There’s dust in them hills as the wine acts as if it were borne of the mountains. Has attitude in altitude. All things considered, the fruit is clean and crisp, perhaps a hair over the overripe line. The cool temperament and temperature in the cold room aid in giving it some love. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “That Villa Maria can make 80,000 cases of Pinot Noir this proper is nothing short of remarkable. Aged in French oak for 8-10 months. As Pinot like as could be hoped for considering the case amount. Every drop must go through Malolactic fermentation. Winemaker Josh Hammond and crew insist upon it, though it’s nothing but painstaking cellar/lab work. The Pinot character initially shines, with loads of plum and black cherry, but there is a momentary lapse. But, “if you’re standing in the middle, ain’t no way you’re gonna stop.” So, the definitive Marlborough ectodermal line painted through the in door speaks quickly and leaves by the out door. From a smoking gun, rising like a Zeppelin. Large volume, big production, drinkable in the evening Pinot Noir.”  Last tasted August 2014  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Vancouver Island, British Columbia (winery, $$23.90, WineAlign)

Now here we’re talking about a Pinot Noir from a another mother. It heads generously into fragrances not yet nosed in this flight of $15-25 Pinot Noir. Exotic byrne of a perfume on high alert; jasmine, violets, roses and Summer ‘David’ Phlox. Exquisite, fresh and bright. There is tang and tannin. Vibrancy to raise eyebrows. Also wild sage, wild fruit, an animal on a walk in a virgin forest. So much Pinot Noir is hairy, this one is “living on nuts and berries.”  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Malbec $15-25

Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

This Golden Reserve Malbec by Trivento is a juicy, dusty, fruit tree addition to the #WWAC14 flight and arrives just in the nick of time. Despite the dark fruit, it has no Drake spoken word conceit. It sings in classic Drake lullaby, with beefy meet pine forest aromas and so “you find that darkness can give the brightest light.” Tender refrains soften chalky, stalky wood and corresponding bitter chocolate. Big tannins on this balladeer. Has impressive stuffing.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Red Blends over $25

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2 Bench Red 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Wonderful, tangy red fruits define this well-structured Bordeaux blend. Cool and concise, it plays a tight riff and bangs a drum slowly. Comfortable on a big stage, it charges into a funky break and whips a crowd into a frenzy. So much energy from a band of five varietal friends, complimenting each other’s playing with mutual respect. Does the two Bench two-step and steals the show. “Celebrate we will because life is short but sweet for certain. We’re climbing two by two, to be sure these days continue.”

Vin Parfait Red 2012, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, Australia (350512, $29.95, WineAlign)

Circuitous mounds of round, stone ground aromas in coffee, Goji berry, red licorice and red ochre. A Jackson Pollock Expressionist splatter of notion and motion, flirtations and tension. Tempranillo, Shiraz and Grenache in does it, or will it come together beyond the abstract? Number 8 did. This one s’got to too.

Number 8, 1949 by Jackson Pollock www.jackson-pollock.org

Number 8, 1949 by Jackson Pollock
http://www.jackson-pollock.org

Grenache $10-20

Castillo de Monseran Garnacha 2013, Cariñena, Aragon, Spain (73395, $9.95, WineAlign)

A slightly cooked character is evident but within reason. Despite the heat it’s a bit of an arctic monkey, with tomato and cherry sprinkled over by Queso Fresco and followed up with a slice of blueberry pie. Simple yet effective, pleasant palate. There is some heat and tension from the tannins and “I’d like to poke them in their prying eyes,” but they do relent. The length is more than appropriate, given the tag. Only question is, “will the teasing of the fire be followed by the thud?” At $10, who really cares. Represents excellent value.

Artadi Artazuri Garnacha 2013, Navarra and Basque Country, Spain ($19.50, WineAlign)

Garnacha from the old world west with incredible citrus bursts, like orange blossoms and the spirit of the zest. A spritz from a lemon too. A smoulder of burning charcoal with a spit-roasting goat adds to the roadside attraction. Palm branches help to create the smoke. This is exotic and creative stuff. Finishes with a dessert note of bitter plum. Velada, “you got yourself a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 star reaction.” Really unique red.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Roadside+Attraction/33YBUM?src=5

Sauvignon Blanc Under $15

Caliterra Tributo Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Leyda Valley, Region de Aconcagua, Chile (283648, $14.95, WineAlign)

A step up from multi-site, southern hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc with direct intentions, all the right moves and in all the right places. So much going on in both its aromatic and textural world. Wax, lanolin and Bordeaux-like temperance and consistent with the growing SB trend, “the grass is getting greener each day.” Decent one republic attack on the palate though nothing fantastic. Has heart and Sauvignon Blanc soul.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Southern Italy Under $15

Grandi Muri Primitivo Promovi Salento 2013, Puglia, Italy (agent, $13.50, WineAlign)

A red-veined Primitivo, with the savoury blood of Swiss Chard and hoisin and red bean paste coarsing through it. Smells like spicy and sweet Hunan dishes, sweet sweat and sour, but it is not a matter of oxidation. It’s a caramelized soy sensation but written in reverse. Spoon this over cereal, ice cream, charred beef, anything. It’s got Chinese five-spice powder and coriander. Like a bowl of most excellent Pho. Fantastic exotics. “We’re gettin’ you raw and it feels real good.” Rocking Primitivo.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Shiraz/Syrah $15-25

Layer Cake Shiraz 2012, South Australia, Australia ($24.99, WineAlign)

Unquestionably warm but with restraint. That may be perceived as a bad, obvious and reprehensible dichotomous comment but in transparency it speaks truths. Shows good savour and sapidity. It’s an aurulent burnt orange and smoked pineapple offering, blanketed in dusty chocolate and syrupy to a certain extreme. It’s long, creamy, silken and covered further in darker chocolate. “True colors fly in blue and black, bruised silken sky and burning flag.” Warm but you too will indubitably see the pleasures in its layer cake.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

White Blends Under $15

Pelee Gewurztraminer Riesling 2012, Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (109991, $10.95, WineAlign)

A ray of golden sunshine. The glade and the classic Gewurz attributes are here and highly floral. Rose petals soaking in good medicine. This could be my beloved monster. Such a dry example. She wears “a raincoat that has four sleeves, gets us through all kinds of weather.” Match with BBQ’s eels. Not for everyone but it works.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Shiraz/Syrah Over $25

Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012, McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (390872, $29.95, WineAlign)

This is the most accomplished and wise drop of Shiraz tasted at the WineAlign #WWAC14. A hit of snowy sulphur shows just how much growing up it needs. Such a precocious and heady example. A thick, gluey mess of fruit, unsettled and in rapture within its tannic walls. The voilets and the rest of the garden rules really tie the room together. Shiraz entrenched, grown and raised, “where the nettle met the rose.” For five years later and on patrol for ten more after that. Wow.  WWAC 2014 Category Champion  WWAC 2014 Best of Country

Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Delaine Syrah 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (86553, $32.95, WineAlign)

Here blows a fine, exuberant and expresive muzzle with ambrosial flavours. A garrigue and olive dirty martini with sweet drops pf berry syrup. Juniper and conifer verdure meet inklings of berries. There is a sense of mushroom and truffle which can go either way, but here it brings paradigmatic character. Like words added to an intense Billy Preston instrumental. This may “take your brain to another dimension. Pay close attention.” Dark, brooding and out of space. A prodigy and a real deal in cool climate Syrah.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice  WWAC 2014 Best of Country

Cabernet Sauvignon $15-25

Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (135202, $19.95, WineAlign)

A genesis in clean fruit of high extract order is linear, direct, forceful and in Cab conceit. A narcissistic brooder with ripples of underbrush and underworld scents. Thinks highly of itself, demands attention, seeks followers, stares into a pool. “The face in the water looks up and she shakes her head as if to say, that it’s the last time you’ll look like today.” With a few more reflecting and reflective refrains this Cabernet will realize a softness, turn away from the mirror and settle into its skin.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Lake Sonoma Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa – Sonoma – Mendocino, California, United States (Agent, $26.99, WineAlign)

From the outset this engages the imbiber simple because it acts as though its one time tension has been massaged and released. The flat feeling is there, though not detracting, because of an inherent notion that there was and still can be beautiful fruit. It just needs “that spark to get psyched back up.” A rapping modern facade is the cover page for earth savoury meets candied M & M flavour, docile, downy glycerin Cabernet texture, with acidity and tannin waning. Was serious, now friendly and will be late leaving the party.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Chardonnay $15-25

Kendall Jackson Avant Chardonnay 2013, Mendocino County, California, United States ($19.00, WineAlign)

This may be a winner. I love the immediacy of its fruit, the antebellum tension and just a kiss from the barrel. You know its there but in subtlety, class and as background noise. The aromas of citrus, beeswax and honey and all accents to clean orchard fruit. This has the most balance in a flight of eleven verry tidy Chardonnay in a consumer-driven $15-25 price bracket. Lady spirited and at times a bit anxious, or perhaps not yet entirely comfortable in its skin, this is nonetheless best in show.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Carmenère Under $15

Castillo De Molina Reserva Carmenère 2012, Valle del Maule, Region del Valle Central, Chile (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

The first thought on this Carmenère is the scaling back of new oak, lifting it above the crowd in an under $15 flight. The freshness factor makes for a whole new animal, or botanical rather. This has candied jasmine, pansy, bergamot and nasturtium. It’s a veritable salad of candied edibles. The middle palate is marked by Mentholatum and the finale is persistent in acidulated action. What a warm, mazzy gift of a Carmenère, a star of a Chilean red that would be welcome, just like flowers in December. “Send me a flower of your December. Save me a drink of your candy wine.”  WWAC 2014 Category Champion

Chardonnay Over $25

Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $26.90, WineAlign)

Quiet, muted, beautiful and reserved. This is the “iconoclastic and restlessly innovative” style of a wine that bravely explores other territories of pop Chardonnay. Anything but fashioned in an in your face style, this one is in it for the Hejira, the journey and the time. Ripe yellow apples and pears and then come the lees. Could pass for unoaked Chablis. The appreciation and gathering are a style that should be used more.  “No regrets coyote,” you just come “from such different sets of circumstance.”  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice  WWAC 2014 Top Value Wines

Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley, California, United States (655381, $34.95, WineAlign)

Has hallmarks of essential fruit from a top notch vintage, the most complexity and schooling. The reduction is pure essence of grape must, with no fault to either the vine or the maker. Every wine’s “screwed up in their own special way.” A rmineral tannin gets on top early like a Ramones riff, stays for dinner and repeats in refrain. The crisp and mister punchy orchard fruit is kissed by wood. Sucks face. The texture is seamless and verve excellent, by acidity and forward to pronounced length.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Sparkling

Delouvin Bagnost N/V Brut, Champagne, France (agent, $42.75, WineAlign)

Tends to a trend in sweet aromatic beginnings which is nothing but endearing. A leesy pear and ris de veau nose split by a bowie and filled with pearls of sugary syrup. To taste there is the metallic gaminess of uncooked other white meat. Sweet meat, sweet thing. The gathering sensation is an elemental display of ethereal, aerified climatic conditions. Though made in an oxidized style, the complexity of character is not to be denied.  “Runs to the center of things where the knowing one says, boys, boys, its a sweet thing.” In the end the burst of energy is invigorating and heart piercing.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Pinot Noir Over $25

Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012, Valle de San Antonio, Region de Aconcagua, Chile (agent, $19.99, WineAlign)

You can always pick out the wines made from unique, little feat sites, wherever in the world they may have been raised. Even when they stink up the joint, smell like a 16 year-old hockey change room or like candied paint poured over fresh cedar planks, they stand out like beacons of Pinot amon din. Lord of the Pinot rings here that’s “been kicked by the wind, robbed by the sleet…baked by the sun,” fire lit, rosemary branches and oxtail smoldering and simmering over fresh cut ash from a deciduous forest. Cool mint and pine. The most savoury things of fantasy imagined. Wild ride in and most willin’ Pinot Noir.  WWAC 2014 Category Champion

Buena Vista Pinot Noir, Carneros 2011, Napa Valley, California, United States (304105, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is really quite impressive Pinot Noir. Fastidiously judged if bullish fruit having way too much fun, causing varietal envy amongst other price category peers. Clearly fashioned from stocks of quality fruit, providing an environment for the coming together of many red berries and the earth of contigious vines. All roads lead to a grand palate marked by exotic, spicy and righteous fleet of wood tones. I wonder if I’m in over my head and tell it “your mood is like a circus wheel, you’re changing all the time.” Quite something this MacPinot specimen and though I wonder if it’s a bit too much, it always seems to have an answer and it sure feels fine.  WWAC 2013 Category Champion  WWAC 2013 Best of Variety $15 – $25  WWAC 2014 Category Champion  WWAC 2014 Top Value Wines

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Pinot Noir 2010, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $29.99, WineAlign)

The grace of time has ladled felicity upon this left coast Pinot Noir. What once were harsh and mephitic stuck in a cola can kind of smells have been released and are just a faint memory of their once formidable, terrible teeth gnashing remains. Twas root beer that fouled the air but now the saline sea and verdure of hills speaks in clear vernacular. The sailor has “sailed across weeks and through a year,” met with wild things, to now return home and offer up her Pinot Noir, to be enjoyed with supper that is still warm.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Riesling Under $15

Villa Wolf Riesling 2013, Pfalz, Germany (agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

This has a lovely, head of its class, nearly value-driven exquisite nature and aromatic richness. In consideration of the price bracket, the sulphur is trumped by that radio dialed in richesse. Exotic Riesling specific fruit. A crisp apple meets a ripe pineapple. A wolf at the door, “out pops the cracker, smacks you in the head.” Decent acidity, better length, good bitters.  WWAC 2014 Category Champion

Red Blends Under $15

Miguel Torres Sangre de Toro 2012, Cataluña, Spain (6585, $12.95, WineAlign)

This Garnacha and Carignan blend works a stoned immaculate contrivance as well as any red blend under $15 you are ever likely to upend. “Soft driven slow and mad, like some new language.” The action is effective, properly conceived and opens the doors to value-based perception. Perhaps a bit thin but the lack of wood and sweetener is a breath of fresh air. What it lacks in girth it makes up for with complexity, in notes of graphite, fennel and sea air. Lovely little Mediterranean red.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

A common weal of September VINTAGES best buys

Innisfiil Sunflowers

Innisfiil Sunflowers

September has its share of excellence being revealed, particularly this coming weekend with the VINTAGES September 13, 2014 release. This is a perfect time to investigate the wares from this province. The weekend also marks the launch of the  initiative, in conjunction with Wine Country Ontario. Then on October 2nd, Wine Country is coming to the Royal Ontario Museum. There will be 255 wines poured by 55 producers at Taste Ontario.

Related – The LCBO and WineAlign go local

For years now the fine wine and premium spirits division of the LCBO, known benevolently to Wineontarians as VINTAGES, has been rolling out releases every two weeks. There are always somewhere between five and ten wines on each listing that, were I independently wealthy and helplessly wine obsessed in reckless abandon, would always buy. There are also upwards of 100 or more that I would not. Were I presented a glass half full, to most of them I would offer my thanks and sip away. There are also five to ten not worth the price of admission. As a member of the wine writer’s commonwealth of Ontario it is my trusted duty to help make sense of the bi-weekly barrage and to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Wine critics can be fussy people, tough mudders with palates sheathed by caparison. They can go from saying things like “not as good as the last shipment” to “I’m tired of tasting shit.” Even the most curmudgeonly of critics must play his part to promote the happiness, health, and wine safety of all of the people of a community. It is an honour to be trusted with a duty to taste, consider and then discard what is simply not right. The expectation and the responsibility is to find the most natural and honest wines made available, however fleeting and rare the opportunities may be.

Here are four from across the pond and 10 Ontario wines being unpacked onto LCBO shelves as we speak. Get out there and #LCBOGoLocal.

From left to right: Flat Rock Riesling 2013, Château Saint Estève Corbières 2011, Palazzo Maffei Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2011, Rosehall Run Cuvée County Chardonnay 2011, Peller Estates Private Reserve Cabernet Franc 2011, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, Thirty Bench Red 2012                                      Photos: Jason Dziver

From left to right: Flat Rock Riesling 2013, Château Saint Estève Corbières 2011, Palazzo Maffei Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2011, Rosehall Run Cuvée County Chardonnay 2011, Peller Estates Private Reserve Cabernet Franc 2011, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, Thirty Bench Red 2012 Photos: Jason Dziver, Photographer (http://www.jasondziver.com/)

Flat Rock Riesling 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (43281, $16.95, WineAlign)

The FR Riesling cover girl gets a swift kick in the backside by gas blanketed, dehydrated pear and a sprinkle of rock sugar. Citrus peel, candied again, with medicinal silt. Rocky Riesling spread liberally across a horizontal canvas. From my earlier April 2014 note: “Just bottled a few weeks ago so the note to self is to expect a subtraction of preoccupation. Anything but. Though not as frantic as the Nadja’s sampled from tank back in February, the preview to the ’13 Estate is in show of so much zest, premature acidity and an overly enthusiastic outpouring of juicy emotion. The scraped zest is present in every respect, along with green mango, Himalayan salt and a squeeze of lime. There is attitude and altitude from this precocious Riesling and there’s no doubt it and the ’13 Nadja will be better than anticipated out of tank. Forget the infancy, wow is it showing well.”  Last tasted August 2014  @Winemakersboots  @brightlighter1  @UnfilteredEd

Château Saint Estève Corbières 2011, Ap, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (377218, $17.95, WineAlign)

Corbieres excellence. Nothing funky going on here. A minor amount sees the inside of the fûts but how great it is to find such a clean, fruit forward, straight from the tank example. Made from (40 per cent) Grenache, (30) Syrah, (20) Carignan and (10) Mourvèdre. Certainly showing modern fruit but the low yield (35hl/ha) altruism and cleanliness is next to Midi-ness. A touch of chalk and milky chocolate with some vanilla and lavender too. Simple, effective (if a touch soapy) French red.  Tasted August 2014

Palazzo Maffei Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2011, Doc (338913, $17.95, WineAlign)

This is a massive Valpolicella, fully enriched by chocolate in countless ways, on many levels and in dry ice dreams. It’s a baby Amarone incarnate and if you are going that route, try this on instead for a mere pittance at $18. Huge wine, with exaggerated mannerisms in oak and high alcohol, though not volatile, even if the structure is value-driven pedestrian. Will work for a welcoming, big-hair crowd.  Tasted August 2014  @HHDImports_Wine

Rosehall Run Cuvée County Chardonnay 2011, VQA Prince Edward County (132928, $21.95, WineAlign)

Today Dan Sullivan’s Chardonnay concentrates on its excellence while compressing in reduction. Beyond the encapsulating abstraction there are the rocks beneath the earth and by extension, the vines of hard-working fruit. Fruit surrounded by the spice of barrel. Tasted extensively over a 24 hour period I found this walks the line, takes on all comers, hovers over and has the guts to merely sigh at the distractions. Give this Chardonnay years, more than most, perhaps even 10 plus. In 2011, Chablis trumps barrel.  Tasted August 2014  @Rosehall_Run  @sullywine

Peller Estates Private Reserve Cabernet Franc 2011, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario (598078, $21.95, WineAlign)

A touch of reduction but the thought goes straight to serious wine and attentive winemaking. The barrel is not king, the fruit big and boisterous. It’s a bit hyper-fruity, steroidal even but it is anything but thin and certainly not encumbered by process or wood. A hint of soap is a detractor admittedly, but the acumen and level of higher learning is evident and commendable. This will be a wine to look at for years to come.  Tasted August 2014  @PellerVQA

Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (275958, $21.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Triomphe Cabernet Franc receives a meld of mellow, blending support from 12.4 per cent Merlot and the marriage is quietly non-contentious. That blending decision by winemaker Ann Sperling, along with the praiseworthy choice to forego obtrusive oak is as good as a golpe on the Niagara Cab Franc oeuvre. The use of large format (80 hectolitre), no splinters allowed oak vats over wood spice and milkshake imparting barrels is an easy swallow for sore palates. The ’12 Triomphe is an elongated and elastic Cab Franc, with nary a foray into the tobacco, bell pepper and cloying currant currency of so many predecessors. The co-fermenting of disparate, north and south, estate blocks in those vats has done wonders on the preservation of a warm vintage’s, judiciously picked (21.8 per cent brix at harvest) fresh fruit. Terrific decisions all in for a highly accessible, brand and varietal ambassador for Niagara.  Tasted August 2014  @SouthbrookWine

Thirty Bench Red 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (320986, $24.00, WineAlign)

Big red machine, really ahead of the class, especially in this price range, with this much stuffing. A full complement of fruit, bushy and falling just as it’s picked from the trees, not to mention quality, quality, sweet earth. This is jazzy, boozy and sparked, from ‘round midnight, smoky, exotic and global. Has the discipline of a monk to groove low and low, the stuffing and Thelonious tannin to boot. Wait for it, let the band play then give way. The solo will be fantastic.  Tasted August 2014  @ThirtyBench

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula

From left to right: Tawse Pinot Noir Growers Blend 2010, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Le Volte Dell’ornellaia 2012, Dominio De Tares Cepas Viejas Mencia 2009, Château Des Charmes Merlot St. David’s Bench Vineyard 2012, Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011, Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011 Photos: Jason Dziver, Photographer (http://www.jasondziver.com/)

Tawse Pinot Noir Growers Blend 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (284570, $26.95, WineAlign)

Where at one time the GB Pinot Noir fought among its moving parts it now sits in permanent cease-fire mode. A position that realizes warm fruit, settled wood spice and linear acidity. Needs no more scaling or ropy ascension. It has reached the planing platform and going forward will glide effortlessly back down to ground. Where it began. From my earlier October 2013, April and May 2014 notes. “Though it’s a blend of several sites, this Tawse Pinot stands alone and of itself as a grower; it grows on you after multiple tastings. The first go ’round seems simple, vintage warm and tight. Taste again and the sappy wood seeps mineral, the phenolic red cherry ripeness turns black and the tempering is led by a sweet earth kind. Earth that smoulders in a rising Zeppelin kept afloat by tobacco and the swirling spores of pungent mushroom. Pinot Noir truth and value from a Niagara house of the holy kind. “You know-whoa, that’s right.” The univocal Pender perfume permeates the Tawse stable of Pinot Noir and seems only magnified in the multiple site Grower‘s Blend. Vintage related warmth and inferable incrassation of fruit. Delves into a deep connection to disparate lands possessive of a common goal.  As if making wine is “your taste combined with all the years of wasting time.” Graceful Pinot Noir with moments touched by hot rocks, toasted red rice, a gentle smoulder and delicate grains of sand.”  Last Tasted August 2014  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Le Volte Dell’ornellaia 2012, Igt Toscana (964221, $26.95,WineAlign)

What can you say about Le Volte? Is she the most immediately rewarding, fruit forward and accessible Super Tuscan ever put on offer? Does this cuvée  of Merlot (50 per cent), Sangiovese (30) and Cabernet Sauvignon (20) offer a portal through which to peer into the future of the Ornellaia grande? From a warm but not excessively hot season, the fruit teases, like a kiss that leaves a lipstick stain on the cheek, a taste that makes you crazy and dreaming of more. Time spent in barrels once used by the matron first wine equates to a morning of chocolate, Nutella and cappuccino in the piazza. Full on, with much more texture than ever before. She is beautiful, but is her beauty fleeting? Drink over the next two to four years.  Tasted August 2014  @Ornellaia  @AuthenticWineON

Dominio De Tares Cepas Viejas Mencia 2009, Bierzo, Spain (379891, $26.95, WineAlign)

Fruit for this Bierzo is from old vines and is aged in a combination of French and American oak. An industrious rolling stone and two steps up example above and beyond for what usually passes as basic and simple Mencia. The Dominio de Tares is exactly the reason to ante up. Bierzo as a region produces exceptional quality wines at this price point but suffers a stenosis in the lower ranges. Here the intoxicating and delicious fumes are resonant of just caramelizing brown sugared fruits, formidable though sweet tannins and an enveloping that’s “all right now, in fact, it’s a gas” Displays and prances about with an incredible amount of energy and jumping jack flash. “It’s a gas, gas, gas.”  Tasted August 2014  @oenophilia1

Château Des Charmes Merlot St. David’s Bench Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (453431, $29.95, WineAlign)

The vintage does Merlot a wondrous gifting and coupled with what strikes as an unusual salinity, this is a most unique take on the Merlot perspective. In the middle vacuum what is expected takes a turn; shaken, crushed berries with chocolate shavings and brushstrokes made by a weighty utensil but in the end it returns to the vintage specific layering. Well made with caveat to and from Merlot.  Tasted August 2014  @MBosc

Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (392738, $29.95, WineAlign)

The passion from the Thomas Bachelder Niagara project has shifted into Domaine Queylus. With no disrespect to Thomas’ eponymous bottling from vineyards so nearby, the quality time has now been granted the Tradition. Here lies Mountainview and Le Petite Colline earth, here crushes Niagara cherries in hand, juice running down a clay caked forearm. Fresh and bright yet streaked by chalk and enveloping brush stroke. Sour? For a flash but in neither malic nor astringent form. This is a must buy. From my earlier June 2014 note: “Reverberates with the unmistakable calling card character of the storied Neudorf family La Petite vineyard with equal and opposite amounts of attraction and new life breathed in by the Lincoln Lakeshore fruit. Ethereally sifted earth of old meets cherries of new. Enriching Pinot Noir, a bit gangling like a primitive young giraffe but near to finding its legs. Hard working red, insistent, confident and having already paid some dirty fingernail dues. Excellent length.”  Last tasted August 2014  @QueylusVin

Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

You can take Riesling from out of the Vinemount Ridge but you can’t take Vinemount Ridge out from a Charles Baker Picone. The layers of tectonic shale and the slowly espressed fruit that swim within the waves of those layers make for the total oscillating package. Has moved nowhere, not sideways even, since last tasted, though today, from this bottle, there’s an awkward, shy adolescence. From my earlier May 2014 note: “Some sweetness now, but not in a flirting way. This will be a September VINTAGES release (with pink on the label as part of an LCBO/Princess Margaret fundraiser). Has not so much evolved but rather “come groovin’ up slowly,” since last tasted. Still got “joo joo eyeballs,” still tough in tension. Years left before it will come together, yeah.” From my earlier, October 2013 note: “does not so much pick up where cracking ’09 left off (with no offence meant to the soothing and tuneful ’10) but rather re-writes the Baker book. From the almost famous windswept vineyard atop the Vinemount Ridge, this Picone, from older Riesling plantings is crazy lively. That ’10 is now imbued with rich, oily glück. The ’11 will realize such a future, but much further along and in combination with its inborn tension. Right up there with Baker’s “perfect vintage” 2006.  Last tasted August 2014  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)

This County ’12 by Norman Hardie needs fresh air, County air and time. Leave the wine alone in bottle counted out in five years time. There is pure intensity in aerified flight. Shows length, persistence, purity, phenolic ripeness and in time will show its ability to wade across raging rivers. From my earlier April 2014 note: “Hardie’s 2012 County Pinot Noir is a beacon, a flashing light on the shore, an invitation to copycats because this is what making red wine from limestone foundations is all about. To taste this ’12 is to experience Hardie’s purest berry maceration and distillation to date. It’s as if there was no alcohol present and in fact, at 11.5 per cent it is a modest and transparent pronouncement. Longevity may not bless the ’12 as in other vintages but this is certainly the most groomed and coiffed County Pinot Noir.” From my earlier October 2013 note: “Cuts a rug with immense, stepping out juicy behaviour. It’s both turntable old-school, astatic in smooth groove rotation, but also digitally forward thinking towards a perdurable future. The nose is Norm’s most intense floral burst to date, with incredible brightness and sparkling acidity in the key of fresh plum. This brings to mind indelible Burgundy, enveloped in PEC’s warm ’12 blanket. Hardie’s measure of consistency abides in a Pinot of parity and undemanding polish.”  Last tasted August 2014  @normhardie

Good to go!

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The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht

Le Clos Windsbuhl de Hunawihr PHOTO: http://www.zindhumbrecht.fr

Le Clos Windsbuhl de Hunawihr
PHOTO: http://www.zindhumbrecht.fr

Were Olivier Humbrecht, MW a Rock ‘N Roll star, he would be the guy, the man, the boss, the one everyone wants to hang around. He’d be invited to every benefit concert, like No Nukes at MSG, Live Aid, Live 8 and a Tribute to Heroes. He would sing the biggest parts on the raise awareness and relief funds records like We are the World. He would headline every star-studded gathering to celebrate an influential musician’s career, like that of George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan.

Olivier Humbrecht is a winemaker. He’s also smart, France’s first Master of Wine, rooted in his region’s history and hyper aware of every nuance in each terroir. He’s an extreme scientist, biologist, geologist, viniculturalist and viticulturalist. Olivier Humbrecht is a student of many Alsace genres, techniques and methods. He’s a bit of a perfectionist. So are many Alsatian winemakers. But Olivier also has the charisma, the persona and the drive to strive for bigger and better. People want to be near that.

The rock star complex manifests itself at a tasting of the Zind-Humbrecht portfolio. Olivier has laid 14 wines on the cellar room table for a group of eight journalists and sommeliers. After leading the group through the lot, he checks his watch and sees there are a few minutes left in the allotted time. He opens two more bottles, then two more. Time is up. The group must press on. He opens another. Just one more, “for perspective,” he says. He can’t stop. The adrenaline is pumping. One more encore. Just one more Sélection de Grains Nobles…

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht is well-known to the world, considered the consummate professional vigneron d’Alsace. The wines are immaculate to a fault; pure, precise considerations out of a multitude of variegated and diverse terroirs; of those around the winery’s home in Turckheim, Wintzinheim, in Gueberschwihr, Thann and in Hunawihr. The Grand Cru holdings of Brand, Hengst, Goldert and Rangen de Thann provide the stuffing for exceptional produce but can any other winery in Alsace lay claim to so many exceptional wines from their lieu-dit and single-vineyards not classified Grand Cru? The trifecta phenomena of the Zind-Humbrecht hill parcels, “Les Clos”; Häuserer, Windsbuhl and Jebsal may as well be Grand Cru squared. The wines from these most worthy soils are dreamy and in top vintages, impossibly perfect.

Most vintners in Alsace are connected to a village, have vineyard holdings surrounding or on slopes leaning upwards from the town. Many crush and ferment in caves beneath their homes right there in the ancestral village. Above ground Zind-Humbrecht is more modern than most, in many ways the embodiment of the 21st century Alsatian facility but Olivier’s wines are deeply connected to Turckheim, the village closest to a large proportion of his vines. The region’s regulatory board decision to eliminate a village like Gueberschwihr from being used on a Riesling label is both curious and counter-productive. Olivier is an island here, not having found any other producer’s support to keep such a designation alive. The irony is not lost. A winemaker incredibly passionate about soil having to label his wine by that very concept and against his will.

I had the opportunity to taste with Olivier Humbrecht on two occasions, thanks to CIVA and SOPEXA, at the winery and at the Millésimes Alsace trade event on Monday, June 16th, 2014. Humbrecht’s brain is in constant churning motion. He will never rest and settle for the status quo. He has learned everything and has everything yet to learn.

Biodynamic farming is at the nucleus of Zind-Humbrecht’s practicum and by now spoken as an apothegm, not ad nauseam. Olivier notes that Colmar, the vinous hub of Alsace and just down the road from Turckheim, is the driest town in France. “We are in a region that in the past we had to fight for ripeness. This is not the case anymore. I have not had to chaptalize in 20 years.” Global warming has had a great effect on phenols but Olivier stands firm on timing. Plants, including grapevines, have very specific life cycles, from flowering to ripening. “I will be ready for picking September 1st,” he insists, “regardless of the weather.”

On varieties, Muscat D’alsace remains “important and fantastic.” Humbrecht insists on keeping it viable and alive. “Reds are trendy,” but not significant to Zind-Humbrecht, adding up to less than one per cent of total production. Ninety per cent are single-varietal wines. Riesling persists as the core variety. It’s a grape that hates to ferment so noble rot should be avoided, because it arrests fermentation.” For Riesling to succeed? “You need a majority of tartaric acid, slowly, coolly, through the cold of winter, to achieve proper malic acid, to achieve good Alsace Riesling. Basically you don’t even want to know it’s happening.”

Olivier is an ally to both phenol and tannin. “Phenols in white wine is something that is always neglected,” he says, and “I do appreciate tannins in white wine, especially in low acidity grapes like Gewürztraminer.” Too many people do not understand the aging capabilities in the wines of Alsace. “We’ve gotten rid of too many phenols in white wine,” he complains. “We love the anti-oxidants, which will not allow the wines to age well, with no protection against oxidation.”

The phenol-tannin-sugar-acidity sequence only succeeds when PH is in the mix. “PH is more important than acidity. Low PH is a guarantee for good evolution in bottle, and good phenols.” That said, skin contact is to be avoided in Humbrecht’s world. “Alsace already has high aromatics so contact is contradictory.” It can lead to the inclusion of green phenols which would be detrimental to making sound wine. Ripe phenols come from the vines and Olivier continues to refer to structure and acidity as a direct consequence of what happens in the vineyard.

The ZH processes include high density planting, hand harvesting, gravity feeding, cold cluster pressing and the use of wild (indigenous) yeasts. The total annual output is approximately 300,000 bottles from 40 hectares, a capacity reached in the mid 1990’s. “We are not interested in getting any bigger,” concedes Humbrecht.

The last piece and going forward of the Zind-Humbrecht puzzle concerns vintages. “Vintages are very important and different in Alsace,” says Olivier. “2014 is very precocious.” Flowering was done the first week of June, almost two weeks ahead of the norm. This is similar to 2003 and 2011. “We made a lot of mistakes then, because it was the first time we had this.” The plan is to adapt to the climate by cooling down the soil, with more grasses to retain moisture. They will also let more branches grow to restrict sun and more canopy management. Biodynamic farming at work.

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Here are notes on the 20 Zind-Humbrecht wines tasted in Alsace on Monday June 16th and Wednesday June 18th, 2014.

Pinot Noir 2012

To Olivier Humbrecht, the location and managing the ripeness of Pinot Noir is key. “You can’t hide green character in Pinot Noir,” he asserts. Fruit comes from the Heimbourg vineyard, from west-facing slopes out of marl and limestone. This is a cooler, later ripening position with a draught between the hills. At 13 per cent alcohol it is pleasantly ripe but not as rich and intense as 2009. Still ripe enough for positive and effective phenols. Tannins are present and accounted for, wrapping a veil over the chalky, chewy, slighted coated fruit. The mineral is felt in texture coming from what is a simple, proper and elegant palate.

Muscat Goldert 2012

Like any self-respecting winemaker in Alsace, Olivier Humbrecht is intent on keeping Muscat d’Alsace alive with hopes that someday it will once again thrive. The white and red coloured, longer ripening, small berry Muscat Petite Grains receives minor (one or two per cent) support from grapey, soft and aromatic Muscat Ottonel. Raised from olitic limestone and marl soil, this Muscat is blessed with terroir inducing greater acidity and a dichotomous, silty ripeness, like a green, unripe Sauvignon Blanc. One has the sense that in this unique vintage the noble variety may age with an almost unexpected stride through the years.

Riesling Terroir d’Alsace Vin Sec 2012

This is the most basic and tenable wine in the Zind-Humbrecht portfolio. For the uninitiated it is an ideal embarkation point from which to engage the dry elegance and saline minerality of Alsatian Riesling. This “entry-level” effort is from 11 year-old vines, a slow ripening vintage and the stark reality of granite soils. The ever-present Humbrecht honesty and richness is here but in its most subtle (and only 2 g/L residual sugar) scale. Quick notes of lime, chalk and ginger. Olivier says it is made for the Brasserie or the Gastropub market. Never mind that it’s the most junior of his Rieslings. Nobility begins here with this reassuring, air-dried, easy to understand wine.

Riesling Herrenweg de Turckheim 2012

Here rolls the rock of the ZH stable. From gravelly, well-drained, poor soils around the winery. The citrus factor is front, centre and in surround sound but a natural richness and sweetness brings balance. This means the wine will gracefully incline through to a dry yet fruity future. A savoury austerity will increase the ageing quotient, in addition to the omnipresent mineral flavours by way of old (47 year-old) vines that burrow deep in the gravel, providing grit and strength, especially in drought vintages.

Riesling Calcaire 2012

The artist formerly known as Gueberschwihr is no longer. The new regulation regarding the production of village wines became effective with the 2011 harvest so, alone in its support for the quality of wine for the village, Humbrecht had no choice but a switch to the Calcaire nomenclature. From richer, cooler, alkaline soils. A touch more sugar (8 g/L) than the Turckheim counterparts, this also has higher acidity. Technically not so dry but this is the elevated, though not quite astronomical PH talking. It is dry enough to be considered Sec. Momentarily stuck in the proverbial petrol and mineral fence. The door will open shortly, to the ZH airy density and so physically speaking, this will taste drier as it ages. Even if “all this science I don’t understand,” I do know “it’s gonna be a long, long time” before the Calcaire comes down to earth and settles into its skin. Ten years to be sure. Rocket man.

Riesling Clos Häuserer 2012

Also Turckheim in origin (specifically Soedlen) but from marl soil atop really aggressive limestone from just under the Grand Cru Hengst’s nose. One of the highest in PH, this is austere and currently shut tight within a dry (4 g/L sugar) free lime zeppelin drum. Though aromatically mute, the mineral density on the palate is striking, like a reduction of half and half spread on sourdough toast. The 18 month lees program is most noticeable here and this Riesling will be led towards a petrol induction future. When it gets there, a taste will bring you into the Häuserer of the holy. The deep marl soil on top of calcareous Oligocene mother rock will speak and it will ask  “are you dizzy when you’re stoned?”

Riesling Brand Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 11532951 $73.00, WineAlign)

There is a roundness to the Brand, in beautiful calming aromatics in defiance of the hard biotite granite, black and white mica soils. The pure mineralized clay silica brings heat to the land, with a high surface exchange quotient, not so different from the Schlossberg. This is precocious and precious Grand Cru that demands the wisdom and the fortitude of old vines, of a minimum 25-30 years of age. Zind Humbrecht’s average 66! With two per cent noble rot in the mix the wine reaches for more sugar (11.5 g/L) out of its desperately low yields. There is a high mineral ripeness and a tropical tingling, in melon and clementine.

Riesling Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 12133871 $101.00, WineAlign)

The Thann is a 22-hectare, low yielding Grand Cru. The terra is volcanic and dark sedimentary soil, very steep and homogeneous. The high mineral altitude and poor attitude means the Zind Humbrecht ambition is aromatically challenging to assess, even if to taste it’s so obviously exquisite in concentrated depth. Such a rich, intense grapey nose but the flint smothers the smoky smoulder that should be present. A tight, angular and sobering expression, more isometric and idiosyncratic than anything tasted to this point. An island in the line-up. Not the most loveable Rangen, like its name, which is too old to even know its meaning.

Riesling Heimbourg 2012

From the village of Turckheim, the vines are planted on the steepest aspect of the marl covered, oligocene limestone slope. More noble rot present here than in the Brand, resulting in, naturally higher sugar (15 g/L), richer fruit and a deeper hue. “The sweetest Riesling we’ve made in 2012,” admits Olivier. A most interesting specimen too, an upside down cake in alternating layers of apricot and crushed rocks. The flavours are high-toned, not necessarily tropical, but lush.

Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2011, Alsace, France (agent, $80.00, WineAlign)

“Vintages are very important and different in Alsace,” notes Humbrecht, exemplified by this blasted 2011 in contrast to all the ’12’s at these tastings. Here the fruit leans in the most elevated petrol direction, from a warm year and an earlier harvest. A younger evolution is taking place, showing immediate and gratified balance. The terroir is cool, rocky limestone with shells, similar to Burgundy. The clos is a gently sloping, six-hectare parcel. Overall it’s anti-floral, wet chalky creamy and striped by linear acidity. Only 4.5 g/L of sugar. These last two numbers mean nothing if you don’t recognize the PH because there are different acidities in wine. Here the acidity walks the fine line, side by side with its partners.

Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2007

From a different era, this was fermented bone-dry, dire, with less than 1 g/L of residual sugar. A Riesling to show just how tight the Zind-Humbrecht band was back then and it is just beginning to communicate in its mid-life, mineral voice. If as a lieu-dit subject it was once “incommunicado,” with no comment to make, this has changed. The notes are layered and together, the mid-palate extraordinarily full, the length in reverberating, extended play. Here in today’s communique he’s come clean, having moved on from the strict, straits style, once spun unbending. The experience of great players and exceptional monopole (Grand Cru deserving) terroir has given the ’07 Windsbuhl the foundation to realize a classic Riesling.

Pinot Gris Calcaire 2012

Fruit comes from the Heimbourg, providing pure limestone effect and a great nutty character. The sugar is nothing to forget about (10.6 g/L), here already commissioned and integrated. Provides support for Olivier’s declaration that “if anything should happen to a wine, it should be before you bottle it.” Much more accessible than the fastball-curveball-changeup, out of the strike zone ’11. Here it’s all down the middle,  juicy, hittable fastballs.

Pinot Gris Rotenberg 2012

The Rotenberg’s shallow, red soils (located on top of the Hengst) bring a whole new set of parameters to Pinot Gris, in stark contrast to the Calcaire. Two bottles were poured. A two-day old sample showed settled and mellow flavours. A new bottle was crackerjack reductive, leesy and with a shocky aridity so unusual for Pinot Gris. The soils bring concentration, here magnified and compressed by the hastened moment. All the hallmarks of the Zind-Humbrecht style are there, if suppressed; tang, herbiage and a spicy spike. Very dry (4 g/L) and really invigorating white wine.

Pinot Gris Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 11545233 $74.25, WineAlign)

The noble grape in this Muschelkalk (calcareous) vineyard comes through in high concentration, with an increase in noble rot from very low yields (12 hl/L). There was hail here in 2012, just after flowering, not a devastating storm but enough to minimize quantity. The sweetness (35 g/L) is heightened and uncompromising yet always mitigated by intense mineral activity. The richest and most unctuous wine of the morning (to this point) with direct, pure ripe tree-fruit flavours. This is a Pinot Gris that remains firm against the dangers of oxidation and it will develop smoky and toasty aromas. The structure is what I would call remarkable but not exceptional. Time will tell. Here the wait needs to be a minimum five years and then to drink well past 2025.

Gewürztraminer Calcaire 2012

As of the 2011 vintage, the Wintzenheim bottling became the Calcaire, for village designation (or lack thereof) reasons. Fruit here in 2012 is mostly (not necessarily typically) from the Hengst Grand Cru vineyard. The marl and limestone leads to a very typical Alsatian and even more typical Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer. Full on glycerin, creamy, perceptibly sweet and protracted wine. Even at 35 g/L it is tempered by high tannic animation, as much as in Burgundy. Skin tannins are much more interesting than those from oak because they elevate the acidity by way of contrasting balance to the sugar. This is why they succeed.

Gewürztraminer Hengst Grand Cru 2012

From old vines of the Hengst, the yield is half of the Calcaire, the concentration raising the bar in the opposite direction. The residual number is the same but the sugars are more complex, intensely natural and variegated. The texture and flavours cover a creamier, wider spectrum and even though some typical rose petal/lychee components are noted, they remain submerged beneath the piquancy and the richness. This Hengst will gain flesh and weight as it ages, elevating the potential for late harvest sensations and alcohol.

Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl 2012

The Muschelkalk calcareous, southeast facing slopes of this Clos employ slightly cooler temperatures and the stretched elasticity of slow-ripening to bring a sense of balance and poise to Gewürztraminer. The same can’t be said for Riesling on the same site, at least not in 2012. The Windsbuhl here speaks in more sweetness and less alcohol. “If you can see the differences of terroir in Gewürz,” says Olivier, “then you won’t see it in Riesling.” Here is an example that backs up one of his most telling axioms. “It’s the phenols of the grape that make it age gracefully better.” Age it will. Drink this beginning in 2020 and through 2040.

Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives Hengst Grand Cru 2011

A wine not often made because of the dry climate in this Herrenweg vineyard. The gaining of full botrytis expression only happens once in every five or six years and when it does, this eager and vivid sweet wine is the result. Harvested at high ripeness and proportion (50 per cent) of noble rot, with a quick (one month) fermentation to achieve a sweet balance (vin liquoreux) not that far from some SGNs. At 102 g/L it is obviously quite sweet though once again, with acidity, PH and exceptional phenolic character it strikes a balance. I don’t normally imagine late harvest wines to speak in terms of elegance or restraint and I’m not sure those are the most apt descriptors here. Yet the Hengst is as subtle as it gets for the genre and never enters the arena of the cloyingly sweet and absurd.

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and the tasting table PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and the tasting table
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010

The residual on the 2010 Windsbuhl is remarkably high, this as a result of its long but (not compared to 2009) fermentation. From a historic vintage, with top-notch acidity (the goal was 16 g/L) and clean, precise botrytis. With the complexity and structure provisos of the Muschelkalk calcareous terroir and (43 year-old) vines, this exceptional dessert wine was given all the tools necessary for success. A parabola of a dessert wine, one sip and “we barely remember who or what came before this precious moment.” Attacks the mouth with an unparalleled sugar/acidity/tannin continuum. The flavours bring to mind quince, apricot and creamy mangosteen in out of control concentration. There is a reason sweet wines like these are so rare and receive such high praise. Exceptional fruit of uncompromising quality and a winemaker’s reverence are the reasons. Olivier Humbrecht prepared this 2010 to succeed and to live for decades. Drink from 2025 to 2055.

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

A south-facing, very steep slope of grey marls and gypsum. A vineyard that yielded a miniscule 10 hl/H. A stratospheric residual sugar quotient (in the realm of 500 g/L) and incredulous acidity to prevent the development of the yeasts. A fermentation that finally finished in the late winter of 2012. A wine aged in demi-guid. Selection of grapes of a botrytis so pure and dry. These are the specs of a wine I may never taste again. Olivier concedes he “really tries not to obtain the highest sugar concentration possible” but this 2009 is a “monster of a wine.” It will take forever to assimilate and digest the sugar. Unctuous, lush, rich and gorgeous does not do it justice. Pure distillation of fruit and stone, accented by spice, wild herbs and flowers. Like an injection of pure, Pinot Gris adrenaline. All this from dry extract, slowly rehydrated with magic pixie dust and the wonders of the natural world.  Will live for a century and then some.

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Good to go!

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