17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

As we taste through the #NWAC17 finals we thank @ZWILLING_CA for the rocking great glassware. Canadian wines are better for these vessels.

I first published this year-end summary of Canadian wine excellence in 2013 and four years on that original list of 13 has expanded with four more. It’s a good thing too because four years later 17 wines is but a fraction of what could or should be included. This exercise is more than difficult. It’s biased, exclusive and decisive but it is meant to celebrate a select few with a mandate to elevate and exult the rest. It’s also a proclamation read to many who remain ignorant to an ideal of great wine being made in Canada, to tell the insolent they are not welcome here anyway. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it. Roll out the red carpet. Here they come.

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

My writing about wine is a display that spills everything but subtraction, reduction and minimalism. It is an occupation whose reality is examined to points of madness, of long, run-on sentences, often at odds with grammatical winemaking realism. My tireless, tiring sentences and phrasing can at times offer a feeling that is potentially endless. So thanks for reading and putting up with me.

As I have noted before, I try to visit wines more than once before reviewing them, preferably from more than one bottle but even more importantly, with a good chunk of time having passed between assessments. The most complete picture is drawn from such a course of critical action but it’s not always possible. Not a single one of these 17 wines were decided upon at a single VINTAGES release, sterile and windowless LCBO laboratory tasting. The nearly 2000 wines (of which approximately were 20 percent Canadian) that I tasted in the LCBO lab in 2017 are kept, compartmentalized, reviewed and stored over at WineAlign. They are forged from and formed by a very specific, of the fleeting moment style. They are the results of root days and fruit days, often plagued by other writers present levels of distraction and time constraints. These 17 wines are children of repeated concentration and stand out because the makers went out of their way to bring them to me.

Please allow me to quote Wes Anderson. “It is an extremely common mistake, people think the writer’s imagination is always at work, that he’s constantly inventing an endless supply of incidents and episodes, that he simply dreams up his stories out of thin air. In point of fact, the opposite is true. Once the public knows you’re a writer, they bring the characters and events to you and as long as you maintain your ability to look and to carefully listen, these stories will continue to…,” continue to provide what you need to entertain your readers. Thank you to the winemakers for sharing their stories time and time again.

Related – 15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

Heartbreaker

If 2016 was a most difficult year, what does that say about 2017? It was a most dippy, derisory, barmy and yet chimerical one. Once again too many special people were taken from us and in Ontario, no one more important to everyone who works in wine than Karl Kaiser. It can and should be argued that the industry we all call home is at its 2017 state because of Mr. Kaiser and what he pioneered more than 40 years ago. Karl Kaiser was eulogized by Brock University’s Dan Dakin. Please take the time to read it.

Related – Karl Kaiser left indelible mark on Brock University

Once again we all lost someone close to us in 2017. Celebrity deaths, especially the ones of loved musicians seem to hit us the hardest because we relive moments of our lives when their songs are played. I’ll ask the social media trolls to walk on past and to once again, please respect our reminiscences.

Gregg Allman. Richard Anderson. Harvey Atkin. Walter Becker. Chester Bennington. Johnny Bower. Chuck Berry. Glen Campbell. David Cassidy. Chris Cornell. Jonathan Demme. Fats Domino. Dick Enberg. Stephen Furst. J. Geils. Robert Guillaume. Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay. Connie Hawkins. John Hurt. Al Jarreau. Martin Landau. Jerry Lewis. Erin Moran. Sir Roger Moore. Bryan Murray. Charlie Murphy. Bill Paxton. Tom Petty. Della Reese. Don Rickles. Sam Shepard. Joni Sledge. Keely Smith. Harry Dean Stanton. Y. A. Tittle. Mary Tyler Moore. Adam West. Malcom Young. Joanne Godel.

Don’t forget the pouring rain

There was more than enough good news out of 2017, especially from Ontario. After one of the wettest summers on record and this looming harvest of disaster everything changed. The temperatures hit 30 degrees and remained there for much of September. October obliged with warm and slowly declining temperatures with very little precipitation. Not only was the 2017 vintage saved but it became one of the great phenolic ripeness stories in wine country history. Quality high. Check. Quantity high. Check. Win win for wine.

The year continued to throw thousands of wines my way. I did travel more and so the international count ran higher at the expense of the local. I plan to fix that in 2018. Things have a way of balancing out anyway. Still I’m sure I tasted close to 1000 Canadian wines once again. We continued to pay great attention to Canadian wines at the WineAlign office. I once again joined the judging with Tony Aspler at the Ontario Wine Awards, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and with David Lawrason at Gold Medal Plates.

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

My wine on tap program at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar welcomed a third child to the family when we opened Barque Smokehouse Burlington in August. With that opening we were proud to partner with Rosewood Estates to join the family that over the years has included Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus, Leaning Post, Between the Lines, Coyote’s Run, Vineland Estates and Creekside Estates.

It began, as it always does with Niagara’s Icewine Festival in January and in February there were Thirteen ways to taste Cuvée. In March I found Fifty ways to Taste Ontario and then travelled to Germany for Godello’s March through Prowein, The Ahr Valley and The Rheinhessen. As a Canadian and a representative of Wine Country Ontario I hung around the Canadian pavilion, talked with our coast to coast winemakers, vintners and marketing representatives, took in the seminars on cool climate wines led by David and Dr. Janet Dorozynski and of course, tasted some wines.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

In the company of #family so thank you judges, friends and badasses #NWAC17 #killedit

Any major dude will tell you

At the Terroir Hospitality Symposium in May we debated the highly controversial new category of Skin-Contact wines in Ontario. Orange is the new smack should have been my title but instead I chose to talk through hushed tones in Pop goes VQA, a story in three parts, each one more misunderstood than the others. It would take months to come to better and more improved conclusions to that haughty complex story.

In June we convened the WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards in the Annapolis Valley. It was the first time that Nova Scotia hosted our motley crew and what a smashing success it was. Great thanks must go out to all our tremendous hosts including Wines of Nova Scotia, Domiane de Grand Pré, Benjamin Bridge Vineyards, Blomidon Estate, Annapolis Cider Company and Obladee Wine Bar in Halifax.

In July I once again made the pilgrimage to i4c, the International Chardonnay Cool Climate Conference, “the local mecca attracting thousands, arriving to praise chardonnay in all its glory. It’s chanted with incantatory connotation by patrons cantilevered like alluvial fans across the Niagara Peninsula. It teaches us about more than chardonnay because the rapidity of climate change is real and the desire for fresh is yet unquenched. This transcends chardonnay. It’s about growing grapes and making wines in places we all previously discounted. Recently scoffed at. It concerns farming higher, further and edgier. This conference and this grape together let us know that we must change.”

At i4c we welcomed California’s Karen MacNeil, Dr, Jamie Goode, Bill Zacharkiw, Treve Ring, Kurtis Kolt and Rhys Pender MW and then I penned 69 chardonnay reviews. What did Godello learn from Cool Chardonnay in 2017? After a visit to Pearl Morissette I learned from François Morissette, vigneron about oxidation.“Whatever we press, we oxidize. We do not oxidize wine, we oxidize must.” There’s a big difference. The stabilization of these wines are attributed to this idea of getting rid of all oxidizable compounds before they enter into the next stages of the winemaking process. Pleasing aromas, flavours, textures and ultimately the sum of the above elevates the cool chardonnay game and speaks to the future. But I did not learn enough. I needed to move beyond the ubiquity of cool climate. I wanted to understand more about cold soaking and whole berry fermentation. Just last week Pearl Morissette’s savant winemaker Brent Rowland sent me these words of enlightenment.

“This is the main reason I am such an advocate to whole bunch fermentation. The best tannin and worst tannin are seed tannin, depending on how you extract them…heat and alcohol rip out aggressive angular tannins. By keeping the berry attached to the rachis for as long as possible you are creating a little microenvironment for fermentation that is low heat and low alcohol, enabling you to slowly extract long polymerized tannins. This and perfume is the reason I do everything whole bunch. To me whole bunch has nothing to do with the stems, tannins from stems or flavour of stems.” He continues. “I absolutely think that skin contact wines can have elevated structure and texture. I also do not subscribe to the idea that some arbitrary number like “10 days” defines the genre. I did say that Orange wine is not an in-between wine but its own genre and I believe that. For the record I feel the less rigid the criteria for the category the better. As you state the broader the category the more opportunity for discovery of a valued category.” Thank you mate.

Be part of the Greatest Wine Revolution since Prohibition.

Where are we one year later?

I’ve two words for you. WineAlign Exchange. The WineAlign Exchange taps into the world of wines beyond the LCBO and delivers a curated, mixed case of top quality wines directly to your door. All the wines have been carefully chosen by our panel of critics for their quality and value. David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Steve Thurlow and Godello. The first case delivered to hundreds of members was an all Platinum Award winners pack from the National Wine Awards of Canada. In terms of free trade we await a decision but don’t expect a miracle in 2018, Christmas or otherwise. As for the VQA panel in Ontario? Well, read my article referenced above and you’ll get my drift.

One of my favorite wines I tasted in 2017. All killer no filler. Beautifully ripe #cabernetfranc nice layers of cocoa, red, and black fruit. Tannin is liquid silk. Can_t wait for next

Let’s be Franc

Cabernet Franc is getting better all the time. In British Columbia the coolest sites are increasingly raising fresh, spirited and ultimately crushable wines with unmistakable west coast accents; savour, garrigue and mountain tea. With thanks to venn diagram circles drawn in and out of Niagara’s Lincoln Lakeshore, but also magically deep into the Prince Edward County limestone, the great Ontario hope is developing into what we thought it might be. Getable and structured red wine.

New World cabernet franc growing sites produce less delineation as compared to the various lieux-dites in the varietal homeland, France’s Loire Valley. Niagara is beginning to enter into an Old World state of mind, so now winemakers and by extension wine geeks, are posturing over micro-terroirs; Niagara-on-the-Lake, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, St. David’s Bench, Lincoln Lakeshore, Four Mile Creek. The same is happening in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley although the cumulative stylistic is worlds (four provinces to be exact) apart. In Nova Scotia Benjamin Bridge Vineyards’ viticultural and vinifying braintrust of Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Scott Savoy are allocating serious resources to cabernet franc in the Gaspereau Valley. But how is it that decisions are made as to where to plant this crisp, juicy and crunchy grape? While many will disagree, if you consider growing sites as circles within the aforementioned venn diagram, in Canadian soils the shared subtleties can easily get buried or muddled within the common areas. The lines may be drawn but the web is tangled. That said, the story of franc terroir is getting clearer and clearer. Interloper carries the torch.

Tonight brought to you by #interloper and the inner beauty of #cabernetfranc @RavineVineyard #vqaniagaraonthelake

At this most recent NWAC17 judging experience the results from cabernet franc paints a more palatable picture than those brushed by both merlot and cabernet sauvignon. We are collectively impressed with and solidly behind the direction growers and winemakers are taking with this noble varietal. The 546 acres planted in B.C. are rising steadily and if I were merlot I’d be looking in the rear-view mirror. In Ontario more than 4,000 tonnes were harvested in 2015, third to only chardonnay and riesling. Four of five Gold Medals were Ontario in origin, 10 of 16 were awarded Silver and 10 of 17, Bronze. While only four in Ontario are labled “LL,” no less than 10 of the 24 winners were made with at least some significant amount of fruit grown in the Lincoln Lakeshore/Beamsville Bench circle of commonality. The sites we want to call “cru” are no longer a mystery.

Taskmasters not pictured #punchdowns #interloper

I can’t say this list is full of surprises, save for the first of 17. You see this particular wine is close to my heart because I had a hand in its concept and design. My partner Scott Zebarth and I teamed up with winemakers Marty Werner and Ben Minaker at Ravine Vineyards to produce what we all feel is the most exciting fresh breath of cabernet franc air to arrive in Ontario in quite some time. It’s obviously self-serving to put it on a best of the year list but we are very proud of this project and its inaugural effort. If you’ve tried it you know. If you haven’t, give me a ring. We’ll break Interloper bread together. To the other 16, welcome to the list.

Scott, Marty, Ben and I are proud to present the now SOLD OUT #interloper Cabernet Franc 2016. We’ll be back next year #vqa #niagaraonthelake #ravinevineyard

Interloper 2016, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario ($19.95)

Produced at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery with the winemaking team of Martin Werner and Ben Minaker

Variety: 100 per cent cabernet franc

Fruit source: 55 per cent Estate (St. David’s Bench), 40 Creek Road, five Tanbark (Four Mile Creek)

Harvest Dates: October 26th and November 5th, 2017

Time on skins: Estate 26 days, Creek 21 days

Length and type of fermentation: Three weeks, ambient/wild for both

Élévage: Eight months in old 225 L French barrels

Case Production: 22

mgodello  scottzebarth  marty_werner  benminaker23  ravinevineyard

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 Iaen 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  Charles Baker Wines  stratuswines  @cbriesling  @StratusWines  Stratus Vineyards

Tawse Riesling Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (198853, $24.50, WineAlign)

There is no substitute for seasonal Vinemount Ridge warmth when you are (or even if you’re not) trying to emulate a Mosel like, fleshy Kabinett tension. The Tawse Quarry Road riesling has shown signs of such mimicry in the past but here in 2016 the coincidence is uncanny. Riesling amounts to just 10 per cent of the 2007 planted vineyard, a Fly Road in Lincoln block where chardonnay (planted in 1998) and pinot noir (2007) are queen and king of the hill. But it is riesling that mines for limestone and uses it to distill, filter and enervate the outright fruity purposes of orange zest, lime juice and sweet grapefruit flesh. This ’16 has it all; adipose drupe, salty elements and stasis preserve. It will add some petrol and honey after a few years time and drink well for a few to a bevy more. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted November 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (AgentWinery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Hard to believe what I see, a hue not blush nor pink, but gris. That “if my eyes don’t deceive me there’s something going wrong around here.” Forget about Provençe, don’t think too hard about Vin Gris but concentrate only on what Shiraz Mottiar has acceded with Rosé for Moira in ’16. Light and lithe do not begin to explain the rub. Rocks and stones are what come through the good earth on the nose. Is this the blush equivalent of mineralité, away from chardonnay and into pinot noir? “Is she really going out with him?” But the pinot noir component is almost non-existent so what is the phenolic advantage here? Has this gone too far or not far enough? Don’t mistake the things I say. This is delicious, understated and fully underestimated Rosé. It will have great appeal to a specific cognoscenti population and who could not think to drink it any day of the week? Commercially considered however, it may not speak a universal language. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  malivoire  shirazmottiar  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @MalivoireWine

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  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

First Fruit: Field Day Pet Nat, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

An escarpment Pet-Nat is born, thanks to the healthy and precocious idealism of winemaker Ryan de Witte and his Winona-based host Ilya Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines. The name “First Fruit: Field Day” carries three connotations; a reference to De Witte’s first commercial wine, the first crop off this particular block and the fact that it’s a field blend of two grapes. The erudite hat is thrown into the micro-cuvée, sparkling wine ring with interchangeable tracks of arts and science from near-equal parts muscat (60 per cent) and gewürztraminer. The style is pétillant-naturel, or as they say in Italy, Vino Rifermentato In Bottiglia, under crown cap with what Ryan notes “as much of the lees as I could get in.” The tightrope induces a two-fold increase, of reduction and for texture, from the nutrients fed the fermentation. De Witte’s math was sound because the effervescence is strong enough to blow the reduction off after a few seconds in the glass. One point for science. After tasting two samples I can safely say that the yeast deposit can’t be missed but it is those crafty and leaningpostwineconsolidated cells that drive the salvus meets salus machine. This lithe, re-fermented and crackling sparkler is both safe and healthy. You can feel its enzymes usher liquid happiness through your body and it makes you pause, leave the warrior behind and become at one with the experimental fizz. It’s raw and you want it to be so. The aromatic varieties collogue preserved lemon, ginger and aseptic vegetal scents in an almost funk-less Pet-Nat. It’s an impossible one actually, that is until you get a load of that slag at the bottom of the bottle. But the lack of danceable, rhythmic funk may deny you a Cissy Strut so think on it like Foam meets Talking Heads as in minimal, industrial, synth-pop. Or, in sparkling wine terms, one Pet-Nat’s riflessioni naturalische is another one’s clarity. One point for art. The intrigue here sets the bar high and looking ahead, when acidity can further provide boundless rhythm section support we’ll really have something to talk about. Inaugurals are never easy, nor is progress but the sophomore release will most certainly play on repeat. Let’s hope someone finds a category to place it for three-letter approval. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted Twice, February 2017  leaningpostwine  @LeaningPostWine  @Witte_Wine  Leaning Post Wines  Ryan de Witte

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2015, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

In a word, balance. Well two, balance and brilliance. CSV in 2015 takes the reigns from itself and stands firm. The fruit is in charge, the mineral a support system unparalleled and the minor celebratory sweetness a mere afterthought when it comes to rounding out the complexity. CSV is pretty darn back in ancient dolomite time travel and escarpments high great in 2015, uplifting, serious but yet not so. The numbers trip the light fantastic, fooling like gold and bones dry are seemingly preserved in karst but impossibly not. The sensoria apprised reel from the finest acidity it can possibly carry in its veritable truth. Deep lemon intent and a new wax vernacular speak the clarity of a wine that listens to its own expert advice. Might as well have made itself. CSV 2015 is one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted March 2017  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine – Robert Groh Agency

Sneak peak in the @TriusWines Meunier with Craig McDonald and a true Niagara Grand Cru @coolchardonnay site #lincolnlakeshore #oliveiravineyards #vqa #wildferment

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment Oliveira Vineyard 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $36.75, WineAlign)

When you consider the level of quality provided by the Wild Ferment 2014 it would be hard to imagine raising the bar any further but this is what winemaker Craig McDonald has managed with his exceptional 2015. The accomplishment is purely based on one year older, wiser and complexities developed Oliveira Farm vineyard fruit, the holy chardonnay grail, Lincoln Lakeshore playground. The site sits along the QEW below the escarpment’s Twenty Mile and Beamsville benches, a recipient of glacial till and rocks left behind by an ancient river running from a lake. It’s a chardonnay wonderland. Intensity of fruit purity, fleshy and real, remarkably juicy and notably crunchy has increased, upping the pleasure game and turning the impression knob up to 11. The windmill generates more power while always maintaining a classic Trius level of finesse. Then you think on the wood integration, equally impressionable because acidity is sweet and refined. Dry extract is also impressive, not to mention a fineness of grape tannin. The site’s unofficial designation as a Niagara Grand Cru should be upgraded with status. There is no better time than the present and the Wild Ferment’s 2015 ability is proof enough. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted July 2017   triuswines  @TriusWines  @triuswines

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Madeline Cabernet Franc 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

From the 19th Street Vineyard and wow, there is simply no cabernet franc like this cabernet franc. It pops and flies from the glass, in and out of your mouth, playful, buoyant, joyful, unbridled. A silky and spicy ripeness that’s also shed by its tannin, like shavings of a chocolate only a master knows to render, then currants electric and alive. Excels by its chewy mouthfeel and texture and you must ruminate on this cabernet franc. This is the it vintage, with all the enzymes in control, wrapped up in the enigma membrane and this low, classical Beethoven orchestral strings rumble, on a Verona stage, surrounded by the ancient rocks, acoustics perfect. You can get lost in franc like this. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (639641, $43.95, WineAlign)

Some of the Okanagan Valley’s great chardonnay fruit is found on its eastern shore and makes its way into this Quail’s Gate Reserve. The story and place go back 60 plus years and wait if you can’t nose it in this top North American chardonnay. Forget comparisons, competitions and blind judgements but pull anything you want from Sonoma and watch this raise eyebrows and turn heads. The variegations are numerous and in replay. Richness, bite, energy, spirit and firm conceit. The barrel is everywhere and nowhere. What is a great chardonnay? It’s completely invisible, yet always in sight. It remembers what people hate. It anticipates the consumer’s needs before the needs are needed. A great chardonnay is, above all, discreet to a fault. Such is the Stewart Family Reserve. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted October 2017   quails gate  hobbsandcompany  @Quails_Gate  @AMH_hobbsandco  Quails’ Gate  Hobbs & Co.

Sparkling wine you need to know @lwwines Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut 2013, from the shores of the #minasbasin #annapolisvalley #novascotia

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blanc Extra Brut 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot presented an early, less leesy glimpse of their 100 per cent estate chardonnay at i4c in July of 2016. It was a different animal than this recently disgorged (late February/early March) sparkling wine. The Extra Brut lives up to its designation, from fruit grown on the shores of the Minas Basin under the auspices of a markedly warm year with exceptional phenolic ripeness and 25 per cent malolactic gain. The time relative to texture lees accumulation is approximately 40 months and it’s an accurate representation of Nova Scotia low and slow. The flavours are wisely developed ripe and spicy, leaning into a moment or two of oxygenation, but seemingly richer than the amount of lees time that was given. Now emerging from the shell of not just a warm but a great chardonnay year (as previously proven by the Ancienne released two years ago). The notion here is of a sparkling wine that has been brought home, a B de B that you need to get to know. There are layers and layers of character that fold and unfold. The precision, focus and rendering is citrus tamed, mouthfeel in perpetual expansion and contraction, length linear and elastic. And it’s just the beginning. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted June 2017  lwwines  @lwwines  Lightfoot & Wolfville

Blomidon Late Pick Sparkling Chardonnay 2011, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

The 2011 late-picked chardonnay, the “Hurricane” is a hyperbole of itself. Normally picked in later October, the frost-free weather allowed further time and development. Picked from seaside vineyards just ahead of another hurricane (in a season that included Irene), this is sparkling wine you just have to try. Though lean, taut and as intense as you are likely to taste, the developed character and complexity is visionary for Nova Scotia and Canadian sparkling wine. Three years on the lees brings the texture and fills the gaps, holes and voids created by such a tightly wound cool climate chardonnay. The dry factor is exaggerated in 2011 (a one-off says winemaker Simon Rafuse) but the wine takes full advantage of the Extra-Brut intent. Did it require the anxiety of a recent and an impending cyclone? Can it be duplicated? “That’s the story of the Hurricane.” Visionary for Nova Scotia and Canadian sparkling wine. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017  blomidonestate  @BlomidonEstate  Blomidon Estate Winery

Southbrook Poetica Red 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (355859, $69.95, WineAlign)

It seems at first that Poetica 2013 was chosen by winemaker Ann Sperling to be the deferential one. The blend is dominated by 74 per cent cabernet sauvignon, the highest number ever for the wine. Conversely the cabernet franc component is set to 23 per cent and far less petit verdot (3 per cent) rounds out the blend. That number had been 29 per cent in 2012 because the varietal elegance shown at that time necessitated the relationship. In 2013 it is the cabernet sauvignon that displayed with elegance and an uncanny ability to sow of its own accord and yes, it is an exceptional vintage so look for 2013 to age on a 15 year curve. The Witness Block CS-CF follows suit and the SV-PV is better off for the allocations. Every wine wins as a result. There is this deep-impressed sous-terre tang in here, a wisdom certainly, and when it is released later in the year the heads will turn. Poetica is often but here not overly tannic, but it is endowed with bones, spine and structure. The flavours, spice and magnetism give cause to salivate. Only Ann Sperling makes Niagara reds like this, wines that can develop such architecture without an excess of tannin, astringency and chalky chocolate from over-wrought wood exchange. Poetica 2013 will drink well young and comfortably into the end of the next decade. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted January 2017  southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @TheLivingVine  @SouthbrookWine   @SouthbrookWine  The Living Vine inc.

A finer man, winemaker and host you will not find. Thank you @normanhardie @keeponshucking @clarsenault @cuveeletittia @Mknow21 @mclauriault and all.

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Cuvée Des Amis 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $150.00, 1500ml, WineAlign)

As exceptional as chardonnay may have seemed from out of the 2013 Ontario vintage you haven’t lived or loved until you get a taste of (only in magnum format) Norm Hardie’s 2014 Cuvées des Amis. This chardonnay attacks and ascends, recalibrating the inner workings of the brain and how it develops conceptualization. It is a state of the art and all-knowing elixir to remind that ’13 was a vintage with profitable yields and a generously stretched canvas on which to practice on, for when things begin to get real. The CdeA spent 18 months in barrel, the first 12 (in 35 per cent new), the next six in neutral and the last six in stainless steel on the fine lees. The spin class in the mouth manages agility, dextrous, furtive movement and completes many pirouettes. The dance is pure joy but the intensity is equally to disturbingly intrusive, suggesting more settling time is necessary. The flavour pearls are delicate and come straight from the oyster so they carry salinity, power and brine. Pure lemon essence is received by intravenous injection. Sumptuous is translated from Hardie-speak as a four-letter, Prince Edward County word. It doesn’t get more real than right here, with the best fruit, the tripping of the light fantastic, previously unheard and unseen unconscionable concentration. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted twice, June and July 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  Norman Hardie

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Syrah 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $80.00, WineAlign)

Èquinoxe is announced without equivocation as the Bricco of B.C. syrah and an absolutely lovely Bench expression from winemaker Severine Pinte. What came from these three-quarters Osoyoos Lake District and one-quarter Black Sage vineyards in 2013 was floral and peppery, with a fineness that belies a dessert climate but in 2014, well this is something more and other. You just have to think about texture here and a quality of acidity that is peerless in B.C. syrah. So juicy, beautifully tannic and rendered with culture and class. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2017  levieuxpin  @LeVieuxPin  Le Vieux Pin Winery

My eyes do not deceive me. It’s Decant @StratusWines #cabernetfranc bottled with lees #vqa #niagaraonthelake #karimrashid

Stratus Cabernet Franc “Decant” 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $95.00, WineAlign)

“A designer’s hands are tied. They are only as good as their opportunities.” The words of the brilliant bottle designer Karim Rashid fully apply to the mirrored universe in which winemaker J-L Groux works, here with a deferential and ulterior cabernet franc, bottled with its lees. When I first tasted it in February (in advance of this auspicious release), its unfiltered state spoke of a hyperbole of perfume, marked by exoticism. The aromatics gave far east five-spice, star anise, cardamom, miso and incense, all natural by-products of its purposed ferment. More grain spoke out but also a roundness of tannin and a smoothness both coating and comforting. There was chocolate accentuated by the treatment, with thanks to those lees left in the bottle. The chopped up and constructed bottle catches the lees while the volume flows out and the function out of form mimics the thought of lees delivering structure and yet they are invisible, caught in a hidden net or nook, out of sight, out of mind. But it’s not about pouring. It’s about the hand, or the slight thereof. Then there is the copycat idealism of strata in the vineyard, of geology transferred to the bottle and kept there, like a ship perfectly preserved inside. This cabernet franc will age better, as is the plan, with thanks to the lees that you’ll never have to deal with. There were 110 cases made. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted twice, February and May 2017  stratuswines  @StratusWines  Stratus Vineyards

Supper at Benjamin Bridge

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Estate Blanc De Blancs 2013, Nova Scotia (Winery, $119.50, WineAlign)

Tasted from a bottle disgorged in May 2017, there alights a plugged-in, three-pronged, dazed, charged and enchanted energy about the Bridge’s ’13 Blanc de Blancs. The history of go it alone pure chardonnay is a relatively short one for the estate so this quickly makes up for lost time or rather with haste sets the timer and heads out at first light. “Like sittin’ on pins and needles, things fall apart, it’s scientific.” Wild, of talking heads temper and yeasts, done up in demi-muids, with a wilder secondary fermentative push riding on the coattails of the primary fermentation. Everything in this wine is a productive child of the vineyard, of no third party sugars or consultations. “How do you do that without making a Pétillant Naturel,” I wonder aloud. It’s a second ferment, non-contiguous is the reason, even if the former is both influencer and mentor to the latter. It certainly falls under the category of “micro-cuvée. Like its cousin and predecessor (Blanc de Noirs 2011), this ’13 BdeB is mired intensely inward within its own specificity and is not so much a sparkling wine with competitive soul. It is a pure representative of chardonnay grown in Nova Scotia for one purpose. So let’s talk about true stories and wild, wild life. “You get on board anytime you like.” Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted July 2017  benjaminbridge  caveman__jones   winesofn  @Benjamin_Bridge  @benjaminbridgevineyards  @WinesofNS @benjaminbridgevineyards  @winesofns

As we taste through the #NWAC17 finals we thank @ZWILLING_CA for the rocking great glassware. Canadian wines are better for these vessels.

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

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

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

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

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

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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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