Tasting Ontario Part Six: Pinot Noir

Gather your thoughts about pinot noir. Begin with Bourgogne and it’s really quite easy to articulate an opinion. Smells like cherries, shows earth and mineral notes of/from clay and limestone. Texture is specific to the village where it is grown. New Zealand? There’s a recognition regardless, save for a special and singular red fruit that is specific to Central Otago. What about California and Oregon? Any wine geek who knows who they think they are could surely pick them out of a blind tasting with great certainty? Now what about Canadian pinot noir? That’s a totally different story.

Related – Results of the 2018 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals): Pinot NoirNational Wine Awards of Canada 2018

If it were just a simple matter of Ontario versus British Columbia that would be one thing but there is Nova Scotia to consider and within the provinces so many sites of origin and stylistic variegation making it really difficult to identify the source. It may be a challenging and oft-times heartbreaking grape but in Canada it increasingly finds a way to ripen from coast to coast. Even if that were less true just five years ago the tenets of experience, acumen and passion have taken pinot noir to heights few believed it was capable of going. That winemakers can now produce so many varied examples tells us it’s here to stay.

Bourgogne uses the word Climat to define vineyards or rather the DNA of the vineyards and the official term is specific to wine while the reference lieux-dits is an administrative one. Many would argue that while dirt makes an impact it is climate that inflicts the most drama on a wine but even more important than climate and soil, it’s the people who give the terroir its cultural identity. In Canada these notions of accumulate knowledge that can be transmuted from generation to generation are developing so that each appellation or sub-appellation is managing to produce a specific style of wine from vintage to vintage.

Related – Tasting Ontario Part Five: Varietal Whites and Appellative Blends

In Ontario there are pinot noir crus few would ague against the probability that in most vintages quality will be a guarantee. Crus like Lowrey Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench, top blocks in Prince Edward County, several vineyards up on the Beamsville Bench, Wismer-Foxcroft and many plots on the Twenty Mile Bench. In the Okanagan Valley there are many premier growing sites; East Kelowna, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls, Summerland, Lake Country, the Similkameen Valley and increasingly on Vancouver Island.

Producers in British Columbia may have more merlot planted than they can or want to have to deal with but in red grape terms, pinot noir is it. There are more single-vineyard, name-assigned, block-designate, terroir collection, (x) series and (Y) cuvées attributed to the grape than any other. Granted some passion projects are giving some love to gamay and cabernet franc but the attention doted upon pinot noir is unequaled and unprecedented. Proof is in the tabulated pudding, so to speak, with the final results at NWAC2018 showing what’s what.

There were 73 medals awarded to pinot noir, a staggering number that represents just less than half of the wines submitted and four per cent of all wines entered into the competition. Only red blends (93) and chardonnay (79) received more total medals but most impressive were the 28 Gold Medals in this category, plus 18 Silver and 27 Bronze. The naysayers who continue to doubt whether pinot noir is a viable signature grape in this country are not paying close enough attention to the signs, portents and in conclusion, results. Here are 30 tasting notes for pinot noir made in Ontario.

Vieni Estates Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (550608, $16.95, WineAlign)

Vieni’s pinot noir shows off some pretty impressive fruit, certainly veering towards the sweet and dried fruit spectrum but hanging around with some good acidity, firm grip and proper 2015 structure. It’s more than a pleasant surprise and it’s only $16.95. Good fruit meets equally good acumen in a must try Vinemount Ridge buy. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted March 2018  vieniestates  @VieniEstatesInc  Vieni Estates Wine and Spirits

Château Des Charmes Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara On-The-Lake, Ontario (454967, $16.95, WineAlign)

The warm sites can’t help but develop dark fruit and vintage variation seems to be in a current state of suspension. The string is alive with the ’16 pinot noir, always a matter of value for Ontario. Still just as ripe as 2015, perhaps not quite as charming but certainly generous. It holds back from cooking at a level of stovetop heat unnecessary to the execution of the dish. Gentle, resilient and restrained, far from a pressed or pressing matter and just ideal for weekdays and weekends alike. Pair this wine with everything but I recently discovered that long pasta noodles with prawns in a spicy garlic, chile and tomato sauce worked quite well, thank you very much. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Château Des Charmes Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Niagara On-The-Lake, Ontario (454967, $16.95, WineAlign)

This remains one of the better values for pinot noir out of Ontario with generous thanks to some of the warmest growing sites in the province. It’s also worthy for what it does not try to do, which is too much. The Château des Charmes pinot noir is just what it needs to be from 2015; ripe, charming and generous. It shows lovely restraint and balance, finishing with some gentle spice after the reign of fruit. It’s also really easy to crush so cook up at least three courses to make it last. It will pair with just about everything. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted November 2017 and February 2018  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (53090, $19.95, WineAlign)

Two blocks, two soil types and two proximate meets apposite pieces of the Niagara Peninsula raise a pinot noir in get together fashion for a consistent estate style. The tonality is elevated like few other and the fruit on the nether side of fresh. It’s energy and vitality is a combination of acidity and dried or even scorched earth-derived savour. Tang and sapidity are not the result but smoulder and spice surely are. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted March 2018  coyotes run  @coyotesrun  Coyote’s Run Estate Winery

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (1545, $20.95, WineAlign)

In true essential Flat Rock style this 2016 pinot noir deals in rusty, ropey, ripe and flattering red fruit with its always balancing note of tension. The vintage is certainly prettier, easier and friendlier than most so the fans should pile up and add to the overall success of Flat Rock representing Ontario pinot noir on the map. This is nothing but fine and enjoyable work from a true varietal leader. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

Kew Vineyards Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $23.95, WineAlign)

More high tines, dialled back a touch, lithe, again some effusive character, tart, so very tart, a whack of wound tight intent, dry tannins, so much tea. Cranberry, earthy, lots of tone and structure. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  @kewvineyards  @kewvineyard

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Edgerock Vineyard 2016, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Edgerock is Twenty Mile Bench fruit with expected 2016 ripeness and just an edgy twitch like quick lightning strikes on that fruit. There is some chewiness to the fruit laced by acidity and some drying tannin that is a bit deferential for the vintage and for Peninsula pinot noir. Not sure that pinot noir can get much riper than this in Ontario and so the perfect storm of vineyard, vintage and execution is met. The nose is so very ripe to almost advanced, with strawberries macerating and flavours so well to far developed. Not as fleshy as some as a result but will soon begin to develop some nice secondary character. Good summer wine, for this summer and hopefully an indigenous one for the fall. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted February 2018  2027cellars  @2027cellars  2027 Cellars

Meldville Wines Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $27.20, WineAlign)

Derek Barnett’s is a sweetly perfumed pinot noir, fully expressive of ripe 2016 fruit and with a tannic drying edge. It’s a bit lactic to be sure, seemingly argilo-calcareous in nature and really reminds me of some far away sangiovese or corvina grown on white limestone soils. Really unique, lithe and elegant for Barnett if also tangy, sweet and sour. Not sugar sweet but aromatically so. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted February 2018  meldvillewines  @meldvillewines  Meldville Wines

Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign)

Bright and effusive, eye and olfactory opening, citrus, steeped herbal tea, with fruity accents. “All around the blooming heather,” purple fruit flavours, fiddle background and thoughts of rolling thyme hills. Good bass line, baritone underneath, full of structure, real structure. Time has had an effect. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

The tones are elevated and the fruit is really ripe though the acidity is quite calm in this extreme small lot pinot noir. You can get a true sense of the culture and the micro-managed terroir that separates this from some less expensive and certainly more rustic Niagara cousins so the cost is quite understandable. The fruit is the thing, given all the attention and the credit. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted February 2018  thirtybench  pellerwines  @ThirtyBench  @PellerVQA  @ThirtyBench  Andrew Peller(Andrew Peller Import)  Emma Garner

Leaning Post Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $28.95, WineAlign)

Ilya Senchuk’s small lot (220 case) 2015 pinot noir is actually a new wine set to be released this spring. It’s a blend of fruit drawn from both McNally and Lowrey vineyards, two exceptional cru that have been the focus of previous Leaning Post single-vineyard pinot noir. The most notable difference here is how all the tension and vaporous tones melt away to create this fluid, fleecy and ductile wine. The fruit selection seems clearly developed to gain easier access with downsized structure or perhaps it just happened this way. It is here that the house style reads as a lithe Peninsula pinot noir manifesto with clarity and transparency to set up and introduce the estate’s next vintage, recently planted young vine pinot noir. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted February 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Redstone Pinot Noir Limestone Vineyard 2013, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Redstone Vineyard pinot noir comes off of the ridge that is all Redstone estate fruit expect for the 40 acres riesling block (of 60 in total). There is a ferric gaminess to this pinot with its tension and dusty, tart rusticity. Intense in its litheness, like light and bright strawberry on steroids. Really lingers. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted November 2017  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Tradition 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (392738, $29.95, WineAlign)

From 2015 comes a fully ripened, full advantage press taken and fleshy warm pinot noir on the dark cherry end of the fruit spectrum. The wood is fully supportive of that wealth of fruit and tension is really nowhere to be found. The tannins are sweet and also do little to distract from the fruit. What it manages to elevate in terms of energy and vitality is this lovely elegant tang from both soil and wood, short of spicy and in gentle drift. The pleasure is all now do enjoy this before the decade strikes midnight. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted February 2018  queylus  @Queylus  Domaine Queylus Winery

Trail Estate Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The Peninsula ’16 pinot noir is a joint Wertsch and Wismer blend, six barrels Between the Lines and two Foxcroft. The goal is not fully in focus, even if it’s just too early to call. Niagara pinot noir from these parts is want to be rusty, red fruit volatile and so bright you gotta wear shades and this ’16’s profile reads from such a script. It’s so very different from the lemon-citronella note that County pinot often surveys. So what does Trail Estate have, at least in here? Lightness for one thing, ease of drinkability and sweet tannin. Wild ferment and no new oak got this here, plus some neutral, second and third fill. It’s got candied floral and cinnamon heart, is quite tangy but honestly quite delicate. Simple yes, quite OK and at times, volatile too. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Pork Tenderloin and Flat-Iron Steak marinated in black raspberry lees grilled with black raspberry sauce.

Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The Westcotts have to be so very pleased with the result of their 2015 estate pinot noir, a wine of great farming in loyal custodial work across an exceptional rolling terroir. This Vinemount Ridge locale is the perfect love-hate relationship builder but when sacrifices are met and zero corners are cut it will produce some very fine, albeit fortune abetting fruit. This ’15 interprets ripeness with an edge of tension by way of a gentle rusticity and mild barrel spice. A second taste weeks later also gives salumi, natural funk, cèpes, dusty balsamic earth and the angled torture or the ridge. It’s all there, wonderfully integrated and already hinting at a truffled secondary stage. Not yet mind you, but not so far away. Would it perhaps benefit from one less day or two of phenolic ripeness in exchange for half a point higher acidity? Perhaps but ultimately the vintage decides, as do the handlers who listen to the wind. A greater pinot noir vintage likely lies ahead and for this wine, further understanding. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted February and March 2018  westcottvineyards  @WestcottWines  @westcottwines

Trail Estate Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The Peninsula ’16 pinot noir is a joint Wertsch and Wismer blend, six barrels Between the Lines and two Foxcroft. The goal is not fully in focus, even if it’s just too early to call. Niagara pinot noir from these parts is want to be rusty, red fruit volatile and so bright you gotta wear shades and this ’16’s profile reads from such a script. It’s so very different from the lemon-citronella note that County pinot often surveys. So what does Trail Estate have, at least in here? Lightness for one thing, ease of drinkability and sweet tannin. Wild ferment and no new oak got this here, plus some neutral, second and third fill. It’s got candied floral and cinnamon heart, is quite tangy but honestly quite delicate. Simple yes, quite OK and at times, volatile too. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $31.95, WineAlign)

Really high-toned in which volatility may be in charge if checked by ballads of bright, currant-berry fruit. Cranberry, pomegranate, has got it all, but also a lovely earthy grounding. Rays of light on the mountain, “such a simple thing.” Has to be an example of a concentrated house style by a great pinot noir maker from great pinot noir terroir. Like a bench somewhere special where pinot can get through chains, “some how, some how.” Really tannic so all should be good and structure laid out cool. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   hiddenbench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Cornerstone Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Big and verging into oxidative, a raisin and fig note, almost appassimento. Could very well be or at least made in a ripe, concentrated and mimicking style. Glycerin, strawberry, leafy savour, jammy and quick to reveal itself. Immediate gratification in a really big pinot noir. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  cornerstonewine  @cornerstonevino  @cornerstonewinery

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Gravity 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (1560, $34.95, WineAlign)

Gravity is the focus of Flat Rock’s pinot noir exploration and with a whole bunch addendum it changes gears in 2014. This is a very important vintage for Gravity, to leave behind and move forward into a new world. That it does with more ripeness, structure and less intimidating consternation than past vintages have shown and with a freshness also not before seen or tasted. The balance between ripe black cherry, linear and focused acidity, neo-classical structure, followed by an intense drive to please delivers the whole package. Well done on the first of two Gravity swan songs from outgoing winemaker Jay Johnstone. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February 2018  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2015, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

From Kevin Watson’s Niagara River vineyard, a place that warms quickly and leads to very early harvests, in this case September 15th. Deals a pinot noir of whole clusters that when they come in smell like blueberry and clove but take little time to move out of that realm and into one occupied by cedar, mushroom and artificial strawberry candy. It’s a complex situation that requires opening several bottles over a few year period to really gain an evolutionary understanding of regional pinot noir, this particular Niagara fruit and Closson Chase winemaking in the hands of Keith Tyers. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted April 2018  clossonchasevineyardsClosson Chase  @ClossonChase  Closson Chase Vineyards

Tawse Pinot Noir Unfiltered Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Unfiltered elevates and lifts Quarry Road fruit up to a forthright plateau where it generously gifts at its purest and most impulsive best. This is seriously juicy, sexy, fleshy and ripe pinot noir from the Vinemount Ridge, a windswept variegated set of rolling hills that plays hosts to the larger Quarry Road set of blocks. It is this gathering of fruit from here and there that allows winemaker Paul Pender to have a better representation of the appellation and ultimately a better balance. And so this ’16 is a wonderful example of the beautiful relationship between producer, appellation and vineyard. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted December 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

From County fruit, again in 2016 not so much a great quantity thing but for the median kind of vintage, not bad either. The fruit is exceptional, bright cherry effulgent and County radiant. Just a hint of meaty cure, salmagundi and analogously speaking, quite layered. Such a wine is poignant, with energy and drive, holding on to the past, but with a deeper understanding and thinking about the future. “When you talk about the past, what are we talking of?” In a family Stanners pinot noir we’re talking about moving from strength to strength and really the sky is the limit for what this wine can become. It’s a more complete and better structured song than before. If I feed Colin Stanners a War on Drugs lyric he’d sing “and I’m moving on a cast, shadows on my seam, I keep moving to changes, yeah, ooh.” His ’16 pinot noir is just a child right now and like the song, it will gain flesh in a year’s time, be timeless, then last a very long time. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted April 2018  stannerswines  @StannersWines  Stanners Vineyard

Thirty Bench Pinot Noir Small Lot 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (461566, $35.20, WineAlign)

The tones are elevated and the fruit is really ripe though the acidity is quite calm in this extreme small lot pinot noir. You can get a true sense of the culture and the micro-managed terroir that separates this from some less expensive and certainly more rustic Niagara cousins so the cost is quite understandable. The fruit is the thing, given all the attention and the credit. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  thirty bench  pellerwines  @ThirtyBench  @PellerVQA  Thirty Bench Wine Makers  Peller Estates Winery & Restaurant

Tawse Pinot Noir Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)

It would not be a Paul Pender raised pinot noir without the triple threat of dustiness, meatiness and tension all working in a circle of Niagara Bench lands love. In Quarry Road’s case it is a very specific Vinemount Ridge condition, from a place of wind, rolling hills and variegated clay and limestone soils that deal directly with and into these vines. They are at seven years of age by this point, just long enough to speak the truth and turn this pinot noir into a wiser and more experienced wine. The fruit is remarkably delicate when you consider the grip and purpose exercised by the tannin and yet it’s all coming together nicely. I for one am really looking forward to what eight and nine years of age will mean for 2015 and 2016. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Agent, $39.00, WineAlign)

Though statements of monadical hyperbole should very much be avoided, a taste of Dan Sullivan’s ’16 JCR makes one think it has all come to this. The glycerin fruit endowed with so much natural sweetness and magnificently low alcohol feels like an impossibility. In a way it is but it’s also a County reality. This may just be the least astringent PEC pinot noir ever produced and at the same time seems entirely void of tension. Yet there is structure and cohesion, two functors so very necessary to see it drink well for 10 years, with great charm and further curiosity for five more after that. Drink 2018-2028.  Last tasted July 2018

Bright, red raspberry, light and effusive with a simple, liquid chalky feel. Really drinkable. The tart is part of a delight in composition. A good chew.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   Rosehall_run profilewinegroup  @Rosehall_Run  @ProfileWineGrp  Rosehall Run Vineyards  Profile Wine Group

Meritorious match alert @leaningpostwine #lowreyvineyard pinot noir with #goulash and #spaetzle

Leaning Post Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2014, St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Agent, $42.00, WineAlign)

It was a very good pinot noir vintage across the peninsula board and so not necessarily one to separate with megaphone announcement the Grand-ish Cru St. David’s Bench Lowrey Vineyard from the lower flats and the upper benches. Even though many a winemaker were opting for some percentage of whole cluster fermentation the vintage combined with this block was not such an animal. What Lowrey, Leaning Post and the vintage were meant for was a module that included grapes hand-picked, hand-sorted, de-stemmed, partially crushed and soaked on skins prior to fermentation. Three days later a spontaneous fermentation in small open-top fermenters would be followed by a transfer to French oak barrels (35 percent new, 30 one-year-old and 35 older) for 15 months. The result is another exemplar of pinot noir lithe excellence in this, the final chapter ahead of Ilya Senchuk’s newly planted pinot noir story ready to unfold out of the home (Winona) vineyard. The 2014 Lowrey is a wine that elevates a goulash game (which I can attest to because of an out of mind and body experience), but it’s also magically understated and subtly complex. It’s almost unmovable, resistant to early development all the while a joy to drink. Open it, store it, age it, wait on it. It’s all good. Drink 2018-2025. Tasted March 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Tawse Pinot Noir Laidlaw Vineyard 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

Juicy straight up, red cherries in their ripest state, a bit dusty and lifted. Tart, dry, herbal, savoury, so interesting. Really tannic and remains to be seen if this structure will deem that fruit to drift into some elegance. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018 tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

The Farm White Label (Mason Vineyard) Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $50.00, WineAlign)

A high-toned, effusively bright and perhaps edging into volatile pinot noir. Flavours are rusty deep, quite orange-zest scraped and scented, like Irancy. If it’s really that simple then there may not be much tension later on, so think about pairing its coolness now. Lean and verdant with shading into crimson is a very specific beneath bench Niagara speciality, replete with firm if tender emotions. This example is for the here and now. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  thefarmwines

Tawse Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $59.95, WineAlign)

The Tawse Cherry Avenue ’13 is hotter than July, classic soul Twenty Mile Bench pinot noir that has hit its stride because of solid winemaking, varietal-musicianship and über professional production. Five years forward is the right time to take in the firm and founded cherry fruit, aged in oak for 18 months in 40 per cent new French oak. Filled with feeling and wonder, Cherry avoids the temptations of disco and new wave to stay focused on the old world prize and can’t help but “put me in the right direction, with tender love and affection.” It’s a wine from an estate holding the Midas touch and from a time when it could be argued it was pausing at the crossroads of an illustrious career, looking in all four directions. The pinot noir exploration has fortunately continued, justified and vindicated by such a retrospective look. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2018  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Karlo Estates Pinot Noir Estate Grown Wild Ferment 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $65.00, WineAlign)

As with the Estate chardonnay the elévage from winemaker Derek Barnett for the second Karlo home-front pinot noir is wild ferment, barrel ferment and barrel aging. Oh if this isn’t so Prince Edward County; wild, wooly, bright and engaging, reeking of red cherry and plum. It’s also quite cedar savoury but also salumi-cured, naturally and necessarily so. The accrual is complex and driven by a devoted purpose to make something small really effin’ matters. This is fine-grained pinot noir with a sense of condiment, a relish that supports the fruit to make it tangy, juicy and real. And it’s been done without any excessive intervention or wasted notes played. Terrific origins, sense of place and quality. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted February 2018  karloestateswinery  @KarloEstates  Karlo Estates

Good to Go!

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WineAlign

Tasting Ontario Part Five: Varietal Whites and Appellative Blends

There were 33 medals handed out to White Blends at the 2018 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada; seven Golds, 17 Silvers and nine Bronze. Quietly, stealthily and without great fanfare the strength of the white blend category has taken NWAC18 by storm. The quality of the wines entered has never been higher, visibly and notably spread across the country. The time has come to establish party lines, to create truly parochial white appellative blends under appropriately chosen names. Nova Scotia has long been there with their apt-scripted Tidal Bay. Ontario and British Columbia should heed the economic and marketing success enjoyed by their maritime cousins and join the appellative party.

Related – Results of the 2018 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals): Best of Blends: Red, White and Tidal Bay

The French regions of Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley are clearly the benchmarks and the inspiration for Canadian-made emulative examples, first from a sauvignon blanc-sémillon connection and then with blends that make use of marsanne, roussanne and viognier. A testament to expatriate excellence is noted in the seven overall Gold Medals in this year’s judging and no less than six others finishing at high Silver status on the cusp of Gold. I for one awarded five 90-plus scores to wines I clearly deemed worthy of such accolade and esteem.

It is interesting to note that White Blends centred by sauvignon blanc in the Okanagan Valley rely on much higher percentages of sémillon than their counterparts in Ontario. The simplest explanation tells us that the grape variety has trouble surviving harsh Ontario winters, especially when we look back at 2015 and 2016 when much of the province’s vines were killed by sub-25 degree temperatures. But it’s more than that. In B.C. sauvignon blanc can get pretty ripe, tropical and zaftig so it is sémillon that helps to mitigate, temper, inject a flinty-smoky-mineral streak and ultimately bring balance to the relationship.

There was a time not too long ago when after the best juice was chosen for varietal wines producers then needed to find a way to use up the dregs of their white ferments. White blends came about out of economic necessity, but like Rosé production in this country so many are now produced with a purpose. As a farmer, if you know specific blocks of sauvignon blanc are destined to join with other plots of sémillon you’re going to prune, pluck, green harvest and ultimately pick in very specific ways. Appellative blends have become a year round occupation. That much is clear.

Related – Tasting Ontario Part Four: Gamay

The top scorers at this year’s Nationals have been awarded to seriously and thoughtfully crafted wines. The winners are not entry-level, introductory products at the lower or lowest common denominational levels. They are not simple aromatic blends of vague fruit and sweet impression, in fact many are graced by beneficial and forward thinking structure. The future certainly looks white blend bright. Here are 36 recently tasted Ontario varietal whites and appellative white blends.

Summer spread

Sprucewood Shores Pinot Grigio 2017, VQA Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (426577, $14.95, WineAlign)

Just a hint of contact it would seem, leading to a not so obvious result in platinum gold hue but more so into the floral nature of its aromatics. Some sweet melon and pear fruit with good concentration and equal if necessary acidity. Can certainly drink a glass of this. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  sprucewoodshores  @SprucewoodWine  @SprucewoodShores

Château Des Charmes Aligoté 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (296848, $15.95, WineAlign)

The Château des Charmes self-proclaimed “pinot grigio” alternative was never more truthfully written than in reference to this 2017 aligoté. Screwy wet summer merging into crazy hot autumn weather made for one of the latest harvest dates in the estate on the York Road in St. Davids storied history. The rare Niagara Peninsula varietal vines are planted primarily at St. David’s Bench and Paul Bosc Estate vineyards but more are going in, surely out of testimony to the sales of this more than apropos local grape. Surely no one knows aligoté like the Bosc family and yet even they could not have seen this peachy, melony, fleshy and ripe one coming. It’s like a hyperbole of Val do Salnés in Rias Baixas albariño, crisp, aromatic and marched along by natural acidity. It seems sweet but trust me it’s not. It’s the long-hung, fully phenolic fruit and higher pH talking. This is not your average Bourgogne aligoté, searing, taut and intense. It’s a departure for the house but if it could always be made this way I think they would gladly go for the style. Waxy finish too, bringing an added note of complexity. Very cool. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted July 2018  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Nyarai Cellars Pinot Gris 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.95, WineAlign)

This is quite a striking, rich, creamy and yogurt-leesy, a.k.a. Loire chenin blanc, fixedly in the guise of pinot gris. More skin contact then some plus so much yeasty texture combine to make for the fullest of an Ontario gris expression. This is the sort of feeling that normally comes from multi-varietal, dry white appellative Niagara blends but in a solo pinot gris it’s nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  #nyaraicellars  @NyaraiCellars  Nyarai Cellars

Tawse Winery Pinot Gris Redfoot Vineyard 2017, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

From out of the dense Lincoln Lakeshore clay comes this flush and luxurious pinot gris, literally rolling in it. It makes for a highly aromatic take on the grape, all in for gris and not to be confused with lighter, less meaningful grigio. The Redfoot Vineyard is clearly earmarked for such a purposed way of interpretation and though the clays of the double L sub-appellation are best with syrah and cabernet franc there can’t be any reason not to allot 10-15 per cent of acreage to white plantings. In the hands of Paul Pender it seems obvious that pinot gris is the one. This dry take is just about perfectly right, with citrus and wet stone hanging around the fruit. Leaner might be more suitable but ultimately it’s balance that is most important for this rich fruit raised by the pottery soil. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted June 2018  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

G.Marquis Sauvignon Blanc The Red Line 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $13.95, WineAlign)

Big love, big fruit, all about texture and juicy fruit on the palate but with some fine, wound acidity. Excellent. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   g.marquisvineyards  @GMarquisWines  @G.MarquisVineyards

North 42 Degrees Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc North 43 2017, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (547836, $14.95, WineAlign)

Quite the character this North 43/North 42 degrees sauvignon blanc, fruit amassed on the nose, from canteloupe to underripe passion fruit with a wet, coppery alloy build that translates across latitudinal lines onto the palate. The metallic flavours are undercut by an herbal tonic with a spoonful of tinned fruit cup. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  north42wines  @StratusWines  North 42 Degrees Estate Winery & Bistro 42  @north42degrees

Château Des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (296848, $15.95, WineAlign)

Interesting take, quite a mineral salt wiring through the green apple fruit, here some feel of barrel but not the malo-creamy effect created. Goes quite juicy and crunchy without resorting to tart. A bit more acid intensity would have sealed the deal. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018    chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Lakeview Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (483958, $17.95, WineAlign)

An interesting sauvignon blanc for the Peninsula because the pungency is quite Marlborough but the relaxed state and relative weight is all Niagara. Very easy drinking as far as SB is concerned with notable extraction and a green streak, herbal mostly, running through. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  lakeviewwineco  @LakeviewWineCo  @LakeviewWineCo

Kacaba Susan’s Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $17.95, WineAlign)

Quietude in such a lovely way, mineral meets orange blossom, soft and amenable through the middle, quiet and mellow, fades off slowly, into the sauvignon blanc sunset. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  kacabavineyards  @KacabaVineyards  Kacaba Vineyards and Winery

Stratus Wildass Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (376814, $18.95, WineAlign)

t’s more Stratus than sauvignon blanc, even by regional varietal standards, whatever that is, due to the ripe flavours and long-developed phenolic ripeness. Ultimately it is the quotient of a cup of fruit cocktail and an energy level that serves to encourage a sitting back with a glass in meditative state more than a mind stimulated to invigorate. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  stratuswines  @StratusWines  @StratusWines

Organized Crime Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (396275, $18.95, WineAlign)

Sometimes sauvignon blanc goes tropical and green at the same time, or at least it is the two poles by picked grapes that combine for such a layering. Citrus and bitters mix into the two sides and all the components walk along, separate and alone together, without making any real contact. Maybe a year will tie the room but the acidity is low so waiting is a counterintuitive idea. Drink 2018.  Tasted April 2018  organizedcrimewinery  Organized Crime Winery

Henry Of Pelham Fumé Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (444268, $19.95, WineAlign)

With a wink and a nod to Mondavi this lays the lumber in smoulder upon sauvignon blanc with just a wisp, like cold smoking salmon so that it breathes cool and mentholated, without char and a real smoky feeling. The fruit is light and even a bit precious, the weight quite lithe and the overall notation one of gentle demure. You have to appreciate the deft, slight of winemaking hand approach. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  henryofpelham  @HenryofPelham  Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery

Meldville Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Derek Barnett’s sauvignon blanc may be the fleshiest of the Ontario lot, ripe, tropical and impressively coaxed from off the vine. The phenolic aggregate is a 2016 triumph even while it dances a funky step into botrytis-like rhythms. Notes here and there of herbs and tonics add to the mystique and the rapport. So bloody interesting, singular and meditative for the grape. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  meldvillewines  @meldvillewines  Meldville Wines

Peller Estates Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Massively fruit aromatic sauvignon blanc, all gathered in a tin cup found in the exotics isle. Juicy melon meets passion fruit and so much more in between, then with a side of metalloid. Raps so commercially viable and succesful it hurts my ears and my eyes. “Any awards show or party I’ll get fly for it, I know that it’s coming I just hope I’m alive for it…I just wanna be, I just wanna be.” Remarkable success for sauvignon blanc, in Ontario. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   pellerwines  @PellerVQA  @PellerEstates

Redstone Sauvignon Blanc Limestone Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $23.15, WineAlign)

There isn’t a ton of sauvignon blanc grown up on the Limestone Ridge but as a top level Twenty Mile Bench riesling terroir it changes the varietal course with considerable concern. As far as it goes this is quite an alloy challenged, mineralized expression, not quite flinty but certainly feeling like a mouthful of richly compressed, calcareous stones. The fruit is so anti-tropical it’s almost reductive and most certainly draws its tang from the soil. Such a curious sauvignon blanc with almost no frame of reference, save for a moment to consider Sancerre, but yet another successful effort from winemaker Rene Van Ede. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Traynor Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Reductive, not flinty or smoky, but reductive. This carries the gooseberry-passion fruit suitcase of fruit. I like the fruit-acid balance and the way it delivers semblances of tart and tangy. Really nicely judged wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   traynorvineyard  @TraynorVineyard  @traynorfamilyvineyard

Hidden Bench Fumé Blanc Rosomel Vineyard 2016, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68825, $29.95, WineAlign)

The vineyard gains another year, the farming and winemaking too and so fumé blanc out of Rosomel gets better, as things often do with age and wisdom. ’Twas a great year for growing grapes on this amphitheatre of a vineyard block up on the Bench and no love lost for sauvignon blanc neither. There is tension, wound intensity and fierce competitiveness in the ’16, perhaps the most Sancerre and least Pouilly-Fumé it has ever been and so the declaration leans to saying it is “a mineral year.” Nothing against the fruit because the personality cult of lean, crisp and crunchy is in full order, though each sip after sip speaks in those Sancerre or Chablis by way of Saint Bris terms. Stellar, as always, in continuance, moving towards the best it can be. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2018  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Trius Showcase Clean Slate Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2016, Niagara-on-the Lake, Ontario (Winery, $31.95, WineAlign)

Quite flinty, barrel-aged sauvignon blanc, buttery nearly, banana and cantaloupe. So much fruit along with the toasty-creamy barrel. Almost perfectly in balance but it’s wildness and sweet-yeasty lees cumulative turns to a bit of caramel and only accentuates the vanilla. A really cool take on the grape with exceptionally developed flavours. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   triuswines  @TriusWines  @TriusWines

Not all screw cap closures are created equal

Two Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.00, WineAlign)

Excessive tightness of screw caps does not allow any kept reduction to blow off so winemaker Adam Pearce closed here with a screw cap threading just a bit less rigid. A fine detail but an important one and the only wine to receive this attention, so just a minute amount of oxygen transfer can occur. Just released 11 days ago. The big change is now a fruit vineyard blend that is 70 per cent Four Mile Creek and (30) Twenty Mile Bench. From a cool, wet and rainy season so really it’s all about the grower in a vintage where the varietal struggled with mould and mildew. Eight per cent barrel ferment was used to augment the leanness, for body and peace of mind. A bit reductive and tight with good acid structure to the peach-yellow-plum-kumquat fruit. Good linger. Delicious. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted July 2018    twosisters_vineyards  @TwoSisters_wine  Two Sisters Vineyards

Fielding Estate Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (146753, $19.95, WineAlign)

Fielding’s pays respect to how gewürztraminer has to be made in Ontario with a fleshy, off-dry style though making sure to counterbalance with a fine dose of acidity. From dosage to dose it dances the do-si-so with high quality peach-litchi fruit and grapefruit acidity. If you’re in need of a white to compliment some high-octane, multi-seasoned and possibly spicy food, Fielding’s is textbook and will do the work. It’s a gewürztraminer you can trust. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted January 2018  fielding winery  richiewine  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  Fielding Estate Winery

Redstone Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

A sip sends a warm shiver through from a simple off-dry gewüztraminer attack more flat than round earth, trying hard to stay on the dry though the bitters and creamy fruit deliver more sweetness than what might have been intended. Some skin contact deals peach skin and those bitters while the acidity quietly abides. It’s nearly, almost and close to cloying by honey mixed in concentrate with a note of alkali. Everything lingers. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

@mackbrisbois brought the past, the present and the future @trailestatewine to taste. Thanks Mack! Indeed, to my pleasure and my education.

Trail Estate Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Few winemakers in Ontario are as curious, aloof and serious about making gewürztraminer like this,”looking through that window, into the delicate place.” The changing of mind is so important during the process because it shows an understanding of both mistake and possibility. Mackenzie Brisbois takes a spoon of Niagara Lakeview fruit (Glen Elgin/Wismer farmed), puts it through a whole cluster press, a fermentation in old oak and then wait a minute. An about face transfer to stainless steel tank (just after a few days) because it is too reductive, but then sends it back to old wood where it remains for about nine months. Bottles back in September of 2017. The result is a gewürz that finishes dry (under 3 g/L) so delicate for a customer’s palate, with lots of lemon and lime but never searing, perfect for cold smoked or tataki prepared salmon. Bitter pith note but it dissipates, as does the acidity so keep in mind this is floral and fine. “The delicate place. The questions it raise. The delicate place yeah.” Enjoy it now and gimme fiction. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Trail Estate Skin Contact Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

The 2016 gewürztraminer fruit is from the Werscht’s (Between the Lines) Niagara farm, super ripe at 24 brix and aromatics on steroids. It clocks in at a healthy 13.5 alcohol, after 13 days on skins and beyond. Close your eyes and the warm pungency will simulate a sensory experience, like standing inside the butterfly conservatory, with all the dessicating fruit, secretions and balmy, humid aromas wafting around. Or maybe even more exotic, like walking past stalls in a south asian market, with fruits cut open so you can see what they are, mangoseteen, marquesa, jackfruit and durian. There is great fun to be had in acidity and spice. Lush, floral and nicely funky. By now an understanding and a level of maturity to think on is as a classic Brisbois white. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Malivoire Viognier Stouck Vineyard 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Agent, $24.25, WineAlign)

From vines planted in 2010 the magic of excitable youth with just a hint of maturity has brought this block of the terrific Lincoln Lakeshore vineyard to this vintage. Warmth and ultimately ripeness have released the aromatic blessedness of viognier, which along with an unpurposed number of residual sugar will allow this to gain some further complexity with age. May just be the most varietal viognier ever produced out of Niagara but it’s obviousness as a regional example can’t be denied. It exudes confidence without even trying, is naturally oily and grippy because its acidity matches the high notes. It’s a touch boozy at 13.5 alcohol, at times metallic and at others, tropical, because that’s what viognier wants to be. It’s just a terrific effort from winemakers Shiraz Mottiar and Dan Stouck. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted February 2018  malivoire  noble_estates  @MalivoireWine  @Noble_Estates  Malivoire Wine  Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Lakeview Cellars Viognier 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Pretty tart stuff from the get go, full of tangerine and beautifully dry. Gently pressed and kept in spirit high through the use of stainless steel tanks. Quite floral, not potpourri mind you but a fresh blossoming breath of a bouquet. Simple viognier, effectively executed and perfectly correct. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted February 2018  lakeviewwineco  @LakeviewWineCo  @LakeviewWineCo

Redstone Viognier Redfoot Vineyard 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign)

The barrel is a big time influence here, offering a combination of creamy vanilla and yet some reduction. There must be some lush viognier fruit back there somewhere but the wood is really in control. Subtle hints of varietal florals, far eastern fruit and spice linger behind the veil. Tasted blind it is the creamy texture and vanilla that makes cause for it to be considered so much like California chardonnay. Good acidity however rescues and thinks about the future. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted twice, June 2018 and then blind at NWAC18, June 2018  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Calamus Estate Winery White Night 2014, VQA Ontario (484014, $13.95, WineAlign)

A very good use of vidal (85 per cent) gets an apple jolt from chardonnay in this very peach and grapefruit oriented white. It’s like fruit cocktail in a glass but drier than off-dry and quite savoury. Stage right spicy too, like clove and capsicum, in a way akin to Kiwi sauvignon blanc but in the end it’s white appellative blend in hybrid dominance, running all the way. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted January 2017  #calamuswinery  @calamuswinery  Calamus Estate Winery

Featherstone Four Feathers 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (341586, $14.95, WineAlign)

Varietal birds of four feathers (riesling, chardonnay, gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc) flock together for a wild ride in aromatics, texture, tang and acidity. Here a notable waxiness from the gewürztraminer does oily, glück potpourri with outgoing nature and a sweet meets sour set of flavours. Runs from orchard fruit with bite into the tropical and then some bitters. Nothing simple and quite stirred. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  #featherstonewinery  @featherstonewne  Featherstone Estate Winery

13th Street White Palette 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (207340, $15.95, WineAlign)

White Palette is at the top of its hyperbole game in 2016 with a light’s glare flooding a room of high aromatic and flavour intensity. Glade, polish, wax and major citrus all max factor the scents and smells. Lemon and caramel well through the palate and funky emissions deal in Peninsula clay with obvious earth. It’s a case of the curious and not fully expected in 2016. Worth a look nevertheless, with fresh seafood off the coals. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted May 2018  13thstreetwinery  @13thStreetWines  13th Street Winery

Rockway Vineyards Chardonnay/Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (545905, $16.95, WineAlign)

The varietal get together is both convenient and seamless, in delivery of a cool climate nose and a ripeness to imagine a warmer climate palate. It’s layering is one stacked by alternating textures and walks straight ahead, simple and for the sake of nothing, but for to enjoy.  Drink 2018-2020. Tasted April 2018  rockwayvineyards  @RockwayVineyard  Rockway Vineyards

The Hare Wine Company Crown Land White 2016, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

The blend of 60 per cent gewürztraminer and (40) riesling is a lovely mix of lemon, apricot and mild barrel notes. It’s a pithy affair, mildly battered and of a soft demeanour. Fresh with fruit skin scents, a passion fruit tang and acidity that’s pretty darn close to spot on. Chewy texture, finishing strong and long. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  theharewineco  @TheHareWineCo  The Hare Wine Co.

Kew Vineyard Estate Marsanne 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

The dominant marsanne (90 per cent) is joined seamlessly by viognier in a white blend rich with barrel notes, nutty and toasty. Perhaps a touch less interesting on the palate but it’s welling with presence and persistence. Metallic and effective, with great finishing bitters. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  kewvineyards  @kewvineyards  @kewvineyard

Tasting at Pearl Morissette, July 2017

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Blu 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Cuvée Blu is an appellative blend like no other, amphora fermented, 100 per cent whole cluster chardonnay, with pinot gris, riesling and sauvignon blanc. The group spent three and a half (no, not a typo) months on skins, pressed and aged in foudres. I taste this and self-reflected that I would need to taste this once a day for two weeks to wrap brain, heart and imagination around its mythology. I’d also need to understand how it pushed further then just about anything and to see what would happpen, over and over, again and again, each time anew. You can drink this immediately or anytime over the next six years. What’s the difference? How can you know what to do? Self-described by the PM team as “a chameleon charmer and a poem built from the taste of colours.” Memories of a 2017 summer recall the whimsy of hues. “Yellow, orange,” smiled Svetlana Atcheva, “it might as well be blue!” Drink 2018-2024. Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Southbrook Vidal Skin Fermented White 2016, Small Lot Natural Wine, VQA Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The first time I tasted this blind (at Terroir Symposium) I noted it to be “vidal-like,” a touch oxidative, of this elegant paste or salve, with notes of green plum and just a touch of grapefruit. The second pass confirms it to be a fine vidal orange wine, with more texture than should or would be expected. It delivers lemon and tannin, plus a calculated layering of ample and enough acidity to carry it along. A fine example. Really mouth coating and so tannic. Takes what was learned from 2014 and 2015 experiments and with VQA category approval in its back pocket, begins the true journey forward. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017 and February 2018 southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @SouthbrookWine  @TheLivingVine  Southbrook Vineyards  The Living Vine inc.

Stratus Vineyards Stratus White 2014, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.20, WineAlign)

White assemblage under the Stratus label is not like spinning a single record, it’s like Rock ‘n Roll radio. Opening a bottle brings great excitement and anticipation, with a sense of wonder. What songs am I going to hear or more to the point, which grape varieties am I going to taste, in which percentages and in what order? In 2014 it’s a medley of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier, sémillon and gewürztraminer. The blend spent 21 months in (15 per cent) new oak. The fruits are varied and each one (or mélange of several) represented a hit in their own right. Tutti frutti, orange blossom special, little green apples, the lemon song, kiwi, peach, tangerine and forbidden fruit. In the end I heard it through the grapevine, by way of a conduit provided by great and necessary acidity. A top quality Stratus White, worthy of repeat plays. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted twice, May and June 2018    stratuswines  @StratusWines  @StratusWines

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

It’s primarily sauvignon blanc (94 per cent) but don’t discount the effect created by sémillon. This is a really lovely barrel fermented stroll through a fresh morning glade, with ripe fruit everywhere and a perfectly pointed and lifted flinty nose. A bit reductive and fresh, as it should and absolutely must be, with hints of vanilla and caramel. Quite ambitious and serious with a focus and a precision that speaks to the acumen of a specific cru that in the end, instructs for sauvignon blanc meets sémillon education. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018    hiddenbench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Good to Go!

Godello

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Drink now or save it for later?

Rhones

Olivier & Lafont Gigondas 2013 and Domaine La Fourmone Le Poète Vacqueyras 2013

When you face the reality of finding yourself in VINTAGES ambivalence, slowly pacing, randomly, to and fro across the wine map of the world. These are times when you don’t have the faintest clue why, or what, or, for what reason and to what end. It’s not simply a matter of what wine should you pick. No, it’s deeper than that and even if you don’t realize the magnitude of the decision, the lucubration is also there. The exercitation of the intellect incites the self-reflective question. Drink now or save it for later?

It does not matter if you have come to this place to purchase a bottle of wine for tonight’s dinner. It matters not if that wine is a dinner invitation gift, in fact, it matters more. You might bring that purchase home and decide that another more prescient bottle is ready. Your friend may choose to save your contribution for another, further down the cellared road day. And so every purchase is fraught with trepidation, with dichotomy, with doubt.

Don’t bother trying to explain them
Just hold my hand while I come to a decision on it

Price is the most obvious demarcation point for early, middle or late consumption. The number is not a hard one nor is there a guarantee for success. Everything is based on probability, risk, reward and chance. Twenty five dollars can buy you 10 years and in some cases, 10 months. If provenance is near-perfect, before and after purchase then the odds increase dramatically. Any bottle of wine, whether $10 or $100 that spent time in the sauna of a storage tank, tanker or storage tomb will take their leave in adolescence. You have to ask yourself the question, level up or level down? Spend $15 or $50. Crack it tonight or in 2025? Remember this. Contradictions are what make wine interesting. Consistency is for cooking.

I have spent the last 30 years considering wine in some respect. The last 15 much more so. The tries, trials, errors, tricks, and tribulations have taught me one thing. I prefer and receive much more instant gratification from drinking wines young but nothing compares to the insight and the exhilaration of partaking in older wines. Fifteen years are that terminus, at least for me. You will notice that five wines reviewed below fall into the near breaching $30 price category. A certain kind of sweet spot for wines that can spend quality time in the cellar.

As the weekend approaches, the VINTAGES June 11th release brings the two worlds together, as it always does, to tease buyers into making yet another bi-weekly decision. Drink now or save it for later? The answer is both. Some things never change. I’ve 15 recommendations for you. After all, isn’t that the magic number?

Crios

Crios De Susana Balbo Chardonnay 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (243196, $13.95, WineAlign)

Fresh, reductive and herbal scented chardonnay from winemaker Susana Balbo, nicely delineated from ripe 2014 fruit. There is a decidedly toasted barrel edgy spice and good tart complications. Simply stated, properly made chardonnay. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2016  @susubalbo  @sbalbowines  @ProfileWineGrp  @winesofarg  @ArgentinaWineCA

Emiliana

Emiliana Organic Brut Sparkling, Charmat Method, Casablanca Valley, Chile (451914, $15.95, WineAlign)

Waves of natural, fresh-air, verdant meadows running cool with rapid run-off springs aromas make this Casablanca Valley sparkler feel fresh and inviting. The palate takes it to a very citrus place, albeit within the context of pale, lucid and pellucid. Great value and fresh as there is. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2016  @VinosEmiliana  @WinesofChile  @DrinkChile  @WinesOfChile_CA

Jardin

Jardin Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (663302, $16.95, WineAlign)

Reductive and so very pungent, here we receive sauvignon blanc from Stellenbosch with a real sense of high-spirited purpose. Carries a bit of fresh Sancerre proposition in its heart and seeks to take matters up to another South African level. It mostly succeeds. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2016  @AbconWine  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (256834, $18.95, WineAlign)

Perhaps a difficult vintage for pinot noir but not so for healthy, established, confident old vines. From berries to beets and cola, all wrapped up in cozy sweetness, here pinot noir sings uninhibited and free. It is surprisingly easy to drink and not at all astringent. Thanks afforded the vineyard and the winemaker’s deft, less is more touch. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted May 2016  @MBosc

Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling 2014, Méthode Traditionnelle, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (370361, $19.95, WineAlign)

A rich, heady, toasty and vital Riesling from the terrific Twenty Mile Bench Limestone Road Vineyard, tilted out with preserved citrus and waxy, lemony concentration. At present this outlays on the sour-rutaceae-rusticae ledge and I can see why it would be both confounding and misunderstood. The vineyard and its riesling in sparkling form search for a coming together, in bottle, without the assistance of gross lees. A few years are required and needed for the sugars to work their magic and strike fear into the citrus for future balance. I think this will come around and really find its aim to please. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted May 2016  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

Rose Thorn

Byron & Harold Rose & Thorns Shiraz 2013, Great Southern, Western Australia, Australia (453183, $19.95, WineAlign)

Just as every rose has its thorn, Western Australia has its knight is shining armour in Great Southern. Shiraz from this place is possessive of its very own, singular and distinctive perfume, like roses in hyperbole and varietal specific oak-imparted exotic spice. Byron and Harold does shiraz as if by Shakespeare, of the Dane, with his courtesans on call. A cool, long drink of shiraz soliloquy, finished with currants, citrus and relative cool climate acidity. Special value here. You can pick the right poison with this power ballad. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted June 2016  @ByronandHarold  @KylixWines  @Wine_Australia

Nadja

Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (578625, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is an outlier for the Nadja’s Vineyard riesling, with deeper concentration and compression than before. More Mosel and less Twenty Mile in 2015, of light alcohol and an increase in off-dry, extract meets acidity. There have been Nadja’s with more air and exhale but I can’t recall one with such density in vitality. A great Nadja to be sure but of a deferential sort of character. Two or three years should bring it back into its self-imposed and created line. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted May 2016  @Winemakersboots  @brightlighter1  @UnfilteredEd

Seresin

Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (735043, $24.95, WineAlign)

Sauvignon Blanc borrows a page from its first Marlborough golden age in this Serezin 2014, finning balance in the most important facets of its character. Ripe fruit, natural acidity and memorable dry extract. The citrus is exotic, the stone fruit balanced between tart and ripe, the finish long and meaningful. With so much pungency in surround abound this exhales a true breath of fresh spring air. Were Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc always like this I would be glad with a glass, every day. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted May 2016  @SeresinEstate  @DionysusWines  @NZwineCanada  @nzwine

Talinay

Tabalí Talinay Pinot Noir 2013, Coastal Limestone Vineyard, Limarí Valley, Chile (443440, $27.95, WineAlign)

Limestone and martime influences converge in this highly perfumed pinot noir. It smells of red berries, soft, wet rock and mollusc shell. The crustaceous salinity is a new drift for pinot noir but not entirely out of the happy equation. Loquacious and malleable, the flavours replay what red berry meets white light the nose had given. This is quite singular in expression, natural and handsome. At $28 it is a terrific, unexpected find. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted May 2016  @TabaliWines  @hobbsandco  @WinesofChile  @DrinkChile  @WinesOfChile_CA

Oldenburg

Oldenburg Vineyards Syrah 2012, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (443457, $27.95, WineAlign)

Indicative of the new and improved Stellenbosch for syrah, in which perfectly ripe phenolic fruit meets consumer appeal. Quite a traditional upbringing means clean, pure, rich and plenty but it does not embrace new or outside the box. For the price this represents tremendous, albeit traditional value in a syrah with no fraying or funky edges. It will live a perfectly long life. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted May 2016  @Oldenburgwines  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

Vac

Domaine La Fourmone Le Poète Vacqueyras 2013, Ac Rhône, France (452268, $29.95, WineAlign)

Poetic and stunning Vacqueyras, so fluid, natural and effortless. From raspberry to plum, by garrigue and though dusty, delicate underbrush, the cure is cut with hands-off dedication. A certain kind of delicate spice just pricks here and there but you know it’s there. This is exactly what restrained Rhône and vacuous Vacqueyras need to be. The tannins are so fine. Such great structure will take this very long. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2016  @Lafourmone  @VINSRHONE  @RhoneWine  @TFBrands

Terrunyo

Concha Y Toro Terrunyo Peumo Vineyard Block 27 Carmenère 2012, Entre Cordilleras, Peumo, Cachapoal Valley, Chile (562892, $29.95, WineAlign)

Concha Y Toro’s Block 27 has always dominated the price meets profundity of this signature varietal success story for Chile. Calling out a vineyard its equal for correctness and depth at under $30 Canadian is a tall order. Gobs, waves and oscillations of dark fruit, intense savoury scents and the rush gained from a syringe-injection of its lush elixir perpetuate in 2012. This albeit with a roast and a confiture of black currant and bell pepper. Or vice versa. Ripe acidity and tannin add layers, not opposition. The overall amalgamation seems a bit sweet though in actuality the grit is what stakes claim and standing. Nothing but huge in 2012. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2016  @conchaytoro    @WinesofChile  @DrinkChile  @WinesOfChile_CA

Gigondas

Olivier & Lafont Gigondas 2013, Ac Rhône, France (452300, $29.95, WineAlign)

Beautifully accomplished and confident Giogondas from messieurs Olivier et Lafont, ripe but restrained, balanced and carefully, contractually structured. Purity and silky albeit spicy textures wrap themselves up in flavour. No spikes, rips or fissures are to be found. Exemplary Gigondas. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted May 2016  @vonterrabev  @VINSRHONE  @RhoneWine

Dauvissat

Jean Dauvissat Vaillons Vieilles Vignes Chablis 1er Cru 2009, Ac Burgundy, France (457002, $49.95, WineAlign)

Any signs that put this old vines Dauvissat into a time machine dating back to 2009 are less than obvious. Its freshness and composure are astounding. Chablis of structure as laid out in this Vaillons walks a particularly direct line and steadies effortlessly in one spot. The flint, toast and struck rock are subtle, atomically spicy, fine and unseen. The direct connectivity between vineyard and chardonnay is near perfect. Premier Cru would be hard pressed to exceed the limits of this Vaillons’ ability. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted May 2016  @BIVBChablis  @BourgogneWines

Ridge

Ridge Lytton Springs 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA (982413, $57.95, WineAlign)

From the vineyard planted in 1902, with petite sirah as the number two support to Zinfandel (as opposed to Geyserville), the Lytton Springs is not as mineral but it has a deeper intent. Perfume repeats as it should and has to. Only Lytton Springs smells like this, more floral of fruit and its blossoms in opposition, interchangeable and in support of one another, out of a pretty aromatic vintage, It is the palate that digs into baked earth, so very masculine and tougher by tannin. Density is but ethereal, acidity so similar but this is certainly richer and retreats back to that feel of natural fermentation. A tremendous Lytton Springs, born this way, with wisdom and structure and will remain for 10 plus years before really beginning to change. Tremendous balance in a characterful field blend red. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted twice, May 2016  @RidgeVineyards  @VinoTorino  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners  @CalifWines_CA

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WineAlign

A biography of Ontario and B.C. wines

Two Sisters Grapevines Photo © http://www.twosistersvineyards.com/

Two Sisters Grapevines
Photo © http://www.twosistersvineyards.com/

Like a weather map, when you take account of a wine, you are leafing through time. One could chart a wine through location, soils, geology and climatic influences. The biographical footprint is also measured after the vine has been stripped and in the winemaker’s hands.

The reconstruction of biography is about as arbitrary as predicting the future. It’s just as puzzling, untraceable and like running through a maze, is fraught with wrong turns and dead-ends. It’s about hunch work, gauging probabilities, accounting for what has come before and extrapolating towards what might be. It involves using  unsubstantiated and even unrecorded information to try proving a current state of affairs.

The conjuring of a wine to define the present and the future deals not with what is extant but what may never have been. It relies on tastes, sensations and feelings that have done the big vamoose and left no trace. Wines are reticent subjects, unable to defend themselves, posthumously fudged together. We gorge on the lives of famous wines and those culled from beneath overturned rocks, impressible with the fixations of our own.

We are lovers of wine; eager and desperate to be one with their psyche, to imagine it synched in sycophant fixation with our own. Yet all the salient facts and aspects of a wine’s journey, in viticulture, pH, residual sugar, total acidity, élevage and in tasting, are really nothing if we are unable to find the theory the wine and by extension, the winemaker live by.

In Ontario, wine writers spend an inordinate amount of time tasting new releases, generally the most current vintage of wines we have made acquaintance many times before. The bright lights of revelation dim increasingly out of sight due to the nature of that redundant beast. Yet on a Thursday in January at WineAlign the kid in a candy store factor presented through bottles yet discovered from wineries lined up and waiting to be counted.

A few weeks ago David Lawrason, Sara d’Amato and I assembled to have a go at four new (or not nationally recognized) Canadian wineries. Redstone Wines is the newest venture from Moray Tawse, with director of winemaking Paul Pender as headmaster to the rising, structured elegance of winemaker Rene Van Ede‘s compositions. Two Sisters in Niagara has pounced on the scene with precocious nerve, having released a few vintages in a short time. Some older wines were crafted in virtual virtuosity by current Ravine winemaker Marty Werner. The Sisters (Angela Marotta & Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli) have come to the present with Adam Pearce at the helm and his affinity for aromatic whites is the newest Niagara revelation. I will look forward to seeing him push some envelopes, with barrels, hang time, micro-plots and fermentative experimentation.

Redstone Wines Rosé from KeyKeg at Campagnolo Restaurant Photo © Michael Godel

Redstone Wines Rosé from KeyKeg at Campagnolo Restaurant
Photo © Michael Godel

Though I’ve not tasted more than a handful from the Okanagan Valley’s CedarCreek Vineyards, all thus far have touched gold. Winemaker Daryl Brooker‘s varietal wines are pure, precise and affordable. This may just be one of the most exciting wineries to watch out for in British Columbia. Fort Berens does Burgundy in the shadow of Fraser Canyon’s Mountains. A taste of Rolf de Bruin‘s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offers terrific insight into DNA and in them you can read B.C.’s varietal future. Daydreamer Wines is winemaker Marcus Ansems‘ collective energy of intention, wines to sip again and again until you taste them for the first time.

Here are the notes on 23 Ontario and B.C. wines tasted on January 22, 2015.

Redstone Winery Viognier 2013, Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Riesling 2013, Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Chardonnay 2012

Redstone Winery Viognier 2013, Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Riesling 2013, Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Chardonnay 2012

Redstone Viognier 2013, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $18.00, WineAlign)

Where there’s Lincoln Lakeshore there is red clay and with it winemaker Rene Van Ede goes it old school. Staid and static, Viognier is the star, in as much as it can be in the solid soil by the lake. On the leesy side, a sprite of lime and a dusting of chalk give texture, augmenting an already noticeable, package deal Redstone white wine portfolio. A yeast strain trend seems to be the uniting force. This is weighty but not dense, solid for the varietal and indicative of the winemaker’s style.  Tasted January 2015  @RedstoneWines

Redstone Cabernet 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Part Cabernet Franc and parcel Cabernet Sauvingon, this Redstone spent 16 months in French oak. Having melded wood into savour, the plum fruit is more than up front ample, with a pepper over and a chocolate under. A fair shake of spice and insistent tannin makes for quite a bracing red mouthful, indicating needed air and age time. Like the Tawse Bordeaux-styled reds that have come before, here is yet another slice of red fruit meets the iron life.  Tasted January 2015

Redstone Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

If a Niagara Sauvignon Blanc could be endeared with the term ‘calcaire,’ Rene Van Ede’s Limestone Vineyard would lead the shortlist, not only because of the eponymous vineyard but because it oozes of the rock’s chalky chafe. Plenty of orchard fruit belies the lime, in an unoaked Chardonnay way and the wine makes full use of limestone’s hematic shed. This is one of the most stylish Sauvignon Blancs made in Canada, even if the average consumer were not able to recognize it as such. A winemaker from Sancerre would know it immediately and intuitively. Here a crushed reef of limestone memory permeates the wine from beginning to end. One of the more outstanding Sauvignon Blancs made in Ontario to date.  Tasted January 2015  @DanielatTawse

Redstone Winery Riesling 2013, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.00, WineAlign)

Such a stoic, atomic, inwardly myopic, microscopic Riesling. Dry and drier on the not yet quite ripe pear side of the tree fruit diapason. A juicy, tangy palate follows, with viscous treasures tasting of lime curd kicked up by spice accents. A kinship here with the Tawse Limestone Ridge Vineyard, with minerals that have not forgotten what it’s like to think about magma. So much lime continues to kick in and the stone it acidulates. Narrow, focused, long and rising Riesling.  Tasted January 2015

Redstone Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Fruit for Redstone’s Pinot Noir is sourced from a 15 year-old block and it saw 16 months in French oak. A wine defined by up front spice, oak obviousness and a candescence in extraction. This the vintage gives, to clamber along with the barrel, in addition to red fruit tones that trump earth. The glass is filled with a waft of raspberry pie and a drizzle of macerated cherries. A ferric streak, as would absolutely be expected, line the red fruit basket and keeps the Redstone savour animated. Know this about Twenty Mile Pinot Noir. It is alive.  Tasted January 2015  @RedstoneWines

Redstone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Redstone Vineyard is a plot of red clay and large stones, set within the 38-acre estate. This red beauty saw an extended stay (18 months) in French oak, a relevant encounter to see it come out with remarkable purity, not to mention sensuality. This from out of the 2011 vintage, one that did not flatter many Niagara reds though on the Lincoln Lakeshore much success has been found. Plum and strawberry scents emerge from a wine warmer than would be thought, sanded by chalky and grainy parts in synch. A well-delineated progressive and fine-tuned machine should age for a minimum five years.  Tasted January 2015

Redstone Winery Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $31.95, WineAlign)

A very buttery Chardonnay, warm, tropical, steeped from rich soil, seeping orchard fruit and yet soaking from the generous amount of French oak. Handled with poise and ease, the fruit just seems to inuit its amalgamated Peninsula place and understand its place in the Niagara Chardonnay spectrum. This grows and grows, like a vine, upwards yet inwards, with instrumental interplay and no excess notes. Just the bare Chard essentials; no waste, all focus, trim and elegant.  Tasted January 2015  @Tawse_Winery

Two Sisters Vineyards  Merlot 2010

Two Sisters Vineyards Riesling 2013, Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Chardonnay 2013, Eleventh Post 2011 and Merlot 2010

Two Sisters Riesling 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $24.00, WineAlign)

An auspicious coming out vintage from winemaker Adam Pearce with fruit sourced from the Foxcroft block of the Wismer Vineyard. So very Twenty Mile Bench, with fleshy, near to bursting exotic aromatics in the vein of other Foxcroft Rieslings, like those made by Paul Pender, Ilya Senchuk and Kevin Panagapka. The classic stone fruit, their stones and the soil’s stones trampled underfoot. The kinship goes deeper, with Jay Johnston’s Nadja and Pender’s Limestone Ridge. Pearce’s take endears with notes of clementine and creamy mango pudding. Though the residual inflates more expansively than all the others, there is an aridity in the end, one that intimates modern Alsace. A pleasure to taste, with good (though not great) acidity and low (10.6 per cent) alcohol. The finish improves with each pass of the lips.  Tasted January 2015

Two Sisters Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $24.00, WineAlign)

From the Creek Shores appellation, a precinct of the Peninsula with a habit of firing citrus shots into Riesling and Chardonnay. The injections are at their hyper best from June’s Vineyard and here, in this Adam Pearce crafted, barrel-broaching bottle of white stone immaculate. Tons of character graces this Chardonnay, with a salinity drawn from the heavy Creek Shores soil overtop solid rock that permeates the wine’s earth. Lees affected, this may well be Petite Chablis, what with its texture and sugary smells. There is a perceived effervescence, a lively streak that gives it life and a swelling of its heart. The acidity is rampant and despite the inkling of SO2, the wine is quite expressive and a step-up from many cut of the same genre.  Tasted January 2015

Two Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

Here is a veritable, potable example of Niagara SB 101, breath freshening, varietal refresher. Crafted with the lightest Sauvignon Blanc touch, with hints of grass and goose feathers, hold the berries. Soft, slight and slightly herbal with a thin veiled membrane of circular acidity. Amiably done.  Tasted January 2015

Two Sisters Chardonnay 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Not unexpectedly, the Two Sisters oaked Chardonnay is a dramatically opposing force to the unplugged abbess. If not for the pierce afforded a Creek Shores drawn Chardonnay, winemaker Adam Pearce might have found himself stuck with a big, buttery bag of popcorn on its way to becoming a can a of creamed corn. The wooden ship is thankfully mitigated by citrus and sails calmly across buttery seas in search of herbal lands. The handling is not one fumbled by heavy mitts and the cool climate intent is managed bravely. There is admiral balance with just enough wood incantation to see it stretch across a few years time.  Tasted January 2015

Two Sisters Eleventh Post 2011, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

A Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that is very savoury, with a dry and dusty white/red pepper component. This has good verve from out of the challenging 2011 vintage. It forges ’10 louder, amps the dial up to ’11, in tempo and sapidity. A very persistent and intense heritage, with chalky tannin and grains running crosswise. Though the final wish would be for more length, it is a dogged specimen with a few years left ahead.  Tasted January 2015

Two Sisters Merlot 2010, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

This was a “virtually” made wine at the time by current Ravine Vineyard winemaker Martin Werner. From the warm and high ripening 2010 vintage, with additional blanketing and layering from the Niagara River appellation. Oak provides a creamy flannel swaddle. Certainly soft, dreamy and downy, void of tension and so easy to consume. Though by now it has fully evolved and is rapidly descending into the river’s sunset, its flavour temperament is more than Merlot palatable. Were the price considerably lower it would please on more levels.  Tasted January 2015  @2SistersVine

CedarCreek Chardonnay 2013 and Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir 2012, Fort Berens Chardonnay 2013 and Pinot Noir 2012

CedarCreek Chardonnay 2013 and Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir 2012, Fort Berens Chardonnay 2013 and Pinot Noir 2012

CedarCreek Chardonnay 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $17.95, WineAlign)

With a component of this wine having been housed in mammoth, old-school (2250 litre) oak barrels, the wood is spread like citrus honey butter, evenly and judiciously, through every sip. Chardonnay of tang and by lees, with apples everywhere, along with a streaky flint mien. Fine Chardonnay.  Tasted January 2015  @CedarCreekWine

CedarCreek Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

From a vineyard planted in 1995, this wild yeast inoculated Pinot Noir is tough, sinewy, rigid and masculine. Dark red fruits are surrounded by racing, bracing, running on the spot acidity. Here is a west coast wine that needs enough time, somewhere in the area of five years, to soften and bring flowers. When it does, they will be roses.  Tasted January 2015

Fort Berens Chardonnay 2013, VQA British Columbia (BC VQA, 559492, $19.99, WineAlign)

With Fraser Canyon’s mountains as the backdrop, the sandy soil and sage brush make for a cool yet herbal Chardonnay. The foothills earth gives Lillooet mineral, not unlike Chablis but in B.C., with a tropical twist. This has plenty of leesy, Chablis character. Quite spirited, chalky and with a hint of soft metals, as if the cold world melts, “the noise a song.” Any way you look at it or listen to its electronica grooves, this is another cool-climate beauty. With good oscillating texture and length, it could easily be imagined to be drinking a tankful on a hot summer’s day.  Tasted January 2015  @FortBerens

Fort Berens Pinot Noir 2012, VQA British Columbia (Winery, $25.99, WineAlign)

This wine of many clones came together from Lilloet soils and was housed in barrels from many coopers. It’s bright, funky, meaty and fecundated with a clafouti of red fruits. Though jammy it’s neither hot nor over-extracted. The jam is a compote, teased by citrus rind and rubbed herb stems. In the end the sweetness prevails so find some salty charcuterie to match and drink up.  Tasted January 2015

Marcus Ansems Shiraz 2013

Daydreamer Wines Pinot Gris 2013, Jasper 2013, Amelia 2013 and Chardonnay 2013, Marcus Ansems Chardonnay 2013 and Shiraz 2013

Daydreamer Wines Pinot Gris 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Here a small batch Pinot Gris from winemaker Marcus Ansems out of an organic (Naramata Bench) vineyard. Dry and inhabiting atmospheric space, tightly wound, aerified and vacuous. Smells of fruit and blasted bits housed in concrete; pits, stones and blocks of rock. Flavours come from tree fruit, citrus and crushed seeds. Clean like Alsatian Pinot Gris (Schoffit comes to mind) and really balanced, with a soft crooning lilt. It’s quite elemental and elementary dear Watson, approachable and comforting. “When my head is heavy on my shoulders, daydreamer gonna make it over.” Linear acidity gives further meaning, in planar and stretched grooves. Deserving of the generic comment “really good food wine.”  Tasted January 2015  @Daydreamerwines

Daydreamer Wines Jasper 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.90, WineAlign)

This blend of Merlot (83 per cent) and Cabernet Franc is a dry, dusty pepper, mace and plum red with a silky texture and some advanced character. In retention of necessary acidity it manages to stay on the wire, with a citrus ability and a lees meets cheese rind cure. The flavours carry this forward with a chew of dried jerky, only to return to the aromatic takeover of dried flowers and cracked nasturtium pods. The great appeal here is on the nose, nothing to sneeze at or take for granted. The lasting appeal is a smell of salt pulling lilacs into the sea, or like a garden of flowers of trance inducing aromas that have absorbed many daydreams.  Tasted January 2015

Daydreamer Wines Amelia 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.90, WineAlign)

The organic B.C. winery presents a northern Rhône dreamer singing like a bird on its very personal Okanagan hejira. Composed of (90 per cent) Syrah and more than a dash (10 per cent) of Viognier, it also hits you like a linebacker, with waves of pepper and steeping cherries, or perhaps plums. Silky smooth and haunting up the middle, but the cure is in, the meats drying and the flavours massive. The fruits dehydrate in a way to question, have you got a date? Dates this Syrah has, in clusters, made saline by capers and sage. Leaves “vapor trails across the bleak terrain,” with streaks of octane fruit and tannin in refrain. This should be left to rest for a few years, to play out the song, to avoid “dreams, Amelia, dreams and false alarms.”  Tasted January 2015

Daydreamer Wines Chardonnay 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (BC VQA, 410076, $29.90, WineAlign)

A weighty example in excess of the chameleon Chardonnay’s necessities, skittering with jerking movements and changing rapidly within the assessment in minutiae. Plenty of scorched earth and toasted barrel putter about and the aromatics remind of an old Eastern European home. Braising biennial Brassica, Pot au Feu and a wood smoker linger into a leesy and citrus tang. The sapidity takes charge and warms to the glass and the senses. A more than serviceable if scattered Chardonnay here brings much character to the table.  Tasted January 2015

Marcus Ansems Chardonnay 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (BC VQA, 410076, $29.90, WineAlign)

The winemaker’s personal label is derived from more finesse and delves into upstanding seriousness than what is shown by his Daydreamer counterpart. Very cool-climate, acidity on top, with the suite of buttered toast, green apples and spice notes harmoniously intertwined. Pining notes opine to imagine pine forests and natural twine. Intense tang and verve stretch to protected length. Cooler in many ways, like a trio of established artists coming together for a first record, to offer their collective sound, on a “Friday evening, Sunday in the afternoon, what have you got to lose?” Nothing at all, from a glass of this blue-eyed Chardonnay.  Tasted January 2015  @HemispheresWine

Marcus Ansems Shiraz 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $34.90, WineAlign)

This Golden Mile Bench, west coast red leans northern Rhône with pronounced cured pork belly and smoked meat aromas. The savoury edge is like capers growing from cracks in limestone, the olives and other pickled berries coming by way of warmer, more southerly climes. Modern, violaceous and a touch oxidative, with some southern hemisphere gauze and rubber mercurial style points. There is a smell like that of baked potato, baked underground, after lightning has struck. A big wine from a little known pocket for Shiraz lore, the Ansems Shiraz will appeal to a masculine palate.  Tasted January 2015

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Three release love for the last long weekend

Taco Night

Taco Night

Good things come in threes and once in a calendar blue moon the LCBO’s VINTAGES wine release cycle rolls out that magic number. There can be no better month than August for the cosmic confluence to occur, particularly when the 31-day stretch hovers and encompasses two Canadian long weekends.

The fundamental postulate of accepting abetment to be ushered down a path of vinous enlightenment and the subsequent pleasure derived from having matched recommended bottles to the meals of summer is a priceless thing indeed. Make the connection enough times and behold the sense of empowerment. The beneficiary then becomes the facilitator. A torch is passed and the gift pays forward. Say what you will but no other wine program offers this type of retail-critic-consumer relationship. This is the beauty of the VINTAGES program. Bordeaux futures don’t count. That’s a racket.

The three August releases of the 2nd, 16th and 30th, though encumbered by a sea of suffusion, are also filled with excellence. Here are nine wines to consider for the final (gasp) summer long weekend of 2014.

Clockwise, from left to right: The Royal Old Vine Steen Chenin Blanc 2013, Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Redstone Limestone Vineyard South Riesling 2012, Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot Noir 2010, Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012, Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Huff Estates South Bay Chardonnay 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, (c) Jason Dziver, www.winealign.com

Clockwise, from left to right: The Royal Old Vine Steen Chenin Blanc 2013, Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Redstone Limestone Vineyard South Riesling 2012, Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot Noir 2010, Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012, Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Huff Estates South Bay Chardonnay 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, (c) Jason Dziver, http://www.winealign.com

The Royal Old Vine Steen Chenin Blanc 2013, Wo SwartlandSouth Africa (376871, $13.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 2, 2014 Release

While other expat varieties ride in to town, “see the glory, of the royal scam” and dupe new consumers into thinking greatness has immigrated here, Chenin Blanc in South Africa, like Malbec in Argentina, is the real deal. That an example like this Steen old vines can offer ten degrees of advanced proficiency in steely, dan-like refrain is a testament to the necessity of its promotion. Chenin Blanc is the grape for Swartland, for Stellenbosch, for the Western Cape, for South Africa. It comes equipped with energy, “wearing coats that shined, both red and green, colors from their sunny island, from their boats of iron.” It works many sides of the wine pairing practicum, for protein fleshy and flaky, for vegetables prepared in many ways. The Royal is textured and even if the tale is told with quick and efficient pluck, at $14 per play, what more is there to say.  Tasted August 2014  @oenophilia1  @kysela

Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (341792, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 30, 2014 Release

A Creek Shores SB that bridges the gap between spring and summer fruit. From a year in which the choice was made to not blend off into the estate bottling. Recognizable Creekside aromatics stand out in a more than obvious mineral deposit and grapefruit zest way. Here the band plays across The Great Divide so “just grab your hat, and take that ride.” Will be a VINTAGES August 30 release.  Tasted February 2014  @CreeksideWine

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (256834, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 30, 2014 Release

The CdC Pinot schematic is never predicated on pectin or reduction but rather the pungent molasses of earth. What better vintage (until the 2012 comes our way) can there be to accentuate the warmth of the St. David’s Bench (within a Pinot Noir plat) and to elevate sylvan fruit for complex results? The raisining is within reason and concentrates botany, not plums or figs. The somewhat elevated (7.0 g/L) residual comes across in tannin and texture so forgiveness is granted. Bigmouth (critic) strikes again, “oh…sweetness, sweetness,” but “I was only joking.” The Old Vines Pinot brings about smithy balance, of brix, treacle, iron, acidity, rusticty and mortar. It should be considered as good a value at $18 as any basic Bourgogne rouge.   Tasted August 2014  @MBosc

Redstone Limestone Vineyard South Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (381251, $21.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 16, 2014 Release

This inaugural Riesling foray from atop the Twenty Mile Bench out of the Limestone Vineyard is a sister to the Tawse exploration from same. The comparisons end right there. Paul Pender’s take is kinetic, frenetic and electric. Redstone winemaker Rene Van Ede tends to and lends from a reconnaissance that heralds Mosel. His first, fixed take is off-dry (in obvious ubiquity) with circular acidity. The co-agitation is early picked at low brix, with realized high residual sugar (36.4 g/L) and low alcohol (10 per cent). Toothsome, with a ying/yang, lemon/lime, push/pull. The case load is formidable for a first go ’round (1000 plus) yet paddled through limestone acreage with effortless strokes.  Tasted May 2014  @RedstoneWines

Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (378414, $21.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 2, 2014 Release

Look, I get it. Wine is made from grapes so why command a host of other fruits to offer context for aromas and tastes? Just have a moment with Steve Byfield’s “virtual” Viognier 2012. Virtual tree meets stone fruit. Smells just like a ripe peach. The flavour bears an uncanny resemblance to apricots. Virtual my Equus africanus asinus. The winery is virtual, the Viognier anything but. Speaks a Condrieu varietal truth by way of Niagara’s Redfoot vineyard. Carries a soil-driven, mineral-flecked, microscopically-oxidized metal tang so essential to invigorating Viognier. Blessed stuff from a Shona’s humble hands.  Tasted twice, March and June 2014  @NyaraiCellars

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012, Napa Valley, California (221887, $23.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 2, 2014 Release

A nod to the typical White Bordeaux blend with 87 per cent Sauvignon Blanc and 13 Semillon. Another vintage that shows the direction taken by the winery is a righteous one. Drawn in chromatic patina, characterized by an oxidized style and with extreme arid prejudice. Though it’s a storied expression of warm Napa Valley it bears an uncanny resemblance to a wild yeast affected, cool climate Sauvignon Blanc style, with extended lees contact. There is ripe pear and some chalk, excellent tang, faux sugars and stretched out length. Served well chilled is a plus, accentuating the zest and mineral components. Very good showing and vintage for this iconic wine.  Tasted April 2014  @CBrandsCareers

Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand (164228, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 2, 2014 Release

With caution to what is likely a captain obvious comment, the suggestion here is that this (former Cloudy Bay winemaker) Kevin Judd Sauvignon Blanc makes perfect use of the over thruster to travel back in time. A time in the late 90’s/early 2000’s when Marlborough SB was the white bomb. Might it be more than obvious to ask for some briny Pacific oysters to accompany and match the elegance in salinity of this Woodbourne, Renwick and Rapaura fruit amalgamation? Potent, if distilled Marlborough delivering excellence here, with a notion of sweetness, not of a suffering palate, but in aromatics. The late summer garden by the sea, in a stiff mineral breeze and in ripening, southern hemisphere tree fruit. The grasses are somewhere else, there are no speed limits and no undesirable tang. The Greywacke is refined, perhaps to a fault, but prime and worth every bit of its dime.  Tasted August 2014  @greywacker

Huff Estates South Bay Chardonnay 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (88955, $29.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 2, 2014 Release

The oak repeal in decreased new barrel impact allows the County to speak in the clearest of voice. As it should, from a South Bay landscape and terroir as rugged and dramatic that can be found anywhere Chardonnay is made in Ontario. There is a honeyed unctuous and viscous feel to the South Bay ’10, no doubt a result of its middle filled in by a meritorious and pure lees. Limestone wraps up the fruit in a clean, crisp and pure package.  Tasted April 2014  @HuffEstatesWine

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (33894, $33.00, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 2, 2014 Release

Something’s missing, or rather something is happening here. The LCJ omnipresent warm Pinot coat of harm is conspicuous in its absence, or has it been reigned in? This 2011 is so much more friendly, more soft-spoken, expertly judged and picked ripe fruit richer than before. Plenty of tang and tannin but the pronouncement is in a savoury basil/chervil kind of way. Not just another high made by just another crazy guy. A most excellent, bright, roxy Village Reserve, full of atmosphere and ambient music.  Tasted February 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.20, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 30, 2014 Release

 Norm’s Niagara is such a different animal to the County 2012. The warm summer and dry fall means more humidity and even more reduction. Currently cothurnal so less like Burgundy but only because there elevates the high-tones and percipience from Niagara. Texture is key but this Hardie needs time. It’s not angular but it is steroidal, injected, like a wild thing, as if the yeast were still in control, munching away even though there is no more sugar to be had. Undomesticated ’12, at heart, in spirit, out of mind. Hard to imagine there could be this much anxiety from the even-tempered vintage, but when you pick real early and keep the oak to a bare minimum, Hardie happens. Norm picked ripe fruit between September 7 and 10, six weeks ahead as compared to some years. He said the fruit had a “golden tan, ready to go.” The use of smallish 500L barrels works wonders for texture and though 40 per cent was new wood, you would never know it. Malolactic fermentation didn’t happen until late August, nearly a full year on so no sulphuring was required until that time. This is Hardie’s freshest Niagara fruit ever, from Duarte Oliveira’s farm between Victoria and Ontario Street, the same spot as Hillebrand’s Chardonnay Reserve. Terrific Beamsville Bench Chardonnay.  Tasted May 2014  @normhardie

Good to go!

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