Top ten wines $30 and under for 2013

Wine in the haystack


Finding the needles in the proverbial haystack is no simple assignment so tasting through thousands of wines each year is the necessity to the mother of invention.
Photo: Africa Studio/Fotolia.com

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Folks like best of lists and I for one am happy to offer them up. Historical farsightedness can be one of life’s great pleasures so cue the retrospective view.

The $20-30 category brims to overflowing with soft wines, so often heavy, overworked, reeking of new oak and unforgiving in contrivance. That niche can also be occupied by some of the greatest wine values on the planet. Wines that are neither entry-level nor flagship. Wines that define the attitude and intention of their producers.

Finding the needles in the proverbial haystack is no simple assignment so tasting through thousands of wines each year is the necessity to the mother of invention. Looking back, I am pleased to note that Ontario wines proved their worth in this reasonable if not cheap category. That four of the ten represented here were chosen locally is a testament to the quality and the marketability of $25 Niagara whites and reds.

Here are my top ten wines, on the number or below, released and tasted in 2013.

Ten wine releases $30 and under

From left: SOUTHBROOK TRIOMPHE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, GREENLANE RIESLING OLD VINES 2011, DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS LES FOUGERAIES SAVENNIÈRES 2009, DOMAINES SCHLUMBERGER KESSLER PINOT GRIS 2008, and SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009

From left: SOUTHBROOK TRIOMPHE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, GREENLANE RIESLING OLD VINES 2011, DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS LES FOUGERAIES SAVENNIÈRES 2009, DOMAINES SCHLUMBERGER KESSLER PINOT GRIS 2008, and SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009

SIGALAS SANTORINI ASSYRTIKO 2011, Santorini, Greece (74781, $21.95, WineAlign)

Must be a fairy tale, a Boucles d’or narrative of structure and complexity from the first swirl and sniff. Airy, saline, built of rich, gold guts. Perfectly ripened orchard fruit and fresh-squeezed grapefruit. Taste it and there’s a joyous dance, a kefi bursting inside, like great Champagne but minus the bubbles.  92  Tasted April 2013  @KolonakiGroup  From: See the humanity in real value wine

SOUTHBROOK TRIOMPHE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (ON, VINTAGES Essential, 193573, $22.95, WineAlign)

Drifts effortlessly along in an extreme brightness and lightness of being. A perfumed exotic beauty that displays definitive Cabernet Sauvignon character. Tea, tobacco, Cassis, vanilla, dark berries, proper acidity, good grip and length. Dictionary entry for the vintage, the Niagara-on-the-Lake appellation and the genre. No other sub-$25 Ontario Cab does the warm vintages (’02. ’05, ’07 and ’10) with this kind of grace and power. From and kudos to winemaker Ann Sperling.  91  Tasted September 2013  @SouthbrookWine  From: Good Look Ahead at Canadian Wines For Thanksgiving

GREENLANE RIESLING OLD VINES 2011 ,VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (351486, $22.95, WineAlign)

Cracks the mineral whip, froths lime into foam and atomizes stone fruit into sweet and sour heaven. Wants to be semi-dry but never quite goes there. Walks a fine line, a tightrope actually. Up there with Charles Baker and Thirty Bench for sheer madness.  91  Tasted July 2013  @GreenLaneWinery  From: Alternative wines for the August long weekend

DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS LES FOUGERAIES SAVENNIÈRES 2009, Ac Loire, France (319855, $23.95, WineAlign)

Screams “I am Chenin Blanc,” in honey on the pedal and maximum mineral metal. Aggressive, pursuing machine ”stealing honey from a swarm of bees.” Petrol stinky, tangy thick, sticky with honey oozing everywhere, in comb and sweet-smelling suckle. Seriously huge and flashy. Will be stunning when it settles down.  92  Tasted April 2013  @Savennieresaoc  From: Top ten wines for May Day

DOMAINES SCHLUMBERGER KESSLER PINOT GRIS 2008, Ac Alsace, France (249623, $25.95, WineAlign)

Wants to tell you she’s late harvest but you know better. “You might say you can only fool yourself.” Golden gorgeous, silken pear custard and southern hemisphere, capsicum spiked fruit. Walks on little feat but ultra-marathon runs a sweet to dry crescendoing gamut.  92  Tasted June 2013  @drinkAlsace  From: Working wines for the Canada Day long weekend

From left: SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, LAN GRAN RESERVA 2005, ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT SPARKLING, MALIVOIRE WINE COMPANY GAMAY 'COURTNEY' 2011, and THIRTY BENCH VINEYARDS 'STEEL POST' VINEYARD RIESLING 2011

From left: SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, LAN GRAN RESERVA 2005, ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT SPARKLING, MALIVOIRE WINE COMPANY GAMAY ‘COURTNEY’ 2011, and THIRTY BENCH VINEYARDS ‘STEEL POST’ VINEYARD RIESLING 2011

SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, Tuscany, Italy (716266, $26.95, SAQ, 703363, $27, WineAlign)

Clocks in at 12.8 per cent abv. Are you following the theme here? This CCR is just so flippin’ foxy and gorgeous to nose. It’s also demanding in iron, dried sanguine char and tough like the label’s Titian-painted medieval knight. CCR stretched out on the rack, Italianate through and through and likely in need of 10 years lay down time. Funkless which, considering the lack of coat and obfuscation, is very, very interesting.  92   Tasted August 2013  From: Fall is the wine time to be with the Tuscan you love

LAN GRAN RESERVA 2005, Rioja, Spain (928622, $27.95, WineAlign)

Its makers may now just be a cog in the Sogrape empire but it continues to do its own thing. Has that evolution I look for in Rioja. The slightest oxidative note, heaps of herbs and the umami of salty clashes with smokey Jamon. Rioja expressive of one love and one heart. Caught bobbing, dancing and wailing right in its wheelhouse, giving everything it’s made of, no holds barred and no questions asked. “Is there a place for the hopeless sinner?” Yes, in a glass of a weathered, leathery and just flat out real as it gets red Rioja.  92  Tasted September 2013  @BodegasLan  From: Ancient state of the art Spanish wine

ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT SPARKLING, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California, (294181, $29.95, WineAlign)

Composed of approximately 60 per cent Chardonnay and 40 Pinot Noir. As close to greatness a house style from California can achieve. Discovers some secrets shared by cool-climate Sparkling wine, first with a delicate floral waft from out of a salmon copper tone. Complex, savoury bubbles, in rhubarb, tarragon and poached pear. Round, really fine, earthly, grounded stuff that spent a minimum two years on the lees. Marked by citrus too, namely pink grapefruit and creamy vanilla from the addition of some oak-aged wine.  91  Tasted November 2013  From: Ten sparkling wine to life

MALIVOIRE WINE COMPANY GAMAY ‘COURTNEY’ 2011, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($29.95, winery only,)

Spent 14 edifying months in French oak and will live adroitly for another five years as a result. So much plum inherent in all its faculties, berries and currants too. The winemaker star of Shiraz Mottiar is rising higher into the cool climate stratosphere with each passing vintage. His wines walk a haute couture runway of class and style.  91  Tasted April 2013  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  From: Come together over wine

THIRTY BENCH VINEYARDS ‘STEEL POST’ VINEYARD RIESLING 2011, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($30, winery only, WineAlign)

From the Andrew Peller stable leans late-harvest or Spätlese, with 18.5 grams per litre of residual sugar. Clean, crisp, precise and near perfect Beamsville Bench expression. Flinty minerality and fantastic whorl by way of winemaker Emma Garner. Equal to if not more of a bomb than the stellar ’09.  93  Tasted March 2013  @ThirtyBench  100 kilometre wine for Spring

Good to go!

Working wines for the Canada Day weekend

Barque Breakfast, eggs, pulled pork, potato pancakes, guacamole
Barque Breakfast, eggs, pulled pork, potato pancakes, guacamole
PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

June has been long, wet, arduous and full of promise. Exhausting too. It began with a cooking ordure show for 1,300 Ultimate athletes. There have been food and wine tastings all over Ontario. The palate may never experience this level of fatigue as it does at the end of June. Think about how the Wine Align team feels!

Last week I attended the Stop Night Market, an unforgettable food and beverage extravaganza that rivals any outdoor gastro-experience you are likely to find, anywhere. The unparalleled $50 all you eat and drink ticket from the best of Toronto’s best aside, the SNM helped to solidify the STOP’s position as a leader in community food programs.  The next night I attended Sip and Savour Ontario in the Fermenting Cellar located within the historic Distillery District. Wine and food pursuers lapped up Ontario wines in every incantation matched by seriously excellent small edibles. Sip & Savour Ontario is dedicated to bringing education, support and accessibility of Ontario’s local wine, culinary and agricultural industries to the public, all in support of Houselink.

This coming Friday, June 28th has been declared #CanadianWineDay (or #CdnWineDay) so get out there and sample whatever you can find out of our wine regions, from coast to coast. Make sure to tweet what you tasted.

Time for a brief respite. Canada’s wine and food industry peeps and tweeps have been working overtime, taking care of business, working for the weekend.  What we all need is an extended rest, out in the air, down by the bay, surrounded by family and friends, with a good glass of wine. Here are 10 current releases, ready and willing to work for your long weekend.

Clockwise from top left: Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2012, Villa Tonino Grillo 2010, Lone Birch Pinot Gris 2012, Rosewood Estates Sémillon 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Pinot Gris 2008, Caves D’esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2012, Vineland Estates Pinot Meunier 2011, Jean-Ernest Descombes Morgon 2011, Stratus Tollgate Merlot 2010, and Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010

Clockwise from top left: Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2012, Villa Tonino Grillo 2010, Lone Birch Pinot Gris 2012, Rosewood Estates Sémillon 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Pinot Gris 2008, Caves D’esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2012, Vineland Estates Pinot Meunier 2011, Jean-Ernest Descombes Morgon 2011, Stratus Tollgate Merlot 2010, and Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010

The Sparkling

The grapes: Muscat, Perle of Csaba

The history: Traditional Champagne style bubbles from a Nova Scotia pioneer out of the Gaspereau Valley

The lowdown: Think Moscato D’asti from Piedmont mixed with the Hungarian Vinifera derived grape. The remarkably low 6.5 percent alcohol aims to please and refresh every palate on a warm Canada Day weekend

The food match: Barque Breakfast, eggs, pulled pork, potato pancakes, guacamole

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2012 (256289, $25.95, Nova Scotia $24.99) while nowhere near Champagne in proximity nor character holds a perfume immediate in marmalade, candied orange peel, lit wick and melting paraffin. To taste it sweetens up a sun-setting, waning day with a convexity of creamy rhubarb, orange sherbet, strawberry and pink grapefruit. Like a song in 6/4 compound, musical meter. With so much going on this is certainly a bridge to somewhere and it’s “gettin’ there fast.” 90  @Benjamin_Bridge

The Whites

The grape: Grillo

The history: Native and classic Sicilian varietal, dating back to B.C.E times though it now only comprises 3 per cent of the white grapes planted in Sicily

The lowdown: Boundless personality of a white wine from the thick-skinned and bold grape built for the blazing Sicilian sun and arid Mediterranean climate

The food match: Chickpea, Parmesan & Fennel Salad

Villa Tonino Grillo 2010 (289579, $14.95) owns a melon’s ripe musk melding to fermenting aroma, matched by a warm, juicy and mouth-watering texture. Blanched nut, coconut and lime zest party on the beach with steaming decapod crustaceans. Grillo, grilling and the sur beating up the sea wall would do just fine.  89  @RegazziWines

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Family owned & operated winery, located in the Yakima Valley of Washington State

The lowdown: Just a bit more than 4,000 cases produced and has only been in bottle for three months

The food match: Pacific Rim Chowder

Lone Birch Pinot Gris 2012 (324905, $15.95) gives away a whole lotta’ love for 16 bones. Rich, ropy mandarin and orange melon acidulated with a shot of white pepper coolant. LB, “you’ve been cooling and baby I’ve been drooling.” Dizzying on the tongue, gone bananas and twiddling on every bud.  90 @WINESofWA

The grape: Sémillon

The history: Beamsville’s Rosewood Estate has been pouring their heart, soul and honey (not literally) into this  varietal’s future

The lowdown: Most often employed in combination with Sauvignon Blanc to forge the dry white wines of Bordeaux and more famously, the dessert wines from Sauternes and Barsac. Rosewood is leading the North American charge. #StandSémillonStand

The food match: The Spoke Club‘s Crab Salad + Braised Pork Belly with spring onion and sea buckthorn

Rosewood Estates Sémillon 2011 (177758, $17.95) is the leader of the pack. The honey is uncanny. From an earlier note: “is frighteningly honeyed and its blatant acidity brings out all the right zest notes in the seafood. Major (three times) cropping from a “disease control vintage” by Orwinski who “knows the vineyard. It really is his home.” He’s still chanting “drop the crop!” in his sleep. The citrus and soda are glaring, exciting and invigorating in ’11, as is the aforementioned honey, the trump card keeping the Sémillon from being confused for Riesling.  Fascinating study.”  91  @RosewoodWine

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Alsace family estate winery dates back to 2010.

The lowdown: Grand Cru Pinot Gris. Kessler has been sold under its own name since 1830

The food match: Citrus Smoked Salmon Salad, goat cheese mousse, pickled strawberry, baby frisée

Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Pinot Gris 2008 (249623, $25.95) wants to tell you she’s late harvest but you know better. “You might say you can only fool yourself.” Golden gorgeous, silken pear custard and southern hemisphere, capsicum spiked fruit. Walks on little feat but ultra-marathon runs a sweet to dry crescendoing gamut.  92  @drinkAlsace

The Rosé

The grapes: Grenache, Rolle, Cinsault, Syrah, and Mourvedre

The history: From the Côtes de Provence, the brainchild of Bordeaux royalty Sacha Lichine (Chateau Prieure Lichine) and Patrick Leon (Baron Phillipe de Rothschild)

The lowdown: As classic a southern French Rosé as you are likely to find, gaze upon or taste, anywhere

The food match: Buttermilk Pancakes, bacon

Caves D’esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2012 (325076, $19.95) of calm, pale arctic char hue and creamy alabaster porcelain skin is a most statuesque and regal RoséWild herbs and country spice walk along a dry road in this most excellent pink drink.  89  @WhisperingAngeI 

The Reds

The grape: Pinot Meunier

The history: This is the third vintage for Vinleand Estates and the rare planted (approximately 1.5 acres) cousin of Pinot Noir

The lowdown: Winemaker Brian Schmidt is exploring the “potential of this unique varietal within the dynamic frame of Niagara. More reliable and consistent that it’s often “psycho” mirror image, Pinot Noir.”

The food match: Steak & Frites, Marinated Skirt Steak, Smoked Pepper Relish

Vineland Estates Pinot Meunier 2011 (225508, $17.95) offers a simple twist of fate from the vinous research control centre in Niagara. Has now gone well beyond experimentation, this 2011 tingles to the bone with pronounced floral waves and a sweet, tangy, concentrated cherry core. Solid focus and structured to please.  Piques a familiar rich scent of leather. Drank it “as the evening sky grew dark.”  88  @benchwineguy

The grape: Gamay

The history: Cru Gamay from Morgon. After Brouilly, Morgon is the largest winemaking area in Beaujolais. From the Georges Duboeuf stable

The lowdown: Straddles a serious and commercial line but the consistency of this Gamay is not to be disputed

The food match: Fried Green Tomatoes, corn salsa, feta

Jean-Ernest Descombes Morgon 2011 (946186, $17.95, SAQ 856898, $19.30, B.C. 866673 $21.99) is simply rich and decadent in raspberry, a bit cakey and jammy for the appellation yet structured and stylish. Barbera-like with tar, roses, fennel and balancing tannin.  89  @Dandurandwines

The grape: Merlot

The history: From master and mad scientist J.L Groux, winemaker at marketing and class organization extraordinaire Stratus Vineyards

The lowdown: When Stratus rolled out the Tollgate line I was skeptical. Where the Wildass group might hit you upside the head (in a good way, of course) the Tollgates earn their stripes with finesse and elegance. Created primarily for the restaurant industry. An ode to agricultural activity of Upper Canada

The food match: Panko-Custed, Pulled Slow-Cooked Beef Chuck, horseradish aioli, charred brussel sprouts

Stratus Tollgate Merlot 2010 (344101, $24.95) is a picture of modernity, warm and a touch oxy. Raspberry jam, dusty mulberry. Indicative of how special 2010 was for Merlot in Niagara. Really well made, built of a confident structure, mindful of an incandescence in finesse. Linear experience, with no breaks or pauses. Solid red.  88  @Stratuswines

The Splurge

The grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault

The history: From the Rhône Valley in Southern France, Château La Nerthe was born in the 12th Century around the time vines were first planted in the stone-strewn soil of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (literally the “Pope’s new castle”)

The lowdown: While the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are anything but cheap, they more often than not offer the best high-end wine values in the world. This is one of the best.

The food match: Braised Duck Leg, duck fat potatoes, ontario cherries

Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (735407, $43.95) exudes a bigger, bolder cherry and Kirsch liqueur than from memory, indicating both a flamboyance of the vintage and a torrent to a long future. A swirl of black cassock cooling the candied, cherry blossom centre is met by a wall of harsh tannin with a lash of tang pushing back the fruit. Will be stellar in five, or more likely ten years on. Love this house.  92 

Good to go!

Ontario Wines Won’t Break The Federal Budget

March 29, 2012

 

http://blogs.canada.com/2012/03/29/ontario-wines-wont-break-the-federal-budget/?postpost=v2#content

 

The first true Harper majority government budget will be unveiled this afternoon while VINTAGES product consultants stock their shelves with the March 31st release. The budget will push Old Age Security benefits back to 67. That’s the bad news. The good news is the VINTAGES debut for three stellar backyard bottles. The Tawse Rosé (Echoes incarnate) and the Fielding Chardonnay are on the list at Barque. All three take leave of Canadian politics, tax season and choose to sing of a soothing Spring and Easter otherness.

 

Tawse Sketches of Niagara Rosé 2011 (172643, $15.95) lightens the load laid thick by the 2010 vintage characteristic of the family rutaceae and citrus paradisi. Leans and Dreams Côte d‘Azur where strawberry and candy wiz together ripe and bright.  Warm weather friend crafted by a non compromising cropper.  87 

Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2011 (080234, $16.95) elevates above the rim to heights scented by citrus and sea salt to dunk over gleaming minerality. All-star game style on the ball, friable, alley-oop. I’ll repeat the refrain. Less zone coverage and grow more Riesling Ontario!  88

Fielding Estate Chardonnay Unoaked 2008 (164491, $13.95) continues to exude freshness three plus years on.  Prevailing squeaky clean and cheap so ”my money flows like wine.” Still whistling Dixie and eating chicken, like Mitt Romney on the Western Swing. More Mutsu than Meyer, more alfalfa than clover.  A golden, herbal remedy.  87

 

 

 

Good to go!