Tasting Ontario at Canada’s Great Kitchen Party

Congrats to the winners at Canada’s @greatkitchenparty in Toronto last night. Repeat for @cbriesling and couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Quality at an all time high for all the wines in the competition.

Related – Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2017

The artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates is deep into its second tour under the auspices of the new and improved moniker Canada’s Great Kitchen Party. Four weeks ago the launching port for the magical travelling culinary, wine and musical tour was Toronto’s Metro Convention Centre and 12 cities later the cross-cultural palooza will culminate at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Ottawa, January 31st and February 1st, 2020.

The plates at Canada’s @greatkitchenparty are always some of the year’s best. Three from last night.

Related – Eighteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2018

On October 3rd, 2019 over 550 guests enjoyed an evening of celebration and elevation of Canadian culture in food, sport and music. The chefs came both to compete for their chance to be on the podium and to share their creative talent with the guests. Over 45 athletes from amateur, para and pro sports shared their stories and guests were on the dance floor enjoying the performance of some of Canada’s greatest musicians! It was an inspiring and impactful experience as the city united to provide Canadian youth the opportunity to be extraordinary in food, music and sport. We are proud to support Community Food Centres Canada, MusiCounts and B2ten.

Gold – Chef Keith Pears, Executive Chef at Delta by Marriott Toronto

Silver – Chef Frank Parhizgar, FK Restaurant

Bronze – Chef Renée Bellefeuille, Art Gallery on Ontario

My WineAlign colleague David Lawrason requested that I join his merry band of judges for the sixth straight year to assess, deliberate and conclude on the three podium wines of the competition. That we did are these were the results.

Here are my notes on all the wines tasted that evening.

Flat Rock Riddled Sparkling 2017, Traditional Method, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (383315, $34.95)

Riddled ’17 is so bloody young and fresh it’s hard to let it into your life but you should and you must. Bright, startling nearly, greatly aromatic, crispy and yet perspiring with the most humidity and sunshine from a Riddled to date. Tense and nervous, can’t relax. Toasty and just plain fun. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted October 2019

Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Gris 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (537076, $22.95)

Very gris, lush and fulsome, dripping with orchard fruit juices and so well integrated. A balanced and tangy mess of fruit and ease into acidity.  Last tasted October 2019

Always puts some time, effort and pleasure in reserve so the moniker continues to hold true to Mission Hill form. The pulse of energy persists and it is that tongue-tying freshness that stands still though will be moving forward soon, in time. Seemingly a bit less skin-contact but so heady in apple, pear and white peach, yet always returning to that green mango-apple bite. Better gris goes deeper and beats before, so kudos to the Hill for the work. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted April 2019

Chef Keith Pears

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (241182, $37.20)

Baker’s ’16 is the child of a great vintage’s phenolics and so without needing to concern oneself in wondering about ripeness or fruit quality it allows for a beeline straight to the tannic structure. That’s the crux of 2016, built upon a core that may as well be centred in the very heart of Colmar. Sugar may as well be nowhere and nothing because balance induces dreams utterly grounded in aridity. So reminded of Bernard Schoffit and The Rangen, austere yet entangled, lean and direct of sure, focused and precise. In the zone and will be for 12 blessedly slow developing years. Drink 2021-2030.  Tasted October 2019

Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (381251, $19.95)

Warmth from Nadja in 2017, not humidity mind you but certainly juiciness, citrus squeeze and real tart behaviour. Not the acidity of some vintages but enough action to counteract the flat out rocking expressiveness of the fruit. Now you can drink this early while other more tightly constructed and yet uncoiled Nadjas move through their paces.  Lasted October 2019

Nadja has taken the anomaly of an inverted vintage and founded a striking riesling with laser quick reflexes. It’s a lean, lightning flinty and lime-powered one, stark in its intensity and drier than I can ever remember it being. The levels of grape tannin and extract are amazing and it really needs time to settle in. Let’s look at it again in 2019. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted October 2018

Redstone Riesling Limestone Ridge South 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (381251, $19.95)

All about the lime, beneath the surface and above board. Juiced, filling up the flavours matched against the sugar. Well-balanced, tightly wound and grippy as you know what.  Last tasted October 2019

From the sizeable Limsetone Vineyard’s south portion, the 2017 does what good Bench riesling should. It delivers a gamut of citrus and orchard fruit, from apple to peach stone and yet communicates through a conduit of fine riesling acidity. This example cuts like a knife through creamy custard, in other words it drinks straightforward and with full calm at ease. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted March 2019

Honsberger Chardonnay Schuele Vineyards 2017, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario ($35.00)

Just four months has done the trick,. No simply fruitful with an ease of oak, little to less encumbrance from spice and very much having arrived, pitched and settled in the lovely to elegant camp. No longer overtly demanding in engagement or complexity and in this case all the better for it.  Last tasted October 2019

A mix of apple terpene and green pesto marks the nose before turning leesy, creamy and corn. Quite extracted, oaked and tannic so expect a chardonnay of ambition in request for settling time. That or some heady food to stand up and count together. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Reserve Du Domaine 2017, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($34.95)

The Reserve is an impressive and bloody delicious chardonnay with all of its parts moving together and speaking straight from the Peninsula heart. Crunchy and luxe at once then the other, then synched, together. Ripe and developed but also green apple fresh, smart, in good humour and beautiful. This Queylus just has a glow about ‘er. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted October 2019

Tawse Estate Vineyards Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($38.15)

The toastiest and most reductive of the Tawse chardonnays, above Quarry Road and well beyond Robyn’s. It may have once been the smooth one but not any more. Expect sharp, pointed and angular juts and struts. A sharp varietal Tawse that speaks a more pointed Bench vernacular than the Peninsula labelling would say. No matter for time has done little to crack the safe.  Last tasted October 2019

The rock of the compos mentis Tawse chardonnay is the Estate, as consistently composed as any in the high end Ontario tier. The simple plan leads to something ultimately complex, first by charitable dispensation by a vintage like 2013 and then from fruit synchronically pulled off of four iconically developing vineyards; David’s Block (39 per cent), Quarry Road (35), Hillside (14) and Robyn’s Block (11). The balance of fruit, mineral and barrel is impeccable with many thanks due to Paul Pender’s recondite investigative barrel program. The Estate chardonnay owes a great deal to French forests and variegated toasts, all of which show tongue and teeth in this wine. The layering here (and really fine lees) brings creamy tropical as well as crisp Ontario fruit. This is the most soothing of Tawse’s chardonnays with a developing sense of tart candied flowers melting into caramel. In other words, delicious. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2017

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Rosé 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (68833, $23.95)

What you want and need from Rosé out of Ontario or anywhere you might dream light, salty, richly fruitful and generously hued pink stuff. Dry and saline with a full gamut of rootsy and ripe fruit; strawberry, cranberry and pomegranate. So good.  Last tasted October 2019

Locust Lane is certainly one of Ontario’s top cru sites for Rosé and while that may sound like a wine style misnomer to some you’d better taste this before making any statements you’ll then want to retract. Winemaker Jay J. must thank his lucky Beamsville Bench stars to have the fortune to make Rosé with this fruit. He would also know not to screw it up so behold this saline, sapid, linear, natural, balanced and just bloody delicious wine. Along with Moira just a stone’s throw over a hill away there are some that just rise above and do so with great ease, like fruit fallen into the hand just before it had been plucked from the stem. That’s when you know Rosé had been grown, run and fermented just right. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Thirty Bench Winemaker’s Blend Red 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (320986, $24.95)

Quite heady red here from Thirty Bench, full on dark red fruit in the raspberry merlot vein and just the right verdancy. It’s also sharp and spiced by botanicals that perk up your favourite amaro. Fun stuff from Emma Garner.  Last tasted October 2019

A plethora of mixed red fruits marks not just the entry but the entirety of the Red Blend. It’s a Bordeaux fashion in Beamsville clothing, of berries, plums and even a bit of fennel like addendum. Quite fruity, integrated and balanced, all in the name of amenability and drinkability. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted August 2019

Mission Hill Reserve Merlot 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (553313, $29.95)

Rich and heady to no surprise and plenty of instigating spice. Dives down and into the depths of dark fruit in the shroud of barrel where all sing along together. A bit of balsamic and the notion of impending umami. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted October 2019

Trius Red (The Icon) 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (303800, $24.95)

The Red Icon is everything Niagara can be in affordable red wine, magnified and hyperbolized to the nth degree. A huge icon if from a vintage in reverse and so the strawberry jam is right there, set up in the fruitiest way above the acids and the structure. Tannins won’t lie however and neither will 10 years of great drinking. Drink 2021-20230.  Tasted October 2019

Stratus Red 2015, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (131037, $48.20)

Quite high-toned from a Stratus Red, fruit elevated and lifted by 2015 acids, trying to settle but not able to let gravity do its work. Crunchy and certainly grippy, firm and far from open. Last tasted October 2019.

Harvested over a week’s time in mid to late November from a warm if unremarkable vintage that followed a polar vortex winter, the just released 2015 Red is the five-headed Bordelais made from cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec. If indeed perception is conceived to occur through five senses then all are needed to feel the fingers and toes of this assemblage. It’s also a matter of mathematical relevance, especially if you’ve tasted a few vintages of this most consistent appellative blend. And so standard deviation is relevant in assessment. From one Stratus Red to another we are looking at two sets of five different numbers that have the same mean but different standard deviations and it can be argued (because of the methodology), the same standard deviation but different means. If only J-L Groux knows the answer to the mean and standard of each Red set we can still look at this ’15 and note how it’s quite dusty and high-toned in its youth, with a richness that will eventually bring it all down to earth. It’s a chewy Red with some dried, leathery fruit, as per the mean, equal and opposing to the fresh and friendly, as per the standard deviation. As a matter of assemblage it’s as classic and recognizable as any in the accumulative history and also reminiscent of the past, like ’07, ’10 and ’12, to name just a few. With cabernet sauvignon at the head it tells us that ripeness is the virtue and comfort the result. By the way, the varietal breakdown of 40, 24, 23, 11 and 2 equates to a mean of 20 and a standard deviation of 14.40. For what it’s worth.  Drink 2019-2026. Tasted October 2018

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Searching for Somewhereness

The wines of Norman Hardie

The wines of Norman Hardie

Somewhereness is not really a word. It’s hokum. Gibberish. Nonsense. Look it up in Merriam-Webster or Oxford. Not there. Its conceived convenience is recorded in Wiktionary, Your Dictionary and other online glossaries though, because there is always an online presence ready and willing to immortalize anything and everything.

The definition of Somewhereness, according to the online “dictionaries.”

  1. The state or quality of being in, occurring in, or belonging to a specific place.
  2. The state or quality of existing in a place that is unknown or cannot be pinpointed.
  3. The unique characteristics imparted on a wine by the conditions of the place in which it was grown.

Somewhereness lies the truth?

Somewhereness is not a state of mind, of being, of knowing something is intrinsically right within the parameters or context of here, there, anywhere or everywhere. Somewhereness is not merely a function of good decision-making, of exercising the ideal to expand on terroir, to create something to talk about. Yet that third so-called definition is on the right track. Belief says terroir is what happens in the vineyard, through environment, by geology, geography and topology, from naturally occurring elements and microbes in the soil, by air and of climate. Terroir is the great one. The impossible creator of perfect storms, from out of riddle and enigma. Somewhereness, by extension, is the next one.

Somewhereness exists, albeit with just as much abstruse behaviour and paradox, inside the finished bottle. That’s all you really need to know. Terroir happens before. Somewhereness happens after. The line is drawn when wine enters its final resting place. It evolves, develops and finds its somewhereness inside the bottle. In the case of Champagne (and the wines of Emidio Pepe), the first bottling is merely a temporary shelter and somewhereness knows to wait for the final call. In those cases there are the stages of terroir, disgorgement and finally, somewhereness.

In Ontario, somewhereness has been found (as opposed to “was founded”) by Norman Hardie, Jonas Newman, Vicky Samaras, Bill Redelmeier, Ann Sperling, J-L Groux, Charles Baker, Doug Witty, J.P. Colas, Ed Madronich, Jay Johnston, Tom and Len Pennachetti, Angelo Pavan, Moray Tawse, Paul Pender, Harald Thiel, Marlize Beyers, Mary Bachelder-Delaney, Thomas Bachelder, Martin Malivoire and Shiraz Mottiar.

Somewhereness may have been born to these Ontario parents but it has and will not remain exclusive to the 12 who discovered it. Somewhereness belongs to all wine with true and truthful origins in terroir. The great wines of the world share in the expression and the mystery, even if the gold inside their bottles has never been affixed with such a label. Somewhereness is found inside a bottle of Dujac Bonnes Mares. You will taste it in an Egon Müller Scharzhofberg. It can’t be missed from out of a Margaux pour by the hands of Paul Pontallier. Wines of manic manipulation will never find it. They either do or they don’t, will or they won’t. Somewhereness just happens. Don’t ask me to explain. I’m just the messenger.

Over the past few years, much godello.ca white space has been set aside for glossing in written word and the ever-evolving rumination on the spiritual effect of somewhereness.

Konrad Ejbich holding court in front of De La Terre's breads

Konrad Ejbich holding court in front of De La Terre’s breads

Related, From February, 2013 – Somewhereness over the Canadian wine rainbow

“For a comprehensive look at our province, make sure you read A Pocket Guide to Ontario Wines, Wineries, Vineyards, & Vines by Konrad Ejbich. The discourse concerning somewhereness in Ontario is in full swing. In October of 2012 I wrote, “character and quality has never been better. Riesling continues to impress and let us not ignore the high level of ever-evolving Chardonnay vines. Reds have made great strides, especially Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc. The future looks very bright for Ontario [wines].”

Related, From April, 2013 – Come together, over wine

“Abeyance be gone, these next few years have the potential to cement an industry’s power. Only a minority has even the slightest clue that liquid gold is mined out of the peninsula’s glacial clay and limestone. The time is ripe to tell the world the story of somewhereness. The embryo is about to grow in a major way. Financial reward is within reach. So how to alert the world?”

Related, From April 2014 – The group of twelve

“History may one day remember them as the group of twelve, or perhaps, “The Ontario School.” They are the 12 wineries who have banded together to ensconce a strange but beautiful word on the tongue, in the dictionary and out in the world. Somewhereness. They are purveyors of the land from which their grapes grow and ferment into wine. Facilitators of terroir, working a canvas forged by millions of years of geological and climatic evolution. Their assembly is based on both exigency and on Moira; destiny, share, fate. Like that other famous group, “collectively they agree.” Ontario’s cool-climate wine regions need to qualify and certify a distinctive winemaking style. In juxtaposition to old world, European tradition, the intensity of somewhereness needs to reflect an increasingly Ontario-centric partiality.”

Related, From April 2014 – Why taste Ontario?

“The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. It has grown, accelerated and advanced with more success than might have been imagined as recently as five years ago. In November I wrote, “Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.”

Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena Kaiser

Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser

All wonderful hyperbole, to be sure. But for years I missed the point. Somewhereness is not about agreeing, in principle, on how to make wine from a particular place so that it can collectively result in a thing. It is something other. It’s in the bottle. It has always been there but the key lies in Ontario’s industry having matured to a point where we can now taste it, again and again, inside the bottle. The work made it happen. It is well-deserved.

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney-Bachelder

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney-Bachelder

So with the assistance of Trisha Molokach, Dorian Anderson and the vintners who came to realize what happens when terroir is used to bottle divine pleasure, another Somewhereness (the event) happened, at St. James Cathedral in Toronto, on April 20, 2015. Food partners completed the stellar event; Best Baa Dairy, Monforte Dairy, Upper Canada Chees Company, Fat Chance Hand Sliced Cold Smoked Salmon Co., Chef Ryan Crawford & Beverly Hotchkiss of Backhouse, De La Terre Kitchen and Bakery and Schott Zwiesel. Hinterland was not present in 2015 and I skipped two tables, due to quite recent full portfolio tastings, at Bachelder and at Southbrook. Here are some other notes.

Norman Hardie Riesling 2013, VQA Ontario (Winery, $21.00, WineAlign)

With less residual sugar than in 2012 and slightly higher alcohol (the bottle says 10.1 per cent but it’s actually 9.8), the house style persists, if only as a refrain that adjusts and adheres to the vintage. A hint of oyster shell is more than significant, in working alongside Hardie’s Calcaire, effected out of lees fermentation. The minute loss of high-toned aromatics is pitched in favour of fruit, if only from one exploited tank, within the context of producing 1000 cases. The ’13 (70 Niagara/30 PEC) is like very modern Alsace, akin to Schoffit, what with its texture fitted through a tiny hole. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie Calcaire 2013, VQA Ontario (Winery, $23.00, WineAlign)

The field blend of Marcel Deiss is the starting point. Lees imparts texture and the proverbial minerality is rounder than the Riesling, though the acidity just as linear. The breakdown is Chardonnay (40 per cent), Riesling (40), Melon de Bourgogne (10) and Pinot Gris (10). It should be noted that the mid-palate is caressed by a silky cheese curd, sour milk atonement. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of August 2014:

If any wine growing and producing region not called Alsace has the right to label a wine Calcaire, Prince Edward County is that place. The irony squared of Norman Hardie’s choice of nomenclature is not lost. Olivier Humbrecht makes use of the term because some of his single-varietal wines can no longer (under the local AOC rules) be labeled with the name of the wine-growing village. Marcel Deiss produces ‘field blends’ composed of several varieties grown on Grand Cru soil but he can’t (under other regional rules) label them Grand Cru. Hardie takes Niagara and PEC Grand Cru grapes, fashions an Ontario white blend, not unlike J-L Groux and calls it Calcaire, in ode to the limestone underlay of the County. Are you following me here? This may be new, innovative, yet understood and an early impression, but this cuvée initiates the PEC march to white blend supremacy, much like Stratus White has done over the course of 10 vintages in Niagara. Norm’s Calcaire is a Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Melon de Bourgogne mélange, co-fermented on the lees, striking, all in limestone, full out mineral consequence. There is purified pear and white melon fruit in distillation. There is a house in Wellington, “they call the Rising Sun.” That this animal succeeds so early in its tenure shows the Norm conceit and the swagger. That it will define white blends for a millennium is an arrogance of traditional song and of scripture. So be it.

Last tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

The ’12 Niagara has swapped spontaneity for coherence, licentiousness for logic. Has entered the stage of non-reductive peel, where skin is discarded, flesh is exposed and juices run free. If you like your Chardonnay settled and yet vitally fresh, now is the time to enjoy the Hardie 2012 Niagara Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2022.

From my earlier more of May 2014:

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.

Last tasted April 2015

The wines of Hidden Bench

The wines of Hidden Bench

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

Hidden Bench’s ’13 Riesling is a pure, soft-spoken and balanced reflection of her maker, winemaker Marlize Beyers. Only a month or two of lees and no stirring has brought her Riesling into this current corporeal state. The citrus is all flesh, void of pith and with acidity that has already incorporated, disguised and covered the zest. If any Hidden Bench Riesling suggest tropical fruit, here it is and yet again, not. Drink 2015-2020.

From my earlier note of September 2014:

The Estate Riesling is as vigneron-defining as any wine on the Niagara Escarpment. Hidden Bench is a 100 per cent estate-fruit operation so this Riesling is spokesperson, prolocutor, mouthpiece, champion, campaigner and advocate for the concept. The estate ’13 reaches deeper for nutrient pot sweetening, into shale and in conceit of its varied, positively cultivated terroirs. Compact and jelled, this is several steps up from most other entry-level Niagara Riesling and in fact, is really anything but. The transparency here is patent. This is Riesling that simply knows what it is; pure Bench, unequivocally real and forthright. Knows what it wants to be.

Last tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Bistro Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

Produced exclusively for licensee, the Bistro follows a very similar profile to the Estate Riesling, with exactitude in weight and alcohol 911 per cent). The flesh is less, the zest increased and overall you can sense more youth. The Bistro juice comes from Roman Block cuttings planted in Felseck Vineyard in 2008. The simmer here is a simpler, more straightforward pot of sustenance, entirely capable of acting as spokes-Riesling for the Hidden Bench house druthers. The vines will grow up and the juice will move on but other, newer, youthful cuttings will take up residence and the Bistro line will endure. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (278812, $40.00, WineAlign)

The (five to) six percent Sémillon speaks at present, in a waxy, bitter gourd winter melon and smoky flint tightness. In this wound moment, it is perceived that another year will be needed for the next unwind. Now vacuous, spinning and whirling as if in a processor’s bowl, an amphitheatre of expression. Drink 2016-2022.

From my earlier notes of September and (at Gold Medal Plates Toronto) November 2014:

Less than six weeks after my first introduction to the NB ’12 complexity shines anew. Such a delicate and elegant take on the Bordeaux white axiom. Void of all the gangly G’s; grasses, gooseberry and green vegetable. Leans to custards and curds with a savoury accent and a limestone tang. Willing to be paired with a multitude of gastronomy. Long finish. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “Taking what the vintage gives, Rosomel’s Sauvignon Blanc was king in 2012, dominating at a 95 per cent share of the Bordeaux-styled blend with Sémillon. Barrels were stirred weekly during fermentation and the creamy texture thanks that regimen, as does the tannic fullness of the round back-end. It rocks out bracing, formidable and nobly bitter, in pear and its pith, in lemon, of rind and in curd. The SB lounges in tall grasses but avoids goose feathers and blanching veg. So very savoury, in gorse tension, thistle and nettle. These notes all cut through the roundness and are finally tied together by the flinty rock of Rosomel.”

Last tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Rosé Locust Lane Vineyard 2013, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A meandering young blend of Pinot Noir, Malbec and Viognier that is super dry (3.2 g/L of residual sugar), “hey, hey, my, my.” The aromas suggest a succession from strawberry to green and red onion but “there’s more to the picture, than meets the eye.” The medley, interrupted by ballads and road stories is like a subtle, sweet, sour and savoury gastronomical pickle, ramps in brine, scopes in sweet alkali. Can there be a drier, more windswept crag, neal to a southern French style made anywhere on the Peninsula than from the Escarpment coliseum up on Locust Lane? Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Bistro Rosé 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

While persistent in aridity as a disciple to the Locust Lane, this Bordeaux blend Rosé packs a fruitier punch. Elevated residual sugar (as compared to the Double L) mans a higher rate of variability and accessibility, not to mention more chance of Ontario patio success. This licensee bottling will work for summer, across the province. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted May 2015

Meg McGrath and and Marlize Beyers of Hidden bench

Meg McGrath and and Marlize Beyers of Hidden bench

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

Still tightly wound with the tannic grain criss-crossing at interstices of fruit (pomegranate/cranberry/strawberry) and acidity (sharp/pointed/direct). A fine, pointillist’s rendering; Locust as Seurat, nobly bitter, to the end. Drink 2016-2022.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

The Locust Lane Vineyard, originally planted in 1998, was Hidden Bench’s first acquisition, in 2003. It has a unique perpendicular cross-slope effect, undulating in all four directions, gathering sun hours in its own special way. The vineyard produces the richest and warmest Pinot Noir with fruit flavours more akin to ripe plum and black cherry than almost anywhere on the Beamsville Bench, certainly as any from the Hidden Bench stable. While the ’11 is not the biggest beast nor the Bordeaux bully of the Terroir Caché, it is surprisingly tannic and strong. It’s anything but hot, though it attacks with fervor. Big berry fruit, macerated strawberry, rich pie notes and spice. A great Locust vintage.

Last tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.20, WineAlign)

There is so much floral presence in 2011, a showy perfume that parades the relative elegance of Niagara’s Bordeaux reds in the vintage. Structure is comparable to 2010, not in beast mode but rather with a delicacy derived from less burning, high-toned fruit. Still here lays a wine so young, of social encumbrance that might be passed off as a mark of impertinence. This faintly embarrassing condition can be suppressed in a dark cellar, in which the foundation can be laid for the beginning of a cure. The Terroir Caché 2011 will show its best between 2017 and 2020, then develop, slow down, suspend animation and age further, effortlessly and exceptionally. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted April 2015

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)

Oh, the accessibility of Quarry Road in 2012. Still totes the emerald shine, the gemstone tannic scrape and yet the flesh is rendered rich, ripe, ratcheted and riled up. This has tonality like never before, layered and strudel buttery. At this point the vines for Quarry are 17 years of age, sophic and erudite, compounded by the organic, biodynamic and prudent pruning practices that have cemented its vigour. The clay-limestone, fresh-mineral, push-pull is a veritable careening of expression. Though its longevity may not pile towards a compressed future like that of ’09 or ’11, the earlier and often response will act both as Chardonnay charming and Quarry Road magnetizing. For the next five years it will be very hard to turn away. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130997, $34.95, WineAlign)

A year had added rich note to this ’11, furthering the inflammatory vibrations and purposefulness of Bordeaux (as opposed to Loire) red makings from the vintage. The depth of cherry merging to smoked currants is cool, collected and shaded by brushy, briny strokes. Hints at brambly, even. This is so very Cabernet Franc and even more so, Lincoln Lakeshore. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

A lean Laundry with as much finesse as winemaker Paul Pender has ever shown in his poignant Cabernet Franc realm. When a vintage deals you calm and scale you sit back and relax. The Lincoln Lakeshore advancing in years vines bring yet unseen front end red berry, licorice and red currant softness in 2011. There is elegance but also a refusal to yield its back end bite. A level of enveloping grain and chalk is unique to this bottle and should be seen as a very good effort with the possibility ahead

Last tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Extra Dry Sparkling Riesling 2010, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the clay-limestone bench lands abutting the Escarpment, specifically one block of 11 year-old vines at the Beamsville Bench Cave Spring Vineyard. Traditional method fizz accessed of low brix (early picked, 19.3 degrees) and mortar (2.97 pH) numbers, then elevated under microscope magnified sugar (15.5 RS g/L) and acidity (8.4 g/L). So what? So this is a pure CS expression of Riesling, cured and curated in the house style, led to textile weave from 14 months on the lees and finalized just that side of Brut. Functions like a Blanc de Blancs suitably this side of acidity rage and with corresponding remarkable, if close to impossible aridity. Less fat than might be expected and with a swath of sauvage. There sweats ginger and the cuttings of foraged wild things. The extension on the finish is protracted even after the liquid has left the building. Finishes with dry stones, nuts and a rightful oxidative thrust. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2013, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

That flesh, that Kabinett flesh, fills the CSV in every crevice. In 2013 the residual sugar number lies between 15 and 16 g/L, and though the crop was bigger, it was still picked later than in 2012. The result is formidable corporeal concentration, consistency of house style and perhaps the only ’13 Niagara Riesling to imitate, perpetuate and extrapolate on the vintage that came before. This Cave Spring concentrates fruit and Escarpment into a powerful Riesling, streaming like charged particles through changing expressions. A lingering ascension hovers as it rises, until it slowly fades into the welkin, like a balloon that languidly gets lost into the blinding blue of a midday sky. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (26372, $24.95, WineAlign)

At present there are sweets, bitters and rich Adam fruit. Only the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment know why the Adam is so juicy. A chew like no other. Drink 2015-2020.

From my earlier note of October 2014:

A classic Adam, amplified in 2013, riper and not as piercing as previously noted vintages. Still the layering is omnipresent but there is more juicy fruit and texture then ever before. This is a consumer friendly Adam, gregarious, outgoing, off-dry as never before. New slang for the bottling.

From my earlier note of July 2014:

According to Cave Spring’s website this newer Riesling from older (18 to 35 year-old plantings) is from “a single block of vines in the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment, known as ‘The Adam Steps’. Really apropos, for this Riesling is the cantilever, the one with the outstretched arm. At 10.5 per cent alcohol and with an unmistakably stony, sweet and sour whiff the wine speaks of its off-dryness. The juiciest of all the Cave Spring Rieslings, with rounder acidity and good persistence. This is the all-around good guy, the one with an open invitation, the bridge from Estate to Dolomite to Csv. The well-adjusted one steps up its game to help win one for the team, especially out of the convivial 2013 vintage.

Last tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (391995, $19.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Cabernet Franc needed six further months for the high-toned fruit to settle just enough for the spiced richness to shine. Though Dolomite-designated, this sheds Beamsville light purity, along with a grain variegated by (pomegranate) citrus and chalk. The cool centre is elongated and expansive though it seems to inuit the correct time for retraction. The aerial fruit stresses condense and accept the angles prepared by coriander and eucalyptus. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (681247, $16.95, WineAlign)

The Twenty Mile Bench in Jay Johnston’s hands flat out rocks. The Chardonnays “they dig a funky spiel, they’ll make some spiel.” The ’12 Estate has crossed into pretty territory, not shy to wear its thin lamina of oak make-up and not too proud to say drink me now. Drink me here, there and everywhere. Drink 2015-2017.

From my earlier note of March 2014:

Has spent some quality time and knows its way around a barrel but its attitude is young, fresh and alive. From 12 and 13 year-old estate vines and kissed by only 15 per cent new oak. “But here’s a funky fact that I know is real.” Flat Rock’s Chardonnays are red hot and this fresh-faced ’12 has “baby appeal.” Blatant, colorable value on the Twenty.

Last tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula  (578625, $19.95, WineAlign)

Always expressive of such manifest certitude, the 2014 can’t be anything but Nadja though there adds a fleshy dimension that pins it to the broader spectrum of Twenty Mile Bench, in as much as what the vineyard culls from its capacious diagrammatic. That broader outlook provides understanding into Nadja’s decrease of stentorian language in the fractionally stagnant vintage. There is a variegation within the sweetness lining the tunnel of aridity. Fourteen is nothing overly special and Nadja suffers as a result. It’s still a very, very good Riesling, just not one for the ages. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula (1545, $18.95, WineAlign)

The vintage acts as a launch point for Flat Rock Pinot Noir and prepares a palate for the 20 Mile Bench by coating it with utmost approachability. Violets and Nebbiolo-like roses are raised in warmth, albeit beneath the safety net of cloud cover. You’ll find no burn, rust spots and yet you will acquire comfort, in and out of sips. Drink 2015-2018.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

As with Flat Rock’s Chardonnays, here is a vintage and an evolutionary coming of age that becomes a matter of scaling back oak. The quotient here is less than 40 per cent new, leaving the wizened vines and maker’s acumen to coax maximum character, brilliant sheen and recognizable aroma. The 2012 Pinot teases black cherry but never really goes there.

From my earlier note of February 2014:

Nearly 4000 cases will be available of this nearly-unfiltered, very established and always well-thought out Pinot Noir. A consideration of the plots and barrels micro-management that determine the crasis of this Estate wine demands an extrapolation in full-on assessment. The medium-coarse Chinois filtering lends to a tannic chain of texture thick in grain and chalk. A heavier Estate because when the weather gives you heat you make a climate appropriate wine. This monkey is not a product of arctic air and it “got too deep, but how deep is too deep?” Thermal vintage melt, ritzy ripe cherry stuff in 2012. From the Ritz to the Rubble, if you like, or the Flat Rock.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

From two blocks on one farm in the centre of Creek Shores, one picked earlier to avoid botrytis. No malo, stainless steel tank fermentation leads to pure, crisp and clean Pinot Gris. The soil-driven funk meets faux-sulphur is typically J.P. Colas, a specificity in undertone that culminates in a dry, variegated finish. Drink 2015-2017.

From my earlier note of April 2014.

Here you have an honest, 100 per cent stainless steel treated Pinot Gris from an estate vineyard located adjacent the market on Fourth Avenue in the Creek Shores appellation. So very dry and really fine fruit, crisp, neoteric, rising and falling in waves of tempered acidity. Made in a comfortable, country-twanged, folk-rock style, like a Cowboy Junkie. Juicy, mouth watering work and very easy to fall for. An angel mine, this 13th Street, “and I know that your skin is as warm and as real as that smile in your eyes.” This effort by Jean-Pierre Colas is as good as it gets, a tally for Creek Shores and its kinship with the variety.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

Four months has upped the funk in for ’13, with tar and bitters still and thick as summer air. Rich and ripe, notable for its black cherry aroma and that J.P. Colas natural truncation. Unique, as always and very Gamay. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of December 2014:

Fruit was sourced from both the Sandstone and Whitty Vineyards for 13th Street’s Gamay Noir, a focused and gritty adjunct in ode to the Cru Beaujolais approach. This ’13 raises the aromatic and texture bar and just may be the most striking from a 13th Street estate mix. All the important berries are there, as are the mineral quandaries. In a Gamay moment this will lead you to gulp and giggle with #GoGamayGo delight.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Syrah ‘Essence’ 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $44.95, WineAlign)

Fruit was sourced mainly from Wismer Vineyard (Vineland) and a smaller proportion from AJ Lepp (Niagara-on-the-Lake) for this dry as the desert Syrah of deep extract, warmth and density of fruit. All set upon a highly tannic frame, with every indication that longevity will be its best friend, as much as any red has ever been produced in Ontario. A formidable vulcanization marks the entry, a not so inappropriate entreaty to beg for time and lots of it. The current pavane of fruit is exhibitive of excruciating physical reticence though behind the wall there is more than enough indicators to stand the test of time. No new oak (though the Essence saw an extended slumber in three to four year old barrels) has allowed the tapestry of intertwined layers to set up shop and dig in for the long haul. If big-boned Syrah and Niagara are in your cellar plans, this 13th Street 2012 has to have a prominent place. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire

Malivoire

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

A dual block blush, from two clones in the Moira Vineyard. Made from 100 per cent Pinot Noir, this second vintage is pale as can be, dry, saline and reeking of fresh peaches and strawberries. The level of purity and intensity is nothing short of amazing. This will rise quickly into the ranks of the Peninsula’s finest Rosés. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

The purity and fine-lines of Pinot Gris are defined, delineated and deftly prepared by Shiraz Mottiar and team in 2014. This is a calm rendition, void of tremors, certainly not taking any risks but also not a white of unfulfilled promises. Herbs, lemon, mint and fine PG tannin draws salt from stone. A perfectly dry finish is in play, as with all malivoire whites, to cement the deal. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015.

Malivoire Stouck Meritage 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

It’s hard to recall memories of so much syrup, liqueur and high tonality as coming from Stouck, from any Meritage for that matter and yet the 2011 Bordeaux varietal wines out of Niagara continue to astound. If excess or vivid character is a negative, just look away. The combination of rich extraction and explicit oak generosity dope out fruit from a dry September into wonders of dried timbre and inflection. The drupe is enriched, as is the tannin and a Beamsville buttressing that warps and wraps like never before. At this four-year juncture, the Niagara ’11 varietal compendium is officially a thing, witnessed in example through this Stouck. More than just dramatic Shiraz Mottiar foreshadowing here, but further into thoughts of what vintages co do for red wine as a Peninsula whole. The ’11 Stouck Meritage stands upright at the mirror and its reflection looks right back. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2015

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

The profundity of tart, keen, briny berries dilates in its own very useful layers of citrus, tannin and concentration, beyond even what was observed in 2012. The zesty, spritely argot resonates from the unfurling of floral essentia out of a Gamay in desperate need of time. The flavours and overlay are somewhat impenetrable and yet leave quite an impression. While patience might be the virtue and the reward, if #gogamaygo is the modus operandi, a swig from the bottle like gentlemen of the road is certainly not out of the question. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2015

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

From the rich limestone and sandstone beneath the clay, 1.1 acre Misek vineyard, a southerly ledge up from Highway 8 and an easterly hill down from Cherry Avenue. A very linear Ivan combs the catacombs of the Escarpment’s underpinning. A retaining wall of vintage attenuated rocks and stones, a vineyard’s low yields and the voices in Charles’ head have produced a striking Riesling. In 2014 adolescence has entered adulthood. Now before us is a grown up Ivan, mature Ivan, maybe even wise Ivan. Texture is in manifest control in this loyal, stay at home Baker, not yet running wild like free-spirited Picone. Ivan has presence, sometimes a great notion and is Baker’s longest bit of prose to date. The next great Riesling vintage will make it iconic. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2008, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (126433, $35.20, WineAlign)

The petrol and mighty bee’s sting have taken over, with the honey again not far behind. A lemon prepares to spill its juices as it warms above a bunsen flame. At present it is almost too elemental to define. Will change course again when midnight strikes in 2016. Then it will come into its own. Drink 2016-2020.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

Tasted at Somewhereness 2014 as part of a vertical retrospective going back to 2007. The Vinemount Ridge’s now famous Picone Vineyard is set within a 10-acre estate on the Niagara Escarpment. Planted to the Weis 21 clone, the Riesling grown here digs in for complexity from sectional moieties of clay and sandy soil atop a unique base of limestone bedrock. Charles Baker began working with these grapes in 2005 and it is this 2008 where the learning curve took a turn for the Riesling stratosphere. The ’06 found luck in the stars but this vintage lays the framework and foundation for a master plan. At this stage in the ’08 evolution there is a prodigious and viscous honeyed textured. Ripening tree fruit juices run like maple sap in spring and the run off is beginning to think syrup. A cutting ridge of acidity arrests the sugaring, allowing citrus and flinty rock to recall the wine’s first, fresh steps. Baker’s Riesling time travels in circles with no real beginning and no real end. From my earlier, September 2012 note: ““Whoo-ahhh” Mojito, green apple skin scent of a Riesling. Seductive to sip, a bodacious body of influence, then back-end bite. A wolf pack in sheep’s clothing.”

Last tasted April 2015

Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Wildass Rosé 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71712, $17.95, WineAlign)

A blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with some Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling added for lift and what J-L Groux admits is rendered “for the consumer.” This essentially marks the twain between sweet and dry, if not quite halfway then pretty darn close. Plenty of herbs and citrus nail the aromas on the proverbial head with more than a grapefruit or two on the half circle. A highly approachable, end-user friendly blush. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted April 2015

Stratus White 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)

In 2012 the blend is Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Viognier was left out because according to winemaker J-L Groux “it did not work in blending trials.” The vintage has laid the foundation for the most density, and unctuous fruit for the Stratus White in what must be, ever. At the high aromatic end there is peppery beeswax, reverberating and echoing in scales and arpeggios. Like an open string singing warmly, the vintage, extraction and residuum combine for texture in mottled unction. Sapid lemon, more beeswax and lanolin mark the palate and then the White drifts into spaces occupied by smoky, back beats and bites. This has great pitch with a knowledge of the path to pleasure. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted April 2015

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

t may not be the most idiosyncratic Gamay in Niagara but the Stratus 2012 is without a doubt the most advanced and complex. Gamay fusion is on display, at once a bottle of Niagara’s finest pulchritudinous veneer and then a charcuterie board laid ample with cured bovine parts and sun-dried grapes. Maximum ripeness and then even later picking, to no one’s surprise, have led to this. Two years of ageing in neutral oak barrels has brought about a humid roundness and yet the centre is controlled by Oz-like mint and eucalyptus notes. The jam is gelid, as opposed to temperate. Rarely does Gamay go to such depths, of blackberry, chalk and grain, with an overlord of tannin. Quite serious stuff. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (131037, $44.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus Red 2012 resides both in a virtuoso’s hollow and in a pantheon inhabited by some of Niagara’s great reds. The fact that such ripe phenology can anticipate and foretell to balance and freedom in the byplace of the blending process is nothing short of amazing. Sinuous and exact, of berries so indefatigable, layering raspberry over blackberry atop strawberry. Cedar and red citrus compound, without jamming the fluidity, but certainly accentuating the Fragaria vesca. Confident and fluid in movement, the ’12 neither shakes nor stirs and its acidity is flat out terrific. At this early point in its evolution it is showing as well as could be expected, or hoped for. Its core of fraises du bois will always be there. Time will be kind, gentle and patient. Drink 2015-2024.   Tasted April 2015

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A hip of wine from Hidden Bench

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

A visit to the Beamsville Bench on a warm September morning is a beautiful thing. Facilitated by their sagacious Ontario agent Bernard Stramwasser of Le Sommelier, the royal welcome was presented at Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery. Proprietor Harald Thiel and winemaker Marlize Beyers left no barrel, vine, wine or helping left to the imagination. What a terrific day.

Marlize Beyers is as close to artisanal perfectionism as it gets on the Niagara Peninsula. The texture and grace of the wines reflect their maker. Beyers showed off the underbelly of Hidden Bench, including the 600L concrete egg fermenter (which actually holds 700L of juice). The concrete must be primed with tartaric acid before use or the egg will de-acidify the wine. What will emerge from within the thick chitinous walls of that oospore is on my future tasting agenda.

Out in the vineyard, vigneron Harald Thiel tells the story of Fel-seck, the “corner of a cliff,” in the angled nook of the Niagara Escarpment. The soil is filled with glacial till left from ancient Lake Iroquois pulled up from four retreating glaciers. “The glacial till deposit IS the Bench,” says Thiel. His winery operates on more than a quarter of the Beamsville Bench, in high density plantings. All wines are made from estate fruit. The control centre manages that fruit 24/7. The crux of the operation. And leaves.

Harald Thiel in front of Pinot Noir vines in the Felseck Vineyard

Harald Thiel in front of Pinot Noir vines in the Felseck Vineyard

Leaves are a huge preoccupation at Hidden Bench. “Rule of thumb is you need 14 leaves to ripen one bunch,” confirms Harald. Canopy leaf management is a rigorous exercise, to compensate for wrong orientation. The inherited Felseck was planted east-west, but the south gets the sun, the north not so much. The spur pruning system (as opposed to double-Guyot) works to benefit in Felseck. To compensate for the winter of ’14 and to stop the “middle-age spread,” the leaves (shoots) are kept between wires. Other benefits include less disease stress and no fruit shadowing.

Sun on the fruit in the morning is key and to avoid sunburn, the leaf orientation is managed accordingly. “Manage the umbrella leaves,” notes Thiel. What about birds? “We use 32 km’s of nets,” and no bird bangers. “Pinot Noir is the favourite varietal of birds,” because they turn colour first. Anti-aviary veraison. Insects? “We use sexual confusion to ward off (insects).” There are 7500 pheremone ties (of the Paralobesia Viteana or female Grape Berry Moth) in the vineyards. Confuses the hell out the males. Translation: No insecticides.

Harald is proud to say this about Marlize. “Winemaking is an artfully applied science.” This was Beyers’ answer to the age-old question,”art or science?” So it goes without saying that grapes are picked on flavour, not sugar levels determined in the laboratory. You take what the vintage gives and make the appropriate, corresponding wine. Ideally Chardonnay is picked at 21-22 degrees brix, but regardless, at Hidden Bench it is always picked on flavour.

Pinot Noir comes from high density planting, with one cane and a single Guyot system. Yields are Grand Cru in quantity (1.6 – 1.9 tonnes per acre or 26-28 hL/L) but not at proportionate pricing. To many a consumer and outspoken wine trade professional they are exceedingly high. Spend some time with Harald and Marlize and you may just figure out why.

The two have developed a “Bistro” line bottled for the restaurant licensee industry. The Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Red Blend and Rosé are essentially the sum total of the collected and filtered run-off from the rich and select HB vineyard pool. The Riesling ’13 slings sugar and salinity in a push-pull, posit tug. It serves up typicity with bias and honesty. The Chardonnay ’13 is a perfectly round sipper, coagulating all of Marlize’s varietal plans; canopy management, earlier picking, gentle pressing, pumpover, the management of new wood barrels – all in the name of affordable structure. The Red ’11 is composed of Cabernet Franc (68 per cent), Malbec and Merlot. The CF smothers and smoulders above the M & M’s with all its currant, tobacco and black pepper power.

Here are notes on the 16 other wines tasted at Hidden Bench that day. Not to mention a sumptuous Coq au Vin.

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2011 and Select Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2013

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2011 and Select Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2013

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

The Estate Riesling is as vigneron-defining as any wine on the Niagara Escarpment. Hidden Bench is a 100 per cent estate-fruit operation so this Riesling is spokesperson, prolocutor, mouthpiece, champion, campaigner and advocate for the concept. The estate ’13 reaches deeper for nutrient pot sweetening, into shale and in conceit of its varied, positively cultivated terroirs. Compact and jelled, this is several steps up from most other entry-level Niagara Riesling and in fact, is really anything but. The transparency here is patent. This is Riesling that simply knows what it is; pure Bench, unequivocally real and forthright. Knows what it wants to be.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (28312, $28.00, WineAlign)

Felseck, “the corner of the cliff,” creates twisted Riesling, as per the directive in this angled, mineral nook of the Niagara Escarpment. Choose your planting politics if you will, left of centre Chardonnay or right of the compass Riesling, to determine which one speaks in the amphitheater’s clearest varietal vernacular. If sugar is a determinant or a catalyst in this ’13, it would take a zafrero to suss out that truth because sweetness succumbs to noble bitterness. The Felseck Riesling mixes ginger in tonic in a hyper-linear solution. It’s tightly wound, like a spooled reel rid of memory and twisting. A soldier marching in patriotic allegiance, to the soil and to the maker. There is no hurry to drink this ’13. Its pot will sweeten after the fighting’s done.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Roman’s Block Riesling 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Of the estate’s Rosomel Vineyard from vines exceeding 35 years in age. This is the belletristic Riesling in the Hidden Bench stable, handled with mathematical precision and utmost care; specific sun exposure, green harvesting, low yields (29.4 L/hL) and a free run juice cap at (500 L). The density and distinct crux of the Bench nook character circulates aromatics in through the out-door. Lime melds to lemon and returns. The wine is plentiful, nearly generous but not all is sweet and amenable. Roman is policed by wild sage in dusty herbal efficacy unleashed. Honey is a fleeting tease but the numeral knowledge indicates mellifluous viscosity down the road. This is Riesling of finesse to realize power and sting. “It’s murder by numbers, one, two, three. It’s as easy to learn as your ABC’s.” Wait five years and settle with Roman’s synchronicity for five years more.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (278812, $40.00, WineAlign)

Taking what the vintage gives, Rosomel’s Sauvignon Blanc was king in 2012, dominating at a 95 per cent share of the Bordeaux-styled blend with Sémillon. Barrels were stirred weekly during fermentation and the creamy texture thanks that regimen, as does the tannic fullness of the round back-end. It rocks out bracing, formidable and nobly bitter, in pear and its pith, in lemon, of rind and in curd. The SB lounges in tall grasses but avoids goose feathers and blanching veg. So very savoury, in gorse tension, thistle and nettle. These notes all cut through the roundness and are finally tied together by the flinty rock of Rosomel.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2007, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (278812, $40.00, WineAlign)

The varietal components of the 2007 NB were not blended until August 2008 and then filtered to bottle. That barrel time and prior weekly stirring provided the pelage texture and now developed, tepefying character. Rumour has it I’d tasted this ’07 once before when it fact it was the ’08 in March of 2012. Must be the “marzipan, musky and risky, on the edge of a roasted, toasted Nutella thing.” The Niagara white Bordeaux idiom and its use of prime vineyard space has yet to prove itself so to this Nuit Blanche I would say, “you made my heart melt, yet I’m cold to the core.” Perhaps by ‘21 that attitude will have changed.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Gewürztraminer Felseck Vineyard 2012, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $28.00)

The key to ripeness is sunlight, something both 2012 and the practice of leaf removal on the East sides of the canopy gave this Felseck stunner. Oh so full with a hint of that typical glycerin and bitter pith so necessary for definition. This reminds me of an off-dry Zind-Humbrecht take, with its late feel of residual sugar and planing finish. There is a wonderfully humid condensation of south Asian drupe and fruit moisture droplet, never in syrup, but rather on the glistening, post-rain skin. Top Bench example.  Tasted September 2014

East sides of the canopy to encourage fruit ripening

Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68817, $28.95, WineAlign)

Yet rigid in its youth, the wood is not yet settled. Bottled in September of 2012, the ’12 will need every day of its first year to be ready, willing and able to please upon release. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Always aromatically embossed and texturally creamy, the Estate Chardonnay finds a way to elevate its game with each passing vintage. The uplifting elegance factor acquiesces the poise needed to battle the effects of ultra-ripe fruit out of a warm vintage. In ’12 the middle ground exchanges more pleasantries though the finale speaks in terse, toasted nut and piquant daikon terms. Not harshly or witchy, mind you, but effectively and within reason of the season. When you look in the window at Harald (proprietor Thiel) and Marlize’s (winemaker Beyers) Chardonnay, “you’ve got to pick up every stitch.”  Last tasted July 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

The richness has yet to melt away, nor will it likely do so any time soon. Must give credit where due; ’10 managed to seek out tempering acidity where it was not necessarily in sui generis mind, nor did it want to be found. From my earlier March 2013 note: “Akin to Russian River Valley, allowing the comparison, in platinum, edging to gold and in stony, mineral rigidity. Tends to the orchard in a fell swoop of swelling fruit. Nobody does it better on the Bench. The sec who loves me, “makes me feel sad for the rest.”  Last tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (20906, $45.00, WineAlign)

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

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (274753, $29.95, WineAlign)

Now into the mid-point of its six to seven year life, this essential Bench Pinot brings worlds together. A toffee, taffy, salted (not caramelized) caramel mulch comes from pinpoint smoke oak. Has a palpable sende of chew and density. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Five months more in bottle has come to this, a Bench perfumed state of mind. On a red raspberry road to absolution. The international coat has now begun to surrender to the maturity and wisdom of the local vine’s intellect, its maker and overseer acting as artificers in planned execution.” From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Deeper, earthier, decreased propriety and more pelage than the previous two vintages. I sense longer hang time, more redress and slower slumber. In Hidden Bench I thought I knew and would always associate with a specific Pinot Noir feel but this ’11 confounds. In a way, that is a large compliment. Fruit reminiscent of a top Central Otago in that it grips my Pinot interest if not my Ontario heart.”  Last tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2007, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (274753, $29.95, WineAlign)

The summer swelter of the 2007 vintage was not lost on this Pinot Noir and although the black fruit spectrum was picked clean from all available plum, fig and cherries, they and their tannins have evolved in clemency and snug harmony. That and a whipped beet shake of hide, vanilla and lavender.  This would be a diverting and polarizing ringer to toss into a blind tasting.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

Transplants Nuits-Saint-Georges into the coliseum of Felseck with frisky and fine-grained tannin. The aromatic aggregate of flowers, orange grove and red cherry is akin to Les Perrières. This is micro-managed, micro-plot Niagara at its very core, the diminutive, wee berries singing the nook’s furtive, foxy and salient song. The late bitter note is both beautiful and honed in on the vineyard’s frequency. Graphite trails with back-end nerve. This Felseck has entered the zone. Drink over the next three years.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

On benches all along the Niagara Escarpment, each single-vineyard grown, vinified and bottled Pinot Noir has an affinity for a particular vintage. The Locust Lane and 2010 share a commonality that exceeds the level of companionship seen in the more rigid, bookend vintages of ’09 and ’11. Here is the richest density, though still teasing and leaning against the black cherry tree. There is a limestone, Alsatian, Albert Mann thing going on, rolling like thunder, bobbing like drinking birds. Still formidable, the stuffing yet burst from its cloud. A sniff and a sip of the ’10 “and the locusts sang, yeah, it give me a chill. Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody.” The vineyard takes heat and gives Pinot Noir its energy. The ardor will slowly release over the next eight to 10 years.  Tasted September 2014

http://rd3.videos.sapo.pt/playhtml?file=http://rd3.videos.sapo.pt/2GntSr2rbWHU3Gg0DLdK/mov/1

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.00, WineAlign)

With another summer beneath its brooding belt, the aromatics are now in full flight. From my earlier, June 2014 note: “The richest Terroir Caché to date, making use of its barrel in judicious but never obnoxious ways. Huge Bench wine, needs 10 years for sure. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “No other Niagara red and for sure no alternative Peninsula Bordeaux blend exists in such a vacuum of dichotomous behaviour. Act one is an out-and-out boastful, opulent show of Rococo. Act two a gnawing and gnashing by beasts. The pitch and pull of the Terroir Caché 2010 optates and culls the extraordinary through the practice of extended délestage, what Hidden Bench notes as “a traditional method of gently draining the wine and returning it to tank with its skins during fermentation.” The ’10 is about as huge as it gets, highly ferric and tannic. Still chemically reactive, you can almost imagine its once small molecules fitfully growing into long chains. Berries of the darkest night and he who should not be named black fruit are confounded by minerals forcing the juice into a cold sweat. Will require a minimum of 10 years to soften its all-powerful grip. From my earlier March 2013 note: “Has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine.”  Last tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $75.00, WineAlign)

Welcome to the world ’11 LB, the flotilla leader in the Hidden Bench brigade. This fierce Bordeaux-styled blend of exemplary fruit out of the three Estate parcels is composed from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Not home from a hot climate, and not the most likely candidate to be made in the 2011 vintage, La Brunante is “like a mudship becalmed in a rusty bay cracking with an emboldened abandon.” Bottled in a strong compression but without aggression, it lies in wait, creaking, twitching, smoldering and aching with desire. When it should be released, somewhere up to 10 years down the road, it will sail, cutting through waves of tannin, with multiple berries, dust, diesel and into a show that never ends.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The benchmark for such a rare Niagara animal is of course Alsace and more specifically the iconic and consumer-recognizable brands such as Zind-Humbrecht and Domaine Weinbach from the Hengst and Furstentum Grand Crus. This HB is decidedly not that. Even the kings of Alsace late harvest only go to bofttle in the finest vintages, when a level upwards of 50 percent botrytis is achieved. After a few freeze/thaw cycles the fruit was picked on the 28th of November. The ’13 Vendanges Tardives has the subtlety and attributes to call itself VT, with residual sugar (119 g/L) and alcohol (10.5 per cent) numbers in line. Near-needed acidity, PH and exceptional phenolic character mix to balance and so the reduction in sweetness is nicely tempered. Pears meet apricots in hinted whispers. As per the Alsatian requiem, this never enters the arena of the cloyingly sweet and absurd. Utilitarian to a fundamental degree, in the end I would have liked more acidity in this very pretty wine.  Tasted September 2014

Good to go!

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