Catena out of the bag

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Inclined to think this block has the best microbes @CatenaMalbec @LauraCatenamd @Noble_Estates #perfectname #adriannavineyard #vinodeparcela #mundusbacillusterrae #catenazapata #winesofargentina #mendoza #gualtallary #tupungato

Argentina’s Bodega Catena Zapata is in the throes of self-professed “Three Revolutions.” The first was inspired by Napa Valley, a grand success story that convinced Nicolás Catena Zapata to pursue the consciousness of emulation. He made the decision to plant, cultivate and produce high quality cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. He infused his high-end domestic red with malbec, initiating a long history for this wine and a technique many others would follow. The old Italian traditions were eschewed for the Calif-French style. Catena has long since brought that wine to the world. The first revolution has been realized.

The development of extreme high altitude vineyards are at the crux of Catena’s second revolution. “When we talk about making a high altitude blend, we are actually taking about making a high altitude family of blends,” says Dr. Laura Catena, by way of introduction to a small faction of Toronto media. Plant selections and cuttings are employed with geneology and lineage. “To me climate has always been defined by latitude. Altitude is an entirely separate component. It’s a fact. Different soils give different flavours. I think the explanation lies in the microbes. Terroir needs to be redefined with these elements.”

Which leads to the third revolution, the current obsession defined by vinous archaeology, as if the Catena team are searching for fossils and signs of ancient life in the soil of their Adrianna Vineyard. They are in fact looking for diversity, variance and permutations, what viticulturists like to call micro-terroir. They are seeking to prove a French theory which attributes 100 per cent wine quality to terroir. Research is the mode de vie and who better to lead the revolution than the Harvard University-educated, biologist and physician Dr. Laura Catena. She and Head Winemaker Alejandro Vigil, along with Fernando Buscema and Vineyard Manager Luis Reginato have created the “Catena Institute of Wine.” What treasures they unearth will unlock the secret to the third “vineyard lot” revolution.

good-morning-lauracatenamd-vinodeparcela-altitudewines-appellationwines

Good morning @lauracatenamd #vinodeparcela #altitudewines #appellationwines

Their website reads “Leña Restaurante by Chef Anthony Walsh is an all-day dining destination, inspired by South American cooking, located at the corner of Yonge and Richmond.” Truer time-gastronomy continuum words are rarely spoken. We arrived early to meet Dr. Laura Catena, listened with great intent as she led us through nine appellation series and Adrianna Vineyard wines and then moved on to lunch. If ducking out early to catch an overseas flight were not an obstacle it would have added up to the better part of an all-day affair. I would have had no problem with that.

We are blessed in Toronto, this close-knit wine community of ours, with access to a never-ending flow of great wine. We are also graced by exceptional humans, wine purveyors, men and women who have assumed the thankless task of procuring the finest available products from around the globe, against all odds beneath the shadow of the world’s most tyrannical liquor system. Hats off to them.

tuna

Leña Restaurante’s Charcoal Bluefin Tuna, baked garlic potato, rapini, mojama, tomato

On November 9th Craig de Blois, Richard Dittmar and Mark Coster of Noble Estates, three smarter than your average bear, stand up guys played chaperone to Argentina’s Dr. Laura Catena in Toronto for this media tasting and trade lunch. We journalists and sommeliers are all well-versed in the Catena portfolio. My WineAlign colleagues and I had recently sat down with winemaker Ernesto Badja for a full-on, wide-scale investigation into a large section of the portfolio. This extraordinary and climat-precise sit-down went much further, deep into the soil for a compendious look at the proselytism of Catena culture.

Much of the discourse with Dr. Laura Catena during this visit focused on the science of soil, of microbes, bacteria and block by block vineyard investigations. I would expand further but I’ll just have to ask you to read the tasting notes below. Each of the very specific wines poured by Dr. Catena is driven by a particular block or a structured pyramid of amalgamated plots and the notes must speak to the science behind each expression. No more questions here. Just read the notes.

catena-appellation

Catena Vista Flores 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

The humidity of Vista Flores (where there is much more rainfall) makes for another level of compression and density in malbec. A very floral red, from violets and roses, mixed in with deep, dark fruit. The tannins are sous vide and subterranean, throaty, tobacco-laced and rigid. Gifts a soft peppery bite, fine dust, even finer tang, minty meets calcari feel. The purpose here is to elevate Catena’s cabernet sauvignon and malbec essentials into more curious consumer territory. Value here is strong and purposed so there is nothing to fear. Single vineyards are not always commercially sustainable but single terroirs are so much more likely so. This is the epitome of that concept for malbec in Mendoza. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June and November 2016

Catena Paraje Altamira Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

Paraje Altamira refers to something that is distant, far away, separated, a terroir where plots and places are dotted, separated by one another by some distance. Here Catena procures the flesh of the land with a malbec that delves deeper into earth and clay and procures a fuller, riper rich berry that goes to blue and boys. Though the tones of aromatic intensity and acidity are elevated, the ceiling is finite and the malbec juice is brilliantly protected. The earthy, material funk is all in, in surround and prevalent even as it finishes with the effects of great soil structure variegations. There is modern nebbiolo meets South African schisty syrah from mineral, smoked meat and smoulder in here. It’s got tartare running through its blood. Wow. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted June and November 2016

Catena San Carlos Cabernet Franc 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Here in 2014 the single terroir series cabernet franc by Catena heads in the right direction with elevated aromatic tones, so different than the malbec. Well enough aside and beyond just location, it seems San Carlos accentuates the acidity and the herbal conditioning to fruit, making it taste more like plum and pomegranate than berries. The barrel weighs yet does trod lightly on the ripe red fruit. There is great persistence in its gait, with additional black fruit from currants and berries. The pyrazines are low to almost noon-discernible. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted June and November 2016

Catena Agrelo Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

The aromatics fly from this four vineyard blend, more than the malbecs and certainly with haute plaisir as compared to the cabernet franc. The far-reaching amalgamation comes by way of La Pirámide Vineyard in the Agrelo district of Luján de Cuyo, Domingo Vineyard in the Villa Bastías district of Tupungato, Nicasia Vineyard located in Altamira in the La Consulta district of San Carlos and the high-altitude Adrianna Vineyard in the Gualtallary district of Tupungato. Travels well beyond fruit into florals and a sense of one another’s cumulative soil. What happens in Agrelo’s soils reacts with cabernet sauvignon or rather it allows (or encourages) these vines to draw something other. Something that is deep into a richness of tang, not an elevated acidity but a round and circuitous one. Balance is unearthed (literally) and this wine is extremely fresh, in fact it’s bloody delicious. A bit dusty and a few drops of bitters fall into it late so there is a minor sense of char and tar. Lingers like cabernet can and should. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted November 2016

"Bones sinking like stones, all that we fall for." @LauraCatenamd we live in a beautiful world when #chardonnay does this, and that #adriannavineyard #catenawines #bodegacatenazapata #gualtallary #tupungato #mendoza #vinodeparcela #whitebones #whitestones

“Bones sinking like stones, all that we fall for.” @LauraCatenamd we live in a beautiful world when #chardonnay does this, and that #adriannavineyard #catenawines #bodegacatenazapata #gualtallary #tupungato #mendoza #vinodeparcela #whitebones #whitestones

Bodega Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Chardonnay White Stones 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $81.00, WineAlign)

The White Stones chardonnay from the altitude-aromatic-accelerating Adrianna Vineyard is part of Catena’s third revolution, in concert to understanding soil, led by Laura Catena, beginning here. From Laura’s passion for “parcelas,” micro-level soil locations, going back to an investigation that began in 2000. In a locale above a dried riverbed, leaving big rocks, limestone, sand and more rocks in various locations, with the use of 70 parcel bits per hectare showing what is where. Stones on the soil’s surface help to facilitate and create a micro-climate of warm days and very cold nights. From the outset it has to be said that no chardonnay from the southern hemisphere has ever intimated Burgundy as one smell and one taste as here it has done. It is noted as an impression deeply internalized from this single parcel within the vineyard. There are sticks and stones in elegant lines, subtle, demurred white flower aromas, lime-creamy fruit, petals and rock. A wow mouthfeel and flavour intensity. Wild-eyed acidity. All this could not have been laid clear, or bare, a year ago. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted November 2016

Bodega Catena Zapata Chardonnay Adrianna Vineyard White Bones 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $110.00, WineAlign)

The flip side of the Adrianna Vineyard is the antithetical White Bones, also part of Laura Catena’s third revolution, investigating and culling acuity from soil through the breakdown of the “parcelas.” These micro-level soil locations were first dissected in 2000 for the purpose of deconstructing Adrianna’s block-by-block diversity. The Bones necessarily draws from the ancient riverbed below, from its single parcel limestone, sand and rocks within the vineyard, though it seems quite deferential to the White Stones. It’s somehow fleshier and corporeal, of similar sticks but less stones. More bones, like an arm outstretched from the crackling skin of the roasting bird or swine. More gastronomy in that sense, less cool-climate and limestone a mere twinkle, not a shard or karst stuck like a needle into that arm. But the palate returns to join the stones with citrus and intensity. Chardonnay of concentration and balance with the soil crumbling like bones, shells and fossils into what is best described as Chablis. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted November 2016

chicken-soup

Leña Restaurante’s Mushroom and Lentil Soup, roasted chicken, swiss chard, lemon

Nicolás Catena Zapata 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (396960, $110.00, WineAlign)

The epiphany came after Jacques Lurton told Nicolás Catena “your cabernet sauvignon reminds me of the Languedoc.” So Nicolás went back to Argentina and planted at 5,000 feet of elevation. History changed. So the coolest (others insisted “you will never ripen at this altitude”) site produces this dry, dusty, intense cabernet sauvignon, the kind you can’t deny is possessive of powers unable to resist oozing dark black currants, chocolate and spice. Try musing about holes on the palate and if you find one it’s black into which once entered reveals no exit point. The back is very chocolate driven, of dark cacao, bitterless and strong. Note the balanced intervals of structure by fine-line drawn architecture and see where this will travel. For 10 more years until the fruit begins to dry and shrivel to further intensify. The mind’s obsession keeps returning back to the middle palate that drives the machine. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted November 2016

Catena Adrianna Vineyard Fortuna Terrae Malbec Vino De Parcela 2012, Mendoza (Agent, $130.00, WineAlign)

Catena’s Adrianna has clearly emerged as its most important vineyard and its biological dissolution is spurred by Laura Catena’s medical state of being and an unpropitious thirst for viticultural, micro-level knowledge. The analogical thinking machine delves deep into soil locations from an investigation that began in 2000. This section of Adrianna draws aridity and subtlety (as opposed to power) from the subterranean riverbed, leaving the big rock and heavy clay impart to others. From this single parcel within the vineyard the surprisingly attenuated and reserved character creates a new order for malbec, from Catena and the single-vineyard entablature. Quite pretty, floral and less volatile than not just Catena’s way but Mendoza malbec as a thing. A natural cure in the flavour profile tends to salumi and comes late. But even more respect is awarded because the overall personality is achieved without shrouding, sheathing or smouldering. It’s a very transparent malbec of extreme clarity, engaging and inviting. Singular actually. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted November 2016

Catena Adrianna Vineyard Mundus Bacillus Terrae Malbec 2011, Mendoza (Agent, $325.00, WineAlign)

In this extremely specific malbec from a diagnosed block of the Adrianna Vineyard we are graced with the micro-science of wine. And if you feel that using the name of an aerobic bacteria in the nomenclature is an odd choice, consider the mind of Dr. Laura Catena and her biological approach to viticulture. If we can understand and differentiate the microbes in the soil we can make better wine. It’s as simple as that. When wine is broken down to the biological level is becomes something entirely different and this is the road travelled by the Mundus Bacillus. Catena’s usage of 70 parcel pits per hectare has unearthed this single parcel within the vineyard, again completely different and the pinpointed microbial discussion initiates right here. The soil stakes a claim for this malbec only, certainly not in any way that tends to funk but surely as an impresario of soil. Talk about eugenics in the MBT because that science is compelling and can be related to in this wine. It can offer keys towards improving genetic quality of the vinous population. Here we are faced with rich and dusty, a mean streak of malbec intensity made elegant by earthly microbes. This section draws parallels to the (chardonnay) White Bones soil from which there transfers an excess of dry extract and tannin. Patience please for a malbec that will be long lived. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted November 2016

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Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

Catch 22 wines

Godello's garden meets Greek Horaitiki

Godello’s garden meets Greek Horaitiki

Twenty two wines I tasted from the August 22nd release. Some are really good. So what’s the catch? Some not so much. As always, take a grain of salt and judge for yourself. Godello is not traditionally a site to explore the good, the bad and the ugly. The good news is that the worst of these 22 are actually quite well-made. The bad news is that each will only satisfy a certain kind of palate and a specific sort of temperament.

Something for everyone. LCBO 101. I hope you find something you like.

From left to right: Koncho and Co. Tsinandali 2012, Man Vintners Free Run Steen Chenin Blanc 2014, Featherstone Four Feathers 2014, Grace Lane Riesling 2013, Henri Bourgeois Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Perrin Réserve Rosé 2014, Vineland Sauvignon Blanc 2013 and The Crusher Viognier 2013

From left to right: Koncho and Co. Tsinandali 2012, Man Vintners Free Run Steen Chenin Blanc 2014, Featherstone Four Feathers 2014, Grace Lane Riesling 2013, Henri Bourgeois Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Perrin Réserve Rosé 2014, Vineland Sauvignon Blanc 2013 and The Crusher Viognier 2013

Koncho & Co. Tsinandali 2012, Kakheti, Georgia (412981, $12.95, WineAlign)

Boxy, foxy, contained, constrained, aromatics waiting to burst, in big timbre and quite spicy. A bit reductive and very juicy. Boisterous, wild-eyed expression. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @GeorgianWineSoc

Man Vintners Free Run Steen Chenin Blanc 2014, Wo Coastal Region, South Africa (126847, $13.95, WineAlign)

Good texture and mouthfeel in this Chenin, dry but unctuous, direct and filling. Works coastal wonders in many ways. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @MANVintners  @vonterrabev  @WOSACanada

Featherstone Four Feathers 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (341586, $14.95, WineAlign)

Though Riesling dominant this is a shared experience, with cool climate Chardonnay and richly aromatic Gewurztraminer lifting spirits and exhaling breaths. The Sauvignon Blanc seems to add ripeness and juicy palate flow. A mouthful of ripe fruit to be certain and amenable beyond its pragmatic ways. One of the better value white blends and one to look at for Niagara Peninsula propensity within the context of designing an appellative blend. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted August 2015  @featherstonewne

Grace Lane Riesling 2013, Yakima Valley, Washington (420737, $14.95, WineAlign)

Simple, straightforward, slightly spritzy Riesling with a full-blown lemon lime palate and a finishing set of bitter piths. Good length gives it life. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015

Henri Bourgeois Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Igp Vins De Pays Du Val De Loire, France (672345, $15.95, WineAlign)

A lithe and petite Sauvignon Blanc, balmy, touched by spice accents and a whisper of lemon/lime. Tart but not really striking or biting. Soft Sauvignon Blanc, quick and effortless. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted August 2015  @ChartonHobbs

Perrin Réserve Rosé 2014, Ac Côtes Du Rhone, France (719062, $15.95, WineAlign)

Pretty Rosé, arid enough though really juicy and presentable to a wide army of followers. Some tonic and even more brine. A late feeling of pickles and preserves. Better than many. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @Beaucastel  @ChartonHobbs  @RhoneWine  @VINSRHONE

Vineland Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (551168, $16.95, WineAlign)

Spicy vintage for the Escarpment, concentrated in many ways, for juicy fruit, capsicum and savoury herbs. A touch effervescent which does not detract, but rather adds a buoyant lifeline because the tart acidity is really something else. Fun with Sauvignon Blanc from up on the shelf. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted August 2015  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

The Crusher Viognier 2013, Wilson Vineyard, Clarksburg, California (361964, $16.95, WineAlign)

Reductive Viognier, nice and fresh for a change, cool Clarksburg fruit thankfully kept shy and in absence of high alcohol, overly heated sunshine gluck. A bit of a mouth breather, tropical in a longan way and of enough though not striking acidity. Finishes overly bitter, in lime pith and a kind of nettle. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @SebastianiWines  @Select_Wines

From left to right: Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé 2014, Paco & Lola Albariño 2013, Herdade Do Rocim Red 2011,S. Cristina Massoni Lugana 2014 and Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2013

From left to right: Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé 2014, Paco & Lola Albariño 2013, Herdade Do Rocim Red 2011,S. Cristina Massoni Lugana 2014 and Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2013

S. Cristina Massoni Lugana 2014, Doc Lombardy, Italy (200097, $17.95, WineAlign)

Tanky and metallic, coastal and postal for Trebbiano di Lugana. Quite herbal, reminiscent of Sancerre, with spice, nettle and linear length. Layered and structured white with a seriousness in its expression. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015

Herdade Do Rocim Red 2011, Alentejo, Portugal (423574, $17.95, WineAlign)

A regional blend of Antao Vaz, Arinto and Roupeiro. Very cimmerian, rich and dense Alentejano, wildly berry delicious and yet fierce. Lots of oak, lots of optimism and plenty of swagger. Very spicy and toasty finish. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted August 2015  @winesportugalCA

Paco & Lola Albariño 2013, Do Rías Baixas, Spain (350041, $18.95, WineAlign)

Concrete and tank Albarino, steely and mineral, cool and bristling. Turns to stone fruit on the palate, gets down to juicy and then ricochets off the walls, drawing salinity and pulverized limestone into the very linear finish. Such a calcareous, wound white wine, on a spindle, in a vacuous void of aggregate and steel. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015  @pacolola  @azureau

Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé 2014, Ap Languedoc, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (373985, $18.95, WineAlign)

Dry, floral, medicinal, quite tight and angled, not angular Rosé. The sea salinity and briny strawberry confluence is quite striking. Doesn’t really linger so in the end it’s a bit of a simple quaffing Rosé but what of it? That’s right. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted August 2015  @GBvins  @LanguedocWines  @FwmWine

Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Loire, France (971887, $19.95, WineAlign)

A neat feat to stretch Sauvignon Blanc like this, in phyllo layers and like bitter greens braised to sweet tenderness. Savoury though the herbs are not the most recognizably cultivated, used or considered. Like winter savoury, or Spruce tip, edible seaweed even. All tossed lightly, gingerly in a citrus vinaigrette. Playful SB, at times tight and bracing and then generous, giving, forthcoming. Previous vintages have had more shine. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015  @HalpernWine  @LoireValleyWine

Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (588731, $19.95, WineAlign)

Heavy handed, much wood and chalky, full on bloody Malbec. Has Oz strength and gumption. Good lengthy finish. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of August 2014:

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

Last tasted August 2015

Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (321612, $20.95, WineAlign)

Into another cool climate Pinot Blanc poster from Gray Monk, the standard bearer for the variety, in this price and stylistic niche, for anyone who cares or dares to join the bandwagon. Juicy stone fruit of a peach, yellow plum and nectarine fold, circular bites of acidity and mineral bleed and just a touch of tonic to tie it all together. Always great stuff. Length even better than in 2012. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted August 2015  @GrayMonkWinery

From left to right: Domaine De Rochebin Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2013, Buena Vista Chardonnay 2013, Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Featherstone Onyx 2010, King Estate Signature Collection Pinot Noir 2013, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012 and Cantina Del Pino Barbaresco 2010,

From left to right: Domaine De Rochebin Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2013, Buena Vista Chardonnay 2013, Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Featherstone Onyx 2010, King Estate Signature Collection Pinot Noir 2013, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012 and Cantina Del Pino Barbaresco 2010,

Domaine De Rochebin Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2013, Ac Bourgogne, Burgundy, France (424275, $22.95, WineAlign)

Such a pretty red cherry, fine earth and cinnamon heart confluence on the aromatic front, with no palate or late tannin affront. The acidity seems particularly natural and fitting, the finish quick and efficient. Very good old world look at the world of Bourgogne. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @BourgogneWines

Buena Vista Chardonnay 2013, Carneros, Sonoma County, California (67405, $23.95, WineAlign)

Cream in your coffee, sui generis housed and reductive Chardonnay with a chip on its shoulder. Aromatic rhythms are modulated by the barrel’s influence while flavours are pleasant though not wholly distinctive or full of character. Very directed Chardonnay and an exemplary regional example for the price. Will show better a year on. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted August 2015  @BuenaVistaWines  @TandemSelection

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $24.95, WineAlign)

Down $1 in price from this time last year.

From a bumper crop, there came to market 11,000 cases of this Nova Scotian feel good, faux-sparkling story. Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers’ Nova 7 dissimulation in bubbles is a true trick of the trade and though this white wine strikes as if it were a child of a warm vintage, there is a classic lightness of Rosé fizz being in its ever so slight effervescence. A singular wine in many hybrid incarnations, in Muscat ways, of pink Perle de Csaba, segmented and pressed for a sweet burst of grapefruit. It’s low (7 per cent) in alcohol, excellent in acidity, sweet and sour, citrus zesty, juicy and dry at the same time. Batch delineated and loyal to continence, though if the quantity creeps much higher that may come in to question. Grown up pink lemonade and so easy to consume.  Tasted June and July 2014, July 2015  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

Featherstone Onyx 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (372433, $29.95, WineAlign)

Strikes as Cabernet Franc dominant and quite savoury so, slightly cured and richly layered. Merlot appeals and appears with its own distinct clarity, gift-wrapped with tidy flavours in refrain of Franc that acts like fruity Cabernet Sauvignon. The vintage is very in and though it’s warmer and coated with more wood than would best service its needs, this has settled into a really nice glass of red berry and plum red wine. Kudos to the blender and the patience afforded the result. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @featherstonewne

King Estate Signature Collection Pinot Noir 2013, Oregon (984005, $34.95, WineAlign)

High quotient of ripeness, astringency below, earth above sprinkled and saturating. Quite an effusive design and rambunctious effort. All over the map. Big, bouncy and biting. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @KingEstate

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign)

This ripe Picone in 2012, not a surprise and ripping at the same time. The orchard stands out, the texture overlaid and the length outstanding. Picone in ’12 has presence of more immediate notice, standing firm and tall to be counted early and then, for years to come, often. Like juice bled from escarpment cragges, a speciality that is singularly Picone. Drink 2016-2022.

From my earlier note of June 2014:

A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases.

From my earlier note of March 2014:

“Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  Last tasted June 2014  @cbriesling

Cantina Del Pino Barbaresco 2010, Docg Piedmont, Italy (922880, $37.95, WineAlign)

Nebbiolo of intonation, modulation and stress, with a noticeable mid-life moment in volatility, in contrast to an enamoured aromatic loveliness in rose petal and candied flower. Dusty swirls and tight red fruit meets stark acidity. A Barbaresco such as this has historical advantage on its side but scares a bit in the present. A very fair price for a wine that has to be stashed away for at least three years for the angst to subside. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @LeSommelierWine  @piemonte_italia

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Let the gems begin

Wine review at VINTAGES of Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Unfiltered 2012 by Godello

Wine review at VINTAGES of Norman Hardie Chardonnay County Unfiltered 2012 by Godello

If the premature lashing of cold, snow and ice weren’t enough to get you thinking about holiday shopping, get thee to a Liquor Control Board Ontario store on the weekend. Same time, every year. The LCBO stocks the shelves, isles and pyramid displays with more booze than anyone should ever be faced with in one visitation.

Related – Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

The bi-weekly VINTAGES release calendar whirs, undulates and clutters in rataplan overload at just this very juncture in preparation of the Christmas rush. Shoppers will tear down the walls of wine, beer and spirits, only to hear the burloque fall silent when the clock strikes closing time on the evening of December 24th.

There are exactly 35 days left in 2014 to do the right wine thing for that father, cousin, colleague, mentor or loyal, long-time suffering employee. Please heed the warnings and do not buy crap for the one you love or think you should. No matter who you are picking up a bottle for, treat them well and with fermented grape respect.

There are three category of wines to look for, at least within the context of this buying guide. First there are the values under $20, wines made so properly they should cost double or triple what they do. Second are the expensive but honest wines. These are the true gems that make most $100 bottles look bad. Last are the $100 examples that are truly iconic, despite their cost. Though priced beyond the means of most, they are not a mistake to take a flyer and give as a gift. After the hand off is complete, the all-knowing, unspoken nod will follow.

Here are 22 picks from the VINTAGES November 22, 2014 release, in stores now.

From left to right: Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Louis Bouillot Perle D'aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, McWilliam's Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012

From left to right: Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Louis Bouillot Perle D’aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012

Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Pdo Nemea, Greece (295618, $17.95, WineAlign)

Nemea strikes again. Dark rust, earth juiced on and of the rocks. Like Sangiovese with attitude, made by Romans, like Syrah the way it was made in mythological times, by Greeks. A classical garden. This is actually quite modern and expressive for Agiorgitiko. Acts as if it were a touch clay (or amphora) baked but it’s really just a Peloponnese take on oak aging (18 months) and further bottle rest (12 months). This is right in its window and will be friendly for three to five years more. What a steal.  Tasted November 2014  @DrinkGreekWine

Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Doc Pomino Bianco, Tuscany, Italy (65086, $19.95, WineAlign)

With thanks to Chardonnay, the Castello di Pomino 2013 elevates Pinot Blanc to a level not really found anywhere, save perhaps for one or two examples out of B.C. This one really leaves a tannic impression, not unlike some impossibly off-dry Pinot Gris from Alsace. There is a really sophisticated level of ambiance and a semblance of a distinctly rocky intent. Like high quality Sancerre or Chenin from Silex soils, the grain and veins running through the palate and the texture are coarse and cursive. This one writes a new script for Frescobaldi’s Florentine, Apennine mountain estate. Fresh, ventilated and airy as if breathing from blue skies at high altitudes. I can’t recall tasting this level of excellence before and would look forward to no less than five years of enjoying what it brings to the Tuscan table.  Tasted November 2014  @FrescobaldiVini  @liffordretail

Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (992560, $19.95, WineAlign)

A primarily (90 per cent) Sangiovese with smatterings, though not inconsequential, of Merlot and Syrah. From (non-estate) vineyards in Poggio La Mozza (Grosseto). Morellino Di Scansano, to a wine and exemplified here, sports a firm jaw and an air of tragic nobility. The question is why should it only find occasional psychic prominence as a Sangiovese go to. Moris Farms makes the lesser-known accessible, with a (sees no oak) modern accent of dark fruit and spice atop simple, pleasurable Sangiovese. Pleasantries exchanged, the 2012 MdS will work dinner, inside a Tuscan vernacular and out.  Tasted October 2014  @Morisfarms  @oenophilia1

Louis Bouillot Perle D’aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, Ac Burgundy, France (48793, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Bouillot Rosé, for my $20 is the most impressive of their line-up, always tender and ripe as if just picked fruit, namely strawberry and raspberry. The Perle D’aurore is a faintly hued and lighthearted take but not light on effort. Elegance defined in Bourgogne bubbles with a savoury edge to give it strength.  Tasted November 2014  @JCB_Wines  @ChartonHobbs

McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (724492, $19.95, WineAlign)

The 2007 is another fascinating study in Hunter Valley Sémillon. Like the ’06, egressing secondary notes have emerged, in equatorial garrigue and fruit having already met its aurulent stenosis. A honey note persists though less so in ’07, as does the level of tempering acidity. This vintage brings out the calm and the clam, though the petrol and the mineral are omnipresent, perhaps elevated. Must keep in mind it’s only $20 but it does fall a bit short in texture and acidity. There is lemon drop and the essential atomic Sémillon stoicism from the Hunter Valley, but it’s a bit thin and hollow up the middle. All that acknowledged, not having a look or two would be a shame. Tasted November 2014  @MtPleasantWines  @PRAXISpr

Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012, Tasmania, Australia (162990, $22.95, WineAlign)

Pepik has elevated aromatic tones and though it appears lithe it reads like a weighty tome. Unique and of its Tasmanian self. Plums come to mind, as does red earth. The phenolic ripeness and varietal indications are ushered in with managed exceptions and are simply spot on. This does not strike as a Pinot Noir that will be long-lived because its black cherry and spice are riper than many contemporary editions in a similar price range, but it will offer great pleasure for two to three years.  Tasted November 2014  @JosefChromy  @bwwines

From left to right: Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Cvne Gran Reserva 2008

From left to right: Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Cvne Gran Reserva 2008

Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany (394155, $23.95, WineAlign)

Thoroughly interesting study in German Pinot Gris despite the timid and reserved tonal nature. Aridity in as much as the variety can muster and in the largest, atmospheric sense. Though the palate has some fine-grained texture and feigned sweetness, it’s as if Baden can only do Pinots this way, in Gris and in Noir. Acidity is tempered and a willing accomplice to the diminished components of sugar and pH. A well designed Pinot Gris.  Tasted November 2014  @TheLivingVine  @WinesofGermany

Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (390336, $28.95, WineAlign)

The Trad ’11 has a classic toast and yeast aromatic waft and so it goes that everything that follows is embraced with curiosity and an open mind. Ginger, citrus, bronze and the sweet scents of the inside of a candy machine, its candy long gone. Creekside’s winemaker Rob Power will never be accused of dialing this sparkler in. Tasting trials help determine the necessary, final blend. The single, Queenston Road Vineyard puts 56 per cent Pinot Noir and (44) Chardonnay, aged 2 years in bottle, together for a highly effective, expansive but not explosive fizz. At 8.7 g/L of residual its dry but not quite falling off the bone. The sweetness is tempered by elevated (9.98 g/L) acidity and tension. Spent 24 months on the lees and was bottled back in February. There is balance and pleasure and a good, stretchy finish. No band-aid. Clean, precise, fizz of the day.  Tasted October 2014  @CreeksideWine

Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (64329, $34.95, WineAlign)

Rubber dust, road macadam and strawberry jam. Fierce Bordeaux Blend home from a hot climate. This has gritty obduracy and doggedness. Like a red blend with a gun, walking the mean streets. Acidity shot through the roof. Bordeaux meets South Africa in every shared, resplendent and promising way. Rasping tannins contain bursting dark fruit, the grain running in multiple directions. Respect. Wait two more years on this and drink comfortably to 2020.  Tasted November 2014  @TrialtoON  @WOSACanada

Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Igt Toscana, Italy (727636, $34.95, WineAlign)

This is not the modern Crognolo as witnessed in the previous five vintages. In 2011 we have been granted the complex Crognolo. This has must and earth. It has grit and girth. Best Crognolo I have tasted. Tangy Sangiovese, with some chalk in tannin. Will live longer and offer unrequited love seven to 10 years down the road, to the patient and the faithful. Tasted November 2014  @TenSettePonti  @TrialtoON

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Doca Rioja, Spain (976662, $35.95, WineAlign)

It amazes me how kept wines from Rioja keep appearing as if they were just bottled yesterday but not this famous Gran Reserva. Syrupy and caramelized, bright and earthy. Mulled plum and clove with citrus accents. Bretty like a barn’s floor. Cedar and leather, big oak doors. Real mutton Rioja, still tannic, energetic and searing. Kicking it old school but wild and alive. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Were a full-term lecture taught on the pros and cons of the Brettanomyces brannigan, this Rioja might be exhibit A. Absolutely manifest fruit meets earth, meets game perfume compendium. Call it funky yeast if you must but here is a wine that can be approached by nose only and if the relationship were to end there, novels might be written. Lives on a fermented, catalytic and plucky edge but never submits to the bacterial spindrift. Leaden fruit, red and black, smooth and layered with a tension in tang that is paralyzing to the mouth. Thirteen years old and just hitting a secondary stride, with the oak slowly dissolving and not a hint of coffee or chocolate to be found. Sexy and down to earth at the same time.” Last tasted November 2014  @bodegasfaustino  @Select_Wines

Cune Gran Reserva 2008, Doca Rioja, Spain (393553, $38.95, WineAlign)

Old school. Smells like Rioja. Smells like Spanish spirit and weeds, sinew, gristle and braising pig, all parts in. Smells like cedar, like American oak and a soak in a tub of spa earth and mineral salts. Like “Spanish boots of Spanish leather.” This has already done the evolutionary dance so if you are looking for something to float your natural, honest boat, go here now. In a Rioja world where the times they are a changin‘, it will sail you back in time and away into a Mediterranean sunset.  Tasted November 2014  @Cvne  @vonterrabev

From left to right: Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

From left to right: Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (928028$49.95, WineAlign)

Firm and in a rustic vein, as per the Barbi dole, this one a bit funkier at the outset than many. Welcome to the classic firmness of 2008, antithesis of the flamboyant ’07’s but plan for 20 plus years of slow food elegance emission. Classic rose petal, tea leaves, dates and earth caked metal in this guy. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “As expected, this is a gritty effort from Barbi, in part the impart of a testosterone-laden vintage, along with the dryer and cooler climate from Barbi’s southeastern Montalcino vineyards. A low and slow ripening will surely translate to extended longevity, but the rusticity and leather/cherry continuum will never disappear. No doubt a classic example and very well-priced for such authenticity, still it can’t be helped to see Barbi’s ’08 as entrenched in an earlier period of time. The wine will need 10 years to soften its edges and reveal the refinement and elegance of a well-documented Brunello.”  Last tasted November 2014  @FATTORIABARBI  @Noble_Estates

Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (287854, $58.95, WineAlign)

A study in precision, exceptional quality and poise. Golden rays mixed with misty wisps, cool nights tempering warm days. Just a touch of wood spice pricks the finish. So much flavour.  Tasted November 2014  @DuttonGoldfield  @TheVine_RobGroh

Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Burgundy, France (390534, $59.95, WineAlign)

This Pinot Noir speaks for the two sides of every Burgundy argument, especially considering it comes from the gritty nook of Pommard. First impressions are floral and pretty, with spice and some sort of tropical flora whispering in cooing scents. The hill offers a buoyancy, a lifted spirit and a view of its own sweet regard. Travels through a mid-village weightless hover, then returns to terroir in prime time acidity and tannin to keep time. There is a sweet tart medicinal aspect ratio on the finish and overall this does things correctly. Does not finish with the same suave seduction that it teased at the start but it does continue to impress.  Tasted November 2014  @Select_Wines  @BourgogneWines

Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $60.95, WineAlign)

Aromatics are racing and rising from the glass. A red rain pouring in and out. Has yet to change course. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “The floral emergence is a lodestar as periscope just now peering up from the seamless cake layering in Versado’s most liberally applied oak-imbued Malbec. The 2010 adheres in sticky savour though it remains two to three years away from finding its true gliding form. From my earlier notes through tastings on Oct. 25 and Nov. 14, 2013. “This ultra-premium Mendozan from the Canadian winemaking team of Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling boasts fruit from “the finest barrels from the finest blocks.” While certainly riding a splintered and jammy horse (what fully extracted Mendozan does not), this reserve Malbec has so much else happening, I owe it my time and focus. Dances to a triple jump height in oozing berry, compacted, brick wall infrastructure and overlapping delineation. Really like the consistency here, with no hollow middle, no umlaut, no pregnant pause. Very well made.” Last tasted November 2014  @VersadoWine

Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004, Champagne, France (983874, $84.95, WineAlign)

The reappraised vintage that was once considered good, now revealing itself as better than good uses examples like the Laurent Perrier Millésimé to drive the point. This is a classically symmetrical blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir possessive of much chaste class, incredible balance and held lotus posture. Through its waves of idiosyncratic brioche and linear citrus lines drawn in tactile angles this Champagne is unbent and unbroken. Its seamless transitions glide from delicate aromas, through a textured palate and groove forward in elastic length. Additionally graceful with an ever so slightly advanced and mature style from a mature world in vintage-dated Champagne.  Tasted November 2014  @ChampagneLPUSA  @Noble_Estates

From left to right: Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sassicaia 2011

From left to right: Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sassicaia 2011

Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Mclaren Vale, Australia (242732, $114.95, WineAlign)

While the price is just about as absurd as a “yoga class for cats” or Raine Maida’s voice, it seems logical to wonder aloud how one could question this Carnival as not being one of the biggest and baddest Shiraz you will ever encounter. It’s a veritable run on sentence of Shiraz adjectives, adverbs and hyperbole. If your hankering remains entrenched in elevated alcohol, enormity of fruit, condensed and compressed mineral, lest to be forgetting the viscous ooze of Mclaren Vale syrup, well, then this jester should fill your stocking along with those of the rest of your circle of fortifying friends. From the maw of the beast here – blood gore and fruit guts. Holy crap is this extracted, tannic, mired in impropriety, full conceit and in zero jealousy of other Shiraz. It doth joust. Certainly no lady of peace. Wow.  Tasted November 2014  @MollydookerWine  @bwwines

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, California (936039, $139.95, WineAlign)

Magnificent and munificent wine. Really special, magnanimous in every way, ultra-luxurious but not over the top. Alcohol, oak and extraction judged and held in check, equity and in balance. The fruit is pure and delicate, marked by plum, blackberry and hovering licorice, anise and spices. Long in chain and really sweet tannins. Like gazing into a pool of real nineties Napa and across the pond to an older school of reasoning. Tasted November 2014  @SilverOak  @HalpernWine

Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Ac Margaux, 3e Cru, Bordeaux, France (261552, $167.95, WineAlign)

A heightened sense of Margaux reality in 2010 comes from the château with the hybrid name; first from Simon Malescot, King’s Counsel to Louis XIV at the Parliament of Bordeaux. Second, from the post French Revolution château purchaser, Count Jean Baptiste St Exupéry, grandfather of the aviator and writer Antoine de St Exupéry. This has to be the most hedonism ever bottled in a Malescot, within reason of course. The house does not know from over the top, save perhaps for the cost of this 2010. Cassis is certainly here, as is a medicinal tension, firm acidity and the most formidable tannins known to Margaux. The grain, chalk and tincture combine for full effect. This will need 10 years to chill, then go 10 plus 10 more to much applause and the request for a final curtain call. Tasted November 2014  @VinsdeBordeaux

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, California (399592, $167.95, WineAlign)

Wow. Aromatics are off the charts. Pine forest, leather, chestnut and cedar, savoury in every wild and sauvage way, but also pure. Berries, tobacco leaf, classical logic, structures and axioms lead me to imagine mid-nineties Paulliac. Seamless texture, ripe but not overripe, rich but never overly grainy. This is super fine and dialed back (with exotic spices and wood spice filling in the holes) in the cooler 2011 vintage. A Cabernet Sauvignon of the most savour and the most class. A ten to twenty year Spottswoode.  Tasted November 2014   @Spottswoode  @Smallwinemakers

Sassicaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $199.95, WineAlign)

Certainly a Sassicaia borne of the earth and the vintage. Cooler, with increased sapidity and elevated aromatics. While not volatile there is certainly an intimation at acetic behaviour. Though supportive in only 15 per cent of the two Cabs blend, Cabernet Franc stands firm in its concentration of tobacco, peppercorns a-popping in the pan and a smoldering of currants over an open fire. This will age for decades and return to its beautiful natural state with time-weathered, rugged facial lines. A leathery Sassicaia this, with tight, drying tannins and in need of two decades to show off its birthright. The 2011 Sassicaia is a loyal, aristocratic example to the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s dream of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine where the ideal was Bordeaux.  Tasted November 2014  @Smarent

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The artfully applied science of Versado Malbec

Versado Vineyard Manager Sergio Rinaldi reviews the plan for the harvest with winemakers Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Versado Vineyard Manager Sergio Rinaldi reviews the plan for the harvest with winemakers Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

A popular but unconfirmed theory claims that Malbec is a mathematical acronym, “Math, Algorithms, Learning, Brains, Engineering, Computing.” The inky and tannic grape variety no doubt connects growers and winemakers in scientific ways but that hardly separates the expatriate, signature Argentinian from other varietal relationships. The learning, perception, and behaviour of the people who produce the dark wine is the crux and the rub.

Malbec’s spread may be the work of a Hungarian peasant, it was surely introduced to Argentina by French agronomist and botanist, Miguel Aimé Pouget and the natural lines differentiating modern renditions of Cahors and Argentina blur like the Clarets of Napa and Bordeaux. The homogeneity in style, mainly due to elevated quantities in production, has begun to deplete the star power of the Mendozan idol. The computative cipher jives because Malbec requires an analytically brilliant dream team to coax humanity from the quotidian grape. The wine making axiom, “is it science or art” applies to Malbec as much as any other. Making exceptional Malbec requires artfully applied science.

Villa Viamonte in Chacras di Coria Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Villa Viamonte in Chacras di Coria
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

In 2007, Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling, winemakers who may as well be endowed with the title “First Canadian Couple of Wine,” went to Argentina to seek their cerebral Malbec fortune. With the aid of investors Moray Tawse and Gerry McConnell, the two found their varietal calling in Mendoza. They settled at the estate of Villa Viamonte in the old town of Chacras de Coria, now a neighbourhood of Mendoza.

With the aid of the experienced and professional Roberto de la Mota they purchased an ancient vineyard on the legendary Cobos Road. Altitude, meso-climates, topography and ‘micro-terroirs’ became their linguistic vernacular, a royal, ancient and new Malbec their opera omnia. Vineyard Manager Sergio Rinaldi directs all the daily viticulture activities.

Versado means ‘well-versed’ and the phrase describes the Gamble-Sperling output as well as any that can be equivocated.  The Canadian dream team travels circuitously from British Columbia, to Ontario, Nova Scotia and through Argentina in mimic of the seasons for a vine’s life cycle. Through the stages of weeping, flowering, fruit set, veraison and harvesting, Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling are in constant motion, checking in at all their properties to make essential decisions. I am exhausted by the prospect.

Harvest starts early - the Versado vineyard before sunrise Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Harvest starts early – the Versado vineyard before sunrise
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Versado is a unique Malbec outpost, a place of river, road and air. The ancient bed of the Rio Mendoza, the Calle Cobos and the cool air corridor of that river combine for a micro-climate to challenge all micro-climate comers in the region. Increased thermal amplitude (up to 15 to 16°C difference between day and night-time temperatures) means low pH numbers for their Malbec. The results should translate to elegance and balance. As the Versado team begins to scale back their oak program, the wines will increasingly reflect their specialized and cooler terroir.

Peter Gamble told me “we’re making them with classic tannin structures.” That statement intimates French and even Italian but with Mendoza’s already rich history, it also endorses a notion of Argentina. Versado’s Malbecs are both serious and epicurean. They are gorgeous and alone. They come from a very specific parcel of land, though Peter Gamble admits that “borders are sort of Alice in Wonderland in Argentina.” The Versado Malbec origins may participate in a Mendozan Venn Diagram but their character is utterly unique. Here are six tasted over the past 12 months.

Versado Malbec 2013, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (317008, $25.95, WineAlign)

The rocks beneath the earth precede the rich, dark fruit. After the berries and the candy beets and the spices subside the flowers grow and take over the room. The vintage brings more layers than before. Malbec of character and belief, even a touch of good VA, a coat that only the Southern Hemisphere can provide. It is not usually present in Mendozan Malbec so it’s really a breath of fresh paint here in the Versado. Great purity. Protracted length. Most expansive and intriguing vintage to date. The Reserva will be killer.  Tasted September 2014

Versado Malbec 2012, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (317008, $25.95, WineAlign)

Having been defined early in its development by the Mistral-esque drying eastern lee slopes Andean wind known as viento zonda, the low-yielding 2012 Malbec is berry intense and highly concentrated. The foehn or, rain shadow wind had a major effect on flowering and so 2012 may be considered a Malbec example of what happens when vines are subjected to the first law in thermodynamics. The vintage gaveth depth and structure, even as it taketh away moisture, quantity and profits. In this Malbec, earth in terroir stands firm and while the fruit is full, it must fight for early investigative attention. Though presently rigid, a time will come when that fruit will fully receive its due. Sanguine and ferric, the adiabatic Versado 2012 is a heat transfer work in progress. Its system will integrate into its surroundings after a minimum three years have passed. Drink from 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2014

Versado Malbec 2010, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (317008, $25.95, WineAlign)

The sub-terra tectonic shift and uprising to firma awakening is just beginning to give after four integrated years. That said, this Malbec continues to play a ragtime roll in shades of cumulative bandwidth. When the ’10 entered bottle it may have insisted “I don’t care what mama don’t allow I’ll play my guitar anyhow.” Now settled, somewhat, it persists in saying “I don’t care what mama don’t allow, we’re all gonna play all at the same time anyhow.” The dusty fruit, the resolving tannins, the revolving door of driving blues, of crossover terroirs. “Borders are sort of Alice in Wonderland in Argentina,” notes Peter Gamble. The Venn circles include piano, rare earth, bass, big fruit and guitar.  Tasted September 2014

Versado Malbec Reserva 2009 Photo: (www.versado.com)

Versado Malbec Reserva 2009
Photo: (www.versado.com and http://www.stevenelphick.com/)

Versado Malbec Reserva 2011, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $59.95, WineAlign)

Peter Gamble describes the ’11 Reserva as “integrated right out of the gate” and blessed with “a little more fruit component.” That is can show such freshness this early in its life span (especially in consideration of the beasts that are 2009 and 2010) is nothing short of a Malbec miracle. This is a wine that saw spontaneous fermentation, which made for very nervous times in the winemaking hands of Roberto de la Mota. Stems were used and their participation lends a Mediterranean feel, in the aromatic impart of sea salinity and kelp. The oak is scaled back a touch so the chalk push, while present, integrates in finer grain within the gritty, iron structure. This is the softest (hyper-relatively speaking) Reserva to date with a newly defined massive attack. The temperature fluctuations of the vineyard are integral in its structure and the question needs to be asked, “how can you have a day without a night?” In the Versado Reserva 2011 you have both. It is a Malbec of unfinished sympathy. Drink this sooner, starting in 2017 and for longer, to 2030.  Tasted September 2014

Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $59.95, WineAlign)

The floral emergence is a lodestar as periscope just now peering up from the seamless cake layering in Versado’s most liberally applied oak-imbued Malbec. The 2010 adheres in sticky savour though it remains two to three years away from finding its true gliding form. From my earlier notes through tastings on Oct. 25 and Nov. 14, 2013. “This ultra-premium Mendozan from the Canadian winemaking team of Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling boasts fruit from “the finest barrels from the finest blocks.” While certainly riding a splintered and jammy horse (what fully extracted Mendozan does not), this reserve Malbec has so much else happening, I owe it my time and focus. Dances to a triple jump height in oozing berry, compacted, brick wall infrastructure and overlapping delineation. Really like the consistency here, with no hollow middle, no umlaut, no pregnant pause. Very well made.” Last tasted September 2014

Versado Malbec Reserva 2009, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $59.95, WineAlign)

From a vintage the seasoned Mendozan pro knew to rank with the best, the 2009 Reserva persists as a concentrated, wild beast. On a rare occasion, such as tasting this Reserva, Malbec leans in an Italianate direction, no doubt a result from the combining forces of aridity, concentration and micro-heteroclitic terroir. The dry, slow ripening conditions sealed a vineyard funk into the shriveled, dehydrated berries. Though the wine is just now beginning to come around, that funk will take years more to play nice with the huge flavours, striking structure and resounding tannins. Fast forward to 2017 and imagine the crest over which a plateauing initiative will trigger. It may very well be 2025 before the slow decline begins.  Tasted September 2014

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