Chardonnay is cool

If you know Godello it never comes as a shock to read of his praises on Chardonnay. His particularistic ABC definiendum is “Abide By Chardonnay,” at all costs. It is true that Godello enjoys referring to himself in the third person. What self-respecting Chardonnay supporter doesn’t?

Chardonnay doesn’t suck and if you have doubts, a reluctant spirit to join in or just plain need to insist that you hate the stuff, consider this. Chardonnay is cool. It’s true, the good folks at i4C showed me, more than once. Ontario winemakers have proved it to me. The South Africans really get it, as do the fine makers from New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and the not necessarily ready for prime time cool climate players from Australia and California too. Don’t even get me started on that Burgundy stuff.

Godello and Paul Pender of Tawse PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates

Godello and Paul Pender of Tawse
PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates

Chardonnay is a grape of dreams. In recent weeks I’ve referred to Norman Hardie’s 2012 County Unfiltered as “climatically epochal, yet restlessly cool County Chardonnay.” About Hidden Bench’s Estate 2012 I said “when you look in the window at Harald (proprietor Thiel) and Marlize’s (winemaker Beyers) Chardonnay, ‘you’ve got to pick up every stitch.” On the textural clarity of Thomas Bachelder’s Saunders 2011 I recently added to an already verbose note, “in cool waiting and in display of the most elegance I’ve encountered from any Bachelder Chard, at anytime, anywhere.” You see, Chardonnay IS cool. The coolest winemakers have told me so.

The recent ups and downs of Shiraz are well documented but has any grape variety been both so venerated and maligned as Chardonnay. Is it the most cerebral of the vinifera? Maybe not, but at least it deserves an honorary degree. Other varieties have their own day but it too demands the global respect by way of celebration. Oak and Chardonnay have at times a love-hate relationship and walk admittedly close to the edge. But let me repeat, “is there a comparable white grape that speaks of its origins in more varied tones?” Who would not wish to travel around the world in eight Chardonnays? At this time last year I was preparing to make the pilgrimage down to Niagara for the Cool Chardonnay Conference. A year on and further enamoured by the great white hope, I am ready to do it again.

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

That link will help you look back and to understand what the Cool Chardonnay experience is all about. If you are looking to experience the wonders of Chardonnay, from a global perspective, surrounded by experts in a setting designed for relaxation and genuflection, please read about the 2013 show. Godello, he’s prepping for #i4C14.

The Grape Growers of Ontario and Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute will host the “School of Cool,” an intensive one-day Chardonnay workshop. The weekend’s glass to follow will be filled with Chardonnay at every turn. Keynote speaker Tim Atkin MW and 58 winemakers will be on hand to pour, discuss and break down everything there is to know about Chardonnay, from Friday, July 18 to Sunday July 20, 2014. With i4C’s Dorian Anderson and Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena KaiserSmit leading the charge, Chardonnay in Niagara will once again be the stuff of dreams.

The 2014 slogans mark a path to Chardonnay clarity. Begin with “earth’s coolest grape reveals hundreds of secrets.” Continue on “grown in cool places, shared in warm company.” Conclude by ensuring that “three summer days that will alter your Chardonnay belief system.”

In May we gathered at Allen’s on the Danforth to raise a glass to the international marketing day known as Chardonnay Day. I tasted through 20 or so and wrote some notes. Here are a few in advance anticipation of #i4C14 happening eight days and 20 hours from now.

From left to right: Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, Creation Wines Chardonnay 2011, Malivoire Moira Chardonnay 2010, From left to right: Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, Creation Wines Chardonnay 2011, Malivoire Moira Chardonnay 2010, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, Creation Wines Chardonnay 2011, Malivoire Moira Chardonnay 2010, From left to right: Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, Creation Wines Chardonnay 2011, Malivoire Moira Chardonnay 2010, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (256552, $18.95, WineAlign)

Terrific balance to the warm and inviting fruit, certainly orchard driven and kissed by the Spring’s obvious mineral slate. Clean, open-knit, ready, willing and able.  Tasted May 2014  @CaveSpring

Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (529941, $29.95, WineAlign)

Here is a vibrant and wild at heart expression of Bench Grand Cru terroir, the Cave Spring Vineyard. While the first impression may be a warm one it seems (for the vintage) that is because it’s big, boisterous and a bit clumsy in wood right now. The acidity seems buried at times and at others on top. It is also a touch reductive so this will need more years to settle and to play nice. The aromas indicate green apple meets metal pipe, the flavours orchard and salinity by way of limestone minerality. The length is more than admiral and admirable. Tasted May 2014

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (302083, $29.95, WineAlign)

Bottled just one month ago, contrary to the monk’s assertion, there is nothing shocky about her. Her fruit is downy soft, round without being fat because as Bachelder maintains, real as always, you “can’t have the minerality of that perfect 2011, I’m not going to bullshit you.” The 2012 is a wine unconscious in its own obviousness, ready for anything. Gregarious, golden, fresh fruit that was ready to roll out of its barrel and into the waiting glass long before its maker was prepared to open the valve. And of course there is a mineral finish. It can’t help but be.  Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Creation Wines Chardonnay 2011, Walker Bay, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, Hermanus, South Africa

From fruit grown on the same ridge as the Sumaridge but at greater altitude. Cooler in attitude, really crisp, with increased zest and tightly wound around an aromatic spindle. Really pushing the granitic mineral envelope in tension, cat-like reactions and electric company. The total acidity (6.8 g/L) and PH (3.48) derived from the slope’s marginal fertility in sedimentary ironstone means for a salinity that is misty as the prevailing oceanic breezes. A dry (2.1 g/L residual sugar) Carolyn Martin expression of cool climate Chardonnay, as striking as it is a pleasure to drink.  Tasted May 2014  @creationwines

Malivoire Moira Chardonnay 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Beamsville Bench, Ontario  (243113, $39.95, WineAlign)

Moira’s barrel speaks in a level of volume best suited under the ambient comfort of headphones, listening to the White Album while lying on shag carpet in the dark. Maybe just a bit too specific but that sort of solitude and concentration is needed to gain privy of every nuance and notion travelling in stereo from side to side. Pay respectful attention and note that the butter on the toast integrates while in the glass, indicating this Moira is so effortlessly structured, thinks the most positive thoughts and will give generously early and often. Has the feel of barrel but in George -esque grace and texture, not flavour. Give it a year or three and drink for 8-10 more.  In the end you will say, “it took a long long long time. Now I’m so happy I found you.”  Tasted May 2014  @MalivoireWine

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

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

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign)

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

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

 

The South Coast is clear

Lake Erie

Lake Erie

It would be a stretch to expect anyone living more than 100-km away from Port Dover to know much about Ontario’s newest and next viticulture hot spot, Ontario South Coast Wines. The same concession might apply to most journalists working with regular intensity and immersion within the Ontario wine industry. OSCW should not be confused with its brethren further west, the wineries that make up the Lake Erie North Shore appellation. Ontario’s southwest? Wine route? You may ask yourself, how did I not know about this place? How can this be?

This is the area most likely to be Ontario’s next VQA-qualified appellation. Cool-climate remains the most apt descriptor, no different from LENS to the left and Niagara to the right, but this pocket of the lake is blessed of a specifically warm-ish micro-climate. The name itself presents as a bit of a misnomer, “Ontario South Coast Wines,” its geographical location set upon a ridge overlooking the north-east shore of Lake Erie running east from just west of Long Point, through Port Rowan, St. Williams, Turkey Point, Normandale, Port Ryerse and to Port Dover.

To agree with the emerging region’s calling card, simply draw a bunch of parallel and converging lines south from Lake Huron, through the Highway 401 straddling communities of London, Kitchener and Cambridge. Continue southeast past the Highway 403 delta of the Brantford area and through the Highway Three corridor towns of  Waterford, Courtland, Delhi and Simcoe. Spread out along the Eco-nature park-beach community-rugged coast and now you’ve got your bearings. This is the wine country of Norfolk County.

All aboard the Kayloe PHOTO: http://www.ontariosouthcoastwine.com/

All aboard the Kayloe
PHOTO: http://www.ontariosouthcoastwine.com/

Better still, follow the lead of Magdalena Kaiser-Smit of Wine Country Ontario and climb aboard the Kayloe, a 65-foot boat run by Nomada Charters and take a three-hour Lake Erie tour from the water, with a dozen or so local wineries on board and get to know the people and the place. Listen to Mike McArthur, President of the Grape Growers Association speak about 1996, the transition year for the area. Realize how an agricultural community that once housed tobacco farms make a communal decision to transform with the times and switch to grape growing. Hear him talk about the great history of viniculture in the least known of Ontario wine landscapes, a place where grapevines were spotted as early as the late 1600’s.

The boat trip and the wine speak mean nothing here without the idea of hospitality to accompany the local ferments, wines made not just from grapes, but from a wide variety of fruits. There are approximately 130 acres under vine in Grey and Norfolk counties. Nine wineries are located in Norfolk, with seven currently open for business. Liz Campbell and Trevor Taylor of F.W. Knechtel Food Catering make use of local asparagus, mushrooms and Lake Erie Perch to bring matching and meaning to the wines.

Outboard BBQ

Outboard BBQ

Fruit wines are an integral part of the South Coast experience so I decided to begin and end on high glucose notes. Berries have half the natural sugar content as grapes so cane sugar is added to give the yeasts enough convertible material to raise the alcohol to stable levels for longer preservation. Blueberry Hill was my first stop, a St. Williams winery that ferments with the hybrid Vidal, along with cranberries, raspberries and of course, blueberries. The wines are pure, distilled fruit expressions, with tart notes and flavours of the heart. Their straight-up blueberry is the best of the lot.

The uncontested Norfolk leader is Burning Kiln Winery and not just from a quality standpoint. Burning Kiln has positioned itself as a marketing and appellative promotional leader with Doug Beatty (formerly of Colio Estate Wines) as its spokesman, front and centre. Winemaker Andrzej Lipinski (formerly of Vineland Estates, Legends Estates, DeSousa, Fielding Estate, Megalomaniac, Foreign Affair and Organized Crime, now of Colaneri Estate and his own label, Big Head Wines) is an established Ontario master. His experience with the appassimento method is perfect for BK’s old tobacco kiln employment for drying grapes. Assistant winemaker Patti Fixter authored a feasibility study on Norfolk County’s Sand Plain and its ability to host a viable, sustainable viticultural industry. The winery is progressive, adventurous and ostensibly single-handedly responsible for putting South Coast on the current Ontario wine road map.

Burning Kiln Tank Samples

Burning Kiln Tank Samples

Doug Beatty brought some tank samples aboard. The springy and herbal 2013 Horse & Boat Riesling carries 20 g/L of residual sugar “to punch back the acids.” This is part of BK’s Green Kiln Series. A 2013 Savagnin tank sample carries similar texture but in elevated glycerin. The metal on top of that mouth feel really come forward to balance the residual and the alcohol (which is dramatically indiscernible). Grassy Sauvignon Blanc-like aromas and a very Jura palate are the hallmarks of a South Coast take in a wine that is such a baby.

The Harvest Party White tank sample gathers Chardonnay (59 per cent), Gewurztraminer (21), Riesling (18) and Pinot Gris (2). A chewy, textured, kitchen sink blend that stings of limestone, an herbal balm and a late edgy metallic bite. The Chardonnay 2013 tank sample spent 18 months in foudres. Reminds of a Lenko treatment, from fruit 50 per cent estate and 50 Niagara. Thin but linear and focused, with very good length, a crunch of green apple and round herbiage.

The 2011 Kiln Hanger from tank follows the same process at the ’10 from a less than scorching vintage but will arrive in bottle at 15.8 per cent alcohol. Only 400 cases will be produced from a cat-like specimen, still chewy, a chunk of major Cabernet Franc change. Higher in acidity and cool plums than in 2010, this is no shrinking Norfolk violet. Will show more style and less humidity than that ’10.

Burning Kiln Savagnin ‘Stick Shaker’ 2012, VQA Ontario (367144, $24.95, WineAlign)

What BK refers to as dry white Vin de Curé, or the “Parish Priest’s,” this is their take on the Jura’s Vin de Paille (Straw Wine). The South Coast may have a wine tradition that dates back to the 1600’s but Savagnin does not go back by the Ontario centuries.  At 14.9 per cent a heavy feeling would be expected but to the contrary, the SS is light as a feather, like a CSN ballad. Aromatically muted, the warmth of the vintage comes through in the textural density of the palate. Expressive and chewy like all of the Burning Kiln portfolio. A wine from two of only 10 total acres planted in the province. Though we may be “gasping at glimpses of gentle true spirit,” here’s to helplessly hoping Savagnin takes root and flourishes in Ontario.

Burning Kiln Harvest Party Red 2013, VQA Ontario (Winery, $15.95, WineAlign)

From an overall 50/50, Estate/Niagara blend. The composition is Syrah (49 percent, all Niagara), Cabernet Franc (42 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (9). Reminds of Fielding’s Fireside Red in approachability and blending acumen. Though an understudy, the softness of the Cabernet Sauvignon is duly noted as a foil to the clay/kiln effect from the piquant Cabernet Franc. Some chalk and even more chew, in the beginning this is just mostly fresh and wild with low, obtuse angles.

Burning Kiln Cab Frank 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Named for the vineyard manager at Burning Kiln, Frank DeLeebeck was a tobacco farmer for more than 20 years. From 50/50 Estate/Niagara, 100 per cent kiln dried grapes for 10-14 days. This is CF all about concentration and a bridge from old tobacco to New World winemaking. Here kilns are the vehicle to transport the winery’s wines to the New World. Though this rich, cakey Cabernet Franc turns sweet on the finish, there is terrific acidity and admirable length. Holds its 14.3 per cent alcohol well. A unique appassimento.

Burning Kiln Strip Room Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

A 50/50 Estate and Niagara fruit split, classic Right Bank-styled blend of Merlot (55 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (45), kiln dried for 8-14 days. There is strength in alcohol (14.3 per cent) yet calm, dry reserve in (4.5 g/L) residual sugar. The aromatic profile is the most flirtatious of the BK stable, with the bruising and crushing of so many berries. There is a plum softness given by the Merlot, along with chalk, grain, vanilla and coconut from the generous six-month, three (French, Eastern European and American) oak layering. Like quality satellite St. Emilion, with so much noticeable tobacco.

Burning Kiln Kiln Hanger 2010, VQA Ontario (Winery, $59.95, WineAlign)

A 100 per cent Cabernet Franc, 100 per cent Kiln dried red made in two batches. Ages 32 months in Eastern European and American oak, half held back for this, The Sequel. Altogether there are 335 cases made of this huge, 15.9 per cent alcohol behemoth. The second coming furthers the already wealthy concentration with Alice anxiety and anaesthetizing mouth filling richesse. Here layers anything but a simple matter of loaded, dusty cocoa, decadent chocolate and creamy mocha. “I couldn’t tell if the bells were getting louder,” the entire cooperage preaching of “fanatical exposers on corners prophecy.”  Huge wine. Love it to death.

At Quai du Vin there are vineyards planted in 1970 by Redi and Roberto Quai. Today Jamie Quai makes the wine at the St. Thomas winery with the wisdom of those vines and the respectful touch of a winemaker with a minimal interventionist approach. Jamie Quai is concerned with the unearthing of micro-plot nuances in the Norfolk terroir. Quai du Vin farms 20 acres and has been open for business since 1990.

Quai du Vin

Quai du Vin

Quai du Vin Chardonnay 2012, Ontario (winery, $13.50)

From 15 year-old vines on the Sparta Moraine and what Jamie Quai calls “a field blend.” Though the soils are all heavy clay, there is a clay meets stone textural balance, surely thanks to five or six months lees contact. Like well-made southern Burgundy, the chosen yeast heightens the autolytic chain, allowing the flavours to veer tropical but not overly so. A Chardonnay that fell in love with a well-judged barrel while conceptualizing “good botrytis,” resulting in exceptional complexity for a song. Will drink beautifully through 2016.

Quai du Vin Red, Signature Series 2012, Ontario (winery, $12.50)

A blend of Marechal Foch (40 per cent), Baco Noir (30) and Merlot (30) from a host of appellations; Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Sparta Moraine Acres and Elgin County-North Shore Lake Erie. This has a thick brushstroke brought on by a predominance within the conglomerate of heavy clay. Unexpectedly tannic, chewy, with a sweet chocolate brownie finish. Not to mention tomato and the plant’s savoury leaf. The first vintage that Merlot made the cut in lieu of usually employed Cabernet Franc.

Quai du Vin Merlot 2012, Ontario (winery, $16.00)

Made from the same Merlot fruit in the Signature Red. Spent just over a year in barrel, the wine is still very primary and aromatically speaking, highly dusty. A painted note, green tea and rusty dry fruit are wrapped in an early reductive, nearly volatile note. Chewy, splintered, with grit, conceit and solid work. Note: Only 25 per cent of the vines will likely have survived the winter of 2014.

Villa Nova Estate Winery Mystery of Hrio 2013, Ontario (winery, $11.95)

A dry white made from three (numbered) hybrid grapes developed at Vineland Research Station.

Villa Nova Estate Winery Trout Fly Riesling 2012, Ontario  (winery, $12.50)

From 100 per cent Estate vines planted in 1996, this has that roots gathered mineral salinity from sandy loams so reminiscent of the Burgenland’s dry Rieslings. That Austrian run-off minerality is uncanny and when foiled by the old vines glycerin texture, the end result is quite a study in Simcoe complexity. A small amount of Traminer lifts the Riesling, along with some lees usage. Amazing discovery.

Villa Nova Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2012, Ontario  (winery, $15.95)

From Estate grapes planted around the year 2000. Lithe, pretty and certainly very Pinot. Like Kiwi Pinot in that the flesh is permeated by varnish. Wraps together cherry, pomegranate, cranberry and wet earth. If an Old World comparison might be made it would be to Mercurey, as it’s light, highly floral, with a break in the mid-palate and a stretched finish. “We’ve always ended up with light Pinot,” says winemaker and mad scientist Phil Ryan. That’s a good thing.

Villa Nova Estate Winery Norfolk Red 2013, Ontario  (winery, $11.95)

From Niagara and Norfolk (Marechal Foch, Baco Noir and Chambourcin) grapes. A hybrid party.

Villa Nova Estate Winery

Villa Nova Estate Winery

Frisky Beaver White 2012, VQA Ontario (345629, $13.95, WineAlign)

The all Niagara fruit blend is Vidal (75 per cent), Riesling (15) and Gewurztraminer (10). It’s considered VQA “Ontario” because Dover Vineyards awaits a viticultural designation. The irony here is that it may as well be labeled Niagara. This is clean and easy stuff, low in alcohol (11.2 per cent), elevated in sugar (18.4 g/L) but balancing in total acidity (5.6 g/L). Overall it has texture and tannic ability. Not a stressful blend by any stretch, it’s Pinot Gris like in Alsatian attitude with a juicy, peppery pear fruit tendency.

Smoke & Gamble Gewurztraminer Süssreserve 2011, Ontario (winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Unfermented (11.8 per cent) appassimento juice is added back in for aromatic and textural effect. Semi-tropical and semi-dry, in pineapple and green apple but not lychee. This is Musqué in scent, clean, pure and true. From 100 per cent Norfolk fruit.

Smoke & Gamble Merlot Reserve 2011, Ontario (winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

A wild at heart Merlot, brooding, serious, deep and full. Caramel and chocolate, ginger spice and ripe plum. Coat, paint, coat, repeat. Alcohol is big (14.4 per cent) but well-integrated and whatever perceived sweetness there may be (4 g/L) is mitigated by a leafy, savoury edge.

Smoke & Gamble Cabernet Franc Appassimento 2010, Ontario (winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Here is the deepest, post-modern wine made anywhere in the province. Reeking of rich, candied violets smothered in dark chocolate. Chalk and talc in licks and a dense, chewy mid-palate. A massive (14.5 per cent) wine with so much chocolate dust and thick glycerin. A stable of so many big attributes and in only winemaker Robert Gill ‘s second year dealing with the Amarone-style methodology. “The first year I was scared, I’ll admit.”

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Vidal 2012, Ontario (winery, $14.25)

From estate vines. Juicy, white peach and nectarine aromas, metal angles, straight up distillation of pure grapes.  Low brix and solid PH give it tannic thrust.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Riesling 2012, Ontario (winery, $15.95)

Estate fruit (100 per cent). Sweet and with aromatic energy. Off-dry all the way. Leans Mosel in kindred spirit. Orchard fruit and excellent acidity. Slightly bitter-tinged finish, but in a noble way.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Baco Noir 2011, Ontario (winery, $18.20)

A cheese in lees inflected BN, not the brooding and pitchy type. Some elegance, in as much as Baco Noir can show. Yet unusual because of that yogurt drip. Good acids, floral tones and citrus.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Chambourcin 2011, Ontario (winery, $18.20)

Once again, all the lees, cheese and citrus , but also sweet and sour with some soy and caramel. Tight and racy Chambourcin, certainly as complex and accomplished as any this side of Michigan.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2012 (Tank Sample)

High cranberry and dry earth bring this right back to Burgundy basics. Rosehip and sandalwood from old oak wrapped in sweet tannins. A bit of sinew and braised bouille. The coat is on.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Merlot 2012 (Tank Sample)

From Niagara (De Moura Vineyards) fruit. Chalk in limestone, chocolate and a medium wood toast. Some green tannin, tea for sure but also some sweet tannin. Also roasted, charred red meat.

We wrapped up with some of the most righteous fruit wines one could ever hope to taste by way of Wooden Bear L Winery Inc.  Kim Ludwig’s wines are full of wildflowers, citrus expression and great balance. Her Gay-La Apple wine from 100 per cent Gala apples is like savoury Sauvignon Blanc, with angles in metal, low acidity but it’s dry and crisp. Her Sangria in a bottle has a liqueur-like taste, a slightly reductive, good bitterness and so much spirit. Not to mention tons of grapefruit.

Planting palm trees in Port Dover

Planting palm trees in Port Dover

All is good out on the water and we made it safely back to Port Dover, just in time to watch the annual planting of the palm trees. You can’t make this stuff up.

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

New fizz on the Brock

Brock U. CCOVI Sparkling Wine Technical Symposium Photo: http://brocku.ca/ccovi/

Brock U. CCOVI Sparkling Wine Technical Symposium
Photo: http://brocku.ca/ccovi/

The Ontario Sparkling Wine Technical Symposium. Like a Trekkie convention for oenophiles. To a wine geek it was eight hours spent searching for the meaning of life. To a consumer who just likes to drink it would have been time lost forever with no chance to get it back. The Brock University Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute’s Pond Inlet was the setting. The presentations were very technical, that is until Dr. Jamie Goode took the podium and breathed context into the room.

According to the LCBO, in 2013, sales in Vintages of VQA sparkling wine were up 59.2 per cent from 2012 sales data. In Canada there are 36 wineries producing sparkling wine and that number is growing. As it should.

The abstruse conditions of the #ONfizz event set the table as a vocational assurance draw for Ontario winemakers, viticulture and viniculture research specialists. Seated at my table were a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker. That should be loosely translated as a scientist (Dr. Jim Willwerth), a product manager (LCBO’s Ontario expert Astrid Brummer) and two winemakers (Hinterland’s Jonas Newman and Gaspereau Vineyards’ Gina Haverstock).

Brock’s Dr. Debbie Inglis introduced Bertrand Robillard, Ph.d., Director of Research and Development at the Institut Oenologique de Champagne. Before getting to the subject at hand, on disgorging, gushing and foaming, he first laid an open attack on beer. “The form is always better in a crystal glass,” insisted Robillard. For Champagne. Not beer. “That’s just false. It’s just appearance. People in Champagne do not appreciate this kind of resolute,” comparing the pouring of Champagne to beer.

Then on to Sparkling wine’s integral and necessary marketing draw. Bubbles. “No dishwashing,” begged Robillard. “It’s a very efficient way to kill the foam.” By principle, to have foam you need bubbles. It’s all about stabilizing the foam. High ethanol (five per cent) in fizz is good content for foam stabilization. CO2 (protein concentration and polysaccharides) all contribute to stability.

So why do the bubbles collapse? Why do they not make it from the centre to the wall of the glass? Why is a hole in the middle created and the bubbles fall into the hole and disappear? The answer is gushing. A “shameful disease” that can be considered as a disequilibrium between foam formation and foam collapse. Bubbles cannot exist if their radius are less than 0.1 microns, or they will dissolve into the wine. Bubbles are detached when gravity forces are higher than capillary forces.

The conclusion? Surface area and CO2 are the driving force behind gushing. Contaminations inside the wall of the bottle must be eliminated. Oxygen heterogeneity is essential, even more so more than CO2 and sugar. The news that there is no relationship between wine composition and gushing means winemakers can make the Sparkling wine style of their choosing. The representative from Champagne said so.

Next up was Ed Carr, Sparkling winemaker, Accolade wines in Australia. Carr plies his trade in Tasmania. Not the Tasmania of The English Passengers full of exiled convicts, invading Brits, sinister men like Dr. Thomas Potter and his thesis about the races of men. No, Carr makes bubbles on an island quickly becoming a (vinous) garden of Eden, known to a heroic aboriginal and envisioned by Reverend Geoffrey Wilson. Carr explained the company’s choice of locale. “These (cold and mostly maritime influenced climate) numbers are a gross simplification of what the world is really like, but this is why we went to Tasmania, looking at that 1000 number for heat degree days.”

On spacing: “The guy growing your vines is likely using the same tractor to grow spuds.” On vineyard management: “Lots of leaf plucking done, bunch thinning…canopy management is key. Supplemental irrigation a must.” On Sparkling wine stylistic choices: “Oxidation is a big thing, a real style choice. Chilling picked fruit reduces phenolic extraction and oxidation but also reduces fruit.”

On flaws: “Brettanomyces I refer to the ‘black death of Europe’ for wine. The little buggers love sulphur dioxide conditions. Residual sugar left in the bottle on the way to second fermentation helps the yeasts on their way. Rapid ferment and as dry as possible is the way to go.”

On closures: “I don’t really think you apply screw cap closure trials from still wines to sparkling. It does not translate to the reductive character of sparkling. We primarily believe in the use of traditional cork, with some agglomerate closure usage.”

Third speaker was Larry Mawby of Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula L. Mawby Vineyards. “The thing that I realized was negatively impacting on my ability to make good sparkling wine was the fact that I wasn’t just making sparkling wine.” The response from Hinterland’s (Prince Edward County Sparkling wine maker) Jonas Newman. “I like his style.” I can hear you thinking, Sparkling wine in Michigan? More than this. Mawby makes 21 different renditions, with the usual suspects, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, in traditional ways. He also goes at it Charmat-style with Riesling, Pinot Gris and Vignoles. Not to mention Cayuga, Vidal, Regent, Marechal Foch and Muscat in the Cuve Close method.

Continued Mawby, “in this century we’ve made nothing but sparkling wines.” During the terrible winter of 2003 there were temperatures of 45 degrees (Fahrenheit) and below. “Killed any vine not beneath the snow. I panicked.” So Mawby added his ‘Cuve Closed’ a bulk production, Charmat-style sparkling wine. On the technicalities of making fizz: “I don’t believe the chemistry of fruit should be your guideline. What does the fruit taste like?” On varietal integrity: “Almost nobody on the planet buys Sparkling wine based on grape variety.”

Jamie Goode, Ph.D., London-based wine writer (www.wineanorak.com) and wine columnist, The Sunday Express talked on wine closures and purchaser perception of local, national and international sparkling wines. Mostly he spoke about incontestable truths.

On closures: “Traditional is best but the Mytik in an excellent alternative.” It now closes 192 million of 6 billion bottles. The Crown Cap? “Yes, why not? It’s recognizable, like beer and comfortable. With the right liner it’s OTR transmission is very acceptable.” Dr. Goode’s closure talk resulted in some wine writer comedy.

On the world’s most famous fizz: “Champagne can be wonderful, but there’s some ropey stuff coming to the UK. With Champagne, your expectation is everything.” On Cava, “People don’t really like it. It’s made in the traditional method and it should be a really good product but it’s trying to be something it’s not.”

On vintage dated bubbles, Goode spoke from an unequivocal marketing perspective. “People don’t really care about vintage.” On the emerging Canadian and British sparkling wine industries. “Do English or Canadian wines need a special name?” No.”

On the now-universal nomenclature: “Sparkling wine has become an accepted one, not a pejorative one.” Goode’s perspective is always fresh, nearly cynical and full of truth. On leaving the country he bade farewell with thanks.

Participants also had the opportunity to taste two sparkling wine research trials that are currently underway at local wineries as well as a comparative blind tasting.  The blind tasting presented a selection of local and international Sparkling wines and Champagnes and was moderated by Jamie Goode.  The three flights featured Blanc de Blancs, Cuvée/blends and alternative varieties. Thank you can never be said too many times to Barbara Tatarnic, Magdalena Kaiser-Smit and Trisha Molokach for their generosity in invitation and unwavering hospitality. I am always humbled to be included in their warm world of wine.

I will admit that I would have liked to see more Ontario representation in the flights, as well as at least one example from both British Columbia and especially Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley. With that emerging region and vintners like Benjamin Bridge and Gaspereau Vineyards on the Sparkling stardom stage/horizon, including their wines would have upped the complexity factor tenfold. Not to mention something British. New York State’s Finger Lakes (Chateau Frank Célèbre) and North Fork of Long Island’s (Sparkling Pointe Brut Seduction) should definitely be players in the next #ONfizz symposium.

Brock University CCOVI Sparkling Wine Technical Symposium

Brock University CCOVI Sparkling Wine Technical Symposium

Sparkling Wine Trial Tasting – Unfinished samples from Trius Wines

  1. Trius Base on lees two years. Chardonnay (70 per cent), Pinot Noir (25), Pinot Meunier (5). Each (cane sugar) dosage was 20 mL towards an end of 8 g/L of residual sugar. Barrel fermentation and barrel aging leans this towards an oxidixed style. Arid, high in citrus and high-toned oak character.
  2. Blanc de Noirs 2009. Left on the lees for four years. Use of cane sugar. Less giving and resolute in micro-wood spice. This sample is from the oldest (sparkling) wine in their cellar.
  3. From the Trius Brut wine. Dosage again with cane sugar. Acts the most polished and finished, the most accomplished. This is the rock and the anchor.

Comparative Blind Tasting – Flight 1: Blanc de Blanc

Family Estate Cuvée No. 1 Blanc De Blancs NV, Méthode Traditionelle, Marlborough, New Zealand (56358, $34.95, WineAlign)

The sample poured at the OSWTS was unfortunately corked but here was my previous review: “Aromatic rhetoric would argue this Marlborough bottle of bubbles is a ringer for classic Blanc de Blancs. Promises pleasure and class from the first whiff. Decidedly lemon citrus tight and stony until an herbal, splintered, stemmy tarragon balm takes over, rendering the wine more of its place than what it tries to emulate. Still, a really terrific effort.”  Tasted November 2013  @oenophilia1

From left to right: L. Mawby Vineyards Blanc de Blanc Chardonnay NV, Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut, Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc 2008, Drappier Signature Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne, House of Arras Blanc de Blancs 2004

From left to right: L. Mawby Vineyards Blanc de Blanc Chardonnay NV, Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut, Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc 2008, Drappier Signature Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne, House of Arras Blanc de Blancs 2004

L. Mawby Vineyards Blanc de Blanc Chardonnay NV, Michigan, USA (winery, US $23)

Like distilled white Swedish berries high on acidity. Herbal, tight, gainful simplicity. Pear ciderish and clear as a cool climate bell.  @mibubbly

Angels Gate Archangel Chardonnay Brut 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (227009, $21.95, WineAlign)

A not so dry (9.8 g/L residual sugar) stylistic choice leads this angel to sparkling late harvest territory with ripe orchard fruit that buzzes with terpenes, surface bruises and slight oxidized notes. The archangel rolls over a knife’s edge and sits too long in the sun but it’s neither cut nor cooked. There is beauty in its 90’s big hair, big sound and you might tell her that “tears drop like diamonds from your golden eyes.” There’s yet a spring in her step and a hay note from afield.  Tasted May 2014  @angelsgatewines

House of Arras Blanc de Blancs 2004, Tasmania, Australia (winery, $80 AUS)

Big barrel oak influence leaves splinters in the mouth, albeit gentle and dissolvable ones. Creamy and chalky like ice cream made from tea. Not much yeast and biscuit activity as it’s all about fruit and barrel.  @AccoladeWinesAU

Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (213983, $29.95, WineAlign)

The freshest style of the #ONfizz B de B flight. Fruit, escarpment bench stone layering, richesse, biscuits and toast are all in. Acidity meets complexity. From my earlier, December 2012 note: “Sees no malolactic fermentation and sits at the top end of dry (12-14 dosage). Most of the fruit is 2008, despite the NV designation. A soda fountain of argon and nitrogen bunsens forth through clean lines and carries an entire cider house orchard of Spartan apple. This one certainly hints at Champagne-like characteristics, of brioche and toast. The apples never relent.”  Last tasted May 2014  @CaveSpring

Drappier Signature Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne, Ac, Champagne, France (599860, $46.95, WineAlign)

Here showing a bruised apple note with the lees and PH on steroids. Fruit seems to be in from a less than stellar vintage and so the lack of consistency is disappointing. “It’s a style,” says Jonas Newman. “He’s a natural wine guy.” NV Champagne needs aggregate scoring so my 90 comes down. From my earlier, April 2013 note: “Continues a VINTAGES string of excellent value in Champagne releases. Made from 100% Chardonnay, this BdB is pronounced in , yeasty dough definition, hinting at agave and unwashed cheese rind. Where there’s bubbles there’s a way and I like where this one is going. The agave replays in sweet waves, as does the sour in faint yet discernible sloshes. Much to contemplate in this NV sparkler.” Last Tasted May 2014

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc 2008, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Méthode Traditionnelle, Ontario (315200, $44.95, WineAlign)

Rocks the driest end of the free world Blanc de Blanc spectrum. Lets carte blanche reign in a taut style and reeks of a minimum four years of autolytic lees activity. In that sense it loses some of its sense of place, in Catherine’s case that Short Hills Bench clay-silt-loam-gravel agglomeration. The soil composition usually brings vigor and richness to Chardonnay but here as a sparkling wine the sensation is of citrus soaked concrete. Racy bubbles of intensity that do not quite match the weight and elegance of the 2007.   @HenryofPelham

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Brut Méthode Traditionnelle, Fielding Estate Brut NV, Cattier Brut Premier Cru, Tarlant Brut Reserve Champagne, House of Arras Rosé 2005

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Brut Méthode Traditionnelle, Fielding Estate Brut NV, Cattier Brut Premier Cru, Tarlant Brut Reserve Champagne, House of Arras Rosé 2005

Comparative Blind Tasting – Flight 2: Blends

Fielding Estate Brut NV, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

An impressive debut for winemaker Richie Roberts and team. This is a classic Chardonnay (55 per cent) and Pinot Noir (45) cuvée from Fielding’s Tufford Road vineyard. A surprisingly rich example, toasty and with a sweet meets sweaty, minty-herbiage. A primer for even greater vintages (this is essentially 2009) to come, where the focus will be more on yeast fielding to citrus and less about yielding to a non-metallic elemental finish.   @FieldingWinery

L. Mawby Vineyards Talismon NV, Michigan, USA (winery, US $37)

Tasted blind this strikes out as heteromorphic fizz from less than charted territory (like Michigan) with juicy, hybrid acting histrionics. Though it’s actually a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay it lacks vinifera varietal complexity. The fruit is clear and fair but the méthode champenoise brings no enzymatic or citric display.

Tarlant Brut Reserve Champagne, France (325167, $43.95, WineAlign)

Here is a cuvée of égalité that combines one-third each Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Like the varietal make-up, these slightly reductive yet elegant bubbles offer up thirds of brioche, toast and demi-glacé. Fashioned from the 2006 harvest with reserve wine added and aged in oak. Chic and affordable but in no shape or form a knock off of the real deal. There’s a theoretical Champagne void within filled with citrus, sharp ginger and pungent spice. Blessed with unmatched length as compared to the others in the #ONfizz cuvée flight.

House of Arras Grand Vintage 2004, Tasmania, Australia (winery, $60 AUS)

“A polarizing wine,” notes winemaker Ed Carr. Full of savoury, herbal notes but also the unmistakable scent of that other white meat. The cure is indeed a porcine one, sweating in a hung game way, which gives this fizz such an old-world, old cellar quality. A slow (spring) malolactic evolution in barrel gives this (65.9 percent) Chardonnay and (34.1) Pinot Noir its silky, milky feel. Good to even better than good length.

Cattier Brut Premier Cru, Champagne, France (325720, $44.60, WineAlign)

This is really bitter, in a really good way. The nobility in brine is likely a result of whole (non-separated) bunch pressing, the Pinot Noir skins impart giving the fruity must its resident bitterness. A highly distinctive style of high caste and longevity, composed of Pinot Meunier (45 per cent), Pinot Noir  (35) and Chardonnay (25). As deep as any tasted at #ONfizz 2014.

Château Des Charmes Brut Méthode Traditionnelle, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (224766, $22.95, WineAlign)

Chardonnay (75 per cent) and Pinot Noir (25) at an attractive price. Attacks with a gently cloying, weeping sweetness, string-bending terpenes and fades out with a savoury, bitter finish. Light, approachable and wide-reaching style. Bubbles with broad appeal.   @MBosc

House of Arras Rosé 2005, Tasmania, Australia (winery, $60 AUS)

The composition here is Pinot Noir (62.5 per cent) and Chardonnay (37.5) from pickings in Lower Derwent, Upper Derwent and the Houn Valley. Emerges out of a year where warmer temperatures coaxed an increase of richer fruit from the rounder and fatter white grape. Good lees effect (seven years) in 2005 and also a balmy tarragon accent atop strawberry, verging to cherry fruit. Finishes with expert balancing acidity, this fizz trumps its Blanc de Blanc and Grand Vintage sistren at this tasting.

From left to right: Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut, Girls' Night Out Sparkling, Giusti Brut Prosecco Asolo, Brédif Brut Vouvray NV, Hinterland Ancestral 2013

From left to right: Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut, Girls’ Night Out Sparkling, Giusti Brut Prosecco Asolo, Brédif Brut Vouvray NV, Hinterland Ancestral 2013

Comparative Blind Tasting – Flight 3: Alternative Varieties

Trius at Hillebrand Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, (winery, $35.20)

Spent 12 months ageing ‘sur lie’ in the estate’s underground sparkling caves. Winemaker Craig McDonald comments to the negative effect of light on bubbles. “Light strike causes a serious reaction on sparkling wine.” Here a mephitic aroma should likely be attributed to reduction or the beam of sunlight blanketing the room. There is a resinous salinity to this SB that does not want to blow off. Needs to be revisited from 2015 to 2018.

Green Extra-Sec by M. Lawrence, Michigan, USA (winery, $15)

The Green is part of Larry Mawby’s colourful, sexy and artfully named M. Lawrence investigation into the diversity of Sparkling wine. Absurdly dry, this put together Vidal and Cayuga concept is all about musky grape dehydration. Its cool climate constitution rescues the fruit to rehydrate and act like an orange picked straight from the greenhouse tree. There’s a malic medicinal tone that buries the sweet (17 g/L residual), resulting in a tart, low in alcohol, unwoven bottle of slim bubble.

Girls’ Night Out Sparkling, Ontario VQA, Ontario, Canada (215632, $14.95, WineAlign)

Here is a modest and useful 100% Riesling, Charmat Method, Cuve Close bottle of fizz from Lake Erie North Shore producer Colio Estates. With a residual remainder of nearly 20 g/L it falls into the off-dry category with aromatic notes that stroll directly through Ontario orchards. Tasty, easy to enjoy and smelling peculiarly like bubble gum. Well-made, good quality bubbles nouveau.

Giusti Brut Prosecco Asolo DOCG, Veneto, Italy (agent, $20.99, WineAlign)

A 100 per cent Glera, from Veneto’s Montello and the Asolo hills. As per Giusti’s description, this definitive Prosecco is “appropriately evanescent, with fine and lingering perlage.” Though reserved on the nose, the palate is very lively. A case in point for any aridity-driven examples to follow.

Brédif Brut Vouvray NV, Loire, France (352179, $20.95, WineAlign)

A touch yeasty, with citrus and large bubbles. Good verve, complex palate with a Champagne bent, or at least a toasted sentiment. From my earlier, November 2013 note: “Arid, frothy and fitful, atomically speaking. White peach and preceding spring flowers. Charcoal rubbed, also clean and fine. Sparkling Chenin Blanc done right.”  Last tasted May 2014

Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut, Hungary (619288, $12.25, WineAlign)

A more than interesting set of aromatics define and drive this blend of Királyleányka Rizling (Rhine Riesling), Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. A stinky, reductive twang is joined by peach, rubber, pencil, duff and sandy sediment. Although the palate is a bit dullish with a taste of wet concrete there thickens a liqueur-like viscous texture to win sweet hearts. Would win even more were the residual (9 g/L) even higher.

Hinterland Ancestral 2013, Prince Edward County (winery, $25, WineAlign)

Released back in October of 2013, the Ancestral is what Hinterland’s Vicky Samaras refers to as the “unicorn” or the “babymaker.” This is Gamay Noir in postal service of the ancient process known as méthode ancestrale. Fermentation, which produces the carbon dioxide, occurs in the bottle and lees disgorgement is skipped. Hinterland’s Ancrestral brings sweet currant jelly, strawberry and mint notes (36 g/L residual sugar) to a wine low in alcohol (8 per cent) yet high in balancing (7.8 g/L) natural acidity. The components are all lifted to such great heights. A babymaker because the aromatics, palate, texture and finish “are mirror images and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned.”

 

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventure

Frozen Niagara Falls

As frozen Niagara Falls, so frozen Niagara Falls
Photo: yobab/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Doesn’t every local wine writer’s pilgrimage begin this way? There’s 130 kilometres to Niagara Falls, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes (not really – the only thing we smoke is BBQ), it’s blinding winter morning light out and we’re wearing sunglasses. Well, one of us is.

Related – When expert’s break wine together

With Jake riding shotgun to Elwood we hit the QEW, pause for bench land visits to Flat Rock, Zooma Zooma and Creekside Estates, then make the frozen Falls by dusk. Two slackers we are, Bill and Ted, ponces submissive to wine, travelling through Niagara assembling a library of tasting notes to condign for memory in lieu of history missed and as practice for futures to come.

Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Salmon and Scallops

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Salmon and Scallops

Niagara’s annual Cuvée rolls out the red carpet for a black-tie gala at Fallsview Casino’s Grand Ballroom. Touted as a celebration of excellence in Ontario winemaking, the event gathers more than 50 wineries and asks that they pour their winemakers’ favourite wines alongside a room full of esculent Niagara eats. Local chefs set lavish food stations and guests are treated to comestible ruminations composed by students from the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. The Sun Media Après Cuvée party features Icewine, sparkling wine and craft beer bars, not to mention a repeat performance by the impolitic, patent, I want you to be moved sound of Jonesy.

Zagat and Spotlight Toronto's Suresh Doss and Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena KaiserSmit

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Zagat and Spotlight Toronto’s Suresh Doss and Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena KaiserSmit

Proceeds from the Cuvée Weekend go to the Niagara Community Foundation. Created in 2000, the Niagara Community Foundation has raised more than $23 million in endowment funds and has granted in excess of $5.5 million to charities working in the arts, heritage, environment, social services, health, education and community development. In 2015, the event will leave the very capable hands of the NCF and fall into the most capable hands of Brock University.

The word cuvée can mean many things in the world of wine. The Champagne tradition carries the most recognizable weight, the practice dictating that the best grapes be used and gently pressed to ultimately produce a sparkling wine of superior quality. In the end any cuvée is a blend no matter how you slice, interpret or break it down. It really comes down to the question of quality. Did Cuvée 2014 put its best foot forward? Were the ace grapes on display?

Pulling candy from sugar, Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Pulling candy from sugar, Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College

The Cuvée gala, at one time an awards showcase ceremony, has welled to the point of a brimming kitchen sink, perhaps in danger of overflowing. Those who know and have been there agree the change in structure has been for the better. Growing pains are natural, inevitable side effects of growth. It’s more party than oenophile wine think tank, a cultural mosaic and for some, a melting pot. Speeches, awards, thank yous and acknowledgements are barely audible above the revelling din.

VQA Promoter Award At Large winner Shawn McCormick and Michael Godel

PHOTO: Dan Trcka/grapeselections.com
VQA Promoter Award At Large winner Shawn McCormick and Michael Godel

In 2013, to a wine, the pours were best of the best. My take was put into these words. Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary. In 2014 many vintners poured either their best (Domaine Queylus, Five Rows, Coyote’s Run, Rennie Estate, Stratus, Thirty Bench) or their most unique (Peninsula Ridge, Trius, Southbrook, Riverview, 13th Street, Malivoire). The event and the following morning’s Expert’s Tasting would not be diluted by a few more shots of Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore in the arm.

The real adventure lies in the attempt to taste everything in the room. Time and excessive schmoozing gets in the way so getting to more than half is a win, win. Here are notes on 10 wines tasted at Cuvée 2014 and the reasons for singling them out as separating themselves from their peers.

Riverview Gewurztraminer Angelina’s Reserve 2012, VQA Niagara River (368092, $18.95, WineAlign)

A creamy, corpulent expression with a stinging enzymatic yogurt texture. Would swear there was extended lees contact. Furthest thing from the truth says winemaker Angela Kasimos. That striking salve gives way to a vacuous aridity without conceding to nuts and residual sugar. Well-made and without interference. Thanks to Riverview, Gewürztraminer has found a home in the pliable, silty loam of Niagara River.  88  Tasted February 2014  @RiverviewWinery

Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Wismer 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Wismer 2013

Peninsula Ridge Wismer Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker Jamie Evans and Sauvignon Blanc share a kinesis. When kissed by the wise and wistful fruit that Wismer cedes, compounded by the vintage, this Peninsula Sauvignon Blanc inclines to aeaeae. All parts contribute to a stretched length, from fresh beginning to mouth-watering end. In between there is lees-stirred spice, dry and toasty points but the grass is never overgrown and the berries are golden. A kickstarter sour note propels the wine forward for an even longer taxi onward. What a vineyard, what a wine.  90  Tasted February 2014  @PeninsulaRidge

Westcott Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29, WineAlign)

From vineyards planted in 2005, this new kid on the Jordan block spent 12 months in oak, half of it new. To a taster, you would never know it. In clone cousin to Le Clos Jordanne’s Chardonnay, this special project is the nephew of a set aside, four-barrel selection. Winemaker Arthur Harder (Calamus) has fashioned a head-turning clean, pure and most mineral-driven Chardonnay from impossibly young Vinemount Ridge vines. A quartz chord runs through it and with just two or three more years of vine age the fruit and adjoining texture will catch up to the rock. That integrated, subtle oak impart is of a Granny Smith apple kind, crisp and taut. Such a memorable inauguration with so much promise that lays ahead.  90  Tasted February 2014

Trius Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Less than 300 cases were produced of this, you guessed it, natural grape skin, wild yeast fermented unique Sauvignon Blanc. Cold bunch pressed and 11 months on the lees lend a fruit/wood spice and gregarious character that is impossible to miss. Winemaker Craig MacDonald shows a savvy Savvy love in his carefully considered treatment of this wine. This ’12 WF steals the show at Cuvée in the category of most compelling and thought-provoking.  91  Tasted February 2014  @TriusWines

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (274753, $32.95, WineAlign)

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. Earlier 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.  91  Tasted October 2013 and February 2014  @HiddenBench

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker's White 2011

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker’s White 2011

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker’s White 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

While the triple W represents neither traditional alchemy nor screaming value it begs to be considered for sheer shock and awe. A co-fermented, low brix, who varietal blend of 58 per cent Chardonnay, 27 Semillon and 15 Muscat, winemaker Ann Sperling’s capricious fancy white and nerdy captures the vintage to alight and delight effect. Spice, texture, florality and acidity really work the room. Though the varieties seem to sing ”we don’t move in any ‘ticular direction and we don’t make no collections,” they somehow join together.  White wine of whimsy, not shallow, like a Wes Anderson film.  88  Tasted February 2014  @SouthbrookWine

Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, SAQ 12089591, $44.95, WineAlign)

Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice. Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with its a touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”  91  Tasted November 2013 and twice February 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Five Rows Craft Wine Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $50, WineAlign)

Gimme soft and sage treatment of a vineyard’s wondrous, pure fruit transcends most previous notions of Niagara Pinot Noir. That Lowrey vineyard in the hands of its first family drives spice into red fruit direct from soil and vine. Winemaker Wes Lowrey handles his family vineyard fruit like it were a baby and from this comes a promiscuous perfume. The ’10 is so youthful but coming into the springtime of his voodoo, having now been in bottle for a year. Though thoughts were that “he was going to show me spring,” the wine should clearly be left to flesh for a few more seasons.  92  Tasted February 2014

Thirty Bench Small Lot Benchmark Red 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $60)

Indoctrinated Right Bank agglomerate built on 62 per cent Merlot, supported by equal parts Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. Impressively warm and dusty, large, bursting berry dominated with a peppering dredge all around. So much flavour abounds, blanketed by a shaker full of vanilla spice, like “an endless ocean landing on an endless desert.” Still the Benchmark is modest, oaked (18 months) but not overly soaked, pure and in balance. The berry concentration renders it as a resident of the dark centre of the Niagara red blend universe.  92  Tasted February 2014  @ThirtyBench

Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve Du Domaine 2011

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve Du Domaine 2011

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir ‘Le Grande Reserve’ 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (winery, $65, WineAlign)

The Thomas Bachelder mentored, two-vineyard assemblage Grande Reserve Pinot Noir grinds more cracked pepper than any predecessor. Every barrel from the Twenty Mile Bench (formerly Le Clos Jordanne’s, Neudorf Family La Petite Colline Vineyard) and Mountainview vineyard were scrutinized to determine the final blend.Bachelder sees black fruit in the early life yet despite the ebullient seasoning, the LGR’s genes are intrinsically feminine. Red cherry, tellus fertility and a mother’s strength hold the family of barrel children together. This is an ambitious and hard to read Pinot Noir. Judgement reserved for five years before the word classic will be used.  92  Tasted March 2014  @QueylusVin

Good to go!

Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine

Extreme Lows, Niagara Peninsula, December 2013 and January 2014

Extreme Lows, Niagara Peninsula, December 2013 and January 2014
Photo: Weather INnovations Consulting LP (WIN)

as seen on canada.com

The physiological and emotional roller coaster heaped upon grapes and growers these past 55 days has been nothing short of exhilarating, frightening and exhausting. First this monster climatic Dementor known as the Polar Vortex. Along with the demonic weather came the devastation of an ice storm, followed by record low temperatures. More recently, thaw and re-freeze. Consequences and challenges have abounded. Also, a silver lining. Freezing temperatures can kill grape buds on vines unprepared and left to fend for themselves. Those little vine kinder can also just be unlucky enough to grow up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some Niagara growers are reporting heavy losses to Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay vines. Here are the numbers as reported by Wines In Niagara’s Rick VanSickle.

I spoke with winemaker Paul Pender of Tawse Winery in Vineland, Ontario yesterday. Paul is both unconcerned and not yet ready to make any sort of call on damage to his crops. “It’s still too early to tell,” he notes, “I won’t really head out to assess any potential damage until early March.” While Beamsville vineyards are reportedly hard hit, Pender is confident that his team’s strident and prudent vineyard management will see the vines through.

Balanced pruning means leaving a specific number of buds during the winter on a dormant cane for this year’s crop, the number based on the amount the vine grew the previous season. Tawse’s canes are cut back to two feet, the dead wood removed before winter’s freeze can hit. Buds this season were thinned from 12 to six, giving those tender bits a fighter’s chance to survive. And while Pender will not enter into an unequivocal conversation with respect to the heartiness of his vineyards as a consequence of 100 per cent organic and biodynamic farming, I can hear the surety in his voice and imagine the twinkle in his eye at the thought.

Other growers concern themselves with what may happen inside the many parts of the vine when there are freezes, thaws and re-freezes. Again, Pender is not concerned. Proper pruning should prepare a vine for a harsh winter, whether or not they are protected by a warm blanket of snow. In New York’s Finger Lakes region, Lenn Thompson is reporting “some minor bud damage to vinifera vines, but little to no vine death.” Steve Shaw of Shaw Vineyards on Seneca Lake had this to say. “Yes, this winter is definitely presenting itself in a rather volatile manner. As far as I can tell from checking a number of varieties and many buds, there does not seem to be any catastrophic primary bud kill. There is damage, but not too bad so far. I do not think that with things being this wacky that we can really rest easy until most of the winter has passed.” Brock University’s Cool Climate and Viticulture Institute in St. Catherines helps local growers with much needed information and infrastructure to deal with damaging weather. Their VineAlert program helps protect vineyards during frigid temperatures.

Icewine Hours 2013

PHOTO: Weather INnovations Consulting LP (WIN)
Icewine Hours 2013

The news is not all bad. According to many icewine makers in Niagara, 2013 will shape up to be what many are forecasting the best ever vintage for the province. Temperatures dipped to the requiem in late December and most picked their shriveled, sugary berries before the new year. That is unprecedented, allowing this season’s icewine to remain high in necessary balancing acidity and well ahead of the fermentation arresting challenges from most years. Wine Country Ontario reported that “early icewine harvest in Wine Country Ontario starts the festival fever.” Look for the most balanced icewines out of 2013. Not to mention the Grape Grower’s of Ontario reporting the province’s grape growers gathered a record 79,756 tonnes of grapes in 2013 valued at nearly $100 million.

The Niagara Icewine Festival encompasses three weekends in January dedicated to the region’s beloved ambrosial elixir, wines that have become the calling card beyond the broader confines of Canadian borders. Icewine has been made since 1981 and in that short span of 33 years, Ontario and B.C. winemakers have challenged, and in many cases lapped their counterparts in Germany and Austria. Canadian icewine is globally renowned, even if it is not the most important wine resource bequeathed upon the rest of the world.

Icewine 101. Simply put, made from grapes that have been left to freeze naturally on the vine. Ontario’s stringent Bolshevik Initial Decrees-like laws insist that icewine must be made from approved grape varieties; the most popular are Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Some small lots include Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Grapes are left on the vine until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached and then picked from those vines encapsulated in nets to protect them from birds possessive of a sweet tooth.

A national icewine debate is ongoing, inflamed by a recent Macleans Magazine article discussing the ideological differences between the VQA law preventing vine and grape separation before pressing and the Quebec practice of letting the grapes freeze in nets. Quebec growers do this out of necessity for fear of their fruit being smothered by excessive snowfall. Ontario’s old guard vehemently oppose the practice. The irony of VQA Ontario’s website low volume statistic, “with average yields of 500 litres for each acre netted,” is not lost on the curious. Two questions arise. How many grapes in Ontario nets end up in bottles of VQA labelled icewine and how can a culture of Canadian icewine be brought together without some form of compromise and collaboration? Yet again, is togetherness integral to the success of Canadian icewine, or more specifically, Ontario’s industry?

According to Klaus W. Reif of Reif Estate, apparently there are 3,750 berries needed for one bottle of 375ml icewine. Just consider the concentration for a moment, the hand-picked (though not all) labour involved and the specificity of the practice. The sweetest wine known to Canadians can indeed be re-worked as a palindrome for Niagara Ice Wine Festival.

A wet vial is fine nice agar

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Rick James Ice Sculpture, Niagara Icewine Festival

On Friday, January 10th, 2014 I was a most elated guest at the Xerox Icewine Gala: A Bacchus Evening of Icewine and Revelry. For a list of continuing events this weekend and next, here is a link to the festival site. More information here. With kind thanks to Magdalena KaiserSmit and Wine Country Ontario, I had the good fortune to taste a host of Niagara’s finest renditions, along with some very special bottles of sparkling and still wines. Here are notes on six wines sampled at the Fallsview Casino Grand Ballroom last Friday night.
From left: PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010, RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, and VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012

From left: PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010, RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, and VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012

PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Onatrio (284547, $31.95, WineAlign)

This is Peller’s most versatile fizz, a blend of traditional method Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sweetened by a dosage of Vidal icewine post disgorgement of its lees. The lees has been left to linger in the bottle, in spirit. Sapid, savoury bubbles tingle the senses to the bone and will offer the most comforting and proper pleasures to those discriminating and otherwise. Appealing to a large common denominator, this Peller Sparkling can really do no wrong.  90  Tasted January 2014  @PellerVQA

CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010 (202127, $39.95, WineAlign)

The floral lift from three to four percent Viognier gives notice to bend the brawny, savoury black olive and blistered Ancho fruit into balance. Syrah in a sunshine state but not from concentrate. Would accept a glass of this Brokenpress at any beck and call. “Grab your wine, take me where you been, with the violin time and the moon gettin’ thin.” From my earlier note: “Offers up gorgeous pine and pepper-laced correctness and so much juicy, fresh warmth from a terrific Syrah vintage in Ontario and even more parochial so on the St. David’s Bench. This Queenston Road Vineyard red is winemaker Rob Power’s secret weapon, absolutely freakin’ delicious stuff and the epitome of what Syrah should be like from Niagara. Verve, rigor and yet also flirtatious with expertly judged wood and tannin to re-fresh its spirit and lengthen its life. Love it.”  91  Tasted twice, October 2013 and January 2014  @CreeksideWine

PILLITTERI ESTATES MERLOT FAMILY RESERVE 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71753, $39.95, WineAlign)

Served from Jeroboam, one of 23 produced and a testament to the precocious, facile touch of then winemaker Sue-Ann Staff. The extreme five litre format has certainly been kind to the hermetic 11-year slumber of this Merlot, as has the above average red Niagara growing season. Charlie pulled out this rare behemoth “for the special occasion” and despite and with thanks to the perfect vintage meets size storm, it has held up with dramatic fortitude. Unmistakably predicated Pillitteri chocolate perfume, brushed violet, mulberry and oven-warmed baking spice. Holding in sustained concentration, the toffee, caramel and umami of wizened, oxidized fruit not yet a twinkle in its soapy sandalwood eye. How could Sun-Ann have known what time-cheating lengths her Merlot would see to?  93  Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, St Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (20483, $55.00, WineAlign)

This Bordeaux style blend (40 per cent Merlot, 33.3 Cabernet Sauvignon and 26.7 Cabernet Franc) is clothed in a coat of arms all about texture. A drawn and raised relief of dried, candied bramble fruit and charcoal lines of savoury, earthy hickory and herbs. Hearty warmth from a cool vintage, meat on a stick in a glass, charred, roasted and smoking. A spit of gamey goodness. Holding strong but drink now.  90  Tasted January 2014  @RavineVineyard

PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, Niagara On The Lake (46557, 375 ml, $60.00, WineAlign)

A most unique and striking rendition, wearer of many hats, confounding and curious. There is a funk about him that stands apart from the rest. Like a really well-aged, superb piece of washed rind cheese, then turning unabashedly sweet, with verve and symphonic tone. An orange sky of an icewine, anti-bittersweet, accented by mace and anise, carob even. “Here is what I know now brother. Here is what I know now sister.” Cabernet Sauvignon, in a vintage equipped with striking acidity, can turn into something to look forward to. One of the more interesting icewines to date.  91  Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (163018, 375 mL, $60.00, WineAlign)

This represents the icewine revolution, for the first time adding 15 percent Vidal juice into the Riesling mix. In 2012, the normally stand alone Riesling needed a shot in the arm, provided by the Vidal, a dose of icewine magic by winemaker Brian Schmidt. Lifted tree fruit blossom and added weight are the result, without hyper-sweet flavours. Riesling is the rock, Vidal the roll as this RV crashes into me. The pit orchard fruit is reduced and recognizable to taste, yet reserved and in phonic harmony. “Sweet like candy to my soul, sweet you rock and sweet you roll.” Brotherly love icewine, full of Schmidt wisdom.  93  Tasted January 2014  @benchwineguy

Good to go!

Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

Mary Catherine Wasilik, (Merry Bee) the Assistant Winemaker of Rosewood Estates Winery checking out the Pinot Noir pick at Wismer Vineyard in Balls Falls, Ontario
PHOTO: KRYSTINA ROMAN, QUEEN SOCIAL BEE/ROSEWOOD ESTATES WINERY

as seen on canada.com

Taste Ontario is a special event. The VINTAGES prescribed gathering of Ontario wine, the makers and the marketers should never be missed. The Royal Ontario Museum is a terrific setting for such a palooza and the Bronfman Hall a cozy, comfortable and airy room to showcase the wines.

That this gathering is conspicuous as much for its omissions as it is for the unparalleled quality and consistency of the wines does not need to be overly debated. The figure of “80 wines from over 30 of Ontario’s most passionate and talented winemakers” is certainly a drawing card despite VQA Ontario‘s contention “there are over 125 Ontario wineries producing VQA wines of various appellations – all backed up by VQA Ontario’s assurance of origin and quality.”

The VINTAGES say in what specific bottles should be poured was certainly in evidence last Thursday and succeeded for the purposes of presenting the licensee and the consumer with a cross section of Ontario’s signature grapes. Chardonnay was not high in representation but considering the recent run from and following #i4C2013 (Cool Chardonnay) that was to be expected. What the general public does not know for certain is the quality potential in and necessity of Ontario’s production of Sparkling wine, Gamay and Syrah. Three categories virtually ignored at Taste Ontario 2013.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Red wines at Taste Ontario 2013

Taste Ontario was held in Ottawa (The Westin Hotel) on Monday, October 7th and in Toronto (ROM) on Thursday, October 10th with essential support from Wine Country Ontario. Thanks must go out to Hilary Dawson and Magdalena KaiserSmit for their pampering and generosity. The grand tastings were partnered with the LCBO “SHINE {ON}” campaign that ran from September 15 through October 12.

My reviews of wines that shone is specific to the event and let it be known there are dozens more to form best of lists, from producers represented and those who were not involved. Here are 16 top wines from Taste Ontario 2013.

From left: Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Méthode Classique Brut 2009, 2027 Cellars Riesling ‘Falls Vineyard’ 2012, Thirty Bench Small Lot Woodpost Vineyard 2006, and Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011

Sparkling

Tawse ‘Spark’ Riesling 2009 (winery only, $18.95) may just be that bottle of persuasive interrogation and torture to turn even the toughest hold-outs against Sparkling Riesling. A veritable homeland crush of signature grapes, put to a not so traditional test, emerge in piercing, capital dry scintillation. Sparks fly in Beamsville when winemaker Paul Pender and team, “the boy prophets walk it handsome and hot.” This sparkler does the E street shuffle and dances in the dark. The new deal in Ontario bubbles.  “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”  89  @Paul_Pender  @Tawse_Winery

Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Méthode Classique Brut 2009 (234161, $22.95) in just under a year has evolved to a grandiloquent level of sophistication.  Fino arid bubbles, with an elevated level of aromatic sweetness, ginger spice, lime and charcoal. Quite complex, jumpy, with pepper on the finish.  90  From my earlier note: “is a sweet-smelling misty mousse waterfall where white grapefruit replays from vapor to flavour. Driest fizz yet playing the Angostura angle. Good length.”  88  @Jackson_Triggs

Riesling

Cattail Creek Estate Winery Riesling 2012 (241547, $14.95) from Four-Mile Creek suggests peaches in every way; juice, flesh and pit. A battle cry bottle for the adage and generational anthem, “when in Niagara I drink Riesling for peace.” Really fine evolutionary Creek example for the price, located somewhere on the dry to off-dry line.  Palate cleansing, with solid rhythm and length, like Les Brers in A Minor. Makes me want to eat a peach.  88  @CTCWinery

2027 Cellars Riesling ‘Falls Vineyard’ 2012 (294041, $18.95) in contrast to brother Foxcroft, is the more serious vineyard in my estimation. Falls compresses less limestone chalk and instead thunder rolls out glacial boulders. Here there is less grass, herbs, citrus and sea, but rathergarrigue blanc, the windswept plain studded with gorse and deeper, sweeter, earthly purity.  91  @2027Cellars

Thirty Bench Small Lot Woodpost Vineyard 2006 (winery only) has achieved green patina and diesel in D minor as the wine is just beginning to act its age. A crisp, crunchy green apple bent persists and the fruit remains confidently perched on top of the wood pile. A smoulder of wood seems ghostly present, or at least as rusty ties keeping it upright. A self-supporting slice of Beamsville Bench recent history here. Really quite fantastic.  92  @ThirtyBench

Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011 (241182, $35.20) does not so much pick up where cracking ’09 left off (with no offence meant to the soothing and tuneful ’10) but rather re-writes the Baker book. From the almost famous windswept vineyard atop the Vinemount Ridge, this Picone, from older Riesling plantings is crazy lively. That ’10 is now imbued with rich, oily glück. The ’11 will realize such a future, but much further along and in combination with its inborn tension. Right up there with Baker’s “perfect vintage” 2006.  93  @cbriesling

Chardonnay

Lailey Chardonnay 2011 (193482, $19.95, Alberta, 739220, $35.67) butters toast with delectable lemon curd and a sprinkle of brown sugar. Well-articulated, bundled Chardonnay fruit, in spice cadence, big but never brawny. A measure of Niagara balance.  90   From my earlier note: “is right on brother Derek. This not only joins the right excellent Chardonnay club; it’s the incumbent President. Lifted honeysuckle, honey and bright lemon aromas, the deftest kiss of oak and just a punch of spice. Tingles and lingers.  If ’10 was “almost great,” ’11 is. Mikey likes this very much.  90  @laileywinemakr

Tawse ‘Quarry Road’ Chardonnay 2011 (111989, $34.95) carries that classic Paul Pender perfume; rocks and stones, flaxen, refulgent toast and the verdure Vinemount terroir. A free flying, linear, atmospheric smear of thermal fortitude and backbone. A polemic Bowie Chardonnay to make you believe “the strangest things, loving the alien.”  92  From my earlier (barrel tasting) note: “resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terroir makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit.”  91-93

From left: Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2012, Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir ‘Red Paw Vineyard’ 2011, Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2011, Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2012, and Fielding Estate Winery Gamay 2012

Sémillon

Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2012 (winery only, $18.00) drifts along, like a city swan, a white Beamsville white cut from a different cloth, wholly unique. Rosewood’s Sem is the case and the point for others to follow, to plant, cultivate, embrace and perfect this grape in Ontario. The ’12 is immense, articulate, hungry. It makes cause to say, ”I’m starving in your gravity. You’re made from something different than I know.”  90  From my earlier note: “is their most intense ever. An exceptional growing season amps the honey sounds to 11, speeds up the sugars to 33 and while there is obviously no sign of chapitalization, added acid stabilizes the high tropical nuance. Huge style for Sémillon, mulched in miele, fruit flavours amplified and lengthened by 14.6 per cent alcohol. Une cousine to J.L. Groux’s Stratus SV, if less grapefruit and increased value.”  90  @Rosewoodwine

Pinot Noir

Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir ‘Red Paw Vineyard’ 2011 (79228, $22.95) gets the best value nod because it’s just oh so pretty, in hue, bouquet, essence and mouth feel. Four-Mile Creek dusty wind, dried leaf grain and a unique sense of soil imparts earthly elegance and poise. Excellent stuff.  90  @coyotesrun

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2011 (1560, $29.95) may at first strangely seem that it had ”stepped out of the wilderness all squint-eyed and confused” but my how a swirl elicits gorgeous red berries and an emphatic oomph, even without a sip. Impressively ripe, blooming red rose and cinnamon from the heart of a winemaker’s boots. A mineral streak brings to mind Volnay, in spirit and tragically hip Pinot essence.  92  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd

Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2012 (125310, $35.00) cuts a rug with immense, stepping out juicy behaviour. It’s both turntable old-school, astatic in smooth groove rotation, but also digitally forward thinking towards a perdurable future. The nose is Norm’s most intense floral burst to date, with incredible brightness and sparkling acidity in the key of fresh plum. This brings to mind indelible Burgundy, enveloped in PEC’s warm ’12 blanket. Hardie’s measure of consistency abides in a Pinot of parity and undemanding polish.  93  @normhardie

PHOTO: Michael Godel Bachelder Pinot Noir ‘Lowrey Vineyard’ 2011

Bachelder Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2011 (361816, $44.95) springs eternal from an ocean of cranberry and an island of spice. The somewhereness of this St. David’s vineyard can’t be denied, and in the hands of Thomas Bachelder the extraordinary happens. I am simply blinded by the light, by the weight and the weightless gravity. By a sweetness that just isn’t sweet, like exotic red fruit that knocks you sideways upside the cerebral cortex. Not to mention an iron madness that “plays that song with the funky break.”  94  @Bachelder_wines

Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc

Lailey Vineyard Wines Cabernet Merlot 2011 (winery only, $15) speaks the language of vinous accommodation. Abundant very berry fruit if less knotty and peculiar and more accessible than most Niagara Bordeaux blends. No bones about it, languid Lailey in mind of its own wonder. Could drink it straight from the tap.  89  @Laileywinemakr

Cave Spring Cellars Cabernet Franc Estate Bottled 2011 (72751, $24.95) attains a level of varietal purity near categorically Niagara Escarpment perfect. A mess of sweet and tangy red fruit, namely berries, currants and cherries cut fine to licorice and the evolutionary effects of magnesium-rich limestone. Imagine cutting a cross-section of rock to project a swirl of this multifarious Cabernet Franc. An example to examine at an Expert’s Tasting 10 years on.  91  @CaveSpring

Gamay

Fielding Estate Winery Gamay 2012 (winery only, $17.95) is, without question, Richie’s best to date. A gleaming, ebullient, shining glass of rich Gamay fruit with an undercurrent of currant and gleaning vineyard floor. A Buddy and Gene snare drum attack. Takes the baton and parades about the province. Will lead the #GoGamayGo charge for the rest of 2012 and well into 2013.  89  @Fieldingwines  @RichieWine

Good to go!

‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

Golden globes, Trius Winery at Hillebrand
PHOTO: ESTHER VAN GEEST OF STEVEN ELPHICK & ASSOCIATES

as seen on canada.com

In July of 2011, the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Association held their inaugural event, the celebration, the fourth “C.” On the weekend of July 19-21, 2013 the third Cool Climate Chardonnay conference occupied the greater good of the Niagara Peninsula, cementing a legacy begun two years previous.

Backtrack a few years, when in 2009 Ontario’s Le Clos Jordanne’s ‘Claystone Terrace’ Chardonnay 2005 made by winemaker Thomas Bachelder trumped international competitors in a Montreal grand tasting. A light bulb went on. Fast forward to April 2010 and a group of romantics from 28 Ontario wineries get together to defend a grape. Were they singing “that’s what I like about Chardonnay?” No, but the grape had been down on the rock for so long and the panel felt compelled to come to its defense. To suffer an indignity like “Anything But Chardonnay” was an aggression that could no longer be tolerated. Thus an idea was born, a manifesto drafted and i4C was soon to become a reality.

For such a gathering to succeed there necessitates grand effort, partnership, passion, star power and serious thematic examples. Germination began with those first cool thoughts back in 2010 and the journey has since laid song lines by way of a barmy march of vignerons with rootstock firmly dug in Niagara (Harald ThielAngelo Pavan) and those with a second foot tracking terroirsbeyond and abroad (Thomas BachelderFrancois Morissette). Mix in some of this generation’s best wine-producing and marketing minds; Ron Giesbrecht formerly of Henry of Pelham, now Niagara College, Stephen Gash (Malivoire), Peter Bodnar Rod (13th Street), Del Rollo (Inniskilin, Jackson Triggs, Le Clos Jordanne), Suzanne Janke (Stratus) and Jeff Aubry (Coyote’s Run). The yeoman’s load has been in the multi-tasking hands of those who will work ’till their fingers bleed. Give it up for the cool concierge team; Dorian Andrewes, Trisha Molokach, Elena Galey-Pride, Britnie Bazylewski, Magdalena Kaiser-Smit and an army of volunteers.

Partnered in kind with Wine Country Ontario, the Grape Growers of Ontario and the LCBO, Cool Chardonnay has gone forth and prospered. Success can be directly attributed to community and a profound connection to the fruit of the land. Famous wine folk have come; Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator, Stephen Brook of Decanter, winemakers and vintners wherever cool Chardonnay is grown. Pours have been the best of the best.

For three straight days in 2013 they walked, talked, sung praises in favour of and flat-out got dizzy with Chardonnay. White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa became vinifera central for the visiting cognoscenti, including 1976 Judgment in Paris and Decanter Magazine’s Steven Spurrier,U.K. wine writer Jamie Goode (The Wine Anorak), Master of Wine Christy Canterbury and traveling winemakers from all over; Louis Jadot’s Jacques Lardière, South Africa’s Anthony Hamilton Russell, New Zealand’s Ruud Maasdam and Spain/California’s Marimar Torres.

The Cool Chardonnay weekend-long event is the stuff of dreams. The level of local and global wine excellence on display is sweeping and staggering. The congress acts both as social function and unprecedented academic experience. Most of all, i4c fosters and develops relationships for people within the wine industry and with its fans.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Brock University CCOVI

 Dizzying was the operative word of the weekend. Each time I had only just digested, assimilated, internalized and committed a group of wines to memory, another gala event and tasting was upon me. Friday morning began with “Global Perspectives on Chardonnay,” a winemaker’s panel discussion at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, moderated in minimalist, less is more fashion by Mr. Spurrier. The colloquium was augmented by a tasting of seven wines attributed to panel members. “The base for all wines should be harmony,” began Spurrier, followed by ”simplicity and clarity are the key points in wine.” Four matter-of-course questions were put to the panel and the dissertations ambled in many directions. Could the room of several hundred not question, “why is this symposium different from all other symposiums?” There was plenty of talk on barrels, clones, rootstock, soil and climate but what about the heart of the matter. How and where does Ontario Chardonnay go forth and prosper? How will exceptional quality translate to financial success? The answer lay buried in the polite, respectful and viniculture responses of the panelists, all of whom chose not to ruffle any wine making philosophy feathers nor to breach the moderator’s benign agenda. There were highlights:

Grape grower Albrecht Seeger:

Thomas Bachelder on behalf of and in support of the eloquent and verbose Jacques Lardière:

The outspoken and candid Francois Morissette:

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Chardonnay at Brock University CCOVI

Friday night at Trius (Hillebrand) in Niagara-on-the-Lake set off under blazing sun only to be swept away in tempest. What began with the promise of seemingly limitless and linear structured wine and food stations turned into weather induced, scrambled chaos. I may never see a group of cooks, servers, winemakers and volunteers work harder to save an event and satiate a crowd as I saw at Trius that night. Their efforts were nothing short of brilliant. It was difficult to focus on tasting but the scene afforded some priceless time spent with Niagara winemakers and Brit Jamie Goode as the event wound down and on the shuttle back to the hotel. Wine tastings rarely afford such personal moments, to talk about something other than phenolics and malolactic fermentation.

PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates
Marlize Beyers at of Hidden Bench, Mikael Falkman of Champagne Taittinger and Michael Godel at Trius Wines

Lunch events and tastings on Saturday were held at StratusPillitteriHidden Bench and at Southbrook, which I attended. While the first three conducted more formal, seated, panel discussion style luncheons, the scene at Southbrook was more of a walk about, casual nature. Once again this allowed for one-on-one time with some of Niagara’s wine minds. Great time was spent with Shiraz Mottiar of Mailvoire (Moira’s Chardonnay 2010) and Sébastien Jacquey of Le Clos Jordanne (LCJ Chardonnay Claystone Terrace 2010). Special thanks to Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier for their hospitality.

PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates
Mother Nature announces a change of plans – at Trius Wines

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre was host to the Saturday gala event. The gamut of Chardonnay flowed freely, including fizz by Cave Spring, Angel’s Gate and Taittinger alongside Tide and Vine oysters. Food stations adorned the lawn and the army of volunteers poured all available Chardonnay well into the night. My ABC moment came early Sunday thanks to Mike Di Caro and a very much alive bottle of ’98 Henry of Pelham Riesling. Sunday concluded with more, you guessed it, Chardonnay at Ravine Vineyard and some terrific eats. Pizza from the outdoor oven, prosciutto by Mario Pingue and great rib-eye hamburgers hot off the grill.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Chef Vikram Vij at Vineland Research Centre

In excess of 100 unique expressions of Chardonnay were available to taste throughout the weekend. More than half were presented in an experiential way, with a present winemaker or a carefully crafted food pairing. I sampled 72 to be exact. Much as I have thus far avoided the questions, and they have been asked more than once, I am willing to address the demand for ”what were the highlights and what were your favourites?” Apologies in advance to those I either missed or could not properly assess due to the sheer enormity of the weekend. Also to the little ones, the hard-plodding, day-to-day pleasing value Chardonnay. With so many top-tier, global examples from Burgundy, California, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, British Columbia and Ontario on offer, the under $25 set may not have felt the love. Here are notes on 13, guilt-free, bring ‘em on Chardonnay poured at #i4c2013.

Wines were tasted at the following venues:

Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI)

Trius Winery at Hillebrand (TWH)

Southbrook Vineyards (SV)

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (VRIC)

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre Rittenhouse Media Room  (RMR)

Ravine Vineyard (RV)

Southbrook Chardonnay Whimsy! ‘Sirgue’ 2011 (344531, $34.95) may come from the ‘masculine barrels’ but the integration is already seamless, in soft French cream spooned over a grove of ripe lemon dessert. Sister ‘Damy’ (sampled at 5-Star Casa Loma) is certainly ultra-feminine but together they speak of the symbiotic relationship between winemaker (Ann Sperling) and cooperage. Stone-free Chardonnay, “free to ride the breeze.”  90  (TH, SV) @SouthbrookWine

Poplar Grove Reserve Chardonnay 2011 (335760, $34.00) is not so much a more concentrated version of the estate’s normale as a hotter sister. Like her sibling, the reserve does not rely on any one feature but she is classically styled, quaffed, a marble bust made up as maenad. Sappy white and savoury, meloniuos winter fruit, spiced apple butter and cool, steely goodness alights. “Felonious my old friend, So glad that you’re here again.”  90  (TWH, VRIC) @poplargrovewine

Staete Land Chardonnay ‘Josephine’ 2010 (332494, $57.00) is built upon a Marlborough hendiadys, a complex conjunction of rocks and earth. Sharp, focused and broad across the palate. Ruddy specimen this Josephine and simply gorgeous.  90  (VRIC)  @liffordwine

Miguel Torres Chardonnay ‘Cordillera De Los Andes’ 2011 (296624, $18.95) out of the cooler Limari Valley impresses in structure from mountain top to valley floor. Candied lemon peel, spicy bite and a crisp, cool centre make a case for value Chilean Chardonnay of the year. I might go so far as to say the highest quality ever from Chile.  91  (RMR)  @MarimarTorres

Tawse Chardonnay ‘Lenko Vineyard’ 2011 (344796, $44.95) ”from wiser men who’ve been through it all” is the kind of one-off we should all wish to re-visit in 10 years time. The study: Daniel Lenko’s fruit in the hands of winemaker Paul Pender out of a most confounding vintage. That 2011 in terms of Ontario Chardonnay strikes and speaks to me in tongues is no secret, so the Tawse treatment fascinates in ways to make me giddy. Tension and elasticity are present here in super-hyper Beamsville Bench concentration. Apples pile upon apples, in magnetic purée and layered maceration. A full-on body attack and phenolic structure will see this Lenko to a future (five to seven years) in grace and gorgeous line. A Chardonnay to “scheme the schemes, face the face.” Tasted three times.  91  (TH, VRIR, SV)  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011 (931006, $32.95) may just be the most fascinating wine of the weekend. Aromatically it’s so understated and semi-breve spoken the oak-driven note is of the quasihemidemisemiquaver kind. Taste and find it ”is bathed every veyne in swich licour.” Chaucer-esque form, texture and meaning.  91  (VRIC, RV)  @WOSACanada

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2009 (303644, $40), tragically singular in expression, regardless and in spite of the terroir, mixes metaphors and pulls it off. “Takes arms against a sea of troubles,” by convincing ADHD fruit of an uncertain vintage to settle, play nice and “by opposing, end them.” Now entering the load out zone, this Hamlet cuvée is “the first to come and the last to leave, working for that minimum wage.” A sentimental ballad here to stay, be remembered and to set the stage for all dix-neuvième to come.  92  (TH)  @Pearl Morissette

Domaine Genot-Boulanger Meursault Clos du Cromin 2010 (331660, $59.00) intimates a sunshine daydream future carrying on wistfully in lustful fruit. Longevity will be supported by tight citrus and the wine, long on life, is long on deliverance.  92  (VRIC, VRI)

Bachelder Chardonnay ’Saunders Vineyard’ 2011 (324103, $44.95) takes the baton from Wismer ’10 in a transfer of power, tension and excitement. Clarity of textural fruit is driven by Beamsville Bench clay-silt soil. Highly dependent on yeast chains, sticking, spreading and expanding. Sapid, savoury, buttered stones show negligible encumbrance due to vines that will not carry an excess of new oak.  92  (CCOVI)  @Bachelder_wines

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011 (346049, $35.00) toasted low and slow enervates and implodes to its very core. Then it sparks, revs the engine and climbs to 140 fearlessly and without peer. For those who can withstand the atomic launch, what follows is a reward of the highest quality Berkshire porcine whip, melting in the mouth like adult cotton candy.  Slow simmered apple paste, spiced and cooling reaps moisture and vacuums in the cheeks. Madness in Prince Edward County Chardonnay.  92  (RMR)  @normhardie

Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2010 (120311, $90) is a study in Russian River Valley emotional depth, structured belief, reserved compassion and stoic understanding. Yes John Milton, there is intensity of the California sun present yet expertly judged in ripeness, concentration and restraint. Smooth, glabrous, luxuriant and prurient Chardonnay. Sip it, “look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth.”  93  (RMR)

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2011 ($40) is a child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or NOL in 2011?  93  (CCOVI)

Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche 2010 (332270, $129.00) is sinfully young to assess, enjoy and evaluate. Stinging nettle, metal and silken, concentrated wildflower honey think mellifluous thoughts. “Him that yon soars on golden wings” sings in gold ingot yellow, in sweet harmony. Milton meets Costello, not quite in its Utopian place but will one day achieve peace, love and understanding.  94  (RMR)

Good to go!