High altitude heliophiles in Argentina

Bodega DiamAndes, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina

As seen on WineAlign – A masterclass across Argentina

For the malbec, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, cabernet franc, criolla, torrontés and chardonnay of Argentina the present day vernacular promoted by the party line tells us “altitude defines a singular type of wine.” Most of the country’s wine lands are located on soils perched at impressive heights, at least with respect to sea level. To the naked eye the vineyards of Mendoza are of a perfect design to act as a collective poster child for a flat earth society manifesto, but looks are deceiving. The gentle climb from that province’s eponymous city centre at 750 meters above sea level to the rain shadow wall of the Andes Mountains is a subtle gradation that transfers vineyard elevations up to and exceeding well over 1,000 further metres. Say what you will about Mendoza’s absence of switchback ridges tracking rolling or angled foothills. Solar radiation is very real here and the effect of elevation on grape growing is a highly critical component of viticultural matters.

Joaquin Superman @hidalgojoaquin offers #CndsInArg a dissertation on high altitude terroir @winesofarg ~ @aldosvinoteca

It was only weeks ago that I had the favourable and fortuitous opportunity to travel around with the team at Wines of Argentina. Ontario’s WOFA representative Liz Luzza introduced me to her Quebec counterpart Marilyne Demandre. Together we were joined by Mark Bradbury, Bar Manager at The Bicycle Thief, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Yann Janvier, Le Sommelier Moderne in Montreal, Michael Mizzi, Co-Owner and Alexander Raphael, Bar Manager AMA Always, Toronto and Paul Madden, Director of Purchasing, Crowfoot Wines & Spirits, Calgary, Alberta for a group traverse across the South American country. We were led with the guidance of WOFA’s exceptional on the ground team; Soledad Juncosa, Sofia Brazzolotto, Paula Valle, Analia Lucero and Romina Ruiz. We did not make Lionel Messi’s acquaintance but we did experience first hand in Caminito and at the Buenos Aires Aeroparque Jorge Newbery the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final. I can only begin to explain the cacophony of roars when goals were scored during the intense rivalry between Boca Juniors and River Plate. The November trip took in Buenos Aires (including Recoleta Cemetery), Mendoza City, Luján de Cuyo (Agrelo), the Uco Valley (Gualtallary and Tupungato) and Salta Province (Cafayate and Calchaqui Valley). The journey will always be considered as a masterclass across Argentina because that is precisely what it was.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

It began at a Buenos Aires institution, Aldos Restorán & Vinoteca for a dissertation on high altitude terroir through the savant Argentine eyes of Joaquin “Superman” Hidalgo. Joaquin did more than merely explain the effect of altitude and solar radiation, he also poured an extraordinary cross-section of the country’s malbec from Jujuy to Patagonia, Tucuman-Catamarca to Gualtallary-Tupungato, Uco Valley.  In the Palermo neighbourhood of Buenos Aires we convened at that city’s most coveted mecca for beef consumption, the exulted Don Julio Parilla, where we were schooled on the wines of Familia Schroeder and Patagonia. Later that night it was a wholly unexpected, antithetical and epiphanic tasting of white, pink and orange in Mendoza at Azafrán Resto with principals from Chakana Wines, Alpamanta and Ernesto Catena’s Domaine Alma Negra.

#tastingroom writing #tastingnotes @bodegadiamandes ~ #valledeuco #cdnsinarg @winesofarg

A visit to Finca Decero opened the window to the Agrelo advantage along with the wines tasted belonging to Alta Vista, Altos Los HormigasArgento, Susana Balbo and Trapiche. This was followed by a stop at Vicentin/Sottano. At Bodega Luigi Bosca it was head winemaker Pablo Cúneo who unlocked some secrets hidden inside the soils of Luján de Cuyo, with help from pours by Bodega CasarenaBodegas Navarro CorreasFinca Las MorasMascota Vineyards, Pascual Toso and Vina Cobos. Then we entered the Tupungato, Uco Valley portal at Domaine Bousquet along with the wines of Bodega Andeluna, Bodega Atamisque, Bodegas Bianchi, Familia Zuccardi and Finca Sophenia. The incomprehensible wall of beauty provided by the snow-covered Andes acted as the backdrop to the al fresco tasting room at Bodega Diam Andes. It was here that we gained a deeper understanding of the mountain connection to Clos de los Siete and Vista Flores-Valle de Uco wines. The wines of Bodega Piedra NegraCasa de Uco, Masi Tupungato and Bodega Salentein helped usher these sub-appellative Mendoza wines into the light.

Salads in Argentina are exceptional

Before heading north we were met at our Mendoza hotel by Viña Cobos winemkaer Andres Vignoni for a seminar and tasting of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. As a general rule cabernet franc is planted in dry Argentine climates, in Winkler Zones 11 and 111. It has nicely adapted to high altitudes (900m+) and its prominence began spreading after 1990, especially in Luján de Cuyo where 34 per cent of the country’s vines are grown. The varietal boom has really swelled in the last 18 years. Studies show that its best maturity is at 1000-1200m, with hot spots being at Los Arboles, San Pablo, Gualtallary, Agrelo, La Consulta and Paraje Altamira. The country’s third most planted red grape variety is cabernet sauvignon, historically raised in a “Bordeaux meets Rioja school,” with long barrel aging and traditionally grown in Maipu and Luján de Cuyo. The varietal has migrated to cooler spots, where greater freshness is being chosen ahead of over maturation, not to mention less/smaller use of new barrels. Sub-zone favourites are Las Compuertas, Perdriel, Agrelo, Cruz de Piedra, Gualtallary, La Consulta, Paraje Altamira, Cafayate and Santa Maria.

Godello post masterclass on cabernet sauvignon and franc with Viña Cobos winemkaer Andres Vignoni

From Ciudad de Mendoza Airpark we shuffled off to Salta, destination Cafayate. The drive took us though the desert monuments of Quebrada de las Conchas. The next day there was a fast, furious and fascinating look at Cafayate and Valle Calchaqui high altitude terroirs through the Donald Hess Bodega Colome and Bodega Amalaya lens. At Bodega El Esteco was walked beneath the 70 year-old criolla and torrontés vines. In the afternoon heat of Cafayate’s 30-plus degree early Spring sun we walked the limestone rocky desert moonscape of Piattelli Vineyards with proprietor John Malinski. A visit to Cafayate and the Valles Calchaquies would have been incomplete without a Bad Brothers Wine Experience. My understanding of Argentina’s fringe, edgy and extreme high altitude wines was confused until I met Agustín Linús and his Sunal malbec. Terruños de extrema indeed.

Snowy Andes backdrop makes Godello happy ~ snap (c) @marylinedemandre

One of the highest vineyards in Argentina is in Salta Province, 1,200 kms north of Mendoza. It is called Altura Máxima and it sits perched at 3,100 meters above sea level. Whaaat? It is one of the most extreme vineyards in the country, but not the only one. There are 20 or more, carved out of desert sand and rock where terroir is made up of climate, soil and in these extreme locations, the machinations of man. Climate is highly variable so rainfall and heliophany (the energy of the sun reaching the soil) and temperature are the most important factors. So when we speak of climate in Argentina we have to attach the altitude to the problem. The equation is always modified by the effects of altitude. Not to mention atmospheric pressure. Altitude in relation to temperature. For every 155m of linear rise, in temperate zones the average temperature of a point on the map drops by one degree. This effect is called vertical thermal gradient and the cause is due to atmospheric pressure. And then, with every 1,000m of linear rise, solar radiation increases by 15 per cent. In order to be more resistant to light, the plants produce more polyphenols. There is a proven relationship between UVB and a higher concentration of polyphenols and abdisic acid. In the end it’s a matter of cool climates with a great intensity of sun. Stress conditions at 1,500m or higher results in lower yields, high polyphenols, higher acidity and ultimately a marked variance of character. Explains Joaquin Hidalgo, “mastering the terroir is a challenge that involves another way of managing the vineyard.”

New Piattelli Vineyards planting in the high altitude desert of the Calchaqui Valley

The production and consumption of wine in Argentina dates back to over four hundred years ago when the first specimens of Vitis Vinifera were brought to the Americas by the Spanish colonizers in the early 16th century. Early in the 1900’s, the vineyard area had reached 519,800 acres but between 1982 and 1992 extensive uprooting of vineyards was undertaken and 36 per cent of the existing vineyards were removed. In the early 1990s a new era began for the Argentine wine industry. The arrival of Neoliberalism in the national economy led to the implementation of a model of adjustment and the incorporation of Argentina into the global market. With a population of 42 million inhabitants and a territory that is four times larger than France, Argentina is one of the world’s nature reserves. Privileged with outstanding natural richness and extraordinarily diverse landscapes, Argentina boasts high mountains and plains, lush vegetation and extreme deserts, forests and steppes, glaciers and waterfalls.

Stunning #cafayate morning in the 60-70 year-old #criolla and #torrontes vines @bodegaelesteco in Salta

This wealth of natural ecosystems includes vast, highly productive grape growing regions stretching at the foot of the Andean strip, to the West of the country, from latitude 22° south to latitude 42° south. The cultivated area covers more than 538,071 acres. The vineyard area of Argentina covers 545.737,99 acres (2017). From the total area just 502.895,78 acres are able to vinify. The breakdown is 56 per cent red, 19 white and 25 Rosé. The leading red varieties are malbec (36), bonarda (16), cabernet sauvignon (13) and syrah (10). For whites it is torrontés (25), chardonnay (16), sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc each (5).

Canadians in Argentina at the Devil’s Throat in Salta Province ~ #quebradadelasconchas

Today, despite a skyrocketing national inflation rate, the wine industry continues to thrive. While certainly not immune to the economic crisis, exports are growing and the wines from Argentina are evolving to meet global demands. I tasted upwards of 150 wines in my week spent in Argentina. This report covers 37 wines from 37 producers. These are 37 that struck me as being exceptional, ahead of the curve or simply the perfect sort of examples to speak about climate, soil and of course, altitude.

Mendoza shuffle with some fine examples and cross section of terroirs to represent #winesofargentina ~

Malbec

Bodega Amanecer Andino Malbec Reserva Quebrada De Humahuaca 2017, Tumbaya, Jujuy, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

From a new location for growing grapes, at 2,200 metres of altitude, very close to Bolivia. Even if malbec is not necessarily the most interesting varietal to grow at this altitude, it is the most elastic variety and will always work. The pH (3.77), the acidity (6.6 g/L) and the alcohol are all set to high but it does not come across like any other malbec any of us have ever tasted. Full bodied and very fresh, really salty, a malbec so affected by altitude. So bloody interesting. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted November 2018  amanecer.andino  @BodegaAmanecer 

Agustín Lanús Wines Malbec Sunal Ilógico 2017, Tucuman Catamarca, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

The wine is drawn from vineyards in Pucará Salta, Lucaratao Salta, Amaicha del Valle Tucumán and Hualfin Catamarca. Real body and richness, savour and verdancy. The touch is delicately salty, with medium acidity and a constrained power. Really fine balance. The length is forever, a fact proven by an opened bottle showing exemplary freshness a full eight days later. Everything in Argentina might claim to be drawn away from high altitude but this from Agustín Lanús at 2,800m plus is the real deal. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted twice, November and December 2018  agustinlanuswines  @agustin_lanus  Agustín Lanús  

Tinto Negro Vineyard 1955 Malbec 2013, La Consulta, San Carlos, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, B.C. $81.99, WineAlign)

The most important factor in Altamira is not the altitude but the soil. It’s at 1000m but from the cooler, southern part of the Uco Valley. Very high pH (3.8) and well-managing acidity. This wine has it all; great fruit, savour, sweet viscosity, freshness, acidity and structure. Not to mention fine tannins and polyphenolic textural beauty. A high altitude and a place that keeps its cold air. Forget about how much oak and what the alcohol may be. The clay and the cool factor keep it all real. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  bodegatintonegro  thewinesyndicate    @winesyndicate  @thewinesyndicate

Catena Zapata Malbec Adrianna Vineyard River Stones 2015, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (132340, $95.59, WineAlign)

In a line up that includes malbec from all walks of Mendoza life as well as some extreme altitude northern examples this is the first wine with a somewhat reductive quality, locked in freshness and very high acidity. It’s a wine of exceptional qualities. There is a highly intellectual and sensory balance executed through perfectly ripe fruit, that fine acidity and even more fineness in tannins. A beautifully linear wine that can come full circle if need be. This is a malbec that creates moisture in your mouth, never drying or taking anything away. A wine that is changing the way we are dealing with the idea of different terroirs in Argentina. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018  catenawines  lauracatenamd  noble_estates  @CatenaMalbec  @LauraCatena  @Noble_Estates  @bodegacatenazapata  @NobleEstates

Luigi Bosca Terroir Los Miradores Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (132340, $32.95, WineAlign)

From 70 year-old vines in Valle de Uco with lowest of low yields so that one vine does not even function to produce a whole bottle. From the same genetic cutting materials, massal selection of the DOC malbec, but with obvious concentration and specificity. So much more floral, of a baking spice and a fruit intensity that truly is the bomb. An implosive wine with modesty, purity and a 40 per cent oak housing. Big and balanced with great structure and tannins that invoke seven senses. Put some aside and we’ll have some further discussions in 10 years. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaluigibosca  fwmcan  @LuigiBoscaBodeg  @FWMCan  @BodegaLuigiBosca  @FWMCan

Domaine Bousquet Malbec 2018, Tupungato Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (160952, $13.95, WineAlign)

Draws fruit from Paraje Altamira and Gualtallary, no oak, simply in stainless. Fresh and equally savoury, relative concentration and simple in effusive red fruit. Really negligible tannins and a sweet as opposed to astringent finish. Perhaps the best vintage ever for this entry-level malbec. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018   domainebousquet  @domaineBousquet  @DomaineBousquetUSA

Trapiche Malbec Terroir Series Finca Orellana de Escobar Single Vineyard 2012, La Consulta, San Carlos, Mendoza, Argentina (178145, $39.95, WineAlign)

One of several malbecs in the Trapiche portfolio here the collaboration with the grower is exulted in this the 10th years of the Terroir Series. Every year the best three combinations of fruit and grower are chosen to represent the range. Sixty-one year old vineyards deliver minty herbal savour and a chalky liquidity in surround of spicy cherry fruit. Plummy too with ferric purity and big, big structure. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  trapichearg  trapichewines  philippedandurandwines  @TrapicheWines  @Dandurandwines   @TrapicheArgentinaInt  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Rocio Campoy Morist with Alta Vista’s Alazarine

Alta Vista Malbec Single Vineyard Alizarine 2013, La Compuertas, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

Of three Alta Vista single-vineyard wines this is 100 per cent malbec and one of the richest, deeply textured and chocolate driven examples. From a warm vintage it’s not quite mature, even drying a bit though the fruit seems to just get more dense, intense and leathery. Justified elevation extrapolation makes for a classic malbec with some idiosyncratic Compuertas moments. Smooth, fully rendered and giving everything at this very stage. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaaltavista  hhdwines  @bodegaaltavista  @HHDImports_Wine  @BodegaAltaVista  @HHDImportsInc

Argento Malbec Single Vineyard 2016, Paraje Altamira, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $24.00, WineAlign)

Argento terroir exploration is from Finca Las Cerezas, “the cherries” and lo and behold, it’s really that fruit incarnate. A reductive malbec to be sure and so very fresh, from a soil rich in limestone which tells us something about the speciality of this nook in Paraje Altamira. The red fruit receives a lightning strike from the cool stone touch and there is a salty vein that lifts the cherry up and into a whole other realm. Really quite beautiful this charming little number. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaargento  profilewinegroup  @BodegaArgento  @ProfileWineGrp  @bodegaargento  @ProfileWineGroup

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (366005, $22.95, WineAlign)

Three quarters of the terroir malbec is aged in concrete with the fourth in 3000L French foudres. The total aging time is 24 months, the last six of which were in bottle before release. Here is the smooth malbec with balancing and defining sour acids on edge and uplifting. The fruit is nicely integrated into this structure with a fine set of tannins to grant some pretty good potential. Wait a year and let the magic happen. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018  altoslashormigas  @ALHmalbec  @ALTOSLASHORMIGASWINERY

Casa De Uco Malbec Vineyard Selection 2015, Los Chacayes, Tunuyán, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

Considered their top expression from calcareous rocky soils this is the third incarnation of a malbec with some differences, turns and twists. Winemaking choices of 20-30 per cent whole bunch and partial carbonic macerations are extended to most of the chosen lots. You can feel the firm grip of the layered tannins on fresh, reductive and candy shell fruit. Concrete initiates the balance, there is no new oak to distract and enough acidity to keep it vibrant. There is a combination of energy and finesse on this malbec standing up to be noticed and counted. It’s both solid and expressive, real, emotive and truly curious. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  casadeuco  @CasadeUco  @CasadeUco

Extreme altitude malbec of Bodega Colomé

Bodega Colomé Malbec Lote Especial Colomé 2016, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)

Takes what is established by brother La Brava (and then El Arenal) and amplifies ideal. Now up to an altitude of 2,300m the dichotomous relationship between thermal amplitude and diurnal variegation is magnified, which can only mean more hyperbole. More concentration of fruit in equal extraction but with the extra 600 meters of altitude the tones are higher, the fruit more variegated and with a dried component out of the idea of some desiccation at harvest. It also seems saltier and the structure different, tighter and strung like a racket with ready to fray tension. One of the wildest malbec rides on the planet. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted November 2018  bodegacolome  liffordgram  @BodegaColome  @LiffordON  @bodegacolome  @liffordwineandspirits

A flock of producers gather to educate on the multiplicity of munificent Mendoza ~

Syrah and Red Blends

Bodega Finca las Moras Gran Syrah 2015, San Juan, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

From the three main valleys of San Juan; Tulum, Zonda and Pedernal at altitudes of 650, 800 and 1300 meters above sea level. Ripeness from the lower valleys meets peppery spice and herbology of the highest, with freshness lying somewhere in between. The effects of diurnal temperature swings and thermal radiation pile one on top of another for a highly variegated yet mostly seamless syrah. The queen mother of San Juan syrahs with plenty of swagger. It shouts floral rose then switches into bohemian rhapsodies of musky, ferrous and hematic waves. Really meaty and intense with major chord, mood and tempo swings. “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  fincalasmoras  @FincaLasMoras  @fincalasmoraswineryCA

Finca Decero The Owl & The Dust Devil Remolinos Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $36.95, WineAlign)

The multi-level, purposed and floral flight of fancy red blend. A mix of real facts and a story; near equal parts malbec and cabernet sauvignon, with petit verdot and tannat. Must contain at least 30 per cent of the last two outlier varietals and in the end this completes the estate style, of big, smooth, polished reds that are completed through micro-vinifications of many single-vineyard blocks. More tannin and grip here. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

DiamAndes Gran Reserve Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (295063, $32.95, WineAlign)

The signature red of the estate this is three quarters malbec to one quarter cabernet sauvignon set for 18 months in 100 per cent French oak, 50 per cent new. To say this is lush and ambitious would be an understatement but there is no questioning the quality of the agriculture, the fruit and the use of deep pockets technology. There is also humility within this classic modernism though not yet a true indication of soul. The fineness and the precision are so apparent which leads to believe that the human element noted will mean the epiphanies are coming soon. So much potential to become one of Argentina’s great red blends. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  bodegadiamandes  maitredechai_ca    @maitredechai  @diamandes  Francis Dubé  

Salentein Numina Spirit Vineyard Gran Corte 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (543405, $35.00, WineAlign)

The goal for Salentein’s Gran Corte “is to produce a wine with the grapes from the first vineyards planted in 1996” and so only these find there way into the Numina line. The blend in 2015 is malbec (68 per cent), cabernet sauvignon (12), cabernet franc (8), merlot (7) and petit verdot (5). It’s a true Bordelais five varietal ideal albeit with malbec at the fore. It see 16 months in total though 10 are go it alone and then six all housed all together. This quintuples down on the rich liqueur, all in spice and hyperbole of violet florals. Though currently liquid chalky and slightly gritty you can imagine the integration especially because the oak use is not new. A really nice wine on the road to becoming something fine. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  salenteinbodega  azureau  @BodegaSalentein  @azureau  @BodegasSalentein  @BodegasSalentein

Bodega Atamisque Assemblage 2015, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (483032, $45.95, WineAlign)

The blend of malbec, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot is fruit drawn from sites between 1,100 ands 1,300m and sees 14 months in 100 per cent new French oak. This being a wine made by forcing square pegs into one round hole in what amounts to an all for nothing, all in one treatment. It’s really something to note that despite all this the fact remains that red fruit abounds, fresh and pure with an accent of spice but no real overdo of make-up. There is elongated grace and generosity, like a Rhône blend with charming warmth and a fine smoulder. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaatamisque  #MCOwines    Bodega Atamisque

Masi Tupungato Corbec 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

A blend of 70 per cent corvina with malbec treated to upwards of 25 per cent appassimento for 20 days. Spends 18 months in French oak. All about the baking spices, the unbounded limits of glycerin texture and specifically cinnamon all over the back pages. So rich and a ringer like no other for the Veneto motherland. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  masitupungato  masicanada  @MrAmaroneMasi  @MasiWineExperience  

Clos De Los Siete 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (622571, $23.95, WineAlign)

This was tasted side by side by each with the 2013 and the 2006 so quite fortuitous in terms of relativity and imagination. The blend in ’15 is high in malbec predominance (68 per cent), with merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and petit verdot. Four wineries made contributions to this vintage (of a possible seven) and as per the dictum it’s a blend of blends created by Michel Rolland. It’s Rolland’s inceptive imagination that brought this special project into the Uco Valley landscape and though the assemblage can be up to seven-fold the possibility to age for a value-priced wine is quite impressive. This ’15 is richly endowed and structured, chalky and just plain excellent. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted November 2018  closdelossiete  philippedandurandwines  @closdelossiete  @Dandurandwines   @closdelossiete  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Tasting through the Uco Valley

Cabernet Franc

Zuccardi Cabernet Franc Polígonos 2017, San Pablo, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Polígonos exploration is a many vineyard sided affair and the altitude is significant at 1,300m from San Pablo in Valle de Uco, Mendoza. A relatively early pick preserves nigh high acidity and the alcohol is beautifully restrained. Just a hint of dusty, pyrazine edgy fruitiness drives the machine and keeps this pulsing with terrific energy. Both food amenability and aging potential here are excellent. If it’s verdant that’s a compliment to local character. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  zuccardivalledeuco  szuccardi  dionysuswines  @ZuccardiWines  @FamiliaZuccardi  @SebaZuccardi  @ZuccardiValleDeUco  @DionysusWinesTO

Trivento Cabernet Franc Golden Reserve Black Edition 2017, Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

Made by winemaker Germán Di Césare there is a respect for land (alluvial, sand and some lime) but also for varietal. It’s well-endowed, juicy, plummy and full flavoured though it’s oaky tendencies are quietly respectful as well. The tone of the wine hums and resonates with ambience in complete control. It’s really quite fine and just about to enter its perfectly integrated, resolved and balanced window. High acidity example and wouldn’t hurt to settle for just a few more months. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  triventoarg  triventoarg  #escaladewines  @Trivento   @TriventoArg  @TriventoCanada

Bodega Andeluna Cabernet Franc Pasionado 2015, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $54.99, WineAlign)

Classic Uco terroir at high altitude (1,300m) that mixes alluvial soils with sand, limestone and here loam make for a pretty subtle rendition in terms of cabernet franc. That’s especially true when you consider the small vessels used (225L barrels) and much of it new. You feel the wood in vanilla and berry coulis, a bit of spice and liquified graphite. Quite a molten flow this cabernet franc and with demanding quality in its tannins. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaandeluna  stemwinegroup  @BodegaAndeluna  @StemWineGroup  @BodegaAndeluna  @stemwine

Zuccardi, Andeluna, Sophenia and Bianchi

Cabernet Sauvignon

Familia Schroeder Cabernet Sauvignon Saurus 2017, Patagonia, Argentina (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

Schroeder is a Paul Hobbs Patagonia outpost and across the board they are truly smooth, cool and polished wines. Tasted after the pinot noir and malbec we see by now the consistency of style and with great evidence. Big time ripe and dark varietal fruit, salumi accents, all in, no holds barred and a cool factor with texture times purity. It finds its way through the ooze to act linear and come out quite elegant. In the end it warms and brings much comfort, finishing with a rendering and lingering spice. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018  schroederwines  @SchroederWines  @stemaren  @BodegaFamiliaSchroeder 

Tasting at Sottano

Sottano Reserva De Familia Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (324707, $24.95, WineAlign)

Sottano’s cabernet sauvignon exhibits less of an oak influence or exaggeration, especially not a hinderance or a matter of make up. Smells like cabernet sauvignon with loads of ribena and black currant on top of each other and then the oak really takes over. Half of the grapes are estate and the other half Altamira in Uco Valley. Not so much a terroir investigation as it is a thing of Mendozan assemblage. It’s far from elegant but it is creamy smooth and velvety, if not the best wine thus far in the portfolio. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  bodegasottano  @bodegasottano  @bodega.sottano

Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon Signature 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (260919, $19.95, WineAlign)

From a wet year but locales with good exposure and drainage fared quite well. Regardless here is a rich, grippy and powerful cabernet sauvignon (with five per cent franc), of high natural acidity and cumulative depth. The parcels are Uco Valley and Los Arboles just below Gaultallary. Chocolate is cut by a rocky streak from fruit grown over a dry river bed with stones, quite the opposite from Agrelo. It’s a veritable expression of a unique set of alluvial and stony soils. Excellent work to bring out a sense of place. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  susanabalbowines  profilewinegroup  @sbalbowines  @ProfileWineGrp  @SusanaBalboWines  Susana Balbo  @ProfileWineGroup

Sophenia Cabernet Sauvignon Synthesis 2014, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

A wine made by Julia Hulupczok and Matiás Michelini. From a wild vineyard upwards of 1,300m where ripening is a challenge and tannins can be formidable. There’s a greenness to be sure and yet also a subtle grace about it. A different structure, impossibly dichotic and surely one you would not have found in Argentina just 10 years ago. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted November 2018  fincasophenia  @FincaSophenia  @Juliahilux  @FincaSopheniaWines  Julia Halupczok

Masterclasses on cabernet sauvignon and franc with Viña Cobos winemaker Andreas Vignoni

Viña Cobos Bramare Cabernet Sauvignon Marchiori Estate 2015Perdriel, Luján de Cuyo, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $119.00, WineAlign)

At 1,000m few other cabernet wines out of Valle de Uco will deliver such concentration and polish. It’s also huge in acidity, grippy tannin and overall structure. Almost two-thirds new oak is used and the fortunate thing is really the highest quality fruit able to withstand this woody onslaught. Deep soils work hard for vines less than 25 years old, the upper strata built of clay-loam to sandy-loam and the substrata of river-washed cobbles and round stones. It was an early ripening vintage with harvest temperatures above the historical record. Not surprising to receive such a massive, not so much brooding but more like a swagger of attitude in a cabernet that can go the distance. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018  vina.cobos  awsmwest  @VinaCobos  @AuthenticWineON  @vinacobos  @awsmon

Bodega Casarena Cabernet Sauvignon Owen’s Vineyard 2015, Luján De Cuyo, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (578062, $44.95, WineAlign)

Casarena’s Owen’s Vineyard is their special place, the key piece to this sector of the Luján De Cuyo puzzle. It’s importance is quite particular for the Napa Valley like repositioning of (Bourgogne) chardonnay and (Bordeaux) cabernet sauvignon. It’s a dry micro-climate with intense solar exposure and though not “mountain” fruit per se the wines draw upon matters of heliophany dictated by elevation. The Italian pergola-styled planted vines are old, some laid down as far back as 85 years in time. This approximately $30 US wine is a stunner, bloody beautiful in the darkest of Morello cherry red fruit that seems to macerate in its own liqueur. It is indeed reductive which only accentuates its freshness and there is a bountiful amount of acidity in support. Honest, apasionado, vehemente and intenso. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018  bodegacasarena  noble_estates  @BodegaCasarena  @Noble_Estates  @BodegaCasarena  @NobleEstates

Filete at Luigi Bosca

Pascual Toso Cabernet Sauvignon Alta Barrancas Vineyards 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (441907, $32.95, WineAlign)

Alta is a huge cabernet sauvignon needing air, still very reductive in a hard protective shell sort of intense way. There can be no argument about these aggressive or rustic tannins needing time to integrate and settle. All the structural components are part of the note taking and note to self to add to the Mendoza cabernet sauvignon discussion. This example may not be the first but it does sit at the lead in terms of showing a real cool, minty herbal streak and a distinct amaro finish. Big, big wine with plenty of upside. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018  pascualtoso  eurovintage  @PascualToso  @Eurovintage  @pascualtosowinesargentina  @Eurovintage

The next @winesofarg is naturally skin-contact orange, rosé and white. Pure, nervy, crystal examples of great interest from @chakanawines @alpamanta and @domainealmanegra

White, Orange and Rosé

Domaine Alma Negra Blanco Producción Limitada 2017, Vino Argentino, Bebida Nacional, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

From Ernesto Catena this is the second secret blend, a naranja vintage of the hide and seek, now you see a vino blanco, now an orange wine behind the mask. Maximum 500 cases are produced of this truly flexible white-ish orange, as it should be, as anyone’s guess and at the winemaker’s whimsy. “This comes from a place where you move away from knowing everything before you ever made a wine” explains Josefina Alessio on Ernesto’s behalf.  It’s meant to shake foundations and commit to things with blind and innocent intent. It’s a precocious orange, clean, pure, crisp and matter of fact. Smells like honey the drizzled over a tart slice of peach. The telling of varietal is kept hush but my money is on the likes of chardonnay, perhaps pinot gris and/or some torrontés. Nine months on skins, six in old barrels. Clarity and dumb luck precision with a pineapple dole of citrus, always in balance. Can’t believe it’s neither reductive nor oxidative and virtually tannin free. A 15 euro ex-cellar beauty. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  domainealmanegra  noble_estates    @Noble_Estates   @ernestocatenavineyards  @NobleEstates

Chakana Estate Selection Torrontés Naranja Edicion Limitada 2018, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This literal orange torrontés from only free run juice spent seven months on skins in 500L barrels. No additions, including sulphur but “we’re not interested in saying this is a natural wine,” insists winemaker Gabriel Bloise. “Because we’re not interested in the natural movement, but it is our pleasure.” Floral spice is a factor of “maceratión prolongada” as is the green melon, pomello and caviar. Takes torrontés to an entirely new level, in so many positive ways, with a salve, plenty of tannin and notice me character. Kudos for the exploration, for a team that’s clearly on to something and a winemaker acting on techniques that clearly float his boat. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  chakanawines  oeno2  @chakanawines  @oenophilia1  @bodegachakana  

Alpamanta Rosé Syrah Breva 2018, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $42.95, WineAlign)

To call this a Rosé is to miss the point methinks. “In 2017 we decided to approach a new philosophy of wines,” explains Ukranian/Austrian/Dane/Argentine Managing Partner & CEO Andrej Razumovsky. It’s a perfectly lithe red wine made through the use of syrah picked real early direct to ferment in cement eggs for 11 months. The complete absence of second pressed grapes speaks not only to the method but also the teacher. “It goes well with intestines and seafood,” says Andrej. Now at a whopping 1,600 bottles made, which is in fact a great increase from the first vintage. Number two was a rainy one so six or seven months was not a sufficient amount of time to get this to its happy place. Pear, lemon and grapefruit are anti-red fruit notes but give it a good agitation to stave off reduction and then the wine just bursts with strawberry, fine bitters and endless aromatics imagined. It’s destined for danger and deliciousness because you really feel that you are drinking something that is alive. Not just from acidity, but like power breakfast juice that you would die for every morning. Killer stuff. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  alpamanta  rogersandcompanywines  @Alpamanta  @rogcowines   @alpamanta  @rogcowines

Navarro Correas Chardonnay Gran Reserva Alegoria 2015, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

From Agrelo the Alegoria is chardonnay with true blue reduction and real apple bite. Spent six months in first and second use oak, now nicely aged with lemon-lime and orange zestiness. Toasty and quite wild from an ambient yeast ferment and shockingly crazy good. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  bodeganavarrocorreas  @BodegaNavarroCorreas

Bodega Piedra Negra Pinot Gris Reserve Vino Organico 2017, Los Chacayes, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

New to the François Lurton portfolio and for the market is this pinot gris in classic older world mode. It’s really fine, spirited and with a creaminess that is suggestive of experimentation. There is some oak treatment but also some time spent in concrete egg. With no compromise to acidity there is a lieu-dit specificity and completeness so that it expresses fruit in a wholly different way than grigio and all other white wines in Argentina. Kudos to Lurton for going the distance and spending some cash on a product to separate itself from the pack. It’s a pinot gris we want to drink but also one to watch for not too distant sidesteps into something changed. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegapiedranegra  @BgaPiedraNegra  @BPNvdu

Bodega El Esteco Torrontés Old Vines 1945 2018, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

From the original plantings of torrontés, as far back as 1945 but mostly vines in the 60-70 year old range. As saline and diamond sandy as it is floral but just as expressive as any. Very direct, linear, again that salty component which you could call mineral but also full-fleshy like Rhône varietal wines in new world climes. Could pass for high acidity driven whites from California or Washington state. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaelesteco  #mondiaalliance  @ElEstecoWines  @Mondia_Alliance  @elestecowines  @mondiaalliance

Piattelli Vineyards Reserve Torrontés 2018, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

Trained at Piattelli in Pergola, the ancient Mediterranean varietal is protected from direct sunlight and thrives in this desert where herbs of every imaginable kind grow wild and the aridity meets elevation and solar radiation. Piattelli’s is quite high in dry extract and concentration, ripeness and a maintained necessary acidity. This is the icon wine of the estate and few equal its magic in this vintage. It’s fresh, crunchy, crisp and explodes with tropical fruit. Bodes well for the ’18 reds. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  piattellivineyardsarg  piattellivineyardsusa  @piattelliusa  @PiattelliVineyardsARG  @PiattelliVineyardsUSA

La Mascota Chardonnay Unánime 2017, Maipu, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

Grown at 1,300m “the pet” chardonnay is given a name meaning “unanimous” meaning it’s a wine from and for people who all feel the same way. The wine was raised 50/50 in concrete egg and large (500-1000m) oak foudres. It’s a very tannic chardonnay, with a salve texture, spice and lemon-vanilla molten creaminess. Plenty of texture and bite, not over the top but certainly ambitious to quite successful. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  mascotavineyards  univinscanada  @UNIVINS  @MascotaVineyards  @UnivinsCanada

Good to go!

godello

Bodega DiamAndes, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

Godello, Museo civico e diocesano d’arte sacra di Montalcino

Welcome to Godello’s annual list of the most memorable, game-changing and mind-altering moments, also known as his 18 mind-blowing wines of 2018. Godello started this year-end assessment first in 2012 though first blessed the list with the moniker for the 14 mind-blowing wines of 2014. Whether it’s the fifth or the seventh incarnation matters little to negligible because in the end it’s all about the who, what and where.

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

With thanks to the winemakers, friends, colleagues and pirates I welcome you to read on. Godello’s 18 mind-blowing wines of 2018.

Taittinger Comtes De Champagne Blanc De Blancs Vintage Brut Champagne 2006, Champagne, France (55277, $205.95, WineAlign)

Rarities are special for many reasons but in the case of the Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs it’s a matter of chardonnay incarnate. Some details must be kept in the pocket of assessment. Only exceptional vintages lead to its production, fruit is drawn from the finest Côte des Blancs parcels of chardonnay and only the first press juice is used. So what? So the gathering might lead one to think of words like purity, elegance, refinement, finesse and delicasse. In actuality there is the finest wisp of smoke and smoulder, a bite from a perfectly ripe apple and the zen golden taste of honeyed Japanese toast. Who could not be overjoyed to zen out with the Comtes B de B, anytime, anywhere. Drink 2018-2030.  Tasted January 2018  champagnetaittinger  fwmcan  champagne_officiel  @TaittingerUK  @FWMCan  @Champagne_UK  Champagne Taittinger  @FWMCan

Dr. H. Thanisch Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2014, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany (298182, $40.95, WineAlign)

In a word, thank you, well two, to say how important, generous, fortuitous, philanthropic and poignant it is to taste Spätlese from this combination of producer, vineyard and alcohol. At 7.5 per cent proper and out of arrested necessity the frame on which the ultra-clean fruit and fineness of acidity hang is kevlar light and built to last. The poise and integrity in exhibition toasts lithely from stones warmed and earth cooled by night through excitable seasonal fluctuations. If this does not soothe the savage while wooing the unaware then few German rieslings will. This can’t be missed nor will it pass lips without eliciting a response set passionately in the ethereal and the sublime. Amazing. Drink 2021-2035.  Tasted April 2018  #braunebergerjuffer  awsmwest  germanwine_ca    @AuthenticWineON   @germanwineca  #braunebergerjuffer  @awsmon  @germanwinecanada

Into the South African mystic ~ A formidable line-up led by @mullineuxwines with thanks to Chris, LK @WOSACanada JG @lbstoronto @wosa_za @NicholasPearce_

Mullineux Schist Chenin Blanc 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $89.95, WineAlign)

Mullineux’s Schist is a 100-120 case production (though only 72 in 2014), from schist, of course, not granite, which adds mid-palate weight and texture. Also from older (36 and 40 years) vines based from soils of the Kasteelberg. It’s a heartfelt message and cerebral pulling string from the 2014 density gifting vintage. Older barrels wrap like a blanket for fruit richer than you’d ever imagine, full-bodied, beautiful and robed in petticoat unction. It’s also dry as the farmland desert. Truly one of the finest chenin blancs from South Africa and beyond. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted May 2018  mullineuxwines  nicholaspearcewines  wosa_ca  @MullineuxWines   @Nicholaspearce_   @MullineuxWines  @WOSACanada  Andrea Mullineux  Chris Mullineux  Nicholas Pearce  @WOSACA

How to have an epiphany. Taste 25-30 year-old #southafrican white wines. Case in point @kleinconstantia sauvignon blanc

Klein Constantia Blanc De Blanc 1987, Constantia, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside 1994 and 2009. Planted in 1979, the inaugural vintage and the first South African sauvignon blanc was 1986. The 1987 was not labelled as sauvignon blanc but rather as B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. Honeyed but not in the way you might expect, not pushed by a petrol-fuelled sweetness but instead as the action of an old world inspired mash up. Like Loire Jolivet Sancerre meeting Huet Demi-Sec chenin blanc head on. The collision explodes into a smoky smoulder with textural consequences. It’s a bees-waxy ethereal treading of chaotic spaces between worlds. The astral travel must have twisted through three decades of nether to arrive at this place, with the low pH vineyard soils to thank. And the magic, despite or perhaps in ode to the ’87 botrytis. In the end aridity wins and the wine drinks so proper, perfect and fine. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  kleinconstantia  halpernwine  wosa_za  @KleinConstantia  @HalpernWine  @hansverbier  @WOSA_ZA  @KleinConstantia  @halpernwine

Alheit Vineyards Sémillon La Colline Vineyard 2017, Franschhoek, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” From a vineyard housing both light and dark skinned sémillon and if there are others in this world I am not privy to the information. The resulting wine is 85-90 per cent blanc and 10-15 gris. La Colline was planted in 1936 on the southern slope of Dassenberg and is now farmed by grandson Anton Roux, a direct descendant of the Huguenot refugee Paul Roux who arrived in Franschhoek in 1688. The vines stretch up the hill from 310-350m and it is the fruit from the middle slope that is best to leave for picking long after the chenin blanc. This is the indispensable fruit used in Alheit’s Cartology. Thick skins elevate the natural talking tendencies, from a super healthy pH for drupe of apposite attack and confusing like great whites you would not or should not compare it to. Chris Alheit’s invades your head’s consciousness with this amazing depth for sémillon, with no definable context, pretence or precedent. The impossibility is totally unique in the world and yet utterly South African. It’s both tense and nervous but somehow I can still relax. Psycho Killer sémillon.  Drink 2020-2028. Tasted September 2018  chrisalheit  gsoleil123  @ChrisAlheit  @GroupeSoleilTO  Chris Alheit  Groupe Soleil Fine Wines

Chablis Grand Cru can be found in the commune of Chablis on the right bank of the Serein River and the appellation comprises seven climats; Blanchot, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Preuses, Valmur, and Vaudésir. “The terroirs, formed in the Upper Jurassic era, 150 million years ago, are composed of limestone and marl with Exogyra virgula, tiny oyster fossils. Chablis Grand Cru is one of the rare French AOC wines to make reference to its geology, notably the Kimmeridgean age.”

Christian Moreau Chablis Grand Cru AOC Les Clos 2015, Bourgogne, France (Agent, $82.00, WineAlign)

Who has not waited for the sovereign Grand Cru to get together with the 2015 vintage? I’m quite sure Christian Moreau was one of those who looked at the alliance with all his acumen and experience to craft a high point of Chablis benevolence. Christian’s ’15 is beautifully fruity, ultra fresh, richly endowed and reductive perforce. So young and precocious but begging for our patience, his is a model of Les Clos richesse. Resides on the cocotte or chouette side of Chablis with notes of white flowers and fresh herbs. Also layered of fruit over stone upon fruit, of peach, persimmon, citrus and wet stone. Implosive intensity reminds of Chablis Grand Cru structure though Moreau’s is more elastic than many, of a subtle and sultry liquidity. Great potential here. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted May 2018  @christian_moreau_pere_et_fils  rogersandcompanywines  vinsdechablis  vinsdebourgogne  @ChristianMoreau  @rogcowines   @vinsdechablis  @GrandCruChablis  @purechablis  @VinsdeBourgogne  @BourgogneWines  Christian Moreau  @rogcowines

Makers’ cool pinot noir warmth from regional @wineaustralia as explained by the man, @vintagemarkdavo

Bindi Pinot Noir Dixon 2015, Macedon Ranges, Victoria, Australia (Winery, $85.00, WineAlign)

The Bindi Dixon Pinot Noir is based upon declassified grapes from the Original Vineyard planted in 1988 and grapes from the new Block K, planted in 2001. Crazy horse nose in the way that other varieties of the world will do, or at least try and simulate when they want to be pinot noir. Especially Italian varieties, like nerello mascalese, dolcetto, perricone and montepulciano. This is a natural leader for grape wishes like those of the lesser known. Very wise from the start, from birth, from creation with more savour and salumi then so many wannabe realists. There is a beautiful raw pasta dough note and then an exotica by fruit that isn’t really nameable. If this is the de-class from Michael Dhillon I’d like to meet the classified. Drink 2020-2028.   Tasted June 2018  bindiwines  wineaustralia  @Bindiwines  @wine_australia  @WineAustralia

50 years ago this #chianticlassico entered the world. Suffices to say 1968 was a pretty good year ~ @castellomonsanto

Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Il Poggio 1968, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

“A good, not an outstanding vintage, with some vines affected by botrytis,” explains Laura Bianchi, though truth be told she’s relating the information from stories and legends. You can taste it, in a sweetness that reminds of quince and apricot. Plums are dusted with white pepper, sherry drizzles over sugar plums and in the end, acidity continues to shine. It’s still a dramatic drop of sangiovese, with longevity preservation going back to the era (1962-1969) when the wines were aged in chestnut barrels. This at 50 years of age is so alive, time encapsulated, dew sweetened, ethereal. Drink 2018.  Tasted September 2018  castellomonsanto  @castelmonsanto   @castello.dimonsanto  Laura Bianchi  Carpe Vinum  

Castello Di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1987, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

Chianti Classico Riserva 1987 is habituated and living life to the fullest in a state of complete and utter sound body and mind. It is sangiovese made at a time when it could it not have been known how impressive it would show 30 years later. Volpaia ’87 is from way back in the cold, pre-climate change days, the acid-washed, roaring 80s, now umami-earthy, cherry-plum fruit with some celery and a real salty-sandstone vein. Still blessed by a healthy, rhythmic pulse of acidity and finally, pure pleasure. Chalk it to bottle luck or a vintage that just had an inkling of greatness that would surely come but this is truly a special and memorable moment to taste. It needs saying with a thank you in words to Giovanella Stianti for sharing, but that will never be enough. Grazie infinite. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  castellodivolpaia  rogersandcompanywines  chianticlassico  @volpaia  @rogcowines   @chianticlassico  @volpaia  @rogcowines  @ChiantiClassicoUSA

Elisabetta Foradori

Foradori Granato 2013, IGT Vigneti Delle Dolomiti, Trentino, Italy (Agent, $74.95, WineAlign)

At the pinnacle of Elisabetta and Emilio Foradori’s mysterio teroldego pyramid is this Granato, theoretically or perhaps spiritually interchangeable with the world’s most fascinating and complex fruit, the pomegranate. There are many theories on separating the edible seeds from the pith and skin but those who know do it the right way. Foradori knows teroldego and raises this singular expression the right way. The roots dig deep into the Campo Rotaliano and Mezzolombardo stony alluvial soils with pebbles and gravel for an alternative-indie northern Italian red wine. Raised in large 20 and 30hL casks it’s still reductive, seriously internal and yet to shed layers, open up and externalize. The red fruit is alone and incredible, sweet and tonic-amended at the same time. It’s both retro and timeless. “And the world fell down, when the moon was blue, and you wore a crown and the word was true.” Like a pomegranate. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2018  eforadori  thelivingvine  @AzAgrForadori  @TheLivingVine  @elisabettaforadori  @thelivingvineinc

Benvenuto Brunello

Talenti Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Pian Di Conte 2012, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $120.00, WineAlign)

Two of the 20 estate hectares in Castelnuovo dell’Abate are dedicated to the the vineyard Paretaio, planted to a sangiovese clone selected by Pierluigi Talenti. Pian di Conte is only made in years deemed worthy of carefully selected grapes from 20-plus year-old vines out of this highly specific, 400m of altitude micro-climate block. It’s a wow Riserva from 2012, perfumed with classic extra time in barrel that Annata Brunello only seems to reach. Notes like dark berries, pipe smoulder and rich ganache, the 2012 is already showing some maturity signs of integration. It’s a fineness of tart dark citrus styled-sangiovese wrapped so tightly around the structure’s finger, indelibly inked, modern and with all parts fine-tuned in synchronicity. Riservas will often sting until they pass at least a ten-year mark but Talenti’s croons romantically with stand-up base note ease. For Montalcino it’s a hit of the vintage and to it I can safely say “I can see the destiny you sold turned into a shining band of gold.” Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted March 2018  talentiriccardo  brixandmortarwineco  brunellodimontalcino  @brixandmortar  @ConsBrunello  Riccardo Talenti  @brixandmortarwineco  BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO

Feudo Montoni Nero D’avola Sicilia DOC Vrucara 2008, Sicily, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

The answers are so simple and yet unanswered because magic is involved. You can understand the old vines and the way their fruit turns into wines that begin with ancient wisdom but move so little in the first seven years. What happens at 10 is the turning outward, to express the place and speak the dialect of the cru. The acidity is still high but is now in lift, with fruit at the height and en anergy that flows, really flows, moving across your palate with grace, grab and attention. A contiguous wine from start to finish, with intensity, impression and precision. The structure is come cavallo domato, like a trained horse. Dramatic nd’A but with no drama at all. Tamed and in respect of ancient vine, where it grows and what it wants to give. Ma zitto, a wine to keep you silent. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted May 2018  feudo_montoni  wineofsiciliadoc  winesofsicily  @FABIOSIRECI  @WinesOfSicily Fabio Sireci Feudo Montoni (Fabio Sireci)  @feudomontoni  @WinesOfSicily

Cottá Azienda Agricola Sottimano cru spoiled by Elena Sottimano and Le Sommelier, Wine Agency ~ going vertical with Barbaresco and John Szabo — at Taverna Mercatto.

Sottimano Barbaresco DOCG Cottà 2010, Piedmont, Italy (Agent, $234.95, WineAlign)

While tasting through Pajoré, Fausoni, Currá and a mini-vertical of Cottá with Elena Sottimano it is here for the first time that some development appears in a wine. This glimpse into what might happen with their Barbaresco may only be a minor crack in the oasis but it begins to fall away from the curative, tannic intensity into something stretching its limbs towards the ethereal. I can ruminate with this nebbiolo swirling around in my mouth while I wonder how far along we are or have come. But it comes with knowing that no matter how much distance we walk there is still a marathon to run. There is this perfect wonderwall of wild cherry spinning like vinyl liqueur over the cheeks, tongue and gums, refreshing and working its magical fruit dance up to the edges of my nerves. “I said maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me. And after all,” you’re Sottimano. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted April 2018  az.agr.sottimano ElenaSottimano  @AzAgrSottimano  @LeSommelierWine  @AziendaAgricolaSottimano  Elena Sottimano  @LeSommelierWine<

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 2001, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $65.00, WineAlign)

I am convinced the Reserva 904 is just one of those wines that must be held for 15 years before any deep understanding can be resolved. It beats down the adage that says if the fruit is not gorgeous from the beginning it will never be. At 17 years of age this Rioja of 90 per cent tempranillo and graciano remembers with a hyper-sensitive vividness the 40 year-old vines and the four year-old American oak barrels. The memories are crystal clear and it remembers the comfort, protection, protraction and the possibilities. The power is edifying, stabilizing and eventually but without great haste, emollient. La Rioja Alta has produced the 21st century purpose for what it is to mean Rioja. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted June 2018  lariojaaltasa  riojawine_es  @LaRiojaAltaSA  @RiojaWine  La Rioja Alta  

And @winealign we tasted the greatest of #madiran terroir with the Man himself, #alainbrumont of @montusbouscasse

Château Montus La Tyre 2009, Madiran, Southwest, France (Agent, $135.27, WineAlign)

La Tyre, literally “the tire” is the pinnacle of Alain Brumont’s tannat from Madiran. It’s a wine that needs a decade to even begin to relent and open up for viewing, nosing and tasting. Pitchy to the nth cimmerian degree it would be hard not to see this wine as THE Madiran, the epitome of a red wine from Gascogne. The nose is über-umami and in fact in character it reminds so much more of Brunello Riserva meets sagrantino from Montefalco combined with Taurasi aglianico than it does Bordeaux. Not that Toscana, Umbria or Campania are the reference points but old school meets micro-oxidative winemaking surely is. The formidable acidity and the way in which the expense of barriques inject major influence is similar to what happens when sangiovese is subjected to said same sort of winemaking. The underbrush, garrigue and intensely concentrated argileux all combine, along with toasted wood to make this one of the most intense and structured red wines on the planet. Should seek and realize its best at some point in its late teens or early twenties. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted October 2018  vinsdemadiran  montusbouscasse  markanthonyon  @MontusBouscasse  @MarkAnthonyWine  Marine Madiran  @MontusBouscasse  @MarkAnthonyWine

Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec River Stones 2015, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (132340, $95.59, WineAlign)

In a line up that includes malbec from all walks of Mendoza life as well as some extreme altitude northern examples this is the first wine with a somewhat reductive quality, locked in freshness and very high acidity. It’s a wine of exceptional qualities. There is a highly intellectual and sensory balance executed through perfectly ripe fruit, that fine acidity and even more fineness in tannins. A beautifully linear wine that can come full circle if need be. This is a malbec that creates moisture in your mouth, never drying or taking anything away. A wine that is changing the way we are dealing with the idea of different terroirs in Argentina. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018  lauracatenamd  catenawines  winesofarg  noble_estates  @LauraCatena   @CatenaMalbec  @ArgentinaWineCA  @Noble_Estates  @winesofarg  @bodegacatenazapata  Noble Estates Wine & Spirits  @winesofargentina

Roche De Bellene Clos De La Roche Grand Cru “Collection Bellenum” 2006, AC Bourgogne, France (Agent, $279.95, WineAlign)

The great Cru and the magnificent vintage conspiracy is a tour de force, even by the standards of Grand Bourgogne. I’m a bit surprised by the ascension to secondary life but it is Clos de la Roche that goes there early because of wisdom, curative indiscretion and life as it always was, right from the word character. Only this Cru delivers such soulful funk, perfectly classified and ethereal volatility and fully gathered expressions. It’s like a face that flashes a thousand looks in the span of a few seconds, there is that much going on. I am blown away by this. Still needs another year to settle, gather and explain itself. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted May 2018  domaine_de_bellene  domaine_de_bellene  vinsdebourgogne  @Nicholaspearce_   @VinsdeBourgogne  @BourgogneWines  @BourgogneWines  @VinsdeBourgogneofficiel

Château Margaux 1989, AC Margaux, Bordeaux, France (176057,$1,645.00, WineAlign)

You never want to say that a vintage was perfect but in this case, the vintage was perfect. It seems impossible but the tannins are both present and even a bit drying so at least for this bottle there will be so much residual fruit at the end of the tunnel. Only those tannins seem altered from four years ago because the fruit and the flowers are exactly the same. What rises above, around and in darts between is the fineness and intensity of implosive acidity. Structure in this 1989 is forged by bars of steel as reinforced spikes in the concrete. It may never truly break down. Drink 2018-2044.  Last tasted March 2018  chateaumargaux  noble_estates    @Noble_Estates  @NobleEstates

The 1989 Château Margaux wears the response to a mondo Bordeaux axiom on its sleeve. Are First Growth wines made for people who want darts of instant pleasure?” Twenty years earlier and now like the 2009, here is a quintessential and exemplary vintage, from day one of bud break to the last day of harvest. Its appraisal as anything but incredible is to assassinate it as if it were the Franz Ferdinand of Bordeaux. The examination 25 years later sees a mellow funk meet a peerless and sublime perfume. A wine cast in utmost density, complexity and length. It noses strength, warmth verging on heat but only for a fleeting moment, to gain attention. The iconic wine has reached the first major peak, up a ways from base camp. In this second phase of young adulthood it looks with conceit to the top of the mountain, seeing 25 to 50 more years on the climb. Mr. Pontallier regrets he won’t be around to taste this wine at full maturity. Moi aussi. The fruit lingers in its full, original state, from the moment it passes lips and for minutes onward. Violets trump roses. Château Margaux 1989 is from a vintage that offers the blessing of ethereal balance. Hear her sing, “Ich heisse Superfantastisch!”  Tasted April 2014

Good to go!

godello

Godello, Museo civico e diocesano d’arte sacra di Montalcino

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Important and impromptu study session at Stratus

It was planned as a big chill weekend, set aside months before because if you don’t dot the calendar you will never find the time. It was a meeting of old friends who rarely see one another, coming from different cities and countries to gather in Niagara for reasons unknown. It was more than an important impromptu tasting at Stratus Vineyards on a blustery October Sunday. Thanks so much Ben, for the hospitality and new revelations.

I pack my case, I check my face
I look a little bit older
I look a little bit colder
With one deep breath, and one big step
I move a little bit closer, I move a little bit closer
For reasons unknown

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TG5X4kOjEX8

Related – Chase food pairings with Stratus

I’ve written about Stratus Vineyards before, about Yoda of assemblage and varietal maître winemaker J-L Groux. Ben Nicks is the winery’s hospitality master, mentor and guiding light. It’s no coincidence that Ben set us up with six current releases in the tasting board room with a tease of three local cheeses and a morsel of Mario Pingue’s salumi. A subtle arrangement this micro-pairing, seemingly inconsequential but oh so very poignant and perfect. 

The Ozonator

Related – The Stratus-Momofuku continuum

Ben leads us through the inner workings of Stratus and you should know that this behind-the scenes tour is no ordinary junket nor is what goes on back there any accident. Sustainability is key, planned to a T, in particular with respect to water use. We pass by the hydrosieve, a simple stainless box used to aerate wines during fermentation and Ben explains the great ozonator, to clean and preserve sterility in the winery. When ozone gas is introduced to an environment with bacteria, mold or any other organic material, it readily donates one of the oxygen atoms to oxidize or destroy that material. The ozonator is highly effective in controlling Brettanomyces populations.

More than an important impromptu tasting @stratuswines on a blustery October Sunday. Thanks so much Ben, for the hospitality and new revelations.

Related – Select tasting through years of the Stratus Red and White

In the boardroom we set about tasting with the saturated vineyards as our backdrop. Grapes continue to hang though there is no surprise in that. Stratus is known to wait out the rest of the Peninsula in search of more phenolic ripeness and infinite aromatic possibilities. Here are the seven wines tasted on Sunday, October 28th.

Stratus Vineyards White 2014, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.00, WineAlign)

So what is White ’14’s status in late October 2018? Still pronouncing struck flinty with a capital F and elevated into the air on a pillow of fine smoulder. What is duly noted at this stage is the pause, at calm, unaffected by gravity and then, the length. In other words, a perfectly drinkable state.  Last tasted October 2018

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

Stratus Vineyards Chardonnay 2016, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

This Stratus is the year of the utmost natural chardonnay, the one where knuckling down and waiting with great patience leads to the most ambient of varietal wines. Not that the indigenous yeast plan is new (it dates back to ’09) but it is unfiltered and the aromatics are wonderfully nostalgic. This too (like the White) has that uncanny and unmistakeable flinty smokiness but in the realm of chardonnay it’s surprisingly delicate and finessed. ’Twas a warm vintage and so there must be an initialization of richness and the lush contextual accession will continue to develop but for now its tighter and sitting in a pool of quietude. Revisits in two and three years will tell the wine’s story. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Gewürztraminer 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

The plantings are Clone 47, one of two from Alsace (along with 48) that are often used in Ontario. There are few regional equals like this one of subtle floral expression in lemon waxy spray, yellow rose fragrance and citrus oil incumbency. The acidity is buoyant, unaggressive and supportive and so the residual sugar number is probably higher than expected, perhaps in the mid to upper teens. Works the derivative volatile aroma compounds drawn from flowers, fruits, leaves, and stems to great aromatic effect. In any case it’s a health affirming gewürztraminer by essential oil and through the act of sumptuous behaviour. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Red 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (131037, $48.00, WineAlign)

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

Stratus Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (412759, $38.65, WineAlign)

The 2015 cabernet franc of warmth and layering is wise in the ways of fruit. It’s an overt and resolute varietal wine picked at intervals and in succession with on the fly intent. The endeavour is worthy of the ideal and in turn, every moment of our consideration. Here is where you can begin any one of your carefully thought on handful of cabernet franc explorations, not just any mind you but from those that start at the top of the pyramid, from the top down. What is striking about 2015 is the sweet herbal quality, with a bushy tisane in place of hard to ascertain, high-toned pyrazine. What you will find is actually quite simple; cabernet franc grown, raised and fashioned by winemaker J-L Groux at Stratus. I just love this fruit. These chips have fallen where they may. Drink 2020-2038.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Syrah 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

Stratus turns back time and into varietal subtleties so that sniffs and sips of this ’14 are met with pauses. This iambic syrah is indeed something other, with dusty peppery notes and an unforced extraction that does little (at first) to challenge or demand that you work for your sips. The floral aromas form the crux of the unstressed syllables and are followed by strong flavours, a.k.a. the stressed syllables. The poetic feel is one of clause, pause and punctuation, with acidity strong but also fine and the even ripening from the grapes is a matter of obvious clarity. I suggest that the winemaking is more hands off than before and the wine needed little to no clutter to reach this goal. The richness is subdued and the balance as bountiful as it is beautiful. The drinker must read-render this syrah stanza so that it is both comprehended and appreciated. There may be some potential tension in doing so because you need to know how to seek out the stressors but also where to find the metrical pauses. Unearthing all the elements will help to pair with food that reads the same, like a seared duck breast, rare and sliced, or a lean piece of beef, carved tagliata style. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Sémillon Botrytis Affected 2016, VQA Niagara On The Lake (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

One of the most unique dessert wines in Ontario this is neither late-harvest nor Icewine in origin. Only the third time it has been made, the 2016 sémillon launches with a smoky beginning, as expected and yet, is always appreciated. Some of the fruit is harvested early, but other bunches in the same vineyard are some of the last to be harvested. This low alcohol anti-sticky is from the warm vintage and from the same spot in the vineyard, vintage in vintage out. Most interesting is how these pristine botrytis affected grapes are picked ahead of the rest of the clean fruit used for the dry sémillon. It’s a very vinous sém with distinct apricot and longan notes. Great acids in 2016. Has still retained some waxiness and found some tropical fruit despite the early pick. All of the counterintuitive ideals tell us that the warm vintages can make for top quality dessert wine. This is the masquerade party wine made by the Way Outs band. “That’s where the fun is, way out, WAY OUT!” Drink 2019-2028. Tasted October 2018

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Hamilton Russell three ways

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at Ridley College

Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell are tireless wanderers of this earth. When you consider the amount of time they spend travelling in support of one, their eponymous winery, two, their Hermanus friends and colleagues and three, Wines of South Africa, it’s amazing that they are able to find time to produce high quality wines. That they do with great consistency and though they are responsible for interpreting the Hemel-en-Aarde in three ways, in each case they do one or two things and they do it really well.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards works three appellations. The WO of Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is a geological wonder akin to Burgundian soils of 35-50 per cent top soil clay layered with exposed shale, closest to Walker Bay. It is here that Anthony and Olive pioneered the raising of chardonnay and pinot noir. Ashbourne red and white blends are fashioned in the Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, on the eastern border of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, built of decomposed granite, with freer draining soils and more diurnal temperature fluctuations then the Hemel en Aarde Ridge. The property is named after Anthony’s great, great-grandfather Lord Ashbourne who was Lord Chancellor of Ireland in the late 1800’s. Southern Right is the line of pinotage and sauvignon blanc raised on the western border of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, on a 448 hectare property just behind the old fishing village of Hermanus.

In 1991 Hamilton Russell was the only one producing wines. Now there are 22 in the valley. They began running in 1991 and made full purchase in 1994. A cold current rises up from Antartica into the tip of South Africa’s (Western Cape) “making quality winemaking possible,” explains Anthony. “Our soils have been on the surface for more than 300,000,000 years. I like that you can taste ancient soils in every glass.” Hamilton Russell is what he refers to as their “immediate family.” Southern Right and Ashbourne are close relatives.”

As for varietal choices, there is little doubt that pinotage is (once again) booming while others are dropping. The plantings are very much on the rise. “What people thought was pinotage was badly made pinotage. It’s not a bad grape,” insists Hamilton Russell. We like to control what’s happening on both borders of Hamilton Russell.” So Southern Right (1994) and Ashbourne (1996) are more than just passion projects. “We also want to change people’s perception of pinotage,” he adds. There were no releases between 2011 and 2014, instead it was used as a re-thinking period and a chance to reflect on vineyard/agricultural culture, followed by the new age. “I don’t have a beard, I’m in my 50’s (plus) and I’m doing some pretty hipster stuff. We just don’t look the part.”

I have had numerous opportunities to taste, track, re-taste and follow the chardonnay and pinot noir over the past five years. I often add to my notes because theirs are highly organized, Burgundian powered structures that demand re-visits and respect. The Ashbourne and especially the Southern Right varietals and blends have seen less exposure but the notions of longevity (Ashbourne) and drink-ability (Southern Right) are fast gaining attention.

A few weeks back and post i4C Cool Chardonnay conference I sat down with Wines of South Africa’s Laurel Keenan, Angela Aiello and the South African Wine Society to listen in on Anthony Hamilton Russell’s dissertation and a tasting of eight wines. Here are the notes, plus two for their recently released ’17 chardonnay and pinot noir.

Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2016, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (512277, $21.95, WineAlign)

The Southern Right whale is a frequent visitor to Walker Bay and this sauvignon blanc should be a frequent visitor to your glass. It’s a white wine that acts as a messenger to its proximate location to a cold body of water. It’s a pure Western Cape fresh, flinty and smouldering sauvignon blanc so akin to a Bordeaux White. You could close your eyes and imagine Pessac-Leognan (perhaps even hoping for Sancerre or Chavignol) but there really isn’t any need. Six clones and six yeasts, multiple ripeness levels and some clay-grown vines deliver fat fruit to meet the linearity and tension of other shale grown fruit. In the end it’s a complex and rare chance to taste this kind of value. Drink 2018-2020.  Last tasted July 2018

The pungent nature of this sauvignon blanc brings a vigor sight and taste unseen. Classic herbal meets gooseberry and passionate notes are berry-derived and very floral. The palate confirms the notion and makes one a true believer in Walker Bay. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted July 2017   olive_hamilton_russell  noble_estates wosa_za  wosa_ca  @OliveHR  @Noble_Estates  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  Olive Hamilton Russell  @NobleEstates  @WOSACA

Southern Right Pinotage 2015, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $26.95, WineAlign)

Tasting ’15 while ’17 is already sold out back home. From an opulent and wide open vintage, the wine offers just those expressive attributes. Smokiness meets curative meaty notes and an umami sort of South African garrigue. From a vintage where phenolic ripeness occurred at a higher level of alcohol so it carries a 15 per cent volume, but does so with marked ease. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne 2009, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)

The Ashbourne ’09 includes cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, petit verdot and syrah blended in, “which brings nothing really to the party,” says Anthony Hamilton Russell, “but at least it doesn’t compete with Southern Right.” It’s deeply savoury and smoky, continues to smell like chocolate and will always show its wood. The single-vineyard heavy clay block was always in delivery of fruit ripe but never over that edge, all the while telling its shepherds when to pick so that balance and structure can be had. The linger and length are exceptional. “The variety doesn’t suck.” Truth that. Drink 2018-2024.  Last tasted July 2018

Ashbourne is a 25 barrel cuvée and the outlier in the Hamilton Russell pinot noir-chardonnay stable. With more than enough time behind at eight years on it is essentially evolved and resolved, now a downy blanket of Bordeaux fibres woven, seamless and soft. The fruit dries a bit but like all great aging South African reds the candidly curated acidity is years from relinquishing its grip. Ashbourne is not a matter to blow one’s mind but it teaches some vinous life lessons about Hemel-en-Aarde and the greater good of aged South African reds. It can be enjoyed right now and left for another decade. Like Meerlust’s Rubicon it’s an easy on the pocketbook gift in kind to Ontario from proprietors Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted October 2017

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Pinotage 2015, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)

It could be expected that this 2015 pinotage blend would already act somewhat to quite advanced when in fact the evolution is virtually non-existent. A side-by-side revisit with 2009 is all that is needed to drive the point. The ’15 is still quite demurred, tightly wound, not in a fresh to reductive way but more in terms of its finely-crafted pyramids of Giza architecture. The acidity and the spice are up there on the crests of the upper steps, very near to the pinnacle. Again it is the way the wine stays with you like a slowly rendered demi-glacé made from the lightest roast of bones that keeps the karst of stone sublime in your mind and mouth. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Pinotage/Cinsault 2018, WO Swartland, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)

“We wanted to work with an unoaked pinotage, to mix with a lighter and brighter cinsault.” In fact the cinsault really shines with (by now) classic Western Cape lithe ability because the pinotage allows it to. Add to that a verdant, pyrazine and currant streak and in the end you get perfume but no impenetrability that an overly green and wooded forest would demand. Beautiful (1972 planted) Paardeberg on decomposed granite gifts a chic and classy, perfectly correct blend of these two made for each other varietals. Will settle into one another so effortlessly and with sleepy grace in another year or so. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay 2018, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (Agent, $25.95, WineAlign)

There can be no more fruit in a white blend than what bursts from this sauvignon blanc-chardonnay scene. Just released in South Africa and carried by Anthony and Olive (Hamilton Russell) on the plane. Chavignol is the reference point, with lightly structured sandstone soils bringing lightness, airiness and delicate fruit. Or think Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat out of Santa Barbara. It’s democratically priced (a Hamilton Russell first) without gratuitous sugar and still dry, tart and direct. Also the first screw-cap for the company. Bottled just three weeks ago. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (931006, $44.95, WineAlign)

A Hamilton Russell chardonnay must have its nuts, butter and über direct acidity. It just may remind of Bâtard perhaps because depth, richness and a ridges-straddling connection to the valley it comes from all work in this way. But what else brings that connection? In 2017 it’s elegance for sure, but also intensity. This 36th vintage is “a reflection, always of the same piece of ground, even if we are always insecure and trying to improve, it’s a far bigger thing than we are. We feel justice to serve it. We feel we have a duty to this.” This is what Anthony Hamilton Russell told me last year and it perfectly applies to this 2017. Back then he noted that “god made the 15s and winemakers watched. In ’16 winemakers made the wine.” So what about ’17? With heady attention paid to its eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, it’s really a matter of both. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted twice, July 2018

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (931006, $44.95, WineAlign)

Says Anthony Hamilton Russell. “It took the French to teach me not to care about the colour of chardonnay, but to only worry about flavour and texture.” Fermented with a healthy amount of solids and introduced to oxidation in its youth. This helps and results in a chardonnay well-adjusted to adult life and to adults. “You cannot measure an aesthetic with a number,” meaning you can’t learn from a measured response. Literally speaking. The balance is as good as this archetype of an HR white has ever been. It is after all, the HR white.  Last tasted July 2018

No stone is left unturned in the Hamilton Russell 2016 chardonnay because it speaks with utmost Hemel-en-Aarde Valley clarity. There is less make-up in 2016 so the fruit, acidity and subtle salty quality all must have begun to speak from the word go. The first pressed, non-clarified must would have done nothing but made the maker’s smile, mimicking a foggy morning over Walker Bay and so they have allowed the wine to speak for itself. This is a beautifully restrained and go it alone rendered to be measured chardonnay, with beauty and grace. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted September 2017

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $58.95, WineAlign)

’m not sure it can be stated often enough that when you continually do one thing well, without compromise or mutation, than you’re more likely to do it very well. This is the case with a Hamilton Russell pinot noir, the only one that is produced. From the best fruit available and swinging in the direction of the vintage, either into or away from the winds of vineyard or winemaking. The 2017 is like the chardonnay in that it’s a best of both worlds seasonal and acumen-focused display, neither one or the other dominant and in the end, so balanced. The fruit depth is exceptional, the acidity deeper still and the intensity wound around it all. It’s so precise and layered, like a pinot noir prism, like staring far inside the intricate and symmetrically patterned angles in a diamond. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $58.95, WineAlign)

“We believe in wines of consequence.” How pinot noir is capable of performing in South Africa can be defined right here, with a wink and a nod to Gevrey-Chambertin. Pure unbridled Hamilton Russell cerebral joy, nothing taken for granted and all possibilities celebrated.  Last tasted July 2018

This welcome ethereal return of Hamilton Russell’s Hermanus benchmark pinot noir follows on the heels of the early-picked, dense, muscular and compressed 2015. Comfortable alcohol meets optimum phenolic ripeness so lets think on it in terms of ’08 burgundy, though perhaps not as tight and classic. This is the second fully organic vintage, not certified but with no systemic use of chemicals. Young (just last year turned 30) winemaker Emul Ross from Chamonix and viticulturist Johan Montgomery have reverted to gentler pressing and travelled further away from hyper-reduction. Open fermenters handle the entire pinot noir harvest at once so there is nary a posit tug of war or movement at shock times. Thus the elegance and as mentioned, the ethereal. It should always be noted that all the HR grapes go into these wines, with no tactical moves and philosophical aberrations (any more), no reserve wines, no single-vineyard, no divergence from monopole, always staying the broad expression course. “We committed to this in 1981 and other than experiments, we’ve stayed this way,” says Anthony Hamilton-Russell. There is simply no plot, block, aspect, top, middle or bottom slope separation. It’s pinot all in for one purpose, fully conjoined and conspiring to make the Hamilton Russell expression. This expression, of pure fruit, no drudgery, clarity and exceptional length. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted October 2017

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at Ridley College

Good to Go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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En route to Mondavi

Godello at Mondavi, February 2016 @CalifWines_CA @CBrandsCareers

I’m feeling a Mondavi shiver and a To Kalon shimmer coming on. Another anticipatory Mondavi experience is looming, a next week return venture to the iconic and archetypal Napa Valley winery. This will be my third deep delve into the wines of Robert Mondavi spread out over the past 15 months, after a February 2016 California visit and a June VINTAGES 50th Anniversary structured tasting and dinner. I thought it might be me that was the one getting around but clearly it’s the other way around.

THIS VINEYARD STOOD HEAD AND

SHOULDERS ABOVE THOSE AROUND IT

“The extraordinary quality of this wine originates in Napa Valley’s generous terroir. When I taste this, I’m reminded why Cabernet Sauvignon is the varietal on which Robert Mondavi built his reputation.” These are the comments of Genevieve Janssens, Director of Winemaking. I’d hedge my bets that Fumé Blanc should also fall under the auspicious umbrella of such a statement. Mondavi turned the ideal into copyright and it should be argued that Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc would not be where it is today without the farming, research and development put in by generations of the Mondavi team.

Mondavi @CalifWines_CA @CBrandsCareers — at Robert Mondavi Vineyard.

No matter the varietal, the To Kalon Vineyard is where it all stems from, the rib from which the eponymous winery was born and the subsequent 50 years of wines that have comes from those storied vines. In 1966 Mondavi chose To Kalon as the epicentre of what would turn out to be a great big winemaking universe. “It was a vineyard with a distinguished history and a magical nature, ” he wrote. “Ideal soils, sunlight and rain – to my eye, the vineyard was a treasure.” Five decades of Fumé Blanc have sprung, along with more than a hundred renditions of Cabernet Sauvignon.

During that February 2016 visit we tasted through Napa, Oakville and Reserve Fumé Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Carneros Pinot Noir and To Kalon Vineyard bottles were poured in the Margarit Mondavi Vineyard Room at dinner prepared by Chef Jeff Mosher, including the 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

Lorenzo Loseto predeliction @georgeonqueen Lobster, asparagus, quinoa, brioche #umami

Last June Mark De Vere MW led a masterclass in celebration of Mondavi’s 50th anniversary. The line up was outstanding bordering on ridiculous. Vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon starting at 2012 and going back through 2007, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1980 and 1975. The VINTAGES sponsored event and dinner at George Restaurant was prepared by the predilection of Executive Chef Lorenzo Loreto.

With 50 years of To Kalon and a specialized certification program up next, there is no better time than the present to publish these notes on 16 Mondavi wines tasted during these recent events and a few others that have found their way through the VINTAGES release program. Here they are.

Feeling a #mondavi shiver and a #tokalon shimmer #50thanniversary @RobertMondavi #markdevere

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, California (SAQ 221887 $22.95, WineAlign)

The landmark 2015 is the culmination of five Mondavi decades spent elevating and differentiating sauvignon blanc, now in the its 50th vintage. The name fumé blanc and Mondavi are synonymous with one another in unequivocal signature, identical twin, trademark, signature fashion. Not just for Oakville, Napa Valley and California but anywhere and everywhere. You can throw in benchmark, Fodor’s or Lonely Planet guide, dictionary entry or whatever moniker you like. Mondavi’s is all this and in 2015 at its richest and adroitly balanced best. The nose is all ripe orchard fruit from seed to stone and the palate full of texture, acidity and length. The flavours repeat the apple-pear-peach-plum fodder with great tang and near-essential aridity. Great vineyards produce great sauvignon blanc and the rest is history. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted February 2017

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Oakville 2013, Napa Valley, California (SAQ 13119254 $32.00, WineAlign)

The Oakville fumé blanc is a To Kalon gathering, the vineyard that surrounds the Robert Mondavi Winery. With so many “highest beauty” offerings it’s hard to keep track but this qualifies for the distinction with as much respect as any in the ever moving squall of the portfolio. Here from the geographic mean of the valley, a benchmark Bordeaux blend in bench abutment, composed of 89 per cent sauvignon blanc and (11) sémillon. This is only the third vintage and once in cohorts you note the elevated toast, struck flint and smoke. More citrus involves the senses, something almost rare for Napa Valley, in this way. With time (and please be encouraged to hang out for a while) the butterscotch joins the fumé party. The increased tense intention translates to excellent length. The sémillon makes a statement into the nicely bitter finish, with weight, stoicism and certainly the great potential for age. By way of comparison to the Napa Valley bottle there are 5,000 cases of this Oakville. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Fumé Blanc To Kalon Vineyard 2012, Napa Valley, California (SAQ 225599 $44.75, WineAlign)

The To Kalon Vineyard Reserve produces 2500 cases (in a big year) and 2012 topped out at 1700. The vintage delivers more green apple and elastic elegance so good luck in your search for reduction, flint, toast and smoke. You should look to 2013 for such a deferential stylistic and make plans to embosom the two side by side 10 years onward. This is mostly sourced from the 1959 planted Robert’s Block within the larger vineyard, primarily gravelly and well-draining with some alluvial soil edged against the Mayacamas Mountains. The spice here is exceptional, with some anomalic Napa Valley mineral tang afforded by the sémillon blended into the sauvignon blanc. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted February 2016

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, California (492124, $44.95, WineAlign)

There is a richness defined in a Mondavi chardonnay that goes beyond the simple fact that the fruit is Carneros in origin. It’s a luxe composition because of that terroir and also because winemaker Genevieve Janssens is painfully shy to let the fruit speak on its own behalf. The crux and the key lies and turns right there because this is a Mondavi wine. Just as it is always noted with fumé blanc, chardonnay too develops this obeisant disposition, full of emotive ability and perhaps not exactly what you are want to expect, varietally speaking. This is singular for Carneros chardonnay and it’s all Mondavi. It’s both country kitchen in weekend baking mode and a walk in the ripening orchard. It’s a starred Michelin kitchen in baking fury, with a multiplicity of sugars caramelizing overtop a myriad of ramekins welling with tropical fruit. Finally, it’s a Mondavi acidity, elevated and integrated. It’s good chardonnay. Drink 2017-2022.   Tasted April 2017

Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir Reserve 2013, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (SAQ 10219840, $60.50, WineAlign)

Some wise old conditioned and character building vines go into Mondavi’s pinot noir, “purchased from people who have better fruit than we do.” The Hyde Vineyard (40 plus year-old vines) and Rancho Carneros (which includes vines planted in 1979) bring the southernmost windswept part of Napa Valley into the pinot mix. This is optimum extraction in hyperbole, of fruit that runs the gamut from red to deeply dark. It is nothing if not a rich, concentrated and intensely flavourful pinot noir. There is a measure of stuffing to see it drink this way for at least five years from release. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016

50th anniversary @RobertMondavi @LCBO #VINTAGES tasting @GeorgeTO #constellationbrands #cabernetsauvignon

Robert Mondavi 50th Anniversary Maestro Red 2013, Napa Valley, California (459933, $60.00, WineAlign)

Maestro the proprietary blend endows another legacy building notch onto the Robert Mondavi name. This is accomplished through the tenets of wisdom in winemaking as an extension from historic estate vineyards. To Kalon is always the rock and in order to make this 50th Anniversary blend there were sources drawn from throughout Napa Valley though mostly from the Stags Leap District. Merlot (59 per cent) is the pillar with cabernet franc (25), cabernet sauvignon (7), petit verdot (6) and malbec. It’s a true five varietal Bordeaux-styled affair with classic Mondavi elevated pH and acidity. The concept is taken from the image of Robert Mondavi as the maestro of the orchestra and of greater Napa Valley. The liquor of merlot provides the base wine, joined dusty and injected with power by jolts of espresso. It’s an interesting 50th anniversary choice of voice, antithetical to the dominant cabernet sauvignon reds that Mondavi is so famous for and the varietal he staked his reputation on. But rich and velvety helps the cause and the result. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, California (255513, $37.95, WineAlign)

The aridity of 2013 has now translated into some lovely development in bottle that trials and tribulates with its wealthy pool of rich, ripe and silky chocolate texture. Such a typically reasoned Napa Valley explanation with 47 years under its increscent belt. Serious tannins need five years to seek settlement and to carry structure for to build a home for the ripe fruit. At 14.8 per cent alcohol there is much to fuel and keep the abode bathed in warmth, along with American oak in pancetta ooze, augmented by smoke and spice. Chewy and huge. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted twice, February and June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, Napa Valley, California (459883, $73.00, WineAlign)

This 1996 is the 30th anniversary bottling at 20 years-old showing with impossible structure and beautiful possibilities still lay ahead. Though expecting it to push through to its 30th birthday is overly ambitious it will drink just like this, with freshness, bright red fruit and pitch perfect acidity for at least three more years. The pleasure it currently brings suggests this is what was meant to be, by design, of great fortune or just plain luck, so get it while it rests in this ethereal state. Those who paid nothing for it early on were the wisest of the wise and also lucky. This Mondavi ’96 would be a Left Bank killer in a Bordeaux blind tasting, teasing as it does with whiffs of Cassis and tobacco, plus a fortune in subtle perfume. The finish brings a note of baked bricks, almost like nebbiolo but the structure is all cabernet sauvignon. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 1994, Napa Valley, California (459867, $73.00, WineAlign)

From a cool, oft times wet vintage with an elongated ripening season the under appreciated, under-valued and underestimated cabernet sauvignons of Napa Valley continue to get their say. This Mondavi ’94 will not be denied its voice, showing harmonious parts in symphony, of power, grip and elegance from To Kalon Vineyard fruit, amazing acidity and more than impressive longevity. Here now some notes of balsam wood, mushroom and soy have taken hold with more than just two years of extra time as compared to the silly fresh ’96, but the jig is not yet up. The combination of brown sugar and lingering mixed berry fruit is nothing but lovely. Drink up soon. Drink 2016-2017.   Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2012, Napa Valley, California (670463, $150.00, WineAlign)

Much of the fruit is brought to the Napa Reserve from the To Kalon Vineyard and it is rounded out with complimentary Napa and 16 months in 100 per cent new French oak. From a post 2011 hardship deliverance, more than welcome, hallelujah even vintage. Now a Mondavi return to floral posture above and beyond the Napa and Oakville bottle norms. So very pretty and powerful, out of saturation and into drought from which tannic structure is born. Full on fruit without borders, up to the top of the walls and back down in to the glass. With each sip the tannin builds and builds until the wall is constructed. There is no escape because the architecture is both classic and exceptional. Don’t be in a hurry. Struggle will only tighten the grip. Be patient and the next decade will deliver elegance and grace. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted February 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To Kalon Vineyard 2012, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (670463, $150.00, WineAlign)

This is just the second vintage of the To Kalon Oakville Reserve (as opposed to the Napa bottling) from a vineyard where Robert Mondavi established his winery in 1966 and the next “great one,” after 2009. The To Kalon (western) Oakville Reserve is like the Gretzky of cabernet sauvignons, a generational player that only comes along once (or in wine terms, two or three times) a decade. The finest blocks and the “walk in the park” vintage conspired to make To Kalon a focal point once again, of both pH and acidity on the elevated scale, telling us that longevity will never come into question. The wall of tannin exhibited by the Napa Reserve is not duplicated here and so it is a different sort of structure that builds, with more black cherry rich fruit and coveted acescence, but also an absence refined, as if the French barrel hides, deftly woven into the fineness of grain. There is a dusty, ropey and slow developing rise in character, as if a low, barely audible rumble can be heard, or sensed. A waffling between great and outstanding is certainly understood but by the time we reach 2030 and add up the career statistics of this To Kalon I’m quite certain the jury will be out. Drink 2018-2031.  Tasted February and June 2016

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley, California (670463, $144.95, WineAlign)

Tasted at the nine year mark the vintage warmth has nowhere to hide and the fruit is coming within reason of raisin. A small percentage of petit verdot is part of this Mondavi development from fruit as rich, concentrated and extracted as any. The choices made here surely went a long way towards teaching what subsequent decisions were made with the aridity of 2012, 2013 and 2014. The dried fruit as syrup glazing the layers of cake melts into the decadence of barrel chocolate and a roundness of acidity so different that the 2012s. Some earthy, woodsy floor grounds this ’07 so that you are able to see fruit through the forest’s trees. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa Valley, California (WineAlign)

Though sandwiched betwixt and gobsmacked between some infamous Napa Valley vintages (most notable 1995-7 and 1999) don’t look past this golden era 1998. To Kalon Vineyard is the source so right there is pretty much what you need to know about pedigree and potential. At this 17-18 years point in time a few drops of soy and a melt or two of caramel are noted in the ’98 Reserve’s development. Secondary affirmations and vintage structure bring out the purity of the herbaceous quality in cabernet sauvignon together with the slow evolution of a quiet, respectful wine. A tender and silky balsamic reduction chimes in though time is still a friend, willing and allowing the fruit to continue its natural path towards senectitude. I can’t find any reason to not seek tertiary character and continue to enjoy this over the next six years. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted February 2016

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1995, Napa Valley, California (670463, WineAlign)

A few points of merlot were blended into this 21-year salute to Mondavi’s legacy, a cabernet sauvignon impossibly fresh and bright this deep into life. The acidity is not only persistent it’s downright captivating and spellbinding. With thanks to the vintage of course, after a wet spring and a long, cool summer. Few double digit decade retrospective looks into the Mondavi cabernet sauvignon anthology would deliver such clarity of fruit seemingly immune to the truffled passages of time. By dint of tradition and without any forced supervision wines like this govern themselves and yet this might be a larger consideration regarding the entire portfolio. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June 2016

Say, friend – you got any more of that good Sarsaparilla? #thestranger #thebiglebowski #yeahthatsagoodone

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1980, Napa Valley, California (WineAlign)

Mondavi’s 1980 Reserve comes from a time when Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon was made in an unidentified, free and indirect style. The young To Kalon Vineyard may have already known its iconic place but if the makers also knew they could not have so easily created such an early success for us to revel in 36 years later. This is now and still fresh, at least in the context of three dozen years in the bag, with that tied To Kalon triumvirate of acidity, tannin and structure seamless and unsevered. How many aromatic notes can be described? Sarsaparilla, root beer, baked bricks, tomato leaf, pipe tobacco, eryngii mushroom, potpourri and mocha are eight that come to mind and nose. It’s a juicy ’80, not so much in terms of fruit though further sips bring faint memories on the back palate. All this 36 years later manages to remove responsibility from the omniscient perspective of the winemaker and lay it comfortably and pleasurably in our hands and minds. So much thanks for this opportunity. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1975, Napa Valley, California (WineAlign)

Forty one years is a long haul for a wine to hang in there and I’m not sure more than a handful of 1975 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon not plucked from the future iconic climat of To Kalon Vineyard could have survived this test of time. Even with the impressive longevity and lifeline ability this is now more curiosity than pleasure. Some might say at this stage the wine may be aimless but who can deny that it is also possessive of poised intelligence. From a vintage overshadowed by 1974, there is some old California Golden Seals hockey bag sweat in the aromatic mix along with savoury mulch and mushroom. There really is no fruit left to speak of, prune perhaps but no berries. The acidity still rips with some strength, swirling into the burnt caramel and all things considered this ain’t dead yet. It does show some Bretty notes that the 1980 does not and in the end the adage is true, spoken so eloquently by Mark de Vere MW. “Flavours you cannot replicate without time.” Drink 2016.   Tasted June 2016

Godello at Mondavi, February 2016 @CalifWines_CA @CBrandsCareers

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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VINTAGES preview April 1st

When you see one grand cru you’ve seen another grand cru #nierstein #rheinhessen #rhein

Globe-trekking critics, be a fool for value, plug in to musical Ontario and align with new world pioneers

as seen on WineAlign

Last Thursday I flew home from Germany after attending Prowein 2017, a massive wine fair in Düsseldorf that has to be seen to be believed. Picture nine immense convention halls each the size, depth and breadth of a Canadian football field, connected to one another and circling a courtyard like hangars in surround of incoming and outgoing flights at a major airport. The sheer quantity of human power and logistical planning required to facilitate and execute such a congress is in fact not unlike what happens every day at Frankfurt International. There may not be 100,000 employed to run Prowein, but at least that many wine stems are engaged.

It’s also hard to believe that this time yesterday I was standing on the crest of the red sandstone Grand Cru Neirstein vineyards overlooking the Rhein River. In advance of my trip to Germany I had the chance to taste through next weekend’s VINTAGES April 1st release and you will be pleased to find no shortage of quality wines under $20, many of which will solve your in advance of Easter needs. A token pinot noir with an anything but token twist and two hopping chardonnays are included for classic holiday food and wine association but I dig deeper into soils, varietal diversification and terroir for holiday pairing perfection.

There is no secret that Spain and Portugal sit at or near the pinnacle of Ontario consumer go to picks in the genre occupied by bargain reds. While the two recommendations below will certainly pair well with a feast of festive proportions, they also resurrect some grape varieties you might not automatically consider. Alentejo in Portugal and Castilla Y Léon in Spain offer great opportunities to discover local, endemic, world-class red wines. This early spring Ontario cold snap will soon be a thing of 2017’s winter past so I would suggest to get that BBQ tune-up completed because these wines are perfect foils for anything you can throw on the grill.

Travelling brings us together with the leaders and pioneers of fast-tracking and emerging wine regions and it is the global nature of this industry that through their own travels, they are brought to us. In September of 2015 I had the great fortune to spend a night and better part of a day with South Africa’s Ken Forrester. You will have noticed that Western Cape chenin blanc has taken the world by value storm over the last three to four years. There are several reasons for the varietal explosion, two of which are geology and climate. The third worth mentioning is Ken Forrester himself. When I tasted with Ken in Stellenbosch we travelled through half a dozen or more blocks, plots, vineyards and stylistically framed steen. Each and every year his Old Vines Reserve passes through VINTAGES. It is perfectly consistent and sets the benchmark for inexpensive and excellent South African chenin blanc genius.

Nicolás Zapata Catena and his daughter Dr. Laura Catena have pioneered similar if even deeper industry-leading work in Mendoza, Argentina. The father-daughter dream team have crafted terroir-focused Malbec and other well suited to time and place varietal wines. Over the past few years the Catena brand has expanded their portfolio by narrowing their focus into micro-terroirs in highly specific spots all over Mendoza. It’s not just Catena that has taken this brilliant South American approach to branding and this April 1st VINTAGES release is chock full of such precise varietal wines. Though I of course would be thrilled to offer up credit to the power brokers and buyers that be I’m not sure I’d give in to the idea that the grouping was executed with any preconceived plan. The patterning, by coincidence or not is nevertheless highly welcomed and I’m pleased to share these wines with you.

The Ontario presence is strong, as it should be, on the heels of a terrific Taste Ontario that was as promising as it was not surprisingly expected. Stratus hits the riesling mark with Wildass abandon, Flat Rock plays its annual MTV chardonnay tune and Thirty Bench does a varietal two-step that may just blow your mind. We should all be thankful for our local talent and in constant awe of Ontario’s wine ability to step out of its comfort zone, consistently improve on what it already does best and find ways to re-invent the wheel.

With the incantevole @chianticlassico hills fading from view, thank you #toscana #anteprime2017 #anteprimeditoscana #chianticlassico #vinonobiledimontepulciano #brunellodimontalcino

Speaking of Ontario, David Lawrason and I are still reeling from three days spent with an impressive Canadian ambassadorship contingent stationed in Düsseldorf’s Messe Prowein centre, sent there to spread the cool climate wine gospel to the world. The enthusiastic demands on our collective time were great. We will expand on the success of Canada’s presence on this important world stage in the coming weeks. John and Sara have also been on the road, globetrotting to the far reaches of the wine diaspora. It’s getting hard to track who might be where at any given time but in the first three months of 2017 we’ve had at least California, Oregon, Uruguay, Chianti Classico, Montepulciano, Montalcino, Lazio, The Ahr Valley, The Rheinhessen and every corner of New Zealand covered.

Through the course of our travels we are granted the opportunity to meet producers and winemakers, taste their wines and we often come across exciting products not seen before in Ontario. These discoveries are becoming increasingly important because the agents in Ontario receive an assisted head start on finding new wines. With the WineAlign Exchange inching closer and closer to bringing the reality of expert curation to wine buying and purchasing in Ontario, the connections we forge to these values and gems may soon see to finding their way into your cellars and your glass.

Godello’s Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES April 1st:

Musical Ontario

Stratus Vineyards Riesling Wildass 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (129700, $16.95, WineAlign)

It’s really hard to say whether Stratus Vineyards’ J.L Groux is more adept as a varietal impresario or as a master of assemblage so we’ll just call it a tie. Here into the riesling game he goes in the mere mortal affordable Wildass range and in 2015 he plays a smart varietal tune. You’ve just got to get some Wildass.  @StratusWines

Flat Rock Chardonnay Unplugged 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68015, $16.95, WineAlign)

The record keeps playing in rotation and the string remains unbroken with yet another quality vintage for the unoaked from Flat Rock. The crunchy apple and righteous waves of pertinence make this perennial best buy a required spin without any wonder why.  @Winemakersboots  @brightlighter1  @UnfilteredEd  @wine_gems

Thirty Bench Winemaker’s Blend Double Noir 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (493973, $18.95, WineAlign)

The nomenclature is just so perfectly chosen and as you will find, this is a seamless joint between pinot and gamay noir. Double Noir performs the passe tout grains oeuvre from Ontario in combining two expatriate Burgundy grapes. I’ve long ago agreed these two make anything but strange bedfellows and the two grapes work seamlessly in Emma Garner’s new and idealistic red. Well done Thirty Bench. Pass the two grapes over, SVP.  @ThirtyBench

Align with new world pioneers

Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Old Vine Reserve 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (231282, $17.95, WineAlign)

Reserve is a funny term for wines like this because it speaks to the idea that it should be put aside fore further use. I don’t think that is Ken Forrester’s plan and here he once again raises his old vines game with the 2016 chenin blanc. Stellenbosch continues to dole out some of the planet’s most striking and finest whites with chenin blanc at the centre of it’s value universe. With major thanks to Ken Forrester.  @KFwines  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA  @Noble_Estates

In Situ Reserva Carmenère 2015, Aconcagua Valley, Chile (37952, $16.95, WineAlign)

In case you were wondering too, “In Situ is crafted from grapes that ripen on steep slopes alongside mysterious rock drawings from ages past.” The only expansion on that bit of ambiguity I can share is the purity and clarity levels of carmenère are fully explained in this Reserva. Another fine BBQ wine for April flowers and showers.  @InSituWine  @WinesOfChile_CA  @WinesofChile

Echeverria Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Edition 2011, Central Valley, Chile (389221, $24.95, WineAlign)

Though labeled as cabernet sauvignon the Limited Edition is generously supported by syrah and carmenère, resulting in a layered and grossly rich red blend. The individual varieties don’t really stake any obvious claim and while their integration is not exactly seamless, the layering back and forth over one another does work some Central Valley magic. Complexity wins points.  @VinaEcheverria  @LiffordON  @WinesOfChile_CA  @WinesofChile

Catena Malbec Appellation Paraje 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (492413, $22.95, WineAlign)

Last November Dr. Laura Catena told a small Ontario press audience “it’s a fact. Different soils give different flavours.” The WineAlign team had previously sat down with winemaker Ernesto Badja for a full-on, wide-scale investigation into a climat-precise and compendious look at the proselytism of Catena culture. Paraje Altamira was one of these such looks into single-vineyard terroir.  @CatenaMalbec  @LauraCatena  @Noble_Estates  @ArgentinaWineCA  @winesofarg

Trapiche Malbec Perfiles Calcareous 2015, Mendoza, Argentina (482083, $18.95, WineAlign)

The savvy marketed Trapiche foray into soil matters with malbec divines the intention that calcaire (calcareo) brings speciality to these Uco Valley vines. It’s not a huge stretch to sense some limestone in this malbec’s make-up and I am wholly impressed by its countenance, its continuity from nose to tail and yes, its mineral feeling. So glad Trapiche is onside. @TrapicheWines  @Dandurandwines  @ArgentinaWineCA  @winesofarg

The best of the rest

Paulo Laureano Reserve Tinto 2014, Vidigueira, DOC Alentejo, Portugal (488775, $19.95, WineAlign)

From the still somewhat unheralded and rising to stardom Alentejo the grape expectation here from vidigueira is no shrinking Reserve. This would make for a curious consumer side step into something different but at the same time so obvious and comfortable. At this price you can’t afford to do neither.    @winesportugalCA  @wines_portugal  @Nicholaspearce_

Senorio de la Antigua Mencía 2012, IGP Castilla y Léon, Spain (481549, $13.95, WineAlign)

Some solid and in some circles, very old estate vines (30-50 years) in Villafranca del Bierzo gift mencia for a pittance. Rarely does a $14 old world red give so much for so little. Great round acidity and length off the cuff of a vibrant tune. Simply great value. One of the best you will find all year.  @WinesofSpainSL  @Wines_fromSpain

Groth Chardonnay Hillview Vineyard 2014, Napa Valley, California (225672, $57.95, WineAlign)

From a 44-acre Yountville vineyard founded in 1982 and (mostly) re-planted in 1996. This is a perfect and prime example of all the right directions Napa Chardonnay has taken in the last 10 years, with kudos to Suzanne Groth for embracing the ideal, from restraint, for elegance and in balance.  @GrothWines  @suzgroth  @CalifWines_CA  @CalifWines_US  @NapaVintners  @TheVine_RobGroh

Dutschke Shiraz GHR Neigbours 2013, Lyndoch, Barossa Valley, South Australia (247296, $26.95, WineAlign)

You just have to let go and find the fun in this Gods Hill Road shiraz, a wine of deep-rooted flavour. The utter deliciousness and unctuousness of Barossa is capitulated and catapulted into Lyndoch space. To say that charred meats hot of the grill would work perfectly right now would be utterly correct. To see this age for up to 10 years and eke out more elegance is also true. I would suggest endeavouring in both.  @DutschkeWines  @Wine_Australia

Glaetzer Shiraz Bishop 2015, Barossa Valley, South Australia (627869, $39.95, WineAlign)

Ben Glaetzer’s incredible value Heartland cabernet sauvignon from this same release is not to be missed but I’ve chosen to focus on his flagship shiraz. From son Ben in ode to mother Judith, Bishop the maternal maiden name is the rock of the estate’s Barossa Valley reds. Bishop is a serious wine to be sure and this really leaves so much behind in the mouth long after it’s been sipped.  @GlaetzerWines  @Wine_Australia  @TheVine_RobGroh

Louis Moreau Chablis Domaine de Biéville 2015, Burgundy, France (106161, $27.95, WineAlign)

Just last week I stood in Moreau’s booth at Prowein and I talked with Frédérique Chamoy. She noted how excited buyers are about the 2015 Chablis. If you were ever to take the kimmeridgian plunge this quintessential Moreau and this vintage are the place to start, Pure, classic mineral Chablis with more fruit than I’ve ever seen.  @MoreauLouis1  @vinsdechablis  

Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva 2013, DOCG Tuscany, Italy (260802, $36.95, WineAlign)

Brancaia goes all in to exploit sangiovese and the for broke style solicits some patience to wait out in extra time. Though 16 months in barrel is nothing to call nothing it is not the wood that dominates these gregarious 2013 grapes. With time this swirls into a grosso sangiovese like liqueur with plums, cherries and spice. Really Riserva in style but not of the recent past, more like the older ways but translated to modern times.  @CasaBrancaia  @chianticlassico  @ChiantiClassUSA  @Noble_Estates

La Lecciaia Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2010, DOCG Tuscany, Italy (241307, $69.95, WineAlign)

From the giving 2010 vintage and so beautifully so gifted here with La Lecciaia’s 2010 Riserva. Sangiovese that rests in such an ethereal nether-land will evolve with decades long grace. Classic would be one way of looking at it, heart-warming another and it’s remarkably ready to drink.      

It’s been a whirlwind of a start to 2017 and I am personally glad to be home, for now, even if it’s only for a short time. After all, there are too many wine discoveries out there and if were to let them pass me by I would not be Godello. So before too long I will head back out on the road, join the fairs, searches, digs and bring some love back home. As for now it is the April 1st release that deserves our full attention. Sara will bring best buys and new finds next week. Looking forward to April 15th David and John will return with your first in line VINTAGES picks. Until then, good luck with the hunt, have a Happy Easter and an equally happy Passover.

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Quick link to Michael’s WineAlign Mix

Seventeen for January 7, 2017

its-only-love-when-french-and-danish-friends-do-dinner-michaelwuertz-herring-foiegras

It’s only love when #french and #danish friends do dinner @michaelwuertz #herring #foiegras

I do like symmetrical things and prefer the irregular approach to writing and life. Method to madness is all in the perception and only really figured out when you learn to let your emotions run wild. You have to want to believe Godello as a writer knows what he’s talking about but you also need to trust the facts when you find them flooded into the seemingly unconnected mess of musical and multicultural references, veins and streams of consciousness.

Do you remember this commercial?

“You worked too hard and ate too much,

The cheesesteak made you green.

Let your aching head and stomach hear this message from old Speedy.”

Speedy here is voiced by the same guy (Dick Beals) that voiced Davey of “Davey and Goliath” and Ralph Phillips of “Looney Tunes.” Here we move forward, away from the mess and sting and sighs and slings of 2016, past the littering deaths of loved ones and icons, into the future that begins (in wine anyway), with the VINTAGES January 7th release. Forget the Alka Seltzer and listen up.

Drinking sparkling wine in January is a contagious and contiguous must for any self-respecting wine geek but who can afford Champagne after the bank-rolling of the holiday season? Fear not for alternative fizz is coming your way. So are tidy values for chenin blanc, viognier, grüner veltliner, malbec, negroamaro, tannat, graciano, sangiovese, garnacha, cabernet franc and syrah. You can also choose from five splendid blends from Dealu Mare, Valpolicella, Langhorne Creek, and Côtes Du Roussillon Villages. Please visit WineAlign for full reviews of these 17 in VINTAGES January 7th.

romania

Budureasca Feteasca Regala 2015, Doc Dealu Mare, Romania (416800, $11.95, WineAlign)

@Budureasca  @WinesofRomania

Pisari Negroamaro 2014, Igt Salento Rosso, Puglia, Italy (473199, $13.95, WineAlign)

man

Man Vintners Free Run Steen Chenin Blanc 2015, Wo Coastal Region, South Africa (126847, $13.95, WineAlign)

@MANVintners  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA  @vonterrabev

Heartland Stickleback Red 2013, Langhorne Creek, South Australia (116574, $14.95, WineAlign)

@heartlandwines  @TheVine_RobGroh

viognier

Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Viognier 2014, Vin De Pays D’oc, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (673236, $14.95, WineAlign)

@LaurentMiquel  @VinsPaysdOcIGP  @LiffordON

limoux

Cuvée Jean Philippe Blanquette De Limoux 2014, Traditional Method, Ac Southwest, France (467217, $14.95, WineAlign)

@AOCLIMOUX

Rio Madre Graciano 2014, Doca Rioja, Spain (354753, $14.95, WineAlign)

@CSWS_BC  @RiojaWine

garnatxa

Baronia Del Montsant Flor D’englora Garnatxa 2011, Montsant, Spain (481333, $15.95, WineAlign)

@cellersCBM  @domontsant  @spain

malbec

Piattelli Premium Reserve Malbec 2013, Mendoza, Argentina (455808, $16.95, WineAlign)

@piattelliUSA  @ArgentinaWineCA

cc

San Vincenti Chianti Classico 2012, Docg Tuscany, Italy (399907, $17.95, WineAlign)

Organized Crime Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Beamsville Beench, Ontario (472530, $18.95, WineAlign)

gb

Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir Tautavel Grenache/Syrah/Carignan 2013, Ap Côtes Du Roussillon Villages, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (272575, $18.95, WineAlign)

@GBvins  @FWMCan  @LanguedocWines

Ca’ Del Monte Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore 2011, Doc Veneto, Italy (475624, $19.95, WineAlign)

@Nicholaspearce_ @C_Valpolicella

gv

Nikolaihof Wachau Terrassen Grüner Veltliner 2014, Wachau, Austria (85274, $20.95, WineAlign)

    

madiran

Château Bouscassé Madiran 2009, Southwest, France (743385, $21.95, WineAlign)

@LaurenceBrumont  @ImportWineMAFWM

sj

Marquis De Montferrat Saint Joseph 2012, Ac Rhone, France (470443, $29.95, WineAlign)

@VINSRHONE  @RhoneWine

Soprasasso Amarone Della Valpolicella 2012, Docg Veneto, Italy (473124, $34.95, WineAlign)

  @C_Valpolicella  @Select_Wines

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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