Tasting Ontario Part Two: Chardonnay

Chardonnay, Wismer Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench

Just over two months from now the world will reconvene in Niagara for the eighth i4c summit and that’s got me thinking again. Thinking about chardonnay. Contemplating the axiom of chardonnay continuing to make its own new set of rules, putting its best foot forward, not being influenced by fools. After the seventh installation of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration I wrote “there is no secret that Ontario winemakers have worked tirelessly to develop the ability and the acumen to make world-class white wines. There may be no better example of this then what was again on display at i4c.” Always reinventing itself and potential fulfilled, chardonnay, the slow train coming.

I’ve asked many questions and posed, ego notwithstanding by waxing some pretty bold transcribed statements on behalf of our beloved chardonnay. The phrasing has included Chardonnay is cool‘I4C’ a future filled with ChardonnayCan chardonnay get any cooler? and You’ve gotta be cool to be kind. It’s all purposed to give a glimpse into the portal of how far Ontario has come and to where it may be heading. As we continue to taste, assess and take note of wines poured out of the 2015, 2016 and now 2017 vintages we feel the progression dovetailing towards the cool and the ethereal. The deeper understanding walks among us.

Related – Tasting Ontario Part One: Riesling

The winter of 2018 brought us from Tastes Untamed in Toronto to Cuvée in Niagara Falls and back to Taste the (Prince Edward) County downtown. Spring dovetailing moved across the Terroir Symposium, the Wine Council of Ontario’s first annual Ontario Craft Wine Conference and most recently Somewhereness continued to show examples of Ontario chardonnay. The saturated and intensive start to 2018 is a pronouncement of the Ontario wine industry’s unwavering commitment to march forward, with swagger, collective identity and unabashed promotion. In just 67 days we’ll take in viticultural and winemaking sessions at the School of Cool, Kick the Dirt with local growers and taste through flights of chardonnay.

Meanwhile, later this week Ontario vintners and winemakers will be pouring at Canada House in London, England at the Trade and Media Table Top Tasting hosted by The High Commission of Canada to the UK in London and Janet Dorozynski, Trade Commissioner, Wine, Beer, Spirits and Tourism, Global Affairs Canada. The May 17th, 2018 Taste Canada UK event is an opportunity for Canadian producers to meet with trade, educators, and media contacts. The high-level London show will build on the success of the previous tastings in London including most recently the Taste Canada UK 2017. All interested producers from across Canada are invited to participate.

Related – How can i4c the future through cool chardonnay?

I’ve said it before. In Ontario, raising chardonnay is “about growing grapes and making wines in places we all previously discounted…few ideals or notions are hotter these days than those relating to cool climate viticulture and the selvage regions from where such wines are produced.” These were my words after the seventh i4c, Niagara’s International Cool Chardonnay Celebration. I’ll be back in July for number eight. Will you?

Chardonnay is the second exposée, following on the heels of riesling and ahead of sparkling wines, other white varieties and appellative blends, gamay, pinot noir, cabernet franc, plus other reds and red blends. This 21 chardonnay salute covers what I’ve recently tasted, plus a select few from 2017 I have not opened up godello.ca white space to fill. Today I give you Ontario chardonnay.

VQA Ontario wine selections at Farmhouse Tavern

Fielding Estate Unoaked Chardonnay 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (164491, $14.95, WineAlign)

Fielding’s unplugged 2016 is a richer affair than before, with fruit fully vintage realized and into the humid zone. The balm is a lemon herbal one and the fruit an apple in the Cortland variety. There is an underlying salty aromatic note and a sweet chardnonnay-ness that speaks to really ripe phenolics and some mid-palate texture. A reluctant spokesperson for what is definitely an unoaked vintage for Ontario. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted November 2017 and February 2018  fielding winery  richiewine  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  Fielding Estate Winery 

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2016, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (81653, $14.95, WineAlign)

When I wrote about the Château des Charmes ’15 I was amazed at the high-toned aromatics and sheer warmth of that wine. What strikes so very real is how reserved this follow up ’16 seems to be. It marks a subtle, focused return, less of a reintroduction than a reimmersion into CdC’s chardonnay Niagara. Much of the wine is tenuous, either faintly whispered or located just beyond our grasp but it puts us in mind into thinking about a place. It’s ambient, fuzzed out and mild. The nine months in older barrel with the vintage fruit brings about a sense of calm, mild vanilla and no overpowering of that fruit. All chardonnay aged in oak can cross the line. “There’s a darkness over there, but we ain’t going.” This ’16 stays right there. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted October 2017 and February 2018  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Rosewood Estates Locked & Loaded White 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (552570, $16.95, WineAlign)

Locked and Loaded the curious moniker is labled “white” though it is in fact 100 per cent chardonnay. It’s mild, creamy and just slightly affected by a splinter or two of wood. It’s a curious thing to tease appellative blend but fill a bottle with only chardonnay but all that stands to reason is drinkability and balance, two tenets of matter that this “white” surely has. Almost too easy in fact. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted March 2018  rosewoodwine  @Rosewoodwine  @rosewoodwine

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay Unplugged 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (68015, $17.95, WineAlign)

The Rock’s Twenty Mile Bench unoaked chardonnay is surprisingly aromatic, fleshy and creamy in 2016. It punches the proverbial with texture above its weight class and though just a click to the right on the oxidative line it offers up great context and chardonnay clarity at this exact stage of life. Don’t wait for any energy to wane and drink this happily for the rest of 2018. Drink 2018.  Tasted May 2018  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

The Tragically Hip Chardonnay Ahead By A Century 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (483875, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Hip chardonnay takes 2016 to heart in this very drinkable hit with a hint of smoky complexity. It does what it should and is needed for the sake of balance and finishes with a gin and tonic bitterness, a sigh and a sense of having been refreshed. Then it fades to side two. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2018  stoneyridgewinery  epic_wines_spirits  @stoneyridgewine  @EpicW_S  Stoney Ridge Estate Winery  Epic Wines & Spirits

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (286278, $19.95, WineAlign)

A Flat Rock chardonnay is more Mâconnais than Chablis in its Villages stylistic but truth be told it’s a vintage in and vintage out child of the single-corkscrew twist of this part of the Twenty Mile Bench. Here the sumptuous, creamy and generous Bench is provided by the winemakers who’s boots walk the vineyard and talk the talk. It’s dreamy to a degree and once again, as always on point. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted April 2018   flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

Meldville Wines Chardonnay 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

The 2016 chardonnay is quite reductive in its impossible youth, a flint struck, barrel-taut, implosive chardonnay that shows great potential while it teases with less than obvious fruit. This is so very Derek Barnett, resembling many Lailey-bred chardonnay that have come before but here with Lincoln Lakeshore fruit the probabilities are multifarious and complex. A thrown Beaune of texture confirms the suspicion of ambition and time must pass before any of you, us or them can really say what will be. Guesses as good as anyone’s should plan for balance and impression. The fruit will be revealed. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February 2018  meldvillewines  @meldvillewines  Meldville Wines

Erik Peacock’s Smoked Wild Boar Tourtière with parsnip purée, The Restaurant at Bench Brewery

13th Street Chardonnay June’s Vineyard 2016, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (236745, $21.95, WineAlign)

From 2016 this June is quite tight, lean, green apple bitten and so transparent as a cool-climate chardonnay. Perhaps the youthful reduction casts a curtain over the fruit and the charm so I’d suggest waiting a year for the true June character to emerge. It may not be the most affected or regaling June but it’s salty-gritty extract and tannin truly run the show. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2018  13thstreetwinery  @13thStreetWines  13th Street Winery

Southbrook Chardonnay Triomphe 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.75, WineAlign)

Fruit for Ann Sperling’s Triomphe is a Saunders (Beamsville Bench) and Laundry (Lincoln Lakeshore) joint, dealt a wild ferment and usually large format neutral oak. This is more reductive than previously noted in 2015, i.e. it has maintained its extreme freshness and youthful gaze. It’s also effusive and built with more flesh and caramel barrel addendum so it would seem that bigger and riper fruit meant the necessity of extra sheathing. Keep in mind that every Niagara vintage is ostensibly a chardonnay vintage so it’s not easy to separate, knock or elevate one above the others. It’s really early to decide how this driven chardonnay will turn, into purity like snow or pungent as the earth. I’d say a bit of both, in the name of complexity and variegation. After all, why should any two be exactly the same. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted January 2018  southbrookvineyards  @SouthbrookWine  Southbrook Vineyards

Lighthall Vineyards Chardonnay Ramirez Family Vineyard 2016, VQA Prince Edward County (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The Ramirez Family fruit is from Hillier and for it Glenn Symons chose a concrete ferment followed by barrel aging, separating it from others and it shows. This is one of the more nutty and halavah nougat creamy chardonnays in the County. It’s ripe and generous, squeezing out cool climate sparks and doling out length. A departure from previous Lighthall chardonnays and so smart for the sideshow. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted April 2018  lighthallvineyards  @lighthallvyard  Lighthall Vineyards

Pingue Prosciutto

Redstone Chardonnay Select Vineyard 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (511428, $25.70, WineAlign)

With an extra year or so of time in bottle the Redstone chardonnay has entered the zone. With its snappy orchard fruit and sizzling acidity working in cohorts it doles out a feeling of real compression. The layering is stratifying in alternating fruit and stone embedded into a clay impression. This is most pleasing and instructive chardonnay with lake effect attitude and acts the part of Mr. sheer and brilliant stroke of luck by way of effort. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted February 2018  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

The Foreign Affair Chardonnay 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (149211, $26.95, WineAlign)

Partial appassimento and oak barrel aging does to chardonnay what nothing else in the world can or will so expect an acquired taste in this Foreign Affair dream. Unique and alternative don’t begin to explain but the level of caramel, butterscotch and poppycock notations are nothing short of hedonistic. Forget that you get all these drawn butter, coconut and candy store flavours because they are what they are and it is texture that should be the focus. The texture is lovely. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted May 2018  foreignaffairwine  @wineaffair  The Foreign Affair Winery

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Estate 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (68817, $29.95, WineAlign)

If you’ve never had the pleasure of a moment alone with a Hidden Bench chardonnay it is here where you’ve come to the right place, vintage and bottle for which to begin the relationship. As full, flavourful and generous of cool-climate chardonnay spirit as it has ever shown, the 2016 Estate work is pure, unbridled and effortless genius. What it exudes in energy is only eclipsed by a hidden grace and it serves as the exacting launch point for more specific and eccentric Hidden Bench offerings. The triangle composed of points defined by creamy fruit, fine acidity and finer-spun texture are drawn as if on a circle. Spend $10 more on Bench chardonnay like this and you’ll be drinking properly every time out. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted February 2018  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Late July chardonnay, Wismer Vineyard

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)

There is something about this land, hard to really put a finger on it but the wines made by Shiraz from his namesake vineyard stand out, even in a line-up of Malivoire chardonnay. Here the balance and connection is forged with a couple of settling years accumulated to elasticize the once reductive composition. All has come together; cool-vintage, once cloudy and now clarified fruit. Generosity of wood, now eased and withdrawn. Acidity tempered, stretched and supportive. It’s like perfectly in season and expertly poached lobster in drawn with deft ability, clarified butter. Or just drink it with such a thing. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February 2018  malivoire  noble_estates  @MalivoireWine  @Noble_Estates  Malivoire Wine  Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Henry Of Pelham Chardonnay Speck Family Reserve 2016, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (616466, $29.95, WineAlign)

First I’m immediately struck by the open arms of this barrel hugging chardonnay and second, by the textured quality of the fruit. You can never discard the notion or forget the ideal of cool climate but the anti-reductive, clear and focused composition from 2016 is markedly fresh, inviting and creamy. This is an H of P SFR to enjoy earlier than most and quite frankly, the price announces the same. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2018  henryofpelham  @HenryofPelham  Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery

Cave Spring Chardonnay CSV 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (529941, $29.95, WineAlign)

There is little surprise that CSV and its 42 year-old vine baggage show off this early in life, in part thanks to a gregarious and generous vintage but also because few Ontario terroir cru can gift such a combination of ripeness and mineral virtue. What lays beneath the calcareous clay and what is drawn by mature, dug down deep roots comes into this orchard juice with layers of heaven and tang. Escarpment earth is a beautiful thing, even in chardonnay of such texture and feel. The acidity is a step down in 2016 but don’t let that detract from the pleasure this brings. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Karlo Estates Chardonnay Estate Grown Wild Ferment 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

The block planted in 2010 was destined to see its first in bottle fruition last year but because 2015 was the crop that never was, here is the debut of the wild ferment, estate grown chardonnay. Under the auspices of a Derek Barnett varietal creed the home vineyard fruit shows the mantic signs of what will come when these vines mature into Prince Edward County adults. Barrel fermented and aged for 10 months was a conservative and frugal approach to coax just enough precocious success from the awkward child of naive and excitable fruit. That and the coolest of fermentative temperatures in house to balance some heat from a season’s outdoor months. What really drives this tenderfoot chardonnay is the lovely combinative movements in funky and leesy aromatics and texture. Convivial beginnings often lead to later gregarious gatherings, something I can see this County chardonnay getting into just a couple of vintages looking forward. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  karloestateswinery  @KarloEstates  Karlo Estates

Leaning Post Chardonnay Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

It takes little motivation these days to find your groove in the mûrir of battened and cultivated chardonnay vines growing with confidence in Wismer’s cru vineyard. Leaning Post’s Ilya Senchuk continues to dig deep for mineral extraction provided by the maturity of the Foxcroft Block and if you’ve ever stood in one spot, turned 360 degrees and felt the connectivity of slant, angle, relief, position and exposure, then you’d understand. These lines in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation in Vineland are some of the most architectural in all of Niagara. You can imagine the intricate workings beneath the soil and then extrapolate what that means for the chardonnay grown above. Senchuk grabbed a late September pick at the apex of an autumn heat wave to maximize fruit speaking the language of three orchards; apple, peach and lime. His winemaking process stretches, elongates and elasticizes the savvy ’15 fruit, by multi-purposed fermentations both primary and malolactic, followed by a no-stir, three-tiered barrel cantilever. The stones put a reductive flint back in the word mineral and the non-lazy reliance on stirring up texture means the balance supplied through mouthfeel is by a naturally occurring accumulate whipped up in support by high acidity centrifuge. In the end it’s just great juice, to sip, sit back, sigh and smile. Drink 2018-2023. Tasted March 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Southbrook Chardonnay Estate Grown Small Lot Wild Ferment 2016, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

The organic and biodynamic small lot “Wild Ferment” chardonnay is unique to itself and seems to have garnered a great deal of Ann Speling’s 2016 chardonnay attention. Find more beautifully scented Four Mile Creek fruit than this and I’ll ask you to make the finest chardonnay ever produced down on the flats of the peninsula. A wee bit of sémillon blended in has done wonders for this wine, like the Niagara white appellative version of Côte-Rôtie. It is here where sémillon transforms texture and this amazing thematically-charged chemical reaction so that grape tannin and extract rise to an exceptional occasion. There is so much on the aromatic front and the prescribed “baby fat” is expressed by a delicious flinty note. Chewy is part of the palate opera and tart Niagara orchard fruit is juiced into the piqued and ambrosial flavours. Can you tell this wine excites? That will only increase as the fat renders into the salsa. Imagine the Poetica possibilities. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted January 2018  southbrookvineyards  @SouthbrookWine  Southbrook Vineyards

Closson Chase Chardonnay South Clos 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

South Clos from the archetypal estate vineyard block with vines up to 18 years-old on the south side of the Closson Road is one of Ontario’s premium chardonnays. Barrel fermented and aged for 16 months in French oak, 20 per cent new, “Le Clos” ’16 is perhaps the richest, creamiest and most mouth filling of all, from the hottest of seasons. It’s in a state of youthful bliss, finding a soft spot now, though a closed moment is coming, before it speaks of a true South Clos personality. Baking apples, preserved lemon and a whispered feeling of honey that is not quite there. I’d suggest enjoying one before the summer and then waiting on the rest to see what will be. Will be released during the Closson Chase 20th-anniversary party June 23rd. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted April 2018  clossonchasevineyards  @ClossonChase  @ClossonChase

Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard #2 “Foxcroft Block” 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (547299, $44.95, WineAlign)

Wismer-Foxcroft delivers a simpatico and workable growing season for Thomas Bachelder to craft a sensible, unpresumptuous, repeatable and perfectly balanced chardonnay in 2015. The togetherness of another classic Bachelder fresh glade and generous barrel note front is equally centred but I don’t envision much movement or morphisms any time soon. The palate is all about the liquefaction of the kept solids having settled into textural precipitate so that pleasure is derived more by sips than smells. That’s a fine thing from chardonnay, especially from one as much Beauned as it is Niagarafied. The happenstance of fine spicy bytes mark the last moments with the ad hoc and scrupulous WFN2. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted April 2018  bachelder_wines  @Bachelder_wines  Bachelder Wines

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

As we taste through the #NWAC17 finals we thank @ZWILLING_CA for the rocking great glassware. Canadian wines are better for these vessels.

I first published this year-end summary of Canadian wine excellence in 2013 and four years on that original list of 13 has expanded with four more. It’s a good thing too because four years later 17 wines is but a fraction of what could or should be included. This exercise is more than difficult. It’s biased, exclusive and decisive but it is meant to celebrate a select few with a mandate to elevate and exult the rest. It’s also a proclamation read to many who remain ignorant to an ideal of great wine being made in Canada, to tell the insolent they are not welcome here anyway. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it. Roll out the red carpet. Here they come.

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

My writing about wine is a display that spills everything but subtraction, reduction and minimalism. It is an occupation whose reality is examined to points of madness, of long, run-on sentences, often at odds with grammatical winemaking realism. My tireless, tiring sentences and phrasing can at times offer a feeling that is potentially endless. So thanks for reading and putting up with me.

As I have noted before, I try to visit wines more than once before reviewing them, preferably from more than one bottle but even more importantly, with a good chunk of time having passed between assessments. The most complete picture is drawn from such a course of critical action but it’s not always possible. Not a single one of these 17 wines were decided upon at a single VINTAGES release, sterile and windowless LCBO laboratory tasting. The nearly 2000 wines (of which approximately were 20 percent Canadian) that I tasted in the LCBO lab in 2017 are kept, compartmentalized, reviewed and stored over at WineAlign. They are forged from and formed by a very specific, of the fleeting moment style. They are the results of root days and fruit days, often plagued by other writers present levels of distraction and time constraints. These 17 wines are children of repeated concentration and stand out because the makers went out of their way to bring them to me.

Please allow me to quote Wes Anderson. “It is an extremely common mistake, people think the writer’s imagination is always at work, that he’s constantly inventing an endless supply of incidents and episodes, that he simply dreams up his stories out of thin air. In point of fact, the opposite is true. Once the public knows you’re a writer, they bring the characters and events to you and as long as you maintain your ability to look and to carefully listen, these stories will continue to…,” continue to provide what you need to entertain your readers. Thank you to the winemakers for sharing their stories time and time again.

Related – 15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

Heartbreaker

If 2016 was a most difficult year, what does that say about 2017? It was a most dippy, derisory, barmy and yet chimerical one. Once again too many special people were taken from us and in Ontario, no one more important to everyone who works in wine than Karl Kaiser. It can and should be argued that the industry we all call home is at its 2017 state because of Mr. Kaiser and what he pioneered more than 40 years ago. Karl Kaiser was eulogized by Brock University’s Dan Dakin. Please take the time to read it.

Related – Karl Kaiser left indelible mark on Brock University

Once again we all lost someone close to us in 2017. Celebrity deaths, especially the ones of loved musicians seem to hit us the hardest because we relive moments of our lives when their songs are played. I’ll ask the social media trolls to walk on past and to once again, please respect our reminiscences.

Gregg Allman. Richard Anderson. Harvey Atkin. Walter Becker. Chester Bennington. Johnny Bower. Chuck Berry. Glen Campbell. David Cassidy. Chris Cornell. Jonathan Demme. Fats Domino. Dick Enberg. Stephen Furst. J. Geils. Robert Guillaume. Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay. Connie Hawkins. John Hurt. Al Jarreau. Martin Landau. Jerry Lewis. Erin Moran. Sir Roger Moore. Bryan Murray. Charlie Murphy. Bill Paxton. Tom Petty. Della Reese. Don Rickles. Sam Shepard. Joni Sledge. Keely Smith. Harry Dean Stanton. Y. A. Tittle. Mary Tyler Moore. Adam West. Malcom Young. Joanne Godel.

Don’t forget the pouring rain

There was more than enough good news out of 2017, especially from Ontario. After one of the wettest summers on record and this looming harvest of disaster everything changed. The temperatures hit 30 degrees and remained there for much of September. October obliged with warm and slowly declining temperatures with very little precipitation. Not only was the 2017 vintage saved but it became one of the great phenolic ripeness stories in wine country history. Quality high. Check. Quantity high. Check. Win win for wine.

The year continued to throw thousands of wines my way. I did travel more and so the international count ran higher at the expense of the local. I plan to fix that in 2018. Things have a way of balancing out anyway. Still I’m sure I tasted close to 1000 Canadian wines once again. We continued to pay great attention to Canadian wines at the WineAlign office. I once again joined the judging with Tony Aspler at the Ontario Wine Awards, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and with David Lawrason at Gold Medal Plates.

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

My wine on tap program at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar welcomed a third child to the family when we opened Barque Smokehouse Burlington in August. With that opening we were proud to partner with Rosewood Estates to join the family that over the years has included Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus, Leaning Post, Between the Lines, Coyote’s Run, Vineland Estates and Creekside Estates.

It began, as it always does with Niagara’s Icewine Festival in January and in February there were Thirteen ways to taste Cuvée. In March I found Fifty ways to Taste Ontario and then travelled to Germany for Godello’s March through Prowein, The Ahr Valley and The Rheinhessen. As a Canadian and a representative of Wine Country Ontario I hung around the Canadian pavilion, talked with our coast to coast winemakers, vintners and marketing representatives, took in the seminars on cool climate wines led by David and Dr. Janet Dorozynski and of course, tasted some wines.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

In the company of #family so thank you judges, friends and badasses #NWAC17 #killedit

Any major dude will tell you

At the Terroir Hospitality Symposium in May we debated the highly controversial new category of Skin-Contact wines in Ontario. Orange is the new smack should have been my title but instead I chose to talk through hushed tones in Pop goes VQA, a story in three parts, each one more misunderstood than the others. It would take months to come to better and more improved conclusions to that haughty complex story.

In June we convened the WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards in the Annapolis Valley. It was the first time that Nova Scotia hosted our motley crew and what a smashing success it was. Great thanks must go out to all our tremendous hosts including Wines of Nova Scotia, Domiane de Grand Pré, Benjamin Bridge Vineyards, Blomidon Estate, Annapolis Cider Company and Obladee Wine Bar in Halifax.

In July I once again made the pilgrimage to i4c, the International Chardonnay Cool Climate Conference, “the local mecca attracting thousands, arriving to praise chardonnay in all its glory. It’s chanted with incantatory connotation by patrons cantilevered like alluvial fans across the Niagara Peninsula. It teaches us about more than chardonnay because the rapidity of climate change is real and the desire for fresh is yet unquenched. This transcends chardonnay. It’s about growing grapes and making wines in places we all previously discounted. Recently scoffed at. It concerns farming higher, further and edgier. This conference and this grape together let us know that we must change.”

At i4c we welcomed California’s Karen MacNeil, Dr, Jamie Goode, Bill Zacharkiw, Treve Ring, Kurtis Kolt and Rhys Pender MW and then I penned 69 chardonnay reviews. What did Godello learn from Cool Chardonnay in 2017? After a visit to Pearl Morissette I learned from François Morissette, vigneron about oxidation.“Whatever we press, we oxidize. We do not oxidize wine, we oxidize must.” There’s a big difference. The stabilization of these wines are attributed to this idea of getting rid of all oxidizable compounds before they enter into the next stages of the winemaking process. Pleasing aromas, flavours, textures and ultimately the sum of the above elevates the cool chardonnay game and speaks to the future. But I did not learn enough. I needed to move beyond the ubiquity of cool climate. I wanted to understand more about cold soaking and whole berry fermentation. Just last week Pearl Morissette’s savant winemaker Brent Rowland sent me these words of enlightenment.

“This is the main reason I am such an advocate to whole bunch fermentation. The best tannin and worst tannin are seed tannin, depending on how you extract them…heat and alcohol rip out aggressive angular tannins. By keeping the berry attached to the rachis for as long as possible you are creating a little microenvironment for fermentation that is low heat and low alcohol, enabling you to slowly extract long polymerized tannins. This and perfume is the reason I do everything whole bunch. To me whole bunch has nothing to do with the stems, tannins from stems or flavour of stems.” He continues. “I absolutely think that skin contact wines can have elevated structure and texture. I also do not subscribe to the idea that some arbitrary number like “10 days” defines the genre. I did say that Orange wine is not an in-between wine but its own genre and I believe that. For the record I feel the less rigid the criteria for the category the better. As you state the broader the category the more opportunity for discovery of a valued category.” Thank you mate.

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Where are we one year later?

I’ve two words for you. WineAlign Exchange. The WineAlign Exchange taps into the world of wines beyond the LCBO and delivers a curated, mixed case of top quality wines directly to your door. All the wines have been carefully chosen by our panel of critics for their quality and value. David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Steve Thurlow and Godello. The first case delivered to hundreds of members was an all Platinum Award winners pack from the National Wine Awards of Canada. In terms of free trade we await a decision but don’t expect a miracle in 2018, Christmas or otherwise. As for the VQA panel in Ontario? Well, read my article referenced above and you’ll get my drift.

One of my favorite wines I tasted in 2017. All killer no filler. Beautifully ripe #cabernetfranc nice layers of cocoa, red, and black fruit. Tannin is liquid silk. Can_t wait for next

Let’s be Franc

Cabernet Franc is getting better all the time. In British Columbia the coolest sites are increasingly raising fresh, spirited and ultimately crushable wines with unmistakable west coast accents; savour, garrigue and mountain tea. With thanks to venn diagram circles drawn in and out of Niagara’s Lincoln Lakeshore, but also magically deep into the Prince Edward County limestone, the great Ontario hope is developing into what we thought it might be. Getable and structured red wine.

New World cabernet franc growing sites produce less delineation as compared to the various lieux-dites in the varietal homeland, France’s Loire Valley. Niagara is beginning to enter into an Old World state of mind, so now winemakers and by extension wine geeks, are posturing over micro-terroirs; Niagara-on-the-Lake, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, St. David’s Bench, Lincoln Lakeshore, Four Mile Creek. The same is happening in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley although the cumulative stylistic is worlds (four provinces to be exact) apart. In Nova Scotia Benjamin Bridge Vineyards’ viticultural and vinifying braintrust of Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Scott Savoy are allocating serious resources to cabernet franc in the Gaspereau Valley. But how is it that decisions are made as to where to plant this crisp, juicy and crunchy grape? While many will disagree, if you consider growing sites as circles within the aforementioned venn diagram, in Canadian soils the shared subtleties can easily get buried or muddled within the common areas. The lines may be drawn but the web is tangled. That said, the story of franc terroir is getting clearer and clearer. Interloper carries the torch.

Tonight brought to you by #interloper and the inner beauty of #cabernetfranc @RavineVineyard #vqaniagaraonthelake

At this most recent NWAC17 judging experience the results from cabernet franc paints a more palatable picture than those brushed by both merlot and cabernet sauvignon. We are collectively impressed with and solidly behind the direction growers and winemakers are taking with this noble varietal. The 546 acres planted in B.C. are rising steadily and if I were merlot I’d be looking in the rear-view mirror. In Ontario more than 4,000 tonnes were harvested in 2015, third to only chardonnay and riesling. Four of five Gold Medals were Ontario in origin, 10 of 16 were awarded Silver and 10 of 17, Bronze. While only four in Ontario are labled “LL,” no less than 10 of the 24 winners were made with at least some significant amount of fruit grown in the Lincoln Lakeshore/Beamsville Bench circle of commonality. The sites we want to call “cru” are no longer a mystery.

Taskmasters not pictured #punchdowns #interloper

I can’t say this list is full of surprises, save for the first of 17. You see this particular wine is close to my heart because I had a hand in its concept and design. My partner Scott Zebarth and I teamed up with winemakers Marty Werner and Ben Minaker at Ravine Vineyards to produce what we all feel is the most exciting fresh breath of cabernet franc air to arrive in Ontario in quite some time. It’s obviously self-serving to put it on a best of the year list but we are very proud of this project and its inaugural effort. If you’ve tried it you know. If you haven’t, give me a ring. We’ll break Interloper bread together. To the other 16, welcome to the list.

Scott, Marty, Ben and I are proud to present the now SOLD OUT #interloper Cabernet Franc 2016. We’ll be back next year #vqa #niagaraonthelake #ravinevineyard

Interloper 2016, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario ($19.95)

Produced at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery with the winemaking team of Martin Werner and Ben Minaker

Variety: 100 per cent cabernet franc

Fruit source: 55 per cent Estate (St. David’s Bench), 40 Creek Road, five Tanbark (Four Mile Creek)

Harvest Dates: October 26th and November 5th, 2017

Time on skins: Estate 26 days, Creek 21 days

Length and type of fermentation: Three weeks, ambient/wild for both

Élévage: Eight months in old 225 L French barrels

Case Production: 22

mgodello  scottzebarth  marty_werner  benminaker23  ravinevineyard

Charles Baker Riesling B-Side 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Vinyl records sound different because they are designed with grooves carved in that mirrors the original sound’s wave form. Their analog recording delivers a sensory feeling of warmth, an aural of texture, nuance and soul. There was a time when the hits spun over and over were also pressed onto the A-Side of 45 rpm singles. The discovery of a never before heard B-Side was a revelation because is was extra material from a favourite band and it was a great song. It meant the record was already too strong for that song to make the final cut and to choose it for a B-Side meant it would elevate the quality of the album. A well-chosen B was not an afterthought. This is the accomplishment of the first Charles Baker’s B-Side, for itself and for the vineyards of Iaen and Picone. Baker digs about in the Niagara Peninsula’s escarpment dirt for young vine, not ready for prime time riesling fruit. If perchance it seems like cheating on his per se Vinemount Ridge Picone and Ivan bottles so be it but one look at him and he’ll say “Hey, hey, what can I do?” His 2016 B-Side delivers a spray bottle Zeppelin expressing heady aromas, high in the stratosphere and raining down upon the earth. The notes are an all in, breath of classic Baker riesling air, blanketing from up above and with a landscape that reeks of lime and quivers with classic agitation. The fruit is wild and full, the salty grit infiltrating and gripping the bloody omniscience of this package. What is this B-Side and where will it be lead? To the top of the ridge, from earlier harvests, younger fruit and higher yields. Scratch the single vineyard elitism, just listen to the song and raise one up, to getting ‘er done before the conceptual singular side one and side two, Ivan and Picone. The Beatles? Forget it. Led’s flip side to the ‘Immigrant Song’ A is the one. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted November 2017  Charles Baker Wines  stratuswines  @cbriesling  @StratusWines  Stratus Vineyards

Tawse Riesling Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (198853, $24.50, WineAlign)

There is no substitute for seasonal Vinemount Ridge warmth when you are (or even if you’re not) trying to emulate a Mosel like, fleshy Kabinett tension. The Tawse Quarry Road riesling has shown signs of such mimicry in the past but here in 2016 the coincidence is uncanny. Riesling amounts to just 10 per cent of the 2007 planted vineyard, a Fly Road in Lincoln block where chardonnay (planted in 1998) and pinot noir (2007) are queen and king of the hill. But it is riesling that mines for limestone and uses it to distill, filter and enervate the outright fruity purposes of orange zest, lime juice and sweet grapefruit flesh. This ’16 has it all; adipose drupe, salty elements and stasis preserve. It will add some petrol and honey after a few years time and drink well for a few to a bevy more. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted November 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (AgentWinery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Hard to believe what I see, a hue not blush nor pink, but gris. That “if my eyes don’t deceive me there’s something going wrong around here.” Forget about Provençe, don’t think too hard about Vin Gris but concentrate only on what Shiraz Mottiar has acceded with Rosé for Moira in ’16. Light and lithe do not begin to explain the rub. Rocks and stones are what come through the good earth on the nose. Is this the blush equivalent of mineralité, away from chardonnay and into pinot noir? “Is she really going out with him?” But the pinot noir component is almost non-existent so what is the phenolic advantage here? Has this gone too far or not far enough? Don’t mistake the things I say. This is delicious, understated and fully underestimated Rosé. It will have great appeal to a specific cognoscenti population and who could not think to drink it any day of the week? Commercially considered however, it may not speak a universal language. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  malivoire  shirazmottiar  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @MalivoireWine

Flat Rock Riesling Nadja’s Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (578625, $24.95, WineAlign)

Nadja, like the Bréton novel begins with the question, “Who am I?” A surrealistic trigger is incited by the first taste, with excitement running in many directions but like the book, Nadja’s non-linear structure is grounded in Twenty Mile Bench riesling reality. She is an elite varietal wine in 2016, excitable girl, gregarious, punchy and so bloody juicy. I don’t recall the last Nadja with so much up front zest fervency and writhing aromatic gait, “exploding international, the scenes, the sounds, and famously the feeling that you can’t squeeze ground.” The lime flesh and cordial infusion brings the flavours into a once tropical, twice bitten realm. The vintage delivers the electric version, the new pornographer for the vineyard and the song sung loud swan song for departing winemaker Jay Johnstone. Was it all for swinging you around? Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted October 2017  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

First Fruit: Field Day Pet Nat, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

An escarpment Pet-Nat is born, thanks to the healthy and precocious idealism of winemaker Ryan de Witte and his Winona-based host Ilya Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines. The name “First Fruit: Field Day” carries three connotations; a reference to De Witte’s first commercial wine, the first crop off this particular block and the fact that it’s a field blend of two grapes. The erudite hat is thrown into the micro-cuvée, sparkling wine ring with interchangeable tracks of arts and science from near-equal parts muscat (60 per cent) and gewürztraminer. The style is pétillant-naturel, or as they say in Italy, Vino Rifermentato In Bottiglia, under crown cap with what Ryan notes “as much of the lees as I could get in.” The tightrope induces a two-fold increase, of reduction and for texture, from the nutrients fed the fermentation. De Witte’s math was sound because the effervescence is strong enough to blow the reduction off after a few seconds in the glass. One point for science. After tasting two samples I can safely say that the yeast deposit can’t be missed but it is those crafty and leaningpostwineconsolidated cells that drive the salvus meets salus machine. This lithe, re-fermented and crackling sparkler is both safe and healthy. You can feel its enzymes usher liquid happiness through your body and it makes you pause, leave the warrior behind and become at one with the experimental fizz. It’s raw and you want it to be so. The aromatic varieties collogue preserved lemon, ginger and aseptic vegetal scents in an almost funk-less Pet-Nat. It’s an impossible one actually, that is until you get a load of that slag at the bottom of the bottle. But the lack of danceable, rhythmic funk may deny you a Cissy Strut so think on it like Foam meets Talking Heads as in minimal, industrial, synth-pop. Or, in sparkling wine terms, one Pet-Nat’s riflessioni naturalische is another one’s clarity. One point for art. The intrigue here sets the bar high and looking ahead, when acidity can further provide boundless rhythm section support we’ll really have something to talk about. Inaugurals are never easy, nor is progress but the sophomore release will most certainly play on repeat. Let’s hope someone finds a category to place it for three-letter approval. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted Twice, February 2017  leaningpostwine  @LeaningPostWine  @Witte_Wine  Leaning Post Wines  Ryan de Witte

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2015, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

In a word, balance. Well two, balance and brilliance. CSV in 2015 takes the reigns from itself and stands firm. The fruit is in charge, the mineral a support system unparalleled and the minor celebratory sweetness a mere afterthought when it comes to rounding out the complexity. CSV is pretty darn back in ancient dolomite time travel and escarpments high great in 2015, uplifting, serious but yet not so. The numbers trip the light fantastic, fooling like gold and bones dry are seemingly preserved in karst but impossibly not. The sensoria apprised reel from the finest acidity it can possibly carry in its veritable truth. Deep lemon intent and a new wax vernacular speak the clarity of a wine that listens to its own expert advice. Might as well have made itself. CSV 2015 is one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted March 2017  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine – Robert Groh Agency

Sneak peak in the @TriusWines Meunier with Craig McDonald and a true Niagara Grand Cru @coolchardonnay site #lincolnlakeshore #oliveiravineyards #vqa #wildferment

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment Oliveira Vineyard 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $36.75, WineAlign)

When you consider the level of quality provided by the Wild Ferment 2014 it would be hard to imagine raising the bar any further but this is what winemaker Craig McDonald has managed with his exceptional 2015. The accomplishment is purely based on one year older, wiser and complexities developed Oliveira Farm vineyard fruit, the holy chardonnay grail, Lincoln Lakeshore playground. The site sits along the QEW below the escarpment’s Twenty Mile and Beamsville benches, a recipient of glacial till and rocks left behind by an ancient river running from a lake. It’s a chardonnay wonderland. Intensity of fruit purity, fleshy and real, remarkably juicy and notably crunchy has increased, upping the pleasure game and turning the impression knob up to 11. The windmill generates more power while always maintaining a classic Trius level of finesse. Then you think on the wood integration, equally impressionable because acidity is sweet and refined. Dry extract is also impressive, not to mention a fineness of grape tannin. The site’s unofficial designation as a Niagara Grand Cru should be upgraded with status. There is no better time than the present and the Wild Ferment’s 2015 ability is proof enough. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted July 2017   triuswines  @TriusWines  @triuswines

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Madeline Cabernet Franc 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

From the 19th Street Vineyard and wow, there is simply no cabernet franc like this cabernet franc. It pops and flies from the glass, in and out of your mouth, playful, buoyant, joyful, unbridled. A silky and spicy ripeness that’s also shed by its tannin, like shavings of a chocolate only a master knows to render, then currants electric and alive. Excels by its chewy mouthfeel and texture and you must ruminate on this cabernet franc. This is the it vintage, with all the enzymes in control, wrapped up in the enigma membrane and this low, classical Beethoven orchestral strings rumble, on a Verona stage, surrounded by the ancient rocks, acoustics perfect. You can get lost in franc like this. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (639641, $43.95, WineAlign)

Some of the Okanagan Valley’s great chardonnay fruit is found on its eastern shore and makes its way into this Quail’s Gate Reserve. The story and place go back 60 plus years and wait if you can’t nose it in this top North American chardonnay. Forget comparisons, competitions and blind judgements but pull anything you want from Sonoma and watch this raise eyebrows and turn heads. The variegations are numerous and in replay. Richness, bite, energy, spirit and firm conceit. The barrel is everywhere and nowhere. What is a great chardonnay? It’s completely invisible, yet always in sight. It remembers what people hate. It anticipates the consumer’s needs before the needs are needed. A great chardonnay is, above all, discreet to a fault. Such is the Stewart Family Reserve. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted October 2017   quails gate  hobbsandcompany  @Quails_Gate  @AMH_hobbsandco  Quails’ Gate  Hobbs & Co.

Sparkling wine you need to know @lwwines Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut 2013, from the shores of the #minasbasin #annapolisvalley #novascotia

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blanc Extra Brut 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot presented an early, less leesy glimpse of their 100 per cent estate chardonnay at i4c in July of 2016. It was a different animal than this recently disgorged (late February/early March) sparkling wine. The Extra Brut lives up to its designation, from fruit grown on the shores of the Minas Basin under the auspices of a markedly warm year with exceptional phenolic ripeness and 25 per cent malolactic gain. The time relative to texture lees accumulation is approximately 40 months and it’s an accurate representation of Nova Scotia low and slow. The flavours are wisely developed ripe and spicy, leaning into a moment or two of oxygenation, but seemingly richer than the amount of lees time that was given. Now emerging from the shell of not just a warm but a great chardonnay year (as previously proven by the Ancienne released two years ago). The notion here is of a sparkling wine that has been brought home, a B de B that you need to get to know. There are layers and layers of character that fold and unfold. The precision, focus and rendering is citrus tamed, mouthfeel in perpetual expansion and contraction, length linear and elastic. And it’s just the beginning. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted June 2017  lwwines  @lwwines  Lightfoot & Wolfville

Blomidon Late Pick Sparkling Chardonnay 2011, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

The 2011 late-picked chardonnay, the “Hurricane” is a hyperbole of itself. Normally picked in later October, the frost-free weather allowed further time and development. Picked from seaside vineyards just ahead of another hurricane (in a season that included Irene), this is sparkling wine you just have to try. Though lean, taut and as intense as you are likely to taste, the developed character and complexity is visionary for Nova Scotia and Canadian sparkling wine. Three years on the lees brings the texture and fills the gaps, holes and voids created by such a tightly wound cool climate chardonnay. The dry factor is exaggerated in 2011 (a one-off says winemaker Simon Rafuse) but the wine takes full advantage of the Extra-Brut intent. Did it require the anxiety of a recent and an impending cyclone? Can it be duplicated? “That’s the story of the Hurricane.” Visionary for Nova Scotia and Canadian sparkling wine. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017  blomidonestate  @BlomidonEstate  Blomidon Estate Winery

Southbrook Poetica Red 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (355859, $69.95, WineAlign)

It seems at first that Poetica 2013 was chosen by winemaker Ann Sperling to be the deferential one. The blend is dominated by 74 per cent cabernet sauvignon, the highest number ever for the wine. Conversely the cabernet franc component is set to 23 per cent and far less petit verdot (3 per cent) rounds out the blend. That number had been 29 per cent in 2012 because the varietal elegance shown at that time necessitated the relationship. In 2013 it is the cabernet sauvignon that displayed with elegance and an uncanny ability to sow of its own accord and yes, it is an exceptional vintage so look for 2013 to age on a 15 year curve. The Witness Block CS-CF follows suit and the SV-PV is better off for the allocations. Every wine wins as a result. There is this deep-impressed sous-terre tang in here, a wisdom certainly, and when it is released later in the year the heads will turn. Poetica is often but here not overly tannic, but it is endowed with bones, spine and structure. The flavours, spice and magnetism give cause to salivate. Only Ann Sperling makes Niagara reds like this, wines that can develop such architecture without an excess of tannin, astringency and chalky chocolate from over-wrought wood exchange. Poetica 2013 will drink well young and comfortably into the end of the next decade. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted January 2017  southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @TheLivingVine  @SouthbrookWine   @SouthbrookWine  The Living Vine inc.

A finer man, winemaker and host you will not find. Thank you @normanhardie @keeponshucking @clarsenault @cuveeletittia @Mknow21 @mclauriault and all.

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Cuvée Des Amis 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $150.00, 1500ml, WineAlign)

As exceptional as chardonnay may have seemed from out of the 2013 Ontario vintage you haven’t lived or loved until you get a taste of (only in magnum format) Norm Hardie’s 2014 Cuvées des Amis. This chardonnay attacks and ascends, recalibrating the inner workings of the brain and how it develops conceptualization. It is a state of the art and all-knowing elixir to remind that ’13 was a vintage with profitable yields and a generously stretched canvas on which to practice on, for when things begin to get real. The CdeA spent 18 months in barrel, the first 12 (in 35 per cent new), the next six in neutral and the last six in stainless steel on the fine lees. The spin class in the mouth manages agility, dextrous, furtive movement and completes many pirouettes. The dance is pure joy but the intensity is equally to disturbingly intrusive, suggesting more settling time is necessary. The flavour pearls are delicate and come straight from the oyster so they carry salinity, power and brine. Pure lemon essence is received by intravenous injection. Sumptuous is translated from Hardie-speak as a four-letter, Prince Edward County word. It doesn’t get more real than right here, with the best fruit, the tripping of the light fantastic, previously unheard and unseen unconscionable concentration. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted twice, June and July 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  Norman Hardie

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Syrah 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $80.00, WineAlign)

Èquinoxe is announced without equivocation as the Bricco of B.C. syrah and an absolutely lovely Bench expression from winemaker Severine Pinte. What came from these three-quarters Osoyoos Lake District and one-quarter Black Sage vineyards in 2013 was floral and peppery, with a fineness that belies a dessert climate but in 2014, well this is something more and other. You just have to think about texture here and a quality of acidity that is peerless in B.C. syrah. So juicy, beautifully tannic and rendered with culture and class. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2017  levieuxpin  @LeVieuxPin  Le Vieux Pin Winery

My eyes do not deceive me. It’s Decant @StratusWines #cabernetfranc bottled with lees #vqa #niagaraonthelake #karimrashid

Stratus Cabernet Franc “Decant” 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $95.00, WineAlign)

“A designer’s hands are tied. They are only as good as their opportunities.” The words of the brilliant bottle designer Karim Rashid fully apply to the mirrored universe in which winemaker J-L Groux works, here with a deferential and ulterior cabernet franc, bottled with its lees. When I first tasted it in February (in advance of this auspicious release), its unfiltered state spoke of a hyperbole of perfume, marked by exoticism. The aromatics gave far east five-spice, star anise, cardamom, miso and incense, all natural by-products of its purposed ferment. More grain spoke out but also a roundness of tannin and a smoothness both coating and comforting. There was chocolate accentuated by the treatment, with thanks to those lees left in the bottle. The chopped up and constructed bottle catches the lees while the volume flows out and the function out of form mimics the thought of lees delivering structure and yet they are invisible, caught in a hidden net or nook, out of sight, out of mind. But it’s not about pouring. It’s about the hand, or the slight thereof. Then there is the copycat idealism of strata in the vineyard, of geology transferred to the bottle and kept there, like a ship perfectly preserved inside. This cabernet franc will age better, as is the plan, with thanks to the lees that you’ll never have to deal with. There were 110 cases made. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted twice, February and May 2017  stratuswines  @StratusWines  Stratus Vineyards

Supper at Benjamin Bridge

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Estate Blanc De Blancs 2013, Nova Scotia (Winery, $119.50, WineAlign)

Tasted from a bottle disgorged in May 2017, there alights a plugged-in, three-pronged, dazed, charged and enchanted energy about the Bridge’s ’13 Blanc de Blancs. The history of go it alone pure chardonnay is a relatively short one for the estate so this quickly makes up for lost time or rather with haste sets the timer and heads out at first light. “Like sittin’ on pins and needles, things fall apart, it’s scientific.” Wild, of talking heads temper and yeasts, done up in demi-muids, with a wilder secondary fermentative push riding on the coattails of the primary fermentation. Everything in this wine is a productive child of the vineyard, of no third party sugars or consultations. “How do you do that without making a Pétillant Naturel,” I wonder aloud. It’s a second ferment, non-contiguous is the reason, even if the former is both influencer and mentor to the latter. It certainly falls under the category of “micro-cuvée. Like its cousin and predecessor (Blanc de Noirs 2011), this ’13 BdeB is mired intensely inward within its own specificity and is not so much a sparkling wine with competitive soul. It is a pure representative of chardonnay grown in Nova Scotia for one purpose. So let’s talk about true stories and wild, wild life. “You get on board anytime you like.” Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted July 2017  benjaminbridge  caveman__jones   winesofn  @Benjamin_Bridge  @benjaminbridgevineyards  @WinesofNS @benjaminbridgevineyards  @winesofns

As we taste through the #NWAC17 finals we thank @ZWILLING_CA for the rocking great glassware. Canadian wines are better for these vessels.

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay

Malivoire Wine Company
PHOTO: STEVE ELPHICK, MALIVOIRE.COM

as seen on canada.com

My skies of late have espied no dark clouds and no rain. While torrential storms and unprecedented flooding hit Toronto last week I was fortunate to be basking in six days of Vancouver sun. I returned home to those same kind of skies, only now the mercury has climbed north of 30 degrees Celsius and the humidity well beyond the perspiration line.

There are two things you need to beat this kind of summer heat. Wine and wine. Start with Rosés and crisp, refreshing, aromatic whites. My current release recommendations also include a few reds (for the grill) and most are so hot that you’d better act fast because blink and they will be gone.

The second is to seek out Chardonnay. Cool, cool Chardonnay. This weekend I will be gathering with wine lovers making a pilgrimage to Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula to celebrate Cool Chardonnay, three vinifera and exceptional cuisine packed days (July 19-21, 2013) in my backyard’s great wine region. The international cool climate celebration is known as #i4c2013, an unprecedented gathering “spent exploring seductive shades of the most planted grape on earth.” The event’s mantra is simple. “40,000 acres can’t be wrong.” Cool Chardonnay will be three days of wine tasting and food pairing bent on altering and furthering the perception of the grape and just how incredible it can be in the hands of the cool climate winemaker. More than 120 wines from 60-plus wineries worldwide will be represented, including the greats from Niagara, Prince Edward County and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.

To celebrate the re-birth of cool, seek out any of these suggested wines and raise a toast to the cool climate winemaker, the gift of their land and the fine Chardonnay made by their hands.

Clockwise from left: Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2010, Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2011, Flat Rock Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Domaine Corne-Loup Tavel Rosé 2012, Chateau D’Angles Le Clape Rosé 2012, Rolly Gassmann Auxerrois Rotleibel de Rorschwihr 2007, Stratus Tollgate Fumé Blanc 2009, and Sister’s Run Shiraz Epiphany 2011

The Chardonnays

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2010 (318303, $16.95, B.C. 230961, $18.99) intensifies in juicy, bright, nearly candied fruit cut by sour patch and blanched nut. Clean, cool Chardonnay and right on. My earlier note, from ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ (but I like wine) is the unoaked result of aromatic Clone 809 combed from the heavier clay-based soils from the St. David’s Bench Vineyard and the silty, mineral rich soils from Seven and Seven Vineyard. Tropical, strutting stunner with “a thousand lips I would love to taste.” Tell Ms. Musqué if you can’t rock me, nothing can.  90  @MBosc

Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2011 (338434, $27.95, B.C. 732958, $21.90) sees minimal (15 percent new French) oak influence and while there is a ripe coconut tang, a sense of creamy butter and a spike of citrus, there really isn’t too much of anything at all. Tasted this fresh Okanagan a second time in Vancouver, alongside Another Side of Bob Dylan at Salt Tasting Room, I decided I could drink a barge full of the stuff. “All I really want to do, is, baby, be friends with you.”  90  @poplargrovewine

Bachelder Wismer Chardonnay 2010 (345819, $44.95,) is so sumptuous, presumptuous and precocious. Ahead of the curve, effortless and full of 20 mile mineral length. The ripe green apple never quits. My earlier note from Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary from the Twenty Mile (Vineland) Bench is the most righteous, understated charred butterscotch remoulade sauce of dreams. Richly textured and built upon a sneaky, slow and stretched breath of wild yeasts. A creeper, gatherer and traveler of both knowledge and persistence. The journey with Thomas Bachelder as related by partner Mary Delaney, from out of Quebec, by way of Ponzi and Lemelson in Oregon and to Niagara is the stuff of dreams. Tasted twice same night and hypnotized both times.  94  @Bachelder_wines

The Rosés

Flat Rock Pinot Noir Rosé 2012 (39974, $16.95) achieves pink Pinot nirvana by way of foxy strawberry, vanilla crème, and orange rind. Peppery red currants bring balance, some sizzle and spice.  88  @Winemakersboots

Domaine Corne-Loup Tavel Rosé 2012 (71209, $17.95) is the hot weather cold maker, big in ripe, strawberry fruit, citrus and red apple. Imagine a glass’ glistening condensation by the seawall on a hot afternoon, the wine deliquescing like dew, Hemingway open at page one.  89

Chateau D’Angles Le Clape Rosé 2012 (323386, $15.95) goes classic holy trinity Midi in Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. Creamy, frosty and savoury in strawberry, rhubarb, balmy tarragon and shrubbery. Finishes with salinity pressed like a salt herring.  91  @chateaudangles

The Aromatic Whites

Rolly Gassmann Auxerrois Rotleibel de Rorschwihr 2007 (328872, $19.95) elevates the grape to great heights. Gold carat, rich golden marmalade and aromatics simulating Sauternes. Pencil leads apricot and clementine in this life-sustaining sap. Has lived well and will live long.  90

Stratus Tollgate Fumé Blanc 2009 (335711, $24.95) gives a goblet of lavish, good pleasure in honey and near Gewürztraminer, lychee-ish tropical fruit. Not so smoky but pulchritudinous in yellow candy apple and its fumé comes from a scotch oak flavour. Replicates upon itself in rich and viscous waves. Total and utter unique Ontario white.   89  @Stratuswines            

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2010 (241182, $35.20) from the Vinemount Ridge appellation can’t help but froth forth in soda and A16 out of such a warm vintage but still, only CB perfumes like this. Ahhh, that Baker perfume. No level of encomium can express the intoxicating effect of Picone, vintage in, vintage out. So much apple, great acidity but more nut warmth than ’09. Shuns lassitude and shines bright.  90  @cbriesling

The Reds

Sister’s Run Shiraz Epiphany 2011 (269464, $16.95) is mineral prone like the northern Rhône in iron and bloody intense in sanguine rush. Not sure I could drink too much but it’s a study for sure.  Long on blueberry, pencil and though McLaren Vale issue, it seems reminiscent of older, Great Western Seppelt Shiraz, circa 2000.  89

Malivoire Cabernet Franc 2011 (310383, $24.95) reaches deep into the well to draw up an elixir of incredible luxuriance bolstered by a tart and tight, ripe red currant depth. Layered by Christmas and Black Forest cake with a sour black cherry glaze and a garth of earth and bushes.  91  @MalivoireWine

Good to go!

‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ (but I like wine)

The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, centre, Keith Richards, right, Charlie Watts, back, and Ronnie Wood perform during a concert in Toronto as part of the band’s “50 & Counting Tour” on May 25, 2013. PHOTO: THE CANADIAN PRESS/FRANK GUNN

as seen on canada.com

It’s all about the rocks and stones, in music and wine. Witness songs of raw power, laid wide open, where the squeaks of chord changes, the twang of a plucked bass and the bee bop of a snare hang out exposed and naked. Seek relief in the soothing sound of a soulful ballad but nothing eases pain like a raunchy tune that “invites us to dance in the face of its own despair.” Rolling Stone Magazine rock critic Jon Landau‘s 1974 review of the Rolling Stones quintessential “we’re a rock ‘n roll band” album It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll hit the proverbial nail on the head, then and now. Like the title track, “it resonates like the sound of a shotgun.”

There was no It’s Only Rock and Roll Carrie Underwood duet with Mick Jagger last night at the The Rolling Stones 2nd ’50 and Counting’ tour Air Canada Centre show. I did not go. I had my fill of totemic super group, epic rock concerts in the 80′s and 90′s; Stones, Who, Kinks, Grateful Dead, Dire Straits, Genesis, Supertramp, Allman Brothers, Crazy Horse, E Street Band. Now give me shelter in the sounds of Spoon or Divine Fits. The best concerts then were the rock royalty derivative or solo shows; David Byrne, Peter Townshend, Mark Knopfler, Peter Gabriel and Keith Richards with arguably the greatest grape-related band name ever, the Expensive Winos.

The wine analogy qualifies as yet another hermeneutic. Minerals walk the walk and talk the talk. If the wines qualify as natural all the better, especially when the ferment is unafraid to expose its flaws and idiosyncrasies to be ogled and gazed upon. To smell rocks and stones in a swirled glass fulfills a base and necessary need. The fascination for geology can be quenched by so many international varieties and soils. Chenin Blanc in the Silex of the Loire, Nerello Mascalese atop volcanic Etna, Grenache amid the boulders of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Sangiovese from the ultramafic of Tuscany and Chardonnay out of the Kimmeridgian soil of Chablis. To each animates an ownership of terroir. The world’s quarries have accustomed wine geeks with centuries of fine drink but never has an obsession possessed a community with such pleasures ere unknown. Enter the studios of the Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County. Electric Lady, Motown and Muscle Shoals all rolled into one.

The collective geological consciousness embraced by the Ontario wine engineer is only rock and roll but everyone is digging it. If Let it Bleed signaled the Rolling Stones’ entry into an affair and infatuation with all things Americana, especially for vocals and guitar with a country music accent and twang, then It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll is the high swagger point. As a record it represents the culmination of a period where the room is eventually tied together by the rug of Some Girls. Ontario winemakers have entered the ‘open G’ tuning period in their careers, now with a few passionate, penetrating records under their belt. A ten year road lays ahead, destined to me mapped out by their greatest works, lithospheric wines to define their legacies, in toto as the supergroup history will remember them by.

Rocks and stones have for millenniums been used to construct homes, pathways, fences and places of worship. They have also been used to build wine. Here are ten current releases, forged from diverse mineral terrains and available now.

Clockwise from top left: Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2010, Valdeorras Tempestad Godello 2011, The Foreign Affair The Conspiracy 2011, Coyote’s Run Red Paw Chardonnay 2011, Malivoire Pinot Noir 2010, Laurent Miquel Bardou St.-Chinian 2007, Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, and Grgich Hills Chardonnay Estate Napa Valley 2010

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2010 (318303, $16.95 and at the winery) is the unoaked result of aromatic Clone 809 combed from the heavier clay-based soils from the St. David’s Bench Vineyard and the silty, mineral rich soils from Seven and Seven Vineyard. Tropical, strutting stunner with “a thousand lips I would love to taste.” Tell Ms. Musqué if you can’t rock me, nothing can.  90  @MBosc

Valdeorras Tempestad Godello 2011 (276071, $17.95) from Bodegas Abanico in Valdeorras whiffs the mineral temptation of a weathered, wet copper penny, secondary Riesling-like petrol, ripe peach and jamón wrapped around white date.  Delicious juicy fruit, nutty and just a touch of lees. Late seafood aftertaste, a crab drink to enjoy with a tempest of Spanish tapas. Ain’t Too Proud To Beg for this one.  89  @bodegasabanico

The Foreign Affair The Conspiracy 2011 (149237, $19.95), kissed, re-passed over and threatening to push boundaries as if it were singing “if I could stick a knife in my heart, suicide right on stage.” This Ilya Senchuk beauty may only be ripasso but I like it. Eases my pain and my brain. Excellent verve and honed of a rock star’s capacity to be loved, with tart, red and black fruit in waves, tar and charcoal. Svelte balance in fruit, alcohol, sweet and sour. This is THE vintage for this wine. Ten plus years lay ahead for a long affair and it will be rewarded with praise in future tastings.  92  @wineaffair

Coyote’s Run Red Paw Chardonnay 2011 (336115, $19.95) reminds of the lyric “and I don’t need no fancy food and I don’t need no fancy wine.” Many may not know it but David Sheppard’s Red Paw Chardonnay at $20 is fancy and serious. There is more toast than from memory and four miles of apple butter in the glass. Red Trafalgar clay loam and Queenston shale bedrock give it strength. Warm Chard for a cool climate with green herbs and a late mineral tinge. Apples in replay. Sadly, sister vineyard Black Paw was pulled due to a virus so we’ll savour this Red Paw Till The Next Goodbye.  88  @coyotesrun

Malivoire Pinot Noir 2010 (996777, $24.95) shows great warmth in rusty, bricking hue. High toned glossy fruit not to be mistaken for anything but Pinot. Tons of fruit character,  some tannin getting warmer in the glass. Time Waits For No One, least of all this very solid Pinot, verging on stunning. “Drink in your summer, gather your corn” for the Malivoire ’10′s time is now.  91 @MalivoireWine

Laurent Miquel Bardou St.-Chinian 2007 (328583, $24.95) the Syrah funk monster is heavy on mineral, chewy with currant flavours and a citrus hint. Like sucking on an iron lollipop that lasts and lasts. Luxury Languedoc.  90  @LanguedocWines

Raoul Gautherin Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons 2010 (159236, $28.95) has the rocks and stones, rolling in orchards, fields and dreams. Dancing Little Sister, bang on mineral, blessed length, wonderful. Full-on nervy and relevant Chablis. With her “we bacchanal, there ain’t no dawn.”   91  @purechablis

Domaine De L’aigle A Deux Tetes Cotes Du Jura Les Clou 2010 (323618, $39.00) is uncanny in apple cider character from ’08 planted Savagnin grapes and only 50 cases produced. Intense honey with just a touch of fromage, piercing mineral. The apples and honey are everywhere. A little Rosh Hashanah for you with tang, verve and length. “Give me the look of love,” says this Jura, If You Really Want To Be My Friend.  92  @JuraWine

Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (89284, $52.95) makes you gotta love the anti-napa concept, attitude and execution. The ’09′s nose is high in tone, accent and richesse but there is no syrup or gratuitous chocolate barrel aging or excessive berry extraction. Great finesse, balance and a sense of crushed rocks is a throwback to better times. Alcohol at a manageable 13.8 per cent so within reason, built on meter in metronome precision. Will be invited to dinner every night of the year. No Short And Curlies problem here.  94  @RidgeVineyards

Grgich Hills Chardonnay Estate Napa Valley 2010 (346304, $54.95) tasted previously continues to thrill in mineral char and length. From the Fingerprint File, my previous note, “glides in so much variety balance I can imagine showering with wine. You will not pigeon-hole this-worldly and structured white because its finesse reaches out across the great mineral vs tropical divide debate. Sure, there is timbered-driven, golden-fleshed apple, green melon and buttered, toasted bread, but there too is a sting of acidity. Stellar year for Napa Chardonnay. Great glass of sunshine93  @GrgichHills

Good to go!

Wines for the Ides of March

PHOTO: PAUL FLEET/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Good friends, go in and taste some wine with me.

And we, like friends, will straightway go together.
March 15th is not just any old day, that is if you are a Roman. The monthly Ides were sacred to the worshipers of Jupiter, king deity of the Romans. Shakespeare‘s play is more than just a forgotten high school memory. The Ides of March, 44 BCE assassination of Julius Caesar in the Roman Senate was a big deal.

Caesar was, however cautious and abstemious some say, known as a wine guy. Can you argue the actuality in utterance of the Bard’s famous line, “Et tu, Brute?” as he offered his (77-years ahead, future reference) Judas a goblet of wine? JC was purportedly known to love indigenous Italian grapes like Mamertino and Brachetto.

Caesar took control of the mint and had money coined to put into the hands of the people. He then built great structures, public works and was followed (jump forward, twenty-one centuries, Twitter equivalent) by many. Was he killed for being a people’s patron of the arts, architecture and culture and did his offing lead to the demise of plentiful money in Rome? Can Caesar really be blamed for the tax increases, corruption and the loss of homes and land? Admittedly, the dictator has been historically accused of killing one million enemy French (Gallic) men and enslaving another million. But he was a wine guy! Would Caesar have jammed in a cork to stop private wine clubs?

Canadians purportedly drink Bloody Caesars to celebrate the anniversary of the soothsayer’s day. Me, not so much. But I can tie the Italian-Canadian thing together. Here I string five Canadians and three Italians, bound by one apropos French connection, a sublime red wine from Bordeaux. Raise a glass and whisper “All hail Caesar.”

From left: Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Reserve Red Assemblage 2010, Stoney Ridge Excellence Chardonnay 2010, Vicchiomaggio Agostino Petri Chianti Classico Riserva 2008, Tenuta Di Ghizzano Veneroso 2009, Paolo Conterno Riva Del Bric Barolo 2008, Château Haut-Bages Liberal 2009.

The Canadians

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2010 (246579, $15.95) is fresh in chert, posy aromatic and stuffed with an airy, sense of whipped lemon cream. Salinity and white pepper add kick and spice to this Chardonnay cousin only Cave Spring seems to have mastered.  89  @CaveSpring

Malivoire Riesling 2011 (277483, $15.95) of savvy, textured pomade hails Prussian in ideal, with equatorial accents, in coconut, ginger and creamy, fallen tree fruit. A lime’s zest, rind and late harvest condensed orange marmalade buttress this beryl flecked, golden Escarpment Riesling. Tons of nuance.  90  @MalivoireWine

Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Reserve Red Assemblage 2010 (321893, $16.95) coalesces to what so few Niagara Peninsula peers achieve by summation in the heat of 2010. Meritage balance for under $20. Many made great wines in the premium category but many more made bottles of jam at this price. Rockway’s Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend is a tale of two poles. At once pretty, in violets, soft black currants and mild coffee and then bound by an underlying coal tension and furious punk beat. “The sun is out and I want some.”  88   @Rockway Vineyard

Creekside Laura’s White 2010 (121764, $18.95) is peach quintessence in a glass. Niagara Peninsula peaches burst forth, replay to taste and never dissipate. The tree’s blossoms are there two, along with the fruit’s stony pit, with a full-on mouth attack, finishing with a spoonful of peach-infused simple syrup. A white “to let go of it all just for this evening.” Dessert and then goodnight.  88  @CreeksideWine

Stoney Ridge Excellence Chardonnay 2010 (254243, $24.95) hails from the Lincoln Lakeshore and warms in toasted, buttered pecans, Caesar spice and sunny climate fruit. The shore’s metallic, rocky bed adds minerality, “rockin’ up the richter scale” with tang and stabbing notes on the long finish. Goes both ways, ACDC.  89  @stoneyridgewine

The Italians

Vicchiomaggio Agostino Petri Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 (993360, $19.95) in a tighter vintage is not as round, ripe and forgiving so priced to sell but it’s that grit that gives this CCR it’s charm. More Run Through the Jungle than Lodi, this Petri “fills the land with smoke,” in animale and a marbled, granular texture. Thought modern in styling, this Sangiovese is like charred Kobe beef covered in butter polished demi-glace.  90

Tenuta Di Ghizzano Veneroso 2009 (103218, $29.95) bears little resemblence to the IGT you may be used to, especially in a 70/30 Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon blend. This one’s mutton-funky, not quite like the Montetti or Madonna del Piano but still an earthy beast. There is vibrant purple Pisa fruit and a dusty, chalky tannic splash. We’ll see but my thoughts look to a wow future. Gorgeous wine from Ginevra Venerosi Pesciolini.  91  @FrontierWine

Paolo Conterno Riva Del Bric Barolo 2008 (172783, $36.95, SAQ, 10860223, $34) from young vines on this venerable estate’s Ginestra plot is really impressive for under $40. Savoury and perfumed, of Rhododendron and dried roses. Pipe smoke at the mid-point and sweet tannin. Not exactly a big Barolo but more of a Nebbiolista’s bric-a-brac of all the best bits Barolo has to offer 91  @liffordwine

Château Haut-Bages Liberal 2009 (197640, $64.85) of sumptuous, acculturated Paulliac texture is just so pretty. Not unlike the ’07 Brunelli, or the current release ’08 Guado Al Tasso for that matter, there is nary a harsh or biting note. The kicker is the Left Bank mineral, crushed rock thing going on and the wine never wavers from the its velvety feel. Pure, unadulterated red fruit, juicy and forevermore. This liberal lady can “lay across my big brass bed,” anytime.  92

Good to go!

A long and “wine-ding” tasting road

Wine tasting PHOTO: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES

as seen on canada.com

It was right in my wheelhouse and on so many levels. Thirty-three wines, all but two from the Niagara region, spanning vintages from 2001-2010. Poured blind, each of five flights introduced analogous to pop music culture; Aretha Franklin, Frank Zappa, The Sister Sledge, The Who and Simply Red. It could only be zeitgeist for my virgin Experts Tasting experience at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

It happened at Pond Inlet, a cozy, light-filled space, surrounded by a wine local’s who’s who. Vignerons, proprietors, journalists, sommeliers, marketing gurus and Brock U. luminaries. Seated next to Niagara’s über taster and 2013 VQA Promoters Award winner Rick VanSickle, but also in the ameliorated company of Mr. Wine DiscoveryThe Grape Guy and the Wine Sisters.

CCOVI Experts Tasting 2013 (Photo: Michael Godel/canada.com)

More than 140 samples were submitted by wineries to this year’s tasting panel, assessed blind and chosen for excellence, complexity but also adjunct in relative merit to their peers. The 2013 Experts tasting was akin to a structured wine in itself, seamless in flow thanks to Barbara Tatarnic of Brock University. The mostly in vain attempt at assessing vintage, origin and producer was a humbling and submissive gesture. This Storify board captures the social media buzz around the event.

A panel of four winemakers each gave their own unique in flight preamble perspective, followed by a tutored tasting and a reveal of the flight’s wines. The final coterie was a group test, in teams table by table, led in cheeky and mischievous form by a soon to be head-shaven sommelier.

The VQA Promoters Awards were presented at intervals during the event by wine educator Dr. Linda Bramble. Here were this year’s four recipients:

LCBO: Waterloo’s Charley Ronzio of Store 115.

Hospitality: CN Tower’s James Muir, the proprietor of Toronto’s highest cellar.

Promoter-at-Large: Harald Thiel, Vigneron and Proprietor, Hidden Bench Winery.

Media: Rick VanSickle, Wine Journalist, Wines in Niagara.

The wine tasting was then introduced by April Kilpatrick, Sommelier at Windows by Jamie Kennedy.

From left to right: Pillitteri Estates Winery Merlot Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010; Peller Estates Cabernet Franc ‘Signature Series’ 2010; Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2010; The Foreign Affair Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010; and Stratus Malbec 2010.

Flight #1: R.E.S.P.E.C.T

Presented by Rob Power, Winemaker, Creekside Estate, employing Aretha Franklin’s signature because Miles dissed the grape when he said, “I’m not drinking any fucking Merlot!” This assemblage brought Merlot some respect, difficult as they were to pin down and Power later summed it up best. “Mission accomplished. We’ve messed with all your heads.”

Malivoire Wine Company Merlot ‘Stouck Vineyard’ 2010 ($29.95, winery only) of high-toned raspberry fruit is the Dr. Feelgood track. From mendicant, heavy red clay soil on the Lincoln Lakeshore making for concentrated small berries and dense, richly textured Merlot. Tarry, warming, accented by late baking spice and anise. Merlot is a serious business and “taking care of business is really this man’s gain.”  90-91  @MalivoireWine

Trius Winery at Hillebrand Merlot ‘RHS’ Clark Farm Vineyard 2010 ($40, winery only) is a rock steady, Four-Mile Creek, single vineyard effort full of mulberry fruit and dusty, chalky tannin. Let’s call this Merlot what it is, “a funky and lowdown feeling.”  89-90  @TriusWines

Creekside Estates Winery Merlot Reserve, Queenston Road Vineyard 2006 ($34.95, limited availability) spent 32 months in oak and now bricks its age in weathered, splintering cedar with a note of funky prune.  Illustrates the importance of site to Bordeaux varietals in Niagara. A Merlot to make you think, consider the past, “let your mind go, let yourself be free.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Creekside Estates Winery Merlot Reserve 2008  ($34.95, winery only) on the St. David’s Bench is “the smoked meat sandwich” says Power, and “a bit of a funkmeister.” Perhaps the flight’s chain of fools, like a blender looking for a Cabernet or two to join the party. Its slumber was 29 months in barrel. “For five long years I thought you were my man.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Twomey Merlot 2007 ($61.95, 14043) is the ringer out of Silver Oak in Napa Valley. Whiffs the most funky fromage but also a woman’s perfume. Racy, roaming, with umami, earth and a sweet/savoury line. Goes both ways, a Do Right Woman, Do Right Man kind of Merlot.  “And as long as we’re together, baby.”  89-90  @Twomey

Pillitteri Estates Winery Merlot Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 ($25, winery only) tends Right Bank to me, certainly not Niagara. Big berry, citrus, bright fruit perfume. Heavy tannin, guns a’ blazing and an obvious strong use of American Oak. This one demands respect. “Oh, sock it to me, sock it to me.”  90-91  @PillitteriWines

Cornerstone Estates Winery Merlot 2010 ($23, winery only) appears to show some age though it’s really just a pup. Displays aggressive high-toned tannin with a patience towards potential. I say a little prayer for this Wismer Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench on the Niagara Peninsula Merlot because if it falls apart, it “would only be heartbreak.”  87-88

Flight #2: The Mothers of Invention

Presented by Emma Garner, Winemaker, Thirty Bench, using Frank Zappa’s band as analogy to denote Cabernet Franc as the matriarch to all Bordeaux varietals. Could have sworn #4 was a ringer but no! There were none in the group.

Stratus Cabernet Franc 2008 ($38, 665034) from fruit picked on December 8th (what???) in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Young at heart, full of smokey, tangy, currant baking aromas. Maternal but blessed with firm, plush tannin. “Some people like cupcakes,” I prefer a muffin man.  89-90  @Stratuswines

Stoney Ridge Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2010 ($18.95, winery only) is a Niagara Peninsula, red pepper jelly and citrus-spiked currant concoction made from Fox and Edwards Vineyards, 100% Bench fruit. Thought it was ’08 but wrong! Coffee and herbal balm make the water turn black and this Franc screams for food. 87-88  @stoneyridgewine

Riverview Cellars Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Salvatore’s’ 2010 ($49.95, winery only) leans a lighter, elegant Loire style. Built upon clay/loam soils out of Niagara-on-the-Lake, aged in both French and American oak. Cool, cherry fruit, mint, herbaceous and full of personality. A fine girl this Riverview, “she do yer laundry, she change a tire, chop a little wood for de fire.”  89-90  @RiverviewWinery

Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 ($35, winery only) from family vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake ventures into voluptuous, black forest, fruitcake territory. A 24-month soak in French oak imparts espresso and leather and it’s as if this CF was raised in Napa or designated IGT. But this is NOTL were talking here. Improbable and believable. Modified Note: Big Leg Emma. “Sock it to me!” Tasted twice.  91  @Pillitteriwines

Peller Estates Cabernet Franc ‘Signature Series’ 2010 ($40.20, winery only) has got the funk in dark and dank waves. Top-tier barrel selection out of Four Mile Creek, this one is tight, tense and ready to jam with “a Stratocaster with a whammy bar” in Joe’s garage. Saw through to 100% Malolactic fermentation after 20 months in barrel. If you are jonesing for Cab Franc, don’t miss this player.  91-92 @PellerVQA

Trius at Hillebrand Cabernet Franc ‘Red Shale’ Clark Vineyard 2010 ($40, winery only) at 25.6 Brix is a huge wine from Four Mile Creek. Black beauty, with lots of chocolatey oak and dark fruit. Chalky, grainy thread indicates time is needed to settle it down. No valley girl, this one, nor shrinking violet. “It’s like so BITCHEN!”  89-90  @TriusWines

Pondview Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2010 ($29.95, winery only) again out of Four Mile Creek has the red pepper, currant jelly notes but it’s less ripe and not nearly as big as some siblings in this flight. May have “no cars no diamond rings,” but it shows passion in a Zappacosta, spandex kind of way.  87-88  @pondviewwinery

CCOVI Tasting

Flight #3: We Are Family

Presented by Ron Giesbrecht, Winemaker, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery, discussing “vinified” incest, i.e. Bordeaux grapes which have essentially married their kin. His dissertation, impossibly deadpan, was a cross between Stuart McLean and Ron MacLean. His take on attending to wines of Bordeaux genealogy? “How do you know which side of the church to sit on when you’re related to so many on both sides?”

Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Merlot 2010 ($34.95, winery only) alights in lithe tendrils before adding coffee, meritage mid-weight. Currants, nasturtium and red fruit compote buoy this cooler Niagara blend that combines fruit from the the Lincoln Lakeshore, St. David’s and Beamsville Benches. A good dancer with “the kind of body that would shame Adonis.” Expertly balanced with the spine to age.  88-89  @FieldingWinery

Malivoire Wine Company Cabernet Merlot ‘Stouck’ ($29.95, winery only) from down on the Lincoln Lakeshore is a pitchy rendition with a pronounced roasted espresso note. Seems to me the motherly, Cabernet Franc’s genes have imparted their wisdom into this (63%) Cabernet Sauvignon dominant beauty with big Cassis fruit. Chic, juicy, with a filled in mid-palate and stiff structure. Grab a glass, “leave your cares behind, these are the good times.”  90-91  @MalivoireWine

Stratus Red 2010 ($44, winery only) seemed older but that just might be the 617 days it spent in barrel. Cab Franc dominant with the help of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the late bloomer, Petit Verdot. Got to love somebody so it may as well be this red, because “I won’t let my life pass me by.” The four grapes help to explain Giesbrecht’s “relative merits of relative meritage.”  89-90  @Stratuswines

Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2010 ($35, winery only) has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine.  91-92  @HiddenBench

Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2007 ($45, winery only) emits the varnish of the ’07 Niagara vintage. Soy, meat protein and caramel give way to a sweeter, plum accented palate. This ’07 is Le Freak, with more Cabernet Sauvignon, indicative of what we did not know then. So much to learn from wines like this, “like the days of stopping at the Savoy.”  87-88  @HiddenBench

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2002 ($50, not available) from the Niagara Peninsula shows toffee and concentrated, oxidized fruit. That said, it has aged well and still offers intellectual spirit in dried fruit and potpourri. Great old tune to Dance, Dance, Dance along to. 88-89  @SpeckBros

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2010 ($50, 616433) from the sunnier and warmer sponge that is the Short Hills Bench is built of a learned structure that only a select few Niagara wines can boast. Fresh, juicy fruit and blitzing acidity for a 38/35/29 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc family sledge blend. “I’d like to see you reach your peak” SFR but I’ll have to heed Giesbrecht’s warning of oeno-infanticide and wait five to ten years. Tasted twice over the weekend.  92  @SpeckBros

Flight #4: Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy

Presented by Ilya Senchuk, Winemaker, Foreign Affair Winery, relating (mostly) Cabernet Sauvignon wines to the idiomatic album by The Who. “We want wines with bounciness,” says Senchuk, “with a knife edge balance of weight and complexity.”

Creekside Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006 ($34.95, limited availability) shows age, wood finish, plums and berries. I had this pegged as an ’06 (scouts honour). Not a classic Bordeaux vintage in the Queenston Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench but well-structured and really, there is no substitute. “I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Malivoire Wine Company Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Stouck’ 2010 ($29.95, winery only) from down on the Lincoln Lakeshore is a big, blowy, brawny wine of massive concentration. Designed for my generation, with jammy flavours from clay soils on good slopes. “People try to put us d-down, just because we get around.”  89-90  @MalivoireWine

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Lot I’ 2010 ($34.95, winery only) from the Niagara Peninsula is a chameleon, ever evolving in the glass, perplexing, fascinating to study. Possessed of dried fruit and decidedly earthy flavours, complexity and balance. Can “go anywhere, for something new,” anyway, anyhow.  89-90  @SouthbrookWine

Thirty Bench Winemakers Cabernet Franc ‘Small Lot’ 2010 ($40, winery only) lopes out in lacquer than lifts towards sweet red pepper, dusty mulberry and cracked black pepper. All the while a current of Beamsville Bench, black currant acidity runs through it. This one’s a seeker, “its got values but I don’t know how or why.” At least not yet. Give it time.  87-88  @ThirtyBench

Stratus Petit Verdot 2010 ($38, winery only) with its bounce is the Happy Jack of the flight. Thick in weight and texture, a steak sandwich in a glass. Remarkable effort for stand alone Petit Verdot in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Has a certain Spanish modernity and is certainly neither “petite” nor “little.” Say what you want about this PV but never “prevent Jack from feeling happy.”  90-91  @Stratuswines

Fielding Estate ‘Option C’ Red 2010 ($34.95, winery only) begins with an off-putting, scorched earth funk and I wonder if it will blow off. Makes me “dizzy in the head and I’m feeling blue” so I can’t explain but it does indeed dissipate. Cabernet Sauvignon leads the way out of the Lowry Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench with 15% each Merlot and Cabernet Franc rounding out this strong, rhythmic and beaty Bordeaux blend.  89-90  @FieldingWinery

The Foreign Affair Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($37.95, winery only) is very pretty, forward and inviting. Juicy fruit from south facing vines on top of the Niagara Escarpment. Made in the Appassimento style, with 25% of the fruit dried then added back to the wine and 23 months spent in barrel. Puts this Cab in a seat on the Magic Bus. Rogue process, tame result. “I want it.”  91-92  @wineaffair

Flight #5: If You Don’t Know Me By Now

Presented by Peter Bodnar Rod, 13th Street Winery, like a comic book villain, leading the crowd into the uncomfortable nooks and crannies of guessing wines blind. This was a thrilling flight, crushing wine libidos and crowning champions of the game. Notes here are a bit more brief.

Stratus Malbec 2010 ($48, winery only) is made with the help of consulting oenologist Paul Hobbs in an “Alta Vista,” high-altitude style. Cool-climate rendition, a window to the future for the grape in Ontario. Hits a blue note, kind of like Philly soul. Unheard of 10 years ago, this one’s saying “just trust in me like I trust in you.”  90-91  @Stratuswines

Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc ‘Watson Vineyard’ 2002 ($30, not available) shows amazing longevity and freshness. Proof of the Peninsula’s magic to state “you will never never never know me.” Simply solid red.  90-91  @SouthbrookWine

Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien 2001 ($109, 9852) is the first red herring and stupefies in origin and vintage. I actually found it drying and disappointing. Bordeaux? Whatever.  88-89

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Merlot Unfiltered 2002 ($29.95, winery only) was harvested in October on the Niagara Peninsula. Showing the soy sauce, umami and oxidation of its sistren. Yet another anything but simply red wine from H of P to show us “all the things that we’ve been through.”  87-88  @SpeckBros

The Foreign Affair Winery ‘Temptress’ 2010 ($44.95, winery only) is shepherded by Merlot with bits of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot thrown in for good 15.3% abv measure. Sugary, concentrated and full-bodied. Not for the simply red faint of heart. Embrace this big appassimento style  or “what good is a love affair when you can’t see eye to eye.”  90-91  @wineaffair

Good to go!

Wines with Oscar

Champagne at the Oscars PHOTO: KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/GETTY IMAGES

as seen on canada.com

What’s in a name? Oscar might mean “deer lover”, derived from Gaelic os “deer” and cara “lover”.  On Sunday night the 85th Academy Awards will air. I’ve read many a Tweet and been privy to a host of “no thank yous” by those who have sworn to boycott the annual spectacle, having tired of its one-dimensional, scripted, predictability. Not to mention CIA-influences,  bad decisions, six-figure dresses, the pomp and circumstance. But who really cares? The old bird is 85 for Louis B. Mayer‘s sake. Besides, this week has not been kind to the name so the question begs? Who’s watching the Oscars and what will they be drinking?

The first answer is 40 million viewers. In 2012 the ceremony generated 3.8 million comments on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, according to data generated by Cambridge, Mass.-based Bluefin Labs. Those numbers may appear far from staggering, especially as compared to the Grammys and minuscule by contrast to the Super Bowl. By television standards and on a singular network they are still big numbers. So, if you count yourself as one of the 40 M, maybe a cocktail will put you in the mood? James Nevison of HALFAGLASS suggests that a French 75, a classic Hollywood-styled cocktail composed of Gin, Champagne, lemon juice and sugar would set the scene. Rod Phillips of the Ottawa Citizen quips “maybe a wine from the Francis Ford Coppola winery?” Director’s Cut. When gold Sunday comes, these are the red, white and sparkling wines I would be cracking open with that little statuette named Oscar.

Piñol Ludovicus Tinto 2010, Malivoire Pinot Gris 2011 and Hinterland Les Etoiles 2009

The grapes: Garnacha, Cariñena, Merlot and Syrah

The history: From Celler Piñol, in Terra Alta, wedged between the more famous regions of Montsant and Priorat

The lowdown: Organically motivated, Piñol is a vintner for the New World. Ask your local Product Consultant to pull one from next week’s release skid

The food match: Pancetta, Salami and Chorizo Charcuterie, grainy mustard

Piñol Ludovicus Tinto 2010 (313791, $13.95) is the entry level red you won’t want to miss. Best supporting charcuterie. From my note this time last year: “Molds Cariñena, Merlot and Syrah around a 50% frame of Garnacha. Grizzled vines for this entry level beauty claw, scratch and rope-a-dope their way through arid and unforgiving limestone soils. A fighter this Ludovicus. Dusty, rocky, bearded and sharp-dressed for the neoteric world. Climbs to the top of the hill and rips off a riff.  87  @CELLERPINOL

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Martin Malivoire and Moira Saganski are one of the Niagara region’s true visionary teams

The lowdown: Under the auspices of winemaker Shiraz Mottier, this wine company has progressed with nearly unparalleled success, becoming a champion of and for Cabernet Franc, Gamay and now Pinot Gris

The food match: Dry-Rub Chicken Sliders, amarelo da beira baixa, calabrese buns

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2011 (591305, $19.95) is a tropical, juicy rendition spiked by a fleck of necessary pepper. Like sweet and sour green mango with a dusting of salt and Lombok chile. A reductive waft parts ways and waves in the rear-view to the savory, odoriferous florals. Best adapted screenplay.  88  @MalivoireWine 

The grapes: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

The history: Jonas Newman & Vicki Samaras are sparkling wine specialists in Prince Edward County & wait for it…coming very soon, Limnio in Limnos, Greece

The lowdown: You will not regret raising an Oscars toast with this lip-smacking specimen but you’ll need to visit the winery or one of these establishments to do so

The food match: Kumamoto Oysters, shallot mignonette

Hinterland Les Etoiles 2009 ($39) propounds way beyond obiter dictum that this classic overture ode to Champagne (a blend of 40% Pinot Noir and 60% Chardonnay) is the bomb in Ontario (Prince Edward County) Sparkling wine. Fruit picked riper and more mature in ’09, resulting in a fuller wine but still high in necessary acidity, for food and for balance. For under $40, there is no other place in the world to go for this level of class, execution and value. Searing citrus and laser acidity, walking a tightrope with a funambulist’s equilibrium. Gumption and length. Best direction.  92  @hinterlandwine

Good to go!