New fizz on the Brock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brock University CCOVI Sparkling Wine Technical Symposium

Brock University CCOVI Sparkling Wine Technical Symposium

Sparkling Wine Trial Tasting – Unfinished samples from Trius Wines

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

Comparative Blind Tasting – Flight 1: Blanc de Blanc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparative Blind Tasting – Flight 2: Blends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparative Blind Tasting – Flight 3: Alternative Varieties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Top 20 under-$20 wines of 2013

Top 20 under-$20 wines of 2013

Putting out a top list of wines is not so much an exercise of commendation as it is a look back at an amazing year of tasting and writing about wine.
Photo: michalzak/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Last year I chose to highlight wines that fell into the under $15 niche.  A subsequent column focused on the $30 threshold as the next level to make picks for wines of the year. In retrospect that made it very difficult for wines in the consumer sweet spot, the $15-20 set, to make it onto either list. So, $20 is the over/under this time around.

Ontario is well represented here, taking up five of the 20 spots. If prohibitionist Canada, and especially Ontario would FreeMyGrapes and allow us to taste more than just a handful of Canadian wines produced beyond these borders, I have little doubt that other provinces would have made an appearance here, especially British Columbia.

Countries conspicuously missing are Italy, Argentina and the United States, whereas Portugal, South Africa and Chile are represented twice and Greece once. Value is always found in wines that are good and original, unfortunately the parts that are good are not always original.

Putting out a top list of wines is not so much an exercise of commendation as it is a look back at an amazing year of tasting and writing about wine. It’s a retrospective view, a compilation to sum up the pulling of words like taffy until they become something altogether more pliable and palatable. Just like the swirled, sniffed and tasted wines they describe. While tasting notes are so often chewed and spit out as amphibological waste, the process of formulating them is base and necessary to the culture. Without them we would all just be drinking.

The wine agents that move thousands of diverse wines through our provinces face Herculean tasks to get their wines to the public. It is through their generosity that I am able to taste so many in a calendar year. I’d like to thank Robin Sirutis and Julie Hauser of the Licensee program along with Kelly Taylor, Jim Sheridan, Douglas Webster and team for allowing me into their LCBO home to sample 1000′s more wines from the bi-weekly and shop on-line VINTAGES releases. Not to be forgotten are the many world-class sommeliers who give so much of their time to offer memorable wine experiences, no matter the effort required. So, thanks to all of you, here is my list of top 20, under $20 wines in random order, tasted and reviewed in 2013.

From left: MARÉCHAL BRUT CRÉMANT DE LOIRE, TAWSE ‘SPARK’ RIESLING 2009, CHÂTEAU D'ANGLES LA CLAPE ROSÉ 2012, CALITERRA SAUVIGNON BLANC RESERVA 2013, and ANDRÉ BLANCK ET SES FILS ROSENBOURG PINOT BLANC 2011

From left: MARÉCHAL BRUT CRÉMANT DE LOIRE, TAWSE ‘SPARK’ RIESLING 2009, CHÂTEAU D’ANGLES LA CLAPE ROSÉ 2012, CALITERRA SAUVIGNON BLANC RESERVA 2013, and ANDRÉ BLANCK ET SES FILS ROSENBOURG PINOT BLANC 2011

Sparkling

MARÉCHAL BRUT CRÉMANT DE LOIRE, Loire Valley, France (141077, $15.95, WineAlign)

Foams frothy forth alive and expansive out of a yeasty starter, spins lightly on its A16 axis and revolves tightly wound around a citrus spindle. A working class Marechal, real and made for the people. Perhaps not La Grande Illusion but a wine that will “show the common humanity present across these divisions.” About as good as Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling Loire Chenin Blanc can be and priced to fly.  89  Tasted April 2013  From: See the humanity in real value wine

TAWSE ‘SPARK’ RIESLING 2009, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery only, $18.95)

May just be that bottle of persuasive interrogation and torture to turn even the toughest hold-outs against Sparkling Riesling. A veritable homeland crush of signature grapes, put to a not so traditional test, emerge in piercing, capital dry scintillation. Sparks fly in Beamsville when winemaker Paul Pender and team, “the boy prophets walk it handsome and hot.” This sparkler does the E street shuffle and dances in the dark. The new deal in Ontario bubbles.  “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”  89  Tasted October 2013  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013  @Paul_Pender  @Tawse_Winery

Rosé

CHÂTEAU D’ANGLES LA CLAPE ROSÉ 2012, Languedoc Roussillon (Midi), France (323386, $15.95, WineAlign)

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  Tasted June 2013  From: Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay  @chateaudangles

White

CALITERRA SAUVIGNON BLANC RESERVA 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile (275909, $9.95, WineAlign WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice)

Great show savvy, really great show. Outright fast flint, white pepper, citrus and fresh herbs. Luscious texture, convincing up the middle and goes deeper than many. Grapey and succulent. Clean, concise winemaking.  90  From: He spits, he scores: World Wine Awards of Canada results  @Caliterra  @imbibersreport

ANDRÉ BLANCK ET SES FILS ROSENBOURG PINOT BLANC 2011, Ac Alsace, France (626606, $14.95, WineAlign)

High on lime citrus and heavy in stones, so much more so than in ’09 and ’10. Green apple in tart tonality, lean and mean.  Much juicier and riper to taste, with the faintest lees note to ground it firmly on Alsatian terrain ferme.  Love this designation. Same vintage release from a year ago.  89  Tasted July 2012  From: A paradox of wine accents  @drinkAlsace

From left: DR. HERMANN ÜRZIGER WÜRZGARTEN RIESLING SPÄTLESE 2007, 2027 CELLARS RIESLING ‘FALLS VINEYARD’ 2012, ROSEWOOD ESTATES SÉMILLON 2011, DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, and TE AWA CHARDONNAY 2010

From left: DR. HERMANN ÜRZIGER WÜRZGARTEN RIESLING SPÄTLESE 2007, 2027 CELLARS RIESLING ‘FALLS VINEYARD’ 2012, ROSEWOOD ESTATES SÉMILLON 2011, DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, and TE AWA CHARDONNAY 2010

DR. HERMANN ÜRZIGER WÜRZGARTEN RIESLING SPÄTLESE 2007 (313528, $16.95, WineAlign) clocks in at a mere 8 per cent abv and is a nasal microchamber filled with dry ice but taste it and be soothed by its unguent goodness. Minerals, spice and everything nice out of red sandstone, slate soil and just barely beginning to act its age. OK, it may be a touch disjointed but at $17 they are giving it away. I could drink it like wheat grass all summer long.  90  Tasted March 2013  From: Masters wines in purple, yellow and green jackets

2027 CELLARS RIESLING ‘FALLS VINEYARD’ 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (294041, $18.95, WineAlign)

In contrast to brother Foxcroft, this is the more serious vineyard in my estimation. Falls compresses less limestone chalk and instead thunder rolls out glacial boulders. Here there is less grass, herbs, citrus and sea, but rather garrigue blanc, the windswept plain studded with gorse and deeper, sweeter, earthly purity.  91  Tasted October 2013  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013   @2027Cellars

ROSEWOOD ESTATES SÉMILLON 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177758, $17.95, WineAlign)

The leader of the pack. The honey is uncanny. From an earlier note: “is frighteningly honeyed and its blatant acidity brings out all the right zest notes in the seafood. Major (three times) cropping from a “disease control vintage” by Orwinski who “knows the vineyard. It really is his home.” He’s still chanting “drop the crop!” in his sleep. The citrus and soda are glaring, exciting and invigorating in ’11, as is the aforementioned honey, the trump card keeping the Sémillon from being confused for Riesling.  Fascinating study.”  91  Tasted twice, May 2013  From: Showcase Showdown: Rosewood Sémillon  @RosewoodWine

DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, Wo Robertson, South Africa (355438, $18.95, WineAlign)

This is exactly what I come to expect and hope for in calcareous, gravel and clay Cape Chardonnay. Robertson study in balance, fortitude and anxiety. Palpable proof of De Westhof’s self-professed attitude towards “site-specific vineyard management and wine-making.” Really pretty white flowers, citrus in C minor and piercing acidity. Proficiently ripe, toasted without tempting caramel and really well-judged. All in for $19. No ifs and or buts.  91  Tasted November 2013  From: Twelve days of wine for Christmas

TE AWA CHARDONNAY 2010, Hawkes Bay, North Island, New Zealand (301135, $18.95, WineAlign)

Gives off a good dose of char but in a Penderish way with knowledge that it will dissipate, integrate and elevate this stony ‘River of God’ into a fine, swirling eddy of hard bop goodness. Gorgeous green enamel Ngaruroro meandering to gold. Oleic, alluvial consistency, with a sense of creamed corn, barren straw and built of a gravel verve, taking risks like a Sonny Rollins riff.  91  Tasted February 2013  From: A march of French grapes to dinner  @TeAwaWinery

MARC BRÉDIF VOUVRAY 2011, Ac, Loire, France (685362, $19.95, SAQ $19.55, 10267809, WineAlign)

Indicates grapevines grown of a mineral-rich terroir, like land left after the draining of a lake. Travels into the Loire Valley’s heart of darkness but also shows some increased honey in ’11, fattening the ever-present lemon drop, candied peel, ginger and stony goodness. Chenin as a man in pink pajamas. There is just no worthy value adversary to this tight, racy and wondrous Vouvray.  91  Tasted July 2013  From: Alternative wines for the August long weekend  @ProfileWineGrp   @LoireValleyWine

Reds

BOUTARI NAOUSSA 2008, Pdo Naoussa, Greece (23218, $12.95, WineAlign)

Like other Xinomavro shows that combination of pure fruit and ancient wisdom. Juicy and rustic at the same time, erupting in cherry and a lava flow of hot rocks. There is leather, dry spice and sun-dried fruit. Already bricking like Sangiovese, as if rustic Vino Nobile Rosso. There is simply no earthly reason not to drink this every night for the rest of the summer.  89  Tasted July 2013  From: A midsummer night’s chill red wine  @boutari

QUINTA DOS CARVALHAIS DUQUE DE VISEU RED 2009, Doc Dão, Portugal  (546309, $13.95, WineAlign)

Simple, straight cut, hedonistic Dão pleasure from winemaker Manuel Vieira and the Sogrape Vinhos’ empire. Nothing wrong with that except that at $14 it feels like stealing. An evincive blend of 50 per cent Touriga Nacional, 20 Tinta Roriz and 30 Jaen. Red and black fruit, mineral tension, somewhat gritty but lush in plum, licorice feel and flavour. Really good stuff.  89  Tasted November 2013  From: Twelve days of wine for Christmas  @winePortugalCA

LAILEY VINEYARD WINES CABERNET MERLOT 2011, VQA, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery only, $15)

Speaks the language of vinous accommodation. Abundant very berry fruit if less knotty and peculiar and more accessible than most Niagara Bordeaux blends. No bones about it, languid Lailey in mind of its own wonder. Could drink it straight from the tap.  89  Tasted October 2013  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013  @Laileywinemakr

TSCHARKE BAROSSA GOLD MARANANGA CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, Barossa Valley, South Australia (289884, $15.95, WineAlign)

This is really good stuff. Tight attack, bold and tannic, brimming with figgy black fruit, dark chocolate, spirit cake and white pepper. The oldest Barossa Neoproterozoic Schist and Siltstone rocks impart piercing minerality as if the Marananga were blasted out of a cannon.  Tests any Napa Cab under $50.  89  Tasted January 2013  From: Iconic wines, affordable prices  @tscharkewines

VIA CHILCAS SINGLE VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($17.95, 309757, WineAlign)

From the Maule Valley, is graced by amazing freshness and vigorous, new wave energy. With an imagined dragon’s foot securely planted in the ancestry of Chilean wine, this radioactive red is a portal to the industry’s future. Roasted and brewed, in espresso yes but mocha, no. “Welcome to the new age, to the new age.”  91  Tasted September 2013  From: A Chile wind is blowing  @ViaWines

ANETO RED 2009, Doc Douro, Portugal (314930, $19.95, WineAlign)

Reminds me of the deepest, earthbound southern French reds, like Minervois or La Clape. Stygian and shadowy, the Aneto’s rusticity is borne of xistous terra, baking spice and dried fruit. Puts on her make up for prevailing balance in a show of hydrated, in vogue, darling pretty maturity. She can “heal my aching heart and soul.”  91  Tasted January 2013  From: Super Bowl wine prediction: Red 49ers over black Ravens  @liffordwine

DOMAINE MANOIR DE CARRA JULIÉNAS 2010, Ac Beaujolais, France (290981, $19.95, WineAlign) The pearl finally puts some funk into “an otherwise empty room.” Dandy, candied peony, cracking good, cinnamon scented and jammy in Rhôneish behaviour. More structure than most.  Beaujolais’ daughter.  91  Tasted May 15, 2013  From: Go Gamay Go

THE FOREIGN AFFAIR THE CONSPIRACY 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (149237, $19.95, WineAlign)

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  Tasted April 2013  From: ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ (but I like wine)  @wineaffair

JOURNEY’S END SHIRAZ 2007, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (337642, $19.95, WineAlign)

Initiates serious sanguine Stellenbosch intimacy with dusty black cherry and black pepper. Hard to break, like the Northern Rhône, or even Syrah-heavy Châteauneuf-du-Pape but swirl and she will open up. Meaty, gamey, anise, metal-mineral fruit. Hedonistic and certainly clothed in heavy coat but there is an underlying velvet dignity here, though it has not yet shed its bacon baby fat. I would follow this highly complex and intriguing South African for five to 10 years. Already a few years in and not nearly at its peak.  Has ancient experience in its blood.  92  Tasted September 2013  From: Free my Canadian grapes and other love songs  @JourneysEndWine

Good to go!

Ten Sparkling wines “to life!”

Nothing in the world screams \'party!\' like an effervescent bottle of fermented grapes.

Nothing in the world screams “party!” like an effervescent bottle of fermented grapes.
Photo: ilcassa/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Sparkling wine, fizz, bubbles, bubbly. Champagne. Mousseux, Crémant, Asti Spumante, Espumante, Cap Classique, Cava, Prosecco, Franciacorta, Oltrepò Pavese Metodo, Brachetto, Sekt. Méthode champenoise, charmat, méthode ancestrale. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chenin Blanc, Arbois, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois, Macabeu, Parellada, Xarel-Lo, Glera. It’s all just an amazing confluence of pressed juice, yeast, sugar and carbon dioxide. Nothing in the world screams “party!” like an effervescent bottle of fermented grapes.

Those who immerse themselves with any reasonable amount of time in the wine world need no introduction to the wonders of fizz. I taste at several Sparkling wines on a weekly basis and choose to open one in a regular rotation as much as I do whites and reds. Bubbles are made worldwide in so many styles and in so many price ranges. They are the most versatile (food) wines out there. So why do 99 per cent of the wine-indulging population ignore it, save for weddings, milestone anniversaries and in utilitarian fashion at a December fête? Such is life’s cruel mystery. Who isn’t looking for a Sparkling wine to pop open this month? Should we put up our hands so we know who we are?

Think of it this way. The grapes that are harvested for Sparkling wine are generally the first to be picked. By nature that means the winemaker had those very grapes in mind for Sparkling production. Bubbles are not an afterthought, they are not wines made from the discarded, the non-regarded or the neglected. You have to believe and want to make honest Sparkling wine. Otherwise you skip it altogether. Here are 10 choices, from $20 to $100, from Crémant to Champagne, to help celebrate what matters this holiday season.

Top (L to R): Domaine Deliance Ruban Vert Brut Crémant de Bourgogne, Brédif Brut Vouvray, Ferrari Brut, Château des Charmes Brut Rosé 2010, Roederer Estate Brut Sparkling. Bottom (L to R): No. 1 Family Estate Cuvée No. 1 Blanc de Blancs, José Dhondt Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne, Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve Champagne, Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Champagne 2004, Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne 2002.

Top (L to R): Domaine Deliance Ruban Vert Brut Crémant de Bourgogne, Brédif Brut Vouvray, Ferrari Brut, Château des Charmes Brut Rosé 2010, Roederer Estate Brut Sparkling. Bottom (L to R): No. 1 Family Estate Cuvée No. 1 Blanc de Blancs, José Dhondt Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne, Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve Champagne, Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Champagne 2004, Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne 2002.

DOMAINE DELIANCE RUBAN VERT BRUT CRÉMANT DE BOURGOGNE, Ac Burgundy, Franc (355917, $19.95, WineAlign)

Chardonnay and nothing but. Full arid, atomic behaviour, rehydrated pear and indicative of a grower’s Champagne style, like a petite Bérèche. Expands blowsy in the mouth, like pop rocks but it never wavers from being extra, extra dry. Nut, pith, no citrus and as a food wine it begs for something rich and fatty.  Nothing creamy about it. Salted zest to finish.  88  Tasted November 2013

BRÉDIF BRUT VOUVRAY, Ac Loire, France (352179, $20.95, WineAlign)

Arid, frothy and fitful, atomically speaking. White peach and preceding spring flowers. Charcoal rubbed, also clean and fine. Sparkling Chenin Blanc done right.  88  Tasted November 2013  @ProfileWineGrp

FERRARI BRUT, Metodo Classico, Doc Trento, Alto Adige, Italy (352153, $25.95, WineAlign)

Racy like the coupe, this is curve hugging Champagne-method spumante full of velocità and terribilita. Yes, like the master painter, this storied northern Italian sparkler is full of heroic, awe-inspiring power and grandeur. Classic method bubbles made well, driving fast and on course. Call it ulterior motive-driven but this spanks and tickles the tongue with a struck match and a finessed power wield of fine mist. Il duce of Trentino.  90  Tasted November 2013  @DiamondEstates                           

CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES BRUT ROSÉ 2010, Méthode Traditionnelle Rosé 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (78055, $28.95, WineAlign)

From the earliest picked Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, on the hedge’s edge of phenolic gratification and a caterwaul of acidity. So acutely rosé, aromatically parched, sun-dried meridional as if Provençal procured via saignée. The tendency to deliver in dulcet tone is musical, to be pardoned and after all, don’t “we all want a love bizarre?” The usual suspects make themselves heard; strawberry, rhubarb, fresh basil and crème fraîche. Not to forget the warmth of 2010. Just add cool. Bring on the raw bar.  89  Tasted December 2013.  @MBosc

ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT SPARKLING, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California, (294181, $29.95, WineAlign)

Composed of approximately 60 per cent Chardonnay and 40 Pinot Noir. As close to greatness a house style from California can achieve. Discovers some secrets shared by cool-climate Sparkling wine, first with a delicate floral waft from out of a salmon copper tone. Complex, savoury bubbles, in rhubarb, tarragon and poached pear. Round, really fine, earthly, grounded stuff that spent a minimum two years on the lees. Marked by citrus too, namely pink grapefruit and creamy vanilla from the addition of some oak-aged wine.  91  Tasted November 2013

NO. 1 FAMILY ESTATE CUVÉE NO. 1 BLANC DE BLANCS, Marlborough, South Island, Méthode Traditionelle, New Zealand (56358, $34.95, WineAlign)

Aromatic rhetoric would argue this Marlborough bottle of bubbles is a ringer for classic Blanc de Blancs. Promises pleasure and class from the first whiff. Decidedly lemon citrus tight and stony until an herbal, splintered, stemmy tarragon balm takes over, rendering the wine more of its place than what it tries to emulate. Still, a really terrific effort.  89  Tasted November 2013  @oenophilia1

JOSÉ DHONDT BLANC DE BLANCS BRUT CHAMPAGNE, Ac Champagne, France (358408, $53.95, WineAlign)

A grower’s Champagne from which you will immediately pick up good vibrations. A mousse phenom, lees-effectuated fizz. Dominated by a yeast reductive aroma, joined by herbs and spices. “I, I love the colorful clothes she wears and the way the sunlight plays upon her hair.” Boys, she’s a long walk on the beach.  Creamy and mouth-filling but also pith marked, like grapefruit yogurt or guava crème brûlée. Tangy and beautifully bitter too.  91  Tasted November 2013  @Dhondt_Grellet

CHARLES HEIDSIECK BRUT RÉSERVE CHAMPAGNE, Ac Champagne, France (36962, $53.95, WineAlign)

Simply classic triumvirate balance of citrus, brioche and exotic perfume. Centrifugal spun scents of nearly candied, spiked lemon, white grapefruit pith, wet yeast and bottled jasmine. Top value in big name, pherule bead, made in a house style.  91  Tasted October 4, 2013  @CHChampagne

MOËT & CHANDON GRAND VINTAGE BRUT CHAMPAGNE 2004, Ac Champagne, France (69773, $83.95, WineAlign)

May not be the esteemed house and vintage of the century’s love-child but I can’t think of a single reason not to spend a pittance more on a vintage-dated Champagne like this Moët in lieu of a sea of NV alternatives. Granted it’s wound maddeningly tight, spewing still young venom, crazed by pear and citrus concentrate but…trust must be placed in its charms. This Moët is quite refined. Apples tempered in acidity, beloved for its building blocks, it’s really good Champagne.  94  Tasted November 2013  @MoetUSA

MOËT & CHANDON GRAND VINTAGE BRUT ROSÉ CHAMPAGNE 2002, Ac Champagne, France (69831, $89.95, WineAlign)

Bubbles large as tobiko roe. The vintage has now and finally just let go as viewed in the wine’s once fuscia and now copper patina. The advance to secondary life smells like grinding metal, pink grapefruit and orange dominated south Asian potpourri. Great though not sacred is this compliment to give this typical ’02 and its linear largesse, fine finesse and admirable balance. 92  Tasted October 2013

Good to go!

Alternative wines for the August long weekend

Barque Smokehouse Cuban Corn
PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

as seen on canada.com

A word of advice if I may. Grab hold of the coming long weekend and put it in your pocket. Take full advantage of the time you have with family and friends. Eat corn. Local ears will never be as tender, sweet and perfect as they are right now. If Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are your go to grapes, by all means, enjoy them. The caveat comes now; just one more whisper of unsolicited wisdom to consider. Try something new.

Canadians will be sharing meals in larger groups so in many cases, a single bottle of wine will not suffice. Why not engage in a grape showdown? Open two wines of the same grape but from different producers or regions. So much can be learned from the comparison, most notably your preference so you will know what to buy next time around. Here are seven alternative wines to look for this coming August holiday long weekend.

Clockwise from left: Marc Bredif Vouvray 2011, Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Old Vine Reserve 2011, Rolly Gassman Riesling 2009, Greenlane Riesling Old Vines 2011, Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2011, Tawse Cabernet Franc Laundry Vineyard 2010, and Domain Capmartin Pacherenc Du Vic Bilh 2011

The grape: Chenin Blanc

The history: Native to the Loire Valley in France and cultivated world-wide but is most notably and commercially successful in South Africa

The lowdown/showdown: Loire versus Stellenbosch. Two polar opposite and conflicting styles, both representative of place and the versatility of Chenin, especially in dry styles such as these

The food match: Barque Smokehouse Cuban Corn

Marc Bredif Vouvray 2011 (LCBO $19.95, 685362, SAQ $19.55, 10267809) indicates grapevines grown of a mineral-rich terroir, like land left after the draining of a lake. Travels into the Loire Valley’s heart of darkness but also shows some increased honey in ’11, fattening the ever-present lemon drop, candied peel, ginger and stony goodness. Chenin as a man in pink pajamas. There is just no worthy value adversary to this tight, racy and wondrous Vouvray.  91  @ProfileWineGrp   @LoireValleyWine

Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Old Vine Reserve 2011 ($17.95, 231282) has an extended stay on the lees to thank for its impressive level of complexity. Works near-dangerous toasty oak to great advantage. Elevates Chenin to skillfully reckoned, barrel fermented Chardonnay status. Snug and spicy, viscous, charged and rising into a golden stratosphere. A bit furry and furtive in movement. Would be enriched by luxuriant food.  89  @KFwines  @WOSACanada

The grape: Riesling

The history: No longer an idiosyncratic Alsatian or German wine. Whether from Marie-Thérèse, Louis Rolly and Piere Gassmann in Alsace or Dianne Smith in Vineland, Riesling is incredibly versatile

The lowdown/showdown: Aromatic Alsace or Piercing Niagara?

The food match: Summer Corn Chowder

Rolly Gassman Riesling 2009 (328898, $20.95) has entered secondary life which only emphasizes its semi-dry mien. Mineral peach tang and non-taxing, petrol beach buoyancy are met by nectarine pith and ambient nut.  By George, this is quintessential, basal Alsace. “There’s one for you, nineteen for me.” Complex impressions cuz’ he’s the gassman.  90

Greenlane Riesling Old Vines 2011 (351486, $22.95) cracks the mineral whip, froths lime into foam and atomizes stone fruit into sweet and sour heaven. Wants to be semi-dry but never quite goes there. Walks a fine line, a tightrope actually. Up there with Charles Baker and Thirty Bench for sheer madness.  91  @GreenLaneWinery

The grape: Cabernet Franc

The history: Loire Valley reds are the benchmark but tell me this isn’t the most important varietal to grow in Ontario

The lowdown/showdown: Two consumer-friendly versions, both made by farmers working in natural and sustainable ways. One shows off the ambient climate of the Twenty-Mile Bench, the other the long tempered growing season of the Lincoln Lakeshore

The food match: Parlour Yaletown’s The Big Prawn Pizza

Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2011 (64618, $16.95) from David Johnson and Louise Engel is girl-next door pretty, perfumed by violet and mid-summer red berries. American oak lends a whiff of tobacco and spice.  Modern and tarried in capacious extraction yet unencumbered by the oak. Not overly chewy, unctuous or layered but just right.  88  @featherstonewne

Tawse Cabernet Franc Laundry Vineyard 2010 (130997, $31.95) assures us of several things. First, 2010 was a gift for making idiot-proof Cab Franc in Niagara, Second, the Lincoln Lakeshore is one of three obvious and essential CF locales in Niagara. Third and most important, properly adjudicated new oak can elevate CF to the upper reaches of the cool-climate troposphere. While not as masculine or bovine like brother Van Bers, Laundry’s got black cherry, tar, coal, herbs and a peaceful, grilling feeling. Essential CF from winemaker Paul Pender.  92  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Parlour Yaletown Ahi Lettuce Wraps

The grapes: Gros Manseng, Arrufiac and Petit Courbu

The history: From Maumusson in southwestern France, Domaine Capmartin produces 12 wines, which roughly divide into 65% Madiran reds, 20% Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh whites, and 15% Côtes de Gascogne reds and whites

The lowdown: For something bull and full-bodied, unique and completely different,

The food match: Parlour Yaletown’s Ahi Lettuce Wraps

Domain Capmartin Pacherenc Du Vic Bilh 2011 (328617, $15.95) is built upon 80 per cent Gros Manseng plus 10 each of the other two (Arrufiac and Petit Courbu).  Though 80 per cent of the juice ferments in tanks, the remaining 20 that spends time in oak barrels adds histrionic weight and structure. Philosophically elevated in brix and alcohol yet sweet talks dry. Akin to cool climate Chardonnay made in a restrained oak style. Vivacity, rigor and passion here, dissing the notion of simple sipper. There are notes of lime zest and ginger and the wine is both tight and tingling . Also possessive of an earthy morel-ness. Steal it. Give it a whirl.  90

Good to go!

The best wine releases of 2012

PHOTO: STEFANO TIRABOSCHI/FOTOLIA.COM

Wine is best celebrated with family and friends and the holidays present so many opportunities to share a glass. Pulling corks (or twisting caps) substantiates purchasing choices made in previous years. Last year I noted on, “a quick reflect back on a year of plasmic vials once voluminous, now in condign as a commitment to memory. ”

The current season’s pours have the palaver or promise and the eviglio of accumulation to thank for the opportunity. The VINTAGES releases of 2012 perpetuate this promulgated philosophy. The year’s buys have migrated to the cellar, to wait there in abstemious behaviour of maturation. They too will one day climb the steps to a welcoming table, set with family and friends.

Here are my favourite under and over $30 wines of 2012.

Under $30 VINTAGES released wines

Under $30 VINTAGES Releases

1. The grapes: Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah

Where: Côtes du Rhône, France

Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuveé Maximilien Cairanne 2010 (286336, $21.95) is extraordinary for the appellation. Pitch purple, world-class milk and dark chocolate swirl, creamy silk. The stuff of recent phenomenon, where rocks, dreams and raspberries are crushed and scattered like cake bits over the loam.   91

2. The grapes: Garnacha, Carinena and Syrah

Where: Montsant, Spain

Celler Besllum Besllum 2008 (283515, $15.95) of Cubist Picassan, “cut up, Maria,” heavenly body struts its stuff as an enchantress with an alluring Spanish, violaceous visage. A black cherry, carboniferous quartzite Popsicle for Mr. Jones.  “We all want something beautiful.”  90

3. The grape: Petite Sirah

Where: Alexander Valley, California

Trentadue La Storia Petite Sirah 2010 (291047, $23.95) is massively concentrated out of the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County, as if it were packed with five centuries of the Italian American experience. Manages 14.9% alcohol with George Bailey-esque, heady grace. Tasted blind I commented, “if this is under $30 it’s an outrageous deal.” “Well whaddya know about that!!!. “ 92

4. The grape: Riesling

Where: Clare Valley, Australia

Pewsey Vale Riesling 2011 (686600, $19.95) shimmers an iridescent emerald-green on gold patina. Cracks like a whip straight in your face with lemon, lime and slate than lowers a sledgehammer of petrified wood. Snake-like Sasak fruit tang and acidity “goes dancin’ in,”  “builds that power” and lingers long after its skin has been shed.  91

5. The Grape: Sangiovese

Where: Tuscany, Italy

Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2008 (285510, $28.95) is a wow wine. Viscous, sweet nectar, full on concentrated berries and polished rocks au jus. An opus dei call to vinous holiness and sanctity. Rapturous feeling of punch drunk love falls over me after sipping this noble Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile).  92

6. The grape: Chenin Blanc

Where: Loire Valley, France

Marc Brédif Vouvray 2010 (685362, $19.95) perches high atop a parched, molecular hilltop. Bread starter nip promises stuffed pastry filled with friable, early harvest apples. Wonderful, classic and dehumidified Vouvray.  91

7. The grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot

Where: Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Lulu Island Meritage (277566, $23.95) just sounds like an Aussie moniker when in fact it hails from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Maybe the most lustrous B.C. red I have ever laid eyes on. Hard not to forbear a crush on its purple profile, hued like a $100, Single-Vineyard Argentinean Malbec. A bit reductive due to its infantile youth but this is appurtenant to the samphire, currants and peppery Merlot scents. Less weight buoys the palate. Bites back in the end. Follows varietal rules of proportion vis-a-vis the dry martini. Massive CVR** complexity from this massif assemblage.  91

8. The Grape: Cabernet Franc

Where: Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Hinterbrook Rosé 2011 (275818, $16.00) is simply brilliant. Top Ontario Rosé to date. Goes well beyond descriptors like “playful” and “quaffable.” A four-day Cabernet Franc cold soak was the ticket to serious pink success, the choice of grape an engineering master stroke. Hinterbrook’s dark side of the moon. Moody, ambient, rich in tone, lyric and extended play. Rosé needs some mystery and here it is.  ”There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact it’s all dark.”  91

9. The Grape: Riesling

Where: Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany

Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2009 (0197186, $21.95) races out of the nuss pit with peerless Bergweiler CVR** Spätlese speed. The late harvest drupe is so focused you would never know how sweet the middle ground really is. Never struggling against circumstance, it slides effortlessly into Spätlese orbit. Searching and finding the German Riesling dream. Sonnenuhr vineyard is here and “the time is right, for racing in the street.”  91

10. The Grape: Chardonnay

Where: Casablanca Valley, Chile

Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2010 (738393, $17.95) will be your best IVR* bet for Chardonnay day on May 26. Wild yeasts make cause for a weird resemblance, reminiscent of February’s Furmint. Delicate, expressive and unusual, the mint flint, brioche and smoked pineapple effect leads to thoughts of Blancs de Blancs. A little malo just might turn this into good bubbly!  89

Over $30 VINTAGES released wines

Over $30 VINTAGES Releases

1. The grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault

Where: Southern Rhône, France

Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (700922, $53.95, SAQ 10817461, $50.50) will dare you to claim any better value from the storied appellation. “Da price boss, da price!” Like I’ve landed on Fantasy Island where Châteauneuf is flowing and it’s always affordable! Kirsch galore, a Rhône cat, sensuous and gorgeous. Goldfinger garrigue, with herbs and acidity so alive and purring. Approachable now, the heavenly structure will see the Donjon through 2025.  94

2. The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

Where: Napa Valley, California

Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (193763, $99.95) is a flat out brilliant composition by the voice of one who once “traded love for glory.” This Cab reverts back to its singer-songwriter, Napa Valley pioneering form. The ’08 is a crooning balladeer intent to hold out its best in a graceful lucubration of layered, dark fruit, restrained restlessness and a vision of long life. Put the Dunn away and look to be rewarded 15+ years on with as good a California Cabernet as you will ever taste.  96

3. The Grape: Syrah

Where: Northern Rhône, France

Delas Frères Francois De Tournon Saint-Joseph 2009 (17525, $33.00) is both militaristic and the stuff of gushing Renaissance literature. Serious Syrah and foxy, Faerie Queene.  Cardinal colour, striking and dreamy. Augustinian diplomat meets allegorical fantasy. Crushed berries, truffles caked by earth, sol de la foret. Built of elegance and power, “such endlesse richesse, and so sumptuous shew.”  92

4. The Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot

Where: Napa Valley, California

Dominus 2008 (212381, $145.95) solicits riposte for parry, to buy or not to buy. The omnipotently voluptuous one resides in a tramontane locale, beyond reach and also the pale. A shocking parade of profound, hyper-purple personality. Even if it suffers “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune“, a lucky man this Dominus, “all dressed in satin,” “nor woman neither.” Colour field shockingly crimson and amarinthine, textured with rich and layered brush stroke, as if Red on Maroon. A Lama, “the flowing robes, the grace, bald…striking.” To me this ’08 leans more Ornellaia than Pétrus.  97

5. The grapes: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Carignan

Ridge Lytton Springs 2009 (982413, $46.95) will live in infamy like the ’92 and ’99. Immediate waft of freshly shucked vanilla bean. Ambrosial, earthy, briary fruit. Precise distillation inclusive of 23% Petite Sirah results in an impossibly lambent cordial. Not to mention you gotta love that Draper perfume. Open the magazine in 10-15 years time for the best read.  93

6. The grape: Nebbiolo

Where: Piedmont, Italy

Gemma Giblin Riserva Barolo 2005 (185025, $36.95) has begun to brick at the edges. Mouth rosewatering acidity binged by sour cherry and shellac. Wisp of Monte Cristo and withered rose only Barolo can smell of.  This Gemma is beautiful like a turning season, like something you know won’t last. For now and no more than two to three more years.  92

7. The grapes: Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Counoise

Where: Southern Rhône, France

Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (711317, $89.95) enters no confected, over-extracted or OTT danger zones. The most floral Beaucastel, a doffing of Stoechas Avignon and the omnipresent Rhône garrigue. Persimmon and lavender share time imparting the wine with fumes from les galets roulés of the argilo-calcaireous vineyard beds. Basic hedonism here from such an extraordinary, complex and balanced blend.  95

8. The grapes: Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon

Where: Bordeaux, France

Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2008 (581033, $59.00) is possessive of febrile gooseberry imagination. Blows sweet peach and apricot in and out of the glass in alberge de tours waves. “Hungry like the wolf” and his lycopersicon esculentum. A white PL for the ages.  92

9. The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot

Where: Tuscany, Italy

Ornellaia 2009 (722470, $189.95) is more approachable than the unparalleled 1998. A silky smooth and velvety texture puts super-ripe fruit at the forefront. While that ’98 rocked my world, this vintage offers immediate gratification, less dominating hard lines and edges. The balance is impeccable but the acidity is tempered, like the finest chocolate. The window is open now, though it may soon close, to drink beautifully for the next five years.  94

10. The Grapes: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara e Altri Vitigni

Where: Veneto, Italy

Remo Farina Le Pezze Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008 (171587, $33.95) underwhelms as a no kicker. Needs no Euro hype nor boozy heft to make itself understood. Modish mocha java speaks fluent huttish, communicating by lingua franca vernacular to the initiated. “Goopta mo bossa!“  92

Good to go!

Eight big time value wines

PHOTO: SHOCK, FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Anyone who has dared to venture into wine stores within a week of Christmas knows that the pickings accelerate quickly from slim to none.

Related – VINTAGES, December 8th, 2012 release

Sure, January will bring new releases, but a paucity of good value wine at any time, let alone late December is tantamount to scandal. Staring forlornly into barren cubicles and languishing in long cash-out lines is no way to go through the holiday season. There will be no excuse for getting caught having to serve sickly-sweet, mass-produced plonk to hopeful party guests. As my friend Bob repeatedly reminds me, “it’s not an option.”

The plenitude on wine shelves over the next four days will make the other 361 pale by comparison. Get out there and stock up on the year’s last wine offer. Here are eight big time values to seek out from the final December release of 2012.

Eight big time value wines

The grape: Viognier

The history: Hails from the Northern Rhône in the wines of Condrieu

The lowdown: Alamos is the high-altitude, value offspring line from Argentina’s Laura (@MalbecLife) Catena

The food match: Mahi-Mahi with Blood Orange, Avocado, and Red Onion Salsa

Alamos Viognier 2011 (507830, $13.95) is pretty fly for a white guy. I get Acacia blossom, nectarine and sweet cream. A Viognier to fool as to its origin and sure it sets out to “do that brand new thing” but this is no wannabe. Huge value from winemaker Felipe Stahlschmidt and brand manager Jimena Turner.  Pleased to tout the value for both its phrenic and copacetic manner.  87

The grape: Grüner Veltliner

The history: White Austrian varietal known for its crisp, bright character

The lowdown: One of the most magnetic white wine producers anywhere

The food match: Potato Rösti, horseradish cream

Domaene Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner 2011 (965368, $13.95) is bar none, the best value in its class. Buffet of exotics; mandarin orange, longan, rambutan. Simmering acidity, no bitter nut, pith or endgame. Not necessarily long, yet satisfying .  88

The grapes: Xarello and Riesling

The history: Traditional varietal from Catalonia, often used in the production of  Cava

The lowdown: Blended with 15% Riesling, the Xarello comes alive

The food match: Seared and Slow Roasted Salmon, crumbled chorizo, salsa verde drizzle

Terraprima White 2011 (303552, $17.95) shows off a pastel but vivid colour, sidled by scents of spring almond tree blossom and autumn arbequina olive. Riesling injection adds more verve in the mouth, indicated by lemon and lime concentrate. Will work all seasons for a Penedes siesta chill.  88

The grape: Chenin Blanc

The history: From dry to sweet, the Loire’s expression of Chenin seems limitless

The lowdown: This one leans far left, sapless, not socialist

The food match: Roasted Kabocha Squash Soup, caramelized apple, spiced pumpkin seeds

Marc Brédif Vouvray 2010 (685362, $19.95) perches high atop a parched, molecular hilltop. Bread starter nip promises stuffed pastry filled with friable, early harvest apples. Wonderful, classic and dehumidified Vouvray.  91

The grapes: Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera

The history: Salice Salentino tends sun-dried, caramelized and sometimes even burnt, but in a good way

The lowdown: Puglia has turned Salice Salentino into an international sensation

The food match: Smoked and Braised Beef Short Rib, dried fruit, carrots, thyme

Leone De Castris Maiana Salice Salentino 2009 (717959, $13.95) is full-bodied like its brethren and definitive of the dark-skinned Negroamaro. Appasimento-like raisin, Amarone quality, peppered by anise and finishing near oxy by sun-ripened tomato, black plums and stewed prunes. If long and slow braised beef convinces it to relax, it will work just fine.  87

The grape: Gamay

The history: From the vineyard of Les Vins Aujoux in the Côte Du Py

The lowdown: Cru Beaujolais, especially from Morgon, can be exhilarating stuff

The food match: Gamay Risotto, candy beets, white truffle oil

Jacques Depagneux Côte De Py Morgon 2011 (299925, $18.95) parlays Gamay in the prettiest purple package. Violaceous, like young and approachable Nebbiolo, or even Montsant. Hawkish and snappy in its play calling with a volcanic, mineral feel that elevates its game. “I’m glad I know you” Beaujolais, from it’s a wonderful life of Py.  89

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Unheralded (until now) winemaker Paul Battilana does his best Beaune impression

The history: Burgundy emerges as a limestone-influenced, light-bodied red in Prince Edward County

The food match: Turkey and Cranberry Pie with Sweet Potato Crust

Casa-Dea Pinot Noir 2009 (296210, $19.95) has won me over two years in a row as a top value Pinot Noir, not just in PEC, but in Ontario. Plush ruby robe, expertly extracted though it is so light on its feet. Less earth and clay than cousin Rosehall but this smells exactly as Pinot should. There is a minor note of fromagerie so consider pairing it so.  89

The Splurge

The grape: Petite Sirah

The history: Not to be confused with Syrah, this is the French varietal Durif

The lowdown: There is nothing remotely petite about this grape or this wine. Durif=énorme

The food match: Grilled Venison Loin, blackberry compote

Trentadue La Storia Petite Sirah 2010 (291047, $23.95) is massively concentrated out of the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County, as if it were packed with five centuries of the Italian American experience. Manages 14.9% alcohol with George Bailey-esque, heady grace. Tasted blind I commented, “if this is under $30 it’s an outrageous deal.” “Well whaddya know about that!!!. ” 92

Good to go!