Tasting Ontario Part Five: Varietal Whites and Appellative Blends

There were 33 medals handed out to White Blends at the 2018 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada; seven Golds, 17 Silvers and nine Bronze. Quietly, stealthily and without great fanfare the strength of the white blend category has taken NWAC18 by storm. The quality of the wines entered has never been higher, visibly and notably spread across the country. The time has come to establish party lines, to create truly parochial white appellative blends under appropriately chosen names. Nova Scotia has long been there with their apt-scripted Tidal Bay. Ontario and British Columbia should heed the economic and marketing success enjoyed by their maritime cousins and join the appellative party.

Related – Results of the 2018 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals): Best of Blends: Red, White and Tidal Bay

The French regions of Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley are clearly the benchmarks and the inspiration for Canadian-made emulative examples, first from a sauvignon blanc-sémillon connection and then with blends that make use of marsanne, roussanne and viognier. A testament to expatriate excellence is noted in the seven overall Gold Medals in this year’s judging and no less than six others finishing at high Silver status on the cusp of Gold. I for one awarded five 90-plus scores to wines I clearly deemed worthy of such accolade and esteem.

It is interesting to note that White Blends centred by sauvignon blanc in the Okanagan Valley rely on much higher percentages of sémillon than their counterparts in Ontario. The simplest explanation tells us that the grape variety has trouble surviving harsh Ontario winters, especially when we look back at 2015 and 2016 when much of the province’s vines were killed by sub-25 degree temperatures. But it’s more than that. In B.C. sauvignon blanc can get pretty ripe, tropical and zaftig so it is sémillon that helps to mitigate, temper, inject a flinty-smoky-mineral streak and ultimately bring balance to the relationship.

There was a time not too long ago when after the best juice was chosen for varietal wines producers then needed to find a way to use up the dregs of their white ferments. White blends came about out of economic necessity, but like Rosé production in this country so many are now produced with a purpose. As a farmer, if you know specific blocks of sauvignon blanc are destined to join with other plots of sémillon you’re going to prune, pluck, green harvest and ultimately pick in very specific ways. Appellative blends have become a year round occupation. That much is clear.

Related – Tasting Ontario Part Four: Gamay

The top scorers at this year’s Nationals have been awarded to seriously and thoughtfully crafted wines. The winners are not entry-level, introductory products at the lower or lowest common denominational levels. They are not simple aromatic blends of vague fruit and sweet impression, in fact many are graced by beneficial and forward thinking structure. The future certainly looks white blend bright. Here are 36 recently tasted Ontario varietal whites and appellative white blends.

Summer spread

Sprucewood Shores Pinot Grigio 2017, VQA Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (426577, $14.95, WineAlign)

Just a hint of contact it would seem, leading to a not so obvious result in platinum gold hue but more so into the floral nature of its aromatics. Some sweet melon and pear fruit with good concentration and equal if necessary acidity. Can certainly drink a glass of this. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  sprucewoodshores  @SprucewoodWine  @SprucewoodShores

Château Des Charmes Aligoté 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (296848, $15.95, WineAlign)

The Château des Charmes self-proclaimed “pinot grigio” alternative was never more truthfully written than in reference to this 2017 aligoté. Screwy wet summer merging into crazy hot autumn weather made for one of the latest harvest dates in the estate on the York Road in St. Davids storied history. The rare Niagara Peninsula varietal vines are planted primarily at St. David’s Bench and Paul Bosc Estate vineyards but more are going in, surely out of testimony to the sales of this more than apropos local grape. Surely no one knows aligoté like the Bosc family and yet even they could not have seen this peachy, melony, fleshy and ripe one coming. It’s like a hyperbole of Val do Salnés in Rias Baixas albariño, crisp, aromatic and marched along by natural acidity. It seems sweet but trust me it’s not. It’s the long-hung, fully phenolic fruit and higher pH talking. This is not your average Bourgogne aligoté, searing, taut and intense. It’s a departure for the house but if it could always be made this way I think they would gladly go for the style. Waxy finish too, bringing an added note of complexity. Very cool. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted July 2018  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Nyarai Cellars Pinot Gris 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.95, WineAlign)

This is quite a striking, rich, creamy and yogurt-leesy, a.k.a. Loire chenin blanc, fixedly in the guise of pinot gris. More skin contact then some plus so much yeasty texture combine to make for the fullest of an Ontario gris expression. This is the sort of feeling that normally comes from multi-varietal, dry white appellative Niagara blends but in a solo pinot gris it’s nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  #nyaraicellars  @NyaraiCellars  Nyarai Cellars

Tawse Winery Pinot Gris Redfoot Vineyard 2017, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

From out of the dense Lincoln Lakeshore clay comes this flush and luxurious pinot gris, literally rolling in it. It makes for a highly aromatic take on the grape, all in for gris and not to be confused with lighter, less meaningful grigio. The Redfoot Vineyard is clearly earmarked for such a purposed way of interpretation and though the clays of the double L sub-appellation are best with syrah and cabernet franc there can’t be any reason not to allot 10-15 per cent of acreage to white plantings. In the hands of Paul Pender it seems obvious that pinot gris is the one. This dry take is just about perfectly right, with citrus and wet stone hanging around the fruit. Leaner might be more suitable but ultimately it’s balance that is most important for this rich fruit raised by the pottery soil. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted June 2018  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

G.Marquis Sauvignon Blanc The Red Line 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $13.95, WineAlign)

Big love, big fruit, all about texture and juicy fruit on the palate but with some fine, wound acidity. Excellent. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   g.marquisvineyards  @GMarquisWines  @G.MarquisVineyards

North 42 Degrees Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc North 43 2017, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (547836, $14.95, WineAlign)

Quite the character this North 43/North 42 degrees sauvignon blanc, fruit amassed on the nose, from canteloupe to underripe passion fruit with a wet, coppery alloy build that translates across latitudinal lines onto the palate. The metallic flavours are undercut by an herbal tonic with a spoonful of tinned fruit cup. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  north42wines  @StratusWines  North 42 Degrees Estate Winery & Bistro 42  @north42degrees

Château Des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (296848, $15.95, WineAlign)

Interesting take, quite a mineral salt wiring through the green apple fruit, here some feel of barrel but not the malo-creamy effect created. Goes quite juicy and crunchy without resorting to tart. A bit more acid intensity would have sealed the deal. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018    chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Lakeview Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (483958, $17.95, WineAlign)

An interesting sauvignon blanc for the Peninsula because the pungency is quite Marlborough but the relaxed state and relative weight is all Niagara. Very easy drinking as far as SB is concerned with notable extraction and a green streak, herbal mostly, running through. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  lakeviewwineco  @LakeviewWineCo  @LakeviewWineCo

Kacaba Susan’s Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $17.95, WineAlign)

Quietude in such a lovely way, mineral meets orange blossom, soft and amenable through the middle, quiet and mellow, fades off slowly, into the sauvignon blanc sunset. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  kacabavineyards  @KacabaVineyards  Kacaba Vineyards and Winery

Stratus Wildass Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (376814, $18.95, WineAlign)

t’s more Stratus than sauvignon blanc, even by regional varietal standards, whatever that is, due to the ripe flavours and long-developed phenolic ripeness. Ultimately it is the quotient of a cup of fruit cocktail and an energy level that serves to encourage a sitting back with a glass in meditative state more than a mind stimulated to invigorate. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  stratuswines  @StratusWines  @StratusWines

Organized Crime Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (396275, $18.95, WineAlign)

Sometimes sauvignon blanc goes tropical and green at the same time, or at least it is the two poles by picked grapes that combine for such a layering. Citrus and bitters mix into the two sides and all the components walk along, separate and alone together, without making any real contact. Maybe a year will tie the room but the acidity is low so waiting is a counterintuitive idea. Drink 2018.  Tasted April 2018  organizedcrimewinery  Organized Crime Winery

Henry Of Pelham Fumé Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (444268, $19.95, WineAlign)

With a wink and a nod to Mondavi this lays the lumber in smoulder upon sauvignon blanc with just a wisp, like cold smoking salmon so that it breathes cool and mentholated, without char and a real smoky feeling. The fruit is light and even a bit precious, the weight quite lithe and the overall notation one of gentle demure. You have to appreciate the deft, slight of winemaking hand approach. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  henryofpelham  @HenryofPelham  Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery

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

Derek Barnett’s sauvignon blanc may be the fleshiest of the Ontario lot, ripe, tropical and impressively coaxed from off the vine. The phenolic aggregate is a 2016 triumph even while it dances a funky step into botrytis-like rhythms. Notes here and there of herbs and tonics add to the mystique and the rapport. So bloody interesting, singular and meditative for the grape. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  meldvillewines  @meldvillewines  Meldville Wines

Peller Estates Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Massively fruit aromatic sauvignon blanc, all gathered in a tin cup found in the exotics isle. Juicy melon meets passion fruit and so much more in between, then with a side of metalloid. Raps so commercially viable and succesful it hurts my ears and my eyes. “Any awards show or party I’ll get fly for it, I know that it’s coming I just hope I’m alive for it…I just wanna be, I just wanna be.” Remarkable success for sauvignon blanc, in Ontario. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   pellerwines  @PellerVQA  @PellerEstates

Redstone Sauvignon Blanc Limestone Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $23.15, WineAlign)

There isn’t a ton of sauvignon blanc grown up on the Limestone Ridge but as a top level Twenty Mile Bench riesling terroir it changes the varietal course with considerable concern. As far as it goes this is quite an alloy challenged, mineralized expression, not quite flinty but certainly feeling like a mouthful of richly compressed, calcareous stones. The fruit is so anti-tropical it’s almost reductive and most certainly draws its tang from the soil. Such a curious sauvignon blanc with almost no frame of reference, save for a moment to consider Sancerre, but yet another successful effort from winemaker Rene Van Ede. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Traynor Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Reductive, not flinty or smoky, but reductive. This carries the gooseberry-passion fruit suitcase of fruit. I like the fruit-acid balance and the way it delivers semblances of tart and tangy. Really nicely judged wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   traynorvineyard  @TraynorVineyard  @traynorfamilyvineyard

Hidden Bench Fumé Blanc Rosomel Vineyard 2016, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68825, $29.95, WineAlign)

The vineyard gains another year, the farming and winemaking too and so fumé blanc out of Rosomel gets better, as things often do with age and wisdom. ’Twas a great year for growing grapes on this amphitheatre of a vineyard block up on the Bench and no love lost for sauvignon blanc neither. There is tension, wound intensity and fierce competitiveness in the ’16, perhaps the most Sancerre and least Pouilly-Fumé it has ever been and so the declaration leans to saying it is “a mineral year.” Nothing against the fruit because the personality cult of lean, crisp and crunchy is in full order, though each sip after sip speaks in those Sancerre or Chablis by way of Saint Bris terms. Stellar, as always, in continuance, moving towards the best it can be. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2018  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Trius Showcase Clean Slate Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2016, Niagara-on-the Lake, Ontario (Winery, $31.95, WineAlign)

Quite flinty, barrel-aged sauvignon blanc, buttery nearly, banana and cantaloupe. So much fruit along with the toasty-creamy barrel. Almost perfectly in balance but it’s wildness and sweet-yeasty lees cumulative turns to a bit of caramel and only accentuates the vanilla. A really cool take on the grape with exceptionally developed flavours. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   triuswines  @TriusWines  @TriusWines

Not all screw cap closures are created equal

Two Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.00, WineAlign)

Excessive tightness of screw caps does not allow any kept reduction to blow off so winemaker Adam Pearce closed here with a screw cap threading just a bit less rigid. A fine detail but an important one and the only wine to receive this attention, so just a minute amount of oxygen transfer can occur. Just released 11 days ago. The big change is now a fruit vineyard blend that is 70 per cent Four Mile Creek and (30) Twenty Mile Bench. From a cool, wet and rainy season so really it’s all about the grower in a vintage where the varietal struggled with mould and mildew. Eight per cent barrel ferment was used to augment the leanness, for body and peace of mind. A bit reductive and tight with good acid structure to the peach-yellow-plum-kumquat fruit. Good linger. Delicious. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted July 2018    twosisters_vineyards  @TwoSisters_wine  Two Sisters Vineyards

Fielding Estate Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (146753, $19.95, WineAlign)

Fielding’s pays respect to how gewürztraminer has to be made in Ontario with a fleshy, off-dry style though making sure to counterbalance with a fine dose of acidity. From dosage to dose it dances the do-si-so with high quality peach-litchi fruit and grapefruit acidity. If you’re in need of a white to compliment some high-octane, multi-seasoned and possibly spicy food, Fielding’s is textbook and will do the work. It’s a gewürztraminer you can trust. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted January 2018  fielding winery  richiewine  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  Fielding Estate Winery

Redstone Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

A sip sends a warm shiver through from a simple off-dry gewüztraminer attack more flat than round earth, trying hard to stay on the dry though the bitters and creamy fruit deliver more sweetness than what might have been intended. Some skin contact deals peach skin and those bitters while the acidity quietly abides. It’s nearly, almost and close to cloying by honey mixed in concentrate with a note of alkali. Everything lingers. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

@mackbrisbois brought the past, the present and the future @trailestatewine to taste. Thanks Mack! Indeed, to my pleasure and my education.

Trail Estate Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Few winemakers in Ontario are as curious, aloof and serious about making gewürztraminer like this,”looking through that window, into the delicate place.” The changing of mind is so important during the process because it shows an understanding of both mistake and possibility. Mackenzie Brisbois takes a spoon of Niagara Lakeview fruit (Glen Elgin/Wismer farmed), puts it through a whole cluster press, a fermentation in old oak and then wait a minute. An about face transfer to stainless steel tank (just after a few days) because it is too reductive, but then sends it back to old wood where it remains for about nine months. Bottles back in September of 2017. The result is a gewürz that finishes dry (under 3 g/L) so delicate for a customer’s palate, with lots of lemon and lime but never searing, perfect for cold smoked or tataki prepared salmon. Bitter pith note but it dissipates, as does the acidity so keep in mind this is floral and fine. “The delicate place. The questions it raise. The delicate place yeah.” Enjoy it now and gimme fiction. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Trail Estate Skin Contact Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

The 2016 gewürztraminer fruit is from the Werscht’s (Between the Lines) Niagara farm, super ripe at 24 brix and aromatics on steroids. It clocks in at a healthy 13.5 alcohol, after 13 days on skins and beyond. Close your eyes and the warm pungency will simulate a sensory experience, like standing inside the butterfly conservatory, with all the dessicating fruit, secretions and balmy, humid aromas wafting around. Or maybe even more exotic, like walking past stalls in a south asian market, with fruits cut open so you can see what they are, mangoseteen, marquesa, jackfruit and durian. There is great fun to be had in acidity and spice. Lush, floral and nicely funky. By now an understanding and a level of maturity to think on is as a classic Brisbois white. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Malivoire Viognier Stouck Vineyard 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Agent, $24.25, WineAlign)

From vines planted in 2010 the magic of excitable youth with just a hint of maturity has brought this block of the terrific Lincoln Lakeshore vineyard to this vintage. Warmth and ultimately ripeness have released the aromatic blessedness of viognier, which along with an unpurposed number of residual sugar will allow this to gain some further complexity with age. May just be the most varietal viognier ever produced out of Niagara but it’s obviousness as a regional example can’t be denied. It exudes confidence without even trying, is naturally oily and grippy because its acidity matches the high notes. It’s a touch boozy at 13.5 alcohol, at times metallic and at others, tropical, because that’s what viognier wants to be. It’s just a terrific effort from winemakers Shiraz Mottiar and Dan Stouck. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted February 2018  malivoire  noble_estates  @MalivoireWine  @Noble_Estates  Malivoire Wine  Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Lakeview Cellars Viognier 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Pretty tart stuff from the get go, full of tangerine and beautifully dry. Gently pressed and kept in spirit high through the use of stainless steel tanks. Quite floral, not potpourri mind you but a fresh blossoming breath of a bouquet. Simple viognier, effectively executed and perfectly correct. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted February 2018  lakeviewwineco  @LakeviewWineCo  @LakeviewWineCo

Redstone Viognier Redfoot Vineyard 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign)

The barrel is a big time influence here, offering a combination of creamy vanilla and yet some reduction. There must be some lush viognier fruit back there somewhere but the wood is really in control. Subtle hints of varietal florals, far eastern fruit and spice linger behind the veil. Tasted blind it is the creamy texture and vanilla that makes cause for it to be considered so much like California chardonnay. Good acidity however rescues and thinks about the future. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted twice, June 2018 and then blind at NWAC18, June 2018  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Calamus Estate Winery White Night 2014, VQA Ontario (484014, $13.95, WineAlign)

A very good use of vidal (85 per cent) gets an apple jolt from chardonnay in this very peach and grapefruit oriented white. It’s like fruit cocktail in a glass but drier than off-dry and quite savoury. Stage right spicy too, like clove and capsicum, in a way akin to Kiwi sauvignon blanc but in the end it’s white appellative blend in hybrid dominance, running all the way. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted January 2017  #calamuswinery  @calamuswinery  Calamus Estate Winery

Featherstone Four Feathers 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (341586, $14.95, WineAlign)

Varietal birds of four feathers (riesling, chardonnay, gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc) flock together for a wild ride in aromatics, texture, tang and acidity. Here a notable waxiness from the gewürztraminer does oily, glück potpourri with outgoing nature and a sweet meets sour set of flavours. Runs from orchard fruit with bite into the tropical and then some bitters. Nothing simple and quite stirred. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  #featherstonewinery  @featherstonewne  Featherstone Estate Winery

13th Street White Palette 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (207340, $15.95, WineAlign)

White Palette is at the top of its hyperbole game in 2016 with a light’s glare flooding a room of high aromatic and flavour intensity. Glade, polish, wax and major citrus all max factor the scents and smells. Lemon and caramel well through the palate and funky emissions deal in Peninsula clay with obvious earth. It’s a case of the curious and not fully expected in 2016. Worth a look nevertheless, with fresh seafood off the coals. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted May 2018  13thstreetwinery  @13thStreetWines  13th Street Winery

Rockway Vineyards Chardonnay/Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (545905, $16.95, WineAlign)

The varietal get together is both convenient and seamless, in delivery of a cool climate nose and a ripeness to imagine a warmer climate palate. It’s layering is one stacked by alternating textures and walks straight ahead, simple and for the sake of nothing, but for to enjoy.  Drink 2018-2020. Tasted April 2018  rockwayvineyards  @RockwayVineyard  Rockway Vineyards

The Hare Wine Company Crown Land White 2016, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

The blend of 60 per cent gewürztraminer and (40) riesling is a lovely mix of lemon, apricot and mild barrel notes. It’s a pithy affair, mildly battered and of a soft demeanour. Fresh with fruit skin scents, a passion fruit tang and acidity that’s pretty darn close to spot on. Chewy texture, finishing strong and long. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  theharewineco  @TheHareWineCo  The Hare Wine Co.

Kew Vineyard Estate Marsanne 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

The dominant marsanne (90 per cent) is joined seamlessly by viognier in a white blend rich with barrel notes, nutty and toasty. Perhaps a touch less interesting on the palate but it’s welling with presence and persistence. Metallic and effective, with great finishing bitters. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  kewvineyards  @kewvineyards  @kewvineyard

Tasting at Pearl Morissette, July 2017

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Blu 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Cuvée Blu is an appellative blend like no other, amphora fermented, 100 per cent whole cluster chardonnay, with pinot gris, riesling and sauvignon blanc. The group spent three and a half (no, not a typo) months on skins, pressed and aged in foudres. I taste this and self-reflected that I would need to taste this once a day for two weeks to wrap brain, heart and imagination around its mythology. I’d also need to understand how it pushed further then just about anything and to see what would happpen, over and over, again and again, each time anew. You can drink this immediately or anytime over the next six years. What’s the difference? How can you know what to do? Self-described by the PM team as “a chameleon charmer and a poem built from the taste of colours.” Memories of a 2017 summer recall the whimsy of hues. “Yellow, orange,” smiled Svetlana Atcheva, “it might as well be blue!” Drink 2018-2024. Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Southbrook Vidal Skin Fermented White 2016, Small Lot Natural Wine, VQA Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The first time I tasted this blind (at Terroir Symposium) I noted it to be “vidal-like,” a touch oxidative, of this elegant paste or salve, with notes of green plum and just a touch of grapefruit. The second pass confirms it to be a fine vidal orange wine, with more texture than should or would be expected. It delivers lemon and tannin, plus a calculated layering of ample and enough acidity to carry it along. A fine example. Really mouth coating and so tannic. Takes what was learned from 2014 and 2015 experiments and with VQA category approval in its back pocket, begins the true journey forward. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017 and February 2018 southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @SouthbrookWine  @TheLivingVine  Southbrook Vineyards  The Living Vine inc.

Stratus Vineyards Stratus White 2014, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.20, WineAlign)

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

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

It’s primarily sauvignon blanc (94 per cent) but don’t discount the effect created by sémillon. This is a really lovely barrel fermented stroll through a fresh morning glade, with ripe fruit everywhere and a perfectly pointed and lifted flinty nose. A bit reductive and fresh, as it should and absolutely must be, with hints of vanilla and caramel. Quite ambitious and serious with a focus and a precision that speaks to the acumen of a specific cru that in the end, instructs for sauvignon blanc meets sémillon education. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018    hiddenbench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Good to Go!

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES, February 18th, 2017

#newyear #newedges

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as seen on WineAlign

Local best buys ahead of Taste Ontario and Cuvée, Kosher for Passover and searching for common ground

In advance of the fourth VINTAGES release of 2017 and just a shade post Valentine’s Day we find ourselves in anticipatory times. Here at the crossroads of February and depending on which overfed rodent’s shadow you align with, we may yet be faced with four more potential weeks of winter. Concerning ourselves with more important things, we turn to the Ontario wine industry’s lead in anticipation of Wine Country Ontario’s big month of March. Two seminal events lie in wait just around the corner, ahead of and into spring.

Taste Ontario! Toronto Trade and Media Tasting 2017 comes to the Royal Ontario Museum on March 6th and the 29th edition of Cuvée will happen in Niagara Falls. Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) will host more than 800 guests at the Scotiabank Convention Centre for the Cuvée Grand Tasting on Friday March 24th.

After tasting at Cuvée in 2016 I noted how riesling and chardonnay have not relinquished any stronghold on their domination, nor should they anytime soon. I can’t help but feel and notice that winemakers continue to reach for the big red machine and wish upon an intangible Bordeaux star when they should be concentrating on fresh, gulpable cabernet franc and gamay. They should also take some risk-reward chances with these necessary, best Ontario option red varieties. Press less, reveal freshness and let natural ferments find low-alcohol impressions of impossible, ethereal beauty.

It’s not just a matter of what, but where. By sifting through leads in geography, in the orientation of escarpments, benches and lakeshore flats, in the gestalt of the archaeology of tomorrow, in the vineyard landscape of today we can perchance unlock the riddle of the what and the why for varietal planting. The end game is to unlock the mystery within the puzzle of terroir, to figure out what grapes will thrive and where they can be given the best shot at success. It is not just about what happens beneath the soil, but also what happens above, around, beyond and in the minds of growers and winemakers.

Passover is sill nearly two months away but ever the proactive agency, VINTAGES lays out the usual Kosher for Passover suspects in the February 18th release, some Mevushal (cooked or, flash pasteurized), some not. Let us first examine the concept and then, the cuisine. An understanding of the rules and laws that govern wine on Passover is on a need to know basis. There are really just three key variants of information essential to purchasing and consuming on PesachThis applies to Jews and non-Jews alike.

Number one. Passover wine is specific to a Jew’s level of Kosher. From Reform, to Conservative, to Orthodox, all Jews have different variances of belief. A Reform Jew will likely drink any wine on Passover and then again, may not. But, he or she will almost certainly not require the bottle to be Mevushal. A Conservative may only drink Mevushal but in more cases than not, Kosher is good enough. An Orthodox Jew goes it only one way or the highway. Strictly Mevushal KFP, do not pass go, do not collect the Afikoman (the broken Matzah) money. Most Jews who appreciate a glass of good wine with dinner, and especially those who double as wine geeks avoid Mevushal wine at all costs, thought being, consuming heat-damaged wine is no way to go through life. That said, a good deal of the Kosher for Passover wines in our market are Mevushal (KPM) and some are really quite agreeable.

It’s quite simple, really. All wines labelled “Kosher for Passover” are kosher, but not all kosher wines are kosher for Passover. Further to that, wine does not become kosher by being blessed. It can be considered kosher (from the Hebrew; pure, proper) once it has complied with strict rabbinic criteria that render it acceptable for Orthodox Jews.

Few holidays put food under as much duress as Passover. The cooking is a science and an art unto itself, having to make use of Matzo, eggs and oil for eight days. It is a form of penitence, a tortuous walk through a culinary desert, at times horrific like a Fear Factor episode. Charred eggs, Haroseth, Chopped Liver, Kugel, Farfel Stuffing and desserts made with cake meal and Matzo Meal. Believe me, this chef has had nightmares.

Up until a year or two ago I noticed that Kosher wines seemed to have migrated bigger and bigger with each passing Lunisolar calendar year. Israel continued to race towards big, lush, often high alcohol reds. This trend could be seen as a masking or a compensating/mitigating strategy to oppose the rigours and past failings of making Kosher wine. It can also be viewed as a stylistic choice, to mirror what has taken place in Bordeaux, in California and in Australia for the past 20 years. For the first time, the reds on this VINTAGES release seem to collectively take an extraction and alcohol step back.

The Kosher contingent on the VINTAGES February 18th release continues to be Israel-focused, which is not a bad thing, but if you really want a better selection, head to one of three LCBO kosher boutique locations; 675 Wilson Ave., 180 Promenade Circle, Promenade Mall and 502 Lawrence Ave. W. It is here that the LCBO has stepped up their Kosher game.

As for scouring the best of the rest, WineAlign’s John Szabo laid down the low-down on Australia’s impressive showing in this release and found great value in a hodge-podge of VINTAGES value releases. I am searching for common ground and was quite impressed with two iconic southern French producers and their stellar-valued, pull no punches red and white. One hails from arid Côtes du Roussillon, the other off of old vines in Costières de Nîmes. Magic and lithe Oregon, endemic Greece and a most pleasurable drop of Sagrantino round out my shortlist. David and Sara shore up the global list with much needed and appreciated support with pertinent finds of their own.

February 18th Buyers’ Guide:

Keep on tasting Ontario

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 201513th Street Cabernet Merlot 2013Kew Marsanne 2014

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89029, $18.95, WineAlign)

@Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

13th Street Cabernet/Merlot 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (56598, $19.95, WineAlign)

@13thStreetWines  @Noble_Estates

Kew Marsanne 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (485334, $19.95, WineAlign)

@kewvineyards

Henry Of Pelham Estate Pinot Noir 2012Huff Reserve Pinot Noir 2014

Henry Of Pelham Estate Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment (268391, $24.95, WineAlign)

@HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Huff Estates Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County (489708, $35.00, WineAlign)

@HuffEstatesWine  @PECWines

Kosher for Passover

Recanati Chardonnay Kp 2014Jerusalem Wineries 3400 Premium Shiraz Kp 2013Galil Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Recanati Chardonnay 2014, Kosher For Passover, Non-Mevushal, Upper Galilee, Israel (128322, $24.95, WineAlign)

@recanati_winery

Jerusalem Wineries 3400 Premium Shiraz 2013, Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal, Judean Hills, Israel (473900, $24.95, WineAlign)

Galil Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Israel (128058, $24.95, WineAlign)

@azureau  

Searching for common ground

Tsantali Reserve Rapsani 2012Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir Les Aspres 2013Château De Nages Vieilles Vignes Blanc 2014

Tsantali Reserve Rapsani 2012, PDO Rapsani, Thessalia, Greece (734855, $18.95, WineAlign)

@TSANTALI_wines  @DrinkGreekWine  @KolonakiGroup

Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir Les Aspres Syrah/Mourvèdre/Grenache 2013,  AP Côtes Du Roussillon Les Aspres, France (413245, $18.95, WineAlign)

@GBvins  @FWMCan    @Vins_Roussillon

Château De Nages Vieilles Vignes Blanc (Bio) 2014, Costières de Nîmes, France (479659, $19.95, WineAlign)

@chateaudenages  @MichelGassier    @ProfileWineGrp

Omero Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2013Lungarotti Sagrantino Di Montefalco 2010

Omero Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2013, Oregon (470146, $29.95, WineAlign)

@OmeroCellars  Brand New Day Wines & Spirits  @Oregon_Wine

Lungarotti Sagrantino Di Montefalco 2010, DOCG Umbria, Italy (315499, $42.95, WineAlign)

@lungarottiwine  @ProfileWineGrp  

 

While I sip and taste through Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino at Antiprime Toscane I hope you all find your gems from the February 18th release. See you in March for a taste of Ontario.

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Use these quick links for immediate access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release.

Michael’s Mix
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys

John’s The Good Oz and Miscellaneous Best Buys

In VINTAGES May 14th

Villa di Geggiano, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Siena, Italy, http://www.villadigeggiano.com

Villa di Geggiano, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Siena, Italy, http://www.villadigeggiano.com

Current travels in Chianti Classico leave almost no time to scribble out more than paragraph let alone 10 but there is a VINTAGES release coming Saturday. The New Zealand Wine Fair rolls through Toronto today (which I will sadly miss) and I have some recommendations of excellence from that country. Canada (Ontario), France, Germany and Hungary round out my picks.

See you next week…Godello

Te Pā Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Marlborough, New Zealand (450668, $19.95, WineAlign)

After tasting the winery’s Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc back in 2014 I wrote “If Te Pa can find a way to get their wines into VINTAGES stores, I will buy them by the case and hand them out on Halloween as adult treats.” The day has come with the release of this rocks off Sauvignon Blanc. The open G tuning is perfect for balance with the cumulative notes it plays, deep cuts of bluesy rock ’n roll from Marlborough soils. We’ve seen so many SB’s come through these parts but so few at this price deliver such a deft hook with exile on main street flavours. Singular, unctuous stuff and well worth finding a way to bring a deferent side of Marlborough and Sauvignon Blanc back into your heart. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @tePaWines  @FWMCan  @nzwine

Villa Maria and Te Pa

Villa Maria Southern Clays Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, New Zealand (447474, $29.95, WineAlign)

The single-vineyard Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc is a highly concentrated, aroma-centric, splendored thing with inherent vegetal notes both smoky and subtle. The flavours are all white berry dusted with white pepper. The bite, the lees and the tart accents layer like a savoury dessert. This is formidable Sauvignon Blanc with high aspirations. I for one would like to see it settle and develop a secondary level of show. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016  @villamaria_wine  @Dandurandwines

Crawford

Kim Crawford Small Parcels Rise & Shine Pinot Noir 2013, Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand (35337, $29.95, WineAlign)

This is a characterful, high-toned and slightly rustic Pinot Noir from Kim Crawford’s Small Parcels program in Central Otago. It’s all strawberry on the nose and black raspberry (with a lash of liquorice) on the palate. There is great grit and true breadth of texture, not to mention sweetness, forgiven with so much else going on. Love the tart finish and bitters linger. Tells me its best is just around the bend. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016  @kimcrawfordwine  @CBrandsCareers

The Stopper White Blend 2014, VQA Ontario (452235, $14.95, WineAlign)

Fun blend of Riesling and Vidal, put to good use in a variation of theme on the Ontario white appellative blend. The Riesling dominates with that atomic push and arid, saline sensibility. The vidal adds a squeeze of citrus (white grapefruit) and skin contact au naturale feel. A bit of unoaked Chardonnay or even some Musqué might not be such a stretch to fill in with some cool-climate tempering and hole filling assistance. A follow-up bit of research finds five per cent, along with Gewürztraminer. Depending on the vintage, it would be nice to see the Chardonnay increased.  Easy and tangy on the palate. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @AdamoEstateWine  @JohnPaulAdamo  @ProfileWineGrp

Tuzko

Tuzko Cabernet Franc 2012, Tolna, Hungary (438291, $14.95, WineAlign)

True cool climate cabernet franc from Hungary, savoury, full of leather, cedar and spice. A veritable forest of wild berries in a glass. Really unique find and very Lincoln Lakeshore for you that understand and prefer to compare within the context of an Ontario vernacular. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted May 2016  @ImportWineMAFWM  @MarkAnthonyWine  @WinesofHungary  @WineofHungary

Fielding

Fielding Rosé 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (53421, $15.95, WineAlign)

The Rosé category can be fascinating and also slightly repellant. Whether it be the choice of varieties or the uncontrolled bleed hot off the press, it’s really hard to say, some Rosé just rubs the wrong way. At first sniff and sip you just know this Fielding ’15 is not one of those. It’s coolness is graced with restraint and it is nothing but a pleasure to drink. There certainly is candy floss and cut strawberry in the air. There is sweetness on the edge and cream floating around the rim. Separately pressed and vinified Gamay and Cabernet Franc are the key fixings though a minor sense of white percentages (like Riesling, Viognier and Vidal) would not be out of the supporting question. Sugar meets acid in equal and opposing fashion. Balance and humility are cut from the same cloth as pride. Nothing dominates and all components work seamlessly together. In its fresh and spritely youth this is one of the most pleasurable Rosés from Ontario. Drink it young. Drink 2016-2017. Tasted March and May 2016  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Bressades

Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Blanc 2015, Ap Costières De Nîmes, France (701094, $17.95, WineAlign)

Really floral white blend from the Costières de Nîmes in which tropical blossoming Viognier really tends to gardening at night scents to lift the mistral rhythms of Grenache Blanc, Marssanne and Roussanne. Unctuous and the most ethereal character this wine has ever shown. Really special vintage from Mr. Marès. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted May 2016    @Vinexxperts  

Thorle

Thorle Riesling Trocken 2014, Rheinhesen, Germany (445817, $19.95, WineAlign)

From the Thörle brothers Johannes and Christoph, a dry, vivid Riesling with a vitality of spirit and a presence that comes from the heart. Lime juice and zest mark the territory, skin contact leaves its trace in hue and a natural ferment keeps it more than real. A minor residual (Co2) spritz still tickles on the palate while grape tannin strikes a dagger into the finish. Exemplary modern take on Trocken Riesling in a style that should appeal to a wide ranging audience. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted three times, May and November 2015, April 2016  @thoerle  @UNIVINS  @germanwineca  @gen_riesling

Bailly

Bailly Lapierre Réserve Brut Crémant De Bourgogne, Méthode Traditionnelle, Ac Burgundy, France (991562, $19.95, WineAlign)

This 100 per cent Pinot Noir may initiate with simple and eager fruit, of lemon and pink grapefruit but its subtle ability and mineral wager is a condition of its commitment. It will not shock, dream in multi-dimensional preoccupation or revamp the traditional methodology but it is nothing if not lovely. It takes you on a holiday. Lemon repeats in many ways, acidity survives without kindle or foment and the flavours linger like a haunting refrain. “Like the bubbles in a glass of Champagne, you go to my head.” Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015 and April 2016  @bourgognespress  @BourgogneWines  @Vinexxperts

Nyarai Cellars Cadence 2011, VQ Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (451781, $21.95, WineAlign)

Steve Byfield’s crimson blend of Cabernet Franc (42 per cent), Merlot (33), Cabernet Sauvignon (20) and Syrah (5) is at once so very Niagara while acting out anomalously in the 2011 vintage. Ripe, extracted fruit appears warm-vintage drawn, with its coated layers of primer, brushstroke and plummy stone fruit. The warmth is tempered by savour, oranges, figs and psalms. Its ability to find cadence and cascade keeps it “cool in the shade.” The varietal combining is delineated in balance, “sliding mystify, on the wine of the tide.” This effort, with its new name, could become one of the king’s amongst Ontario blends.  Tasted January 2015  @NyaraiCellars

viewpointe

Viewpointe Focal Pointe Cabernet Franc 2010, VQA Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (450916, $24.95, WineAlign)

Wine Country Ontario’s Lake Erie North Shore appellation flashes onto the radar here with Viewpointe’s very youthful and soulful 2010 Cabernet Franc. It’s not spicy but there is a veritable pantry sprinkled into a simmering reduction sauce, breathing and exuding aromatics, of juniper, liquorice, Montreal smoked meat spices, cassia, star anise and chicory. It is utterly Cabernet Franc with righteously integrated barrel notes swirling in that demi-glace. The tannin and acidity persist strong and complimentary with nary a moment of raisin treason. So very well done. A huge accomplishment. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016  @viewpointewines  @WineCountryOnt

Pouilly

Ernest Meurgey Perron Pouilly Fuissé 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (448852, $31.95, WineAlign)

Rich and buttery Chardonnay that is the membrane holding and supporting the coolest contents, in limbo and needing two years to flesh, burst and break through. The tart, tight and angled shfits are the drive and the direction for the short term development. In 2018 this will be a humdinger to pour alongside butter-seared and caramelized scallops. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted April 2016  @BourgogneWines  @BourgogneWines

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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California stars in VINTAGES March 5th

The mustard in Napa Valley

The mustard in Napa Valley

Having recently returned from a week spent sizing up Napa Valley and Sonoma County it is personally apropos for VINTAGES to roll out this California release next weekend. Like any high quality engrossing preoccupation, the trip changed everything. Whatever I thought I knew or felt about the California wine industry now needs to be rewritten. The most pertinent question now in my mind is this. Can European wine keep up with the fictionality of North American reality?

For more on California and the VINTAGES release – WineAlign Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – March 5, 2016

When you travel to wine regions in Europe you can’t help but be struck by history, tradition and a general sense that things are the way they are because, well, just because. California reinvents the wheel. It shakes the foundations of thought. Forget Socratic maieutics. Questions that probe assumptions, implications or consequences are so European. You don’t ask a California winemaker “are you picking earlier to preserve acidity or because of global warming.” Ripeness is everything and a given.

Prices are not cheap when it comes to great wines made anywhere but in the case of California the outrageousness carries many meanings. The cost of land, labour and water sends grape purchasing through the roof. You are not being hosed by California wine. It costs what it costs for many good reasons. I will expand on all this in 10,000 words or more coming soon. For now, here are eight beauties in VINTAGES March 5th.

VINTAGES March 5th

VINTAGES March 5th

Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (91025, $26.95, WineAlign)

Very ripe Pinot Noir from winemaker Scott Kozel, to no one’s surprise. What is surprising is the level of tension and soil tang, exposed in tone that is elevated above and beyond the rich, bing cherry fruit. This is true aggregate, composite, regionally amalgamated Pinot Noir made in large batches for commercial amassment and appeal. It works dutifully within the framework and the intent. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @gallocareers  @GalloFamily  @sonomavintners

The barrel cellar at Frei Brothers

The barrel cellar at Frei Brothers Ranch

Treana White 2013, Central Coast, California (11247, $29.95, WineAlign)

In which Marsanne and Viognier co-exist for pure, unadulterated pleasure. While the former does not dominate the latter, it does win the aromatic tug in floral inertia and gaseous minutia. A very golden California sun worshipping Rhone-ish blend with a candied flavour and texture tang. Certainly warm and blustery in style. A char on Char or shellfish would hold up well to its unctuous demand. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016  @hopefamilywines  @TrialtoON

Macrostie Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (244467, $35.95, WineAlign)

Sonoma Coast Chardonnay in definition and carefully realized misty commotion, raised with classic barrel toast and celebrating expertly gaged ripe fruit out of a foggy, cool-climate California shell. The fruit is viscous and elastic, gaining texture because of that wood, along with spice and exoticism. Finishes with beneficial bitters. Nothing shocking and everything excellent pulled from expectation. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @MacRostie  @sonomavintners

Cuvaison and Brandlin winemaker Steve Rogstad

Cuvaison and Brandlin winemaker Steve Rogstad

Brandlin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, California (340513, $54.95, WineAlign)

This walks a lovely mid-point between two styles of Napa Cabernet. It is neither stark nor blowsy, currant-focused or mocha chocolate obsessed. At $55 it marks the exact twain, exhibiting aspects of both camps and is regionally exacted for the Mt. Veeder appellation. Cabernet Sauvignon can sing like this sometimes. “Got my indignation but I’m pure in all my thoughts. I’m alive.” Brandlin’s sings like a Vedder ballad, with solemnity and hope. It may lack the Pearl Jam swagger but it’s stripped down beauty maintains an exceptional level of integrity. Guaranteed. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016 @BRANDLIN_wine   @LiffordON  @NapaVintners

Storybook Mountain Mayacamas Range Napa Estate Zinfandel 2012, Napa Valley, California (682989, $69.95, WineAlign)

Warm berry, bramble and Red Twizzler Zinfandel secured with full and necessary extraction. The pool is wide and deep for Mayacamas run-off, coruscation and welcome alterity. Appreciation must be afforded the red ochre aspects, from soil through crusted fruit as this Zinfandel stops well short of over-exposure and over-wrought tonality. It’s well judged mired within the accountable coffers of its bigness. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @StorybookWines  @TheVine_RobGroh  @NapaVintners

Jonata Todos Red 2011, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County, California (218941, $79.95, WineAlign)

The 2011 Todos by winemaker Matt Dees at $80 dares a superfluity of surfeited California peers to hold water, weight, candles or dovetail to match up against its prodigious abilities. Blending never tasted so worthy. Syrah (75 per cent), Merlot (7), Cabernet Sauvignon (7), Sangiovese (4), Petit Verdot (4), Viognier, (2) and Cabernet Franc (1) add up to something fine. Better than Morocco, “the dreams are rolling down across the places in my mind.” Anise and charcoal mark the entry, ripe berries fill in early, expert acidity gains control and sweet, charred, fine-grained tannins take hold. This is warm but within reason and the length is exceptional. Love the bitter finish. Like early Jackson Browne. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted February 2016  @WoodmanWS

Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Rutherford, Napa Valley, California (932400, $83.95, WineAlign)

This is a welcome respite from heat, alcohol and maximum extraction. The fruit is ripe and just because there is an underlying green note it should not be perceived as unripe. The current rings a bell and draws red currants through. The spice is wood-derived and complimentary. This wine is lauded for its antidisestablishmentariansim. Give it some love. It has fine tannins and plenty of life ahead. And it will drink with different and alternating strokes for five to ten explicitly characterful years. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted February 2016  @frogsleap  @rogcowines  @NapaVintners

Kistler Mccrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Mountain, California (353706, $120.95, WineAlign)

To my mind the McCrea Vineyard is the coolest climatic Kistler, a Sonoma Mountain parcel that exudes a gemstone and tart orchard fruit personality. The ripe, ropey phenolics and slick barrel impart run from strength to strength, with a piercing sensation zip-lining in ascension through and carrying along the generosity of aromatics. Here we find Kistler at its juicy, mineral best. This is a striking Chardonnay with impressive, 25,000 bottle quantity produced length. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted February 2016 @TheVine_RobGroh  @sonomavintners

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel

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Around the Cape in 50 wines

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Take Godello to a place that’s far away and it will fill him with words. With memories still thick as Bredasdorp pea soup, it is hard to believe it has already been four months since travelling to South Africa in September for Cape Wine 2015. I think it wise for the reader to be offered fair warning. The following wayfaring log is not brief and while it may be broken up with images of food, bottle shots and scenery, there are five thousand plus words to wade through. Feel free to skim at your wine tasting note leisure.

For a comprehensive look at South Africa’s Capelands, read my report at WineAlign.

Related – Welcome to South Africa’s Capelands

Table Mountain behind the clouds, Cape Town

Table Mountain behind the clouds, Cape Town

It has been four months since Cape Wine 2015 and many wines remain to be mentioned. My initial ramblings covered the three-day wine fair, varietal awakenings, Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa (PIWOSA), the Swartland Independents and the Zoo Biscuits.

Related – Once upon a time in the Western Cape

Lemon butter poached crayfish tail, kale, parsnip puree and bisque, Open Door, Constantia

Lemon butter poached crayfish tail, kale, parsnip puree and bisque, Open Door, Constantia

I tasted hundreds over three days at the bi-annual Cape Town event, along with dozens more in restaurants and at wineries in Stellenbosch, Swartland, Franschhoek and Constantia. One of the more memorable culinary experiences happened at Open Door Restaurant located at Uitsig Wine Estate in Constantia. The wine selection opened doors to new Cape perceptions and forward-thinking measures.

Springbok loin, orange sweet potato, lentils, pickled cucumber, cranberry jus, Open Door, Constantia - @OpenDoorSA

Springbok loin, orange sweet potato, lentils, pickled cucumber, cranberry jus, Open Door, Constantia

Related – Wines of South Africa: Go Cars Go

A visit to the Franschhoek Motor Museum at the Anthonij Rupert Wyne Estate rolled into a tasting of wines with Gareth Robertson, Sales and Marketing Manager at Anthonij Rupert Wines. Verticals were poured; Cape of Good Hope, Leopard’s Leap, La Motte and Optima L’Ormarins. Then the varietals of Anthonij Rupert Estate

Hitching a ride on the Anthonij Rupert Estate

Hitching a ride on the Anthonij Rupert Estate

A full on Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa (PIWOSA) experience at the Car Wine Boot was nothing short of a wine-soaked, large object flinging hoedown throw down.

Related – Wines of South Africa: It’s the fling itself

Wine Car Boot, Journey's End Vineyards

Wine Car Boot, Journey’s End Vineyards

The act of intense immersion into any important wine-producing nation and its diverse regional expressions can only leave a lasting impression if the follow-up takes a long, cool sip of its meaning. Though just the beginning of what I hope to be a life-lasting fascination with South African wine, these 50 reviews prepare and pave the way.

Beaumont

Beaumont Family Wines Hope Marguerite 2013, Bot River-Walker Bay, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Named after winemaker Sebastian Beaumont’s grandmother, Hope Marguerite Beaumont. Thirty-five (400L) barrels of Chenin Blanc from 1975 and 1978 plantings anointed by natural fermentation and maturation. Reductive, malo-avoidant and lees stirred for 10 months to dess effect. Acidity swallows and trumps sugar while bitters, well, these bitters don’t even realize they are bitters. Possessive of that torched orange peel, lime skin and hinting at something faintly tropical. Many shades of Chenin Blanc within one tight-knit bottle. A benchmark of species. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2015  @Beauwine

Paul Cluver Riesling Dry Encounter 2013, Elgin, South Africa (Winery, $23.99, WineAlign)

Riesling from South Africa’s largest and nascent varietal growers, one of three Cluver bears and wholly antithetical to the “Close Encounter’ simply and primarily because of its omnipresent aridity in the face of 9.0 g/L of residual sugar. Based on fruit from a variegated 27 year-old block of ferricrete (surficial sand and gravel masses) layered over decomposed Bokkeveld Shale and/or light clay. From a basin, a true amphitheatre between the mountains. The dry one shows off the cooler climate charity, offering up the opportunity to make Riesling the way it needs to be. Floats boats of blossoms piled in apples, honey and native fynbos. Elevated in nervousness, tension and anxiety through the conduit of acidity. This guy is the tip of the spear that pierces the palate. Though dry to that pointed end it is the primitive passion of grape tannin that churns the combine.  Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @paulcluverwines  @PIWOSA  @paulcluver

Paul Cluver Gewürztraminer 2015, Elgin, South Africa (Winery)

If Riesling is a South African anomaly, the nine hectares planted to Gewürztraminer on the Cluver estate is at least preternatural if not verging on antediluvian. The throwback approach to varietal expression takes on the do anything in South Africa mandate and runs with it. A tightly wound white, like Riesling driven by acidity, inconsequential in sugar (10.2 g/L) and rushing with rivers of grape tannin. Lime is again the thing in a world where sweetness finds it hard to live. Anything but soapy, less than sticky and so very clean. Purity out of Elgin in Gewürztraminer. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015

Riebeeksrivier

Cape of Good Hope Riebeeksrivier White 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

From the stable of Anthonij Rupert Wines, a blend based on Chenin Blanc (65 per cent) with Rhône assistance from Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. Similar in a way to the old vines Chenin in its purest form in a clean amalgamation of weighty varietal relations. Naturally driven acidity and an increase in creamy texture is accompanied by lactic notes and a greener, sharp apple bite. A wow reversal of impression with an anise under current and a toasty, nutty omnipresence. Quite fine. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @AnthonijRupert

Rall Wines Red Coastal Region 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Superior Syrah spine (85 per cent) with a 2014 Grenache (15 per cent) addendum. Healthy and happy in alcohol (14 per cent) from Swartland schist to cure what troubles and saps. Liquorice, easy tannin and illimitable fruit (for a two to five-year run) from the gifts of a terrific vintage. Open-knit, expressly serviceable with a not overly piquant, peppery finish. Tobacco moment is just a pinch between the cheek and gums. Easy on the extraction and 50 per cent stainless housing for nothing but Swartland fruit with some added stems for the perception os sheer freshness. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @SwartlandRev

David and Nadia Paardebosch Chenin Blanc 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

A blend of 1960’s, 1970’s and early 1980’s, mainly dry-farmed bush vine Chenin Blanc vineyards throughout the Swartland. Sweet textured Chenin with endemic herbiage and territorial tang. Varietal identity is never an issue for South Africa’s signature white but how does definition out of disparate plots come together? For the Sadies “the meaning always lies somewhere that’s right between the lines.” Connotation and significance in what’s left behind. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @DavidandNadia  

David and Nadia Aristagos 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

David and Nadia Sadie

David and Nadia Wines

A bush vines dominant, 12 vineyard, five-varietal interface of Chenin Blanc (35 per cent), Roussanne (25), Clairette Blanche (20), Viognier (15) and Sémillon (5). The latter (not inconsequential) addition is from a 1950’s planted vineyard. Round and round aromatics integrate Swartland harmonies in transition to palate promptitude of spry lemon and lime. Emits that fleshing four to five-year pursuit to honeyed possibility, in which the Sémillon is not lost on that ideal. We should all be willing to wait that long though not be greedy for anything more. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted September 2015

David and Nadia Grenache 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

A riveting (85 per cent) Grenache honed from two vineyards planted in granite mountain soils, mixed and matched with (15 per cent) fruit off of organic vines grown in deep iron rich soils. A scintillant of reductive freshness gets busy with chalk ou of ferric soil in romantic and heavy breathing passion. Though nearly carbonic, atomic and more exhalant than inhalant, the freshness is always halted by a weight in denouement. The obdurate cessation is helped along by 10 to 11 months in oak. Very thoughtful, engaging and consummated Grenache from the Sadies. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2015

Godello and Billy Hughes at Cape Wine 2015

Godello and Billy Hughes at Cape Wine 2015

Hughes Family Wines Nativo White 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Certified organic from the Kasteelsig Vineyards on the Hughes Family farm in Malmesbury.  The blend is high in Viognier with Chenin Blanc, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. Picked at three separate intervals, the bifurcate prongs of sugar, acidity and alcohol are remarkably streamlined towards an upwards push skyward. A very base and elemental white wine that hovers in the lower reaches of the stratosphere, wanting to rise but held secure by the heartstrings of older oak filaments. This is fresh and yet filled out by a density defined in Swartland ways. An appellative white blend with my thoughts of Cape Town’s Chef’s Warehouse crudo in mind. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @NativoWines

Crudo and Kimchi #tuna #kingclip #chefswarehouse #capetown

Crudo and Kimchi #tuna #kingclip #chefswarehouse #cape town

Hughes Family Wines Nativo Red 2009, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Certified organic from natural, dry-farmed estate Kasteelsig Vineyards on the Hughes Family farm in Malmesbury.  The blend is Shiraz (56 per cent), Grenache (16), Merlot (13), Mourvedre (9) and Pinotage (6). Swartland’s local master of assemblage Billy Hughes (the J-L Groux of South Africa if you like) counselled separate and all natural fermentations, barrel malolactic, eight months in 225L barriques (none new) plus four more post blending. The core aroma to palate thematic is ingratiated by a grape in raisin initiation stage, habituating the right side of ripe. This is a soft-styled Swartland red having fully realized its progressive road to enrichment. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015

Hughes Family Wines Nativo

Hughes Family Wines Nativo Red 2010, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

As in 2009, certified organic from natural, dry-farmed estate Kasteelsig Vineyards on the Hughes Family farm in Malmesbury.  The blend is Syrah (52 per cent), Mourvedre (22), Grenache (13) and Pinotage (13). Fresher, lighter even than 2009, floral, feathery, feminine. Through the pretty dab of perfume there is the presence of clay, iron and a feeling of warm Cassis. The red fruit while anything but dark has a presence, an attitude, an unfailing condition. Will live longer than the previous vintage. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015

Wildenhurst Velo White 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Juicy Colombard, Chenin Blanc and Viognier in cohorts simply, basically and ostensibly about town for texture. Beautiful freshness, grace and grape tannin. The juice and nothing but the juice. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015  @WildehurstW  @ShereeNothnagel  @SwartlandRev

Wildenhurst Velo Rosé 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

A multi-cultivar and double-hued blush by way of Grenache, Viognier, Mourvèdre, Colombard and Chenin Blanc. Really widens the fresh fruit spectrum, in manifold customary shades of red. From a hot vintage where sugars ran higher than 2013 yet still just about as dry as a skeleton way past tissue. Despite all attempts, the brine and herbiage outplay the salinity and aridity. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015

Wildenhurst Chenin Blanc 2012, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

The only straight up cultivar in Sheree Nothnagel’s portfolio from 30 year-old bush vines. Arranged low, natural and slow across a two month fermentation period in 3rd fill (225L) barrels towards a dry end. Matured on the lees for a further five months. Handy, prosaic and unostentatious Chenin Blanc of texture and mouthfeel. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015

Silwervis Cinsault 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

First introduced at the inaugural Swartland Revolution, winemaker Ryan Mostert is a key player in the South African Cinsault revival. His naturally exhibited (with only added sulphur) old-vine Swartland Cinsault was matured in one Nomblot concrete egg. His is the Allman Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Deerhunter rolled into one varietal ode “to the malleability and uniqueness of Swartland.”

One of hundreds of wines tasted over an eight-day period in requiem to exclaim, “I am saved, I am saved. And oh, would you believe it?” So fresh, salty, ultra-carbonic, russet roseate raspberry and orange peel. It really feels real, unlike anywhere else. The varietal and the reformation. “We’re in a revolution. Don’t you know we’re right. People can you feel it? Love is everywhere.” Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @Silwervis  @SwartlandRev  @PascalSchildt

Terra Cura

Terra Cura 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Silwervis winemaker Ryan Mostert is behind the new Terra Cura label with Samantha Suddons. From just outside of Malmesbury in the Western Cape. This cracker of a bottle is one hundred per cent Syrah from rolling hills rocking down to the sea. Ferric, burrowing into depths, rooted and heavy. Structured, chunky savoury, of wild sauvage, from a fierce and filthy athletic vintage. Reeks of potpourri, ambition and is yet remarkably ready to drink. A messenger to herald a land of opportunity, a revolution, the future. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @Terra_Cura

Johan Simons, Dragonridge Wines

Johan Simons, Dragonridge Wines

Dragonridge Wines Supernova Ancestral 2014, Paardeberg, South Africa (Winery)

Chenin Blanc works with Sangiovese and with Pinotage to lead this ancestral method sparkling blend. From Joubertskloof’s Fynbos Estate, this fizz is really nothing like Méthode Cap Classique in that it adds nothing to the fermentation in the bottle, relying only on its own sugars and wild yeasts. When it does not explode it goes this way, so, so natural, all in. Winemaker Johan Simons happily sees it persist through the problem. “We do it because we can, and we want to.” From two blocks planted in 1964 and 1990 with a section going back to 1920. Picked on the 19th of January and from a ferment that finished two months early. These very old, unirrigated bush vines offer up lemon funky, low pH fruit. Goes straight to the roof of the mouth with rising, unassertive flavours. The question begs, is this an oasis of South African fizz or a desert where ancient longings go to die. The answer lies “caught beneath the landslide in a champagne supernova.” We’ll see about that. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @FynbosEstate

Dragonridge Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Paardeberg, South Africa (Winery)

No wood. From five barrels of naturally thick, free-run only juiced, patchy, basket pressed elixir. This is simply brilliant, drink the hell out of it until it’s gone Cabernet Sauvignon. Forget the barrel. Bring it on. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted September 2015

Elementis Skin Contact Chenin Blanc 2014

Elementis Skin Contact Chenin Blanc 2014

Intellego Wines Chenin Blanc ‘Elementis’ 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

A private label by Lammershoek’s Jürgen Gouws, from two 40 year-old bush vines parcels. A direct, right at you, citrus and dry-farmed tang Chenin simultaneously pretty and bitter. Three weeks of skin contact detour to grapefruit and guava with a level of great elegance in its laundry soaking up dirty water. Cloudy and slightly dangerous, Basque cider like and built by the bare necessities of salinity and trim, briny orange elements. As snake-driven a purposed accumulation as found anywhere in South Africa. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015  @jurgengouws

Intellego Wines Syrah Kolbroek 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Same natural fermentation as the Chenin in this single-vineyard, 100 per cent Syrah. Comes up firing after time spent on its skins, soaking up and in its own tannic juices. Fresh if tight for elegance in Syrah. Refined bitters adhere to the supreme purpose which is an expression of spritely, red energy. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015

Black Oystercatcher Triton 2013

Black Oystercatcher Triton 2013

Black Oystercatcher Triton 2013, Elim, South Africa (Winery)

From owner & winemaker Dirk Human at Cape Agulhas, this is highly modern and refined Shiraz major (86 per cent) with minor Cabernet Sauvignon (12) and Cabernet Franc (2). Stylish without a whack of new oak, with independent varietal fermentation, maturation and ageing for 12 months. In a multiple choice Shiraz world of spicy, piquant, snappy and sharp the fill is all of the above. The present day South African cliché encompassing fresh, tight and elegant reds comes ’round again though here you can add cool-climate (southernmost tip of Africa) feel to the mix. What comes from the wood is in the finish, over charcoal and brushed by tar. Should show best in 2018. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted September 2015  @BOC_Wines

Francois Haasbroek, Blackwater Wines

Francois Haasbroek, Blackwater Wines

Blackwater Wines Underdog Chenin Blanc (MMXIV) 2014, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery)

A mere 5500 bottles from winemaker Francois Haasbroek, a balanced tannin, alcohol (13.3 per cent), acidity (5.8 TA) and sugar Chenin, culled from high slope, (46 year) old bush vineyards of Bottelary Hills. Concrete tank housed ferments and aged on the fine lees for six months. Texture drives the green apple machine, fuelled by salinity and faux candy bursts. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @Blackwaterwine  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Blackwater Wines Blanc (MMXIV) 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery)

Chenin Blanc 80 (per cent), Sémillon (15) and Bourboulenc from vineyards in Durbanville and Ashton. The Chenin was skin fermented for 7 days and then blended with 2013 Sémillon (equipped with 12 months of texture gained on the lees) and what Haasbroek quips was a “smidge” of Bourboulenc. The 1200 bottle blend saw further time (16 months) in old (225L) barrels. Possessive of apples glazed in lemon polish, terrific, granitic grain in tannin and Deiss-esque Pinot d’Alsace surrealism. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted September 2015

Blackwater Wines Cultellus Syrah (MMXII) 2012, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Schist Syrah in its entirety, mineral warm and tempered, moderately spiked by its alcohol (13.7 per cent) and five-plus year controlled acidity (5.6 TA). Blackwater’s steep block of Riebeek Kasteel vineyards offers up fruit begging to left alone. Haasbroek consented to four weeks of contact on the skins, followed by nothing more indulgent then a drain & whole-bunch press into eight to ten year-old (600L) barrels. Twenty-six months later, sans filter, nary a fining and voila. Syrah in fancy-free finesse, smoky elegance, Swartland schist, sour cherry and more schisty ferric earth. Dynamic though never in danger of inflammation, inflammatory or flaming behaviour. In the end, the sweetness is impossible. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted September 2015

Blackwater Wines Noir (MMXII) 2012, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

The largest output in the Blackwater portfolio with a whopping 6000 bottles. A multi-site Swartland Syrah (92 per cent), 10-15 per cent whole bunch fermented and then blended with Carignan and Grenache after a year of ageing. This follwed by an additional 12-14 months in old 500-600L barrels. Deep and meaty, but like modern Nebbiolo, of finesse in the clarity of its recesses. Marked by gnashing tannin and grippy structure. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2015

Omerta

Blackwater Wines Omerta (MMXIV) 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

It begins with a shush, this “code of silence,” although it has nothing to do with “criminal activity” and yet its aromatic sweetness should be illegal. Caring proposed in 100 per cent terms, off of 28 year-old Swartland bush vines, fully entrenched in the revolution and the revival, while in “refusal to give evidence to authorities.” The single vineyard, predominantly granite soils are the source of amazing purity and acidity as if by wrote. Healthy (30 per cent) whole bunch fermentation and a 25 day linger on the skins imparts more tannic by-product nectar. The older 500L barrels for 16 months   makes for a dusty, carefully curated cure. When it comes to thinking about drinking this Omerta, “Old black water, keep on rollin’…I ain’t got no worries, ’cause I ain’t in no hurry at all.” Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2015

Savage Wines White 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery)

In which Sauvignon Blanc (70 per cent) and Sémillon (30) keep good vibes, smile and celebrate a pure purée of progressive white tannin. This is the last of the straightforward Bordeaux Savage Mohicans with subsequent vintages adding more varietal diversification. Duncan Savage sees the future replete with appellative blends as per a Western Cape necessity, free from the posit tug of French heartstrings. This last kick at the Left Bank can is bright, pure and composed to reflect sunshine and stone.  Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Savage Wines Red 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Essentially Western Cape fruit with a dab of Darling in a blend that emits polished Syrah (67 per cent) with naturally supportive Cinsault (12), Grenache (9) and Touriga Nacional (9). Duncan Savage procured 3500 bottles to market of this ranger, a red thinking cool Rhône thoughts and rooted firmly on the median line between his single-vineyard Syrah and the precocious Follow the Line. Will increase in complexity when Syrah gives away some floor time to the other grapes. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015

Savage Wines Syrah 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery)

Perhaps the most personal of Duncan Savage’s wines, even more than the Farmhouse draw in his red blend Follow the Line.  This SV Syrah is the home block, the place where he lives. His blends are a pure blur while this Syrah offers up a not too distant future filled with early life appreciation, graceful necessities and gifting niceties. It just hints at this now and subsequent wines will sing. Let this one and what’s left of the other 599 bottles produced sit for a year, to smooth out harsh bits and to integrate the Cape funk and Syrah cure. Oh, it’s like an animal farm, but you’ll come to no harm in the country.” Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2015

Momento Wines Chenin Blanc-Verdelho 2014, Bot River, South Africa (Winery)

The Chenin Blanc (85 per cent) grows in old vineyards from Bot River and Darling and together with 11 year-old Bot River Verdelho (15) they reside in Bokkeveld shale, with portions of sand and clay. Five (400L old) French barrels carried natural Chenin ferments with some fine lees. Stainless tanks and older oak housed the riper Verdelho which joined the Chenin just before bottling. Winemaker Marelise Niemann was able to produce a healthy yet manageable quantity (200 cases) of a blend directed to deferential texture. This from a cloudy ferment once clarified turned to secondary, mineral flavours. The early pick and moderate (12.5 per cent) alcohol gained on bacteria and made for pure white fusion. The orchards are spoken for, from pit, through seed and back to pit. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @momentowines  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Marelise Niemann, Momento Wines

Marelise Niemann, Momento Wines

Momento Wines Grenache 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

From porous, sandy soil, Grenache loving dryland (10 year-old) bush vines, for the time being at least, until the Bot River vines mature. A smaller (one half) production than the white raised in open fermenters, one-third punched down and only old barrels used. So opposite in feel to the Bokkeveld shale, regardless of the grape hue, bringing a foxy, natural cure to Grenache. Direct, tight and autotelic fresh, crunchy and popping. Unalloyed red fruit, hidden citrus and a racy finish. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015

Botanica Wines Chenin Blanc and Chenin Blanc Untitled #1 2014

Botanica Wines Chenin Blanc and Chenin Blanc Untitled #1 2014

Botanica Wines Chenin Blanc 2014, Citrusdal Mountain, South Africa (Winery)

Winemaker Ginny Povall draws fruit made on the Stellenbosch farm from 55 year-old vines set in a 1600m high dry-farmed vineyard. The location is the rugged Skurfberg slopes in the mountains of Clanwilliam, 40 kilometres from the sea. These vines are low yielding, producing a scant 2.5 tons per hectare and picked early. Half of the just on the lee side of ripe fruit is barrel fermented and matured in 400L French oak and spends nine months on the gross lees. Juicy, bright, full on citrus, striking and crackling Chenin. Wood adds some weight and oh, the Rooibos. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @ginnypovall

Botanica Wines Chenin Blanc Untitled #1 2014, Citrusdal Mountain, South Africa (Winery)

The approach is small batch, from lower Skurfberg altitude, chosen out of a specifically identified parcel and intentionally managed with 100 per cent (20 new) oak intervention. Lower alcohol, higher reduction and an ulterior, gemstone mineral manifestation. On one hand the Chardonnay like approach causes a perplexing feeling and on the other, a sense of wonder. The tropical abutment and real-time citrus symbiosis carries the weight and then the Rooibos, again. Occupies high ranks in the wooded Chenin outpost territory. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2015

The Tea Leaf Chenin Blanc 2014

The Tea Leaf Chenin Blanc 2014, Piekenierskloof, South Africa (Winery)

Made by Donovan Rall for Boutinot in the anti-Western Cape unicorn region Piekenierskloof, from where Chenin Blanc seems to have risen to sudden and darling prominence. The 70 year-old vineyards are at 750m, which is not nothing and the fruit is cropped from 40 year-old vines. All natural fermentation is the modus in this fuller, deeper, mineral completed Chenin that runs the gamut from creamy to bitters. And unfermented redbush, Aspalathus linearis. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @BoutinotWines

Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2024

Boekenhoutskloof Sémillon 2004, Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

If anything, Marc Kent’s decade and a year Sémillon has travelled down a long road to a very quiet place. That retirement home is filled with honey and dates, all gathered up nicely in tangy, gift wrapping acidity. The orchard fruits are gone and the truth no longer lies in the second half of the bottle. It speaks with early clarity. Time to drink up, sipping slowly, with the “sun going down, blood orange, behind the Simonsberg.” Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted September 2015  @UNIVINS

Steenberg Nebbiolo 2013

Steenberg Nebbiolo 2013, Constantia, South Africa (Winery)

Another achievement in what can be cultivated, nurtured and brought to fruition with great success in South Africa. A ringer for Serralunga from Nebbiolo treated to 60 per cent second and 40 per cent third fill 225L French oak barrels for 14 months. Roses meet tar, tea, red citrus and bright, vital flavours. The life affirming and balanced qualities of Nebbiolo in the cooler, temperate and Mediterranean-mimicked Constantia climate will bring longevity to this wine. Should flesh out, settle and sing in three to five years.  Drink 2018-2022. Tasted September 2015  @SteenbergWines  @ConstantiaWines

Allesverloren Tinto Barocca 2013

Allesverloren Tinto Barocca 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Dating back to 1704, Allesverloren is situated on the south-eastern slopes of the Kasteelberg near Riebeek West, is the oldest estate in the Swartland Wine of Origin district. “The Naked Winemaker” Danie Malan farms dryland, trellised vineyards, situated 140m above sea level and facing south-east, were planted between 1958 and 1996. Here exemplary bread basket viticulture with a perfectly habituated expatriate Portuguese grape, rich in warmth, tannin and texture after having been aged in second and third French oak for eight months. The hematic push is elevated, as per the Swartland soil give, so the brooding capitulation is both deep and vaulted. High pH mixed with upwards and capped acidity ensures brightness, to speak the correct dialect and fanciful expression. Finishes with style. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @AllesverlorenSA

Innemend teenage Cabernet @Uitkykwines

Innemend teenage Cabernet @Uitkykwines

Uitkyk Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery)

From north-west facing vines planted in 1989 to 1993 in soils rich in decomposed granite at 300 meters above sea level. Aging was completed for 18 months in 300L French oak barrels of which 53 per cent were new, (35) second and (12) third fill. I begin with “Hello? Hello? Hello? Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone at home?” The answer is very much yes. At 15 years of age the Uitkyk is a treat in the latter stages of a comfortably numb dream. Deep pink, raspberry dusty, funky of triturated earth and ground stone. Still much aridity and acidity hanging on for dear life. Seems to drone on with mostly rising breaths and strings in oscillation. A remarkable older drop. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted September 2015  @uitkykwinemaker

Grangehurst Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1995, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery)

Quite the treat to see this pouring at the older wines, help yourself tasting session at Cape Wine 2015. It was from what is widely considered Stellenbosch’s vintage of that decade and 20 years is not nothing for Paulliac let alone Stellenbosch. Grangehurst has made this wine in every vintage save for one, since 1992. What a remarkable old drop from winemaker Jeremy Walker, alive and kicking, as if by any means necessary. This from a guy who was quoted as saying “the more you surf during the harvest season, the better the wines.” His 1995 is replete with notes of cedar, thyme, coercing currants and really grand minerality. Has survived with acidity and tannin intact, stretching, yet persistent and working with what had to have been a harvest of such perfect fruit. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015  @grangehurst

Tamboerskloof Viognier 2015 and Shiraz Rosé Katharien 2015

Tamboerskloof Viognier 2015 and Shiraz Rosé Katharien 2015

Kleinood Farm Tamboerskloof Viognier 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, AgentWineAlign)

From Tukulu and Kroonstad, augmented with nine or 10 percent Roussanne. Some barrel aging (nothing new, mostly 4th fill French 300L) plus a final 30-60 days in concrete eggs. Beautifully restrained, classically styled and tempered Viognier. The respectable alcohol (12.9 per cent), piqueing acid (6.0 g/l), low pH (3.22) and necessary residual sugar (4.4 g/l) are the specs of attentive and pinpoint winemaking. The result is remarkable freshness and purity with a bit of stuffing. Picked on the model of “flavour faith,” the softness “just dropped in to see what condition” the grip’s “condition was in. It was with cool fleshy fruit against a backdrop of warm, tropical flowers. Chic, first edition Viognier. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @Tamboerskloof

Kleinood Farm Tamboerskloof Shiraz 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, AgentWineAlign)

The blocks are Tukulu/Kroonstad/Klapmuts/Witfontein and vines at 12 years of age. Five per cent Mourvèdre and a couple of points Viognier clean and lift the Shiraz while 10-12 days of skin contact roll out the red carpet of elixir vitae. Imagine the possibilities if Gunter Shultz had opted for 24-30. The engineering in l’élevage pays heed to 18-20 months in 300 and 500L French oak barrels, 15 per cent new, (20) second, (25) third, (20) fourth (20) fifth fill. A further 18 months in bottle delayed the patient and philosophic release. Shiraz rarely gains a compatibility like this. Big to elegant, brawn to finesse. The purity is only overshadowed by the youth. Five years are needed to reverse the ratios of cosanguinity. The Tamboersklook is a prime Stellenbosch example of thoughtful winemaking taking full advantage of technology and techniques firmly entrenched in the progressive and the forward thinking. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted September 2015

Big wines. Bigger, balanced finesse @Tamboerskloof @CapeWine2015 @WOSA_ZA #upperblaauwklippenvintners

Big wines. Bigger, balanced finesse @Tamboerskloof @CapeWine2015 @WOSA_ZA #upperblaauwklippenvintners

Kleinood Farm Tamboerskloof Shiraz 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, AgentWineAlign)

It’s quite amazing to see a wine made in virtually the exact same way as the forbearing 2011 turn out to be so different. The only noticeable adjustment is the few points increase in Shiraz but the approachability and accessibility factor is manifest tenfold. Lush fruit, plush texture and tannins sweeter yet still firmly structured lead this down a much friendlier road. For winemaker Gunter Shultz this could be the result of exceptional planning or just dumb luck. Does it matter? The fact that this can be enjoyed in just two years time while the 2011 broods and sulks means that four years on you could switch back and forth for maximum mini-horizontal enjoyment. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted September 2015

Kleinhood Farm Tamboerskloof Shiraz Rosé Katharien 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineryAgent WineAlign)

Fundamentally bone-dry Rosé first picked at 20 brix and then at 24, so very lightly pressed and then finished at 13 per cent alcohol. Mostly stainless steel in ferment with some time in “odds and ends” of French oak barrels. A dry and dusty blush with Shiraz that goes straight to strawberry and candied fruits. The simple pleasures found. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015

Kleinood Farm Tamboerskloof Shiraz John Spicer 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

Single-vineyard (Tukulu block), 100 per cent Shiraz from 20 months in 300L French oak, split between 25 per cent first, (20) second and the remainder third fill. As a comparison with the ’11 and ’12 (less than 100 per cent) Shiraz this is the one with the “devil’s grip, the iron fist.” Follow up to the maiden voyage, the motorhead 2010 broods under a moonless sky, a dark night and a wine with which you “walk in circle lose your track, can’t go on but you can’t go back.” Like the song, this is one of those wines you can actually lose weight while sipping. So hard to tame this ferric, oozing beast but the far eastern, temperate, somewhat fertile savour, from mint, eucalyptus and clove is nothing if not intriguing. Built from north facing, Clone SH470 Shiraz vines of cool acceptance, there also invades a Mediterranean brush of garrigue and délicasse. Enough finesse in its largesse causes pause for thought, that like any contemporary sound, smell or taste it often just takes getting used to. With time the immensity and reverberation settles and immunity sets in. A newer, larger expression will take centre stage and the old bark won’t seem so loud. John Spicer 2010 will seem like a ballad some day. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted September 2015

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam Cinsault 2015, Darling, South Africa (Winery)

Coined the Boetie Van Reenan Darling Cinsualt from dry-farmed fruit in a tertiary-carbonic, whole bunch stomped, gassed and left t0 reach one-third of the total ferment state. A short stay in old, left for naught oak barrels. The result is a wine the world knows not from or how. The resolution is where South Africa is heading, into fine, pure, fresh berry tonic territory. The clarity of the language is downright biblical. The elements are base and instructional, of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, sulphur and a few other unnamed elements. Their accrued spirit is not one of sophistication but they succinctly prepare us for a path to civil and ceremonial wine consuming law. This my friends is a Monday to Friday breakfast wine. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @ChrisAlheit  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Maps & Legends, from Cartology to Flotsam & Jetsam @ChrisAlheit @ZooBiscuitsWine #alheitvineyards #hermanus #capewine2015

Maps & Legends, from Cartology to Flotsam & Jetsam @ChrisAlheit @ZooBiscuitsWine #alheitvineyards #hermanus #capewine2015

Alheit Vineyards Cartology Chenin Blanc-Sémillon 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

An exploratory cuvée of recherché to examine the diversity of mature dryland bushvines out of vineyards dotting the Western Cape. Eighty year-old Sémillon from Franschhoek is the catalyst to complement and ramble with heritage (30-40 year old) Chenin Blanc grown in Skurfberg, Perdeberg, Bottelary Hills and Kasteelberg. A natural fermentation is performed to imitate a cold night in the vineyard. The wine is a map with the compass to lead you back to the vineyards, to taste the grapes in their naked states. The South African version of atticism and rhythm in Cartology is utterly Western Cape and nothing else tastes just like this. It bleeds lime and stone with subterranean salinity trailing all the way. Criterion Chenin Blanc and paradigmatic Sémillon. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2015

The wines of Diemersdal

The wines of Diemersdal

Diemersdal Grüner Veltliner 2015, Durbanville, South Africa (Winery)

From a vineyard planted in 2009 of Scali and Hutton soil and South-West facing slopes. This third vintage of 12,000 bottles was 50 per cent fermented with “X5,”  a Sauvignon Blanc-Riesling yeast and the balance with a traditional varietal strain from Austria, Oenoferm Veltliner.  Six months post fermentation lees are `stirred up to once a week. Classic mineral and fruit 50/50 GV style though equally and tangibly in poesy to regional Sauvignon Blanc; crisp with a touch of herbal spine. Vibrant, tightly wound acidity and a peppery bite on the back-end. The SB bent is written and exploited in the best possible way. Will be a great wine when the vineyard grows up just a bit. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015  @diemersdalwines

Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc Eight Rows 2015, Durbanville Hills, South Africa (Winery)

When sixth generation winemaker Thys Louw wanted to make a block specific Sauvignon Blanc his father Tienie’s offer fell short. “Why get out of bed for three rows?” Eight it was. From soils of decomposed granite with high clay content off of vines nearly 30 years of age. The locale, pinpoint picking from carefully chosen contours and the attention to detail have come to a cleaner, finessed and wisely distinct Sauvignon Blanc expression. The ride is calmer than the reserve and the finish still replete with freshness. The citrus preserves, locks in and bottles acidity. The obvious grape variety avoids cliché and the obscurity of “stand by me…nobody knows the way it’s gonna be.” Instead the eight rows oasis produces a Sauvignon Blanc that understands where it comes from and knows what it wants to be. Knows where it’s going. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015

The Foundry Grenache Blanc 2014, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa (Winery)

From Meerlust’s cellar master, Chris Williams, in partnership with his Kumala brand manager, the Scot James Reid. Fruit sourced from growers across the Cape. The wines are produced at Meerlust in Stellenbosch. The Grenache Blanc comes from the Malmesbury shale and decomposed granite soils of the Voor-Paardeberg. A mineral streak runs through and this bears little resemblance to the Rhône, nor does it reminisce about Catalonia. This is futuristic Grenache Blanc, the kind only found in dreams because of its high level of sumptuousness despite the elevated stone count. Tack on scents of lead and/or graphite and the revelry ascends. Perhaps it should be looked at as a block of chilled rock as holding vessel for selling fruit. Longevity from 100 per cent Grenache Blanc is a rare, cool and beautiful thing. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2015  @ChrisTheFoundry

The Blacksmith Vin Noir

The Blacksmith Vin Noir 2014, W.O. Coastal Region, South Africa (Winery)

A personal project of 600 bottles for Tremayne Smith, assistant winemaker at Mullineux & Leeu. A blend of 59 per cent Cinsault from Paarl and (41) Carignan from the Swartland. Neither Irish Planxty nor traditional folk Steeleye Span, the Vin Noir’s power chords and mineral metal imagines “uncrushable shields, power belts and magic rings.” A Falconer in Cinsault-Carignan clothing, smoky sweet, savoury emulsified, vaporous, beautifully murky. The Carignan is devilishly Rhône, built with spice, liquorice and dried sassafras. A slow release of red citrus Cinsault and a final, flinty feign of sweetness. A far cry from the old days of drinking South African tassies. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015  @tvsmith85

J H Meyer Cradock Peak Pinot Noir 2014, Outeniqua, South Africa (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

From the Cape outpost of Outeniqua, of all deity forsaken places, in the mountains above George and named for the highest (1578m) peak. The montane fynbos terrain makes for Pinot Noir of wild depth, tannic breadth and a natural, unfined, unfiltered bush vine pressed sensation. Though so unknown, this southeast facing slope drives a point not just new but also important to the South Africa Pinot Noir discussion. This Cradock Peak is a pushy Pinot, plush and demanding. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @Nicholaspearce_  @PublikWine

J H Meyer Cradock Peak Pinot Noir 2014, photo (c) Nicholas Pearce

J H Meyer Cradock Peak Pinot Noir 2014, photo (c) Nicholas Pearce

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South African duck dynasty

Avondale Wines Navitas 2008

Avondale Wines Navitas 2008

Balance, health, sustainability, organics, bio-dynamics, 21st century science and a posse of ducks. For Johnathan Grieve, these are the tenets of growing grapes and making wine at Avondale. The family owned and operated winery in Paarl, South Africa is a purveyor of wines fashioned with low and slow dynamics. Their dynasty is bred from a form of naturalism practiced in farming and winemaking executed in its purest form.

Take a moment to consider the dowsing effects of viticulture and viniculture driven by divested interests, where natural fermentations and a complete absence of artificial adjustments are the sworn rule. Let yourself go and the tangent will take you further, to incurvate within a grower’s neighbourhood occupied by the dimensions of the spiritual intersected with the existential. You will find yourself stumbling upon life energies, living systems, cosmic influences and rhythms.

I tasted with Grieve in Toronto, May 2015, with thanks to Rare Earth Wines and Wines of South Africa Canada’s Laurel Keenan. I then sat down with him again in September 2015, at Cape Wine, in Cape Town, South Africa. The notes tell the stories.

Avondale Wines at Cape Wine 2015

Avondale Wines at Cape Wine 2015

Avondale Wines Armilla 2009, Paarl, South Africa (WineryAgent, WineAlign)

From a farm dating to 1693 purchased by Johnathan Grieve’s family in 1996. Poster bubbles, for the Blanc de blancs habitation and for the Avondale oeuvre, the Armillary sphere, Roman “circle of life” and ancient astronomical instrument used to show the position of stars around the earth. Traditional production, with a kiss of oak and a final act of dosage. Five total years on the lees, including two on coarse and one in bottle. Picking was accomplished at the end of that January, in purpose of stylistic elegance and beautiful bitters born of natural and integrated acidity. Terrific dip of biscuits into honey. Like Baklava in a glass though equally savoury to dessert. Baller bubble, balanced and with the sense to envision evolution, to the look ahead of an adult age. Would retail for approximately $28 CAN. Drink 2015-2027.  Tasted twice, May and September 2015  @Avondalewine  @RareEarth_Wines  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

Winemaker with a true sense of purpose- Johnathan Grieve @Avondalewine @CapeWine2015 #capewineconnect #terraestvita #paarl #westerncape #southafrica #southafricanwine

Winemaker with a true sense of purpose- Johnathan Grieve @Avondalewine @CapeWine2015 #capewineconnect #terraestvita #paarl #westerncape #southafrica #southafricanwine

Avondale Wines Jonty’s Ducks Pekin White 2013, Paarl, South Africa ($14.95, WineryAgent, WineAlign)

Named for the young ducks and their voracious appetites for snails on which they go to town in the vineyard. Chenin Blanc driven, with some white Muscat, Semillon and Roussane. Sweet Chenin nose while 10 per cent aged in big French barrels adds texture in fleshy orchard fruit, from white peach to yellow plum. Duck, duck, goose, as in tart, sapid berries and the way they solidify the finish. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted May 2015

Avondale Wines Jonty’s Ducks Pekin White 2014, Paarl, South Africa ($14.95, WineryAgent, WineAlign)

The house white with the Avondale ducks always in mind. “How does mother nature do it? For each problem there is a natural predator available to do the job.” The holistic approach applies to the winemaking of Johnathan Grieve as well. In 2014 there is an easier and more naturalistic feel. With less oak and lees, some rest and the result is increased freshness, especially for the dominant Chenin Blanc. Ready to go as we speak. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015

Avondale Wines in Toronto, May 2015

Avondale Wines in Toronto, May 2015

Avondale Wines Jonty’s Ducks Pekin Red 2011, Paarl, South Africa (383547, $14.95, WineryAgentWineAlign)

At Avondale they employ beneficial bacteria, predatory wasps, birds of prey and their famous ducks. The Jonty’s posse goes frenetic when escargot are offered up at lunch. The same can be said for hordes of humans and this red blend. Composed from Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, it is seamless at this price. While savoury to be sure, there is no grape dominance. The middle is filled with drupe, kernel and spice. Try finding volatility. You can’t. Speaks, comments and lectures in layers of fruit across its hexa-varietal spectrum. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted May 2015

Avondale Wines Anima Chenin Blanc 2013, Paarl, South Africa ($22.95, WineryAgentWineAlign)

Straight shooting Chenin of struck stone and flint, from 100 per cent whole clusters, naturally fermented and aged for 12 months on the lees in large (500L) barrels. Plus bâtonnage, in the name of lees. Offers a sense of wax and pollen, in airy texture, through a valley of sound, with bending notes and a big riff finish. Some bitter melon and unique berries fret about. Has developed its tannic structure with mineral for soul and weight from soil. Terra est vitasoul to soul. Soil to soil. Avondale makes use of concentrated sea salts and cover crops give balance to the vineyard, to add diversity without negativity. Like adding keyboard and saxophone to the blues, for soul. “Get away from the blind side of life.” Change it. Drink 2015-2020.  tasted May and September 2015

Avondale Wines Cyclus 2013, Paarl, South Africa ($26.95, WineryAgentWineAlign)

A sink full blend of give or take equal (20-24 per cent) parts, with the vortex at Viognier, alongside Chenin Blanc, Marsanne and Roussane with (six to 10 per cent) Sémillon. Ostensibly, sensibly and spoken through megaphone, purporting the drive to and for such an appellative blend in South Africa. A circle of life and energy to announce the need for diversity, in vineyard, by way of bringing varietal togetherness and the notion that anything can be accomplished, anywhere, anytime. Confirms the idea that everything ripens in South Africa and can be showcased with the correct approach. An Avondale holistic approach. A Capelands example for which many should follow. Fruit in every pore, nook, hollow and cranny. Just as the vortices of a cow’s horn encourages blood flow, so are energies focused in the Avondale soil. Breathing in the Autumn, breathing out in Spring. The cycles. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2015

Johnathan Grieve in Toronto, May 2015

Johnathan Grieve in Toronto, May 2015

Avondale Wines Cyclus 2012, Paarl, South Africa ($26.95, WineryAgentWineAlign)

Viognier, Chardonnay, Roussanne, Chenin Blanc and Sémillon. In 2012 it’s as if the five varieties are spinning in centrifuge. Quite the whirling white blend, dynamic, energetic, replete with tropical fruit, metals and pulpy paper. The entire accumulation grooves in a vortex, whorling within a dynamic container. The lees adds a perfume of fine format, of yeast cultures and beneficial bacteria in a frenzy, bringing character and expression. The nine months of coarse solids have filtered in, relegating to elegance and pausing in a northern Rhone way. Up front fruit once quiet is now showy in this, its early stages of development. Fascinating stuff. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted May 2015

Avondale Wines Camissa 2014, Paarl, South Africa ( WineryAgentWineAlign)

A different sort of animal, the Camissa is a Blanc de Noir made from red varieties, Muscat de Frontignan, Mourvedre and Grenache. Tells the story of Table Mountain and the stream that feeds the vineyard. An expression of mostly red fruit; strawberry, raspberry, cranberry and pomegranate, dried, saline and briny. Lithe like dry Rosé and struck by impeccable balance thanks to natural acidity. Citrus claims the finish. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015

Avondale Wines Samsara 2009, Paarl, South Africa ($32.95, WineryAgentWineAlign)

A 100 per cent Syrah of purity, elegance and structure, from beginning to end. Nary a gauze or volatile moment intrudes, nor smoke and tar neither. Floral of violets, red plum and wet clay with just the faintest note of warm coffee grinds. Bright and vivid acidity, a rebirthing of Syrah, of South African roots incarnate and that grounded, earthy, yeasty cure. Much more elegant than the raw and energetic ’07. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted May 2015

Avondale Wines Samsara 2007, Paarl, South Africa ($32.95, WineryAgentWineAlign)

Hand-harvested Syrah, whole bunch, naturally warm fermented with no crushing at 30-32 degrees centigrade. Extended (15-16 day) skin contact. All this to gain maximum extraction and optimum flavour. What resulted was a deep, rich, red earth cured, funk-motivated Syrah, driven by soil above all else. Pepper and violets meld into severe grape tannin from those skins. Allspice and red citrus make their mark. Still not yet ready for prime time. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted September 2015

Avondale Wines La Luna 2009, Paarl, South Africa ($34.95, WineryAgentWineAlign)

A five Bordeaux varietal blend from Cabernet Sauvignon to Malbec with diminishing percentages by way of and through Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. A meritage in which the heritage aromatics driven by natural yeasts are accentuated by the bell curve of the ferment, during the decline and before the spike. Cake of the earth, fruit of dense expression and the structure of low and slow development. Extended skin contact, housing the place where yeasts reside, leads to the cultures driving the tannins. A culture club of composure and happiness. Really offers up a sense of what is achievable in South Africa. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted May and September 2015

Avondale Wines Navitas 2008, Paarl, South Africa (WineryAgentWineAlign)

The flagship, limited release Navitas (just over 1000 bottles) endears juicy, parturient Grenache and Mourvedre to Avondale’s enceinte Syrah in a transformative and characterful Rhône blend. This ’08’s cup runneth over with intense energy in what may be referred to as the powerstream red, 100 per cent whole bunch fermented, powered by natural enzymes and essentially, prolifically gravid with the most severe envy of carbonic maceration. A post ferment skin contact for 30 days and 18 months in gently effacing, new 6o0L oak barrels transports grapes to near nirvana. This is what can be done with fruit that has fully completed a journey to phenolic ripeness. Approximately $139 CAN. Drink 2017-2028.  Tasted September 2015

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Five old pines and one star

Le Vieux Pin

Le Vieux Pin

The pine tree stands alone. Le Vieux Pin. The old tree at British Columbia’s Black Sage Bench winery “speaks to the earth and rain and the clean clear air of the South Okanagan.” Le Vieux Pin makes wine with homage, loyalty and attention to French skill, acumen and personality. Their wines are decidedly full-bodied and age worthy.

The it moment for the principals at Le Vieux Pin may have been a Cabernet Franc one but it is Syrah that they have touched and turned into gold. The elegance, restraint and northern Rhône semi-ringer that is the Cuvée Violette is testament to what Viticulturist and Winemaker Severine Pinte can do with the grape variety. Her touch around that proverbial green is singular, not just for B.C. but for Canada and also the west coast. The mightier and more expensive Syrahs, the Cuvée Classique and Équinoxe will benefit in the future from what Pinte is doing with the Violette. It may be the entry-level of the three but it speaks the clearest and most understood vernacular.

LaStella is located at Osoyoos Lake in the South Okanagan valley. Their proprietary wines called Fortissimo, Allegretto, Vivace and Maestoso are named after Italian musical notes. I sat down with John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato and Steve Thurlow at WineAlign to taste five old pines and one star. Here are the notes.

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Violette 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (ON $39.99, B.C. $29.90, WineAlign)

Co-fermented with a couple of percentage points Roussane, this variation on the northern Rhône theme gets a different, if more valuable aromatic lift. Draws fruit from sites on the Black Sage Bench, North Oliver and the Oyosoos Lake District. Elegant and elongated, refined and buoyant. Feathery and untethered. The aroma of violets gathered and condensed, then flooded as if on a large canvas, in lithe diffusion, followed by multifarious perfumes. Chewy and circulating upon the palate, with sweet pinnings. Warm at 14.2 per cent alcohol with holes filled and acidity pins stuck. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted May 2015

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Classique 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (B.C. $49.90, WineAlign)

From plots of major glacial till, gravel, sandy silt and minor clay, in North Oliver and the Black Sage Bench. Five extra months in barrel (than the Violette), 21 per cent of it being new adds spice and texture to the gravity defying aromatic rise. More pepper and a hang of old world cure infiltrate the violets and the hyacinth. The lure of Umeboshi, grainy bean paste ice cream and leathery tang whiffs suppress the sweet, lingering florals and prepare the palate for what massive follows. Sweetness enters the fray, not as sugar, but as a thickening agent to balance the severe tannic grit. This needs five years minimum to settle and ten more to fully soften. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted May 2015

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Équinoxe Syrah 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (B.C. $89.90, WineAlign)

From North Oliver and Oyosoos Lake District vineyards of glacial sediment, gravel, silica and sandy loam, a veritable geological potpurri gives this low yielding (26 tonnes per acre) and minimal case load (324) of a Syrah a measure of immeasurable complexity. The barrel count is again (like the Cuvée Clasique) 19 months, with the new aspect increased to 34 per cent. The aromatics of violets, hyacinth and pepper are on magnified display. Add in sage and tobacco. Has grape tannin and wood spice in waves. The coarse salt, liqueur grain and pool of tension require much patience and respect. If Classique needs five, Équinoxe needs ten, or perhaps until the next solar eclipse on the vernal equinox. That will be in 2034. Here’s to hoping this hematic pugilist will be ready to drink by then.  Drink 2022-2034

Le Vieux Pin Retouche 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (B.C. $60.00, WineAlign)

A Bordeaux blend with a minor yet obvious fortification of Le Vieux Pin’s gold grape variety, Syrah. Has that mammoth richness falling somewhere between modern Brunello and Tuscan IGT. From fruit in Oyosoos Lake District and North Oliver. A small (61 case) production that was housed in third fill barrels for the house-style 19 months. Big, brawny, hematic, sanguine and bloody massive. The darkest of fruit. The deepest roots. The snake in the grass. The shark beneath the waves. Many bites, from pepper and far eastern spice, coffee and more coffee. Tannin out the wazoo and the gills. Huge, modern-effected Bordeaux, like Château de Pez or La Croix De Gay. At 14.8 per cent alcohol its warmth needs a settling period to be sure, but during the period in which the fruit lasts, it will always act this way. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2015

Le Vieux Pin Ava 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (ON $39.99, B.C. $34.90, WineAlign)

The Viognier, Marsanne and Roussane amalgamation is lifted by the latter’s floral give. The texture is bolstered by Viognier’s play, from entry through presence and forward. At that point the ownership is transferred to Marsanne’s camp, where it remains dry, stoic and lingering on the palate. Has all parts moving in synchronicity, for unity, precision and together to celebrate a distinct Rhône intent. Has great herbiage, grain and elongation. The length walks a ridge, in tune as long as the Black Sage Road. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted May 2015

La Stella Fortissimo 2012

La Stella Fortissimo 2012

La Stella Fortissimo 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (ON $39.99, B.C. $34.90, WineAlign)

The blend is Merlot (39 per cent), Cabernet Franc (38), Cabernet Sauvignon (17) and Sangiovese (6), a stew of Right Bank Bordeaux varietal intention with Memphis soul. Unashamedly rich, viscous, earthy deep, chalky and endowed with unctuous, chocolatey Osoyoos texture. The palate gives plum, dark red berries and more chocolate chew with a graphite and oozing Cassis centre. Then arrives the dusty Mulberry, bruised, hematic and pulsating with energy. The acidity follows with wow factor spirit. Has got Billy Preston finger roll and Stax tang, plus horn squeals and endless staccato fitful layering. It’s 14.9 per cent alcohol is curt yet remarkably not that hot. Put this king Okanagan away for five years minimum and listen to it linger for 10 or more. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted May 2015

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