Garage Wine Company redux

Derek Mossman Knapp – Garage Wine Co.

Sara d’Amato and I last caught up with and tasted the secrets of Chile’s deep interior with expatriate Etobican Derek Mossmnan Knapp three years ago yesterday, in September of 2016. I noted at the time that few have gone as deep and traced as far back “into the country’s heartland, oldest vines and ancestral traditions.” His wines from the Secano Interior are made by hand, naturally, in small lots parcel by parcel. Garage Wine Co. is still a matter of ploughs and manos en el suelo. Workers gain strength and energy from mugs of ulpo, toasted heirloom wheat flour with honey and water. This is a place where Derek tells us that one’s only real needs are “clippers, a hatchet, and a lifetime of experience to pass on.” Oxford commas sold separately.

Related – We take you now to garage wine in Chile

He continues to educate us. “Let’s make a mugrón” he says, a vine branch that is buried at the end so that a new plant is born. Like the Sicilian propaginare in Fabio Sereci’s Vrucara Vineyard. “This is regenerative agriculture. It’s not about finding a nice old man to support, but rather rolling your sleeves up and working elbow to elbow. The flavour is in the farming.” The work is relentless, essential, never-ending. “With seasonal cover-crops ploughed under no need for fertilizer,” he continues, “rastreando no es lo mismo y no incorpora nitrogeno de la misma manera.” Or, nitrogen will never incorporate as successfully by tracking. In Secano Interior there is only one way. The right way.

Contrary to common belief and heaps of marketing, the complexity of a wine most often comes from the farming.

Yes, the farming. A winemaker can aspire to creative angst and/or the never-ending and hopeless aspiration to attain the sublime but without the right, proper and tireless work ethic of agriculture there is no greatness. Tilling, hoeing, ploughing and straightening things out are the keys to the salvaes, the volleys, salutes, provisos and reservations for securing the possibility of making memorable wines.  Garage Wine Co. personnel are putting in the time.

País-Cariñena, Sémillon, Carignan Field Blend and Cabernet Franc. These are the four seminal bottles Derek brought along for Sara and I to taste at the WineAlign office. And it was good.

Garage Wine Co. País Cariñena Phoenix Ferment Single Ferment Series 2018, DO Secano Interior Cauquenes, Maule Valley, Chile (WineAlign)

“A wine that rose from the 2017 bush fires, quickly having ascended out of the ashes as something resurrected and reinvented.”We’ve gotta make a white from the reds,” tells Garage Wine Company founder Derek Mossman Knapp. A pressed whole with stems (like Champagne) field blend, or more succinctly a co-ferment of stacks, one on top of the other, país followed a few days later by cariñena. That said it was picked earlier, crisper and sharper in 2018. The acids are extraordinary and the melding of flowers, white and yellow are mimicked, extended and replayed by citrus and stone fruit flavours on repeat. Crazy smart and delicious, if never before tasted and understood. For interested parties, price would be 6.5 US ex-cellar. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted August 2019

Garage Wine Co. Sémillon Isidore Vineyard Lot # F1 2018, DO Maule Valley, Chile (WineAlign)

Single vineyard white off of lands shepherded by ancestral farming. Isidore is the patron saint of the worker and this is a wine not ordinarily made. Now the decades of urban legend, blue blood in the veins and perverso (perversity) replace bulk wine from places with no paved roads (and valid D.O. paperwork) left behind for such an exercise. It’s both rich for sémillon (thanks to skins) and its sessions but the acids keep it grounded, flint-struck, stone-driven. Certainly reminded of Chris Alheit a continent away. Old vines are meant to deliver a sting for sémillon and though just shy today of what it will bite with again, there is an intensity in feeling to make you wish for sea creatures of brine, fat, citrus and bitters. That’s the vernacular it speaks and seeks. Price would be 11 US ex-cellar. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted August 2019

Garage Wine Co. Lot #77 Carignan Field Blend Truquilemu Vineyard 2016, DO Maule Valley, Chile (WineAlign)

Here getting into the usage of lignified stems, first with a run through the de-stemmer, after which the brown and ripe ones are put back in. Avoids the candy floss of carbonic maceration while conversely encouraging more integration and camaraderie. Violet floral and expressly ripe with thanks to a few plants of malbec, país, mataro and tintara negro. So youthful and high-toned, plenty of fruit, more so intrigue and an old vines in old vineyards brushy herb savoury notation that permeates while hiding in the shadows. Why does this wine, not driven by anything in its plot, arouse in us such a powerful emotion, containing the entirety of what the wines is between a set of ineffable parentheses? It’s a unique structure, one that takes breaths and inhibitions away, as will others that do so, though not in any exclusive or elitist way. Seems right, big, structured, proper and just. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted August 2019

Garage Wine Co. Cabernet Franc La Higuera Vineyard Lot #62 2014, DO Maule Valley, Chile (WineAlign)

“Just wet it!” they say in how to make this cabernet franc, as in the dry Martini, Hawkeye Pearce way. Just a wave over the ferment, avoiding too much wood and keeping it real. The fruit is ostensibly dark as a cimmerian night, with minor keys played by iodine, soy and balsamic, though ultimately the settling over five plus years will reveal a more natural state. It’s chewy inside and crusted enough to make it crunchy on the outside, a perfectly textured red like a steak charred and cooked rare inside meeting a proper cookie but in cabernet franc clothing. As you nose and taste it continues to refine, come into balance and also elegance. Imagine what those five years in bottle will effect. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted August 2019

Good to go!

godello

Derek Mossman Knapp – Garage Wine Co.

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Varietal artistry of Collio Bianco

San Floriano Del Cóllio, Friuli-Venezia Giulia

If the wines of Collio are to be described and more specifically if we are to look at the white blends collectively known as Collio Bianco DOC, this is what we see. Collio Bianco are wines of performance without obstacles, fluid achievements free of interruption, representing the vital energy and élan of their territory. Unbeknownst to many they are filled with an unfamiliar blissfulness, for how all will be realized.

Enjoy Collio Experience 2019

I visited in late spring as days warmed and nights still played it cool. Collio sits one kilometre from the Adriatic coast and also Slovenia so it’s no wonder that its white wines are highly aromatic and unique to a shared concentration of mito and geography. They stand alone in European character from out of soils variegated by sand, clay and rock to give them their distinct personality. They are to be paid great attention. I for one have made new space for them.

Collio is in fact one of Europe’s most fascinating wine regions, a white wine specialist located in the Gorizia Hills of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. The amphitheatre of Collio vineyards follow a line along the western border of Slovenia in the northeastern corner of Italy. It is here where centuries of a mélange of multicultural histories meet in a venn diagram of multifarious Italian, Slovenian and Austro-Hungarian mythology. For introspective, historical and prospective perspective one only needs to walk the vineyards with the area’s director of connectivity, the one, the only Matteo Bellotto.

Matteo Bellotto

My trip to Collio in the last days of May was indeed an experience of territory, vineyard, cellar and people. Though the autochthonous varietal triumvirate of ribolla gialla, friulano and malvasia are the bones of Collio’s body politic, international grape varieties like pinot bianco, sauvignon and chardonnay add much to act as representatives of the heart, head, mind, body and soul of the producers. Ultimately it is the Collio Bianco that have emerged as front runners for spokes-wines of the place. The appellative white blends unite and really tie the territorial room together.

Collio Bianco

Richard Baudains of the Wine Scholar Guild speaks to a group of foreign journalists during what is the culmination of the wettest month of May since 1973. He is THE master Collio educator.

Collio Bianco is both business card and calligram, a Field Blend that speaks to the idea of co-fermented grapes, working together, for complexity and the possibility of aging, like the music and the story of the area. “Go inside the area and the tradition and don’t worry so much about the grapes,” tells Richard Baudains. Cuvées or field blends can fall within the DOC, or not. There are a total of 1,500 ha planted, as opposed to 1,700 in Soave and 1,900 in Macon and a production of 6.5 million bottles, as opposed to 10 in Soave. This is an indication to lower yields and significantly so. In fact it represents 11 per cent of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and three per cent of total Italian production. There are 16 DOC mono-varietals and two DOC blends. More than 95 per cent are white wines, made by 350 growers, 180 bottlers and one cooperative on an average 4.0 ha of planted space. The lead is pinot grigio at 26 per cent, followed by sauvignon (19) and friulano (15). The latter endemic grape declined dramatically and was in fact at 50 per cent just a couple of decades ago. The rest include ribolla gialla (7.5), chardonnay (9), pinot bianco (4) and malvasia (2.5).

In 1966 the English author and journalist Cyril Ray remarked upon the pre-DOC “white wine made from a mixture of Tocai Friulano, German and Italian Rieslings, and a number of other varieties grown in the hills that encircle Gorizia.” The DOC was then created in 1968 with the suggestion to “drink young when it has a fresh taste and floral bouquet.” A vino contadino. In 1968 the numbers were more like ribolla gialla (45-55 per cent), malvasia istriana (20-30) and tocai friulano (25). Wines of “pale straw, neutral aroma, lightly sparkling, not for ageing, alcohol around 11 per cent.” Whereas all the mono-varietals came in at 12-13 per cent. So the concentration at the time was on indeed on mono-varietals, eventually leading to the evolution of the Bianco in the 1990s.

Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore

A proposal was made by then Consorzio President Marco Felluga, the idea being that Collio Bianco shouldn’t be the second or even last wine but rather the flagship of the estate. The most representative wine, top of the quality pyramid and to condense the total number of wines made in the area. He had to liberalize the blend, by taking away all restrictions. A carte blanche stylistic. Your best grapes go into the Bianco.

Wine villages in Collio form a half-moon shape around Slovenia though with not a lot of variety in the soils. Climate is highly variable however and if a line is drawn from east to west you go from warmer to cooler. Chardonnay and sauvignon are grown to the west, ribolla gialla to the east. The overall territory encourages for a connectivity that allows for producing blends. Aromatic grapes defined; including traminer and muller thurgau, “The whole is more important than the sum of the parts,” is what Marco Felluga thought. “These are wines that will keep because they maintain their freshness and won’t oxidize. The question is this. Are they long aging whites worth keeping and will they develop interesting tertiary aromas?”

The following Collio Bianco DOC were tasted blind.

Autochthonous Blends

Livon Collio Bianco DOC Solarco 2017, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy (WineAlign)

A blend of autochthonous varieties friulano and ribolla gialla, herbal, sweetly so and also dissolving lime tablet. Noses like white wine brought up in concrete with a wet stone character though somewhat grey and dullish. Simply rendered, fresh, quiet and quick. Improves with time and develops increased and variegated citrus notes. And he shall be Livon. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Terre Del Faet Collio Bianco DOC 2017, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy (WineAlign)

Gathers friulano and malvasia and if at first seems just a touch musty the lingering turns to dissipating, more than enough to move forward. Also a wet concrete nose and then more expressive on the palate with white peach juicy flavour and a bit of lime. Good persistence and fresh as required. Well-shouldered, spalla as they say and certainly necessary to elevate the Bianco ideal. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Keber Collio Bianco DOC Edi 2017, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy (WineAlign)

The mix is friulano, malvasia and ribolla gialla from stalwart producer Keber and a completely different stylistic. More extraction and if not a longer skin-contact time, at least a higher percentage of a grape variety that adds hue and flesh. A bit reductive with an uva-sulphury note and then again, more expressive on the palate. Perhaps a bit of wood here so a disjointed wine in youth, plus this petrol natural sensation in the oxymoronic way it just seems to want to be. I’d say the winemaker is perfectly happy with the result. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Muzic Collio Bianco DOC Stare Brajde 2016, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy (WineAlign)

Made from friulano, malvasia and ribolla gialla. Even just a year has aged this Bianco with some oxidative advancement, off of a warmer set of sites and one particular variety involved that moves forward quicker. Barrel certainly a catalyst, so malolactic too and all tolled acting like chardonnay, or a blend involving an endemic variety when subjected to barrel that turns out like chardonnay in that it acts this way. Terpenes in an apple motive, moving along pretty quick. Drink up. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Tenuta Baroni Del Mestri Collio Bianco DOC Monte Quarin 2016, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy (WineAlign)

Lovely combinations here from the holy Collio triumvirate of friulano, malvasia and ribolla gialla, of white flowers and sweet herbs, advancement and next level complexities. Brings together flowers and petrol, likely an aromatic variety mixed with one that has its own fruit flesh and then something with shoulders. Broad and punchy, with good acidity though not aggressively so. White pepper and a pinch of salt so properly seasoned. Like grüner or better yet gemischten satz, revivalist, so very interesting, of grasso, ciccia and glycerine. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted blind, May 2019\

San Floriano Del Cóllio, Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Autochthonous plus International Blends

Gradis’ciutta Collio Bianco Riserva DOC 2015, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy (WineAlign)

The traditional triad of friulano, malvasia and ribolla gialla are here in a good advancement for a blend that has aged the way and in the timing it should. Quite gaseous and preserved lemon, plus aromatics that indicate potpourri. Certainly seen some time in barrel and gone through at least a partial level of malolactic. White caramel, vanilla and more lemon though mild acidity and in then end, a touch pine resinous, mild tonic, pith and bitters. All the while an effect created by 24 months of Riserva-level aging. Essentially a lone wolf of a Collio. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Cociancig Collio Bianco DOC 2018, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy (WineAlign)

A mix of endemic and expatriate varieties, of friulano, pinot grigio, sauvignon and traminer. Intensely fresh and fruit punchy, florals and fruit pectin up front and nigh gregarious. The presence of something gooseberry-passion fruit unctuous is very sauvignon blanc mixed with a lemon gelée sweetness that indicates malvasia mixed with pinot grigio. Very fresh and drinkable wine. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted blind, May 2019

Colle Duga Collio Bianco DOC 2018, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy (WineAlign)

Somewhat aromatically reserved or at least demurred, a touch of apple terpene and herbs in the basil world. A mix of friulano, malvasia, chardonnay and sauvignon that acts quite grigio and/or bianco by notation, ubiquitous, easy and properly dressed with grain acidity. Not overtly complicated or complex. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Raccaro Collio Bianco DOC 2018, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy (WineAlign)

The four-poster then and now gathering ying-yangs between friulano, sauvignon, ribolla gialla and pinot grigi. Reserved but indicative of something serious. Stone fruit on the nose with a minor addendum by mandarin though not overtly fruit sweet. A touch of petrol-alcohol but no advancement, just not fresh and spirited out of the gate. Great palate presence, fleshy and broad, unctuous and quite forward in mouthfeel clarity. Lingers and fleshes as it goes. This could get very interesting with a few years of age. A solid combination of richness and age. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Renato Keber Collio Bianco DOC Beli Grici 2017, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (WineAlign)

A blend of autochtonous plus international grape varieties that includes friulano, pinot bianco, pinot grigio, ribolla gialla and sauvignon. My how things have changed in this aromatic ham. Lemon in every respect, squeezed, preserved and baking with hocks. Both earthy and candle-waxy. Uncanny note of beeswax really points to extended skin contact mixed with wood-aged Riserva character. Then a gas note mixed with grasso and glück on the palate and high acidity. This might be construed as a train wreck to some and still an amazing revelation for others. A wine that separates camps and instigates prejudices. Depth to be sure though wood is just a bit intrusive with or without enough terroir to back up the ambition. In a way reminds me of some alvarinho in the Minho. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Korsic Collio Bianco DOC 2017, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (WineAlign)

Combines friulano and ribolla gialla with chardonnay. Solid if certainly unassuming and zero risk taking production. Juicy and tart, fruity and ultra clean. Really travels the apple to pear to white peach spectrum on repeat and in replay. Hue, aroma, taste and bones are all cut from the same cloth. In thats sense it’s perfectly balanced, amenable and fine. Poster child and ambassador for the DOC. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Bracco Collio Bianco DOC La Mont Brach 2016, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (WineAlign)

The local friulano amd malvasia take on sauvignon with a slightly reserved nose and that’s seemingly unusual when you consider it is 2016 and has had time to come about. Terpenes and sweet herbs do emerge, along with a scrape of orange zest and then a gaseous note. Nicely complex within reason and seasoned with just a pinch of salt, pepper and fresh herbs. Pretty wine, field blend rich and exemplary. Very Collio. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Collavini Collio Bianco DOC Broy 2016, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (WineAlign)

Really pretty wine this modern combination of friulano, chardonnay and sauvignon, not so much aromatically floral but just enough to speak to elegance and balance. Some orchard fruit still quite fresh, with a high level of flesh, extract and unction. Almost crunchy and wealth simple in blended white wine defined. There may be a minor level of wood aging here. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Tenuta Di Angoris Collio Bianco Riserva DOC Giulio Locatelli 2016, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, (WineAlign)

The blend is friulano, malvasia and sauvignon.A chewy, fleshy and broad shouldered Bianco with all the expected and necessary components present and then some. Highly focused and accomplished white blend, full of white flowers, mild seasonings, orchard and stone fruit, pectin, glycerin, grasso and acidity. It’s all here, clean, simple and straightforward. That said it’s certainly more on the perfectly understandable and less on the risk assessment, task-taking spectrum. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Russiz Superiore Collio Bianco Riserva DOC Col Disore 2016, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, (WineAlign)

The Felluga friulano, pinot bianco, sauvignon and ribolla gialla show an advancement because of the notable petrol immediacy crossed with more than obvious barrel addendum. A malolactic creaminess pervades and yet good acidity gives it drive and ambition. Vanilla and spice, sweetness and tinned fruit. A well made wine in the force a square peg into a round whole kind of way. Finishes with some resinous notes, in pine and eucalyptus. More cellar blend than field in execution. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Pascolo Collio Bianco Riserva DOC Agnul 2016, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, (WineAlign)

Agnul from friulano, pinot bianco and sauvignon is lifted by this herbal, minty, orange scrape expressive nose. Rich, wood-influenced unctuous palate with mild acidity and definite character so rich, pork belly fatty and rendered. Good grape spirit and extract. Proper for the style, pungent and leaning to sauvignon blanc. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted blind, May 2019

Pascolo Collio Bianco DOC Studio Di Bianco 2016, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, (WineAlign)

A different mix, of friulano, riesling and sauvignon. One of the more curious and complex aromatic profiles thus far. Perfunctory herbs and citrus rolls into perfectly sweet and and savoury profits, from chou pastry to profiterole. Gastronomic Collio blend at its best, with florals and gasses, fruit and acidity. Proper, focused, flinty, salty and fine. Will age with the best of them. Jumpy, spicy, gassy and in the riesling vein. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Ronco Blanchis Collio Bianco DOC 2015, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, (WineAlign)

Four grape varieties contribute here, friulano, malvasia, sauvignon and chardonnay. Terpenes and metals meet dried herbs and alloys. Lemon and lime but more preserved than fresh. These grapes do Collio like riesling, traminer and pinot bianco do elsewhere. Strangely reminds more of Alsace than anything else. A bit sweet to near cloying as it accumulates to the honeyed, sweet tart finish. Seems there is some botrytis here though there is no residual sugar to speak of. Drink 2019.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Venica Collio Bianco DOC Tre Vignis 2015, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, (WineAlign)

Three vines, friulano, chardonnay and sauvignon from which a little bit of age goes a long way as witnessed by this richly hued, gregariously aromatic and notably metallic Bianco. It’s all here in this ambitious and gregarious example. Plenty of orchard fruit, wood-induced texture and an overall creamy impression that suggest a whole lot of battonage. Vanilla, crème frâiche and almond paste. Rich, rich blend. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Ca’Ronesca Collio Bianco DOC Marnà 2015, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (WineAlign)

Only pinot bianco and malvasia. Metallic in the way of aromatic grapes like riesling and yet there’s also an herbal quality. Quite verdant actually, a pesto, a green goddess dressing and a blanch of legumes. Really fine acidity keeps everything lit and elevated. Quite fresh for 2015 and with impressive length. Not overtly fleshy and the extract is dry, not unctuous. Might just develop some salted honey or caramel in a year or so. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted blind, May 2019

La Rajade Collio Bianco DOC Caprizi 2015, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (WineAlign)

The three varieties are malvasia, friulano and chardonnay in quite a developed white blend, in every respect, hue, flesh and structure. Deeply golden, some botrytis affectation and a floral-spicy spectrum breached. Apple custard, metals and all sorts of elemental activity, from pyrazines to thiols. Almost fresh, somewhat famous. In the end freshness without acidity. Curious. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Marco Felluga Collio Bianco DOC Molamatta 2015, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (WineAlign)

The binding pinot bianco gets in between friulano and ribolla gialla in this blend of curiously reserved aromatics, especially for a twenty fifteen. Sweetly herbal though faintly so. Composed, confident, stoic and sure of a slow evolving self. A Bianco for bianco sake, as if pinot is elevated and the international addendum is just not that important, i.e. bianco without overtly necessary barrel time. The palate tells a different story and so the richness and ambition comes out. Tart, tangy and creamy, long and metal fine. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted blind, May 2019

Primosic Collio Bianco DOC Klin 2015, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (WineAlign)

The blend in 2015 is the ideal autochthonous plus international mix, with friulano, sauvignon, chardonnay and ribolla gialla. Rich, juicy and complex, with full fruit compliment, extraction and heft. Orchards of every respect offer layers and layers of fruit substance and unction. Moment’s notices of salt and surety add to the layers of pure fruit. Nectarines are part of the mix. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted blind, May 2019

Primosic Collio Bianco DOC Klin 2013, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (WineAlign)

Poured from magnum with friulano, sauvignon, chardonnay, and ribolla gialla. A metallic aromatic blend, namely friulano like, with glycerin, paraffin and now, a honeyed back half. Quite a special accumulation and a speciality of the whole Collio experience. Great spice on the tongue here, piqued and peppery, special in so many ways. Some botrytis like notation but the wood involved is either beautifully integrated or wasn’t that substantial in the first place. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Good to go!

godello

San Floriano Del Cóllio, Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Spotlight on South Africa in VINTAGES August 6th

South Africa’s South Coast

as seen on WineAlign

Rosé all day, an absence of whites, reds in Portuguese, French and Italian dress plus choosing South Africa like falling off a log

It has been nearly a year since I last visited South Africa and every time VINTAGES rolls out an easily managed thematic collection of wines from that great country the heart swells and memories flood back into the brain. The powers that be within the LCBO’s New World buyers’ department do their finest no sweat work and narrowing down when it comes to Western Cape collections, surely witnessed and proven by the duck soup choices made for both the July 20th and August 6th releases. But we can’t lay too much emphasis on their easily accomplished selections as being the be all, end all reason for the successes. Producers are fortunate to work with exceptional terroir that includes dozens or more old vine blocks in many Cape nooks and transversely the Ontario purchasing choices are so numerous it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. The winemakers adage of “just don’t mess it up” translates into kudos to the buyers for getting things right. The fact is South African wines are of such high quality across varietal, producer and regional lines they speak for themselves and do so with great heart.

What do you do with the Swartland Swingers? Lawn bowls in Malmesbury of course

Related – Heritage and diversity in South Africa

Which brings me to what struck so strong in September 2018, straight to the heart and without equivocation. Heritage and diversity are the country’s two greatest strengths. Sure as a circle will turn you around there is this third tangible and credible something that seems so unmissable about South Africa and South Africans. Resilience. Neither politics, nor conflicts between and in the oppression of peoples nor drought can deter the farmers, workers and producers of this nation. The human condition mimics its heritage vineyards planted to century-old varieties, to perpetuate and to persevere. This is the South African way. And it is the wines that are exceptional in ways that require great levels of explanation.

Over the last several centuries grape varieties were brought, expatriated and forced into the blending of exile. No peoples should ever be de-humanized nor taken for granted and neither should wines be quietly dismissed. With each passing varietal situation time has been sublimed and wines produced in South Africa teach us that they simply are not examples of minor beverages. It has taken place in the heart of agriculturalist and winemaking ability, to change small things and see greatness in ascension to that which is simple, authentic and refined. It’s a matter of having felt sensations introduced into the absurdity of our lives.

We begin with some wines tasted and assessed back in September 2018. These are a cross-section of what the country’s makers do best, some unknown, others better known and collectively they act as examples in performance at the highest level.

Fourteen South African producers and wines you need to know

A. A. Badenhorst Chenin Blanc The Golden Slopes 2017, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

The Golden Slopes is chenin blanc planted on granite hillsides, vines in the 80-ish years of age and this surely has much to do with the paradigm of success predicated by a focus on texture. Remarkable heritage vines on the Badenhorst for which Adi is able to seek, measure and play. Like the Secateurs it is indeed all about texture but here, this is something other. Conatus. The Golden Slopes are marked by intense and impressive warmth, lees and the effects of managing lost acidity. Adi finds a way for them to be kept by the moments gained in flesh and layers. Old vines do what the young and inexperienced do not. They achieve an innate inclination, in this case for chenin blanc to continue to exist and enhance itself. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Craven Wines Syrah The Faure Vineyard 2017, WO Stellenbosch (WineAlign)

Like the sister Firs this Faure Vineyard site is also 21 years of age, east facing towards the Heldeberg, with rocks in the soils. The name is more than familiar to Jeanine Craven, who was a Faure before she merged with Mick. What really separates this place is the marine air, three kilometres from the sea, as far as the African Black Oystercatcher flies. Again the planning involves whole cluster pressing and on skins seven days, to make pure syrah. Separated by 15 kms the Faure is antithetical to the Firs, salted by the sea and of a furthered intensity in a different form. It’s near searing, linear, grippy and with acidity lifting everything. Really juicy, pushed by a wow factor, clean, no funk and so much spice. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

David And Nadia Wines Chenin Blanc Hoë Steen 2017, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

One of two single vineyard explorations from the Sadie’s work is this 1968 steen planted in deep soils to the west, towards Darling. This fourth vintage is a demure of chenin blanc’s deepest, richest and most glycerin textured possibilities. Time and a warming in the glass causes this floral emergence in a spiced space time continuum usually reserved for white wines like Condrieu. But this is entrenched in heritage steen genetics, not viognier and the acidity is all local, parochial and fine. The complexities are circular by nature, in rotation and encompassing all that we hold sacred for Cape wines. Takes hold of your mind and controls your breathing with its life affirming energy, like an invisible blanket wrapping you up in the desert, at night, under stars. Total production is 45,000 bottles. Get some. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2018

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir 1997, WO Hemel En Aarde Valley (WineAlign)

It was 1997, a point 10 years deep into the Hermanus pinot noir investigations and what Anthony Hamilton Russell called “the year the Dijon clones kicked in, or at least the use of them.” This is seemingly more evolved than that ’86 if only because the über ripe fruit may have baked a bit in the sun. Tastes so old school Beaune now with a cane sugar-cocoa-vanilla trilogy of development. Powerful pinot noir now in the throes of its soporific times. Drink 2018.  Tasted September 2018

Huis Van Chevallerie The Hummingbird Colibri Kap Klassique 2017 (WineAlign)

The Hummingbird is composed of 70 percent viura with chenin blanc from Christa von la Chevallerie’s Nuwedam Farm in the Paardeberg. The first viura as far as we can tell in South Africa, a Spanish grape variety not very high in acidity picked up and elevated by the chenin. This first vintage kick at the sparkling can in a Cava style is mostly 2017 fruit, in bottle 12 months so very much adhering to a Cap Classique model. Christa thinks both outside the box and the varietal groove with this textural beauty and so its moniker naturally importunes as Kap Klassique. As a bottle of bubbles it offers a forward rush of life, crystallized in a brilliant jewel of a moment. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Ken Forrester Wines Chenin Blanc The FMC 2004, Stellenbosch (WineAlign)

FMC, as in Forrester (Ken), winemaker Martin Meinert and chenin blanc. Here looking back 14 years to a time when they and only a handful of others had the true understanding of foreshadowing as to what the signature grape variety could become for South Africa. That is why they set to making this highly specific and purposed example. From a single vineyard, then 34 years old (now pushing 50) and the eighth vintage, by 2004 fully commanded stylistically by its makers. Barrel fermented and bloody rich, still viscous, now so honeyed and lit like a candle in a cool cave. A true original, like the Ford Motor Company, a female main character kicking butt in an action film, FMC. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Chardonnay Estate 2017, WO Greyton (WineAlign)

From the Cape’s south coast and Samantha O’Keefe’s Greyton Farm down a dusty road. The Estate sees 500L barrels, 35 per cent new and is a best fruit selection cuvée. It’s also about the ferment “to keep a limey tension,” tells O’Keefe, so it’s really about the combination of the two. Like the “normale” the orchard fruit persists but here there are stone fruits joining the apples and now the grip takes hold. If the other needs a year in bottle this “Reserve” could entertain three. In quite an awe-inspiring way it travels to and fro on a Meursault-Marsannay line, of high construct and palpable intensity. I’d wait the three for the grace and beauty of its future. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Momento Wines Grenache Noir 2017, WO Western Cape (WineAlign)

There are some South African winemakers who just seem to intuit what grenache is capable of realizing comme il faut from a Cape raising. Marelise Niemann is one of a select few who have mastered the art and science of grenache pulmonary resuscitation. Hers is 90 per cent Paardeberg and (10) Voor Paardeberg, so not labeled as such. “The most important red grape in South Africa,” she says with varietal diffidence and I will not be one to argue. Not with Marelise. These are bush vines, all itching to succeed off of decomposed granite. These vines scratch and claw their way out of the aridity and the adversity to gift a purity of fruit and very special tannins. Pretty and with a level of tension seen in its face, after some time on skins and a natural ferment crawled out of whole bunch pressings. Spiced and spicy, demurred, matured in old oak 16 months, wise, mature and nurturing. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Cape Winemakers Guild ‘The Gris’ Sémillon 2013, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

This was the year Andrea Mullineux began working with this rare and certified by the Old Vines Project sémillon gris from a 1960 planted (just 2 kms away from the chenin blanc), heritage dry-farmed plot grown on the granite soils of the Paardeberg in the Swartland. Only a few blocks exist anywhere and in 2014 some of this fruit began to augment the Mullineux Old Vines White. It is what Andrea calls “a project of the jumping gene.” It’s like a varietal ride on a pogo stick, in colour from pale like colombard to dark as cinsault. A citrus attack like no other and subjugated to the lush manifestations of skin contact. Still so flinty-smoky, lean and yet of a texture like an emollient of florals keeping the wine moist, fleshy and flexible. Though not the saltiest of vintages this gris is in complete control of its phenolic emotions. It’s also blessed of this unreal incandescence. Wholly unique in every respect. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2015, WO Elgin (WineAlign)

The most floral vintage of the Seven Flags and the first with clones 115 and 667 brought into the blend. This to create new concepts and levels of complexity with vines old, new and next level involved. The intermixing leaves us with a sensation involving many layerings; fruit, acid and structural. The fruitiness and fresh flower gatherings presents an aperture of severe harmony and adds up to a bunch of aesthetic yeses. Give it a year or two to integrate. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Palladius 2016, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

Palladius is the quintessential spear brandishing South African appellative blend with more varietal diversity than an oenology department’s nursery. It holds chenin blanc, grenache blanc, marsanne, sémillon, sémillon gris, viognier, clairette blanche, roussanne, verdelho, colombard and palomino. No one does varietal interaction and trickery like Eben Sadie. No one. The ’16 is a wine of mixed tenses, the whole echelon and the black hole in the sun. Fruit comes from eleven different blocks all on granites, some from the Riebeek-Kasteel side. Ages in clay amphorae and concrete eggs, then racked into foudres, “to bring it all together.” Palladius holds a casual disregard for synchronizing fruit, acid and extract verb tenses in the way it uses a conditional interrogative without the proper structural order. It’s a wine of fine and unfair intensity, iconic, wise, learned and all for good reason. Imagine this to age well beyond its 15th birthday. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Savage Wines Syrah Girl Next Door 2017, WO Coastal Region (WineAlign)

Though the négoce roaming transverses the entirety of the Western Cape, sometimes you just go home again. This as small as it gets Girl Next Door resides and is raised out of a 0.38 hectare Noordhoek vineyard, “the weekend hobby vineyard,” as Duncan Savage would put it. A block of great clichés, “the home garden,” or at least close to home and certainly “a work in progress.” The developing plot is a mystery wrapped inside an enigma within a narrative that currently fashions a wine to speak of a long term vision. In these first chapters it is already doling dark and mysterious, rich and silky, highly meaningful fruit. How this can’t turn into one of the great epic novels of Western Cape lore is beyond you and me. Home is where the heart soothes then savage beast. Winemaker and syrah. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Silwervis Cinsault 2016, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

A single-vineyard is the source and a unique one at that for the Swartland because here is the spot where the decomposed granite of the Paardeberg begins to meet the northern slate. Paardeberg cinsault. If you are not yet familiar with this lovely beast it’s high time you got stoned on it. A varietal echelon rebirth eschews decades of French mistakes and enters into a revolution. As I noted from the ’14, it’s also a revival, a saving and a reformation. Having made itself a home in the Swartland now cinsault can create its own narrative, re-write the book and speak of the terroir. Transparency is truth and in a tightly wound, uniquely tannic way this curls tart and cured meaty filaments around a paradigmatic red fruit core. It’s bloody caesar delicious. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Kamaraderie 2017, WO Paarl (WineAlign)

Just the second vintage of Lukas van Loggerenberg’s Kamaraderie is a chenin blanc from a 1960s planted, two hectare single-vineyard in Paarl. Lukas picks the bottom of the slope first and the top many days later so there is this natural layering of fruit. Reeks with reminiscence, of fennel and pistachio, of fronds and gelid cream. Only 800 bottles make this one of South Africa’s rarest chenins raised for 10 months in old barrels, unstirred, shaken or allowed to visit with the malolactic king. There’s a dissolve of delicious citrus seamlessly streaked through fleshy fruit in what is just such an organized and structured chenin. Finishes with the brine, oh the brine. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Stellenbosch Braai

In VINTAGES

While the August 6th VINTAGES is chock full of stalwart South African wines it bears repeating that July 20th also gifted some worthy picks. The list below takes a page out of each book.

South Africa picks – August 6th Release

651711, Cederberg Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Cederberg ($18.95)

Michael Godel – Next level chenin blanc from the Cederburg appellative specialist, so very herbal, lime driven and smart like dry riesling in a Rheinhessen way. Terrific acids lift and elevate the lime and tonic flavours. Most excellent arid example with a dried herb finish.

652867, House Of Mandela Phumla Pinotage 2017, WO Western Cape ($21.95)

Michael Godel – A pinotage that bridges the twain between old school and necessary modernity, with plenty of wood induced chocolate and some mocha but also quality varietal acidity and tannin. Rich, unctuous and spirited to the thriving point of attack.

355438, De Wetshof Finesse Lesca Estate Chardonnay 2018, WO Robertson ($24.95)

Michael Godel – Lesca’s fruit is drawn from three vineyards in Robertson notable for their predominant soils of limestone and chalk. Great work from the De Wetshof bros who just allow this grape variety to shine on, be explicit and act of its very own accord.

651810, Spier 21 Gables Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, WO Stellenbosch ($39.95)

Michael Godel – From the extraordinary Annandale Estate in Stellenbosh Spier’s is very peppery cabernet sauvignon with a distinct local touch of glare and flare. Steely exterior, massive fruit and and such a bloody lekker South African. Long and juicy. Who says you can never go back to old school.

South Africa picks – July 20th Release

698274, Rustenberg Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Stellenbosch ($14.95)

Michael Godel – Rustenberg continues to prove that it qualifies for top varietal value specialist out of Stellenbosch by pumping out pop hit after hit and this chenin blanc is no exception. Fruit riper than many, mild spice meeting wafts of vanilla and more than its share of lees-effected texture. All around right and proper.

698290, Bellingham Homestead Shiraz 2017, WO Paarl ($18.95)

Michael Godel – Deep, dark, handsome and peppery shiraz here from Stellenbosch with a syrupy confection and plenty of energy on the flip side. Really drinks like a bigger, more expensive and chic wine.

Best of the Rest for August 6th

498535, Malivoire Vivant Rosé 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($19.95)

Michael Godel – Canada knows Rosé but Malivoire really knows Rosé. Vivant may be there between entry-level and cru but it’s done up so right, light but too much so, gently expressed but enough that fruit gets through and shines bright as if picked just there. Salinity strikes through without splitting up that fruit, like a main vein bringing oxygen and essential nutrients like blood to the mind. Last tasted July 2019.

668335, Argento Reserva Cabernet Franc 2015, Mendoza, Argentina ($15.95)

Michael Godel – Argento is from the owners of Uruguay’s Bodega Garzón, Chianti Classico’s Dievole and Montalcino’s Podere Brizio. A year past the freshest time in its life but cool, savoury and without too much barrel overtake (thanks to second and third passage wood). Well-worked and solid to be franc, true to place, now chewy and offering proper value.

667527, Château De Montguéret 2017, AP Saumur, Loire Valley, France ($17.95)

Michael Godel – Ostensibly the driest and purest form of chenin blanc from Saumur with the Loire’s post-modern take on the Western Cape, in a way though without pungency, pepperiness or glucose inflected texture. This is dry as the desert, tart, tangy and intense. Needs some richness in food to make all ends meet.

964221, Le Volte Dell’Ornellaia 2017, IGT Toscana, Italy ($29.95)

Michael Godel – Welcome into the Ornellaia range by way of the second wine that has never shown even a modicum of compromise. Hot vintage but acidity is strong and true while fruit stays cool, seasoned and reasoned, There’s a real meatiness to this ’17 and a lovely sense of salumi cure. Once again an educational tool for Bolgheri and Toscana.

260802, Brancaia Riserva Chianti Classico DOCG 2013, Tuscany, Italy ($38.95)

Michael Godel – Sangiovese needing the bottle is proven here. Now a year and a half later this swirls into a grosso sangiovese like liqueur with plums, cherries and spice. Really Riserva in style and now just 18 more months away from its guaranteed due elegance.

922054, Silvio Nardi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2013, Tuscany, Italy ($50.95)

Michael Godel – Oenologist Emanuele Nardi draws his classic Brunello from the fluvial Cerralti parcel, a mix of jasper which is a type of opaque, granular quartz, along with shale and clay. Classic liqueur and modern texture give way to grippy acidity and more than necessary structure. This is one of those Brunello that speak with fruit early but with a knowing nod to longevity.

What goes best with chenin and cinsault? Tuna Burger at Sea Breeze in Cape Town

Thanks for reading up on South Africa once again.

Good to go!

godello

South Africa’s South Coast

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

Single white varietals: No roommates required

Godello

as seen on WineAlignRiesling, Other Single Red and Single White Varieties – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

It may or not need clarifying but the single white varietal category does not include chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris/grigio and sauvignon blanc. In terms of medal winners it does include albariño, arneis, bacchus, chenin blanc, coronet, gewüztraminer, grüner veltliner, marsanne, muscat, obrigado, pinot blanc, roussanne, sémillon, sauvignette, siegerrebe, sovereign opal, trebbiano, unicus, viognier and white pinot noir. The total medal count for single white varietal wines in 2019 was 70, an unprecedented number awarded for this competition covering 20 grape varieties. Can you guess which was the most celebrated? If you said gewüztraminer you would be correct at 21 total medals, with viognier a close second at 17.

There is little surprise that these French vinifera grapes make up more than half of the awarded wines because their acreage, vine age and their winemaker’s acumen in crafting quality goes back a generation or two, or even three. That 10 percent are pinot blanc is truly encouraging, as are the multiple medals doled out to grapes with great potential on Canadian soils, including grüner veltliner, albariño and chenin blanc. This will encourage more plantings and pioneering work backed up by post-modern viticultural theory, while also ensuring biologically genetic and varietal diversity. Most surprising is that two of the top wines made from marsanne and roussanne represent two of only three medals awarded to wines from these classic and exceptional Rhône Valley grapes. If two can be great, why not others and why not grow more?

Congratulations to the Road 13 Marsanne 2017 out of the exceedingly promising Similkameen Valley. There can be no denying the effect of ripe fruit and the richness of developed sugar into proportionally knowing phenols in this beautifully integrated wine. Black Hills Roussanne 2017, Blasted Church Small Blessings Sémillon 2017, Thirty Bench Small Lot Gewürztraminer 2017 and Road 13 Viognier 2017 round out the judges top picks from the competition.

Littlejohn Farm‘s Smoked Trout, soubise, french onion rings, pickled shallots – at Closson Chase Vineyard, Prince Edward County

The question truly begging to be answered is with 20-plus different grape varieties represented and being assessed side by side how do the judges separate the apples and oranges to figure out which wines stand apart as being more impressive than the rest. It may sound cliché and redundant to hear but balance is the key to our single white varietal hearts. If acidity matches, supports and elevates sugar than all will fall into place and if the wine is a dry example it will likely be flesh, mouthfeel and texture that work to elevate its status. Proportion, seamlessness and length are all essential tenets of quality single whites, as are energy, drive and spirit.

Plain and simple, single white varietal wines are able to succeed because of their inherent ability to express their varietal selves, provided they are planted in the right location and their handlers allow them to speak on their own behalf. Quality single white varietals display attributes of confidence and are anything but insecure. No roommates required.

I’ve also tasted some more single white varietal wines as of late and all would certainly qualify for medal consideration in this category. These are the three.

Mission Hill Family Estate Viognier Reserve 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($19.99, WineAlign)

Perfectly lovely, archetypal, required varietal sipping viognier here from Mission Hill. Yet another notch on the Okanagan Valley pioneer’s impressive climb to forging wines moving from strength to strength. There is nothing over the top about the the florals, the texture or the flavours. Fruit east to west, from the B.C. orchards to the south Asian trees is graced by a dreamy and creamy marzipan texture and finished with low and slow rendered spice. Just what viognier can be for one and for all. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted July 2019

Harwood Estate Gewürztraminer 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario $20.00, WineAlign)

The 2016 was made from Niagara (Four Mile Creek) grapes and vinified in Prince Edward County but the estate 2007 plantings have now matured so this 2017 marks a new era for gewürztraminer grown in the disapora. It’s one of extreme aridity, lightning quick reflexes, focused and intense. Quite the singular style of expression for Ontario. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

CedarCreek Platinum Block 9 Ehrenfelser 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($29.99, WineAlign)

Ehrenfelser is the German crossing of riesling and sylvaner, kept alive on slopes like CedarCreek’s lakeshore vineyard in semi-mimic of those cresting on great angles above the river Rhine. There’s a notable juicy sweetness to this from 13-16 year-old, low yielding vines in a very concentrated mandarin orange way. That sweetness yields to many other pronounced attributes like tropical fruit skins as well as creamy orchard fruit under a squeeze of lime. The acidity is ripping and there’s some potential for a bit of flinty, lit paraffin smoulder to emerge in a year’s time. The fun quotient runs high in this unique white wine and it offers up moments of both crushable and cerebral. Good on CedarCreek to keep the dream alive. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted July 2019

Good to go!

godello

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

A Canadian preoccupation with White Blends

as seen on WineAlign – Red Blends, White Blends and Sauvignon Blanc – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

The catchall collection funnelled into flights titled “White Blend” continue their ascent upwards into the essential echelon of categories at the National Wine Awards of Canada. These compound varietal meet and greets do so with increasing calm, cool and collected demeanour, a.k.a balance to offer up some of this country’s most pleasing and in very special cases, most age-worthy white wines. Another year later the judges are finding the quality of the wines to be at their best yet, perceptible and discernible beyond reproach from coast to coast.

The 52 strong medal count from the 2019 awards is a testament to the masters of assemblage known as winemakers in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. In fact five of the medals were awarded to Tidal Bay, the maritime appellative blend creation so apt-scripted and terroir specific to vineyards and estates in Nova Scotia. Tidal Bay is a model of consistency, progress and marketing genius. It hasn’t happened yet but the day will come when Ontario and British Columbia will become woke to the economic success of the great East Coast appellative party.

Dinner at Rosehall Run

Where do Canadian winemakers look for inspiration when it comes to designing their white blends? The obvious pioneers are unequivocally Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, the former being a matter of a sauvignon blanc-sémillon coupling and the latter a relationship between grape varieties that include grenache blanc, marsanne, roussanne and viognier. Other and lesser varieties employed are ugni blanc, clairette, bourboulenc, picpoul and rolle (vermentino). Many are grown and matched up in Canada but in 2019 it is Nk’mip Cellars White Meritage Merriym 2017 that we find standing alone at the peak of white blend success. The Bordeaux inspiration is an antithetical one at that with a two to one ratio of sémillon to sauvignon blanc and what one judge sees as a blend of “power and accuracy.”

Last year we noted that the white blends made with sauvignon blanc from out of the Okanagan Valley relied on higher percentages of sémillon than their sistren and brethren in Ontario. B.C.’s vineyards are not subjugated to the same winter kill that Ontario’s winters are often wont to inflict and so the vulnerable sémillon is planted and used to much greater quantity and effect out west. Ripeness and style are also great reasons why B.C.’s über rich and fat sauvignon blanc loves for sémillon to help out. The varietal mitigation and third party injection from barrel aging often leads to examples of flinty-smoky-mineral white blends of freshness, pizzazz, texture and style.

The Mission Hill Terroir Collection Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon 2018 is such an animal, taken from Jagged Rock Vineyard nearing 400m in elevation and the sém portion is 40 percent. Tightrope Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2018 is another though it may just be one of closest Bordeaux ringers made anywhere in Canada. The Pentâge Roussanne Marsanne Viognier 2013 is the most singular Gold Medal winner in 2019, first because it does the Rhône varietal two-step and second because of its age. That it caught the palates of so many judges is a testament to its balance and also its structure.

The 2018 Tidal Bays from Lightfoot & Wolfville, Jost Vineyards, Planters Ridge and Gaspereau Vineyards were Nova Scotia’s one Silver plus three Bronze category medallists. These Bay of Fundy/Minas Basin east coast wonders are true Canadian wines of quality and efficiency. Tidal Bay pioneers Peter Gamble and Benjamin Bridge Vineyards tell us that In 2010 Nova Scotia launched this wine appellation with a purpose “to showcase a vibrant and refreshing white wine compatible with our coastal terroir along the Bay of Fundy, a vast expanse of seawater that is home to the highest tides in the world. An independent technical committee ensures that only the wines displaying the region’s distinct characteristics and meeting a rigorous set of standards are approved to wear the appellation seal.” The blends are most often filled with the likes of l’acadie, geisenheim, chardonnay, riesling and vidal.

Two Ontario white blends joined the 11 B.C. Silver winners. In terms of Bronze, six from Ontario and one each out of Nova Scotia and Quebec were winners alongside 23 from B.C. Yes it is increasingly true that appellative blends are more than a going concern, in fact they have become some of our Canadian winemaker’s greatest preoccupations. At this rate we can certainly imagine a future filled with bright white lights and structured blends to rival some of the world’s best.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Riding red blends from Canadian frontiers

Ancient PEC red care of Geoff Heinricks

Ancient PEC red care of Geoff Heinricks

as seen on WineAlignRed Blends, White Blends and Sauvignon Blanc – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

Some producers may be riding red blends all the way to the bank while others, including many winemakers simply love making them. Hearing about or looking at the broad term “red blends” causes many of us to think about wines that are big in every respect. Broad shouldered, big-bodied, long-legged, tannic and age-worthy.  As for how these wines are made we imagine a barrel room of oak casks filled with deep, rich and dark liquids made by winemakers and their science flasks layered by endless combinations of samples in varying percentages. This is in fact how most red blends are made. Barrel and tank samples of different grape varieties are pulled and with a conditional maximum amount of each kept in mind, the constituent samples are mixed and matched until the blend just feels to come out right. Add in a bit of chemistry for scientific balance and Red’s your uncle.

Red blends is employed as that highly scientific wine-speak term used to define one of the largest, broadest and most undefined categories in wine. There are blends established in the Old World emulated and mimicked from Argentina to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and everywhere vinifera is grown. Bordeaux’s Left and Right Bank are most commonly copied but so too is the Southern Rhône. The triumvirate of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot lead the way while grenache, syrah and mourvèdre are the source of much imitation. Blending does not stop at such multi-varietal exactitude because the Australians (namely) decided that syrah/shiraz goes with everything and why not. The concept of admixture or fusion is becoming increasingly relevant and the norm for red blends made in Canada, especially in British Columbia and to a lesser extent in Ontario too.

Chef Albert Ponzo’s Gnocchi with Morels

Basically anything made with two or more grape varieties qualifies and in some cases a kitchen sink is amalgamated from literally dozens of locally planted options. To be honest the methodology categorically removes said wines from every other varietal class or division, in competition or otherwise. So the question begs. How do judges at the National Wine Awards of Canada assess, rate and ultimately dole out medals when the comparisons are all apples to oranges? How do we as a team decide which blends are most deserving in a sea of peers comprised of wholly different, antithetical and multifarious combinations?

The answer is complex but in the end not exactly rocket science. Truth be told the necessity of knowing the percentages in the blend is the mother of invention. This is because each wine is a sum of its combinative parts while success is predicated on the communal effort and seamlessness of the gathering. But more than anything and it’s certainly cliché to say, wines as blends must achieve balance and those that do will reap the most reward. News flash to corroborate that theory. Most varietal wines are blends too, made up of vineyard slash vessel percentages picked, mixed and matched by the winemaker. What really is the great difference?

Is there any wonder why Canadian winemakers love the category of Red Blends? At this year’s Nationals there are 105 medals awarded to a group of wines that in their collective make-up include just about every red (plus a white or two) grape varieties grown in Canada. Read that number again: 105! Three out of four Platinum winners are from British Columbia and 12 of 14 Silvers as well. As for Bronze, 60 are from B.C., 24 from Ontario and three are from Nova Scotia.

While it would be a joyous exercise to break down all the medal winning wines it would also be one that just might put you to sleep. So for the purposes of analytical brevity and for the fact that we have an unprecedented four Platinum winners in 2019, let’s stick to these exceptional wines. The Hatch Dynasty Red 2016 is syrah and malbec from the Hans Estate Vineyard in Osoyoos raised in all new French oak for 18 months. Yes, ALL new French oak. Noble Ridge Reserve Meritage 2016 from Okanagan Falls is essentially classic Left Bank Bordeaux led by merlot with cabernet sauvignon with minor amounts of cabernet franc plus malbec. Hester Creek Syrah Viognier 2017 from the Okanagan Valley is a stunner and steal for the price though truth be told could have very easily been awarded a similar accolade in the straight varietal category. Niagara’s Tawse Meritage 2015 is a three-pronged Bordeaux varietal mix of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc “with so much going on you might not understand what it’s trying to say.” It’s like Glossolalia but will surely live on through epochs of Canadian Meritage notability and infamy.

OK I lied. Some mentions and some love for the Golds as well. Out of Niagara the judges jumped for the merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon in Marynissen Heritage Collection Red 2015 and the kitchen sink blend only Stratus Red 2016 can gift; cabernet franc, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, malbec, tannat and petit verdot. The hits keep on coming from B.C., especially strong in this category demarcated by grip, grit and strength. The following 12 began their journeys with a plethora of varietal combinations, spoke with great ability to reach the judges palates and all ended up Gold.

Note the seemingly infinite combinations is this diverse group. Maverick 2016 Rubeus, syrah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc; Bench 1775 2016 Cabernet Franc MalbecCorcelettes 2016 Meritage Estate Vineyard, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot; Corcelettes 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah Menhir Estate Vineyard; Black Hills 2017 Addendum, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon; TIME Winery 2016 Meritage, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon; Mission Hill 2016 Quatrain, merlot, syrah, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon; Sandhill 2016 Single Vineyard One Small Lots Program Vanessa Vineyard, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon merlot and syrah; Moon Curser 2017 Dead of Night, syrah and tannat; Sun Rock Vineyards 2016 Red Meritage, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc; Red Rooster 2016 Golden Egg, mourvèdre, syrah and grenache; Nk’Mip Cellars 2016 Winemakers Talon, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot, cabernet franc and pinot noir.

If you don’t see a clear and obvious pattern in these Red Blends be neither confused nor discouraged because this is how things function and in turn offer up so much possibility in fresher frontiers. In today’s garden of climate change affected vineyards it is Canadian winemakers who are the beneficiaries of a wild west, anything goes environment where mates can be made across varietal lines both renewed and re-invented. Embrace the diversity and let it ride.

We finish we a special red blend tasted with Maggie Granger in Prince Edward County.

Grange Of Prince Edward Bunny Wine 2016, VQA Prince Edward County ($65.00, 1500ml, WineAlign)

Bunny Wine is nothing if not playful, a field blend that tugs on conceptual heartstrings and has been doing so for 18 months. It has come into kairos, whether unexpectedly, by chance or by the intuition of the moment, it matters little. Bunny is an extension of three plus years of furry flirtations, in cuvées that have come before, of gamay and pinot noir, of passe-tout-grains. I’ve tasted barrel samples and now here we are at the real thing, “the milk of the gamay bunny, drinkers of spillage by tipsy monks. Even if you know little or care less about bunnies and monks it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen, based on memories and perception, just as a look back at that taste and this note will be. Seamless weaving here, between Bourgogne cousins, north and south, grippy and supple. Hard to tell one from the other and isn’t that the point? From the Victoria Block, four rows of pinot next to four of gamay, picked, fermented and crushed together. All thanks to fruit of exemplary patience. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted June 2019

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Pinot Gris goes National

One’s gris is another’s grigio but at any rate, more and more Canadian made pinot is coming your way

as seen on WineAlignGamay, Pinot Gris and Sparkling – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

We seem to be tasting and assessing a considerable amount of pinot gris slash grigio these days. In 2019 the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada bar was raised once again as increasingly the wines spoke to both matters of quantity and quality. The annual competition played host to this country’s largest gris/grigio gathering and 34 medallists prove that trends can also be realities. There are well upwards of 60,000 hectares of pinot gris/grigio planted worldwide and that number is growing, not surprising considering the varietal’s two-step, double-down rise in popularity.

The laconic story would say that when comparing pinot gris to pinot grigio the difference is mainly origin but increasingly so an inculcation of style. The endemically considered pinot grigio is traced to northeastern Italy just as pinot gris is to northeastern France. One grape, two places and ultimately each tracking an approach along one fork of the road. The simplest explanation says one is generally picked earlier and the other later, the former being fresher and crisper, the latter richer and more developed.

Call the grape what you will. Known as gris in Alsace, dry gives way more often than not to sweet, age-worthy, late-harvest styles. As grigio in Northern Italy it’s more straightforward and in Germany it’s also called grauburgunder or ruländer. In Hungary its moniker is zürkebarát. New Zealand may just be the great New World frontier for the pinot gris ideal. Or does that distinction belong to Oregon, a frontier many believe possessive of several AVAs more suitable to the gris stylistic than even chardonnay. It’s easier and less expensive to plant and maintain than chardonnay, harvests early and therefore puts cash flow reports in the green, or in this varietal case, also yellow, pink and orange. By the way, grigio and gris both mean “grey,” as noted by the pinkish-grey sheen of the ripe grape’s skin.

Vichyssoise by Albert Ponzo at The Grange

Where does that put the discussion concerning a homogeneity of Canadian style? Well at its simplest dissemination it means looking at a paradigm lying somewhere between Italy and Alsace. That being generally said it is simply ludicrous to imagine examples from British Columbia and Ontario (with few and far between examples from other provinces) to be looked at in one broad stroke of a brush. If you must ask and know, Ontario’s gris-grigio is generally leaner, more “mineral” and often crisper than B.C. counterparts but following that to the a letter of law would do great disservice to diversity and possibility. Get to know the producers and the greater picture will clear.

The grapes are in fact a mutation of Bourgogne’s pinot noir, are vigorous and lie somewhere is the middle of the moderate production mode. They are well adapted to and suited for cool climates with well-draining soils. Hardy, easy to grow with relatively small clusters and berries. Susceptible to Botrytis so can be a chameleon of a white wine for dry, off-dry and sweet styles but with some skin-contact also can produce pink coloured wines. Welcome to Canada.

It matters not which major appellation you look at in British Columbia you will always see pinot gris as one of its leading grape varieties. Kelowna, Penticton, Vaseaux-Oliver, Golden Mile, Black Sage-Osoyoos and Similkameen. At approximately 10 percent of the total plantings, only chardonnay is its equal and merlot greater in total acreage.

Snacks at Closson Chase

In Ontario pinot gris is the fifth most planted and harvested grape variety, trailing only chardonnay, riesling, merlot and cabernet franc. In terms of tonnage the number 3,627 from 2017 may still trail merlot by 1,600 tonnes but don’t be fooled by historical statistics. The gris-grigio juggernaut is losing no space-time ascension and continues to gain with exponential force. Ontario has defined three DVAs: Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore (LENS) and Prince Edward County (PEC). Within the Niagara Peninsula, five general grape climatic zones are further defined by 10 sub-appellations: Creek Shores, Lincoln Lakeshore, Vinemount Ridge, Beamsville Bench, Short Hill Bench, Twenty Mile Bench, Four Mile Creek, Niagara Lakeshore, Niagara River and St David’s Bench. Pelee Island is a sub-appellation of LENS. The pinots, gris and grigio are everywhere.

Why plant more pinot gris in Ontario? It’s more than simply a matter of market trends. If we look at cultivar by vineyard risk assessment, the professionals who study such things will tell us that a grape like merlot is less winter hardy and requires more heat and frost free days to reach acceptable maturity than both chardonnay and pinot gris. Do the math.

We also tasted some terrific pinot gris during our week-long stay in Prince Edward County, including the following six, all different, singular and stand alone.

Closson Chase K.J. Watson Vineyard Pinot Gris 2018, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($22.95, WineAlign)

Ask winemaker Keith Tyers what he thinks about pinot gris. “It can age,” he says, “if it’s made like gris.” The skin-contact affected hue is our first clue (if appearances mean anything) and the tannin from the vineyard is the second. In between these bookended ideals are dry extract, round to zaftig fruit texture and a chalkier consistency from out of this most curious vintage. The natural acidity and full fruit by way of low yields makes for a rock ‘n roll gris of inner mind and vision. Lush to a degree, full of metal motion, forward thinking and fine. Leaves a trail of mineral propulsion behind, a field of gris debris, to a degree, in hubris and in the end, so County and so Closson Chase. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted June 2019

Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($18.00, WineAlign)

Another light, airy, delicate and inching ever so close to the ethereal for pinot gris from Harwood with maturing vines now bringing some pear and peach flesh along for good measure. Still a bit obsequious and non-descript though the under the skin mineral Hillier accent is getting stronger and clearer in the context of an overall message. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted June 2019

Stanners Pinot Gris Cuivré 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($28.00, WineAlign)

All County fruit and Colin Stanners chooses a process of no de-stemming, no crushing and leaving the gris on its skins for three days. A highly textural wine is the result and one that in one respect creeps towards Rosé. There’s a salve within that mouthfeel and it’s one that feels so cool and smooth. Minty to be sure, if mineral were mentha, herbal, chilly and unconventional. The ebb and flow of its sensations are like the tide on the shore carrying the riches of the vineyard, in and out. Always appreciate the cadence of this wine and its confidence, but also its stoicism and its humility. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted June 2019

Hubbs Creek Pinot Gris Wild Ferment 2018, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($24.95, WineAlign)

Now we know how, why and where we can find great love for pinot gris because a wine like this from John Battista Calvieri allows us to anticipate the very thing that makes us salivate. Sapidity. Aromatically speaking we are prepped by the early scents of flowers opening, followed by the sweet succulence of textural meanderings. Then balance is afforded and brings that sapidity straight to the salty surface. A very precise pinot gris will do this and texture is a crisp bite taken from a just picked piece of orchard fruit. Long, honest and understandable. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Lighthall Pinot Gris 2018, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($25.00, WineAlign)

The fruit comes direct from the South Bay vineyard and one third finds its way into barrel. No shocker that this is both richly textured and developed pinot gris is an old-school mimic, like enriching valley fruit grown in the shadows of a Vosges Mountains canyon. It’s quite an abstraction this all-in mouthfeel, tripping the tongue, light show fantastic County gris. Creamy apples and pears meet expressive, raging, sapid and fortified acidities. Go big or go home I’d say. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted June 2019

Maggie Granger, The Grange of Prince Edward

The Grange Of Prince Edward Estate Pinot Gris 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($24.95, WineAlign)

This right here is the newest epiphany from 2018 and again for 2019. What that means is Maggie and Caroline Granger have struck gold (or copper, platinum and orange), depending on your skin-contact white viewpoint. That it happens to be an orange wine is completely inconsequential to the math, science or for that matter, the art. Mature and gifted acidity supports the fruit-tannin compendium in pinot gris that knows where it’s from and who it purports to be. That is to say it’s naturally managed and acts that way. In fact it smells and tastes just like its kin pinot noir and so the adage of white wine made like a red fits this to a “P.” E-P-phany, as in extended play, skin-contact style. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2018, February and June 2019

Head judge D. J. Kearney, #NWAC2019

There were 34 medals awarded in this category, two Gold, 12 Silver and 20 Bronze. British Columbia (gris) and Ontario (grigio) split the Golds while B.C. gris took home all the Silvers, not to mention 24 of the total 32 medals. Six medals were grigio in origin/style and only one of those was from B.C. Origins aside the category results at the 2019 Nationals prove that this didactic grape is showing qualities not seen before which tells us one main thing. Farmers and producers are putting time and money into its production, lowering yields and treating it with varietal respect. The pale Vin Gris and Vendanges Tardives examples persist and sometimes excite but at the top of the judges’ heap were dry examples that expressed richness and ultimately flavour.

Congratulations to all the winners and to those producers for offering high quality, well-proportioned and balanced pinot gris/grigio. The consumers are thankful as are we, the judges. Your attention to detail and dedication to crafting solid varietal wines will be repaid.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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