To Trius, by air

Niagara Falls from aboard Niagara Helicopters

Niagara Falls from aboard Niagara Helicopters

After the final day of preliminary round judging was wrapped and tied with a computer algorithm’s bow at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada it was time to take to the skies. The judges and WineAlign cognoscenti embussed into autogiro cabins at Niagara Helicopters. With a quick and nearly non-discernible thrust we rose like knives through butter up into the Niagara sky. A zig over the cartoon city adjacent the horseshoe and American cascades and then a zag across the Whirlpool Golf Course later, the choppers headed for the Falls.

Flying to Trius with fellow #NWAC15 judges Nadia Fournier and John Szabo

Flying to Trius with fellow #NWAC15 judges Nadia Fournier and John Szabo

Viewing the tumbling wonders from this vantage point is a thing of extraordinary exhilaration. The two-dimensional flatness of the river careening towards a three-dimensional, 90-degree downward fall into the gorge below is a trompe l’oeil for the eyes. With nothing but a thin glass veil acting in separation, I would have thought that a Dolly Zoom effect might occur. On the contrary, from within there would be no semblance of Hitchcock technique in recession to simulate vertigo. The weightlessness and effortless glide is a situation akin to being a kid in a candy store. I highly recommend the experience.

Niagara Helicopter

Niagara Helicopter

Minutes later the helicopter did soar, headed east and descended upon the agricultural and viticultural wonder of Niagara-on-the-Lake. From high above, the acreage of vines looked like tiny peas all in a row. As the land crept up into view the dots came into focus and to see the canes and their early summer foliage as such a magnanimous maze from above is a perspective all should experience.

Niagara Falls, Ontario

Niagara Falls, Ontario

The elapsed time between landing at Trius and diving head first into a glass of Marco Piccoli‘s Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Méthode Traditionnelle, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (234161, $24.95, WineAlign) happened in the blink of a transmogrifying eye. A Sparkler or four, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir or six and some quick tasting note scribbles later we were seated at a ridiculously long harvest table beneath the arbour and ready for dinner.

The vines of Trius Estates at Hillebrand

The vines of Trius Estates at Hillebrand

Winemakers and from several Niagara wineries were on hand to join us at Trius. J-L Groux (Stratus), Arthur Harder (Westcott), Adam Pearce (Two Sisters), Ann Sperling (Southbrook), Kent Macdonald (Henry of Pelham) and Marco Piccoli (Jackson Triggs) extrapolated on the passion of their work, in their wines and for Niagara as a community. Four courses and fourteen wines were touched, nosed, tasted and assessed. But for the Trius and by extension Peller staff, ushered by the grace of uncompromising and unparalleled generosity at the hands of Magdalena Kaiser and Joanna Muratori from Wine Country Ontario, this was an event to commit to heart and to memory. On a very personal note that night now belongs and rests in reminiscence within this log.

WineAlign team at Trius

WineAlign team at Trius

Peller Estates

Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (405043, $24.95, WineAlign)

The 2013 Signature Sauvignon Blanc carries forth from the ripe, mature, oxidative and intensely flavourful 2012. This next vintage cements the full-on style, even while it candies the fruit, seemingly in reaction to temperatures and precipitation that came and went with inconsistent extremes. There is a kid in a candy store, multi-coloured ribbon of taffy sensation, curiously antithetical to the rusty, yeasty, platinum scenting elixir. The effects of barrel fermentation (80 per cent) and concrete egg fermenter (20) dispatch has this Sauvignon stretching, pulling and elastically boomeranging about the glass. Magnetic to be sure, not always a success, but encouraged. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted June 2015  @PellerVQA

Soubrook Whimsy! Orange 2014 and Westcott Vineyards Violette Sparkling

Soubrook Whimsy! Orange 2014 and Westcott Vineyards Violette Sparkling

Westcott Vineyards

Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Arthur Harder makes no bones, excuses or sets the goals too lofty in this second Lillia’s unplugged. “What you get is what you get,” from seven year-old estate, pristine fruit in 2013. Infrequent but texture stirring lees has mottled the nose with glycerin and avoirdupois while bottling early in the spring in advance of warm days has locked in freshness. Expression arrives by way of herbiage and lime. Continues where ’12 left off, further akin of Chablis. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2015  @WestcottWines

Sparkling Wine ‘Violette’, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95)

Like the aviatrix muse Violette, the inaugural Westcott sparkler is pioneering and flies out of the glass. Made in the Charmat method at Vieni Estate where bubbles are quickly becoming a thing, this is from the 2012 vintage, though it is not noted on the bottle. Come down from the high horse and embrace the nascent, lambent breezes of Violette. After all, texture is rarely negotiated in Charmat as it is in this lemon concentrated fizz. It finishes with a dash of good bitters. In these respects the Violette has earned her wings. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted June 2015

Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $26.00, WineAlign)

The barrel fermented and aged Estate Chardonnay spent 12 months in two-thirds new and one-third second fill wood. Lees stirring is slightly increased as compared to the unplugged. Again, it’s about aromatic intensity leading the way to palate density. By the sounds of Westcott’s comments “we’re pleased with its remarkable irony — dry and sturdy, yet creamy and rather curvy,” you might think the team was stirring with impunity. Not so. The Estate Chard does the dance of mild spice and butter on toast to reach a texture that would appease savages. Unavoidable and typical low yields from the Vinemount Ridge picked at the right moment and handled with caring tabula rasa are the spirit in this wine. Delightful and charming. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015

Estate Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $30.00)

Once again, from the challenging and commercially impaired soils of the Vinemount Ridge, a wine of richness, layering, intellect and intrigue. Riesling and Cabernet Franc are the axiomatic varieties to speak of the Ridge’s terroir but this Westcott reinforces the Pinot habitation, defined by Tawse (Quarry Road, Lauritzen and Laidlaw), now complimented by Big Head, Le Clos Jordanne, Vieni and Westcott. Natural soil given tendencies to ferric aridity, spice and limestone silk fill this Harder composition, softened by the warmth of the vintage. Concentration talks, a touch of VA walks and expected tannic grip secures the lustrous, dark cherry fruit. This is a stygian version of a VR Pinot Noir with tones that go for big and structure that supports the hyperbole. It should not be ignored. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2015

Ontario asparagus and hot smoked salmon

Ontario asparagus and hot smoked salmon

Stratus Vineyards

Tempranillo 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

In 2012 the J-L Groux take on the expatriate Spaniard is warm, rich, cake-driven and yet balanced in ways the 2010 was unable to exhort. This vintage appeases Groux’s ends of the earth search for aromatics, picking on them, executing vinification to encourage them and barrel-aging for the purpose of cementing them. The 2012 is an aromatic success. It exudes red fruit, flowers, baker’s kitchens and wet Niagara on the Lake earth. This is a clean and jerk Tempranillo, a bouquet to success. The palate, mouthfeel and mellow finish return the favour of 2010 when it was noted that the variety in this place is a stretch, overweening perhaps, certainly self-effacing if admittedly short of contumelious behaviour. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted June 2015  @StratusWines

Cabernet Franc 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

A Cabernet Franc of settled, harmonious tones, of oak that sets sights and heights to heah, now integrated at such an early age. The grape succeeds and bleeds an exemplary, stalwart varietal suspension within the Stratus pantheon, a sanctuary where fiddles are yet played by other outfits across the region. Cabernet Franc will increase in the Stratus red, for good measure and reason. This ’12 is simply smothered in an embarrasment of red fruit, smoky from raspy reds to plugged in currants. It is of a favour in flavour that reminds of Swedish berries, in modulated hög, though not in sweetness. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted June 2015

Beef Rib-eye and Pastrami beef shortrib

Beef Rib-eye and Pastrami beef shortrib

Two Sisters

Merlot 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

“The river man runs, the river man runs.” With this turn a phrase and changing of a guard Merlot, winemaker Adam Pearce ushers in the new Two Sisters oeuvre, for the betterment of all. No longer over-produced yet still ambient, the ’12 sets the turntable for less oaky Sisters’ reds to come. With new barrels on the way out and older and ductile wood coming in, Bordeaux varieties in Pearce’s hands echo and play notes within notes, strum electric in mature chords, then finish with strings and saxophone brass. The 2012 is a true Niagara Riverman, adhering to intrinsic warmth and carrying with it the deep clay rich earth and a wild raspberry luxuriance. It will take seven to ten years to peel back the layers of uberty in this Noel cake Merlot from Niagara River. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @2SistersVine  @KVH_Wine

Southbrook Vineyards

Whimsy! Orange Wine 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

The post blind-tasted discovery that Ann Sperling’s Orange was in fact a 100 per cent Vidal made perfect regional sense, something expertly opined at the time by Rick Van Sickle. Having poured the natural saffronage on tap at Barque Smokehouse for two months I was curious to view it through another lens, to see it tipped from bottle. It has settled now, the acidity squeegeed and rolled out a TA point or two. What was grapefruit in demand is now grape in fruit cup. Still viably fresh, it is now pretty, accessible, settled comfortably into its skin. The verve will yet persist through this temperate time in the temporal lobe. Drink 2015-2016.

From my earlier note of December 2014:

“We’ve been waiting to do small batch, stem fermentation,” Ann Sperling tells us as we have a good look at the lustrous, foggy glass of orange-yellow colour more micro-described as either croceate or gamboge. “Now we have the infrastructure to do so.” Stems add architecture (and a preservative effect), something that is otherwise compromised in a sulphite-free wine. This nameless natural wine was biodynamically-raised, indigenously-yeasted and freed from the constraints of temperature control. No wood was used, only stainless steel and glass carboys. The orange and natural classification comes by way of the complex ebullition (closest in style to the Collio hills wines of Josko Gravner), in colour, weight, elegance and the dichotomy of skin fermentation. Sperling used acumen derived from the concept at Argentina’s Versado, where skins are employed in a similar way when making Malbec with husband Peter Gamble. This young wine is filled with terpenes and is highly, desperately aromatic. Lemon curd is up front and centre. It’s got a tart tang and at (approximately) 11.8 per cent alcohol, the gravity is impossibly beautiful. Sperling’s take is “a fair reflection on the vintage” and it’s the mouthfeel that sets it apart. What’s the varietal make up, single or a blend? If the latter, was it co-fermented? Ann will only tell us that it was harvested over a two week period in October. The big question is will it receive VQA approval. Viognier and Pinot Gris should certainly be options but I’m not aware of Southbrook ever having employed their use. Sperling’s Whimsy! Winemaker’s White uses Muscat so perhaps we could go that direction but the aromatics don’t jive. Riesling is the simplest road to take and if the Southbrook Connect Organic White 2013 is any indication, the combined effect with Vidal could certainly steer this Orange ship. But If I were made to guess, to have some fun with concept, I would suggest that it’s a blend of white and red grapes, but Southbrook does not grow Pinot Noir so that should rule out Chardonnay as well. So I conjure up a song. “Well I had a dream I stood beneath an orange sky.” With a union of grape varieties standing by. Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc feed my Spidey senses, so under the auspices of that marriage, what we might have here is an offspring, a Cabernet Sauvignon. A very natural one. An orange one.

Last tasted June 2015

Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $49.95, WineAlign)

The 2011 has entered an uncommunicative phase though the soft tones and whispering harmony offer faint prefaces to honey and burgeoning viscocity. The next flip of the calendar will tell a story. Drink 2016-2021.

From my earlier note at Gold Medal Plates, Toronto, November 2014:

There is still a tough outer layer to crack. A poem of many stanzas has only just begun. Mute yet delicate, the stratified vineyard is the Poetica’s poetry; tight, yet forwardly futuristic towards the ephemeral and the aerified.

From my earlier note of July 2014 note:

Has integrated nicely though certainly persists as a big, lush Chardonnay. If there were splinters or sinewy bits they have melted away.

From my earlier note of May 2014:

The Poetica underwhelms at the present time, or perhaps hides in her youth. She’s a calm, buttery, mildly toasted, supportive softie and more accessible than her Sperling west coast sistren. Like a cool Chardonnay soffit hiding beneath a warm bench, the Poetica speaks not for the vintage but more for the current vineyard, a warm and hip spot in the Four Mile Creek appellation. The site remains (at least to me) understood but the unctuous aspect in texture and gathering sweetness with time in the glass will realize a richesse yet unseen. Poetica’s refrain is like “wind on the weathervane,” her tragically subdued fruit quiet, but able to travel long. Time will be the reveal, so be patient.

Last tasted June 2015

Poetica Red 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $54.95, WineAlign)

At the young adult age of five the Poetica ’10 has retreated and redacted from the heat of that scorching vintage, centred itself and found balance. Gravity no longer shackles the gathering, shaped from Cabernet Sauvignon (51 per cent), Cabernet Franc (31), Merlot (15) and Petit Verdot (3). The next Poetica (2012) used PV as an adjuvant, something the 2010 would now be singing along with were they to have known then what they know now. The ’10 now heli-glides, as if hovering in kind to a set of blades on high whirl, up to where energy is effortless and tension keeps the craft afloat. More of that intensity will continue for 18 months to two years, after which the blades will loiter and wind down for a five to seven years further finale. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling

Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Red 2010 and 2012

Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Red 2010 and 2012

Poetica Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $54.95, WineAlign)

Now that the Poetica ’12 has seen release, it of course ironically submerges into slumber. The natural palate funk, chalk, talc and clay condensed grain are the gravity while pepper-savoury aromatics catalyze the supply. Credit time with future comings out. Drink 2020-2027.

From my earlier more of December 2014:

The Poetica Red ’12, slated for a Spring 2015 release, is amazing and intriguing on many levels. But for the fact that Petit Verdot (26.5 per cent) plays such a major varietal role, what must first be declared is the disseminated learning applied to this application. The dos and don’ts of previous (only produced in) warm vintage Poetica Reds will see a shedding of those don’ts in this 2012. Ann Sperling ushers in a new era for Niagara Bordeaux assemblage and if this wine is any harbinger, others will follow suit. Here celebrates a love for the land (environment), poetry and more specifically, Canadian poets. Chief Dan George, he of North Vancouver and the Hollywood screen, penned “Words to a Grandchild.” In it he wrote, “in the midst of a land without silence, you have to make a place for yourself.” Poetica Red ’12 will have done that when viewed retrospectively, 10-15 years from now. It will have grown old, but also wise. As for now it’s brooding, melancholy even. It’s all of that and this; endemic, entrenched, crenellated, ensconced and indoctrinated with Niagara knowledge. Has a dusty, earthy, even funky poetry. More depth than many, much realized acumen and will live long. Given 30 minutes of air it showed the ribbons of classic Niagara reds. All these concepts combine to see Poetica Red ’12 not so much as huge, but with depth and complexity.

Last tasted June 2015

Thirty Bench

Small Lot Benchmark Red 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $60)

The landmark red from grit inducing Bench soils has added a splenetic pitch to its already peppery temper. Like “dry and wet ice, they both melt,” the modest Merlot plus two Cabs mix is in a frenetic, edgy place. Allow for three more years before having a new listen and taste. Drink 2018-2023.

From my earlier note of February 2014:

Indoctrinated Right Bank agglomerate built on 62 per cent Merlot, supported by equal parts Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. Impressively warm and dusty, large, bursting berry dominated with a peppering dredge all around. So much flavour abounds, blanketed by a shaker full of vanilla spice, like “an endless ocean landing on an endless desert.” Still the Benchmark is modest, oaked (18 months) but not overly soaked, pure and in balance. The berry concentration renders it as a resident of the dark centre of the Niagara red blend universe.  Last tasted June 2015  @ThirtyBench

Trius Winery at Hillebrand

Trius Showcase 5 Blanc De Noirs 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (420521, $55.00, WineAlign)

Auspicious opening for the top end, new Trius Sparkling wine, based on Pinot Noir (70 per cent) from Four-Mile Creek (Lawrie Vineyard), with support from Pinot Meunier (30). Five is the number of years slumbering on lees, a voyage into triage to transport this singular Niagaran into the stratosphere of the region’s pantheon. Arid, toasty and slightly oxidative as per the wild ferment, Craig McDonald style. The toast is spread with a tapenade of (more) lightly toasted nuts, tarragon, morel and earth. There is a feeling of berries, void of pigment, slightly tart and very fragrant. Also the not so pungent but forest emergence of basidiomycete fungus. Delicate, complex, creamy and simultaneously, so very dry. A wine to sip at a large gathering around an antique harvest table or deep into the next decade. Drink 2015-2028. Tasted May and June 2015  @TriusWines

Dinner menu at Trius

Dinner menu at Trius

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Varietal Spanish wine

Meat Me in the Junction http://meatmeinthejunction.com

Meat Me in the Junction
http://meatmeinthejunction.com

In which camp do you take up permanent and loyal residence? Do you listen to, build your cellar around and taste exclusively of the singer-songwriter, the solo artist, the grape that goes it alone? Who are you? Varietal or blend?

Many a quarrel has landed on the subject of pitting meritage versus the single-varietal. The purist will argue that no combination of grapes can combine to make for the greatest of wines (save for Champagne). They will insist the skilled and important winemaker is one whose favourite medium is difficulty. That only the ones who are possessive of the cabalistic code can truly unlock the inner secrets of their art. That it can only done through the secret concentration and religious attention paid solely to one partner.

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay perpetuate in globally made, 100 per cent single solutions, not to mention the behemoths of Shiraz, Malbec, Tempranillo, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. To a lesser extent there are great vats composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Gamay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer.

The viticultural right of assemblage is one of the perks in modern winemaking, propped up by and standing on the shoulders of Bordeaux giants. The blending of grapes in summations to argue that the whole is the proper gross of fractions is a celebration of the 21st century avant garde.

Related – Off the beaten Italian path

Yet times evolve, change and tesselate. Old becomes new again. In November I travelled off the beaten Italian varietal path in an investigation of the B-sides, the ones that no one else knows about. I met the awakening of the Italian grape vernacular, engineered for companionless a cappella troubadours, from Albana to Ribolla Gialla, endemic (or indigenous, if the nomenclature suits you) and ancient varieties that have entered a time of new dawn. A similar renaissance is happening in Spain.

In October, at the invite of the downright honourable good Dr. Barry Brown of the Spanish Wine Society, I had the opportunity to taste through a wide selection of the wines of Navarra. The region lies between Pamplona in the north and the Ebro River plain to the south. Non-native varieties like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were introduced in the eighties, but it is the native Viura, Tempranillo and Garnacha that drive the Navarran machine.

The Rosado of Navarra were exceptional and the best examples were composed from 100 per cent Garnacha. The single-varietal compositions in Garnacha and Tempranillo by Bodegas Principe de Viana drove the companionless point. The exception to the rule was found in the wines of Bodegas Tandem. The small winery in Tierra Estella (Yerri Valley) is fashioning blends using Tempranillo with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in a combination of concrete vats and French oak. The slow ripening, meticulous handling and extended aging in wines crafted by José María Fraile is nothing short of exceptional. After all, they are called grape varieties and variety is the spice of life. Why shouldn’t blends have more fun?

In November I continued my Spanish odyssey with the wines of Garnacha. It was there that the solo records, in red and white really began to play in my varietal head. Garnacha (also known as Grenache) is one of the world’s oldest and most widely planted grapes. Its ability to assimilate the double-pronged effect of a Mediterranean climate and an Atlantic suffusion make it ideal for the Iberian Peninsula.

From left to right: Bodegas Tandem Ars Nova 2011, Bodegas Principe de Viana Garnacha Vinas Viejas 2013, Viñas del Vero La Miranda de Secastilla 2012, Lafou Els Amelers 2013, Edetària Selecció Blanc 2012, Bodegas Pirineos Garnacha 2013 and Grandes Vinos y Viñedos El Anayón Selección Garnacha 2011

From left to right: Bodegas Tandem Ars Nova 2011, Bodegas Principe de Viana Garnacha Vinas Viejas 2013, Viñas del Vero La Miranda de Secastilla 2012, Lafou Els Amelers 2013, Edetària Selecció Blanc 2012, Bodegas Pirineos Garnacha 2013 and Grandes Vinos y Viñedos El Anayón Selección Garnacha 2011

As the most notorious grape variety with the ability to go ying or yang, Ac or Dc, red or white, Garnacha makes for a fascinating study. Three examples expressive of Blanca’s western European white vinous supremacy opened my eyes to its capabilities. Viñas del Vero La Miranda de Secastilla 2012 (Agent, $16.00) from Somontano made use of four months in two year-old oak barrels to help develop texture in as good a value Garnacha Blanca as could hope to find. The Lafou Els Amelers 2013 (Agent, $28.95) from Terra Alta is a gorgeous wine of salinity, calcium, white flowers, fine lines and elegance. The Edetària Selecció Blanc 2012 (Agent, $39.95) also from Terra Alta is the pure distilled embodiment of Garnacha Blanca with its own unique and distinct aroma.

The Toronto Garnacha tasting ushered by Sopexa Canada brought into focus the grape’s diverse spectrum spread liberally around Spanish wine regions. When Garnacha goes it alone the results are extremely varied, from simple syrup, inexpensive drops to seriously structured compositions. As a varietal wine it is extremely accessible and offers exploratory song lines for all walks of wine consumer life.

From Somontano there is the Bodegas Pirineos Garnacha 2013 (Agent, $17.00), a prime starter’s example all about structure, with rock, chalk and lime-like citrus accents. This is a red Garnacha for the white wine drinker. Grandes Vinos y Viñedos El Anayón Selección Garnacha 2011 (Agent, $30.00) hails from Cariñena. Reeking ethereal and attenuated in American Oak, the high toast, citrus tone, vanilla and Rhône-esque garrigue is palpable. Crazy sweet tannins will carry this big fruit Garnacha to the next decade with pleasing clarity.

So with thanks to Macabeo, Prieto Picudo, Mazuelo, Graciano, Garnacha and the people who brought them to us, the individual is freed from the collective. In a twist of Descartian philosophy, of mind and mechanism, varietal wine is handled with the treatment of oxymoronic social sciences. The result is a triumph of secular materialism, the conceit of modernity and the reduction of the world to a single, simple mechanism. Varietal atom splitting is a resource to be exploited in blind interaction with the living planet.

In the end there is only one vine, one grape, concentrating, developing, existing one at a time. Here are six full tasting notes on varietal wines, each allowed to shine without intrusion and on their own line.

From left to right: Torre Oria Reserva Brut Cava, Dominio Dostares Estay Prieto Picudo 2011, Señorío De Sarría Viñedo No.8 Mazuelo Crianza 2009, Finca Los Alijares Graciano 2009, Baron De Ley Varietales Graciano 2010 and Viñas del Vero Secastilla 2009

From left to right: Torre Oria Reserva Brut Cava, Dominio Dostares Estay Prieto Picudo 2011, Señorío De Sarría Viñedo No.8 Mazuelo Crianza 2009, Finca Los Alijares Graciano 2009, Baron De Ley Varietales Graciano 2010 and Viñas del Vero Secastilla 2009

Torre Oria Reserva Brut Cava, Método Tradicional, Do Valencia, Spain (402255, $15.95, WineAlign)

Made from 100 per cent Macabeo, this is from a winery that is the first to produce Cava from outside of the Penedes DO. Here, from Valencia, up front there is dust, must and concrete, evidence of a lees-induced oxdative lean and wish upon a star aridity. There comes a time when dry fizz does not have to be the way to go, especially when trying to please many palates in too tight a space. So up steps this formidable Cava (with 9-10 g/L RS), in quality, with a crush of gala apple, a weight and a texture like a shag rug. Sure, it may be a bit disco but it’s also so very retro hip. Like Gorillaz and Clint Eastwood with “the essence, the basics,” and its “got sunshine, in a bag.” On the oxidative side? Yes and “the future is coming on.” Drink up.  Tasted January 2015  @cavaswine  @DO_Cava

Dominio Dostares Estay Prieto Picudo 2011, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla Y León, Spain (393140, $15.95, WineAlign)

A rare sighting of Prieto Picudo, one of the more idiosyncratic of grape varieties. This is the entry-level offering from Dominio Dostares (they make more precious best plot selection versions). Vines as ancient as 90 years old contribute briery cedar and leathery veins but this is quite modern, straightforward and aiming to please. Though a bit hot and heavy, the aridity (2 g/L RS) and the mineral streak keep it real. A harmonious if gangly red (from high acid soils), keeping warm and huddled within its hermetic, endemic environment. Short and simple, sweet and tart. Represents striking value in something other. Tasted January 2015  @oenophilia1  @_Cast_y_Leon

Señorío De Sarría Viñedo No.8 Mazuelo Crianza 2009, Do Navarra, Spain (391656, $17.95, WineAlign)

The release of relief in the activity of opportunity to taste something other, like 100 per cent Mazuelo, is just excellent. Compounded with the breath of fresh Spanish DO brought to the table by the current wave of Navarran wines, the experience is made that much more enjoyable. The wine is neither modest nor is it a mouse. Its body travels “on a road shaped like a figure eight.” It builds more than nothing out of something. The traced aromas are filled with pots of fresh flowers and the space is occupied by plenty of stuffing. No. 8 has a seamless, put together structure from the start. Silky and so very juicy with a streak of reminiscing rusticity. Great proper acidity and very stretched length. A very pretty if grounded and ode to history made wine.  Tasted January 2015  @navarrawine

Finca Los Alijares Graciano 2009, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla, DO La Mancha, Spain (392522, $17.95, WineAlign)

Not unlike Rioja, the wines of Tierra De Castilla in the heart of Spain are blessed with a Mediterranean climate augmented by an Atlantic influence. This organic winery is located beneath the Gredos Mountains in the Province of Toledo. The vineyards are protected from the northern winds by the mountain ranges. Though oft considered lower in quality, the Vino de la Tierra de Castilla designation is emerging from out of the Castilla-La Mancha shell. Tasting this 100 per cent Graciano just after a few months in oak and a bunch more in bottle before release would have shown more bright fruit and verve. Now four plus years later there is still much to admire in the high notes and brightness of the nose. Hard not to notice the strikingly and hauntingly beautiful aromatics. Also some dried fruit, like prune and turkish apricot. Akin to some Dão and some Rhône, without ever flirting with being baked or stewed flavours. Aridty juiced from rocks, acidity that follows suit and to nudge it forward in longer strides.  Tasted January 2015

Baron De Ley Varietales Graciano 2010, Doca Rioja, Spain (397166, $21.95, WineAlign)

Such a unique and life reaffirming, giving back red Riojan. The singular, singled out Graciano comeback revolution is upon us and we are all the beneficiaries. Here there exhibits a different sort of profile. A veritable profiterole of anise, cured chorizo, dried flowers and some spices (violets and the wafting aromas of Patatas a la Riojana). Not to be left off the redolent list is a funk, one that is not merde, but rather an old school, skinned hide. At the price and best of all is that the Graciano is so very, very long, like the Camino Frances, from the Pyrenees, through Roncesvalles and to Rioja.  Tasted January 2015  @RiojaWine

Viñas del Vero Secastilla 2009, DO Somontano, Spain (Agent, $32.00)

Took a sip and “the breeze blew back my hair.” Made from 100 per cent Garnacha, the elevated liqueur on the nose is invigorating and initially, somehow disturbing.  The combined forces of macerated, steeping cherries, melting liquorice and bubbling tar is extraordinary. Enveloped by a tinging, pinging acidity, the wine is structured in chalk, grain and gravelly tannin. The barrel influence is ingrained and the wine is most certainly huge but the overall composition is fresh, red and viscid. What to do after being hit in the face with a wine such as this? “How can I measure up to anyone new, after such a love as this?” Who are you Secastilla? Be patient, let it ride for years, let it soften. The comeback tour will be fun.  Tasted November 2014  @VinasdelVero  @WoodmanWS

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Take them home, County wines

County in the City PHOTO: Michael Godel

County in the City at the Berkeley Church

Life is old there, older than the trees,
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Can you think of an island (leaving Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand out of the discussion) of greater interest anywhere for growing grapes and making world-class wine? Prince Edward County’s just a shade more than 1000 square kilometers, 800 kilometers of shoreline and tiny 22,000 population is that place. It’s geology and climate eerily mimics that of Burgundy. A superficial layer of limestone peppered clay loam hovers above penetrable layers of larger limestone. Fissures in that bedrock allow vines to reach deep into its crevices. It’s a veritable mineral wonderland.

Related – You can lead a county to the city

Huff Estates Photo: Michael Godel

Huff Estates

More than 30 wineries dot the land and water interspersed honeycomb of a wine trail. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the obvious cornerstone varieties but unique Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Gris have joined the attention gaining fray. Ontario’s finest Sparkling wine is being made at Hinterland. Vintners like Rosehall Run and Keint-He Winery exemplify top to bottom consistency. They and others like Lacey Estates are involved in the yeoman’s ambassador work, in the field, at tastings or through social media. Smaller production houses like The Old Third Vineyard, Hubbs Creek and Exultet Estates are sought after by those who know.

Stanners

Stanners

The County returned to the city on April 3, 2014 to showcase a cross-section of their wares at Toronto’s Berkeley Church. The usual suspects continued to impress, yet the collective needs to embrace the Sparkling example set by Jonas Newman and Vicky Samaras at Hinterland. If White Cap and Ancestral are any beacon to be drawn towards, plantings of Vidal, Riesling and Gamay should be employed in earnest in the turning towards pressure in the bottle. Lighthall’s Glen Symons gets it, as does Frédéric Picard, with his Cuvées, not to mention Bill Turnbull and his 3630 Bubbles. True, Casa Dea has the shy Dea’s Cuvée and the Grange makes a Sparkling Brut and a Riesling (346726, $24.95). But the questions begs, is fizz just another word for everything to lose in the County?

Here are notes on 23 wines tasted. The soundtrack to these PEC Wines includes Foo Fighters, Cracker, Nine Inch Nails, Modest Mouse, REM, Sufjan Stevens, The Beatles and Dire Straits.

From left to right: Casa Dea Riesling 2011, Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012

From left to right: Casa Dea Riesling 2011, Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012

Casa Dea Riesling 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario  (winery, $16.95, WineAlign)

Pours and perches in the glass dry and stoic, as if bled from concrete or amphora. Swirled or not this fighter begins to rumble in a growing momentum of tang and acidity, as if it were being fed by sugar and feeding on yeast. So primary, like a sample in thief, yet already circling in complexity. A spike of spicy sweetness, a delicate dressing of aglio e olio, a chiffonade of basil on top. The County does this style of dry Riesling at this price in ways no one in Niagara can. This is no foo but rather a “blessing in disguise. Believe it or not, hands on a miracle.”   @casadeawinery

Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, VQA Ontario (155606, $17.95, WineAlign)

Note the VQA Ontario designation, meaning the fruit is a combination of PEC and Niagara. The former brings limestone to the table while the latter weight and substance. Typically soda-driven and spatially atomic in maximum thrust. Turns towards the lake with sweet emotion and sails off into the sunset. Multi-purposed, works to great summer afternoon effect, especially with the waves of the bay lapping at the shore.  @HuffEstatesWine 

Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $18.00, WineAlign)

Light, airy, delicate and nearly ethereal Pinot Gris that takes few chances, instead choosing an acquiescence with life’s simple pleasures. The vanilla of Gris, malleable, agreeable and ready to pair with whatever comes its way. A minor spike of Hillier minerality gives accent to pears and its blossoms.

Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

A most non-pretentious sparkler that holds a pertinacious attitude towards anything but serious fun. From estate Vidal grapes that has seen a second fermentation using the Charmat Method, Lighthall’s ’12 picks up right where its solid ’11 left off. Picked early to preserve freshness and acidity, the Progression is big on tart green apple preserved by a squeeze of lemon. Chill it, refresh with it, serve it up and bring the house down.

Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, VQA Ontario (131169, $21.00, WineAlign)

Twenty Mile Bench in Niagara borrows 30 per cent County fruit to complete Hardie’s cracker Riesling. Low in alcohol (9.1 per cent) and residual, bound by jacked up acidity and tension. Pale platinum with an old-school aromatic sentiment that “fruit is rusting on the vine,” and flavours recalling that “the fruit is calling from the trees.” A masonic force of winemaking, “like being low, hey hey hey like being stoned.”  @normhardie

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

The Huff Chardonnay bent has seen a shift as strong as South Bay’s prevailing winds, away from the weight of barrel ferment to a clean, Chablis-like style. The ’10 might just have been the turning point and though they now make two versions, this ’12 is the cementing of the attitude. What is most amazing is that the texture, aromas and feel remain those of an oak-influenced wine. Huff manages the linear consistency without the need to encumber, toast or char the purity of its glade, glycerin and citrus fruit. Only Prince Edward County’s limestone soil can effect this kind of nine inch nails drive into Chardonnay without oak and only Huff can do it with this kind of elegance. A wine “less concerned about fitting into the world.” Do not miss this singular effort.  @HuffEstatesWine

Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Karlo’s take is Riesling in torsion, barrel fermented & aged in older (six-year) French Oak. The program adds wax and herbal mucilage to what otherwise would have been a frenetic study in bone chilling acidity. This unique and neo-progressive intuit invites a global Riesling symposium to the County to learn something old and something new within this single bottling. Riesling with attitude that’s got glycerin and a medicinal meets floral, pear extract meets candied lilac viscidity. Though so young, it seems wise, with an anamnesis for old Mosel, a coolant aroma and a taste that recalls white sangria. Yes, it’s different and eclectic. Anti-bracing stuff, not for everyone, but everyone should be for it.

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011, Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011, Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Vinemount Ridge, VQA Ontario  (winery, $23, WineAlign)

This is the inaugural Riesling release for Stanners, from a single Vinemount Ridge plot. If it were not so winged-footed it might gain more positive repute from the appellation’s quarry effect, but in time and with experience, Colin Stanners will settle the grassy aromas into the limestone demand. For now it remains effortless and balanced with a dismounting of acidity and well provided apple and lemon flavours.  @StannersWines

Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay, Unfiltered 2011, Niagara River, VQA Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The 2011 Brock has settled into its Niagara River appellative skin, having now been in bottle 18 months. Working with fruit from 300 kilometres away increases the unknown quotient, magnifying the adage that you have “one chance to get everything right,” Closson’s ’11 is neither modest nor is it a mouse but it is less frenetic than it acted when tasted repeatedly last year. The hard deposits have oozed into liquid metal gold and the ripe orchard fruit has mellowed into a creamy pudding with a hint of spice. I don’t see the Brock as a very public wine, but more from a maker, for friends, from habit, for family. A wine that you need to get to know, to patronize with repeated listening’s, to accept.   @ClossonChase

Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay, Unfiltered 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Brock was only sulphured and bottled a month ago so it’s quite shocky and shaky. Still in the REM sleep stage, the ’12 is not quite ready to reveal the warmth so generously granted by the Niagara River appellation’s extending growing season. The ripe tropical fruit notes are there, if subdued and the omnipresent minerality will rear its rocky head before too long. This Brock will see a lifting “but gravity is holding” it down for now. Look to see the weights fall away late in 2014 “and in review,” you will have noted “the air was singing,” all the way to 2020.

Huff Estates Gamay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (winery, $25, WineAlign)

If $25 seems a premium to pay for Ontario Gamay, consider all that is on offer in winemaker Frédéric Picard’s take on the friendly French grape. Picard caddies for 13th Street (Niagara) fruit, vinifies it bone-dry with the minimalist edge of 14 months in 15 per cent new French oak.  The fruit is so very ripe, in raspberry and gritless, creamy blueberry. Like savoury adult ice cream, silky smooth and with nary a hint of chalky grain. Well-designed and consumer-friendly as any Gamay has ever graced the Ontario consciousness. So you’ve “got that going for you, which is nice.” Shack up with Huff’s Gamay treat.

Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Proprietor Glen Symons sources his fruit for this unctuous Gewürztraminer from Vineland at the base of the Escarpment’s steps. Highly tropical and exaggerated by the warm summer of 2012 to the point of candied, but with an edge. Just restless enough to divine temptation for further sips which when multiplied, relax the palate rather than excite it. The flavours turn nutty, waxy, even and calm. A mistral wind blows through in a breezy finish.

Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

It should be assumed that the four types of wood used to house this warm and inferential Choa (cherry, hickory, oak and ash) would smother and smoulder other aromatic suitors but those woods are actually quite subtle. The other woods, as in forest, backyard and compost are the acute players. The Choa goes from fromage to funky, from an enzymatic leesy feeling to inner, inward innards. It barks of a dogged persistence, I will give it that. Most definitely singular of style to be sure and will need a few years to settle down.

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 Cabernet Franc comes of age out of a preternatural and ontological perfect storm. Casts odds into the river of ideal weather, procures phenolic grape ripeness out of the vineyard, avoids the green and embraces the brown stems. Ferments under the natural eye of indigenous yeasts and settles into its silky skin at a low, low 10.8 per cent (give or take a lab sample) alcohol. Cabernet Franc of impossible soul, its “burden is the weight of a feather.” Pepper and currants are noted, tobacco and tomato are not. Comes “bearing a sword” but seduces with primal proclamations. Radical County red.

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The oak repeal in decreased new barrel impact allows the County to speak in the clearest of voice. As it should, from a South Bay landscape and terroir as rugged and dramatic that can be found anywhere Chardonnay is made in Ontario. There is a honeyed unctuous and viscous feel to the South Bay ’10, no doubt a result of its middle filled in by a meritorious and pure lees. Limestone wraps up the fruit in a clean, crisp and pure package.

Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The licensee only Loyalist is the micro-embodiment of the Deborah Paskus style. Rich, compact and built to satisfy a need for lush, nearly tropical Chardonnay. From a vintage that saw bud reducing spring frosts and resulting yields of only one tonne per acre. The oak influence comes to it with a scaled back embracing, allowing the County’s rock bent to connect and form a bond with the acidity’s bracing intent. Perhaps the profits will suffer from the year’s miniscule crop, but the level of quality will making it all right.

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Ontario (winery, $30, WineAlign)

A year later has softened considerable and thinking of laying down in softer pastures.  From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Combines 60% (horizontal) County fruit with 40 per cent (vertical) Niagara (Lincoln Lakeshore) grapes in balance and with finesse. Simply apply the distance formula to figure out the length of the hypotenuse. Bridging the kilometres that lie between, though inadmissible to some, comes by way of a deft winemaker’s vision and touch. Plum good, mineral rich and perceptibly tannic without breaching a threshold of varnish. Cherry toffee speaks of the sunshine and indicates time is of the essence. Will look forward to full-on County issue for 2013 in the hands of Cliff and Colin Stanners.”  Last tasted April 2014

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Prince Edward County (winery, $30, WineAlign)

After wetting their Pinot Noir feet with a few vintages that coalesced Niagara and County fruit, this is the first go it alone release for Stanners. It’s yet another effortless and quiet handed response to impressionist County fruit. A noticeable step up from what came before, this has primary balance, secondary (floral) aromatics and tertiary brightness. Like Hillier lavender, drying on the rocks in the waning afternoon sun.

Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, VQA Ontario (Winery, $33.00, WineAlign)

Mounds of respect are due any Ontario winemaker that decides to tackle single-varietal Petit Verdot, especially in a climate-forsaken locale like the County. Richard Karlo tackles such a struggle between good and evil, looking to elevate this fifth most important Bordeaux grape (not Malbec?) to great PEC heights. His dark, brooding wine of massive extraction starts off into the toffee, the after dinner mints and a suck of coffee cream through a wood straw. Twiggy, angular, resinous and wired, the wine then turns incredibly floral, in violets, from boron to aether and then returns to its roots. The rebound is to acidity, freshness and tang. An intriguing wine that “used to be angry young man” but the evolution it shows in glass bodes well for its future. Give it three to five years to achieve quintessence. “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time.”

Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Only 165 cases were produced of this Niagara born Pinot Noir. Discreet and unpretentious in every facet of its being. Like the colour of beautiful Rosé, the Watson causes such small-scale tannic pain. Though elegant and lithe, don’t be fooled. It’s not Burgundy. It’s Deborah Paskus. It’s Closson Chase. Profoundly appointed, in mind of those who mind. A signal to the understanding and knowledge of what the variety is and from this place. Clarity comes from an intensity in flowers, quality from a high sense of purpose.  Really fine.

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $35.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 County Pinot Noir is a beacon, a flashing light on the shore, an invitation to copycats because this is what making red wine from limestone foundations is all about. To taste this ’12 is to experience Hardie’s purest berry maceration and distillation to date. It’s as if there was no alcohol present and in fact, at 11.5 per cent it is a modest and transparent pronouncement. Longevity may not bless the ’12 as in other vintages but this is certainly the most groomed and coiffed County Pinot Noir.

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (208702, $39.00, WineAlign)

The calcareous clay, the edgy stone, the molt of the earth. Dense, cluttered and clamorous fruit. A different animal then what walks the County. Magnanimous Pinot Noir full of fruity flesh and medieval attitude. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “That Norman Hardie can make Pinot Noir in Prince Edward County that could never be confused with any other makes it that much more incredulous to nose this Niagara cousin and know it can only be his. A barb on the very verge of ripe, tart cranberry and as smoky a nose as Hardie’s Pinot wants to be. Strawberry and raspberry red beret. Ashes to ashes but not funk to funky, we know Hardie is a Pinot junkie. Still, this is a warm and melodious example with only one coat of primer. Impressive.

Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

Norman Hardie’s uncanny ability to coax hyperbole at the lowest alcohol levels is again blatantly apparent in this climatically epochal, yet restlessly cool County Chardonnay. Recalling and expanding on the exceptional ’08, the tonality, texture and motion are achieved by way of a) early picking, b) indigenous yeasts, c) arrested fermentation, d) lees and e) moxie. The dire straits of the vintage wants to exaggerate the fricassee, the roasted nuts and the chemical flow but who might argue against the gape at Burgundian reduction? She’s a roller girl this ’10, taking chances. She skates away, “making movies on location,” all in the name of learning ahead of the curve.

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventure

Frozen Niagara Falls

As frozen Niagara Falls, so frozen Niagara Falls
Photo: yobab/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Doesn’t every local wine writer’s pilgrimage begin this way? There’s 130 kilometres to Niagara Falls, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes (not really – the only thing we smoke is BBQ), it’s blinding winter morning light out and we’re wearing sunglasses. Well, one of us is.

Related – When expert’s break wine together

With Jake riding shotgun to Elwood we hit the QEW, pause for bench land visits to Flat Rock, Zooma Zooma and Creekside Estates, then make the frozen Falls by dusk. Two slackers we are, Bill and Ted, ponces submissive to wine, travelling through Niagara assembling a library of tasting notes to condign for memory in lieu of history missed and as practice for futures to come.

Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Salmon and Scallops

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Salmon and Scallops

Niagara’s annual Cuvée rolls out the red carpet for a black-tie gala at Fallsview Casino’s Grand Ballroom. Touted as a celebration of excellence in Ontario winemaking, the event gathers more than 50 wineries and asks that they pour their winemakers’ favourite wines alongside a room full of esculent Niagara eats. Local chefs set lavish food stations and guests are treated to comestible ruminations composed by students from the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. The Sun Media Après Cuvée party features Icewine, sparkling wine and craft beer bars, not to mention a repeat performance by the impolitic, patent, I want you to be moved sound of Jonesy.

Zagat and Spotlight Toronto's Suresh Doss and Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena KaiserSmit

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Zagat and Spotlight Toronto’s Suresh Doss and Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena KaiserSmit

Proceeds from the Cuvée Weekend go to the Niagara Community Foundation. Created in 2000, the Niagara Community Foundation has raised more than $23 million in endowment funds and has granted in excess of $5.5 million to charities working in the arts, heritage, environment, social services, health, education and community development. In 2015, the event will leave the very capable hands of the NCF and fall into the most capable hands of Brock University.

The word cuvée can mean many things in the world of wine. The Champagne tradition carries the most recognizable weight, the practice dictating that the best grapes be used and gently pressed to ultimately produce a sparkling wine of superior quality. In the end any cuvée is a blend no matter how you slice, interpret or break it down. It really comes down to the question of quality. Did Cuvée 2014 put its best foot forward? Were the ace grapes on display?

Pulling candy from sugar, Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Pulling candy from sugar, Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College

The Cuvée gala, at one time an awards showcase ceremony, has welled to the point of a brimming kitchen sink, perhaps in danger of overflowing. Those who know and have been there agree the change in structure has been for the better. Growing pains are natural, inevitable side effects of growth. It’s more party than oenophile wine think tank, a cultural mosaic and for some, a melting pot. Speeches, awards, thank yous and acknowledgements are barely audible above the revelling din.

VQA Promoter Award At Large winner Shawn McCormick and Michael Godel

PHOTO: Dan Trcka/grapeselections.com
VQA Promoter Award At Large winner Shawn McCormick and Michael Godel

In 2013, to a wine, the pours were best of the best. My take was put into these words. Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary. In 2014 many vintners poured either their best (Domaine Queylus, Five Rows, Coyote’s Run, Rennie Estate, Stratus, Thirty Bench) or their most unique (Peninsula Ridge, Trius, Southbrook, Riverview, 13th Street, Malivoire). The event and the following morning’s Expert’s Tasting would not be diluted by a few more shots of Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore in the arm.

The real adventure lies in the attempt to taste everything in the room. Time and excessive schmoozing gets in the way so getting to more than half is a win, win. Here are notes on 10 wines tasted at Cuvée 2014 and the reasons for singling them out as separating themselves from their peers.

Riverview Gewurztraminer Angelina’s Reserve 2012, VQA Niagara River (368092, $18.95, WineAlign)

A creamy, corpulent expression with a stinging enzymatic yogurt texture. Would swear there was extended lees contact. Furthest thing from the truth says winemaker Angela Kasimos. That striking salve gives way to a vacuous aridity without conceding to nuts and residual sugar. Well-made and without interference. Thanks to Riverview, Gewürztraminer has found a home in the pliable, silty loam of Niagara River.  88  Tasted February 2014  @RiverviewWinery

Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Wismer 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Wismer 2013

Peninsula Ridge Wismer Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker Jamie Evans and Sauvignon Blanc share a kinesis. When kissed by the wise and wistful fruit that Wismer cedes, compounded by the vintage, this Peninsula Sauvignon Blanc inclines to aeaeae. All parts contribute to a stretched length, from fresh beginning to mouth-watering end. In between there is lees-stirred spice, dry and toasty points but the grass is never overgrown and the berries are golden. A kickstarter sour note propels the wine forward for an even longer taxi onward. What a vineyard, what a wine.  90  Tasted February 2014  @PeninsulaRidge

Westcott Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29, WineAlign)

From vineyards planted in 2005, this new kid on the Jordan block spent 12 months in oak, half of it new. To a taster, you would never know it. In clone cousin to Le Clos Jordanne’s Chardonnay, this special project is the nephew of a set aside, four-barrel selection. Winemaker Arthur Harder (Calamus) has fashioned a head-turning clean, pure and most mineral-driven Chardonnay from impossibly young Vinemount Ridge vines. A quartz chord runs through it and with just two or three more years of vine age the fruit and adjoining texture will catch up to the rock. That integrated, subtle oak impart is of a Granny Smith apple kind, crisp and taut. Such a memorable inauguration with so much promise that lays ahead.  90  Tasted February 2014

Trius Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Less than 300 cases were produced of this, you guessed it, natural grape skin, wild yeast fermented unique Sauvignon Blanc. Cold bunch pressed and 11 months on the lees lend a fruit/wood spice and gregarious character that is impossible to miss. Winemaker Craig MacDonald shows a savvy Savvy love in his carefully considered treatment of this wine. This ’12 WF steals the show at Cuvée in the category of most compelling and thought-provoking.  91  Tasted February 2014  @TriusWines

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (274753, $32.95, WineAlign)

Five months more in bottle has come to this, a Bench perfumed state of mind. On a red raspberry road to absolution. The international coat has now begun to surrender to the maturity and wisdom of the local vine’s intellect, its maker and overseer acting as artificers in planned execution. Earlier note: Deeper, earthier, decreased propriety and more pelage than the previous two vintages. I sense longer hang time, more redress and slower slumber. In Hidden Bench I thought I knew and would always associate with a specific Pinot Noir feel but this ’11 confounds. In a way, that is a large compliment. Fruit reminiscent of a top Central Otago in that it grips my Pinot interest if not my Ontario heart.  91  Tasted October 2013 and February 2014  @HiddenBench

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker's White 2011

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker’s White 2011

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker’s White 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

While the triple W represents neither traditional alchemy nor screaming value it begs to be considered for sheer shock and awe. A co-fermented, low brix, who varietal blend of 58 per cent Chardonnay, 27 Semillon and 15 Muscat, winemaker Ann Sperling’s capricious fancy white and nerdy captures the vintage to alight and delight effect. Spice, texture, florality and acidity really work the room. Though the varieties seem to sing ”we don’t move in any ‘ticular direction and we don’t make no collections,” they somehow join together.  White wine of whimsy, not shallow, like a Wes Anderson film.  88  Tasted February 2014  @SouthbrookWine

Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, SAQ 12089591, $44.95, WineAlign)

Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice. Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with its a touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”  91  Tasted November 2013 and twice February 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Five Rows Craft Wine Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $50, WineAlign)

Gimme soft and sage treatment of a vineyard’s wondrous, pure fruit transcends most previous notions of Niagara Pinot Noir. That Lowrey vineyard in the hands of its first family drives spice into red fruit direct from soil and vine. Winemaker Wes Lowrey handles his family vineyard fruit like it were a baby and from this comes a promiscuous perfume. The ’10 is so youthful but coming into the springtime of his voodoo, having now been in bottle for a year. Though thoughts were that “he was going to show me spring,” the wine should clearly be left to flesh for a few more seasons.  92  Tasted February 2014

Thirty Bench Small Lot Benchmark Red 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $60)

Indoctrinated Right Bank agglomerate built on 62 per cent Merlot, supported by equal parts Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. Impressively warm and dusty, large, bursting berry dominated with a peppering dredge all around. So much flavour abounds, blanketed by a shaker full of vanilla spice, like “an endless ocean landing on an endless desert.” Still the Benchmark is modest, oaked (18 months) but not overly soaked, pure and in balance. The berry concentration renders it as a resident of the dark centre of the Niagara red blend universe.  92  Tasted February 2014  @ThirtyBench

Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve Du Domaine 2011

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve Du Domaine 2011

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir ‘Le Grande Reserve’ 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (winery, $65, WineAlign)

The Thomas Bachelder mentored, two-vineyard assemblage Grande Reserve Pinot Noir grinds more cracked pepper than any predecessor. Every barrel from the Twenty Mile Bench (formerly Le Clos Jordanne’s, Neudorf Family La Petite Colline Vineyard) and Mountainview vineyard were scrutinized to determine the final blend.Bachelder sees black fruit in the early life yet despite the ebullient seasoning, the LGR’s genes are intrinsically feminine. Red cherry, tellus fertility and a mother’s strength hold the family of barrel children together. This is an ambitious and hard to read Pinot Noir. Judgement reserved for five years before the word classic will be used.  92  Tasted March 2014  @QueylusVin

Good to go!

Masters wines in purple, yellow and green jackets

Photo: Melinda Nagy/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

White and red. These are the two descriptors that separate and define wine. But the pigmentation in wine runs a colour spectrum way beyond the black and the white. Whites wines can appear pale or silvering, in platinum and argentate. They can be yellow and gold, in marigold and saffron. They can also be green, in jade, malachite and patina. Red wines are so often purple, in magenta, amethyst and amaranthine. They are also black, in slate and in charcoal. I employ this word salad rubric all the time, because that is what I see.

Have you ever really taken the time to look closely at the actual colour of your wine? To do so, the first order of necessity is a proper wine glass with a good-sized bowl and certainly not smaller than 16 ounces. Increasing the viewing area allows you to not only see hues but also nuance and variegation, especially when a wine has some age on it. The visual aspect of wine is huge. Don’t let it pass you by.

There will be many colours and golf attire styles on display this coming weekend at The Masters. You’ll see the Luke Donald Ralph Lauren GQ. The Ian Poulter English plaid, retro-kitsch. The Sean O’Hair Ashworth Nantucket. The Freddie Couples Masters green. The Ben Crane Hugo Boss, Mad Men yellow, green and orange. The Ricky Fowler Puma, day-glow yellows and greens. The Masters offers a sensory experience focused on colour unlike any other made for television sporting event. So many shades of green and so many moments of reflection. Reminds me of wine.

I’m certainly not suggesting to revolve your purchasing decisions around fashion and colour, but the next time you pour a glass, take note of its sheen. I guarantee it will add to the experience. Whether or not you care at all about the golf, here are six masterfully made drops to look for this coming weekend.

Clockwise from left: Hinterland Whitecap 2012, Dr. Hermann Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 2007, Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2011, Resta Salice Salentino 2009, Viewpointe Estate Auxerrois 2011, Bachelder Bourgogne Chardonnay 2010

The Silver

Hinterland Whitecap 2012 (332809, $22) looks like lustrous sterling and that visual promotes a feeling of confidence. Tender spindrift and a Vidal, honeyed sweetness to smell. Waxy Muscat balm and a hint of draff. Riesling ties it all together in a well-structured sparkler crafted by Prince Edward County winemaker Jonas Newman. Like top quality Prosecco. Please do not mock the Charmat. Versatility be thy name!  89  @hinterlandwine

The Patina

Viewpointe Estate Auxerrois 2011 (327239, $14.95) is something completely different, unique and intriguingly surprising from the Lake Erie North Shore Appellation. Nice nose, despite a wet, though not a record rainfall season. Notes of stone fruit, flowers, equatorial like Gewürztraminer but not in lychee, candied but not cloying. Downy glycerin texture with nutty overtones and even key lime pie. Indicates a decemberist, classic, off-dry style. You can “rake your thumbnail across the stretch of the patina” but what you will find is balance and restoration.   88  @viewpointewines

The Marigold

Bachelder Bourgogne Chardonnay 2010 (272005, $29.95) oozes gossamer oak at the outset. Golden like an organic egg yolk, flocculent, thick and rich. Bests the ’09 with more smokey verve and struck stone guts. This one is very neurological, in colour, texture and feel.  90  @Bachelder_wines

The Jade

Dr. Hermann Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 2007  (313528, $16.95) clocks in at a mere 8 per cent abv and is a nasal microchamber filled with dry ice but taste it and be soothed by its unguent goodness. Minerals, spice and everything nice out of red sandstone, slate soil and just barely beginning to act its age. OK, it may be a touch disjointed but at $17 they are giving it away. I could drink it like wheat grass all summer long.  90

The Charcoal

Resta Salice Salentino 2009 (324731, $14.95) is a modest Negroamaro mouse of currant, coal, olive and terrene. Powdery, cretaceous limestone and leather make this Puglian painfully arid and yet it is remarkably juicy. Funk monster too. “My brain’s the burger and my heart’s the charcoal.”  For lounging at closing time.  88  @DavidBowlerWine

The Magenta

Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2011  (36194, $21.95) sets the pepper mill on speed dial and certainly knows the inside of a barrel but what more could you possibly ask for? Unabashed, unbridled purple goodness. From my earlier note: “…has to be the best yet from Richie Roberts.  From a 35-acre Grand Cru (Five Rows) vineyard in the making in the heart of the warmest Niagara locale (St. David’s Bench). Zanthoxylum, capsicum and pencil shaving. Ropy grain, chewy, sylvan charm. On the card at Barque 90  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Good to go!