Mind blowing wines of 2014

Bouteilles de la collection Méquillet de Kientzheim, Confrérie Saint-Etienne

Bouteilles de la collection Méquillet de Kientzheim, Confrérie Saint-Etienne

In January it began with A resolution to drink honest wine, “juice that conveys the salient facts of a grape’s life.” It continued with New year. Try new wines, where the goal was “the resolve to drink outside the comfort zone.” If the issue was Feeling under the weather? Drink wine, success was had. “Wine is your friend. When approached, integrated and embraced in the right way it can help to promote a healthy lifestyle. The defence rests.”

January was a busy month, complete with Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and ice wine, not to mention Super Bowl XLVIII wine odds. In February the opined focus zeroed inwards, to Ontario. What’s in a wine vintage? asked to reach out and touch Ontario’s 2012 whites, the best wines made to date. Harsh words were spoken against Rosé, but only because of the obviousness of it all when said, You can kiss my sweet pink wine, Valentine. Thomas Bachelder showed us Synchronicity in three terrors and he will do so again this coming Sunday when we break wine together down on the Peninsula. Calming influences saved days, having once more expounded on the music immersion, in and with wine, from Three-chord wines, hold the rants. The month concluded with more healthy advice and the question Are you getting your daily serving of wine?

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing? Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?
Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

In March the annual pilgrimage to Niagara produced more tasting notes and verbiage than was previously thought possible, in a three-part series. Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventureWhen experts break wine together and Wine experts Brock and roll, Brock on were also joined by a visit to Flat Rock Cellars in Bottles, barrels, tanks and a vertical. A two-year impassioned body of submissions to canada.com culminated with the final column, The death of wine scores?

Scores were subsequently dropped from godello.ca but continue to be sidled up to the notes at winealign.com. In April I found out what happens When Sangiovese comes to townBurgundy will always be royal and that it’s always Go Gamay go time. In the name of Somewhereness, The group of twelve was once again called to assembly. In May there was the omnipresent Kalon of MomPaul Pender’s Tawse and effect and a fascinating look at cooperage in Every barrel tells a story. Prince Edward County again proved its mettle in ’14 and consumers were encouraged to Take them home, County wines. VQA stood under scrutiny in The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom and another chapter was written in The Stratus-Momofuku continuum.

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,  Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,
Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Sparkling wine bubbled over in New fizz on the Brock, was Talkin’ ’bout my Generation Riesling and a trip to Alsace in June put me In a Grand Cru state of mind. I was Down on the Ornellaia and found out first hand, on a boat trolling across Lake Erie that The South Coast is clear. I offered up The froth on Crémant d’Alsace and in July told you that Chardonnay is cool. The eponymous conference yielded in excess of 10,000 words in August with 50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more and The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind. I branded Olivier Zind-Humbrecht The cru chief of Alsace and felt what it was like to be Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes.

Tide's Out, Big Cove, New Brunswick

Tide’s Out, Big Cove, New Brunswick

A 5500 km trek to the tip of Cape Breton and back yielding poetic and prophetic expression in The tides that bind: East Coast swing. “The tractive is a thing to and of itself. The pauses to gather at points along the process remember lobsters roasting over an open fire, a cottage visit with new-found friends, a hike into the cavern of a waterfall and a swim in a tidal river. Memories are made in rites of passage, though in the end, like the photographs, they too will be demurred by time. Indelible stamps they are, cemented in commitment to reaching and by necessity, descending summits. A  road trip to the eastern part of Canada realizes the bigger plan. The key is making it safely home, before the tide rolls in.”

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

In September I tasted history with Taylor made Port and insisted on Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due. I ignored a publishing embargo to announce how The LCBO and WineAlign go local and went Rocking out with the 2014 WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada by judging the best of the best. A recall to Consider the Gaspereau Valley brought me back to Benjamin Bridge, a visit with Peter Gamble and the declaration that “I have seen & tasted the future of vinifera in Nova Scotia and its name is Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards.” Gamble’s work with partner Ann Sperling in Argentina is simply and skillfully The artfully applied science of Versado Malbec.

My report, Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality was met with lukewarm avoidance then rebounded, thanks to the tunes, From VINTAGES for Thanksgiving, in wine and with songA hip of wine from Hidden Bench gave way to Fourteen wines that should be on your restaurant list, in which I insisted “if your job title includes choosing what wine is poured at your restaurant, you should never dial it in.” I enjoyed some Wine on company time and Americans take note when Sonoma peaks from out of the fog.  For the third consecutive year I gave Yet another 10 reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween.

Local wines, notably Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases and in direct contrast, I went Off the beaten Italian path to discover endemic varietals. The Bloody vivid 2011 Vintage Ports had me reeling. “The 2011 Vintage Ports have balance, well, the best do, but they are, and I speak in very general terms, collectively over the top. Though it may seem an oxymoron to put Vintage Port and elegance in the same sentence, what is a great wine without a sense of humility and restraint?”

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Two exposés on Alsatian wine, A Blanck slate in Alsace and It was Josmeyer’s imagination covered two distinct theories, of tabula rasa and wayfinding. On Sparkling wine I gave you Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence and Eleven 11th hour holiday bubbles. If value is your thing, I hope you read The final 14 bargains of 2014 and if great Canadian wine and cuisine float your gastronomic boat, my judging experience was captured at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014.

This is the third in the trilogy of best of reports for 2014. The first, 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014 was about “wines that are extensions of their maker’s personality, philosophy and temperament. Wines that are indicative of their terroir.” The second, Top 15 under-$25 wines of 2014 was meant to to “create the sociological, world of wine equivalent of splitting the atom. To celebrate the triumph of laic heterodoxy and the arrogance of modernity.  To seek purity from beneath the massacre caused by an avalanche of contrived wines.” The third instalment is meant purely to celebrate and to thank those who shared their bottles with me. Here are 16 wines tasted in 2014 that simply blew me away.

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Domaine Paul Blanck et Fils Muscat d’Alsace Réserve Spéciale 1983, Alsace, France (From A Blanck slate in Alsace, December 1, 2014)

From Altenbourg, a lieu-dit located at the base of the Furstentum vineyard. Here is Blanck’s “fairy tale,” a wine you would have always heard about but never had a chance to taste or likely ever seen. The terroir is limestone mixed with clay and you will have to excuse my Alsatian, but a single sniff and taste releases the expression, “are you fucking kidding me?” This 31-year old Muscat is an impossibility, a first time feeling, a never before nosed perfume. Speaks in a limestone vernacular, of grapes given every chance to survive long after their innocence had been lost. A forest herb, tree sap, evergreen resin, lemongrass and bitter orange coagulation rises from its viscous mist. The acidity has lost nothing on the fruit, acts in perfect foil and leaves you with a sense of loneliness that is just beautiful.  Tasted June 2014  @DomaineBlanck

Pearl Morissette Gamay Cuvée Mon Unique 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery) From The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom, May 26, 2014

In July 2013 Francois Morissette made this statement. “If we can’t make Gamay in a Cru Beaujolais Style, I’m not interested.” In May 2014 his ’13 Gamay causes Bill Zacharkiw to comment with blatant honesty, “just line up at the tank. Forget the bottle.” From 100 per cent whole clusters sent to cement fermenters. Once again the hue is just impossible. Sulphur-free, this walks a fine and perfect line of Cru banana Gamay. Pushes the Gamay envelope in that it’s gulpable but with a duress to remind you not to overdo it. A Gamay with a chamber of 32 doors. In it “I’d rather trust a man who doesn’t shout what he’s found.” François Morissette.   Tasted May 2014  @PearlMorissette  @3050imports

Laughing Stock Vineyards Amphora VRM 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (agent, $30.00, WineAlign) From A day in WineAlign life: 15 new releases from Ontario and B.C., August 8, 2014

Here blends one-third each Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne, a veritable Rhône orgy in wild fermentation, aged on the skins in terra-cotta and amphorae. While I would not go so far as to call it an “orange wine,” I will use the “N” word to describe its agrarian ways. As natural as anything you are likely to taste out of B.C., this is a most untamed experiment and should not be missed. It verges on oxidation but refuses to climb over the edge. It’s floral, spicy and crowded. The texture is chalky and so full of rusty, clay rubbed streaks. Everything about this is unkempt and exotic, including the never cease and desist fermenting lychee and longan feel. Hard not to be wowed by this blend’s presence.  Tasted August 2014  @lfngwine  @liffordretail

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2006, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula (241182, $35, WineAlign) From When experts break wine together, March 4, 2014

Only Charles can follow Charles, as only Jimi could follow Jimi. Just ask Peter Townshend. The combined forces of vintage, off-dry level of residual sugar (23.9 g/L) and age have ushered this Picone into a realm of adipose, butyraceous, chewy texture. The ’06 is emblematic of its time, stunning, psychedelic, experienced. It speaks clearly and with conceit. Tasting it eight years on you can hear Baker’s 2006 voice saying “if you can just get your mind together uh-then come on across to me.” We have and continue to follow Charles, and we are paying close attention to every vintage along the ride.  Tasted March 2014  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Sémillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (371484, $47.95, WineAlign) From Thirteen wines ‘ere Friday the 13th, June 12, 2014

A lifelong search for great Sémillon is fraught with peaks and valleys. Finding greatness is so rare it’s blue. The Hunter Valley in New South Wales beckons for a rush to strike gold. Many roads lead nowhere and others, like the dusty lane up to Brokenwood’s Maxwell Vineyard, lead to OZ. This young one has barely broken bread, or even a sweat. Sémillon of primary concern, like a tank sample. Varietal beauty as a cryogenically frozen specimen inundated by the table, the whole periodic table and nothing but the table. Guided by a laser beam of focus, great intent and expectations. Bob’s your uncle this David to the world’s white wine Goliaths. Son of racing studs and mares. Wow Sémillon. Not a faint moment about or in it.  Tasted May 2014  @Brokenwood

The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, California, USA (662015, $59.00, WineAlign) From The death of wine scores?, March 26, 2014

A seminal bottling from a game-changing year, for two all important reasons. One, it was a great vintage for Napa reds and two, the Mount Veeder sub-appellation was established. While only 24 years ago, a mere five wineries existed there at the time, including Mayacamas, Mt. Veeder and Hess. No hyperbole to say this is tasting a piece of history. Despite my “shouting all about love,” this splendidly aged Cabernet is not so much about resilience as it is persistence and infinite wisdom. All those years ago there were Napa reds made at a mere 12.5 per cent alcohol, with finesse and a sense of George-like calm. With little aeration there is fig, prune and toffee gently weeping but with air the aged fruit is swept away by a wave of gob stopping Cassis before its time. Preconceived notions of banausic, early days Cabernet are smothered by the magic dust of this Hess religion, a Dharma of licorice, ash and enlightenment. A wine to make you forget where you are. Depth, length and up to a half decade yet of reserved life lay ahead.  Tasted March 2014  @HessCollection   @liffordretail

Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($143.00, WineAlign) From Burgundy will always be royal, April 22, 2014

The Fèvre take on Les Clos is the cradle of all the domain’s wines, in every respect. Intensely concentrated, this is Chardonnay expressive in every facet of its surroundings. The impart from compressed white limestone, ancient fossils and Jurassic minerals in distillate may seem abstract in description but how else can the feeling of a mouth full of rocks be conveyed? The remarkably complex Les Clos and its structured palate that goes on forever has come out of its Chablis vineyard cradle and will live on as one of the best ever. “It’s not a place, it’s a yearning. It’s not a race, it’s a journey.” There is no rush to drink it up. It will offer immense pleasure for 20-25 years.  @WoodmanWS  @BourgogneWines

Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino 1997, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0961714 $145.00, WineAlign) From When Sangiovese comes to town, April 7, 2014

From a golden vintage, this ’97 is crazy good. A fixed, double-edged blade fighting knife dipped into a warm pool of developed liqueur-like sweetness. Seventeen years of languorous modulation and wood-fruit integration had resulted in a gracious Brunello, intrinsically delicious and living large in senescence. Life for the Col D’orcia ’97 is a bowl of cherries. Open one now and for the next three to five years and you’ll know exactly what you’re going to get. Me, “I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years. Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years.”  Tasted April 2014  @Coldorcia  @ConsBrunello

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 2001, Doc Bolgheri Superiore (Agent, $189.95, WineAlign) From Down on the Ornellaia, June 24, 2014

The blend of the 2001 Rosso Superiore is Cabernet Sauvignon (65 per cent), Merlot (30) and Cabernet Franc (5). Though strange to say and admittedly a retrospective comment, the minute quantity of Cabernet Franc and not yet inclusion of Petit Verdot result in a more straightforward and not as heavily layered Ornellaia. The structure is more linear and understandable, the fruit not as variegated. Complexity and Tuscan spiritualism are not compromised by the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominant line, in fact, assessing the evolution at 13 years on reveals the Bolgheri terroir in ways the magnanimous and opulent more recent vintages just don’t reach. There is a refreshing acidity in this young and developing ’01 in a streak that again, the baby Superiore do not seem to possess. This is a striking Ornellaia, a wine that would work with exceptional cuisine of varied cultures. It can be enjoyed now and will respond with grace and thanks for 30 plus years more.  Tasted June 2014  @Ornellaia  @AuthenticWineON  @sherry_naylor

Château Léoville Las Cases 1995, Ac St Julien, Bordeaux, Left Bank, France (402529, $599.00, WineAlign) From A Bordeaux family of wines, September 29, 2014

This 2nd Growth, Grand Vin is a product of nurturing and environment, a study in 12 superb soil subsets, from sand to clay to stone. From mature, edified vines split between Cabernet Sauvignon (70 per cent), Cabernet Franc (16) and Merlot (14). The LLC ’95 is grounded and centered on its highly confident axis while swirling within a centrifuge of inwardly concentrated, ripe but not ripest fruit. Merlot here is the anchor, Cabernet Sauvignon the mast. This is a relationship of pure linear fruit meets acidity. The full and fresh attack is refined with soft-pedaled tannins. It’s neither St. Julien nor Paulliac. It is Las Cases. No other Bordeaux is such an island, a distinctly personal expression, an event of its own. This is a window to the greatest vintages, a portal to extend to the benchmarks of 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2009, but also to step into the history of physiological cortex, to gain insight into previous legendary vintages, like 90, 89 and 82. The ’95 is silky, caressing, rapturous enveloping in a reverse osmosis of fruit and acidity, acidity and tannin. Another sip notices the layering, the grain left in tannin, the lingering richness of the fruit. The absolute sweet caress.  Tasted September 2014  @Noble_Estates

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977 at Splendido Restaurant, September 2014

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977 at Splendido Restaurant, September 2014

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy

Though the vintage was reported to be less than exceptional, the chance to taste this 37 years in/on and the longevity it displays combines for full, blow me away effect. The first vintage of Sassicaia was 1968 and this 10th try hits the mark of experience. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (85 per cent) and (15) Cabernet Franc, the fruit came from vines over top soils of clay and limestone. The wine spent 20 months in Yugoslavian oak barrels (half of it being new, and half used once or twice before), while for the remaining 60 per cent, French oak was used (2/3 new and 1/3 used once or twice before. Tasted blind, the swirling and searching thoughts of Genesis retrospection assimilate aromas of truffle and mushroom, but at first there is no reply at all. Landing on a plot of excellence somewhere between Bordeaux and Piedmont, Tuscany rises from its hills. A silent conversation ask the Sassicaia “I get the feelin’ you’re tryin’ to tell me;
Is there somethin’ that I should know?” Its condition is near perfect, its body full, its nature pristine and finally, so obviously in balance. After 30 minutes it begins to slide, to no surprise, but you can’t believe the expression it gives and the impression it leaves. And so, it is confirmed. 1977 was a fine vintage for Sassicaia.  Tasted September 2014  @Smarent  @Splendido_TO

Contino

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1974 at XocoCava, with Chef Chris McDonald and Rob Groh of the Vine Agency, October 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1974, Rioja, Spain (Agent)

An impossibly youthful 40 year-old Tempranillo, even surpassing the more evolved ’80 in that regard, with aniseed, coconut and beeswax in its current aromatic state. Less gamy and animal funky, yet persistent in earthy beats. The vegetal scents act as conduit to the light bulb shining brightly of circuitous flavours and resolved textures. Lingers in mouth feel, its layers of time slowly peeling back, revealing in length, a slide show of the wine’s life. With many year’s still ahead, this is a Tempranillo revelation and from one going back this far that gained no support from Graciano (because it was planted in 1979). Its apostle following instead comes by way of the white Viura. Pair with Chef Chris McDonald’s Foie Gras and Partridge Croquetas.  Tasted September 2014  @TheVine_RobGroh  @Cvne

Decanted Château Margaux 1989, The National Club, Toronto, May 1, 2014 PHOTO: Michael Godel

Decanted Château Margaux 1989, The National Club, Toronto, May 1, 2014
PHOTO: Michael Godel

Château Margaux 1989, Ac Bordeaux, France (176057, $1,645.00, WineAlign) From Château Margaux hits the road, May 5, 2014

The 1989 Château Margaux wears the response to a mondo Bordeaux axiom on its sleeve. Are First Growth wines made for people who want darts of instant pleasure?” Twenty years earlier and now like the 2009, here is a quintessential and exemplary vintage, from day one of bud break to the last day of harvest. Its appraisal as anything but incredible is to assassinate it as if it were the Franz Ferdinand of Bordeaux. The examination 25 years later sees a mellow funk meet a peerless and sublime perfume. A wine cast in utmost density, complexity and length. It noses strength, warmth verging on heat but only for a fleeting moment, to gain attention. The iconic wine has reached the first major peak, up a ways from base camp. In this second phase of young adulthood it looks with conceit to the top of the mountain, seeing 25 to 50 more years on the climb. Mr. Pontallier regrets he won’t be around to taste this wine at full maturity. Moi aussi. The fruit lingers in its full, original state, from the moment it passes lips and for minutes onward. Violets trump roses. Château Margaux 1989 is from a vintage that offers the blessing of ethereal balance. Hear her sing, “Ich heisse Superfantastisch!”  Tasted April 2014  @Noble_Estates

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009 (From The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht, August 5, 2014)

A south-facing, very steep slope of grey marls and gypsum. A vineyard that yielded a miniscule 10 hl/H. A stratospheric residual sugar quotient (in the realm of 500 g/L) and incredulous acidity to prevent the development of the yeasts. A fermentation that finally finished in the late winter of 2012. A wine aged in demi-guid. Selection of grapes of a botrytis so pure and dry. These are the specs of a wine I may never taste again. Olivier concedes he “really tries not to obtain the highest sugar concentration possible” but this 2009 is a “monster of a wine.” It will take forever to assimilate and digest the sugar. Unctuous, lush, rich and gorgeous does not do it justice. Pure distillation of fruit and stone, accented by spice, wild herbs and flowers. Like an injection of pure, Pinot Gris adrenaline. All this from dry extract, slowly rehydrated with magic pixie dust and the wonders of the natural world.  Will live for a century and then some.  Tasted June 2014  @olivier_dzh  @TrialtoON

Schlumberger

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945 (From In a Grand Cru state of mind, June 18, 2014)

From an area of sandstone soil that predates the appellation. “This is an old story,” says Sommelière Caroline Furstoss by way of introduction at a Millésime master class. “This is a wine of God,” in allusion to the success of a vintage immediately following the end of World War Two. So emotional to taste, of a Riesling with 20-25 g/L of residual sugar and a recondite, balancing level of acidity. Complete and clean, persistent in its power and vitality. There is orange peel and spice, cinnamon and spike. Must have been a warm yet somehow perfect vintage. Sixty-nine years on there is the slightest hint of toffee and nougat with a whispered promise to age for at least 30 more effortless and graceful years. The length lasts for minutes. The heart and the hearth. Just the thought of producing this wine at that time is unfathomable and mystifying. There are no superlatives to do it justice.  Tasted June 2014  @VinexxWine

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863, Douro, Portugal (Agent, $3,995.00, WineAlign) From Taylor made Port, September 2, 2014

The two casks of 1863 reached the Taylor family in pristine condition, from one of the last great pre-Phylloxera vintages of the 20th century. This wine came from the cool and damp Port lodges of Oporto, “the cathedrals of wine.” This was a once in a lifetime chance to taste a piece of history, a most natural and organic fluid encased for 151 years in its integument of time. The year 1863 was significant in many respects, including being the birth year of Henry Ford and Franz Ferdinand. This is Port that creates the future and yet dwells on the past. The hue is both progressive and fathomless in subterranean fantasy. Its many shades of warm, advancing colours resemble the faux brown rings of Mars. The aromas are built around toffee and with accents of many mints; spearmint, chocolate and pepper. You can smell the 1863 from rooms and world’s away. It conjures up many songs. “When you’re half way from a dream, is it hard to work out what is real?” That is its love illumination. It has the strange advance “of killing time and dreams.” The flavours are extreme and exotic, with South-Asian spices highlighting its deep, late night humidity. The finish is endless. Is this brilliance or a stroke of incredible luck? It is certainly pristine and wondrous. It has to be considered a perfect wine, for its niche and genre, by its makers, David Guimaraens and Adrian Bridge. Having let the days of 151 years go by, this is not a wine to compare with others, it is not the same as it ever was. In the end, “you may ask yourself, well…how did I get here?” Thanks to Stephen Marentette of Sylvestre Wines and Spirits.  Tasted August 2014  @TaylorsPortWine  @Smarent

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

The death of wine scores?

 

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing? Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?
Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Not so fast.

As time goes by, I am hearing less comments like, “well that one got a 95,” and “that one is better value because it got a 90.” Wine ratings may increasingly becoming maligned and less frequently employed but that does not mean they don’t have their place. Scores continue to be necessary as a way to evaluate wines that lack a certain level of honesty. Wines on the edge of being dodgily made, encumbered by heavy-handed, industry-fed, mass marketing machines. Scores separate and differentiate the wheat from the chaff when dealing with over the top residual sugar, hyper-acidification, bloated alcohol and (lack of fruit) masking. Embrocating one Malbec an 85 over another’s 84 makes a comment on the relative validities of those two sweetened confections.

Attaching a rating to a tasting note is not a question of right versus wrong. Ratings measure a bottle of wine against its peers. That is the simple answer. The problem is that the tasting experience is a subjective one and each reviewer has personal preferences, so in order to align with one (or more), the consumer must self-calibrate alongside a critic whose palate they’ve figured out. Very difficult to do, so relying on scores has always been the easiest road to travel.

Part of the problem is that tasting notes, on their own, are often fleeting and impossible to grasp. Guilty as charged. Fred Swan put this is the most eloquent terms. “Tasting notes are like photographs, portraying a subject at one brief moment in time and without a back story.” If tasting notes are just snapshots, is that not compelling testimony as to the need for an accompanying score? Or is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?

Jamie Goode’s take. “I find myself in a tricky position: I use points even though I don’t like to because readers find them useful. And I have to calibrate my scale with the major critics. This pushes me into a corner.”

Still the debate is growing and for good reason. The wine community is tiring of seeing scores, especially those tabulated using the Robert Parker Jr. anointed 100-point scale, attached to a critic’s wine tasting note. The question has always been this. Why would you need scores to sell wine?

Mr. Parker feels so strongly about the entrenched longevity of his system that he’s announced the launch of a new lifestyle magazine called “100 Points by Robert Parker.” Does this sound like a last gasp fling from a captain going down with his ship? Bill Zacharkiw seems to intimate the idea, but the Montreal Gazette wine critic is smarter than to lash out and drag anyone through the mud. Taking a high road, Zacharkiw writes, “from grapes to wine styles, there is truly a wine for everyone. I have my taste, you have yours, and Parker has his.” No, nor scores neither. Nor scores neither.

The fervor and sometimes rage in the argument reminds me of the (second) most famous of Hamlet soliloquys. “Why it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man!” Most of the voices chiming in on this hot topic only see the ratings world in black and white. There are more shades of grey than many would freely admit. Scores have their place.

Meanwhile, Decanter is reporting that Château Pontet-Canet made a bold decision to test (more than 20 years) of uncharted waters by setting their en Primeur pricing in advance of the taste and ratings levies by the major critics. Since the nineties the likes of Parker, Decanter and Wine Spectator have all but determined Bordeaux Futures pricing. Pontet-Canet’s move is being seen as another nail in the 100-point coffin. One Bordeaux négociant commented, “If other chateaux follow this same pricing model, we might as well go home now.”

The real issue is the bottle itself. In the new world of wine, who has not thrown new stock and a vested interest into wines made naturally, in sustainable, biodynamic or organic ways? Who has not made a resolution to drink more honest wine? Producing good wine still trumps the natural theatre of viticulture and viniculture but honesty is the new order. Honest wines should go forth and be free of wine ratings.

Wine scores can be ignored if we concentrate on what matters. Like apiculate yeast, fermentative vigor, microflora, clonal selection and soil. We also need to talk more about and mention flaws, like chlorinated compounds, hydrogen sulphide and volatile acidity. These are things that are too often brushed under the rug.

I will continue to post ratings of the wines I review on WineAlign because as a community of critics we offer a round table of opinions that allow the wine buyer to make gathered, educated and informed decisions. In consideration that this forum is a singular expression of opinions, this column will no longer attach scores to tasting notes. It’s quite obvious, plain and simple. I only write about honest wines for canada.com. The prose speaks for itself.

With spring beginning this Friday, no joke, here are the last of the great big winter reds. Five wines recently tasted that thrilled by way of their fairness, their honor and their virtue. Wines that need no score.

From left: Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, and Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe

From left: Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, and Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe

Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza, Argentina (364133, $15.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

Stands out for its honest fruit, this Mendozan from San Roque district in Maipú county. Qualified by an admirable level of restraint, low in residual sugar and alcohol, straightforward, unencumbered. Winemakers María Eugenia Baigorria and Sergio Giménez have let the fruit speak in clean, level tones, in red berries, licorice red and black, a dusting of spice, red cherry and even strawberry. This is textbook hands off winemaking with nearly exceptional length and simply solid from start to finish. Mi sueno, mi terruño.  Tasted March 2014

Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $38, WineAlign)

Francois Morissette’s 2010 is a pioneering example towards defining Bench appellation Cabernet Franc isomeric reactions. Relationships between grapes of a growing area and their ultimate destination in bottle. An affair of veraison, leaf drop, frost, hand harvesting, whole cluster sorting and berry oak fermenting.  Indigenous yeast, punch downs and overs for phenolic skin extraction and polymerization. Neutral oak and sulfur dioxide to provide antimicrobial and antioxidant protection. An eighteen month somniac’s rest, fine lees and no filtration. The structural arrangement in cohabitation of radicals and ions leads to such a Cabernet Franc. Fully expressive of an endemic, very ripe, vegetal varietal vicissitude that is both inbred and necessary. Currants and peppered berries of power and grit. Dry (2 g/L residual sugar), plump (13.7 per cent alcohol) and scarce (618 cases made). Reflective of the warm 2010 vintage and will always act in stark contrast to the elegant 2011.  Tasted July 2013 and March 2014  @PearlMorissette  On the card at Barque Smokehouse

Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, Tuscany, Italy (353201, $43.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

A re-release showing an exuberance of advanced character. Now acting out the strikingly rich and golden vintage, in Lamé and gilded iron. Speaking a most Tuscan, elite vernacular, already recognizable and evolving into its own skin, with a notion towards herbaceous, dried fruit. A classic pasta and roasted meats red wine. Nonna’s Trattoria kitchen in a glass. Drying just a touch, so drink up. Earlier note: “Slight earthy funk, imparted by the vineyard floor and in part from the wood. Sappy, resinous, distinctively warm-blooded, plummy fruit. Tuscan tang though light on pucker.”  Tasted October 2013 and March 2014

The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, California, USA (662015, $59.00, WineAlign)

A seminal bottling from a game-changing year, for two all important reasons. One, it was a great vintage for Napa reds and two, the Mount Veeder sub-appellation was established. While only 24 years ago, a mere five wineries existed there at the time, including Mayacamas, Mt. Veeder and Hess. No hyperbole to say this is tasting a piece of history. Despite my “shouting all about love,” this splendidly aged Cabernet is not so much about resilience as it is persistence and infinite wisdom. All those years ago there were Napa reds made at a mere 12.5 per cent alcohol, with finesse and a sense of George-like calm. With little aeration there is fig, prune and toffee gently weeping but with air the aged fruit is swept away by a wave of gob stopping Cassis before its time. Preconceived notions of banausic, early days Cabernet are smothered by the magic dust of this Hess religion, a Dharma of licorice, ash and enlightenment. A wine to make you forget where you are. Depth, length and up to a half decade yet of reserved life lay ahead.  Tasted March 2014  @HessCollection 

Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe, Bordeaux, France (259010, $149.85, WineAlign) An In-Store Discovery from the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

A blend that in 2010 is extremely high in Cabernet Sauvignon (86 per cent), with support from Merlot (12) and Petit Verdot (2). Immaculate hue in blue jasmine meets red ochre, echoed by blue and red fruit aromas. A purity of freshness and an exotic perfume distracts from the absurdity of the price, if just long enough to become intoxicated by its qualifications. It really does have it all. Red velvet layer cake made of the finest chocolate, the world’s least refined and highest quality sugar, spices only found in places reached and hand-picked by agile, primate-like humans. So approachable and marked by sweet tannins that will carry this Saint Estèphe for three decades.  Tasted March 2014

Good to go!

The Wine Diaries: Napa Valley’s Peter Franus

Vineyard in Napa Valley, California PHOTO: FRIDAY/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Peter Franus is a man at ease, comfortable within his own grape skin. His Ontario chaperon, the still markedly too legit to quit Mark Coster of Profile Wine Group showed the California winemaker around town, stopping to taste through the vintner’s portfolio at Barque Smokehouse. Franus has quietly cemented an iconic legacy by crafting a diverse resumé of corporeal wines in Napa Valley for more than 25 years.

A native of Greenwich, CT, the affable Franus comes across as an über-gentleman. He rarely produces more than a 1000 cases of any of his wines, from Bordeaux varieties, Zinfandel, Rhônes, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and even Spanish Albariño. His wines may not be Frisky Zebra-priced or fashioned for everyman but his laid back demeanor and sentimental passion are quintessentially Californian, like that of a successful 1970′s singer-songwriter. If I had to make a comparison, I’d lean more Jackson Browne than Don Henley.

Of the 10 disparate yet maze connected wines in the Franus portfolio, the most impressive for me is likely the least talked about. I am admittedly a sucker for Rhône in the diaspora so there is no surprise what happy thoughts his SGM put in my brain. I would be remiss to not make mention of the Sauvignon Blanc, blessedly balmy and herbal, subtle and never over-assertive in blanched green vegetable, passion fruit and grassy, gooseberry notes. Three wines crested and stood out as the most compelling. Here are their tasting notes.

From left: Red Wine, Red Hills Lake Country Red 2008, Zinfandel Brandlin Vineyard 2010, and Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2008

Red Wine, Red Hills Lake Country Red 2008 ($39.95) composed of Syrah (85 per cent), Grenache (10) and Mourvèdre (5) comes from Fore Family Vineyards fruit on the top of 3000 foot Cobb Mountain. A fiery paradox of climate met by altitude works a strange magic on the grapes. It’s no mistral but rather some sort of wine weather occult. This SGM is highly influenced by a very tempest of dramatic temperature changes, from solar radiation to cool, tempering Pacific breezes and at great heights. Exhibits the hills’ red earth, in colour, in fragrance and in rich berry flavour. I’m grateful for this SGM blend, cool and hot at the same time, “almost ablaze still you don’t feel the heat.”  93

Zinfandel Brandlin Vineyard 2010 ($46.95) from the slopes of Mt. Veeder gets a little 2+2+2 help from friends Charbono, Mourvèdre and Carignane and rested for 21 months in Burgundian Coopers. Anything but heavy-handed, it shows no signs of balsamic or toffee scars, despite the August heat spike, shriveled berries and low yield. This Brandlin “hits you over the head with pleasure,” says Franus, from a mountain that’s “as close to heaven as your going to get.” This PF Zin is PFG, if I do say so myself.  91

Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2008 ($54.95) holds out back to a time when every mancould savour this kind of wine. A Napa style made “in the warmth of the sun where sweet childhood still dances,” once again with finesse, restraint and an understanding of the place. Made in a style Franus calls “my signature of balance, harmony and elegance.” From a meticulous selection of grapes out of three vineyards, Truchard (muscle), Rancho Chimiles (acidity, florals) and Stewart (ties the room together).  Yes Peter, this is delicious.  90

Roast Chicken, Potatoes and Herbs (Photo: Michael Godel)

Good to go!