Chardonnay in the Napa luxury

Treasury Wine Estates Napa Valley Chardonnay

Treasury Wine Estates Napa Valley Chardonnay

What’s in a varietal? Do Greek Roditis or Savatiano float your endemic boat? Are Italian Grecanico or Cerasuola your wayfaring, off the beaten path, go to grape variety strays? Could it be that French Arbois or Sylvaner are your geek out points of reference? If any or all of the above speak coquettish truths about you, then how do you extrapolate epiphanies from a credit-worthy, dyed-in-the-wool list borne out of the Napa Valley?

Related – Napa Valley: The next generation

On a California journey the indenture is written as a very fixed notion, a contract between vintner and taster, specific to and bonded by preordained expectation. So far I have waxed on about Cabernet Sauvignon and ripeness. I have made not so infrequent mention of Sauvignon Blanc and I have dipped with fervent foray into the inner workings of Pinot Noir. On that same trip the holiest of sunshine daydream holies was presented to our sundry Canadian group. The light of west coast life. Napa Valley Chardonnay.

Related – Napa Valley two: A question of age

Six Napa representatives of the highest order, the vinetarius maximus of the valley if you will, gathered in a great big house out on the St. Helena Highway. They came to the 10,000 square foot, Luther Turton-designed Rutherford House at Beaulieu Vineyard to pour their Chardonnay wares. Our moderator was Ginevra Altomara AS, CSW, Trade Education Manager for Treasury Wine Estates. The six of the best tasting gathered together winemakers Jon Priest of Etude Wines, Mark Beringer of Beringer Wine Estates, Domenica Totty of Beaulieu Vineyard, Christophe Paubert of Stags’ Leap Winery, Matthew Glynn of Acacia Vineyard and Harry Hansen of Sterling Vineyards. There was no sighting of any alleged ghost that lives under the staircase.

Related – Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens

The best of the six draws into question old versus new world theories and Napa Valley’s current position relative to Burgundy. Times have changed. Forget about the 1976 Judgment of Paris. Its relevance in 2016 is merely historical. California Chardonnay is more diverse than it has ever been. Progression, climate change, raw materialistic availability and market share all conspire to reside on its beautiful hillsides. So it must be asked, can Burgundy keep up with the fictionality of the Napa Valley reality? If Chardonnay in these parts is worthy of fetischistic yardsticks usually extended to measure anthologist wines, how can the European union keep up with the North American machine?

The epiphany drawn from such a tasting corroborates the intellection of suggestive antithetical theory that the further south you plant Chardonnay in Napa Valley, the more restrained and elegant it will have a chance to be. If Carneros was not already widely agreed upon as the sub-appellation to rival Sonoma for cool-climate Chardonnay distinction, these wines conjoin to push the point. The apodictical is in the tapioca.

View of the Mayacaymas Mountains from Rutherford House

View of the Mayacaymas Mountains from Rutherford House

Etude Heirloom Chardonnay 2013, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (Agent, Winery, $60 US, WineAlign)

Taken exclusively from the estate ranch, out of well draining, volcanic soils at 400 feet of elevation. Rocky, cobbly, clay loam  soils that “takes you off of the floor of the valley.” Makes for compact grapes, condensed, of low yields. “Hens and chicken clusters” notes Jon Priest. A beautifully wood restrained Chardonnay, with orchard fruit aromas and a lacy, silky texture. Mineral tang as gossamer as any, with a fine, cool and clear circuitous Carneros night carnival of vivid luminosity. Old school winemaking you might say, introduced by some skin contact, set in all French oak (10-15 per cent new), ubiquitous yeast spontaneous, primary and then elongated malolactic fermentation. Protracted wine of length the same, for delicasse, with ode to 16 months sur lie making for the gossamer texture. Autolytic Chardonnay that is totally dry but with fruit sweetness. Of the bees and to light a candle to last in the temple. Only 300 cases made. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted February 2016  @etudewines  #treasurywineestates

Beringer Luminous Chardonnay 2013, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, California (395699, $39.95, WineAlign)

This is the 3rd vintage of the Luminous, taken from one vineyard site on Big Ranch Road in the Oak Knoll District. Seductively reductive and and celestially volatile for Chardonnay, tender rich in mineral and rendered in citrus fruit. The accumulative tang gives its luminous aspect ratio, like glowing metal, infrared, incandescent. Compressed orange, of zest but not flesh really opens as the acidity prepares the palate for waves of scraped citrus. Done up all in French oak, 30 per cent new. A long fermentation ameliorates the aromatics and opens the door for subsequence by subtle toast. All that said, the tension is not so high, but the finish is long. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016  @beringervyds

Beaulieu Vineyard Ranch 8 Chardonnay 2014, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $35 US, WineAlign)

A foot in two worlds young Chardonnay, at once easy with ripe fruit and honey butter spread on golden, caster crystallized toast. Fashioned in a very accessible and peripheral commercial style, more block than greater vineyard driven. The well-drained, hilly site is off of Deadly Lane, at a southerly aspect, on the beach, against a sand bar. Eight is from an earlier pick then the rest of the ranch, for a Chardonnay of natural acidity, sweetly viscous and rich. Crafted to be a high malolactic influenced, 55 per cent new, 11 months in French oak of medium toast structured, in avoidance of caramel and butterscotch Chardonnay. Within and without of 25 per cent natural fermentation and 95 per cent malolactic, made with a yeast cocktail. Driven to be a softer, textural wine, which it is. Soothing Carneros Chardonnay for when “I follow the road, though I don’t know where it ends.” Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @BVwines

Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay Barrel Selection 2013, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $45 US, WineAlign)

A big barrel effect is wholly, utterly and diametrically mitigated with exceptional fruit quality and a minerality as stoked and striking as any. This represents the multi-faceted displays of all in Chardonnay replete with a linear streak of raging acidity.  Bathed in 50 per cent new oak and considering the implosive integration that is nothing short of remarkable. The fruit comes by way of 65 per cent northerly Stanly Ranch vineyard, the rest from Poseidon in the south of Carneros. Settling was encouraged before going to (a shortish stay) barrel, for protection, then bottled in May. Only available through the winery, this barrel selection Chardonnay should easily linger into its 10th birthday. Only 500 cases made. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted February 2016  @stagsleapwines

Civilization found in Napa Valley @CalifWines_CA #treasurywineestates #etude #beringer #stagsleap #acacia #beaulieuvineyard #sterlingvineyards

Civilization found in Napa Valley @CalifWines_CA #treasurywineestates #etude #beringer #stagsleap #acacia #beaulieuvineyard #sterlingvineyards

Acacia Chardonnay Sangiocomo Vineyards 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $55 US, WineAlign)

The most sunshine and buttery goodness. Full on expression with new oak at the forefront. A style that has stuck and wont go away. Grown in the “California sprawl,” from 30 year-old vines with just two wires, floppy vines with fruit tucked inside a canopy plus exposed fruit, caramelized and glazed. The disposition is nothing less than blessed, with charismatic personality and weight. Native yeast leads the faux-secondary fermentation, acts and acquiesces to quite toasty and really lingers. Definitely makes a statement, albeit a natural, 14.9 per cent alcohol one. A six or seven chord wine, atmospheric and orchestrated, with thankful necessary acidity to render it more than likeable, sellable and consumable. Needs two years to reign in the wood. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted February 2016  #acaciavineyard

Sterling Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve 2012, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $60 US, WineAlign)

Commensurate restraint emerges and out of a vintage that gave generously. Fruit comes first though barrel has more than a few paragraphs to dictate for a very ripe wine on the edge of ripeness. Rutherford provides 58 per cent of the fruit (in a vineyard located across the street from BV house). The balance (42) comes from Oak Knoll District,  a warm, warmer and warmest place. The addition is both hefty and prodigious, with brown butter glazed on route. The barrels are 100 per cent French, 60 per cent of them new and malolactic is gifted to 100 per cent. It all surmises up, up and away to the creamiest of expressions, flavoured in baked apple, vanilla and crème caramel. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016  @sterlingwines

Perfect lunch at Rutherford House

Perfect lunch at Rutherford House

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Searching for Somewhereness

The wines of Norman Hardie

The wines of Norman Hardie

Somewhereness is not really a word. It’s hokum. Gibberish. Nonsense. Look it up in Merriam-Webster or Oxford. Not there. Its conceived convenience is recorded in Wiktionary, Your Dictionary and other online glossaries though, because there is always an online presence ready and willing to immortalize anything and everything.

The definition of Somewhereness, according to the online “dictionaries.”

  1. The state or quality of being in, occurring in, or belonging to a specific place.
  2. The state or quality of existing in a place that is unknown or cannot be pinpointed.
  3. The unique characteristics imparted on a wine by the conditions of the place in which it was grown.

Somewhereness lies the truth?

Somewhereness is not a state of mind, of being, of knowing something is intrinsically right within the parameters or context of here, there, anywhere or everywhere. Somewhereness is not merely a function of good decision-making, of exercising the ideal to expand on terroir, to create something to talk about. Yet that third so-called definition is on the right track. Belief says terroir is what happens in the vineyard, through environment, by geology, geography and topology, from naturally occurring elements and microbes in the soil, by air and of climate. Terroir is the great one. The impossible creator of perfect storms, from out of riddle and enigma. Somewhereness, by extension, is the next one.

Somewhereness exists, albeit with just as much abstruse behaviour and paradox, inside the finished bottle. That’s all you really need to know. Terroir happens before. Somewhereness happens after. The line is drawn when wine enters its final resting place. It evolves, develops and finds its somewhereness inside the bottle. In the case of Champagne (and the wines of Emidio Pepe), the first bottling is merely a temporary shelter and somewhereness knows to wait for the final call. In those cases there are the stages of terroir, disgorgement and finally, somewhereness.

In Ontario, somewhereness has been found (as opposed to “was founded”) by Norman Hardie, Jonas Newman, Vicky Samaras, Bill Redelmeier, Ann Sperling, J-L Groux, Charles Baker, Doug Witty, J.P. Colas, Ed Madronich, Jay Johnston, Tom and Len Pennachetti, Angelo Pavan, Moray Tawse, Paul Pender, Harald Thiel, Marlize Beyers, Mary Bachelder-Delaney, Thomas Bachelder, Martin Malivoire and Shiraz Mottiar.

Somewhereness may have been born to these Ontario parents but it has and will not remain exclusive to the 12 who discovered it. Somewhereness belongs to all wine with true and truthful origins in terroir. The great wines of the world share in the expression and the mystery, even if the gold inside their bottles has never been affixed with such a label. Somewhereness is found inside a bottle of Dujac Bonnes Mares. You will taste it in an Egon Müller Scharzhofberg. It can’t be missed from out of a Margaux pour by the hands of Paul Pontallier. Wines of manic manipulation will never find it. They either do or they don’t, will or they won’t. Somewhereness just happens. Don’t ask me to explain. I’m just the messenger.

Over the past few years, much godello.ca white space has been set aside for glossing in written word and the ever-evolving rumination on the spiritual effect of somewhereness.

Konrad Ejbich holding court in front of De La Terre's breads

Konrad Ejbich holding court in front of De La Terre’s breads

Related, From February, 2013 – Somewhereness over the Canadian wine rainbow

“For a comprehensive look at our province, make sure you read A Pocket Guide to Ontario Wines, Wineries, Vineyards, & Vines by Konrad Ejbich. The discourse concerning somewhereness in Ontario is in full swing. In October of 2012 I wrote, “character and quality has never been better. Riesling continues to impress and let us not ignore the high level of ever-evolving Chardonnay vines. Reds have made great strides, especially Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc. The future looks very bright for Ontario [wines].”

Related, From April, 2013 – Come together, over wine

“Abeyance be gone, these next few years have the potential to cement an industry’s power. Only a minority has even the slightest clue that liquid gold is mined out of the peninsula’s glacial clay and limestone. The time is ripe to tell the world the story of somewhereness. The embryo is about to grow in a major way. Financial reward is within reach. So how to alert the world?”

Related, From April 2014 – The group of twelve

“History may one day remember them as the group of twelve, or perhaps, “The Ontario School.” They are the 12 wineries who have banded together to ensconce a strange but beautiful word on the tongue, in the dictionary and out in the world. Somewhereness. They are purveyors of the land from which their grapes grow and ferment into wine. Facilitators of terroir, working a canvas forged by millions of years of geological and climatic evolution. Their assembly is based on both exigency and on Moira; destiny, share, fate. Like that other famous group, “collectively they agree.” Ontario’s cool-climate wine regions need to qualify and certify a distinctive winemaking style. In juxtaposition to old world, European tradition, the intensity of somewhereness needs to reflect an increasingly Ontario-centric partiality.”

Related, From April 2014 – Why taste Ontario?

“The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. It has grown, accelerated and advanced with more success than might have been imagined as recently as five years ago. In November I wrote, “Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.”

Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena Kaiser

Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser

All wonderful hyperbole, to be sure. But for years I missed the point. Somewhereness is not about agreeing, in principle, on how to make wine from a particular place so that it can collectively result in a thing. It is something other. It’s in the bottle. It has always been there but the key lies in Ontario’s industry having matured to a point where we can now taste it, again and again, inside the bottle. The work made it happen. It is well-deserved.

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney-Bachelder

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney-Bachelder

So with the assistance of Trisha Molokach, Dorian Anderson and the vintners who came to realize what happens when terroir is used to bottle divine pleasure, another Somewhereness (the event) happened, at St. James Cathedral in Toronto, on April 20, 2015. Food partners completed the stellar event; Best Baa Dairy, Monforte Dairy, Upper Canada Chees Company, Fat Chance Hand Sliced Cold Smoked Salmon Co., Chef Ryan Crawford & Beverly Hotchkiss of Backhouse, De La Terre Kitchen and Bakery and Schott Zwiesel. Hinterland was not present in 2015 and I skipped two tables, due to quite recent full portfolio tastings, at Bachelder and at Southbrook. Here are some other notes.

Norman Hardie Riesling 2013, VQA Ontario (Winery, $21.00, WineAlign)

With less residual sugar than in 2012 and slightly higher alcohol (the bottle says 10.1 per cent but it’s actually 9.8), the house style persists, if only as a refrain that adjusts and adheres to the vintage. A hint of oyster shell is more than significant, in working alongside Hardie’s Calcaire, effected out of lees fermentation. The minute loss of high-toned aromatics is pitched in favour of fruit, if only from one exploited tank, within the context of producing 1000 cases. The ’13 (70 Niagara/30 PEC) is like very modern Alsace, akin to Schoffit, what with its texture fitted through a tiny hole. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie Calcaire 2013, VQA Ontario (Winery, $23.00, WineAlign)

The field blend of Marcel Deiss is the starting point. Lees imparts texture and the proverbial minerality is rounder than the Riesling, though the acidity just as linear. The breakdown is Chardonnay (40 per cent), Riesling (40), Melon de Bourgogne (10) and Pinot Gris (10). It should be noted that the mid-palate is caressed by a silky cheese curd, sour milk atonement. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of August 2014:

If any wine growing and producing region not called Alsace has the right to label a wine Calcaire, Prince Edward County is that place. The irony squared of Norman Hardie’s choice of nomenclature is not lost. Olivier Humbrecht makes use of the term because some of his single-varietal wines can no longer (under the local AOC rules) be labeled with the name of the wine-growing village. Marcel Deiss produces ‘field blends’ composed of several varieties grown on Grand Cru soil but he can’t (under other regional rules) label them Grand Cru. Hardie takes Niagara and PEC Grand Cru grapes, fashions an Ontario white blend, not unlike J-L Groux and calls it Calcaire, in ode to the limestone underlay of the County. Are you following me here? This may be new, innovative, yet understood and an early impression, but this cuvée initiates the PEC march to white blend supremacy, much like Stratus White has done over the course of 10 vintages in Niagara. Norm’s Calcaire is a Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Melon de Bourgogne mélange, co-fermented on the lees, striking, all in limestone, full out mineral consequence. There is purified pear and white melon fruit in distillation. There is a house in Wellington, “they call the Rising Sun.” That this animal succeeds so early in its tenure shows the Norm conceit and the swagger. That it will define white blends for a millennium is an arrogance of traditional song and of scripture. So be it.

Last tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

The ’12 Niagara has swapped spontaneity for coherence, licentiousness for logic. Has entered the stage of non-reductive peel, where skin is discarded, flesh is exposed and juices run free. If you like your Chardonnay settled and yet vitally fresh, now is the time to enjoy the Hardie 2012 Niagara Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2022.

From my earlier more of May 2014:

Norm’s Niagara is such a different animal to the County 2012. The warm summer and dry fall means more humidity and even more reduction. Currently cothurnal so less like Burgundy but only because there elevates the high-tones and percipience from Niagara. Texture is key but this Hardie needs time. It’s not angular but it is steroidal, injected, like a wild thing, as if the yeast were still in control, munching away even though there is no more sugar to be had. Undomesticated ’12, at heart, in spirit, out of mind. Hard to imagine there could be this much anxiety from the even-tempered vintage, but when you pick real early and keep the oak to a bare minimum, Hardie happens. Norm picked ripe fruit between September 7 and 10, six weeks ahead as compared to some years. He said the fruit had a “golden tan, ready to go.” The use of smallish 500L barrels works wonders for texture and though 40 per cent was new wood, you would never know it. Malolactic fermentation didn’t happen until late August, nearly a full year on so no sulphuring was required until that time. This is Hardie’s freshest Niagara fruit ever, from Duarte Oliveira’s farm between Victoria and Ontario Street, the same spot as Hillebrand’s Chardonnay Reserve. Terrific Beamsville Bench Chardonnay.

Last tasted April 2015

The wines of Hidden Bench

The wines of Hidden Bench

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

Hidden Bench’s ’13 Riesling is a pure, soft-spoken and balanced reflection of her maker, winemaker Marlize Beyers. Only a month or two of lees and no stirring has brought her Riesling into this current corporeal state. The citrus is all flesh, void of pith and with acidity that has already incorporated, disguised and covered the zest. If any Hidden Bench Riesling suggest tropical fruit, here it is and yet again, not. Drink 2015-2020.

From my earlier note of September 2014:

The Estate Riesling is as vigneron-defining as any wine on the Niagara Escarpment. Hidden Bench is a 100 per cent estate-fruit operation so this Riesling is spokesperson, prolocutor, mouthpiece, champion, campaigner and advocate for the concept. The estate ’13 reaches deeper for nutrient pot sweetening, into shale and in conceit of its varied, positively cultivated terroirs. Compact and jelled, this is several steps up from most other entry-level Niagara Riesling and in fact, is really anything but. The transparency here is patent. This is Riesling that simply knows what it is; pure Bench, unequivocally real and forthright. Knows what it wants to be.

Last tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Bistro Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

Produced exclusively for licensee, the Bistro follows a very similar profile to the Estate Riesling, with exactitude in weight and alcohol 911 per cent). The flesh is less, the zest increased and overall you can sense more youth. The Bistro juice comes from Roman Block cuttings planted in Felseck Vineyard in 2008. The simmer here is a simpler, more straightforward pot of sustenance, entirely capable of acting as spokes-Riesling for the Hidden Bench house druthers. The vines will grow up and the juice will move on but other, newer, youthful cuttings will take up residence and the Bistro line will endure. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (278812, $40.00, WineAlign)

The (five to) six percent Sémillon speaks at present, in a waxy, bitter gourd winter melon and smoky flint tightness. In this wound moment, it is perceived that another year will be needed for the next unwind. Now vacuous, spinning and whirling as if in a processor’s bowl, an amphitheatre of expression. Drink 2016-2022.

From my earlier notes of September and (at Gold Medal Plates Toronto) November 2014:

Less than six weeks after my first introduction to the NB ’12 complexity shines anew. Such a delicate and elegant take on the Bordeaux white axiom. Void of all the gangly G’s; grasses, gooseberry and green vegetable. Leans to custards and curds with a savoury accent and a limestone tang. Willing to be paired with a multitude of gastronomy. Long finish. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “Taking what the vintage gives, Rosomel’s Sauvignon Blanc was king in 2012, dominating at a 95 per cent share of the Bordeaux-styled blend with Sémillon. Barrels were stirred weekly during fermentation and the creamy texture thanks that regimen, as does the tannic fullness of the round back-end. It rocks out bracing, formidable and nobly bitter, in pear and its pith, in lemon, of rind and in curd. The SB lounges in tall grasses but avoids goose feathers and blanching veg. So very savoury, in gorse tension, thistle and nettle. These notes all cut through the roundness and are finally tied together by the flinty rock of Rosomel.”

Last tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Rosé Locust Lane Vineyard 2013, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A meandering young blend of Pinot Noir, Malbec and Viognier that is super dry (3.2 g/L of residual sugar), “hey, hey, my, my.” The aromas suggest a succession from strawberry to green and red onion but “there’s more to the picture, than meets the eye.” The medley, interrupted by ballads and road stories is like a subtle, sweet, sour and savoury gastronomical pickle, ramps in brine, scopes in sweet alkali. Can there be a drier, more windswept crag, neal to a southern French style made anywhere on the Peninsula than from the Escarpment coliseum up on Locust Lane? Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Bistro Rosé 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

While persistent in aridity as a disciple to the Locust Lane, this Bordeaux blend Rosé packs a fruitier punch. Elevated residual sugar (as compared to the Double L) mans a higher rate of variability and accessibility, not to mention more chance of Ontario patio success. This licensee bottling will work for summer, across the province. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted May 2015

Meg McGrath and and Marlize Beyers of Hidden bench

Meg McGrath and and Marlize Beyers of Hidden bench

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

Still tightly wound with the tannic grain criss-crossing at interstices of fruit (pomegranate/cranberry/strawberry) and acidity (sharp/pointed/direct). A fine, pointillist’s rendering; Locust as Seurat, nobly bitter, to the end. Drink 2016-2022.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

The Locust Lane Vineyard, originally planted in 1998, was Hidden Bench’s first acquisition, in 2003. It has a unique perpendicular cross-slope effect, undulating in all four directions, gathering sun hours in its own special way. The vineyard produces the richest and warmest Pinot Noir with fruit flavours more akin to ripe plum and black cherry than almost anywhere on the Beamsville Bench, certainly as any from the Hidden Bench stable. While the ’11 is not the biggest beast nor the Bordeaux bully of the Terroir Caché, it is surprisingly tannic and strong. It’s anything but hot, though it attacks with fervor. Big berry fruit, macerated strawberry, rich pie notes and spice. A great Locust vintage.

Last tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.20, WineAlign)

There is so much floral presence in 2011, a showy perfume that parades the relative elegance of Niagara’s Bordeaux reds in the vintage. Structure is comparable to 2010, not in beast mode but rather with a delicacy derived from less burning, high-toned fruit. Still here lays a wine so young, of social encumbrance that might be passed off as a mark of impertinence. This faintly embarrassing condition can be suppressed in a dark cellar, in which the foundation can be laid for the beginning of a cure. The Terroir Caché 2011 will show its best between 2017 and 2020, then develop, slow down, suspend animation and age further, effortlessly and exceptionally. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted April 2015

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)

Oh, the accessibility of Quarry Road in 2012. Still totes the emerald shine, the gemstone tannic scrape and yet the flesh is rendered rich, ripe, ratcheted and riled up. This has tonality like never before, layered and strudel buttery. At this point the vines for Quarry are 17 years of age, sophic and erudite, compounded by the organic, biodynamic and prudent pruning practices that have cemented its vigour. The clay-limestone, fresh-mineral, push-pull is a veritable careening of expression. Though its longevity may not pile towards a compressed future like that of ’09 or ’11, the earlier and often response will act both as Chardonnay charming and Quarry Road magnetizing. For the next five years it will be very hard to turn away. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130997, $34.95, WineAlign)

A year had added rich note to this ’11, furthering the inflammatory vibrations and purposefulness of Bordeaux (as opposed to Loire) red makings from the vintage. The depth of cherry merging to smoked currants is cool, collected and shaded by brushy, briny strokes. Hints at brambly, even. This is so very Cabernet Franc and even more so, Lincoln Lakeshore. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

A lean Laundry with as much finesse as winemaker Paul Pender has ever shown in his poignant Cabernet Franc realm. When a vintage deals you calm and scale you sit back and relax. The Lincoln Lakeshore advancing in years vines bring yet unseen front end red berry, licorice and red currant softness in 2011. There is elegance but also a refusal to yield its back end bite. A level of enveloping grain and chalk is unique to this bottle and should be seen as a very good effort with the possibility ahead

Last tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Extra Dry Sparkling Riesling 2010, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the clay-limestone bench lands abutting the Escarpment, specifically one block of 11 year-old vines at the Beamsville Bench Cave Spring Vineyard. Traditional method fizz accessed of low brix (early picked, 19.3 degrees) and mortar (2.97 pH) numbers, then elevated under microscope magnified sugar (15.5 RS g/L) and acidity (8.4 g/L). So what? So this is a pure CS expression of Riesling, cured and curated in the house style, led to textile weave from 14 months on the lees and finalized just that side of Brut. Functions like a Blanc de Blancs suitably this side of acidity rage and with corresponding remarkable, if close to impossible aridity. Less fat than might be expected and with a swath of sauvage. There sweats ginger and the cuttings of foraged wild things. The extension on the finish is protracted even after the liquid has left the building. Finishes with dry stones, nuts and a rightful oxidative thrust. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2013, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

That flesh, that Kabinett flesh, fills the CSV in every crevice. In 2013 the residual sugar number lies between 15 and 16 g/L, and though the crop was bigger, it was still picked later than in 2012. The result is formidable corporeal concentration, consistency of house style and perhaps the only ’13 Niagara Riesling to imitate, perpetuate and extrapolate on the vintage that came before. This Cave Spring concentrates fruit and Escarpment into a powerful Riesling, streaming like charged particles through changing expressions. A lingering ascension hovers as it rises, until it slowly fades into the welkin, like a balloon that languidly gets lost into the blinding blue of a midday sky. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (26372, $24.95, WineAlign)

At present there are sweets, bitters and rich Adam fruit. Only the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment know why the Adam is so juicy. A chew like no other. Drink 2015-2020.

From my earlier note of October 2014:

A classic Adam, amplified in 2013, riper and not as piercing as previously noted vintages. Still the layering is omnipresent but there is more juicy fruit and texture then ever before. This is a consumer friendly Adam, gregarious, outgoing, off-dry as never before. New slang for the bottling.

From my earlier note of July 2014:

According to Cave Spring’s website this newer Riesling from older (18 to 35 year-old plantings) is from “a single block of vines in the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment, known as ‘The Adam Steps’. Really apropos, for this Riesling is the cantilever, the one with the outstretched arm. At 10.5 per cent alcohol and with an unmistakably stony, sweet and sour whiff the wine speaks of its off-dryness. The juiciest of all the Cave Spring Rieslings, with rounder acidity and good persistence. This is the all-around good guy, the one with an open invitation, the bridge from Estate to Dolomite to Csv. The well-adjusted one steps up its game to help win one for the team, especially out of the convivial 2013 vintage.

Last tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (391995, $19.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Cabernet Franc needed six further months for the high-toned fruit to settle just enough for the spiced richness to shine. Though Dolomite-designated, this sheds Beamsville light purity, along with a grain variegated by (pomegranate) citrus and chalk. The cool centre is elongated and expansive though it seems to inuit the correct time for retraction. The aerial fruit stresses condense and accept the angles prepared by coriander and eucalyptus. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (681247, $16.95, WineAlign)

The Twenty Mile Bench in Jay Johnston’s hands flat out rocks. The Chardonnays “they dig a funky spiel, they’ll make some spiel.” The ’12 Estate has crossed into pretty territory, not shy to wear its thin lamina of oak make-up and not too proud to say drink me now. Drink me here, there and everywhere. Drink 2015-2017.

From my earlier note of March 2014:

Has spent some quality time and knows its way around a barrel but its attitude is young, fresh and alive. From 12 and 13 year-old estate vines and kissed by only 15 per cent new oak. “But here’s a funky fact that I know is real.” Flat Rock’s Chardonnays are red hot and this fresh-faced ’12 has “baby appeal.” Blatant, colorable value on the Twenty.

Last tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula  (578625, $19.95, WineAlign)

Always expressive of such manifest certitude, the 2014 can’t be anything but Nadja though there adds a fleshy dimension that pins it to the broader spectrum of Twenty Mile Bench, in as much as what the vineyard culls from its capacious diagrammatic. That broader outlook provides understanding into Nadja’s decrease of stentorian language in the fractionally stagnant vintage. There is a variegation within the sweetness lining the tunnel of aridity. Fourteen is nothing overly special and Nadja suffers as a result. It’s still a very, very good Riesling, just not one for the ages. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula (1545, $18.95, WineAlign)

The vintage acts as a launch point for Flat Rock Pinot Noir and prepares a palate for the 20 Mile Bench by coating it with utmost approachability. Violets and Nebbiolo-like roses are raised in warmth, albeit beneath the safety net of cloud cover. You’ll find no burn, rust spots and yet you will acquire comfort, in and out of sips. Drink 2015-2018.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

As with Flat Rock’s Chardonnays, here is a vintage and an evolutionary coming of age that becomes a matter of scaling back oak. The quotient here is less than 40 per cent new, leaving the wizened vines and maker’s acumen to coax maximum character, brilliant sheen and recognizable aroma. The 2012 Pinot teases black cherry but never really goes there.

From my earlier note of February 2014:

Nearly 4000 cases will be available of this nearly-unfiltered, very established and always well-thought out Pinot Noir. A consideration of the plots and barrels micro-management that determine the crasis of this Estate wine demands an extrapolation in full-on assessment. The medium-coarse Chinois filtering lends to a tannic chain of texture thick in grain and chalk. A heavier Estate because when the weather gives you heat you make a climate appropriate wine. This monkey is not a product of arctic air and it “got too deep, but how deep is too deep?” Thermal vintage melt, ritzy ripe cherry stuff in 2012. From the Ritz to the Rubble, if you like, or the Flat Rock.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

From two blocks on one farm in the centre of Creek Shores, one picked earlier to avoid botrytis. No malo, stainless steel tank fermentation leads to pure, crisp and clean Pinot Gris. The soil-driven funk meets faux-sulphur is typically J.P. Colas, a specificity in undertone that culminates in a dry, variegated finish. Drink 2015-2017.

From my earlier note of April 2014.

Here you have an honest, 100 per cent stainless steel treated Pinot Gris from an estate vineyard located adjacent the market on Fourth Avenue in the Creek Shores appellation. So very dry and really fine fruit, crisp, neoteric, rising and falling in waves of tempered acidity. Made in a comfortable, country-twanged, folk-rock style, like a Cowboy Junkie. Juicy, mouth watering work and very easy to fall for. An angel mine, this 13th Street, “and I know that your skin is as warm and as real as that smile in your eyes.” This effort by Jean-Pierre Colas is as good as it gets, a tally for Creek Shores and its kinship with the variety.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

Four months has upped the funk in for ’13, with tar and bitters still and thick as summer air. Rich and ripe, notable for its black cherry aroma and that J.P. Colas natural truncation. Unique, as always and very Gamay. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of December 2014:

Fruit was sourced from both the Sandstone and Whitty Vineyards for 13th Street’s Gamay Noir, a focused and gritty adjunct in ode to the Cru Beaujolais approach. This ’13 raises the aromatic and texture bar and just may be the most striking from a 13th Street estate mix. All the important berries are there, as are the mineral quandaries. In a Gamay moment this will lead you to gulp and giggle with #GoGamayGo delight.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Syrah ‘Essence’ 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $44.95, WineAlign)

Fruit was sourced mainly from Wismer Vineyard (Vineland) and a smaller proportion from AJ Lepp (Niagara-on-the-Lake) for this dry as the desert Syrah of deep extract, warmth and density of fruit. All set upon a highly tannic frame, with every indication that longevity will be its best friend, as much as any red has ever been produced in Ontario. A formidable vulcanization marks the entry, a not so inappropriate entreaty to beg for time and lots of it. The current pavane of fruit is exhibitive of excruciating physical reticence though behind the wall there is more than enough indicators to stand the test of time. No new oak (though the Essence saw an extended slumber in three to four year old barrels) has allowed the tapestry of intertwined layers to set up shop and dig in for the long haul. If big-boned Syrah and Niagara are in your cellar plans, this 13th Street 2012 has to have a prominent place. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire

Malivoire

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

A dual block blush, from two clones in the Moira Vineyard. Made from 100 per cent Pinot Noir, this second vintage is pale as can be, dry, saline and reeking of fresh peaches and strawberries. The level of purity and intensity is nothing short of amazing. This will rise quickly into the ranks of the Peninsula’s finest Rosés. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

The purity and fine-lines of Pinot Gris are defined, delineated and deftly prepared by Shiraz Mottiar and team in 2014. This is a calm rendition, void of tremors, certainly not taking any risks but also not a white of unfulfilled promises. Herbs, lemon, mint and fine PG tannin draws salt from stone. A perfectly dry finish is in play, as with all malivoire whites, to cement the deal. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015.

Malivoire Stouck Meritage 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

It’s hard to recall memories of so much syrup, liqueur and high tonality as coming from Stouck, from any Meritage for that matter and yet the 2011 Bordeaux varietal wines out of Niagara continue to astound. If excess or vivid character is a negative, just look away. The combination of rich extraction and explicit oak generosity dope out fruit from a dry September into wonders of dried timbre and inflection. The drupe is enriched, as is the tannin and a Beamsville buttressing that warps and wraps like never before. At this four-year juncture, the Niagara ’11 varietal compendium is officially a thing, witnessed in example through this Stouck. More than just dramatic Shiraz Mottiar foreshadowing here, but further into thoughts of what vintages co do for red wine as a Peninsula whole. The ’11 Stouck Meritage stands upright at the mirror and its reflection looks right back. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

The profundity of tart, keen, briny berries dilates in its own very useful layers of citrus, tannin and concentration, beyond even what was observed in 2012. The zesty, spritely argot resonates from the unfurling of floral essentia out of a Gamay in desperate need of time. The flavours and overlay are somewhat impenetrable and yet leave quite an impression. While patience might be the virtue and the reward, if #gogamaygo is the modus operandi, a swig from the bottle like gentlemen of the road is certainly not out of the question. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2015

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

From the rich limestone and sandstone beneath the clay, 1.1 acre Misek vineyard, a southerly ledge up from Highway 8 and an easterly hill down from Cherry Avenue. A very linear Ivan combs the catacombs of the Escarpment’s underpinning. A retaining wall of vintage attenuated rocks and stones, a vineyard’s low yields and the voices in Charles’ head have produced a striking Riesling. In 2014 adolescence has entered adulthood. Now before us is a grown up Ivan, mature Ivan, maybe even wise Ivan. Texture is in manifest control in this loyal, stay at home Baker, not yet running wild like free-spirited Picone. Ivan has presence, sometimes a great notion and is Baker’s longest bit of prose to date. The next great Riesling vintage will make it iconic. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2008, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (126433, $35.20, WineAlign)

The petrol and mighty bee’s sting have taken over, with the honey again not far behind. A lemon prepares to spill its juices as it warms above a bunsen flame. At present it is almost too elemental to define. Will change course again when midnight strikes in 2016. Then it will come into its own. Drink 2016-2020.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

Tasted at Somewhereness 2014 as part of a vertical retrospective going back to 2007. The Vinemount Ridge’s now famous Picone Vineyard is set within a 10-acre estate on the Niagara Escarpment. Planted to the Weis 21 clone, the Riesling grown here digs in for complexity from sectional moieties of clay and sandy soil atop a unique base of limestone bedrock. Charles Baker began working with these grapes in 2005 and it is this 2008 where the learning curve took a turn for the Riesling stratosphere. The ’06 found luck in the stars but this vintage lays the framework and foundation for a master plan. At this stage in the ’08 evolution there is a prodigious and viscous honeyed textured. Ripening tree fruit juices run like maple sap in spring and the run off is beginning to think syrup. A cutting ridge of acidity arrests the sugaring, allowing citrus and flinty rock to recall the wine’s first, fresh steps. Baker’s Riesling time travels in circles with no real beginning and no real end. From my earlier, September 2012 note: ““Whoo-ahhh” Mojito, green apple skin scent of a Riesling. Seductive to sip, a bodacious body of influence, then back-end bite. A wolf pack in sheep’s clothing.”

Last tasted April 2015

Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Wildass Rosé 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71712, $17.95, WineAlign)

A blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with some Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling added for lift and what J-L Groux admits is rendered “for the consumer.” This essentially marks the twain between sweet and dry, if not quite halfway then pretty darn close. Plenty of herbs and citrus nail the aromas on the proverbial head with more than a grapefruit or two on the half circle. A highly approachable, end-user friendly blush. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted April 2015

Stratus White 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)

In 2012 the blend is Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Viognier was left out because according to winemaker J-L Groux “it did not work in blending trials.” The vintage has laid the foundation for the most density, and unctuous fruit for the Stratus White in what must be, ever. At the high aromatic end there is peppery beeswax, reverberating and echoing in scales and arpeggios. Like an open string singing warmly, the vintage, extraction and residuum combine for texture in mottled unction. Sapid lemon, more beeswax and lanolin mark the palate and then the White drifts into spaces occupied by smoky, back beats and bites. This has great pitch with a knowledge of the path to pleasure. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted April 2015

Stratus Gamay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

t may not be the most idiosyncratic Gamay in Niagara but the Stratus 2012 is without a doubt the most advanced and complex. Gamay fusion is on display, at once a bottle of Niagara’s finest pulchritudinous veneer and then a charcuterie board laid ample with cured bovine parts and sun-dried grapes. Maximum ripeness and then even later picking, to no one’s surprise, have led to this. Two years of ageing in neutral oak barrels has brought about a humid roundness and yet the centre is controlled by Oz-like mint and eucalyptus notes. The jam is gelid, as opposed to temperate. Rarely does Gamay go to such depths, of blackberry, chalk and grain, with an overlord of tannin. Quite serious stuff. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (131037, $44.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus Red 2012 resides both in a virtuoso’s hollow and in a pantheon inhabited by some of Niagara’s great reds. The fact that such ripe phenology can anticipate and foretell to balance and freedom in the byplace of the blending process is nothing short of amazing. Sinuous and exact, of berries so indefatigable, layering raspberry over blackberry atop strawberry. Cedar and red citrus compound, without jamming the fluidity, but certainly accentuating the Fragaria vesca. Confident and fluid in movement, the ’12 neither shakes nor stirs and its acidity is flat out terrific. At this early point in its evolution it is showing as well as could be expected, or hoped for. Its core of fraises du bois will always be there. Time will be kind, gentle and patient. Drink 2015-2024.   Tasted April 2015

Good to go!

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Pirates on a picnic

Salmon Amuse Bouche

Chef Victor Barry’s Salmon Amuse

The privacy, intimacy and relaxed atmosphere of a subterranean hashery is something we should all experience at least once in a gustatory lifetime. We should also be afforded the opportunity of a salubrious 12-course tasting menu designed by a reluctant superstar. Why ought we not be handled with extreme Sommelier care by the caress of a total professional? Give me a reason to not spend three hours locked in a room with eight others, all of generous wine and spirit?

The location was Splendido‘s downstairs dining room. The chef was Victor Barry. The Sommelier was Ellen Jakobsmeier. The company a group of friends and friends of friends with a common goal. Eat, drink and be merry. Maybe trash talk a little. Trade a few thousand e-mails ahead of time to fire the vinous juices. Get down to business. Taste fourteen wines blind, poured from paper bags, discuss and be humbled by knowing everything and yet nothing at all.

Chef Barry’s selections and his staff’s execution were beyond flawless, culled from trial, error and perfection, bobbing up into the ethereal. Ms. Jakobsmeier had less than 20 minutes to receive, prepare and pour in order, with timely precision, the agglomerated and cumulative progression of the wines. Like Euro rail time. Not a hair out-of-place. Big props Ellen.

One dinner companion said this. “Thank you so much for inviting me to join your Pirate festivities! The food was incredible, thanks for hosting us Victor. The wines were exciting, generous and delicious! Thanks to all of you for sharing the gems from your cellars. And thank you Ellen for doing such a great job pairing all the wines. A feast worthy of Pirates!”

Victor added his own words. “Thanks everyone. I had a blast. I really enjoyed sitting down stairs it made it much more enjoyable for me. Looking forward to the next event. PS that Tokai was fucking delicious. And the Premier Cru from that “Niagara appellation.”

I wrote this to the group. “Laid in bed last night thinking about every course. Too many details to comprehend. And then it was morning and my kids wanted their lunches packed. Good thing there was this pumpkin in my wine sleeve…generosity in wine just amazing. All thoughtful and just fucking generous. Fortunate to have met new faces. Looking forward to this again, and again. Great work JB and Victor, stars all around.”

And to you JB, you sure do know how to throw a party.

Champagne begins the pirates on a picnic dinner in the downstairs private dining space at Splendido Toronto

Champagne begins the pirates on a picnic dinner in the downstairs private dining vineyard at Splendido Toronto

Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru NV, Champagne, France

Just a wee coppery this rusty blush, savoury to solecism and uprooted by a tremendous fault that forces metamorphic salinity, no check that, bleeds from rock into the bottle. If Champagne could commandeer the senses to stop and take note, this LB is the one. Stoic, purposed, frank and blushing like a winter Olympic athlete after a gruelling race. This Rosé is as confident and masculine as can be for the genre. It opens the eyes, pores and heart for a long haul ahead of pulls, in corks, sips and gulps.  @LarmandierB

Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru NV and Domaine Dauvissat Chablis Premier Cru "Séchet" 2009

Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru NV and Domaine Dauvissat Chablis Premier Cru “Séchet” 2009

Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Premier Cru “Séchet” 2009, Burgundy, France

To be blinded by rocks is to taste such a wine without knowing what it is, slicing like Silex, cutting with a jagged edge of mineral take, yet gripping of aridity that must come from singular Chablis. Something whips like paraffin but again, the missing wood, the fennel talc, the absolute purity just says Chardonnay. With levity requested, gotta borrow from Burghound on this one because he was spot on, “way beyond the shadow of a doubt, yeah.” After 30 minutes the Sechet left the quarry to enter a sweat lodge of smoke and toast with an eventual pause at the charred Shishito capsicum station. The coarse wail is the young Dauvissat crooning but with fear set aside, the wine will soften in time, like the fashion poet, the prince of thieves. This Séchet, mythological in name, is Chablis brightly lit and accepts another sung substitute for yes. “Oh it cuts like a knife , yeah but it feels so right.”  @BIVBChablis

Oysters, popcorn, scallop dust

Oysters, popcorn, scallop dust

Popcorn dusted with dehydrated scallop dust? Damn straight.

Trout roe, maple, ice cream cone

Trout roe, maple, ice cream cone

Salmon, skin, consommé

Salmon, skin, consommé

Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2007, Wachau, Austria (AgentWineAlign)

Something grand is brewing, of that there is no doubt, despite the skinny, indehiscent first moments. A petrol that comes with age, a suckling piggy with melifluous honeycomb in its mouth roasting away, tinned fruit cup of a jellied, agar-agar mandarin orange type; these are the bold scents of what must be Austria, possibly Riesling, certainly Wachau. Tannin and stone drip Alsace Grand Cru, of Riesling again, like Rangen, but the reveal of Grüner Veltliner makes so much sense. Crazy, mind-blowing example, as good as it gets, a bench and high-water mark from which a free fall off the high springboard makes a perfect splash into the glass. Ninety minutes later only a word is needed to stem the waves of petulant emotion. Unbelievable.  @TheLivingVine  @AustrianWine

Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2007 and Henry of Pelham Reserve Chardonnay 2007

Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2007 and Henry of Pelham Reserve Chardonnay 2007

Henry of Pelham Reserve Chardonnay 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula (2013 268342WineAlign)

French oak kicks at the door, feeling young, dirty and fine though synchronicity is absent in most respects. This is certainly not Chassagne, definitely not Meursault, not even St. Aubin. Yet it is delicate and delectable despite its unkempt ways, selfless and if left to be, might settle into a relationship. To discover it’s the hot vintage of 2007 version of today’s Estate Chardonnay is nothing short of astounding and at the same time, disappointing, at odds, disassembled. After 20 minutes it falls apart, “in little pieces on the floor, too wild to keep together.” The wine’s inclusion was necessary, gave perspective and bent to receive the Uni, “and now the end has come.” The 2012 and 2013 will offer much more pleasure.  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Sea urchin, toast, squid ink, lobster

Sea urchin, toast, squid ink, lobster

Domaine Valette Pouilly-Fuissé ‘Clos de Monsieur Noly’ 2002, Mâconnais, Burgundy, France

May as well be Josko Gravner Ribollo Gialla, or Ann Sperling’s Whimsy! Orange and yet in contempt of the oxidized and underripe cantaloupe be damned, Jura should be the call. But then there is the question of messing with the man acidity and a trippy delicacy as per the cook’s butcher. It is certainly not faulty, nor should it be faulted for developing au natural, on top of the sheets, on the bare side of the beach. OK, so really old Chenin Blanc and a very natural Outback white blend would make for good conversation, or not. Like mushrooms for toffee. Like mulled apples for cider done wrong. Dirty in the most righteous 12 year-old Sherry way. Love it with Lobster on a rock, octopus and some kind of sea cucumber.

Domaine Valette Pouilly-Fuissé 'Clos de Monsieur Noly' 2002 and Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2009

Domaine Valette Pouilly-Fuissé ‘Clos de Monsieur Noly’ 2002 and Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2009

Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2009, Côte de Beaune, France (AgentWineAlign)

Can anything really be known from a fleeting moment spent with this? Classic, viscous, rich Burgundy and nothing but, with more mineral than should be gained from just a pass. The maker had the unconscious intent of remembering generations. When told that hey, it’s a Latour, in Beaune, of Corton Charlemagne, by Grand Cru, it’s hard to gather your inner we’re not worthy but focus and intent need be the outward act. You can really taste the limestone, imagine walking the Corton hillside, feeling the maximum exposure of the sun. When you know what it is you know to take a slice of humble pie and remember the soil, the soil, the soil. In Burgundy since 1797.  @LouisLatour1797  @LouisLatourInc

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada 2011 nº 30 Capataz Rivas

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada 2011 nº 30 Capataz Rivas

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada 2011, nº 30 Capataz Rivas, D.O. Manzanilla Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain

Tasted blind this pours as a glass of briny capers, sea peas, vetches and liquid basalt. It speaks a language that contains the ancient loneliness of ruins. Thoughts easily lean Manzanilla or Old Fino. Great nuts, bitters, horseradish, dry tang, daikon and like a dirty martini. Not to mention orange rind and lime rind, zest and akin to a Vin Doux. It’s origins are at the hands of capataz master Rafael Rivas, from juice originally preserved to add kick to more commercial releases but the decision instead was made to “touch” the 15 solera butts with “testimonial sacas” of only four or five arrobas (roughly 5 x 16 = 80 litres), to make a wine such as this. This is old school Manzanilla, the third saca, with a reductive flor, uniquely oxidative and an average age of around 15 years.  @EquipoNavazos  @SherryWines  @JerezXrsSherry

Pop can seafood

Pop can seafood

Intermezzo of smoked oyster and foam…

Carrot

Splendido’s Five-hour carrot

“Friends – ridiculous dinner last night, in the best way. Great wines with great friends is my favourite way to spend a night. Already looking forward to the next one – at which I will bring more than one wine.”
Hamachi collar, black bean paste

Hamachi collar, black bean paste

Podere Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano 1997, Piedmont, Italy

Here the soprano sings, in bold, rich, deep tones, with a sense of entitlement and a swagger. It’s a royal, goodfella, masculine depth. The notes are sung, even danced in bourrée, crescendo, sostenuto and ritardando. The luscious bing cherry richesse gives it youth, intimating Sangiovese but true hematic Toscana can’t be this dark. The modernity of Nebbiolo it must be. Seamless, tireless and impossibly rose petal delicate with the omnipresent tar. Would be willing to go back to 1999 but for the black forest layering, though to find out it’s ’97 shatters myths, confidence and legend. Still dusty and tannic, with more years needed to shed the grains of sand chain. After 20 minutes it goes to candied flowers, oranges and Alba truffles. Bring on the soft scrambled eggs.

Podere Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano 1997 and Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa 1997

Podere Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano 1997 and Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa 1997

Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa 1997, Piedmont, Italy

Smells like spirited, youthful, though decidedly modern Nebbiolo. Rich, chalky, dense, viscous, unctuous and yet the opposite of the Manzoni grit. More feminine, of more voices, in fugue, at times in tarantella, then into arpeggio. The notes play from a radio in my head. “In the deepest ocean, the bottom of the sea, your eyes, they turn me.” That it’s my contribution, this weird fish of a Nebbiolo, makes me amazed at the complex world of Piemonte and the absurdity of knowledge. Sensory appreciation rocks, spoken through this Sarmassa, like a chant from an ancient tribe, sitting cross-legged upon the clays of Lugagnano. It seems there may be 20 years left on the Marchesi’s Nebbiolo. I can’t believe how well it showed.

 

Venison loin, heart, mushroom, beet, pig's blood chocolate sauce

Venison loin, heart, mushroom, beet, pig’s blood chocolate sauce

“Amazing night! Everything was spot on, from the food to the wines to the company. Thanks to all, looking forward to the next one.”
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (2011 480533, WineAlign)

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.  @Smarent

 

Pumpkin in a pumpkin

Pumpkin in a pumpkin

Marchesi Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT 2003, Tuscany, Italy (2010 987586WineAlign)

The crowd leans modern, young, New World Cabernet Franc or Bordeaux blend. Can’t help but concur. Turns out to be a blend, of Cabernet Sauvignon (75 per cent), Sangiovese (20) and Cabernet Franc (5). First produced in 1978, the Sangiovese was only introduced to Solaia in 1980. In 2003, the weather could be described with a single word. Hot. Limited rainfall and a record total of 2400° in daytime heat summation has brought this Solaia to its full on gain, 12 years in evolution. The vintage caused a full draw from stony calcareous soil of marl and friable albarese rock. The collective soul can appreciate its charms but the heavy aspect ratio can’t be denied. We sipped and “the punches came fast and hard.” Warm smacks to the face, rushes of heat and an ensanguined rush of chocolate fruit through the system. For now there is no caramel, no brûlée, no denoument. In the present there are caverns of tannin, the ‘sunny one’ playing the crowd, on a sunset strip. Soon and in the end, times fades away.  @AntinoriFamily  @HalpernWine

Marchesi Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT 2003 and Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 1993

Marchesi Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT 2003 and Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 1993

Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 1993, Tokaj-Hegyalja, Hungary (2008 972836,, WineAlign)

Here the caramel unctuousness and apricot in chains of liquid gold is the work of a legendary purveyor, the Royal Tokaji company. With sweetness upwards of 150 g/L and acidity pushing the 10 g/L mark, this is no shrinking violet of a dessert wine. With 12 years of road under its belt, the blend of predominantly Furmint and Hárslevelú grape varieties (with a small percentage of Muscat) is firing on all cylinders. Racy and intense, this captures the essence of the 1st growth Nyulászó vineyard and brings it to the world. Bullies the desserts a bit, but all is forgiven considering the range of flavours within and complimented from without.  @Royal_Tokaji  @HHDImports_Wine

Then one more dessert course…”Milk and Cereal,” chamomile and maple tea gel, buttermilk quenelle, flaxseed granola.
Final treats

Final treats

Feb. 21 wine and song salute

Godello's Tamales

Godello’s Tamales

Fear not good reader, this is only a list of seven, a set lucky wines and songs to play as you sip. On February 21st VINTAGES will roll a mid-winter classic release and though my recommendations will think globally next week, here the choices come out of Ontario, from parts Niagara and Lake Erie North Shore.

My picks are varied and the wines of a coagulated character best described as sui generis. Grapes come from old vines, are dried in kilns, fashioned in the Venetian Ripasso method and left on the vine to be stricken by the noble rot known as botrytis.

The brilliant leap of modern winemaking science allows the ancient to be realized in the present. Wines that pour themselves. Just as the earth has invisibly predisposed the vines, from cataclysms and through its evolution, so history is the unhurried intent. Winemakers are the messenger.

All this from Wine Country Ontario. Get to know it.

Speaking of WCO, if you happen to be heading to Ottawa for Winterlude this coming weekend, the VQA Wine Truck will be there, in Confederation Park.

Meanwhile back in Toronto, my seven wine and song salute begins here.

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2012, Ridgepoint Merlot 2010, Bricklayer's Reward Block 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2012, Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2012, Ridgepoint Merlot 2010, Bricklayer’s Reward Block 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2012, Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $16.95, WineAlign)

Showy and yet so balanced and pristine. The cleanest fruit representing classic Niagara Peninsula Riesling from the ’12 vintage yet with an open mind to be walking far from home. Though void of agitation, there is plenty of verve and life. It comes by way of a mineral meets saline intensity, of iron and life, in wine. Like “sour building high as heaven,” and the components all kiss each other clean. Full of fine pastry layering, glycerine textured but not oily fruit, full and yet somehow so lacy. A really special Riesling from down by the lake.  Tasted January 2015  @MBosc

Ridgepoint Merlot 2010, Ripasso Style, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (270488, $19.95, WineAlign)

Ridgepoint’s Ripasso style Merlot takes the varietal, stands it on its head and shakes the rust from out of its bones. It wears “a coat of feelings and they are loud,” with drying and painted flavours over top porcine, cocoa, wild and tight aromas. Merlot in a purple bottle, an animal collective, peppery, interesting, very Niagara, very Ripasso. Good length.  Tasted January 2015  @Ridgepointwines

Bricklayer’s Reward Block 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (406124, $19.95, WineAlign)

In Colio’s Cabernet Sauvignon there is dark chocolate everywhere, at every turn, in every crevice. Black pepper, fleur de del, currants and tobacco accent that chocolate ubiquity, with warmth and oak spice. Cherries seeped in astringent tannin offer a silky sweet sadness and “under this skin, there lies a heart of stone.” Counting for value, the Bricklayer’s reward is mercy, by way of character, texture and that wholesome chocolate. It may not be everyone’s cup of cocoa but it will age as long as the crow flies, into the next decade.  Tasted January 2015  @ColioWinery

Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, VQA Ontario (367144, $24.95, WineAlign)

Burning Kiln’s latest rendition of Vin de Curé, the “Parish Priest’s,” and the Jura’s Vin de Paille (Straw Wine) is that much more exceptional than what came before. The peaceful, heavy yet easy feeling continues, in alcohol weight and aromatic lift, ’cause it’s “already standin’ on the ground.” Like an eagle soaring, the Savagnin is a wild creature and yet solid, of a gamey, textural density. Imagine dried grasses and fruits, baked bricks, steamed crabs and honey. A wine so unique, mouth filling, viscous and tangy, from a wine region (province) with a maximum 10 planted acres. A white elixir in search of roast pork, braised belly and cured bacon. Not to be missed.  Tasted January 2015  @BurningKilnWine

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (203703, $30.00, WineAlign)

Thirty Bench’s vintage-affected Chardonnay is rounded, full of warm, ripe fruit and noticeable oak. No darts are tossed, neither by woodsmoke nor spice and it ventures quite outward bound. This adventurous, appealing wine takes some chances, looks beyond its borders, reaching for notes both gravelly and scented; like cumin, coriander and a beautifully bittersweet Tom Collins. The rocks are certainly in, as are the sticks and stones, though they do not break bones. The price is another matter, affordable to some, prohibitive to “the little boys who never comb their hair.” For a Chardonnay such as this, of layers and riches, “they’re lined up all around the block, on the nickel over there.” It time waits for this, value will increase and it will become a wine for tomorrow.  Tasted January 2015  @ThirtyBench

Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (405043, $30.20, WineAlign)

Here Sauvignon Blanc is wild and free, bares then sells its soul and is runnin’ with the devil. The expression is a free dance of varietal character, flinty and extremely juicy in simultaneous movements. Though the SO2 level is high (it cleans the passages), the compote is peachy, at times canned and soaking in syrup, but the accents are laden with capsicum, lactic white plums and wet grasses. Slightly bruised and/or oxidative, the mineral tang is pushy and formative. This is serious Niagara-on-the-Lake SB, crazy and compressed stuff. It lives its “life like there’s no tomorrow, finding “the simple life ain’t so simple.” Like vintage Van Halen.  Tasted January 2015  @PellerVQA

Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula (375ml), Ontario (405027, $39.95, WineAlign)

Inscribed into the Inniskillin ‘Discovery Series” for good reason, the BA Viognier is a product of luck and circumstance, a small parcel of grapes blessed with the not oft success of climate leading to ripening and noble rot. Grapes left to hang into late harvest (as opposed to freezing on the vine for the production of Icewine) is not a common Viognier practice. While the frank and masculine aromatic presence may be compromised here (the nose is quite reserved), the overall ubiquity is omnipresent and enveloping. Such a clean and young botrytis offers soft chords and a lifting voice. You can smell the fruits east and west; green and yellow plantain, peaches and plums. Flavours of lemon curd and pineapple arrive at a point where the tannin finds a way to “fuse it in the sun.” It can be imagined this Vendanges Tardives simulation will go long so “dream up, dream up, let me fill your cup, with the promise of a man.”  Tasted January 2015  @InniskillinWine

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

http://www.winealign.com/profile/2058-mjg

Let it wine

From left: Quails' Gate Merlot 2011

From left: Jean Maurice Raffault Chinon Rosé 2013, Anselmann Edesheimer Rosengarten Siegerrebe Spätlese 2012, Delas Frères Les Launes Crozes Hermitage 2011, Tabalí Reserva Especial 2009, Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2011, Quails’ Gate Merlot 2011

We’ve pleaded, we’ve begged. We’ve been down on hands and knees. We’ve asked for spring. It has finally (sort of) arrived. There is only one thing left to say. Let it wine.

Just in case you happen to live in Ontario and were not aware of the system’s system (or you’ve forgotten), here is a friendly primer and reminder. VINTAGES rolls out a new set of wines every two weeks. We (the wine media) taste them a month ahead and comment on their correctness. Sometimes we even admit which ones we really like.

More reviews than space here permits are available, along with other critics’ thoughts at WineAlign, the place to go for access to bi-weekly previews of critics’ release notes and their top recommendations for all VINTAGES new releases.

These wines are in stores now. They are just six of my recommendations from the May 10th, 2014 release.

Jean Maurice Raffault Chinon Rosé 2013, Ac, Loire, France (119693, $16.95, WineAlign)

There is a cautious though skilled reservation in this Rosé, the Cabernet Franc currant and peppery aromas a faint and subtle thought. Light and refreshing Chinon as dry as dry ice and built with tang and length. The late note is of slightly charred bell pepper. Excellent food versatile Rosé, even if it falls away quicker than should be.  Tasted April 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Anselmann Edesheimer Rosengarten Siegerrebe Spätlese 2012, Prädikatswein, Pfalz, Germany (910554, $16.95, WineAlign)

A really fun wine. Siegerrebe is not meant to be contemplated by a panel of ancient philosophers with modern doctorates. In its most basic incarnation it is a sipper, a warm weather, sundowner tipple to quaff on its own or as an aromatic lifter in conjunction with fortifiers in a light, fizz-induced cocktail. This Spätlese (late harvest) later-picked variation offers a step up the beanstalk of residual sugar-laced complexity. At the price it begs to be tried. The fruit is both sweet and drying at the same time, like Moscato in a waxy, soapy, juicy fruit, bitter way. Tasted April 2014

Tabalí Reserva Especial 2009, Limarí Valley, Chile (107540, $22.95, WineAlign)

A mating of masculine, slow, open-grill smoked meat and cooking bacon aromas and a dehydrated Syrah lees, coarse pepper crust is tempered by feminine, cool eucalyptus and juniper accents. A big wine that is rounded and grounded by some Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Anxious, tight, modern and a real finisher.  Tasted April 2014  @TabaliWines   @oenophilia1

Delas Frères Les Launes Crozes Hermitage 2011, Ac, Rhône, France  (701359, $22.95, WineAlign)

What a gorgeous flower and wet stones nose in this Syrah. So pretty and inviting. Tart, sweet berries, smooth and integrated fruit acid continuum, very sure and correct. A perennial righteous bottling, anything but excessive and a tremendous value is every way. Don’t be Delas to know.  Tasted April 2014  @HHDImports_Wine

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario,  (1552, $24.95, WineAlign)

The Shed’s balance is best in ’11, the equation solved. A sweetness on the palate is buttery, the length languid, smooth and graceful. A very pretty Shed. A spirit in the night. “Stand right up and let it shoot right through you.” From my earlier February 2014 note: “Conspicuous by its texture from a mild to middling vintage “when you picked before or after the rain.” Though combined, the antechamber of acidity and good cheer trumps the mudroom of funk and doldrums. A Guns ‘n Roses vintage, a pull in two directions, with a potential for breakdown. “Ev’rything was roses when we held on to the guns.” A soft, buttery note tempers the tang and yet that tang lifts the fruit. The tension is what sets the ’11 up for a classic run.  Last tasted April 2014

Quails’ Gate Merlot 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (169961, $25.95, WineAlign)

From estate vineyards on the Boucherie Mountain bench, this is cool Merlot, from a cooler vintage, with cool climate anxiety. The conditions and the style wave a finger to promote some vineyard funk to speak, along with Merlot’s characteristic dust and powder. “A big red beacon,” as in berries and plums, earth and spice. Red all around. Smoky, still so young, with lots of acidity and tannin that will need five years to come together. Kneel down to show some appreciation for this quality Merlot. A bit of late bitter stringency but of no real matter. Tasted April 2014  @Quails_Gate 

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

Super Bowl XLVIII wine odds

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning
Photo: AP Photo

as seen on canada.com

As a Super Bowl libation of choice do you consider wine a foray into the arena of the absurd? If so, you may be right, but you may be wrong. The Super Bowl is absurd. So, what are the odds that wine figures into your Super Bowl gathering? You might just be surprised.

I have participated in the same season-long NFL pool for the past 27 years. It was a “fax” pool in the 90′s and persists as an early days of the internet, send your picks in by e-mail endeavour. I’m still waiting for our administrator to make use of a free internet betting site but then again, there is a certain kind of comfort in the naiveté of low stakes, old-school pool participation. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t watch a single snap without something riding on the games. With apologies to my Peyton Manning-worshipping son, the NFL is just not that interesting and it’s a brutal sport.

Think about it. The game itself is a barbaric testosterone display of gladiator proportions, a war waged by freak of nature behemoths intent on killing one another between the blow of every whistle. Watch an NFL game and you’ll see that a player remains down and hurting after almost every play from scrimmage. When an elite athlete stays down, trust me, he’s hurt. Something has pulled, torn or broken nearly every time you see it.

Then there are the costs; production, hosting, advertising and tickets. According to the Philadelphia Business Journal, “At $4M for Super Bowl ad, it’s ‘almost impossible’ to see return on investment.” The cost to Jersey City for hosting “is a tax on our resources to some degree,” said Mayor Steve Fulop. According to NewJersey.com, “the police presence alone will cost city taxpayers several hundred thousand dollars.” The market for ticket prices opened at $4,000 but now they are just giving them away, with $3,088 being the current average price as of Tuesday afternoon, this according to the Bleacher Report. If you think the prices are too high, you have no business going to the Super Bowl. In 2013 Beyoncé was not paid for performing at the halftime show, though she was awarded $600,000 for “production costs.”

Is this shaping up to be the saddest Super Bowl ever? Joshua M. Brown sure thinks so. “This Sunday, Super Bowl XLVIII (48) will be played in an open-air stadium, built atop a New Jersey swamp, in 2 degree weather, while pretending it’s actually taking place in New York.” So, now does it seem like such a far-fetched idea to drink wine while watching the Super Bowl? Sure, 99 per cent of the American Football hypnotized viewers will have a beer or 12 on Sunday. Hopefully a few thousand will be creative enough to get up from the couch and source something local and craft-related. I will be bringing fine-ish wine to the grid iron festivities. There are well thought out, dedicated and purposed reasons for my choices.

The original elite athletes on this planet were from ancient Greece. Though they may not have tossed around or beat each other silly over an oblong-shaped ball covered in pigskin, they personify the term ‘forbearer’ for real sport. Besides, real men drink Greek red wine.

Wine produced in a region defined by its volcano is also a must. Nowhere does the vinous world bequeath an emphatic lava flow of energy and verve like Etna. Football is a mob mentality game of raw and pure emotion, much like the terroir-driven Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio from Sicily.

Zinfandel is a natural for the Super Bowl. Bold, deep, dark, rich and striking. The brambly flavours scream rough and tough. Zinfandel always lives on the edge. It will also stand up to and support the fatty, greasy and cheesy gamut of flavours on the SB coffee table.

A classic Cabernet-Merlot blend is a must for all the red meat that will be consumed on Sunday. Don’t bother with the modernity or overpricing of soft, voluptuous and velvety Bordeaux or Napa.  This game and your aged beef require some grit. If you live in Canada, go local, as in Okanagan Valley or Niagara Peninsula.

For the sensitive and cerebral man, the Peyton Manning armchair quarterback if you will, look for a well-aged and thoughtful white wine. Hunter Valley Semillon comes to mind. The last time the Seattle Seahawks played in the Super Bowl was 2006. That strikes me as a good vintage to help settle the score.

Here are my five wine picks for Super Bowl 2014 and some music to match.

From left: NICOSIA FONDO FILARA ETNA ROSSO 2010, THYMIOPOULOS VINEYARDS YN KAI OUPAVÓS XINOMAVRO 2010, MCWILLIAM'S MOUNT PLEASANT ELIZABETH SEMILLON 2006, RAVENSWOOD OLD VINE ZINFANDEL 2010, and MALIVOIRE 'STOUCK' CABERNET/MERLOT 2010

From left: NICOSIA FONDO FILARA ETNA ROSSO 2010, THYMIOPOULOS VINEYARDS YN KAI OUPAVÓS XINOMAVRO 2010, MCWILLIAM’S MOUNT PLEASANT ELIZABETH SEMILLON 2006, RAVENSWOOD OLD VINE ZINFANDEL 2010, and MALIVOIRE ‘STOUCK’ CABERNET/MERLOT 2010

NICOSIA FONDO FILARA ETNA ROSSO 2010, Sicily, Italy (362129, $19.95, WineAlign)

Wines from Sicily’s Mt. Etna region and the indigenous variety known as Nerello Cappuccio may seem like a space oddity to many but those who have opened their hearts and minds to the volcanic wonders float “in a most peculiar way.” This Rosso carves a bowie-knife line of lava mineral and Mediterranean salinity right through with bang on acidity and vitality of red fruit. A minor detractor in that it’s a bit saturated, muddled and earthy for Etna, but it brings the mountain down to the tasting room. Licorice, cirasu, plum and the dried grape feeling of zibbibbu. Contagious in spirit.  90  Tasted January 2014

THYMIOPOULOS VINEYARDS YN KAI OUPAVÓS XINOMAVRO 2010, Unfiltered, Naoussa, Greece (360750, $19.95, WineAlign)

Magnificent Macedonian, built upon the unheralded yet stalwart variety Xinomavro. Pure, sweet-smelling gardenia and the refuse of ancient rolling stones express every bit of sun and wind-swept, low bush vines goodness. Purposefully and thankfully unfiltered, so that all the delicious sweet and sour cherry and great biting but sweet tannin are left in. Purity, good sugar/alcohol heights without oak corruption. Earth possessive of mythic undercurrent, sage, wealth of  knowledge, sweet anise and hyssop. Scents of game on the grill. Amazing complexity and length. While tasting this Xinomavro it made me “feel so hypnotized, can’t describe the scene.” Get your rocks off to the Greek 91  Tasted January 2014  @thymiopoulosvin

MCWILLIAM’S MOUNT PLEASANT ELIZABETH SEMILLON 2006, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia  (724492, $19.95, WineAlign)

Such a rare occasion to peer into the portal of aged Hunter Valley Semillon so expectations run high along the lines of gain the ridge and peer out over the great expanse. Emerging classic secondary notes, in tropical low-bush, caramelizing tangy fruit meets sweet hive sticky fashion but, and I take care to be sure, the fruit suffers under a yoke of petrol and a scraping of rocks. The lemon is faint, the fruit disappointingly fading. Listen closely to her voice, “I can’t sing, I ain’t pretty and my legs are thin.” Sure, acidity steals the show but at what cost? Still, a study in Semillon is always a positive so the cellar aging and delayed release must be appreciated. Oh, well89  Tasted January 2014   @McWilliamsWines

RAVENSWOOD OLD VINE ZINFANDEL 2010, Sonoma County, California, U.S.A. (673798, $21.95, WineAlign)

Consistency thy name is Ravenswood in the key of Zinfandel. From typically gnarly old vines scattered around Sonoma County and so young at heart. As solid as a wine can be when blending from so many sites. Vanilla is its calling card, flavouring the pool of berry syrup along with a tobacco-like smokey accent. Good tartness balances the rich fruit. At only 5g/L of residual sugar, this Zinfandel reaches sugar mountain with natural sweetness so, “ain’t it funny how you feel when you’re finding out it’s real.” Bring on the big game chili and beef stew.  89  Tasted January 2014

MALIVOIRE ’STOUCK’ CABERNET/MERLOT 2010, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (321836, was $29.95, now $24.25, WineAlign)

This Niagara Bordeaux-inspired blend comes from a legendary vineyard in the making. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot all ripen and develop phenolic pitch with Findhorn-like, remarkable quality. How and why it ended up on the VINTAGES Bin-End list is beyond explanation. It was a must buy before, now it’s a steal. From A long and ‘wine-ding’ tasting road:  ”From down on the Lincoln Lakeshore is a pitchy rendition with a pronounced roasted espresso note. Seems to me the motherly, Cabernet Franc’s genes have imparted their wisdom into this (63%) Cabernet Sauvignon dominant beauty with big Cassis fruit. Chic, juicy, with a filled in mid-palate and stiff structure. Grab a glass, “leave your cares behind, these are the good times.”  91  Tasted March 2013  @MalivoireWine

Good to go!

Much ado about Napa

When Napa Valley comes to town, wine people (I know, peeps) show up and take a seat.
PHOTO: NAPA VALLEY VINTNERS ASSOCIATION

as seen on canada.com

I would be lying if I said that I’m not a fan of Napa Valley wine. If you read hidden meaning into that statement it’s not because I dislike that to a red, so many examples are gorgeously voluptuous and decadent, it’s just that I seem to feel less insecure when they’re not around.

As a wine taster, when faced with any more than two or three massive, young California red wines at a time, I begin to sweat. In tentative waves of anxiety I question my palate. Will I be able to note the nuance, the terroir, the dreaded question of “will this wine age, will it stand the test of time?”

Doug Shafer, arguably one of the three or four household names in modern Napa, summed up the entire quagmire in one fell swoop sentence.” Funny thing, if they age well out the chute, they age well.” Napa Valley winemakers, or at least Doug Shafer, are demanding of an attitude that wine must not be assessed based on ageability. That’s the kicker. When the discussion centers on bold California reds, I gotta disagree. Who is shelling out $100-300 on a bottle of wine to pop and pour?

When Napa Valley comes to town, wine people (I know, peeps) show up and take a seat. As Russ Weis (Napa Valley Vintners & Auction Napa Valley Board Vice President and General Manager, Silverado Vineyards) noted, “reputation is large, the area is small.” No doubt. The famous place responsible for a pittance (four per cent) of California’s wine output has risen meteorically to legendary status in just a few decades. I’m not sneezing.

What I am doing is pushing the point that reds from Napa and I’m really talking about Cabernet Sauvignon and associated blends, that these wines are beasts to taste and enjoy while they are young. Surely I am making unforgivable generalizations here but for brevity must serve the purpose of a personal hermeneutic. Longevity is the key to unlocking Napa Valley’s secrets.

The Napa Valley Vintners Association rolled through Toronto in October. WineAlign’s very own John Szabo, M.S. moderated a short but so very sweet tasting and libertine discussion on 10 then and now Napa reds. Mr. Szabo dug into the concept of ageability, “what is it and what causes it?’ he asked. “How does vine age affect it?” Looking squarely back at 1997 as being the watershed vintage, “a changeover year,” Szabo noted that ripeness became very important in terms of critical and by extension, commercial success.

Chris Howell, manager/winemaker of Cain Vineyards stressed “no analytic attribute will tell you whether your wine will age or not.” While Mr. Weis did not directly speak to the question of aging, his notations “we are cooler than the Mediterranean, we’re farming for high intensity and “the long form is in the glass” all point to the very question.

The ten wines poured at the seminar, while just a minute cross-section of what Napa Valley does well, proved my idiosyncratic and parochial point. Napa Valley’s big reds, especially those made in an era defined by hyper-ripeness, elevated brix and new oak influence, are most impressive in their immaturity. To belay any accusations of contradiction, the follow-up to that statement argues that the wines are far more interesting in their maturity. Time does not make them taste better but it does add provenance to their story.

Here are my ten notes on the wines poured at the ROM’s Peter Bronfman Hall Napa Valley trade tasting.

Clockwise from left: CAIN VINEYARDS RED BLEND 2008, LONG MEADOW RANCH WINERY CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2005, SOMERSTON CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2007, and SILVERADO VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON STAG’S LEAP DISTRICT ‘SOLO’ 2009

CAIN VINEYARDS RED BLEND 2004 ($125, release price)

Chosen from 25 lots, divided between Cabernet Sauvignon (47 per cent), Merlot (25), Cabernet Franc (21), Petit Verdot (4) and Malbec (3). A quiet child of “gentle, moderate ripening conditions” which saw grapes harvested over a span of 43 days. Has completed its graceful aging and with the fruit beginning to wane, the tannins remain in grain. A Brett-tinged vintage to be sure though punched down by Cassis, vanilla crème and a gravel relish.  89  @rogcowines

CAIN VINEYARDS RED BLEND 2008 ($124.95, consignment)

The second vintage, marking a return to 100% Cain Vineyard, Estate Bottled, which means 100 per cent of the grapes were grown in their Cain Vineyard, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. A composition consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon (61 per cent), Merlot (15), Cabernet Franc (13), Malbec (6) and Petit Verdot (5). A small crop from a dramatic, wailing and tumultuous (rain, sleet and heat) growing season. The nose is especially top ranking, smelling fresh as the day it was bottled. The thin soils and Pacific weather here translate to rigour, anxiety and conviction. Though “they don’t want us to unite…they don’t want to see us come together,” these fab five find brotherly and sisterly love.  91

LONG MEADOW RANCH WINERY CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2005 ($65.00, winery)

Fully organic vines, reasonable brix meets abv number (13.2) and a tiny yet helpful two per cent Cabernet Franc added in for good measure. Exceptional showing from an endearing vintage. Pure black raspberry and red aspalathos tea integrated with the positive attributes of a bound stem fire starter of bell pepper, splintered cedar and twiggy black currants. All together they blow a blanket of background fog across fruit in a gentle holding pattern.  91  @LMRwine

LONG MEADOW RANCH WINERY CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2009 ($65.00, winery)

From a warmer yet moderate growing season the ’09 LMR solicits 10 per cent Merlot along with two per cent Cabernet Franc. Noticeably riper, with more cherry depth, lush mouthfeel and a dry, chalky, yet comfortable lengthy finish. Acids are lower and tension surely does not run high but the wine achieves a pleasant balance, if less complexity and offering increased pleasure.  91

SHAFER VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON ‘HILLSIDE SELECT’ 2003 (NA)

Persists in full-blown hedonism. One would never accuse this of being treated with tartaric acid. Youthful, gorgeous and alone at 10 years-old. Cherry, berry, dusty grain swirl, a twister of iconic development and potential, realizing that potential in the here and now. Showing remarkably well with a transparency of ego, alcohol and a blender flurry of fruit and wood. While it holds court and its course now, flying time will likely be another three to four years.  92  @ShaferVineyards

SHAFER VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON ‘HILLSIDE SELECT’ 2009 (735712, $285.00)

A huge SVCSHS from 100 per cent Shafer’s Hillside Estate Vineyard in Stags Leap District including vineyard blocks such as Sunspot, John’s Folly, Upper Seven, Hitching Post and Venado Ilegal. An absolute killer B; bigger, brawnier, bolder, badass. “Engines pumping and thumping in time.” Mouth attacking, saliva stealing, inner cheek suffering Cabernet that spent 32 months in 100 per cent new 60-gallon French oak barrels. Mercy. The skin contact, in colour and tannin, is a nearly unforgivable act. White flag. Tempting to compare it to huge Cabernet-based IGT’s. Waves of unctuous raspberry and blackberry in perpetual maceration. Has so much cake (15.5 per cent abv), built for speed and distance. Never finishes. In fact, I think it’s still going. For two decades.  94

SILVERADO VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON STAG’S LEAP DISTRICT 1989 (NA)

From a vineyard originally planted in 1884, by Abel McFarland and fast forward – replanted between 1992 – 1996, by Ron and Diane Miller. This red may be heading for a graceful descent beneath a Pacific sunset and the vintage may have dumped diluting rain upon harvest but complexity will not be denied. Rare, seraphic fruit lingers on, enveloped in the resinous aromas of wood, leather and tobacco. There lifts too an elder/lingon-flower/berry beckoning and something mint-metal cool. Classroom Cabernet, to thank the procurer and to seek higher learning.  90  @SilveradoSolo

SILVERADO VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON STAG’S LEAP DISTRICT ‘SOLO’ 2009 (89482, $119.00)

Built on the academic intuition, augmentation and advancement of UC Davis oenology Silverado clones. Reneges and makes waste of the past in a hurried two-day harvest, October 7th and 8th, 2009. A product of reasonable brix (23.5 degrees) and alcohol (13.9 per cent). Uncommonly shy, a young introvert, lost in dark, layered abstraction, in blues, blacks and hues in between. Dried herb, withering blueberry, a ballad in ode to greatness that came before and a promise for a promising future. “There’s more to the picture than meets the eye,” though no guarantee.  90 

SOMERSTON CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2007 ($120.00)

From proprietor F. Allan Chapman and winemaker Craig Becker, this is the flagship wine, distilled from two individual parcels, Soda Valley and Elder Valley, located high in the hills above Napa Valley. High brix (26.5 degrees) and alcohol (14.9 per cent) mark this cured Cabernet, something to ponder, to drink on a night like this. High-toned, in the realm of fig and prune, a big show of chocolate froth, mocha, vanilla and more. Thick and luminous, “it goes dark, it goes darker still. It goes deep, it goes deeper still.”  88  @SomerstonWineCo

SOMERSTON CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010 ($120.00)

A scarcity of production (380 cases) and elevated further still, in brix (26.8) and alcohol (15.5). Sourced from the estates two best vineyard blocks; Queensberry block 30 and Oriental block 23, both hillside vineyards with an average elevation of 1250 asl. Shares an aromatic, cured profile with the ’07, though in its youth it waxes rich, lush and overtly tannic. Inflated drupe elongated by a magnitude of  Napa love. “I don’t care if Monday’s black…dressed up to the eyes, it’s a wonderful surprise.”  91

Good to go!