Tasting Ontario Part One: Riesling

Riesling at Vineland Estates, 161 days on skins

Riesling is again on the rise and the reasons why are as varied as the artistry it’s equipped to display. It has been 40 years since the Pennachetti family of Cave Spring Vineyard and German vintner Herman Weis planted riesling in St. Urban Vineyard on what is now Vineland Estates. My how things have changed. The trending line ascends as the general public comes around and warms to the versatile grape so popularity is not just in the hands of geeks, oenophiles and connoisseurs. Ask your favourite sommelier, product consultant or wine writer. Riesling’s neighbourhood is beginning to gentrify in a big way but it’s also expanding experimental and ancestral horizons. It will always be just riesling but today’s varietal vernacular goes beyond dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, Süssreserve, late harvest and Icewine to now include skin-contact, barrel fermented, unfiltered, wild ferment, Blackball and The Geek.

A few weeks back I attended my 7th Cuvée in Niagara Falls to celebrate the next chapter with and for our wine industry, fresh on the heels of the 2018 Tasted Untamed edition of Taste Ontario in Toronto. Just a month before I rambled through the Niagara Icewine Festival in Jordan and the Icewine Gala in Niagara Falls. It was at the Icewine Gala where we watched and listened in on a great tribute to Ontario’s iconic pioneer, Karl Kaiser. We owe so much to Mr. Kaiser with respect to everything Icewine but also to how far we have come in terms of riesling.

A lovely tribute to #karlkaiser tonight at #icewinefestival gala

Just two weeks ago in Toronto we tasted the current offering of Prince Edward County wines at Taste of the County. Today we will immerse ourselves into the culture of global food and local wine at the Terroir Symposium and on Tuesday the Wine Council of Ontario will hold its first annual Ontario Craft Wine Conference. It has been a very saturated and intensive start to 2018, something that must be attributed to the maturity, confidence, preparedness and excitement of and towards Ontario wine.

My personal opportunities to taste wines from the Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County, Lake Erie North Shore and Ontario’s South Coast have been many. Before too long there will be greater access to the wines of emerging regions like the Oak Ridges Moraine, Georgian Bay the Northumberland Hills. Prior to 2017 I used this wine processing platform of godello.ca as a vehicle to review and discuss Ontario wines with much greater frequency but circumstances have changed. My work with Italian and French wine regions, most notably Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Bourgogne have occupied a great deal of my time. So has tasting and reviewing many potential submissions for the WineAlign exchange and acting as a consistent contributor to the WineAlign Buyers’ Guides to the VINTAGES releases.  I 2017 I ceased publishing my bi-weekly tasting notes because it’s important that readers check them out on WineAlign. All this as added up to less constant coverage of Ontario wines on the site.

And a few of my favourite wine writers. Thx for coming to #cuvee2018 #vqawinesofontario

That is why I’ve decided to post a series of articles over the next few weeks solely dedicated to Ontario wine and I’m going to split them up by grape varieties, beginning today with Ontario’s great white hope, riesling. I’ve written about the grape many times before and my belief in its varietal power, finesse and omniscient existentialism for a signature and singular Ontario purpose is perpetual and unwavering. This work is possible because of the organizations and the people behind them who make it all possible. The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, The Wine Council of Ontario and VQA Ontario are a triple-edged force that keep our wines flowing. Thank you to Richard Linley, President of WCO, Magdalena Kaiser, Head of Marketing and Public Relations for WMAO, Brian Schmidt and Laurie Macdonald, President and Executive Director respectively of VQA. The Icewine Festival Gala and Cuvée are not possible without the work of Fallsview Casino, Scotiabank Convention Centre and of course Brock University. Gala and Experts’ Tasting coordination is possible because of The Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s Barb Tatarnic, Manager, Wine and Sprit Education Trust and Kaitlyn Little, Marketing and Communications Officer.

Inaugural Winemaker of Excellence Award winner and riesling maker extraordinaire, Angelo Pavan of Cave Spring Cellars, with Donald Ziraldo

At Cuvée, the inaugural Winemaker of Excellence Award winner was Angelo Pavanchosen in a unanimous decision for his major contributions to the industry, his commitment to excellence and his mentorship to winemakers across Canada. Pavan, Vice-President, Winemaker and Founding Partner at Cave Spring Cellars, is known for his encyclopedic understanding of viticulture in Niagara. He was among the first in the province to work with numerous grape varieties and was a pioneer in the quest to improve wine quality and sustainability in vinifera varieties.

“It is humbling to be the first recipient of this great award,” said Pavan. “It validates the passion, time, effort and commitment of over 30 years dedicated to this great wine growing region and having participated in its evolution to international recognition.”

Pavan is also a founding member and Chair of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) Standards Development Committee and has played a key role in determining the most suitable winemaking practices applicable in Ontario. As the founding Chair of the International Riesling Experience, held in conjunction with CCOVI, Pavan has also been instrumental in solidifying Niagara’s place as one of the world’s pre-eminent Riesling producing regions.

Related – Three Rieslings to believe

One of my first bold statements about Ontario riesling was this. “There are many reasons to believe in riesling, that versatile and brutally honest grape. Riesling holds no punches, speaks its mind, tells it like it is. Grown worldwide and vinified in so many varying styles, riesling is not so much a chameleon but rather a mutant. It takes root in every vineyard, marking its terroir, expressing itself singularly and without apology. Over the past two-four months I have exonerated and upheld with the highest riesling belief that (Ontario) does the variety justice above and beyond the pale, in the vineyard and in the glass. More reviews have been written, designed and pushed down your throats on (local) riesling than on any other grape. What’s up with that? Quality, that’s what.”

Related – 100 kilometre wine for spring

And this. “Riesling. Can there be a more versatile white grape? From natural, mineral spring, bone-dry to concentrated, candied sweet, this grape runs the diversity gamut like no other. ‘The Bench’ is home to a mineral wealth of local riesling, singular in composition not only by way of a global comparison, but also from plot to plot, soil to soil and vineyard to vineyard.”

Riesling Vine

Related – Are you wine experienced?

We held a symposium at Brock University a few years back and the technical, chemical side was addressed by Cornell University Sensory Researcher Terry Acree. For riesling, Acree focuses on chemicals that correspond to the strongest identified smells, the most important and prevalent of which is TDN (Trimethyldihydronaphthalene). TDN the chemical or diesel/petrol the sensation as an “odour strength (Damascenone) as related to by human subjects.” In order for the wine taster to “experience” these sensations, two things have to be there. “Memories of different kinds of features and features themselves.” That said, Acree believes you can only smell three things at once, a notion he borrows from M.F.K. Fisher.

Acree sees odour as “an evolutionary human response to history.” If you have never come into contact with a banana, you will never smell banana in Chardonnay. TDN is the dominant aroma and where riesling grows, more sunlight means more fruit and more TDN. TDN is a precursor but its prevalence does not necessarily increase as a wine ages. A very common theme when nosing an aged Riesling is to comment on the secondary aromatic emergence of a gas or petrol note. Acree believes that identifying increased petrol notes in aged Riesling is a bit of a misnomer. It had to already be there. “I’m just inventing a new, confusing way to discuss minerality,” he concludes.

At that time Toronto wine writer Mike Di Caro and I talked about Ontario riesling and we agreed that sugar levels are both arbitrary and unpredictable so Niagara’s best is and should be of the dry variety. I don’t think that way anymore. My friend and colleague Bill Zacharkiw of the Montreal Gazette wrote this last year.”Rieslings, especially from cool climates like the Mosel in Germany and Niagara tend to have residual sugar. Don’t be scared. You know what? I love them. The sugar makes the aromatics go “boom,” while the acidity keeps the wine tasting dry.” Bill is correct and it is also those sugars that allow the wine to stay alive, age and develop those aforementioned petrol notes.

Related – I shall be Riesling

Here is how VQA chooses to define typical Ontario riesling. “Classically exhibits refreshing citrus, peach or floral aromas with a light “petrol” element and racy acidity on the palate. Made in a range of dry, off-dry and sweet styles, including Icewine. Typically not oaked but good examples will age well with the petrol nose evolving.” Many would agree but there is so much more to think about. You don’t know anything about riesling and aging until you begin tasting them at five years only know then can you begin to understand. Some examples will stay the course of pure lemon, so taut and tight, perhaps shouldn’t even be released until they are ready. The acidity might be the most unwound, with pent-up aggression, a fighter in search of balance. Not typical perhaps but very much a part of the Ontario mix.

The curious thing about Ontario riesling is how it has pushed me to wax with unlimited hyperbole, as in “to purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling” and “one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes.” For Treve Ring’s take on the great grape, head over to WineAlign for what she had to say after the 2017 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals). Treve writes,  “as our palates progress, we often shy away from these simpler, fruity styles for more structured, savoury and minerally wines, which again, brings us full circle (close the ring) back to serious and ageworthy riesling.”

Related – Moved by Riesling

I have been moved by riesling many times. In Alsace it happens every day and it has happened in Ontario, most notably after having comes across (any one of four or five) Charles Baker Picones and Emma Garner Thirty Bench Small Lots. Or in particular, Jay Johnston’s Nadja’s from Flat Rock and most notably Brian Schmidt’s Vineland Estates St. Urban. With Cave Spring it happened after tastes of Cave Spring CSV. It has happened again and again. It will continue this way.

As I mentioned, this is merely the first part in a long series of articles to come, including exposées on sparkling wines, chardonnay, other white varieties and appellative blends, gamay, pinot noir, cabernet franc, plus other reds and red blends. To begin this Ontario varietal march through spring here are 26 recently tasted riesling, plus a handful visited in 2017 yet to make it to godello print, all to give a glimpse into the portal of how far Ontario has come and to where it may be heading.

Riesling at the Carriage House, Vineland Estates Winery – March 7, 2015

Redstone Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $14.95, WineAlign)

So much lime, in flesh and zest, all over the lime map. Really juicy riesling for the cost of a song. Cool climate stamp right here; glade, citrus, wax and air up above. The palate follows, albeit thin and tinny. Ideal for current consumption though not likely made with the stuffing to evolve. Regardless it’s good value. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted blind at NWAC July 2017 and October 2017  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Featherstone Riesling Black Sheep 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)

The Black Sheep strikes again, same price, same typicity and balance. This is the riesling we’ve come to expect and relish, with elevated sugar and acidity levels walking hand in hand. Plenty of lime spirit is more Bench styled than ubiquitous Niagara Peninsula so you can guess what fruit lurks to lead such a suspicion. Always high quality and quick to market, sip, rinse and repeat. You’ll see this wine in release cycles four or five times over, available at all times. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  #featherstonewinery  @featherstonewne  Featherstone Estate Winery

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (43281, $17.95, WineAlign)

There are two types of traditional riesling made up on the Escarpment’s benches, both equally accessible and correct but so very different. There is the other way; dry, stoic and intense. And there is the Flat Rock way, slightly further adrift off-dry, weightier and to be honest, less serious and happier. Not that one style is more important than the other but if I’m a consumer expecting sweet riesling but hoping to learn how the other half lives and breathes it would be this Flat Rock that would help educate and ultimately help me grow into the new riesling lover I’d want to be. The sugar (while nothing extraordinary here) is balanced by equal acidity and athletic chic. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

2027 Cellars Riesling Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block 2016, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (225490, $18.75, WineAlign)

The wind is so tight and the expressive fruit bound up in a ball of fire and acidity but aching to break free. The pent up energy here is palpably felt, like a needle in the side, leaving you seized up, protective and tense. There is so much juicy citrus and fineness of acidity it’s hard not to see this riesling taking five years to unwind and five more towards developing characterful secondary personality. This is perhaps Kevin Panagapka’s best. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted July 2017 and March 2018  2027cellars  @2027cellars  2027 Cellars

Konzelmann Estate Winery Riesling Reserve Old Vines 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

The by now classic house style of using late harvest fruit off of old vines on the estate’s lakefront property and barrel fermentation are the things that delve into the Konzelmann glück, density and complexity. Preserved lemon, grapefruit sorbet and mineral-mandarin cream define this riesling of zero trepidation, utmost confidence and old world charm. Who’s to say you aren’t sipping this in some Rhineland-Palatinate village instead of Niagara on the Lake. There will always be a place in hearts for riesling made this way. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2018  konzelmannwines  @Konzelmann  @konzelmannwines

Megalomaniac Riesling Narcissist 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (67587, $18.95, WineAlign)

Narcissist takes a turn to the flint with great citrus intent in 2017, simulating great German riesling that have been coming for generations and eons before. There is a youthful funky reductive yeastiness that tests the aromatics but in looking for balance we find tart fruit, fine acidity and a leanness that strikes like a laser through the microbial fog. Wow is this interesting and in a show of great potential. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted March 2018  megalomaniacjhc  sobmegalo  @MegalomaniacJHC  @seb_jacquey  Megalomaniac Wine

Fielding Estate Bottled Riesling 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (251439, $19.95, WineAlign)

Though neither single-vineyard nor block specific make no mistake. This estate riesling from Fielding is a carefully selected and curated one with not a single wasted note in the varietal tune it plays. The chords are pure citrus, the arpeggio rising from stone fruit skin meets flesh and the overall score ambient in its keyboard hold. It’s so bloody juicy, mouth watering and intense, riesling in which there’s a torrent that rises gently. There’s a wind, like a drug, in new material from a great year to make a new record. Worth listening to and drinking in, on repeat, with a deeper understanding. Should develop a layered feel, of honey and petrol, with time. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted October 2017 and March 2018  fielding winery  richiewine  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  Fielding Estate Winery  

Vineland Estates Riesling Elevation St. Urban Vineyard 2016, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign)

By now the St. Urban Vineyards vines are as old as 37 years, a fact in longevity and experience never lost on this archetypal Niagara Escarpment riesling. There is a certain kind of interest here, first from track record and then because of the deferential vintage for the flagship variety. The nose is quite waxy, lemon-scented and vaguely sweet-fruity. There is even a bit of Niagara Gold cheese mixed with fresh florals, of white roses and then persimmon. So now the mind travels to the tropics, for flavours imagined of mango, marquesa and mangosteen. Warm days and nights will do that to riesling and while this may not live into its twenties it will go complex and curiously fascinating into the petrol and honey with more early unction, like 2012 but even more, akin to 2010. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted December 2017  vinelandestates  benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy  Vineland Estates Winery  Brian Schmidt

Hidden Bench Riesling Bistro 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

If Ontario riesling can be referred to as classic it would be something as traditional and acumen-factored as this ’16 by Hidden Bench. This is due to the middle road meets the fine, direct and essential line taken, where along the way balance is struck with notable fruit, just shy of off-dry styling and a fashion of natural acidity. Correct is, as correct does. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted March 2018  hiddenbench  @HiddenBench  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  

Creekside Estates Riesling Marianne Hill 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

The next Marianne is a conundrum, low in alcohol and yet quite lean, avoiding both high strains of citrus and flesh. The nose is both inviting and very mineral but the palate is a bit staid, understated and seemingly dry. The skins of pears and peaches are touched but it’s just a bit too quiet right now. We’ll see what the future holds. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2018  creeksidewine  @CreeksideWine  Creekside Estate Winery

Southbrook Vineyards Riesling Triomphe 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

With all of her other varietal talents I wouldn’t normally pontificate winemaker Ann Sperling as exemplifying the riesling whisperer (at least in Niagara) though a pass at this warm and inviting 2016 may change that and with haste. At the risk of sounding a bit too establishment this is classic and typical Niagara but it accedes into such a category with impeccable sugar, acid and texture balance. Treating the fruit with respect, avoiding any unhinged decisions and delivering the three-pronged effects of sweet, tart and bitter with seamless intertwine is the work of a total pro. Gotta have the lime and the essential possibility of honey. Triomphe 2016 does just that. It’s what you want and need. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted January and March 2018  southbrookvineyards  @SouthbrookWine  Southbrook Vineyards

Mulled riesling anyone? Hidden Bench at Icewine Fest

Hidden Bench Riesling Estate 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

Just a lovely bit of spring sun and dew picks up the stimulus, pace and attitude right from go in the Hidden Bench ’16. This is not only definitive for riesling by house, for estate and to regional necessity but also to all varietal wines done up right in this pinpointed place. The orbiting acidity is twisted like ties around wires along a circle drawn to lock in freshness, by fruit more lemon and lime citrus than stone or up the stairs. It’s a near perfect vintage for the omniscient one and sets the table for Roman and Felseck Vineyard rieslings to come. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted April 2018  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Hidden Bench Riesling Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Agent, $23.95, WineAlign)

Felseck delivers a concentrated, compact and direct riesling, very focused along linear Locust Lane lines, truly Beamsville stony, precise and even a bit demanding. Few Ontario rieslings can distill lemon, lime, green apple and stone like this without jumping around. That Felseck can stand firm in one place with such stoic and unwavering calm is a testament to a winemaker’s attention to detail. It begins in the storied vineyard and finishes with the same fineness of finesse. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted October 2017  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Perfect match to riesling? Some might say

Cave Spring Riesling Adam’s Steps 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (901211, $24.95, WineAlign)

Adam’s Steps is Cave Spring’s riesling with a bit more of everything, more depth, body, sweetness and texture. It really is the outlier in their varietal bunching, closer to the Estate than the CSV in style and yet firmly positioned in its own category. There is a true sense of spirit and energy, especially on the lively palate, with a waxy, almost peach coulis and lemon-lime pastille note that lingers like sucking on a riesling candy. Clearly dolomite in origin but fleshy and full. Holds the age ability card for a five-plus year run. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted October 2017 and March 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Lundy Manor Riesling 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The fruit source is Wismer Vineyard for winemaker and Niagara College graduate Adam Kern’s ’16 riesling. Kern also makes the wines with Chris Fornasier and Bench Trial Wines. His straightforward varietal wine for Lundy’s Manor speaks of peach and tart citrus with a surprisingly tannic thrush. The equanimity between fruit and acidity keeps it in the airy space above the pull by extracted weight and will serve it well for two or three years time. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted March 2018  lundymanorwinecellars  @LundyManorWine  @lundymanorwinecellars

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The Stanners Riesling evolution is upon us, happening and ready to blow. In replay of 2014 this is Niagara meets PEC fruit, two days of skin contact, six months on the lees, dry is as dry does and yeasty funky. In my mind it’s pretty much a repeat of that just about leesy enough and pear textured 2014 without anything new added or realized. But, for Colin Stanners it must be the vintage that wakes him up to what he needs to do next so this ’15 is therefore the first next step towards and set up man for what’s to come in 2016. This is a must step to taste on that ladder of evolutionary understanding so make sure to take it. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  stannerswines  @StannersWines  Stanners Vineyard

Keint-He Riesling 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

It’s quite amazing how the texture, sugars and acidities all rise up as one, together for the common good, layered and in-synch. Labeled Niagara Peninsula but really noses and tastes like Twenty Mile Bench riesling. Lime sherbet and mandarin orange gelée. Nothing but pleasure from winemaker Lee Baker’s first start to finish wine at Keint-He. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  keinthewinery  @KeintheWinery  Keint-he Winery & Vineyards

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

Trail Estate Wild Ferment Riesling 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

In 2016 the WFR is a blend of Foxcroft and BTL fruit, respectfully and respectively farmed by Craig Wismer and Greg Wertsch. This is tannic and textural, the sweetest of all the Trail rieslings, through some skin (or stem) whole cluster contact. The notes are not mind-blowing or expanding ones, of apple, pear and peach skin, again very textural and from a ferment stopped on taste. It’s loaded with 28 g/L of RS but good winemaking makes it seem drier than it is. “Everything else is dry so I guess when I go sweet, I go big” admits Mack Brisbois. So yes this is light, lean, not as fleshy and seemingly drier than it obviously is. Carries forward with a nice candied flower, citrus finish. It’s pretty middle of the road, perfectly correct and enjoyable, especially for a winemaker with an off the beaten track sensibility, antithetical modus vivendi and go beyond the pale ability. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

I find it curious that this Stanners Riesling is 95 per cent Lincoln Lakeshore fruit but now labeled as VQA Ontario, whereas previous vintages called VQA LL had less Niagara and more PEC fruit. No matter really because again this is Niagara meeting PEC with two days of skin contact, but elevated by 12 months on the lees. That time spent can’t be discounted, nor can the dry as a bone, mad as a hatter summer, not tom mention another year of understanding for Colin Stanners. In the end the acidity out of a chart topping pH and fruit accumulation (not in quantity but in phenolic brilliance) leads this riesling to great heights. Malolactic fermentation was allowed to occur naturally, helping to bring the acidity (and everything else) into balance. Lime, toast, flint and energy, boundless and invigorating. What a riesling, what a story. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted April 2018  stannerswines  @StannersWines  Stanners Vineyard

Cave Spring Riesling CSV 2016, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

The CSV from a warm 2016 really expresses the vintage on the nose with a heavy dose of wet stone and every part of a ripe peach. You have to get past the early sulphur but once you do you take a good bite into the flesh of this riesling and the juices will run with accents and angles fit by tonic, pith, tangy, nervy acidity and a hidden sweetness. The sugars are surely more elevated than realized or will ever be felt because the combination of acidity and pith are covers that will never peel back. Size matters and this CSV is built with great Escarpment architecture, stepping out of the paradigmatic 2015 shadow and into another age. This 2016 begins an epoch of structural expressionism and should easily carry its construct through to the next decade. That consequently, is when this CSV will really be ready to rock and roll for a full decade more. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted March 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Trail Estate Skin Contact Riesling Hughes Vineyard 2016, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Times changes, as do winemakers, their hunches, hopes and dreams. Mackenzie Brisbois takes a sidestepping approach to this trailblazing riesling from the vineyard tended by Ed Hughes. It’s now all wild ferment elongated to 19 days on skins. Takes its time this little big one, moving no less than 25 per cent slower than ’15, in part because of the vintage but also because its wild pressed. More a dry matter of when over how or why, still in its aromatic infancy, suffocated by its nature. Also a case of a young wine caught in the 9 g/L total acidity crossfire of a sci-fi battle scene. Will most certainly take another 18 months to change. It does exhale this curious note of garrigue, like Peloponnese mountain tea and Alto Adige sweet fennel frond in broth, with apple and onion skin doused by shots of lime juice. There is even a chewy feel in the leafy texture, quite herbal with a mild pique in a green tea finish. Trust me, this will become something both fascinating and delicious at some point in 2020. There are approximately 76 cases made. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Leaning Post Riesling The Geek 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

The second instalment of the Geek takes Ontario riesling experimentation not just to another level but to a specific methodology that no one else has really attempted thus far. The geeking out goes further and edgier into territory both new and misunderstood. If it seems unconvincing it’s a case of both searcher and searched not yet on the same page but that’s what research and development are all about. All the 2015 lees from Leaning Post’s classic riesling and chardonnay were added to the Geek. As if that wasn’t enough solid, texture-variegating matter, the 2014 riesling lees were also employed. Two years later the Solera ideal was put to bottle. The complex equation comes out to the most autolytic riesling ever made in Ontario, distinctive in that it’s like drinking traditional-method sparkling wine, 36 months on the lees but without any fizz. It’s unusual and fascinating, full of baking apples, biscuits and citrus. It does not meet the expected and the normal, not just because it’s dry as the desert but because it’s enzymatic behaviour is self-cannabalistic. It writes a riesling idiom, having a meaning not deducible from the individual parts. It’s a neo-impressionist idiosyncrasy, a reaction to the empirical realism of “typical,” VQA-cornered and pigeon-holed riesling, accomplished by relying on scientific theory to achieve predetermined textural effects. While The Geek undergoes an oxidative process it’s not exactly Solera-styled because young wine does not replace a percentage of removed older wine. It’s a positive accumulation of solids and therefore a strict and formalized composition. The argot R & D will go on and winemaker Ilya Senchuk asks, “how much lees is too much lees? Only The Geek knows.” Drink 2018-2021. Tasted March 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Trail Estate Skin Contact Riesling Hughes Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

At the time of making this wine and then putting a label on a bottle there was no Ontario defined category and in fact this pioneering effort is one of the unheralded forerunners. From fruit sourced out of Ed Hughes’ vineyard it’s a shaggy yet ambitious riesling made mellifluent by 14 days skin contact, inoculated to keep the lees strain constant with with other 15s, meaning the Lakeview and Foxcroft brethren. Now smells just like riesling, unlike in its early “orange” wine days. No longer demanding and tannic, the high acidity too has mellowed and a petrol note has emerged, plus a pepper flake meets peach skin aromatic sedge. Still with the liquid salve texture, coming into its destined balance, dry and persistent in pulse by acidity but calm enough and settled. A great flesh of lime and raining complexity, with a final note of orange skin too. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Trail Estate Barrel Ferment Riesling Foxcroft Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

In 2016 the next wrinkle is a wild ferment (as opposed to the inoculated ’15), unfined and unfiltered, because as time progressed “I liked it more and more,” says winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois. No coarse filtration means some minor sediment will settle in the bottle. Smashed layers of tote-filled grapes are brought to the crushpad, in lieu of the crusher, to extract from the skins and stems, making use of the punchdown tool, while waiting before pressing. Recently bottled in December 2017 the BFR is something completely other and if 2015 was considered not, this follow-up is markedly fruity now, because it always was, all the way through during just more than a year in really old barrels. It’s a blonde riesling as per M. Gustave, if you will. “Why blonde? Because they all were.” This is the wisest of Mack Brisbois’ rieslings, calm, confident, collected and shining brightly from the word go. You don’t have to wait on this one, it’s riper, it’s unfiltered, made with a lot less sulphur than the skin contacts and those “dirty” 15s. “I like to see how little (sulphur) I can get away with,” notes Brisbois. The most accomplished riesling that she has made to date, the 16’s balance is spot on now and you will not have to wait for it to come into its cinematic stage. Drink it now and keep it longer. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

Can it be helped if the first 30 seconds with Charles Baker’s 2014 riesling seem like the opening of a film noir classic. Hushed tones, chiaroscuro shadows, off-screen characters and dramatic foreshadowing all solicit the need or the necessity to make use of a wild imagination. There have been older Baker vintages that acted with similar, almost hard to crack quietude. Perhaps it’s with ’13 etched in persistent memory but as a vintage it was (moderately) cooler and in the end, quite average. This ’14 works the benefits and the notes here are quite omnisciently lemon; curd, preserve, citrus tablet and then smeared by a bees-waxy salve. It’s really quite atypical for Baker and for the windswept Vinemount Ridge but misunderstood youth is a bitch. I’d like to revisit in 2019 and beyond to unearth and relish in the hidden meanings. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted November 2017 and March 2018  cbriesling  stratuswines  cruwinemerchants  @cbriesling  @StratusWines  @CRUOntario  Stratus Vineyards  

Pearl Morissette Riesling Cuvée Black Ball 2015, Ontario (416073, $36.20, WineAlign)

The new age 2015 was tasted as part of a retrospective that included 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011. Anyone who is interested in gaining a deeper understanding of what might be construed as idiosyncratic or antithetical riesling should be so fortunate to be involved in such a demonstration. The Pearl Morissette riesling endeavour was pretty much bone dry from day one. The Mosel style really never spoke to François Morissette. “We have 220 hang time days so we started fermenting riesling chardonnay style, then in 2012 and 2013 in foudres, which tightened them too much. So in ’14 we moved into concrete egg for aromatics but it was too intense.” So here in ’15 the joint between foudres and cement marks the new beginning. The juice is then transferred to become clear while the lees are kept and recycled for future vintages. This had just been bottled days before with almost no free sulphur “because they can take it.” Such low pH (2.97ish) and the up front skin contact brings tannin and then this silk road texture is followed by more tannin on the back palate. It’s a vintage Blackball and a vintage-driven riesling. A phenolically ripe one. The exercise proves that we really don’t know a thing about riesling, Cuvée Blackball and aging until we begin tasting at five years on. In order, 2011 is “a confirmation that we are on the right road,” ’12 may never be ready, ’13 messes with the riesling paradigm and ’14 is more like riesling of expectation. So what does that make 2015? Nothing yet, really. Have you not been paying attention? Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Riesling at Vineland Estates, 161 days on skins

Good to Go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

As we taste through the #NWAC17 finals we thank @ZWILLING_CA for the rocking great glassware. Canadian wines are better for these vessels.

I first published this year-end summary of Canadian wine excellence in 2013 and four years on that original list of 13 has expanded with four more. It’s a good thing too because four years later 17 wines is but a fraction of what could or should be included. This exercise is more than difficult. It’s biased, exclusive and decisive but it is meant to celebrate a select few with a mandate to elevate and exult the rest. It’s also a proclamation read to many who remain ignorant to an ideal of great wine being made in Canada, to tell the insolent they are not welcome here anyway. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it. Roll out the red carpet. Here they come.

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

My writing about wine is a display that spills everything but subtraction, reduction and minimalism. It is an occupation whose reality is examined to points of madness, of long, run-on sentences, often at odds with grammatical winemaking realism. My tireless, tiring sentences and phrasing can at times offer a feeling that is potentially endless. So thanks for reading and putting up with me.

As I have noted before, I try to visit wines more than once before reviewing them, preferably from more than one bottle but even more importantly, with a good chunk of time having passed between assessments. The most complete picture is drawn from such a course of critical action but it’s not always possible. Not a single one of these 17 wines were decided upon at a single VINTAGES release, sterile and windowless LCBO laboratory tasting. The nearly 2000 wines (of which approximately were 20 percent Canadian) that I tasted in the LCBO lab in 2017 are kept, compartmentalized, reviewed and stored over at WineAlign. They are forged from and formed by a very specific, of the fleeting moment style. They are the results of root days and fruit days, often plagued by other writers present levels of distraction and time constraints. These 17 wines are children of repeated concentration and stand out because the makers went out of their way to bring them to me.

Please allow me to quote Wes Anderson. “It is an extremely common mistake, people think the writer’s imagination is always at work, that he’s constantly inventing an endless supply of incidents and episodes, that he simply dreams up his stories out of thin air. In point of fact, the opposite is true. Once the public knows you’re a writer, they bring the characters and events to you and as long as you maintain your ability to look and to carefully listen, these stories will continue to…,” continue to provide what you need to entertain your readers. Thank you to the winemakers for sharing their stories time and time again.

Related – 15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

Heartbreaker

If 2016 was a most difficult year, what does that say about 2017? It was a most dippy, derisory, barmy and yet chimerical one. Once again too many special people were taken from us and in Ontario, no one more important to everyone who works in wine than Karl Kaiser. It can and should be argued that the industry we all call home is at its 2017 state because of Mr. Kaiser and what he pioneered more than 40 years ago. Karl Kaiser was eulogized by Brock University’s Dan Dakin. Please take the time to read it.

Related – Karl Kaiser left indelible mark on Brock University

Once again we all lost someone close to us in 2017. Celebrity deaths, especially the ones of loved musicians seem to hit us the hardest because we relive moments of our lives when their songs are played. I’ll ask the social media trolls to walk on past and to once again, please respect our reminiscences.

Gregg Allman. Richard Anderson. Harvey Atkin. Walter Becker. Chester Bennington. Johnny Bower. Chuck Berry. Glen Campbell. David Cassidy. Chris Cornell. Jonathan Demme. Fats Domino. Dick Enberg. Stephen Furst. J. Geils. Robert Guillaume. Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay. Connie Hawkins. John Hurt. Al Jarreau. Martin Landau. Jerry Lewis. Erin Moran. Sir Roger Moore. Bryan Murray. Charlie Murphy. Bill Paxton. Tom Petty. Della Reese. Don Rickles. Sam Shepard. Joni Sledge. Keely Smith. Harry Dean Stanton. Y. A. Tittle. Mary Tyler Moore. Adam West. Malcom Young. Joanne Godel.

Don’t forget the pouring rain

There was more than enough good news out of 2017, especially from Ontario. After one of the wettest summers on record and this looming harvest of disaster everything changed. The temperatures hit 30 degrees and remained there for much of September. October obliged with warm and slowly declining temperatures with very little precipitation. Not only was the 2017 vintage saved but it became one of the great phenolic ripeness stories in wine country history. Quality high. Check. Quantity high. Check. Win win for wine.

The year continued to throw thousands of wines my way. I did travel more and so the international count ran higher at the expense of the local. I plan to fix that in 2018. Things have a way of balancing out anyway. Still I’m sure I tasted close to 1000 Canadian wines once again. We continued to pay great attention to Canadian wines at the WineAlign office. I once again joined the judging with Tony Aspler at the Ontario Wine Awards, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and with David Lawrason at Gold Medal Plates.

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

My wine on tap program at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar welcomed a third child to the family when we opened Barque Smokehouse Burlington in August. With that opening we were proud to partner with Rosewood Estates to join the family that over the years has included Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus, Leaning Post, Between the Lines, Coyote’s Run, Vineland Estates and Creekside Estates.

It began, as it always does with Niagara’s Icewine Festival in January and in February there were Thirteen ways to taste Cuvée. In March I found Fifty ways to Taste Ontario and then travelled to Germany for Godello’s March through Prowein, The Ahr Valley and The Rheinhessen. As a Canadian and a representative of Wine Country Ontario I hung around the Canadian pavilion, talked with our coast to coast winemakers, vintners and marketing representatives, took in the seminars on cool climate wines led by David and Dr. Janet Dorozynski and of course, tasted some wines.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

In the company of #family so thank you judges, friends and badasses #NWAC17 #killedit

Any major dude will tell you

At the Terroir Hospitality Symposium in May we debated the highly controversial new category of Skin-Contact wines in Ontario. Orange is the new smack should have been my title but instead I chose to talk through hushed tones in Pop goes VQA, a story in three parts, each one more misunderstood than the others. It would take months to come to better and more improved conclusions to that haughty complex story.

In June we convened the WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards in the Annapolis Valley. It was the first time that Nova Scotia hosted our motley crew and what a smashing success it was. Great thanks must go out to all our tremendous hosts including Wines of Nova Scotia, Domiane de Grand Pré, Benjamin Bridge Vineyards, Blomidon Estate, Annapolis Cider Company and Obladee Wine Bar in Halifax.

In July I once again made the pilgrimage to i4c, the International Chardonnay Cool Climate Conference, “the local mecca attracting thousands, arriving to praise chardonnay in all its glory. It’s chanted with incantatory connotation by patrons cantilevered like alluvial fans across the Niagara Peninsula. It teaches us about more than chardonnay because the rapidity of climate change is real and the desire for fresh is yet unquenched. This transcends chardonnay. It’s about growing grapes and making wines in places we all previously discounted. Recently scoffed at. It concerns farming higher, further and edgier. This conference and this grape together let us know that we must change.”

At i4c we welcomed California’s Karen MacNeil, Dr, Jamie Goode, Bill Zacharkiw, Treve Ring, Kurtis Kolt and Rhys Pender MW and then I penned 69 chardonnay reviews. What did Godello learn from Cool Chardonnay in 2017? After a visit to Pearl Morissette I learned from François Morissette, vigneron about oxidation.“Whatever we press, we oxidize. We do not oxidize wine, we oxidize must.” There’s a big difference. The stabilization of these wines are attributed to this idea of getting rid of all oxidizable compounds before they enter into the next stages of the winemaking process. Pleasing aromas, flavours, textures and ultimately the sum of the above elevates the cool chardonnay game and speaks to the future. But I did not learn enough. I needed to move beyond the ubiquity of cool climate. I wanted to understand more about cold soaking and whole berry fermentation. Just last week Pearl Morissette’s savant winemaker Brent Rowland sent me these words of enlightenment.

“This is the main reason I am such an advocate to whole bunch fermentation. The best tannin and worst tannin are seed tannin, depending on how you extract them…heat and alcohol rip out aggressive angular tannins. By keeping the berry attached to the rachis for as long as possible you are creating a little microenvironment for fermentation that is low heat and low alcohol, enabling you to slowly extract long polymerized tannins. This and perfume is the reason I do everything whole bunch. To me whole bunch has nothing to do with the stems, tannins from stems or flavour of stems.” He continues. “I absolutely think that skin contact wines can have elevated structure and texture. I also do not subscribe to the idea that some arbitrary number like “10 days” defines the genre. I did say that Orange wine is not an in-between wine but its own genre and I believe that. For the record I feel the less rigid the criteria for the category the better. As you state the broader the category the more opportunity for discovery of a valued category.” Thank you mate.

Be part of the Greatest Wine Revolution since Prohibition.

Where are we one year later?

I’ve two words for you. WineAlign Exchange. The WineAlign Exchange taps into the world of wines beyond the LCBO and delivers a curated, mixed case of top quality wines directly to your door. All the wines have been carefully chosen by our panel of critics for their quality and value. David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Steve Thurlow and Godello. The first case delivered to hundreds of members was an all Platinum Award winners pack from the National Wine Awards of Canada. In terms of free trade we await a decision but don’t expect a miracle in 2018, Christmas or otherwise. As for the VQA panel in Ontario? Well, read my article referenced above and you’ll get my drift.

One of my favorite wines I tasted in 2017. All killer no filler. Beautifully ripe #cabernetfranc nice layers of cocoa, red, and black fruit. Tannin is liquid silk. Can_t wait for next

Let’s be Franc

Cabernet Franc is getting better all the time. In British Columbia the coolest sites are increasingly raising fresh, spirited and ultimately crushable wines with unmistakable west coast accents; savour, garrigue and mountain tea. With thanks to venn diagram circles drawn in and out of Niagara’s Lincoln Lakeshore, but also magically deep into the Prince Edward County limestone, the great Ontario hope is developing into what we thought it might be. Getable and structured red wine.

New World cabernet franc growing sites produce less delineation as compared to the various lieux-dites in the varietal homeland, France’s Loire Valley. Niagara is beginning to enter into an Old World state of mind, so now winemakers and by extension wine geeks, are posturing over micro-terroirs; Niagara-on-the-Lake, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, St. David’s Bench, Lincoln Lakeshore, Four Mile Creek. The same is happening in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley although the cumulative stylistic is worlds (four provinces to be exact) apart. In Nova Scotia Benjamin Bridge Vineyards’ viticultural and vinifying braintrust of Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Scott Savoy are allocating serious resources to cabernet franc in the Gaspereau Valley. But how is it that decisions are made as to where to plant this crisp, juicy and crunchy grape? While many will disagree, if you consider growing sites as circles within the aforementioned venn diagram, in Canadian soils the shared subtleties can easily get buried or muddled within the common areas. The lines may be drawn but the web is tangled. That said, the story of franc terroir is getting clearer and clearer. Interloper carries the torch.

Tonight brought to you by #interloper and the inner beauty of #cabernetfranc @RavineVineyard #vqaniagaraonthelake

At this most recent NWAC17 judging experience the results from cabernet franc paints a more palatable picture than those brushed by both merlot and cabernet sauvignon. We are collectively impressed with and solidly behind the direction growers and winemakers are taking with this noble varietal. The 546 acres planted in B.C. are rising steadily and if I were merlot I’d be looking in the rear-view mirror. In Ontario more than 4,000 tonnes were harvested in 2015, third to only chardonnay and riesling. Four of five Gold Medals were Ontario in origin, 10 of 16 were awarded Silver and 10 of 17, Bronze. While only four in Ontario are labled “LL,” no less than 10 of the 24 winners were made with at least some significant amount of fruit grown in the Lincoln Lakeshore/Beamsville Bench circle of commonality. The sites we want to call “cru” are no longer a mystery.

Taskmasters not pictured #punchdowns #interloper

I can’t say this list is full of surprises, save for the first of 17. You see this particular wine is close to my heart because I had a hand in its concept and design. My partner Scott Zebarth and I teamed up with winemakers Marty Werner and Ben Minaker at Ravine Vineyards to produce what we all feel is the most exciting fresh breath of cabernet franc air to arrive in Ontario in quite some time. It’s obviously self-serving to put it on a best of the year list but we are very proud of this project and its inaugural effort. If you’ve tried it you know. If you haven’t, give me a ring. We’ll break Interloper bread together. To the other 16, welcome to the list.

Scott, Marty, Ben and I are proud to present the now SOLD OUT #interloper Cabernet Franc 2016. We’ll be back next year #vqa #niagaraonthelake #ravinevineyard

Interloper 2016, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario ($19.95)

Produced at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery with the winemaking team of Martin Werner and Ben Minaker

Variety: 100 per cent cabernet franc

Fruit source: 55 per cent Estate (St. David’s Bench), 40 Creek Road, five Tanbark (Four Mile Creek)

Harvest Dates: October 26th and November 5th, 2017

Time on skins: Estate 26 days, Creek 21 days

Length and type of fermentation: Three weeks, ambient/wild for both

Élévage: Eight months in old 225 L French barrels

Case Production: 22

mgodello  scottzebarth  marty_werner  benminaker23  ravinevineyard

Charles Baker Riesling B-Side 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Vinyl records sound different because they are designed with grooves carved in that mirrors the original sound’s wave form. Their analog recording delivers a sensory feeling of warmth, an aural of texture, nuance and soul. There was a time when the hits spun over and over were also pressed onto the A-Side of 45 rpm singles. The discovery of a never before heard B-Side was a revelation because is was extra material from a favourite band and it was a great song. It meant the record was already too strong for that song to make the final cut and to choose it for a B-Side meant it would elevate the quality of the album. A well-chosen B was not an afterthought. This is the accomplishment of the first Charles Baker’s B-Side, for itself and for the vineyards of Iaen and Picone. Baker digs about in the Niagara Peninsula’s escarpment dirt for young vine, not ready for prime time riesling fruit. If perchance it seems like cheating on his per se Vinemount Ridge Picone and Ivan bottles so be it but one look at him and he’ll say “Hey, hey, what can I do?” His 2016 B-Side delivers a spray bottle Zeppelin expressing heady aromas, high in the stratosphere and raining down upon the earth. The notes are an all in, breath of classic Baker riesling air, blanketing from up above and with a landscape that reeks of lime and quivers with classic agitation. The fruit is wild and full, the salty grit infiltrating and gripping the bloody omniscience of this package. What is this B-Side and where will it be lead? To the top of the ridge, from earlier harvests, younger fruit and higher yields. Scratch the single vineyard elitism, just listen to the song and raise one up, to getting ‘er done before the conceptual singular side one and side two, Ivan and Picone. The Beatles? Forget it. Led’s flip side to the ‘Immigrant Song’ A is the one. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted November 2017  Charles Baker Wines  stratuswines  @cbriesling  @StratusWines  Stratus Vineyards

Tawse Riesling Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (198853, $24.50, WineAlign)

There is no substitute for seasonal Vinemount Ridge warmth when you are (or even if you’re not) trying to emulate a Mosel like, fleshy Kabinett tension. The Tawse Quarry Road riesling has shown signs of such mimicry in the past but here in 2016 the coincidence is uncanny. Riesling amounts to just 10 per cent of the 2007 planted vineyard, a Fly Road in Lincoln block where chardonnay (planted in 1998) and pinot noir (2007) are queen and king of the hill. But it is riesling that mines for limestone and uses it to distill, filter and enervate the outright fruity purposes of orange zest, lime juice and sweet grapefruit flesh. This ’16 has it all; adipose drupe, salty elements and stasis preserve. It will add some petrol and honey after a few years time and drink well for a few to a bevy more. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted November 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (AgentWinery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Hard to believe what I see, a hue not blush nor pink, but gris. That “if my eyes don’t deceive me there’s something going wrong around here.” Forget about Provençe, don’t think too hard about Vin Gris but concentrate only on what Shiraz Mottiar has acceded with Rosé for Moira in ’16. Light and lithe do not begin to explain the rub. Rocks and stones are what come through the good earth on the nose. Is this the blush equivalent of mineralité, away from chardonnay and into pinot noir? “Is she really going out with him?” But the pinot noir component is almost non-existent so what is the phenolic advantage here? Has this gone too far or not far enough? Don’t mistake the things I say. This is delicious, understated and fully underestimated Rosé. It will have great appeal to a specific cognoscenti population and who could not think to drink it any day of the week? Commercially considered however, it may not speak a universal language. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  malivoire  shirazmottiar  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @MalivoireWine

Flat Rock Riesling Nadja’s Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (578625, $24.95, WineAlign)

Nadja, like the Bréton novel begins with the question, “Who am I?” A surrealistic trigger is incited by the first taste, with excitement running in many directions but like the book, Nadja’s non-linear structure is grounded in Twenty Mile Bench riesling reality. She is an elite varietal wine in 2016, excitable girl, gregarious, punchy and so bloody juicy. I don’t recall the last Nadja with so much up front zest fervency and writhing aromatic gait, “exploding international, the scenes, the sounds, and famously the feeling that you can’t squeeze ground.” The lime flesh and cordial infusion brings the flavours into a once tropical, twice bitten realm. The vintage delivers the electric version, the new pornographer for the vineyard and the song sung loud swan song for departing winemaker Jay Johnstone. Was it all for swinging you around? Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted October 2017  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

First Fruit: Field Day Pet Nat, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

An escarpment Pet-Nat is born, thanks to the healthy and precocious idealism of winemaker Ryan de Witte and his Winona-based host Ilya Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines. The name “First Fruit: Field Day” carries three connotations; a reference to De Witte’s first commercial wine, the first crop off this particular block and the fact that it’s a field blend of two grapes. The erudite hat is thrown into the micro-cuvée, sparkling wine ring with interchangeable tracks of arts and science from near-equal parts muscat (60 per cent) and gewürztraminer. The style is pétillant-naturel, or as they say in Italy, Vino Rifermentato In Bottiglia, under crown cap with what Ryan notes “as much of the lees as I could get in.” The tightrope induces a two-fold increase, of reduction and for texture, from the nutrients fed the fermentation. De Witte’s math was sound because the effervescence is strong enough to blow the reduction off after a few seconds in the glass. One point for science. After tasting two samples I can safely say that the yeast deposit can’t be missed but it is those crafty and leaningpostwineconsolidated cells that drive the salvus meets salus machine. This lithe, re-fermented and crackling sparkler is both safe and healthy. You can feel its enzymes usher liquid happiness through your body and it makes you pause, leave the warrior behind and become at one with the experimental fizz. It’s raw and you want it to be so. The aromatic varieties collogue preserved lemon, ginger and aseptic vegetal scents in an almost funk-less Pet-Nat. It’s an impossible one actually, that is until you get a load of that slag at the bottom of the bottle. But the lack of danceable, rhythmic funk may deny you a Cissy Strut so think on it like Foam meets Talking Heads as in minimal, industrial, synth-pop. Or, in sparkling wine terms, one Pet-Nat’s riflessioni naturalische is another one’s clarity. One point for art. The intrigue here sets the bar high and looking ahead, when acidity can further provide boundless rhythm section support we’ll really have something to talk about. Inaugurals are never easy, nor is progress but the sophomore release will most certainly play on repeat. Let’s hope someone finds a category to place it for three-letter approval. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted Twice, February 2017  leaningpostwine  @LeaningPostWine  @Witte_Wine  Leaning Post Wines  Ryan de Witte

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2015, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

In a word, balance. Well two, balance and brilliance. CSV in 2015 takes the reigns from itself and stands firm. The fruit is in charge, the mineral a support system unparalleled and the minor celebratory sweetness a mere afterthought when it comes to rounding out the complexity. CSV is pretty darn back in ancient dolomite time travel and escarpments high great in 2015, uplifting, serious but yet not so. The numbers trip the light fantastic, fooling like gold and bones dry are seemingly preserved in karst but impossibly not. The sensoria apprised reel from the finest acidity it can possibly carry in its veritable truth. Deep lemon intent and a new wax vernacular speak the clarity of a wine that listens to its own expert advice. Might as well have made itself. CSV 2015 is one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted March 2017  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine – Robert Groh Agency

Sneak peak in the @TriusWines Meunier with Craig McDonald and a true Niagara Grand Cru @coolchardonnay site #lincolnlakeshore #oliveiravineyards #vqa #wildferment

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment Oliveira Vineyard 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $36.75, WineAlign)

When you consider the level of quality provided by the Wild Ferment 2014 it would be hard to imagine raising the bar any further but this is what winemaker Craig McDonald has managed with his exceptional 2015. The accomplishment is purely based on one year older, wiser and complexities developed Oliveira Farm vineyard fruit, the holy chardonnay grail, Lincoln Lakeshore playground. The site sits along the QEW below the escarpment’s Twenty Mile and Beamsville benches, a recipient of glacial till and rocks left behind by an ancient river running from a lake. It’s a chardonnay wonderland. Intensity of fruit purity, fleshy and real, remarkably juicy and notably crunchy has increased, upping the pleasure game and turning the impression knob up to 11. The windmill generates more power while always maintaining a classic Trius level of finesse. Then you think on the wood integration, equally impressionable because acidity is sweet and refined. Dry extract is also impressive, not to mention a fineness of grape tannin. The site’s unofficial designation as a Niagara Grand Cru should be upgraded with status. There is no better time than the present and the Wild Ferment’s 2015 ability is proof enough. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted July 2017   triuswines  @TriusWines  @triuswines

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Madeline Cabernet Franc 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

From the 19th Street Vineyard and wow, there is simply no cabernet franc like this cabernet franc. It pops and flies from the glass, in and out of your mouth, playful, buoyant, joyful, unbridled. A silky and spicy ripeness that’s also shed by its tannin, like shavings of a chocolate only a master knows to render, then currants electric and alive. Excels by its chewy mouthfeel and texture and you must ruminate on this cabernet franc. This is the it vintage, with all the enzymes in control, wrapped up in the enigma membrane and this low, classical Beethoven orchestral strings rumble, on a Verona stage, surrounded by the ancient rocks, acoustics perfect. You can get lost in franc like this. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (639641, $43.95, WineAlign)

Some of the Okanagan Valley’s great chardonnay fruit is found on its eastern shore and makes its way into this Quail’s Gate Reserve. The story and place go back 60 plus years and wait if you can’t nose it in this top North American chardonnay. Forget comparisons, competitions and blind judgements but pull anything you want from Sonoma and watch this raise eyebrows and turn heads. The variegations are numerous and in replay. Richness, bite, energy, spirit and firm conceit. The barrel is everywhere and nowhere. What is a great chardonnay? It’s completely invisible, yet always in sight. It remembers what people hate. It anticipates the consumer’s needs before the needs are needed. A great chardonnay is, above all, discreet to a fault. Such is the Stewart Family Reserve. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted October 2017   quails gate  hobbsandcompany  @Quails_Gate  @AMH_hobbsandco  Quails’ Gate  Hobbs & Co.

Sparkling wine you need to know @lwwines Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut 2013, from the shores of the #minasbasin #annapolisvalley #novascotia

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blanc Extra Brut 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot presented an early, less leesy glimpse of their 100 per cent estate chardonnay at i4c in July of 2016. It was a different animal than this recently disgorged (late February/early March) sparkling wine. The Extra Brut lives up to its designation, from fruit grown on the shores of the Minas Basin under the auspices of a markedly warm year with exceptional phenolic ripeness and 25 per cent malolactic gain. The time relative to texture lees accumulation is approximately 40 months and it’s an accurate representation of Nova Scotia low and slow. The flavours are wisely developed ripe and spicy, leaning into a moment or two of oxygenation, but seemingly richer than the amount of lees time that was given. Now emerging from the shell of not just a warm but a great chardonnay year (as previously proven by the Ancienne released two years ago). The notion here is of a sparkling wine that has been brought home, a B de B that you need to get to know. There are layers and layers of character that fold and unfold. The precision, focus and rendering is citrus tamed, mouthfeel in perpetual expansion and contraction, length linear and elastic. And it’s just the beginning. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted June 2017  lwwines  @lwwines  Lightfoot & Wolfville

Blomidon Late Pick Sparkling Chardonnay 2011, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

The 2011 late-picked chardonnay, the “Hurricane” is a hyperbole of itself. Normally picked in later October, the frost-free weather allowed further time and development. Picked from seaside vineyards just ahead of another hurricane (in a season that included Irene), this is sparkling wine you just have to try. Though lean, taut and as intense as you are likely to taste, the developed character and complexity is visionary for Nova Scotia and Canadian sparkling wine. Three years on the lees brings the texture and fills the gaps, holes and voids created by such a tightly wound cool climate chardonnay. The dry factor is exaggerated in 2011 (a one-off says winemaker Simon Rafuse) but the wine takes full advantage of the Extra-Brut intent. Did it require the anxiety of a recent and an impending cyclone? Can it be duplicated? “That’s the story of the Hurricane.” Visionary for Nova Scotia and Canadian sparkling wine. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017  blomidonestate  @BlomidonEstate  Blomidon Estate Winery

Southbrook Poetica Red 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (355859, $69.95, WineAlign)

It seems at first that Poetica 2013 was chosen by winemaker Ann Sperling to be the deferential one. The blend is dominated by 74 per cent cabernet sauvignon, the highest number ever for the wine. Conversely the cabernet franc component is set to 23 per cent and far less petit verdot (3 per cent) rounds out the blend. That number had been 29 per cent in 2012 because the varietal elegance shown at that time necessitated the relationship. In 2013 it is the cabernet sauvignon that displayed with elegance and an uncanny ability to sow of its own accord and yes, it is an exceptional vintage so look for 2013 to age on a 15 year curve. The Witness Block CS-CF follows suit and the SV-PV is better off for the allocations. Every wine wins as a result. There is this deep-impressed sous-terre tang in here, a wisdom certainly, and when it is released later in the year the heads will turn. Poetica is often but here not overly tannic, but it is endowed with bones, spine and structure. The flavours, spice and magnetism give cause to salivate. Only Ann Sperling makes Niagara reds like this, wines that can develop such architecture without an excess of tannin, astringency and chalky chocolate from over-wrought wood exchange. Poetica 2013 will drink well young and comfortably into the end of the next decade. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted January 2017  southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @TheLivingVine  @SouthbrookWine   @SouthbrookWine  The Living Vine inc.

A finer man, winemaker and host you will not find. Thank you @normanhardie @keeponshucking @clarsenault @cuveeletittia @Mknow21 @mclauriault and all.

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Cuvée Des Amis 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $150.00, 1500ml, WineAlign)

As exceptional as chardonnay may have seemed from out of the 2013 Ontario vintage you haven’t lived or loved until you get a taste of (only in magnum format) Norm Hardie’s 2014 Cuvées des Amis. This chardonnay attacks and ascends, recalibrating the inner workings of the brain and how it develops conceptualization. It is a state of the art and all-knowing elixir to remind that ’13 was a vintage with profitable yields and a generously stretched canvas on which to practice on, for when things begin to get real. The CdeA spent 18 months in barrel, the first 12 (in 35 per cent new), the next six in neutral and the last six in stainless steel on the fine lees. The spin class in the mouth manages agility, dextrous, furtive movement and completes many pirouettes. The dance is pure joy but the intensity is equally to disturbingly intrusive, suggesting more settling time is necessary. The flavour pearls are delicate and come straight from the oyster so they carry salinity, power and brine. Pure lemon essence is received by intravenous injection. Sumptuous is translated from Hardie-speak as a four-letter, Prince Edward County word. It doesn’t get more real than right here, with the best fruit, the tripping of the light fantastic, previously unheard and unseen unconscionable concentration. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted twice, June and July 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  Norman Hardie

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Syrah 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $80.00, WineAlign)

Èquinoxe is announced without equivocation as the Bricco of B.C. syrah and an absolutely lovely Bench expression from winemaker Severine Pinte. What came from these three-quarters Osoyoos Lake District and one-quarter Black Sage vineyards in 2013 was floral and peppery, with a fineness that belies a dessert climate but in 2014, well this is something more and other. You just have to think about texture here and a quality of acidity that is peerless in B.C. syrah. So juicy, beautifully tannic and rendered with culture and class. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2017  levieuxpin  @LeVieuxPin  Le Vieux Pin Winery

My eyes do not deceive me. It’s Decant @StratusWines #cabernetfranc bottled with lees #vqa #niagaraonthelake #karimrashid

Stratus Cabernet Franc “Decant” 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $95.00, WineAlign)

“A designer’s hands are tied. They are only as good as their opportunities.” The words of the brilliant bottle designer Karim Rashid fully apply to the mirrored universe in which winemaker J-L Groux works, here with a deferential and ulterior cabernet franc, bottled with its lees. When I first tasted it in February (in advance of this auspicious release), its unfiltered state spoke of a hyperbole of perfume, marked by exoticism. The aromatics gave far east five-spice, star anise, cardamom, miso and incense, all natural by-products of its purposed ferment. More grain spoke out but also a roundness of tannin and a smoothness both coating and comforting. There was chocolate accentuated by the treatment, with thanks to those lees left in the bottle. The chopped up and constructed bottle catches the lees while the volume flows out and the function out of form mimics the thought of lees delivering structure and yet they are invisible, caught in a hidden net or nook, out of sight, out of mind. But it’s not about pouring. It’s about the hand, or the slight thereof. Then there is the copycat idealism of strata in the vineyard, of geology transferred to the bottle and kept there, like a ship perfectly preserved inside. This cabernet franc will age better, as is the plan, with thanks to the lees that you’ll never have to deal with. There were 110 cases made. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted twice, February and May 2017  stratuswines  @StratusWines  Stratus Vineyards

Supper at Benjamin Bridge

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Estate Blanc De Blancs 2013, Nova Scotia (Winery, $119.50, WineAlign)

Tasted from a bottle disgorged in May 2017, there alights a plugged-in, three-pronged, dazed, charged and enchanted energy about the Bridge’s ’13 Blanc de Blancs. The history of go it alone pure chardonnay is a relatively short one for the estate so this quickly makes up for lost time or rather with haste sets the timer and heads out at first light. “Like sittin’ on pins and needles, things fall apart, it’s scientific.” Wild, of talking heads temper and yeasts, done up in demi-muids, with a wilder secondary fermentative push riding on the coattails of the primary fermentation. Everything in this wine is a productive child of the vineyard, of no third party sugars or consultations. “How do you do that without making a Pétillant Naturel,” I wonder aloud. It’s a second ferment, non-contiguous is the reason, even if the former is both influencer and mentor to the latter. It certainly falls under the category of “micro-cuvée. Like its cousin and predecessor (Blanc de Noirs 2011), this ’13 BdeB is mired intensely inward within its own specificity and is not so much a sparkling wine with competitive soul. It is a pure representative of chardonnay grown in Nova Scotia for one purpose. So let’s talk about true stories and wild, wild life. “You get on board anytime you like.” Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted July 2017  benjaminbridge  caveman__jones   winesofn  @Benjamin_Bridge  @benjaminbridgevineyards  @WinesofNS @benjaminbridgevineyards  @winesofns

As we taste through the #NWAC17 finals we thank @ZWILLING_CA for the rocking great glassware. Canadian wines are better for these vessels.

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

We the Icewine

Xerox

Xerox Icewine Gala, Fallsview Casino Resort

Something has shifted in me, somewhere closer to the realm of sweet nirvana. It could be empathy, a delayed reaction in sensitive thought to what the winemakers and hard-working Niagara wine country folks had to endure in the winter of 2014. Maybe it’s a premature anticipation of the greatness that will come from sweet wines crafted from out of that polar vortex attenuated vintage. Could it just be that Icewine has grown on me, that the elixirs of Peninsula life have violated and occupied my parochial psyche?

For two weeks in January, Niagara Wine Festivals and Wine Country Ontario lay out the nectarous red carpet and everything comes up Icewine. If fans of the Toronto basketball franchise can ignore all the basic tenets and principals of modern English grammar, who’s to say the followers of Ontario’s world-class elixirs can’t do the same. Thus I give you, “We the Icewine.”

Admittedly the phrase does not resonate with equal credibility in comparison with what works in the realm of base, shallow and primitive sport. It does not matter to me. I’m still going with it. Niagara is the epicentre of the Icewine world, in the (near, near) north and we own the market and its successes. We the Icewine.

20 Years

20 Years of Icewine

A recap of Icewine 101. Simply put, made from grapes that have been left to freeze naturally on the vine. Ontario’s production laws insist that Icewine must be made from approved grape varieties; the most popular are Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Some small lots include Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Grapes are left on the vine until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached and then picked from those vines encapsulated in nets to protect them from birds possessive of a sweet tooth.

Related – Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine 

The wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake are the backbone of the Icewine phenomenon in Ontario. Picking for the Icewine harvest in 2015 has stretched over a period exceeding 30 days, not necessarily out of the ordinary but it should make for a wide range of styles and quality in the vintage. Inniskillin Niagara Estate Winery began its thirty-first Icewine harvest on January 5th.

The Niagara Icewine Festival has wrapped up for another year but there are still many weekends left to get a taste of what took place throughout the month of January. There were street festivals in Twenty Valley‘s Jordan Village from January 9th – 11th, Niagara-on-the-Lake from January 16th – 18th and new this year, events in Niagara Falls. Winter continues along with the buzz across the Niagara Peninsula.

Visitors made use of the Discovery Pass, a passport to 35 wineries and culinary experiences along the Wine Route. Along with a variety of Icewines, visitors were offered the opportunity to taste sparkling and VQA red and white wines.

Gala

Icewine Gala decor

For all things Icewine here is a link to the festival site withy more information here. With kind thanks to Magdalena Kaiser and Wine Country Ontario on Friday, January 10th, 2014 I attended another Xerox Icewine Gala at the Fallsview Casino Resort. The following day I attended the Twenty Valley street festival in Jordan, Ontario.

With Icewine firmly on the brain I decided to make a go at as many samples that can safely be sampled in one night. Not to leave out the still and Sparkling in the room, I made sure to taste the generous and in some cases, pleasant surprises being poured by Niagara’s finest winemakers. Here are notes on twenty wines tasted over the weekend.

And don’t forget the anagram: A wet vial is fine nice agar.

Vineland Estates St. Urban Riesling 2008, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign)

If this Riesling could go through a glück stage, now would be the time. There is a plump and resinous feel about it in 2015, quite possibly signalling the end of its first seven years en route to a minimum 14 more in its life. At this juncture it’s like hot stones washed down with salt water. Look for it to cool again as the year passes. From my earlier, April 2013 note: “Poured as a youthful and “hello” pleasant surprise though it’s just beginning to display secondary character. Has shed its tingling ferment skin without compromising the inherent citrus zest. Nectar lit by just emerging perky propellant and the ubiquitous, underlying ullage of St. Urban’s stones all combine forces to a life of amarita. All this to make believe 2028 will be just another year in its evolution.  Last tasted January 2015  @benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates
Pinot QRV

Creekside Estates Pinot Noir QRV 2013

Creekside Estate Winery Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

The first made since the 2008 because of a new directional decision to hold onto and no longer forsake these exceptional Queenston Road Vineyard grapes. A wine that folds back the skyline skin of time and reveals a cloning from intimate belongings. Pinot blessed of a Dylan-esque drawl, from a comfortable and crooning time in its life. Penetrates into the QRV earth and draws out subtleties, slow food assuagement and makes no BS about its ease. Though posolutely whiffing and tasting of black cherry, it balances itself with an acerbic wit. This is what winemaker Rob Power refers to as a lay lady lay style. Partners in crime Yvonne Irving and Matt Loney concur. One sip and your partner may just lay across your “big brass bed.” You can always go back to Nashville.  Tasted January 2015  @CreeksideWine  @CellarMonkey  @Matt_Loney

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (306902, $24.00, WineAlign)

Spice notes are the current rage, from out of the barrel and now into a next level of amalgamation with tree orchard fruit. Has lengthened somewhat since last summer. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “Winemaker Martin Werner’s 2012 may just be the hardest working Chardonnay in showbiz and in Niagara. Winnowed from Estate (St. David’s Bench) and (Niagara) River fruit, there lurks within, a 20-30 percent perfumed compression of Chardonnay Musqué. The additive is a tonic fanned from the wine’s olfactic communicative nerve centre, adding tree fruit notes no more serious than should be gathered. Werner picked real early, like five weeks ahead (first of September) and the resulting noisome perfume makes for some funk. “It’s these little things, they can pull you under,” but they blow away and settle into a rich, viscous Chardonnay for the palate to collect, contain and command. “Oh, oh, but sweetness follows.” This Ravine works automatically, of the people, for the people.” Last tasted January 2015  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner

Inniskillin Winemaker’s Series Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (586347, $24.95, WineAlign)

The warm clay of Montague plugs in and along with the barrel, layers toast, buttered toast and more toast upon the body of the 2012 Chardonnay. In many ways this is a serious bottling for the Peninsula; it’s all in and wants it all. A strong-willed, big-boned wine with much ado about varietal expressiveness. Paired with a plate of many elements and anchored by rich protein drawn from a salty ocean, this forward and weighty Chardonnay can do no wrong. With all its upfront personality it may not do the same with more than a few years age but there’s really nothing wrong with that. Enjoy it now and to 2017.  Tasted January 2015  @InniskillinWine

Vieni Estate wines

Vieni Estate wines

Vieni Estate Sparkling Brut Rosé 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $29.95)

Made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Riesling, the Charmat method Rosé Sparkling is weighty at 13 per cent alcohol and so very savoury. Winemaker Mauro Salvador is finding new places for investigation in fizz-forming for Ontario. The ’12 Brut Rosé champions aridity and noble bitters. The aromas conjure up a botany and a herbalism that would make Pliny proud.  Think stinging nettles, rapini, arugula, strawberry leaf and the energy of carboniferous ponds. Though the acidity is mild as compared to Salvador’s Vidal/Pinot Gris ‘Momenti,’ it manages just enough balance in this blush sparkler.  Tasted January 2015  @VieniEstatesInc

Creekside Estate Winery Reserve Viognier 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Creekside’s small production Viognier (maximum 80 cases) from the warmer micro-climate of the Queenston Road Vineyard heads back to near-boozy and a bit hot in the sudorific vintage. Oh the viscous humanity of it all, especially when the (all French, two year-old, nine months time) ferment was performed on 100 per cent of the six barrel juice. While it may not flirt with the dangers of say, a dirty peach martini, there is plenty of seasoning, rich, spicy and opulent fruit to at least declare a cocktail of some shaken kind. The ’12 Viognier drips and sweats of a humidity as much as any cool climate rendition can (at least in the context of the Niagara Peninsula). It may not be the ideal vintage but it just may be the one with the most excess.  Tasted January 2015  @CreeksideWine

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Single Vineyard Series Montague Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (997353, $29.95, WineAlign)

A crescendo of sorts has been struck in 2012 with the Montague Pinot Noir perpetuity, giving credence to the vineyard as a resource to be exploited. What the site does for Pinot, particularly in warm vintages like 2012, reminds of the Pfersigberg in Alsace, a plot which provides fruit for the Sainte-Claires bottling by Domaine Albert Mann. A site where water-retention is less than average, where soil colour and low humidity attract the radiance of intense heat, which leads to early ripening of the grapes. The richness of Montague’s clay is amplified in the vintage, providing elevated heat units for this red cherry, beet, cinnamon and toasted red of equally exceptional flavours. Fine, linear acidity takes it to depths and will lead it down long, paved roads.  Tasted January 2015

Château Des Charmes Equuleus 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard, Ontario (319525, $30.00, WineAlign)

Not quite halfway to the five year prediction, the filly is showing the first sign of slowing down. While time certainly remains on her side, the obvious maturation and calming down is nosed in the onset of a slow caramelizing aroma. While the gait may be in trot mode, the five year mark (2018) remains the signpost to look towards on the long track of her life. At that point, with an hour decant, Equuleus ’10 will be good to go. From my earlier, May 2013 note: “From the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard is a classically styled blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot, only made in exceptional years. Apropos choice from 25-year old vines (in 2010) from the warmer St. David’s Bench for Cuvée’s 25th show. Poised, balanced and regal yet this mare is temporarily a head-shy, sensitive equine red. Will trot out furlongs of tobacco and meaty aromas from now and through maturity in five plus years. A saddle of round, red fruit will age gracefully.”  Last tasted January 2015  @MBosc

Colaneri Estates Coraggioso Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.95, WineAlign)

Crafted in the appassimento style, the 2012 Coraggioso is made from 80 per cent dried fruit. Intended to mimic its maker (Michele “Mike” Colaneri), the wine is a bullish, strong silent type, protector of the family, or in this case, the dried grape, passed over style of the Veneto. The specs are bold and impossible; alcohol fortified at 15.3 per cent, residual sugar duplicitous at 7.8 g/L and acidity nearly non-existent at 0.97 g/L. The composition yet works, with help from natural fermentation (no cultured yeasts), six months in new barrels and an additional 13 more in used ones. The happy and old school aspect ratio is turned up by its dried bulb, root and packed earth aromatics; fennel, liquorice and just set concrete. The balance is paradoxical, nearly apocryphal, certainly Coraggioso (courageous). The dried fruit sensations continue right to the end, in lieu of acidity and tannin so the ability to age is there, even in the absence of traditional agents. Really unique and dare it be said, elegant Bordeaux-esque appasimento.  Tasted January 2015  @ColaneriWinery

Southbrook

Southbrook Vineyards

Southbrook Whimsy! “Damy” Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

As a Whimsy sister to the XY Sirgue, XX Damy is a barrel blend that spent 10 months on lees in 100 percent French oak (25 new, 25 one year-old and 50 neutral). While undoutedly the more feminine of the two, she is also feistier and the Chardonnay possessive of a bigger personality. Damy exaggerates suppositions synthesized from both the 2011 micro-vintage and the macro-cool climate for Niagara Chardonnay. At present she seems stressed, with so much citrus anxiety, a sting in herbage and a medicinal lactic seeping. All need to come together, find the calm, common ground and spoon beside one another. This will happen, given a couple of years time and Damy will express herself more freely come then. Drink brother Sirgue first, the simpler and softer sibling.  Tasted January 2015  @SouthbrookWine

Creekside Reserve Queenston Road Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

A 21-month stay in an all French oak hotel has now reached integration in this Queenston Road Vineyard beauty. The fullness of its qualities are on display, running a circuitous aromatic and flavour gamut from dark chocolate to savoury black olive cake. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Impeccable correctness in terms of the variety from a year where the heat giveth and the heat taketh away. Works Cabernet properties properly, embracing and minimizing oak without pretending it’s not there. This red is expressly lush and oak driven, as it should be, it being Cabernet and all. Leaves its appendages out for a Mediterranean pedicure, a glaze of Cassis, black olive and black cherry dug in a chair entrenched in the warm confines of the St. David’s Bench.”  Last tasted January 2015  @CreeksideWine

Southbrook Poetica Cabernet Merlot 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $54.95, WineAlign)

The Poetica Red is very warm, extracted and quite stylish. She did not miss much from the heat day quotient of the 2007 vintage in Niagara. “She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane.” Anise and pencil graphite are shot straight from the wood-soaked barrel of a dark chocolate gun, leaving behind a pool of orange bitters with a slick of acidity. The (rounded up) one-half Cabernet Sauvignon, one-third Cabernet Franc and one-quarter Merlot, while bigger than its head, is so integral towards the future success of learning to reign in the power of this formidable Southbrook blend. Happiness is a warm Poetica.  Tasted January 2015  @SouthbrookWine

The Icewines

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Vidal Icewine 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (565861, 200 ml $25.95, WineAlign)

All the diamonds in this world seem to concentrate in fruit form within CdC’s Vidal ’13, “conjured up by wind and sunlight, sparkling on the sea.” The pang of smells opens with the prickly sting of memory, of childhood fruit cocktail, Turkish delight and the Big Turk. “Like a pearl in a sea of liquid jade.” The intensity of piercing acidity and hyper-cloying stone tree fruit is a searing and blinding crush on the eyes, teeth and mouth. So very tight and concentrated, this is a wow Vidal, an ‘o baby’ Icewine and all the while over the top. It may be a tad hard to handle but it offers crazy bang for the buck. Perhaps a few years will settle its crazies.  Tasted January 2015  @MBosc

Southbrook Vidal Icewine 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, 200 ml $26.95, WineAlign)

A naturally sweet monster from a vintage where ideal conditions allowed for early picking, especially for Vidal. That 150 g/L of sugar could be realized from a December baby is what strikes this condensed tropical fruit bomb into the lore of the genre. Indigenous fermentation using yeast lees from Southbrook’s 2010 Chardonnay barrels and some bacterial connectivity has resulted in early evolutionary notes, notably bitter burnt orange and oxidized mango. Highly complex for the Vidal sempiternity, the 2010 Vidal Icewine is no imminent retiring rose though its decline will hasten sooner rather than later.  Tasted January 2015  @SouthbrookWine

Inniskllin

Inniskllin

Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Icewine 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (560367, 375 ml $31.95, WineAlign)

The sweetness is highly elevated straight from the central core of this (200+ g/L RS) Charmat-method Sparkling Icewine. It’s more than interesting, I’ll grant it at least that and though the alcohol remains at or just below the (10 degrees) threshold, it acts quite hot. This is due to so much accenting spice, which seems to be a ropey-wooden-sappy injection, though the wine sees no barrel. Big, big tangy fruit flavours are smothered in the ubiquitous spice. Complexity is gained though elegance is lost. At least the ride is wild when in consideration of the price.  Tasted January 2015  @InniskillinWine

Peller Estates Signature Series Ice Cuvée, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (284547, $31.95, WineAlign)

From a base wine that is Chardonnay (70 per cent) and Pinot Noir (30), the aridity is markedly up front despite the sweet Vidal dosage style. Comes streaking across on the barking citrus palate. It’s broad, expansive, with a minute bit of oxidation. It builds upon itself and really develops the mouthfeel. A most excellent use of Vidal. So very long and solidifies the earlier anti-oppugning exceeds expectations declaration. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “This is Peller’s most versatile fizz, a blend of traditional method Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sweetened by a dosage of Vidal icewine post disgorgement of its lees. The lees has been left to linger in the bottle, in spirit. Sapid, savoury bubbles tingle the senses to the bone and will offer the most comforting and proper pleasures to those discriminating and otherwise. Appealing to a large common denominator, this Peller Sparkling can really do no wrong.” Last tasted January 2015  @PellerVQA

Ravine

Ravine Vineyards

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Icewine 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $50.00, WineAlign)

Less than 50 cases were produced of a wine sourced from fruit grown on the Lepp farm. Crafted from 100 per cent Cabernet Franc, the grapes were picked quite late (in January) in a vintage that saw thaw, freeze and thaw again before temperatures dropped to allow for the Icewine harvest. The fruit lost some freshness and the fluctuations also resulted in less syrupy viscosity. There are dried fruit notes, a calming mustiness and even some herbiage, in dill, anise and salinity crusted sea peas and vetches. The complexities continue into a palate that goes at it in more traditional ways, with apricot, orange peel and lemon rind. Add in liquorice and bokser. Acidity keeps it very much alive. The conclusion? Nature’s accords cannot be guessed at.  Tasted January 2015  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner

Trius Winery At Hillebrand Showcase Vidal Icewine 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (Winery, 375 ml $60.00, WineAlign)

What strikes most upfront about the Trius Vidal ’12 is the anomalous and dichotomous reserve on the nose. Its very concentration is chained to the aromatics but they lurk in the background. This is no floozy of an Icewine. There is spice and very rich fruit but it does not flirt or give itself up with abandonment. Apricot is most noticeable, along with accents that indicate the roots and barks of South Asian trees. Acidity is downright proper. A solid and gallant Vidal.  Tasted January 2015  @TriusWines

Reif Estate Grand Reserve Riesling Icewine 2011, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, 375 ml $74.90, WineAlign)

A slow ripening season with warm, never hot and at times quite cool temperatures made for one seriously gelid cat of a Riesling Icewine. This 2011 makes the mouth go ooohh with an array of frosty aromatics and flavours. A veritable study in wine’s sweet and sour science, there is mint, eucalyptus, citrus and a host of sweet fruits; yellow peach, clementine, juicy lime and crunchy apple. Spice notes pierce and prick in every hole. Though not as striking in its early stages, the coolness factor is refreshing and the understated style a harbinger for many years of slow development. It would be hard not to imagine the Grand Riesling ’11 as not being a 20-25 year wine.  Tasted January 2015  @Reifwinery

Reif Estate Grand Reserve Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, 375 ml $94.95, WineAlign)

A glaringly vivid icebox Icewine from Reif in 2013, throwing the grocery gamut all in. From the top shelf come layers of sweetness; gelées, juices, purées and coulis in (at least) raspberry, Cassis and strawberry. From the middle swaths in thick brushstrokes, of rhubarb and caramelized Kabocha squash. From the bottom rises roasted nightshades and alium confit, in capsicum and red onion marmalade. A moderate alcohol (10.5 per cent) out of solid brix (38.8) in ’13 has arrived at this sugary mess of produce yet without the zip and zest required to really tie the Grütze together. The overall composition is certainly graphic and in exaggeration of its parts. That said, this just may be the best pairing for good quality chocolate ever composed in the Icewine category.  Tasted January 2015  @Reifwinery

Good to go!

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Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine

Extreme Lows, Niagara Peninsula, December 2013 and January 2014

Extreme Lows, Niagara Peninsula, December 2013 and January 2014
Photo: Weather INnovations Consulting LP (WIN)

as seen on canada.com

The physiological and emotional roller coaster heaped upon grapes and growers these past 55 days has been nothing short of exhilarating, frightening and exhausting. First this monster climatic Dementor known as the Polar Vortex. Along with the demonic weather came the devastation of an ice storm, followed by record low temperatures. More recently, thaw and re-freeze. Consequences and challenges have abounded. Also, a silver lining. Freezing temperatures can kill grape buds on vines unprepared and left to fend for themselves. Those little vine kinder can also just be unlucky enough to grow up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some Niagara growers are reporting heavy losses to Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay vines. Here are the numbers as reported by Wines In Niagara’s Rick VanSickle.

I spoke with winemaker Paul Pender of Tawse Winery in Vineland, Ontario yesterday. Paul is both unconcerned and not yet ready to make any sort of call on damage to his crops. “It’s still too early to tell,” he notes, “I won’t really head out to assess any potential damage until early March.” While Beamsville vineyards are reportedly hard hit, Pender is confident that his team’s strident and prudent vineyard management will see the vines through.

Balanced pruning means leaving a specific number of buds during the winter on a dormant cane for this year’s crop, the number based on the amount the vine grew the previous season. Tawse’s canes are cut back to two feet, the dead wood removed before winter’s freeze can hit. Buds this season were thinned from 12 to six, giving those tender bits a fighter’s chance to survive. And while Pender will not enter into an unequivocal conversation with respect to the heartiness of his vineyards as a consequence of 100 per cent organic and biodynamic farming, I can hear the surety in his voice and imagine the twinkle in his eye at the thought.

Other growers concern themselves with what may happen inside the many parts of the vine when there are freezes, thaws and re-freezes. Again, Pender is not concerned. Proper pruning should prepare a vine for a harsh winter, whether or not they are protected by a warm blanket of snow. In New York’s Finger Lakes region, Lenn Thompson is reporting “some minor bud damage to vinifera vines, but little to no vine death.” Steve Shaw of Shaw Vineyards on Seneca Lake had this to say. “Yes, this winter is definitely presenting itself in a rather volatile manner. As far as I can tell from checking a number of varieties and many buds, there does not seem to be any catastrophic primary bud kill. There is damage, but not too bad so far. I do not think that with things being this wacky that we can really rest easy until most of the winter has passed.” Brock University’s Cool Climate and Viticulture Institute in St. Catherines helps local growers with much needed information and infrastructure to deal with damaging weather. Their VineAlert program helps protect vineyards during frigid temperatures.

Icewine Hours 2013

PHOTO: Weather INnovations Consulting LP (WIN)
Icewine Hours 2013

The news is not all bad. According to many icewine makers in Niagara, 2013 will shape up to be what many are forecasting the best ever vintage for the province. Temperatures dipped to the requiem in late December and most picked their shriveled, sugary berries before the new year. That is unprecedented, allowing this season’s icewine to remain high in necessary balancing acidity and well ahead of the fermentation arresting challenges from most years. Wine Country Ontario reported that “early icewine harvest in Wine Country Ontario starts the festival fever.” Look for the most balanced icewines out of 2013. Not to mention the Grape Grower’s of Ontario reporting the province’s grape growers gathered a record 79,756 tonnes of grapes in 2013 valued at nearly $100 million.

The Niagara Icewine Festival encompasses three weekends in January dedicated to the region’s beloved ambrosial elixir, wines that have become the calling card beyond the broader confines of Canadian borders. Icewine has been made since 1981 and in that short span of 33 years, Ontario and B.C. winemakers have challenged, and in many cases lapped their counterparts in Germany and Austria. Canadian icewine is globally renowned, even if it is not the most important wine resource bequeathed upon the rest of the world.

Icewine 101. Simply put, made from grapes that have been left to freeze naturally on the vine. Ontario’s stringent Bolshevik Initial Decrees-like laws insist that icewine must be made from approved grape varieties; the most popular are Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Some small lots include Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Grapes are left on the vine until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached and then picked from those vines encapsulated in nets to protect them from birds possessive of a sweet tooth.

A national icewine debate is ongoing, inflamed by a recent Macleans Magazine article discussing the ideological differences between the VQA law preventing vine and grape separation before pressing and the Quebec practice of letting the grapes freeze in nets. Quebec growers do this out of necessity for fear of their fruit being smothered by excessive snowfall. Ontario’s old guard vehemently oppose the practice. The irony of VQA Ontario’s website low volume statistic, “with average yields of 500 litres for each acre netted,” is not lost on the curious. Two questions arise. How many grapes in Ontario nets end up in bottles of VQA labelled icewine and how can a culture of Canadian icewine be brought together without some form of compromise and collaboration? Yet again, is togetherness integral to the success of Canadian icewine, or more specifically, Ontario’s industry?

According to Klaus W. Reif of Reif Estate, apparently there are 3,750 berries needed for one bottle of 375ml icewine. Just consider the concentration for a moment, the hand-picked (though not all) labour involved and the specificity of the practice. The sweetest wine known to Canadians can indeed be re-worked as a palindrome for Niagara Ice Wine Festival.

A wet vial is fine nice agar

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Rick James Ice Sculpture, Niagara Icewine Festival

On Friday, January 10th, 2014 I was a most elated guest at the Xerox Icewine Gala: A Bacchus Evening of Icewine and Revelry. For a list of continuing events this weekend and next, here is a link to the festival site. More information here. With kind thanks to Magdalena KaiserSmit and Wine Country Ontario, I had the good fortune to taste a host of Niagara’s finest renditions, along with some very special bottles of sparkling and still wines. Here are notes on six wines sampled at the Fallsview Casino Grand Ballroom last Friday night.
From left: PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010, RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, and VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012

From left: PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010, RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, and VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012

PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Onatrio (284547, $31.95, WineAlign)

This is Peller’s most versatile fizz, a blend of traditional method Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sweetened by a dosage of Vidal icewine post disgorgement of its lees. The lees has been left to linger in the bottle, in spirit. Sapid, savoury bubbles tingle the senses to the bone and will offer the most comforting and proper pleasures to those discriminating and otherwise. Appealing to a large common denominator, this Peller Sparkling can really do no wrong.  90  Tasted January 2014  @PellerVQA

CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010 (202127, $39.95, WineAlign)

The floral lift from three to four percent Viognier gives notice to bend the brawny, savoury black olive and blistered Ancho fruit into balance. Syrah in a sunshine state but not from concentrate. Would accept a glass of this Brokenpress at any beck and call. “Grab your wine, take me where you been, with the violin time and the moon gettin’ thin.” From my earlier note: “Offers up gorgeous pine and pepper-laced correctness and so much juicy, fresh warmth from a terrific Syrah vintage in Ontario and even more parochial so on the St. David’s Bench. This Queenston Road Vineyard red is winemaker Rob Power’s secret weapon, absolutely freakin’ delicious stuff and the epitome of what Syrah should be like from Niagara. Verve, rigor and yet also flirtatious with expertly judged wood and tannin to re-fresh its spirit and lengthen its life. Love it.”  91  Tasted twice, October 2013 and January 2014  @CreeksideWine

PILLITTERI ESTATES MERLOT FAMILY RESERVE 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71753, $39.95, WineAlign)

Served from Jeroboam, one of 23 produced and a testament to the precocious, facile touch of then winemaker Sue-Ann Staff. The extreme five litre format has certainly been kind to the hermetic 11-year slumber of this Merlot, as has the above average red Niagara growing season. Charlie pulled out this rare behemoth “for the special occasion” and despite and with thanks to the perfect vintage meets size storm, it has held up with dramatic fortitude. Unmistakably predicated Pillitteri chocolate perfume, brushed violet, mulberry and oven-warmed baking spice. Holding in sustained concentration, the toffee, caramel and umami of wizened, oxidized fruit not yet a twinkle in its soapy sandalwood eye. How could Sun-Ann have known what time-cheating lengths her Merlot would see to?  93  Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, St Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (20483, $55.00, WineAlign)

This Bordeaux style blend (40 per cent Merlot, 33.3 Cabernet Sauvignon and 26.7 Cabernet Franc) is clothed in a coat of arms all about texture. A drawn and raised relief of dried, candied bramble fruit and charcoal lines of savoury, earthy hickory and herbs. Hearty warmth from a cool vintage, meat on a stick in a glass, charred, roasted and smoking. A spit of gamey goodness. Holding strong but drink now.  90  Tasted January 2014  @RavineVineyard

PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, Niagara On The Lake (46557, 375 ml, $60.00, WineAlign)

A most unique and striking rendition, wearer of many hats, confounding and curious. There is a funk about him that stands apart from the rest. Like a really well-aged, superb piece of washed rind cheese, then turning unabashedly sweet, with verve and symphonic tone. An orange sky of an icewine, anti-bittersweet, accented by mace and anise, carob even. “Here is what I know now brother. Here is what I know now sister.” Cabernet Sauvignon, in a vintage equipped with striking acidity, can turn into something to look forward to. One of the more interesting icewines to date.  91  Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (163018, 375 mL, $60.00, WineAlign)

This represents the icewine revolution, for the first time adding 15 percent Vidal juice into the Riesling mix. In 2012, the normally stand alone Riesling needed a shot in the arm, provided by the Vidal, a dose of icewine magic by winemaker Brian Schmidt. Lifted tree fruit blossom and added weight are the result, without hyper-sweet flavours. Riesling is the rock, Vidal the roll as this RV crashes into me. The pit orchard fruit is reduced and recognizable to taste, yet reserved and in phonic harmony. “Sweet like candy to my soul, sweet you rock and sweet you roll.” Brotherly love icewine, full of Schmidt wisdom.  93  Tasted January 2014  @benchwineguy

Good to go!