Up on Creekside Estates

Creekside Estate Wines Photo: Eric Vellend

Creekside Estate Wines
 Photo: Eric Vellend

It was the weekend of Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventure, a Niagara winepalooza that included the Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s Expert’s Tasting. On the road to The Falls there happened an extensive tank, barrel and vertical go round at Flat Rock Cellars and then, with chef riding shotgun, the next essential stop came up on Creekside Estates, a seventeen year-old Jordan winery on 4th Avenue.

Creekside Estate Winery
2170 4 Ave. Jordan Station, ON L0R 1S0
1 (877) 262-9463 or (905) 562-0035

@CreeksideWine

Creekside was founded in 1997 by owner Laura McCain on a 15-acre vineyard at the 4th Ave. site. The early days of the winery saw an attitude towards varietal antidisestablishmentarianism, with Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz at the forefront of production. Daring to be different from the start, Creekside has carved an antithetical, Niagara Peninsula religious wine belief, slightly devious, with a manifesto towards creating wickedly good wines.

Creekside Estate winemaker Rob Power Photo: http://www.creeksidewine.com/

Creekside Estate winemaker Rob Power
Photo: http://www.creeksidewine.com/

In the early days there was winemaker Rob Power and mad scientist partner in crime Craig McDonald, now the chief of what happens in bottle at Trius. Powers graduated in the first oenology class out of CCOVI and began his vinous stirring with Creekside, a post he continues to develop, never-resting on earlier laurels. Back then the two cubs fermented and blended together, with caution swirling tohu vavohu in the wind. Some of those Meritage blends from the early 2000’s were brilliant strokes of luck, or as winemaker’s like to call it, hard work. Or destiny, or god’s favour. The Creekside credo has never wavered. Being overly serious is not an option. Having made decisions such as purchasing the unparalleled Queenston Road Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench on its side, Creekside thrives by an exhibition of capricious behaviour, adroit winemaking and the rope savvy marketing of veracious and affordable wines.

Assistant winemaker Yvonne “Cellar Monkey” Irvine and Director of Sales, Marketing and Necessary Evil Matt “Semi-Illustrious Career” Loney ushered a tasting of 12 Creekside wines. Here are the notes.

Creekside Estates Winery Photo: http://www.creeksidewine.com/

Creekside Estates Winery
Photo: http://www.creeksidewine.com/

Sauvignon Blanc 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (620724, $13.95, WineAlign)

Leans and veers to the tropical side, no doubt as a result of a record-setting sugar vintage, but this ’12 manages to finish very dry. The arid descent follows a warm and fuzzy peach feeling, set about by some skin contact and buoyed by citrus and zest. Front yard value.

Backyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Tank Sample), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (341792, $17.95, WineAlign)

A Creek Shores SB that bridges the gap between spring and summer fruit. From a year in which the choice was made to not blend off into the estate bottling. Recognizable Creekside aromatics stand out in a more than obvious mineral deposit and grapefruit zest way. Here the band plays across The Great Divide so “just grab your hat, and take that ride.” Will be a VINTAGES August 30 release.

Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (142570, $26.95, WineAlign)

Seven barrels make up the Reserve, ferments new (four) and old (three), leading to a richer, fatter and spicier style. Dreamy really, as matchstick and flint join the fray in a Pouilly-Fumé way. That pierre à fusil is exaggerated by the warmth of 2012, with an elevated tang, rendering the flavours even more akin to Old World, Loire Sauvignon Blanc. Close your eyes and when you awake, “when you believe, you will relieve the only soul that you were born with, to grow old and never know.” The Creekside band created an old SB soul in ’12.

Laura’s White 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (121764, $18.95, WineAlign)

Laura’s White combines Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer in a kitchen sink blend that sees a bit of oak. What’s notable about the ’12 is the omission of two highly aromatic components, the previously employed stalwarts Viognier and Chardonnay Musqué. The adage is justified in that you take what the vintage gives you. If it gives you lemons, (shift tangents) you let the busy aromatics of more flavourful grapes (like Chardonnay) do the floral work. Laura’s ’12 will be a standout for the concept, a revivalist blend to help bring back some religion to the region’s renditions. Coming to VINTAGES in June.

Viognier Estate Reserve 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (22058, $29.95, WineAlign)

A 60-80 cases annual production from the Queenston Road Vineyard is not nothing because “ya take what ya need and ya leave the rest.” Aside from a miniscule addition out of stainless steel tank, this is all neutral barrel fermented fruit. Reigned in, less boozy and subordinate in oleaginous slide than in the sweaty years. Translation? A superlative vintage. The night they drove a whopping six rows of old ’11 Dixie Viognier fruit down for crushing the band began to play. This, knowing full well there would be no dirty peach martini, but rather a perfumed dropper distilling flowers, wildflower honey and wild tarragon. Rises and falls to verse like a Richard Manuel keyboard march with length to match the Queenston Road.

Rosé 2013 (Tank Sample), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $15.95)

A Cabernet Sauvignon (71 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (29) full-on saignée Rosé with colour balance given by way of the CF bleed. An arid entry creeps to sweet with a pause amongst the whispering pines, finishing tinny and with a breath of fresh herbs. Niagara Rosé can get lost sometimes, in extract, hue and a candied, sinking feeling. This is a scaled back vintage which is more than a good thing, so there’s no waiting, “until it all goes round…the lost are found.”

Syrah 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (121764, $15.95, WineAlign)

A healthy 3,200 cases are managed and executed with ease from mostly estate fruit. Certainly warm in this vintage, dare I say, like McLaren Vale. If it must not be said, too bad, but it’s also a bowl of fresh berries with a rocky Rhône intent. Terrific tar and ash finish.

Cabernet Shiraz Estate 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (305300, $16.95, WineAlign)

A traditional Oz combination of Cabernet Sauvignon (55 per cent) and Shiraz (45), clearly new world in style, as Yvonne Irvine says, like “trying to make a big, rich, unctuous Shiraz.” The question could be posed, “temptation stands just behind the door, so what you want to go and open it for?” This one goes right to the jawbone with serious backbone and streak of acidity. Not to mention chalk, grain and a Shiraz solo. The American oak accent is clear and the tannins say wait two to three years, please. The fruit may, or may not comply.

Laura’s Red 2010, Queenston Road Vineyard, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (117906, $19.95, WineAlign)

It’s funny, more than any other wine tasted, this Laura has that Niagara varnish other Creekside reds seem not to possess. “Stock up in the big years” suggests Matt Loney, and “consolidate in the tougher ones.” It could be argued that you can make more interesting wines in the lean years but this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot lays a claim to seriousness, if needing at least three years to settle down. There is much cassis, sweet oak, iodine and a milk/dark chocolate swirl. Complexity for sure if just a bit huge within its own skin.

Merlot Reserve 2008, VQA St. Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Here is a wine that is aging gracefully, works with and fits into the vintage, Merlot as objet d’art, grown in stature as if by wizened verdigris. Smells like Goulash or Côte de boeuf à la Bordelaise, even cured meat. Might also be considered in terms of funk, a note sometimes brought on by Hungarian oak. Tons of red fruit, pencil, anise and “the smell of the leaves, from the magnolia trees in the meadow. King Harvest has surely come.” Few Ontario reds succeeded in ’08 like this Queenston Road stunner and few will live as long. Another classic by the band.

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

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.

Lost Barrel Red 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula (46470, $65.00, WineAlign)

Just 60-80 cases are made from the tips of the best barrels through a process that takes 56 months to complete. The secret ingredient is Sangiovese and bless the band‘s soul if the ferric, iron and animal musk is not attributed to the addition. This is a different kind of wine, with lees in the bottle, not unlike some big, bad Spanish wines. It’s ’07 and still reductive which makes it seem peculiarly modern (note, Spanish) but it’s really not. Despite the monster tannins, it “just gave my heart a throb to the bottom of my feet and I swore as I took another pull,” the Lost Barrel can’t be beat. Up on Creekside Estates.

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

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!

Three Rieslings to believe

Grape leaf

More reviews have been written, designed and pushed down your throats on Canuck Riesling than on any other grape. What’s up with that? Quality, that’s what.
Photo: hayo/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

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.

Canucks make Icewine from many different varieties; Vidal, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and most often, Riesling. This coming weekend the most passionate Icewine lovers will gather to get silly with Niagara’s nectar gift to the gods. The annual #icewinefest is set to begin on Friday, roll through the weekend and continue on for three more activity filled weeks. Wine Country Ontario has all the details. For more information, click here.

In 2006, a Gothamist author made a poignant call in the column A Riesling to believe. Quote, “there was so much going on in the glass that it truly captured our undivided attention.” There’s one rub. In 2012, The BC Wine Guys stated in their post, You Give Me a Riesling to Believe, “thankfully, a hand full of the original vintners in the province held to the belief that world-class Rieslings could, and would, be made in BC.” True that. Wineries of Niagara on the Lake also employs the catch phrase in their discussion on several local wineries fashioning excellent versions of Riesling, notably Between the Lines, Cattail Creek, Konzelmann and Strewn. Montreal Gazette wine columnist Bill Zacharkiw‘s more than appropriate recent rodomontade stated that 2014 will be the year of Riesling. His stance? “It’s time to spread the gospel about this glorious and misunderstood grape.”

Riesling held centre stage in this column twice last year. In the post, 100 kilometre wine for spring, there was this: “A modern-day Riesling narrative takes place less than a 100 kilometres away, along the Niagara Escarpment and above the pictorial towns of Beamsville, Jordan and Vineland.” In June, there was the Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s Riesling Experience 2013. It was there I asked the $128,000 question, “are you wine experienced?” It was also there in St. Catherines that Nik Weis of the Mosel’s St. Urbans Hof winery furtively suggested, “Riesling is better than an isotonic sports drink.”

Over the past two-four months I have exonerated and upheld with the highest Riesling belief that Canada does the variety justice above and beyond the pale, in the vineyard and in the glass. Gushing praise has been doled out to Tawse, Greenlane, Flat Rock, Angels Gate, Sperling, Hidden Bench, Thirty Bench, Rosewood, Charles Baker (Stratus), 2027, Cattail Creek, Chateau des Charmes, 8th Generation, Featherstone, Fielding Estate, 13th Street, Calamus, Cave Spring, Tantalus, Colaneri, The Foreign Affair, Hinterland, Vineland Estates, Malivoire and John Howard. More reviews have been written, designed and pushed down your throats on Canuck Riesling than on any other grape. What’s up with that? Quality, that’s what.

If there is a better place to produce Riesling than up on the Beamsville Bench and the upper reaches of the Niagara Escarpment (the Mosel in Germany notwithstanding) then I’d like to know about it. With no disrespect to the Rheingau, Pfalz, Baden, Nahe, Rheinhessen, Alsace, Wachau, Clare Valley,  Eden Valley, Marlborough or the Finger Lakes, Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula and to a lesser extent, British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley should and will be making some of the planet’s finest juice.

As if the list of nearly 25 Niagara producers was not long enough, here are two more to add along with their three combined terrific Riesling interpretations.

From left: SUE ANN STAFF LOVED BY LU RIESLING 2012, SUE ANN STAFF GRACE'S DRY RIESLING 2011, and HINTERBROOK RIESLING 2012

From left: SUE ANN STAFF LOVED BY LU RIESLING 2012, SUE ANN STAFF GRACE’S DRY RIESLING 2011, and HINTERBROOK RIESLING 2012

SUE ANN STAFF LOVED BY LU RIESLING 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (322636, $16.95, WineAlign)

Perhaps camping in that gray area between a laugh and a tear, ostensibly off-dry and simple in succulence yet an undeniable stonking acidity manifests its ability for give and take. Honey, lemon, melon and yellow plum combine for fruit forgiveness, with no petrol and “I know there’s a balance, see it when I swing past.” Really terrific.  88  Tasted December 2013  @SueAnnStaff

SUE ANN STAFF GRACE’S DRY RIESLING 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (367086, $18.95, WineAlign)

Hard lemon drop sour candy, beautifully medicinal and waxy Riesling, dry yet intimating something more, something hung and harvested longer. More lemon, freshly squeezed and grapefruit too, with Alsatian promise but with a bent towards what I don’t know. Intriguing, beguiling and herbal, like a lemon balm tisane. “I know that you are strong enough to handle what I need.” Very unique Niagaran giving yet another reason to believe in the Peninsula as a dashboard confessional for Riesling prayer.  89  Tasted December 2013

HINTERBROOK RIESLING 2012, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (270512, $17.95, WineAlign)

Despite the pale hue this has body and a certain, distinct clarity. Nearly but not quite off-dry, this makes use of lake-effect for balance. There are fresh herbs, the tang of yellow plum and even an odd licorice note. Springs a full stein of mouth-watering Riesling belief, so much so that a “congregation gathers down by the riverside.” Another hymn to Riesling is sung.  88  Tasted December 2013  @Hinterbrook

Good to go!

2013: It was the best of wines

Red wines

15 wine releases $30 and over
Photo: Steve Cukrov/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

The long and wine-ding road of 2013 began with a personal plea for it to be the year of drinking better wine. I wrote about iconic wines at affordable prices and a personal hermeneutic public service announcement, a wine prescription for cold and flu. January rounded out with good reds, twenty-somethings, Robbie Burns, weekday wines and a wine analogy Super Bowl prediction gone bad.

I played pond hockey, chatted about wine and said no to ambient, rich pinks because you gotta be cruel to be wine for Valentine’s.  Real wines, more hockey, Oscars, French grapes and a Somewhereness sea of grape-driven humanity occupied my winter thoughts, along with California, The Beamsville Bench, Cuvée 2013 and the zeitgeist of my virgin expert’s tasting with music as its guide. Cool grapes marched on with wines for the Ides, St. Patrick, Passover, Momofuku in Toronto and New York City.

Spring brought 100-km wine, value reds, sunshine, Masters’ colours, a Stanley Cup for house league hockey, Ontario wine events, Peter Franus, wild leeks and Mother’s Day. There was a ‘London Calling’ for Canadian wine, Go Gamay Go, an averted LCBO strike and the Elsie Awards. I delved into the schadenfreude matters of tasting notes, the humanity in real value wine and the Venn Diagrams in a paradox of accents.

The weather warmed, I cooked for 1,300 Ultimate Frisbee players, contemplated the Rolling Stones and struck Semillon in a showcase showdown. Father’s Day, Riesling and the Canada Day long weekend preceded excursions to Fenway Park and the eleemosynary earth in the North Fork of Long Island. This followed by a search for the wine pulse of the Finger Lakes and the indelible stamp of British Columbia‘s Okanagan Valley.

The International Cool Climate Chardonnay conference took Niagara by storm (literally), leading into the August long weekend. I wrote on Sauvignon Blanc, chill red wine, The Great Canadian Wine Challenge, Free My Grapes and the plea for wine to flow across Canadian provinces.

September came, as did Low alcohol wine for the High Holidays. Ontario wines shone on, especially those from Stratus, along with Spanish and Italian reds. I touted the vinous acumen of Canadian wines for Thanksgiving, the wines of Chile, the best from Ontario and presided as guest judge at the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2013. October ended with Champagne and reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween.

Napa Valley came to town, there were private tastings with Ontario winemakers and I made notes on Canadian made apolitical wines. There were gems, Friday bites, Beaujolais Nouveau and more from Italy. At the end of November I wondered if the wine sign of the apocalypse was upon us. Sparkling wines and the unavoidable Christmas picks have brought us to here.

Edward Steinberg once asked Angelo Gaja, “how do you make the best wine?” to which Gaja replied, “with the best grapes.” In tasting notes I extrapolate from that base and simple notion, with an intent to convey the salient facts of the grape’s life, to give life to the agriculture, even if the first two syllables are removed in the process.

Tasting notes can be clerihews, pithy poems that begin with a winemaker’s name, become the reviewer’s purport and more often than not, are penned in four lines. Word play leading the mind to consider wine as anagram, palindrome and lipogram. Writing a tasting note not as a vinous jape, but rather an artfully woven acrostic.

Reviews align like Burma Shave signs on North American highways, spaced one hundred feet apart, connected by their language. Phrases are turned on their heads, causing the notes to be peculiarly unsuccessful in making any decided impact upon the consumer college. So be it.

The musical and other (sometimes) obscure references bring about metaphasis to the tasting notes, an habitual transposition of sounds, connecting smell, flavour and structure to groove, pitch and aesthetic. The best wines produce the greatest emotion and excess of language. Here is a look back at the top 15-$30 and over releases tasted in 2013 and the tasting notes that brought them to light.

15 wine releases $30 and over

From left: RAINOLDI CRESPINO VALTELLINA SUPERIORE 2006, TAWSE CABERNET FRANC LAUNDRY VINEYARD 2010, CHARLES BAKER WINES RIESLING 'PICONE VINEYARD' 2011, PETER FRANUS RED WINE 2008, and FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO TAURASI 2007

From left: RAINOLDI CRESPINO VALTELLINA SUPERIORE 2006, TAWSE CABERNET FRANC LAUNDRY VINEYARD 2010, CHARLES BAKER WINES RIESLING ‘PICONE VINEYARD’ 2011, PETER FRANUS RED WINE 2008, and FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO TAURASI 2007

RAINOLDI CRESPINO VALTELLINA SUPERIORE 2006, Lombardy, Italy (316331, $31.95, WineAlign)

Composed of 100 per cent Chiavennasca (Nebbiolo) from Lombardy. Grace, flowing ruby robe, striking. Lit by cherries bathing in a silica and gravel mineral bath, tightly wound in a swirling pensieve of real vinous thought. Elevated by cool, altitudinous breezes and gothic, statuesque like a Mantegazza. Northern, alpine and proud.  93  Tasted April 2013  @VinumValtellina  From: Top ten wines for May Day

TAWSE CABERNET FRANC LAUNDRY VINEYARD 2010, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130997, $31.95, WineAlign)

Assures us of several things. First, 2010 was a gift for making idiot-proof Cab Franc in Niagara, Second, the Lincoln Lakeshore is one of three obvious and essential CF locales in Niagara. Third and most important, properly adjudicated new oak can elevate CF to the upper reaches of the cool-climate troposphere. While not as masculine or bovine like brother Van Bers, Laundry’s got black cherry, tar, coal, herbs and a peaceful, grilling feeling. Essential CF from winemaker Paul Pender.  92  Tasted July 2013  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender  From: Alternative wines for the August long weekend

CHARLES BAKER WINES RIESLING ‘PICONE VINEYARD’ 2011, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

Does not so much pick up where cracking ’09 left off (with no offence meant to the soothing and tuneful ’10) but rather re-writes the Baker book. From the almost famous windswept vineyard atop the Vinemount Ridge, this Picone, from older Riesling plantings is crazy lively. That ’10 is now imbued with rich, oily glück. The ’11 will realize such a future, but much further along and in combination with its inborn tension. Right up there with Baker’s “perfect vintage” 2006.  93  Tasted October 2013  @cbriesling  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

PETER FRANUS RED WINE 2008, Red Hills Lake County Red, California ($39.95)

Composed of Syrah (85 per cent), Grenache (10) and Mourvèdre (5) comes from Fore Family Vineyards fruit on the top of 3000 foot Cobb Mountain. A fiery paradox of climate met by altitude works a strange magic on the grapes. It’s no mistral but rather some sort of wine weather occult. This SGM is highly influenced by a very tempest of dramatic temperature changes, from solar radiation to cool, tempering Pacific breezes and at great heights. Exhibits the hills’ red earth, in colour, in fragrance and in rich berry flavour. I’m grateful for this SGM blend, cool and hot at the same time, “almost ablaze still you don’t feel the heat.”  93  Tasted April 2013  @ProfileWineGrp  From: The Wine Diaries: Peter Franus

FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO TAURASI 2007, Campania, Italy ($39.95)

Lush and gorgeous. The most immediately gratifying young Aglianico yet such an infant. Earthbound red berries, perfectly ripe plums, biting tannin and off the charts acidity. Epochal verve of Middle Pleistocene volcanic rocksSouthern Italian equivalent to Southern Rhône reds, offering tremendous value under $50 where Bordeaux and Tuscany pedantically fall short. Should join the ranks of recent great vintages, ’01 and ’04.  93  Tasted January 2013  @FeudiDSGregorio  @StemWineGroup  From: Iconic wines, affordable prices

From left: CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES EQUULEUS 2010, BACHELDER CHARDONNAY WISMER VINEYARD 2010, CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, GIROLAMO RUSSO SAN LORENZO 2008, and PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008

From left: CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES EQUULEUS 2010, BACHELDER CHARDONNAY WISMER VINEYARD 2010, CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, GIROLAMO RUSSO SAN LORENZO 2008, and PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008

CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES EQUULEUS 2010, St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (319525, $40, SAQ,  11156334, $41.25, WineAlign)

From the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard is a classically styled blend of 50 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 per cent Cabernet Franc and 25 per cent 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.  92  Tasted March 2013  @MBosc  From: Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary

BACHELDER CHARDONNAY WISMER VINEYARD 2010, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

So sumptuous, presumptuous and precocious. Ahead of the curve, effortless and full of 20 mile mineral length. The ripe green apple never quits. My earlier note from Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary from the Twenty Mile (Vineland) Bench is the most righteous, understated charred butterscotch remoulade sauce of dreams. Richly textured and built upon a sneaky, slow and stretched breath of wild yeasts. A creeper, gatherer and traveler of both knowledge and persistence. The journey with Thomas Bachelder as related by partner Mary Delaney, from out of Quebec, by way of Ponzi and Lemelson in Oregon and to Niagara is the stuff of dreams. Tasted twice same night and hypnotized both times.  94  Tasted July 2013  @Bachelder_wines  From: Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay

CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, Priorat, Spain (156398, $49.95, WineAlign)

Stupid gorgeous Priorat and though inaccessible to most of us mere mortals, if you were to shell out $50 in November for one wine, this has to be considered. A blend of 65 per cent Cariñena, 22 per cent Garnacha, with a smattering of Syrah and Merlot. Pure purple pitch, an early summer Catalonian garden in bloom, air warm, breeze light. Wow. Blows high priced Napa and over the top Châteauneuf-du-Pape out of the water. The oak is so beautifully integrated.  94  Tasted October 2013  From: Nine big November best buy wines

GIROLAMO RUSSO SAN LORENZO 2008, Sicily, Italy ($59.95)

From agronomist and oenologist Giuseppe Russo lives a Sicilian dream. Composed of Etna’s indigenous Nerello Mascalese with a small percentage of Nerello Cappuccio, this red is a veritable lava flow of molten magma, volcanic igneous solder and opulent Scoria. Pure, unchained fruit, no disguise, striking.  94  Tasted February 2013  @Oenophilia1  From: Real wines, whisky and boys night out

PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008, Piedmont, Italy (280412, $68.00, WineAlign)

This just has the look, the look of love. “A look that time can’t erase.” Nebbiolo you can see right through, this impossible light, this impossible life. Tea, tar and roses. A mineral spring, iron-earth field, where the game runs wild. You can relate to this Barolo, love it, relish it now but it will give pleasure for years. Not necessarily 25 but certainly 10-15. “Well, it takes my breath away.” Great vineyard.  94  Tasted October 2013  From: Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

From left: M. CHAPOUTIER LES BÉCASSES CÔTE-RÔTIE 2010, MOËT & CHANDON GRAND VINTAGE BRUT CHAMPAGNE 2004, DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010, and MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006

From left: M. CHAPOUTIER LES BÉCASSES CÔTE-RÔTIE 2010, MOËT & CHANDON GRAND VINTAGE BRUT CHAMPAGNE 2004, DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010, and MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006

M. CHAPOUTIER LES BÉCASSES CÔTE-RÔTIE 2010, Ac Northern Rhône, France (280420, $82.95, WineAlign)

Strictly beautiful Syrah. The offspring of the Côte Rôtie’s two necessary points of view. First, the schist, silt and shingle of the Brune. Second, the silica and limestone of the Blonde. In combination they produce an iron-rust wine of a ferruginous nature, in colour and in aroma. Seeping, exotic Rooibos tea, Provençal tapenade and smouldering flowers send smoke signals clear as day. Smells so rich though it’s full of grace and bathed in ultra-elegance.  94  Tasted October 25, 2013  From: Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

MOËT & CHANDON GRAND VINTAGE BRUT CHAMPAGNE 2004, Ac Champagne, France (69773, $83.95, WineAlign)

May not be the esteemed house and vintage of the century’s love-child but I can’t think of a single reason not to spend a pittance more on a vintage-dated Champagne like this Moët in lieu of a sea of NV alternatives. Granted it’s wound maddeningly tight, spewing still young venom, crazed by pear and citrus concentrate but…trust must be placed in its charms. This Moët is quite refined. Apples tempered in acidity, beloved for its building blocks, it’s really good Champagne.  94  Tasted November 2013  @MoetUSA  From: Ten sparkling wines to life

DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, Monopole, Ac, Burgundy, France (46706, $89.95, WineAlign)

From Mathieu Mangenot’s ”Grand Cru” plots, the Monopole holdings in the steep amphitheatre slope of Vaudésir and the gentle rise of Les Preuses. The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine. He spoons piles of flint and chunks of rock. He explains the tin pan elevation of Chablis and Chardonnay squeezed from the bedrock, capturing every last drop of geology, refuse of stars and fossils of the ancient animals. Stoic, metazoic, super Chablis, with tremendous length. How can this Chablis have so much fruit but no apple, no lemon, no pith. “You think things are straight but they’re not what they seem.” Candy for the soul. Novacaine in liquid form. Amazing.  94  Tasted November 2013  From: Twelve days of wine for Christmas

CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010, Ac Burgundy, France (344887, $101.95, Quebec $85.00, WineAlign)

A mild sylvan reductive stink is neither abstruse nor in fruit obstruction. What we have here is a brass tax in Chardonnay histrionics. Yellow and green tree fruit, wicked wild yeast game and just about as much ruminating, mineral tang as one might desire. Something wicked this way woos my wistful longing for quality white Burgundy. I could imagine drinking this well into my pension days.  95  Tasted November 2013  From: Twelve days of wine for Christmas

MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006, Doc, Veneto, Italy (215764, $99.95, WineAlign)

If a wine clocking in at 16 per cent alcohol by volume can be considered elegant and restrained and if that’s even possible, the Mazzano is the one. Though there is nothing outright prune, dried raisin or fig paste about it, this single-vineyard Amarone is enormously tannic. Any attempt at cracking its hard shell inside of 15-20 years should be thought of as counter-productive. Smells like the aforementioned fruit just picked at maximum ripeness so there is nothing cooked, roasted or overdone here. You simply have to wait for tertiary complexity to see what it will become. I sense great. Near-perfect vintage.  96  Tasted October 2013  From: Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

Good to go!

A wine sign of the apocalypse?

Rosewood Estates Winery
PHOTO: WILLS ROMAN

as seen on canada.com

Every once in while events come along in a confluence of conspicuous timing that just seem to indicate “a sign of the apocalypse.” Today is both the first day of the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. It’s also American Thanksgiving. The next time the twain (and the Maccabees) are scheduled to collide is in 79,811. By that time they will be making Barossa-style Shiraz in Vostok Station. Thanksgivukkah? Please say it ain’t so.

Meanwhile, it’s the 28th of November and most of Canada has already experienced three straight days of true winter. While the winter of 2012 may have seen plenty of white stuff, who doesn’t remember the Spring conditions of November through March of 2011? Yesterday my neighbour pined for a return of global warming.

Now my thoughts turn to the Canadian wine harvest. Every Ontario grower has finished picking their grapes, with only Icewine left to go. Every grower? Even J-L Groux and team from Stratus Vineyards are done. In 2009 J-L picked Cabernet Franc on December 8th. What? Cabernet Sauvignon and last but not least, Sémillon came off the vines just a few days ago. This in a challenging vintage in which veraison did not exactly come early. Despite the trepidation heard all summer long, I have to believe that the wines from 2013 will be some of the most interesting and alt-exceptional we have ever seen. A collector’s vintage. Something is just in the air.

In British Columbia the Icewine harvest began on November 21st and picking is already complete. Nothing short of remarkable. Ontario will not be far behind.

So how do we explain this supernatural convergence of grapes having achieved phenolic ripeness and winter coming so early to complete the annual growth cycle of grapevines? Like Thanksgiviukkah I suppose, this kind of cosmic confluence only happens once every 77798 years. For that I am thankful. And for my family, my beautiful wife, my three perfect children, four healthy parents, and for my friends, new and old.

I am also amazed every day by the quality of food and wine we are growing in our backyards and just a hop, skip and a jump down the road. What a time it is to be a (cough) foodie or a wine geek in Ontario, in Canada and in the world. So, while the cosmos are in impossible exquisite chaos, I can think of no better time to put my wine recommendations on their head and offer up tasting notes on a winter six-pack of Canadian whites and bubbles.

From left: ROSEWOOD SÜSSRESERVE RIESLING 2012, FEATHERSTONE CANADIAN OAK CHARDONNAY 2011, and BLASTED CHURCH PINOT GRIS 2011

ROSEWOOD SÜSSRESERVE RIESLING 2012, VQA Beamville Bench, Niagara Peninsula Ontario, Canada (258806, $14.95)

As per the (Süssreserve) practicum of adding in part, unfermented grape juice back into the main ferment, it could be argued that in a warm vintage such as this, the practice could be disadvantageous or even disastrous to the whole. Well, ambition differs from greed. “I’m going to show the way I feel unless I find you give a damn.” In Rosewood’s (and winemaker Luke Orwinski’s) honey-enlightened hands this Riesling is always “the start of something beautiful.” The 2012 is no house of cards, more like a porcupine tree, an unobtrusive, cohesive laser. The sweetness is of course stressed in honey, the pears nearing caramelization. There is lemon tang and she gives her for the pittance.  89  Tasted three times, October and November 2013  @Rosewoodwine

FEATHERSTONE CANADIAN OAK CHARDONNAY 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (149302, $21.95)

First things first. Creds for the use of Canadian Oak. Wines made using local oak will not improve unless vintners like Featherstone push the coopers to make better barrels. The butter, lemon and toasty char here is quite high-toned and approaching caramelization but all in the name of integration. The overall result is one of elegance  and a long streak of flavours. Quite tropical, I must admit but a good, honest drink.  88  Tasted November 2013  @featherstonewne

BLASTED CHURCH PINOT GRIS 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley British Columbia, Canada (353128, $24.90)

I must admit I’m kinda fond-a this juicy, expressive and blasted rich Okanagan Pinot Gris. A “cool breeze blows through” carrying just the faintest note of fromage, even more pepper and the most sapid orchard fruit. Really goes out there to give the goods. Would I like to sample this Church again in a year or two? Roger Wilco on that.  89  Tasted November 2013  @BlastedChurch

From left: FLAT ROCK ESTATES RIDDLED SPARKLING WINE 2008, SPERLING VINEYARDS BRUT SPARKLING 2008, and 13TH STREET GRAND CUVÉE BLANC DE NOIRS 2006

FLAT ROCK ESTATES RIDDLED SPARKLING WINE 2008, With Crown Cap Opener, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, (187377, $24.95)

Shouts “hello!” with that crown cap opener but otherwise seems a bit quiet at this time. Prominent (pear) orchard ripe fruit, very, very dry and persistent. Wrapped up in lime zest and flint. From my earlier note: A completely different animal. “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key.” The key might be the yeast that brings animale to the wine. A bit fat and flat, with tropical notes of lychee and almond. Speeds up but is a bit of an acquired taste.  87  Tasted December 2012 and November 2013  @Winemakersboots

SPERLING VINEYARDS BRUT SPARKLING 2008, Traditional Method, VQA Okanagan Valley British Columbia, Canada (361436, $40.00, B.C. winery, $40.00)

Fasten the seatbelt for these Okanagan bubbles of tension nonpareil, acids beyond compare, fruit screaming to be heard. Estate-grown Pinot Blanc picked and aged at classic Champagne numbers, 18 brix, 2.95 PH and 36 months on the lees. Low in alcohol (11.3 per cent) and supportive in reverse balancing residual sugar (6 gr/l). Of note were green seeds, “so we’re not fighting green character,” says Sperling’s partner Peter Gamble. Non varietally-driven fizz that concentrates on mouthfeel, place and method. Does this Brut have the most tension ever from a B.C. Sparkling wine? Travels electrically from pole to pole, wired tight, inside a smart machine. A tale of a northern soul, “too busy staying alive.”  91  Tasted twice, November 2013  @SperlingVyds

13TH STREET GRAND CUVÉE BLANC DE NOIRS 2006, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (364299, $59.95)

In a place right now where the lees seem to be doing all the talking, in a self-professed goût Anglaise way. While this oxidative, white caramel, and cultured style will only increase with each tick of the odometer, that time will also be needed to skim and separate that cream from the bouillon. High active, wicked this way comes froth, resinous for sparkling, pompous (not a bad thing), self-assured, Niagara fizz. Wondrous but not in its optimum place. A couple to five years away.  91  Tasted November 2013  @13thStreetWines

Good to go!

Friday wine bites

Wine bottles

Sometimes you just need to grow your hair, let your freak flag fly and put out a random set of reviews.
Photo: Konstantin Kulikov/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

It would seem that 99 per cent of the time wine columns are composed of a particular thematic that weaves facts, theories and tasting notes and into one tight, informative package. Most would consider it helpful and appropriate for wine stores shelves to be organized by varietal or style, as opposed to country or region. Why should a wine column be any different?

Related – Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

Sometimes you just need to grow your hair, let your freak flag fly and put out a random set of reviews. So, here are six unconnected wines, save for the fact they are all highly recommended and available right now, at a store nearby.

From left: FEATHERSTONE BLACK SHEEP RIESLING 2012 and KUNDE ZINFANDEL 2008

FEATHERSTONE BLACK SHEEP RIESLING 2012, left, and KUNDE ZINFANDEL 2008

FEATHERSTONE BLACK SHEEP RIESLING 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95)

Has steadily become one of Niagara’s most recognizable and copacetic Rieslings. The 2012 is shaped and defined by tight corners and sharp angles. Crisp fruit, sour lemon drop, lime zest, unmistakable in Niagara Peninsula manner but added to by the blessedly atypical warm vintage. Early picking preserved freshness towards realizing a salient, direct arrow into a pierced Riesling heart.  Tasted November 19, 2013  88  @featherstonewne

KUNDE ZINFANDEL 2008, Sonoma County, California (965921, $22.95, note that store inventory could be 2008 or 2010, Alta. 722895, $22.99, Sask. 16998, $25.87)

Has hit that age when brambly fruit begins to wane and alcohol takes over. Has not breached the tipping point but it’s coming soon. Dark berries and charred, smokey meat are still warm and inviting but a fig paste and effervescent hop, flanked by an astringent bite, take over at the midpoint. I am still a fan of this bottling, despite an adorned, arching swing of the fresh fruit pendulum. Though it does not venture over the top, it’s no shrinking violet. Certainly not squarely in whack but this Zinfandel uses its fins for maneuverability, buoyancy and a sharp attack.  Tasted November 2013  89  @KundeEstate

From left: HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2011 and SPERLING VINEYARDS OLD VINES RIESLING 2011

HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2011, left, and SPERLING VINEYARDS OLD VINES RIESLING 2011

HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (274753, $32.95)

Deeper, earthen, decreased propriety and more pelage than the previous two vintages. I sense longer hang time, more redress and slower slumber. In Hidden Bench I thought I knew and would always associate with a specific Pinot Noir feel but this ’11 confounds. In a way, that is a large compliment. Fruit reminiscent of a top Central Otago in that it grips my Pinot interest if not my Ontario heart.  Tasted October 2013  90  @HiddenBench

SPERLING VINEYARDS OLD VINES RIESLING 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (361204, $34.00, B.C. 2010 $32.00)

From a 1978 planting, this teases late harvest-like with a sweet-sliding aromatic entry that glides effortlessly on the changeover to the palate and then bam! A red-letter sharp and acidulated takeover. The roots dug deep for the wise and wizened vines overtop a full limestone overlay “naturally stretch the nutrients in the bunches,” notes Sperling’s partner Peter Gamble. Low, old and slow, “all about circulation and flow.” Finishes with pith and citrus intensity. Yikes Riesling.  Tasted November 2013  91  @SperlingVyds

From left: ANTINORI PIAN DELLE VIGNE BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 2008 and BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2005

ANTINORI PIAN DELLE VIGNE BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 2008, left, and BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2005

ANTINORI PIAN DELLE VIGNE BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 2008, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (651141, $59.95, Nova Scotia 1006431, $64.80)

Goes at it older, bolder, tried and truer than had recently been the case, especially in 2007. Leather, cherries, seeping tea and peppery, earthy, funky dates. Purity of fruit, obviousness in Sangiovese Grosso aromatics and it is only when you taste that you are dealt with the full effect of its power and girth. Quite viscous on the palate, tough, gritty chain of tannin and qualified, felicitous bitters on a very long finish.  Best Pian delle Vigne in some time, at least back to 2001. Tasted November 2013  93  @AntinoriFamily

BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2005, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (Note: carried in specific flagship stores and could either be 2005 or 2007, 275396, $74.95, Nova Scotia 1012526, $74.79)

Takes no time at all to “stimulate some action,” and “give an exhibition.” Tasting this piece of Canadian Sparkling history is a curated event, offering living, bubbling proof that Nova Scotia is THE place to make fizz.  Flaunts more baking aromas than I can recall from first nosing it two weeks ago. Gravenstein apple skin, gingerbread and freshly grated horseradish layered over Malagash Thrumcap oysters. Expansive, sharp, piquant and hinting towards a verge of oxidative tendency but I must note that this bottle is a bit warm and fuzzy. Though the maturity, elegance and judging is in another league, on a side note, there is something here that reminds me of North Fork’s Sparkling Pointe Brut Seduction 2003. Kindred spirits. The Bridge is charged, demanding and I believe this ’05 would continue to benefit from a few more years relaxation before finding its true elegance. Before midnight or after midnight, it doesn’t matter. Get some and you’re “gonna find out what it is all about.”  Tasted October 25th and November 19, 2013  93  @Benjamin_Bridge

Good to go!

Between a Flat Rock and an escarpment

Flat Rock Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara PeninsulaPhoto: Brian Barton - Guelph, Ontario

Flat Rock Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula
Photo: Brian Barton – Guelph, Ontario

as seen on canada.com

I attend many tastings but none are better than the ones accompanied by the growers, the negociant and the vintner. To a maker, the adage is repeated again and again. Wine is made in the vineyard. Here is part two in the series on land, vineyard and terroir.

Related – Vineyards, winemakers and their sense of place: Bachelder and Leaning Post

Flat Rock Vineyard

PHOTO: Flat Rock Cellars
Flat Rock Vineyard

Assuming the essential information about Flat Rock Cellars proprietor Ed Madronich is on a need to know basis, know this. Madronich is entirely sure about what matters to him, his vineyard and how he approaches the science of making wine. He and winemaker Jay Johnston have embarked upon a new Pinot Noir project. The Block Series investigates the magic of Pinot Noir through a series of a vineyard’s three blocks and plots. Flat Rock’s is a study in soil, slope and altitude.

Notes Johnston: “We can’t learn or get better about our Pinot unless we enter into this type of experimentation.” Adds Madronich, “just don’t screw it up.” They don’t call him Unfiltered Ed for nothing. On Pinot Noir? “When I think about it, I think Burgundy, Oregon, New Zealand and Niagara.” On winemaking? “Jay may be hands on in the vineyard but we are strictly hands off (in the winery).” On closures? Only screwcaps. “The alternative closures are the only way to ensure the wine we make is the wine you’ll drink.  Simple as that.” On taking risks in Flat Rock’s locale as compared to Beamsville? “He’s always had a crop,” says Madronich about a fellow Bench grower. “I’ve always made a better wine,” confirms the unfiltered one.

Flat Rock Cellars

PHOTO: Flat Rock Cellars
Flat Rock Cellars

Soil. Flat Rock’s vineyard set on the Twenty Mile Bench is built of deep clay and till, limestone and shale. The Micro-block Pinot Noir share a commonality from that composition but each plot is possessive its own variation on the rock to soil ratio.

Slope and altitude. Flat Rock lays claim to the biggest elevation change (60 metres from top to bottom) of any vineyard in Niagara. Located approximately (as a function of proximity) 7 – 7.5 km from the lake, propitious air flow dries out the vineyard and mediates humidity. Yields are lower and vines are more vigorous on this part of the Bench, with more rocks dotting the earth. “A super vineyard, great for ripening,” notes Madronich. It’s all about the elevation.

Flat Rock’s Pinot Noir blocks would normally produce 100 or more barrels. Launched with the 2011 harvest, the Block Series encapsulated a selection of 12 barrels, four each from what Ed and Jay considered the “best expressions” of the grand cru determined blocks. Neutral oak was employed to guarantee a fresh, direct and unhindered capture of Flat Rock’s top Pinot fruit. Will this experiment persist vintage after vintage, regardless of cold winters and/or warm summers? Notes Johnston, “we can mine for gold, from block to block, but not necessarily in every year. We’re not trying to razzle dazzle with alchemy in the winery.”

Flat Rock at Crush Wine Bar

Flat Rock Cellars The Block Series Pinot Noir 2011 tasting

Crush Wine Bar, 455 King St W, Toronto, ON M5V 1K4, 416.977.1234 @CrushWineBarTO

BRUCE ($29.95)

From the northern most block, up at the Escarpment/Bruce trail. Thin, one foot deep soil meshes flaky limestone at this elevation. Smallish berries predominate and an earthly mote accents the flowers, cherries, strawberry and classic purity of this bonny Bruce. A Oregonian lightness of being, if you will. From one of the few south-facing slopes in Niagara (because of 20 Mile Creek), where the limestone chalk imparts fine-grained tannin so apparent to taste.  91  Tasted Oct. 23, 2013

SUMMIT ($29.95)

This block’s base is slightly deeper, spreading over dolomite limestone. Diminished average temperatures mean berries develop lower and slower, hang longer (up to three weeks) resulting in higher phenolic ripeness. Summit may be the caveman of the three, seemingly in dire straits, covered in leaves, snapped twigs, truffles and porcini mushroom but damn if impossible Burgundy does not come to mind. This is one to ask where do you think you’re going? It will surely reply, “if you ain’t with me girl, you’re gonna be without me.” 92  Tasted Oct. 23, 2013

POND ($29.95)

Crosses the twain between Bruce and Summit. A cottony touch, most pronounced perfume and of the three, the lowest acidity. Mellow, easy, J.J. Cale peaceful, void of chalk, grain or angst. Speaks in a cherry voice, smells like cherry and returns that cherry to taste. Ripe and soft. “Sweet as a morning sunrise, fresh as a mountain dew.”  89  Tasted Oct. 23, 2013

Two more Pinot Noir

ESTATE 2011 (1545, VINTAGES Essential, $19.95)

A blend of all 13 blocks, made in a rounder and more accessible style, but still consistent with the Blocks and Gravity. Hand-picked, gravity fed, naturally and in a search for fruit truth. Bottled early (August of 2012), the earth, cherries and plant phenol are all here. Blessed with 20/20 Bench vision, in price and location. Really pure expression and unsevered length from beginning to end.  88  Tasted Oct. 23, 2013

GRAVITY 2011 (1560, $29.95, Coming to VINTAGES Nov 23rd.)

From a blend of eight different blocks, 25 barrels were held back for the Gravity. Less made in ’11 due to the Block Series initiative. Magnified pierce, plum, freshness, flow and complexity, a completely gathered Pinot feeling Gravity’s pull. “Reason had harnessed the tame.” A fable of reconstructed Pinot Noir, the Gravity is Flat Rock’s most complete expression.  From my earlier note: Top wines shine at taste Ontario 2013, “may at first strangely seem that it had ”stepped out of the wilderness all squint-eyed and confused” but my how a swirl elicits gorgeous red berries and an emphatic oomph, even without a sip. Impressively ripe, blooming red rose and cinnamon from the heart of a winemaker’s boots. A mineral streak brings to mind Volnay, in spirit and tragically hip Pinot essence.” 92  Tasted Oct. 10 and 23, 2013

Good to go!