Twenty-two Canadian wines that rocked in 2022

Godello taking in the spirit of Grimsby Hillside Vineyard

I am a forager. I forage in the natural world, for plants in their season, pulled from the soil, from earth to pan, for medicinal teas, to preserve by drying or pickling, whatever the most appropriate case may be. Wild herbs, allium and beneficial greens are prized but mostly I use my mycological senses by looking for signs beneath my feet as to where the mycelium below will choose to fruit as fungi above. I look for the saprobic and the decomposer but also the mushroom that works through symbiosis, to aid and abet other species while receiving something beneficial in return.

Laetiporus Sulphureus, aka Chicken of the Woods

I am a forager of wines as well, perhaps not in the same spiritual or personal way, but as I do with the forest I try my best to listen and become one with the vine, to imagine what it will beget, that being quality grapes and eventually honest wine. Vinifera success in Canadian vineyards is a recent phenomenon and there are plants more suited and native to our land but we should and will continue to pursue both realities.  This is not a manifesto about natural wine, no far from it, but it is a confession. I love great wine, well made wine, wine in balance. I am open to all wines and like the fungi I choose to eat or to ignore, I can’t be sickened by something I choose not to taste. I taste what I trust and drink what I must. Most often it take years of research and seeing the same fruiting body appear in the same location with consistent markings to make the decision to eat that mushroom. That is why wines of history, pedigree and consistency are the greatest and most exciting. They have earned the recognition. Others gain reputation much quicker and they too deserve the kudos but the choice comes down to the individual. I just want the wines I choose to rock. Canadian wines, yeah they rock.

Hypomyces Lactifluorum, the Lobster Mushroom

Nova Scotia wines at Obladee Wine Bar in Halifax

Related – Twenty-one Canadian wines that rocked in 2021

The full scale return to not only tasting but rallying around Canadian wine began in earnest back in June of 2022. In a span of less than 30 days there were judges’ panel assessments and events during the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, To July and 10 days spent in Nova Scotia wine country followed by a glorious weekend in Niagara for the i4c Canadian Cool Climate Celebration. Get back to Cool Chardonnay was the impetus and the reminder how much we Canadian wine folk respect one another and truly enjoy each other’s company. How great was it to interact once again, to taste with and experience the verities of vignerons and winemakers? To gather Insights, illuminations and incidentals from illustrious voices. To enter discourse with thought provocateurs who question sense of place, who consider vines and their relationship with the land. To reconnect with old friends forging new directions, seek flights of fancy and return to places always familiar, like coming home. The road ahead may still be uncertain but onward we will go.

Godello and Pender

Related – Twenty Canadian wines that rocked in 2020

Devastating news and especially the loss of a friend takes time to process. At the time I did not know what to do but suddenly the words poured forth, in one take and so in February I penned The Walrus is Paul. I miss Paul Pender. He was not my closest bud nor was I his but there will always be a hole in our lives without him. The thing about sadness is that it never goes away, but the trick is to remember the people we loved in a way that helps us through another day. “Paul Pender humanized everything in his life and all that he touched. He never expressed any dismay at comments I may have made about wines not being perfect, nor did he exalt in high scores or praise for wines about which I may have gushed or waxed rhapsodic. He was always zen, even-keeled, grounded and humble. Paul was the personification of gravitational constant, THE universal gravitational constant, a constant of gravitation. His presence and being related force to mass and distance, and he lived his life within the law of gravitation. I hope he taught everyone to be this way and that we can all go forward with his wise, sage and calm demeanour, safely tucked into our own lives. Thank you Paul. I love you, man. You are the walrus.”

Seafood by Godello, Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia

Related – Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

This might just be the 10th annual list and another spot is in fact added each year but the process just keeps getting tougher to complete. According to WineAlign I reviewed more than 3,000 wines in 2022, which means I tasted at least 3,500, if not more. The number of Canadian wines is likely one third, say 1,500 examples tasted this past year, in great part because at least one-third of that number is tasted at the Nationals. The process of nailing down this summary comes out of a shortlist of 100-plus that were what would be considered exciting. The exercise must be one that filters, fines and refines again and again so that every wine is reviewed and re-considered on repeat. I find it near impossible to make final decisions these days and yet somehow feel compelled to continue the discipline.  Thank you to all; associates, colleagues, wine professionals and especially friends who poured, for every sip and taste, with heartfelt thanks. Especially to the WineAlign Crü; David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Steve Thurlow, Megha Jandhyala, Bryan McCaw, Sarah Goddard, Miho Yamamoto, Carol-Ann Jessiman and Heather Riley. Godello gives you 22 Canadian wines that rocked in 2022.

With The Thinker, Jean-Benoit Déslauriers, Benjamin Bridge Vineyards

Benjamin Bridge Glooscap First Nation X Rosé 2021, Nova Scotia

Benjamin Bridge Glooscap First Nation X Rosé is first a wine. A lithe, 10 percent alcohol and bone-dry vision in pale pink hue, described by thinker Jean-Benoit Déslauriers as blessed “with a softness from within.” My family and I taste along and become privy to why this project means so much more. The Rosé marks a turning point for Benjamin Bridge and is crafted neither for reconciliation nor to undue the past. Instead the path leads forward, for mutualism, cooperation and respect. A harbinger towards a more balanced future. Meaning is gleaned for the team after a decade-plus of grape growing now widened to include 13,000 years of sustainable and synergetic preservation of an ecosystem. Twenty years ago the BB understanding was of vineyards producing grapes exclusively focused on the sensory profile of wines, how they reflected the terroir and stacked up against Europe. Yet the Mi’kmaq have lived in balance within this unique ecosystem for millennium and the goal is to return to this symbiosis. It may take another 13,000 years and while subsequent generations will not be obligated to complete the work, neither are they free to desist from it. This Rosé establishes a “Ni’tap,” a relationship as ally-ship and friendship between Benjamin Bridge’s McConnell-Gordon family and Glooscap First Nation; Elder Lorraine Whitman, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada and Advocate for the rights of Indigenous women, girls & gender-diverse people; her daughter Zabrina Whitman and Chief Sidney Peters. Glooscap First Nation X Rosé is a direct product of climate change with no need to soften the sear of acidity by backsliding into residual sugar. Do not forget the effect created by the air pump that is the Bay of Fundy that allows the vines to always take their time and manage a slowly gained phenolic development. The Bay means Rosé can indeed be forged this way. Dry and bright, aligning ortega, gamay and riesling in such a pointed and profound aromatic Sikunme’katik (Gaspereau) Valley way. The connection to Nova Scotia is real but very much a singular notion. The fact that modern agriculture has erased what really happened in this valley, as it pertains to vines and this terroir it is the kind of commentary that is “by definition profoundly inaccurate.” This is the charge of Déslauriers and all who take this path forward. Indigenous plants were in fact replaced with European plants so BB makes a clear point. How can it be said that these wines capture the essence of this terroir? The argument is compelling and will eventually change again, after 13 or 13,000 more years, or perhaps somewhere in between. In any case the wine is grand and the prospects even greater. Bravo all around. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Mackenzie Brisbois, Trail Estate

Trail Estate ‘Oh Julius’ Skin Fermented White 2021, VQA Ontario

A plus or minus 10 days skin contact for 59 per cent riesling, (35) gewürztraminer and (5) muscat that drinks with full submission, symbiotically speaking. The wine gives and our palates lay down, receive this effortless elixir and allow it to pass on through, no questions asked, no wondering why. Something like 550 cases are made of this wild-fermented, Benchlands (Wismer) fruit-sourced quencher, aka refreshing drink. Easy enough in the tart citrus vein, no lacking for energy and in turn, our interest. Weird? No not really. Cool? Ticks all the boxes for what the kids are all making these days, but this is more a case of being made by and for kids at heart who are adults with kids of their own. At 10.4 per cent alcohol, no acetic meanderings nor cider-y complications neither. Well that just about wraps it up in a big natural bow and guarantees a good time. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted June 2022

Canoe Trip cooking

Blue Mountain Blanc De Blancs R.D. 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The research tells us chardonnay and time conspire for beauty while development reminds how years upon years upon lees directs a Blue Mountain R.D. into sublimity and profundity. A vintage to recall, reflect upon and surely celebrate, to mull over its integrated and subtle spices, controlled energy and slow time release of responsibility. A sparkling wine of nature that has become one of nurture, now a perfectly posit tug between edginess and oxidation, tension and generosity. They call this the sweet spot. Raise a glass to recently disgorged. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2022

WineAlign judges at Stratus Vineyards

Stratus X Trials Blanc De Blancs 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Looking back two years the bar was set so very high as noted when we first began tasting the culmination of years put in towards this Sparkling program. Far be it for Stratus to regress or work in reverse but they are now grooving further back in lees cumulative time and out there comes a chardonnay spent what must be nearly 10 years on those lovely yeasts. Trials they were and fruition they have become. It’s not so much the toasty and beautifully oxidative-fino nutty character. The impression digs deeper than green olives in brine and sweet pear compote, it grabs us by the emotive heartstrings and holds us close. In fact it’s not unusual for B de Bs ’12 X Trials to be loved by anyone. There’s just something about the subtleties and the open invitation, to love and be loved. “Whoa oh, oh whoa, oh oh, oh oh!” Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2022

Sunset over The Twenty Mile and Beamsville Bench

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Distinct mineral and petrol aromatic riesling rising, up into the stratosphere. in no hurry to come back down. Cracker citrus and acidity, tart and fuelled by intensity with no boundaries nor atmospheric pressures or deadlines neither. Sugars and structure are one in the same, seamlessness is the result and everything falls into its right place. The poster child, educator and pioneer. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

Felseck Vineyard

Hidden Bench Riesling Felseck Vineyard 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Not quite but just about 20 year-old vines as of this stellar 2017 vintage and a benchmark Bench riesling of all that has been developed, given, remains and jazz. A stoic propellant and scintillant of fineness, fruit in ample preserve, acids convergent and power releasing ever so slowly in perfect pace. Pitch is spot on, balance ideal and direction effortlessly forward. The Mario Lemieux of riesling. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted February 2022

The family with Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot, Wolfville, Nova Scotia

Lightfoot & Wolfville Chardonnay Small Lots Oak Knoll Vineyard Stainless Steel 2020, Nova Scotia, Canada

“People have always said we need to make a stainless steel version,” says winemaker Josh Horton, to lighten the room and the mood. This being the first go at it, protocol kept very similar to the oaked (Ancienne), by wild ferment, aka “brown” maceration. Gone to bottle quicker (eight months after pick) and this will be slowed down in the future. Absolute tightness and freshness, purity of chardonnay as expressed in a juiced lemon and almost no reduction. A chardonnay of isolated terroir, specificity and one helluva beautiful experiment. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Really quite primary, an undisclosed while pleasingly reticent chardonnay from Emma Garner of gratitude and grace. The first because it thanks the Beamsville terroir and the second because it does so with soft spoken respect. A mélange of different fermentation batches, each small and precise come together for the final sumptuous and restrained blend. The tenets of fruit, acid and what ties them together is just about as seamless and easily layered as any of a Bench ilk and idiom. Not a chardonnay of style but instead stylish, not chic but surely sung with notes held, seemingly forever. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted July 2022

Grimsby Hillside Vineyard

Ilya and Nadia Senchuk, Leaning Post Wines

Leaning Post Chardonnay Grimsby Hillside Vineyard 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Delicate, bright and efficacious wine from a north facing nook of the Escarpment vineyard in the narrowest spit of land between the rock face and the lake. Once the viticultural labrusca home of Parkdale Wines and now owned by the Franciosa family. A special wine occupying a place in my family’s history and heart. Apposite to Wismer in that there are more piques and peaks in and out, up and down, hither and thither in this singularly focused chardonnay. Pay attention to nuance, to barrel as well as it speaks in extra density because the terroir encourages the ambition. Remarkable structure despite how short a relationship there has been between maker and farm. The instant brilliance creates an effective and then profound buzz, a desired effect and the future is WIDE open. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted June 2022

Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli, winemaker Adam Pearce and Angela Marotta

Two Sisters Chardonnay 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

With part in part thanks and a nod to the experimental minds and vineyard management acumen at (then) Parkdale Wines, back in 1959 Bill Lenko took a flyer on vinifera in the form of chardonnay. Today Two Sisters is the primary beneficiary of Niagara’s oldest chardonnay vines and this primo vintage extolls the virtues of those wise plants and their concentrated fruit. Still showing balance and tenderness, never mind the barrel beauty, bullocks or beast, in fact it all comes together in seamless fashion because the fruit is indefatigably remarkable. Winemaker Adam Pearce heeds the directive, does nothing to get in the way and what is delivered comes away with such a sheen and energetic burst it just may blow your mind. This is the finest result to date, a lightly reductive, subtly lees inflected, full fruit captured chardonnay. All of its lines run parallel, incline up the same slope, coextend in collateral company and with time will eventually relent for the great transversal. The fruit will cross over both acidity and backbone, resulting in the ultimate complex equation. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted August 2022

The fishy work of Ryan Crawford (Ruffino’s and Bar Bea), Raoul Duke of Chefs

 

Bachelder Hill Of Wingfield Chardonnay 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Hill of Wingfield, as opposed to the flatter portions of the large chardonnay expanse and one can’t help but conjure up vineyard monikers like “Hill of” Corton, or even Grace. Ancient and modern tracts can be descried by farmers and writers so with Thomas Bachelder as the guide we too can play this game, by extension and in a most semi-serious way. Everything is derivative and by association anyway so Hill of Wingfield it is. Same lush, luxe and top of the pops richness as Wismer-Wingfield yet here with some reduction and an almost candied shell of protection. Nearly impossible and yet every reason to believe that vintage, grape, block and maker can combine to execute such a phenomenon of chardonnay. No understatement or restraint here, nor were any grapes harmed in the due process. My goodness what gumption, ambition and monkified execution. You gotta believe in the truth! Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted December 2022

With Shiraz Mottiar and the uni, I mean photo bomber Anthony Gismondi

Malivoire Gamay Courtney 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Youthful is the understatement when coming at this 2020 Courtney but my how juicy, meaty and pinpointed a gamay it truly is. There have been serious and fully formed Courtneys before but never have the assets in fruit, mouthfeel and acid-tannin structural interplay grabbed attention like this young and in charge ’20. Adds up to big, boisterous, ripe to the hilt, of zero austerity and so much possibility. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Meyer Pinot Noir McLean Creek Road Vineyard Old Block 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Falls, British Columbia

Plenty of substance fills the aromatic glass in this immortality jam of substance, acid and textural intensity. Good red fruit if turning to act youthfully grainy in its unresolved structural demand, especially as it lands on and then scrapes over the palate. Dutifully solid wine, nothing to some and to others a pearl needing time. High arcing, a factor of indefinite continuation for pinot noir existence and “he who forgets will be destined to remember.” For such a delicate (aromatic) and working (palate) pinot noir it carries more than ample finishing strength, energy and power. “And I wish to hold on, too, but saw the trapdoor in the sun.” Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

Closson Chase Pinot Noir South Clos 2020, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario

As a reminder the South Clos Vineyard is six hectares of Prince Edward County Hillier clay loam and shallow crumbled limestone overlying fractured limestone. A top site (within the limit of vinifera capability) where chardonnay and pinot noir present as viable as any combo in Canada. Bring on a warm gift of a vintage like 2020 and the possibilities suddenly become endless. The site is always a place of high pH and allowable root penetration but 2020 just tops the show. The intensities are boundless in a most youthful and exuberant South Clos pinot noir that clearly act as the embodiment of one for the ages. Never before have acids tasted so sweet and tannins wept such tears of joy. South Clos is the culmination of decades put in, torches passed, hard work and experimentation. A victory for the 2020 season and perhaps the beginning of a Keith Tyers’ led dynasty. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted November 2022

With Chef Michael Olson

Bachelder Pinot Noir Wismer Parke “Wild West End” 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Wismer-Parke’s western section on Victoria Avenue just up from Highway 8 is planted to what Thomas Bachelder refers to as a mystery clone of pinot noir “whose identity is lost to the mists of time.” Twenty-one years to be exact at the meter of this vintage yet in nostalgic ways that kind of statement feels like something dating back to the 1950s or ’60s. Either way it’s long enough to make one wonder and wonder why. There’s a whole lot of “duh duh dun dun dun dah,” and “bah ah bah ah dun dun dun bah” then “beh do beh do,” followed by “bah doo doo bah,” and finally “wop, wop, wop, wop, wop” in this pinot noir. Why? Because this beast of the east is so strong-willed, immoveable and timeless with unparalleled layering and nuance. Doo Wop tannins in total control, winning out over dark fruit in black olive, fennel and tarry tones playing second fiddle. Why is there more oomph and grip to this savoury flavoured pinot noir of scrub and scorrevole across the palate?” The answer my friend is blowing in those mists and in the time you must give to see this wine come to its fruition. Wismer-Parke Wild West End may not necessarily save your soul, but it will make your soul worth saving! Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted December 2022

PEC wines

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir St. Cindy Unfiltered 2020, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario

In 2004 and 2005 the first County Rosehall Run vineyards pinot noir fruit were given the name Cindy but between ’06 and ’19 the name JCR defined the estate’s best fruit. With a vintage as great as 2020 in vessel Cindy was anointed once again as saint of the top pinot noir. The ripeness and extract here are in fact the finest ever from these PEC lands so the choice was and remains perfectly clear. What the JCR misses in terms of tension is here fully trenchant and oblique, angles run in slants, musculature neither parallel nor perpendicular to the long axis of structure or bones. This is fascinating wine geometry and anatomy, clearly regimented yet offset and in the end, simply wondrous. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted October 2022

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Violette 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Five years after first tasting Cuvée Violette blind the opportunity arises for an up front and centre moment with bottle, label and glass. Though this syrah would have been more than satisfying before it must be said that its peak performance is in fact NOW. Takes an aromatic leap of faith and suspends at that Black Sage Bench/Dead Man Lake syrah apex where violets and pepper drip their eau de parfum down upon dark varietal fruit. There are many a more expensive Okanagan syrah but there are none as benchmark to combine age-worthiness with price as this Severine Pinte stunner. I for one am thankful to taste this vintage again and at its best.  Last tasted December 2022

Let’s put up our hands so we know who we are, we who expect three P’s in syrah; perfume, pepper and pulchritude. This syrah is possessive of all three. It’s quite the dark purple beauty but also savoury, reeking of black olive and brushy garrigue. The wood is exercised with admirable restraint and then there is this fineness of tannin. A very pretty, seamless and structured syrah of great length. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted blind at #NWAC17, June 2017

Creekside Broken Press Syrah Reserve Queenston Road Vineyard 2016, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Good years have got behind this syrah with a touch of viognier so that five-plus in there’s an open window through which to find the heart of this wine. A democratic vintage, fruit at peak, elongated and built to last, last longer than anyone who knows not what capability is in store for this wine. The tannins are just beginning to wane and with great acumen they have melted into the karst of what is truly a special BP vintage. A minimum five years remains and quite possibly 10. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted April 2022

CedarCreek Winemaker Taylor Whelan

CedarCreek Syrah Platinum Jagged Rock 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Inky and cimmerian, full syrah extraction, maceration, skin contact fermentation and finally, thankfully and for the win, concentration. All adds up to as big as it gets, with iodine, soy and yet this amazing floral indemnity that tells the whole story, but also one that celebrates a truly special site. Yes the tannins are omnipresent but they are reasonable, metered, mattering and real. So very polished. Drink 2025-2029.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

Vines in the Similkameen

Corcelettes Talus 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley, British Columbia

Talus makes balanced work of all fine main Bordeaux varieties, led by merlot (40 per cent) and cabernet franc (35), with (20) cabernet sauvignon, (3) malbec and (2) petit verdot. The names refers to the Talus “slides” that accentuate each mountainous side of the Similkameen Valley and the wine slides across the palate in equal, opposing and proportionate waves. Mostly a precise ripeness of fruit but also some passionate acids and truly purposed tannins. The merlot does seem to stand out with its verdant, creamy and downy character as it pertains to soaking up some barrel. There is a notable amount of quality dark chocolate here and still all parts just seem to synch up. Proper Meritage indeed. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted September 2022

Black Hills Nota Bene 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The blend for the Black Hills flagship red in 2020 is 42 percent cabernet franc, (33) cabernet sauvignon, 24 (merlot) and (1) petit verdot. Merlot fared very well in 2020 and yet the team chose franc as the anchor, why, well it seems for structure over beauty and longevity over immediacy. This vintage is quite a remarkable example because all of these aspects show up, repeat, shuffle, reorganize and collectively speak a Black Sage Bench truth. Hard to imagine a more seamless set of red blend circumstances or astrological linearity. The stars do in fact align for this bright constellation of an Okanagan wine. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted November 2022

Phantom Creek Phantom Creek Vineyard Cuvée #24 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

At the top of the heap and pops for Phantom Creek is the red blend cuvée from the homestead vineyard and a wine denied absolutely nothing. The finest of the best is grown, nurtured and gathered with equally prized vessels providing the nurturing environment. There are some silky, suave and stylish red wines in this portfolio but nothing compares to the desire in Cuvée #24. These are the richest fruit sets, sweetest acids and silkiest tannins, none more important than the other and all working towards a common goal. That being beauty and longevity which the wine surely boasts. The only question is cost and a decision to be made to decide if the extra $60-100 dollars buys more wine and age-ability. The answer is yes, it surely does but is this “perfect” style the kind you like, want, need or deserve. Only you can be the judge of these things. Drink 2024-2035.  Tasted November 2022

Good to go!

godello

Godello surveys Grimsby Hillside Vineyard

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Twenty Canadian wines that rocked in 2020

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Year-end lists and greatest hits have always elicited a personal introspective fascination, not any lists mind you but mostly those involving music. Always curious to find out if someone else thought the same songs or albums aligned with your own. Such lists are met with growing skepticism and so the words “top” or “best” should be taken with a grain of salt, scrutinized with impunity, viewed with subjective prejudice. Music and wine need not be considered as ranked, top or best but instead contemplated with dead reckoning, as if throwing a buoyant opinion overboard to determine the speed of the mind’s emotion relative to thought, which was assumed to be dead in the waters of judgement. The feeling of being moved, stirred up in sentiment, excited and reaching deeper into understanding, these are the reasons to tally a culminating register. Neither for enumeration nor for classification, but for the indexing, of harbingers and that which makes us feel.

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

What transpired over the previous 12 months has not left the arena of the unfathomable and the absurd, but with respect to Canadian wine there can be no doubt that a next level of greatness was reached. Holiday time will be somewhat solitary as 2020 winds down and while the sharing of bottles will surely mean more repeated sips for the few involved, they will be sweet ones and are not to be taken for granted. As for the exercise of creating a rocking roster of Canadian made wine, well here on Godello this so happens to be the eighth annual for an instalment that first appeared in 2013. Now adding up to seven more entries than the first and acting as natural segue, a transition and salvo towards crossing over the threshold where 2021 awaits.

Related – Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

Twenty. Not an arbitrary number but rather an arbiter of perpetual and developmental prowess of a nation’s wine-producing ability and surely while knowing that no fewer than 20 others could of, would of, should of made the grade. The quote is a timeless one and will be employed once again. This curated list is “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. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it.”

Related – Eighteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2018

In 2020 Canadian wine came to my tasting table in ways no other year made it happen. There were no excursions to British Columbia, Nova Scotia or Quebec, save for a 36-hour round-trip drive to Halifax in delivery of precious human cargo. No Cuvée or i4c. No VQA Oyster competition, Somewhereness or Terroir Symposium. No walk-around tastings. Despite going nowhere the opportunities to sample Canadian wines were of a number higher than ever before. Safely distanced tastings at WineAlign headquarters, at the welcome emptiness of Barque Smokehouse and in our homes brought Canada’s finest bottles to us. Though we were unable to convene in June at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, a prodigious alternative became surrogate in the guise of the Guide to Canada’s Best Wines, a.k.a WineAlign’s GCBW. Over the course of six weeks we tasted through 860 samples and not just any mind you but truly Canada’s best. We were sad to miss Tony Aspler’s Ontario Wine Awards and David Lawrason’s Great Canadian Kitchen Party, the artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates. Here’s to hoping 2021 will usher in a return to assessing and celebrating together.

Related – 17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

Aldé Rosé, Interloper and As Is

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

The numbers chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine continue to march ahead, as promised by the annual billing. In 2018 the list counted 18. In 2017 there were 17 and in 2016, 16 noted. In 2015 that meant 15 and 14 for 2014, just as in 2013 the filtered list showed 13. Last year? You would be correct if you guessed 19. There is no red carpet for 2020, it just doesn’t feel appropriate or right but keeping on is essential. “Whence comes the sense of wonder we perceive when we encounter certain bottles of art?” Here are 20 most exciting Canadian wines of 2020. Twenty Canadian wines that rocked.


Le Vieux Pin Ava 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($29.99)

Calculated, figured and reasoned, a 51 per cent roussanne, (36) viognier and (13) marsanne organized, Rhône motivated blend that just fits right. A kiss of new wood and a 35 per cent wood campaign, slightly more in steel and then the other freshener, that being a fifth of this exceptional vintage fruit having seen time in concrete tank. Yes the aromas are wildly fresh, far away tropical and cumulatively enticing. A white blend of rhythm and soul, actionable in every part of its drift and coil, democratic, of no accident, come up to please and at the same time, foil. Offers this and that, high tempo acids opposite fully ripened fruit and all tolled, wrapped up with a tailored bow. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted October 2020

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($29.95)

Cave Spring’s is Ontario riesling and along with three or four others the CSV has been the benchmark for decades. CSV is one of the reasons to believe in riesling, versatile, brutally honest, speaker of the mind, telling us like it is. As for 2018, frosts in late ’17 reduced the upcoming vintage’s yield potential. Long, hot and dry was ’18’s summer and so doubling down occurred. Less yet highly concentred fruit was pretty much assured before September turned wet and humid. CSV embraces and stands firm in its dealings with nature so while there is more flesh and flavour intensity there too is the tried and true structural backbone. Surely a highly phenolic riesling but every aspect is elevated in this game. A hyperbole of itself, gangster riesling, the jumbo package, age-worthy and stone-faced beyond compare. Best ever, perhaps no but perchance something new, riveting, magnified, extravagant and well, fine. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted October 2020

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2017, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($37.20, Stratus Wines)

The concept behind Baker’s single-vineyard riesling is for the top tier one to be possessive in the matters of majestic and dignified, which quite honestly it is. Funny vintage that ’17 was and yet in riesling there can be this slow melt, tide and release of intricacy and intimacy, which this Picone does. Like taking a picture with the slowest shutter speed, allowing the sensor a full allotment of time in its exposure to light. This is the dramatic and hyper-effect and how Baker captured the highest riesling resolution imaginable. The succulence in the acids over top juicy, juicy fruit and this great entanglement is majestic and dignified. My goodness Charles, I think you’ve done it. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted April and October 2020

Martin’s Lane winemaker Shane Munn

Martin’s Lane Riesling Simes Vineyard 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($45.00)

First tasted at the winery in 2018 after only one year in bottle. A cooler vintage and less residual sugar (4 g/L vs. 6 in 2015) and also one reaching for its phenolics. The Alsace Clone (49) planted in 2008 is coming into the zone with this textured ’16 from one of three single vineyards on granite in East Kelowna. There is that minor number of sugar but there are acidities and reminiscences to the motherland that supersede and infiltrate the nooks and crannies of the fruit. Who in the Okanagan neighbourhood would not be envious of the clean clarity that this riesling achieves. Very focused, tightly wound and surely able to unravel ever so slowly, developing beeswax, honey and gasses as it will, over a ten year period. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted April 2020

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($37.15)

Wound tight like a coil around a winch with precise threading and pinpoint spacing for chardonnay that wins the vintage. Reductive style to be sure but only truly noted because of the freshest vibes this side of Motown. Got rhythm and blues, not to mention funk and soul. Clean beats, in step, three-part backing vocals and a purity of sound. Taste relays all these things and more, of succulence and in satiation guaranteed. In other words timeless and the willingness to pour on repeat will be a continuous thing of perpetual satisfaction. Last tasted October 2020. There is no secret that 2016 can align itself with the best of them in Niagara and chardonnay is clearly right in the middle of the discussion. Knowing that, how could the iconic triad of varietal, producer and vineyard not rise like fresh summer fruit cream to the top of the discourse? The years of Pender and Bourgogne barrel studies have come to this; spot on in blending Quarry fruit from wood and associated forests, staves and toasts, here the crux of sonic, sonar, and olfactory waves are met in optimum phenolic crash. The crush of chardonnay, the cryogenic liquid wait and the ultimate goal is achieved. Balance is struck at 12.5 degrees alcohol and all the perfectly seasoned grape tannin you could want. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted May 2020

Leaning Post Senchuk Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario ($45.20, Nicholas Pearce Wines)

Set apart from the Bench wineries and while still beneath the Niagara Escarpment Senchuk Vineyard sits on more of a plain that gently slides down the Lincoln Lakeshore and into Lake Ontario. Perhaps it will become Ontario’s next sub-appellation. Sandy soil is maculated by largish stones three to four feet down. This atop a bed of grey clay so the low vigour of the sandy soil will be offer up a flip-side, a foil to the heavy clay of nearby locales like the Beamsville Bench. This third chardonnay from the home vineyard comes off of vines planted in 2011 so now this seven-year old fruit is starting to really mean something. And Ilya Senchuk is a winemaker who studies, concentrates and plans his work around clones. It’s not just about where to plant which varietals but which clone will work best and where within the greater where. Vineyard, vintage and variance. Senchuk truly believes that greatness is determined by varietal variegation, from vineyard to vineyard and from year to year. From 2018: 64 per cent Clone 548 and (36) Clone 96. Listen further. Warm season so picked on September 18. The grapes were gently whole cluster pressed (separated by Clone), allowed to settle in chilled tanks over night. The juice was then racked into barrels; Clone 548 – one puncheon and three barriques, Clone 96 – three barriques, where they underwent spontaneous alcoholic and malolactic fermentation. The lees were not stirred and it was allowed to age for 16 months. Power, body, tons of fruit, definite barrel influence, a southern Bourgogne kind of vintage, so maybe Pouilly-Fuisée or Maconnais Village with a specific Climat. For the time being we call the Village Lincoln Lakeshore and Senchuk Vineyard the geographical designation. The lemon curd and the acidity are there in a great tangle so yes, this is trés cool chardonnay. I think we can safely say already that the Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay grown in Ilya and Nadia’s home vineyard is on its own, one of a kind and makes wines that don’t taste like anywhere else. This 2018 cements the notion and opens the next stage of the discussion. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2020

Lightfoot And Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2017, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia (462093, $56.95)

Exceptionalities worthy of hyperboles are befitting this chardonnay of concentration, textural satisfaction and immediate gratification. Apple distillate to nose, a walk through a perennial garden on Fundy shores in late summer bloom and then citrus in so many ways, incarnate and teeming with briny, zesty flavour. If your are counting at home, this Lightfoot family wine by way of Peter Gamble and in the hands of winemaker Josh Horton is now six years into its tenure. As the crow flies, qualitatively and quantitatively speaking refinement has never ceased to improve. Has arrived at its new Minas Basin tidal heights, crisp and salivating, finishing on the highest of notes. Chardonnay god of ocean tides, “all night long, writing poems to” Nova Scotia. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted October 2020

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Mission Hill Perpetua 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($60.00)

Dichotomy in chardonnay, grand and graceful, powerful and elegant. Reductive and not acting this way but rather in what is now descried as the post modern style of chardonnay, from Australia to New Zealand, Bourgogne to B.C. Huge fruit concentration, wood equalizing yet in check, acids controlling yet relenting, structured assured though not overly complicating. Orchards combed and fruit brought in to make the composition sing with flavour while the work put in shaves down the rough edges and pieces fit snugly together. Top vintage for this label. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2020

Blomidon Cuvée l’Acadie, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia ($35.00)

The entirety of a sparkling wine oeuvre is modified and transmogrified, designed and decreed of a new morphology where l’Acadie is concerned. It must be conceded that the Nova Scotia varietal speciality is destined to create cracker, lightning rod, back beats and bites in Nova Scotia sparkling wine. This from Blomidon adds spice, apple skin, orange zest and stony moments throughout. It’s amazing. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted October 2020

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc 2015, Traditional Method, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (315200, $49.95)

As always 100 per cent chardonnay and 2015 is perhaps the vintage of the most golden toast, as if made by agemono, with the most lemon and lees ever assembled in a Cuvée Catharine, vintage-dated Sparkling wine. An intensity of aromas swirl around in citrus centrifuge into which the gross cells don’t seem to want to go. On the palate is where they rest, layered and leesy, textured with a sense of weightlessness and wonder. Henry of Pelham channelling an inner Japanese cooking technique. Feels like some time is warranted to pull all this together. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2020

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2013, VQA Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario ($75.00)

The first (commercial) J-L Groux foray into traditional method Sparkling wine has been six plus years in the making, or in this case, senescence as the lees fly and his Blanc de Blanc has finally arrived. A notable moment in the Stratus continuum as they too now own a program of development, time, investment, research and acumen. The nose on this bubble tells a pensive story, or as fantasy goes like dipping your face into a tale-spun pensieve as it takes you back in time. In 2013 chardonnay excelled on the Niagara Peninsula and still today in 2020 we are drinking vintage examples persistent in their freshness and durability of construct. That this reeks of varietal lore is a hallmark moment, that and a conscientious adherence to reverence for solids and the focus on rotational detail. Speaks a Blanc de Blanc vernacular as a chardonnay should, with a bite out of a sharp fall apple, a pesto of verdant aromatics and a crunch of texture before drifting saline, briny and fine. Pretty good work J-L. Kudos for getting from there to here with intelligence and humility. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2020

At a Somewhereness gathering a few years back Thomas Bachelder poured me his first gamay and while I remember the light, I could not have known what complex cru notions the maniacal monk had up his sleeve. Who knew that Twenty Mile Bench gamay would gain standing in “Villages,” “Naturaliste,” and two Wismer-Foxcroft iterations. And so here we are with the more intense of the two whole cluster siblings and the one chosen to celebrate its 52 per cent wild bunch inclusion. The fermentation technique transposed seems almost “alla vinificazione Piedmontese a cappello sommerso,” though by way of sangiovese in Chianti Classico what with a glycerin feel and a formative fabric so tactile to the mouth’s touch. Stemmy? Not a chance. Herbal? Nope. More like a Côte de Brouilly to the Wismer-22’s Brouilly, not quite Morgon but savour and structure are serious, righteous and very much here. That I did not buy cases of this stuff is a real concern. Drink 2020-2027. Tasted November 2020

Malivoire Courtney Gamay 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (524231, $29.95)

What Courtney brings to the table in gamay is what we’ve come to expect from Ontario, that is structurally contracted and age-worthy wine. Now understood to be a Cru designate, carved from a decade of research and well-defined. You could build an entire cellar by way of Malivoire’s multi-varietal work and the many tiers they fashion from drink now, through mid-term aging and up to here in a gamay that will go long. I’ve tasted a few older Malivoires lately and have been blown away by their longevity and also tasted this Courtney from barrel last winter. The whole bunch strategy has come to this, a knowable, beautifully swarthy, fruit protected and into the future protracted guarantee of fortitude and change. Reminds me of Michael Schmelzer’s Montebernardi Panzano sangiovese. Grande. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted October 2020

Rosehall Run’s Dan Sullivan and Goode

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2018, Prince Edward County, Ontario ($42.00)

Fortuitous time and place are the combined recipient of the primary assist for Rosehall’s JCR Vineyard pinot noir, a varietal stunner that seduces from the word go. A drinking vintage, early, ethereal, not lacking but easing in and out of structure, ready to please in the proverbial vein of immediate gratification. Then the County tones, reverb and static mosey on in like a Telecaster’s light jing-a-ling. Rises to an interlude crescendo and explodes into rock ‘n roll bands. In the County the poets make these things happen, then “sit back and let it all be. Tonight, in Jungleland.” Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July and October 2020

CedarCreek Platinum Pinot Noir Block 2 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($54.90)

Block “2” is genuine and fine pinot noir, a pinpointed example multi-faceted in its origins. An exclusive block and also a dedicated clone to make this what it is; ripe stem earthy in phenolics ripe and ready plus a natural and wild fruit sweetness that can’t be replicated by anything but what happens on and from the vine. Anytime pinot noir is experienced as a wine at one with site, clone and vine you know it, feel it and intuit the connection. The forging is a bond unbreakable, as here with Block number two. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted October 2020

Culmina Hypothesis 2014, Golden Mile Bench, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (414243, $49.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

The Triggs original, Hypothesis is an Okanagan Valley flagship red that celebrates the upper benches in what has become the great Golden Mile. This district is no longer a matter of new fashion, it is in fact a place to make serious Bordeaux-varietal red wine. Whether cabernet franc or merlot take the lead there is always cabernet sauvignon to tie the room of lit luminescence together. Culmina’s is bright-eyed on a face of dark fruit, chewy like liquorice and sweetly herbal, naturally sweetened by dessert warmth ripening. You smell, feel, sense and taste the land in this wine. That’s what makes it so special. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted June 2020

Black Hills Nota Bene 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($68.99)

Methinks winemaker Ross Wise is giddy (and that’s a stretch for the stoic man of leisure) in what he must know will be the great eventuality of the Nota Bene 2018. By way of reminder this is one of Canada’s most accomplished and massive reds of great notoriety. The flagship of Black Hills in Bordeaux blend apparel, master of ceremonies and lead singer for B.C. Climat, Somewhereness and terroir. The maestro blend to speak of mystery, riddle and enigma. This ’18 is smooth and I mean smooth, ganache silky and focused. In youth you chew the mouthful, later on you’ll draw and imbibe. Further on down the road you will sip and savour. Quietly luxurious, rampantly delicious and pridefully profound. Top. Grande. Drink 2023-2031.  Tasted June 2020

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Megalomaniac Reserve Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario ($49.95)

Ah, finally! This is the aromatic profile of a reserve style Ontario cabernet franc, well, not “the” but “a” godly one. Concentrated and layered, like phyllo or puff pastry folded again and again upon itself. May seem dense and without air at this time but with time the folds will expand and stack with weightlessness. The variegated red fruit in betweens are juicy, sumptuous and so packed with flavour they will burst when bitten into, or in this case, explode in the mouth. Texture too is all pleasure, as will be the eventuality of exceptionality created by a triangle that includes complete and fine tannin. One of the finest and from a vintage that holds the cards for cabernet franc excellence. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted October 2020

Thirty Bench Small Lot Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($75.00)

Niagara’s most premium solo cabernet franc is turned upside in 2017 and does everything that needed doing to make what is quite possibly the best solo effort in that vintage. Of fruit so dark yet pure and allowed to act, move and speak as varietal in place. Walks that Beamsville Bench walk and talks that cabernet franc talk. World-beating, wholly and truly. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted October 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($85.20)

From a La Brunante year to speak of truths and there is no doubt the team was excited about the prospects of this formidable Beamsville Bench blend. The triad is merlot (43 per cent), malbec (35) and cabernet franc (22). I’d say it was the warm climate and long season that lead to then winemaker Marlize Beyer’s decisions of assemblage. You could pour this blind with red blends from Bordeaux and Australia with nary a taster being able to truly separate one from many others. And yet there is a singularity about these aromatics that are so hard to define, like spices in their simmering infancy ahead of what brand of togetherness they will assign. As for texture and length, balance is exemplary and longevity guaranteed. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted May 2020

Good to go!

godello

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2017

Go Time @GoldMedalPlates Toronto #gmp2017

It was my fourth Gold Medal Plates Toronto as wine judge, culinary taster and olympic athlete groupie. In 2014 WineAlign partner, colleague, mentor and friend David Lawrason invited me to join the festivities and help decide which three wines should be crowned Gold, Silver and Bronze. Two weeks ago a panel of Ontario wine experts tasted, assessed, debated, deliberated and ultimately decided this year’s top three. David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Michael Vaughan, Margaret Swaine and Godello. The winner ran away from the pack but two through six were separated by one point increments. It was a photo finish for Silver and Bronze.

The 2017 Toronto event featured emcee Scott Russell of the CBC’s Olympic coverage. Russell was joined by dozens of Olympic medallists and future hopefuls. Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy led the on-stage entertainment; Anne Lindsay, Danny Michel, Jeremy Fisher, Devin Cuddy and Sam Polley. The inimitable and eloquent James Chatto was once again at the head and the heart of the culinary judging panel with seats occupied by an illustrious five; Sasha Chapman, Anita Stewart,  Christine Cushing, Amy Rosen and Chef John Higgins.

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014

For a little bit of GMP history please click on this post I penned after that 2014 gala event. The culinary winners then were Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 bronze, gold and silver medal winning chefs Damon Campbell, John Horne and Jason Bangerter. The top three wines were Norman Hardie‘s Niagara Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011, Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012 and Creekside Estate‘s Iconoclast Syrah 2012. But what about 2017? My top seven in no particular order were Flat Rock Cellars Riesling Nadja’s Vineyard 2016, Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2014, Charles Baker Riesling B-Side 2016, Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catherine Brut Rosé, Stratus White 2013, Leaning Post Chardonnay ‘The Fifty’ 2015 and Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road 2013. The actual medalists are listed below in David’s report.

National Wine Advisor David Lawrason’s Wine and Spirits Report

Nadja’s Tops a Bounty of Great Whites in Toronto

“The Gold Medal Plates campaign came to a booming 800-person conclusion at Toronto Convention Centre on November 16, and it included the largest selection of wines seen in any stop on the ten-city national tour.  We judged 26 donated wines, beers, spirits and even a lavender mead, but it was a core of great Canadian white wines that caused the most excitement, and produced the winner of the evening.

The “Best of Show” Gold Medal went, by a very clear margin, to Flat Rock Cellars 2016 Nadja’s Riesling, from a single block of maturing vines in Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench appellation. I was personally stunned by just how delicious, well-balanced and nuanced this wine is – in my mind it is the best vintage of “Nadja’s” ever produced.  Other judges agreed – we all placed it as either our first or second choice.  This beauty also took a rare Platinum Medal at 2017 National Wine Awards.

It will go on to compete for Gold Medal Plates Wine of the Year at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna in February, and it appears there will be a riesling showdown, as it will be tasted against rieslings from Tantalus, Cave Spring and Norman Hardie, plus six other wines.

For second and third place the voting in Toronto was more varied, and only one point separated the second, third and fourth place wines.  The Silver Medal went to Mission Hill 2015 Merlot Reserve, a swarthy, plummy and ripe red from the Okanagan Valley.  And the bronze medal went to Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catharine Brut Rose, a delicate refined pink sparkler with subtle berry aromas.

In very close 4th place came Tawse 2013 Quarry Road Chardonnay from Niagara’s Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation. I have become very familiar with this solid, complex Burgundian chardonnay as it was generously donated by Tawse to the Celebration in three cities this year. It was also a Platinum Award winner at the 2107 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

Tawse was one of three Gold Level sponsors. Mission Hill was a national sponsor as well, donating a variety Reserve wines to seven city events across the country, and stepping even higher in Toronto with smaller donations of their more expensive “Legacy tier” red Compendium 2013 and Perpetua 2015 Chardonnay.

Arterra Wines, the recently re-named company with several wineries in Canada, was a gold sponsor donating to six cities.  In Toronto there was a selection of reserve whites and reds from Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin, as well as a rare public showing of the new Arterra 2016 Chardonnay and Arterra 2016 Pinot Noir.

Toronto’s Silver Sponsor also donated to Ottawa. Cave Spring of Niagara donated their 2015 Cabernet Franc.  Although better known as a riesling producer, Cave Spring is doubling down on its efforts to produce fine reds from Ontario’s most widely grown grape.

Flat Rock Cellars was one two Bronze level sponsors for the Toronto event, providing Nadja’s riesling for the VIP Reception and Celebration tables. The other was Henry of Pelham, which split their donation between the 2016 Old Vines Baco Noir and yet another strong 2016 Estate Riesling.

Among other notable and high calibre wines donated to the chefs, I gave my first-place vote to Stratus 2013 White, a very complex, now maturing, barrel aged blend of several white varieties. Ravine 2014 Chardonnay Reserve, another power white, also earned top-five votes.  Leaning Post 2015 Mile 50 Chardonnay was a leaner style that paired well with Gold Medal Plates Chef Lorenzo Loseto’s winning dish.  And riesling specialist Charles Baker chose the occasion to show his new, bracing B-Side Riesling.

Interestingly, no red wines were paired with chef’s creations this year, but there were two ciders, including the fine, crisp Brickworks CiderHouse Batch 1904 and a lighter cider called Pick Up 66 from Hoity Toity Cellars. Rosewood Cellars donated their exotic, fragrant Lavellener Lavender Mead, and Zirkova Vodka set up shop during the VIP Reception to sample Zirkova One, a vodka designed to be drunk “neat” and Together a version designed for cocktails.

The Best of Show judging is held prior to each event, as way to highlight the generous donation of beverage by Canada’s wineries, brewers and distillers.  In Toronto I assembled four wine pros/sommeliers.  Three are amigos at WineAlign.com and two are judges at the National Wine Awards of Canada; including Master Sommelier John Szabo, and wordsmith extraordinaire and former chef Michael Godel.  Margaret Swaine is a veteran wine and travel writer, and the spirits columnist at WineAlign.  Michael Vaughan publishes Vintages Assessments, a detailed critique of every wine released by the LCBOs Vintages stores.”

Chef Lorenzo Loseto’s @GoldMedalPlates winning dish @georgeonqueen paired by @brieish with @leaningpostwine The Fifty Chardonnay 2015. Congratulations Chef and the entire team.

Culinary Medals

Gold

Lorenzo Loseto
George Restaurant

Pairing: Leaning Post Wines, 2015 ‘The Fifty’

Silver

David Lee
Nota Bene

Pairing: Brickworks Ciderhouse, Batch: 1904

Bronze

Jesse Vallins
Maple Leaf Tavern/PORT

Pairing: Tooth & Nail Brewing Company, AGRARIA Modern Farmhouse Ale

Nota Bene’s David Lee

Here are my tasting notes for the 20 wines entered at Gold Medal Plates 2017.

Henry Of Pelham Family Estate Winery Cuvée Catharine Brut Rosé, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (217505, $29.95, WineAlign)

A whole new base, a whole new wine, the departure point exacted by a new wisdom and understanding. But it’s somehow like looking in the mirror, reviving a good memory, going back to wine childhood. Consistency is your friend with non-vintage fizz and the Catherine(s) are the undisputed leader in the Ontario biz. Brings back the Niagara orchard of a take your pick red apple, lovely creamy texture, a mild blanch of nut and fresh baked bread. Terrific class and of its own accord. Drink 2017-2021.  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2017

With its fine, strawberry mousse is at the head of its Ontario class. Vanilla, Ida Red apple and bitter nut combine like a smooth, creamy, Mediterranean spread to dip the warmest, fresh-baked bread.  Tasted December 2012

Henry Of Pelham Riesling Estate 2016, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (557165, $17.95, WineAlign)

A rash of aromatics straight away and marked warmth verging to humidity. More weight, substance and depth than most vintages deal when youth is the tempo so this riesling plays the notes and the hand quick after the draw. What you nose, taste and feel is what you get, with lime, gassing up to petrol quickly and flavours already in developing mode. Five years of riesling together for the best of times, from beginning to end. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted November 2017

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 Ian 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

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

Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Sauvignon Blanc Grand Reserve 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.95, WineAlign)

Arterra’s JT sauvignon blanc is youthful and even a bit reductive, with wood notable and a real sauvignon blanc pungency. Its character and a bit of risk are tied up in the aromatics though it settles for mild-mannered and middle of the road on the palate. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted November 2017

Mission Hill Family Pinot Gris Reserve 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (537076, $24.95, WineAlign)

Reserved to be sure and also still in pulse mode, with some tongue pin-pricking, not quite effervescent but moving in time. A bit of skin-contact hue and plenty of orchard fruit notes are present in both aromas and flavours. Solid gris that will improve in six months or so. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2017

Inniskillin Okanagan Pinot Gris Reserve 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($19.99, WineAlign)

Noticeable skin-directed hue, chalky to soapy, with a taste that reminds of Topps hockey card bubble gum. Childhood memory revisited in pinot gris. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted November 2017

Arterra Chardonnay 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Arterra’s chardonnay comes from a famous Peninsula source, formerly made into just as famous wines by Le Clos Jordanne The site is on the Escarpment’s Bench above Jordan Village and this is the second vintage at the hands of Jackson-Triggs winemaker Marco Piccoli. Picks up where the fine and ambitious first vintage in 2015 left off but here with some light strike and reduction. You can just feel the buttered toast and kernels behind the flinty curtain, with blanched nut and some fine elasticity. Will benefit from a few more months in bottle to gather thoughts and flavours. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2017

Leaning Post Chardonnay ‘The Fifty’ 2015, VQA Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

This is chardonnay that had a cup of coffee in the big leagues and was then moved to the fresh confines of stainless steel tanks soon after its 15 minutes of barrel fame. It’s a unique chardonnay specimen this Fifty, barrel fermented but not aged, a wine crafted with pragmatic reverse psychology so that it may solicit great appeal. If you’ve never tasted Ilya Senchuk’s entry-level foray into Peninsula chardonnay you’ve been missing out, but by starting here in 2015 there is certainly no harm, no foul. This is the most pleasing and palatable Fifty so far, barrel creamy, suety and magically malolactic on the nose. The flavours are cooler, of an anti-Senchuk subtlety and versatile food amenability. I can think of 50 reasons to pour this by the glass, at home, on a restaurant list or on a campsite under the stars. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2017

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

The Reserve is 100 per cent estate fruit that spent 18 months in (50 per cent new) barrel. As it’s both barrel fermented and aged the variegation locks the fruit in so bloody tight so even now it’s reductive, smoky and flinty. A mineral chardonnay needs balance from over the top fruit and so track record, acumen and love will have it so. Marty Werner and Ben Minaker’s is a big, summery and gold platinum expression, very expressive, the two-lb steamed in seaweed lobster chardonnay, seemingly Meursault but just as likely from California. But as Ravine’s Reserve on the St. David’s Bench it is purely Niagara Peninsula. Fruit intensity, extract and controlled oxygenation shows off the best of what these men can do. It speaks to their efforts, knowledge accumulation, trials and finally to the culmination of their stamina. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2017

Small @RavineVineyard village looking pretty sweet at @GoldMedalPlates 2017 #gmp2017

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Vineyard 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (111989, $35.80, WineAlign)

When I tasted Quarry Road 2013 out of four barrels three years ago the purpose was to take in the nuances and see only the trees. I for one could not help seeing the forest through the trees and imagining percentages of each combining for the final blend. Neutral Mercurey wood looked over infant three year-old vines spoken here with surprising density, tang and tropical melon in both aroma and flavour. This sits on the front palate right now. The mineral Ceres qualifies older fruit as the pretty and the gemstone, essential for Quarry Road, the most like (Meursault) in Burgundy. This fruit transferred to stainless on the lees from September to March before going into bottle now renders to make Quarry the purest expression from the best vineyard. The CLL toast delivers the taut, not yet reductive wood tightening, then and again now, mainly on the finish. Compressed citrus notes are late arriving and even if it is splitting hairs, the oak really impacts the finish. The larger CLL toast Mercurey barrel reveals a fresher, more reductive, less oaky feel. All together we now have one of Paul Pender’s most accomplished to date and all chardonnays considered, one of the finest higher end values around. I think he would agree. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Mission Hill Perpetua 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $73.03, WineAlign)

Perpetua is a different sort of chardonnay for the Okanagan, with not completely obvious fruit and leesy notes that outdo the effects of wood, plus a lactic edge that also smothers the smoulder. This is not the toastiest of chardonnays but is does deliver a saltiness so ultimately the reference point is flint and stone, a.k.a. Chablis. A bit of crème frâiche adds to the dairy mystique. Perpetual chardonnay motion leads to persistence. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted November 2017

Stratus Vineyards Stratus White 2013, Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.20, WineAlign)

There can be little doubt that anticipation would haver to run high for the aromatic, elongated and coolest of Niagara white wine vintages, especially for the chardonnay, but also for the iconic, four-varietal (with sauvignon blanc, sémillon and viognier) blend. The five sensory tenets are solicited and provided for; salty, sour, sweet, briny and umami. The last is exotic and punchy, so this White does it all, speaks for it all and completes it all. It is the most designed and seamless their’s can be. Last tasted May and November 2017

In 2013 viognier is back in the varietal mix, in reprise of its earlier role in support of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling. A different sort of vintage here for the White, seemingly led by a circular turning of chardonnay and viognier, like a cat chasing its tail. This really goes round and round with no obvious signs of where it will stop. Quite fleshy and lime juicy with stone fruit flavours in righteous abound. Really amalgamated and seamless even for itself. It is here that I think of it as The White. Niagara’s White. Lake Effect™. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted November 2016

Arterra Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Wow the cherry pie delivers a healthy slice oozing in reduced cherry syrup. Could only by an effect created by some appassimento on pinot noir. It’s so concentrated, full of glycerin and sweet fruit. Were it not pinot made with some drying of the grapes it would be an amazing feat of growing, picking and pressing. A panoply of cherries wells in this ripe of ripest Marco Picoli red. Wow, as I said. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted September and November 2017

Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (523001, $17.95, WineAlign)

As with the other Niagara Escarpment reds in the portfolio it is the limestone that stands out, in a good way, to bring about this mineral-red citrus cutting through the rich fruit. That stone-mineral note also does everything to temper and even mute what bitter-tonic-astringent notes might try to distract because that’s what capsicum-bell pepper is wont to do in cabernet franc. This is clean and focused, light and eminently quaffable juice. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted September and November 2017

Inniskillin Merlot Reserve 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is really pressed and pushed merlot, cool and savoury, minty and spirited with lots of wood spice and equal amounts of tannin. The really tart finish dries out with grip and force. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2017

Jackson Triggs Grand Reserve Meritage 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (594002, $24.95, WineAlign)

Now here is a nice little bit of diesel of dust, with more than a fair shake of dark raspberries and a mix of chicory, nettles and chalky tannin. Pretty wondrous quality and complexity here. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2017

Henry Of Pelham Baco Noir Old Vines 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (459966, $19.95, WineAlign)

This is finely rendered baco noir, rich and tangy, with bright cherries and what just feels like beeswax. The most elegant baco noir ever made in Ontario and just foxy enough to be itself. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted November 2017

Mission Hill Merlot Reserve 2015, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Agent, $24.99, WineAlign)

This is aromatically rich and lush merlot, with a full compliment of palate richness and silky tannins. For fans of the California style with all in hedonism and a side of nettle. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2017

Mission Hill Compendium 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Agent, $86.25, WineAlign)

Compendium 2012 carries a great wealth of aromatics, very floral and rusty, with dried strawberries and so much more. A bit reserved on the palate but its elegance and seamlessness are special. Great length even while it’s just not that much of a concentrated beast. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted November 2017

Good to go!

Godello

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