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

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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!

Working wines for the Canada Day weekend

Barque Breakfast, eggs, pulled pork, potato pancakes, guacamole
Barque Breakfast, eggs, pulled pork, potato pancakes, guacamole
PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

June has been long, wet, arduous and full of promise. Exhausting too. It began with a cooking ordure show for 1,300 Ultimate athletes. There have been food and wine tastings all over Ontario. The palate may never experience this level of fatigue as it does at the end of June. Think about how the Wine Align team feels!

Last week I attended the Stop Night Market, an unforgettable food and beverage extravaganza that rivals any outdoor gastro-experience you are likely to find, anywhere. The unparalleled $50 all you eat and drink ticket from the best of Toronto’s best aside, the SNM helped to solidify the STOP’s position as a leader in community food programs.  The next night I attended Sip and Savour Ontario in the Fermenting Cellar located within the historic Distillery District. Wine and food pursuers lapped up Ontario wines in every incantation matched by seriously excellent small edibles. Sip & Savour Ontario is dedicated to bringing education, support and accessibility of Ontario’s local wine, culinary and agricultural industries to the public, all in support of Houselink.

This coming Friday, June 28th has been declared #CanadianWineDay (or #CdnWineDay) so get out there and sample whatever you can find out of our wine regions, from coast to coast. Make sure to tweet what you tasted.

Time for a brief respite. Canada’s wine and food industry peeps and tweeps have been working overtime, taking care of business, working for the weekend.  What we all need is an extended rest, out in the air, down by the bay, surrounded by family and friends, with a good glass of wine. Here are 10 current releases, ready and willing to work for your long weekend.

Clockwise from top left: Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2012, Villa Tonino Grillo 2010, Lone Birch Pinot Gris 2012, Rosewood Estates Sémillon 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Pinot Gris 2008, Caves D’esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2012, Vineland Estates Pinot Meunier 2011, Jean-Ernest Descombes Morgon 2011, Stratus Tollgate Merlot 2010, and Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010

Clockwise from top left: Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2012, Villa Tonino Grillo 2010, Lone Birch Pinot Gris 2012, Rosewood Estates Sémillon 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Pinot Gris 2008, Caves D’esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2012, Vineland Estates Pinot Meunier 2011, Jean-Ernest Descombes Morgon 2011, Stratus Tollgate Merlot 2010, and Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010

The Sparkling

The grapes: Muscat, Perle of Csaba

The history: Traditional Champagne style bubbles from a Nova Scotia pioneer out of the Gaspereau Valley

The lowdown: Think Moscato D’asti from Piedmont mixed with the Hungarian Vinifera derived grape. The remarkably low 6.5 percent alcohol aims to please and refresh every palate on a warm Canada Day weekend

The food match: Barque Breakfast, eggs, pulled pork, potato pancakes, guacamole

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2012 (256289, $25.95, Nova Scotia $24.99) while nowhere near Champagne in proximity nor character holds a perfume immediate in marmalade, candied orange peel, lit wick and melting paraffin. To taste it sweetens up a sun-setting, waning day with a convexity of creamy rhubarb, orange sherbet, strawberry and pink grapefruit. Like a song in 6/4 compound, musical meter. With so much going on this is certainly a bridge to somewhere and it’s “gettin’ there fast.” 90  @Benjamin_Bridge

The Whites

The grape: Grillo

The history: Native and classic Sicilian varietal, dating back to B.C.E times though it now only comprises 3 per cent of the white grapes planted in Sicily

The lowdown: Boundless personality of a white wine from the thick-skinned and bold grape built for the blazing Sicilian sun and arid Mediterranean climate

The food match: Chickpea, Parmesan & Fennel Salad

Villa Tonino Grillo 2010 (289579, $14.95) owns a melon’s ripe musk melding to fermenting aroma, matched by a warm, juicy and mouth-watering texture. Blanched nut, coconut and lime zest party on the beach with steaming decapod crustaceans. Grillo, grilling and the sur beating up the sea wall would do just fine.  89  @RegazziWines

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Family owned & operated winery, located in the Yakima Valley of Washington State

The lowdown: Just a bit more than 4,000 cases produced and has only been in bottle for three months

The food match: Pacific Rim Chowder

Lone Birch Pinot Gris 2012 (324905, $15.95) gives away a whole lotta’ love for 16 bones. Rich, ropy mandarin and orange melon acidulated with a shot of white pepper coolant. LB, “you’ve been cooling and baby I’ve been drooling.” Dizzying on the tongue, gone bananas and twiddling on every bud.  90 @WINESofWA

The grape: Sémillon

The history: Beamsville’s Rosewood Estate has been pouring their heart, soul and honey (not literally) into this  varietal’s future

The lowdown: Most often employed in combination with Sauvignon Blanc to forge the dry white wines of Bordeaux and more famously, the dessert wines from Sauternes and Barsac. Rosewood is leading the North American charge. #StandSémillonStand

The food match: The Spoke Club‘s Crab Salad + Braised Pork Belly with spring onion and sea buckthorn

Rosewood Estates Sémillon 2011 (177758, $17.95) is the leader of the pack. The honey is uncanny. From an earlier note: “is frighteningly honeyed and its blatant acidity brings out all the right zest notes in the seafood. Major (three times) cropping from a “disease control vintage” by Orwinski who “knows the vineyard. It really is his home.” He’s still chanting “drop the crop!” in his sleep. The citrus and soda are glaring, exciting and invigorating in ’11, as is the aforementioned honey, the trump card keeping the Sémillon from being confused for Riesling.  Fascinating study.”  91  @RosewoodWine

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Alsace family estate winery dates back to 2010.

The lowdown: Grand Cru Pinot Gris. Kessler has been sold under its own name since 1830

The food match: Citrus Smoked Salmon Salad, goat cheese mousse, pickled strawberry, baby frisée

Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Pinot Gris 2008 (249623, $25.95) wants to tell you she’s late harvest but you know better. “You might say you can only fool yourself.” Golden gorgeous, silken pear custard and southern hemisphere, capsicum spiked fruit. Walks on little feat but ultra-marathon runs a sweet to dry crescendoing gamut.  92  @drinkAlsace

The Rosé

The grapes: Grenache, Rolle, Cinsault, Syrah, and Mourvedre

The history: From the Côtes de Provence, the brainchild of Bordeaux royalty Sacha Lichine (Chateau Prieure Lichine) and Patrick Leon (Baron Phillipe de Rothschild)

The lowdown: As classic a southern French Rosé as you are likely to find, gaze upon or taste, anywhere

The food match: Buttermilk Pancakes, bacon

Caves D’esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2012 (325076, $19.95) of calm, pale arctic char hue and creamy alabaster porcelain skin is a most statuesque and regal RoséWild herbs and country spice walk along a dry road in this most excellent pink drink.  89  @WhisperingAngeI 

The Reds

The grape: Pinot Meunier

The history: This is the third vintage for Vinleand Estates and the rare planted (approximately 1.5 acres) cousin of Pinot Noir

The lowdown: Winemaker Brian Schmidt is exploring the “potential of this unique varietal within the dynamic frame of Niagara. More reliable and consistent that it’s often “psycho” mirror image, Pinot Noir.”

The food match: Steak & Frites, Marinated Skirt Steak, Smoked Pepper Relish

Vineland Estates Pinot Meunier 2011 (225508, $17.95) offers a simple twist of fate from the vinous research control centre in Niagara. Has now gone well beyond experimentation, this 2011 tingles to the bone with pronounced floral waves and a sweet, tangy, concentrated cherry core. Solid focus and structured to please.  Piques a familiar rich scent of leather. Drank it “as the evening sky grew dark.”  88  @benchwineguy

The grape: Gamay

The history: Cru Gamay from Morgon. After Brouilly, Morgon is the largest winemaking area in Beaujolais. From the Georges Duboeuf stable

The lowdown: Straddles a serious and commercial line but the consistency of this Gamay is not to be disputed

The food match: Fried Green Tomatoes, corn salsa, feta

Jean-Ernest Descombes Morgon 2011 (946186, $17.95, SAQ 856898, $19.30, B.C. 866673 $21.99) is simply rich and decadent in raspberry, a bit cakey and jammy for the appellation yet structured and stylish. Barbera-like with tar, roses, fennel and balancing tannin.  89  @Dandurandwines

The grape: Merlot

The history: From master and mad scientist J.L Groux, winemaker at marketing and class organization extraordinaire Stratus Vineyards

The lowdown: When Stratus rolled out the Tollgate line I was skeptical. Where the Wildass group might hit you upside the head (in a good way, of course) the Tollgates earn their stripes with finesse and elegance. Created primarily for the restaurant industry. An ode to agricultural activity of Upper Canada

The food match: Panko-Custed, Pulled Slow-Cooked Beef Chuck, horseradish aioli, charred brussel sprouts

Stratus Tollgate Merlot 2010 (344101, $24.95) is a picture of modernity, warm and a touch oxy. Raspberry jam, dusty mulberry. Indicative of how special 2010 was for Merlot in Niagara. Really well made, built of a confident structure, mindful of an incandescence in finesse. Linear experience, with no breaks or pauses. Solid red.  88  @Stratuswines

The Splurge

The grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault

The history: From the Rhône Valley in Southern France, Château La Nerthe was born in the 12th Century around the time vines were first planted in the stone-strewn soil of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (literally the “Pope’s new castle”)

The lowdown: While the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are anything but cheap, they more often than not offer the best high-end wine values in the world. This is one of the best.

The food match: Braised Duck Leg, duck fat potatoes, ontario cherries

Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (735407, $43.95) exudes a bigger, bolder cherry and Kirsch liqueur than from memory, indicating both a flamboyance of the vintage and a torrent to a long future. A swirl of black cassock cooling the candied, cherry blossom centre is met by a wall of harsh tannin with a lash of tang pushing back the fruit. Will be stellar in five, or more likely ten years on. Love this house.  92 

Good to go!

Wine or beer on the long weekend? Both

Photograph by Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Wine and food captures most of my imagination and this space is in tune with that straight and narrow path. Diversions are always present, but rarely of Pinterest. This past weekend I came across something new in beer. Not so much in terms of brand or flavour, but in closure. Molson Coors has launched a wide mouth can with a resealable screw cap closure. I am certainly not a behemoth beer company advocate but I do applaud the innovation.

Related story: ‘Beerology’: Mirella Amato’s exploration of beer

Three beers are being bottled, well canned, in this fashion. Coors Light, Molson Canadian and Coors Light Iced T. Coors Light in a can, well, that’s res ipsa loquitur. The MC absolutely resembles its Don Cherry self. The Iced T is quite refreshing, on the acrostic poetry, feminine side of beer and quite frankly, I don’t mind it at all.

Courtesy of Chris Schryer, TorontoBeerBlog.com

Courtesy of Chris Schryer, TorontoBeerBlog.com

The can and closure are the rub. Nothing new here, this beer in a can thing, but they get iced cold faster and hold that cold better than bottles. No light transfer means no skunk, so there is a reduction in spoilage. And while the larger opening certainly means you can drink more and faster, the resealable option means nothing can crawl inside between sips. The light weight can also floats so they are perfect for camping and the cottage dock.

If you want to read more about the new line, check this out and this.

OK. Enough about suds. On to the main event.

The grape: Priero Picudo

The history: Rosé from the Tierra de Léon in the south of Spain

The lowdown: Don’t be frightened by the Dayglo colour. This pinky is perfect for hot weather

The food match: Fluke or Medium-rare Tuna Tacos with Pico de Gallo Salsa

Pardevalles Prieto Picudo Rosado 2011 (274449, $12.95) of huge hue is a veritable candy shoppe of licorice, gum drop, strawberry Lola and Kool-Aid. Funky cheese, currant jam and bracing acidity combine for an odd yet invigorating IVR*, Rosé experience.  87

The grape: Chenin Blanc

The history: Loire varietal has become the signature white of South Africa

The lowdown: MAN Vintners out of Paarl employs the original name “Tormentoso,” meaning storm, for the Cape of Good Hope

The food match: Paad Thai with Chicken and Shrimp

Tormentoso Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2011 (278366, $14.95) is outright Victorian where revivalist Gothic meets modern steel. A dark and stormy cocktail of flint, mineral, Paarl granite and Chakalaka. Tomato leaf, fried-green tomato and dusty chalk round out this perfect tempest of purple prose.  Fomenting and fascinating Chenin.  88

The grape: Moscato D’asti

The history: Italian Muscat from Asti, a northwestern province in Piedmont

The lowdown: Very low in alcohol with a slight effervescence. Ideal served well-chilled on a hot summer’s day

The food match: Grilled Chicken Breast with goat cheese and grilled peaches

Dezzani Morelli Moscato D’asti 2010 (187997, $14.95) with its sacchariferous, honey spritz glides quickly past grapefruit and into everything orange. Fresh squeezed juice, rubbed blossom, pith and rind. Light, refreshing and altogether satisfying quencher.  88

The grape: Sangiovese Grosso

The history: Younger sibling to Brunello, meant for early consumption

The lowdown: Esteemed producer and the lowest possible price for a Rosso. Much better choice than the $18 Vino Nobile by Casetllani in neighbouring Montepulciano, the sample of which happened to be corked anyway

The food match: Fresh Tagliatelle with Wild Boar Ragu

La Velona Rosso Di Montalcino 2009 (285429, $17.95) of medium girth is sturdy, taut, spot on. Tar, rose petal and cherry stand out. “My little pretty one” has got the knack just like good Brunello for bringing me back to Montalcino’s intoxicating reds, again and again. My Velona.  89

The grapes: Muscat, Perle of Csaba

The history: As in Moscato D’asti from Piedmont mixed with a smaller amount of the Hungarian Vinifera derived grape

The lowdown: Nova Scotian sparkling wine made in the traditional Champagne style and at a remarkably low 6.5 % alcohol by volume

The food match: Salmon Tartare, salmon roe, crème fraîche and homemade crackerbread

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2011 (256289, $25.95) the sweet-smelling starlet is seductive and wholly unique to the world of bubbles. The aleatory contract between unknown sparkling wine and imbiber turns to stone after just one sip. Causes me to react with a start and a coup d’oeuil.  I have been here before; in Champagne, in Moscato D’asti. “Here’s a little agit for the never-believer.” In Nova Scotia they can put a man on the moon. They can make great, if unusual sparkling wine.  89

The tease

The grape: Nebbiolo

The history: Royal red grape of Piedmont

The lowdown: The cheapest Barolo at VINTAGES since the 1990’s seems too good to be true. That’s because it is

The food match: Low and Slow Veal Roast with Nebbiolo, black currant sauce

Patrizi Barolo 2008 (653527, $23.95) is not the weekend wine you might hope it to be. Already bricking like a rural Woodbridge faux-mansion, the Patrizi would have best been consumed in its first year of business. An LCBO buy up for teasing purposes, this Nebbiolo carries a Jarrian curse. “Clichés are the armature of the absolute.” Typically and varietally correct but with fruit already fading. You get what you pay for.  86

The splurge

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot

The history: Bordeaux blend in true Napa Valley Meritage form

The lowdown: Though more than just a Cab, it’s essentially a “second” wine to Beaulieu’s Georges Latour Reserve. A loyal servant to the 1980’s heyday of California red wine

The food match: Grilled New York Strip finished with olive oil and a baked potato

Beaulieu Vineyard Tapestry Reserve 2008 (50393, $34.95) is an elegant and masterful blend unmasked and unblinded by oak. There is rusticity, antiquity and servitude to history. A woven carpet of cherries, forest scents and morning coffee. Makes me “feel the earth move under my feet.” You’ve got a friend in Beaulieu.  90

IVR* – Vintage Direct intrigue-to-value ratio

CVR** – Vintage Direct curiosity-to-value ratio

Good to go!