Winter white out wine, beer and food conditions

White wine in the snow

The weather will step aside in April. Until then, satiate yourself.
Photo: Sergio Di Giovanni/Fotolia.com

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The winter that never ends. White out conditions, snow squalls, wind advisory and chill warnings. Everything just feels heavy. The OPP’s request? Just stay home, Ontario. Prepare for the worst, hunker down and warm the belly with full-bodied wines, strong mocker, beer and hearty winter meals. The weather will step aside in April. Until then, satiate yourself.

Here are six strength fortifying libations to ride the final wave of winter’s brutal conditions.

Clockwise from left: Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Finish, 13th Street White Palette 2011, Ara Single Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Planeta Chardonnay 2010, Bachelder La Petite Charmotte Nuits Saint Georges 2011, and Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

Clockwise from left: Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Finish, 13th Street White Palette 2011, Ara Single Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Planeta Chardonnay 2010, Bachelder La Petite Charmotte Nuits Saint Georges 2011, and Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Finish, Scotland, United Kingdom (279349, $3.25)

Stout matured over American Oak Heartwood and infused with Irish Whiskey. A Cimmerian entry in hue and hunger peels back to a curious lightness of being. The wood tends to an Arabian mocha aroma, the whiskey to molasses and gingerbread baking spice. The 7.4 per cent alcohol is integrated though an incendiary smoky magic weighs in to toast biscuits and braise a beefy pot au feu. “The Smoky Life is practiced everywhere,” in the I & G. A beer of good charm, smooth, silky, singing in melodic grace and with confidence.  90  Tasted March 2014  @InnisandGun

The grapes: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay Musqué

The history: Niagara winery founded in 1998. Chablis native Jean-Pierre Colas joined 13th Street as winemaker in 2009. Co-owners of the winery, the Whitty family has been farming fruit in Niagara for well over 100 years

The lowdown: Much of the fruit comes from the estate’s Creek Shores appellation vineyards, sedimentary, well-drained lighter soils on a landscape highly dissected by its many streams.

The food match: Fish Tacos

13th Street White Palette 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (207340, $15.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 15, 2014 release

JP’s who’s who bottle of white grapes, a mad scientist’s blend, the flask filled with Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay Musque. A re-release and much improved with a year’s extra weight, its “got your body right now.” Fortified by a carapace of grape spirits and purposeful in a white meritage sense of community, plus citrus, pith and a far-reaching, right correct absinthian length. You better you bet.  88  Tasted October 2013  @13thStreetWines

Fish Tacos Photo: Michael Godel

Fish Tacos
Photo: Michael Godel

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: From Marlborough on the western side of the Waihopai Valley. The name is both the indigenous Maori word for “pathway” and Latin for “altar”

The lowdown: “With rugged mountains on either side and two icy rivers cutting through, it’s a pretty extreme place. The very definition of raw, cool climate conditions.”

The food match: Potato Frittata with Feta and Green Onions

Ara Single Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand (361279, $23.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 15, 2014 release

Immediate impressions are of a user-friendly Pinot Noir in conceit of black cherry, chocolate and blueberry spice. These are surface notes quickly displaced by an adventurous senses of living on the edge. The wine dips into a brine and lithic earth saturated by glacial melt. This is a different sort of Marlborough Pinot that speaks a modern english, if too young to be understood. “I’ve seen some changes but it’s getting better all the time.” Will try the Ara again in a year or two and likely say I melt with you.  89  Tasted February 2014  @AraWine_UK

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Planeta first made this wine 20 years ago in 1994. It has become “the image illustrating the changes taking place in Sicilian wines.”

The lowdown: From Ulmo (calcareous with sections of deep vegetable matter) and Maroccoli (medium clay soil rich in limestone) vineyards in the area of Sambuca di Sicilia. Powerful Chardonnay.

The food match: Taco Night

Planeta Chardonnay 2010, Sicily, Italy (109652, $38.95, SAQ 00855114, $39.15, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 release

Wantonly lavish, heavy and tropically delicious. If ever there were a red wine substitute this is the one for the wishful thinker. Tasting this Sicilian is like liquid breathing sweet and salty, drawn butter. It’s a glass of dessert Chardonnay, dichotomous and oxymoronic in congealed warmth like cold-stabilized, oxygen-rich, perfluorocarbon. The tropical warmth is a combination of honey and lemon-glade, like Savennières with an unexpected aged Jura, oxidized, herbal angle. There can be no arguing the complexity of this Sicilian dream. Extreme humidity, with a bitter middle streak and ground nut flavours.  90  Tasted March 2014  @Noble_Estates  @PlanetaWinery 

Taco Night Photo: Michael Godel

Taco Night
Photo: Michael Godel

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Thomas Bachelder, flying winemaker, architect of the Bachelder Project, of trois terroirs, in Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy

The lowdown: “Burgundy is my favourite place to make wine,” admits Thomas Bachelder. “The large négociant control all (44) 1er cru vineyards so there are not a lot of small growers working with Beaune fruit.” Enter terroirman.

The food match: Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard

Bachelder La Petite Charmotte Nuits Saint Georges 2011, Burgundy, France (357228, $49.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 15, 2014 release

Is so floral, mineral, intense and hypnotic it might be dubbed the Serpent Charmer. Iron and wine indeed, the iron of Nuits, the perfume of Beaune. This provocative bottling represents the third year of production, is conspicuous in Anis de Flavigny and an underlying gate. If montagnes is the harming one, this is the charming one. These are all from the same barrels, so what really affects the wines the most? Land and hand.  93  Tasted November 2013  @Bachelder_wines

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard Photo: Michael Godel

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard
Photo: Michael Godel

The grape: Sangiovese Grosso

The history: The family has been in the wine business since Giovanni di Piero Antinori joined the Florentine Guild of Vintners in 1385. The Antinori estate is responsible for some of Tuscany’s most famous wines; Solaia, Tignanello and Guado al Tasso.

The lowdown: As stalwart a Brunello as any, Pian Delle Vigne is not immune to critical conjecture. Applying kudos to any big house in this polarizing vintage will raise an eyebrow or two. Why not Antinori?

The food match: Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin

Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (651141, $59.95, Nova Scotia 1006431, $64.80, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 15, 2014 release

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.  93  Tasted November 2013  @AntinoriFamily

Good to go!

Are you getting your daily serving of wine?

Wine tasting

Here are 10 current releases to help keep the wolves of virus and disease at bay.
Photo: chiyacat/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

I know you are about to scream at your screen. Not another column about the health benefits of drinking wine. Delete. Wait, hear me out.

Related: A wine prescription for cold and flu and Feeling under the weather? Drink wine

In a recent joint study between the Health Sciences Department, Brock University and the Oncology Department, McMaster University, scientists set out to prove the Inhibition of human lung cancer cell proliferation and survival by wine. Published a month ago, here is the paper’s conclusion: “Red wine inhibits proliferation of lung cancer cells and blocks clonogenic survival at low concentrations.” Nice.

The study was prefaced through the idea that “compounds of plant origin and food components have attracted scientific attention for use as agents for cancer prevention and treatment. Wine contains polyphenols that were shown to have anti-cancer and other health benefits.” Put two and two together and voilà. The group investigated the “effect of wine on proliferation and survival of human non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells and its effects on signaling events.” The findings are nothing short of astonishing.

The operative observation here is that low doses (read: moderate consumption) of wine may have anti-cancer and chemo-preventive properties.” White wine’s cancer fighting properties exist (at two per cent concentration) though they are not in the same league as Red wine (five per cent). Or, you need to (very rough math) drink 250 per cent more white wine to reap similar benefits. Such a quagmire.

Evangelia Litsa Tsiani, associate professor of community health sciences at Brock University added “our next step is to use doses of wine that correspond to moderate wine consumption in humans – one to two glasses per day – and examine the effect on tumor growth in mice.”

We already know that the Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s lecture series (now in its seventh season) has had a major impact on the global grape industry. Dr. Belinda Kemp, CCOVI Scientist, Oenology noted that “they’re a great resource for the wine industry and wine researchers anywhere in the world.” I wonder if the department has plans for a wine and health benefits lecture during its eight season. Hint, hint.

The ancients, or late Bronze Age people’s such as the Egyptians, Arameans, Assyrians and Babylonians used the natural world to prevent sickness and disease. Archaeologists recently discovered wine in an Israeli wine cellar, dating back to 1700 BCE. Think the Greeks invented wine? This discovery is 1,262 years older than the Parthenon. That’s nearly as old as the Pyramids. Wine and health relations go back to a time when a woolly mammoth still walked the earth, a time when The Hammurabi code was written. The premise? A commitment to protection of the weak from being brutalized by the strong. Just like wine.

In an attempt to justify what may be construed as profligate connections, the fact of the matter remains. With each passing study conjured up and proven by internationally recognized educational institutions, the health benefits of wine continues to develop as a thing of undeniable valence. Take honest wine with food, take it regularly and live longer. Here are 10 current releases to help keep the wolves of virus and disease at bay.

From left: Dante Robino Bonarda 2011, Domaine Des Amadieu Cuvée Vieilles Vignes Cairanne Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011, Bodegas Olarra Anares Reserva 2006, Fantinel Sant’helena Pinot Grigio 2012, and Mike Weir Limited Edition Riesling 2012

From left: Dante Robino Bonarda 2011, Domaine Des Amadieu Cuvée Vieilles Vignes Cairanne Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011, Bodegas Olarra Anares Reserva 2006, Fantinel Sant’helena Pinot Grigio 2012, and Mike Weir Limited Edition Riesling 2012

Dante Robino Bonarda 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (277640, $14.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Sourced from the Santa Rosa sub region of Mendoza. From sandy soils and built upon a brooding, musty set of wood-influenced aromatics that put the lurking fruit to test. Painfully dry with pronounced flavours of red licorice, sour black cherry, spice and baked figs. Gains richness as it breathes and then the drying tannins take over. Quite an effort for $15. Worth a look for something different and in spite of the idiomatic value it speaks.  88  Tasted February 2014  @DanteRobino

Provenant de la sous-région de Santa Rosa de Mendoza. De sols sableux et construit sur un ensemble de moisi couvaison des composés aromatiques du bois d’influence qui mettent le fruit qui se cache à l’épreuve. Péniblement sec aux saveurs prononcées de réglisse rouge, griotte, d’épices et de figues cuites. Les gains richesse comme il respire, puis les tanins de séchage prendre le dessus. Tout un effort pour 15 $. Cela vaut le coup pour quelque chose de différent et en dépit de la valeur idiomatique elle parle.  88   Dégusté Février 2014

Domaine Des Amadieu Cuvée Vieilles Vignes Cairanne Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011, Rhone, France (354233, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Paying a bit of extra attention to lower-priced, high alcohol Rhônes can offer rewards. There is much metal and merit in this Cairanne. At the price it imitates the grandeur of more expensive villages, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and to a more realistic extent, Vacqueyras. Hued in drupe, holly berry pitch, saturated in berries, spiked by berry liqueur and seeping along with spices and extracts. Outwardly generous in flavour, knowing well that “while we’re on the way to there, why not share.” All in all he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother89  Tasted February 2014  @Amadieu_G

Payer un peu d’attention supplémentaire à bas prix, Rhônes forte teneur en alcool peut offrir des récompenses. Il ya beaucoup de métal et de mérite dans cette Cairanne. Au prix il imite la grandeur de villages plus chers, comme Châteauneuf-du-Pape et dans une mesure plus réaliste, Vacqueyras. Hued en drupe, houx hauteur de baie, saturé dans les baies, dopés par baie liqueur et infiltration avec des épices et des extraits. Extérieurement généreux en saveurs, sachant bien que “pendant que nous sommes sur le chemin de là, pourquoi ne pas partager.” Dans l’ensemble, il n’est pas lourd, il ya mon frère.  89   Dégusté Février 2014

Bodegas Olarra Anares Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain (244723, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Perhaps it’s just as a comparison to the rest of this Spanish armada fiasco I am in the throes of tasting but this Tempranillo with minor support from two G’s, Garnacha and Graciano, really has got a hold on me. I grant that it’s a bit faded and heading to melted toffee but at $20 and with the idea to enjoy it now, the wild raspberries, gariga and spicy wood notes are a treat. Savoury, licorice, roast tomato and grilling baby veal flavours will help with a slow braise of the animal’s tougher cut.  90  Tasted February 2014

Peut-être c’est juste que la comparaison avec le reste de cette armada fiasco espagnol je suis dans les affres de la dégustation mais ce Tempranillo avec le soutien mineur de deux G, Garnacha et Graciano, vraiment a obtenu une prise sur moi. Je reconnais que c’est un peu défraîchi et la position de caramel fondu mais à 20 $ et avec l’idée de profiter de ce moment, les framboises sauvages, gariga et des notes de bois épicés sont un régal. Salés, réglisse, rôti de tomate et griller saveurs bébé de veau aideront avec un lent braise de coupe plus difficile de l’animal.  90   Dégusté Février 2014

Fantinel Sant’helena Pinot Grigio 2012, Collio, Friuli, Italy (310144, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

High quality Pinot Grigio from Friuli, with an Alps to Adriatic micro-climate ideally suited to both warm and cool the needs of the variety. You might ask, what difference does that make? Plenty. So much more distinct than reputation would hold and anything but just a Northern Italian white. Lit candle waxy and spiced in Sandalwood, with a lemon peel feel, cool climate salinity and gravelly, silt-inflected Spring run-off. The world’s fleet of Pinot Grigio “have been through hell and high tide,” but thanks to Friuli, the grape keeps its respect. Full flavoured, with smithy verve, punchy, more than practical.  90  Tasted February 2014  @ProfileWineGrp

Mike Weir Limited Edition Riesling 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (229286, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

The off-dry nose is an anomaly and I’m very curious to see where this goes. Persists very sweet to taste, without enough acidity, unfortunately, though the tropical flavours are boisterous and plentiful. This is a more than admirable attempt at a Kabinett style done right by a Mosel intimacy and attitude, though it’s lacking in body and structure. Still, it will age longer and develop more secondary characteristics than many a Niagara Peninsula Riesling, especially for the price. Worth tracking a case of 12 for five to 10 years.  89  Tasted February 2014  @WeirWine

Le nez de demi-sec est une anomalie et je suis très curieux de voir où cela va. Persiste très doux au goût, sans suffisamment d’acidité, malheureusement, bien que les saveurs tropicales sont bruyants et copieux. Il s’agit d’une tentative plus admirable à un style Kabinett bien fait par une intimité Moselle et de l’attitude, si elle fait défaut dans le corps et la structure. Pourtant, il va vieillir plus longtemps et développer des caractéristiques plus secondaires que beaucoup de Niagara Peninsula Riesling, surtout pour le prix. Suivi d’un cas de 12 pour cinq à 10 ans la peine.  89  Dégusté Février 2014

From left: Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Marchand Tawse Meursault 2011, and Kistler Mccrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

From left: Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Marchand Tawse Meursault 2011, and Kistler Mccrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (193573, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Southbrook’s seminal Cabernet has become that kind of go to, reliably delicious and affordable red, not unlike Sterling’s Napa bottling that emerged in the late 1990’s. That this can happen in any vintage out of the Niagara Peninsula is really quite amazing. Even more incredible is that here in 2012, it’s almost too much of a good thing, too hot, too sweet. Still, only Triomphe smells like this and on that note I must give it my thumbs up. The Peninsula’s earth, the purity of that warm, rich ’12 fruit, a touch of disco, that Sperling perfume. The palate is explicitly sweet, on that I’m sure most would agree but the wood is an afterthought. Alcohol is in check, berries are ripe, tannins are refined, ready to resolve slowly, efficiently and with pleasure. Direct, solid and righteous, despite the sugar high.  89  Tasted February 2014  @SouthbrookWine  @TrialtoON

Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010, Alsace, France (995316, $27.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Such a dry and powerful Alsatian example. Tight, angular, typically piercing and even more citrus-driven than ever. Jacked up, better than your average Joe Riesling. As a textbook example from a place where the variety rules, it tells “me that this world is no place for the weak.” Still, I find the Reserve bottling a bit overpriced, not having as much personality such as the cost-equivalent Zind-Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim. Another Trimbach that’s just “gotta have no illusions” and look sharp90  Tasted February 2014  @trimbach  @WoodmanWines

Un tel exemple alsacien sec et puissant. Tight, angulaire, généralement perçant et même plus agrumes axée que jamais. Mis sur cric, mieux que votre moyenne Joe Riesling. Comme un exemple classique d’un endroit où les règles de la variété, il dit “moi que ce monde n’est pas un endroit pour les faibles.” Pourtant, je trouve la Réserve embouteillage un peu trop cher, ne pas avoir autant de personnalité tels que le coût équivalent Zind Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim. Un autre Trimbach qui est juste “Gotta Have pas d’illusions” et regardez pointu.  90   Dégusté Février 2014

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (33894, $30.00, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Something’s missing, or rather something is happening here. The LCJ omnipresent warm Pinot coat of harm is conspicuous in its absence, or has it been reigned in? This 2011 is so much more friendly, more soft-spoken, expertly judged and picked ripe fruit richer than before. Plenty of tang and tannin but the pronouncement is in a savoury basil/chervil kind of way. Not just another high made by just another crazy guy. A most excellent, bright, Roxy Village Reserve, full of atmosphere and ambient music.  91  Tasted February 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Il manque quelque chose, ou plutôt quelque chose qui se passe ici. Le manteau chaud omniprésent LCJ de Pinot de préjudice brille par son absence, ou at-il été régné en? Ce 2011 est beaucoup plus convivial, plus à la voix douce, experte jugé et ramassé des fruits mûrs plus riche qu’avant. Beaucoup de saveur et de tanin mais la déclaration est dans un savoureux basilic / cerfeuil sorte de façon. Pas seulement un autre haut fait par juste un autre gars fou. Un excellent, clair, roxy Village Reserve, plein d’atmosphère et musique d’ambiance.  91  Dégusté Février 2014

Marchand Tawse Meursault 2011, Burgundy, France (285866, $66.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Winemaker Pascal Marchand possesses post-modern abilities to coax the most richesse from out of the basic of basic appellations in the Burgundian universe. This ’11 elevates an umbilical villages to exalted heights and it has really settled into its skin since I last tasted it in May of 2013.  The land is speaking and oozing in a primordial drenching. The tang and verve melts in the mouth, like foie gras cotton candy. What sets it apart is the end game mellow melding of pronounced flavours left to free fall effortlessly into a black hole of critical mass.  92  Tasted May 2013 and February 2014

Vigneron Pascal Marchand possède des capacités post-modernes pour amadouer le plus Richesse de l’extérieur de la base des appellations de base de l’univers bourguignon. Cette ’11 élève un villages ombilical à des hauteurs exaltées et il a vraiment installé dans sa peau depuis que j’ai goûté en mai 2013. La terre parle et suintant dans un trempage primordial. La soie et la verve fond dans la bouche, comme le foie gras de barbe à papa. Ce qui le distingue est la fin du jeu fusion douce de saveurs prononcées de gauche à la chute libre sans effort dans un trou noir de masse critique.  92  Dégusté mai 2013 et Février 2014

Kistler Mccrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma County, California (353706, $92.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

The vineyard speaks first, has the microphone, tells of its volcanic, limestone story going back to 1988. Talks in a Chablis whisper which may come across as narcissistic or somehow simple, but surely deserving to receive the benefit of the doubt. The kind of toast that has you reaching for the last jar of homemade berry jam. Lemon/lime reduction, as a gelée, consommé or demi-glace of fine Chardonnay whiffed by subtle smoke and non-discernible fat. The most subtle of all the Kistlers.  93  Tasted February 2014  @TheVine_RobGroh

Le vignoble parle d’abord, a le microphone, raconte sa volcanique, calcaire histoire remontant à 1988. Pourparlers dans un murmure Chablis qui peut apparaître comme narcissique ou en quelque sorte simple, mais sûrement digne de recevoir le bénéfice du doute. Le type de pain que vous a atteint pour la dernière pot de confiture de petits fruits maison. Citron / réduction de la chaux, comme une gelée, consommé ou demi-glace de fin Chardonnay whiffed par la fumée subtile et graisse indiscernable. Le plus subtil de tous les Kistlers.  93  Dégusté Février 2014

Good to go!

Grapes of dreams: Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay

Vineyard

Today’s world of wine is mind-scrambling complex, in a state of sensory overload and full of patent argumentation.
Photo: Artur Synenko/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Sometimes you can go home again. Too often we forget to do just that. As wine agitators we yearn to be blown by a birr to scour the world’s rarely visited vineyards for pearls of indigenous excellence. We are desperate to be curious, to be the first in and we do it for sport. We want to extol the virtues and the natural wonderment of Etna’s Nerello Mascalese and Santorini’s Assyrtiko. We champion the esoteric and the cool.

In the 1970′s American winemakers bottled white wine, including Chardonnay and called it ‘Chablis‘. The same New World daredevils were of the first to put ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’ on the labels of their wines, as opposed to ‘Graves’ or ‘Médoc’. Those were innocently sweet times. The early days of wine as comfort food, wines that reached a consumer comfort zone. The wines themselves were not the attraction, but rather the idea they represented. Cabernet Sauvignon has never looked back and now stands accused as being a ’colonizer’ at the expense of autochthonous varieties. Is the criticism warranted? Should a champion at the top of its game be castigated for its hard-earned, commercial success?

Today’s world of wine is mind-scrambling complex, in a state of sensory overload and full of patent argumentation. Writers, critics and sommeliers agree to disagree about a wealth of topics. They rant about inaccessible restaurant wine lists, feckless wine columns and shoddy blog posts. What grapes to promote heads the heated discussion. There is a constant ebb and flow of complaint, especially with regards to a too cool for school ravenous appetite for the most obscure grapes.

In the name of balance, a return to what got us here is both necessary and welcome. Bordeaux and Burgundy are original and safe terms of endearment. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are the grapes of dreams. If you produce them, people will come. They will pull the bottles off the shelves, “not knowing for sure why they’re doing it.” They’ll arrive at the wine store, “as innocent as children, longing for the past. The one constant through all the years” has been Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. “It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again” in the world of wine.

Here are eight renditions of the world’s most planted and famous of varieties, coming soon to a store near you.

From left: Cicchitti Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Hedges Family Estate Three Vineyards Red 2011, and Maison Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay 2011

From left: Cicchitti Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Hedges Family Estate Three Vineyards Red 2011, and Maison Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay 2011

Cicchitti Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Mendoza, Argentina  (301465, $21.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Sing-song, spongy sweet Cabernet Sauvignon with not much beyond rich, splintered fruit. Gets behind the wheel, drives over pavement tar, cooks with gas and nine years on it’s conspicuously copacetic. Is what was and will be should it avoid the mouth of the desert as we “watch a yarn of twine unravel.”  87  Tasted February 2014  @winesofarg

Chantante, spongieux doux Cabernet Sauvignon avec pas beaucoup au-delà de riche, fruit éclaté. Obtient le volant, peasily ousse sur le goudron de la chaussée, cuisine avec gaz et neuf ans c’est visiblement copacetic. Est-ce qu’il y avait et il sera devrait éviter l’embouchure du désert comme nous “regardons un fil de ficelle démêler.” 87  Dégusté Février 2014

Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA  (642207, $25.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon often walks a tightrope between ripe extraction and savoury pepper. When it holds ground and refuses to bite in either direction the result is increased complexity. Compare and contrast this DCV idea to the Ridge Lytton Springs blends of Paul Draper and then see even greater value from Dry Creek Vineyard. Proper, anaesthetizing alcohol gives gingerly away to winter savory, currant, red pepper flakes and Cab Franc-ish coolness. Creeping tannins, gathering and sucking the daylights out of the fruit will allow for future ever-berry resilience and shine. “That’s the magical kind ’cause it’s flowin’ all of the time.” Let this DCV play its slow hand, settle and enjoy it five-10 years further on down the road.  91  Tasted February 2014  @DryCreekVnyd

Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon marche souvent sur une corde raide entre l’extraction mûre et de poivre savoureux. Quand il détient sol et refuse de mordre dans les deux sens, le résultat est une complexité accrue, comme le Ridge cabines de Paul Draper et encore plus les valeurs de Dry Creek Vineyard. Bon, anesthésier l’alcool donne précaution loin de sarriette, de cassis, de flocons de piment rouge et de sang-froid Cab Franc-ish. Creeping tanins, la collecte et sucer les Daylights des fruits permettra avenir résilience jamais-berry et brillance. “C’est le genre magique parce que c’est flowin ’tout le temps.” Que ce DCV jouer son lent main, à s’installer et profiter de cinq-dix années plus loin sur la route.  91  Dégusté Février 2014

Hedges Family Estate Three Vineyards Red 2011, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Washington, USA  (1594, $32.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

A most interesting Washington blend out of a vintage worth seeking out. Abstruse fruit package in five varieties, conjoined like a semi-sweet chocolate dessert of flourless proportions and marked by a grain and an exceptional, altitudinous presence that can’t be denied. Berries of all colours and levels of sweet/tart, evergreen verdigris, velvety texture, richesse, luxury magic mountain air. “Walk in the sun, up on Magic Mountain, Red mountain wine, everybody laughs.” This Hedges has that effect. A more than sensible price for all that’s going on and anything but a burden.  92  Tasted February 2014  @hedgeswine

Un mélange de Washington le plus intéressant sur un millésime vaut vraiment le détour. Paquet de fruits abscons en cinq variétés, uni comme un dessert de chocolat mi-sucré de proportions sans farine et marquées par un grain et une présence altitudinous exceptionnelle qui ne peut être niée. Baies de toutes les couleurs et des niveaux de sucré / acidulé, à feuilles persistantes vert de gris, texture veloutée, Richesse, luxe magie air de la montagne. “Promenade au soleil, sur Magic Mountain, le vin rouge de la montagne, tout le monde rit.” Cette Hedges a cet effet. Un prix plus que raisonnable pour tout ce qui se passe et tout, mais un fardeau.  92   Dégusté Février 2014

Maison Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay 2011, Burgundy, France (299867, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Technical information overload on the back label indicates attention to detail and something special this way comes. Flamboyance for $19, unabashed, buttery Chardonnay, soft and very, very generous. The expansive palate parches, draws moisture, making for wanting more. As a harbinger for what will be a classic vintage, this RdB offers a gratuitous entry, greater value and likely as much complexity as compared to many wines at twice the price. A bit herbal and vegetal on the back-end, but not out of control.  88  Tasted February 2014  @Rochedebellene

Informations techniques surcharge sur l’étiquette arrière indique l’attention au détail et quelque chose de spécial cette manière vient. Flamboyance pour 19 $, éhontée, beurre Chardonnay, doux et très, très généreux. La bouche large de la dessèche attire l’humidité, ce qui pour vouloir plus. Comme un signe avant-coureur de ce qui sera un millésime classique, ce RdB offre une entrée gratuite, une plus grande valeur et probablement autant complexité par rapport à de nombreux vins à deux fois le prix. Un peu de fines herbes et végétaux sur l’arrière, mais pas hors de contrôle.  88  Dégusté Février 2014

From left: Rustenberg Chardonnay 2012, Keint He Portage Chardonnay 2012, Keint He Chardonnay FoxCroft Vineyard 2012, and Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2010

From left: Rustenberg Chardonnay 2012, Keint He Portage Chardonnay 2012, Keint He Chardonnay FoxCroft Vineyard 2012, and Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2010

Rustenberg Chardonnay 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa (598631, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Subtle and reserved for Stellenbosch Chardonnay, in its own dépêche mode, not in any hurry or trapped by fashion. Speaks in the dialect of the green apple orchard and subtle spice helps to render its baby fat. Amenable and approachable, chanting, building power as it goes, restoring faith in the variety. Your own personal Chardonnay Jesus. Would reach out to touch so many imbibing ways. To sip with small bites, with the fish of the day and with a sweet lemon dessert.  90  Tasted February 2014  @RustenbergWines @WoodmanWines

Subtil et réservé à Stellenbosch Chardonnay, dans son propre mode de dépêche, pas pressé ou piégé par la mode. Parle dans le dialecte du verger de pomme verte et d’épices subtiles contribue à rendre sa graisse de bébé. Prête et accessible, le chant, renforcer le pouvoir comme il va, rétablir la confiance dans la variété. Votre propre Jésus de Chardonnay personnelle. Devrait atteindre pour toucher tellement de façons de imbibition. Pour siroter avec de petites bouchées, avec le poisson du jour et un dessert au citron doux.  90  Dégusté Février 2014

Keint He Portage Chardonnay 2012, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

Made from estate County fruit augmented by some bunches from Lighthall Vineyards. Same 12-month oak treatment (as the Voyageur) though typically more wood-spice pronounced on County fruit. Same goes for the feeling of minerality and a warm note of creamed wheat. The spice is one of peppercorn, the angles in lemon and green apple, the often tragically hipster terpenes not overwhelming and the opulence of the vintage remains king. There is a kinship here to the Niagara Vinemount Ridge’s Quarry Vineyard. Bury this 2012 treasure for three years and “let’s just see what tomorrow brings.”  89  Tasted February 2014  @KeintHeWinery

Fabriqué à partir de comté immobilier fruits augmentée par quelques grappes de Lighthall Vineyards. Même traitement de chêne 12 mois (comme le Voyageur) mais en général plus de bois épices prononcé sur le comté de fruits. En va de même pour le sentiment de minéralité et une note chaude de blé à la crème. L’épice est l’un des grains de poivre, les angles de citron et de pomme verte, les terpènes souvent tragiquement hippie pas écrasante et l’opulence du millésime reste roi. Il ya une parenté ici pour Quarry Vignoble du Niagara Vinemount Ridge. Enterrer ce trésor 2012 pour trois ans et “nous allons voir exactement ce que l’avenir nous réserve.” 89  Dégusté Février 2014

Keint He Chardonnay FoxCroft Vineyard 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $28.00 )

Fruit sourced from a single Niagara block. Despite having made the yeomans voyageur trek out to the County for vinification, integrity of the Foxcroft vibe has been maintained. Freshly cored Kenyan pineapple juice poured atop oat grain in a limestone molcajete. Bottled on Sept. 15th, like all the ‘12’s. Fullish, bullish extraction and at 13.5 percent abv, this Foxcroft has been handled with Wise acumen, with more rich texture than the others. A chew of nutty, non-acidic hard pineapple comes later and this finishes with a mild-mannered, even keel feel to it, like the winemaker and the estate’s keeper.  90  Tasted February 2014

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada  (33936, $30.00, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Here’s a Niagara Chardonnay that provides a sense of oneness or connectedness to place and community. Big atomics in ecstasy and a warm set of opulent accessories that steal the visual and aromatic show. The tinges are gold, platinum and patina all layered into one. Smells of a well thought out barrel program and of the land. Tastes earthy, sweet and racy. Huge NP expression “and I can see, hear, smell, touch, taste. And I’ve got one, two, three, four, five senses working overtime.” There may be too much going on but this is a wine that will run on high energy for 10 years. Winemaker Sébastien Jacquey waited patiently, honed and reigned in his golden vintage. Take note from here on out.  91  Tasted February 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Voici un chardonnay du Niagara qui fournit un sens de l’unité ou la connectivité de lieu et de la communauté. Big atomiques en extase et un ensemble chaleureux d’accessoires opulents qui volent le spectacle visuel et aromatique. Les reflets sont l’or, le platine et patine tous posés en une seule. Les odeurs d’un programme de canon bien pensé et de la terre. Goûts terreux, doux et racé. Expression de NP énorme ”et je peux voir, entendre, sentir, toucher, goûter. Et j’ai eu un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq sens des heures supplémentaires.” Il peut y avoir trop de choses, mais c’est un vin qui se déroulera sur une grande énergie pendant 10 ans. Oenologue Sébastien Jacquey attendit patiemment, poli et régna à sa cru d’or. Prenez note à partir de maintenant.  91  Dégusté Février 2014

Good to go!

From Cinquante to wine with Canada-U.S. hockey

Canada\'s Marie-Philip Poulin (L) celebrates with Canada\'s Meghan Agosta-Marciano.

Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin (L) celebrates with Canada’s Meghan Agosta-Marciano.
Photo: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images

as seen on canada.com

I hope the Canadian men’s hockey team watched the women this afternoon. Lesson number one: Play to the last friggin’ millisecond. Canada versus the United States is hockey incarnate. The games are always exciting.

When we gathered for that first historic Salt Lake City Gold Medal game in 2002, we drank cinquante. Mario would have wanted it that way. For the 2010 Vancouver golden goal win we convened with Steam Whistle. That historic Sunday in February was my first time out of the house after a right AC (acromioclavicular) joint shoulder rebuild. Hockey injury, of course. Wine did not factor into those generation defining Olympic hockey games. Back in 2002 names like Lemieux, Sakic, Fleury, Brodeur, Hull, Leetch, Modano and Roenick were toasted with beer, though back then the brands were not so craft related. In 2010 it was all Sidney Crosby and had I been acquainted at the time with the wonders of Sparkling wine from Nova Scotia, Benjamin Bridge would surely have been flowing.

Meanwhile, Super Mario turned out to be a serious wine collector so I wonder what Le Magnifique will be opening this Friday at noon. Team Canada architect Steve Yzerman is also known to follow the way of the grape and though he won’t be sipping Napa Cabernet with the other brass during the game, I’ve a feeling there’s a ’97 waiting in his hotel room should Canada prevail over their arch rivals.

Hockey stick and wine bottles

Hockey stick and wine bottles

The great Rhône wine scribe George Heretier posed the all-important debate, ”who says wine and hockey don’t make a good match?” If you want to exercise the powers of superstition, pulling out those two winning vintages will call upon the hockey gods to carry our Canadian men to gold. That and a Loonie buried beneath the surface at centre ice.

Here are eight great Canadian 2002 and 2010 wines to crack open and sip along with another Canada-U.S. classic hockey meeting.

Clockwise from left: Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc ‘Watson Vineyard’ 2002, Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2002, Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2010, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Burrowing Owl Syrah 2010, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010, and Stratus White 2010

Clockwise from left: Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc ‘Watson Vineyard’ 2002, Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2002, Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2010, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Burrowing Owl Syrah 2010, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010, and Stratus White 2010

Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc ‘Watson Vineyard’ 2002 ($30, winery) From A long and ‘wine-ding’ tasting road

Shows amazing longevity and freshness. Proof of the Peninsula’s magic to state ”you will never never never know me.” Simply solid red.  91  Tasted March 2013  @SouthbrookWine

Stratus White 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)  From Select tasting through years of the Stratus Red and White

Performs a demi-sec act which is not such a stretch, considering the late harvest actualities of the Gewürztraminer and the Riesling within. Could pass for dessert-like, cool-climate French (Jura) though after the chimerical declension it’s still nothing but a Chardonnay-galvanized meritage. Like warm honeycomb buttering steamed crustaceous matter. That Stratus White medicine, in rose potpourri and honey completes the classic scene within the portal.  93  Tasted September 2013  @Stratuswines

Stratus White 2002

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Stratus White 2002

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2002 ($50, wineryWineAlign) From A long and ‘wine-ding’ tasting road

From the Niagara Peninsula shows toffee and concentrated, oxidized fruit. That said, it has aged well and still offers intellectual spirit in dried fruit and potpourri. Great old tune to Dance, Dance, Dance along to.  89  Tasted March 2013  @SpeckBros

Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2010 (177758, $17.95, WineAlign) From Showcase Showdown: Rosewood Sémillon

Shows little procrastination with a superfluity of lemon, lime and paraffin but like all great Sémillon, the wine needs time. A block of wax keeps the honey down but look for a mellifluous ooze three years on. Glittering sheen, diamond-like focus and crusted by an accent of lemon zest. Krystina Roman will lead this grape to stardom. “Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!” Top white. Shine on you crazy Sémillon.  90  Tasted October 2012 and May 2013  @RosewoodWine

Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (ON, VINTAGES Essential, 193573, $22.95, WineAlign) From: Good Look Ahead at Canadian Wines For Thanksgiving

Drifts effortlessly along in an extreme brightness and lightness of being. A perfumed exotic beauty that displays definitive Cabernet Sauvignon character. Tea, tobacco, Cassis, vanilla, dark berries, proper acidity, good grip and length. Dictionary entry for the vintage, the Niagara-on-the-Lake appellation and the genre. No other sub-$25 Ontario Cab does the warm vintages (’02. ’05, ’07 and ’10) with this kind of grace and power. From and kudos to winemaker Ann Sperling.  91  Tasted September 2013  @SouthbrookWine

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2010 (73072, $41.95, B.C. $39.99, Alberta $44.99, WineAlign) From: Nine big November best buy wines

This Syrah will cure so many ails. Vouchsafe for a pepper-laced, plasmic mouthfeel, a maroon liquid pewter party of rocks and stones in the mouth. Playful and childlike, digs a pony, playing and offering really good fun. Does its own Okanagan thing becuase “ev’rything has got to be just like you want it to.”  92  Tasted October 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC

Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010 ($29.95, winery only, WineAlign) From: You can lead a county to the city

100 per cent Pinot Noir grapes is a phenomenal, inaugural genesis effort. More sanguine in colour than one would imagine, this sparkler is wonderfully sweet but also ”turns sweat, turns sour.” Pinot Noir is always potentially so dramatic but who knew it could be like this, like blood swirling in the glass. “Bottled in a strong compression,” with black raspberry, noticeable yeast and impressive finesse.  Out of the cage.  91  Tasted May 2013  @HuffEstatesWine

Stratus White 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)  From Select tasting through years of the Stratus Red and White

sends me immediately towards Bordeaux, in neo-marmalade, but also buoyed in perfume and body by 25 percent Viognier. “This variety worked so well in the vineyard in 2010,” notes Groux. Niagara honey and near-botrytis via Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc void of grass, full of vigor. A sharp note, neither metallic nor mineral, but a combination of the two is present in this so very concentrated ’10. Of a warm vintage (self-explanatory) fully picked by October 23. Though loaded with early Spring maple sap, foie gras and appley terpines, its sharp and framed by “tannic” tang and protracted length.  92  Tasted September 2013

Good to go!

What’s in a wine vintage?

What\'s in a wine vintage?

The question is always being asked, what’s in a wine vintage?
Photo: Rostislav Glinsky/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

There was a time when Ontario wine held no candle to my thoughts, filled no glass in my tasting regimen and occupied no place in my cellar. My how time and five years of enlightenment have changed me. Rarely does a day go by when that holy trinity of wine attention does not focus on something from Ontario.

My current obsession lies in the white wines from the 2012 vintage. The two previous years were so different, 2010 at first seemingly hot and bothered, then having emerged from its shell it has since clearly spoken in a language of elegance. The 2011 that followed gave wines of piercing acidity, verve and even austerity. Chardonnay, Riesling and Semillon all grabbed my acidulated attention.

First encounters with 2012 provided great skepticism. I continue the journey of ’12 discovery and the doors of perception are beginning to open. As a white wine vintage in Ontario, 2012 is shaping up to be a classic. Candour and acidity are there, but it is the rich, fullness of the wines that have taken the industry’s prowess to a whole new level. Riesling is brilliant. Pinot Gris the best ever. Though conditions may have not produced the coolest Chardonnay, winemakers who exercised restraint made beautiful wines. White blends that made use of highly aromatic varieties made their best wines to date. Reach out and touch Ontario’s 2012 whites.

The question is always being asked, what’s in a wine vintage? Not long ago I was emphatic to state there are no longer bad vintages in Ontario. The wisdom, experience and winemaking acumen has rendered that notion obsolete. There are challenging years for sure and this harshest of 2014 winters will certainly test the mettle of winemakers. Vintage variation is real and yes, there are no bad vintages, only different ones.

The new Kew Vineyards in Beamsville is on to something and 2011 was a terrific vintage to sidle up to their unique production of red wines. While appassimento remains an Ontario enigma, not quite like growing and producing a southern Italian grape like Aglianico, but the method is still a bit of a side-show. Kew reigns in the practice and matches it to the parameters of the Ontario vineyard and the climate. Kew the new red in Ontario.

Here are six new releases, a new Kew, a Prince Edward County classic Sparkling and four definitive whites from the 2012 vintage in Niagara.

From left: FLAT ROCK TWISTED 2012, TAWSE SKETCHES OF NIAGARA RIESLING 2012, KEW VINEYARDS SOLDIER'S GRANT 2011, FLAT ROCK NADJA'S VINEYARD RIESLING 2012, SOUTHBROOK VINEYARDS TRIOMPHE CHARDONNAY 2012, and HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE PETER F. HUFF 2007

From left: FLAT ROCK TWISTED 2012, TAWSE SKETCHES OF NIAGARA RIESLING 2012, KEW VINEYARDS SOLDIER’S GRANT 2011, FLAT ROCK NADJA’S VINEYARD RIESLING 2012, SOUTHBROOK VINEYARDS TRIOMPHE CHARDONNAY 2012, and HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE PETER F. HUFF 2007

FLAT ROCK TWISTED 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula (1578, $16.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES ESSENTIAL

Though the warmth of the 2012 vintage could have suffocated a blend such as this Twisted, to the contrary, this harmonious white unfolds as a cold play. Cool, crisp, wonderfully tart and full of citrus zest. Plenty of sunshine but no burn. Waxy and rich like excellent Moscato along with the creamy confection of mango and the tang of what pale, trenchant pineapple used to be, before it went golden. The blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay magnetizes the opposing forces of residual sugar and modest alcohol. “And you are not wrong to ask who does this belong to? It belongs to all of us.” Best Twisted to date.  89  @brightlighter1  Tasted January 2014

TAWSE SKETCHES OF NIAGARA RIESLING 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89029, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 15th, 2014 Release

Frothing at the glass, full on soda aromatic entry, verging to off-dry white peach and yellow plum flavours. Full of tang and zest, enriching flavours that render the soda irrelevant. All in, vigorous ’12, most ever perhaps. From my earlier note: “s’got quite the tropical warmth for Bench Riesling. When considered in terms of the vintage, this is nearly a Riesling in the service of a Pinot Gris. Very juicy fruit, dry but bursting in fricative verve. Extreme quality, low-cost. Now on tap at Barque Smokehouse.  89  Tasted August 2013 and January 2014  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

KEW VINEYARDS SOLDIER’S GRANT 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula  (367318, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 1st, 2014 Release

Winemaker Philip Dowell draws upon his Aussie roots, delves into a northern Italian technique (appassimento) and along with Beamsville grower Graham Rennie, does the practice proud. Vineland Research Institute has been working towards developing a Niagara appassimento thing, already embraced by the likes of Foreign Affair, Pillitteri and Colaneri. Now Kew takes the torch but with an altered finesse and restraint. Raspberry and the wet warmth of spring sun, saturated earth give way to dusty, sour cherry with an accent of peppery, herbaceous Loire-style Cabernet Franc. The dust ultimately trumps the sharp and then submits towards a metallurgical length. Would work with eclectic flavours, like Buffalo Chicken Nachos. It’s true.  88  @kewvineyards  Tasted November 2013 and January 2014

FLAT ROCK NADJA’S VINEYARD RIESLING 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (578625, $19.95, WineAlign)  From the VINTAGES, February 1st, 2014 Release

A champion cyclone of forces combined to elevate the already incumbent position of this Twenty Mile Bench Riesling. An ideal growing season magnified transmission upon a paradigmatic two and a half-acre block. This southern-most and highest altitude section of Flat Rock’s vineyard rests aboard a solid bed of limestone and wake me up if that rock was not drawn up into the vines in this stellar Riesling vintage. Sure its warm and nearly off-dry but such an effortless squeeze of lemon hydrates and elevates orchard fruit and honey out of the year of the lemon. After each sip its “every time you kiss me, lemon crush.” Love this prince of a Twenty Mile white in 2012, the dynamism smiling on the tart, succulent fruit. The length is one of outright bravado. This will develop for 20 years, of that I am convinced. There is just so much fruit. A Nadja for the ages.  92  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  Tasted January 2014

SOUTHBROOK VINEYARDS TRIOMPHE CHARDONNAY 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake (172338, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 15th, 2014 Release

A sachet of fiendish raising agent and scotch kindled toast seem initially atypical for the vintage but are kept in check and work alongside one another to great effect. Halfway in there are notes of lemon butter, saltwater-marked wooden ship, pine forest on a warm morning and organic smells of the world outside. The glow and ardor of what Chardonnay can rightfully be in 2012 take the lead at the mid-point and carry Triomphe through to an eco-rich, full-bodied good glass. “On the water, very free, and easy.”  89  Tasted February 2014  @SouthbrookWine

HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE PETER F. HUFF 2007, Traditional Method, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (198754, $39.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 15th, 2014 Release

This is a glorious vintage for the classic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir flagship Huff bubbles. Lees affected in waves of chewy, fernetty, lime sherbet, ginger, coriander seed and apical almond butter. The humidity of the vintage plunges this complex sparkler into the brewing smells of a late fall apple orchard. Bronzing in attitude to middle age, a kind of medieval bubbles, hard on you, not letting go of its barbaric hold. The colour speaks of age but there is a huge amount of verve and life left yet. Your full attention is required to gather Huff’s traditional thoughts and this is quite possibly the most rambunctious PEC fizz I’ve ever encountered.  So different from the 2008 ”austere, dry, flinty wine of slate.”  92  Tasted February 2014  @HuffEstatesWine

Good to go!

2013: It was the best of wines

Red wines

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

as seen on canada.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 wine releases $30 and over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard is a classically styled blend of 50 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 per cent Cabernet Franc and 25 per cent Merlot, only made in exceptional years. Apropos choice from 25-year old vines (in 2010) from the warmer St. David’s Bench for Cuvée’s 25th show.  Poised, balanced and regal yet this mare is temporarily a head-shy, sensitive equine red. Will trot out furlongs of tobacco and meaty aromas from now and through maturity in five plus years. A saddle of round, red fruit will age gracefully.  92  Tasted March 2013  @MBosc  From: Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

A few wine questions for Kathleen Wynne

In September of 2008, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government and the LCBO decided to allow wine to be sold in farmers’ markets, albeit with some restrictions. Their guidelines demanded a strict adherence to outdoor structure dimensions, latitudinal/longitudinal positioning and ethnic-appropriate choices. No, really. In 2008.

The move was heralded with great thanks, not just for the bone thrown to the wine industry, but for the significance such change might have upon the system of selling Ontario wine.

Fast forward to December 2013.

Kathleen Wynne called a news conference. On the coattails of a 2009 initiative, the Liberals boast that “the strategy has supported significant growth in the sector, including doubling the number of VQA wineries, creating 2,000 direct jobs, record grape production, and the development of prime tourist destinations, from the Niagara Peninsula to Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore.”

All true and impressive stuff. VQA wines, which are made only with Ontario grapes, will be available along with seasonal vegetables and fruits at farmers’ markets, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday.

For the uninitiated, VQA Ontario is Ontario’s Wine Authority, a regulatory agency responsible for maintaining the integrity of local wine appellations and enforcing winemaking and labelling standards.  VQA Ontario does not represent the wine industry in Ontario and is not a marketing agency.

Here are the Liberal government program’s quick facts:

  • The province is investing $75 million over five years through the Ontario Wine and Grape Strategy.
  • Located inside selected full-sized LCBO stores, Our Wine Country boutiques offer an expanded selection of VQA wines, helping elevate the profile of products from smaller local wineries, with more than 500 wines from across the province available.
  • VQA wines are crafted entirely from Ontario grown grapes and must adhere to rigorous winemaking standards.
  • Ontario’s wine and grape industry contributed an estimated $3.3 billion to the province’s economy in 2011.
  • VQA wine sales in Ontario have increased by $100 million since 2008 — from $168 million in 2008 to $268 million in 2013.
  • The Wine Secretariat will be led by Premier and Minister of Agriculture and Food Kathleen Wynne and Jim Bradley, MPP, St. Catharines.

To see Niagara wine writer Rick VanSickle’s thoughts and to read the full text of the press release, along with another from the Grape Grower’s of Ontario,  please visit Rick’s site here.

I just have a few questions for Premier Kathleen Wynne, if she wouldn’t mind taking the time to answer them. Great ideas come out of necessity, and we certainly need this program, just as we need some level of privatization for the wine industry in Ontario. But I still have concerns:

1. Does the wine commerce plan involve issuing licences to third-party vendors wishing to sell wine at said markets or will it be restricted to wineries? Either way, what will be the cost of the licences? Will the farm market endorsement simply be an extension of a winery’s tasting room retail license? Will sales be restricted to two bottles per customer and will the license allow vendors to pour and sell by the glass or open bottle? Many markets take place in the early morning so will vendors be allowed to pour samples and sell before 11:00 am and before LCBO stores open? Will the licenses be transferable from one market to another, i.e. from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Orillia, so long as the vendor has secured and paid for spots in both markets? My apologies, that really was more like six questions.

2. You are quoted as saying “it means we can be a lot more competitive in the LCBO against import wines.” Will VQA wines be available in markets in close proximity to LCBO stores, like just down the block? I wonder what your thoughts are on points of sale simply moving from one location to another so I’d also like to know what percentage of people who frequent farmers’ markets are the same folks who make visits to Ontario wineries?

3. Will there be a restriction on which markets will be allowed to sell VQA wine? Are there plans to allow markets in Toronto and Ottawa to join in the fun, like St. Lawrence, Byward, Weston, Sorauren or Trinity Bellwoods? Will buyers be able to sample, taste and buy? The folks who attend those markets tend to shop at the LCBO so I’m wondering if the possible bite into LCBO sales has been considered? Can you say yay or nay? Oh, one more thing. Can you confirm that fruit wines, non-VQA wine, mead, craft beer and craft cider are to be excluded from the plan?

4.  The initiative also creates a “Wine Secretariat” to help the province and industry find ways to make the industry more competitive. Can you tell me what that job description is and what amount from the $75 million will be allocated to that work?

5. Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of the Grape Growers of Ontario, was quoted as saying the “devil is in the details.” Is there anything else we should know about the plan? You noted that “discussions with wine stakeholders about adding VQA to farmers’ markets in the province will likely begin in the new year.” Who are the stakeholders and what does likely mean? Will the enterprise go into effect in 2014, sometime in 2015 or 2016 and if your Liberal government were to lose the next provincial election, what would happen to the plan?

Thank you so much for taking the time to consider my queries. Good luck with the initiative and happy holidays.

Best Regards,

Michael Godel