15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

15 in 2015

In the past 12 months I have tasted Canadian wines. Somewhere between hundreds and a thousand of them. Aside from day-to-day assessments at home, in the LCBO sensory lab, at the WineAlign office and at events in Ontario, I’ve also been a part of judging panels. In 2015 I sat in at the Ontario Wine Awards, WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada and Gold Medal Plates.

Flight 3, code red #pinotnoir redux. Right proper #NWAC15 picks & pours @FortessaCanada stems @winealign staff rock!

Flight 3, code red #pinotnoir redux. Right proper #NWAC15 picks & pours @FortessaCanada stems @winealign staff rock!

In 2014 the highlights numbered 14, just as in 2013 the number chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine was 13. And so forth leads to 15 in 2015.

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

The Legend, the Sommelier and the Godello #geddy #yyz #gmp2015 #goldmedalplates #rush

The Legend, the Sommelier and the Godello #geddy #yyz #gmp2015 #goldmedalplates #rush

Canadian wine is growing with exponential force, gaining ground in markets at home and abroad. Brits dig us. I know, they told me. British Columbia is a desert oasis of variable climates to fascinating degrees. Oh the Syrah, Riesling and Gamay that rocks forth. Ontario stood up to two straight brutal winters and screamed, “we still made great fucking wine.” Take that mother nature.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

And I quote. “Picking a top anything list is both a chore and a labour of loyalty. The opportunities to learn more about Canadian-made wine, especially the processes and the efforts, were numerous in 2014. Canadian winemakers opened their doors and when people came, they taught. They walked the vineyards, showed off their prized barrels and walked through the processes of making wine. Tasting and barrel rooms make for the greatest classrooms. Get out there in 2015. The experience is priceless.”

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

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

So I did. In 2015 I visited Niagara for Icewine Fest, discovered exceptional cider (with percentages of Pinot Noir and Riesling) made by Angela Kasimos at Small Talk Vineyards and have been pouring it on tap at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar ever since.

The pioneer for #vqa #wineontap feel good recognition from @winecountryont Thank you from @barquebbq #ontariowineweek #ontwine #drinkontario #pourontario

The pioneer for #vqa #wineontap feel good recognition from @winecountryont Thank you from @barquebbq #ontariowineweek #ontwine #drinkontario #pourontario

The taps at the two restaurants poured a record number of wines in 2015, from Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus and Leaning Post. In March we travelled with CAPS Ontario for an eight-hour intense immersion into Niagara Riesling and Cabernet Franc.

Smiles with hops. Beer fridge @Niagara_College @mkaiserwine @chefmolson @drjamiegoode #niagarateachingbrewery #notwine #greatbeer

Smiles with hops. Beer fridge @Niagara_College @mkaiserwine @chefmolson @drjamiegoode #niagarateachingbrewery #notwine #greatbeer

Another visit with Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario shed new lights, especially for Syrah from the Lincoln Lakeshore. In June I toured the facilities at Niagara College with Dr. Jamie Goode, Magdalena Kaiser and our host Chef Michael Olson. Jamie and I tasted through an impossible number to count Domaine Queylus wines with Thomas Bachelder. On that I will report really soon. Really soon…

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

The Cool Chardonnay conference in July was in fact, the coolest yet. I spent three more glorious Annapolis-Gaspereau Valley days with Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Visits to Domaine de Grand Pre, L’Acadie Vineyards and Benjamin Bridge filled out the east coast foray.

Comity in the County godello.ca #PECwine #princeedwardcounty #cherryvalley #clossonridge #danforthridge #greerroad #laceyestates #hubbscreekvineyard #hinterlandwine #lighthallvineyards #clossonchase #adamoestatewinery #northshoreproject

Comity in the County godello.ca #PECwine #princeedwardcounty #cherryvalley #clossonridge #danforthridge #greerroad #laceyestates #hubbscreekvineyard #hinterlandwine #lighthallvineyards #clossonchase #adamoestatewinery #northshoreproject

In the fall I made pilgrimage to Prince Edward County to get a grip on the eskers, ridges and aspects of what makes wine so special in that part of Ontario.

As always there are wines that should have, would have and could have made the cut were there more time, space and yet another, better headline to write. Some were knocked off the shortlist because they may not have been quite as exciting though were this list one of “most important,” then perhaps they would have stayed put. These four are perfect examples of that condition.

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2008, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $16.95, WineAlign) Perhaps the assessment seven years later creates an unfair advantage but come now, a great wine is a great wine from its humble beginnings. At $16.95, in 2008 or 2015, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, on the Peninsula, this type of emerging propensity is more than gold or platinum, it’s money.

The Good Wine Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (350751, $20.95, WineAlign) from winemaker Ross Wise and The Good Earth Wine Company’s Nicolette Novak is a necessary example of $20 Lincoln Lakeshore Cabernet Franc offering up every reason to drink it and demand that more me made.

Creekside Estate Winery Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign) is what winemaker Rob Power refers to as a lay lady lay style. Still the Kama Sutra Pinot Noir of inviting behaviour.

Hubbs Creek

Hubbs Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign). The HCV Danforth Ridge is clearly a top Pinot site in the County (along with slopes on the Greer and Closson roads). Planted to high density the results are proven in wines like this 2010

The year that was 2015 seemed to bring out the adventurous winemaker, the risk-taker and the progressive thinker. While these five wines were not so much exciting as much as they were cerebral, they need to be mentioned. Whenever the envelope is pushed and the emotions of geeks are sequestered, well then a wine has achieved something special. These five really opened some doors.

Bergstrom and Hillebrand

Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (199273, $36.20, WineAlign) speaks the treble language of the vintage, predicated on bold ideas looking forward towards a bright future. Ultimately it is yeast and vintage, non partisan to site, that elaborate the Wild Ferment.

Southbrook Vidal Orange Wine 2014

Southbrook Vidal Orange Wine 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Orange Wine 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign). The technique and the practice is ancient and has been kept alive. The only questions need asking are “is it good, is it well-made and would I like to drink it?”

In bottle @Tawse_Winery #quarryroad 2014 #natural soon to tap @barquebbq #chardonnay #naturalwine #unfiltered #paulpender #vinemountridge #niagarapeninsula #vqa #ontwine

In bottle @Tawse_Winery #quarryroad 2014 #natural soon to tap @barquebbq #chardonnay #naturalwine #unfiltered #paulpender #vinemountridge #niagarapeninsula #vqa #ontwine

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign). It’s one thing to make a natural wine in Ontario and a world away to do so with Chardonnay. “The law was never passed, but somehow all men feel they’re truly free at last. Have we really gone this far through space and time?”

The latest rendition of Vin de Curé, the “Parish Priest’s,” and the Jura’s Vin de Paille (Straw Wine) of Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, VQA Ontario (367144, $24.95, WineAlign) is a white elixir in search of roast pork, braised belly and cured bacon. Not to be missed.

Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula (375ml), Ontario (405027, $39.95, WineAlign) though not a common Viognier practice can be imagined with Vendanges Tardives simulation.

Filtering Nova Scotia #peggyscove #eastcoastswing15

Filtering Nova Scotia #peggyscove #eastcoastswing15

I try to concentrate on new releases, unless something old (read: Riesling) jumps out and bites me in the ass. The 15 Canadian wines tasted in 2015 that wooed, wowed and whetted the appetite are the fingers, toes and tongues of their creator’s ideals, hopes and dreams. They are also quintessentially representative of their time and place.

And the winners are...

And the winners are…

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

From the rich limestone and sandstone beneath the clay, 1.1 acre Misek vineyard, a southerly ledge up from Highway 8 and an easterly hill down from Cherry Avenue. A very linear Ivan combs the catacombs of the Escarpment’s underpinning. A retaining wall of vintage attenuated rocks and stones, a vineyard’s low yields and the voices in Charles’ head have produced a striking Riesling. In 2014 adolescence has entered adulthood. Now before us is a grown up Ivan, mature Ivan, maybe even wise Ivan. Texture is in manifest control in this loyal, stay at home Baker, not yet running wild like free-spirited Picone. Ivan has presence, sometimes a great notion and is Baker’s longest bit of prose to date. The next great Riesling vintage will make it iconic. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @cbriesling

Swan Song- @ClossonChase Chardonnay CCV 2013 #clossonchasewinery #deborahpaskus #pecwine #pec #winecountryontario

Swan Song- @ClossonChase Chardonnay CCV 2013 #clossonchasewinery #deborahpaskus #pecwine #pec #winecountryontario

Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $27.95, WineAlign)

This CCV Chardonnay is one of departed winemaker Deborah Paskus’ final acts at Closson Chase. It will forever be noted as a legacy-cementing, swan song of career excellence. Crafted by Paskus and bottled by the next one, current winemaker Keith Tyers, the 2013 CCV is simply a tour de force. No such combination of richness, tropicality and pure grape tannin has ever infiltrated this Chardonnay, from this vineyard. I’m not sure there is a comparison in Ontario, at this level of excellence and at this price. A wine of pure impression, with Montrachet-like structure and Folatières-like precision. Seemingly capacious, its facile legerity is hypnotizing, quantitatively escalating in assembly of aromas, flavours, through texture and finally to longevity. The wine spent 16 months in a mere (17.25 per cent new) oak. That it notes 12.5 per cent alcohol on the label is next to impossible. The substance is just too buttressed to be so tender and effete. Impeccable balance, refinement and mineral finish. This is Chardonnay to confuse the world’s fine white collectors, to wreak havoc at international tastings for five to 10 years. Only 712 cases are available and at $27.95, is down $2 in price from the 2012. Best ever, hands down. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted March 2015  @ClossonChase

"There's no work in walking in to fuel the talk." @MalivoireWine Melon & @PearlMorissette Gamay #NWAC15 Parting of the Sensory #CuvéeMonUnique #shirazmottiar #treadwells #winealign #winecountryontario

“There’s no work in walking in to fuel the talk.” @MalivoireWine Melon & @PearlMorissette Gamay #NWAC15 Parting of the Sensory #CuvéeMonUnique #shirazmottiar #treadwells #winealign #winecountryontario

Pearl Morissette Gamay Cuvée Mon Unique 2014, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

In December of 2014 I counted the ’13 CMU Gamay as one of my mind-blowing wines of the year. Once again we are witness to the authentic, raw and natural impossibility of the wine, from 100 per cent whole clusters sent to cement fermenters. The hue is just impossible, the wine sulphur-free. That ’13 Gamay did not last. I tasted again this winter and it failed me. It may return. This ’14 will never leave. It is natural to the 14th degree and yet its rich, smokey chocolate  centre and structure of pure physical stature will not let it slide, into a dumb phase or oblivion. This Gamay will strut. It already does. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted June 2015  @PearlMorissette

Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2013, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

That flesh, that Kabinett flesh, fills the CSV in every crevice. In 2013 the residual sugar number lies between 15 and 16 g/L, and though the crop was bigger, it was still picked later than in 2012. The result is formidable corporeal concentration, consistency of house style and perhaps the only ’13 Niagara Riesling to imitate, perpetuate and extrapolate on the vintage that came before. This Cave Spring concentrates fruit and Escarpment into a powerful Riesling, streaming like charged particles through changing expressions. A lingering ascension hovers as it rises, until it slowly fades into the welkin, like a balloon that languidly gets lost into the blinding blue of a midday sky. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted April 2015  @CaveSpring

Malivoire Mottiar Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Any Chardonnay from a vineyard discovered on a bicycle just has to be the bomb. Winemaker Shiraz Mottiar has had many an adventure on his bicycle and it all began here in a plot of perfectly planted Chardonnay. A block that became his home vineyard. The fodder for this most balanced Chardonnay and its abilities transcend all that has come before. You would never know a barrel was ever involved and yet the silken sheaths of texture are well compressed and expertly ingrained. Nothing falls out of place. Everything remains in its right place. The radio is dialled in, from the top and outward in waves. “There are two colors in my head,” Everything in its right place. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted November 2015  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar

Thirty Bench Small Lot Steel Post Vineyard Riesling 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Riesling Masterclass

Riesling Masterclass at Terroir 2015

Balance is and therefore always was struck. The match percusses flint for a mere nano-second, with just a brush on cymbal, the rock bleeds but is quickly clotted because the fruit shines still, like around the clock light. The steely aspect is a posterior one, antithetical and yet purposed, from this vineyard. Youth tells common sense to think 2011. The Riesling behaviour seems to play that part, of a chalky, piercing acidity, so typical of that vintage and so distinctly Thirty Bench. That the wine is older is not a big surprise because 2009 is the bomb. It may just be the best Riesling vintage, from on that Bench, in the last 10. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted May 2015  @ThirtyBench

C.C. Jentsch Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Oh so beautifully nasty Syrah, spicy, saucy and wicked. Resin, somewhere between myrrh and mastic, redacts reductively and tension stretches the savoury aspects in all directions. Blood orange and anise blend into the aromatic grain, repeating again through flavour mettle. Fruit, acidity and tannin are interwoven, circulating and on edge, in pitch perfect darkness. Syrah in the big time with the stuffing to age. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015  @CCJentschCellar

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Leaning Post Wines Pinot Noir McNally Vineyard 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

“I want you to see the difference between vineyards. That’s terroir.” This the crux and the impetus to abide and acquiesce fruit from McNally, a cooler, higher site of younger vines. For Ilya, this is “truffle hunting, eating roasted pig, at the base of an oak tree.” The forest floor and the catalytic funk come across more in flavour than smell, following cherries in the dead of an aromatic night. Modernity be damned, this strikes ripe, layered and nearly indelicate. The wine’s got some real chew to it, along with crispy flowers, like nasturtium and lavender. “I think this is the best Pinot that I’ve made,” boasts Senchuk, from 15 year-old vines at Peninsula Ridge. Ilya’s muse came from the 2010 made by winemaker Jamie Evans, along with the Voyageur ’10 made by Ross Wise at Keint-He. Wines that spoke in a vernacular that Senchuk could understand and relate to on a deeper level. Prime ripeness defines 2012. Though it teases of grandiose terroir, its complexities reign in the power with each sip, every time. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @LeaningPostWine

Potatoes, not wine #pei @normhardie

Potatoes, not wine #pei @normhardie

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)

Procuring depth in County Pinot Noir is a tough task within the constraints of resisting a temptation to reach for sugars, alcohol and dark berry fruit. Norm Hardie’s 2013 unfiltered (at 10.9 per cent) and lambent exegesis succeeds because it offers the best of all available worlds. Roots for vines that burrow to limestone develop a structure that while may have at one time been inconsistent, have crossed the threshold in ’13 to establish a guarantee. A Hardie PEC Pinot Noir can be bright and accessible. It can also be tough, tart and tannic, as it is here, again, but not without its foil. The work is now innate, the transitions seamless, the crossroads left in the dust. This wine will please two camps; those who can afford and demand immediate gratification and those who are willing to wait for secondary (two to three years) and tertiary (four to seven) character development. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted April  and September 2015  @normhardie

Culmina Hypothesis 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (Winery, $39, WineAlign)

In 2013 the blend is not listed on the label though it strikes as a return to Cabernet Franc, albeit with a layer of lush not yet perceived. The 2013 combines the best of worlds put forth by the two previous vintages; ripe fruit, earthy-mineral tang, proper acidity and ripe, tonic tannin. The composition here is the most, accomplished, distinguished and relished. In 2013 the enjoyment can be right now or up to 10 years on. All this with thanks to exceptional balance. Drink 2015-2023. This wine has not yet been released. Tasted November 2015  @CulminaWinery

Sparkling wines by Hinterland

Sparkling wines by Hinterland

Hinterland Les Etoiles 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

An axial split between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay balances this traditional method Sparkling wine, specific to and what can only, obviously be from Prince Edward County. Acidity defines its existence in every facet of its being. A rich star to be sure, from a warm vintage, free from frost and more importantly, immune to mould. Jonas Newman talks of the methodology, in growing low to the ground. As the sun goes down, the canopy shades the fruit, slowing down the ripening, extending the season, developing the sugars, the complexities and preserving the acidity. At 6 g/L RS, with limestone communication and that sassy acidity, Les Etoiles in ’12 is pure County Sparkling. It exudes untamed apple and unnamed acidity. The Hinterland acidity. It strikes early and often. Just add warmth, stir and voila. Terrific year. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted October 2015  @hinterlandwine

Ancienne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir 2013 with a glass of soon to be released Rose

Ancienne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir 2013 with a glass of soon to be released Rose

Lightfoot & Wolfville Pinot Noir Ancienne 2013, Nova Scotia (Winery, $40, WineAlign)

If de novo for Pinot Noir is to be found in Nova Scotia then count me in because the inaugural release from Lightfoot & Wolfville is the trailblazer for and from the extrinsic frontier. Tasting the painstakingly measured yet barely handled 2013 for the first time (from bottle) is like falling into a glass of Nova Scotia cherries. Somehow there is this simultaneous and virtual voyage abroad to imagine a comparison with Nuits-Saint-Georges, in its earth crusted, sanguine, welled up tension that begs questions and belies answers. A year yonder the taste from barrel and what can be said? Pinot Noir adjudicated, into a cortex of recognizable consciousness and thus into the natural Nova Scotia mystic. Ignore and forgive the dope of first returns, for no one could have imagined such ripeness and immediate gratification. Future releases will dial back in the name of structure. That said, in 2013 there is a red citrus, ferric debate that will send this to an exordium seven years down the road. Impossible inaugural release. Approximately 50 cases made. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted July 2015  @lwwines  @rachel_hope

Stratus assemblage and varietals

Stratus assemblage and varietals

Stratus Tannat 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

“To me this is one of the most successful new varieties we are planting,” exclaims J-L Groux. In similar ways with Stratus varietal cousin Petit Verdot, acidity rules the roost. Smells like a just sliced open bag of organic earth, freshly neutral, funkless and emptying into a (first use) terra cotta pot. A rich, looking straight ahead expression. What it hides in fruit is lost to the brilliance of balance though plum is the operative hidden flesh and it will make a clearer impression when it steps clear of the tar and the tannin. This is pitchy sagacity, with poise and length. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @StratusWines

Tasting The Old Third at White Oaks

Tasting The Old Third at White Oaks

The Old Third Sparkling Pinot Noir à la Volée 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $59, WineAlign)

“On the fly” is not exactly what comes to mind from this 100 per cent Pinot Noir, first Sparkling wine made by Bruno Francois. Calculated, attention to detail and intensity of ideation more like it. Three years on the lees, no dosage and from a vintage to speak in more than whispered voices, of acidity that announces its arrival with immediacy and a summons to contest. The nose does yeast, toast, citrus and ginger. A first release revelation as ever graced Ontario’s waves, as dry as the desert and lingering with switch back traces of its yeasty, toasty self. A single vineyard can be this way, equally and in opposition of natural and oxidative, with a hue less than Pinot Noir, though unrequited as a triumph when you get a ripe white from such Pinot. The production of 1200 bottles is relatively house high in a stunner that needs no sugar to draw up its flavours. Drink 2015-2023.  Tasted twice, July and October 2015

asting across the @Benjamin_Bridge Vero, '08's, '04, Sparkling & Cab Franc Rosé. Thanks JB, Scott & Mike

asting across the @Benjamin_Bridge Vero, ’08’s, ’04, Sparkling & Cab Franc Rosé. Thanks JB, Scott & Mike

Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2004, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $95.00, WineAlign)

The ’04 is hanging in beautifully, on a wire of impossible balance, at 11 years old not yet really transitioning. There is simply too much brightness for it to give up its youth. You have to strain your ears, nose and throat to assuage just a hint at oxygen, life affirming breaths and then a keener sense of toast and yeast. Still behold the grapefruit, a sign of remarkable adolescence, the hang time amplified and in mass hyperbole here, in this current appraisal, address and time. How can richness act and display with such alpha freshness? How can an aging body not shed baby weight, turn lanky, lean and awkward? How is it neither the bitter pill of juvenility or senility has been swallowed? That is not the case here in a Blanc de Blancs which still has five to seven years of very active life ahead. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted July 2015  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

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Red, white and orange at Southbrook Vineyards

Southbrook Whimsy! Reds, Whites and Orange

She says she’s making a similar wine in British Columbia, but Ann Sperling will tip no varietal hat, will offer up no hints, will not reveal the make-up in her new, all-natural Orange wine. That’s right. Orange wine.

To arrive at this (nothing rhymes with orange) juncture, a bit of background on the winemaker and her Ontario employer, Southbrook Vineyards. Sperling is from B.C., where she makes Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and piercing Sparkling Wines at Pioneer Ranch, the family heritage farm under her eponymous Sperling Vineyards label.

Related – A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries

Southbrook as a winery and a vineyard is a leader in Ontario’s increasingly developing biodynamic and organic direction. Ann Sperling introduced proprietors Marilyn and Bill Redelmeier to the sprawling property in Niagara-on-the-Lake and it is there that their commitment to farming organically and biodynamically is managed in the vineyard by Scott Jones and in the winery by Brian Hamilton and Regan Kapach.

The Redelmeiers are no strangers to the concepts and the agrarian way. Who does not remember making necessary stops at their farmstead and pumpkin patch on Major Mackenzie Rd. between Dufferin and Bathurst in Richmond Hill. Southbrook defined that concept in the 80’s and 90’s, by bringing a distinctly rural Ontario feel to the edge of Toronto civilization. People came from all four directions for their farm fresh produce. Chappell Farms, Chudleighs and Whittamore’s all owe a major level of their success to Southbrook’s pioneering concept.

The Redelmeier cattle farm on the 19th century property in Richmond Hill morphed into that roadside vegetable stand in the 1980s. Winemaking came next and then in 2005, Bill and Marilyn relocated to Niagara. Having chosen to pursue certifications for both the vineyard and the winery – including LEED, biodynamic and organic certification, the Redelmeiers have been instrumental in the revolution.

Ann Sperling is a natural fit for their manifesto, to produce high quality wine from estate fruit under the strict O & B directive. The upper echelon Southbrook wines are bottled under the labels of Triomphe, Whimsy! and Poetica. That she has now decided to make an orange wine is, well, natural. I think a great deal of Ontario wine drinkers, along with those beyond these borders don’t quite get Southbrook. Gaining insight as to why the Orange wine should be made is no less difficult than acquiring an understanding as to what the Southbrook portfolio is all about. You need to spend time with the wine and the winemaker. This point is essential.

Winemakers are intensely focused individuals. Their wines live and breath. As a parent to their children, winemakers feel their every step. Their hopes and dreams rise and fall with every breath they take. Sperling had thought about it for years but the 2014 vintage allowed her to take the experimental, all natural plunge.

She is not the first to do the orange wine thing. In his May, 2014 Macleans article, Orange is the new white (wine), John Szabo reported on his involvement with making such a beast in Ontario. Together with Norman Hardie and François Morissette, they have fashioned one from Riesling in Prince Edward County. Szabo wrote, “Ontario vintners are experimenting with an ancient Georgian technique and a 500-litre qvevri. “With an imported clay vessel their wine currently rests in a 500-litre qvevri in Hardie’s cellar. Szabo had also discovered that Richie Roberts of Fielding Estate was the first orangista in Canada. Roberts made 400 bottles of skin-fermented Viognier in 2012, though not in clay. Szabo had previously referred to Stanners Vineyard Pinot Gris Cuivré 2010 as “the first orange wine made in Ontario.”

Ann Sperling in the Oak Room at Southbrook Winery

Ann Sperling in the Oak Room at Southbrook Winery

The natural/orange wine debate is hot right now and not because of the reasons you might think. The smoke and mirrors of discussing the merits of making such wines or to question whether it’s rubbish is clouding the discussion. Or as Alexandra Gill reports in her most recent Globe and Mail article, “fault-indulgent hippie juice as a major scam,” or the smell of “stale, mouth-puckering morning breath.” The technique and the practice is ancient and has been kept alive. The only questions need asking are “is it good, is it well-made and would I like to drink it?”

Then along comes the Hosemaster of Wine, Ron Washam who insists “don’t publish anything about natural wine on your blog in 2015.” Washam is right when he comments on the hypocrisy of “natural wine shipped in an ocean-polluting tanker…loaded on an exhaust-belching truck…and you feel good about it because the guy who made it didn’t spray Roundup?” This N-word wine story, however, is allowed. Here we are discussing an Orange wine made with attention to ancient detail, in our Niagara backyard, the one I travelled to the source to taste and you know something, it’s pretty fucking good? You’re a funny man and a really good writer but let me ask you something. You got a problem with that Ron?

I sat down with Ann, Wines In Niagara writer Rick VanSickle and Paul DeCampo, Southbrook’s Director of Marketing & Sales on Sunday, December 28th to taste the new or yet released Triomphe ’13’s, Whimsy! ’12’s and Poetica ’12’s. A ’13 Cabernet Franc Icewine and the mysterious, ubiquitous and enigmatic Orange wine rounded out the tasting card. The experience went a long way towards adding Southbrook Vineyards to the loftier queue’s cerebral vinous database. Going forward, I’ll surely never look at these wines in the same light.

Southbrook Whimsy! Orange wine 2014

Southbrook Whimsy! Orange wine 2014

Whimsy! Orange Wine 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario

“We’ve been waiting to do small batch, stem fermentation,” Ann Sperling tells us as we have a good look at the lustrous, foggy glass of orange-yellow colour more micro-described as either croceate or gamboge. “Now we have the infrastructure to do so.” Stems add architecture (and a preservative effect), something that is otherwise compromised in a sulphite-free wine. This nameless natural wine was biodynamically-raised, indigenously-yeasted and freed from the constraints of temperature control. No wood was used, only stainless steel and glass carboys. The orange and natural classification comes by way of the complex ebullition (closest in style to the Collio hills wines of Josko Gravner), in colour, weight, elegance and the dichotomy of skin fermentation. Sperling used acumen derived from the concept at Argentina’s Versado, where skins are employed in a similar way when making Malbec with husband Peter Gamble. This young wine is filled with terpenes and is highly, desperately aromatic. Lemon curd is up front and centre. It’s got a tart tang and at (approximately) 11.8 per cent alcohol, the gravity is impossibly beautiful. Sperling’s take is “a fair reflection on the vintage” and it’s the mouthfeel that sets it apart. What’s the varietal make up, single or a blend? If the latter, was it co-fermented? Ann will only tell us that it was harvested over a two week period in October. The big question is will it receive VQA approval. Viognier and Pinot Gris should certainly be options but I’m not aware of Southbrook ever having employed their use. Sperling’s Whimsy! Winemaker’s White uses Muscat so perhaps we could go that direction but the aromatics don’t jive. Riesling is the simplest road to take and if the Southbrook Connect Organic White 2013 is any indication, the combined effect with Vidal could certainly steer this Orange ship. But If I were made to guess, to have some fun with concept, I would suggest that it’s a blend of white and red grapes, but Southbrook does not grow Pinot Noir so that should rule out Chardonnay as well. So I conjure up a song. “Well I had a dream I stood beneath an orange sky.” With a union of grape varieties standing by. Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc feed my Spidey senses, so under the auspices of that marriage, what we might have here is an offspring, a Cabernet Sauvignon. A very natural one. An orange one.  Tasted December 2014

Triomphe Merlot 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

From 100 per cent estate fruit (so it’s organic and biodynamic), the accesibility here is immediate and gratifying. So ever-very raspberry, like berries and savoury flower dust rehydrated into a sweet yet tart and viscous tisane baked into a pie. That does not articulate a cooked component, but rather a concentrated vehemence. As far as Peninsula Merlot goes, this really finds both its varietal and vintage capitalized way. It’s both cool and critical, exemplary and snappy. Early thought leads towards a five to seven-year run.  Tasted December 2014

Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

Still organic through and through, despite only a small portion of estate fruit contributing to the overall design of the Triomphe Cabernet Franc ’13. Contracted growers fuel and fulfill the Southbrook ideology, to seek purity in healthy berries. The red fruit here shines on with Daliesque impunity. Its agglomeration makes a juicy, gregarious offer to sip. The vanilla-lavender streak brings elegance, more so than in ’12, along with an elevated sense of savour and really compounded red, red fruit. A natural sweetness and long finish are easy on the gustatory senses. Will be available at VINTAGES in February 2015, when the ’12 runs dry.  Tasted December 2014

Southbrook Triomphe '13's

Southbrook Triomphe ’13’s

Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

The VINTAGES Essential is fashioned from mostly estate fruit (making it mostly biodynamic) save for a tonne or two grower’s supplementation. The 13’s are just beginning to hit shelves as ’12 stock depletes and in many ways the new vintage excels and exceeds the success of the split decision ’12. Where the ’13 lags is in showy complexity, though I’m not sure that is the Triomphe Cab Sauv’s most distinguishing or valuable asset. The new year brings a darker, pitchier, heavier brooder and as a second thought, a slower build to complexity. If ’12 was the rare marble, this is the braising cut. The triumph is now an impression as a sum of parts, not outwardly obvious and live. Not so easy to disseminate, the ’13 could likely have benefited from a less urgent rush to market. The drive to appease the sellers may inhibit a quick response understanding of its fruit intent so consumers should be aware of the need to exercise just a half-year or so of patience.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Sémillon 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($34.95)

A getable Sémillon of plenary indulgence, of deep-seated intent, already blessed and blissful of honey. From a two-barrel lot, fermented in stainless steel with lees contact. This is an Ann Sperling special, both biodynamic and unfined, so it serves public notice as a Southbrook affiche in promotion of naturalism. And then it really begins to rock. Sulphites are present and perceptible but so are the more panegyrizing notes of salinity, mineral and rocks with ideas. Single-varietal Sémillon is an amazing thing, possessive of a clarity few can match. It ages with ease and it knows it. “When you know that your time is close at hand, maybe then you’ll begin to understand.” The ’13 Whimsy! Sémillon is an iron maiden, luminescent metal intense with even more honey on the back-end. Sémillon, hallowed be thy name.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Chardonnay ‘Minerality’ 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Slated for release in January or February 2015, “Minerality” as sister to “Richness” is the wilder of the two, less weighty (though up there at 14 per cent alcohol), possessing nothing in any discernible or palpable, tropical void. This little sister is “shakin’ like a tree. rollin’ like a log, shakin’ and a rollin’ now, that ain’t all.” Minerality occupied (40 per cent new, 12 per cent one-year and 48 per cent older) French oak barrels for 12 months, then sat in bottle for 12 more. Until now. Ray of power here unleashed, like a rock ‘n roll genie, finger-picking god ranging all over the map of scales. Though her sulphur edges to watering eyes, the aqueous emulsion from barrel selections leading to tight, reductive early life tendency will one day be forgiven. In fact, Minerality was rejected by the VQA panel on her first go round, bad girl as she was, but she’s now settling into her band-aid skin. She’s now a release away from being almost famous. The rigidity in redux has stirred through, having trod beyond pyridine freshness, though you can still feel the ghosts. Acts seemingly evolved but it manifests as an aromatic nougat. “Reduction is an indication of aging potential, or verve,” says Sperling. A comparison might be made to a 2000 Mosel, which was untouchable early on, but is now a classic. Could Minerality stand the weather? It has a very particular profile, a tactile mouthfeel and great, sweet length, from soul to soul. So yes, this is 2012 Chardonnay on the Peninsula.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($34.95, WineAlign)

Slated for a January/February 2015 release, the 100 per cent estate (organic and biodynamic) ’12 Whimsy Cabernet Franc spent time in (41 per cent) new wood. The significance of the barrel imprint is not lost on territorial influence as related to texture, more than anything else. A warming trend is balanced by a layering of savoury savoir faire and citrus (or the thought of). A repetitive drumming tang drives this tome with trepidation in reserved activity and acidity. Lacking any discernible tobacco, currant or notes of piquancy, this will request consumer patience before it comes into its own and out to the party. Though quite elegant and possessive of better than good length, I prefer the freshness and personality of the (’12 and ’13) Triomphe, for the money. Here I am reminded of some Tuscan CCR’s. Like a time-clocked, sui generis oaked and stately Chianti, this Whimsy will offer more charm when it reaches middle age, at least five years down the road and it will display plenty of caramel, wood polish and charcuterie cure at that time.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($34.95, WineAlign)

In a warm year like 2012, the perfect Southbrook synoptic storm for Cabernet Sauvignon gives cause for thought. Awash in agriculture (organic and biodynamic), of fruit (100 per cent estate) and from barrels (nearly half new and just Four Mile Creek shy of two years), this winemaker’s vagary palavers on verve, torpid integration and inevitable aging. The rich berry and earth weave is a veritable, variegated loaf of aggie layering. But it’s more than that. The centre is filled with cool runnings; mint, eucalyptus and chains of pyromorphite. All tolled you can feel the showiness of the vintage in this Whimsy’s emphatic overall statement.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Petit Verdot 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95)

Welcome to the new world of single-varietal junkets and Four Mile Creek Petit Verdot. Cabernet Sauvignon (13.3 per cent) and Merlot (1.3) offer up contiguous Bordeaux support for this Southbrook first (under the full varietal name – this used to be called “Who You Calling Petit”), slated for an April or May 2015 release. Culled from the estate’s biodynamic and organic vineyard. Musty, dusty and undomesticated, Sperling’s take is a swirling mistral of wild berries, sauvage, herbs, garrigue and even mushroom. It has yet to recede from its barrel play, showing nary a sign of evolution. Big tannins, high concentration and abrupt ministrations are the crux of its personality. It seems that it will stride out in two years, score early and often, then retire to the bench. The late candied flavours indicate a successful, if short career. Less than 70 cases were produced.  Tasted December 2014

Southbrook Whimsy! and Poetica decanted

Southbrook Whimsy! and Poetica decanted

Poetica Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($54.95, WineAlign)

The Poetica Red ’12, slated for a Spring 2015 release, is amazing and intriguing on many levels. But for the fact that Petit Verdot (26.5 per cent) plays such a major varietal role, what must first be declared is the disseminated learning applied to this application. The dos and don’ts of previous (only produced in) warm vintage Poetica Reds will see a shedding of those don’ts in this 2012. Ann Sperling ushers in a new era for Niagara Bordeaux assemblage and if this wine is any harbinger, others will follow suit. Here celebrates a love for the land (environment), poetry and more specifically, Canadian poets. Chief Dan George, he of North Vancouver and the Hollywood screen, penned “Words to a Grandchild.” In it he wrote, “in the midst of a land without silence, you have to make a place for yourself.” Poetica Red ’12 will have done that when viewed retrospectively, 10-15 years from now. It will have grown old, but also wise. As for now it’s brooding, melancholy even. It’s all of that and this; endemic, entrenched, crenellated, ensconced and indoctrinated with Niagara knowledge. Has a dusty, earthy, even funky poetry. More depth than many, much realized acumen and will live long. Given 30 minutes of air it showed the ribbons of classic Niagara reds. All these concepts combine to see Poetica Red ’12 not so much as huge, but with depth and complexity.  Tasted December 2014.

Poetica Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($49.95, WineAlign)

Whole cluster pressed, all estate fruit spent 18 months in only 15 per cent new (100 per cent French, mainly 300L) barrels. Indigenous yeasts saw more rotation than stirring and classic Chardonnay fermentation, which is code for “they always stick.” As a result, there was no need to impress a finish on fermentation. As per the Poetica practicum, poetry sidles up to the Estate’s flagship white, joined in ’12 by Chief Dan George, the Burrard Inlet, B.C. Tsleil-Waututh Nation chief. The Little Big Man (Old Lodge Skins) academy-award winning actor and poet penned “Keep a Few Embers From the Fire.” The final line “for a new life in a changed world” alludes to the Poetica’s destiny, affirmed by the success of this vintage. When it is released in the Spring of 2015, it will strike an immediate accord with tasters and consumers alike because it is markedly more accessible than previous vintages. Rich and unctuous, it is neither as tropical nor as misunderstood as Poeticas that have come before. Focus is laser sharp, balance is key and integration realized. The level of osmosis in its parts is just awesome. Though reductive, power will propel this Poetica to parts native and familiar, with élan in evolution. Tannins are great but certainly yet spun by sunburst. In 20 years time, words will describe this Poetica as best ever. That much is certain.  Tasted December 2014

Southbrook Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013

Southbrook Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013

Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($69.95, WineAlign)

An all estate, indigenous and inoculated Icewine, even if it were not thought possible to do so. Spoons out pure raspberry and apricot distillate, this Cabernet Franc is a product of happily fermented yeast because of a clean, natural and healthy vineyard. Bacteria neither takes a prominent seat nor dominates in the fermentation. Plenty of nutrition (or just enough, depending on the angle) is available in the fermentative state and then again in barrel. No trouble will come running. No Brettanomyces nor acetic negativity can survive. There is orange, pomegranate molasses and cinnamon stick in here. Goes straight to the cavity, with sugars and acidity set on high, along with structure and length. Really as good as Cabernet Franc gets in the idiom and finishes alternatively, distinctly dry. Will not turn Bretty like some older vintages. A thinker of clean, clean Icewine thoughts, from a desert of fermentation to realize a dessert garden of eden. I took a sip and “I got taken away, by a heavenly host, to a heavenly place.”  Tasted December 2014

Good to go!

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