Making tracks in Argentina

Where there’s smoke there’s Godello

Deeper varietal discussion about Argentina’s terroir diversity, 128 images and 118 more wines reviewed

As first seen on WineAlign

Old torrontés vineyards at El Esteco, Cafayate Valley, Salta

A November 2018 journey to Argentina did so much more than simply introduce me to that great country’s wines. That trip was a bold reminder that travelling to the source is precisely how we leave our preconceptions behind and allow for new education to change and alter our thoughts. The people behind the product are the real story and meeting so many of Argentina’s amazing people has transubstantiated my personal Wines of Argentina psyche. I hope for your wine sake you all will find the opportunity to experience what I have, but failing that many have taken part in a short term solution. 

The author in Cafayate, Salta, Argentina

Related – High altitude heliophiles in Argentina

Not too long ago I published that article about a trip that was indeed exactly what the title says. A Masterclass across Argentina. Visits to Mendoza and Salta helped me to gain a deeper understanding of solar radiation and high altitude wines. WineAlign has now finalized the WineAlign Exchange Argentine Wine Masterclass 12-pack. Those who have not made immediate plans to travel to Argentina they have instead signed up to have that country’s remarkable wines come to them instead.

Baby pork, apple, pineapple, Azafrán, Mendoza

In November I had the favourable and fortuitous opportunity to travel around with the team at Wines of Argentina and now WineAlign has teamed up with WOFA to bring 12 carefully curated wines to the Ontario consumer. The box holds 12 archetypal examples (malbec and much more), selected in unanimous accord by the WineAlign crü of critics, through tastings in Argentina and at our offices. Quality in all regions of Argentina has never been higher so the pool from which to pick was deep and wide. This is the invitation to taste the diversity of high-altitude vineyards.

El Esteco, Cafayate Valley, Salta Province

For those who see Argentina as a unilateral place of malbec, malbec and more malbec, think again. New plantations from 1200m to 2200m have characterized the need to qualify the variegate and highly diverse terroirs of Mendoza. There are now more than 1,000 hectares of cabernet franc and 18,000-plus of cabernet sauvignon. Yes there are 42,000 of malbec but that’s two-thirds and not necessarily increasing. Wouldn’t you have thought that number to be much greater? I certainly did. WOFA Educator Joaquin Hidalgo calls it “big noise from some nuts,” which loosely translates to “don’t believe everything you read or hear.” In fact 85 per cent of malbec is grown in Mendoza and there are great ulterior terroirs out there. The key is to seek and create new styles of malbec. Notes Hidalgo, “if we use the variety to create terroir diversity it will be a great benefit.”

Canadians, Tupungato and the Andes

Only 2,249 of 21,000 plantable hectares in Guatallary are full with vines. Huge potential is still out there but water/irrigation is a limiting factor.  As are ants (again, who knew?) and the foxes who chew through irrigation lines. So farmers put out water to satiate them. They must also deal with the Zonda, hot and dry winds that often come off of the eastern slopes of the Andes. Through all these challenges there is more and more talk about moving to an elegant way of producing wines. “Argentina can produce better wine. The more you talk about oak not being the thing to notice the more its shows how oaky the wines really are. The idea is to offer fruity, not so oaky wines.”

Beef tartar, egg yolk, pickles, soy, Azafrán, Mendoza

Conversations with winemakers, agriculturalists, estate directors and export managers bred a consistency of attitude and expectation across the country. And yet each encounter meant and led to something different. Dinner with Winemaker Gabriel Bloise of Chakana, Josefina Alessio of Ernesto Catena and Andrej Razumovsky of Alpamanta focused on alternative varietals, new, innovative and alternative winemaking styles. Razumovsky talked about the rains of 2016 and how harvest was three full weeks late. “Everyone was nervous,” tells Andrej, “with so much rot but the yields were so low and yet the grapes we picked were so healthy.” Strike another notch for organic and biodynamic grape growing.

Enjoying a Salta in Salta

In Agrelo Finca Decero has predicated it’s success on a massive single vineyard called Remolinos but smaller production projects are the new norm. It has lead to growing cabernet franc (plus tannat and syrah) and the recent addition of larger barrels is leading to wines of more florals ands overall complexities. “We’re trying to separate what we perceive is different,” explains CEO Juan Marcó. “This means increased micro-vinifications of specific blocks and plots as part of the larger single-vineyard.” Decero “from nothing” also has 15 hectares of planted petit verdot, which accounts for at least five if not close to 10 per cent of the total in Argentina.

Ani Lucero and Marilyn Demandre, WOFA

In Cafayate, Salta Province it is the Amalaya/Colomé agriculturalists, winemakers and oenologists, (including Jorge Noguera. Thibaut Delmotte, Rafael Racedo and Javier Grané) who know about the “expectation of a miracle,” especially with respect to finding water, but for here, the miracle is to be able to grow grapes and make wine. The prized vineyard El Adrenal literally means “sunny place.” and its altitude brings the sun direct to the vines. El Esteco’s Agriculturalist Rosario and Winemaker Alejandro Pepa showed us sun-kissed criolla and torrontés vines vines of 70 years or more. The moonscape of Piattelli Vineyards is where John and Arlene Malinski’s team produces exceptionally concentrated wines out of the desert; Agriculturalist Santiago Acosta, Winemakers Valeria Antolín and Javier Saldaño, Consulting Oenologist Roberto de la Mota.

With the Women of WOFA in Mendoza

I tasted upwards of 150 wines in my week spent in Argentina. That first report covered 37 wines from 37 producers. They were the 37 that struck me as being exceptional, ahead of the curve or simply the perfect sort of examples to speak about climate, soil and of course, altitude. The following 118 tasting notes expand on so much of what Argentina does best. Crafting quality wines at high altitudes, from Patagonia to Mendoza and Salta.

Melon soup, prawns, cucumber, Azafrán, Mendoza

Sparkling Wines

Chakana Vino Espumante Nuna Vineyard NV, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This biodynamic Brut is a chardonnay-sauvignon, 60-40 split of ambient yeasts and natural acidities. A dry Brut at 4 g/L dosage made in the Charmat Method. Full and I mean full mousse effect, light on the sweet sweats and a nectarine, peach and pear profile. Creamy character and so good alongside melon soup with cucumber and prawns. It seems so perfectly arid and right in balance. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  chakanawines  oeno2   @chakanawines  @oenophilia1  @bodegachakana  @ConnexionOenophilia

Josefina Alessio, Alma Negra and Ernesto Catena Wines

Domaine Alma Negra Brut Nature NV, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

A traditional method Rosé and while Josefina Alessio insists “we don’t confess on grape varieties,” this is in fact a pinot noir and malbec sparkler of eight to as much as 16 months on lees. The grapes comes from uncertified biodynamic vineyards in the production zones of Vistaflores, Tunuyán, Mendoza (3,608 feet) and Gualtallary, Tupungato, Mendoza (4,265 feet). An implosive bubble, all about energy and a side-step, two-step into texture. Raspberry is everywhere, as if it could be nerello mascalese sidling up to malbec. Low pH and just about dry adds up to red fruit, lime and overall zest. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  domainealmanegra   Alma Negra  Ernesto Catena Vineyards

Quebrada de las Conchas

Amalaya Brut Nature, Valle De Cafayate, Salta, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

A charmat method sparkling wine made from riesling (80 per cent) plus torrontés. A fizz of cloudy demure and a leesy funk directed by the warm climate at 1,750m in sand near La Mercedes. Also smells of lime doused guava and orange blossoms from the torrontés. Simple with notable sweetness, creamy and just tart enough to offer balanced fun. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaamalaya  hesscollection  liffordgram  @AmalayaBodega  @HessCollection  @LiffordON  @bodegaamalaya @hesscollection  @liffordwineandspirits

Canadians in Tupungato

Whites

Familia Schroeder Alpataco Chardonnay 2018, Patagonia, Argentina (629428, $16.95, WineAlign)

No oak, only stainless steel and all cool, southern Argentina climate in this Paul Hobbs Patagonia outpost chardonnay. Fresh and green apple delicious, simple and crisp. Really crisp. Like a bite into an edgy tart nectarine with slight green note. Beautifully salty and grippy, like Petit Chablis. Would be just perfect to kick back with a half dozen oysters. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  schroederwines   @SchroederWines  Familia Schroeder

Andrej Razumovsky, Alpamanta

Alpamanta Breva Estate Chardonnay 2016, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This is biodynamic produced chardonnay that saw 13 months in oak foudres after a slow fermentation, no malo and then, no filtration. “Typical of the  area,” says Austrian born Andrej Razumovsky and yet his run is a mere 2,000 bottles. From a vintage where “it rained like Europe,” 1200mm, six times the norm. High acidity is the result, very dramatic but all the while propping up and celebrating fruit. Rich, viscous and forward, full of pulse and energy. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  alpamanta  rogersandcompanywines  @Alpamanta  @rogcowines  @alpamanta  @rogcowines

Carla Castorina, Trapiche

Trapiche Chardonnay Costa & Pampa 2016, Chapadmal, Buenos Aires, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Costa & Pampa is Trapiche’s south Atlantic foray into a new appellation down on the coast southeast of Buenos Aires. Their chardonnay is a rich, youthful, precocious and grippy one, crisp and guaranteed to sell you on quality and possibility. Terrific first look. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  trapichearg  trapichewines  philippedandurandwines  @TrapicheWines  @Dandurandwines   @TrapicheArgentinaInt  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Fish at Luigi Bosca

Casarena Chardonnay Owen’s Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

From Agrelo down south of Luján de Cuyo and next to Casarena’s other single vineyards, Lauren and Naoki. Owen’s is named after a grandchild, one of four. Nice and properly reductive, the work her from winemaker Leandro Azin shows a learned ambition, a nod to Bourgogne and a grounding in greater Mendoza chardonnay need. It’s a tart, angular and yet fleshy chardonnay, urgent and delicious, welling in grape tannin, extract and acidity. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Federico Landrone, Andeluna and Damian Rubin, Bodega Bianchi

Andeluna 1300 Chardonnay 2018, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $16.99, WineAlign)

Represents and sets the imagination free to accept the Andean rain shadow, masl manifesto “vines touching the sky.” An fresh, crisp, clean and cool unoaked chardonnay of exceptional clarity and superb value. Apple bite with a similar note by pear from a soil-climate-altitude driven white with purity and finally, acidity. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Snacks at Domaine Bousquet

Familia Zuccardi Q Chardonnay 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (232702, $18.95, WineAlign)

Zuccardi’s Tupungato chardonnay is a best of both worlds effort, from Gualtallary and El Peral, one giving the sun and the other layering over with freshness. Ferments done up all in concrete then the usage of some older (third and fourth use) barrels. Feel the fruit and the acidity as interchangeable parts plus a true sense of varietal purity. Very orchard apple, taut and pretty, polished and petit, as in Chablis. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Snacks

Famiglia Bianchi Chardonnay 2017, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina (1461, $18.95, WineAlign)

A 50-50 stainless steel-barrel raised chardonnay with as much bite as any. Reductive and creamy with bitters and crackling acidity. The oak is very present, not so much in texture but certainly in palate character. Tart and finishing with further bitters. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Boys at Finca Decero

Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (384339, $19.95, WineAlign)

Sees four to six months of barrel and plenty of lees stirring. Tells the truth to say it’s all about texture so that it separates itself from a sea full of achromatic torrontés. The idea is to tame and temper both the terpenes and the florals. It succeeds in this regard and is in delivery of a very viscous wine. Still floral but very textural. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Restaurante El Rancho, Cafayate

Colomé Estate Torrontés 2018, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (357913, $15.95, WineAlign)

There is no substitution for altitude and temperature fluctuations to manage the balance in torrontés. Yes it’s floral but also driven by tonic, white fruit and acidity. It’s also fleshy and creamy from fruit like guava and peach but the aridity and altitude dry this into a fierce creature home from a hot climate. Better than ever, with more concentration from the vintage. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  bodegacolome  hesscollection  liffordgram  @BodegaColome  @HessCollection  @LiffordON @bodegacolome  @hesscollection  @liffordwineandspirits

Winemaker Ramiro Balliro, Bodega DiamAndes

Bodega DiamAndes de Uco Viognier 2017, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (SAQ 11963806, $23.35, WineAlign)

Thirty percent of the French oak used is new on fruit from the foothills of the Andes at 1100m. Warm alcohol on the nose and the intensity of a white flower distillate. Very vanilla, a minor heed of oak spice and more dry extract than many, viognier or otherwise. “Blue girls come in every size, some are wise and some otherwise, they got pretty blue eyes.” The genesis of Uco Valley viognier in solar radiated ripples and minor bitters rippling effect. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegadiamandes  maitredechai_ca    @maitredechai  @diamandes  Francis Dubé

Domaine Bousquet

Atamisque Serbal Viognier 2018, Tupungato, Valle Du Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

A viognier high on citrus and notable for tangerine though curiously more about flavour than aromatics. Sharp, tangy and calcareously salty with proper sour edging and plenty of energy at the entry level. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Crudo, Domaine Bousquet

Domaine Bousquet Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Particularly fresh and vibrant expression with some energy created by residual CO2 still pulsing in the bottle. Quality acidity encapsulates a wealth of fruit from apples through peaches. Mild pungency and ultimately a right proper way of expressing sauvignon blanc. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  domainebousquet  @domaineBousquet  @DomaineBousquetUSA

Bousquet, Tupungato

Salentein Sauvignon Blanc Portillo 2018, Valle De Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Described as fashioned through the matter of “nieve carbonica,” carbonic snow, to prevent oxidation, like using dry ice on garganega to protect and preserve freshness. Quite fresh in fact right here, pure and precise. Somewhat stoic even for a wine that believe it or not was first produced in 2009. Where is this in our market? Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  salenteinbodega  azureau  @BodegaSalentein  @azureau  @BodegasSalentein  @BodegasSalentein

Empanadas at Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca Del Alma White Blend 2018, Wine of Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

“From the soul,” which is a base of chardonnay (30 per cent) blended with sauvignon blanc (30) viognier (20) and riesling (20). Some carbonic pulse to this metallic and simple blend of extreme freshness. Really good acids, melon flavours and a true tang at the finish. Citrus tablet and pears too. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaluigibosca  fwmcan  @LuigiBoscaBodeg  @FWMCan  @BodegaLuigiBosca  @FWMCan

Empanada, Restaurante El Rancho, Cafayate

Amalaya Blanco De Corte 2013, Valle De Cafayate, Salta, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

The signature, entry-level white blend is torrontés (85 per cent) with riesling. When you think about torrontés as being one of the most floral white grapes this is exactly what you expect. The riesling manages the potpourri with a splash of stone, acidity and ultimately freshness. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Caminito, Buenos Aires

Fincas Las Moras Sea Creatures Lady Blanc (De Blancs) 2018, San Juan, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

A curious concoction of trebbiano, chenin blanc and viognier from Tulum in the lower valley of San Juan. White flowers and white fruit fill the air while citrus and grape spirit flavour bring high favour to the fresh and crunchy spirit. Also some verdancy and in the end really likeable. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

A toast in Cafayate

Casa De Uco El Salvaje Blend De Blancs 2017, Valle De Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

A three-pronged blend and élévage from sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and torrontés raised with concrete, oak and steel ferments. Sweet fruit in layers, quite floral and triply aromatic, easy, balanced and with resdiual sugar mitigated by near equal acidity. The new appellative Uco Valley blend. Peak effect. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  casadeuco  @CasadeUco  @CasadeUco

Snacks at Bodega DiamAndes

Masi Tupungato Passo Blanco 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

The connective tissue is altitude at 1,100m to tie pinot gris (60 per cent) with torrontés done up with some dried grape appassimento styling. High ion dry extract, creeping up there in glycerin and though low in acidity it’s quite rich, stylish and persistent. Drink 2018-2019. Tasted November 2018  masitupungato  masicanada  @MrAmaroneMasi  @MasiWineExperience  

Jamon at Bosca

Luigi Bosca A Rosé Is A Rosé Is A Rosé 2018, Wine of Argentina (553032, $19.95, WineAlign)

Drawn from Maipu, 60 per cent pinot noir with (40) pinot gris. Lithe, rusty, low in alcohol, tangy and fresh. Very citrus, very vin gris, very serviceable and lovely in its saltiness. Solid. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

BBQ at El Esteco

El Esteco Blanc de Noirs 2015, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

A table wine raised 50-50 in concrete eggs and stainless steel, Rosé by nature, freshness wholly preserved and tannins very much apart of the mix. Ever bearing for strawberries and with a real lemon citrus bend. The dry extract-tannic effort is more than notable. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Malbec

Familia Schroeder Saurus Select Malbec 2017, Patagonia, Argentina (379313, $34.95, WineAlign)

A malbec from which only the highly concentrated dry-skin maceration is sent straight to 225L barrels for fermentation. The time was a precise one, eight months plus one week and taken out on November 22nd. The Hobbsian obsession of full out expression is on full display, with fruit bombing the senses in hyper-real layers of bright intensity. Locked in, big, bountiful and moving. Gets in and attacks the olfactory nerves with purpose, like smelling salts, as only Patagonian malbec can do. A truly polished wine. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018

With Rocío Campoy Morist, Alta Vista and Carla Castorina, Trapiche

Trapiche Medalla Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (547869, $17.00, WineAlign)

This grippy middle tier Uco malbec is rich in chocolate and spice supplied by generous oak and 40-plus year-old vines. Earth is the catalyst for character a bit scorched and also lending a particular brand of Mendoza funk. Certainly malbec of a combined wisdom and personality to separate itself from other high-volume lots. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Fuego Blanco Malbec Flintstone 2016, Do Valle Del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

More or less at 1,500m and 800 kms south of Salta from the extreme climate of San Juan, here’s a brooding, able-bodied and highly hematic malbec. The glass is a bit reductive-effluent so work with it but it’s really quite stubborn and an earthy-worthy malbec with a bit of green meets paratrophic funk. Lower alcohol, pH and acidity, higher learning and curiosity.Then again it’s 70 per cent fermented in concrete egg so that explains quite a bit. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  fuegoblancowines  Fuego Blanco

Don Julio, Buenos Aires

Bodega Del Fin Del Mundo Reserva Malbec 2017, San Patricio Del Chañar, Neuquen, Patagonia, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

A warm location, even in Patagonia, low in altitude. At 350m and a wine that explains why malbec is planted everywhere, because it’s one that matches latitude and altitude to climate. Moderate alcohol and acidity comes explosively out of high pH and the overall feeling of sweet fruit, more fruit and all fruit. A very familiar and comforting red. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  findelmundowines  @BodFinDelMundo  Bodega Del Fin del Mundo

Caminito, Buenos Aires

Lamadrid Single Vineyard Gran Reserva Malbec 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (375485, $25.95, WineAlign)

Middle of the numbers road in every way, alcohol, acidity and pH. MOR in so many stylistic and emotional response respects. It’s sweetly fruity, somewhat salty, full, rich, thick and perched comfortably in balance right on the median line. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  lamadridwines  @LamadridEstate  Lamadrid Estate Wines

Beef tartar, egg yolk, pickles, soy, Azafrán, Mendoza

Hector Durigutti HD Reserva Malbec 2016, Paraje Altamira, San Carlos, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (322735, $34.95, WineAlign)

From a 1955 planted vineyard at 1,150m. Rich but also salty, really giving you the feeling of ripeness and elasticity. It’s made in just a minor reductive way that supports the fruit and then in terms of tannin goes through this chalky texture influx for structure. So very interesting. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  hectordurigutti  duriguttiwinemakers  @HectorDurigutti  @DuriguttiWines  Hector Durigutti  DURIGUTTI Winemakers 

The boys of Ama Always, Michael Mizzi and Alexander Raphael

Finca Decero Malbec Remolinos Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (195677, $25.99, WineAlign)

From the vineyard of mini whirlwinds that twirl on a site where many of these little gusts of air stir up the bare earth into dancing spiral forms. More floral than both the syrah and the cabernet sauvignon. Violets certainly come to mind. Smooth and the flavour is almost candied rose petal with oak integration providing a finishing spice. Very smooth wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Bodegas Sottano Malbec Classico 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

“The idea of this line of varietal wines is drinkability, to maintain freshness and fruitiness,” explains Christian Magnenat. Sottano’s is simple, correct malbec, of dark red fruit, balanced, drawn from many disparate, moving and amalgamated vineyard parts. From here, Agrelo, Uco Valey and others. Slightly astringent finish. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  bodegasottano  @bodegasottano  @bodega.sottano

Roasted rabbit, bacon, black radish, Azafrán, Mendoza

Vicentin Blend de Malbecs 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (299735, $19.95, WineAlign)

The core wine of Vicentin, it’s dark, hematic and so very sheathed in many barrels of all shapes, sizes and origins. Full and completely structured malbec constructed out of 60 per cent (on average) new barrels. Again the palate takes it to a better place, namely because of texture and then the concentration takes over with some bitters on the finish. Yes it surely is a power pumped wine. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Mark Bradbury

Vicentin Colosso V 2015, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

This 100 per cent malbec is all resinous oak, soupy umami aromas and syrupy flavours. Cedar, rosemary, tobacco and really high toned acidity. It’s kind of akin to a Chuck Wagner meets Rioja with plenty of residual sugar. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bodegas Sottano Malbec Judas 2015, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

A blend of malbecs that was a single-vineyard wine. Quite resinous and sinewy, of great depth, some violet florality and much ado about high-toned acidity meeting deep woody notes. Once again more astringency but balanced by the smooth consistency. Clearly a step up in ambition and quality. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Beef at Bosca

Luigi Bosca La Linda Private Selection Old Vines Malbec 2016, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The PS or Private Selection puts a focus on young wines of fresh fruit character. From the oldest vines (35 years-old) in La Linda, the highest area of Luján de Cuyo. A smoky, charred, grilled herbs and garriga multiplicity in character. It’s true Criolla plant garrique, bushy and fragrant with dark raspberry fruit, juicy acidity and spicy bite. All in balance. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bosca Empanadas

Luigi Bosca Malbec DOC 2016, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (452672, $18.95, WineAlign)

The DOC was established in 1989 and this icon of a malbec was first produced in 1991. From Luján de Cuyo fruit, remarkably rich and emblematic for the whole of Mendoza Province. Just what you expect, need and could ever want without an ounce of pretence or ambition. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Tortilla at Bosca

Luigi Bosca Terroir Los Miradores Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (132340, $32.95, WineAlign)

From 70 year-old vines in Valle de Uco with lowest of low yields so that one vine does not even function to produce a whole bottle. From the same genetic cutting materials, massal selection of the DOC malbec, but with obvious concentration and specificity. So much more floral, of a baking spice and a fruit intensity that truly is the bomb. An implosive wine with modesty, purity and a 40 per cent oak housing. Big and balanced with great structure and tannins that invoke seven senses. Put some aside and we’ll have some further discussions in 10 years. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted November 2018

Yann Janvier – snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Domaine Bousquet Malbec 2018, Tupungato Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (160952, $13.95, WineAlign)

Draws fruit from Paraje Altamira and Gualtallary, no oak, simply in stainless. Fresh and equally savoury, relative concentration and simple in effusive red fruit. Really negligible tannins and a sweet as opposed to astringent finish. Perhaps the best vintage ever for this entry-level malbec. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018   domainebousquet  @domaineBousquet  @DomaineBousquetUSA

Flank Steak, Domaine Bousquet

Domaine Bousquet Malbec Grande Reserve Vino Orgánico 2015, Tupungato Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The top tier malbec is a full barrel seasoned one though no new oak, with five per cent each cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah blended in. Reduction and spice are dominant but true blue black fruit layers, lingers and lurks. High-toned overview above and beyond the cimmerian aspect so it’s just a matter of time before the slope adjusts and the fruit takes control. Violets meet deep savour with mid-term age probability a real opportunity. Quite taut and spicy, a true testament to mixing fruit from Tupungato and Guatallary. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018

Julianne Pons, Bodega DiamAndes

Bodega DiamAndes de Uco Malbec 2013, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (404145, $23.25, WineAlign)

Harvested between March 18th and April 16th, this style of malbec is certainly gone for broke in 30 per cent new French oak for 12 months. There is less savour and more sweetness in both the fruit and the tannins and while it’s certainly the typical and the archetypal for the Uco Valley, it’s not quite as complex as the cabernet. It’s splitting hairs to say so but to be honest this is the wine to drink now and for three to five years while the cabernet and its great structure will go longer. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Beef, Restaurante El Rancho, Cafayate

Amalaya Malbec 2017, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, $19.99, WineAlign)

The flagship red in the Amalaya/Donald Hess property in Salta from high altitude in the northern Calchaquí Valley is a rich and concentrated wine heading towards these eastern foothills of the Andes mountain range. Dominated by malbec with cabernet sauvignon (10 per cent) and (5) petit verdot. Rich, succinct and driven by solar radiated concentration. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

With Marilyne Demandre, WOFA Canada in Salta Province

Colomé Malbec Lote Especial La Brava 2016, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, $29.99, WineAlign)

From a mainly sandy soil with small gravel pebbles at 1,700m and one of three site specific Colomé malbec investigations. The combination of flavour concentration and saltiness is exceptional in a wine fully equipped with solar radiation, acidity preserving temperature fluctuations and altitude enlivening libido. The combination of fruit layering and tannic structure is nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018

Smelling the Garrigue at Amalaya

Colomé Malbec Lote Especial El Arenal 2016, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (575290, $29.95, WineAlign)

The vineyard here is at 2,600m and the first vineyard purchased by Donald Hess, in a place and at an altitude that did not yet exist in Argentina. So the question is what does an added 300m (and 900 as compared to La Brava) bring to malbec? The answer is simply more of everything but especially concentration. This is smoother and more silk-textured, with less high-tonality and more Napa like consistency. It’s certainly the richest and most consumer friendly. Drink 2019-2024.  Last tasted November 2018

El Arenal is the pinpointed location for Colomé’s deep, dark and delicious malbec, especially for the Calchaquí-Salta locale. A warmth by vintage and richness by extraction has matched the saltiness of the air and the aridity of the place. The lengthy finish is notable and fruit persevering. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Quebrada de las Conchas

Colomé Estate Malbec 2016, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (477315, $24.95, WineAlign)

The Estate gathering draws from all three Lote Especial vineyards (La Brava, Colomé and El Arenal) plus fruit from Altura Maxima at 3,100. Bring them all together and the broadest expression with the middle ground concentration and the fullest texture is realized. It’s a cooler, more savoury malbec with a balance of richness and high tonality. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Canadians at Tres Cruces

Bodega Colomé Malbec Autentico 2017, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This malbec is drawn from 2,300m of altitude and the vineyard of oldest vineyards raised with no oak, only stainless steel. The idea is “the typical malbec from the Valle de Calchaquí.” The vineyards are pre-phylloxera and the wine is naked to the world, fresh and floral, salty, tangy, tart and quite intense. It’s even more rugged and rustic than expected but rich and full of possibilities. Peppery too in a reductive meets carbonic way. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018

Steaks at Don Julio

Colomé Malbec Altura Maxima 2015, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

From the Donald Hess farm purchased in 2005, with plantings between 3,000 and 3,200m of altitude. The extreme nature of this (and some of Argentina’s) highest of estate vineyards means frost and hail are very much apart of the challenge. And when you taste it side by each with the three Lote Especial malbecs you see that it is something very different indeed. The floral aspect is dramatic and the flavours the most intense. The saltiness and high tonality are off the charts. This will age for two decades without pause. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted November 2018

El Esteco

El Esteco Malbec 2016, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

From two terroirs, Punco and Cafayate, aged in second and third passage oak barrels. Like blackberries and Yerba Seca, a native savoury brushy herb that grows in this cactus populated desert. So reminds of sage pointed reds from the Okanagan Valley, albeit with more brine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaelesteco  philippedandurandwines  @ElEstecoWines  @Dandurandwines  @elestecowines  @VinsPhilippeDandurand  

With John Malinski, Piattelli Vineyards

Piattelli Vineyards Reserve Malbec 2017, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Malbec at 6,000 feet on a gentle rising slope in Cafayate is aged for nine months in only American barrels. Few malbec are clothed with as much barrel class in a Rioja way as this and no French is used, namely because of cost in a much larger production wine. The oak is done to bury the pyrazines and it works like a charm. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

New Piattelli Vineyards planting in the high altitude desert of the Calchaqui Valley

Piattelli Vineyards Gran Reserve Malbec 2016, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

In this version of Piatelli’s high altitude malbec the components are all bigger, stringer, faster and of specs where pH, alcohol, glycerin and also acidity are all elevated. The Grand Reserve sees both American and French oak and for 13 months time. The Spanish connection, whether it be Ribera del Duero or Montsant is evident in polish, silky texture, vanilla and liquid graphite. Very sweet black cherry, pencil shavings and even a note of cigar. Chalky, earthy finish. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Clásico 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Approximately 20 per cent of the fruit comes from the Uco Valley with the yeoman’s work provided by vines grown in Luján de Cuyo. What the house considers as a good vintage with a great 2018 looming on the horizon. At present a bit peppery-rubber stamped reductive so truly a baby with grip and concentrated liqueur. Strange in how it reminds of Western Cape syrah and ultimately solicits an expression of wow. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  altoslashormigas  @ALHmalbec  @ALTOSLASHORMIGASWINERY

At Luigi Bosca

Navarro Correas Reserva Malbec Selección Del Parcelas 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

The reserve malbec story is a three-fold one, from three blocks each no bigger than two hectares; La Consulta (San Carlos, Uco Valley), Los Árboles (Tunuyán, Uco Valley) and Agrelo (Luján de Cuyo). Each adds their own piece into the puzzle, from florals through red fruit to cool savour. Adds up to a layered malbec big in fruit, acidity and bones. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

An excited Yann Janvier eyeing dinner at Luigi Bosca

Pascual Toso Malbec 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (35170, $14.25, WineAlign)

If you are looking for a malbec on the spectrum that is brighter and lighter with properly and wisely integrated wood into that effulgent fruit, here is your $14 best bet. The Mendoza malbec tenets of smoky and spicy are quite subtle and fruit stands out, ushered along by a calming and supportive energy. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted March and November 2018

Fritters at Bosca

Viña Cobos Felino Malbec 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (118067, $19.95, WineAlign)

A blend of several properties’ fruit though 70-80 per cent comes from vines growing in 40 vineyards situated in Luján de Cuyo. A big sweet fruit and high acidity bomb meeting at the intersection of grip and freshness. The blend of sites amalgamates and mediates to spread great malbec love for all to share. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Salad at Luigi Bosca

Viña Cobos Bramare Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza (123729, $39.95, WineAlign)

Not the easiest vintage to deal with but the low quantity of fruit availability surely means quality of the highest order and a malbec here that could never be accused of flat, peppery or fat. The Luján de Cuyo fruit from four farmed estate vineyards is 100 per cent all in for a true to terroir malbec that even Paul Hobbs can’t override, no matter how hard he and his team might try. The accessibility playing field is levelled by an intensity built by alternating stratifying layers of acidity and structure. Smoke, smoulder, spice and then patience move from availability through need. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018

Mark Bradbury and Marilyne Demandre, Buenos Aires

Bodegas Bianchi Finca Los Primos Malbec 2018, Mendoza, Argentina (572123, $12.40, WineAlign)

Made from 100 per cent San Raphael fruit on alluvial soils with clay. Leads to great malbec depth plus surely hematic pulse and strength. It’s red fruit albeit highly concentrated, extracted, intense, spicy, smoky and full. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Andeluna Malbec Altitud 2016, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $25.99, WineAlign)

Fruit is 100 per cent Gualtallary and yes Altitud is a factor of a rise towards the Andean wall. More than altitude this malbec carries attitude, in good solid grip and firm intensity. A very meaty malbec, pitchy and sure of itself in every respect. These Tupungato soils give way top some pretty heady and deeply satisfying red fruit, especially malbec. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bodega Atamisque Serbal Malbec 2018, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (444737, $15.95, WineAlign)

Simply stated pinot noir of strawberry red fruit, a fluff of spice and ultimately easy to comprehend. Highly drinkable stuff that speaks a varietal language with obviousness and without complication. Nothing more needs top be said. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Zuccardi Polígonos 2016, San Pablo, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (568915 $29.95, WineAlign)

The Vinos de Montaña line from Zuccardi employs the name Poigomnos to refer to the many sides of a vineyard, also mimicked by Seb Zuccardi in his drive to celebrate micro-vinifications and the new diversity of Mendoza terroirs. The soils are alluvial and very stony, an elemental-mineral transference fact that needs to be contemplated and copnsidered within the context of a malbec effect and from this place in San Pablo, Uco Valley. This is in fact a different sort, from pyrazine to pepperoncino, dry, tannic and unique in its new spark of dark fruit. Quite remarkable for its ulterior motive and unique way of speaking for both the specific place and the estate. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018   zuccardivalledeuco  szuccardi  dionysuswines  @ZuccardiWines  @FamiliaZuccardi  @SebaZuccardi  @ZuccardiValleDeUco  @DionysusWinesTO

Cecilia Carrasco, Zuccardi and Julia Halupczok, Finca Sophenia

Zuccardi Concreto Malbec 2017, Paraje Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (455774 $39.95, WineAlign)

Concreto as noted and understood is a malbec raised only in concrete and not a barrel, stave or chip to be found anywhere near the purity of this fruit. Paraje Altamira is the pinpointed location and one of the Uco Valleys great new frontiers at 1,100masl. The spot is a spectacular alluvial fan laid out beneath the Andes and a certain depth meets richness of red fruit abounds, accented or rather accentuated by Zuccardi’s use of concrete vats. A very fine liqueur is the result and if the ’16 was thought to be luxe, this next step (and warmer, more nurturing vintage) brings malbec into luxury, bordering on hedonism. But it’s pure, exacting and transparent. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Finca Sophenia Estate Wine Malbec 2017, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

All estate fruit from vineyards at 1,200masl surrounding the winery in Gualtallary. Winemaker Julia Halupczok brings out the sweetest red fruit of simple purity and pleasure, augmented with mild oak spice. Gracious, generous and in the end, grateful for such a malbec. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Salentein Reserve Malbec 2017, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (640854, $17.95, WineAlign)

Located at one of Mendoza’s highest altitude terroirs at upwards of 1,300m in the Uco Valley. Mostly older (third use) barrels bring a combination of peppery reduction and oak accented spice. Actually a bit quiet to begin and then the fits, jolts and sparks begin to announce the presence of pent up energy and near aggression. This will take a couple of years to settle, unfold and allow the protected fruit to speak up. That it will, with good grip and even better structure. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Cabernet Franc

Zuccardi Cabernet Franc Polígonos 2017, San Pablo, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Polígonos exploration is a many vineyard sided affair and the altitude is significant at 1,300m from San Pablo in Valle de Uco, Mendoza. A relatively early pick preserves nigh high acidity and the alcohol is beautifully restrained. Just a hint of dusty, pyrazine edgy fruitiness drives the machine and keeps this pulsing with terrific energy. Both food amenability and aging potential here are excellent. If it’s verdant that’s a compliment to local character. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  zuccardivalledeuco  szuccardi  dionysuswines  @ZuccardiWines  @FamiliaZuccardi  @SebaZuccardi  @ZuccardiValleDeUco  @DionysusWinesTO

Rocío Campoy Morist, Alta Vista

Alta Vista Premium Cabernet Franc 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (609081 $17.95, WineAlign)

The estate’s highest vineyards are the source for this beautifully pungent cabernet franc and strike another notch on the varietal card for growing this is in the right spots in Mendoza. It’s a dark fruit expression with high and mighty acidity to find equitable footing. The tangy, tart and intense acidulated liquidity really drives the point even if the woody aspects are just a bit up and above what would make this nearly complete. So drinkable and offering up great interest nonetheless and completely understandable for its style. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October and November 2018  bodegaaltavista  hhdwines  @bodegaaltavista  @HHDImports_Wine  @BodegaAltaVista  @HHDImportsInc

Trivento Cabernet Franc Golden Reserve Black Edition 2017, Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

Made by winemaker Germán Di Césare there is a respect for land (alluvial, sand and some lime) but also for varietal. It’s well-endowed, juicy, plummy and full flavoured though it’s oaky tendencies are quietly respectful as well. The tone of the wine hums and resonates with ambience in complete control. It’s really quite fine and just about to enter its perfectly integrated, resolved and balanced window. High acidity example and wouldn’t hurt to settle for just a few more months. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  triventoarg  triventoarg  #escaladewines  @Trivento   @TriventoArg  @TriventoCanada

Bodega Andeluna Cabernet Franc Pasionado 2015, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $54.99, WineAlign)

Classic Uco terroir at high altitude (1,300m) that mixes alluvial soils with sand, limestone and here loam make for a pretty subtle rendition in terms of cabernet franc. That’s especially true when you consider the small vessels used (225L barrels) and much of it new. You feel the wood in vanilla and berry coulis, a bit of spice and liquified graphite. Quite a molten flow this cabernet franc and with demanding quality in its tannins. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted November 2018 bodegaandeluna  stemwinegroup  @BodegaAndeluna  @StemWineGroup  @BodegaAndeluna  @stemwine

snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Escorihuela Gascón Pequeñas Producciones Cabernet Franc 2016, San José De Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

At just under 1,100m this from Matias Ciciani is Mendoza tradition in a varietal glass. There is a later picked, well-extracted feel to the fruit, with a dried component, though plenty of freshness is maintained. It feels like oxygen was introduced to this at the correct time and so it’s developed, ready but also protected from advancing too quickly. Lovely wine with some firm grip and tension inits structure. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  escorihuelag  @Escorihuelag  Escorihuela Gascón

Godello post masterclass on cabernet sauvignon and franc with Viña Cobos winemkaer Andreas Vignoni

Viña Cobos Bramare Cabernet Franc Chañares Estate 2016, Los árboles, Tunuyán, Valle De Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

At just under 1,200m, off of well-drained alluvial soils with a good presence of larger stones and pebbles. From an El Niño season of extra rainfall, this is still certainly polished and endowed with a fully rendered liqueur. The varietal character is there though early on it’s behind the veil of wood. Big structure, concrete architecture and timeless really. The Chañares Estate in Los Árboles is clearly capable of delivering one of Argentina’s great cabernet franc terroirs. While this is surely an impressive Uco Valley red the story of varietal and place is yet to truly be told. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  vina.cobos  awsmwest  @VinaCobos  @AuthenticWineON  @vinacobos  @awsmon

Filet Mignon, pumpkin and white chocolate purée, criolla sauce with black olives, pan-seared potato and sea asparagus, Finca Decero

Finca Decero Cabernet Franc Mini Ediciones Remolinos Vineyard 2017, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

The simple and emotional response to this special effort is more cabernet franc, in Remolinos, Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo please. Varietal notability for sure with more than ample barrel smoothing and gentle spice character. Tannins are bigger and more grippy than you might think. Plenty of age potential here. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018

Vicentin Dorado Cabernet Franc 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

Labeled the “Tiger of the Rivers” it reeks of American oak, welling with vanilla, lavender and graphite. Couldn’t pick this out as a cabernet franc blind because all varietal notes, Loire, Mendoza or anywhere are hidden behind the Silver Oak meets Rioja sheathing. The palate is an improvement with good savoury flavours, even a squeeze of fresh pomegranate but the acidity is a conundrum. Where are the realities of place? Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  vicentinfw  @carotizio ‏ Vicentin Wines

Vicentin Banda de Los Tres Sucios Se Busca Vino/Sin Tomar El Tramposo Cabernet Franc Peligroso E Imparable 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

Now 18 months in barrel, the name is the Cheater and the band of three; cheater, smuggler and renegade. It’s all oak and more oak with almost no cabernet franc character. It’s red fruit with green, tobacco and concentrated variabilities. Mostly French and some (20 per cent) American oak. Not much linger or staying power in terms of the finish. Whimsy without equitable substance. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Carrot at Decero

Argento Reserva Cabernet Franc 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $18.99, WineAlign)

A beautiful freshness here without too much barrel sheathing, in and out of second and third passage wood. A gainfully employed and effective franc, true to varietal, crunchy and quite serious for value. Incidentally Argento is from the owners of Uruguay’s Bodega Garzón, Chianti Classico’s Dievole and Montalcino’s Podere Brizio. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaargento  profilewinegroup  @BodegaArgento  @ProfileWineGrp  @bodegaargento  @ProfileWineGroup

Cabernet Sauvignon

Familia Schroeder Saurus Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Patagonia, Argentina (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

After tasting a few examples of the Paul Hobbs influence on these Patagonian wines it is quite clear just how evident there is this smooth consistency of style. Big time ripe fruit, darkening as per varietal and here a sense of cured salumi, all in, no holds barred and also fully developed and rendered texture. That factor times purity allows this to lean linear almost into elegant. Warm, comforting and then with rendered spice. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Pascual Toso Cabernet Sauvignon Alta Barrancas Vineyards 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (261958, $33.95, WineAlign)

How deep is the impact from the altitude out of this part of Mendoza? Deep as it is wide, from every corner abutting and always facing the wall of the Andes. Even at a low steppe like Maipú. Plenty of barrel style here, mixed with a cool vintage and so the pH is low in such a tricky year. Acidity is high and it’s pretty darn fresh considering the oak. From 700-800m, very floral and so all the parts are somewhat confounding yet also remind of Rioja tempranillo. This needs a few years to settle down. Drink 2020-2026. Tasted November 2018  pascualtoso  eurovintage  @PascualToso  @Eurovintage  @pascualtosowinesargentina  @Eurovintage

Aldo’s, Buenos Aires

Familia Schroeder Cabernet Sauvignon Saurus 2017, Patagonia, Argentina (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

Schroeder is a Paul Hobbs Patagonia outpost and across the board they are truly smooth, cool and polished wines. Tasted after the pinot noir and malbec we see by now the consistency of style and with great evidence. Big time ripe and dark varietal fruit, salumi accents, all in, no holds barred and a cool factor with texture times purity. It finds its way through the ooze to act linear and come out quite elegant. In the end it warms and brings much comfort, finishing with a rendering and lingering spice. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018  schroederwines  @SchroederWines  @stemaren  @BodegaFamiliaSchroeder

Tasting at Sottano

Sottano Reserva De Familia Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (324707, $24.95, WineAlign)

Sottano’s cabernet sauvignon exhibits less of an oak influence or exaggeration, especially not a hinderance or a matter of make up. Smells like cabernet sauvignon with loads of ribena and black currant on top of each other and then the oak really takes over. Half of the grapes are estate and the other half Altamira in Uco Valley. Not so much a terroir investigation as it is a thing of Mendozan assemblage. It’s far from elegant but it is creamy smooth and velvety, if not the best wine thus far in the portfolio. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  bodegasottano  @bodegasottano  @bodega.sottano

Dessert at Decero

Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon Signature 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (260919, $19.95, WineAlign)

From a wet year but locales with good exposure and drainage fared quite well. Regardless here is a rich, grippy and powerful cabernet sauvignon (with five per cent franc), of high natural acidity and cumulative depth. The parcels are Uco Valley and Los Arboles just below Gaultallary. Chocolate is cut by a rocky streak from fruit grown over a dry river bed with stones, quite the opposite from Agrelo. It’s a veritable expression of a unique set of alluvial and stony soils. Excellent work to bring out a sense of place. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  susanabalbowines  profilewinegroup  @sbalbowines  @ProfileWineGrp  @SusanaBalboWines  Susana Balbo  @ProfileWineGroup

With Soledad Juncosa, WOFA

Sophenia Cabernet Sauvignon Synthesis 2014, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

A wine made by Julia Hulupczok and Matiás Michelini. From a wild vineyard upwards of 1,300m where ripening is a challenge and tannins can be formidable. There’s a greenness to be sure and yet also a subtle grace about it. A different structure, impossibly dichotic and surely one you would not have found in Argentina just 10 years ago. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted November 2018  fincasophenia  @FincaSophenia  @Juliahilux  @FincaSopheniaWines  Julia Halupczok

Viña Cobos Bramare Cabernet Sauvignon Marchiori Estate 2015Perdriel, Luján de Cuyo, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $119.00, WineAlign)

At 1,000m few other cabernet wines out of Valle de Uco will deliver such concentration and polish. It’s also huge in acidity, grippy tannin and overall structure. Almost two-thirds new oak is used and the fortunate thing is really the highest quality fruit able to withstand this woody onslaught. Deep soils work hard for vines less than 25 years old, the upper strata built of clay-loam to sandy-loam and the substrata of river-washed cobbles and round stones. It was an early ripening vintage with harvest temperatures above the historical record. Not surprising to receive such a massive, not so much brooding but more like a swagger of attitude in a cabernet that can go the distance. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018  vina.cobos  awsmwest  @VinaCobos  @AuthenticWineON  @vinacobos  @awsmon

Lunch, El Esteco

Bodega El Esteco Finca Notables Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

In addition to a more “generalized” cabernet sauvignon, which is so odd to say when you consider the extreme altitude as its source, nevertheless this is the other one from El Esteco and Peñaflor. A single-vineyard draw from an “Alturas” block at 1,700m in the Valles Calchaquíes from winemaker Alejandro Pepa, the lowest of yields, off of deep loamy and sandy soil. Very tart, tight, taut, almost reductive, peppery and really herbal cabernet sauvignon. A true mildly sweet liqueur bitters red, of dark fruit and iodine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaelesteco  #mondiaalliance  @ElEstecoWines  @Mondia_Alliance  @elestecowines  @mondiaalliance

Finca El Origen Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (128991, $15.95, WineAlign)

Grapes are taken from La Esperanza in Vista Flores at 1,200m. Very spicy cabernet sauvignon, with some verdant pyrazine and also high toned, smoky bites and lots of chocolate. Very different winemaking style and from notable pH into edgy, volatile acidity with some dried fruit, raisin character. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  fincaelorigen  chartonhobbs  @Fincaelorigen  @ChartonHobbs  @fincaelorigen  Charton Hobbs Canada

snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Trapiche Cabernet Sauvignon Terroir Series Editíon Limitada Finca Laborde 2013, La Consulta, San Carlos, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

At nearly 1,000m and a very high-toned cabernet with grippy acidity and still raging tannins. The 18 months in barrel will take at least three times that amount to integrate, settle and slip into a balanced state of grace. So I’d look to 2020 or so before imagining that transformation to have really begun. Chocolate is all over the finish, in fact it begins deep in the recesses of the mid palate. Drink 2020-2027.   Tasted November 2018  trapichewines  trapichearg  philippedandurandwines  @TrapicheWines  @Dandurandwines  @TrapicheArgentinaInt  @VinsPhilippeDandurand  

Juan E. Marcó CEO, Finca Decero

Finca Decero Cabernet Sauvignon Remolinos Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (195677, $23.99, WineAlign)

Deep fruit meets savour and takes the time to enjoy a cup of coffee. In cabernet sauvignon you get a sense of the barrel but also the shrubs that grew here before the vineyard was planted. It’s a very transparent varietal wine that acts like a window to the terroir. A bit chewy and yet also soft for a very pleasant mouthfeel. Perfectly lengthy in the grown at altitude varietal way. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Marilyn Demandre, DiamAndes

Bodega DiamAndes de Uco Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

Harvested on April 22nd. A gone for it style of cabernet sauvignon in 30 per cent new French oak for 12 months, fully purposed alcohol and ripeness at the threshold of the Andes’ foothills. Big wine, full malo, extracted and concentrated. This is cabernet sauvignon for real, in the big league, time and place. It could only be Valle de Uco. Truly. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018

With Yann Janvier, El Esteco

Bodega El Esteco Finca Notables Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The pyrazine factor runs high though in red bell pepper as opposed to green and the sweet fruit is very cherry, tangy, tart and in hard candy form. The closest comparison would be Australian, namely Langhorne Creek or Adelaide Hills, with a bit of Coonawarra in its rosa feel. Deeply savoury. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Piattelli Vineyards

Piattelli Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

From the high altitude vineyards in Cafayate aged in both French and American barrels. It’s a polished and highly correct cabernet from the most arid of world climates, where at up to 2,000m solar radiation is the real deal. Ripe, savoury and adjustable in every way. The savoury verdancy is the complexity that raises the bar for this particular varietal wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Argento Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (164764, $18.95, WineAlign)

Like the cabernet franc the treatment is a stainless ferment followed by a three-quarter aging in older (two and three year-old barrels) plus one-quarter kept in steel. Luján de Cuyo and Ugarteche are the sources for this reductive, hematic and highly savoury cabernet sauvignon. There’s a depth in its character and an ability of mildly if notably structured tannins. Trades the sister franc’s freshness for grip. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Paul Madden

Navarro Correas Alegoría Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2015, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

From Agrelo’s rising flats in the 900m range and a true varietal wine of Cassis and Ribena with plenty of brushy savour. Plenty of spice, tobacco smoulder and freshly ground peppery jolts from a winemaker who really likes wood and knows how to use it. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

La Mascota Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Cruz De Piedra, Mendoza, Argentina (292110, $15.50, WineAlign)

From Maipú a cabernet notched into stainless steel followed by 50-50 French and American wood of second and third passage. Delicate red fruit is treated to a shift towards reduction, of graphite and vanilla, spice and red liquorice. Sweetly fruity and silky smooth. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Finca Sophenia Estate Wine Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Transparently varietal wine and yet just like the malbec; 100 per cent estate vines in Gualtallary, sweet red fruit, gerenous and gracious. The conclusion quickly ascertained is of a winemaker asking for the terroir to be given its due. This 1,200m place talks the talk and walks the walk. It’s lightning struck red fruit, tart, with currants and a liquid chalky feel. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Other Reds and Blends

Familia Schroeder Saurus Select Pinot Noir 2017, Patagonia, Argentina (55442, $23.95, WineAlign)

Sauras makes reference to fossilized dinosaur bones found at the winery right at the surface of the Patagonian terroir. Schroeder’s is effusive pinot noir with a cured salumi character, from a dry and windy place where rainfall is curiously scarce. It has that lack of watering, needing to struggle personality. There is a lovely bit of dusty volatility and an acidity-tension pull. Sweet red fruit, indicative of strawberry and a maritime moment of ripeness make for a perfect entry into the regional ideal. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bodega Atamisque Serbal Pinot Noir 2018, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

Simply stated pinot noir of strawberry red fruit, a fluff of spice and ultimately easy to comprehend. Highly drinkable stuff that speaks a varietal language with obviousness and without complication. Nothing more needs top be said. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaatamisque  #MCOwines    Bodega Atamisque

Finca Decero Syrah Remolinos Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

Remolinos Vineyard is the place of the “tiny whirlwinds,” grown on bare land where only wild shrubs grew. At 3,500 feet (1,050 meters) it is Agrelo’s highest plateau and its syrah is round, full and welling with some iodine and a hematoma of dark fruit. Soft actually with a proper balance in acidity and unaggressive tannins. An absence of meaty, charred or cured character is noted. Quite a pure expression of the vineyard, in a Hobbsian style, at least in terms of syrah. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  fincadecero  liffordgram  @FincaDecero  @LiffordON  Finca Decero  Lifford Wine and Spirits

Yann Janvier

Finca Decero Petit Verdot Mini Ediciones Remolinos Vineyard 2014, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $44.99, WineAlign)

The fruit is different here, almost tropical and certainly developed. Plum, pomegranate, apricot and quince, even persimmon, hung to dry and allowed to turn intensely fruity-tangy-leathery with time. Great acidity, big time grip and lots of forward thinking purpose. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2018

Tourists in BA, with Paul Madden and Marilyn Demandre

Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda Clasica 2018, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Vines are grown in the Pergola method to protect the vulnerable bonarda from direct sunlight. Organic (though label certification will begin on the 2019 label). Early ripening and in fact was picked on February 23rd for a deeply rendered and pitchy red with briny acidity and subtle, if fine and supple tannin. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Finca Decero Amano Remolinos Vineyard 2014, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (270975, $79.99, WineAlign)

The top wine of the estate, the great blend driven by malbec (approx. 66 per cent), with (25) cabernet savignon and smaller percentages of petit verdot and tannat. Lots of clonal material from B1 and B2 malbec blocks in one of the biggest, broadest and most hematic wines around. Smooth, polished and clearly the hedonistic one of the line-up. For the owner, the owner’s cronies and every restaurant list that sells iconic, big bottles. Big, bold flavours as king of the hill at the top of the heap. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018

Bodegas Sottano Reserva Blend 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

“The influence of oak is meritorious,” it is said at the tasting table, in this case 12 months in new and second use barrels, plus several months more in bottle before release. All three oaks are employed; 60-70 per cent French plus American and Hungarian. Includes up to 20 per cent cabernet sauvignon and franc. Also contains malbec from Vista Flores. The aromas are violets, all berries, bitters and simple syrup. Polished and built as a liqueur of a red blend that solves the business equation of supply and demand, in fads and through trends, for what the average consumer is out to buy. A go large red for big box upscale restos, i.e. Milestones and Keg. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Pablo Cúneo, Head Winemaker, Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca La Linda Private Selection Smart Blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah & Tannat 2016, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

This Private Selection blend is deeply rendered, hematic with unaggressive pyrazine and pepper purée, so much pepper in every shade and crunchiness. Black fruit everywhere with capsicum bite. Smoky again and the tannat shrinks away in no way at all. Grippy tannins and in the end, a variegated amaro meets roasted bell pepper liqueur. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

With Gabriela Millan, Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca Gala 2 DOC, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (542647, $36.95, WineAlign)

A Bordeaux blend of two cabernets and merlot, a wine that was first made in 2001. From Vistalba Carodilla y Las Compuertas in Luján de Cuyo. There is a wild berry and peppery aspect, as Bosca wines are always want to be and do. Bountiful and hedonistic but in a very different way than the old vines malbec, now more liqueur and satin texture, with caressing tannins at the iron hand wearing a velvet glove. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018

Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca Finca Los Nobles Cabernet-Bouschet “Field Blend” 2013Las Compuertas, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

A field blend that combines cabernet sauvignon with bouschet which is considered an ancient clone of cabernet franc. The smokiness and spice are now joined by a Dry Creek Valley like dried fruit and bramble character. It’s so rich and the oak is really felt. Needs time though it will go umami-oxidative before these fine but demanding tannins fully settle in. It remains to be seen if that perfect optimum balancing point is really possible but it would be so much fun to wait one out and try. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted November 2018

Beef Tenderloin at Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca Icono 2011, Las Compuertas, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The blend is malbec (57 per cent) and cabernet sauvignon, in push-pull, touch and go, ying and yang, fraternal twin relationship struggle. The most liqueur, fructose-pectin personality is how this rolls with texture and viscosity. Once again here is the Bosca peppery character and with more structure meets age probability than any wine in the portfolio. With two years further (than the Field Blend) it is beginning to show its settling but there are at least three more to go before the window will really be open. Will travel in to balsamic and other savoury-umami notes when it does. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted November 2018

Flank Steak, Domaine Bousquet

Domaine Bousquet Gaia Red Blend Vino Orgánico 2017, Tupungato Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The earth is a malbec (50 per cent), syrah (45) and cabernet sauvignon blend. The syrah brings pepper, clove and further edgy baking spice to the red-black fruit malbec. Quite concentrated and while the wood is not over the top it is tipping a bit ahead of all else in a wine trying hard in striving for balance. Juicy and hot at the same time, with high pH and just enough acidity to make it work well with anything pulled from the grill. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  

DiamAndes Gran Reserve Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (295063, $32.95, WineAlign)

The signature red of the estate this is three quarters malbec to one quarter cabernet sauvignon set for 18 months in 100 per cent French oak, 50 per cent new. To say this is lush and ambitious would be an understatement but there is no questioning the quality of the agriculture, the fruit and the use of deep pockets technology. There is also humility within this classic modernism though not yet a true indication of soul. The fineness and the precision are so apparent which leads to believe that the human element noted will mean the epiphanies are coming soon. So much potential to become one of Argentina’s great red blends. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Quebrada de las Conchas

Amalaya Gran Corte 2016, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Malbec is blended with cabernet franc for a most concentrated red of high solar intersection and arid climate where latitude brings ripeness and altitude brings balance. This is the more raisin and dried fruit red in the portfolio. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Pork Steak, Restaurante El Rancho, Cafayate

Colomé Lote Especial Tannat 2016, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina (575308, $28.95, WineAlign)

As noted in the last vintage tannat is the Calchaquí Valley unicorn. What Colomé seeks is something different and on its own tannat acts with deeper rock salt intent. It’s such a concentrated and severely tannic wine, even more so than in 2015. And that is its trump card and speciality. Needs five years to play nice. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted November 2018

El Esteco

El Esteco Merlot Fincas Notables 2015, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Also from the same 1,700m of altitude in the Calchaquí Valley here merlot takes on the land and arid climate with tomato leaf and red pepper purée. Also quite briny in a southern French, overlooking the Mediterranean way. Quite evolved and a bit oxidative though with high acidity. Unique and ulterior look at merlot. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Lunch at El Esteco

El Esteco Tannat Fincas Notables 2015, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Then there is the tannat effect, tannic effect and the way in which this winery has figured it out. High temperatures, sunshine and altitude can lead this varietal to great heights provided the farming is done right. The freshness is miraculously preserved and though the spice and the tannins are off the charts there is some early noted blackberry and white chocolate grace to its character. These parts will help it stay palatable through its evolutionary processes. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2018

Under the Criolla, El Esteco, Cafayate

El Esteco Altimus Icon Wine 2015, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Altimus “the highest” is a matter of both altitude and the best selection of a harvest’s grapes. Malbec always leads with cabernet sauvignon in support though the other constituents may come from a myriad of other varieties, including and in no particular order cabernet franc, petit verdot, merlot, syrah, tannat and bonarda. Meticulous is the operative word for Altimus, the rolled into one icon, flagship and signature wine of the estate, a Salta blend that speaks to heights, solar radiated intensity and the hand to voice experience of winemaker Alejandro Pepa. Ripe, polished and ultimately no expense spared. Argentina’s other hedonism expressed, apposite to Mendoza in every respect, untamed, without reins and unlimited in potential. The pace may need to change but the power here will simply not be denied, like love lying bleeding in hand. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2018

Bad Brothers Wine Experience, Cafayate

Piattelli Vineyards Reserve Malbec/Tannat 2017, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Equal parts malbec and tannat from the high altitude vineyards in Cafayate aged for six months in both French and American barrels. The oak takes no time to announce its presence and the fruit is bold, firm, strong and solid as the granite rock beneath its vines. Big bones and components, of pH, in alcohol, some glycerin and all the necessary adjustments. Strong but fine-grain tannins make for a long finish. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Piattelli Vineyards

Piattelli Vineyards Arlene Series Blend 2016, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

The flagship wine of the estate and named in honour or proprietor John Malinski’s wife, the blend is dominated by malbec (70 per cent), accentuated by (20) cabernet franc and (10) cabernet sauvignon. It’s both ambitious and scarce, spending 18 months in French and American oaks after some concrete egg fermentation. It’s the best of the best, hand picked berry by berry, painstakingly so by a team of daybreak to dusk workers. Again the dials are set on high, with generous pectic-glycerin and generous acidity. Napa Valley in a Chuck Wagner vein is the ideal but the profile couldn’t be further from that proprietor’s blend  truth. Only 560 cases were produced of this flashy malbec blend with its skin pulled taut and mid-section laced tighter than an impenetrable corset. Plastic surgery in a bottle. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2018

Tupungato

Susana Balbo Brioso 2016, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Brioso might mean enérgico or spirited and this ideal is magnified by “what you can do in a difficult vintage.” Estate single vineyards bring cabernet sauvignon (53 per cent), cabernet franc (24), malbec (16) and petit verdot (13) together for a serious blend. It’s not the round and velvety vintage but rather one so linear, vertical, direct and grippy. Big and structured though quite in balance. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted November 2018

Caminito

Navarro Correas Juan De Dios Gran Vino De Corte 2013, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

An ode to a pioneer whose work dates back to the year 1798, when Juan de Dios Correas planted the first vines in the land of Mendoza. This is the estate’s icon/flaghship wine, blending cabernet sauvignon (82 per cent) with malbec and lending a woodworker’s hand for 18 months in barrel. Spice runs linear and long, flavours stretch elastic and acidity points the fruit towards a far away horizon. With low pH and moderately generous alcohol this is a wine from which the winemaker (Gaspar Roby) needs to have paid great attention ion the vineyard. And he does, that much is clear, as witnessed by pitch perfect ripeness. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018

Mark Bradbury – snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Viña Cobos Cocodrilo Corte 2016Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This Paul Hobbs Mendoza foray began in 1999 and the crocodile is a cabernet sauvignon based blend (76 per cent) from estates and vineyards in Luján de Cuyo and Valle de Uco. The former terroir is fed by the snow-melt of the Andes through the Mendoza River at altitudes ranging from 945-1,100m. The latter’s soils are alluvial, with a subsoil of clay, sand, silt and rock. The supporting varieties are malbec (10 per cent), merlot (nine) plus bits of petit verdot and cabernet franc. Cocodrilo is all Cassis, rich and concentrated, meant to showcase place, grape and the great possibility/potential of the relationship. As the kingpin in a proprietary blend the cabernet brings blunt smoky and spicy accents, with black currants running through. Meet the new big boss blend, same as the old boss, won’t get fooled again. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bad Brothers, Cafayate

Fincas Las Moras Paz Malbec 2016, San Juan, Argentina (520486, $18.95, WineAlign)

Paz is a 50-50 two cabernets joint from Tulum in San Juan at 650m. A multitude of peppers abounds, red fresh and dried mixed with red berry fruit. Savoury, rich and cool, nearly interchangeable with a similar style on the other side of the Andes. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018 and March 2019  fincalasmoras  univinsetspiritueux  @FincaLasMoras  @UNIVINS  @fincalasmoraswineryCA  

Alexander Raphael in Tupungato

Unanime Gran Vino Tinto 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (466938, $29.95, WineAlign)

The unanimous winemaking decisions about beguiling fruit drawn off Uco Valley sites makes this malbec (60 per cent), cabernet sauvignon (25) and cabernet franc (15) blend a big and generous proposition. That and the heavy times spent in oak for twenty months add up to some serious girth, grip and density. I can’t see this thick and lush concoction moving even an inch in the next few years and it may need seven or more to begin its earliest settling period. Dramatic foreshadowing at its best makes us think there will be interesting times ahead. Drink 2021-2027. Tasted October and November 2018

Outdoor Tasting, Domaine Bousquet

Famiglia Bianchi Nebbiolo Malbec 2015, San Raphael, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

In San Raphael (and including Las Paredes) off of soils of sandy loam and a 50-50 varietal split. Hematic and ferric at the same time, of tar and ripe cherries. Again the extractive factor is not shy, nor is the resulting concentration. Finishes full and downy, with weight and warmth. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Yann Janvier and Godello – snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Andeluna Pasionado Quatro Cepas 2015, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $59.99, WineAlign)

The four-poster blend from Gualtallary is led by malbec with support by cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. It’s a big wine filled with extractive liqueur, generously oaked in both French and American wood. Acidity keeps it humming even while it smokes in its cooking ways. Polished and elevated by altitude-driven freshness to mitigate the concentrated fruit and spice welling away in syrupy constitution. While formidable now it will soften and turn into something velvety smooth and rich in chocolate. As for now you’d better locate some salty protein and a decanter. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2018

Andes, DiamAndes

Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (620880, $14.95, WineAlign)

Malbec (85 per cent) plus appassimento augmented corvina spent nine months in French oak. So the question begs, why the methodology and Tupungato? The first answer is easy. Masi. The second is about mountains and weather, the Andes and dry heat. The best substitute for Veronese hills are here in the Uco Valley and the result in 2016 (a cool and wet year) means more savour than raisin and more freshness than aridity. If warmer vintages were carefully crafted to mimic 2016 it would all be smooth sailing. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Clos de Los Siete

Clos De Los Siete 2013, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (622571, $23.95, WineAlign)

Three years further and the skies have now opened to retrospectively reveal a fresher vintage. There is a transference now into some dried fruit with sour edging but spoken with that renewed sense of freshness. The ’13 blend is 53/23/12/8/4 for malbec, merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. Th elevation of vineyards with their Andean backdrop is noted bow, if not before and so proof that the Clos is a wine of structure and needed patience. Five years is now the harbinger, 10 the ultimate goal.  Last tasted November 2018  closdelossiete  philippedandurandwines  @closdelossiete  @Dandurandwines   @closdelossiete  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Big and bigger, as always, wholly ripe, rich and raging with acidity. Yet somehow the Clos de los Siete finds a way to charm its way through the dark forest and into hearts. Flavour abounds, firmness rules and the finish lasts. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted October 2016

Good to go!

godello

Where there’s smoke there’s Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

High altitude heliophiles in Argentina

Bodega DiamAndes, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina

As seen on WineAlign – A masterclass across Argentina

For the malbec, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, cabernet franc, criolla, torrontés and chardonnay of Argentina the present day vernacular promoted by the party line tells us “altitude defines a singular type of wine.” Most of the country’s wine lands are located on soils perched at impressive heights, at least with respect to sea level. To the naked eye the vineyards of Mendoza are of a perfect design to act as a collective poster child for a flat earth society manifesto, but looks are deceiving. The gentle climb from that province’s eponymous city centre at 750 meters above sea level to the rain shadow wall of the Andes Mountains is a subtle gradation that transfers vineyard elevations up to and exceeding well over 1,000 further metres. Say what you will about Mendoza’s absence of switchback ridges tracking rolling or angled foothills. Solar radiation is very real here and the effect of elevation on grape growing is a highly critical component of viticultural matters.

Joaquin Superman @hidalgojoaquin offers #CndsInArg a dissertation on high altitude terroir @winesofarg ~ @aldosvinoteca

It was only weeks ago that I had the favourable and fortuitous opportunity to travel around with the team at Wines of Argentina. Ontario’s WOFA representative Liz Luzza introduced me to her Quebec counterpart Marilyne Demandre. Together we were joined by Mark Bradbury, Bar Manager at The Bicycle Thief, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Yann Janvier, Le Sommelier Moderne in Montreal, Michael Mizzi, Co-Owner and Alexander Raphael, Bar Manager AMA Always, Toronto and Paul Madden, Director of Purchasing, Crowfoot Wines & Spirits, Calgary, Alberta for a group traverse across the South American country. We were led with the guidance of WOFA’s exceptional on the ground team; Soledad Juncosa, Sofia Brazzolotto, Paula Valle, Analia Lucero and Romina Ruiz. We did not make Lionel Messi’s acquaintance but we did experience first hand in Caminito and at the Buenos Aires Aeroparque Jorge Newbery the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final. I can only begin to explain the cacophony of roars when goals were scored during the intense rivalry between Boca Juniors and River Plate. The November trip took in Buenos Aires (including Recoleta Cemetery), Mendoza City, Luján de Cuyo (Agrelo), the Uco Valley (Gualtallary and Tupungato) and Salta Province (Cafayate and Calchaqui Valley). The journey will always be considered as a masterclass across Argentina because that is precisely what it was.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

It began at a Buenos Aires institution, Aldos Restorán & Vinoteca for a dissertation on high altitude terroir through the savant Argentine eyes of Joaquin “Superman” Hidalgo. Joaquin did more than merely explain the effect of altitude and solar radiation, he also poured an extraordinary cross-section of the country’s malbec from Jujuy to Patagonia, Tucuman-Catamarca to Gualtallary-Tupungato, Uco Valley.  In the Palermo neighbourhood of Buenos Aires we convened at that city’s most coveted mecca for beef consumption, the exulted Don Julio Parilla, where we were schooled on the wines of Familia Schroeder and Patagonia. Later that night it was a wholly unexpected, antithetical and epiphanic tasting of white, pink and orange in Mendoza at Azafrán Resto with principals from Chakana Wines, Alpamanta and Ernesto Catena’s Domaine Alma Negra.

#tastingroom writing #tastingnotes @bodegadiamandes ~ #valledeuco #cdnsinarg @winesofarg

A visit to Finca Decero opened the window to the Agrelo advantage along with the wines tasted belonging to Alta Vista, Altos Los HormigasArgento, Susana Balbo and Trapiche. This was followed by a stop at Vicentin/Sottano. At Bodega Luigi Bosca it was head winemaker Pablo Cúneo who unlocked some secrets hidden inside the soils of Luján de Cuyo, with help from pours by Bodega CasarenaBodegas Navarro CorreasFinca Las MorasMascota Vineyards, Pascual Toso and Vina Cobos. Then we entered the Tupungato, Uco Valley portal at Domaine Bousquet along with the wines of Bodega Andeluna, Bodega Atamisque, Bodegas Bianchi, Familia Zuccardi and Finca Sophenia. The incomprehensible wall of beauty provided by the snow-covered Andes acted as the backdrop to the al fresco tasting room at Bodega Diam Andes. It was here that we gained a deeper understanding of the mountain connection to Clos de los Siete and Vista Flores-Valle de Uco wines. The wines of Bodega Piedra NegraCasa de Uco, Masi Tupungato and Bodega Salentein helped usher these sub-appellative Mendoza wines into the light.

Salads in Argentina are exceptional

Before heading north we were met at our Mendoza hotel by Viña Cobos winemkaer Andres Vignoni for a seminar and tasting of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. As a general rule cabernet franc is planted in dry Argentine climates, in Winkler Zones 11 and 111. It has nicely adapted to high altitudes (900m+) and its prominence began spreading after 1990, especially in Luján de Cuyo where 34 per cent of the country’s vines are grown. The varietal boom has really swelled in the last 18 years. Studies show that its best maturity is at 1000-1200m, with hot spots being at Los Arboles, San Pablo, Gualtallary, Agrelo, La Consulta and Paraje Altamira. The country’s third most planted red grape variety is cabernet sauvignon, historically raised in a “Bordeaux meets Rioja school,” with long barrel aging and traditionally grown in Maipu and Luján de Cuyo. The varietal has migrated to cooler spots, where greater freshness is being chosen ahead of over maturation, not to mention less/smaller use of new barrels. Sub-zone favourites are Las Compuertas, Perdriel, Agrelo, Cruz de Piedra, Gualtallary, La Consulta, Paraje Altamira, Cafayate and Santa Maria.

Godello post masterclass on cabernet sauvignon and franc with Viña Cobos winemkaer Andres Vignoni

From Ciudad de Mendoza Airpark we shuffled off to Salta, destination Cafayate. The drive took us though the desert monuments of Quebrada de las Conchas. The next day there was a fast, furious and fascinating look at Cafayate and Valle Calchaqui high altitude terroirs through the Donald Hess Bodega Colome and Bodega Amalaya lens. At Bodega El Esteco was walked beneath the 70 year-old criolla and torrontés vines. In the afternoon heat of Cafayate’s 30-plus degree early Spring sun we walked the limestone rocky desert moonscape of Piattelli Vineyards with proprietor John Malinski. A visit to Cafayate and the Valles Calchaquies would have been incomplete without a Bad Brothers Wine Experience. My understanding of Argentina’s fringe, edgy and extreme high altitude wines was confused until I met Agustín Linús and his Sunal malbec. Terruños de extrema indeed.

Snowy Andes backdrop makes Godello happy ~ snap (c) @marylinedemandre

One of the highest vineyards in Argentina is in Salta Province, 1,200 kms north of Mendoza. It is called Altura Máxima and it sits perched at 3,100 meters above sea level. Whaaat? It is one of the most extreme vineyards in the country, but not the only one. There are 20 or more, carved out of desert sand and rock where terroir is made up of climate, soil and in these extreme locations, the machinations of man. Climate is highly variable so rainfall and heliophany (the energy of the sun reaching the soil) and temperature are the most important factors. So when we speak of climate in Argentina we have to attach the altitude to the problem. The equation is always modified by the effects of altitude. Not to mention atmospheric pressure. Altitude in relation to temperature. For every 155m of linear rise, in temperate zones the average temperature of a point on the map drops by one degree. This effect is called vertical thermal gradient and the cause is due to atmospheric pressure. And then, with every 1,000m of linear rise, solar radiation increases by 15 per cent. In order to be more resistant to light, the plants produce more polyphenols. There is a proven relationship between UVB and a higher concentration of polyphenols and abdisic acid. In the end it’s a matter of cool climates with a great intensity of sun. Stress conditions at 1,500m or higher results in lower yields, high polyphenols, higher acidity and ultimately a marked variance of character. Explains Joaquin Hidalgo, “mastering the terroir is a challenge that involves another way of managing the vineyard.”

New Piattelli Vineyards planting in the high altitude desert of the Calchaqui Valley

The production and consumption of wine in Argentina dates back to over four hundred years ago when the first specimens of Vitis Vinifera were brought to the Americas by the Spanish colonizers in the early 16th century. Early in the 1900’s, the vineyard area had reached 519,800 acres but between 1982 and 1992 extensive uprooting of vineyards was undertaken and 36 per cent of the existing vineyards were removed. In the early 1990s a new era began for the Argentine wine industry. The arrival of Neoliberalism in the national economy led to the implementation of a model of adjustment and the incorporation of Argentina into the global market. With a population of 42 million inhabitants and a territory that is four times larger than France, Argentina is one of the world’s nature reserves. Privileged with outstanding natural richness and extraordinarily diverse landscapes, Argentina boasts high mountains and plains, lush vegetation and extreme deserts, forests and steppes, glaciers and waterfalls.

Stunning #cafayate morning in the 60-70 year-old #criolla and #torrontes vines @bodegaelesteco in Salta

This wealth of natural ecosystems includes vast, highly productive grape growing regions stretching at the foot of the Andean strip, to the West of the country, from latitude 22° south to latitude 42° south. The cultivated area covers more than 538,071 acres. The vineyard area of Argentina covers 545.737,99 acres (2017). From the total area just 502.895,78 acres are able to vinify. The breakdown is 56 per cent red, 19 white and 25 Rosé. The leading red varieties are malbec (36), bonarda (16), cabernet sauvignon (13) and syrah (10). For whites it is torrontés (25), chardonnay (16), sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc each (5).

Canadians in Argentina at the Devil’s Throat in Salta Province ~ #quebradadelasconchas

Today, despite a skyrocketing national inflation rate, the wine industry continues to thrive. While certainly not immune to the economic crisis, exports are growing and the wines from Argentina are evolving to meet global demands. I tasted upwards of 150 wines in my week spent in Argentina. This report covers 37 wines from 37 producers. These are 37 that struck me as being exceptional, ahead of the curve or simply the perfect sort of examples to speak about climate, soil and of course, altitude.

Mendoza shuffle with some fine examples and cross section of terroirs to represent #winesofargentina ~

Malbec

Bodega Amanecer Andino Malbec Reserva Quebrada De Humahuaca 2017, Tumbaya, Jujuy, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

From a new location for growing grapes, at 2,200 metres of altitude, very close to Bolivia. Even if malbec is not necessarily the most interesting varietal to grow at this altitude, it is the most elastic variety and will always work. The pH (3.77), the acidity (6.6 g/L) and the alcohol are all set to high but it does not come across like any other malbec any of us have ever tasted. Full bodied and very fresh, really salty, a malbec so affected by altitude. So bloody interesting. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted November 2018  amanecer.andino  @BodegaAmanecer 

Agustín Lanús Wines Malbec Sunal Ilógico 2017, Tucuman Catamarca, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

The wine is drawn from vineyards in Pucará Salta, Lucaratao Salta, Amaicha del Valle Tucumán and Hualfin Catamarca. Real body and richness, savour and verdancy. The touch is delicately salty, with medium acidity and a constrained power. Really fine balance. The length is forever, a fact proven by an opened bottle showing exemplary freshness a full eight days later. Everything in Argentina might claim to be drawn away from high altitude but this from Agustín Lanús at 2,800m plus is the real deal. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted twice, November and December 2018  agustinlanuswines  @agustin_lanus  Agustín Lanús  

Tinto Negro Vineyard 1955 Malbec 2013, La Consulta, San Carlos, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, B.C. $81.99, WineAlign)

The most important factor in Altamira is not the altitude but the soil. It’s at 1000m but from the cooler, southern part of the Uco Valley. Very high pH (3.8) and well-managing acidity. This wine has it all; great fruit, savour, sweet viscosity, freshness, acidity and structure. Not to mention fine tannins and polyphenolic textural beauty. A high altitude and a place that keeps its cold air. Forget about how much oak and what the alcohol may be. The clay and the cool factor keep it all real. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  bodegatintonegro  thewinesyndicate    @winesyndicate  @thewinesyndicate

Catena Zapata Malbec Adrianna Vineyard River Stones 2015, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (132340, $95.59, WineAlign)

In a line up that includes malbec from all walks of Mendoza life as well as some extreme altitude northern examples this is the first wine with a somewhat reductive quality, locked in freshness and very high acidity. It’s a wine of exceptional qualities. There is a highly intellectual and sensory balance executed through perfectly ripe fruit, that fine acidity and even more fineness in tannins. A beautifully linear wine that can come full circle if need be. This is a malbec that creates moisture in your mouth, never drying or taking anything away. A wine that is changing the way we are dealing with the idea of different terroirs in Argentina. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018  catenawines  lauracatenamd  noble_estates  @CatenaMalbec  @LauraCatena  @Noble_Estates  @bodegacatenazapata  @NobleEstates

Luigi Bosca Terroir Los Miradores Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (132340, $32.95, WineAlign)

From 70 year-old vines in Valle de Uco with lowest of low yields so that one vine does not even function to produce a whole bottle. From the same genetic cutting materials, massal selection of the DOC malbec, but with obvious concentration and specificity. So much more floral, of a baking spice and a fruit intensity that truly is the bomb. An implosive wine with modesty, purity and a 40 per cent oak housing. Big and balanced with great structure and tannins that invoke seven senses. Put some aside and we’ll have some further discussions in 10 years. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaluigibosca  fwmcan  @LuigiBoscaBodeg  @FWMCan  @BodegaLuigiBosca  @FWMCan

Domaine Bousquet Malbec 2018, Tupungato Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (160952, $13.95, WineAlign)

Draws fruit from Paraje Altamira and Gualtallary, no oak, simply in stainless. Fresh and equally savoury, relative concentration and simple in effusive red fruit. Really negligible tannins and a sweet as opposed to astringent finish. Perhaps the best vintage ever for this entry-level malbec. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018   domainebousquet  @domaineBousquet  @DomaineBousquetUSA

Trapiche Malbec Terroir Series Finca Orellana de Escobar Single Vineyard 2012, La Consulta, San Carlos, Mendoza, Argentina (178145, $39.95, WineAlign)

One of several malbecs in the Trapiche portfolio here the collaboration with the grower is exulted in this the 10th years of the Terroir Series. Every year the best three combinations of fruit and grower are chosen to represent the range. Sixty-one year old vineyards deliver minty herbal savour and a chalky liquidity in surround of spicy cherry fruit. Plummy too with ferric purity and big, big structure. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  trapichearg  trapichewines  philippedandurandwines  @TrapicheWines  @Dandurandwines   @TrapicheArgentinaInt  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Rocio Campoy Morist with Alta Vista’s Alazarine

Alta Vista Malbec Single Vineyard Alizarine 2013, La Compuertas, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

Of three Alta Vista single-vineyard wines this is 100 per cent malbec and one of the richest, deeply textured and chocolate driven examples. From a warm vintage it’s not quite mature, even drying a bit though the fruit seems to just get more dense, intense and leathery. Justified elevation extrapolation makes for a classic malbec with some idiosyncratic Compuertas moments. Smooth, fully rendered and giving everything at this very stage. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaaltavista  hhdwines  @bodegaaltavista  @HHDImports_Wine  @BodegaAltaVista  @HHDImportsInc

Argento Malbec Single Vineyard 2016, Paraje Altamira, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $24.00, WineAlign)

Argento terroir exploration is from Finca Las Cerezas, “the cherries” and lo and behold, it’s really that fruit incarnate. A reductive malbec to be sure and so very fresh, from a soil rich in limestone which tells us something about the speciality of this nook in Paraje Altamira. The red fruit receives a lightning strike from the cool stone touch and there is a salty vein that lifts the cherry up and into a whole other realm. Really quite beautiful this charming little number. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaargento  profilewinegroup  @BodegaArgento  @ProfileWineGrp  @bodegaargento  @ProfileWineGroup

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (366005, $22.95, WineAlign)

Three quarters of the terroir malbec is aged in concrete with the fourth in 3000L French foudres. The total aging time is 24 months, the last six of which were in bottle before release. Here is the smooth malbec with balancing and defining sour acids on edge and uplifting. The fruit is nicely integrated into this structure with a fine set of tannins to grant some pretty good potential. Wait a year and let the magic happen. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018  altoslashormigas  @ALHmalbec  @ALTOSLASHORMIGASWINERY

Casa De Uco Malbec Vineyard Selection 2015, Los Chacayes, Tunuyán, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

Considered their top expression from calcareous rocky soils this is the third incarnation of a malbec with some differences, turns and twists. Winemaking choices of 20-30 per cent whole bunch and partial carbonic macerations are extended to most of the chosen lots. You can feel the firm grip of the layered tannins on fresh, reductive and candy shell fruit. Concrete initiates the balance, there is no new oak to distract and enough acidity to keep it vibrant. There is a combination of energy and finesse on this malbec standing up to be noticed and counted. It’s both solid and expressive, real, emotive and truly curious. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  casadeuco  @CasadeUco  @CasadeUco

Extreme altitude malbec of Bodega Colomé

Bodega Colomé Malbec Lote Especial Colomé 2016, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)

Takes what is established by brother La Brava (and then El Arenal) and amplifies ideal. Now up to an altitude of 2,300m the dichotomous relationship between thermal amplitude and diurnal variegation is magnified, which can only mean more hyperbole. More concentration of fruit in equal extraction but with the extra 600 meters of altitude the tones are higher, the fruit more variegated and with a dried component out of the idea of some desiccation at harvest. It also seems saltier and the structure different, tighter and strung like a racket with ready to fray tension. One of the wildest malbec rides on the planet. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted November 2018  bodegacolome  liffordgram  @BodegaColome  @LiffordON  @bodegacolome  @liffordwineandspirits

A flock of producers gather to educate on the multiplicity of munificent Mendoza ~

Syrah and Red Blends

Bodega Finca las Moras Gran Syrah 2015, San Juan, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

From the three main valleys of San Juan; Tulum, Zonda and Pedernal at altitudes of 650, 800 and 1300 meters above sea level. Ripeness from the lower valleys meets peppery spice and herbology of the highest, with freshness lying somewhere in between. The effects of diurnal temperature swings and thermal radiation pile one on top of another for a highly variegated yet mostly seamless syrah. The queen mother of San Juan syrahs with plenty of swagger. It shouts floral rose then switches into bohemian rhapsodies of musky, ferrous and hematic waves. Really meaty and intense with major chord, mood and tempo swings. “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  fincalasmoras  @FincaLasMoras  @fincalasmoraswineryCA

Finca Decero The Owl & The Dust Devil Remolinos Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $36.95, WineAlign)

The multi-level, purposed and floral flight of fancy red blend. A mix of real facts and a story; near equal parts malbec and cabernet sauvignon, with petit verdot and tannat. Must contain at least 30 per cent of the last two outlier varietals and in the end this completes the estate style, of big, smooth, polished reds that are completed through micro-vinifications of many single-vineyard blocks. More tannin and grip here. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

DiamAndes Gran Reserve Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (295063, $32.95, WineAlign)

The signature red of the estate this is three quarters malbec to one quarter cabernet sauvignon set for 18 months in 100 per cent French oak, 50 per cent new. To say this is lush and ambitious would be an understatement but there is no questioning the quality of the agriculture, the fruit and the use of deep pockets technology. There is also humility within this classic modernism though not yet a true indication of soul. The fineness and the precision are so apparent which leads to believe that the human element noted will mean the epiphanies are coming soon. So much potential to become one of Argentina’s great red blends. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  bodegadiamandes  maitredechai_ca    @maitredechai  @diamandes  Francis Dubé  

Salentein Numina Spirit Vineyard Gran Corte 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (543405, $35.00, WineAlign)

The goal for Salentein’s Gran Corte “is to produce a wine with the grapes from the first vineyards planted in 1996” and so only these find there way into the Numina line. The blend in 2015 is malbec (68 per cent), cabernet sauvignon (12), cabernet franc (8), merlot (7) and petit verdot (5). It’s a true Bordelais five varietal ideal albeit with malbec at the fore. It see 16 months in total though 10 are go it alone and then six all housed all together. This quintuples down on the rich liqueur, all in spice and hyperbole of violet florals. Though currently liquid chalky and slightly gritty you can imagine the integration especially because the oak use is not new. A really nice wine on the road to becoming something fine. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  salenteinbodega  azureau  @BodegaSalentein  @azureau  @BodegasSalentein  @BodegasSalentein

Bodega Atamisque Assemblage 2015, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (483032, $45.95, WineAlign)

The blend of malbec, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot is fruit drawn from sites between 1,100 ands 1,300m and sees 14 months in 100 per cent new French oak. This being a wine made by forcing square pegs into one round hole in what amounts to an all for nothing, all in one treatment. It’s really something to note that despite all this the fact remains that red fruit abounds, fresh and pure with an accent of spice but no real overdo of make-up. There is elongated grace and generosity, like a Rhône blend with charming warmth and a fine smoulder. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaatamisque  #MCOwines    Bodega Atamisque

Masi Tupungato Corbec 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

A blend of 70 per cent corvina with malbec treated to upwards of 25 per cent appassimento for 20 days. Spends 18 months in French oak. All about the baking spices, the unbounded limits of glycerin texture and specifically cinnamon all over the back pages. So rich and a ringer like no other for the Veneto motherland. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  masitupungato  masicanada  @MrAmaroneMasi  @MasiWineExperience  

Clos De Los Siete 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (622571, $23.95, WineAlign)

This was tasted side by side by each with the 2013 and the 2006 so quite fortuitous in terms of relativity and imagination. The blend in ’15 is high in malbec predominance (68 per cent), with merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and petit verdot. Four wineries made contributions to this vintage (of a possible seven) and as per the dictum it’s a blend of blends created by Michel Rolland. It’s Rolland’s inceptive imagination that brought this special project into the Uco Valley landscape and though the assemblage can be up to seven-fold the possibility to age for a value-priced wine is quite impressive. This ’15 is richly endowed and structured, chalky and just plain excellent. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted November 2018  closdelossiete  philippedandurandwines  @closdelossiete  @Dandurandwines   @closdelossiete  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Tasting through the Uco Valley

Cabernet Franc

Zuccardi Cabernet Franc Polígonos 2017, San Pablo, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Polígonos exploration is a many vineyard sided affair and the altitude is significant at 1,300m from San Pablo in Valle de Uco, Mendoza. A relatively early pick preserves nigh high acidity and the alcohol is beautifully restrained. Just a hint of dusty, pyrazine edgy fruitiness drives the machine and keeps this pulsing with terrific energy. Both food amenability and aging potential here are excellent. If it’s verdant that’s a compliment to local character. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  zuccardivalledeuco  szuccardi  dionysuswines  @ZuccardiWines  @FamiliaZuccardi  @SebaZuccardi  @ZuccardiValleDeUco  @DionysusWinesTO

Trivento Cabernet Franc Golden Reserve Black Edition 2017, Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

Made by winemaker Germán Di Césare there is a respect for land (alluvial, sand and some lime) but also for varietal. It’s well-endowed, juicy, plummy and full flavoured though it’s oaky tendencies are quietly respectful as well. The tone of the wine hums and resonates with ambience in complete control. It’s really quite fine and just about to enter its perfectly integrated, resolved and balanced window. High acidity example and wouldn’t hurt to settle for just a few more months. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  triventoarg  triventoarg  #escaladewines  @Trivento   @TriventoArg  @TriventoCanada

Bodega Andeluna Cabernet Franc Pasionado 2015, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $54.99, WineAlign)

Classic Uco terroir at high altitude (1,300m) that mixes alluvial soils with sand, limestone and here loam make for a pretty subtle rendition in terms of cabernet franc. That’s especially true when you consider the small vessels used (225L barrels) and much of it new. You feel the wood in vanilla and berry coulis, a bit of spice and liquified graphite. Quite a molten flow this cabernet franc and with demanding quality in its tannins. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaandeluna  stemwinegroup  @BodegaAndeluna  @StemWineGroup  @BodegaAndeluna  @stemwine

Zuccardi, Andeluna, Sophenia and Bianchi

Cabernet Sauvignon

Familia Schroeder Cabernet Sauvignon Saurus 2017, Patagonia, Argentina (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

Schroeder is a Paul Hobbs Patagonia outpost and across the board they are truly smooth, cool and polished wines. Tasted after the pinot noir and malbec we see by now the consistency of style and with great evidence. Big time ripe and dark varietal fruit, salumi accents, all in, no holds barred and a cool factor with texture times purity. It finds its way through the ooze to act linear and come out quite elegant. In the end it warms and brings much comfort, finishing with a rendering and lingering spice. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018  schroederwines  @SchroederWines  @stemaren  @BodegaFamiliaSchroeder 

Tasting at Sottano

Sottano Reserva De Familia Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (324707, $24.95, WineAlign)

Sottano’s cabernet sauvignon exhibits less of an oak influence or exaggeration, especially not a hinderance or a matter of make up. Smells like cabernet sauvignon with loads of ribena and black currant on top of each other and then the oak really takes over. Half of the grapes are estate and the other half Altamira in Uco Valley. Not so much a terroir investigation as it is a thing of Mendozan assemblage. It’s far from elegant but it is creamy smooth and velvety, if not the best wine thus far in the portfolio. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  bodegasottano  @bodegasottano  @bodega.sottano

Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon Signature 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (260919, $19.95, WineAlign)

From a wet year but locales with good exposure and drainage fared quite well. Regardless here is a rich, grippy and powerful cabernet sauvignon (with five per cent franc), of high natural acidity and cumulative depth. The parcels are Uco Valley and Los Arboles just below Gaultallary. Chocolate is cut by a rocky streak from fruit grown over a dry river bed with stones, quite the opposite from Agrelo. It’s a veritable expression of a unique set of alluvial and stony soils. Excellent work to bring out a sense of place. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  susanabalbowines  profilewinegroup  @sbalbowines  @ProfileWineGrp  @SusanaBalboWines  Susana Balbo  @ProfileWineGroup

Sophenia Cabernet Sauvignon Synthesis 2014, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

A wine made by Julia Hulupczok and Matiás Michelini. From a wild vineyard upwards of 1,300m where ripening is a challenge and tannins can be formidable. There’s a greenness to be sure and yet also a subtle grace about it. A different structure, impossibly dichotic and surely one you would not have found in Argentina just 10 years ago. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted November 2018  fincasophenia  @FincaSophenia  @Juliahilux  @FincaSopheniaWines  Julia Halupczok

Masterclasses on cabernet sauvignon and franc with Viña Cobos winemaker Andreas Vignoni

Viña Cobos Bramare Cabernet Sauvignon Marchiori Estate 2015Perdriel, Luján de Cuyo, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $119.00, WineAlign)

At 1,000m few other cabernet wines out of Valle de Uco will deliver such concentration and polish. It’s also huge in acidity, grippy tannin and overall structure. Almost two-thirds new oak is used and the fortunate thing is really the highest quality fruit able to withstand this woody onslaught. Deep soils work hard for vines less than 25 years old, the upper strata built of clay-loam to sandy-loam and the substrata of river-washed cobbles and round stones. It was an early ripening vintage with harvest temperatures above the historical record. Not surprising to receive such a massive, not so much brooding but more like a swagger of attitude in a cabernet that can go the distance. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018  vina.cobos  awsmwest  @VinaCobos  @AuthenticWineON  @vinacobos  @awsmon

Bodega Casarena Cabernet Sauvignon Owen’s Vineyard 2015, Luján De Cuyo, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (578062, $44.95, WineAlign)

Casarena’s Owen’s Vineyard is their special place, the key piece to this sector of the Luján De Cuyo puzzle. It’s importance is quite particular for the Napa Valley like repositioning of (Bourgogne) chardonnay and (Bordeaux) cabernet sauvignon. It’s a dry micro-climate with intense solar exposure and though not “mountain” fruit per se the wines draw upon matters of heliophany dictated by elevation. The Italian pergola-styled planted vines are old, some laid down as far back as 85 years in time. This approximately $30 US wine is a stunner, bloody beautiful in the darkest of Morello cherry red fruit that seems to macerate in its own liqueur. It is indeed reductive which only accentuates its freshness and there is a bountiful amount of acidity in support. Honest, apasionado, vehemente and intenso. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018  bodegacasarena  noble_estates  @BodegaCasarena  @Noble_Estates  @BodegaCasarena  @NobleEstates

Filete at Luigi Bosca

Pascual Toso Cabernet Sauvignon Alta Barrancas Vineyards 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (441907, $32.95, WineAlign)

Alta is a huge cabernet sauvignon needing air, still very reductive in a hard protective shell sort of intense way. There can be no argument about these aggressive or rustic tannins needing time to integrate and settle. All the structural components are part of the note taking and note to self to add to the Mendoza cabernet sauvignon discussion. This example may not be the first but it does sit at the lead in terms of showing a real cool, minty herbal streak and a distinct amaro finish. Big, big wine with plenty of upside. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018  pascualtoso  eurovintage  @PascualToso  @Eurovintage  @pascualtosowinesargentina  @Eurovintage

The next @winesofarg is naturally skin-contact orange, rosé and white. Pure, nervy, crystal examples of great interest from @chakanawines @alpamanta and @domainealmanegra

White, Orange and Rosé

Domaine Alma Negra Blanco Producción Limitada 2017, Vino Argentino, Bebida Nacional, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

From Ernesto Catena this is the second secret blend, a naranja vintage of the hide and seek, now you see a vino blanco, now an orange wine behind the mask. Maximum 500 cases are produced of this truly flexible white-ish orange, as it should be, as anyone’s guess and at the winemaker’s whimsy. “This comes from a place where you move away from knowing everything before you ever made a wine” explains Josefina Alessio on Ernesto’s behalf.  It’s meant to shake foundations and commit to things with blind and innocent intent. It’s a precocious orange, clean, pure, crisp and matter of fact. Smells like honey the drizzled over a tart slice of peach. The telling of varietal is kept hush but my money is on the likes of chardonnay, perhaps pinot gris and/or some torrontés. Nine months on skins, six in old barrels. Clarity and dumb luck precision with a pineapple dole of citrus, always in balance. Can’t believe it’s neither reductive nor oxidative and virtually tannin free. A 15 euro ex-cellar beauty. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  domainealmanegra  noble_estates    @Noble_Estates   @ernestocatenavineyards  @NobleEstates

Chakana Estate Selection Torrontés Naranja Edicion Limitada 2018, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This literal orange torrontés from only free run juice spent seven months on skins in 500L barrels. No additions, including sulphur but “we’re not interested in saying this is a natural wine,” insists winemaker Gabriel Bloise. “Because we’re not interested in the natural movement, but it is our pleasure.” Floral spice is a factor of “maceratión prolongada” as is the green melon, pomello and caviar. Takes torrontés to an entirely new level, in so many positive ways, with a salve, plenty of tannin and notice me character. Kudos for the exploration, for a team that’s clearly on to something and a winemaker acting on techniques that clearly float his boat. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  chakanawines  oeno2  @chakanawines  @oenophilia1  @bodegachakana  

Alpamanta Rosé Syrah Breva 2018, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $42.95, WineAlign)

To call this a Rosé is to miss the point methinks. “In 2017 we decided to approach a new philosophy of wines,” explains Ukranian/Austrian/Dane/Argentine Managing Partner & CEO Andrej Razumovsky. It’s a perfectly lithe red wine made through the use of syrah picked real early direct to ferment in cement eggs for 11 months. The complete absence of second pressed grapes speaks not only to the method but also the teacher. “It goes well with intestines and seafood,” says Andrej. Now at a whopping 1,600 bottles made, which is in fact a great increase from the first vintage. Number two was a rainy one so six or seven months was not a sufficient amount of time to get this to its happy place. Pear, lemon and grapefruit are anti-red fruit notes but give it a good agitation to stave off reduction and then the wine just bursts with strawberry, fine bitters and endless aromatics imagined. It’s destined for danger and deliciousness because you really feel that you are drinking something that is alive. Not just from acidity, but like power breakfast juice that you would die for every morning. Killer stuff. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  alpamanta  rogersandcompanywines  @Alpamanta  @rogcowines   @alpamanta  @rogcowines

Navarro Correas Chardonnay Gran Reserva Alegoria 2015, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

From Agrelo the Alegoria is chardonnay with true blue reduction and real apple bite. Spent six months in first and second use oak, now nicely aged with lemon-lime and orange zestiness. Toasty and quite wild from an ambient yeast ferment and shockingly crazy good. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  bodeganavarrocorreas  @BodegaNavarroCorreas

Bodega Piedra Negra Pinot Gris Reserve Vino Organico 2017, Los Chacayes, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

New to the François Lurton portfolio and for the market is this pinot gris in classic older world mode. It’s really fine, spirited and with a creaminess that is suggestive of experimentation. There is some oak treatment but also some time spent in concrete egg. With no compromise to acidity there is a lieu-dit specificity and completeness so that it expresses fruit in a wholly different way than grigio and all other white wines in Argentina. Kudos to Lurton for going the distance and spending some cash on a product to separate itself from the pack. It’s a pinot gris we want to drink but also one to watch for not too distant sidesteps into something changed. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegapiedranegra  @BgaPiedraNegra  @BPNvdu

Bodega El Esteco Torrontés Old Vines 1945 2018, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

From the original plantings of torrontés, as far back as 1945 but mostly vines in the 60-70 year old range. As saline and diamond sandy as it is floral but just as expressive as any. Very direct, linear, again that salty component which you could call mineral but also full-fleshy like Rhône varietal wines in new world climes. Could pass for high acidity driven whites from California or Washington state. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaelesteco  #mondiaalliance  @ElEstecoWines  @Mondia_Alliance  @elestecowines  @mondiaalliance

Piattelli Vineyards Reserve Torrontés 2018, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

Trained at Piattelli in Pergola, the ancient Mediterranean varietal is protected from direct sunlight and thrives in this desert where herbs of every imaginable kind grow wild and the aridity meets elevation and solar radiation. Piattelli’s is quite high in dry extract and concentration, ripeness and a maintained necessary acidity. This is the icon wine of the estate and few equal its magic in this vintage. It’s fresh, crunchy, crisp and explodes with tropical fruit. Bodes well for the ’18 reds. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  piattellivineyardsarg  piattellivineyardsusa  @piattelliusa  @PiattelliVineyardsARG  @PiattelliVineyardsUSA

La Mascota Chardonnay Unánime 2017, Maipu, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

Grown at 1,300m “the pet” chardonnay is given a name meaning “unanimous” meaning it’s a wine from and for people who all feel the same way. The wine was raised 50/50 in concrete egg and large (500-1000m) oak foudres. It’s a very tannic chardonnay, with a salve texture, spice and lemon-vanilla molten creaminess. Plenty of texture and bite, not over the top but certainly ambitious to quite successful. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  mascotavineyards  univinscanada  @UNIVINS  @MascotaVineyards  @UnivinsCanada

Good to go!

godello

Bodega DiamAndes, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Important and impromptu study session at Stratus

It was planned as a big chill weekend, set aside months before because if you don’t dot the calendar you will never find the time. It was a meeting of old friends who rarely see one another, coming from different cities and countries to gather in Niagara for reasons unknown. It was more than an important impromptu tasting at Stratus Vineyards on a blustery October Sunday. Thanks so much Ben, for the hospitality and new revelations.

I pack my case, I check my face
I look a little bit older
I look a little bit colder
With one deep breath, and one big step
I move a little bit closer, I move a little bit closer
For reasons unknown

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TG5X4kOjEX8

Related – Chase food pairings with Stratus

I’ve written about Stratus Vineyards before, about Yoda of assemblage and varietal maître winemaker J-L Groux. Ben Nicks is the winery’s hospitality master, mentor and guiding light. It’s no coincidence that Ben set us up with six current releases in the tasting board room with a tease of three local cheeses and a morsel of Mario Pingue’s salumi. A subtle arrangement this micro-pairing, seemingly inconsequential but oh so very poignant and perfect. 

The Ozonator

Related – The Stratus-Momofuku continuum

Ben leads us through the inner workings of Stratus and you should know that this behind-the scenes tour is no ordinary junket nor is what goes on back there any accident. Sustainability is key, planned to a T, in particular with respect to water use. We pass by the hydrosieve, a simple stainless box used to aerate wines during fermentation and Ben explains the great ozonator, to clean and preserve sterility in the winery. When ozone gas is introduced to an environment with bacteria, mold or any other organic material, it readily donates one of the oxygen atoms to oxidize or destroy that material. The ozonator is highly effective in controlling Brettanomyces populations.

More than an important impromptu tasting @stratuswines on a blustery October Sunday. Thanks so much Ben, for the hospitality and new revelations.

Related – Select tasting through years of the Stratus Red and White

In the boardroom we set about tasting with the saturated vineyards as our backdrop. Grapes continue to hang though there is no surprise in that. Stratus is known to wait out the rest of the Peninsula in search of more phenolic ripeness and infinite aromatic possibilities. Here are the seven wines tasted on Sunday, October 28th.

Stratus Vineyards White 2014, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.00, WineAlign)

So what is White ’14’s status in late October 2018? Still pronouncing struck flinty with a capital F and elevated into the air on a pillow of fine smoulder. What is duly noted at this stage is the pause, at calm, unaffected by gravity and then, the length. In other words, a perfectly drinkable state.  Last tasted October 2018

White assemblage under the Stratus label is not like spinning a single record, it’s like Rock ‘n Roll radio. Opening a bottle brings great excitement and anticipation, with a sense of wonder. What songs am I going to hear or more to the point, which grape varieties am I going to taste, in which percentages and in what order? In 2014 it’s a medley of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier, sémillon and gewürztraminer. The blend spent 21 months in (15 per cent) new oak. The fruits are varied and each one (or mélange of several) represented a hit in their own right. Tutti frutti, orange blossom special, little green apples, the lemon song, kiwi, peach, tangerine and forbidden fruit. In the end I heard it through the grapevine, by way of a conduit provided by great and necessary acidity. A top quality Stratus White, worthy of repeat plays. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted twice, May and June 2018

Stratus Vineyards Chardonnay 2016, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

This Stratus is the year of the utmost natural chardonnay, the one where knuckling down and waiting with great patience leads to the most ambient of varietal wines. Not that the indigenous yeast plan is new (it dates back to ’09) but it is unfiltered and the aromatics are wonderfully nostalgic. This too (like the White) has that uncanny and unmistakeable flinty smokiness but in the realm of chardonnay it’s surprisingly delicate and finessed. ’Twas a warm vintage and so there must be an initialization of richness and the lush contextual accession will continue to develop but for now its tighter and sitting in a pool of quietude. Revisits in two and three years will tell the wine’s story. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Gewürztraminer 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

The plantings are Clone 47, one of two from Alsace (along with 48) that are often used in Ontario. There are few regional equals like this one of subtle floral expression in lemon waxy spray, yellow rose fragrance and citrus oil incumbency. The acidity is buoyant, unaggressive and supportive and so the residual sugar number is probably higher than expected, perhaps in the mid to upper teens. Works the derivative volatile aroma compounds drawn from flowers, fruits, leaves, and stems to great aromatic effect. In any case it’s a health affirming gewürztraminer by essential oil and through the act of sumptuous behaviour. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Red 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (131037, $48.00, WineAlign)

Harvested over a week’s time in mid to late November from a warm if unremarkable vintage that followed a polar vortex winter, the just released 2015 Red is the five-headed Bordelais made from cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec. If indeed perception is conceived to occur through five senses then all are needed to feel the fingers and toes of this assemblage. It’s also a matter of mathematical relevance, especially if you’ve tasted a few vintages of this most consistent appellative blend. And so standard deviation is relevant in assessment. From one Stratus Red to another we are looking at two sets of five different numbers that have the same mean but different standard deviations and it can be argued (because of the methodology), the same standard deviation but different means. If only J-L Groux knows the answer to the mean and standard of each Red set we can still look at this ’15 and note how it’s quite dusty and high-toned in its youth, with a richness that will eventually bring it all down to earth. It’s a chewy Red with some dried, leathery fruit, as per the mean, equal and opposing to the fresh and friendly, as per the standard deviation. As a matter of assemblage it’s as classic and recognizable as any in the accumulative history and also reminiscent of the past, like ’07, ’10 and ’12, to name just a few. With cabernet sauvignon at the head it tells us that ripeness is the virtue and comfort the result. By the way, the varietal breakdown of 40, 24, 23, 11 and 2 equates to a mean of 20 and a standard deviation of 14.40. For what it’s worth. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (412759, $38.65, WineAlign)

The 2015 cabernet franc of warmth and layering is wise in the ways of fruit. It’s an overt and resolute varietal wine picked at intervals and in succession with on the fly intent. The endeavour is worthy of the ideal and in turn, every moment of our consideration. Here is where you can begin any one of your carefully thought on handful of cabernet franc explorations, not just any mind you but from those that start at the top of the pyramid, from the top down. What is striking about 2015 is the sweet herbal quality, with a bushy tisane in place of hard to ascertain, high-toned pyrazine. What you will find is actually quite simple; cabernet franc grown, raised and fashioned by winemaker J-L Groux at Stratus. I just love this fruit. These chips have fallen where they may. Drink 2020-2038.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Syrah 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

Stratus turns back time and into varietal subtleties so that sniffs and sips of this ’14 are met with pauses. This iambic syrah is indeed something other, with dusty peppery notes and an unforced extraction that does little (at first) to challenge or demand that you work for your sips. The floral aromas form the crux of the unstressed syllables and are followed by strong flavours, a.k.a. the stressed syllables. The poetic feel is one of clause, pause and punctuation, with acidity strong but also fine and the even ripening from the grapes is a matter of obvious clarity. I suggest that the winemaking is more hands off than before and the wine needed little to no clutter to reach this goal. The richness is subdued and the balance as bountiful as it is beautiful. The drinker must read-render this syrah stanza so that it is both comprehended and appreciated. There may be some potential tension in doing so because you need to know how to seek out the stressors but also where to find the metrical pauses. Unearthing all the elements will help to pair with food that reads the same, like a seared duck breast, rare and sliced, or a lean piece of beef, carved tagliata style. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Sémillon Botrytis Affected 2016, VQA Niagara On The Lake (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

One of the most unique dessert wines in Ontario this is neither late-harvest nor Icewine in origin. Only the third time it has been made, the 2016 sémillon launches with a smoky beginning, as expected and yet, is always appreciated. Some of the fruit is harvested early, but other bunches in the same vineyard are some of the last to be harvested. This low alcohol anti-sticky is from the warm vintage and from the same spot in the vineyard, vintage in vintage out. Most interesting is how these pristine botrytis affected grapes are picked ahead of the rest of the clean fruit used for the dry sémillon. It’s a very vinous sém with distinct apricot and longan notes. Great acids in 2016. Has still retained some waxiness and found some tropical fruit despite the early pick. All of the counterintuitive ideals tell us that the warm vintages can make for top quality dessert wine. This is the masquerade party wine made by the Way Outs band. “That’s where the fun is, way out, WAY OUT!” Drink 2019-2028. Tasted October 2018

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Hamilton Russell three ways

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at Ridley College

Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell are tireless wanderers of this earth. When you consider the amount of time they spend travelling in support of one, their eponymous winery, two, their Hermanus friends and colleagues and three, Wines of South Africa, it’s amazing that they are able to find time to produce high quality wines. That they do with great consistency and though they are responsible for interpreting the Hemel-en-Aarde in three ways, in each case they do one or two things and they do it really well.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards works three appellations. The WO of Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is a geological wonder akin to Burgundian soils of 35-50 per cent top soil clay layered with exposed shale, closest to Walker Bay. It is here that Anthony and Olive pioneered the raising of chardonnay and pinot noir. Ashbourne red and white blends are fashioned in the Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, on the eastern border of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, built of decomposed granite, with freer draining soils and more diurnal temperature fluctuations then the Hemel en Aarde Ridge. The property is named after Anthony’s great, great-grandfather Lord Ashbourne who was Lord Chancellor of Ireland in the late 1800’s. Southern Right is the line of pinotage and sauvignon blanc raised on the western border of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, on a 448 hectare property just behind the old fishing village of Hermanus.

In 1991 Hamilton Russell was the only one producing wines. Now there are 22 in the valley. They began running in 1991 and made full purchase in 1994. A cold current rises up from Antartica into the tip of South Africa’s (Western Cape) “making quality winemaking possible,” explains Anthony. “Our soils have been on the surface for more than 300,000,000 years. I like that you can taste ancient soils in every glass.” Hamilton Russell is what he refers to as their “immediate family.” Southern Right and Ashbourne are close relatives.”

As for varietal choices, there is little doubt that pinotage is (once again) booming while others are dropping. The plantings are very much on the rise. “What people thought was pinotage was badly made pinotage. It’s not a bad grape,” insists Hamilton Russell. We like to control what’s happening on both borders of Hamilton Russell.” So Southern Right (1994) and Ashbourne (1996) are more than just passion projects. “We also want to change people’s perception of pinotage,” he adds. There were no releases between 2011 and 2014, instead it was used as a re-thinking period and a chance to reflect on vineyard/agricultural culture, followed by the new age. “I don’t have a beard, I’m in my 50’s (plus) and I’m doing some pretty hipster stuff. We just don’t look the part.”

I have had numerous opportunities to taste, track, re-taste and follow the chardonnay and pinot noir over the past five years. I often add to my notes because theirs are highly organized, Burgundian powered structures that demand re-visits and respect. The Ashbourne and especially the Southern Right varietals and blends have seen less exposure but the notions of longevity (Ashbourne) and drink-ability (Southern Right) are fast gaining attention.

A few weeks back and post i4C Cool Chardonnay conference I sat down with Wines of South Africa’s Laurel Keenan, Angela Aiello and the South African Wine Society to listen in on Anthony Hamilton Russell’s dissertation and a tasting of eight wines. Here are the notes, plus two for their recently released ’17 chardonnay and pinot noir.

Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2016, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (512277, $21.95, WineAlign)

The Southern Right whale is a frequent visitor to Walker Bay and this sauvignon blanc should be a frequent visitor to your glass. It’s a white wine that acts as a messenger to its proximate location to a cold body of water. It’s a pure Western Cape fresh, flinty and smouldering sauvignon blanc so akin to a Bordeaux White. You could close your eyes and imagine Pessac-Leognan (perhaps even hoping for Sancerre or Chavignol) but there really isn’t any need. Six clones and six yeasts, multiple ripeness levels and some clay-grown vines deliver fat fruit to meet the linearity and tension of other shale grown fruit. In the end it’s a complex and rare chance to taste this kind of value. Drink 2018-2020.  Last tasted July 2018

The pungent nature of this sauvignon blanc brings a vigor sight and taste unseen. Classic herbal meets gooseberry and passionate notes are berry-derived and very floral. The palate confirms the notion and makes one a true believer in Walker Bay. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted July 2017   olive_hamilton_russell  noble_estates wosa_za  wosa_ca  @OliveHR  @Noble_Estates  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  Olive Hamilton Russell  @NobleEstates  @WOSACA

Southern Right Pinotage 2015, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $26.95, WineAlign)

Tasting ’15 while ’17 is already sold out back home. From an opulent and wide open vintage, the wine offers just those expressive attributes. Smokiness meets curative meaty notes and an umami sort of South African garrigue. From a vintage where phenolic ripeness occurred at a higher level of alcohol so it carries a 15 per cent volume, but does so with marked ease. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne 2009, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)

The Ashbourne ’09 includes cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, petit verdot and syrah blended in, “which brings nothing really to the party,” says Anthony Hamilton Russell, “but at least it doesn’t compete with Southern Right.” It’s deeply savoury and smoky, continues to smell like chocolate and will always show its wood. The single-vineyard heavy clay block was always in delivery of fruit ripe but never over that edge, all the while telling its shepherds when to pick so that balance and structure can be had. The linger and length are exceptional. “The variety doesn’t suck.” Truth that. Drink 2018-2024.  Last tasted July 2018

Ashbourne is a 25 barrel cuvée and the outlier in the Hamilton Russell pinot noir-chardonnay stable. With more than enough time behind at eight years on it is essentially evolved and resolved, now a downy blanket of Bordeaux fibres woven, seamless and soft. The fruit dries a bit but like all great aging South African reds the candidly curated acidity is years from relinquishing its grip. Ashbourne is not a matter to blow one’s mind but it teaches some vinous life lessons about Hemel-en-Aarde and the greater good of aged South African reds. It can be enjoyed right now and left for another decade. Like Meerlust’s Rubicon it’s an easy on the pocketbook gift in kind to Ontario from proprietors Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted October 2017

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Pinotage 2015, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)

It could be expected that this 2015 pinotage blend would already act somewhat to quite advanced when in fact the evolution is virtually non-existent. A side-by-side revisit with 2009 is all that is needed to drive the point. The ’15 is still quite demurred, tightly wound, not in a fresh to reductive way but more in terms of its finely-crafted pyramids of Giza architecture. The acidity and the spice are up there on the crests of the upper steps, very near to the pinnacle. Again it is the way the wine stays with you like a slowly rendered demi-glacé made from the lightest roast of bones that keeps the karst of stone sublime in your mind and mouth. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Pinotage/Cinsault 2018, WO Swartland, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)

“We wanted to work with an unoaked pinotage, to mix with a lighter and brighter cinsault.” In fact the cinsault really shines with (by now) classic Western Cape lithe ability because the pinotage allows it to. Add to that a verdant, pyrazine and currant streak and in the end you get perfume but no impenetrability that an overly green and wooded forest would demand. Beautiful (1972 planted) Paardeberg on decomposed granite gifts a chic and classy, perfectly correct blend of these two made for each other varietals. Will settle into one another so effortlessly and with sleepy grace in another year or so. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay 2018, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (Agent, $25.95, WineAlign)

There can be no more fruit in a white blend than what bursts from this sauvignon blanc-chardonnay scene. Just released in South Africa and carried by Anthony and Olive (Hamilton Russell) on the plane. Chavignol is the reference point, with lightly structured sandstone soils bringing lightness, airiness and delicate fruit. Or think Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat out of Santa Barbara. It’s democratically priced (a Hamilton Russell first) without gratuitous sugar and still dry, tart and direct. Also the first screw-cap for the company. Bottled just three weeks ago. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (931006, $44.95, WineAlign)

A Hamilton Russell chardonnay must have its nuts, butter and über direct acidity. It just may remind of Bâtard perhaps because depth, richness and a ridges-straddling connection to the valley it comes from all work in this way. But what else brings that connection? In 2017 it’s elegance for sure, but also intensity. This 36th vintage is “a reflection, always of the same piece of ground, even if we are always insecure and trying to improve, it’s a far bigger thing than we are. We feel justice to serve it. We feel we have a duty to this.” This is what Anthony Hamilton Russell told me last year and it perfectly applies to this 2017. Back then he noted that “god made the 15s and winemakers watched. In ’16 winemakers made the wine.” So what about ’17? With heady attention paid to its eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, it’s really a matter of both. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted twice, July 2018

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (931006, $44.95, WineAlign)

Says Anthony Hamilton Russell. “It took the French to teach me not to care about the colour of chardonnay, but to only worry about flavour and texture.” Fermented with a healthy amount of solids and introduced to oxidation in its youth. This helps and results in a chardonnay well-adjusted to adult life and to adults. “You cannot measure an aesthetic with a number,” meaning you can’t learn from a measured response. Literally speaking. The balance is as good as this archetype of an HR white has ever been. It is after all, the HR white.  Last tasted July 2018

No stone is left unturned in the Hamilton Russell 2016 chardonnay because it speaks with utmost Hemel-en-Aarde Valley clarity. There is less make-up in 2016 so the fruit, acidity and subtle salty quality all must have begun to speak from the word go. The first pressed, non-clarified must would have done nothing but made the maker’s smile, mimicking a foggy morning over Walker Bay and so they have allowed the wine to speak for itself. This is a beautifully restrained and go it alone rendered to be measured chardonnay, with beauty and grace. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted September 2017

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $58.95, WineAlign)

’m not sure it can be stated often enough that when you continually do one thing well, without compromise or mutation, than you’re more likely to do it very well. This is the case with a Hamilton Russell pinot noir, the only one that is produced. From the best fruit available and swinging in the direction of the vintage, either into or away from the winds of vineyard or winemaking. The 2017 is like the chardonnay in that it’s a best of both worlds seasonal and acumen-focused display, neither one or the other dominant and in the end, so balanced. The fruit depth is exceptional, the acidity deeper still and the intensity wound around it all. It’s so precise and layered, like a pinot noir prism, like staring far inside the intricate and symmetrically patterned angles in a diamond. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $58.95, WineAlign)

“We believe in wines of consequence.” How pinot noir is capable of performing in South Africa can be defined right here, with a wink and a nod to Gevrey-Chambertin. Pure unbridled Hamilton Russell cerebral joy, nothing taken for granted and all possibilities celebrated.  Last tasted July 2018

This welcome ethereal return of Hamilton Russell’s Hermanus benchmark pinot noir follows on the heels of the early-picked, dense, muscular and compressed 2015. Comfortable alcohol meets optimum phenolic ripeness so lets think on it in terms of ’08 burgundy, though perhaps not as tight and classic. This is the second fully organic vintage, not certified but with no systemic use of chemicals. Young (just last year turned 30) winemaker Emul Ross from Chamonix and viticulturist Johan Montgomery have reverted to gentler pressing and travelled further away from hyper-reduction. Open fermenters handle the entire pinot noir harvest at once so there is nary a posit tug of war or movement at shock times. Thus the elegance and as mentioned, the ethereal. It should always be noted that all the HR grapes go into these wines, with no tactical moves and philosophical aberrations (any more), no reserve wines, no single-vineyard, no divergence from monopole, always staying the broad expression course. “We committed to this in 1981 and other than experiments, we’ve stayed this way,” says Anthony Hamilton-Russell. There is simply no plot, block, aspect, top, middle or bottom slope separation. It’s pinot all in for one purpose, fully conjoined and conspiring to make the Hamilton Russell expression. This expression, of pure fruit, no drudgery, clarity and exceptional length. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted October 2017

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at Ridley College

Good to Go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Rewriting history at Meerlust back to 1984, one vintage at a time

Not just #meerlust more like major lust. Thank you for the sexy time travel @meerlustwine Laurel Keenan and The South African Wine Society.

It was on September 12th, 2017 that a once in a lifetime South African vertical tasting happened. The South African Wine Society managed to acquire 10 Meerlust wines from nine vintages gathered over 15 years. In Toronto. At The University of Toronto Faculty Club. It’s not that I want to invoke the dystopian dread of George Orwell nor do I equate the master’s writing with the wines of Meerlust but tasting 1984 through to 2010 has provoked the linguistic drama in me to invoke some wordsmith parallels. “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” Winemaker Chris Williams may not totally disagree.

Few Cabernet Sauvignon vertical tastings are capable of determining such a clear picture in style, patterning and evolution, save for perhaps for obvious reasons what is possible out of Bordeaux. This focused collection from Meerlust connected past to present and with no real South African presence in the room. A 25-minute video presentation by Williams and the wines were all the 75 guests in attendance had to go on. By the time the winemaker had sped-tasted and rapid-dissected the nine vintages most of the four-ounce pours in the room were drained. It was a quick to state of bliss happy bunch.

Meerlust dates back to 1693, the house that is “love or pleasure of the sea.” Less than five kms south from the Atlantic Ocean, the property was purchased in 1756 and to this day remains family owned, now in its eighth generation with 260 years of continuity. On the 3rd July 1693, the Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel, granted the land to Henning Hüsing, who named the farm Meerlust, describing the sense of pleasure he obtained from the sea breezes that blew inland from False Bay. Johannes Albertus Myburgh bought Meerlust in January 1757. His ownership marked the foundation of the Myburgh Dynasty.

Hannes Myburgh, eighth generation owner of Meerlust, graduated from the University of Stellenbosch with a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in French and English in 1982, before studying winemaking at Geisenheim in Germany. Hannes worked at Chateau Lafite in France and von Oetinger in Germany. Chris Williams was appointed Cellar Master at Meerlust in 2004 but has worked as Assistant Winemaker for the farm since 1995. He studied Oenology at Elsenberg and gained international experience in France while working for Michel Rolland. He is assisted by Wilson Waterboer and the cellar team.

Remarkable history and longevity through 10 back vintages of @meerlustwine #rubicon with the South African Wine Society. Thank you LK for the generous treat.

Rubicon is Meerlust’s flagship wine and considered one of South Africa’s premier Bordeaux Blend reds, first made in 1980. This vertical of nine vintages included 1996, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008  and 2009. I’ve added 2010, tasted recently through Ontario’s VINTAGES release program. In addition, we tasted cabernet sauvignon 2004, infrequently made, the previous time in 1993. This is the prime ingredient to the Bordeaux blend, usually making up around 60 per cent of the wine, with merlot, cabernet franc (and from 2008 on), petit verdot added. Thank you to Laurel Keenan of Wines of South Africa Canada, for having me and to Eleanor Cosman of the South African Wine Society, for hosting. Here are the notes.

Meerlust Rubicon 2010, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (64329, $37.95, WineAlign)

Meerrlust’s iconic blend is a Stellenbosch essential, of the ripest fruit and fully-rendered barrel. I’m quite amazed at its uncanny ability to appeal, even at this seven year mark, a show of generosity and gregarious character almost unparalleled for a wine of its Western Cape ilk. The geology runs deep, neither reductive, sap-flowing or bouncy, but the mineral sear and streak is certainly there. This Rubicion trades fecundity for earthy chocolate, uncompromising and unapologetic in its frosting. Beef is a must, preferably rare and dark from high heat char. Dry-aged and or Wagyu would pair even better. The blend is 62 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (24) merlot, (12) cabernet franc and (2) petit verdot. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted February 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2009, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Winemaker Chris Williams forged the people’s Rubicon in 2009, a Bordeaux blend as recognizable in name and style as much as any produced in not only South Africa, but worldwide. Everything is attractive in 2009, beginning with these quite lovely liquid dusty, rich mulberry and deep plum notes. To a crowd of 75 it can’t help but be the standout of general consensus for its sheer restrained hedonism and unabashed beauty. Youth has so much to do with how this shows but believe me 2009 is just a baby, so much more so than 2008 and they are only a year apart. The blend is 70 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (20) merlot, (9) cabernet franc and (1) petit verdot. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

The 2008 is the first vintage with some petit verdot in the mix though it’s just a start, with one per cent to go along in a blend of (71) cabernet sauvignon, (19) merlot and (9) cabernet franc. Shows some volatility and also more wood in the context of an espresso-chocolate continuum. Here a deeply hematic and iron schisty Rubicon, intense, brooding, mineral well dug deep into the terroir. This goes strong and powerful up the sides of the tongue with that fine but intense acidity. Unquestioned as a fine wine with lots of wood derived chocolate flavours but the spice is all fruit and the tannin from off of that fruit. Massive structure and age possibility will go well into the twenties. Drink 2017-2027.  Last tasted September 2017.

Rubber dust, road macadam and strawberry jam. Fierce Bordeaux Blend home from a hot climate. This has gritty obduracy and doggedness. Like a red blend with a gun, walking the mean streets. Acidity shot through the roof. Bordeaux meets South Africa in every shared, resplendent and promising way. Rasping tannins contain bursting dark fruit, the grain running in multiple directions. Respect. Wait two more years on this and drink comfortably past 2020. Tasted November 2014

Meerlust Rubicon 2007, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Rubicon 2007 is the last to be made without any petit verdot (74 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (15) merlot and (11) cabernet franc) and is actually not too dissimilar to ’06 though truly lighter and with more high bright intensity. It is also possessive of that collective ropey, red dusty cured and dried fruit character, like what can happen with traditionally adhered to sangiovese and tempranillo. So really when you think about it this shares a style, at least in part with more than its Bordeaux cousins. Yet go and ask winemaker Chris Williams and he’ll tell you “I dont think this wine could be made anywhere else because of terroir and history.” Fair enough. Surely the winemaker knows. Drink 2017-2026.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2006, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Rubicon is one of the original South African Bordeaux blends, here in 2006 with merlot and cabernet franc to satisfy the blended needs of cabernet sauvignon. The blend is 74 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (8) merlot and (18) cabernet franc. This ’06 is a bit shy, reserved, not giving much away from its usual floral heights. There is a layering of palate density before then deriving its complexity through the alleys of acidity, tannin and structure. Still so far from coming around but this reminds me of that salty, saline and mineral 1996. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2005, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

In 2005 the blend (69 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (15) merlot and (16) cabernet franc) saw an increase of cabernet franc, likely because of heat units and a vintage-driven jamminess exhibited by the cabernet sauvignon. The result is a cooler, increased savoury blend with a rising of steroidal currants so very sapid in a pool of high acidity. It’s the most lucent Rubicon, almost luminescent though not quite transparent, still so vital, pulsating and nearly raging in its wild, twitchy edgy energy, even beastly and in the end, just a bit out of balance. Like a Steve Vai riff in Zappa mode. Then again, the, Rubicon ’05, anything but a flex able leftover or quaint little wine might tell me, “I’m the beast of love and you just got in my way.” Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2004, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Rubicon 2004 is a completely different animal, with animale musk and a deep, dark and brooding constitution. The blend is 63 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (27) merlot and (10) cabernet franc. Shows 13 years on as the young (Chris Williams) winemaker’s ambitious first solo effort, while the wood was once so obviously in power of demand, it’s now ameliorated and integrated. This must have taken some time to come around, perhaps as recent as a year or two ago. Rubicon has been produced since 1980, was previuosly a matter of cabernet sauvignon, now here with more cabernet franc than before. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2003, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Rubicon 2003 was made by Chris Williams’ predecessor Giorgio Dalla Cia and from ’04 on they are made by Williams. The blend is 69 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (19) merlot and (12) cabernet franc. From a long hot dry sumer, a classic Rubicon, again with some lovely complexity out of the shadow of volatility, more savour here and cedar, plus pencil lead and graphite. In the freshest of ways this is closer to the present stylistic of Rubicon and Stellenbosh and further away than 1996. It’s the transition from old to new, with concentrated black currant, Cassis and wine gum. Not quite tertiary bit meaty char, balsamic, fennel and mushroom are just around the corner. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2001, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

2001, a warmer vintage is the assumption, with its wood still in play and tannins truly continuing their assertion. Giorgio dalla Cia fashioned a truly proportioned blend, of 70 per cent cabernet sauvignon with equal parts merlot and cabernet franc. While it can’t hide from its ocean salinity and omnipresent terroir it is a stand out vintage because of new world opulence. I’m not sure there will be another Rubicon in this tasting or at any opportunistic time that will make one dream so vividly of Bordeaux (i.e Château Pichon Longueville Baron) but also Napa Valley (i.e. Opus One). The structure in this Rubicon is purely Stellenbosch and with its merlot/cabernet franc proportion it’s quite intriguing, especially because of the warmth and how dramatically this foreshadows how franc will become more important in the blend as the years progress by. A fantastic wine Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 1996, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

In 1996 Chris Williams was a junior winemaker (to Giorgio della Cia) at the time but he remembers the vintage well. The blend is 70 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (20) merlot and (10) cabernet franc, from a cool vintage, here still dishing some Brettanomyces. It’s in check and so kind, gentle and helps to fixate towards thinking it a a sleeper vintage sort of personality There is much savour, still fruit (mulberry and plum), lots of acidity in quite a sour patch candy way but really dry and intense.Plenty of sediment! Very much alive with the silty, salty, but not fine pearly tannin. This falls into the saline-savoury style with wood just a dream from long ago, though admittedly a bit too pungent and earthy. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 1984, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Meerlust dates back to 1693, the house that is “love or pleasure of the sea.” Less than five kms south from the Atlantic Ocean, the property was purchased in 1756 and to this day remains family owned, now in its eighth generation with 260 years of continuity. Rubicon 1984 is poured (with brilliant decision making) from magnum and is therefore fresher than the 1996 with an incredibly controlled level of fineness in tannin, from acidity and at the threshold of understood volatility. “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood,” like this early Rubicon. The future of Meerlust is foretold with Orwellian transparency, bold honesty and expert ability. “Who controls the past controls the future.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (283390, $29.95, WineAlign)

Meerlust’s solo cabernet sauvignon ’04 is not merely very much alive it’s still full of bright fruit, though the wood is more noticeable than on the Rubicon. It is the lack of cabernet franc more than anything that seems to be the reason. The ganache component is highly significant, a chocolate factor magnified but still the Meerlust acidity drives the machine. Ripe and ripping with tannins still very much in charge, this wouldn’t be harmed by the generous and patient affording of more time so that it may further evolve to become the pleasing red it knows it will be. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2017

Not just #meerlust more like major lust. Thank you for the sexy time travel @meerlustwine Laurel Keenan and The South African Wine Society.

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Only one in VINTAGES January 21st, a writer’s defence and nine more

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Soft, smoky, fusible #fiorentina at #noce #queenstreet #mcgeefarms #canadianbeef

Every VINTAGES release we dig deep at WineAlign to pick a wine in response to the question “were we faced with buying only one, what would it be?” David, John, Sara and I do not take this responsibility lightly, nor do we approach the description of said wine without carefully scripting, editing and then publishing our thoughts. Most of our readers are pleased with the content. But you can’t please everyone. As a subscriber or passer-by, if there is something you don’t like, why wouldn’t you just keep moving on and choose to align with another?

Here is my preamble to my Only One from the VINTAGES, January 21st release:

“I am always on the lookout for wine off the beaten path. The term could actually be considered a metaphor for “authentic” and this is what winemakers and consumers, even if they need to be enlightened, really want. Winemaker Patricia Tóth’s Planeta Noto Nero D’avola 2012 is such a wine, grown on the white Sicilian soils of Noto and please do think about this. The mineral is salinity and that saline infiltration tears into bright bred red fruit, fragments it like the rock it came from and brings a brightness of being to otherwise dense and cimmerian nd’a. Today, the production from lesser, even totally unknown grape varieties, despite the zealous search for them by hipsters and geeks, is still considered a marginal pastime and a financial risk. Terrific wines like these are not inexpensive to produce. All sorts of meat clinging to and wishing to fall or be teeth-torn off the smoked bone will work wonders alongside this varietal-defiant, return to how things going forward must be Planeta nero d’avola.”

Is there anything in this section that is unclear? Is the term “beaten path” not obvious as the one I am referring to? Does the passage indicate that authentic wines MUST only be sought out in unusual locations or that seeking wines in unusual places is a metaphor for authentic wines? No. First off, I write “could actually” so I don’t make a blanket statement and secondly, the point I make is that authentic (or honest, if you will) wines are what we want. If they happen to be found off the beaten path than the interest level is increased.

The mineral discussion is always a heated one and like global warming, will always be challenged by those in denial and/or those who find it gets in the way of what they spend and what they earn. Grammatically and theoretically speaking, the words mineral and salinity can be interchangeable. Last I checked, both are nouns. I’ll even concede that the equation is predicated on perception, in aromatics, taste, texture or however else you wish to describe the sensation. Am I saying that the mineral one can detect in the wine is “saline” in quality? To some extent, yes. That much is obvious. But I am also saying that whatever trace minerals are found in soils do find their way into the grapes. And yes, salt, salty, saline and salinity are all ways of bringing the idea to the use of descriptors in a tasting note.

Writing is a tricky slope to navigate and there will be some who will read one’s words and it simply will not speak to them. To refer to something you don’t quite get as crap or someone who’s work you don’t like as a “slap in the face” is an opinion, not a fact. Or perhaps an alternative fact. We can all be judges and critics. Some of us do it better than others and those of us who do it for a living, work and stick together. “It is the difference of opinion that makes horse-races.” Thank you Pudden’head Wilson for that. And Mark Twain. And Samuel Clemens.

That Planeta wine, the preamble I penned in its support and more are the subject of my recommendations for the VINTAGES January 21st release. As always, please jump over to WineAlign to read the full reviews. You will also see a link to the presentation of our new wine revolution. Click on it. You are going to want to be a part of it. Thanks for coming and for reading. Your patronage is appreciated. Best regards, Godello.

evia

Pop Art Red 2014, Pgi Evia, Greece (468686, $12.95, WineAlign)

@eviagreece_gr  @DrinkGreekWine

Beyra Vinhos De Altitude Red 2014, Doc Beira Interior, Portugal (408120, $12.95, WineAlign)

@WineInPortugal  @winesportugalCA  @wines_portugal

vernaccia

Guicciardini Strozzi Villa Cusona Vernaccia Di San Gimignano 2015, Docg Tuscany, Italy (172726, $14.95, WineAlign)

@TGStrozzi  @LeSommelierWine

Album Reserva Red 2013, Alentejo, Portugal (477711, $14.95, WineAlign)

@WineInPortugal  @winesportugalCA  @wines_portugal  @TheVine_RobGroh

colome

Colomé Torrontés 2015, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (357913, $15.95, WineAlign)

@BodegaColome  @LiffordON  @winesofarg

ferraton

Ferraton Père & Fils Samorëns Côtes Du Rhône 2014, Ac Rhône, France (168708, $15.95, WineAlign)

  @VINSRHONE  @FWMCan

Château Des Charmes St. David’s Bench Vineyard Gamay Noir Droit 2015, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (346742, $17.95, WineAlign)

@MBosc   

mojo

Mojo Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coonawarra, South Australia, Australia (383539, $17.95, WineAlign)

@MojoWine  @CoonawarraWine  @Wine_Australia  @StemWineGroup

planeta

Planeta Noto Nero D’avola 2012, Doc Sicily, Italy (477190, $26.95, WineAlign)

@PlanetaWinery  @VinidiSicilia  @WinesOfSicily  @Noble_Estates

catena

Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina (959965, $47.95, WineAlign)

@LauraCatena  @CatenaMalbec  @Noble_Estates  @ArgentinaWineCA

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

he-always-distracted-me-so-that-i-thought-of-nothing-else-while-listening-to-the-words-and-the-sound-of-his-voice

He has always distracted me so that I thought of nothing else while listening to the words. And the sound of his voice.

Compiling a best of wine list is never easy. Not when the subject matter is the most fleeting of consumables, a drink ever-changing, almost never tasting the same twice and destined for eventual failure. We know by instinct that wines cast the shadow of their own destruction before them and are designed from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins. Wine critics can only regard what is in the glass by what sensory enjoyment or displeasure is activated at that exact time. In most cases there are no second chances.

I do my best to taste wines twice before passing judgement. Too often I can’t fulfill this prophecy, especially when plodding through 100-plus on a VINTAGES release. In 2016 I made a great effort to visit these 16 wines three times before penning a review. It was not always possible but I tried. When it comes to Canadian wines and even more so with wines from Ontario, there are often second and third chances. And so I feel very confident in sharing this definitive list with you.

Hallelujah

It must be said that 2016 was a most difficult year. Too many special people were taken from us far too early. I lost two friends this fall as I’m sure some of you did as well. Many of us dwell on favourite celebrity deaths and especially the loss of musicians, some of us more than others. If you are one who takes to social media to mock the romantic who shares grief with others at the loss of a musical icon, well just skip past this and go straight to the wines. Or please refrain from comment and respectfully remain quiet.

David Bowie. Prince. Leonard Cohen. Sir George Martin. Glenn Frey. Paul Kantner. Leon Russell. Keith Emerson. Greg Lake. Alan Vega. Mose Allison. Bernie Worrell. Muhammad Ali. Gene Wilder. Arnold Palmer. Craig Sager. David Huddleston. Ken Howard. George Kennedy. Abe Vigoda. Ron Glass. Florence Henderson. Fuck 2016. And this tree fell on my house.

hows-your-sunday-going-so-far

How’s your Sunday going so far?

On a much brighter note 2016 was a banner year for tasting Canadian wines. It also provided a vintage of quantity meets quality and one that was desperately needed, especially here in Ontario. My tasting regimen saw no quit or slow down in 2016. I’m not sure how many Canadian wines I tasted but if it was less than a thousand I’d be shocked. I tasted more at home, assessed a greater number in the LCBO’s sensory lab, delved deeper at the WineAlign office and spread the web wider at events in Ontario. I judged with Tony Aspler at the Ontario Wine Awards, in Penticton at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and with David Lawrason at Gold Medal Plates.

Related – 15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

In 2015 I counted 15 on the filtered list. 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 will lead to 17 in 2017.

welcome-muller_brent-to-team-red-with-nazlanmak-captain-treve_ring-nwac16-winealign

Welcome @muller_brent to team RED! with nazlanmak captain @treve_ring #nwac16 @winealign

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

And again, 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.” In 2017, trust in Canadian wine.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

return-syrah-engagement-creeksidewine-pouring-on-tap-barquebbq-and-barquebutchers-freshtap-wineontap

Return Syrah engagement @CreeksideWine pouring on tap @barquebbq and @barquebutchers #freshtap #wineontap

My wine on tap program at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar added some new wines in 2016 to follow those poured from Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus and Leaning Post. Between the Lines, Coyote’s Run, Vineland Estates and new offerings from Creekside continue to fill your glasses.

The year began with great excitement at Niagara’s Icewine Festival in January. In February I returned for Cuvée Weekend. In June we convened the WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards in the Okanagan Valley and a confession I need to make is that I wanted to publish with the title “Why you don’t know shit about B.C. wine” but chickened out at the last second and instead came out with Why you don’t know jack about B.C. wine. Before judging we paid a visit with The Wines of British Columbia for the Judgement of B.C. The second annual cage match was hosted by the B.C. Wine Institute and took place on Tuesday, June 21, pitting 12 B.C. Wines against 12 acknowledged global benchmarks. Riesling and Pinot Noir squared off, curated by DJ Kearney and judged by a who’s who of Canadian wine writers, critics and educators, along with international WineAlign Awards judges Dr. Jamie Goode and Elaine Chukan Brown.

how-lucky-we-all-were-to-have-her-back-in-the-captains-chair-happy-canada-day-djwines-nwac16

How lucky we all were to have her back in the captain’s chair. Happy Canada Day @djwines #nwac16

As the week progressed, the WineAlign judges paid visits to Okanagan Crush Pad Winery in Summerland, Culmina Family Estate Winery in Oliver, Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna, Rustic Roots Winery with the Similkameen Wineries Association and Deep Roots Winery on the Naramata Bench. I tasted more than 100 wines over the course of the five days from the appellations of Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Falls, Oliver-Osoyoos, Golden Mile, Similkameen Valley and Naramata Bench. At the awards I tasted more than 500 Canadian wines.

Of greatest importance was my return to the International Chardonnay Cool Climate conference that took place between July 22nd and July 24th in Niagara. Before attending for a fourth straight year I penned The democracy of Cool Chardonnay. It was there I wrote that “plus has joined the i4c, an ideogram of addendum, a character of diversity for the fluently persuasive and forceful congress. This gathering will open its arms for colour and to allow its constituents to regale with what they do best. For an event-driven pure as single-varietal snow and formerly known exclusively as chardonnay, is this really a shocker? This is the reality of democracy.”

#cool

People bitched and moaned. How can a chardonnay conference include other grape varieties? Sacrilege and foul play they (secretly and not so secretly) complained. In the end the inclusion of red varietals confused nothing and no one. Chardonnay remained the focus and the star. No chardonnay were harmed.

We broke cool climate bread and spread chardonnay gospel with Ian D’Agata (Decanter, Vinous.com), John Szabo M.S. (Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power), Jean-François Bordet and Françoise Roure from Wines of Chablis. We tasted with sixty winemakers at the School of Cool, “Flights of Chardonnay” at Niagara District Airport and the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner at Ridley College in St. Catharines, Ontario. Red wines were poured after dinner!

only-american-presidential-candidates-carry-babies-at-i4c-coolchardonnay

Only American presidential candidates carry babies at #i4c @coolchardonnay

We welcomed writer Kurtis Kolt from Vancouver, sommeliers Carl Villeneuve-Lepage and Elyse Lambert from Quebec. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Tex-Somm Director James Tidwell made the long trip north and a second Canadian courting immersion in as many months was performed by visionary wine raconteur Elaine Brown.

So what did Godello learn from Cool Chardonnay in 2016? Well, he found out that we have to look at organoleptics and ask a very important question. Is your expectation of a Chablis going to be the same as chardonnay made from anywhere else? More important, who are we putting this wine in front of? Ian D’agata’s take struck a Canadian chord.  He talked of “a welcome astringency characterized by piercing flavours. These are cool-climate wines.  Cool climate chardonnay is not about a long litany of fruit descriptors. If you have a cool-climate viticultural area it behooves you to give the people what they are looking for.”

potential-is-the-past-somewhereness

Potential is the past @Somewhereness

After i4c16 I took part in an Impromptu tasting at Ravine. Four months later the intrepid sophist Scott Zebarth and I tasted with winemaker Marty Werner for a second time. That same day we visited with J-L Groux at Stratus and with Paul Pender at Tawse. Our focus was cabernet franc. That report is coming soon and I can promise this. The 17 in 2017 and 18 in 2018 will be graced by cabernet franc. Fall events were led by the constitutive Somewhereness, as fundamental and essential as any agminate Ontario tasting can and will ever be. Then there was the Great Canadian Oysters and Wine Experience at Rodney’s Oyster House. The event was hosted by Wine Country Ontario and paired a curated who’s who of Ontario VQA wines with the local iconic fare. Exceptional all around.

%22ill-do-what-i-can-so-you-can-be-what-you-do-%22-rodneystoronto-coasttocoast-oysters-winecountryontario-dukes-peioysters-bcoysters-elliotsmith-greatcanadianoystersandwineexperience

“I’ll do what I can so you can be what you do.” @rodneystoronto #coasttocoast #oysters #winecountryontario #dukes #peioysters #bcoysters #elliotsmith #greatcanadianoystersandwineexperience

Where are we now?

Despite all the talk of rules, regulations and governing boards that restrict movement, labelling and profits, the Canadian landscape is evolving in a beneficent direction. Though the move to loosen monopoly control and increase competition has backfired in the short term, corrections to British Columbia’s wine trade will happen, sort itself out and right the ship. Decades of bureaucracy don’t dismantle and do right by the consumer overnight. Things always get worse before they get better. The move to supermarkets in Ontario is indeed one of smoke and mirrors but it opens the door to gaining advantage through loopholes and creative minds kickstarting new business ventures. The wave to privatization can no longer be averted or snuffed out. Momentum will gain traction and open the flood gates to wine trade nirvana.

the-man-the-chardonnay-normhardie-princeedwardcounty-14-vqa-winecountryontario-%22as-sure-as-fire-will-burn-theres-one-thing-you-will-learn-is-things-you-have-cherished-are-things-that-you-have

The man, the chardonnay @normhardie #princeedwardcounty ’14 #vqa #winecountryontario “As sure as fire will burn There’s one thing you will learn Is things you have cherished Are things that you have earned.” #tomwaits #littleman

Canadian wines run more or less of their own accord, not so much thanks to the winemakers or the condition of the current culture, as in spite of them. And certainly not by virtue of any particular ethos through customs and traditions going back over many generations of wines. No, success and cumulative proficiency exists by dint of these wines without any forced supervision. They are governed by themselves and indeed across the entire industry. Done are the blanketing days of spare and often powerful Canadian wines that were often too spare, so that the ribs of tannin showed through in painful obviousness. The embracing of cool climate idiosyncrasy and unique-somewhereness make Canada the envy of the developing wine world.

Controversy

Now this. VQA is expected to pass regulatory approval and introduce a new category of wines called “skin contact whites.” While Orange wines are the most notable example of skin contact whites, who’s to say the ambiguity of the designation could not impel the inclusion of other cabalistic and achromatic specimens? Let’s look at Riesling as a perfect example.

skin-contact-riesling-from-mackbrisbois-trailestatewine-invisibly-stitched-and-tart-pan-curl-burgunder-less-than-50-cases-hughes-lakeview-foxcroft

Skin contact #Riesling from @MackBrisbois @TrailEstateWine Invisibly stitched and tart-pan curl. #burgunder less than 50 cases #hughes #lakeview #foxcroft

Leaning Post’s The Geek, Trail Estate’s Skin Contact Foxcroft and Pearl Morissette’s Blackball are all atypical, mad scientist outtakes. Will the new category allow these wines to pass easily through the borders of VQA? Will the wall regarding place of origin on labelling be the next to crumble? Let’s hope reason in the name of progress born out of trust for altruistic and dedicated producers will carry through to a new frontier. Right Bruno and Jens?

New Kid in Town

You might notice that all 16 wines I have chosen are from very established producers. The next wave of young winemakers and wineries is taking shape in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and especially in Nova Scotia. I would expect new kids on the list in the coming years. I want you all to know that I traveled through great pains, algorithmic calculations and much unavoidable emotion to arrive at this rocking list. For every wine that made the grade there were three more that narrowly missed. They are all important but these 16 combine lyricism with melody. They write the songs.

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

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

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (1552, $24.95, WineAlign)

It’s as if this label had bided all this time to be the benefactor of 2013 fruit. This Rusty Shed, this 20 miler with the track record to age, a wine that sheds baby fat over a 10 year mineral through echelon stratum, in ways few other peninsula to bench chardonnay can do. This Jay Johnston handled surfer of a wine, buoyant and balanced, centred and able to withstand turbulence, oscillation and tidal sway. Here with sumptuous and spiralled fruit gaged in lode intervals and a tartness held in lope and line by a membrane of extract and tannin. Best ever. Showing well, repeatedly and to forecasted repute. Impressing critics and consumers alike. Bravo. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted June 2016  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

sometimes-there-comes-a-wine-of-the-impossible-at-the-frontier-this-by-synchromeshwine-riesling-stormhavenvineyard-okanaganfalls-8-9

Sometimes there comes a wine, of the impossible, at the frontier. This by @SynchromeshWine #riesling #stormhavenvineyard #okanaganfalls #8.9%

Synchromesh Riesling Storm Haven Vineyard 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.90, WineAlign)

If this riesling is sweet I couldn’t say. That is the first thought that comes to mind. From Alan Dickinson’s home property, this is his baby, an Okanagan Falls derived riesling that lives an entirely holistic existence. No spraying, none, nada, niente. Not ever. The wine could not get any cleaner. Purity is its cognomen. The vineyard is subject to the highest diurnal temperature swing than just about anywhere in the valley. That might explain the risk-reward probability factor. The technical specs are a triumvirate of implausibility; 46 g/L RS, 11.5 g/L TA and pH below three. What? This is the most impossible wine made in B.C. In its concentrated velocity it wheezes like something ancient. We could almost be drinking Greek debina or 20 year-old Alsatian auxerrois. Dickinson makes three passes over each of the two blocks so even if the hands are off, the meticulous picking breeds asepsis. Citrus such as found in the Storm Haven fruit does not happen very often, if rarely. It’s like citrus soma. Citrus unknowable out of determination unthinkable. Direct misunderstanding by indirect whimsy. And so the vintage offers good fun but not greatness. Imagine the possibilities. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted June 2015  @SynchromeshWine

ah-geek-out-le-geek-cest-chic-leaningpostwine-pinotnoir-riesling-lees-experiments-pushingboundaries

Ah, geek out, le geek, c’est chic @LeaningPostWine #pinotnoir & #riesling lees experiments #pushingboundaries

Leaning Post Riesling “The Geek” 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Senchuk and swot-out cohort Ryan de Witte pulled 350 litres of riesling aside, accoutred with all readily available lees and shacked the whole gross mess in tank together, Vinification was completed at nine grams (RS) nearly-dry, in what can only be described as a reductive, cloudy, super-geeky riesling. Acquires an increased resonance from its designation stowed at a way station on what really is a longer, personal journey. The 2015 will be bone dry and like this ’14 will sit for 18 months in encouragement of a truly experimental, waiting for something to happen riesling. Time will act to fill in the gaps and increase its already developed texture. If you have ever had the pleasure you will see this as Jean-Pierre Frick-ish to be sure. When asked the question, he ‘The Geek’ will repeatedly reply, “I am not ready.” Drink 2018-2022.   Tasted March 2016  @LeaningPostWine  @Witte_Wine

if-the-establishment-wants-what-you-got-give-it-to-them-blackball-14-riesling-by-pearlmorissette

If the establishment wants what you got give it to them. Blackball ’14 #riesling by @PearlMorissette

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2014, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (416073, $32.20, WineAlign)

One whiff and you are hep to what can only be Pearl Morissette, but with a neoteric twist. Riesling that flaunts full-frontal, of furthered acidity, vitality and multi-tined nuance. Farther too of age advanced but without any quirky or funky naturalist intrusion. Already chill, relaxed and with thanks to the vintage, almost round. The precise weave is tapestry fine and deceptively simple, what François Morissette likes to call a “crystallized cream of texture.” The oversized 2012 still digests itself, ’13 is organoleptically structured, long and cool. But ’14? A ‘no foudres’ vintage, from 100 per cent concrete fermentation, wild through malolactic and with zero grams of residual sugar. Bone dry. Concrete was chosen for must intricacy, palate texture, flavour and necessary balance. Riesling borne of crunchy, concrete desire, bright, with preserved lemon across the palate, gentle, feminine and beautiful. This is the focused consistency in loyalty to ’12 and ’13. Try and stereotype this Black Ball to Vin Nature funk. I dare you. Pour it in an expansive Ontario riesling flight and it will stand out like a solar flare in a fulmination of fireworks. There will be no mid-life, black hole of disappearance crisis. It will always be fine and pristine, drink well, like an impossibly dry version of a Coulée de Serrant. Only 186 cases were made so yes, the Blackball is a wine of very small production. Establishes yet another reference point and just wait for ’15. That vintage will deliver the greatest of bones. The new age will really launch then. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted November 2016  @PearlMorissette  @lassvet

sincerity-culminawinery-from-elaine-don-triggs-and-a-superfluity-of-winebcdotcom-pours-ohwhatanight-hospitality-nwac16

Sincerity @CulminaWinery from Elaine & Don Triggs and a superfluity of @WineBCdotcom pours #ohwhatanight #hospitality #nwac16

Maverick Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Bertus Albertyn bottled a meagre 200 cases of this Golden Mile Bench sourced syrah after 18 months in three to four year-old French Oak. If you are a fan of fresh, well-spoken, confident and blessedly transparent syrah then look for the next vintage of this sold out beauty. So gauzy gossamer textured, peppery but of scant bite and driven by a northern, smoky beat. The cure and depth in its make-up nearly adds up to beefy but its form of athleticism is built upon the quiet politesse of its maker’s execution. The comparison must be made to septentrional Rhône and the lack of new oak is so appreciated. This is a wine to watch for. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @MaverickWinery

Charles Baker Rieslings

Charles Baker Rieslings

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

There was this intuitive moment with Picone 2013 as if it was waiting on me. Not doting or soliciting, but waiting. I will admit to have been wondering, reeling and speculating. To peer or peek into what Mark Picone’s Vinemount Ridge vineyard would adjudge and then bestow Charles Baker’s riesling in 2013? Would it be a case of weight, hyperbole, a hang in the balance out of misjudged necessity? Nah. Picone is no longer a mature 20 year-old vineyard but now a wise old thirty year-old one. Picone 2013 is in fact a fun park mirrored image of itself, with haughty, aerified aromas and variegated, leaning to tropical fruit flavours, taut like a flock in line with the vintage. The riesling berries just seem to have imploded and the results that have followed are nothing if not intense. Imagine a Yogyakarta market and a two-wheeled, glass-cased push cart stacked with a pyramid of tart mangoes. The fruit had been picked just as the sugars had begun to run like sap and bleed sticky on the cracking skin. A mango is sliced and doused with the intensity of Java lime juice and then sprinkled with Laut Jawa salt. The flavours are searing, sweetly saline and quenching. Only this tart is this, where tart and acidity meet, intertwine and connect on an emotional level. Picone 2013. The first non-inoculated riesling at first and then touched up near the end. “The best vintage you could ask for in riesling,” notes Baker, “cloud-covered, a meeting of the minds, vibrant.” The arid, cranky one will live without fret for 15 years. Drink 2018-2028.  First tasted in March of 2015, then twice, October 2016  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Csv Blanc De Blancs Brut 2008, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

As expected the Cave Spring 2008 Chardonnay Sparkling solicits thoughts and ideas centred around age. It elicits a complexity response and one taste means a succumbing to the contagion of its vitality. With its autolytic character shining bright, Cave Spring’s BdeB acts out a fantasy up on a silver screen. Another seven year itch is realized in guaranteed Ontario age ability. Has acted way past simple citrus and yet remains a little closed, just now entering the window of showmanship. Another year or two and this will vie for an Oscar. The bubble program production is unparalleled at Cave Spring, perhaps more than any studio in Ontario.  Tasted February 2016  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

Nuit Blanche is one of Canada’s most unique commodities, a White Meritage (of sauvignon blanc and sémillon) blended from exceptional and aromatically delicate Rosomel Vineyard fruit. As part of Hidden Bench’s “Terroir Series” it righteously expresses white Bordeaux varietal purity from the southern blocks of the Beamsville Bench vineyard. Expectation runs high because 2014 seems a perfect Fumé Blanc vintage if ever there will be one for (40 year-old) vineyards tucked snugly in abutment to the Niagara Escarpment. A struck flint nosing entry is followed by taut strung acidity and palate tension eased by a fictionalized adult cotton candy, wisps of smoke, honey and lanolin. The grace of it all is hidden beneath a filigree of molecular green apple caviar gastronomy. In 2014 Nuit Blanche reflects propriety, elegance and genteel balance, caressed from the hands of winemaker Marlize Beyers. It is as if Beyers let this ferment slip away as a parent would encourage a child who is ready to leave the home. After tasting it at Gold Medal Plates in Toronto I spent a sleepless night, not from restlessness or over-indulgent behaviour but because I wished to pull an all-nighter with the best ever sauvignon blanc bled and led Ontario white. I would suggest leaving this be for two years for the subtle though generous barrel to melt into fruit but time will gather for up to two decades before the sun sets on the 2014 Nuit Blanche. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted November 2016  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron  @ImportWineMAFWM  @MarkAnthonyWine

Mini #lonnasblock @RavineVineyard Cabernet Franc vertical. Loaded with the S-word...structure @marty_werner #i4c16

Mini #lonnasblock @RavineVineyard Cabernet Franc vertical. Loaded with the S-word…structure @marty_werner #i4c16

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Lonna’s Block 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

Lonna’a Block alights straight out from the retail shop to the west side of the driveway (and is named for Ravine owner Norma Jean Harber’s sister). The site was planted in 2004 and here, 10 years on, its warm St. Davids’ Bench fruit is simply welling, hermetically sealed and antithetically intense. The block has come to this, in production of cabernet franc with side-splitting, tongue tripping acidity to work lightning crack geometry into the wood-derived chocolate and the ferric-tannic tension. The fissures are filled but there is the right kind of cabernet franc fragmentation. The liquid metal mineral and deep blackberry ooze is smooth and polished. The fruit was “picked early,” or if you will, in Grouxian, Gambleized and risk, Werner reward exercised terms, mid-November. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted July 2016  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

Creekside Broken Press Syrah Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $42.95, WineAlign)

Creekside’s website waxes about the vintage, noting “the 2012 growing season felt like it had been imported up from California.” This is a type of pragmatic truth (as opposed to correspondent or coherent) because it is useful in applying winemaker Rob Powers’ gathering of phenolic ripeness in lieu of extraneous matter to make this Broken Press. When perfect provisos give you perfect fruit you listen to the winds of the vintage and just go with it. Viognier conditions the mess of richness with more pragmatism in 2012, lifting the aromatics and hooking the rug, up and away from drought conditioning. This BP dips into the earth of the northern Rhône to recover its fearless tactility. And so you feel the autumn’s moderate, crucial rainfall in this wine, its warm days and cool nights. The harvest on October 2nd from the St. David’s Bench Queenston Road Vineyard amounted to nine barrels, eight older French and one new Hungarian, leading to 210 cases. This is the best Syrah from QRV made to date. It will live long because of that aforementioned pragmatic truth. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted March 2016  @CreeksideWine  @AMH_hobbsandco  @hobbsandco

J.L. Groux, Winemaker, Stratus Vineyards Photo: Michael Godel

J.L. Groux, Winemaker, Stratus Vineyards
Photo: Michael Godel

Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (131037, $44.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus Red 2012 resides both in a virtuoso’s hollow and in a pantheon inhabited by some of Niagara’s great reds. The fact that such ripe phenology can anticipate and foretell to balance and freedom in the byplace of the blending process is nothing short of amazing. Sinuous and exact, of berries so indefatigable, layering raspberry over blackberry atop strawberry. Cedar and red citrus compound, without jamming the fluidity, but certainly accentuating the Fragaria vesca. Confident and fluid in movement, the ’12 neither shakes nor stirs and its acidity is flat out terrific. At this early point in its evolution it is showing as well as could be expected, or hoped for. Its core of fraises du bois will always be there. Time will be kind, gentle and patient. Drink 2015-2024.   Tasted April and June 2015  @StratusWines

bachelder

Bachelder Pinot Noir Wismer Parke Vineyard 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

Thomas Bachelder has never had a problem with timing. His first pinot noir from the specific Wismer Parke Vineyard (labeled as such) comes from a veritable cracking jackpot of a great varietal vintage. If you need some geographical placement here, The Parke is contiguous to the Foxcroft and Wingfield sections of Wismer in the eight farm-strong holdings on and around the Twenty Mile Bench. It is here that Bachelder concentrates the microscope on a sectional-cordoned off Wismer micro-terroir and its precision-apportioned mineralogy mined for sidetracked and step out of the box focus. What The Parke delivers in 2014 is a sweeter extract than Wismer proper and one that is stationary, static and accessible. The overall grasp is a mouthful easy on the spice or rather subtle in attack after it has climbed in and out of its barrels. Most polls would place Lowrey at the pinnacle of Ontario’s pinot noir vineyards but Thomas Bachelder’s 2014 work with Wismer Parke establishes a new player on the shortlist. This is an exciting entry point and the future will be bright. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted October 2016  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $45.20, WineAlign)

A second taste four months later confirms the impossibility from Hardie in 2014, a vintage that just begs for Norm’s magic handling, from exemplary, slow-developed fruit off of a vintage’s hyperbole of low-yielding vines. The low alcohol continuum persists, the freshness and richness of County berries magnifies and the development of flavour is beyond and above. The tart is a membrane and the sweetness a virtue, feigned and delicate. Tremendous work made easy by Norm and a pinot noir that will live longer than any he has produced before. Drink 2017-2027.  Last tasted August 2016

In Prince Edward County and for pinot noir there is no substitute and no comparison. Quixotically sweet pinot noir fruit, from the lowest of the low yields, scrupulously heeded and handled with care and yet also, somehow without a care to the world. As self-effacingly pretty and impossible as ever though in 2014 the tensity is lower, the anxiety bereft and not so crucially or dearly developed. There is almost no crisis from out of this first of the near-crisis vintages. This is an early to love Norm pinot noir, brought to life and with red citrus that only a Hardie low alcohol pinot can bring. Humility only exceeded by impossibility. Ready to enjoy younger than most.  Tasted April 2016  @normhardie

a-back-pages-cabernetfranc-moment-with-paul-pender-tawse_winery-wismervineyards-everythingfranc-2007-vanbers

A back pages #cabernetfranc moment with Paul Pender @Tawse_Winery @wismervineyards #everythingfranc #2007 #vanbers

Tawse Cabernet Franc Van Bers Vineyard 2007, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $49.95, WineAlign)

The state of freshness is static, a sameness that is mostly impossible but the perfume is settled and obvious, of violets and blackberries, closer to ’12 than ’10. Hot and dry but still, balanced. Tasted blind there would be no way of knowing where or from when this was. Sure Bordeaux could be imagined but Niagara, Beamsville Bench, Lincoln Lakeshore, Creek Shoes, or the confluence of the three? How could you know. Two years ago this opening began and now the invitation reads with utter clarity, the door widely agape. There seemingly is not a single moment of aromatic evolution and the acidity rages with great vibrancy. The longevity factor is in my friends. Paul Pender knew then what he knows now, at least with respect to cabernet franc. It’s like this. Just like this. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted October 2016  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

Benjamin Bridge Wines from left to right:

Benjamin Bridge Wines

Benjamin Bridge Brut 2011, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (381533, $49.00, WineAlign)

First sips were blind at #i4c16 with ripeness and yeasty lees so apparent early and smouldering, flinty and then turned to citrus, freshness and acidity. Burgundian-Champagne dichotomous directional pull, certainly, though with eyes shut tight imagination travels and falls on a far east Canadian clime, though likely from an early ripening site. As in October. The reveal presents the first Blanc de Blancs in Benjamin Bridge Brut form, taking the cue from an exemplary vintage for chardonnay to go it alone, leaving seyval blanc and l’acadie behind as Nova Scotian relics of a bygone era. Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers cants with insightful eloquence. “It’s in our collective consciousness to say that white wines will rely on acidity while reds are determined by phenolics. (The science of) pH will help to locate electrons between reduction and oxidation. It’s a very eccentric proposition, being on the edge of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. Lodi harvested pinot noir yesterday. We are harvesting in November. The beauty of moderation is that it’s a step away from the model of extremes. Our ability to ripen fruit and preserve the Titratable Acidity at unspoiled levels is going to translate into tension and ageability.” This Brut 2011 is far too young, extremely bright and blessed with so much citrus. The level of lemon is extraordinary. Just as recent past tastes of the Brut Reserve 2004 spoke of its remarkable youth, this ’11 is full of orchard fruit but it’s hard to fathom the extreme level of tightly wound strength that yet persists. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2016  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

CedarCreek

CedarCreek Amphora Wine Project Desert Ridge Meritage 2014, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $60.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Alexis Moore inherited the (Chianti sourced) clay amphora from former winemaker Daryl Brooker and this (second vintage) meritage is her first kick at the urn. The co-fermented, all natural, don’t even think about peeking and sneaking a taste blend is cabernet sauvignon (54 per cent), cabernet franc (35) and malbec (11). The hallmark desert notes of rich, caky and dusty are necessarily present but it is the preservation of red earth savour that gives this formidable flagon of magic juice its inimitable personality. Mature rows of fruit are to blame and thank for the just desert reward. Transferred to amphora the fruit is preserved in such a way no B.C. reds have ever really seen and the new territory is not so simple for making quick, on the spot judgements. I have thought about this wine for quite some time and the conclusion is positive for two important reasons. Spice and tannin. Together they combine for an infinite finish. Here is the crux of the vessel’s power, to preserve fruit and slowly release its charms within the structure provided. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted June 2016  @CedarCreekWine

Good to go!

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