Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2017

Go Time @GoldMedalPlates Toronto #gmp2017

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

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

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014

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

National Wine Advisor David Lawrason’s Wine and Spirits Report

Nadja’s Tops a Bounty of Great Whites in Toronto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Culinary Medals

Gold

Lorenzo Loseto
George Restaurant

Pairing: Leaning Post Wines, 2015 ‘The Fifty’

Silver

David Lee
Nota Bene

Pairing: Brickworks Ciderhouse, Batch: 1904

Bronze

Jesse Vallins
Maple Leaf Tavern/PORT

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

Nota Bene’s David Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Baker Riesling B-Side 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Vinyl records sound different because they are designed with grooves carved in that mirrors the original sound’s wave form. Their analog recording delivers a sensory feeling of warmth, an aural of texture, nuance and soul. There was a time when the hits spun over and over were also pressed onto the A-Side of 45 rpm singles. The discovery of a never before heard B-Side was a revelation because is was extra material from a favourite band and it was a great song. It meant the record was already too strong for that song to make the final cut and to choose it for a B-Side meant it would elevate the quality of the album. A well-chosen B was not an afterthought. This is the accomplishment of the first Charles Baker’s B-Side, for itself and for the vineyards of Ian and Picone. Baker digs about in the Niagara Peninsula’s escarpment dirt for young vine, not ready for prime time riesling fruit. If perchance it seems like cheating on his per se Vinemount Ridge Picone and Ivan bottles so be it but one look at him and he’ll say “Hey, hey, what can I do?” His 2016 B-Side delivers a spray bottle Zeppelin expressing heady aromas, high in the stratosphere and raining down upon the earth. The notes are an all in, breath of classic Baker riesling air, blanketing from up above and with a landscape that reeks of lime and quivers with classic agitation. The fruit is wild and full, the salty grit infiltrating and gripping the bloody omniscience of this package. What is this B-Side and where will it be lead? To the top of the ridge, from earlier harvests, younger fruit and higher yields. Scratch the single vineyard elitism, just listen to the song and raise one up, to getting ‘er done before the conceptual singular side one and side two, Ivan and Picone. The Beatles? Forget it. Led’s flip side to the ‘Immigrant Song’ A is the one. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted November 2017

Flat Rock Riesling Nadja’s Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (578625, $24.95, WineAlign)

Nadja, like the Bréton novel begins with the question, “Who am I?” A surrealistic trigger is incited by the first taste, with excitement running in many directions but like the book, Nadja’s non-linear structure is grounded in Twenty Mile Bench riesling reality. She is an elite varietal wine in 2016, excitable girl, gregarious, punchy and so bloody juicy. I don’t recall the last Nadja with so much up front zest fervency and writhing aromatic gait, “exploding international, the scenes, the sounds, and famously the feeling that you can’t squeeze ground.” The lime flesh and cordial infusion brings the flavours into a once tropical, twice bitten realm. The vintage delivers the electric version, the new pornographer for the vineyard and the song sung loud swan song for departing winemaker Jay Johnstone. Was it all for swinging you around? Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

Godello

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.

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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!

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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

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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!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Outward and inward nines for November 12th

Can somebody get the pin? The ninth green at Summit Golf & Country Club

Can somebody get the pin? The ninth green at Summit Golf & Country Club

This will be the last weekend of play for most southern Ontario golf courses, or at least the ones who are smart enough to lock down and protect their precious 7,000 yards of turf from irreparable 2017 damage. For many players there are two seasons, golf and wine buying. Now that the exceptional 2016 year of 50-plus, sunshine-blessed rounds of 18 are done, the time has flipped over to loading up for the holidays and stocking the cellar.

My outward and inward nine recommendations from the VINTAGES November 12th release cover one and then the other. The front is marked by balance relative to par; wines of value, amiability, varietal purity and regional respectability. Just have a look at some of these iconic names: Delas, Catena, Trimbach, Gabbiano, Hedges and Cave Spring. The back takes swings into under and over par territory. Some are choices that polarize with buyers, critics and geeks. Are they worth the cash? Only you can be the judge. Along with some of Niagara’s greats are selections that include Chablis, Gran Selezione, Veneto and Napa Valley.

So put away the sticks and hit the stores. Here are my top 18 recommendations coming to VINTAGES this weekend.

Front Nine

delas

Delas Viognier 2015, Vins De Pays D’oc Rhone, France (462465, $13.95, WineAlign)

Pretty darn textbook viognier in the broadest sense of the varietal word, aromatically waxy, tropical and medicinal. The low alcohol, high flavour and commercially managed acidity is balanced by cream and citrus. No more, no less, precise and managed with utmost professionalism. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted October 2016    @VINSRHONE  @UNIVINS

karavitakis

Karavitakis Winery The Little Prince White 2015, Crete, Greece (465930, $14.95, WineAlign)

Here an interesting bit of local vernacular, Cretan style, with vilana (65 per cent) and vidiano (35) dishing up a distinctly and singularly endemic mineral impression by way of subtle hints from tropical fruit. The palate is rich, broad and marzipan creamy. The acidity is round and rambling, tying the whole kit and Crete kaboodle together. A worthy side venture into the Greek Aegean hinterland. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted October 2016   @karavitakiswine  @VictoryWine  @winesofcrete  @DrinkGreekWine

thym

Thymiopoulos Vineyards Young Vines Xinomavro 2013, Naoussa, Greece (466474, $17.95, WineAlign)

The Young Vines is an orange to the Earth and Sky’s apple, of a change of fruit and a pace that is hot off the press. Yet it is not without some ancient wisdom. In some new world sites vines up to 15 years of age would be considered old growth adults. In a Greek vineyard like that of a Naoussan like Thymiopoulos, they are babies of the sun. The Xinomavro here is fresh, momentarily acts strikingly brazen, bracing and ultimately, blatantly beatific. With a glass of the young vines in hand to it I say, “it’s not the pale moon that excites me, that thrills and delights me. Oh no, it’s just the nearness of you.” Like Norah Jones in a glass, sultry, contemporary, lightly smoky, of a jazz aesthetic and a pop sensibility. And wild berries. So fresh, so good. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted May 2015

parker

Parker Coonawarra Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coonawarra, Limestone Coast, South Australia, Australia (467571, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Coonawarra Series cabernet sauvignon is predominantly sourced from the Williams family vineyard (like that of the chardonnay) in Southern Coonawarra. There can be no separating Terra Rossa soil from what happens with (especially) cabernet sauvignon anywhere in the Coonawarra. Very cool and savoury cabernet with tart cranberry, currant and black raspberry aromas. Really crunchy, chewy and gritty wine with focus and grip. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2016  @parkerwine  @CoonawarraWine  @Select_Wines  @Wine_Australia

catena

Catena Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (468066, 1500ml – $39.95, WineAlign)

High mountain vines bring more than altitude to Catena’s most commercially visible and successful malbec. In magnum format it accentuates the herbs and the dry, dusty qualities. In here there is sweetness but from tannin and extract. Acidity is the catalyst to make this sing a mountain hymn. Such proper winemaking brings rain. Love the format. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2016  @LauraCatena  @CatenaWines  @ArgentinaWineCA  @winesofarg  @Noble_Estates

gabbiano

Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2013, Docg Tuscany, Italy (216309, $22.95, WineAlign)

First and foremost it is the wood, or the lack of wood that stands out in the CCR 2013. It may be observed as a different kind of wood, less polished and more natural but what really wins out is the fruit. The cherries are surfeited by impressed tannin and linger with good tonic for a good length of time. Great restraint shown by winemaker Federico Cerelli. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted June 2016  @castgabbiano    

trimbach

Trimbach Riesling 2013, Ac Alsace, France (734517, $23.95, WineAlign)

What pray tell might you ask more than this from Alsace riesling? Could you, would you demand more immediate gratification? Might you request more purity and clarity of soil, rock and regional understanding? Is there a need to better define citrus and dry extract in any finer way? Trimbach has it down and few can pinpoint with fewer words and more direct impression. How things ought to be. A tight vintage though, so wait 18 months before embarking on chapter one. Imagine the Cuvée Frédéric Emile possibilities. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted October 2016  @trimbach  @annetrimbach  @WoodmanWS  @AlsaceWines  @ACT_Alsace  @VinsAlsace  @drinkAlsace

hedges

Hedges C.M.S. Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot / Syrah 2014, Columbia Valley, Washington (948992, $23.95, WineAlign)

Copacetic and well-amalgamated vintage here for the Hedges CMS, a wine of deep singer-songwriter meets jazzy flavour and sensible grip. Though there are bitters and a display of fine if sweet tannic structure, this CMS hits not over the head or below the belt. Just a few jabs and a loving embrace. A blackstar Columbia Valley blend that flies past, like “seven tracks in 40 minutes and it’s musically distinct.” In this way it reminds me of Ben Greenman’s New Yorker piece, “The Beautiful Meaninglessness of David Bowie.” Or it makes me think of Bowie as so many Hedges wines do. It’s not that this wine offers no clear meaning but it dishes ambiguity in ways only it can do. Like the late glam star, it “can’t give everything. Away.” Or, as Greenman concludes, “unless, of course, that isn’t what it means at all.” Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2016  @hedgeswine  @Noble_Estates  @WINESofWA

csv

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2014, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

The vintage brings a concentration and a compression and the most fruit imaginable for the Beamsville bench and the CSV. How this iconic riesling solicits immediate attention and fruit-juicy love is really something and hasn’t been seen in a few years. The citrus is all flesh and juice, the mineral aspect full of tang. Unction and viscosity define the texture and the palate. Drink early and enjoy the hell out of this forward CSV riesling. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted October 2016  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

Back Nine

baker

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.  Tasted twice, October 2016  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

moreau

Louis Moreau Chablis Vaulignot Premier Cru 2014, Burgundy, France (525386, $36.95, WineAlign)

Vaulignot was created in 1976, one of the last Premier Crus to gain such status within the association. Note that Moreau’s nomenclature is Vaulignot instead of Vau Ligneau, but the meaning is exactly the same. Really round and rich Chablis with a relative and realistic purity specific to place. This alights as a sun-drenched and lemon waxy chardonnay with enough (thank you very much 2014) tension to keep it rolling right along. What Vaulignot brings to the Chablis table is stick to your tongue, mouth and ribs persistence and vitamin water mineral enhancement. In a way it is caught in the Chablis netherland between up front gregariously fruity and strikingly mineral/acidity piercing. Great length in this vintage. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted October 2016  @MoreauLouis1  @vinsdechablis  @purechablis  @BourgogneWines  @vinsdebourgogne

hb

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.00, WineAlign)

I would not have thought it possible but the ’12 TC Meritage is open for business. The fruit is near-perfect for what these parts of the Beamsville Bench can offer and the normal gnashing is frozen as if suspended, which it likely is. In its current state it is all berries and dusty tannins, ripe, ripe acidity and plenty of outright happiness. A wisely structured Terroir Caché from Marlize Byers as only she could coax and extend. Drink now (not) or wait five years. Points in between may be confounding. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted October 2016  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron  @MarkAnthonyON

coyote

Coyote’s Run Rare Vintage Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (296863, $39.95, WineAlign)

A tart and robust vintage for the rare pinot noir, deeply ingrained into earth, sun and savour. This is distinctly varietal to Four Mile Creek with haute sapidity and exceptional length. The rusty accents inject piercing citric life into strawberry rhubarb pie. The tannins gnash their terrible teeth and the fruit hides for dear life. I’m not sure any Rare Vintage David Sheppard-ed pinot noir has ever delivered such mean structure. The next Niagara growing season should contribute to an ever more impressive showing because the fruit will almost certainly be up to the tyrannical task. Not to mention the coincidental crossroads 30th Sheppard vintage of making wines in Ontario. Meanwhile, from the cloudy, windy 2013 vintage his pinot noir will live long and prosper. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted October 2016  @coyotesrun

pelham

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc 2011, Méthode Traditionelle, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (315200, $44.95, WineAlign)

t’s always a highly anticipated taste when a vintage dated Cuvée Catherine is on the table sidled and promoted with the bar raised to epic heights from a striking chardonnay vintage like 2011. With acidity a given as the elephant in the room the formidably elegant Blanc de Blanc glides ethereally to press upon the olfactory nerve major and then grace the palate with fine mousse, citrus and biscuits. This is a benchmark for Ontario and Canada with only Benjamin Bridge’s B de B styled Gaspereau Valley gemstone sparkler in the same elite league. Enjoy this now and for 15-20 blissful, fizz-friendly years. Drink 2016-2032.  Tasted October 2016  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

brolio

Barone Ricasoli Castello Di Brolio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012, Docg Tuscany, Italy (942607, $59.95, WineAlign)

A Chianti Classcio first borne in 1997 with the plan to create a maximum quality blend as an expression of the estate’s diverse terroir. A meticulous selection is combed from the estate’s vineyards, spread over 230 hectares of land. Though early on the fruit may have emerged out of good but not yet exceptional vineyards, nearly 20 years later the sangiovese (90 per cent) with cabernet Sauvignon and merlot (or perhaps petit verdot) adheres to grand vin excellence. The wood regimen is 18 months in tonneau followed by 18 in bottle. Perhaps you will not find a more accomplished, perfectly judged, matter of factly expressed Gran Selezione. Sangiovese in equality of spicing with fruit, acidity and tannin, perfectly integrated toast, wood impact and textural drive. Stefano Capurso admits this about the transition from Chianti Classico to Gran Selezione.”It’s a matter of compromise between what is needed for the small producers and the need to express through crus for the large ones.” Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted May 2016  @barone_ricasoli  @imbibersreport  @chianticlassico

quintarelli

Quintarelli Primofiore 2012, Igt Veneto, Italy (20867, $66.95, WineAlign)

Only and distinctly Quintarelli, of that Negrar perfume and the kind of salumi cure no other producer can seem to procure. Though an infant and a baby to more mature vineyard selection Quintarelli adult bottlings, the Primofiore is full of exotics, of clove, cardamom, liquorice and meaty char. There is a sweetness to Quintarelli fruit and a remarkable resistance to astringency. This particular 2012 IGT is smooth and soothing. It is dangerously easy to consume. Drink 2017-2027. Tasted October 2016    @LiffordON

stag

Stags’ Leap The Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (142844, $89.95, WineAlign)

Signature cabernet sauvignon from Stag’s Leap from the first of the dry Napa vintages is dusty and high-toned to a high degree. Pure berry distillate and a savoury linger lead off and yet the closemindedness is still a youthful issue. There is a beautiful sense of florality behind the veil of aridity and big room tannin and yet the fruit is so very ethereal when it comes to tasting. Yes the dinging acidity and dastardly tannin will be a constant reminder of structure but without over compensation from the barrel the DJ Kylo driving beat will always be helpful. Gorgeous wine from Christophe Paubert. Put it in the time machine. I’ll take that leap in the dark. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted October 2016  @stagsleapwines  @SLDistrict  

forman

Forman Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (143925, $160.00, WineAlign)

Forman’s 2012 is a big, vibrant, robust and dusty expression, full of fruit, more fruit and nothing but fruit. Though the price is exceptional, the combined stylistic and level of honesty is formidably forman-ible. It is a rare opportunity and execution indeed when sweetness is culled from extract without the necessities of manipulated winemaking, oak usage included. The naked purity of this wine from an exceptionally dry, ripe and efficiently evolved vintage leads this cabernet sauvignon down a long, purposed and grandiloquent road. Drink 2018-2030.  Tasted October 2016  @rogcowines  @NapaVintners  

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

March of the Canadians

Shrimp, mussel, kale, salsa verde #jacksonpollock risotto

Shrimp, mussel, kale, salsa verde #jacksonpollock risotto

If you’ve yet to see the CBC video discussing the success of Canadian wine in the UK, do it now.

Brits love our wine

The British, reports Aaron Saltzman, are developing a taste for fine Canadian vintages, and not just Icewine. “It’s a niche market, but it’s being received quite well.” Even though Icewine still accounts for 75 per cent of sales in England (1.2 out of a total 1.59 million Canadian dollars), in 2015, Canada sold $168,500 worth of table wine to the U.K. That number was five times lower in 2013, at $34,889.

In Decanter Magazine’s April 2016 issue they discuss “The best Pinot Noirs in the world (outside Burgundy).” Five from Canada are nominated out of more than 80 total. Ian d’Agata included the Bachelder 2013 Lowrey Vineyard, along with two others from Ontario, Flat Rock Cellars Gravity 2012, Twenty Mile Bench and Norman Hardie Winery, Cuvée L 2012, Prince Edward County. The two recognized from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia are Meyer Family Vineyards 2013, McLean Creek Road Vineyard and  Tantalus Vineyards 2012.

The Canadian wine renaissance is attributed to high-end, artisan winemakers like Norman Hardie and Thomas Bachelder. That’s the cool factor. The truth of the matter is that Canadian winemakers have realized and capitalized on the significance and exceptionality of their terroirs in regions such as Niagara, Prince Edward County and the Okanagan Valley. Journalists and buyers from around the globe know it and have begun to spread the Canadian gospel.

Dr. Jamie Goode has had a profound effect on alerting fellow Brits to the Canadian thing and that ambassadorship has filtered through to the wine shop owners and trickled down to the consumer. Much of the education is attributed to Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Global Practice Lead for Canadian Wine, Beer and Spirits, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada in Ottawa. Dr. Dorozynski has brought the wines and their makers to England and pried open the doors to perception.

Last week I tasted through a hundred or more Ontario wines at Taste Ontario and at Cuvée 2016 in Niagara. Those notes are coming soon. For now let’s concentrate on the VINTAGES March 19th release. Here are some of the Canadian wines up for grabs.

Tawse Sketches Riesling 2014

Tawse Sketches Riesling 2014

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89029, $17.95, WineAlign)

Really striking Sketches Riesling here in 2014, aromatically wild and full of complex flavours. So representative, lemony beyond lemon and full of juicy acidity. Almost too much of a good thing but it should settle a bit and replace some of that stark contrasting acidity with copacetic sweetness. Great fruit in 2014. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse

Culmina Decora Riesling 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (444836, $24.95, WineAlign)

Judging from the ripeness, strength, density and effective grape tannin this may as well be noted as pulchra, decor, charissima, that is, powerful, beautiful, charming. All three are apropos in this really forward and mineral tangy Riesling. Could this come from anywhere but the Okanagan Valley? Should develop with intellect into a honeyed, elastic expression. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted November 2015 and March 2016  @CulminaWinery  @winebcdotcom

Riesling squared- Culmina Decora 2013 and Charles Baker Picone 2012

Riesling squared- Culmina Decora 2013 and Charles Baker Picone 2012

Henry Of Pelham Estate Cabernet/Merlot 2012, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (395855, $24.95, WineAlign)

Exceeds elegant expectations with poise and presence, a Bordeaux blend so refined it pleases. Effectively restrained and remedies with tonic. Circulating acidity ranges while chocolate whips, but wholly within reason. Spice accents assist in the celebration (why not?) to effectuate this red’s firm grip and grasp of Claret reality. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015 and March 2016  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Foreign Affair The Dream 2012

Foreign Affair The Dream 2012

Foreign Affair The Dream 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (364380, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Dream is a ripping, layered and well executed appassimento from Barclay Robinson. Much oak influence but with that fencing there is more than the spice is right. Sweetness is valued in the context of ripeness, acidity and burgeoning tannin. Here we find a big wine and well within the parameters of the sensibility. Tasting and thinking on the dried and rehydrated grape approach can leave you “lost in the dream, or just the silence of a moment, it’s always hard to tell.” With the ’12 Abbraccio, “Il Sogno” shares the passion for the planning and shows that “love’s the key to the things that we see.” And a little bit of unknown appassimento magic. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @wineaffair  @BarclayRobinson  @EpicW_S

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign)

A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  Last tasted March 2016  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign: Michael Godel

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Searching for Somewhereness

The wines of Norman Hardie

The wines of Norman Hardie

Somewhereness is not really a word. It’s hokum. Gibberish. Nonsense. Look it up in Merriam-Webster or Oxford. Not there. Its conceived convenience is recorded in Wiktionary, Your Dictionary and other online glossaries though, because there is always an online presence ready and willing to immortalize anything and everything.

The definition of Somewhereness, according to the online “dictionaries.”

  1. The state or quality of being in, occurring in, or belonging to a specific place.
  2. The state or quality of existing in a place that is unknown or cannot be pinpointed.
  3. The unique characteristics imparted on a wine by the conditions of the place in which it was grown.

Somewhereness lies the truth?

Somewhereness is not a state of mind, of being, of knowing something is intrinsically right within the parameters or context of here, there, anywhere or everywhere. Somewhereness is not merely a function of good decision-making, of exercising the ideal to expand on terroir, to create something to talk about. Yet that third so-called definition is on the right track. Belief says terroir is what happens in the vineyard, through environment, by geology, geography and topology, from naturally occurring elements and microbes in the soil, by air and of climate. Terroir is the great one. The impossible creator of perfect storms, from out of riddle and enigma. Somewhereness, by extension, is the next one.

Somewhereness exists, albeit with just as much abstruse behaviour and paradox, inside the finished bottle. That’s all you really need to know. Terroir happens before. Somewhereness happens after. The line is drawn when wine enters its final resting place. It evolves, develops and finds its somewhereness inside the bottle. In the case of Champagne (and the wines of Emidio Pepe), the first bottling is merely a temporary shelter and somewhereness knows to wait for the final call. In those cases there are the stages of terroir, disgorgement and finally, somewhereness.

In Ontario, somewhereness has been found (as opposed to “was founded”) by Norman Hardie, Jonas Newman, Vicky Samaras, Bill Redelmeier, Ann Sperling, J-L Groux, Charles Baker, Doug Witty, J.P. Colas, Ed Madronich, Jay Johnston, Tom and Len Pennachetti, Angelo Pavan, Moray Tawse, Paul Pender, Harald Thiel, Marlize Beyers, Mary Bachelder-Delaney, Thomas Bachelder, Martin Malivoire and Shiraz Mottiar.

Somewhereness may have been born to these Ontario parents but it has and will not remain exclusive to the 12 who discovered it. Somewhereness belongs to all wine with true and truthful origins in terroir. The great wines of the world share in the expression and the mystery, even if the gold inside their bottles has never been affixed with such a label. Somewhereness is found inside a bottle of Dujac Bonnes Mares. You will taste it in an Egon Müller Scharzhofberg. It can’t be missed from out of a Margaux pour by the hands of Paul Pontallier. Wines of manic manipulation will never find it. They either do or they don’t, will or they won’t. Somewhereness just happens. Don’t ask me to explain. I’m just the messenger.

Over the past few years, much godello.ca white space has been set aside for glossing in written word and the ever-evolving rumination on the spiritual effect of somewhereness.

Konrad Ejbich holding court in front of De La Terre's breads

Konrad Ejbich holding court in front of De La Terre’s breads

Related, From February, 2013 – Somewhereness over the Canadian wine rainbow

“For a comprehensive look at our province, make sure you read A Pocket Guide to Ontario Wines, Wineries, Vineyards, & Vines by Konrad Ejbich. The discourse concerning somewhereness in Ontario is in full swing. In October of 2012 I wrote, “character and quality has never been better. Riesling continues to impress and let us not ignore the high level of ever-evolving Chardonnay vines. Reds have made great strides, especially Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc. The future looks very bright for Ontario [wines].”

Related, From April, 2013 – Come together, over wine

“Abeyance be gone, these next few years have the potential to cement an industry’s power. Only a minority has even the slightest clue that liquid gold is mined out of the peninsula’s glacial clay and limestone. The time is ripe to tell the world the story of somewhereness. The embryo is about to grow in a major way. Financial reward is within reach. So how to alert the world?”

Related, From April 2014 – The group of twelve

“History may one day remember them as the group of twelve, or perhaps, “The Ontario School.” They are the 12 wineries who have banded together to ensconce a strange but beautiful word on the tongue, in the dictionary and out in the world. Somewhereness. They are purveyors of the land from which their grapes grow and ferment into wine. Facilitators of terroir, working a canvas forged by millions of years of geological and climatic evolution. Their assembly is based on both exigency and on Moira; destiny, share, fate. Like that other famous group, “collectively they agree.” Ontario’s cool-climate wine regions need to qualify and certify a distinctive winemaking style. In juxtaposition to old world, European tradition, the intensity of somewhereness needs to reflect an increasingly Ontario-centric partiality.”

Related, From April 2014 – Why taste Ontario?

“The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. It has grown, accelerated and advanced with more success than might have been imagined as recently as five years ago. In November I wrote, “Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.”

Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena Kaiser

Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser

All wonderful hyperbole, to be sure. But for years I missed the point. Somewhereness is not about agreeing, in principle, on how to make wine from a particular place so that it can collectively result in a thing. It is something other. It’s in the bottle. It has always been there but the key lies in Ontario’s industry having matured to a point where we can now taste it, again and again, inside the bottle. The work made it happen. It is well-deserved.

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney-Bachelder

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney-Bachelder

So with the assistance of Trisha Molokach, Dorian Anderson and the vintners who came to realize what happens when terroir is used to bottle divine pleasure, another Somewhereness (the event) happened, at St. James Cathedral in Toronto, on April 20, 2015. Food partners completed the stellar event; Best Baa Dairy, Monforte Dairy, Upper Canada Chees Company, Fat Chance Hand Sliced Cold Smoked Salmon Co., Chef Ryan Crawford & Beverly Hotchkiss of Backhouse, De La Terre Kitchen and Bakery and Schott Zwiesel. Hinterland was not present in 2015 and I skipped two tables, due to quite recent full portfolio tastings, at Bachelder and at Southbrook. Here are some other notes.

Norman Hardie Riesling 2013, VQA Ontario (Winery, $21.00, WineAlign)

With less residual sugar than in 2012 and slightly higher alcohol (the bottle says 10.1 per cent but it’s actually 9.8), the house style persists, if only as a refrain that adjusts and adheres to the vintage. A hint of oyster shell is more than significant, in working alongside Hardie’s Calcaire, effected out of lees fermentation. The minute loss of high-toned aromatics is pitched in favour of fruit, if only from one exploited tank, within the context of producing 1000 cases. The ’13 (70 Niagara/30 PEC) is like very modern Alsace, akin to Schoffit, what with its texture fitted through a tiny hole. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie Calcaire 2013, VQA Ontario (Winery, $23.00, WineAlign)

The field blend of Marcel Deiss is the starting point. Lees imparts texture and the proverbial minerality is rounder than the Riesling, though the acidity just as linear. The breakdown is Chardonnay (40 per cent), Riesling (40), Melon de Bourgogne (10) and Pinot Gris (10). It should be noted that the mid-palate is caressed by a silky cheese curd, sour milk atonement. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of August 2014:

If any wine growing and producing region not called Alsace has the right to label a wine Calcaire, Prince Edward County is that place. The irony squared of Norman Hardie’s choice of nomenclature is not lost. Olivier Humbrecht makes use of the term because some of his single-varietal wines can no longer (under the local AOC rules) be labeled with the name of the wine-growing village. Marcel Deiss produces ‘field blends’ composed of several varieties grown on Grand Cru soil but he can’t (under other regional rules) label them Grand Cru. Hardie takes Niagara and PEC Grand Cru grapes, fashions an Ontario white blend, not unlike J-L Groux and calls it Calcaire, in ode to the limestone underlay of the County. Are you following me here? This may be new, innovative, yet understood and an early impression, but this cuvée initiates the PEC march to white blend supremacy, much like Stratus White has done over the course of 10 vintages in Niagara. Norm’s Calcaire is a Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Melon de Bourgogne mélange, co-fermented on the lees, striking, all in limestone, full out mineral consequence. There is purified pear and white melon fruit in distillation. There is a house in Wellington, “they call the Rising Sun.” That this animal succeeds so early in its tenure shows the Norm conceit and the swagger. That it will define white blends for a millennium is an arrogance of traditional song and of scripture. So be it.

Last tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

The ’12 Niagara has swapped spontaneity for coherence, licentiousness for logic. Has entered the stage of non-reductive peel, where skin is discarded, flesh is exposed and juices run free. If you like your Chardonnay settled and yet vitally fresh, now is the time to enjoy the Hardie 2012 Niagara Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2022.

From my earlier more of May 2014:

Norm’s Niagara is such a different animal to the County 2012. The warm summer and dry fall means more humidity and even more reduction. Currently cothurnal so less like Burgundy but only because there elevates the high-tones and percipience from Niagara. Texture is key but this Hardie needs time. It’s not angular but it is steroidal, injected, like a wild thing, as if the yeast were still in control, munching away even though there is no more sugar to be had. Undomesticated ’12, at heart, in spirit, out of mind. Hard to imagine there could be this much anxiety from the even-tempered vintage, but when you pick real early and keep the oak to a bare minimum, Hardie happens. Norm picked ripe fruit between September 7 and 10, six weeks ahead as compared to some years. He said the fruit had a “golden tan, ready to go.” The use of smallish 500L barrels works wonders for texture and though 40 per cent was new wood, you would never know it. Malolactic fermentation didn’t happen until late August, nearly a full year on so no sulphuring was required until that time. This is Hardie’s freshest Niagara fruit ever, from Duarte Oliveira’s farm between Victoria and Ontario Street, the same spot as Hillebrand’s Chardonnay Reserve. Terrific Beamsville Bench Chardonnay.

Last tasted April 2015

The wines of Hidden Bench

The wines of Hidden Bench

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

Hidden Bench’s ’13 Riesling is a pure, soft-spoken and balanced reflection of her maker, winemaker Marlize Beyers. Only a month or two of lees and no stirring has brought her Riesling into this current corporeal state. The citrus is all flesh, void of pith and with acidity that has already incorporated, disguised and covered the zest. If any Hidden Bench Riesling suggest tropical fruit, here it is and yet again, not. Drink 2015-2020.

From my earlier note of September 2014:

The Estate Riesling is as vigneron-defining as any wine on the Niagara Escarpment. Hidden Bench is a 100 per cent estate-fruit operation so this Riesling is spokesperson, prolocutor, mouthpiece, champion, campaigner and advocate for the concept. The estate ’13 reaches deeper for nutrient pot sweetening, into shale and in conceit of its varied, positively cultivated terroirs. Compact and jelled, this is several steps up from most other entry-level Niagara Riesling and in fact, is really anything but. The transparency here is patent. This is Riesling that simply knows what it is; pure Bench, unequivocally real and forthright. Knows what it wants to be.

Last tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Bistro Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

Produced exclusively for licensee, the Bistro follows a very similar profile to the Estate Riesling, with exactitude in weight and alcohol 911 per cent). The flesh is less, the zest increased and overall you can sense more youth. The Bistro juice comes from Roman Block cuttings planted in Felseck Vineyard in 2008. The simmer here is a simpler, more straightforward pot of sustenance, entirely capable of acting as spokes-Riesling for the Hidden Bench house druthers. The vines will grow up and the juice will move on but other, newer, youthful cuttings will take up residence and the Bistro line will endure. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (278812, $40.00, WineAlign)

The (five to) six percent Sémillon speaks at present, in a waxy, bitter gourd winter melon and smoky flint tightness. In this wound moment, it is perceived that another year will be needed for the next unwind. Now vacuous, spinning and whirling as if in a processor’s bowl, an amphitheatre of expression. Drink 2016-2022.

From my earlier notes of September and (at Gold Medal Plates Toronto) November 2014:

Less than six weeks after my first introduction to the NB ’12 complexity shines anew. Such a delicate and elegant take on the Bordeaux white axiom. Void of all the gangly G’s; grasses, gooseberry and green vegetable. Leans to custards and curds with a savoury accent and a limestone tang. Willing to be paired with a multitude of gastronomy. Long finish. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “Taking what the vintage gives, Rosomel’s Sauvignon Blanc was king in 2012, dominating at a 95 per cent share of the Bordeaux-styled blend with Sémillon. Barrels were stirred weekly during fermentation and the creamy texture thanks that regimen, as does the tannic fullness of the round back-end. It rocks out bracing, formidable and nobly bitter, in pear and its pith, in lemon, of rind and in curd. The SB lounges in tall grasses but avoids goose feathers and blanching veg. So very savoury, in gorse tension, thistle and nettle. These notes all cut through the roundness and are finally tied together by the flinty rock of Rosomel.”

Last tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Rosé Locust Lane Vineyard 2013, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A meandering young blend of Pinot Noir, Malbec and Viognier that is super dry (3.2 g/L of residual sugar), “hey, hey, my, my.” The aromas suggest a succession from strawberry to green and red onion but “there’s more to the picture, than meets the eye.” The medley, interrupted by ballads and road stories is like a subtle, sweet, sour and savoury gastronomical pickle, ramps in brine, scopes in sweet alkali. Can there be a drier, more windswept crag, neal to a southern French style made anywhere on the Peninsula than from the Escarpment coliseum up on Locust Lane? Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Bistro Rosé 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

While persistent in aridity as a disciple to the Locust Lane, this Bordeaux blend Rosé packs a fruitier punch. Elevated residual sugar (as compared to the Double L) mans a higher rate of variability and accessibility, not to mention more chance of Ontario patio success. This licensee bottling will work for summer, across the province. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted May 2015

Meg McGrath and and Marlize Beyers of Hidden bench

Meg McGrath and and Marlize Beyers of Hidden bench

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

Still tightly wound with the tannic grain criss-crossing at interstices of fruit (pomegranate/cranberry/strawberry) and acidity (sharp/pointed/direct). A fine, pointillist’s rendering; Locust as Seurat, nobly bitter, to the end. Drink 2016-2022.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

The Locust Lane Vineyard, originally planted in 1998, was Hidden Bench’s first acquisition, in 2003. It has a unique perpendicular cross-slope effect, undulating in all four directions, gathering sun hours in its own special way. The vineyard produces the richest and warmest Pinot Noir with fruit flavours more akin to ripe plum and black cherry than almost anywhere on the Beamsville Bench, certainly as any from the Hidden Bench stable. While the ’11 is not the biggest beast nor the Bordeaux bully of the Terroir Caché, it is surprisingly tannic and strong. It’s anything but hot, though it attacks with fervor. Big berry fruit, macerated strawberry, rich pie notes and spice. A great Locust vintage.

Last tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.20, WineAlign)

There is so much floral presence in 2011, a showy perfume that parades the relative elegance of Niagara’s Bordeaux reds in the vintage. Structure is comparable to 2010, not in beast mode but rather with a delicacy derived from less burning, high-toned fruit. Still here lays a wine so young, of social encumbrance that might be passed off as a mark of impertinence. This faintly embarrassing condition can be suppressed in a dark cellar, in which the foundation can be laid for the beginning of a cure. The Terroir Caché 2011 will show its best between 2017 and 2020, then develop, slow down, suspend animation and age further, effortlessly and exceptionally. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted April 2015

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)

Oh, the accessibility of Quarry Road in 2012. Still totes the emerald shine, the gemstone tannic scrape and yet the flesh is rendered rich, ripe, ratcheted and riled up. This has tonality like never before, layered and strudel buttery. At this point the vines for Quarry are 17 years of age, sophic and erudite, compounded by the organic, biodynamic and prudent pruning practices that have cemented its vigour. The clay-limestone, fresh-mineral, push-pull is a veritable careening of expression. Though its longevity may not pile towards a compressed future like that of ’09 or ’11, the earlier and often response will act both as Chardonnay charming and Quarry Road magnetizing. For the next five years it will be very hard to turn away. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130997, $34.95, WineAlign)

A year had added rich note to this ’11, furthering the inflammatory vibrations and purposefulness of Bordeaux (as opposed to Loire) red makings from the vintage. The depth of cherry merging to smoked currants is cool, collected and shaded by brushy, briny strokes. Hints at brambly, even. This is so very Cabernet Franc and even more so, Lincoln Lakeshore. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

A lean Laundry with as much finesse as winemaker Paul Pender has ever shown in his poignant Cabernet Franc realm. When a vintage deals you calm and scale you sit back and relax. The Lincoln Lakeshore advancing in years vines bring yet unseen front end red berry, licorice and red currant softness in 2011. There is elegance but also a refusal to yield its back end bite. A level of enveloping grain and chalk is unique to this bottle and should be seen as a very good effort with the possibility ahead

Last tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Extra Dry Sparkling Riesling 2010, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the clay-limestone bench lands abutting the Escarpment, specifically one block of 11 year-old vines at the Beamsville Bench Cave Spring Vineyard. Traditional method fizz accessed of low brix (early picked, 19.3 degrees) and mortar (2.97 pH) numbers, then elevated under microscope magnified sugar (15.5 RS g/L) and acidity (8.4 g/L). So what? So this is a pure CS expression of Riesling, cured and curated in the house style, led to textile weave from 14 months on the lees and finalized just that side of Brut. Functions like a Blanc de Blancs suitably this side of acidity rage and with corresponding remarkable, if close to impossible aridity. Less fat than might be expected and with a swath of sauvage. There sweats ginger and the cuttings of foraged wild things. The extension on the finish is protracted even after the liquid has left the building. Finishes with dry stones, nuts and a rightful oxidative thrust. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015

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

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

Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (26372, $24.95, WineAlign)

At present there are sweets, bitters and rich Adam fruit. Only the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment know why the Adam is so juicy. A chew like no other. Drink 2015-2020.

From my earlier note of October 2014:

A classic Adam, amplified in 2013, riper and not as piercing as previously noted vintages. Still the layering is omnipresent but there is more juicy fruit and texture then ever before. This is a consumer friendly Adam, gregarious, outgoing, off-dry as never before. New slang for the bottling.

From my earlier note of July 2014:

According to Cave Spring’s website this newer Riesling from older (18 to 35 year-old plantings) is from “a single block of vines in the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment, known as ‘The Adam Steps’. Really apropos, for this Riesling is the cantilever, the one with the outstretched arm. At 10.5 per cent alcohol and with an unmistakably stony, sweet and sour whiff the wine speaks of its off-dryness. The juiciest of all the Cave Spring Rieslings, with rounder acidity and good persistence. This is the all-around good guy, the one with an open invitation, the bridge from Estate to Dolomite to Csv. The well-adjusted one steps up its game to help win one for the team, especially out of the convivial 2013 vintage.

Last tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (391995, $19.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Cabernet Franc needed six further months for the high-toned fruit to settle just enough for the spiced richness to shine. Though Dolomite-designated, this sheds Beamsville light purity, along with a grain variegated by (pomegranate) citrus and chalk. The cool centre is elongated and expansive though it seems to inuit the correct time for retraction. The aerial fruit stresses condense and accept the angles prepared by coriander and eucalyptus. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (681247, $16.95, WineAlign)

The Twenty Mile Bench in Jay Johnston’s hands flat out rocks. The Chardonnays “they dig a funky spiel, they’ll make some spiel.” The ’12 Estate has crossed into pretty territory, not shy to wear its thin lamina of oak make-up and not too proud to say drink me now. Drink me here, there and everywhere. Drink 2015-2017.

From my earlier note of March 2014:

Has spent some quality time and knows its way around a barrel but its attitude is young, fresh and alive. From 12 and 13 year-old estate vines and kissed by only 15 per cent new oak. “But here’s a funky fact that I know is real.” Flat Rock’s Chardonnays are red hot and this fresh-faced ’12 has “baby appeal.” Blatant, colorable value on the Twenty.

Last tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula  (578625, $19.95, WineAlign)

Always expressive of such manifest certitude, the 2014 can’t be anything but Nadja though there adds a fleshy dimension that pins it to the broader spectrum of Twenty Mile Bench, in as much as what the vineyard culls from its capacious diagrammatic. That broader outlook provides understanding into Nadja’s decrease of stentorian language in the fractionally stagnant vintage. There is a variegation within the sweetness lining the tunnel of aridity. Fourteen is nothing overly special and Nadja suffers as a result. It’s still a very, very good Riesling, just not one for the ages. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula (1545, $18.95, WineAlign)

The vintage acts as a launch point for Flat Rock Pinot Noir and prepares a palate for the 20 Mile Bench by coating it with utmost approachability. Violets and Nebbiolo-like roses are raised in warmth, albeit beneath the safety net of cloud cover. You’ll find no burn, rust spots and yet you will acquire comfort, in and out of sips. Drink 2015-2018.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

As with Flat Rock’s Chardonnays, here is a vintage and an evolutionary coming of age that becomes a matter of scaling back oak. The quotient here is less than 40 per cent new, leaving the wizened vines and maker’s acumen to coax maximum character, brilliant sheen and recognizable aroma. The 2012 Pinot teases black cherry but never really goes there.

From my earlier note of February 2014:

Nearly 4000 cases will be available of this nearly-unfiltered, very established and always well-thought out Pinot Noir. A consideration of the plots and barrels micro-management that determine the crasis of this Estate wine demands an extrapolation in full-on assessment. The medium-coarse Chinois filtering lends to a tannic chain of texture thick in grain and chalk. A heavier Estate because when the weather gives you heat you make a climate appropriate wine. This monkey is not a product of arctic air and it “got too deep, but how deep is too deep?” Thermal vintage melt, ritzy ripe cherry stuff in 2012. From the Ritz to the Rubble, if you like, or the Flat Rock.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

From two blocks on one farm in the centre of Creek Shores, one picked earlier to avoid botrytis. No malo, stainless steel tank fermentation leads to pure, crisp and clean Pinot Gris. The soil-driven funk meets faux-sulphur is typically J.P. Colas, a specificity in undertone that culminates in a dry, variegated finish. Drink 2015-2017.

From my earlier note of April 2014.

Here you have an honest, 100 per cent stainless steel treated Pinot Gris from an estate vineyard located adjacent the market on Fourth Avenue in the Creek Shores appellation. So very dry and really fine fruit, crisp, neoteric, rising and falling in waves of tempered acidity. Made in a comfortable, country-twanged, folk-rock style, like a Cowboy Junkie. Juicy, mouth watering work and very easy to fall for. An angel mine, this 13th Street, “and I know that your skin is as warm and as real as that smile in your eyes.” This effort by Jean-Pierre Colas is as good as it gets, a tally for Creek Shores and its kinship with the variety.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

Four months has upped the funk in for ’13, with tar and bitters still and thick as summer air. Rich and ripe, notable for its black cherry aroma and that J.P. Colas natural truncation. Unique, as always and very Gamay. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of December 2014:

Fruit was sourced from both the Sandstone and Whitty Vineyards for 13th Street’s Gamay Noir, a focused and gritty adjunct in ode to the Cru Beaujolais approach. This ’13 raises the aromatic and texture bar and just may be the most striking from a 13th Street estate mix. All the important berries are there, as are the mineral quandaries. In a Gamay moment this will lead you to gulp and giggle with #GoGamayGo delight.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Syrah ‘Essence’ 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $44.95, WineAlign)

Fruit was sourced mainly from Wismer Vineyard (Vineland) and a smaller proportion from AJ Lepp (Niagara-on-the-Lake) for this dry as the desert Syrah of deep extract, warmth and density of fruit. All set upon a highly tannic frame, with every indication that longevity will be its best friend, as much as any red has ever been produced in Ontario. A formidable vulcanization marks the entry, a not so inappropriate entreaty to beg for time and lots of it. The current pavane of fruit is exhibitive of excruciating physical reticence though behind the wall there is more than enough indicators to stand the test of time. No new oak (though the Essence saw an extended slumber in three to four year old barrels) has allowed the tapestry of intertwined layers to set up shop and dig in for the long haul. If big-boned Syrah and Niagara are in your cellar plans, this 13th Street 2012 has to have a prominent place. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire

Malivoire

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

A dual block blush, from two clones in the Moira Vineyard. Made from 100 per cent Pinot Noir, this second vintage is pale as can be, dry, saline and reeking of fresh peaches and strawberries. The level of purity and intensity is nothing short of amazing. This will rise quickly into the ranks of the Peninsula’s finest Rosés. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

The purity and fine-lines of Pinot Gris are defined, delineated and deftly prepared by Shiraz Mottiar and team in 2014. This is a calm rendition, void of tremors, certainly not taking any risks but also not a white of unfulfilled promises. Herbs, lemon, mint and fine PG tannin draws salt from stone. A perfectly dry finish is in play, as with all malivoire whites, to cement the deal. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015.

Malivoire Stouck Meritage 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

It’s hard to recall memories of so much syrup, liqueur and high tonality as coming from Stouck, from any Meritage for that matter and yet the 2011 Bordeaux varietal wines out of Niagara continue to astound. If excess or vivid character is a negative, just look away. The combination of rich extraction and explicit oak generosity dope out fruit from a dry September into wonders of dried timbre and inflection. The drupe is enriched, as is the tannin and a Beamsville buttressing that warps and wraps like never before. At this four-year juncture, the Niagara ’11 varietal compendium is officially a thing, witnessed in example through this Stouck. More than just dramatic Shiraz Mottiar foreshadowing here, but further into thoughts of what vintages co do for red wine as a Peninsula whole. The ’11 Stouck Meritage stands upright at the mirror and its reflection looks right back. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

The profundity of tart, keen, briny berries dilates in its own very useful layers of citrus, tannin and concentration, beyond even what was observed in 2012. The zesty, spritely argot resonates from the unfurling of floral essentia out of a Gamay in desperate need of time. The flavours and overlay are somewhat impenetrable and yet leave quite an impression. While patience might be the virtue and the reward, if #gogamaygo is the modus operandi, a swig from the bottle like gentlemen of the road is certainly not out of the question. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2015

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

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

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2008, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (126433, $35.20, WineAlign)

The petrol and mighty bee’s sting have taken over, with the honey again not far behind. A lemon prepares to spill its juices as it warms above a bunsen flame. At present it is almost too elemental to define. Will change course again when midnight strikes in 2016. Then it will come into its own. Drink 2016-2020.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

Tasted at Somewhereness 2014 as part of a vertical retrospective going back to 2007. The Vinemount Ridge’s now famous Picone Vineyard is set within a 10-acre estate on the Niagara Escarpment. Planted to the Weis 21 clone, the Riesling grown here digs in for complexity from sectional moieties of clay and sandy soil atop a unique base of limestone bedrock. Charles Baker began working with these grapes in 2005 and it is this 2008 where the learning curve took a turn for the Riesling stratosphere. The ’06 found luck in the stars but this vintage lays the framework and foundation for a master plan. At this stage in the ’08 evolution there is a prodigious and viscous honeyed textured. Ripening tree fruit juices run like maple sap in spring and the run off is beginning to think syrup. A cutting ridge of acidity arrests the sugaring, allowing citrus and flinty rock to recall the wine’s first, fresh steps. Baker’s Riesling time travels in circles with no real beginning and no real end. From my earlier, September 2012 note: ““Whoo-ahhh” Mojito, green apple skin scent of a Riesling. Seductive to sip, a bodacious body of influence, then back-end bite. A wolf pack in sheep’s clothing.”

Last tasted April 2015

Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Wildass Rosé 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71712, $17.95, WineAlign)

A blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with some Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling added for lift and what J-L Groux admits is rendered “for the consumer.” This essentially marks the twain between sweet and dry, if not quite halfway then pretty darn close. Plenty of herbs and citrus nail the aromas on the proverbial head with more than a grapefruit or two on the half circle. A highly approachable, end-user friendly blush. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted April 2015

Stratus White 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)

In 2012 the blend is Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Viognier was left out because according to winemaker J-L Groux “it did not work in blending trials.” The vintage has laid the foundation for the most density, and unctuous fruit for the Stratus White in what must be, ever. At the high aromatic end there is peppery beeswax, reverberating and echoing in scales and arpeggios. Like an open string singing warmly, the vintage, extraction and residuum combine for texture in mottled unction. Sapid lemon, more beeswax and lanolin mark the palate and then the White drifts into spaces occupied by smoky, back beats and bites. This has great pitch with a knowledge of the path to pleasure. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted April 2015

Stratus Gamay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

t may not be the most idiosyncratic Gamay in Niagara but the Stratus 2012 is without a doubt the most advanced and complex. Gamay fusion is on display, at once a bottle of Niagara’s finest pulchritudinous veneer and then a charcuterie board laid ample with cured bovine parts and sun-dried grapes. Maximum ripeness and then even later picking, to no one’s surprise, have led to this. Two years of ageing in neutral oak barrels has brought about a humid roundness and yet the centre is controlled by Oz-like mint and eucalyptus notes. The jam is gelid, as opposed to temperate. Rarely does Gamay go to such depths, of blackberry, chalk and grain, with an overlord of tannin. Quite serious stuff. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015

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 2015

Good to go!

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14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 silent auction guitar signed by Canadian musicians

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 silent auction guitar signed by Canadian musicians

In 2013 the number chosen to highlight excellence in Canadian wine was 13. Symmetry and permutations with repetition are one thing, quality in winemaking is yet another. The expectation is fully understood that next year there will be 15 wines on the list. And so on and so forth.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

What force has thus far driven and will continue to drive the wines of Canada? By sifting through leads in geography, in the orientation of escarpments, mountains, rivers and valleys, in the gestalt of the archaeology of tomorrow, in the vineyard landscape of today, we can perchance unlock the riddle of the what and the why for varietal planting. The end game is to unlock the mystery within the puzzle of terroir, to figure out what grapes will thrive and where they can be given the best shot at success. It is not just about what happens beneath the soil, but also what happens above, around, beyond and in the minds of women and men.

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.

Winery visits were numerous in 2014. Thanks must be dispatched to all who opened their doors, to those with established roots and to risk takers who through their new planting, began burrowing their own. Like Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario. Like Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Tastings that go beyond the pale shed new élevage and barrel light. The light shed by such practices was no more in evidence than at Tawse with Paul Pender and Norman Hardie, but also at Flat Rock Cellars with Jay Johnston and Ed Madronich.

Memories of 2014 lead to thoughts of Cuvée, the Expert’s Tasting and the Sparkling Wine Symposium at Brock University. Taste OntarioSomewhereness, County in the City. July visits to Niagara and Nova Scotia gave up 10,000 words of free-flowing wine-speak about the Cool Chardonnay conference and with Peter Gamble in the Gaspereau Valley.

There were a few wines that should have, would have and could have made the cut were there time, space and a better headline to write. Gray Monk Riesling 2012, Okanagan Valley at ($15.00, WineAlign) is the best value for the niche in B.C. This is old-school, west coast Riesling with attributes to reflect and look back on generations of acumen. Tawse Carly’s Block Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($31.95, WineAlign) forms a bridge and meets the twain, from atomic to tropic and was a NWAC14 Platinum Medal Winner.

La Face Cachée de la Pomme 2011 Neige Première Ice Pink Cider, Quebec ($22.95, WineAlignspeaks to me in waves of demonstrative, Floydian verse. There is Icewine on the bright side and then there is Iced Cider on la face cachée. Leaning Post Lowrey Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench ($38.00, WineAlign) though just recently re-tasted, was actually first assessed in November of 2013.

This list certainly concentrates on new releases, save for a few exceptions where older wines left a modern impression. Wines that found a way to break new ground also factored into the decisions. Here are the 14 Canadian wines tasted in 2014 that simply did it for me. Wines that are extensions of their maker’s personality, philosophy and temperament. Wines that are indicative of their terroir.

From left to right: Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013 , Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Merlot 2002

From left to right: Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013 , Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Merlot 2002

 

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign) From The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014

Who has not waited for Elevation to hit out of the 2012 vintage? Straight up it must be noted that this will rank over and above the best from the St. Urban Vineyard. The ’12 Elevation will not only find long-term success among the great values in Bench Riesling, it will go down as one of the best ever, at any price. The vintage impart is a natural for this wine. At the moment it is the most primary of all because of the layers that texture bring. The Elevation will go thirty years and climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, gaining flesh and personality. The already seamless gathering of fruit and mineral is palpable. And still a reminder, the price is $20. This is a Schmidt gift to Ontario, for anyone and everyone to be one of the lucky ones. To purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling.  Tasted November 2014  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (578625, $19.95, WineAlign) From The Group of twelve, April 28, 2014

Just add three months and witness a new evolution, a density, from a honeyed thing. Entering a pre-adolescence with a new bounce in its step. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “A champion cyclone of forces combined to elevate the already incumbent position of this Twenty Mile Bench Riesling. An ideal growing season magnified transmission upon a paradigmatic two and a half-acre block. This southern-most and highest altitude section of Flat Rock’s vineyard rests aboard a solid bed of limestone and wake me up if that rock was not drawn up into the vines in this stellar Riesling vintage. Sure its warm and nearly off-dry but such an effortless squeeze of lemon hydrates and elevates orchard fruit and honey out of the year of the lemon. After each sip its “every time you kiss me, lemon crush.” Love this prince of a Twenty Mile white in 2012, the dynamism smiling on the tart, succulent fruit. The length is one of outright bravado. This will develop for 20 years, of that I am convinced. There is just so much fruit. A Nadja for the ages.”  Tasted April 2014  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, B.C. $20.90, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014

The purity of fruit in Blue Mountain’s Gamay is without question in a distinct class of the few and far between. Older barrels (four year-old, fifth fill) were used and the impart should not be dismissed. While quintessentially Okanagan Gamay, the fruit is elevated, lifted, ripe like warmer Cabernet (dare it be said) with more berry and Cassis-like aromas. The palate tension and round acidity bring Morgon to mind. Just a bit gamy on the back end, which is nice. Planning to drink this through the end of the decade would not be a mistake.  Tasted October 2014  @BlueMtnWinery

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 Cabernet Franc comes of age out of a preternatural and ontological perfect storm. Casts odds into the river of ideal weather, procures phenolic grape ripeness out of the vineyard, avoids the green and embraces the brown stems. Ferments under the natural eye of indigenous yeasts and settles into its silky skin at a low, low 10.8 per cent (give or take a lab sample) alcohol. Cabernet Franc of impossible soul, its “burden is the weight of a feather.” Pepper and currants are noted, tobacco and tomato are not. Comes “bearing a sword” but seduces with primal proclamations. Radical County red.  Tasted April 2014  @normhardie

Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $26.00, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014

High altitude expression from a vineyard perched atop a gravel bed, a rocky pool of stone that seems to toss-up pebbles at Sperling’s window to see if she would like to sneak away for a midnight drive. A crisp, clean and linear style, full of night-air freshness, white flowers and white fruit. This is undeniably picked early and ahead of any possible oxidative or overripe window, yet there is a rich quality about it that rages against the machine, calm like a bomb, “its narrative fearless.” Very mineral in its direct back and to the side of the mouth attack, full of salinity and lemon-lime acidity. Long, long Okanagan that will flesh with five years time. The slate bass line will soften, allowing the white fruit to further shine.  Tasted twice, May and July 2014  @SperlingVyds

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign) From Got two Chardonnays, June, Ivan and Picone, July 15, 2014

A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  Last tasted June 2014  @cbriesling

Pilliteri Estates Merlot Family Reserve 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71753, $39.95, WineAlign) From Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine, January 17, 2014

Served from Jeroboam, one of 23 produced and a testament to the precocious, facile touch of then winemaker Sue-Ann Staff. The extreme five litre format has certainly been kind to the hermetic 11-year slumber of this Merlot, as has the above average red Niagara growing season. Charlie pulled out this rare behemoth “for the special occasion” and despite and with thanks to the perfect vintage meets size storm, it has held up with dramatic fortitude. Unmistakably predicated Pillitteri chocolate perfume, brushed violet, mulberry and oven-warmed baking spice. Holding in sustained concentration, the toffee, caramel and umami of wizened, oxidized fruit not yet a twinkle in its soapy sandalwood eye. How could Sun-Ann have known what time-cheating lengths her Merlot would see to?   Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

From left to right: Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008

From left to right: Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008

 

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign) From Chardonnay is cool, July 9, 2014

Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.  Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (20906, $45.00, WineAlign) From A hip of wine at Hidden Bench

Tête De Cuvée by Hidden Bench, like a Champagne best of the best abstraction, makes an appeal to self-esteem and esteem for others, to consumers who have come to recognize Niagara and even more specifically, the Beamsville Bench for head of the class, cool climate Chardonnay. That mouthful congregates and works in congruence with the quality in the Tête’s composition; full-on freshness, density, weeping cerate texture, toasted and popping kernel, fine-grained localization, utterly integrated barrel. There was scant quantity (32.5 hL/h) from some very old and wise vines, pronounced like others but louder than most, from the bullhorn of a stentorian vintage. What is felt and spoken about the quality inherent from out of the finest parcels in the Locust Lane and Rosomel Vineyards Chardonnay fruit is more than a patent observation. The ability to take on toast cuts to the nougat and the synoptic rises to the ethereal ozone. Not to mention gross minerality. On the shortlist for best Niagara Chardonnay to date. Drink now and beyond 2025.  Tasted twice, September  and October 2014  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, VQA Beamsville Bench (winery, $50, WineAlign) From When experts break wine together, March 4, 2014

Mind bending to taste a piece of recent history, a Riesling rooted in the rocks, blues and pop of the limestone, sandstone and shale Bench, but a wine also futuristic, distorted and soulful. From 25 plus year-old vines, this foxy lady has entered into true, secondary territory. She’s softened and her perfume is cast in vanilla butterscotch so much so she might mess with tasters’ minds in a flight of oaked Chardonnay. She’s “a cute little heartbreaker.”  Tasted March 2014  @CaveSpring

Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign) From The Stratus-Momofuku continuum, May 30, 2014

The declared alcohol on this is 14.6 per cent but to all of me, that is really hard to believe. Really elegant, 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly unabridged in phenolic ripeness but in such fine rhythm and blues. Were it a score it would be euphonious without encumbrance and void of splinters. The most subtle and gentle J-L Groux crafted red wine I’ve yet to encounter, with a back palate combination of mushroom and citrus to follow pure red fruit. Resoundingly circular with curves, no hard edges and “perfect imperfections.” This Cabernet goes at it with Graves character and poise. It will be a Niagara legend.  @StratusWines

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (34561, $65.00, WineAlign) From Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases November 4, 2014

Certainly plays the most hard to get of the ’11 Chardonnays of fruit so fine and pure. Layered like Phyllo or Puff pastry, gathered and set back upon itself. Gains traction and intensity through developed flavours and overlays of texture, both solid like shale and lacy like organza. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “From sandy loam and limestone soils, here is a Chardonnay that winemaker Sébastien Jacquey is looking to fashion with low PH and elevated tannin. A most commendable effort in the enigmatic ’11 vintage, clean, anything but lean and un-gassed by a jet engine’s aerified stream. Chardonnay running instead on the vineyard’s biofuel, a chalky lees and lime texture that turns green in a savoury way towards the back end. Full, rich, gaining in stature as it breathes, thinks and feels. Atop the green there is an ambrosial aroma and a honeyed sense of flesh. A wine of great respect and biodynamic energy.”  Last tasted October 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (46470, $65.00, WineAlign) From Up on Creekside Estates, April 14, 2014

Just 60-80 cases are made from the tips of the best barrels through a process that takes 56 months to complete. The secret ingredient is Sangiovese and bless the band‘s soul if the ferric, iron and animal musk is not attributed to the addition. This is a different kind of wine, with lees in the bottle, not unlike some big, bad Spanish wines. It’s ’07 and still reductive which makes it seem peculiarly modern (note, Spanish) but it’s really not. Despite the monster tannins, it “just gave my heart a throb to the bottom of my feet and I swore as I took another pull,” the Lost Barrel can’t be beat. Up on Creekside Estates.  Tasted March 2014  @CreeksideWine

Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, WineAlign) From Consider the Gaspereau Valley, October 1, 2014

The 2008 Brut Reserve is composed of 61 per cent Chardonnay and 39 Pinot Noir. If any wine in the Benjamin Bridge continuum defines the legacy left behind by Raphaël Brisebois and passes the sparkling torch to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, this ’08 is it. Here is the vintage that begins to emulate the grower’s Champagne of the motherland, in deeper learning, understanding and connection to the estate’s vineyards. At present this is such an infant, reductive and with a blowzy palate that suggests a fidgety, elemental state. The attack is in burgeoning mousse. After spitting, the wine persists, as if there remains a mouthful, causing the cheeks to expand. The citrus is weighty in texture and this ’08 goes deeper than the previous Brut reserves. Three years will be required to allow for a settling and 20 years lay further ahead for secondary, tertiary and quaternary development.  Tasted at the winery, July 2014  @Benjamin_Bridge

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Got two Chardonnays, June, Ivan and Picone

Mixed Grill

Mixed Grill

Niagara’s Cool Chardonnay Conference is but three days away so in anticipation I’ve drawn up more tasting notes for three that will be on hand at the great #i4C14 event. The wines made by Thomas Bachelder, 13th Street and Sumaridge are all extremely different, stalked from disparate soils and assembled in ways to render them disconnected by their very specific varietal vicissitudes. This is what you get when you seek Chardonnay.

Charles Baker does not make Chardonnay, but no other winemaker in Niagara does Riesling in such a focused, micro-specific way. Baker’s Ivan and Picone Vineyards are to Riesling as Wismer, Saunders, Quarry, Robyn, Mottiar and LCJ are to Chardonnay. Like Johnson in Oregon. Like the granite and quartzite ridges of South Africa’s Hemel En Aarde Valley. I’ve tasted Baker’s Rieslings going back to 2006 over the past year or so. Their evolution shows conceit extracted from limestone and a tempering from hot to cool. Riesling too is très cool.

Here we actually have three Chardonnays with one hailing from the exceptional June’s Vineyard. Yet another example of nuanced Niagara, a plot of land in the 13th Street empire that will one day be recognized for its soil and receive Cru status. The grand breakdown needs to happen, not yet, but in another 10 years time when the obvious can no longer be denied nor held down. A time when VQA, winemakers and their terroir decide to come together to celebrate individuality and progress.

Charles Baker Rieslings

Charles Baker Rieslings

13th Street June’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (236745, $21.95, WineAlign)

Chardonnay should always be a product of the vineyard and this ’12 June is just that. Everything it is and more comes amplified by the vintage; the sweetness of the fruit, the peat earthy, camphoraceous terpene aroma from clay and sand loam, and the leesy, chalky texture out of yellow limestone. Depending on preference, this June may be construed as over the top or layered with all the goodness of the great 15 year-old, Fifth Avenue vineyard. Though she may exaggerate her terroir, in a toothsome, tart citrus and earthy tone,” and I know that June is true. She can be yorn too if you open up to her ways.  Tasted May 2014  @13thstreetwines

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2013, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

Welcome to the cult of Charles Baker Riesling. Baker’s vehement search for new Riesling territory materialized in the (Bob) Misek vineyard, a plot of rich limestone and sandstone that sits below clay, named after the grower’s dad. The 1.1 acres of Riesling within a 12-acre mixed planting just south and up the ledge from Highway 8 is just north of Tawse and just down the hill on the eastern side of Cherry Avenue. For this 2013 vintage the vines were 16 years of age, now into that sweet spot of adolescent maturity. Baker is hell-bent on delivering solid blue material from important fruit. “This is the driest Riesling I’ve ever made,” he points out with shy conceit. At 10 percent alcohol by volume you might want to imagine practical, nearing off-dry Germany but the comparison can’t be made. This is oyster wine, from a wonky weather, under cloud cover, great Riesling vintage. When it comes to the noble variety, “seasons don’t fear the reaper, nor do the wind, the sun or the rain.” Picked on average aggregate, in early October and with so much fruit in contrast to stone-grooved Picone, this Ivan is a friend to farmers, Romeo and Juliet. A Riesling that lives above ground. There are 198 cases made. Tasted May 2014  @cbriesling

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2011, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (agent, $29.50, WineAlign)

Though it would be naïve to think every Chardonnay produced out of the Hemel En Aarde Valley is the stuff of grand cru, recent examples have done nothing but impress. Sumaridge joins Hamilton Russell and Creation on the Walker Bay dream team. Ocean breeze-cooled slopes and deprived soils of decomposed granite loam with quartzite manage rich fruit with cool ease. In this 2011 a most excellent trifecta of dryness (1.7 g/L), acidity (6.9 g/L) and PH (3.45) brings together texture and tannin. Though seemingly sweet it is anything but a cloying example. Buttery but mild in toast, quite piercing yet tempered by an herbal quality, not warm or balmy, but inexorably herbal. Schematically waxy, splashed by lemon and piqued by zest.  Tasted May 2014  @Sumaridge

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign)

A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  Last tasted June 2014

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2007, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign)

If Charles Baker got lucky, babe, or in my estimation, experienced with the outcome of his striking 2006, this follow-up suffers a sophomoric stenosis, if only because it was the hardest Niagara (hot) vintage to deal with and understand. The vintage tricked with a false front, teasing winemakers to push envelopes and many over did their wines. Had his fruit only spoken up and said “you better watch what you do to me, don’t get carried away,” the wine would show better seven years later. Yet Baker was savvy enough to manage the residual sugar by keeping it dry with tannin by way of acidity and PH. I agree this is one of the finer takes on Niagara Riesling in 2007. When stacked against other Bakers it pales because it’s evolving rapidly and it can’t be helped. The petrol quotient is sky-high, like a rumbling volcano, like bicarbonate. True to the Baker oeuvre it cuts with laser focus and linear drive.  Tasted May 2014

Bachelder Chardonnay Johnson Vineyard 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA (agent, $44.95)

More specifically a product of its ocean meets sous terre soil than Bachelder’s basic (term used loosely) Chardonnay, the Johnson nicks more richesse, around and around fullness. Not to mention the cerebral wisdom of two Scots and a Charlemagne. Johnson’s progressive and forward thinking maker works with inconspicuous wood and the science of introducing oxygen into wine in a controlled manner.  He might say “for it is wisdom that we have for sale.” Like a white-winged dove, the 2012 will trod lightly towards a long walk to a very long life. It can be imagined aging to the edge of seventeen. The earthy feel, the salinity, not from tannin but from soil, “the music there, well, it was hauntingly familiar.” This is iridescent Oregon in a Bachelder voice. No doubt.  @Bachelder_wines

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