Godello’s March through Prowein, The Ahr Valley and The Rheinhessen

Godello with Jancis Robinson

as seen on WineAlign

In March I attended Prowein in Düsseldorf, Germany, the world’s largest wine trade fair, tasting a fascinating array of wines. I also added short visits to lesser known regions, first the tiny Ahr Valley as well as Rheinhessen in Germany. Last month I published a brief synopsis report based on the following tastings:

Jancis Robinson, Alsace, Greek Assyrtiko, Chianti Classico, Franken Silvaner, The Ahr Valley and Rheinhessen…

It was one month ago that David and I attended Prowein 2017, the international wine congress in Düsseldorf, Germany of such immense proportion that words, description and explanation just fail to do it justice. If you are an agent your goals are simple; meet with your incumbent suppliers and taste with enough new ones to fill the holes in your portfolio. But what if you are a journalist like me? What do you concentrate on? Were do you start?

Canada’s two coolest wine cats present the country’s cool whites to a packed #Prowein house #Canadianwine #ontariowine #winesofbritishcolumbia #drjanetdorozynski #davidlawrason #beyondco

First things first. As a Canadian and a representative of Wine Country Ontario I hung around the Canadian pavilion, talked with our coast to coast winemakers, vintners and marketing representatives, took in the seminars on cool climate wines led by David and Dr. Janet Dorozynski and of course, tasted some wines. I’m glad I did because I might have otherwise missed out on four exceptional Canadian bottles.

It’s @jamiegoode talking up #Canadianwine at #Prowein

Pillitteri Estates Winery Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

The quintessential cool climate vintage does for more than chardonnay and riesling as told by this classic tier cabernet franc. From winemaker Aleksandar Kolundzic who is rapidly developing guru status where cabernet franc is concerned, which comes as no surprise when you consider how many variations on the theme he lends his laser focus. The 16 months spent in two to three year-old oak leads to mellow melting integration and that seasoned, grace-gifting wood is used to great advantage. This is floral, expansive, chewy, firm and so very pretty. A wise old cabernet franc that will tell great stories of the years gone by well into the next decade. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @Pillitteriwines pillitteriwines  @PillitteriEstatesWinery  @WineCountryOnt  winecountryont  @mkaiserwine  @WineCountryOntario

Vineland Estates Elevation Cabernet 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (173609, $28.00, WineAlign)

The two thirds/one third cabernet franc/cabernet sauvignon stunner from Vineland Estates is pulled (and now labeled) from the 60-acre Bo-Teek Vineyard found within the designated viticultural area Niagara Escarpment (within the broader Twenty Mile Bench) sub-appellation. Estate cabernet of such acumen is predicated on the sound wisdom gathered by a viticulturist and Vineland’s Roman Prydatkewycz knows his cabernet. Winemaker Brian Schmidt takes this paradigmatic escarpment fruit, passes it through the optimal sorter, removes five to eight per cent imperfect berries and a quarter of the cabernet sauvignon fruit. What remains is hand-punched, sent to neutral barrels and is forgotten for 15 months. What emerges is a naturally sweet, vegetal-void elixir, sharp, focused, fervently nervous, tart and captured as if in a dark vacuum or void. It’s all tied inside snug, concentrated and intense. It’s too early for the burst but it will happen within another 12 months time, followed by a six to 12 year slow release of flavour, texture and descendent development of tannin. Drink 2018-2023. Tasted March 2017  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy  vinelandestates  benchwineguy  @winery.vinelandestates  Brian Schmidt  @WineCountryOnt  winecountryont  @mkaiserwine  @WineCountryOntario

Attention proweiners- Still time to discover cool @WinesofCanada in Hall 9 @CVAWine @WinesofNS #ontariowine #bcwine

Benjamin Bridge Brut Brut Rosé Sparkling 2012, Nova Scotia (Winery, $44.99, WineAlign)

The adjustment for vintage and evolution means that chardonnay takes more control in the Brut Rosé. Warmth and ripeness were easier to come by in 2012 and though the pinot decrease may seem antithetical and not obvious as a result, it is a brilliant stroke of adjudication. With a 43 per cent stake (plus equal parts noir and meunier) the 2012 Rosé rushes out as an open vein of fleshy aromatics, many of which you will have never nosed before. Citrus and floral exotica, like juice vesicles oozing out of fruit and herbal, of Murraya paniculata, pomelo and kumquat. The omnipresent vitality, energy, intensity and Bridge acidity is never denied and definitely not here but the vintage sets this ’12 apart and furthers the experience with travel around excellency. The liquid hits the palate, expands, vaporizes and recurs. It’s magic really, the sparkling wine tasting equivalent of vaping so cue the health benefits. Just when you thought Benjamin Bridge and winemaker Jean-Benoit Deplauriers had hit the mark they turn the mark on its head. Confirms two salient matters; the Nova Scotia sparkling wine leader is the Canadian commander and blush bubbles are what they do with constant consistency. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted March 2017  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers  benjaminbridge  caveman__jones  @benjaminbridgevineyards  Jean-Benoit Deslauriers  @WinesofNS  #winesofnovascotia  @winesofns

Blomidon Estate Late Pick Sparkling Chardonnay 2011, Nova Scotia (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

The 2011 late-picked chardonnay, the “Hurricane” is a hyperbole of itself. Normally picked in later October, the frost-free weather allowed further time and development. Picked from seaside vineyards just ahead of another hurricane (in a season that included Irene), this is sparkling wine you just have to try. Though lean, taut and as intense as you are likely to taste, the developed character and complexity is visionary for Nova Scotia and Canadian sparkling wine. Three years on the lees brings the texture and fills the gaps, holes and voids created by such a tightly wound cool climate chardonnay. The dry factor is exaggerated in 2011 (a one-off says winemaker Simon Rafuse) but the wine takes full advantage of the Extra-Brut intent. Did it require the anxiety of a recent and an impending cyclone? Can it be duplicated? “That’s the story of the Hurricane.” Visionary for Nova Scotia and Canadian sparkling wine. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017  @BlomidonEstate  blomidonestate  @blomidonestatewinery   Simon Rafuse  @WinesofNS  #winesofnovascotia  @winesofns

You can’t see it all, do it all or taste it all, so you pick your spots. The rest of my three-day, 12-pavilion cum airport hangar wanderings can be summed up in five ProWein experiences; Jancis Robinson, Alsace, Greece, Chianti Classico and a great exploration into Franken silvaner and spätburgunder. The grand dame of wine held a special intimate media tasting. With fewer than 18 international journalists in attendance, Jancis Robinson’s seven favourite wines at ProWein were poured, choices she noted “I think should be useful to our readers and seek out value.” Nahe and Weinviertel riesling, Chinese cabernet sauvignon, Crozes-Hermitage, Amontillado and my picks of the lot from Chile and Sicily.

Robinson’s full list of wines chosen and poured were as follows: Weingut Schäfer-Fröhlich Riesling Trocken Bockenaur Schiefergestein 2015, Nahe, Germany, Zillinger Grüner Veltliner Radikal 2015, Weinviertel, Austria, De Martino Cinsault Viejas Tinajas 2014, Itata, Chile, Tenuta delle Terre Nere Santo Spirito Rosso 2014, Sicily, Italy, Chateau Changyu Moser Family Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Ningxia, China, Maison Tardieu-Laurent Vieilles Vignes 2015, Rhône, France, Williams & Humbert Jalifa 30 Year Old VORS Amontillado NV, Jerez-Manzanilla, Spain.

41 years experience. 65,000 to choose from. Seven meticulous picks. @jancisrobinson @Prowein #Prowein

De Martino Viejas Tinajas Cinsault 2014, Secano Interior/Coelemu, Maule, Chile (BCLDB, 72702 $16.99, WineAlign)

Poured by Jancis Robinson at ProWein 2017, the departure for Chile and cinsault hails from just south of Maule and well south of Santiago. Grapes come from a tiny commune called Coelemu and in fact the name Itata cannot be used for ‘un-noble’ grapes so Secano Interior is the nomenclature employed. Done up in old clay jars called “Tinajas,” the cinsault gets a sort of membrane, a cap if you will, of a layer of tannin and acidity due to the clay after 15 days of carbonic maceration plus a full year in those amphorae. The 31 year-old vines deliver the first strike, a natural cure, then bitter cherry and so the wine would service better with a further chill. Robinson notes that it’s “chock full of fruit and tradition,” an exploration wine, in a part of the world not on the bigger maps. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @DeMartinoWines  demartinowines  @DeMartinoWines  @WinesofChile  @WinesOfChile  drinkchile  @DrinkChile

Tenuta Delle Terre Nere Santo Spirito Rosso 2014, Sicily, Italy (Agent, $56.95, WineAlign)

Here is a regional defining Etna Rosso that comes 16 years after the pioneers began to bring these volcanic magma gems to the world, like Frank Cornilessen and Andrea Franchetti of Tuscany’s Tenuto Trinoro in the Val D’Orcia. Made by Marco de Grazie, Santo Spirito is a single vineyard Etna made on the “black lands,” composed of 98 per cent nerello mascalese, deep dark and volcanic, off of 40-100 year old vines. It’s deeply hematic and the nose is like a cross between fennel and the marriage of lava and garrigue. The wine is aged in French barriques and it shows; of vanilla, really mellow liquid bitters. It’s warm (14.5 per cent), young, oak-welling though energetic, playful, like dark modern Burgundy. The finish as so very volcanic twang, like country music, Sicilian style. Such chewy and grainy tannin drapes all over that long finish. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2017  @tenutaterrenere  @WinesSiciliaDoc  @WinesOfSicily  @GroupeSoleilTO  tenutaterrenere  winesofsicily  realbenhardy  @TenutaDelleTerreNere  @WinesOfSicily

The honour and privilege to taste Alsace is always welcome and especially when the sit down happens with two exceptional humans like Christian and Valerie Beyer. Their Lieu-Dit pinot gris and noir were terrific examples but it was the Riesling that blew me away. From special limestone this is more refined than similar Alsace from granite, of a salty minerality and intensely elegant.

An @AlsaceWines reconnect with Christian & Valérie Beyer @EmileBeyer @Prowein #justlikestartingover #eguisheim #riesling #rieslinggrandcru #pfersigberg #pinotgris #lieudit #hohrain #pin

Emile Beyer Riesling Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2012, Ac Alsace, France (Winery, WineAlign)

The Pfersigberg or “hill of peach trees” consists of limestone conglomera Muschelkalk and Jurassic stone. Its south exposure on very deep soil produces early maturing wines but from the exceptional 2012 vintage Christian Beyer’s Pfersigberg will last a decade or more. His family’s domain has been farming organically since ’05, officially since ’12 and half of the producers in Egusheim are indeed organic. Christian explains that this Grand Cru is a special kind of limestone, so similar to Burgundy and it lends the salty minerality of itself. Always carries richness with lime fresh citrus, stone fruit acidity and some honey in a riesling that will turn waxy in secondary life. It’s really about mouthfeel and the crisp crunchy rock salt so I and I believe you should really concentrate on the aftertaste. This is more refined than similar Alsace from granite, here from 35-45 year old vines and 35 hL/L yields. Intensely elegant. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted March 2017  @EmileBeyer  emilebeyer1580  Emile Beyer  Valérie Beyer  @VinsAlsace  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace  vinsalsace  drinkalsace  @vinsalsace  @AlsaceWinesOfficial

With Panayiota Kalogeropouloun and Margarita Damigou of Domaine Sigalas at ProWein

I also sat down with Panayiota Kalogeropoulou and Margarita Damigou for a ProWein date with assyrtiko and it was a revelation to taste a single-vineyard white that turns the world on its head.

Domaine Sigalas Kavalieros 2015, Santorini, Greece (Agent, SAQ 11814421, $31.00, WineAlign)

I’ve not yet tasted the Kavalieros 2014, so this single-vineyard, 18 months on lees done in stainless steel Kavalieros 2015 made by “Mr. George” is the benchmark for Santorini, assrytiko and salty white wines everywhere. The first release was 2009. Straight up and turning the world on its head, like the old man on the label and upside down against Apollo’s Aegean Cyclades. This ’15 richer still, more than the seven villages wines and a hyperbole as compared to the entry-level assyrtiko, of deeper mineral, compressed, layered and fantastic. Crushed rocks permeate in aggregate, it’s quixotically saline and textured, of intense presence and finally, structured. For 15 years at least. A late shot of natural Santorini tonic swirls in centrifuge with assyrtiko so wound up. This will need 10 years to unwind and allow for cracks to form in the mineral shell, followed by the birth of its fruit. It should never be forgotten that assyrtiko can and will show fruit but with Kavalieros you’ll have to be patient. Drink 2020-2031.  Tasted March 2017  @DomaineSigalas  @MajesticWineInc  domainesigalas  @DomaineSigalas  Panayiota Kalogeropoulou  @DrinkGreekWine  winesofgreece  @newwinesofgreece

As does a natural Peloponnese Roditis, a white that ignites the light fantastic’s wire.

Domaine Tetramythos Roditis 2015, PGI Peloponnese, Greece (Agent, WineAlign)

Roditis 2015 is the natural one, racked from the top and finally now settled (so at this time of tasting 2016 is not yet in bottle but at this time of writing should already be as it always does in April). This is the cleanest and purest of the natural wines on the planet, low in pH, high of natural acidity and without a care in the world. With nothing to fear in regards to spoilage it can go on its own personal shopping spree, accumulate character, personality and confidence with the end result being that there is more of everything in the natural one. Its terrifically repeatable, replicable and clonal acidity makes it quite trippy, stepping on and igniting the light fantastic’s wire. You just have to take a stab in the dark with winemaker Panayiotis Papagiannopoulos’ roditis. Or ye have not yet lived. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  @Tetramythos  #tetramythoswines  @tetramythoswines  Devon Masciangelo  @DrinkGreekWine  winesofgreece  @newwinesofgreece

A roam through the Italian pavilion afforded tastings in Puglia, Sicily and as always Tuscany with a one on one face to face with Chianti Classico’s President Sergio Zingarelli and his estate’s flagship wine.

Rocca Delle Macìe Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Sergio Zingarelli 2012, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $122.95, WineAlign)

This is the flagship wine from the famed estate, a Gran Selezione that bears the patriarchal Sergio Zingarelli name. As expected it is a richer, deeper and depth welling GS, clearly aimed towards the crowning achievement of place, more hedonism, but of course, seeking purity and elegance. The extra year or two in bottle means integration and wood having subsided a bit. “We decided to change the vineyard in 1974 in front of Rocca to be the best vineyard with the best grapes and we will produce our best wine,” I am told by Zingarelli as we taste at ProWein. What was 90 per cent sangiovese (planted in 1999-2000) this 2012 is accented by colorino but in 2014 it will be 100 per cent sangiovese. Elegant as much as sangiovese and Gran Selezione will likely ever strive to be. It is hard not to be impressed with this wine. It bursts with the essence of plums and richest of red cherries, but it’s not without it’s requisite crunch and chew. The absence of astringency is remarkable and speaks to the quality of the fruit and the gentle touch while working with such phenolic ability. Start drinking this anytime. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted March 2017  @roccadellemacie  @roccadellemacie  @ProfileWineGrp  Profile Wine Group  roccadellemacie  @chianticlassico  chianticlassico  @ChiantiClassicoUSA

Cantina di Ruvo Grifo Nero di Troia Riserva Augustale 2012, DOCG Castel del  Monte, Puglia, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Grifo in Castel del Monte was established in 1960 as a cooperative, with 400 farmers and still operates as such with flagship wines based on the local nero di troia. The output is quantified at 1,200,000 bottles per year and increasing. Augustale is the top tier varietal wine from a selection of the vines and produced in small quantities. There is no mistaking what it is, with that specific yeasty bright fruit, slightly volatile to funky but ripe and generous grape scent and bursting with flavour. Spent approximately one year in oak “but the greatest liars are the winemakers,” says Riccardo Ravasio, Direttore Generale presso (General Manager), with a wink and a smile. Mainly big barrels, plus a smaller percentage of small barriques. Fresher than primitivo and with more structure. This has presence and distinction with just a hint of dried fruit, flowers and truffle towards the finish. Classic adult, mature, experienced NdT.  Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2017    @FedericaSchir  @cantinaruvodipuglia

Miracle on #etna from @PlanetaWinery eruptive #carricante of such acidity! The lime! #eruzione #1614 #patriciatoth #prowein2017 #winesofsicily #Prowein

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Carricante 2014, Doc Sicily, Italy (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

“Not everyone can carry the weight of the world,” save perhaps Planeta’s Patricia Tóth, a winemaker who celebrates the past, the endemic varietal and in the present, the glaring truth. The name Eruzione is evocative of the estate’s Cru dell’Etna and in a mind’s eye transports history through the narrative of carricante (with 10 per cent riesling). It brings the legendary 1614 Mount Etna eruption to life, a longest ever recorded catastrophe that lasted ten years, halting just on the border of the vineyards of Sciaranuova. This is veritable mountain altitude wine, from high (790-890m) terraced, volcanic black soils delivering fresh conifer savour, saltiness and palpable mineral style. It is sharp and composed on the nose, with citrus distillate and elevated acidity. It does not matter whether you are wide awake or deep in R.E.M sleep. At all times it is a revelation for carricante. This is what it can be! There was no need for crop thinning, it was picked four to five weeks after the sparkling and it spent five months on the lees. The texture and the potential longevity are thankful for this. “Combien, combien, combien du temps?” At least seven years. Talk about the passion. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted March 2017  @PlanetaWinery  @Noble_Estates  planetawinery  plant dependent  noble_estates  @planetawinery  Tóth Patricia  @NobleEstates

No self-respecting wine journo departs #Prowein without tasting #carricante @PlanetaWinery with #patriciatoth #etna

The Germany pavilion is the epicentre of the ProWein universe. Gravity would naturally pull you to the Mosel and yet I was in search of an alternative experience. With travels to the Ahr Valley and the Rheinhessen looming I gravitated (naturally) to Franken and more specifically to an intensive workshop with silvaner and spätburgunder. The days of the old flattened ellipsoid, field bottle silvaner packaged in traditional Franconian Bocksbeutel are nearly behind us and while several modern, clean and pure examples match up with the great mineral fresh whites around the planet, one stood apart.

Franken Silvaner

Rudolf May Silvaner Retzstadter Langenberg Der Schäfer 2015, Franken, Germany (Winery, WineAlign)

May’s Der Schäfer silvaner comes from the Retztadter Langenberg, a slope of muschelkalk (predominantly from the lower muschelkalk, or wellenkalk) that characterizes the soil. Looking east the location is protected by the Retzstadt deciduous forest and the warm air of the Maintales flows from the west. This specialized and extra-special silvaner is balanced in its aromatic ability meets proper and right-willing alcohol (13.5), with great quality acidity. True salinity and caper brine put my mind’s senses into concepts where this shares a kinship with assytrtiko. It’s brilliant, stony-gemstone able, savoury, no actually sapid, and exceptionally mouth salivating. Just a touch of texture driven lees builds character and great persistence. Bitters before the end are finely distilled and character building. Fresh to drink now and with more ability than most to age. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017  @frankenwein  #frankenwein  Frankenwein Fränkische Weinkönigin  @Weingut.Rudolf.May  @weininstitut  @WinesofGermany  @germanwineca  germanwine_ca  wines_of_germany  @germanwinecanada

So much to say about #silvaner and #spätburgunder #pinotnoir

Passion für Pinot Noir! is the avant-garde Deutscher Qualitäswein Franken slogan for spätburgunder. Rudolf May once again impressed with their Retzbach Benediktusberg but as I was about to pour myself a taste of the next wine, a Franken booth associate swooped in to slip me a Burgundy glass, so I knew this was going to be different. It was the next wine that taught me what Franken pinot noir can be.

Weingut Richard Östreicher Spätburgunder No. 1 Sommeracher Katzenkopf 2013, Franken, Germany (Winery, WineAlign)

No. 1 takes not only the estate’s best pinot noir pick but Franken spätburgunder and paradigmatic pinot noir to an entirely new level. The Katzenkopf (“cat’s head”) is Sommeracher’s best vineyard and it is Weingut Richard Östreicher that demands great respect. As I am about to pour myself a taste a ProWein Franken booth associate swoops in and slips me a Burgundy glass, so this must be different. Certainly an elegance and a refinement not seen yet. I’m thinking only on its perfume from the get go but this Franken sensibility is more important, a soil component that just acts of its own accord in the magic it brings to pinot noir. The compatibility of fruit and acidity with the finest grains of sweet and refined tannin is a revelation. The vintage is an important one to be sure and the firm but still amenably sweet finish mixed with a dash of tonic tells me about the longevity this No. 1 is capable to execute. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted March 2017  #richardöstreicher  Richard Östreicher  @weininstitut  @WinesofGermany  @germanwineca  germanwine_ca  wines_of_germany  @germanwinecanada

The desparate grade of Ahr Valley vineyards

On day three of ProWein I jumped on the großer Magie Bus with 17 international journalists and headed for the Ahr Valley, one of Germany’s (of 13) furthest northern wine regions. With an area of 150 hectares (of 100,000 total in Germany), even the Mosel is not so far north. Our first visit was to Meyer-Näkel, a young winery in its third generation. Before that there was a winery (Meyer) and Näkel (restaurant). When the grandparents married the entities merged. In 1982 winemaker Meike Näkel’s father took the winery and her uncle the restaurant.

Michael and Meike

Starting out with two, now there are 20 hectares under vines. The slopes are ridiculously steep, prized for their blue slate soils and so difficult to work. Spätburgunder steals the Ahr Valley show and while Meyer-Näkel’s lieu-dit and grand cru (Großes Gewächs) are impassioned and important works, in Ontario you can find their affordable entry-level treat. It really is what basic German spätburgunder needs and is expected to be.

Meyer Näkel Spätburgunder 2015, Deutscher Qualitätswein, Ahr Valley, Germany  (427898, $26.25, WineAlign)

The entry-level pinot noir was bottled in the summer of 2016, after a hot season and dry elsewhere but in the Ahr it rained and it was cool overall. Picking was actually late and the aromatics show off the long, cool, floral temper. De-stemming and fermentation is immediately initialized but the maximum fermentation is 10 and usually six days. The pips are just a quick doo-wop to keep both green and bitter away. A focus on fruit, an absence of tannin and a pure varietal expression. Red trumps green, large wooden casks (15-20 years) also impart no tannin so the finality is simply cherry. That said, this carries some almond pit and green strawberry on the palate. It’s really what basic German spätburgunder is and expected to be. Nicely balanced and in at 13 per cent alcohol. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017    @vonterrabev  Weingut Meyer – Näkel  vonterra  @MeyerNaekel  @weininstitut  @WinesofGermany  @germanwineca  germanwine_ca  wines_of_germany  @germanwinecanada

Yet nothing could prepare me for what a former German wine queen would pour. Julia Bertram grew up in Dernau, gained experience at Meyer-Näkel and Klumpp. In 2013 she launched her own her vineyard with just half a hectare and now farms three and a half. Nothing fascinates her and the “SchlAhrVino” (association of young Ahr vintners) as much as ripe wines, especially pinot noir. Her whole bunch, wild ferment spätburgunder is nothing short of intense. The world should get ready for her alternative Ahr universe.

World get ready for #juliabertram and her alternative #ahr universe pinot noir @weininstitut #ahrvalley #spätburgunder #handwerk

Julia Bertram Spätburgunder Handwerk 2015, Ahrweiler, Germany (WineAlign)

Former German Wine Queen Julia Bertram grew up in Dernau, gained experience at Meyer-Näkel and Klumpp. In 2013 she launched her own her vineyard with just half a hectare and now farms three and a half. Nothing fascinates her and the “SchlAhrVino” (association of young Ahr vintners) as much as ripe wines, especially pinot noir. Her whole bunch, wild ferment spätburgunder is nothing short of intense. Bone dry, tart and spirited by crisp acidity, the young vines and used barrels deliver notes that are embattled in a spontaneous, natural, posit tug. The world should get ready for her alternative ahr universe pinot noir. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017    #juliabertram  Julia Bertram  @weininstitut  @WinesofGermany  @germanwineca  germanwine_ca  wines_of_germany  @germanwinecanada

The next two were Rheinhessen days, first with five Appenheim village winemakers at Weingut Willems & Hoffman, followed by a visit to taste more deferential and singular spätburgunder at Weingut J. Neus. The single vineyard of Hudertgulden in Appenheim is one of the Rheinhessen’s finest. At Neus we got grippy with the muschelkalk soil meets spontaneous ferments from the team of Operations Manager Lewis Schmitt and agronomist/oenologist/winemaker/cellarmaster Julien Meissner’s pinot noir.

Weingut Knewitz Riesling Hundertgulden 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

From the Burgundy-like soils of this special rolling hills nook in the Rheinhessen, replete with shells and corrals, the Hundertgulden, “hundred guilders” is the most important single vineyard in all of Appenheim. The vintage trumps 2014 and nearly bone dry is still the operative in this super salty, linear, lengthy and age-worthy riesling. A true blue limestone vernacular is spoken and the stone simply slides and glides through the wine. Definitive of place, with leesy texture, elegant, balanced and seamlessly woven through. There is more lime zest and juice than the Appenheimer and more overall citrus tendency. The mirror of Appenheim. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2017    weingutknewitz  @Weingut.Knewitz  @weininstitut  @WinesofGermany  @germanwineca  germanwine_ca  wines_of_germany  @germanwinecanada

Getting grippy with #pinotnoir #jneus @weininstitut #spätburgunder #ingelheim #muschelkalk

Weingut J. Neus Spätburgunder Muschelkalk Alte Raben Trocken Ingelheim Am Rhein 2014, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

From vines 25-40 years old, depending on which barrels are chosen for the final blend, off of the estate’s singular limestone muschelkalk soils. Even some 45 year-old vine fruit can be used, ferments kept separate, just as winemaker Julien Meissner will do with the Großes Gewächs. After tasting the younger vines spätburgunder and trocken first this acts less up front fruit forward, now spirited, of a phenolic tonic, variegated, characterful, open and spontaneous. Large (600 and 1000L) 100 per cent new oak barrels add char and spice to the rampant cherry, but also structure that takes you on the ride from background to foreground. “A strict style of pinot noir,” says Meissner, a cellar master who triples as agronomist and oenologist. Reduction begs for patience and time, tannins are taut and there is this minty, Mornington Peninsula pinot effect. Fruit, tannin, chalk and the conduit of Neuss acidity. The whole package. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2017  @JNeus1881  jneus.ingelheim  @J.Neus.Weingut.seit1881  @weininstitut  @WinesofGermany  @germanwineca  germanwine_ca  wines_of_germany  @germanwinecanada

We moved away from the red wine thematic and into more familiar territory when we stopped in at Weingut Thörle for a visit with Christoph Thörle. The single-vineyard Hölle and Schlossberg rieslings are as exceptional as any in Germany but the Ontario presence of the Feinherb should never be overlooked.

Some of Germany’s finest #riesling coming to @TerroirTalk May 29th #thorle #Terroir2017 #christophthorle #saulheim #rheinhessen #terroirsymposium #holle #agotoronto

Thörle Riesling Feinherb 2016, Qualitätswein Rheinhessen, Germany (420091, $18.95, WineAlign)

Off-dry riesling does not always have to be bottled as such but in the Rheinhessen and at Thörle the category of Feinherb is anything but an afterthought. This started as a side fermentation in its first years but is now an important wine in the estate’s multi-tiered processes. The cuvée is gathered from younger vines plus one barrel of premier cru Saulheim fruit. A slight skin maceration (12-18 hours) is employed which helps to temper the tartaric acid though this will be swapped for whole bunch fermentation in warmer years. Hides some of its sugar, especially on the nose which is quite floral, of white flowers and honeysuckle. Honey and wax with sweet herbs bring all into playful light to taste, with plenty of sweet lime and lik-a-maid sour touches. For every Indian Food list in the world. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  Weingut Thörle  @WeingutThoerleGabsheim  @weininstitut  @WinesofGermany  @germanwineca  germanwine_ca  wines_of_germany  @germanwinecanada

On our last day in the Rheinhessen we stopped in at Weingut Manz and if you ever find yourself in their tasting room, expect a multi-varietal experience. On any given day you may taste weissburgunder (pinot blanc), riesling, grauburgunder (pinot gris), sauvignon blanc, spätburgunder (pinot noir), merlot, cabernet sauvignon and finally, huxelrebe trockenbeerenauslese. On this day it was the wines spoke to the territorial low yields and late harvest work of Eric Manz.

#goodcombo #weingutmanz #rieslingauslese #herrenberg #restaurantvolker #oppenheim

Weingut Manz Riesling Spätlese Trocken Kehr, Weinolsheimer 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

The Kehr from Eric Manz is riesling of extremely low yields and a late harvest for what shines to be high in complexity and aging potential. Generous skin contact and even more so in lees action effect makes this quite different than the Kehr “M” but also the Herrenberg Trocken Spätlese. With the sugar here remaining in line with the Hipping (Niersteiner) it is the high acidity that drives the Kehr machine. This seems less arid than the Hipping, more energetic and more reductive than the “M.” Higher potential for aging with so much lime cordial sparkles and brings spirit that will persist into a petrol and honey future that would have to be bright. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted March 2017     Weingut Manz Weinolsheim   @weingut.manz.weinolsheim  @weininstitut  @WinesofGermany  @germanwineca  germanwine_ca  wines_of_germany  @germanwinecanada

I don’t always taste #roterhang Riesling but when I do it has to be in the #fockenberghütte

The week in Germany saw virtually no sun, that is until the final morning outdoors above the Rhein River under the shelter of the Fockenberghütte. Here we tasted the Nierstien wines of Weingut Domtalhof, St. Antony and Louis Guntrum with our charismatic M.C. Konstantin Guntrum. We walked the famed Roter Hang Vineyard and had the great fortune to taste Guntrum’s ethereal 1976 Neisteiner Heilgen riesling. Guntrum wears the passion for his home vineyard in his expression, on his sleeve and by the way he walks. “Roter Hang is a geological statement,” he explains. Red soils of friable sandstone, steep and breathtaking. Nierstein is the portal into which you can peer to wonder about great riesling grown above the Rhein.

Weingut Louis Guntrum Riesling Trocken Nierstein Oelberg 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

Nierstein’s Oelberg is for vintner Konstantin Guntrum a changing landscape, of different light and greater fog. This dry riesling gives off the sense of intelligence and so grabs your attention and demands your concentration. It also solicits conversation. Takes its time to open up, with no petrol note but the grace of mineral is back there. Lean but slowly changing and developing in just the short time in glass, the charm envelops your sense of smell and taste, renders them keen and then you give it up for the aftertaste and the persistence. While the layers will not yet peel away they will, though may need two full years to do so. Forget the need for immediate gratification because this one is mineral skin deep. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted March 2017  @LouisGuntrum  #louisguntrum  Weingut Louis Guntrum  @weininstitut  @WinesofGermany  @germanwineca  germanwine_ca  wines_of_germany  @germanwinecanada

When you see one grand cru you’ve seen another grand cru #nierstein #rheinhessen #rhein #roterhang

The German wine experience is owed great thanks to Stefan Egge, Christiane Schorn, Brigitte Küppers, Michael Mandel and Carola Keller of ProWein press department, Messe Düsseldorf and Wines of Germany. I have been on many Press trips over the years and the organization in Germany was second to none. I will now begin looking forward to ProWein 2018. Until then.

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

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

Good to go!

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Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine

Extreme Lows, Niagara Peninsula, December 2013 and January 2014

Extreme Lows, Niagara Peninsula, December 2013 and January 2014
Photo: Weather INnovations Consulting LP (WIN)

as seen on canada.com

The physiological and emotional roller coaster heaped upon grapes and growers these past 55 days has been nothing short of exhilarating, frightening and exhausting. First this monster climatic Dementor known as the Polar Vortex. Along with the demonic weather came the devastation of an ice storm, followed by record low temperatures. More recently, thaw and re-freeze. Consequences and challenges have abounded. Also, a silver lining. Freezing temperatures can kill grape buds on vines unprepared and left to fend for themselves. Those little vine kinder can also just be unlucky enough to grow up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some Niagara growers are reporting heavy losses to Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay vines. Here are the numbers as reported by Wines In Niagara’s Rick VanSickle.

I spoke with winemaker Paul Pender of Tawse Winery in Vineland, Ontario yesterday. Paul is both unconcerned and not yet ready to make any sort of call on damage to his crops. “It’s still too early to tell,” he notes, “I won’t really head out to assess any potential damage until early March.” While Beamsville vineyards are reportedly hard hit, Pender is confident that his team’s strident and prudent vineyard management will see the vines through.

Balanced pruning means leaving a specific number of buds during the winter on a dormant cane for this year’s crop, the number based on the amount the vine grew the previous season. Tawse’s canes are cut back to two feet, the dead wood removed before winter’s freeze can hit. Buds this season were thinned from 12 to six, giving those tender bits a fighter’s chance to survive. And while Pender will not enter into an unequivocal conversation with respect to the heartiness of his vineyards as a consequence of 100 per cent organic and biodynamic farming, I can hear the surety in his voice and imagine the twinkle in his eye at the thought.

Other growers concern themselves with what may happen inside the many parts of the vine when there are freezes, thaws and re-freezes. Again, Pender is not concerned. Proper pruning should prepare a vine for a harsh winter, whether or not they are protected by a warm blanket of snow. In New York’s Finger Lakes region, Lenn Thompson is reporting “some minor bud damage to vinifera vines, but little to no vine death.” Steve Shaw of Shaw Vineyards on Seneca Lake had this to say. “Yes, this winter is definitely presenting itself in a rather volatile manner. As far as I can tell from checking a number of varieties and many buds, there does not seem to be any catastrophic primary bud kill. There is damage, but not too bad so far. I do not think that with things being this wacky that we can really rest easy until most of the winter has passed.” Brock University’s Cool Climate and Viticulture Institute in St. Catherines helps local growers with much needed information and infrastructure to deal with damaging weather. Their VineAlert program helps protect vineyards during frigid temperatures.

Icewine Hours 2013

PHOTO: Weather INnovations Consulting LP (WIN)
Icewine Hours 2013

The news is not all bad. According to many icewine makers in Niagara, 2013 will shape up to be what many are forecasting the best ever vintage for the province. Temperatures dipped to the requiem in late December and most picked their shriveled, sugary berries before the new year. That is unprecedented, allowing this season’s icewine to remain high in necessary balancing acidity and well ahead of the fermentation arresting challenges from most years. Wine Country Ontario reported that “early icewine harvest in Wine Country Ontario starts the festival fever.” Look for the most balanced icewines out of 2013. Not to mention the Grape Grower’s of Ontario reporting the province’s grape growers gathered a record 79,756 tonnes of grapes in 2013 valued at nearly $100 million.

The Niagara Icewine Festival encompasses three weekends in January dedicated to the region’s beloved ambrosial elixir, wines that have become the calling card beyond the broader confines of Canadian borders. Icewine has been made since 1981 and in that short span of 33 years, Ontario and B.C. winemakers have challenged, and in many cases lapped their counterparts in Germany and Austria. Canadian icewine is globally renowned, even if it is not the most important wine resource bequeathed upon the rest of the world.

Icewine 101. Simply put, made from grapes that have been left to freeze naturally on the vine. Ontario’s stringent Bolshevik Initial Decrees-like laws insist that icewine must be made from approved grape varieties; the most popular are Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Some small lots include Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Grapes are left on the vine until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached and then picked from those vines encapsulated in nets to protect them from birds possessive of a sweet tooth.

A national icewine debate is ongoing, inflamed by a recent Macleans Magazine article discussing the ideological differences between the VQA law preventing vine and grape separation before pressing and the Quebec practice of letting the grapes freeze in nets. Quebec growers do this out of necessity for fear of their fruit being smothered by excessive snowfall. Ontario’s old guard vehemently oppose the practice. The irony of VQA Ontario’s website low volume statistic, “with average yields of 500 litres for each acre netted,” is not lost on the curious. Two questions arise. How many grapes in Ontario nets end up in bottles of VQA labelled icewine and how can a culture of Canadian icewine be brought together without some form of compromise and collaboration? Yet again, is togetherness integral to the success of Canadian icewine, or more specifically, Ontario’s industry?

According to Klaus W. Reif of Reif Estate, apparently there are 3,750 berries needed for one bottle of 375ml icewine. Just consider the concentration for a moment, the hand-picked (though not all) labour involved and the specificity of the practice. The sweetest wine known to Canadians can indeed be re-worked as a palindrome for Niagara Ice Wine Festival.

A wet vial is fine nice agar

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Rick James Ice Sculpture, Niagara Icewine Festival

On Friday, January 10th, 2014 I was a most elated guest at the Xerox Icewine Gala: A Bacchus Evening of Icewine and Revelry. For a list of continuing events this weekend and next, here is a link to the festival site. More information here. With kind thanks to Magdalena KaiserSmit and Wine Country Ontario, I had the good fortune to taste a host of Niagara’s finest renditions, along with some very special bottles of sparkling and still wines. Here are notes on six wines sampled at the Fallsview Casino Grand Ballroom last Friday night.
From left: PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010, RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, and VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012

From left: PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010, RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, and VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012

PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Onatrio (284547, $31.95, WineAlign)

This is Peller’s most versatile fizz, a blend of traditional method Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sweetened by a dosage of Vidal icewine post disgorgement of its lees. The lees has been left to linger in the bottle, in spirit. Sapid, savoury bubbles tingle the senses to the bone and will offer the most comforting and proper pleasures to those discriminating and otherwise. Appealing to a large common denominator, this Peller Sparkling can really do no wrong.  90  Tasted January 2014  @PellerVQA

CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010 (202127, $39.95, WineAlign)

The floral lift from three to four percent Viognier gives notice to bend the brawny, savoury black olive and blistered Ancho fruit into balance. Syrah in a sunshine state but not from concentrate. Would accept a glass of this Brokenpress at any beck and call. “Grab your wine, take me where you been, with the violin time and the moon gettin’ thin.” From my earlier note: “Offers up gorgeous pine and pepper-laced correctness and so much juicy, fresh warmth from a terrific Syrah vintage in Ontario and even more parochial so on the St. David’s Bench. This Queenston Road Vineyard red is winemaker Rob Power’s secret weapon, absolutely freakin’ delicious stuff and the epitome of what Syrah should be like from Niagara. Verve, rigor and yet also flirtatious with expertly judged wood and tannin to re-fresh its spirit and lengthen its life. Love it.”  91  Tasted twice, October 2013 and January 2014  @CreeksideWine

PILLITTERI ESTATES MERLOT FAMILY RESERVE 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71753, $39.95, WineAlign)

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?  93  Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, St Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (20483, $55.00, WineAlign)

This Bordeaux style blend (40 per cent Merlot, 33.3 Cabernet Sauvignon and 26.7 Cabernet Franc) is clothed in a coat of arms all about texture. A drawn and raised relief of dried, candied bramble fruit and charcoal lines of savoury, earthy hickory and herbs. Hearty warmth from a cool vintage, meat on a stick in a glass, charred, roasted and smoking. A spit of gamey goodness. Holding strong but drink now.  90  Tasted January 2014  @RavineVineyard

PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, Niagara On The Lake (46557, 375 ml, $60.00, WineAlign)

A most unique and striking rendition, wearer of many hats, confounding and curious. There is a funk about him that stands apart from the rest. Like a really well-aged, superb piece of washed rind cheese, then turning unabashedly sweet, with verve and symphonic tone. An orange sky of an icewine, anti-bittersweet, accented by mace and anise, carob even. “Here is what I know now brother. Here is what I know now sister.” Cabernet Sauvignon, in a vintage equipped with striking acidity, can turn into something to look forward to. One of the more interesting icewines to date.  91  Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (163018, 375 mL, $60.00, WineAlign)

This represents the icewine revolution, for the first time adding 15 percent Vidal juice into the Riesling mix. In 2012, the normally stand alone Riesling needed a shot in the arm, provided by the Vidal, a dose of icewine magic by winemaker Brian Schmidt. Lifted tree fruit blossom and added weight are the result, without hyper-sweet flavours. Riesling is the rock, Vidal the roll as this RV crashes into me. The pit orchard fruit is reduced and recognizable to taste, yet reserved and in phonic harmony. “Sweet like candy to my soul, sweet you rock and sweet you roll.” Brotherly love icewine, full of Schmidt wisdom.  93  Tasted January 2014  @benchwineguy

Good to go!

Holiday wine weathers the ice storm

Ice tree after the storm

Ice tree after the storm
Photo: Michael Godel

as seen on canada.com

What a strange, trying and beautiful holiday season it has been. If you are still without power and heat, here’s hoping you can climb out of the darkness as soon as possible.

Ice storm 2013 tree Down

Ice storm 2013: Tree down in the middle of my street

Go figure that wine helped add warmth to a cold week. These past few nights I’ve been fortunate to share some memorable bottles with family and friends. I held in self-possession some ready to pop and pour Boxing week wines, but you may not have been so fortunate. Was the LCBO open to find them? No. Could you walk into a private wine shop to seek them out? Not so much. Is there a VQA wine store with its doors wide open to offer up these local beauties? Not a chance. Though the stretch between Christmas and New Year’s can seem like a purgatorial void where nothing seems to happen, it does offer the opportunity to take a trip down the QEW or across the 401 and find perfectly beautiful wines for sale at the source. My advice? Stay away from the malls and go in search of local wine. Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore are waiting for you. Just be sure to check winery hours first!

From left: Chateau des Charmes Aligote VQA St. David's Bench 2011; Rosehall Run Pinot Gris Cuvée County 2012; Rosewood Estates Merlot 2011; Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 'Exclamation Series' 2010.

PHOTO: Handout/Michael Godel
From left: Chateau des Charmes Aligote VQA St. David’s Bench 2011; Rosehall Run Pinot Gris Cuvée County 2012; Rosewood Estates Merlot 2011; Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Exclamation Series’ 2010.

CHATEAU DES CHARMES ALIGOTE VQA ST. DAVID’S BENCH 2011, St. David’s Bench, VQA, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (296848, $13.95, WineAlign)

A product of wise vines with a nose so tropically-scorched, in pear and banana bubble gum. Glycerin saturate texture, indelible, edible white, immersed and immeasurable for food connectivity. Amenable, personable, diplomatic daughter of aromatic proportions, doting and full of flavour. A Mayer Aligoté, in joule raised heat capacity and major Meyer lemon. “She puts the color inside of my world but, she’s just like a maze.”  88  Tasted twice, March and December 2013  @MBosc

A solar tobaggan walk

A solar tobaggan walk

ROSEHALL RUN PINOT GRIS CUVÉE COUNTY 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($21.95, winery)

Puts the exclamatory headline previously written for other 2012 County PG’s back on top of the front page. The band’s ’12 members include Norman Hardie and Hubbs Creek and now Winemaker Dan Sullivan’s effort joins the already raging party, “with ripples and the rhymes,” climbs the stage and dances on the tongue and in the mouth. Like a refreshing glass of water, with so much orchard fruit goodness, in cold play pear and citrus, with more crazy acidity than before. This despite the equatorial balm of the vintage. A Grise Fiord of Pinot goodness, a cool drink of Gris that never thaws.  90  Tasted December 2013  @Rosehall_Run

Ice Tree

Ice Tree

ROSEWOOD ESTATES MERLOT 2011, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (211896, $22.00, winery)

From Renacaeu and Wismer Vineyards fruit on the upper reaches of the promontory, plots of land vital and calculated to produce exceptional Niagara Merlot. The granular and green nature that can sometimes mar byland Merlot dissolves away into an elastic coulee of berry coulis and savoury syrup. Carob, star anise and the intoxicating effects of chewed myrrh and betel nut round out the eastern philosophy. Attains a new level of pansophy in 2011, building a bridge from the naïve ’10 towards a perspicacious future.  90  Tasted December 2013  @Rosewoodwine

Ice storm forms

Ice storm forms

PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ‘EXCLAMATION SERIES’ 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($38.00, winery only, WineAlign)

While exercising an option for plenitude wood use finds its way for the vine to make the savour of the earth intelligible to the imbibers. The poverty of the soil is this Cabernet’s prose and a taste brings out its poetry. Runs a fruity line from blue to black and digs deep, for the rocks beneath the clay. Drinking in expert evolution now and will do so for another few years, then angle towards a graceful decline. Offers shelter from the storm, “in a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm.” Really fine by the fire, surrounded by an icy, unforgiving winter’s tale.  90  Tasted December 2013  @PillitteriWines

Good to go!

A paradox of wine accents

Soil and birthplace predetermines both wine and language.
PHOTO: JUNGE REBE/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Wine and language, two very complex organisms, first and foremost predetermined by the land from which they’ve come. Soil and birthplace. Climate is so very important too, in ripening fruit and developing speech. Weather and pedigree. Then there are the clones, genetic variants of a cultivar, or in language, slang and urban/rural diction. Variety and dialect. The study of wine (oenology) is very much like the study of language (linguistics). It’s all in the accents, in articulation and tonality, in aroma, taste and texture.

Related – More from the VINTAGES August 17th, 2013 release

Wine is generally divided into Old and New World styles, old school versus new wave. Though many New World wines have bested Old World stalwarts in blind tastings, are those results more than just a matter of taste? Old World varieties of a common region who have been cohabiting side by side exhibit a wide assortment of accents. New World clones from disparate backgrounds that have been living together for just a few generations show similar accents.

Old World stereoisomer stereotypes suggest that if your wine smells like vanilla, it was likely aged in American oak. Got flint and steel? Chablis. Brioche and yeast? Champagne. All this may be true but the grand wines within a particular growing area like Chablis, Champagne, the Rhône Valley, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Tuscany and Piedmont might share and yet bogart an infinite number of subtleties and dominant traits, each specific to the monopole, villages, indicazione geografica tipica, or appellation of origin. Napa Cabernet, whether from Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena or Howell Mountain, shares a commonality and decreased peculiarity so much more so than counterparts in the communes on the Left Bank in Bordeaux, including Paulliac, St-Estèphe, Pessac-Léognan, Margaux and St. Julien.

New World Chardonnay growing sites produce less delineation as compared to the various lieu-dites in Burgundy. Niagara is beginning to enter into an Old World state of mind, so now winemakers, and by extension wine geeks, are posturing over micro-terroirs; Niagara-on-the-Lake, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, St. David’s Bench, Lincoln Lakeshore, etc. While many will disagree, if you consider growing sites as circles within a Venn Diagram, the shared subtleties get buried or muddled within the common areas. The lines may be drawn but the web is tangled.

In Old World locales such as France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal, the sustained adjacency of wine regions ought to carry considerable weight against differences in accents, while in a vast but small growing area like Canada, the relative isolation of wine regions ought to encourage regional intonations. Yet comparatively speaking, there is a great deal of similar speak among Canada’s various cool climate wines. So, the question begs. Has the maturity of Canadian vines and its isolated industries increased or decreased the diversity of dialects?

If you stood with one foot in a Niagara vineyard and the other in Prince Edward County, you might be disappointed to find that the geology, climate and wine accent are nearly indiscernible. A wine patriot might disagree with that statement with reverence or indifference, yet the average wine consumer would be hard pressed to intuit the subtlest of idiosyncrasies. Even in the case of, let’s say, the temperature disparity between a St. David’s Bench vineyard and one from the Queenston Road, as a winemaker, who are you speaking to anyway?

The wine world has attempted the vinous equivalent of heteroglossia, “a blending of world views through language that creates complex unity from a hybrid of utterances.” This heteroglossia is an abstract convenience for the benefit of geographical oenophiles. In the New World (especially), we are dealing with huge generalities. To say that each viticultural area is singularly unique from another is to suggest that one region’s accent starts where another one ends. This is simply not true.

The argument is no longer about good and bad, natural and synthetic, Old and New World. We’re not talking about a Roman Paradox here. In a short period of time it seems we have gone from saying “there’s a remarkably great deal of homogeneity in wine today” to now, “some wines are so over the top they could only be from that place.” A recent California Pinot Noir, heretofore known as “he who shall not be named” laid insult and depression upon a group of tasters. Pushing 16 per cent alcohol by volume and thicker than a McFlurry, this Pinot could not have been from just anywhere. Only the hot California sun and heavy winemaker’s hand could have produced such an utterly undrinkable, faux-chocolate, simulated berry shake.

Special thanks to Bill Bryson, who’s good read “Mother Tongue” was the inspiration for this column. Here are six examples of really fine wine, from the Old and the New World, each expressive of a particular set of accents, out of a specific place.

Clockwise from left: André Blanck Pinot Blanc Rosenberg 2011, Pillitteri Estates Viognier 2011, Daniel Lenko Estate Winery Old Vines Chardonnay 2010, Greenlane Estate Winery Cabernet 2010, Zema Estate Cluny Cabernet Merlot 2008 and Château La Croix De Gay 2009

André Blanck Pinot Blanc Rosenberg 2011 (626606, $14.95) is high on lime citrus and heavy in stones, so much more so than in ’09 and ’10. Green apple in tart tonality, lean and mean.  Much juicier and riper to taste, with the faintest lees note to ground it firmly on Alsatian terrain ferme.  Love this designation. Same vintage release from a year ago.  89  @drinkAlsace

Pillitteri Estates Viognier 2011 (330894, $19.95) from 20+ year old estate vines is really quite pretty. Honeysuckle and white flower aromas with a taste of honey dew, tangy mango fruit, creamy and soft, and  a hint of white pepper.  Will look for it to flesh a bit in a year or so.  88  @Pillitteriwines

Daniel Lenko Estate Winery Old Vines Chardonnay 2010 (352328, $22.95) punches its ticket to Niagara stardom but a toast and punch down period is the requiem to mellow before the fruit can truly and fully be assessed. It’s certainly large, inviting and warm, a cedar cottage with its hearth flaming and crackling. Borrows a page from Quarry Road’s handbook and takes risks, if ambitiously over-seasoning a bissel. The late buttery seafood note is striking and just makes you want to suck back a bucket of claw. Must pay heed to Lenko’s uncompromising winemaking. Were you to ask me what 10 Ontario Chardonnay would I buy, in any vintage, to study, follow the evolution and ultimately learn about cool climate Chardonnay, this Lenko OV 2010 would be a must.  91  @daniel_lenko

Greenlane Estate Winery Cabernet 2010 (winery, $14.95) combines Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon (80/20) fruit in demurred Niagara/Vineland modulation for full, soft and silky effect. Black pepper in a key of fire-roasted sweet capsicum, anise and gun flint are met by the plasticity of black and red berries and cherries.  Deal.  88  @GreenLaneWinery

Zema Estate Cluny Cabernet Merlot 2008 (325910, $26.95) hollers modernity, in oxy-toffee, blueberry pie, eucalyptus and smoldering earth. Bordeaux fettle yet GSM-like in mineral meets lush fruit.  Frantic verve in acidity, crazy actually and certainly no fruit bomb. Almost citrus spiked, punchy and grainy on the finish. Requires patience. Intriguing Coonawarra.  90 @ZemaEstate

Château La Croix De Gay 2009 (192955, $51.95) is flat-out delicious. Grilled meat, licorice, big black fruit, raspberry, Merlot to the max and yet a very affordable Pomerol ’09. At $52 you may not find a better deal. Tannic heft deep as a coal mine, where mineral meets herbal bondage. Very long and true.  92

Good to go!

‘London Calling’ for Canadian wine

PHOTO: NASKO/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Just in case you were under the impression that Canadian wine is made solely for and consumed only by Canadians, think again. The world is hungry for our prized grapes and unbeknownst to 99 per cent of the 35 million inhabitants of this vast country, the A-Team is out there in the field.

As I write this, Canada is re-introducing itself to the world by way of an essential and comprehensive tasting hosted today by The Canadian High Commission at Canada House, Trafalgar Square, London. A group of wine luminaries and emissaries are pouring sparkling wines, red wines produced from Pinot Noir, Bordeaux blends or varietals, Syrah or Gamay, white wines produced from Chardonnay or Riesling and Icewine. REDISCOVER Canadian Wine is an unprecedented event, working in conjunction with London’s Westbury Communications to remind and renew a European media and trade contingent of the quality and international viability of the wines from Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia.

Canada House, London (Photos: Janet Dorozynski)

The dream team is led by Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Global Practice Lead, Canadian Wine, Beer and Spirits, Global Business Opportunities Bureau, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. Dr. Dorozynski’s deputies along to help promote the Canadian wines in London are the Wine Council of Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser-Smit, Director of PR and Linda Watts, Project Manager, Canadian wine expert ambassador Tony Aspler and Barb Tatarnic of Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute.

Winemakers, owners, vignerons, wine consultants, international sales directors, export directors and marketing consultants have made the trek after wineries from across Canada were invited to submit their wines in a blind tasting judged by a panel of Canadian judges. The panel previewed over 250 Canadian wines and selected 89 wines from 37 wineries to qualify for the London, England tasting.

With help in partnership with Foreign Affair and International Trade Canada, Wine Country Ontario, support from The Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University and from The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the Canada House event is fully and completely positioned to raise the profile of the Canadian wine industry abroad.

London Calling: REDISCOVER Canadian wine

British wine scribe Stephen Brook notes, “Canada has long been out of the ‘promising newcomer’ category. These are wines we all need to discover.” Gerard Basset OBE MW MS adds, “I have discovered some superb wineries and producers with both flair and talent.”

For more information on the event click here.

In celebration of the calling to London, here are tasting notes on eight wines being poured today in London.

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2010 ($30, 1560winery) from A wine pentathlon reels in Twenty Mile Bench fruit in a warm vintage as well if not better than any of its peers. Founder Ed Madronich is clearly slope and soil obsessed and this Pinot Noir is a study in topography and geology. To paraphrase Madronich, it’s  ”more Pommard than Volnay, in a deeper and more masculine way than the Estate bottling.” Pinot barrels most representative of the Gravity style were chosen for the final blend, in this case noted by woodsy black cherry and spiced root vegetable. “Get a little savagery in your life.” 90   @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling ‘CSV’ Estate Bottled 2009 ($29.95, winery only) from Come together, over wine comes from the oldest, lowest-yielding vines at the estate grown on the limestone, Beamsville Bench terrace. A three month rest on its lees imparts honey on the nose though the palate is dryer than off-dry. Mineral, pop-driven even. A hoovering, wizened Riesling, puckering, turning inward, yet to hydrate. Unique for Escarpment ’09 and will realize a quenching later than most. I for one will put this aside and revisit at the end of the decade, when “golden slumbers fill your eyes.” 89  @CaveSpring

Charles Baker Riesling ‘Picone’ 2011 ($35, winery only) from Come together, over wine trembles with nervous energy and will need some bottle time to shed its shocking, A16 soda popping feeling. Right now “he got joo joo eyeballs.” Give it a year, or even two for the Vinemount Ridge clint (citrus and flint) to come together in a fit of focused, piercing acidity. This is Baker’s sharpest, knife-edge Riesling in the block and while I never thought it possible, this one is sure to outshine 2009. For Charles Baker ”one and one and one is three.”  93  @cbriesling

Exultet Chardonnay ‘The Blessed’ 2011 ($35, winery only) from You can lead a county to the city is exemplary even if it may not be proprietor Gerard Spinosa’s favourite vintage. Commands an ineffable presence in gold sheen and parses meaning through balance and poise. The new oak is very noticeable but the ’11 acidity is grand. Their integration is seamless, the wine shines and a few years time will only increase its lustre.  92  @ExultetEstates

Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 (Alex Kolundzic, $35, winery only) from Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary from family vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake ventures into voluptuous, black forest, fruitcake territory. A 24-month soak in French oak imparts espresso and leather and it’s as if this CF was raised in Napa or designated IGT. But this is NOTL were talking here. Improbable and believable. Tasted twice.  91  @Pillitteriwines

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2010 ($38, winery only) from A wine pentathlon takes my previous impressions to a higher plane. Standing correct by calling it a “a vintage relative release” but it’s so much more than “a quaffable, generous fruit sui generis.” Beets turn into plums. Opaque hue reminds of graceful Nebbiolo with a dancer’s legs in aperture. Wins in judicious use of French wood. Tannins persist in the rear-view mirror. Big ’10 that speaks of another level in Beamsville Pinot Noir. “Think about it, there must be higher love.” 91  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

Château Des Charmes Equuleus 2010 (Paul Bosc, $40, ONT, winery only, SAQ,  11156334, $41.25) from Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary from the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard is a classically styled blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot, only made in exceptional years. Apropos choice from 25-year old vines (in 2010) from the warmer St. David’s Bench for Cuvée’s 25th show.  Poised, balanced and regal yet this mare is temporarily a head-shy, sensitive equine red. Will trot out furlongs of tobacco and meaty aromas from now and through maturity in five plus years. A saddle of round, red fruit will age gracefully.  92  @MBosc

Stratus Syrah 2010 ($48) from Stratus and Momofuku: Modernity incarnate is picked early as compared to other well-known varieties like the Cabernets and this vintage saw a 25% yield decrease/concentration increase. Pretty, focused and indicative of candied flowers in replay with a note of citrus blossom. A Syrah that clearly speaks of Groux’s infatuation with aromatics. “What I do know, my Syrah is improving overall.”  90  @twineswines  @Stratuswines

Good to go!

A long and “wine-ding” tasting road

Wine tasting PHOTO: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES

as seen on canada.com

It was right in my wheelhouse and on so many levels. Thirty-three wines, all but two from the Niagara region, spanning vintages from 2001-2010. Poured blind, each of five flights introduced analogous to pop music culture; Aretha Franklin, Frank Zappa, The Sister Sledge, The Who and Simply Red. It could only be zeitgeist for my virgin Experts Tasting experience at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

It happened at Pond Inlet, a cozy, light-filled space, surrounded by a wine local’s who’s who. Vignerons, proprietors, journalists, sommeliers, marketing gurus and Brock U. luminaries. Seated next to Niagara’s über taster and 2013 VQA Promoters Award winner Rick VanSickle, but also in the ameliorated company of Mr. Wine DiscoveryThe Grape Guy and the Wine Sisters.

CCOVI Experts Tasting 2013 (Photo: Michael Godel/canada.com)

More than 140 samples were submitted by wineries to this year’s tasting panel, assessed blind and chosen for excellence, complexity but also adjunct in relative merit to their peers. The 2013 Experts tasting was akin to a structured wine in itself, seamless in flow thanks to Barbara Tatarnic of Brock University. The mostly in vain attempt at assessing vintage, origin and producer was a humbling and submissive gesture. This Storify board captures the social media buzz around the event.

A panel of four winemakers each gave their own unique in flight preamble perspective, followed by a tutored tasting and a reveal of the flight’s wines. The final coterie was a group test, in teams table by table, led in cheeky and mischievous form by a soon to be head-shaven sommelier.

The VQA Promoters Awards were presented at intervals during the event by wine educator Dr. Linda Bramble. Here were this year’s four recipients:

LCBO: Waterloo’s Charley Ronzio of Store 115.

Hospitality: CN Tower’s James Muir, the proprietor of Toronto’s highest cellar.

Promoter-at-Large: Harald Thiel, Vigneron and Proprietor, Hidden Bench Winery.

Media: Rick VanSickle, Wine Journalist, Wines in Niagara.

The wine tasting was then introduced by April Kilpatrick, Sommelier at Windows by Jamie Kennedy.

From left to right: Pillitteri Estates Winery Merlot Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010; Peller Estates Cabernet Franc ‘Signature Series’ 2010; Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2010; The Foreign Affair Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010; and Stratus Malbec 2010.

Flight #1: R.E.S.P.E.C.T

Presented by Rob Power, Winemaker, Creekside Estate, employing Aretha Franklin’s signature because Miles dissed the grape when he said, “I’m not drinking any fucking Merlot!” This assemblage brought Merlot some respect, difficult as they were to pin down and Power later summed it up best. “Mission accomplished. We’ve messed with all your heads.”

Malivoire Wine Company Merlot ‘Stouck Vineyard’ 2010 ($29.95, winery only) of high-toned raspberry fruit is the Dr. Feelgood track. From mendicant, heavy red clay soil on the Lincoln Lakeshore making for concentrated small berries and dense, richly textured Merlot. Tarry, warming, accented by late baking spice and anise. Merlot is a serious business and “taking care of business is really this man’s gain.”  90-91  @MalivoireWine

Trius Winery at Hillebrand Merlot ‘RHS’ Clark Farm Vineyard 2010 ($40, winery only) is a rock steady, Four-Mile Creek, single vineyard effort full of mulberry fruit and dusty, chalky tannin. Let’s call this Merlot what it is, “a funky and lowdown feeling.”  89-90  @TriusWines

Creekside Estates Winery Merlot Reserve, Queenston Road Vineyard 2006 ($34.95, limited availability) spent 32 months in oak and now bricks its age in weathered, splintering cedar with a note of funky prune.  Illustrates the importance of site to Bordeaux varietals in Niagara. A Merlot to make you think, consider the past, “let your mind go, let yourself be free.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Creekside Estates Winery Merlot Reserve 2008  ($34.95, winery only) on the St. David’s Bench is “the smoked meat sandwich” says Power, and “a bit of a funkmeister.” Perhaps the flight’s chain of fools, like a blender looking for a Cabernet or two to join the party. Its slumber was 29 months in barrel. “For five long years I thought you were my man.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Twomey Merlot 2007 ($61.95, 14043) is the ringer out of Silver Oak in Napa Valley. Whiffs the most funky fromage but also a woman’s perfume. Racy, roaming, with umami, earth and a sweet/savoury line. Goes both ways, a Do Right Woman, Do Right Man kind of Merlot.  “And as long as we’re together, baby.”  89-90  @Twomey

Pillitteri Estates Winery Merlot Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 ($25, winery only) tends Right Bank to me, certainly not Niagara. Big berry, citrus, bright fruit perfume. Heavy tannin, guns a’ blazing and an obvious strong use of American Oak. This one demands respect. “Oh, sock it to me, sock it to me.”  90-91  @PillitteriWines

Cornerstone Estates Winery Merlot 2010 ($23, winery only) appears to show some age though it’s really just a pup. Displays aggressive high-toned tannin with a patience towards potential. I say a little prayer for this Wismer Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench on the Niagara Peninsula Merlot because if it falls apart, it “would only be heartbreak.”  87-88

Flight #2: The Mothers of Invention

Presented by Emma Garner, Winemaker, Thirty Bench, using Frank Zappa’s band as analogy to denote Cabernet Franc as the matriarch to all Bordeaux varietals. Could have sworn #4 was a ringer but no! There were none in the group.

Stratus Cabernet Franc 2008 ($38, 665034) from fruit picked on December 8th (what???) in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Young at heart, full of smokey, tangy, currant baking aromas. Maternal but blessed with firm, plush tannin. “Some people like cupcakes,” I prefer a muffin man.  89-90  @Stratuswines

Stoney Ridge Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2010 ($18.95, winery only) is a Niagara Peninsula, red pepper jelly and citrus-spiked currant concoction made from Fox and Edwards Vineyards, 100% Bench fruit. Thought it was ’08 but wrong! Coffee and herbal balm make the water turn black and this Franc screams for food. 87-88  @stoneyridgewine

Riverview Cellars Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Salvatore’s’ 2010 ($49.95, winery only) leans a lighter, elegant Loire style. Built upon clay/loam soils out of Niagara-on-the-Lake, aged in both French and American oak. Cool, cherry fruit, mint, herbaceous and full of personality. A fine girl this Riverview, “she do yer laundry, she change a tire, chop a little wood for de fire.”  89-90  @RiverviewWinery

Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 ($35, winery only) from family vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake ventures into voluptuous, black forest, fruitcake territory. A 24-month soak in French oak imparts espresso and leather and it’s as if this CF was raised in Napa or designated IGT. But this is NOTL were talking here. Improbable and believable. Modified Note: Big Leg Emma. “Sock it to me!” Tasted twice.  91  @Pillitteriwines

Peller Estates Cabernet Franc ‘Signature Series’ 2010 ($40.20, winery only) has got the funk in dark and dank waves. Top-tier barrel selection out of Four Mile Creek, this one is tight, tense and ready to jam with “a Stratocaster with a whammy bar” in Joe’s garage. Saw through to 100% Malolactic fermentation after 20 months in barrel. If you are jonesing for Cab Franc, don’t miss this player.  91-92 @PellerVQA

Trius at Hillebrand Cabernet Franc ‘Red Shale’ Clark Vineyard 2010 ($40, winery only) at 25.6 Brix is a huge wine from Four Mile Creek. Black beauty, with lots of chocolatey oak and dark fruit. Chalky, grainy thread indicates time is needed to settle it down. No valley girl, this one, nor shrinking violet. “It’s like so BITCHEN!”  89-90  @TriusWines

Pondview Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2010 ($29.95, winery only) again out of Four Mile Creek has the red pepper, currant jelly notes but it’s less ripe and not nearly as big as some siblings in this flight. May have “no cars no diamond rings,” but it shows passion in a Zappacosta, spandex kind of way.  87-88  @pondviewwinery

CCOVI Tasting

Flight #3: We Are Family

Presented by Ron Giesbrecht, Winemaker, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery, discussing “vinified” incest, i.e. Bordeaux grapes which have essentially married their kin. His dissertation, impossibly deadpan, was a cross between Stuart McLean and Ron MacLean. His take on attending to wines of Bordeaux genealogy? “How do you know which side of the church to sit on when you’re related to so many on both sides?”

Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Merlot 2010 ($34.95, winery only) alights in lithe tendrils before adding coffee, meritage mid-weight. Currants, nasturtium and red fruit compote buoy this cooler Niagara blend that combines fruit from the the Lincoln Lakeshore, St. David’s and Beamsville Benches. A good dancer with “the kind of body that would shame Adonis.” Expertly balanced with the spine to age.  88-89  @FieldingWinery

Malivoire Wine Company Cabernet Merlot ‘Stouck’ ($29.95, winery only) from down on the Lincoln Lakeshore is a pitchy rendition with a pronounced roasted espresso note. Seems to me the motherly, Cabernet Franc’s genes have imparted their wisdom into this (63%) Cabernet Sauvignon dominant beauty with big Cassis fruit. Chic, juicy, with a filled in mid-palate and stiff structure. Grab a glass, “leave your cares behind, these are the good times.”  90-91  @MalivoireWine

Stratus Red 2010 ($44, winery only) seemed older but that just might be the 617 days it spent in barrel. Cab Franc dominant with the help of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the late bloomer, Petit Verdot. Got to love somebody so it may as well be this red, because “I won’t let my life pass me by.” The four grapes help to explain Giesbrecht’s “relative merits of relative meritage.”  89-90  @Stratuswines

Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2010 ($35, winery only) has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine.  91-92  @HiddenBench

Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2007 ($45, winery only) emits the varnish of the ’07 Niagara vintage. Soy, meat protein and caramel give way to a sweeter, plum accented palate. This ’07 is Le Freak, with more Cabernet Sauvignon, indicative of what we did not know then. So much to learn from wines like this, “like the days of stopping at the Savoy.”  87-88  @HiddenBench

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2002 ($50, not available) from the Niagara Peninsula shows toffee and concentrated, oxidized fruit. That said, it has aged well and still offers intellectual spirit in dried fruit and potpourri. Great old tune to Dance, Dance, Dance along to. 88-89  @SpeckBros

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2010 ($50, 616433) from the sunnier and warmer sponge that is the Short Hills Bench is built of a learned structure that only a select few Niagara wines can boast. Fresh, juicy fruit and blitzing acidity for a 38/35/29 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc family sledge blend. “I’d like to see you reach your peak” SFR but I’ll have to heed Giesbrecht’s warning of oeno-infanticide and wait five to ten years. Tasted twice over the weekend.  92  @SpeckBros

Flight #4: Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy

Presented by Ilya Senchuk, Winemaker, Foreign Affair Winery, relating (mostly) Cabernet Sauvignon wines to the idiomatic album by The Who. “We want wines with bounciness,” says Senchuk, “with a knife edge balance of weight and complexity.”

Creekside Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006 ($34.95, limited availability) shows age, wood finish, plums and berries. I had this pegged as an ’06 (scouts honour). Not a classic Bordeaux vintage in the Queenston Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench but well-structured and really, there is no substitute. “I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Malivoire Wine Company Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Stouck’ 2010 ($29.95, winery only) from down on the Lincoln Lakeshore is a big, blowy, brawny wine of massive concentration. Designed for my generation, with jammy flavours from clay soils on good slopes. “People try to put us d-down, just because we get around.”  89-90  @MalivoireWine

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Lot I’ 2010 ($34.95, winery only) from the Niagara Peninsula is a chameleon, ever evolving in the glass, perplexing, fascinating to study. Possessed of dried fruit and decidedly earthy flavours, complexity and balance. Can “go anywhere, for something new,” anyway, anyhow.  89-90  @SouthbrookWine

Thirty Bench Winemakers Cabernet Franc ‘Small Lot’ 2010 ($40, winery only) lopes out in lacquer than lifts towards sweet red pepper, dusty mulberry and cracked black pepper. All the while a current of Beamsville Bench, black currant acidity runs through it. This one’s a seeker, “its got values but I don’t know how or why.” At least not yet. Give it time.  87-88  @ThirtyBench

Stratus Petit Verdot 2010 ($38, winery only) with its bounce is the Happy Jack of the flight. Thick in weight and texture, a steak sandwich in a glass. Remarkable effort for stand alone Petit Verdot in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Has a certain Spanish modernity and is certainly neither “petite” nor “little.” Say what you want about this PV but never “prevent Jack from feeling happy.”  90-91  @Stratuswines

Fielding Estate ‘Option C’ Red 2010 ($34.95, winery only) begins with an off-putting, scorched earth funk and I wonder if it will blow off. Makes me “dizzy in the head and I’m feeling blue” so I can’t explain but it does indeed dissipate. Cabernet Sauvignon leads the way out of the Lowry Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench with 15% each Merlot and Cabernet Franc rounding out this strong, rhythmic and beaty Bordeaux blend.  89-90  @FieldingWinery

The Foreign Affair Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($37.95, winery only) is very pretty, forward and inviting. Juicy fruit from south facing vines on top of the Niagara Escarpment. Made in the Appassimento style, with 25% of the fruit dried then added back to the wine and 23 months spent in barrel. Puts this Cab in a seat on the Magic Bus. Rogue process, tame result. “I want it.”  91-92  @wineaffair

Flight #5: If You Don’t Know Me By Now

Presented by Peter Bodnar Rod, 13th Street Winery, like a comic book villain, leading the crowd into the uncomfortable nooks and crannies of guessing wines blind. This was a thrilling flight, crushing wine libidos and crowning champions of the game. Notes here are a bit more brief.

Stratus Malbec 2010 ($48, winery only) is made with the help of consulting oenologist Paul Hobbs in an “Alta Vista,” high-altitude style. Cool-climate rendition, a window to the future for the grape in Ontario. Hits a blue note, kind of like Philly soul. Unheard of 10 years ago, this one’s saying “just trust in me like I trust in you.”  90-91  @Stratuswines

Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc ‘Watson Vineyard’ 2002 ($30, not available) shows amazing longevity and freshness. Proof of the Peninsula’s magic to state “you will never never never know me.” Simply solid red.  90-91  @SouthbrookWine

Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien 2001 ($109, 9852) is the first red herring and stupefies in origin and vintage. I actually found it drying and disappointing. Bordeaux? Whatever.  88-89

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Merlot Unfiltered 2002 ($29.95, winery only) was harvested in October on the Niagara Peninsula. Showing the soy sauce, umami and oxidation of its sistren. Yet another anything but simply red wine from H of P to show us “all the things that we’ve been through.”  87-88  @SpeckBros

The Foreign Affair Winery ‘Temptress’ 2010 ($44.95, winery only) is shepherded by Merlot with bits of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot thrown in for good 15.3% abv measure. Sugary, concentrated and full-bodied. Not for the simply red faint of heart. Embrace this big appassimento style  or “what good is a love affair when you can’t see eye to eye.”  90-91  @wineaffair

Good to go!

Top juice flows at 25th Cuvée anniversary

Cuvée 2013 Bubbles and Icewine Bar PHOTO: MICHAEL GODEL/CANADA.COM

You’ll declare it’s simply topping

To be there and hear them swapping

Smart tidbits

as seen on canada.com

It was a night for putting on the ritz at the Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls, Ontario. On Friday March 1, 2013 the 25th Cuvée was held, a singular celebration of meritorious VQA wines and celestial, local comestibles. Part Toronto Taste and part Taste Ontario, the evening was presented by the Niagara Community Foundation. Established in 2000, the NCF is dedicated to improving the quality of life in Niagara through building endowment funds ($16 million raised), providing grants (in excess of $4.1 million) and enabling philanthropic partnerships.

In the tradition of a grand tasting, more than 40 Ontario wineries were asked to pour their vintners’ personal favourites, determinate wines forged of passion and craft. Many of these signature, nomes de plume will reemerge in future tastings and will help to define their maker’s legacies. This 2013 event signaled a format shift in direction, away and to the dismay of some, from a wine awards ceremony towards a forward thinking industry’s show of togetherness.

Fallsview Casino Resort, Cuvée 2013 Food Station

Live cooking stations, many staffed with armies of chefs, spared no expense to design layered dishes built upon house-cured larder, local and artisanal ingredients. The food component was certainly no afterthought and threatened to steal away the VQA thunder. Fortunately many of the chosen wines were some of Ontario’s best and if you have followed anything I have been writing this past year, you will know that I am serious about Ontario’s wine industry. If nothing else, Cuvée 2013 succeeded to entrench an indisputable truth. The Niagara wine industry is the bomb.

In the words of Hidden Bench Vigneron and Proprietor Harald Thiel, “if Canada wants to have a place in the wine world, we need to carve it.” This sentiment is shared and pursued in kind with the efforts of the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University (CCOVI) and the VQA Promoter Awards, but also by the Wine Council of Ontario, The Ontario Wine Society and Wine Country Ontario.

Smoked Meat (Timothy Mackiddie/Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery) Cuvée 2013

The grand tasting gave way at 9:30 for Après Cuvée, complete with an ice sculpted Icewine & Bubbles bar opposite a host of local craft beers. It was the Niagara wine world’s version of Après-ski, with cheese, charcuterie and dancing along with Jonesy, a five-piece pop/rock cover band from St. Catharines. Inglorious 80’s mercenaries, morphing Corey Hart, Platinum Blonde, INXS, U2 and George Michael into one wedding band package. The Ontario wine cognoscenti danced. So did their sons and daughters, thanks and with props to the Adele and Bruno Mars covers.

But I digress. The night and the weekend belonged to the wine. In addition to the gala, the Cuvee En Route passport allowed wine fans to tour, taste and attend events along the wine route Friday through Sunday. Here are notes on ten exceptional wines from Cuvée 2013 with a nod to the winemakers who made them.

From left to right: Chateau Des Charmes Equuleus 2010; Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Reserve 2009; Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet-Merlot 2010; Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010; and Riverview Cellars Estate Winery Gewurztraminer 2011.

Bachelder Wismer Chardonnay 2010 (Thomas Bachelder, $44.95, coming to VINTAGES) from the Twenty Mile (Vineland) Bench is the most righteous, understated charred butterscotch remoulade sauce of dreams. Richly textured and built upon a sneaky, slow and stretched breath of wild yeasts. A creeper, gatherer and traveler of both knowledge and persistence. The journey with Thomas Bachelder as related by partner Mary Delaney, from out of Quebec, by way of Ponzi and Lemelson in Oregon and to Niagara is the stuff of dreams. Tasted twice same night and hypnotized both times.  94   @Bachelder_wines

Château Des Charmes Equuleus 2010 (Paul Bosc, $40, ONT, winery only, SAQ,  11156334, $41.25) from the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard is a classically styled blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot, only made in exceptional years. Apropos choice from 25-year old vines (in 2010) from the warmer St. David’s Bench for Cuvée’s 25th show.  Poised, balanced and regal yet this mare is temporarily a head-shy, sensitive equine red. Will trot out furlongs of tobacco and meaty aromas from now and through maturity in five plus years. A saddle of round, red fruit will age gracefully.  92  @MBosc

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Rare Vintage Pinot Noir 2010 (David Sheppard, $49.95, winery only)  was vinified out of the five best barrels narrowed down from one specific (828) vineyard block. Sheppard’s RV Pinot is a Red Paw/Black Paw block party only thrown in a year possessed of the finest Pinot fruit. In 2010 there is zing cherry, coal, cola, cold stone, fennel, vanilla and a touch of raw ewe milk cheese. Complex PN.  91  @coyotesrun

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Reserve 2009 (Jay Johnston, $45, winery only) is a breath of fresh ’09 air calmly hovering amid a sea of flamboyant 2010’s. Lush, smooth and silky with a Gevrey-Chambertin verve in acidity so perfectly denoting the ’09 (Twenty Mile) Bench vintage. Assistant winemaker Tom Holt makes the bold statement that Flat Rock owns the best Pinot soil in all of Niagara. The plan is to produce three micro-soil/vineyard Pinots from the 2011 vintage. Can you say Grand Cru?  91  @Winemakersboots @UnfilteredEd

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet-Merlot 2010 (Ron Giesbrecht, $50, 616433) from the sunnier and warmer sponge that is the Short Hills Bench is built of a learned structure that only a select few Niagara wines can boast. Fresh, juicy fruit and blitzing acidity for a 38/35/29 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc family sledge blend. “I’d like to see you reach your peak” SFR but I’ll have to heed Giesbrecht’s warning of oeno-infanticide and wait five to ten years. Tasted twice over the weekend.  92  @SpeckBros

Kacaba Vineyards and Winery Syrah Reserve 2010 (John Tummon, $69.95, winery only) from terraced estate vineyards on the Vineland Bench was co-fermented with 4% Viogner. Clearly marked for a Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie effect not to intrude on the Syrah but to soften its edges. There is pencil lead, black peppery fruit and citrus zest. Large and yet unsettled, this complex wine is whiles away from showing its true personality.  89  @KacabaVineyards

Lailey Vineyard Winery ‘Impromptu’ Syrah/Malbec/Petit Verdot 2010 (Derek Barnett, $45, winery only) from the Niagara River appellation is a 75/13/12 split and only produced in the finest vintages. Unique and distinctly Rhône-like in style though not easy to pinhole with 25% Bordeaux varietals confusing the issue. Varnished by a dichotomous combination of tar and roses with an obvious wall of meaty tannin. Perhaps a chip off of Mcinerney‘s soulful and earthy, Delta Blues Cornas block.  90  @laileywinemakr

Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 (Alex Kolundzic, $35, winery only) from family vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake ventures into voluptuous, black forest, fruitcake territory. A 24-month soak in French oak imparts espresso and leather and it’s as if this CF was raised in Napa or designated IGT. But this is NOTL were talking here. Improbable and believable. Tasted twice.  91  @Pillitteriwines

Riverview Cellars Estate Winery Gewurztraminer 2011 (Angela Kasimos, $18.95, 319830) was sadly not presented to the media in advance of the Feb. 16, 2013 VINTAGES release or I would surely have recommended it a month ago. Straddles a spring flower and tropical fruit line, married as it is by two NOTL blocks, one planted in 1992, the other in 2004. The munificent lychee aroma trumps the Mandarin orange blossom and the 100% stainless steel ferment shrouds no mask over the freshest fruit. Impressive, huge Gewurztraminer, if too much of a good thing.  88  @RiverviewWinery

Vineland Estates St. Urban Vineyard Elevation Riesling 2011 (Brian Schmidt, $19.95, 38117) is, as Brian Schmidt says “simply the best wine that we make.” From Niagara’s most famous and benchmark Riesling vineyard, the Elevation’s pale blue stone eyes is a Pointillist painting both pointed and poignant. As I noted previously, “Riesling made in the vineyard like no other. Off-dry, lingering lemon/lime and utopian acidity. Who knows what minerality lurks in the vineyard of St. Urban? The Escarpment knows.”  88  @benchwineguy

Good to go!