Pop goes VQA

Having just spent a full experiential week crushing vendemmia 2017 sangiovese grapes between fingers and teeth in the heart of Chianti Classico it’s more than exciting to be home in Ontario in the throes of wine country Ontario’s own ’17 raccolto. Every grape harvest has its challenges, intricacies, twists and turns but the antithetical coming about that has happened in both regions is nothing short of a set of miracles.

In Chianti Classico one of the longest droughts in recorded history threatened to suffocate and desiccate what tiny berries there may have been but an early September deluge filled the sangiovese with hope and a recharge towards quality and even quantity. The opposite happened in Ontario. A full summer of rain and mild temperatures has given way to an unprecedented warm Septenmber and now into October, the continued spell of gorgeous weather means that all parties should be celebrating. A glorious September has done more than save a vintage, it has elevated the quality and stretched the quantity so that winemakers can and will process their grapes into a wide range of exciting 2017 wines.

At a time when wine promotions are happening around the province with great intent and public positivity, the VQA-LCBO pot is simultaneously stirred, a recurring theme it seems in the world we call Ontario wine. The provincial board recently announced that “Ontario wines take centre stage at the LCBO ahead of Thanksgiving. The LCBO celebrates and savours the taste of Ontario. Local favourites featured online and in-store.” The four wines featured are a drop in the bucket of what is both capable and impressive about Ontario wine production so it is the LCBO’s “Taste Local Pop-up Experience” that digs a little deeper.

From Friday September 22nd through Sunday October 15th you can drop by 600 King St. West in downtown Toronto for a joint LCBO-VQA pop-up with an ongoing discovery tasting bar, flight tastings, classes (including life-drawing and chocolate bark making) and tutored events led by sommeliers, product consultants and local winemakers. You can also shop for your favourite VQA wines in the LCBO’s retail and digital store. In fact it was last night only that the irreducible Peter Boyd could be found working the first floor of The Spoke Club with a talk on “how to order wine in restaurants.” VQA wine, that is.

Back in March of 2017 while reporting on the VQA wines Taste of Ontario event I remarked how “new assessments are so important to understanding and gaining new perspective on not just how our (Ontario) wines age but also how they are affected by early reductive environment shock and their ability to change (for the better) after a mere six to 12 months in bottle. The first snapshots are not always the clearest.” The same attitude might apply to what happens when wines are presented to a VQA tasting panel. Only the most experienced palates, best winemakers and a select few Ontario wine cognoscenti can forecast evolution and are therefore capable of making immediate, correct decisions. Left to less experienced hands there are sure to be feathers ruffled.

Related – Fifty ways to Taste Ontario

On the heels of a summer during which VQA Ontario wines were celebrated at the 7th annual Cool Chardonnay conference with unprecedented zeal something is amiss, once again, but this time for curious reasons. An article published in the National Post last week goes on the all frontal attack, in short to the LCBO and long against VQA, the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario. The story contends that the best wines produced in Ontario do not make it to LCBO shelves. It states “all wine made in Ontario needs to pass through the VQA’s tasting panel if it is to be sold at Wine Rack and the LCBO.” The blame is placed squarely on the VQA tasting panel. The equation is simple. Fail VQA and no LCBO for you. Sounds correct but it’s not that simple. The two problems are only connected for the sake of argumentative convenience. As an Ontario wine producer, even if your wine passes VQA it may never be purchased to be sold at the LCBO. Such an equation takes liberties without substantiation. And, as John Szabo M.S. correctly points out, “there’s no law preventing the LCBO or Wine Rack from selling non-VQA wines. In fact, many wines at Wine Rack are offshore blends.” But even this diverges from the point.

Related – How can i4c the future through cool chardonnay?

More important are the questions of taxation in the discrepancy between VQA and non-VQA approved wines and whether or not a wine industry can grow and flourish when many of its makers feel stymied, both economically and philosophically, by a regulatory board they contend tells them what styles of wine they can make. They argue against a panel that carries the authority to send them to the highest level of appeal before granting approval, all the while bottling, labelling and delivery schedules may be compromised along the way. The bureaucracy is hardest on the smallest fries. Some are vocal about wanting to do away with the VQA establishment, or at least the tasting panel and to ask that they just concentrate on regional policing and labelling. Still others would like to see the end of that arm as well. Australia has gone that route, so why not Ontario? There is much talk about this golden era in which foreign wine writers and sommeliers around the world are raving about and drinking wines from Ontario’s great fringe terroir. Ontario is hot and the fear is that if more is not done to discourage mediocre wines that pass with ease and instead encourage risk-taking styles the mojo will be lost and the region be passed up for the next cool climate producer. Is this a fear based in reality?

This story is as old as Ontario wines time immemorial. There isn’t a local writer worth his or her words in salt that has not touched on the subject of the LCBO and VQA. I’ve read the most eloquently rendered articles of sophistication by David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Rick VanSickle, Christopher Waters, Tony Aspler, Beppi Crosariol and countless other excellent scribes about what’s right, wrong, fine and inexplicably deplorable about our monopoly and regulatory provincial systems. Even Godello has touched, broached and breached the subjects. A recent, arguably superficial National Post article by a young writer has caused a minor stir in wine circles though not surprisingly has fallen on deaf consumers ears. There is no new revelation here but I really have to thank the NP writer for her take because for one thing she is a very good writer. She should not feel unwanted if the comments sections remain quiet, nor should the winemakers who feel their plight is falling on deaf ears. I’ve made a living off of being ignored. I’m also not a fan of attacking writers and their work. It takes a great deal of dedication, passion and hard determination to produce such a story. Editors on the other hand are not what they used to be. My editor while I was at Canada.com was an expert in the art of knowing what to print and how to make adjustments for the greater good of the story. The National Posts’s editor was flat-out lazy and yet while the writer’s tirade in crusade against VQA is rife with errors and fact checking inconsistencies (like contending that VQA pumps “inordinate sums of money into promoting Ontario wines”) the provocation has provided me personally with a quick period of genuflection and ultimately, an epiphany.

The average wine drinker in Ontario is not privy to the inner circle of goings on with respect to what is typical and acceptable and how the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario screens the wines submitted for approval, thus deciding the financial fate and economic viability of selling said wines. There was a minor trickle of comment chiming to the article. Ontario Wine Chat’s Shawn McCormick noted “there’s a few facts wrong in the article, but they hit the key point that unless you regularly visit Ontario wine regions, you have a very narrow view on Ontario wine.” Ottawa’s Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Canadian Wine, Beer and Spirits, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada noted, “pprovocative title and interesting perspective by a new-to-wine writer but as there are many factual errors NP editor would be wise to fact check before publication. And Ontario is not really so unknown anymore.”

André Proulx pulls no punches. Proulx writes “another lazy criticism of VQA. Cites 2 wineries issues failing to mention most wineries pass sans problem. Fault doesn’t make a wine daring…The VQA has its faults… but I’m sick of hearing the same two stories about Norm and PMs wines failing ” Hidden Bench winemakers states “this article makes it appear that the only artisanal wineries producing terroir driven wines are those who have had wines rejected by VQA.”

It is WineAlign’s John Szabo that really picks apart the article. On the idea that “many of the world’s greatest wines have naturally occurring faults, which are the result of the soils and wild fermentation processes,” he replies “ridiculous statement. Stay away from subjects you don’t understand.” In response to “in other words, some of France’s best wines would not pass VQA certification because their high reductive notes would be considered faulty,” he answers “more extrapolated nonsense.” Reacting to “many smaller Ontario wineries have begun experimenting with naturally occurring faults by fermenting their wines with wild yeast,” he says “you insult many smaller Ontario winemakers, and some yeasts, too. Nobody strives for faults.” And finally, when the story notes “adding conventional yeast to grape juice is a bit like buying insurance.… it can also stifle the terroir of a particular vintage,” he retorts, “countless top winemakers around the world disagree. Faulty tastes homogenize wine a helluva lot more than any yeast.”

One of our most esteemed and leading winemakers Norman Hardie had this to say. “It’s great someone has had the guts to take on the VQA…have great difficulty with the quote from the VQA claiming “one of our strengths of our model is our ability to flexible and responsive to be both winemaking and consumer trends”. .this couldn’t be further from the truth..it is a factual error given directly from.the VQA..says alot about our governing body.” I followed up by having a lengthy conversation with Norm. He contends that his statement is indeed one grounded in fact and I listened.

Winemakers feel they should not be told how to practice their craft or be penalized for pushing boundaries. Anyone who thinks this just isn’t so is not paying close enough attention and likely drinking boring wine. It is also a progressive imperative that winemakers seek ways to break from tradition, rules and etiquette, to challenge norms and traditions, but does a wine have to be a bad boy to be considered the most important expression of a local terror? And what fun or excitement is there is a governing board saying “yes “and “of course” in response to every submission? The financial ramifications can certainly be damaging but what’s so special about being accepted at every turn? Would William S. Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Frank Zappa, John Coltrane, Henry Miller, Robert Mapplethorpe and Jean-Michel Basquiat been half as interesting if their art did nothing to challenge or subvert? Immediate commercial acceptance comes at a price and much harder to those who choose to make a difference. Just as vines have to stress to produce exceptional grapes, so must a winemaker face adversity and suffer for his or her art. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have your grapes and drink them too.

In 2011 David Leyonhjelm wrote in Business Spectator, “some believe that Australia’s policy of exporting fault-free but relatively bland wines has done more harm to Australia’s wine reputation than anything that might have been sold without Wine Australia’s approval…The market is a very efficient mechanism for sorting out these sorts of things. It is most definitely anti-entrepreneurial.” Hard to argue against this but a devil’s advocate position would say that undrinkable and or grossly faulted wines made by less than experienced producers can get lumped in with quality bottles in shared categories. What if the consumer was unable to remember one from the other or which was which? Would it not be better to rid the market of the shite before it makes it there in the first place?

After Wine Australia squashed their export vetting panel, wine journalist Max Allen wrote “anybody assessing whether a wine is ‘sound and merchantable’ need to be exposed to the incredible diversity of styles out there: from big, black, overoaked, over-alcholic shiraz to cloudy, orange, amphora-fermented sauvignon blanc, almost anything goes out there in the modern wine scene.” Indeed this is what we want to see, allow and encourage, though in Ontario, can it be done without some form of compromise? It must suck to make a great wine, have it applauded, reviewed with great scores and requested by international sommeliers, only to see it stalled before being accepted by a local tribunal. Something is obviously missing in such an equation but is the full-out scrapping of the tasting panel the solution? Doing so would mean eliminating an identity consumers have come to trust. Ontario wine not only needs VQA, it is VQA. In this part of the world you have to seek diplomacy.

The article in question notes “this is a situation unique to Ontario,” that wines must pass a tasting panel, when in point of fact most appellations make use tasting a panel. VQA continues to carry the function it was built for, just like its AOC, DOCG and VDP European equivalents, with a standard to protect for the greater good of the wine region it has been entrusted to promote. Is it perfect? Far from it. Has eliminating it helped Australia? Sure. Is the free for all system working in South Africa? You could say yes. But Ontario is not a form of the wild west. It’s diplomatically Canadian to a fault and inextricably linked in political and cultural fashions to Europe more than most would like to admit. Bureaucracy is part of the reason so many moving parts manage to get along. The system fails some and more often than not benefits the largest players even while it saves countless others from getting sick, though continued discussion and journalistic discourse will render said governance continuously relevant or perhaps moot, eventually in time.

If as a winemaker you want to forge your own path and make unusual, risk-taking, anti-establishment wines with character and personality you have to be prepared to suffer the financial casualty of making such products within the parameters of an organized and civilized society. VQA should seek a clearer picture so that wines either pass or fail, not string them along if they are just going to pass them in the end. Neither side benefits when good wines are held hostage. That said, when the system weeds out others which are neither curiously subversive nor special then the consumer will benefit. As for ground-breaking winemaking it can take years, sometimes a lifetime and in Bukowski-like cases, a posthumous party for great art to truly be recognized. The system can only change so fast. It’s not realistic, very frustrating and counterintuitive to creativity and productivity to think otherwise.

The VQA system is certainly flawed. So are the AOC and DOCGs in France and Italy. Even Ontario wine industry peeps who have to support VQA’s function and back its credibility could not argue against that statement. The panelists who decide the fate of submitted wines may not always be best equipped to deal with every fleeting snapshot placed in front of them. Even the best make mistakes. Only the most experienced referees and umpires get to work the NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB postseason. Same in World Cup, Champions League and Premier League Football. Why not in wine? At major wine competitions around the world only the most qualified judges get the nod. The same goes for the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and Intervin and the latter includes some of Ontario’s finest winemakers as judges. Who’s better to make these decisions then they? Anyone who thinks that VQA’s processes don’t need any tweaking is hiding under a rock.

Illustrious panel @TerroirTalk ready to rock #orangewine @winecouncilont #vqaontario #vqa #skinfermentedwhite #faultsandall #terroir2017

So let’s talk a bit about progress and picking battles. Back in May of 2017 the annual Terroir Symposium was held and the first of three masterclass wine sessions focused on VQA’s new category of Skin-Contact Whites. That it took somewhere between 12 months and two years for VQA to get this far is not surprising nor should it be called out for taking so long. It’s a step. Italy would still be working on it. The hottest trend to grip the wine world in the last five years is indeed a style that has been the focus of winemakers in Europe for centuries but as a PDO (wines of protected origin) it is most certainly a relatively new ideal. You can’t just snap your fingers and expect everyone involved to know what’s going on.

The standards development committee has decided that 10 days is the minimum time needed on skins. Again, it’s a step and after review may soon be adjusted. This sub-committee of VQA made up of winemakers, educators, etc. arrived at “how long it would take to attract the typical characteristics of a skin fermented wine.” The number 10 was decided upon as a “good starting point, but it’s a living document and not carved in stone.” Vineland Estates winemaker Brian Schmidt added “the characteristics of orange wine require fermentation, as opposed to cold soak.”

As the distinction needs to be for skin-contact white wines, John Szabo asks and answers his own question. “What is the fundamental core character? Fundamentally they are about complexity and structure, about the tactile components of wine’s phenolic compounds and tannins. Heat and alcohol rip out aggressive tannins, so whole berry fermentation improves texture and structure. A cold soak gives you the salty component but not the structure you get from fermentation.”

Brent Rowland of Pearl Morissette adds, “Orange wine is not an in between wine, but skin-contact wine is just that, without texture and structure. You need the minimum 10 days to get to that point.” Or do you? But the argument agrees that the extended use of stems and seeds will lead you down that textured road. Just keeping it to stems and seeds you will be shortchanged in certain years because they may remain green, bitter and unpleasant. So more flexibility is needed. Are we just adding a category of trendy wine or are we adding a category of value?

“A small but significant number of consumers are excited by it” admits writer Fionna Beckett. “As an outsider I say why not. It’s a white wine that behaves like a red. A wine made from white grapes but made like a red.” Are they always oxidative? She says they are “white wine but with more structure?” Kind of seems counterintuitive because many whites are laden with texture and structure. So, Szabo asks if skin-contact wine enhances or hinders distinct regional character and what wines would you like to see excluded from this category?” The answer is dominant traits that make wine one-dimensional; but we haven’t set those parameters yet. “We’re looking to weed out flaws, like excessive sulphur, just as with any wine,” says Schmidt and adds Rowland “when you skin ferment white wine they produce glutamate, a precursor to umami. And there is a predisposition to enjoying umami, or not.” Ay, there’s the rub. There is also a predisposition to passing wines through VQA, or not.

Here are my notes on the skin-contact white wines tasted at Terroir in May 2017. After all, what would a post by Godello be without some tasting notes. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously, after all.

Does skin-contact wine enhance or hinder distinct regional character? @terroirtalk #vqaontario #terroir2017

Norman Hardie “Tornado” 2016, VQA Ontario (WineryWineAlign)

Tasted blind this strikes with immediacy in that it presents as so very much like chardonnay of high acidity, not to mention tannin and a Savennières meets somewhere in Alsace like texture and tang. So as varietal pinot gris it does confound and yet this really fine calcareous notion can’t be denied, so there is knowledge in that it would be there regardless. Not technically orange with its (maximum, if even) 12 hours on skins but under the rules of the appellation it more than qualifies as a skin-contact white. With more pronounced and less oxidative fruit than most, without a doubt speaks of its place. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted May 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  @NormanHardieWinery

Southbrook Vineyards Vidal Skin Fermented White, Small Lot Natural Wine 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The first time I tasted this blind (at Terroir Symposium) I noted it to be “vidal-like,” a touch oxidative, of this elegant paste or salve, with notes of green plum and just a touch of grapefruit. The second pass confirms it to be a fine vidal orange wine, with more texture than should or would be expected. It delivers lemon and tannin, plus a calculated layering of ample and enough acidity to carry it along. A fine example. Really mouth coating and so tannic. Takes what was learned from 2014 and 2015 experiments and with VQA category approval in its back pocket, begins the true journey forward. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017  southbrookvineyards  @SouthbrookWine  @SouthbrookWine

Sperling Vineyards Natural Amber Pinot Gris 2015, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

So much beeswax and honey wine attribution. Porcine, delicate and quite elegant for the statement. Plenty of acidity and even more relish. Why not give a little Grauburgunder love to the winemaker for giving the style a shot, and succeeding. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016  sperlingvineyards  @AnnSperling  @SperlingVyds  @SperlingVineyards

From my earlier note of January 2016:

Ann Sperling is not merely fussing about with natural ferments, skin-contact macerations and non-sulphured, self-preservations. She is learning about winemaking, opening doors to perception and interested in doing things in different ways. Her second go ’round with a natural Amber Pinot Gris furthers the non-plussed discussion and the understanding. While pouring the inaugural 2014 from keg on tap last year at Vancouver’s Belgard Kitchen, it was Sommelier David Stansfield who so succinctly noted “this wine is a raw expression of vineyard, grape, and time.” This gets right to the heart and the crux of the Orange matter, especially within the context of a North American account. Sperling has many supporters in her corner, including husband-winemaker-consultant Peter Gamble, the folks at the Casorso-Sperling Kelowna Farm and Bill Redelmeier at Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara. This 2015 is a veritable pink cloud, anti-orange, still so very musty, funky, tanky, with great Sperling acidity and pierce. There is so much exuviation to evanescence and back again flavour. There is feigned sweetness that purposes towards and with gearing second wind into length. How much pleasure is this from and for Pinot Gris? Drink 2016-2017

Cos Rami Sicilia 2014, Sicily, Italy (Agent, SAQ, 12461525, $31.50, WineAlign)

The ornate “orangeness” of the Raimi is patterned and woven across a flat and linear map, introducing itself in a way no other wine can or will be willing to do. Still equipped with this fine acidity but it is the flavours and the texture that cause and solicit so much more sensory approbation, first savoury, then sapid and finally umami. A melted salve of orange skin, bergamot-scented and hazelnut-essential oil secreted beeswax. You gotta get into it to get in to it. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted May 2017  #cosvittoria  #aziendaagricolacos  thelivingvine     @TheLivingVine  @cosvittoria  The Living Vine inc.

Domaine Viret Dolia Paradis Ambré 2015, Vin De France (Agent, $65.95, WineAlign)

Philippe Viret’s orange wine resides in a cosmoculture world, class and category of its own. Cosmotelluric principles, magnetic fields, homeopathic applications, natural preparations and ancient architectural rules destine this so very naturally flat, rusty and rustic wine into a nether world. The coppery blend of muscat petit grain, bourboulenc, clairette rose, roussanne, vermentino and grenache blanc spent 60 days on the skins and with transparent clarity leaves nothing behind. It does leave much to the imagination and requires some metaphysical fortitude, especially because it lingers, long after it has left the glass and the room. As for amber wine it’s as close to paradise as you are going to find. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2017  #domaineviret  nicholaspearcewines  @CosmocultureFR  @Nicholaspearce_  @ledomaineviret  Philippe Viret (Domaine Viret)  Nicholas Pearce

Norman Hardie Pinot Gris “Ponton” 2016, VQA Ontario, Canada (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

Unlike the Tornado, Hardie’s Ponton is the most Rosé like in this newly created skin-contact category. It’s pink and rosey, of great acidity, salinity, regional limestone and even liquid dusty. In its quantifiable sapidity and wispy lime-zippy personality it could actually pass for riesling and having spent up to and only 10 days on skins this continues to state such a case. The number is actually nine days in cold soak and then it began fermenting, so really just one day of fermentation to confound the category, then put into barrel. The natural fermentation and zero adjustments add up to this, neither white nor red, but comfortably in the land settled between. A clear and focused SCW in the natural world. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017

Pyramid Valley Vineyards Growers Collection Kerner Orange White 2015, New Zealand (Winery, WineAlign)

This Kiwi skin-contact blend almost smells like Icewine what with its tropical, exaggerated fruity nose but conversely and impossibly bone dry despite that aromatic sweetness. Kerner is the vineyard and its actually a one month on skins ferment of pinot gris, gewürztraminer and riesling. Tres cool. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted May 2017  pyramidvalleyvineyards  @pyramidvalleynz  @PyramidValleyVineyards

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Blu 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The amphora (qveri) fermented Cuvée Blu makes use of 100 per cent whole cluster chardonnay in blend with pinot gris, riesling and (in 2016, sauvignon blanc). This singular, go it alone fantasy spent three and a half months on skins pressed and aged in foudres. It may just dance with the funkiest R & B gait of them all and to the semi-trained noggin can only be Pearl Morissette. The risk taken here is done without fear, into sheep’s milk, unwashed rind, saline, earth-crusted, stoned immaculate. The accumulation of glutamate-umami-polyphenolic-brettanomyces and volatile acidity takes it to great lengths and yet all this might disappear around the next aromatic corner. So much interest and so playfully dirty at the same time is this geekiest of them all, whole bunch, aged in 60 year-old (Alsatian) oak vats SCW. The numbers show 14 per cent abv, though it’s not yet in bottle. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Vineland Estates Chardonnay Musqué Skin Fermented White 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Though Brian Schmidt’s floral chardonnay “experiment” might be considered the simplest and easiest of Ontario’s “orange” wines that is only because it’s so bloody delicious to consume. The character is rusty and textured and in a way tastes just like warm iced tea and all the tannic variations that come from such a profile of flavour. This chardonnay musqué spent 55 days on skins and in turn developed its tannic backbone though it seems to have lost its intrinsic chardonnay character. That said it soaked up its Bench terroir so if something is lost much has been gained. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017  vinelandestates  benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy  @winery.vinelandestates  Brian Schmidt

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Fifty ways to Taste Ontario

The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. That much I’ve said before and this. “Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.”

Related – Where does the taste of Ontario go from here?

Though it’s not always obvious at what time of year the event will happen, the annual get to know Ontario wines gathering’s 2017 parlay affectionately known as Taste Ontario Toronto was held a week ago today, on Monday, March. 6, 2017 at the Royal Ontario Museum. The number of Ontario vintners who have participated in Taste Ontario over the past five years seems as random as it is consistent. We’ve seen as few as 30, as many as 55 and 42 participants in 2017. I’ve been tracking varietal representation and this year considered a cease and desist order for placing a trending finger on the pulse of any given grape.

Related – Why taste Ontario?

Chardonnay rules, plain and simple and call it risk aversion if you must but why should Ontario shy away from developing the coolest climate designation on the planet? Chardonnay works and if you’ve spent any quality immersion time in Chablis you’ll drop the fight and join the team. Gamay remains an important and viable alternative to big bad reds but please, enough with trying to dress this sheep in wolf’s clothing. Cabernet Franc is getting better all the time. With thanks to venn diagram circles drawn in and out of the Lincoln Lakeshore but also magically deep into the Prince Edward County limestone, the great Ontario hope is developing into what we thought it might be. Getable and structured red wine.

Related – Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality

I don’t always taste Ontario but when I do I like to do it with Mike Di Caro. Mike grounds me and tasting by his side helps to keep my pulse at a healthy, wine tasting athletic rate of 40 – 60 beats per minute. Mike knows Ontario wine and never gets too high or too low. Tasting with him as Michael to his Mike I get to hang out inside the kind of discourse that delves into the ground, the makers and the market. Mike knows.

Related – Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

With so many other opportunities to taste Ontario wines throughout the year, last week’s staging afforded the chance to re-taste a great number. These new assessments are so important to understanding and gaining new perspective on not just how our wines age but also how they are affected by early reductive environment shock and their ability to change (for the better) after a mere six to 12 months in bottle. The first snapshots are not always the clearest. Taste Ontario also brings new wineries to the table. It’s now my job to pay them visits. Here are 50 ways to Taste Ontario.

Sparkling

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Traditional Method Sparkling 2010, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (383315, $29.95, WineAlign)

Time makes a difference so here the extended lees age (six months further, to 60) takes Riddled to another level. Considering the cost and attention to time, in the broad realm of traditional method sparkling wine there are some that are given away. Riddled. A whole lot of biscuit warmth, sody saleratus, gingersnap, tart Ida Red apple, breadth and a smile-inducing creamy palate. There is more wisdom and calm from 2010 so do not come around demanding tension and over-exciteability. Think Grower’s Champagne with Ontario heart and soul, dedication and purpose. The extended arm of Madronich-Johnston love is here, this year. It won’t get much better than this. Great length. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted October 2016 and March 2017  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1  @wine_gems

The Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery Traditional Method Brut Rosé 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Caroline and Maggie Granger have reset the compass and brought to market this original sparkling wine with a whimsical outré bounce in its step. It was a fortifying and henna-russet collecting 40 months time spent on the lees that to me has magnified and clarified the varietal expression. This is so pinot noir it gazes at itself in a mirror and vaporizes a telluric perfume replete with strawberry, dried cherry, peach and almond. Estate fruit shed of such lithe and delicate, near zero dosage animation tempts fate, digs into danger and elicits a nervy period of risk-reward. Reflection time is now and the oxidative Grange Brut Rosé walks a fine volatile edge and succeeds. Few sparkling wines can go gossamer this way and survive but like the finest spun web by a leggy creature cunning and wise, strength comes out of the most delicate weave. Science can be pretty cool.  There were 150 cases made. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  @grangewinery

Riesling

Château Des Charmes Riesling Old Vines, Estate Bottled 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $17.95, WineAlign)

The language in ’14 is cordial and effete, with ripe sweetness trumping the pulse of energy. The old vines deliver distinct impression, compression and phenolic bitterness. There is no mistaking this distinct wine and in the vintage its clarity is only eclipsed by its easy drinking compatibility. Enjoy early. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @MBosc

2027 Cellars Riesling Falls Vineyard 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

Virtual winery producer Kevin Panagapka continues his obsession with single-vineyard wines with this riesling grown just above and south of the brow of the Niagara Escarpment. Clay loam till soils with silt and shale face south along the long, one km wide, hummocky ridge and as per the vintage, a bit of simplicity is narrowed from good biodiversity. It all works towards simple pleasure, with sun-warmed fruit; pears, apples and such. Falls Vineyard grants top notch acidity and a bit of lime bitters for what is always a solid Vinemount Ridge expression. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @2027cellars

Rosewood Origin Riesling Mima’s Block 2014, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

Smells like Bench riesling spirit. The energy comes from the über vineyard’s way of emission, gasseous and vital, linear, introspective and direct. This may just be the most aridity and brine ever teased from a Mima’s riesling, acidity coveting sugar notwithstanding, startling from beginning to end, with spirited shots of lime. Underrated and honest, the consistency of this riesling is possessive of great triggers and so beautifully defines the mineral Bench. Early suffocations blow off with ease and in the denoument there are crunchy stones, forever and always something to like. Mima’s never really needed an abundance of sugar for balance and kudos to that. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017  @Rosewoodwine

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2015, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

In a word, balance. Well two, balance and brilliance. CSV in 2015 takes the reigns from itself and stands firm. The fruit is in charge, the mineral a support system unparalleled and the minor celebratory sweetness a mere afterthought when it comes to rounding out the complexity. CSV is pretty darn back in ancient dolomite time travel and escarpments high great in 2015, uplifting, serious but yet not so. The numbers trip the light fantastic, fooling like gold and bones dry are seemingly preserved in karst but impossibly not. The sensoria apprised reel from the finest acidity it can possibly carry in its veritable truth. Deep lemon intent and a new wax vernacular speak the clarity of a wine that listens to its own expert advice. Might as well have made itself. CSV 2015 is one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted March 2017  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

Chardonnay

Redstone Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

It would be hard not to make a most drinkable and full-fleshy chardonnay from the stellar vintage, especially with the omnipresent cool tempering from Beamsville bench fruit. Redstone does not disappoint though at first it may seem both reluctant and extremely taut. The flavours stretch out more than the aromatics which are flinty, woody and tart. They will relent and meld into the palate with some further bottle time. This is classic for the house braintrust and reminiscent of sketches drawn in some earlier vintages, like 2009. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2016 and March 2017  @RedstoneWines

Henry Of Pelham Family Estate Winery Chardonnay Estate 2015, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (268342, $19.95, WineAlign)

Perhaps by virtue of the language spoken by the 2015 vintage this chardonnay is hard to crack and touched with a minor, vitality-preserving note of reduction. It will yield to swirl and air, opening up many floral blossoms, notably apple and peach. Intensity is consistent for the Short Hills Blench vineyards stalwart, both for its locked in freshness and aromatic heavy breathing with thanks to dense clay soils and their “tossed up limestone.” Think cool-climate chardonnay with added layers of compression, fervent soil tang and as of yet unresolved (one-third) new French and North Ameriacn oak. Two to three years in process from two to three bottles per vine naturally translates and extrapolates to needing two or three more years in bottle to make it all come swimmingly integrated together. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February and March 2017  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Meldville Chardonnay First Edition 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Foremost a Derek Barnett perfume, rational from a generous barrel and irrational from the ripest fruit at a twain where each meet, both matter and neither dominate. Classic Barnett chardonnay viscosity, deep tang and the sweetest of dry extract. If this isn’t the most ambitious effort early in a re-invented career it would be hard to say what is but wisdom and experience count for more than a bottom dollar. Real length in real time will develop the vanilla, honey and liqueur well into this chardonnay’s tithe year. If singular isn’t the current descriptor now, it surely will be then. A new stylistic benchmark for Lincoln Lakeshore is born. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @meldvillewines

Fielding Estate Winery Chardonnay Estate 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (355842, $21.95, WineAlign)

The vintage offered up a whole set of challenges, especially for chardonnay on the Lincoln Lakeshore. Right off the aromatic bat I sense a little extra wood on the nose but low-yielding, ripe and healthy fruit can handle that sort of vintage-related truth. The coolness of a preceeding winter’s anti-glaze is contravened by the barrel up front and personal on the nose. The palate is all about cool-climate relegation, resignation and the overall picture is painted in balance; advance, recede, attack and retreat. Finishes with love interest, commercial appeal. Pretty complex chardonnay. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2016 and March 2017  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  @Heidi_Fielding

Bachelder Chardonnay Mineralité 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $22.20, WineAlign)

Mineralité is clearly nose-marked and cleverly marketed to celebrate rocks and soil, not barrel. The fruit seems plucked straight from the apple tree, crisp, tart and crunchy. Everything about this exacting Thomas Bachelder chardonnay screams foil to most else, from his wide reaching chardonnay domain and from the rest of the province. Other mettalurgical label referenced chardonnays still reek of oak and are too shy to distance themselves from the heart of the rocky matter. Thomas is serious about the moniker and goes at it with great intent. The vintage nearly, fully completely complies. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Southbrook Vineyards Chardonnay Triomphe 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (172338, $22.95, WineAlign)

The fruit for Ann Sperling’s chardonnay Triomphe ’15 is sourced primarily from Saunders (Beamsville Bench) with auxiliary support out of Heather Laundry’s old vine Lincoln Lakeshore vineyard. There are older, non-clonal blocks with perhaps some Musqué mixed in so the aromatics fly, with no restraint applied by the wild ferment and (mostly 300L) neutral oak. This Triomphe is anything but reductive, a no stress chardonnay from such a far from sluggish, clean ferment. The simplicity and complicity explain how beauty is curated, from a vintage where reduction did not happen or beg to happen so why try to force it. The copacetic re-quiescence bears witness to classic Ann Sperling in such a vintage. Chardonnay of mellow smoulder, of old barrel spice and one to define a certain kind on a line of disparate and unique, cool climate, i4c selections. There are 800 cases made. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted January and March 2017  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling  @PaulDeCampo  @thesirengroup

@wismervineyards royalty, Craig, Thomas @Bachelder_wines & @normhardie (and delegate Peter @BouchardFinlayson ) talking north and south #vinelandbench

2027 Cellars Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (421362, $22.95, WineAlign)

The ability of Craig Wismer’s Foxcroft Block to gift fruit, regardless it seems of vintage, is one of Niagara’s great stories. Even more special is how it allows each producer to own it and create value from differentiation. Kevin Panagapka works a decidedly reductive room with bees-waxy fruit from 2014 and of a wood creativity that deals more in spice than anything else. I really think this takes more risk than other Foxcroft efforts and they are numerous. The reward here is in the pudding, literally, in proofed fruit set up for unbreakable structure. The Sonoma glade and fog rings true in Bench-driven chardonnay speak while wood only creates a leesy stir. A very good vintage, as good as the previous two I would say and creates even more buzz for what will come next. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted March 2017  @2027cellars

Creekside Estates Chardonnay Queenston Road Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

If classic Queenston Road Vineyard might be explained in one drop, try using the Creekside ’14 to do so. Riper than most Niagara fruit and easy as Sunday morning barrel influence come together for everything to gain. Here the chardonnay equivalent of reading a good book falls into lunch, followed by a mid-afternoon slumber. Mild notes of caramel and sandlawood come through on the lightly buttered rye toast palate. The only thing missing is a good slice of bacon. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @CreeksideWine

Domaine Queylus Tradition Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent489591, $24.95, WineAlign)

The vintage brings an excess of riches and richesse to the Queylus chardonnay entry point, a place you would be wise to begin your foray into high-level, carefully crafted, cool-climate wine. This 2014 offers up its tour-guide expertise as a representational bridge into what Thomas Bachelder, Kelly Mason, the Queylus team and lake-proximate, lower Bench chardonnay is all about. The vintage takes an ambitious departure for the house and yet it carries enough (short history of) tradition in its DNA to resemble past issues of itself. Such a balanced wine for you here, of ripe and tart fruit, elasticity, stretch, rebound and finally, great length. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted January and March 2017  @QueylusVin  @Dandurandwines

13th Street Chardonnay Sandstone Vineyard Reserve 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

No surprise the vintage is a major plus for the Sandstone and the natural funk it owns. And I mean owns. Only Sandstone has such geological drive, not unlike chardonnay from South Africa’s Hemel-En-Aarde Valley. In 2013 there is a sweetness to the fruit mixed with a misty humidity and finally that falling over backwards with feet stuck in the clay and the calcaire. Wildness from J. P. Colas here and with attentiveness to place and time. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted at #i4c16, July 2016  @13thStreetWines

Adamo Estate Chardonnay Oaked Willms Vineyard 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $31.00, WineAlign)

Adamo sources from the same vineyard that provides fruit for 13th Street’s Sandstone Reserve in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Planted in 1983, it is owned and farmed by Erv, Esther and Eric Willms. In its early stages the fruit acted and reacted as a lean, taut and tension fuelled chardonnay with party a sign of letting up. Eight months later the juicy flesh of orchard fruit pushes past the vintage’s grip and lets tis wine breath a sigh of relief. Chalk one up to yet another cool-climate, calcareous clay stuck moment in time. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted twice, at #i4c16, July 2016 and Taste Ontario, March 2017  @AdamoEstateWine

Westcott Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay 2015, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $31.20, WineAlign)

I don’t mean to skip forward and get ahead of Westcott’s aromatic propriety but knowing how a winemaker likes to celebrate texture and flavour sends me direct to a sip. That first taste reveals the sumptuousness of 2015 Vinemount Ridge fruit, ripe, savoury and fleshy peach-organized. Accomplishment number one for Arthur Harder and crew. An aromatic retrospective notices tradition and cool-climate reserve, as the name would suggest and then a full-on conversion moving forward, back to the present and into the variegated luxe of flavour gifted to mouthfeel. I love how this wine lingers with an almost analgesic sensation on the gums and up the sides of the mouth. If at moments it may seem too warm or right of balancing centre it is only because it has the gumption to test and heighten the senses. If any Peninsula chardonnay were a drug that could lead to addiction, Westcott’s ’15 is the one. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @WestcottWines

Icellars Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

The aromatic hard to get personality is intriguing, not because of absence but due to a gentle wisdom and beautiful demure lurking behind the veil. I get the extract and the mineral quality inherent but need more. The palate gives more and more, especially a calcareous sensation and the lean qualities throughout are neither deficient nor bothersome. This is ambitiously market-introduced chardonnay created without getting ahead of itself and though the best the fruit has to offer is not quite coaxed, nothing has been added to distract or suppress what orchard fruit is there. Great appreciation is afforded the winemaker for keeping it simple, unadulterated and real. Drink 2017-2010.  Tasted March 2017  @FoolAnd60Acres

Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

Sometimes time matters. A year later the South Clos in 2014 has separated itself as the true Closson star, away from the CCV in ways it did not do in 2013, or before. The range of motion, aromas and flavours are dramatic and in beautiful flux, beginning with top notch orchard and stone fruit. The southern hill’s intense stony quality infiltrates before this opens up to reveal flavours as broad as the varietal spectrum will alow. If fruit slightly dehydrated, leather chewy and mille-feuille layered with fine, limestone wire interlocking are something of great appeal then chew on this South Clos for the next seven years. The texture and the length are wholly encouraging of the exercise. The score must change and the window be expanded. Drink 2018-2025.  Last tasted March 2017  @ClossonChase

The 2014 CCV South Clos Chardonnay is imbued with less tension, more elegance and fully-aclimatized cool-climate bent. It’s a linear, calm and directed soul raised from Prince Edward County soil royalty. The vintage offers up low-crop, scrupulously cropped stable if unexceptional fruit. This from a portion of the vineyard with the ability to plateau what can otherwise get season’s growth-mired in the proverbial middle of the road. Though not so tart, nor tense neither, there is a sense of tannic zest. Cool and precise, this represents concrete work from incumbent winemaker Keith Tyers. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted February 2016

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

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $45.20, WineAlign)

So much locked in tight obscures the coaxing of a distinct and clear impression of Norman Hardie’s ’14 County chardonnay so I search for a reference point. There is danger in drawing comparisons between two single-vineyards and even more so Niagara to Prince Edward County, but I have to go there. Norman Hardie’s 2014 Niagara chardonnay is the rich and reductive, bullet-proof one. His extreme, hard as nails ’14 PEC counterpart may be the most mineral-focused ever produced off of County soils. The ferment spent 10 months in barrel plus 10 more in stainless steel and never fully completed malolactic. Chablis never had it so good. I can’t ever before recall this flirtatious and furtive combination conjoined by preserved lemon and ginger but also the smell of the apple orchard grinding through metal gears in the cider press. The magnitude of this ’14 chardonnay is felt even before the flavours begin their reveal because the layers of texture and tang are nothing short of remarkable. Hardie has gone for structure broke from this vintage reeling with impression, soliciting oyster, lobster and grand gustatory associations. There is so much going on, eliciting a response that imagines a change in direction and at least an unconscious metaphrasing of terroir. With this formidable chardonnay the idea of better or worse for Niagara versus PEC is finally laid to rest. Vintage rules. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @normhardie

Southbrook Vineyards Chardonnay Poetica 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $49.95, WineAlign)

Always Ontario’s outlier, eccentric and non-conformist chardonnay and I say this with complimentary, best of intention flattery. The 2013 vintage is simply chivalrous to chardonnay and in Poetica’s corner, a perfect calm case of preux meets elegante. Here is a chardonnay of inherent oxidative wisdom, from cloud cover, cool, long breaths of Niagara air well into the elongated autumn and the address for what I refer to as “the age apparent one.” The iconoclast Poetica ideal conforms because it is matched with equal breadth by richness of fruit and confirms the way Ann Sperling makes her signature wine. Tasted blind my first guess would put this at five years old because of the exuding warmth so 2010 might just be the order. A 2012 Bench chardonnay might have also been the answer. But with Poetica the promise is like Meursault with uptown fruit, honey, vanilla, caramel, a Niagara vapour and ethanol. Such a telling display that only Poetica can play. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted October 2016, January and March 2017  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling  @PaulDeCampo  @thesirengroup

CHABROL. That is all. #snacks @chabrolto

Other Whites and Blends

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

With a string of no less than five well-executed and received pinot gris vintages tucked comfortably like brass in pocket, Malivoire’s pinot gris 2015 goes one step deeper. No pretender or pretension but yes with compression in ’15, noting melon and lime, white stone fruit, not dense but layered. More Alsace than before and poured blind would always and only be pinot gris. In the hands of Shiaz Mottiar the ’15 knows and says it. “Intention, I feel inventive. Gonna make you, make you, make you notice.” Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted January and March 2017  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @GroupeSoleilTO

Meldville Sauvignon Blanc First Edition 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Not so much an aromatic sucess for sauvignon blanc though some faux botrytis in the guise of white peach and even mango is nosed. It is the palate that defines Derek Barnett’s First Edition and offers up description. Quite creamy in texture, tangy again from mango and then sharp and linear with the type of acidity that folds over itself to increase the notion and the effect that leesy textures creates. This lingers on the palate like a tropical pastille and sapidity is very real. It’s classic antithetical Niagara Peninsula sauvignon blanc and could not be confused with Marlborough, Elgin, Sancerre or any other varietal play in the great diaspora. Derek Barnett takes less risk here (as compared to his chardonnay) but at the same time perpetuates the marked differences in expression of NP sauvignon blanc. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @meldvillewines

Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Does not get much fresher in Viognier, anywhere. The tank has yet to leave the bottle which does not so much stand transfixed in shock as much as it buzzes like a fridge. Heady, radioactive, reductive and policed tight which I very much like. The expected flavours of peach and the pits are in while the texture thrushes inward and the linear, distillate character lashes out. Solid as a rock in a Niagara quarry. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016 and March 2017  @NyaraiCellars  @TerroirLover

The Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery Pinot Gris Select 2015, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

If you are going to go for something you may as well go all in. Maggie Granger tells me the ’15 pinot gris saw 36 hours of skin contact. My math tells me that’s a 240 per cent increase over 2013 and 2014. As I said, all in. Now we have something that raises the stakes and despite some energy flatlining the sweet extract quality has never been finer. The Grange’s ’15 and its oxidative meets lactic and red berry-currant leafy personality is remarkably pure, clean, saline and yes, unusual. Add it should be because halfway there is nowhere. This succeeds because it crosses an imaginary line and fear is ignored. I can really imagine sipping this with pork liver mousse or cured Ontario fish, like rainbow or salmon trout. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @grangewinery

The Good Earth Viognier 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Some of Ontario’s best viognier fruit comes from these picturesque vineyards, fruit that shines with tangy delight and also takes on the weight of compression from the great clay below. I do feel the 2013 vintage was better suited to both the varietal but also the way winemaker Ross Wise procured viognier in the purest form with glassy clarity. It will be most interesting to see what incumbent consulting winemaker Ilya Senchuk does with 2016 fruit going forward. Here, from what could only have been the lowest of low yields, this aromatic and treacly textured viognier is seamless and full of peach flavour. It lingers with its phenolic ripenss well into the next minute. Highly recommended especially for its lack of waxy or bitter edges. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @goodearthtweets  @goodearthNico

Stratus White 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (660704, $38.20, WineAlign)

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

Gamay

Malivoire Gamay Small Lot 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A change of pace is noted for gamay in 2015 and perhaps it takes itself to a place beyond. Seriously dark fruit (with more tannin showing up after some time in bottle than might have originally thought possible) is noted from just a nose on Malivoire’s 2015. The pressed extraction may turn out to be a process leading to greatly improved structure. This is not the gamay rising from riding on the go-go train but one more akin to Cru doctrine and demagogy. Flavours of black cherry and tart citrus lead to plenty of leafy and earthy savour. Look out Juliénas, here comes Small Lot. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @GroupeSoleilTO

Tawse Winery Gamay Noir Unfiltered Redfoot Vineyard 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign)

The fruit for this deeply coloured gamay is drawn from Tom Koscis’ vineyard, big batch fermented but with a minimalist sulphured approach. Gamay that went through full malolactic in barrel out of sheer necessity. Winemaker Paul Pender is a big fan of this great site, a place that gifts perfect colour and a soil’s funk that is spot on. This is gamay of a noticeable velvety texture. Something strikes as deja nosed and sure enough, this was Pearl Morissette’s fruit in 2013 and 2014. Wisely natural and so bright, gulpable, back up the truck gamay. So beautifully and perfectly dry and even a wee bite of tannin. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016 and March 2017  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

The Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery Gamay-Pinot Noir Select 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The ’14 is the first Grange gamay-pinot where the grapes were simultaneously picked and co-fermented. It’s a really ripe co-mingling and so much brighter than you’d think. “This is the vintage I was waiting for with this wine,” tells Maggie Granger. Clean, pure essence of raspberry dances on the nose and texture liquid chalky, lactic and taut. This wine also proves that this more than obvious bedfellow varietal combination makes more sense in the County than Bordeaux meetings of the kind. It remains to be seen if the Grange’s irreligious pagan pairing idea will catch on but if any vintage can spur the revolution, 2014 is the one. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @grangewinery

Pinot Noir

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2014, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (1545, $20.20, WineAlign)

The Flat Rock has been a VINTAGES essential for several seasons and like any maturing pinot noir vineyard, four or five years are needed before quality is ensured. This wine has always provided quality but it is in 2014 where the stakes are raised. For the Twenty Mile Bench (and others Benches too) this vintage provides sweet extract, steadfast fruit, polished tannins and exceptional structure. Jay Jonhston did not mess with the cards, blended with acumen and has subsequently ran the table for his basic, normale, bring it to the (relative) masses pinot noir. It’s all you need to understand Flat Rock, The Twenty Mile Bench and the Niagara Peninsula. It’s essential. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted October 2016 and March 2017  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1  @wine_gems

Bachelder Pinot Noir Parfum 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $22.20, WineAlign)

Parfum doles out the Bachelder perfume with great Beaune intent and whole bunch hints from this most celebrated 2014 Niagara pinot noir vintage. With potpourri so bright and wildly tonal there needs to be some firmness for balance and this is present with tonic injection and finishing grip. The overall impression is a broad brushstoke and wells with its tea-seeping pot of mild but effective tannin. With thanks to “de-classified” Lowrey and Wismer-Parke vineyard fruit an ideal launching point progresses for the Bachelder way and encourages Le Parfum to set the stage for further investigative play. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Hard to believe what I see, a hue not blush nor pink, but gris. That “if my eyes don’t deceive me there’s something going wrong around here.” Forget about Provençe, don’t think too hard about Vin Gris but concentrate only on what Shiraz Mottiar has acceded with Rosé for Moira in ’16. Light and lithe do not begin to explain the rub. Rocks and stones are what come through the good earth on the nose. Is this the blush equivalent of mineralité, away from chardonnay and into pinot noir? “Is she really going out with him?” But the pinot noir component is almost non-existent so what is the phenolic advantage here? Has this gone too far or not far enough? Don’t mistake the things I say. This is delicious, understated and fully underestimated Rosé. It will have great appeal to a specific cognoscenti population and who could not think to drink it any day of the week? Commercially considered however, it may not speak a universal language. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @GroupeSoleilTO

The Good Earth Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Moving away from the Lincoln Lakeshore and up on to the ledges of the Niagara Escarpment we find pinot noir taking on a decidly firm and stony aromatic profile. Fruit in 2015 is graced with phenolic ripeness though certainly submissive to the elevated mineral tones. The strawberry-cranberry spectrum is acquiesced and the winemaking has rendered this clean as a pinot noir popsicle whistle. Great simplicity and consumer complicity is gained. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @goodearthtweets  @goodearthNico

You’re gonna want to make room for a whole cluster of these @SouthbrookWine #pinotnoir #triomphe #annsperling #laundryvineyard #organic #niagarapeninsula #vqa #beamsvillebench

Southbrook Vineyards Pinot Noir Triomphe 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Ann Sperling’s inaugural pinot noir for Southbrook makes swift, acumen accomplished first time work with Heather Laundry’s vineyard fruit. While her peers of the current generation begin to play and progressively experiment, Sperling helps to usher in the whole cluster brigade with her own 40 per cent packed, tiny berry ferment. This sterling effort takes Lincoln Lakeshore pinot noir to another dimension and Ann is confident the 115 clone is so perfectly suited to the ideal. This whole cluster thing with pinot expresses the floral lift and in turn a gift into elegance and purity. Ripeness and richness take turns without drifting into black cherry darkness. There is some chalky, earthy reduction that needs to mellow and it’s still a bit gritty, palpable of textural and even a bit mean. It won’t take long for this just recently released Triomphe to pirouette, assimilate and dutifully represent an unmitigated success for Sperling, in this her 11th vintage at Southbrook. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted January and March 2017  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling  @PaulDeCampo  @thesirengroup

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, St. David’s Bench, Ontario (421370, $35.00, WineAlign)

Bright, high-toned Pinot Noir with rambling warm, St. David’s Bench red fruit aromas, out of the raspberry patch (thorns and thistles in) and off of the ripening pomegranate tree. Some rusticity and quarried character refracts within a mild tannic frame. Very floral and high on acidity. Blissfully and blessedly not over pressed and in fact rather well made. Yet another success employed by winemaker Kevin Panagapka with stylistic firm talon grip from out of the Queenston Road Vineyard. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016 and March 2017  @2027cellars

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

Thomas Bachelder has never had a problem with timing. His first pinot noir from the specific Wismer Parke Vineyard (labeled as such) comes from a veritable cracking jackpot of a great varietal vintage. If you need some geographical placement here, The Parke is contiguous to the Foxcroft and Wingfield sections of Wismer in the eight farm-strong holdings on and around the Twenty Mile Bench. It is here that Bachelder concentrates the microscope on a sectional-cordoned off Wismer micro-terroir and its precision-apportioned mineralogy mined for sidetracked and step out of the box focus. What The Parke delivers in 2014 is a sweeter extract than Wismer proper and one that is stationary, static and accessible. The overall grasp is a mouthful easy on the spice or rather subtle in attack after it has climbed in and out of its barrels. Most polls would place Lowrey at the pinnacle of Ontario’s pinot noir vineyards but Thomas Bachelder’s 2014 work with Wismer Parke establishes a new player on the shortlist. This is an exciting entry point and the future will be bright. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted October 2016 and March 2017  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Icellars Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

The pinot noir condition is really challenged with Icellars ’15, a wine that acts as ambitious as its sister chardonnay but the results filtered through just the opposite. The aromas are dusty, rusty, coppery and full of dried fruit, but also weathered leather and savour. The palate goes deep south, humid and balmy with red citrus, plenty of tonic and a finish left by bitter citrus pith. Incredibly firm and old-world schooled, way back to Burgundy from another era. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @FoolAnd60Acres

Norman Hardie Winery & Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (208702, $45.20, WineAlign)

Great purity of Twenty Mile Bench fruit lightens the load, re-focuses, revives, prolongs and re-lives the magic. Sweet, salty and bitter combinative phenols in cohorts distinguish the layering effect of a Norm Hardie pinot noir, no matter the source but here distinct as the s-shaped micro-cilmate curves of 20 Mile blocks. Quite the cake creamy texture and silky mouthfeel for a Hardie pinot noir would indicate that alcohol has crept above the norm but the magic is never abandoned and always prolonged. Heat and alcohol “never there. You’re never there. You’re never ever ever ever there.” Under 12 per cent, every time. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017   @normhardie

Cabernet and Red Blends

Redstone Cabernet 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (415885, $19.95, WineAlign)

A cabernet blend more franc than sauvignon because of the savour and the plugged in currant fruit. Though the aromatic tones are elevated and venturing into menthol territory, the structure provided by palate and finish ground this two cab blend into solid clay. Will drink well for up to five BBQ seasons. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016 and March 2017  @RedstoneWines

The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Just as cabernet franc is inherently wont to be this Good Earth celebrates a grape’s verdant habitual greenness of warming spring and fresh vegetal in waves that bring more advantage than not. Nicely tart and expressive of varietal ways, this is neither overly ambitious nor does it use wood to excessive advantage. With understated the great operative we are faces with cabernet franc allowed to go about its business, for under appreciated grace and the sort of electric and elastic length that goes on for days. Some will say too much of a good thing but if you know cabernet franc, it’s just right. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @goodearthtweets  @goodearthNico

Can I be #cabernetfranc for a minute? @meldvillewines @grangewinery

The Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2013 Select, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

An extra year has paid great compliment to Caroline Granger’s ’13 cabernet franc, a wine of deeply aromatic and summer savoury dark fruit. Comparisons politically correct or not, this kind of County cabernet franc is so much more closely connected to Chinon than most from Niagara and it really combines cool-climate with limestone geology. What wood there was has melted and blended in with copacetic liquid chalky ooze, leaving this in a pure and pleasurable state of cabernet franc grace. A near perfect place. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @grangewinery

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

Exceeds elegant expectations with poise and presence, a Bordeaux blend so refined it pleases. Effectively restrained and remedies with tonic. Circulating acidity ranges while chocolate whips, but wholly within reason. Spice accents assist in the celebration (why not?) to effectuate this red’s firm grip and grasp of Claret reality. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015, January and March 2017  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Syrah 2014, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (258657, $25.15, WineAlign)

The rare and elusive Ontario cabernet-syrah returns with Fielding’s 2014, from mostly Lowrey Vineyard fruit set in 20-25 per cent new barrel for 16 months. Neither a 2009 or a 2013 was produced because “it’s a priority, not an afterthought,” insists winemaker Richie Roberts. The ’14 is a (50 per cent) cabernet sauvignon, (30) syrah and (20) cabernet franc compendium, treated like a top tier Bordeaux-esque blend with a French-Niagara twist. This is sultry-smoky, curative and red fruit, earthy-dried salumi-salmagundi, holy gastronomy in a glass blend. The Fielding-Roberts wisdom and acumen are all over in a wine that will prepare you for every eventuality. Would undoubtedly pair famously with the rare and elusive king of game birds, le bécasse, with bacon and fleur de sel. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted January and March 2017  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  @Heidi_Fielding

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Only 100 cases were made of Hardie’s 2015 County cabernet franc with thanks to a late spring frost. The impossible one is a destemmed, small basket press wonder that spent 11 months (one more than usual) in 30 per cent new (plus 70 neutral) 228L French barrels. The tartful dodger is slick, smart and spirited. Impossible because of its wood-smothered and smouldered upbringing and how it stays so lean, clean, stealth and low in alcohol. Some things are best left unexplained. Just take in the raspberry, cranberry and cool limestone, followed by the star anise and cassia red braised pork belly imagined, even if that’s just what dish would be so right alongside. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017   @normhardie

Meldville Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

A beautifully sweet, savoury aromatic cabernet franc of verdant bright tones and such commissioned, defined red fruit. Character is at the forefront, both for attitude and complexity, gently pressed and in varietal synch. This is precisely why Lincoln Lakeshore is the right place to be with the cabernet franc you love. This has great tension without being too firm, gritty or tannic. Though this celebrates the bright and the fruity it is not without enough structure to carry it forward five plus years. Pyrazine or green notes are curiously absent and there nothing suffers as a result of their omission. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017  @meldvillewines

Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc Small Lot “101” 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Gone is the Whimsy! idiom and preserved is the varietal freshman year class denotation. The “101” actually refers to the vineyard, a block in purport of aromatic restraint in a confident Cabernet Franc with more richness and tannin, not to mention raging acidity and acceptable volatility. There is lightness and brightness within the rigid tannic frame. The “101” vineyard shines while it broods. Dichotomous Cabernet Franc with an as yet undecided future. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted at Gold Medal Plates, November 2016, February and March 2017  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling  @PaulDeCampo  @thesirengroup

Icellars Arinna 2014, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

Without knowing much about the blend, the nose tells me cabernet sauvignon leads the way. Merlot and cabernet franc trail behind the tart, purple citrus and tobacco-verdant personality. The accumulation is quite chalky, wood-inflected and with the middle palate transparency this emits as another example of a big effort (like the pinot noir) with a shortfall because it gets ahead of itself. Would likely better be served with less pressing, structural dreaming and more easy going impression. I suppose the style has to justify the price but for value and enjoyment a prudent decision would choose instead to follow the lead set out with the estate’s chardonnay. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @FoolAnd60Acres

Creekside Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

The time in bottle has eased up the tannic throttle, leaving Creekside’s ’12 in a pleasurable if not quite fuly accessible state. The great fruit vintage was deftly pressed, that much is clear, because as the wood subsides it is not astringncy and bitters sliding into its place. Cassis, cassia and black cherry are the aromas of ilk, in delivery at this time and followed up with cabernet sauvignon silk. This is rightfully and righteously chewy cabernet sauvignon and without a doubt just about as good as it gets for Ontario. Though the limbo bar starts low, Rob Power’s 2012 climbs under with great agility and raises the stakes for everyone else. Still, I’d hedge bets and wait two more years for further integration and a little bit of truffling to begin. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted March 2017  @CreeksideWine

Icellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $50.00, WineAlign)

Good quality fruit and equanimity from generous barrels define this ambitious effort. There is this underlying green streak that can’t be missed nor denied though it’s neither unexpected nor unusual. The texture runs quite complex, chewy and at times even crunchy, with enough structure to work towards a promising future. Wood and stemmy savour are certainly part of the mix but with time should integrate without much trouble. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @FoolAnd60Acres

Good to go!

Godello

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Enlightened Chablis of Château De Béru

monopole

Clos Béru Monopole

We disembarked in the warm, golden, glowing light of a July afternoon. No one around. The tiny village sat motionless, in less than a whisper. Béru. Knock on the door. Athénaïs de Béru welcomes us in. At no other entry point into a domaine in Chablis did it feel like this, like crawling through a portal, back in time, crossing a threshold into a different, magical world.

Béru. Small village southeast of Chablis, to the west of Viviers, tucked into an amphitheatre nook below the Z-curve of the Route d’Auxerre and three valleys, Vau du Puits, Vallée de la Fontaine and Vallée de Foulignot. Béru. Mother in custody of Luke Skywalker. Béru. One of 16 South Pacific islands in the Southern Gilberts, according to legend created by Nareau the Wise and migrating, tree-dwelling Samoan spirits carrying branches from Te Kaintikuaba. Béru. The Left Bank domaine farmed by Athénaïs de Béru, organically, biodynamically and spiritually. Chablis from the tree of life.

chateau-de-beru

Château De Béru

The family history of the five hectare Château De Béru is one recorded back 400 years, a quintessential 300m high Chablis plot on Kimmeridgien, calcareous-clay soils inlaid with fossilized shells dating back 150 million years.  Written history tells of the vineyard first tended by first century Romans, ninth century Pontigny Abbey monks and the historical walls of the Clos Béru as having been erected in the 11th or 12th century. All to celebrate and demarcate the quality of the Béru terroir.

Then, in 1887 the phylloxera crisis ended nearly three hundred years of vinous prosperity. Late in the 20th century Count Eric de Béru replanted the vineyards and with loyal concentration on his family’s famous Clos Béru. He passed away suddenly when Athénaïs de Béru was just a child. Years later she returned from Paris to resurrect the vineyard work and produced her first vintage in 2005. A taste of 2015 ten years on marks a new era for Château De Béru. A walk through the underbelly of the winery confirms the direction and the enlightened future, through barrel trials, vin nature experimentation and concrete egg fermentation.

athenais

Athénaïs de Béru

The rows outside the 11th-12th century monk’s wall demarcate Le Clos de Béru Vineyard. All of Athénaïs de Béru’s wines are single-vineyard Chablis save for the Terroir de Beru, a wine that gathers all the vineyards to express the all-encompassing Béru terroir. Organic was completed in 2006, biodynamic in 2009. Everything was lost in 2016 to the frost of late April. Béru hardest hit in Chablis. Athénaïs sprayed Chamomile tea on her vines, with love, repeatedly and with utter confidence. They survived. The future remains bright.

We tasted four Chablis with Athénaïs that day, along with an Aligoté and an Irancy. Here are the notes.

thoroughly-enamoured-with-the-purechablis-made-by-athenais-at-chateau-de-beru-chablis-monopoleleclosberu

Thoroughly enamoured with the @purechablis made by Athénaïs at Château de Béru #chablis #monopoleleclosberu

Château De Béru Chablis Clos Béru Terroirs De Béru 2015, Ac Burgundy, France (Agent, $49.95, WineAlign)

A mere 400 years of family history lays astern of Béru Chablis and what white light now shines is due to the innate and spontaneous hands of Athénaïs de Béru. In the pantheon of the Chablis range from Terroirs through Montserre and to Clos Béru Monopole, this is the conversant spokesperson for the house. Terroirs the child is wild, natural, intrepid and convinced, from a ferment that sees only stainless and bottled as early as December. Trusting and self-sufficient from kimmeridgian limestone, only it as Chablis whiffs such a mix of iodine and smoke and bears witness to its small, windy and concentrated vineyard. A place that bestows low pH meets high acidity. Though warm and gracious 2015 is the catalyst, this is at first lean, then struck from rock and finally the weight of that rock impresses into the wine. Getting white flowers is real and works to foil the recurrence of smoky beats and bites upon the palate. This is new, something akin to imagining the acidity offspring of grüner and assyrtiko but with weight and a metallic minerality. A Béru salinity. An iodine laced salt. Wow. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted July 2016     @TheLivingVine  @vinsdechablis  @purechablis  @vinsdebourgogne  @BourgogneWines

Château De Béru Chablis Clos Béru Montserre 2015, Ac Burgundy, France (Agent, $55.95, WineAlign)

Montserre is a child of special Chablis geology up on the flat of Béru, primarily limestone with sharp, jagged fragments of rock. Athénaïs de Béru points to the benign nature of this plateau’s climat but the glint in her eye predicts with wine wicca’s wisdom that in 2015 this Chablis will simply be unreal, comme d’habitude. But it’s more than that, the “greenhouse mountain,” smoky single-vineyard Chablis, of white flint hyperbole and dense limestone smoulder. It is striking, intense, trenchant and lingers with arboretum puissance. Gourmand chardonnay, salivating, a success from 100 per cent malolactic conditioning and despite the intensity, blessed of impeccable balance. The bon ton Béru Chablis history now in the oenological hands of Athénaïs de Béru marches to an organic and biodynamic drum. But again, it’s more than that. In the sanctuary of Chablis, Montserre is a connection forged between woman and terroir. It makes perfect sense. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted July 2016

terroirs-de-beru-chablis-has-arrived-via-thelivingvine-49-956-packs-chateaudeberu-chablis-athenaisdeberu

Terroirs de Béru Chablis has arrived via @TheLivingVine #chateaudeberu #chablis #athenaisdeberu

Château De Béru Chablis Clos Béru Monopole 2013, Ac Burgundy, France (Agent, $87.95, WineAlign)

The organic and biodynamic vineyard sits like an earthwork garnison outside the walls of the Béru castle, south facing and slightly southwest at the bottom of the hill. Few are as capable to define the wine monopole as lieu-dit, exclusive, specific and genetic to the 400 year family roots of Athénaïs de Béru. It is in here that the atomic, atmospheric elevation works like an elevator, carrying oozes of liquid limestone up to the surface, passed through the vines into fruit and eventuating in bottle. So very natural and intense, the barrel here is fully felt, in fact still (after three years) dominating the stainless steel. The stones at the surface pulse and quiver from intermingling with marine fossils and sea shells in direct contact with the upper roots. There is a mandarin zest and reduced juice in this, mixed with the saline, Béru-specific note of iodine. The best is yet to come for the Clos Béru Monopole, partly because two improved vintages are up next but also because Athénaïs will have furthered her connection with the exclusive Béru terroir. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted July 2016

Château De Béru Chablis Clos Béru Monopole 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (Agent, $87.95, WineAlign)

In 2012, less density and iodine matchstick is on display in performance for the historic, south facing vineyard beyond the Château’s walls. From this her eighth vintage in the resurrection of the family’s estate wines, Athénaïs de Béru has assembled fruit from Kimmeridgian limestone in rapport with a vintage of portent and intent towards elegance. The acidity is much more linear (than 2013) and the limestone sensations less metallic. Here the feeling is more of a liquid chalk and the balance is much improved. Also less evolved, bright and a much more amenable of a bitter pith, more citrus (lemon and lime) and not as earthy. Longer finish too. What 2013 lacks this ’12 gains and vice versa. The comparative literature and parenthetical study is duly noted as apples to oranges so the wines are exempt of one another. Neither answer all the questions asked and both express their terroir from their time spent on it. This ’12 story will become clearer in another year or two. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted July 2016

attention-thelivingvine-this-amphora-chablis-from-athenais-de-beru-chateau-de-beru

Attention @thelivingvine this amphora Chablis from Athénaïs de Béru @ Château de Béru

Château De Béru Aligoté 2015

One month skin contact, pressed and then set in (200L) amphora for approximately eight months. Transferred to tank for settling before bottling. Gives away apple and pear with exotic spice and the most minor bitter pith. Shares the aligoté acidity with impunity which turns on the varietal light of choice. Tannin and white flowers. Meant for sipping while cooking and into the first part of the meal. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted July 2016

Château De Béru Irancy 2015

Irancy is a partnership with friends who work organically, from their high-end cooperative, highly thoughtful picking and operation. Aged in tonnerre, obviously Burgundian (with 15 per cent pinot gris co-planted with the pinot noir). Traditional and typical but simply, unequivocally Béru. A wine loyal to the old co-plantation tradition in a world of Irancy where only pinot noir is re-planted. A balance between pretty red flowers and spicy, near bitter pithy white fruit. Whole bunch (100 per cent) fermentation but no pressing whatsoever. A slight passage under foot but the gentlest approach, suppressing tannin but looking for structure. This is so very crushable and what would likely translate to $75 CAN is something to think about.

Vin Nature of Château De Béru

Vin Nature of Château De Béru

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Impromptu tasting at Ravine

In the cellar at Ravine Vineyard

In the cellar at Ravine Vineyard

The winemaking at Ravine Vineyard is not so much deferential as much as it is a stylistic best described as post modern proletariat. Marty Werner’s modern enrichment often acts like subtraction, as opposed to traditional winemaking which effects the obvious, just and because less is more. His work reflects what once was (in turn of the century Niagara Peninsula) and upon what function emerged out of form, but also what could have been, from successes squeezed out of warm (2005, 2007, 2010) and from mistakes in challenging (2006, 2008, 2009) vintages. The current releases of 2014 and 2015 are wines of augmentation in the form of intensification in the structure rather than for weight or texture. Werner’s plebeian, blue-collar post-modernism is setting a new standard in Niagara. If his work (along with assistant winemaker Ben Minaker) can be viewed as sycophantic than all the better for the copycats and the apostles to hang on and around.

After a wild and multi-faceted chardonnay (plus) weekend down on the farms of Niagara’s flats, shores and across its escarpment benches, it is always the pleasure of pleasures to convene at Ravine Vineyard for a few oysters, a plate of great grub and more chardonnay. It is a time to breath and say another goodbye to the greatest collective consciousness of wine folk on the planet. Then Peter Gamble approaches. “We’re having a little impromptu tasting down in the cellar.” Marty and Ben lead a small group through these wines. We are captivated and motivated by their new work and their mini-vertical presentation. Ian D’Agata, John Szabo M.S., Michael Vaughan, Tony Aspler, Stephen Campbell, Magdalena Kaiser and I. Here are my notes.

John Szabo M.S., Stephen Campbell (Lifford), Ian D'Agata and Peter Gamble

John Szabo M.S., Stephen Campbell (Lifford), Ian D’Agata and Peter Gamble

Ravine Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

In 2015 winemaker Marty Werner offers up 100 per cent barrel fermented sauvignon blanc aged in 10 per cent new (or just one barrel). The fruit comes from Concession Road 2 between lines 8 and 9, on heavy clay and only four year-old vines. The recovering vineyard is a microcosm for the overall Niagara recovery and the vintage allotted 250 cases when it normally produces upwards of 350. The 2015 ripeness stylistic is up front fruit from young vines. “A pick when you want to, not when you have to vintage” notes assistant winemaker Ben Minaker. Metallic peach and fennel pollen emit and you must appreciate a wine of such tartness on the back end, as opposed to sour patch up front. Stylish is the yeast (one third wild) understatement of the day. Says Werner, “we leave the fruit a bit dirtier coming out of the press,” so it gains some funky complexity, but no malo though. The acidity counteracts in the mid to high sevens. Lush antiquarianism is the end result. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted July 2016.

Some cheesy pungency notes the entry. Some edge of ripeness too. Tropical notes, full, fleshy, enervating and dangerously, precariously close to seed, oxidative even. But it teases and walks a blade’s edge. Lacks grassy middle ground (and again, that is a strength) but varietally speaking it may just be the most sauvignon blanc of any in the flight. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016

Marty and Ben establish a new verity for #PinotGris @RavineVineyard ... There will be followers. #i4c16 #niagaralakeshore

Marty and Ben establish a new verity for #PinotGris @RavineVineyard … There will be followers. #i4c16 #niagaralakeshore

Ravine Vineyard Pinot Gris 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

From a vintage of purportless rainfall, this is expressly (24 hour) skin-soaked pinot gris in candid desire of flavour more than and in second thought to hue. Subsequently sent to barrel for a wild ferment. Picked ripe (so 13.5 per cent alcohol), perhaps a result of, if not necessary from a vintage where mid-october pinot gris fruit was the exception and a last minute decision to bring in this fruit led to an earned foray for such a wine. Seven year-old fruit from (Marty’s parents farm on White Road) really floats a divergent varietal boat with six months of barrel time (25 per cent new). Frankly speaking, it carries such an air of benevolence so you would never know how alternative it really is. If there is a precursor or a reference point I stand at attention to be enlightened. Marty (winemaker Werner) and Ben (assistant winemaker Minaker) establish a new verity for pinot gris. There will be followers. This 2015 needed air, splashing and sloshing and it responded in kind. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted July 2016

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Rosé 2015, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Ravine’s Rosé spent the most minimal time on skins, from a posterior fruit position left out in the elements long and aided by leaf removal to break down the pyrazine. These were the second last grapes to pick (because the acidity is high in slightly overcropped fruit), on Slingerland Farm between lines five and six halfway up from Ravine to Highway 55. Though seemingly dry, the 6.0 g/L of RS is used “to bring it into balance for the consumer,” notes Marty Werner. This has some strawberry funk, as if it were macerated in a clay-calcaire bath, like balm as if steeped, cooled and poured over ice. It may be imagined as a saline, faintly honeyed berry granita with just the right amount of gelid texture alongside cool and savoury charcuterie. Simply put, what cabernet franc must be in warm niagara country. Drink 2016-2019. Ravine’s Rosé spent the most minimal time on skins, from a posterior fruit position left out in the elements long and aided by leaf removal to break down the pyrazine. These were the second last grapes to pick (because the acidity is high in slightly overcropped fruit), on Slingerland Farm between lines five and six halfway up from Ravine to Highway 55. Though seemingly dry, the 6.0 g/L of RS is used “to bring it into balance for the consumer,” notes Marty Werner. This has some strawberry funk, as if it were macerated in a clay-calcaire bath, like balm as if steeped, cooled and poured over ice. It may be imagined as a saline, faintly honeyed berry granita with just the right amount of gelid texture alongside cool and savoury charcuterie. Simply put, what cabernet franc must be in warm niagara country. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted July 2016

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

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

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

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

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Lonna’s Block 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

From the same (2004 planted) rows and stylistic as 2014 here cabernet franc desired the requiem of an extra year in bottle to solicit understanding, with a 2013 dried fruit component here and now. The resolve already inherent is indicative from a challenging growing season, in a year from which Peter Gamble chided “I guess you guys (Marty and Ben) really earned your stripes.” Some of these grapes were left on the vine until December 15th. That is not a stretch. This will live into the next decade and though it will surely walk into the barn with the balsamic, the soy and the nibs, it will carry its acidity and its 180-day, growing season development. A cabernet franc of most excellent desiccation, with thanks to thick skins and then variety’s variegated character. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted July 2016

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Lonna’s Block 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

From the block dedicated to Ravine owner Norma Jean Harber’s sister, planted in 2004. Though hailing from a recent, post-2010 reach for the sugar stars vintage, there is freshness and vitality mixed with a Napa cabernet from elevation sensibility (think Laurel Glen and Korbin Kameron). This has presence. Real stage presence, gracing the battleground encompassing an intensification of the things that people normally associate with the varietal – fruit, acidity and extract. A cabernet franc granted and given early promise that has crossed a certain varietally correct threshold to travel weightlessly into its current accomplished state. It knows who it is and where it’s going. It will live long. Five to seven, perhaps even 10 more years easy. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted July 2016

Good to go!

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Too late for May Two-Four

Morel

It reminds me of Richard Yates at his early career, Revolutionary Road best, in tense humour, as noted by James Woods, “a celebrated indictment of suburban surrender.” Here we are, in 21st century Ontario, preparing to head to our suburban respite sanctuaries with tools, sundries and supplies in hand, only lacking one essential piece. Good wine. We turn to the LCBO, to VINTAGES, to the ceaseless recurrence of release and we find limbo. Last week? Next week? Why not now?

We are willing to submit and surrender but the shelves are stocked with 2nd tier choices, the wines of first degree excitement already having disappeared with the previous week’s first wave. So if you need wine suggestions for the Victoria Day weekend I’ll have to send you on a retroactive search through the May 14th VINTAGES release. “It’s a beautifully typical story of these times and this place.”

Related – In VINTAGES May 14th

Why am I looking forward and into the eyes of May 28th? Well, I’ll tell you why. The finest collection of Canadian wines in some time gathered together at one communal table will become available, sadly just days after the May 24 three-day escape. These wines would have sold well, in droves actually, had VINTAGES made use of their excellence in advance. So, as a messenger for the stars, it is my duty to tell you about their upcoming presence in diplomatic conformity of early 21st century Ontario realism, on the LCBO stage. These be the 10 of them.

Jackson Triggs Okanagan Reserve Series Viognier 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (445700, $15.95, WineAlign)

This 2014 Okanagan take on Viognier is an all out rich, ripe and boozy affair. Sparks fired by a cold play take the lead, singing with spice, marked by galangal and ginger in control over the wishful act of balancing extract. “And I saw sparks, yeah I saw sparks,” enough so for such a Viognier to be on your way. Sharply struck, in smithereens and yet epic for the price. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2016  @JacksonTriggsBC  @CBrandsCareers  @winebcdotcom

Flat Rock Unplugged Chardonnay 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68015, $16.95, WineAlign)

Good unction for the un-oaked Jay Johnston procured Chardonnay, more green apple and early honey than before. This is the purity machine in motion, direct, spoken in a Bench vernacular and zagging like the rows of the vineyard. Still at $17 and not to be bypassed for anything that might think to stand in its way. Can you say petite Chablis? Drink 2016-2020. Tasted February 2016 and May 2016  @Winemakersboots  @brightlighter1  @UnfilteredEd

Megalomaniac Pink Slip Pinot Noir Rosé 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (85126, $19.95, WineAlign)

The bottle tells you about grapes handed the pink slip during post harvest deliberations, something not lost within its own ironic twist. When you have pink lemons you made pink lemonade, done here to great simulated effect. Tart is the operative, like a perfect square of gelid red citrus on a plate to foil briny sea morsel and verdant greens. With the right herbs and lettuces this pink grapefruit Rosé will handle itself with pairing irony and relative ease. Welcome aboard Sébastien Jacquey. Megalomaniac’s winemaking approach to Rosé never had it so good. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2016  @MegalomaniacJHC

13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (147512, $19.95, WineAlign)

Continues to throw its weight about and has now engaged a phase of typical J-P Colas redolence and pungency. Strict adherence to Creek Shores citrus minerality injects the June for future time-lapse release, an internal ooze that will take years to push its way upwards to the surface.

From my earlier note of December 2014: 2013 was a perfect follow-up for Niagara Riesling, after a vintage where so many exceptional wines were made. The ’12 June’s by Jean-Pierre Colas was his best and with this repeat performance in ’13, the consistency of June’s vineyard is further cemented. Once again, the citrus injection is a Creek Shores thing, a vehemence not matched by other sub appellations. Where ’13 differs is its weight. There is a textural density improved upon and at the same time dragging on the freshness of the fruit. The trade-off will mean less immediate gratification in lieu of more flesh and bone for a longer period of aging. Given at least five years rest, the 2013 June’s Riesling will discover a Ribeauvillé like future.

Last tasted May 2016

Fielding Pinot Gris 2014, Estate Bottled, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (251108, $21.95, WineAlign)

Such a ripe and extroverted Pinot Gris, in a style created and honed by winemaker Richie Roberts, here in 2014 near its apex. Singular without feeling the pressure to induce rapture or revelation. Fleshy ripe, of peaches, plums and nectarines. Typically and expectedly fresh, juicy, industrious, vehement and good, spicy length. Always well-made, hitting essential, doctrinal Pinot Gris notes and so very food versatile. May I suggest a whole grilled fish, lemon and fresh herbs. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted May 2015 and May 2016  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Joie Farm A Noble Blend 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (454793, $23.95, WineAlign)

The dial is turned up in the noble blend, an amalgamation of five grape varieties and nine vineyards. The inspiration and the intent is Alsace, the result lying somewhere in between. It is an inspired blend and it does resemble Alsace but in the end it’s all Joie Farm. Distinct from structure and connectivity, not to mention drinkability, with a shot of spice. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted May 2016  @JoieFarm

Thirty Bench Red 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (320986, $24.95, WineAlign)

At first the 2013 Red alights in high tones juxtaposed by a chew of sultana, an odd entry for the Thirty Bench, carrying on for the first few minutes in the glass. There are sulphide notes, of red onion and yet after a few minutes they begin to resolve, caramelizing to sweetness, mixed with tannin. The transformation continues, playing new notes, of red rooibos tea and seasoned seaweed. Grilled onions and charred poblanos come on the palate. Currants finish off the profile. The emotive cabernet franc really dominates this blend and though at first difficult to crack, the eventuality is an equation figured as a true positive. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2016  @ThirtyBench

Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130989, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is more than an interesting look back into the Tawse time machine to compare where the Grower’s Blend now sits as compared to what it was like in its youth. Now into liqueur, of cherry and earth, no longer just a hint of what they wish to be. This shows the excellence of the 2011 vintage for Pinot Noir and the master blending acumen of winemaker Paul Pender. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2016  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

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

That flesh, that Kabinett flesh, fills the CSV in every crevice. In 2013 the residual sugar number lies between 15 and 16 g/L, and though the crop was bigger, it was still picked later than in 2012. The result is formidable corporeal concentration, consistency of house style and perhaps the only ’13 Niagara Riesling to imitate, perpetuate and extrapolate on the vintage that came before. This Cave Spring concentrates fruit and Escarpment into a powerful Riesling, streaming like charged particles through changing expressions. A lingering ascension hovers as it rises, until it slowly fades into the welkin, like a balloon that languidly gets lost into the blinding blue of a midday sky. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted April 2015 and May 2016  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

Bachelder Nuits St Georges La Petite Charmotte 2013, Burgundy, France (357228, $58.95, WineAlign)

From the Nuits St Georges parcel that Thomas reaps, built on the premise of soil, structure and depth. The lithe beauty of this La Petite Charmotte block is lifted and held in the highest esteem in 2013, perhaps with even greater sensibility of character than out of what was an exceptional 2011. The Nuits iron power surge may have descended down a half level but the redolent Beaune balance is spot on. So very perfumed. That Bachelder perfume, expressed in Neaune craving and breadth. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2016  @Bachelder_wines

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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No County for old wines

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

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

To me, Prince Edward County is the most enigmatic wine region in the world. Why is that? The coterminous climate and geology comparison to Burgundy never wanes and the vintners who painstakingly cultivate and produce Chardonnay and Pinot Noir never quite abandon the methodology. The Burgundian model of viticulture is almost universally applied to the County microclimate. Think about it further and note that latitude and soil composition aside, PEC is not Burgundy, never will be and the parallels drawn ad nauseum should begin to cease and desist.

There are many reasons for saying this. The most obvious has to do with winter and the painful condition of a once or twice every 10-15 year pain in the arse deep freeze that necessitates the hilling up of vines. Farmers select canes chosen for the following growing season and tie them to a wire very close to the ground. Upwards of two feet of soil is plowed onto the tied-down canes. The labour required is extensive and the subsequent yields are lower than most grape growing places on the planet.

Related – I’m a little bit County

At the 2015 spring County in the City event I noted that WineAlign primo scrittore David Lawrason presented his PEC state of the union address via the company website. “David touched on some integral points for growers and winemakers in the County, including the rise of Riesling and a case for increasing plantings of varieties like Chenin Blanc.” At the time I hung on to Burgundy with no immediate plans to recognize an imminent diurnal varietal shift.

Related – The ridges of Prince Edward County

Last fall I wrote a mini-dissertation on the ridges of PEC. “It all adds up to minerality in the wines and nowhere does the geology matter more than on the ridges.” Which brings me to the third bit of logic and one that is varietal based. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay share the stage with a wide range of planted grape varieties and it is the emergence of Pinot Gris that shakes the foundations of PEC-Burgundy thought. If this year’s grand tasting of County wines at the Berkeley Church showed one thing it’s that Pinot Gris is a must. From Hillier clay-loam to omnipresent limestone, the group begs for Pinot Gris, a mineral-loving, dry extract extricating and tertiary tannin absorbing grape. The makers know it.

Related – The Old Third and older County wines

A fourth dialectic concerns rules and regulations. A wine growing community may talk a big game of homage and publicly declare with politically correct language their allegiance to, a following of and the emulation of a wine-producing deity that has proven its success with hundreds of years of tradition behind it. But the fact of the matter is Prince Edward County does not yet know exactly what it means to be a community of wine producers. The grand cru, premier cru and lieu-dit blocks are only beginning to be understood and working with the climate is still an unmitigated, trial and error disaster.

So in steps a governing body to determine what winemakers are supposed to and even allowed to produce and what exactly they can call it. Absolute authority is exercised against a brilliant vintner who owns land, lives and produces wines in the County, but can’t label it as such. Forget about the economics of an acronym that saves on taxes. They are not allowed to write Prince Edward County on their label.

I hear you. Regulatory boards are needed to make sure a region is putting its best foot forward out to the country and to the world. You can’t have a golfer wearing cut-off jeans, a fishnet tank and a mesh visor shanking nine-irons on the perfectly groomed country club 18. But what if one guy’s wines are off the charts, gorgeous representations of terroir? So what if her skin-contact whites are not what we are used to? Who cares what either of them are wearing. Who should complain that they make new tracks in their own special way? Exactly how is it they bring shame, detriment or housing market decline to the neighbourhood?

Related – Take them home, County wines

Rant aside, the last piece of the Prince Edward County puzzle stretches from the idea of freedom and into a polemical discussion in which no two County wines are the same. Dynamism has never known such hyperbole as it does in the County. Yet another Sparkling epiphany was had after tasting Lighthall Vineyard’s first (not yet labeled) traditional method fizz. It should be called “Au Courant” because it takes everything we have assimilated from Champenoise bubbles, filters it through Cherry Valley soil and rewrites the book. The collective needs to embrace the Sparkling example set by Jonas Newman, Bruno Francois and Glen Symons.

The endearment “The County” is a term meant to bestow a sense of down to earth affection on a place you have to detour through to pay it a visit. “The County” is in fact Ontario’s most diverse and magnetic wine region. To borrow from the American literary critic James Wood, PEC is “one of those rare occasions where the absence of evidence is evidence.” Everything is changing all the time and everything is new. No County for old wines.

I recently reviewed 20 County wines. Here they are.

First @lighthallvyard strike #methodetraditionelle #2011 #fortytwomonths

First @lighthallvyard strike #methodetraditionelle #2011 #fortytwomonths

Casa Dea Dea’s Cuvee 2015, VQA Ontario (261263, $18.95, WineAlign)

Distinctly August cling stone peach, ripe, lightly crushed and fenocchio glacier. Really pollinated fizz, with a bright pink grapefruit granita personality and cool chardonnay exemption. Pretty, pretty stuff. Lingers precisely and there is nothing remotely precious about it. Well made. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @casadeawinery  @PECWinemaker

Huff Estates Cuvee Janine 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Comes from a place and will return again to the junction where rusticity and elegant oxidative character live. Erstwhile fresh, alive, prescient and yet must have been a challenge to tame. Quite the gustatory, culinary, mis en place of torched vegetables and acidity de-glazed game seared off into caramelization. Intensely real, characterful and attention grabbing Janine but not funky. Slow braise ahead. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016  @HuffEstatesWine

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Reductive and reeling from the pushy barrel, young, tight, angular and closed. Green apple, tart white berries and barrel spice. Emerald gem Chardonnay leaving little to no wonder Niagara Bench winemaker Paul Pender is so interested in the fruit. South Bay is the Quarry Road of the County. Wait for the richness and the platinum peaches and cream to emerge commensurate to ostensibly consummate cool climate Chardonnay. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Karlo Estates Pinot Gris 2015, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Welcome winemaker Derek Barnett to the County and to Pinot Gris with a Gorrilaz style, “the essence, the basics,” gone ripe beyond the pale, round and full. Sweet green apple and basil relish, veritable tang, baked tart shell filled with apple-citrus curd but so far from sour. Wish it hung around for longer. I suppose I have only myself to blame. “I ain’t happy, I’m feeling glad. I got sunshine in a bag.” Clint Eastwood and Pinot Gris in the County. “The future is coming on.” Drink 2016-2018. Tasted April 2016  @KarloEstates

Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2015, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

Very Mosel Germanic Riesling Kabinett in style, with some residual and low alcohol. Juicy, round acidity, ripe sapidity and almost tersely spoken from the edge of the late harvest forest. Good length and will live a half decade or more with severity tempered by herbal countenance. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Keint He Portage Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Tart and tight, rich and tangy, as expected and with some density. What needs from reduction lays low and melds into wood. The handling was necessary from out of a challenging and demanding 2014 vintage. The Portage is fully entrenched as a true County stalwart. This is what defines what Keint He is, has come from and to where it will go. Ground zero for the range, from what others will feed from. Sister Chardonnays Greer and Frost embark from this Portage starting point. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016  @KeintheWinery  @Nicholaspearce_

Keint He Greer Road Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The specificity of the label conjures up territorial Hillier thoughts for Chardonnay made by Norm Hardie, Dan Sullivan and Paul Battilana. While the Greer thread runs through and keeps it in the family this is all in Keint-He issue. Possessive of a richness shown by few other PEC Chardonnay, there counteracts and stabilizes a cool climate snap, crackle and green apple pop. Tang folds into lovely tart, citrus bitter curd with a wisely executed tumult. And there is no relent. A Chardonnay ripper. Beware the power. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted April 2016

Lighthall Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Glenn Symons’ 2014 from the southern flank in the Cherry Valley is perhaps the most regionally intense, lights out Chardonnay in Prince Edward County. ‘Twas a good growing season in the Lighthall Road ward so say hello to phenolic ripeness and an old school, reductive and layered striker of flint and wood. The yields being as low as they are and exponentially were, there grunges much tonic reverb stirred into leesy, sweet extract in its rather ripped sonic youth. Such a mineral wine, sword-wielding, axe-grinding and tannin mining. Will find its unctuous way with time. ‘Cause it’s lights out right now. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016  @lighthallvyard

Lighthall Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The paradigm shift that began with Lighthall’s 2013 Pinot Noir continues with this stay the course 2014 and then some. The vintage offered up a slower developed phenolic yawning so the stygian runs deeper than the vermillion. That is to say the cherry fruit turns to black even while such a pretty Pinot pours with tension beneath the rich and glorious surface. Tension yes, but also soil infiltration and cooling breezes to temper the Cherry Valley conflagration. Tautness de-armed by a necessary streak of humus conditioning pomace, for grounding. Voluminous palate notes are repeated in demonstrative refrain. Another step forward for Prince Edward County Pinot excellence. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Lighthall Pinot Gris 2014

Lighthall Pinot Gris 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Made in the Lighthall style mixed with location, location, location. Vines of healthy fruit in the Cherry Valley, making for wines that are stark, sturdy, demanding, self-fortified and of limited quantities. Like its siblings, this Pinot Gris is also exempt from weakness. Here PG reminds of lieu-dit Alsace, of attitude, with tannin, extract, salinity and and of course, mineral. Singular County Pinot Gris. Could age for a decade. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Norman Hardie Riesling 2015, VQA Ontario (131169, $21.00, WineAlign)

More reductive for a Norman Hardie Riesling than even it ordinarily shows and also pervasive of penetratingly concentrated stone fruit. While the acids may be received as hard and potentially malic that perception is calibrated by this wine’s typical aggregate. The walls need breaking down and the road is purposely graded high knowing full well it will eventually finish even with the shoulder. I like the sweet tannins and the difficult way in which it uses extract to a futuristic advantage. Wait a year and imagine the possibilities of balance. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @normhardie

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

In Prince Edward County and for Pinot Noir there is no substitute and no comparison. Quixotically sweet Pinot Noir fruit, from the lowest of the low yields, scrupulously heeded and handled with care and yet also, somehow without a care to the world. As self-effacingly pretty and impossible as ever though in 2014 the tensity is lower, the anxiety bereft and not so crucially or dearly developed. There is almost no crisis from out of this first of the near-crisis vintages. This is an early to love Norm Pinot Noir, brought to life and with red citrus that only a Hardie low alcohol Pinot can bring. Humility only exceeded by impossibility. Ready to enjoy younger than most. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir J C R Rosehall Vineyard 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

The vintage steps out of a particular shadow and into bright light, exposing the JCR Pinot Noir with a particularly beautiful level of freshness and vitality. What has come before is not forgotten; the County tartness, the limestone preparation and the earthy red ochre fruit. But here is something other, something new, exciting and structured. The balance begins and ends on a seamless circle with no obvious demarcation point. The most elegant Rosehall Run Pinot Noir comes out of this 2013 and its level of poise should see it enjoyed now and for 10 more years easy. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted April 2016  @Rosehall_Run  @sullywine

Rosehall Run J C R Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

A tenderly and beautifully rich, stone roses reductive and buttery Chardonnay, fully malo-activated, in adherence to the consistently classic Dan Sullivan righteous style. Makes me think of 1990’s Manchester post-punk, 60’s retro guitar pop, with a sweet softness as foil to an angst-riddled, contemporary acid house rhythmic sensibility. Sullivan’s JCR draws from influence, playing both time-tested Burgundy and new world Chablis pop hooks. “Where there’s life there’s gotta be hope and where there’s a will there’s a way.” Just sip along with the Rosehall Run JCR Chardonnay. It’s hard not to become enamoured after experiencing such great, coherent length. So young. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Stanners Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Quite remarkable and reductive Chardonnay, from fermentation of a certain halting, the yeast not quite having finished munching and malo just short of finding fulfillment. Low in alcohol after posting pH similarly reserved. This has real gumption, a stalwart of phantasmagorical Chablis allegory in the guise of salty, mineral PEC with minor residual sugar and a dip into the funky well. Just lettin’ it all hang out. This is a very promising wine. Just wait until the weather holds out and the yields go up just enough for Colin Stanners to make a really proper Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016 @StannersWines  @GroupeSoleilTO

It's not what you think but it's just what you imagine @Stannerswines @GroupeSoleilTO @therealbenhardy #PinotGris #cuivre #skincontact #pecwine #princeedwardcounty

It’s not what you think but it’s just what you imagine @Stannerswines @GroupeSoleilTO @therealbenhardy #PinotGris #cuivre #skincontact #pecwine #princeedwardcounty

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Gris Cuivré 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Agent, $25.00, WineAlign)

The coppery-hued Stanners Pinot Gris Cuivré 2014 is like a member of the cup of coffee club, its skin contact time limited but forever significant. The PEC conceptualization may seem as strange as surfing Wellington waters but this Pinot Gris is a boy who trapped the sun, having sealed in brightness and freshness beneath the surface, cauterized during fermentation. This is not an orange wine but rather a a Pinot Gris with poise and a balladeering sense of calm. The Cuivré comes from pure sourced County fruit, spent time in stainless steel, is more than a curiosity, is a little funky and offers a feeling of rosé as a gateway drug to orange wine. Saline, nicely savoury, with a tinge of wild sauvage, all within reason. Such a skin contact white in self-proclamation “when you go into your skin, I’ll be the hope joining the walls.” The missing piece is tension, dynamic tempo changes, rises, falls and a crescendo. Though it lacks such structure it is still a beautiful mistake by the lake. Copper down. Only 230 cases were produced and it was released in February, 2016. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

 

Trail Estate Skin Contact Series Riesling Hughes Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

One of three Skin Contact Rieslings from winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois, from Lincoln Lakeshore fruit out of Ed Hughes’ farm. For whatever reason this vineyard is far less reductive then the (Wismer) counterparts. It may be attributed to site, of decreased nitrogen (or not) and/or when sulphur is applied. “Ed Hughes is a very calculated grower,” notes Brisbois, which may account for what stylistic deference is syllogistically accrued. “They’re very dry and they will be very tart,” she warns, “and aromatic.” Pressed when fully dry and 14 days on the skins. Arid is the understatement, this shining and whispering Riesling, of tartness not on top slides beneath the surface of acidity. So much length. Youth is not on its side while it wiles away in withheld revelations though longevity is not necessarily its greatest ally. This is Riesling of stark realities, arid with no Niagara frame of reference and fruit so crisp it cracks into perfectly linear fissures. Laser focus without pierce or citrus. Spellbound skin contact stuff. Needs six months to seek a wave beyond the shock. Only 32 cases made. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted April 2016  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois

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

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

Trail Estate Skin Contact Series Riesling Lakeview Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The second of three skin contact, Niagara borrowed Rieslings from winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois. This time from Craig Wismer’s Lakeview, a Twenty Mile Bench block with 18 years-ish old vines. Spent 21 days on the skins and comes through in or around 10 per cent alcohol (like the others). More herbology balms the nose and while it may not waft with equanimity or gregarious aromatics, it’s bleeding delicacy and savoury sapidity breathes freshness. If it just came with an added juicing of lime it would help to bring out structure and balance the anterior acids. As it is the acidity runs through the middle, streaks and halts the fruit from gaining on time. Adheres to acting typical of a 20 Mile Bench Alsatian Clone 49 example. Only 15 cases made. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Trail Estate Skin Contact Series Riesling Foxcroft Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The third and most effectually ingenious of Mackenzie Brisbois’ skin contact series Rieslings, with far more texture on the palate and overall Riesling acumen. Endowed with a gram less acidity than the Lakeview and burgeoning with veritable Twenty Mile Bench viscosity. Can it be such a coincidence that so many winemakers choose Foxcroft for their Riesling fruit? A real burgunder sensation is to be annexed out of the crafted brim of an invisibly stitched, tart-pan curl. This is irrefutably the most accomplished of the three (that includes Hughes and Lakeview), of length increased, laser focus and thirst quenching pleasure. Such a pity that only 12 cases were made. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Trail Estates Sauv Blanc

Trail Estate Skin Contact Series Sauvignon Blanc Hughes Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The concept is in line with what winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois set out to do with Riesling but the result couldn’t be further from the truth or the ideal. Sauvignon Blanc is nothing like Riesling. It’s malleable, amenable and submissive. The process took de-stemmed fruit, saw it ferment on its own (dry, in nine days), needing no inoculation and then handled with hand-punched, TLC. In the end it was sterile filtered, leaving it to shine with latent lucidity, of brilliant clarity and with skin-deep grace. The whole is a snapshot of nothing less than supple integration. I would like to taste this side by side in 2020 with Jean-Benoit Deslauriers’ similarly struck Benjamin Bridge (sweeter and cloudier) 2014. The divergence should be fascinating and confounding. Only eight cases made. A drop in the skin contact bucket. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016

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The white stuff

From broth to Phở bò tái nạm

From broth to Phở bò tái nạm

While rambling in Vinho Verde last week, I was taken by overnight precipitation that would carpet the mountains above 400m with white stuff. It was magical to wake up in Amarante, Ponte da Barca and Melgaço to see the late March greenery contrasted with a jacket of celestial deliquescence. Then I returned to Toronto. Early April snow just didn’t quite have the same heart-stirring effect.

In VV the reputation is for producing crisp, light and refreshing wines. This from a place where it rains a lot. Nearly all the time. The land is so green you can see the fairies and pixies scurrying about. The place is such a verdant paradise it feels as though life springs from every tuft, tuffet and bit of life-affirming turf. With so much damp, wet and soggy abound you might think that hearty reds are both essential and necessary. To the contrary, it is Alvarinho, Loureiro, Arinto and Avesso that speak the most sincere truths. White wines rule.

The VINTAGES April 16th release is the launching pad for whites and my seven picks will lock in to every wheelhouse wished for, from $16 to $30 and from grape varieties both recognizable and habituated outside the familiar box. From Jacquere to Assyrtiko, through Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Something for all.

Here we are in mid-April, temperatures still hovering around the zero mark and Spring still fighting to break out. Like Frog and Toad I keep turning around, left and right, expecting to find Spring just around the corner. It never seems to come. So in ode to Vinho Verde, the current plan is to seek out cool, crisp whites and to wait patiently, for without even realizing it has happened, Spring will have sprung.

ch and Vine

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $16.95, WineAlign)

The happy place effect by age in the Château Des Charmes’ vines coupled with location is usually enough to carry this Riesling through an obvious and readily identifiable tunnel but 2013 confounds. The elemental ratio, derived from multiplying reduction by altitude leans thoughts to the Vinemount Ridge or the Cave Spring Escarpment Vineyard. The compound aromatic waft, or more succinctly, the deconstructed stone, the breaking down of periodic Hollywood squares is a force to reckon. That this arrives from such close proximity to the lake is nothing short of amazing. It’s as if this Riesling is the product of stressed vines and the pierce is just so pinpointed. Less accessible than ’12 for sure, so drink up previous vintages going back at least three before even thinking about getting to know 2013. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted May 2015 and April 2016  @MBosc  @WineCountryOnt

Sparr

Pierre Sparr Réserve Pinot Gris 2014, Ac Alsace, France (983395, $16.95, WineAlign)

Mineral trumps fruit is this dry take on Pinot Gris from a house on a seriously competitive roll. Good beneficial bitters join tannic sweetness on the broad palate. This is a prime example of what PG can and should be, albeit without the intensity delivered out of more demanding Alsatian vineyards. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016  #PierreSparr @VinsAlsace  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace  @ProfileWineGrp

Jean Perrier & Fils Cuvée Gastronomie 2014, Ac Savoie Abymes, France (320093, $18.95, WineAlign)

This montane-raised 100 per cent, low alcohol (11.5 per cent) Jacquere is built on premises of tart, savoury, herbal and peppery fruit not so high in acidity. A very aromatic and flavourful Savoie that could easily confuse for Sauvignon Blanc and without transversing over to high tones territory. Good for patio imbibing and for spring vegetables of all shapes, sizes and subjected to various levels of sauté. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign)

Here in 2014 the triumvirate expression that is St. Urban, of low alcohol, captured natural acidity and necessary sugar talks the Elevation talk. This is a vintage in which expectation is met without waver, whatsoever. It’s very young and not yet exciting. The aerified territory is in teasing, not succeeding mode and the tension floats without ties to anything grounded. This ’14 will have to wait. It should be letf to waft around in the Riesling winds of Bench time until a future arrives when secondary notes will begin to appear, like acacia, honey and maple nectar. At present the stoicism is a trifle frustrating. The willingness to wait will offer just reward. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted April 2016  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Argyros

Argyros Santorini Assyrtiko 2015, Pdo Santorini, Greece (387365, $22.95, WineAlign)

Seems to be richer, deeper and increasingly unctuous in 2015 though its extreme youth could be the source. The sheer, utter mineral macho meaning is always felt, along with the purity of its fun. What is so special about this Santorini is not just the early life mineral with the soothsaying protraction to a future filled with thyme-infused honeyed fruit drizzled over stone. No, it’s more complex than that. It’s about the true-heartedness with which it represents consciousness. This essential Argyros always offers the pleasure to bathe in its saline, sunlit waters and drink of its energy. Never failing Assyrtiko. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @Santoriniwines  @DrinkGreekWine  @KolonakiGroup

Coming to #VINTAGES April 16th @vassefelix Filius #chardonnay 2014. Try and find more gem for $25 #idareyou #youcant #margaretriver #virginiawillcock

Coming to #VINTAGES April 16th @vassefelix Filius #chardonnay 2014. Try and find more gem for $25 #idareyou #youcant #margaretriver #virginiawillcock

Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2014, Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia (416511, $24.95, WineAlign)

It would be an impossible expectation for winemaker Virginia Willcock to do more for the Filius Chardonnay with equal or less in 2014. The 2013 is a cracker for a pittance. The 2014 holds the candle and bears the torch. A prodigal ‘son of’ fathers Premier and Heytsbury and up to the Margaret River task, Filius is the good. Fashioned in the freshest, reductive and ultra-modern way with a sous-vide savoury and animale gait. Crispy, crunchy green apple fruit is joined by a transparent, manifest barrel written in cursive and ladling out a healthy dose of duck soup. This is Australia’s great cool-climate value Chardonnay. The mineral finish is excavated agleam of gemstones. Case buy. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted March 2016  @vassefelix  @MargaretRiverWi  @WestAustralia  @Wine_Australia  @bwwines

Bouchard

Bouchard Père & Fils Montagny Premier Cru 2013, Burgundy, France (653683, $29.95, WineAlign)

Quite the round and reductive Chardonnay with exceptional ripe fruit and tamed acidity. Love the tannin and the rotation. This is highly pleasurable though not meant to linger for much of an extended stay. Enjoy it now with something that swam, flakes and is marked by a slight char. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016  #BouchardPereEtFils  @WoodmanWS  @BourgogneWines  @bourgognespress

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign: Michael Godel

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