50 years of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Missed it by that much. #oldwine #vinonobile #sangiovese #vinonobiledimontepulciano #cantineriunite

During the eight-day locomotive migration through Anteprime Toscane in February 2017 there were nearly 1000 wines to try, mostly sangiovese in all its various genetic, clonal and stylistic fluctuations.  The aberration was in San Gimignano, a stop on the tour that I regrettably missed due to a deeper delve into Chianti Classico’s (even in) February verdant hills. One checkpoint and more specifically one tasting stood out from the rest. Fifty years of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

That the powers that be at the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano thought to amass ten wines spanning four decades and launching with that fateful year of 1967 was more than a stroke of regional genius. It was both a major risk to take and a gift of great generosity. There was no way of knowing how those early virgin wines of DOC origin would show or if in fact that life would still be left in them. Perhaps another shortlisted vintage or two was waiting in the wings just in case a 1967 or a 1975 failed to survive but regardless, some serious props, high-fives and sincerest thanks go out to the producers and decision makers of this most storied consorzio.

While some examples expressed themselves with more spirit and vitality than others, any doubt cast on the structure of the Montepulciano sangiovese has been vehemently cast aside. The prugnolo gentile and other (increasingly employed) varietal variants cultivated in the Valdichiana and Val d’ Orcia are more than a 50-year-old project. “The oldest documented reference to the wine of Montepulciano is from 789 in which the cleric Arnipert offered the church of San Silvestro or San Salvatore at Lanciniano on Mt Amiata, a plot of land cultivated with vineyards in the estate of the castle of Policiano. Later, Repetti mentions a document in 1350 (in his “Historical and Geographical dictionary of Tuscany”) which drew up the terms for trade and exportation of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.”

“The Sixties brought a reawakening in winegrowing geared principally towards the production of Vino Nobile rather than Chianti. State and EU funds used by the wineries to convert their vineyards into conformity with the requirements of the DOC (1966), enabled new wineries to enter the market. Recognition of DOCG status came in 1980 and Vino Nobile began a new life.”

In advance of the 50-year seminar the Annata 2014 and Riserva 2013 vintages were presented. The challenge of the growing season showed the fortitude and the persistence of Montepulciano’s producers. You can throw a difficult set of weather patterns at the Vino Nobile but you can’t break their spirit. The ’14s are different, that much is clear, but more than enough quality, firm grip and structure is available to send these wines well into the next decade. They are a grounded bunch. The 2013 Riserva are more of an elegant crew, for the most part and as representatives of the multiplicity of sangiovese they are as falling snow, like the endless repetition of winter’s everyday miracle. They are also wines that do not swing their arms, an indication of a secretiveness of character. Which smarts into contradiction a connection to the ten 50 years of Vino Nobile wines. It explains how exciting it is to spend time with them in 2017.

Post Anteprima Vino Nobile we paid a visit to Avignonesi. Two extraordinary vertical tastings were held with proprietor Virginie Saverys, Max Zarobe and winemaker Ashleigh Seymour; Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2014-2010 and Desiderio Merlot 2013-2010-2001-1998. “When I purchased Avignonesi in 2009 it was Mars, or Venus,” began Virginie, “it was not planet earth.” Today it is a model of Montepulciano consistency. Here are my notes on those Avignonesi vintages along with some Anteprima prugnolo and those 50 years of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

50 years of #vinonobile @consorzionobile #50anni #sangiovese #vinonobiledimontepulciano

Contucci Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 1967, Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy (486068, Agent, WineAlign)

Contucci’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ’67 was produced during a significant year in world history. The first heart transplant, the Six-Day War, the Monterey Pop Festival, The World Exposition in Montreal, The first Super Bowl and the release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band. It was also the year Celtic beat Internazionale in the European Cup Final. Contucci’s Vino Nobile is from a time when there were maximum seven producers in Montepulciano and only the second vintage as a denominazione wine. A primitive wine from a primitive stage in the history of the area. If it’s not totally oxidized, it’s certainly most of the way there. Smells like a nearly petrified orange, fermenting lemons and toasted meringue. Certainly many white grape varieties in here. Old and chestnut barrels were used for a seven to eight month period of aging. Much more life shows on the palate, with lemon, orange, caramel and lanolin or paraffin. Lingers for a bit. More than interesting. Drink 2017.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  andreacontucci  #contucciwinery  kylixwines  #cantinacontucci  @KylixWines  Contucci  Andrea Contucci  @KylixWines

Tramps like us. @consorzionobile #borntorun #1975 #vinonobile #fanneti #sangiovese #vinonobiledimontepulciano #toscana

Fanetti Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 1975, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Fanetti’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano almost defies 40 plus years having passed since 1975. The higher acidity may not exactly scream at this time but you can imagine it having done so for a long time in its harkening back to having been raised at a higher elevation. Fruit is completely gone (of course) but we’re still in forest floor, faint mushroom and compost. The acidity still kind of rages, incredibly and this smells like lemon wood polish but also musty leather. Twenty years ago would have been really nice. I like the mouthfeel, like old Rioja, really old, with a creamy and silken texture. Quite alive, despite the off-putting nose. This was worth the visit. Drink 2017.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  #fanetti

Boscarelli Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva 1982, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

The Boscarelli acts like a much younger Nobile, from an exceptional vintage and a producer way ahead of its time. The key is to decide which side of the evolutionary fence we’re on, closer to that 1967 from Contucci or to what is happening today. This may actually be the turning point for Vino Nobile because it really has one foot entrenched in each world. Very much in the mushroom and truffle aromatic atmosphere, where sangiovese should feel free and comfortable to travel in the twilight of its golden years. This is beautiful, with some dark fruit persisting and acidity still in charge. You can imagine the old tannins but they no longer make any demands. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  #PoderiBoscarelli  lucadeferrarildf  artisanal_wine_imports  #poderiboscarelli  Nicolò De Ferrari   Luca De Ferrari  @artisanalwineimports

Avignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 1988, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 943670, WineAlign)

Avignonesi’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 1988 picks up where its most excellent peers left off but also leads back into a quality level of parity tasted after Boscarelli’s 1982. This nearly 30 year-old sangiovese is not alone in its walk through the woods, leading to the autumnal mushrooms, unearthing the truffles and yet its trudge though the forest floor is even more prevalent. And then the intense pungency of porcini comes flying out of the glass. Good acidity still travels up and down the tongue and then it retreats so very drying on the finish. Wonderful look back. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  avignonesi  rogersandcompanywines  mdzbtz  @avignonesi  @rogcowines  @mdzbtz  @avignonesi  @rogcowines 

Poliziano Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano “Vigneto La Caggiole” 1988, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Back in 1988 Poliziano’s Riserva style Vino Nobile di Montepulciano came from this single vineyard, the “Vigneto La Caggiole.” Named after an ancient farm and/or St. Mustiola’s “Caggiole” Parish, it comes from Cagio, a word in the middle ages meaning “a forest or a bounded area by forests.” When tasted side by side by each with the ’82 Boscarelli and the ’88 Avignonesi this Poliziano is much more reserved and muted aromatically so I’ll hedge a bet that the tannins are still in charge. Indeed this is the case but they are sweet and copacetic to fruit that persists, though only reveals its fleshy charms on the palate. A Vino Nobile yet very drinkable to date. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  polizianowinery  noble_estates  @PolizianoAzAgr  @Noble_Estates  @PolizianoAz.Agr  @NobleEstates

Carpineto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 1988, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Carpineto’s Nobile dating back 29 years is now wholly and totally volatile, of the vinyl curtain as carpeting on the forest’s floor. Some mushroom and lots of wood on the palate. Smoky and smouldering to a tart and still persistent, tannic finish. Still waiting for the settling though after three decades if it hasn’t happened yet it’s not ever going to. Would have offered serious and substantial pleasure when the fruit was still active but that finest moment was in the last decade. Drink 2017.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  @CarpinetoWines  @UNIVINS  Carpineto Wines  @agence.UNIVINS  carpinetowines  univinscanada

Tenuta Di Gracciano Della Seta Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 1995, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 487074, WineAlign)

The Della Seta ’95 hosts and boasts an aromatic combination of forest earthy and floral pretty and so is this most interesting 22 year-old Vino Nobile, with dried wild strawberry (fragaria vesca = fragola di bosco), fruit, leaves, mulch and all. Quite tart and with some real texture, more structure and remarkable considering this was produced at the beginning of the house’s history. Well preserved and if it holds no candle to Chianti Classico or Sienese/Florentine Hills IGT sangiovese from the same excellent vintage, it surely lives to tell a similar tale. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  tenutadigraccianodellaseta  @GradellaSeta  @GraccianodellaSeta

Salcheto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 1995, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 685180, WineAlign)

The volatility and Bretty quality is there but I don’t imagine it so much more aggressive than it may have been at the start. Dried fruit is full on and in with very little in the way of mushroom and truffle. The small French oak barriques have certainly given this some preserve so that the fruit can turn to preserves on the palate. Good acidity persists as does so much residual spice from the wood. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017   #salchetowinery  hobbsandcompany  @SalchetoWinery  @AMH_hobbsandco  @Salcheto  @HobbsandCo

Bindella Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 1999, Docg Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

The wood used at the time is clearly in full view though in a settled, creamy and gently spicy aromatic way. This has evolved quite quickly and efficiently, now into a sangiovese turned to balsamic, five spice and soy wax. Was and still is a rich wine though I would bet that 1998 has fared better. The acidity is still quite prevalent, the tannins not so much. Two shots of doppio espresso mark the tail and it lingers long enough to suggest a couple of more years at this stage. Melts away like chocolate on the tongue. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  #bindella  #tenutavallocaia    @bindellavallocaia

Tenuta Valdipiatta “Vigna d’Alfiero” Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 1999, Docg Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Valdipiatta’s Vigna d’Alfiero is not quite as evolved a 1999 as the Bindella with some more presentable and viable fruit life available, though the wood is very sheathing and in full couverture. Balance is better though because the acidity is finer and still persistent. Tannic and drying, this is exactly what I would expect for 18 year-old Vino Nobile. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  #tenutavaldipiatta   rogersandcompanywines  @TenValdipiatta  @rogcowines  @TenutaValdipiatta  @rogcowines

Poderi Boscarelli

Boscarelli Prugnolo Rosso De Montepulciano DOC 2015, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $27.95, WineAlign)

Boscarelli’s use of varietal alias for the local sangiovese is both obvious and modern in approach. Their’s is a fresh and vibrant Rosso, lithe and unencumbered. Fragrant, sweet smelling roses lift the spirit and second the motion for needing no ornamentation. This completely self-adorned prugnolo is gentile but just firm enough a foil for the antipasti. Drink 2017-20219.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Boscarelli Vino Nobile De Montepulciano DOCG 2014, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $51.00, WineAlign)

A firm ’14, not so unusual in itself and yet just ripe enough, with fragrant roses as indicated in the prugnolo ’15. Yet here the flowers also deliver a dried and saline line while everything seems to soften and emancipate on the palate. Notes of a future with tar and tabby developed red fruit comes dreamy yet clear with spice notes by barrel and varietal keeping the youthful spirit alive.  Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Boscarelli Vino Nobile De Montepulciano Riserva DOCG 2012, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $63.95, WineAlign)

In accord of time under its belt and meltable structure afforded by the barrel it is the Riserva that strikes a now balance between ripe fruit and the firm grip of Vino Nobile tannin. I Boscarelli reference the least amount of volatility but the particular acidity is quite fastening as it works in cohorts with the tannin. These are musical wines of ligature and kedging anchors. While the Annata 2014 may have more bob in its sailing drift the Riserva is the stable schooner. It’s just a question of approach. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Boscarelli Vino Nobile De Montepulciano Riserva Sotto Casa DOCG 2012, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $86.95, WineAlign)

Sotto Casa is a single-vineyard prugnolo from “beneath or below the home,” as the nomenclature suggests and is the house Vino Nobile paved with 15 per cent cabernet sauvignon and five merlot. I don’t take huge stock in the need to discuss Bordeaux varietal addendum versus the endemic though in this case the floral lift and forgiving nature is worth a word or two. The 20 per cent expatriate accents make for a prugnolo of inclusion, in this case bringing the best out of that local sangiovese. Richness goes above and beyond, with nary a shrinking or chocolate shaken moment. The freshness here in such Riserva clothing is to be lauded. Really fine. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Boscarelli Vino Nobile De Montepulciano Riserva Il Nocio DOCG 2012, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $148.95, WineAlign)

With some variegation in the alluvial soil to include sand and clay this 100 per cent sangiovese is drawn from the east side of the estate. The four hectare, 280 to 350 metres of altitude Vigna del Nocio has been owned by Poderi Boscarelli since 1988. It is here where terroir, aspect and existential vine placement changes everything. More than four and less than 5,000 bottles of the vineyard’s finest produce are gifted in this wine, “the nuts,” but also the bolts of Boscarelli’s noble fruit. Yes there is this bifurcate character about it, at once roasted nuts meets frutta seca and then this depth, seriousness and structure. The forked Vino Nobile is both blessed by that Boscarelli grip and lifted into noble elegance. Three years will pass and little will change. I’d expect it to linger for 15 more. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Tenuta Valdipiatta

Tenuta Valdipiatta Pinot Nero Rosso Di Montepulciano IGT 2008, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

This small lot production is one of the most unique wines made in the Montepulciano hills, from just half a hectare on sand and clay. The vineyard was planted in 2000 to what must have been some whispers, giggles and closet envy, at the base of the hill beneath the winery. Dark berries, red ropey, ruby yet firm pinot nero fruit leads a wine of amazing toughness and grit. This must have really been something to behold in its first two or three years. All terroir and the hardest of nuts to crack. It has now softened somewhat but I wonder if in 2000 they could have known what might happen. The vines should hit their elegant stride beginning with perhaps the 2015 vintage, would be my best guess. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Tenuta Valdipiatta Rosso Di Montepulciano DOC 2015, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Valdipiatta’s Rosso was just recently bottled, with 10 per cent mamaiolo and canaiolo in support of the prugnolo. It spent only three months in (20 per cent) used barriques and like the pinot nero is truly a terroir driven wine. While certainly dusty, firm, deeply clay fruit deepened its musicality plays anything but an astringent tune. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Tenuta Valdipiatta Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 2014, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

A multi-barrel slumber of six months in small barriques and 12 months in 500L Slavonian casks has ushered this firm sangiovese (with five per cent canaiolo) through the world of the traditional and the historically noble. In spite of its old school charm in upbringing it’s quite the amenable one with a wide reaching, outstretched arm of generosity marked by a salty-sweetness of candied-savoury accents. It’s quite the minty cool and fruit prosperous Vino Nobile that while tending to grippy is almost always open for business. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Tenuta Valdipiatta Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 2013, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

The 2013 Vino Nobile is a softer, understated in grip version of the ’14, still terroir-driven but from a less demanding albeit singular vintage. What’s different, aside from an extra year beneath its legs is the presence of sweeter and finer-grained tannins but also a wider, open door of invitation and possibility. The Valdipiatta acidity is quite consistent, as is the traditional way of styling. A pattern is forming, of the ideal out of which an intrinsic understanding is able to cogitate the links in these wines of place. Strong genes run through the lineage of the Valdipiatta family. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Tenuta Valdipiatta Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva DOCG 2013, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Unlike the allure into a smiling reception offered up by the Annata 2013 the Riserva is conversely closed and not yet in a forgiving mood. The firmness of fruit, tart shrill of acidity and fineness of tannin all combine in procurement of one seriously intense Vino Nobile. The orotund voice and dramatic attitude follow the company line and in the Riserva do so with great hyperbole. It’s quiet remarkable actually. Unmistakable Valdipiatta. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Avignonesi’s Virginie Saverys with Wine & Spirits Magazine’s Stephanie Johnson, on her right and The Reverse Wine Snob Jon Thorsen, on her left

Avignonesi

Avignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 2014, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 943670, $41.95, WineAlign)

Quite relaxed for sangiovese from the demanding coincidences of implausibility that arose out of the 2014 vintage, clearly directed as such to drink well while others have to wait. Tannins are certainly ripe and whatever agitative spearing or sparking that seems to be going on is given a healthy and humid oak bathing. Not so much found in the elegant oasis occupied by either or both ’12 or ’13 but a very grounded and centred Vino Nobile nonetheless. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

Avignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 2013, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 943670, $41.95, WineAlign)

Like so many 2013s the fruit is quite plussed, pure and distinctly raw, dusty, cured and naturally craft sangiovese. The wood also seems to be in a diminutive position and so distinguishes the fruit though when all is said and done this equivocation can only be from Avignonesi. Terrific spice elements rub in and out of every crevice. Long like 2012, elegant in of itself and it’s quite possible the better or best is yet to come. The elusiveness of development means that we can’t yet really know. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

Avignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 2012, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 943670, WineAlign)

The vintage is the one with the reductive “lamentala,” but merely just a fraction of that idea and is quick to blow off into the Val di Chiana. “We have to be careful with sangiovese,” cautions owner Virginie Saverys, “it has a very thick skin.” Extraction must be a delicate process and so a gentle délestage is performed, plus from the bottom up, “not a very physical pump over from the top.” This leads to big fruit, well endowed by barriques and tonneaux towards and always elegant result. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

Avignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 2011, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 943670, WineAlign)

The 2011 was augmented by late August into September warmth so late phenolic ripeness made for an adjustment to picking and a new wine was born. Though less floral and perhaps not quite as elegant as 2010 the slower developed will and power were a perfect fit for an Aussie winemaker’s roots. You can’t help but note the shiraz-like attitude in this ’11 but balance is afforded by a more extreme acidity. With thanks to prudent picking passes the greens were avoided and all was gifted by the reds and the blacks in one massive but now mellowing coexistence. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

Avignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 2010, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 943670, WineAlign)

This first year production under the transfer of full ownership to Virginie Saverys was marked by a long, cool growing season and as a result, a lovely, long-developed ripeness. The 2010 Vino Nobile is one of alcoholic meets polyphenolic balance. Though quite young yet there is a triumvirate fineness of fruit, acidity and tannin in a sangiovese where richness and elegance meet at the intersection of texture. This is a wine of shoulders lowered, at ease and at peace. Ripeness is the virtue on a road that flows like a river. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

Avignonesi Desiderio Merlot Toscana IGT 2013, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, SAQ 10993456, $72.00, WineAlign)

Desiderio is Avignonesi’s wine of “desire,” an IGT usually made with 15 per cent cabernet sauvignon though it’s as much a varietal wine as any sangiovese, or perhaps better as a comparison to Napa Valley merlot. From the Val di Chiana, a wine looking for Chianina beef. Proprietor Virginie Saverys explains the terroir is “the southern most limit of making a decent merlot in Tuscany.” Any further south and “you can lose your whole crop to the heat over the course of three days.” Concentration due to clay rich soils and a consumption of oak by healthy fruit like there is no tomorrow. It’s quite remarkable how little heat spiked spice is found on the nose. Smells as merlot should with just a touch less than obvious jamminess, a dusty and complex emulsion of fruit and herbs. The bite, spice and concentration well up on the palate. Desiderio is intense and implosive merlot. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

Avignonesi Desiderio Merlot Toscana IGT 2010, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

From a selection off of 32 hectares of merlot with 15 per cent cabernet sauvignon, the 2010 Desiderio is not unlike ’13 but with more elegance, softness and demure. The spice is again hidden and here in ’10 it’s really a full case of fruit and what seems at first like nothing else. Time and the effects of that vintage have already conspired to soften a bring about this creamy mouthfeel and texture. Vanilla, chocolate ganache and a restrained sense of power. It’s quite pretty, ready to drink and yet there is this feeling that it’s not quintessential Desiderio. It’s beautiful nonetheless. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

Avignonesi Desiderio Merlot Toscana IGT 2001, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

From a classic, important and proven Tuscan vintage and for merlot, very good, if not wholly and unequivocally exceptional. The wood on 2001 carries more weight and massive couverture and at 16 years of age the rendered effect is dripping in chocolate and fine espresso. There is this sense of exotic spice in airy accents, like five-spice and liquorice, but then a swirling descent into demi-glacé. Tannin and acidity are both a bit lower here, a reminder of time and evolution, not the most lashing in any shape or form. Paolo Trappolini was the winemaker for this 2001, a powerful merlot with plenty of glory. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

Avignonesi Desiderio Merlot Toscana IGT 1989, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Proof is in the varietal pudding that merlot is much more forgiving than sangiovese and also more adaptive in its longevity. This ’89 is from a time when the winemaker could not have truly known what would happen or have the varietal expertise to provide the tools for making exceptional merlot. That was Ettore, one of the two brothers (along with Alberto Falvo) who procured a merlot of structure and this passive commitment to time. It’s more welled up with chocolate but there is this tension that obviously never wavered nor has oxidation really crept in. Incredible really. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

The Valdichiana from the terrace of the Enoliteca del Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

Flights in and out of Niagara, ere Terroir

The Niagara crew getting a load of #BallsFalls in Jordan

In May of 2017 the 12th annual Terroir Symposium brought many magnificent folk to Ontario. They were dreamers, disruptors, international luminaries, thought leaders, visionaries, creative influencers, innovators, chefs, hoteliers, drink experts, writers and business leaders. With VQA Wines of Ontario and the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario as chaperone, a dozen of these invitees flew from Billy Bishop Airport to Niagara District Airport for an ante-Terroir Talk Sunday fun day in wine country immersion. I joined Robert Gilvesy, Fiona Beckett, Jeremy Bonia, Magdalena Kaiser, Jamie Drummond, Nikki Bayley, Dick Snyder, Ursula Heinzelmann, Christoph Thörle and Jim Poris for the excursion. In between return nine-seater shuttles we ran through flights at Flat Rock Cellars and Henry of Pelham Estate Winery. Who amongst us was not taken by these VQA wines and their unselfconscious excellence?

First a hot air balloon and now this!!!

After a quick first pit stop at Ball’s Falls to show off Niagara’s famous escarpment limestone to the international contingent, we settled in at Flat Rock to taste six wines with Cellarmaster Allison Findlay. Next it was a dozen at Henry of Pelham Estate Winery with proprietor Daniel Speck, Ryan Corrigan of Rosewood Estates and Suzanne Janke of Stratus Vineyards. A blow your mind lunch was prepared on site by Wellington Court Chefs Erik Peacock and Cait Bermuhler. Here are the notes on the 18 wines.

Revisits with @Winemakersboots and a seven-year Crowned epiphany

At Flat Rock Cellars

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2010, Méthode Traditionnelle, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, 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, March and May 2017  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

Flat Rock Cellars Crowned Sparkling Brut 2009, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $45.20, WineAlign)

Crowned ’09 was disgorged this spring after seven years on the lees, sealed under crown cap and sent to market with a crowning achievement in mind. Feather gingery, faintly oxidative, this Blanc de Blancs wafts in copper-veined breezes and fennel frond ahead of its palate piercing chardonnay intensity. It delivers a cooler climate interaction than the Riddled, with preserved lemon and please concentrate if you will on it as a wine of heavy forethoughts. What with it resting on its lees, in limbo this long out of practice, necessity and as a result, now fortuitous and of great luck. The animal was created early on and now anything less might be difficult to justify and accept. Plus the bar is raised for the entire Sparkling community. Here the perfect example of low, slow and minute by minute evolution. Only 500 bottles (plus one) were made. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted May 2017

Flat Rock Cellarmaster Allison Findlay

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (1560, $30.25, WineAlign)

Flat Rock’s ever involving vines (on 33 hectares planted in 2001 and 2002) enter a new phase with indicators blinking and refreshing in this 2013 Gravity Pinot Noir. Youthful adolescence and gregarious fruit expression initiated in 2010 and carried through the 2012 vintage. Those years saw to a world of astringency and tension relegated to mites in the rear-view mirror. The wine is now in a nexus cross-roaded with exigency holding pattern. To understand its confusion and survey fast forward to its future is not easy. Gravity is a bit large right now, seemingly advanced, but to me the fight is between that fruit abundant state and the return of, though eased by meditative Jedi tension. Gravity just needs a parachute to bring it back down to earth. That lifeline may not materialize in this 2013 but that does not take anything away from its discriminating and diagnostic tones. Brightness, astatic inflection and succulence. This vintage may suffer from some level of snafu but it will age, evolve and breath. That much fruit has to have some level of expectation. The follow up ’14 and ’15 will win the hearts of horses and men. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted October 2015 and May 2017

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (1560, $29.95, WineAlign)

Seven months have softened and mothered Gravity’s adolescence in ways to now see it as the most feminine, certainly of the last four vintages. Pretty dabs, perfumes of natural conditioning, warm days and warm nights in the bottle. More accessible than previous takes and of a new modernity perceived. Sweet dreams and sweet fragrances, roses and cinnamon, nothing fancy here mind you, with no bite and no gathering moss. Cherries and vanilla, lavender and simple pleasures. Straight up Gravity, no pull down, no drag and no excess weight. At $30 and from the best barrels, this trumps $40-50 most locales not called Lowery, La Petite Vineyard, Central Otago, Hengst or Pfinstberg. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “In a vintage potentially muddled by warmth and a humidor of radio frequency, duplicating berry phenolics, Flat Rock’s Gravity remains a definitive, signature house Pinot Noir. In 2011, the head of the FR class from its most expressive barrels shared the limelight (and top juice) with the Pond, Bruce and Summit one-offs. In ’12, Gravity’s sandbox was its own. The style is surely dark, extracted, black cherry bent, as per the vintage. Yet only the Rock’s soil does earth in this variegate, borne and elevated by the barrel’s grain. There are no fake plastic trees in a Flat Rock Pinot. “Gravity always wins.”  Last tasted October 2014 and May 2017

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

It’s as if this label had bided all this time to be the benefactor of 2013 fruit. This Rusty Shed, this 20 miler with the track record to age, a wine that sheds baby fat over a 10 year mineral through echelon stratum, in ways few other peninsula to bench chardonnay can do. This Jay Johnston handled surfer of a wine, buoyant and balanced, centred and able to withstand turbulence, oscillation and tidal sway. Here with sumptuous and spiralled fruit gaged in lode intervals and a tartness held in lope and line by a membrane of extract and tannin. Best ever. Showing well, repeatedly and to forecasted repute. Impressing critics and consumers alike. Bravo. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted June 2016 and May 2017.

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (578625, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is an outlier for the Nadja’s Vineyard riesling, with deeper concentration and compression than before. More Mosel and less Twenty Mile in 2015, of light alcohol and an increase in off-dry, extract meets acidity. There have been Nadja’s with more air and exhale but I can’t recall one with such density in vitality. A great Nadja to be sure but of a deferential sort of character. Two or three years should bring it back into its self-imposed and created line. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted May 2016 and May 2017

VQA wines at Henry of Pelham Estate Winery, May 2017

At Henry of Pelham Estate Winery

Rosewood Estates Gamay Rosé Emerald Shore Vineyard 2016, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $15.95, WineAlign)

The inaugural gamay Rosé is from fourth leaf vines in the spot where the famous sémillon once lived. It delivers essential gamay aromas; strawberry modified with a tisane into raspberry and cherry, salinity clarified and fined. It’s lactic tonal, nicely tart and with a Beamsville mineral, very specific and just this emerald side of intense. Finished dry, but was allowed to go through three quarters malo to bring the cream and the layers. Finished by the incumbent winemaker Ryan Corrigan who once “lived out of a backpack and chased grapes,” committing in fleeting methodology, to northern and southern hemisphere harvests. In 2017 Niagara is all his. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted May 2017  rosewood wine  @Rosewoodwine  @rosewoodwine

Welcome to @rosewoodwine Ryan Corrigan. Gamay and Cabernet Franc are in fine hands.

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2015, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (616466, $29.95, WineAlign)

Spice and toast more than anything else come to define the early life of the SPR ’15 chardonnay. Not overtly or overly fruit forward at this (nearing) two-year mark, but green apple, pear and the unusual tangy bite of south asian palm (Salak) snake fruit are just around the corner. This speaks to the phenolic grab and go, the hang time and then that barrel exploit comes through. The palate delivers sappy moments and then the weight of the wine is felt. If texture were quantifiable in aromatics, it would be the SFR that would provide such intellectual fodder to describe what that might feel like. The perfume is layered, chewy, unctuous and viscous. Another year should inflate the fruit and integrate the wood. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted twice, May and September 2017  henryofpelham  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros  @henryofpelham

Wellington Court Chef Erik Peacock and Cait Bermuhler’s appetizer trio

Rosewood Estates Chardonnay Origin 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign)

Rosewood’s Origin 2014 is highly representative of Beamsville chardonnay, pacing a bridge that connects the cool of the climate and the nook in the escarpment’s abutting warmth of the overall Bench. The skins matter, as per the departing winemaking Ross Wise expertise, if only and alt-heightened in elevating texture, but even more so the rusty, soil tart, intensely wound and taut orchard fruit speciality. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2017

Wellington Court Chef Erik Peacock and Cait Bermuhler’s salt grass point oyster, beet mignonette, cucumber gel, horseradish foam

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

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

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

Rosewood Estates Riesling Origin 2014, VQA 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 and May 2017

Wellington Court Chef Erik Peacock and Cait Bermuhler’s simcoe asparagus, ramp aioli, sous vide hen’s egg, puffed wild rice

Stratus Gamay 2014, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.20, WineAlign)

When asked about his approach to gamay winemaker J-L Groux responds with “continuously with changes.” This is what takes place in 2014 with the barrel time cut back by a full year, now only nine months, if nothing else for to place ultimate emphasis on fruit. Sounds simple but it’s anything but in a Groux universe. His gamay now gifts fresh strawberry and raspberry, a slight 13 per cent alcohol spine and the uplifting effect of zero-noticeable steaminess, steminess, aggression or grass. In contrast to many overly and overtly ambitious Ontario gamay here Stratus enters the antithetical to harsh realm and instead occupies the amenable-ethereal void. Less pressing means smoother transitions and weightless chimera. This captures varietal and place with its coax of maximum fruit. The plantings are from 1992 and 2001 (with an imperfect memory that includes the possibility of 1985 too). Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted twice, May 2017

Thanks for hosting Daniel. Cab-Merlot ’12 SFR @HenryofPelham is one for the ages @WineCouncilOnt @winecountryont

Henry Of Pelham Pinot Noir Speck Family Reserve 2012, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Always the elder, wise and delicate if elegant statesman for Ontario pinot noir. There is real demure and reserve, Speck family style and this dried red berry savour to both aromatics and flavour. Tart is an undercurrant and red currants run above. Right in its wheelhouse now, for a spell and then the slow fade will come. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir 2015, VQA Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

From vines planted in 1984, a more than significant fact of experience, wisdom and acumen from this baco noir. Couple that with what is arguably the finest varietal vintage in many years makes this the collector bottle for the baco fanatic. The rubbery reductiveness is so nicely offset by the flowers, the red fruit and the delicious appeal. Easily the finest ever, by anyone and especially this most prominent house. Great ripe acidity and fine, fine tannin. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted May and June 2017

Wellington Court Chef Erik Peacock and Cait Bermuhler’s confit lake huron pickerel, fingerling potatoes, chorizo vinaigrette, celery, capers

Rosewood Origin Cabernet Franc 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

It’s a deep, dark fruit, rich currant, pyrazine and savoury vintage for the Origin. It’s cabernet franc that brings strawberry, raspberry and ripe rhubarb to the table. It’s tart and layered, rich and even a touch hematic. Quite pure, red fruit driven and of finely tuned acidity. Never tries too hard, refuses to hide the naturally green character, does nothing to sheath or blanket and leaves the fruit to shine red, bright and vital. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2017

Stratus Cabernet Franc “Decant” 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $95.00, WineAlign)

“A designer’s hands are tied. They are only as good as their opportunities.” The words of the brilliant bottle designer Karim Rashid fully apply to the mirrored universe in which winemaker J-L Groux works, here with a deferential and ulterior cabernet franc, bottled with its lees. When I first tasted it in February (in advance of this auspicious release), its unfiltered state spoke of a hyperbole of perfume, marked by exoticism. The aromatics gave far east five-spice, star anise, cardamom, miso and incense, all natural by-products of its purposed ferment. More grain spoke out but also a roundness of tannin and a smoothness both coating and comforting. There was chocolate accentuated by the treatment, with thanks to those lees left in the bottle. The chopped up and constructed bottle catches the lees while the volume flows out and the function out of form mimics the thought of lees delivering structure and yet they are invisible, caught in a hidden net or nook, out of sight, out of mind. But it’s not about pouring. It’s about the hand, or the slight thereof. Then there is the copycat idealism of strata in the vineyard, of geology transferred to the bottle and kept there, like a ship perfectly preserved inside. This cabernet franc will age better, as is the plan, with thanks to the lees that you’ll never have to deal with. There were 110 cases made. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted twice, February and May 2017

Wellington Court Chef Erik Peacock and Cait Bermuhler’s earl grey friand, poached rhubarb, vanilla mascarpone mousse

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2012, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (616433, $39.95, WineAlign)

The warm 2012 is an ideal vintage for this very specific cabernets and merlot blend, a wine as deliberate and iconic to the Niagara effort as any that have come before or currently exist. The vintage falls into a line that remembers 1998 and 2002 (with a half wink for 2007 and three-quarters nod to 2010). The brightness of red fruit and the dusty grounding of that fruit into earth integrates quietly and when acidity joins, the balance is pitch perfect. The fineness of that acidity will allow the mild astringency and dark chocolate by barrel to melt with slow dripping ooze into proper and educated tannin. Is this Cabernet-Merlot Speck Family Reserve one for the ages? In a word yes and likely to rival that 1998 for a 15 year run through excellence. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted May 2017

Run any machine on the harnessed marmalade energy of this @StratusWines Riesling Icewine #specialstuff #niagaraonthelake

Stratus Riesling Icewine 2015, VQA Niagara On The Lake (56671, $30.25, 200ml, WineAlign)

The Stratus Riesling Icewine 2015 simulates a true orange and apricot marmalade with a preserved lemon note and a bitter pitch edge. It actually goes into grapefruit a touch, develops unction as it fleshes in the mouth and never fattens or sweetens too much. A show off in triumvirate display of quality, beauty and rhythm. Drink 2019-2030.  Tasted May 2017

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Thörle Riesling, Truly Rheinhessen

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

I first met Christoph Thörle when Wines of Germany rolled their Next Generation Germany roadshow through Toronto in May of 2014. I know that he knew based on my reactions to his Rheinhessen rieslings that we would need to rekindle the relationship at a later date. That opportunity came again in May of 2015, albeit briefly but it was this past March of 2017 that the true immersion took place. Even then it was too quick and too short. But that’s OK because Christoph and his brother Johannes have really only just begun their lifelong journey of winemaking and understanding in Saulheim.

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

On day three of ProWein I jumped on the großer Magie Bus with 17 international journalists and headed for the Ahr Valley, followed by the Rheinhessen. We stopped in for a visit with Christoph Thörle at Weingut Thörle in Saulheim, the most progressive winery he started with his brother in 2006 after taking over from their parents. Thörle concentrates on natural ferments and they farm organically without certification. The vineyards are planted to 50 per cent riesling, 25 pinot noir and 25 mixed varietals; including silvaner and pinot blanc. The estate structures are narrow and long, mimicked in the vineyards, a leftover from Napoleonic times. This history must be kept in mind because there are so many different terroirs that all need to be kept separate. Fossilized oysters and mussel shells are found in the limestone, plus there is clay, iron-oxide, loam and yellow sands. The blocks roll out on wave-like, hilly landscapes over land that was once submerged beneath an ocean.

Godello with Christoph Thörle at Ball’s Falls, Ontario

The Thörle brothers make full use of their mixed vines ages and variegated terroir qualities to craft a range of riesling from Villages through Premier Cru and into Grand Cru level wines; Trocken, Feinherb, Kabinett, Spätlese and single-vineyard GGs from Hölle and Schlossberg. Their bottles of Weissburgunder and Spätburgunder are anything but afterthoughts and with climate change gaining speed, pinot noir will only increase in importance, not just at Thörle but across the Rheinhessen.

Two class @terroirtalk #riesling fellas, @RavineVineyard Sultan of St. David’s @marty_werner and the Rheinhessen’s Souverän of Saulheim #christophthorle #terroir2017 #terroirsymposium

Christoph came back to Ontario this past May as a special guest speaker of the Terroir Talk Symposium. In advance of that Monday congress we spent a day in Niagara tasting at Flat Rock Cellars with cellar master Allison Findlay and then at Henry of Pelham with Daniel Speck, Ryan Corrigan of Rosewood Estates and Suzanne Janke of Stratus Vineyards. Terroir afforded the opportunity to revisit two of Christoph’s rieslings, the Kabinett and the Schlossberg GG. Back in March I tasted 11 wines at Thörle. Here are the notes.

The mythology of #thorle #riesling in Beerenauslese and Trockenbetenauslese #weingutthörle #gabsheim #rheinhessen #holle

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

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

Thörle Riesling Saulheim 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

The Trocken and Feinherb bottles aside, this riesling denoted as Saulheim is the signature Thörle product and with succinct style represents this corner of the Rheinhessen, a renaissance region in west-central Germany, due south of Rheingau and southwest of Frankfurt. The fruit sources are several parcels and soils around the village, from vines 28-37 years old and an élèvage in 50 per cent old oak barrels. The avoidance of oaked flavours is part of the ultimate goal, that and balance in a riesling seemingly quite dry. A slight petrol aroma (perceived, or not, towards its future) submits to pure, crisp orchard fruit. Some glycerin and a mineral saltiness will aid in developing these notes over time. As opposed to other regions in Germany and their four levels of quality definitions, the Saulheim here sits between a villages and a Premier Cru, as it is written on the label and as it is defined by its soils. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017

Thörle Weissburgunder Saulheim 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

Weissburgunder from Saulheim is dubious here as a very dry pinot blanc, presented in that between villages and cru level. The Thörle oeuvre is all about combing and combining soils, “to show the other grapes of Germany,” and expressly important for Rheinhessen. The ’15 went into 500L French Beaune (Allier) Tonneaux. A hot summer so clearly lifts ripeness but says Christoph, “we left it a little bit shorter under the flame.” The oak is 30 per cent new and it really hides it, despite the lower acidity but the wood helps to usher it along and replace the tannins not always originally there. The net function is one third naturally unforced malolactic and good crisp orchard fruit with crunch and persistence. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017

Thörle Riesling Hölle 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

Hölle is a single-vineyard of high limestone at 35 degree steepness and housing 42 year-old vines, planted by Christoph’s grandfather. Minimal air flow in this valley during the day makes for a warm, still place. So dried fruit results; peach, apricot and plum. I find this streaking in liquid limestone chalk, glistening in glycerin consistency, nearly bone dry and popping in pearls of fine acidity. So focused and precise. This shows precocious acumen, wisdom and patience. Both the fruit and the mineral are never shadowed or will one defeat the other. Let it rest a year or two because the secondary notes will blow you away. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted March 2017

Thörle Riesling Schlossberg 2013, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

Schlossberg is a vineyard in the north of the (Saulheim) village, closer to the Rhine, on clay, iron-oxide and further down, limestone. With converse effect (in relation to Hölle) this higher and cooler spot carries with it more wind and airflow. This and the tenet of a cool 2013 vintage results in quite the floral riesling but it’s also noted by the hint of smoke, flint and therefore, great potential development. The nose is full of flowers to suggest glycerin and petrol even if it’s not quite yet in tune. The body is graced by more structure and variegated soil tang. It’s not dry but it acts dry without austerity or unnecessary intensity. More roundness, body and soul. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted March 2017

Thörle Spätburgunder Saulheim 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

Spätburgunder Saulheim is villages level, aged in 20 per cent (225L) barriques and 80 per cent old barrels for 12 months. It’s a blend of three vineyards, 30 year old and 15 year old vines. Typical for northern Rheinhessen pinot noir, with no stem inclusion, done in open top fermenters and with no added yeast. It’s a palpable mouthful of glycerin fruit, morello cherry, raspberry and a touch of sweet orange. Made in a reductive style, in avoidance of volatile acidity. Quite silky with a liquid limestone, dusty chalk feel. Much prettier and brighter than most and just enough fine grain tannin to make it last five plus years. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2017

Thörle Spätburgunder Hölle 2014, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

Hölle is pinot noir at the Grand Cru (Grosses Gewächs, Großes Gewächs, or GG) level, from the middle part of the slope where plantings owe their history to the 1971 German clone. The élèvage is 20 months in 50 per cent new barrels, similar to the Saulheim but fortified by an extra year in respect to the single vineyard. The cherries and the raspberry repeat but in a deeper liqueur with bigger grains of tannin. Though a comparison is fruitless this is the most NSG of the German pinot noir. Smoky, meaty, and blessed with full on density in structure that will allow it to travel long. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted March 2017

Thörle Riesling Kabinett 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

Thörle’s estate level Riesling Kabinett 2015 comes from young vineyards and is harvested at the beginning of October. It’s a matter of natural fermentation in the cold cellar (at a maximum 22 degrees) and takes 8-10 weeks, then cooled further at seven to eight per cent alcohol. Green tinged, green citrus, crisp and fresh like a bite out of both a green apple and a ripe peach. Pure and refreshing Kabinett to drink by the bucketful, on the beach or wherever works, from now through its 10th birthday. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted March 2017

Thörle Riesling Spätlese 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

The Spätlese was harvested two to three weeks after the Kabinett and with no botrytis, in other worlds, fully healthy grapes. Looking at it now it shines lucent in a yellow-orange hue. The aromatics and flavours repeat what the colour tells them to. A bit less gregarious than the Kabinett, the nose hints at stone fruit and also a smoky, flinty note. More citrus to taste than you’d expect but this added complexity goes along with ripe peach, apricot, passion fruit and even methinks some guava. So focused, of clean lines, pure, precise, linear and inwardly intense. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted March 2017

Thörle Riesling Beerenauslese Hölle 2011, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

Only 350 bottles were produced of the 2011 Riesling Hölle BA (Beerenauslese), an intense Rheinhessen late harvest with “not only a little botrytis but the perfect weather for sweet wine.” Rain in September and the intangible brought on the botrytis and then warm weather persisted through the harvest. The residual number 150 is the minus for sugar but this reached 186 g/L. So much stone fruit with good acidity. Apricot, longan and mangosteen but also this sweet basil note. A wine of clarity, the freshest botrytis, so juicy and as clean a BA as you are ever going to taste. A bit of spice at the end shows further complexity. I’d like to see three years of development so that these notes all contrive to morph and begin anew. Drink 2020-2036.  Tasted March 2017

Thörle Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese Hölle 2011, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

The Hölle TBA 2011 is a minuscule 180 bottle single-vineyard production and the vintage was simply perfect for the effort. The process involved the collection of a few berries at a time over the course of three weeks, started in the fridge and was then pressed when the amount of approximately 100L could be obtained. “This is the king’s discipline for creating such a riesling” explains Christoph Thörle. Thick like honey, full of unctuousness and viscosity. It is expressly noticed how the colour and the development have not advanced considering the six year mean. The exoticism is what separates this, with fruits far east, creamy and perfectly easy to assimilate, in flavour, consistency and understanding. Sweet herbology, of thai basil and thyme and candied mandarin rind. Here, a piece of history and legacy from Christoph and Johannes. Drink 2021-2041.  Tasted March 2017

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Frankenwein: The creed of silvaner and passion for pinot noir

In March of 2017 the Deutsches Weininstitut invited me to ProWein, the international wine congress in Düsseldorf, Germany. My hosts included the ProWein press department, Messe Düsseldorf and Wines of Germany. A few months ago I commented that Prowein is “of such immense proportion that words, description and explanation just fail to do it justice. If you are an agent your goals are simple; meet with your incumbent suppliers and taste with enough new ones to fill the holes in your portfolio. But what if you are a journalist like me? What do you concentrate on? Were do you start?”

“Das Glaubensbekenntnis! Silvaner”

On day one I made a beeline for the Germany pavilion, epicentre to the ProWein universe. Gravity would naturally pull you to the Mosel and yet I was in search of an alternative experience. With travels to the Ahr Valley and the Rheinhessen looming I gravitated (naturally) to Franken and more specifically to an intensive workshop with silvaner and spätburgunder. The Bavarian wine region is located east of Frankfurt (and 65 km/40 miles east of the Rhine) on south-facing slopes lining the Main River and its tributaries. The centre of Franconia is the town of Würzburg, home of the famed vineyard Stein, which gave rise to the generic term Steinwein, formerly used to denote all of the region’s wines. It would be an understatement to call Franken a cool-climate growing region. Even in a world gripped by climate change it can still be too cold for riesling. This is where silvaner thrives, in spite of cold winters, high annual rainfall and very cool autumn conditions. Müller-Thurgau is the most planted grade variety and silvaner is second.

Franken Silvaner

The most prized Franken wines were (and to some extent still are) traditionally bottled in a Bocksbeutel, a squat green or brown flagon with a round body. A loyalty to history contends that considerable recognition value is added to the region’s wines but the days of the old flattened ellipsoid, field bottle silvaner packaged in traditional Franconian Bocksbeutel are receding behind us. We are seeing a diurnal shift as they are increasingly replaced by modern, clean and pure examples that match up with the great mineral fresh whites around the planet. The silvaner slogan “Das Glaubensbekenntnis! Silvaner” led me to discover the great white history and future of this most important Franken grape.

Passion für Pinot Noir!

Passion für Pinot Noir! is the avant-garde Deutscher Qualitäswein Franken slogan for spätburgunder. The idea behind pinot noir in Bavaria is just about as outsider a concept as making wine instead of beer or habituating Protestants in a world of Catholics, but micro-climates are a wondrous thing. The avant-garde Franconia winemaking is one of the great overlooked stories in wine today and nowhere else is this evident than in the work being put in with pinot noir on the Franconian fringe of varietal possibility.

The producers have entered into an era of defining cru vineyards, like Sulzfelder Maustal with soil rich in shell limestone, Sommeracher’s Katzenkopf and Centgrafenberg, in Bürgstadt. The styles on display at Prowein duly noted in a flight of 12 were varied, sometimes mimicking other German regions, California and Burgundy. More often than not they are purely and expressly Franken, of dusty red cherry, mineral, bright energy, citrus and with oak working for bites and spice. A heed and a warning: Once you taste Franken pinot noir you may never go back.

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

Records indicate the last Ontario VINTAGES German silvaner release was on May 10, 2014. The two before that were on July 6, 2013 and February 2, 2013 . You would have to look back almost another full calendar year, to May 12, 2012, for the one previous to that. Since nothing has come through again, allowing so many years to pass without offering a single bottle of Franken silvaner to the Ontario wine consumer amounts to a crime against Frankenwein. With respect to spätburgunder I can find no history of VINTAGES releases in Ontario. In fact there are currently only two German pinot noir available here at home, one from Pfalz and the other, Baden. Franken isn’t even on the radar. There are no Franken wines anywhere to be found.

I was very impressed with the quality of both the silvaner and the spätburgunder in my two sit-downs at the Prowein Franken booth so hopefully I can shed some light on what everyone is missing. Once again it is important to recognize the people responsible for allowing me to take part in this German wine experience; Stefan Egge, Christiane Schorn, Brigitte Küppers, Michael Mandel and Carola Keller. Until ProWein 2018, here are 22 notes on Franken silvaner and spätburgunder.

“Das Glaubensbekenntnis! Silvaner”

Weingut Brennfleck Silvaner Trocken Mönchshöflein, Großes Gewächs, Sulzfelder Maustal 2015, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

A warming, humid and rich 14 per cent dry silvaner, unctuous and viscous. The aromas peel ripe yellow-fleshed peach and scrape concrete while the texture comes leesy and exceptionally tart. A very mature, adult, dry silvaner for rich fish and seafood. Scallops would adore this, but pork belly would also cut a rug with its agile stepping ability. Also carries the most subtle effervescent tingle. So very interesting and part of the developing story. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017     #Brennfleck  Weingut Brennfleck  @frankenwein   #frankenwein  Frankenwein Fränkische Weinkönigin  @weininstitut  @WinesofGermany  @germanwineca  germanwine_ca  wines_of_germany  @germanwinecanada

Selsam + Schneider Silvaner Trocken, Escherndorfer Fürstenberg 2012, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Silvaner of herbology and spirit, dry but with aromatic faux botrytis, white peach and white flowers. Tastes like there is some barrel ferment on the fruit because it shows that sauvignon blanc sweet note, but also some grapefruit and lime. Quite spirited though I’d wish the acidity were more demanding and that the finish would linger longer. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017

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

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

Rainer Sauer Ab Ovo Silvaner Vom Ei Ursprünglich Von Anfang An 2015, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Faux sweet leesy, of a lactic nose but dry, this is made in that Stellenbosch chenin blanc style; tart, taut and high in white citrus acidity. Really tart palate but beautifully so, nicely rendered salinity in a simple package. Not the most complex but the easy drinking silvaner. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted March 2017    #rainersauer  Daniel Sauer

Weingut Otmar Zang Silvaner J40 Alte Reben Sommerach 2014, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

The amphora silver shines, bringing a concrete meets waxy richness, and you can smell the bees and the wet aggregate mix. Herbs and salt are generous but suppressed or at least stirred in, like lees and in a way, like a dry into wet baking mix. Thicker and unctuous on the palate with a touch of residual sweetness, this runs the gamut from savoury to just slightly confected so ultimately the goal here is the time-accumulated eventuality of honey. Tastes a bit like young figs or dates and so the interest level is high in terms of silvaner. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted March 2017  @WeingutOtmarZang

Baldauf Clees Silvaner Spätlese Trocken, Ramsthal, Pfarrwengert 2014, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

This is the platinum, metallurgical, alloy mineral silvaner, the inside of the pipe and the soil tart, old school expression but also pure, clean and dry. Still an air-dry silvaner, rich on the palate and very varietal obvious. This kind of tart is so specific to the history and perpetual tang of such locale-driven silvaner. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @Weingut.Baldauf

Franken Riemenschneider Silvaner 1er Traube Spätlese Trocken, Asthheimer Karthäuser 2014, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Perhaps the most old school of the lot and the acumen so confident in delivering the most convincing need for traditional style. What Spätlese is to Franken silvaner it is not to anywhere else with the late harvest style. This is saline, balsamic briny, yellow plum acidity laced and of an almond blossom sweetness that just simply melts in. Power in commitment and longevity are a given, R.E.M. melodic, even in later career composition. “If this is what you’re offering,” of great persistence, “I’ll take the rain.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  #Riemenschneider

Weingut Weigand Der Held Silvaner Trocken, Iphofen 2015, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Done in Amphora from hold, stall and grant beginnings, there acts by hue and from aroma a bit of skin contact. Carries a lees and beeswax note, along with wet rock salt and the humidity inside of a concrete tank. Both agreeable and complex, the palate elevates this wine, never relaxes and defaults into simple viscosity, but continuously refreshes. This is the first to carry a true lemon and lime tune, the most reigned in richness and a sense of cure. Modern and serious but more about how much it knows its capabilities of taking hold of tradition and moving it forward. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2017  weingut_weigand_franken    @WeingutGaestehausWeigand

Weingut Horst Sauer Silvaner Sehnsucht Trocken, Escherndorfer 2015, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Back to the faux sweet, very leesy silvaner, this is about texture and mouthfeel after the citrus and mineral sweet aromas. Again this reminds of South African chenin blanc, tart and taut, very dry and of a typicality that modern silvaner will do in a risk aversion way. A proper introduction into what modern silvaner has to be with very good length. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  #weinguthorstsauer     @weinguthorstsauer  Sandra Sauer

Juliusspital Silvaner Trocken, Würzburger 2016, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Also from amphora, the mineral bronzing in hue and on the palate is again old-school, what it was and has been. Waxy on the nose and palate and this combines the old school amphora with the new way chenin style, but this has some palate sweetness mixed with a very tangy-tart taste. Quite intense though the mid-palate thins while the acidity shines and then it’s very long. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  #juliusspital  #Juliusspital  Juliusspital Weinstuben Würzburg

The world also needs more #frankenweine #spätburgunder #prowein2017 #pinotnoir

Passion für Pinot Noir!

Weingut Josef Walter Spätburgunder Hundsrück “J” Trocken 2013, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Very pretty, perfectly evolved, all strawberry but some of it in dried and dusty garnish form. Certainly spirited, high-toned, elevating, rising still. Beautifully tart, seemingly calcareous, easy to drink, with soft but sweet tannins and most excellent. For every day though with some light heat on the finish. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017

Divino Pinot Noir Trocken Gg, Grobes Greväches, 1m Barrique Gereift 2012, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

A very ripe, high octane (14.5 per cent alcohol) grand cru spätburgunder, still rustic and leathery, some dried fruit and though high-toned, quite evolved. The oak is very noticeable, as are the tannins and finishing bitters. Much happening and this really reminds of a warm New Zealand, ripe and extracted pinot. North Island stuff in the Franken. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted March 2017  #divinonordheim  @divino_nordheim  @divino.nordheim

Zehnthof Luckert Wein&Gut Sulzfelder Maustal Spätburgunder Gg, Vdp. Grosse Lage 2012, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

This is the completely other grand cru, go tell it to the world pinot noir, pencil and graphite laden, lead and dusty cherry. Great mouthful and brightness with vitality and energy despite its age. Pure, red-spoken citrus and spice. The oak here works for bites and crisp baking moments, not smoulder or finished cake accent. Love this energy. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  zehnthof_luckert    @VDP_Estates  @zehnthofluckert  Philipp Luckert

Weingut Roth Spätburgunder Gg Trocken Biowein, Wiesenbronner Heller Berg, Vdp Erste Lage 2013, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Organic and warming (at 14 per cent abv) but this seems to be the median norm for phenolic ripeness and with or without the oak treatment of choice. This certainly treads on the darker cherry fruit plain though that pinot noir Franken/Ahr/Baden/Alsace tonality is present, accounted for and wholly acceptable within the parameters of omniscient typicity. The only one with a reductive note so far so air and more time will help inflate and then deflate the vacuum. Very tart and a bit of Chinese five-spice, sweet and sour with chunks of pineapple worked in. This unique specimen is possessive of a savoury-sweet commingling. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  #weingutroth  @Weingut_Roth  @Weingut.Roth

Weingut Then Authentisch Spätburgunder Trocken Sommeracher Katzenkopf, Authentisch Kommt Von Then 2013, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

The most volatile and reductive of the lot, this is funky-dirty, full of dark red fruit and so taut. Most of the aromas are dominated by the suffocation spume and then this turns so tart and sour. It has character and potential to be sure but the fruit is having trouble speaking out. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted March 2017  #weingutthen  Weingut Then

Dürr Münch Then Zehner Krämer Russ Wolter Familie Gewächs Spätburgunder Trocken 2015, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

So young and bright, beautifully fresh, wild berry and cherry pinot noir. Exactly what you want from a warm and forgiving vintage, but this has sneaky underlying structure and great natural acidity. The deliverer is nothing if not a pure, totally natural and honest example of Franken spåtburgunder. Answers both questions with yes and yes. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017

Höfling Spätburgunder Trocken Kalbenstein Gambach, Großes Gewächs 2013, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

This strikes as the great ambassador, middle of the road, best of both or even all worlds GG and (there is enough complexity in Franken pinot noir to make this declaration). Bright and pure, phenolically ripe and from the strawberry vintage, with the ridge crested between the fresh and the edge of drying fruit. This is like really honest, never over-wooded Chianti Classico and/or CCR Riserva from a similarly farmed vintage. It’s almost sangiovese like in its rusticity, tradition and honest to goodness cherry, leather and red citrus acidity. Seminal stuff. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @weinguthoefling

May Spätburgunder Recis Retzbacher Benediktusberg 2013, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

From Rudolf May, another stinky and reductive pinot noir but with a mess of bright red fruit so chalk this limestone-nosing one up to structure and be patient. There is something pure about this risk-taking one, like (Ontario reference alert) Norm Hardie of impossible litheness and in fact at 13.0 per cent this is very low and slow for the locale. Wow, this is so distant cousin to the County! I would guess this ferment was sluggish and tardy so be wary of the reduction and give it air or hopefully two more years time. It’s atypical for 2013, somewhat of a rogue and clearly destined to be a future star when pinot noir becomes this producer’s primary focus of intent. It already seems to be. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted March 2017    #rudolfmay @Weingut.Rudolf.May

Franken Riemenschneider Spätburgunder Trocken Mainstockheimer Hofstück 1er Traube 2015, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

A step up in quality and cru for 2015, from a block that most certainly has been identified for its pinot noir plant and gift ability. The premier cru for varietal Franken, of a deeper mineral push and what must be exposure and aspect with excellent solar receptive capability. It shows in the darker fruit, licking Sonoma and with its firm grip perhaps a nod to Russian River Valley. This carries exceptional fruit in its character pocket, really fine round acidity and even finer tannin. It will age without much evolution for three to five years and linger for an equal amount of time more. Not the brightest and lightest get to know me example but clearly one to seek out in the pinot noir diaspora. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted March 2017  #Riemenschneider

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

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

Fürst Spätburgunder Centgrafenberg Gg, Bürgstadt 2008, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Here is the only older pinot noir on the table and a terrific example of the age ability of Franken. Though the fruit is waning the brightness has not yet left the building. The lightness, airy and earthy enough to remind you that Burgundy feeling is the entry point and the history lesson. The lactic acid is fading but there is life yet. A bit chewy and it can be imagined how fleshy this once was. No mushroom or anything of that ilk has come through so this will fade nicely into the pinot noir sunset over the proceeding three plus years. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017    Weingut Rudolf Fürst

Weingut Schenk Spätburgunder Handverlesen Trocken 2014, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

One of the magically lithe and unassuming pinot noirs of the lot, the berries are rubbed with light sandy earth with that granite current running beneath. The shading is a bit darker considering the light personality so the lactic edge is reduced and this will evolve a bit quicker than some others. A great duck accompaniment and very Beaune in a modernist’s way. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  weingutschenk  @weingutschenk

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

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

The future is now for Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards

In the throes of judging 1,700 plus Canadian wines at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada I slipped away to reconnect with Mike Lightfoot at his property in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. The last time I paid the family a visit, Mike, Jocelyn, Rachel and winemaker Josh Horton were planning, scheming and on the cusp of breaking new ground, figuratively and literally speaking. The new Lightfoot & Wolfville winery facility was beginning to take cerebral, engineered, augurate and anticipatory shape. It’s now well into the building phase, in fact, at some point this summer L & W’s unprecedented facility will open to the public. When it does it will change the wine landscapes that include more than just Wolfville, the Gaspereau, Annapolis Valleys and Nova Scotia. It will reset the needle, compass and artfully strategized standard for Canadian wineries everywhere.

Related – Consider the Gaspereau Valley

Mike and Jocelyn have taken a once thriving apple farm and turned its rolling hills into Nova Scotia’s most progressive organic and biodynamic winery while also perpetuating the raising of animals in the heritage meets modern agriculturist way. In 2014 I made the following ambitious statement. “Lightfoot & Wolfville will take everything anyone has ever thought about the Nova Scotia wine industry and turn it on its head. Hybrids and local varieties will continue to be a part of the stratagem. In the unpredictable climate of Nova Scotia’s wine growing regions that is a necessity but it’s what chardonnay and pinot noir will do that will put the province on the map and the world’s stage.” Mean it.

Cellar dining space at Lightfoot & Wolfville

Related – Great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Nova Scotia?

The external vineyard planted near Avonport called “Oak Island” is perched on a hill with a view of the Minas Basin at the head of the Gaspereau Valley. “Le Corton,” as it is known, or as I like to call it,  “Oak Isle Knoll” is where consulting oenologist Peter Gamble has placed 100 per cent certainty in the future success of Vinifera grapes. Vigorous vines will increase the possibilities for chardonnay, sparkling plus a host of expected and eclectic varieties, like riesling, sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer, chenin blanc, chasselas and scheurebe.

Mike and winemaker Josh Horton ushered me through a tour of the new facility. A state of the art retail shop, quick production kitchen, al fresco pizza oven and a subterranean cellar, private dining facility and commercial kitchen to make iron chefs drool. The mammoth-sized, reemployed beams alone are pieces of reclaimed and refashioned wood to send one into a state of awe. It felt as though I were walking through the massive hull and underbelly of a great romantic period ship.

Al Fresco Pizza Oven

Mike Lightfoot has spent the past 15 years watching Nova Scotia’s wine industry transform from an unknown cottage entity to a destination that attracts thousands of visitors, heavily weighted to the summer months. He is drawing on experience but also careful to avoid repeating the mistakes some of his peers have made in trying to build and develop wine tourism at their nearby facilities. He is also grateful for what they have accomplished and how they have opened the door for the possibility of L & W’s imminent operation. Mike points out how in July and August the trail of cars moving along the Evangeline Trail is endless, cars that travel right past his property. Truly a case of “if you build it they will come.”

I sat down with Mike and Josh to taste 10 wines, some new and some revisits, for perspective and to expound on some personal theories of L & W relativity. Josh Horton is coming into his own as a winemaker and just in the nick of time. The nigh fact of this property’s history and ineluctable expansion will weigh on the ancienne ideology but Horton’s de facto ability and unaffected personality equip him with the tools to face the challenge head on. The future is now for Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards.

Sparkling wine you need to know @lwwines Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut 2013, from the shores of the #minasbasin #annapolisvalley #novascotia

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blanc Extra Brut 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada ($45.00, WineAlign)

Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot presented an early, less leesy glimpse of their 100 per cent estate chardonnay at i4c in July of 2016. It was a different animal than this recently disgorged (late February/early March) sparkling wine. The Extra Brut lives up to its designation, from fruit grown on the shores of the Minas Basin under the auspices of a markedly warm year with exceptional phenolic ripeness and 25 per cent malolactic gain. The time relative to texture lees accumulation is approximately 40 months and it’s an accurate representation of Nova Scotia low and slow. The flavours are wisely developed ripe and spicy, leaning into a moment or two of oxygenation, but seemingly richer than the amount of lees time that was given. Now emerging from the shell of not just a warm but a great chardonnay year (as previously proven by the Ancienne released two years ago). The notion here is of a sparkling wine that has been brought home, a B de B that you need to get to know. There are layers and layers of character that fold and unfold. The precision, focus and rendering is citrus tamed, mouthfeel in perpetual expansion and contraction, length linear and elastic. And it’s just the beginning. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted June 2017

Lightfoot & Wolfville Pinot Noir Ancienne 2014, Nova Scotia, Canada ($40.00, WineAlign)

Pinot Noir Ancienne is a product of a wild ferment and here in 2014 is possessive of a larger percentage of estate fruit, but still with a significant portion skimmed from (Al) McIntyre’s Blomidon vineyard. The typical Nova Scotia growing season means this was harvested during the last week of October and at approximately 20.5-21.5 brix, but of a lower crop level. Like the inaugural 2013 this still carries the elegant, highly cool climate provincial stamp, not skinny or lean by any means but certainly lithe and helped calmly and curatively along by 3rd and 4th fill neutral oak. The ’15 will be bottled in July, which will be 100 per cent estate fruit. Here is the second image of Nova Scotia pinot, built upon a well-designed foundation and an architectural struggle in search of structure. Ancienne is old-school, traditional, hand-made, artisanal. It is a wine that others will not yet know what to do with but the launching point is precise, progressive, poignant and teeming with wonder meets possibility. The fruit purity and transparency speaks to the honesty delivered. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted June 2017

Lightfoot & Wolfville Pinot Noir Ancienne 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada ($40.00, WineAlign)

Retrospection, reflection and what we know now places this so obviously in the exact spot where it began. So now we establish a minimum five years going forward to reach the sweetest of sweet spots. This now gives perspective and a reference point for where ’14 is and will be going forward. This 2013 is less immediate, a wonder of first time luck, pomp and circumstance. It is nothing short of remarkable. Last tasted June 2017.

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

Experiments are for more than sharing #perspective #teachingmoment #progress @lwwines #unfiltered

Lightfoot & Wolfville Chardonnay Ancienne 2014, Nova Scotia, Canada ($40.00, WineAlign)

The name Ancienne and the proximate irony appraised is not lost for its translation as endemic or indigenous for wines made from Burgundian grape varieties raised on Nova Scotia soil. The sophomore chardonnay speaks in a vernacular a year to the wiser but at the expense of excitement, which is actually a good thing. A step back taken will result in two going forward, as I shall explain. The same regime exercised mimics the ’13, of 20 per cent new, 18 months in barrel, but a slight course altered with some reductive play in ’14, as an experiment but also as a plan. There seems to be more lees richness and spice notes that flit like direct darts on the palate. Different clones are harvested at different times, so now the vinifications are staggered and layered, which really shows on the stratified and almost germinating palate. Another year older allows these vines to bring diversified variegation, more Nova Scotia and as a consequence, less winemaking. The growth here is fascinating and enlightening. In the interim it may compromise the flavour profile and the wow factor but in the long run it is structure, longevity and impressibility that will give the green light to estate grown, Minas Basin success. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted June 2017

Lightfoot & Wolfville Chardonnay Ancienne 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada ($40.00, WineAlign)

The ’13 seems to at first have really softened but that’s only relative to tasting it side by side with the 2014. It’s also leaner when considered side by each though still carries weight and creaminess on the palate. Winemaker Josh Horton also pours an unfiltered experimental bottle. It is so clean, almost indiscernible to the filtered ’13, except perhaps with more bite on the palate and yet less creaminess than the ’14.  Lasted Tasted June 2017.

Welcome to the new Chardonnay ethos, an east coast compages for la belle nouvelle écosse, the new borderland for Canadian vinifera. The respite found in Lightfoot & Wolfville’s first release is like breathing for the first time. As I noted a year ago while tasting through (mostly older) barrel trials, I have unearthed a Canadian winery animated in the architectural rendering of Premier Cru Chablis. Full textured, creamy aromatics, layers of lace and luxe, popping acidity and with length stretched to service now and later. Approximately 135 cases made. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted July 2015

Lightfoot & Wolfville Chardonnay Ancienne Reserve 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada ($56.00, WineAlign)

The Chardonnay was planted in 2009 in a block that sits on the crest of the hill on the Wolfville vineyard site and the Ancienne Reserve is a barrel selection more than anything. It sees an additional six (to 24) months and because one of the barrels was new, it’s therefore 50 per cent new. Now tasting this for the second time a year later (the first time being at i4c 2016), the wood is melting and dissolving so all is coming together, but the unmistakeable L & W acidity meets Nova Scotia vines spice and bite is all over the palate. There is length here to last a decade. Never ending. Nothing if not a coup for new world/cold climate/NS chardonnay. You will not understand unless you taste it. Consulting oenologist Peter Gamble and his protégés Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot have allowed the fruit to speak without encumbrance. This chardonnay is neither stark nor beyond ripe and oak has been used with terrific restraint. I am not sure how Gamble could have known it would work but to a veteran of decades of Canadian harvests, it must be an absolute revelation. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted June 2017

Lightfoot & Wolfville Tidal Bay 2016, Nova Scotia, Canada ($22.00, WineAlign)

The blend is l’acadie, geisenheim, chardonnay and riesling plus a smidgen of vidal. Just a great year, the l’acadie coming from rocky soil and the difference maker in the use of riesling. There is some residual sulphur, still activated citrus tablet and its aromas are propitiously fresh, from lean to piercing. The palate carries terrific texture and flesh, great citrus and a bit of unction. It even suggests fleshy citrus and stone fruit, with just that minor note of peach to make this so drinkable. The vinifera provides the structure while l’acadie is the back bone and this has plenty of it. The reams of citrus are simply striking. The better to best yet, a no doubter and without argument. For Tidal Bay it’s almost perfect. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted twice, at L & W and blind at NWAC17, June 2017

Lightfoot & Wolfville Schuerebe 2016, Nova Scotia, Canada (WineAlign)

The schuerebe comes from up on the Oak Isle in Avonport, now just past the stage of baby vines, this the introduction as far as a style is concerned. That style combines elevated sugar and acidity. It’s highly floral and of incredible acidity, from vines that ripen later than riesling, though the plants are young of just a few years. Schuerebe is a wine that can beat its own sibling chardonnay in a wine competition, with some fat and flamboyance, alcohol near 9.5 per cent and those sugars (whose actual number is pointless) will track across some complex notions and age three to six years with ease. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted June 2017

Lightfoot & Wolfville Pinot Noir Rosé 2016, Nova Scotia, Canada ($28.00, WineAlign)

The Rosé from pinot noir is 100 per cent estate varietal fruit destined for this purpose and not from a bleed, or as one. At $28 it doesn’t hit the same $20 Rosé crowd, here dry, saline, south of France ringing and as a ringer. The notes are distinctly lime and grapefruit, floral but not quite meunier floral. “When pinot noir can give you structure you keep making it this way,” notes winemaker Josh Horton. Good plan. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted June 2017

Lightfoot & Wolfville Pinot Noir Rosé 2015, Nova Scotia, Canada ($28.00, WineAlign)

L & W’s will surely appear, perform and consummate as the lightest of all Rosés in any Canadian flight and as pinot noir it suffices to say all that needs in terms of rusty, rustic and taut. There is good salinity, perhaps one or two elevated blowsy notes of sulphur but all is forgiven in consideration of fine precision, presence and lightness of being. The minor leesy and lactic fromage melts into acidity and tasted blind it could be the closest of Moira cousins, à la Malivoire. Lemon and lime finish and very long. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted June 2017

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Catch, taste and release Collection Bellenum by Nicolas Potel

To better days & retro négoce #burgundy with @RochedeBellene via @Nicholaspearce_ #nicholaspotel #bourgogne #meursault #santenay #monthelie #pommard #volnay #chambollemusigny #gevreychambertin #closdelaroche

Some tasting notes are easier than others to compose and others just need time. You can write some on the spot and you can sit on others until such time when their clarity is revealed. I’ve said it a hundred times. Great wines write their own reviews. We are merely the conduit to bring the notes to light.

Nicholas Pearce has a terrific relationship with Nicolas Potel. Agent and Burgundy producer, négoce, man of leisure. Diplomat and ambassador extraordinaire for the wines of Burgundy; Villages, Premier Cru and Grand Cru. Pearce held a tasting back in February for Potel’s Collection Bellenum. If there is anyone in Burgundy that Nicolas does not know I can’t say but in addition to running his own Domaine de Bellene and négoce Maison Roche de Bellene, Potel has drawn on his secret resources to deliver older parcels of Burgundy from producers who somehow hid these top vineyard gems from the world.

This tasting was simply ridiculous and I can’t help wonder how the universe aligns to bring such things to fruition. Some of the wines are priced beyond recognition while others are almost too good to be true. The LCBO is now purchasing four wines; Roche De Bellene Santenay 1er Cru Beaurepaire 1998, Roche de Bellene Monthelie Villages 2005, Roche De Bellene Chambolle-Musigny Villages 2001 and Roche De Bellene Gevrey-Chambertin Villages 2001. I tasted and reviewed 13 wines that day. Here are the notes.

Maison Roche De Bellene “Collection Bellenum” Santenay Premier Cru Beaurepaire 1998, Ac Burgundy (Agent, $64.95, WineAlign)

It’s always a gift to taste older Burgundy and righteously so from 1998. From the “Collection Bellenum” by Nicolas Potel and a nearly 20-year old bold and intact Santenay from what began as a surly vintage. Remnants of certainly once firm, gritty, rustic red fruit now cured like pinot noir gravlax meets bresaola. Carries through with a musty tone and still the acidity rages and circles the fruit wagon. Still some tannin (say, four years left) and a wisdom Santenay would not always have been able to foreshadow. Great gamey finish with Burgundian voice and vice grip tension. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted February 2017

Maison Roche De Bellene “Collection Bellenum” Monthelie 2005, Ac Burgundy (Agent, $101.95, WineAlign)

Monthelie 2005 is the most acetic and volatile but that’s only by way of a side by side by each comparison to ’02 and 04. In many ways this shines the brightest and as the youngest it does so with the highest degree of freshness, though that is certainly not what was expected. One must realize that growing up is not yet done and this wine has simply not crossed the threshold into its older Burgundy self. It could be considered 2011 the way it speaks of red fruit and cool, elevated tones, as if no time has passed. Tannins are chalkier and offer up more limestone, red liquid ruby sensation. This Monthelie is the conundrum. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted February 2017

Maison Roche De Bellene “Collection Bellenum” Monthelie 2004, Ac Burgundy (Agent, $101.95, WineAlign)

Monthelie 2004 is the brooding brother of the three Monthelie samples (along with ’02 and ’05), deep, rich, hematic, ferric and funky. Volatility is a major part of its character but the fruit still stands to tell an ’04 tale. Not the most ethereal of vintages as seen here but certainly full of energy and longevity. This lingers in a grippy way the others do not, so it has that going for it, which is nice. It will drink this way for five years more, at a very basic minimum. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted February 2017

Maison Roche De Bellene “Collection Bellenum” Monthelie 2002, Ac Burgundy (Agent, $101.95, WineAlign)

Since this Monthelie is assessed in a ’02-’04-’05 mini flight, it can’t be helped but to discuss one in relation to the other two. It is noted that 2002 and 2005 share a heat-spiked affinity but it is this ’02 that carries it effortlessly and with more slow-hung and expertly seasoned cure than volatility. Burgundy as it is seen through Monthelie eyes is accomplished with utter purity, clarity and wisdom. This has ancient character in its DNA and 15 years of potential energy still coursing through its veins. So bright and at the same time indelibly dense and compressed. Beauty is in the eye of one who relishes but does not get hung up by dwelling in the past. Tremendous wine. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted February 2017

Maison Roche De Bellene “Collection Bellenum” Volnay Premier Cru Clos Des Chenes 2005, Ac Burgundy (Agent, $190.95, WineAlign)

Clos des Chenes in the capable hands of Nicolas Potel ties a nice little ribbon around an oak old tree because it’s a very pretty Volnay, so floral as per the exercise and those subtle notes that make you think about fennel, graphite and the Burgundy bush equivalent of garrigue. This is extracted, rich and full of red berries (namely raspberry). It’s firm as much as the fruit requests it to be and the acidity is beautifully round. The grip in the tannin indicates many years ahead. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted February 2017

Maison Roche De Bellene “Collection Bellenum” Volnay 1er Cru Clos Des Chenes 2002, Ac Burgundy (Agent, $183.95, WineAlign)

From 2002 it is Potel’s Clos des Chenes that acts the age apparent one but the threshold is far from breached or really at this 15 year stage, even reached. Nor is the fruit to tannin inversion in danger of a transgression. The floral Volnay component is reduced, layered and dipped into cherry-ripened liqueur. The tannin in this vintage runs across that impressing line from sweet to aggressive. I would have my pleasure with this Volnay over the next two or three juicy and grippy years. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted February 2017

Maison Roche De Bellene “Collection Bellenum” Pommard Premier Cru Les Pézerolles 2005, Ac Burgundy (Agent, $209.95, WineAlign)

The vineyard Les Pézerolles is widely considered the finest in Pommard and the vintage 2005 one of the decade’s best (along with 2002 and 2009). Potel’s work here is with a pinot noir still youthful but not as young as the Monthelie. This Pommard is firm and separates itself as it needs to be, with subtle hints of sanguine and bitters. This could also be assessed as quinine and savour but also of a richness that reveals some kind of chocolate menthol aroma. Not a gritty but certainly a rigid Pommard. It’s quite chewy and promising for long life to come from such a promiscuous and preferable mouthful to enjoy. Will open for full business by the end of the calendar year. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted February 2017

Maison Roche De Bellene “Collection Bellenum” Gevrey Chambertin Villages 1999, Ac Burgundy (Agent, $96.95, WineAlign)

The vintage has been my go to, fan favourite and highest probability for cellar pulling success since purchasing some Girardin Premier Cru more than 15 years ago and exacting success each time one is opened. Nicolas Potel is both lucky and highly intelligent in his negotiating some 1999 from Gevrey-Chambertin. This here now is quite funky in its own right and that perfect example of older Burgundy walking the fine line of earth-fruit-volatility exactitude. This is a beautifully rich and red liqueur red though I can see how some would see it as showing some microbes to change the conversation. No matter though because tannin following structure is securely intact. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2017

Maison Roche De Bellene “Collection Bellenum” Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru Petit Chapelle 2001, Ac Burgundy (Agent, $113.00, WineAlign)

Potel finds gold in Gevrey-Chambertin with this extraordinary Petit Chapelle Premier Cru barrel. There is a level of ripeness and extraction that exceeds most of the rest in this magnificent négoce line-up and an aromatic sweetness sans apareil. Really fine and grainy tannins, more sweetness feigned and ropey fruit reigned in and fully completely surrounded. The tough partners have yet to relent. That and the whole distinction is nothing short of amazing. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted February 2017

Maison Roche De Bellene “Collection Bellenum” Grand Cru Clos De La Roche 2004, Ac, Ac Burgundy (Agent, $307.95, WineAlign)

The 2004 Monthelie actually helped in preparation to taste this ’04 Clos de la Roche and that speaks volumes about the vintage as a whole. Homogenous would be one way to say it but clarity and transparency is a good thing. The earthy twang, terroir-funk and rich liquor will collectively never be confused with 2001 and certainly not 1998. This has some serious rigid, kick-ass, dark fruit ripped by acidity and wrangled by mean and aggressive tannin. If you are a fan of powerful Grand Cru than this is yours. You’ll have to be patient though. What lady bug year? Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted February 2017

Maison Roche De Bellene “Collection Bellenum” Grand Cru Clos De La Roche 2001, Ac, Ac Burgundy (Agent, $307.95, WineAlign)

A greater than the sum of its original parts vintage now in clear retrospection is the Clos de La Roche 2001, now having travelled to another realm, an ulterior Bungundian dimension, It is from out of the walled in Grand Cru La Roche that the purity cries, laughs and then cries again. Charity from Burgundy in utmost clarity and a minor important edge of merde. It’s simply pure, terroir-infiltrating gout de Roche squeezed from the earth and emancipated into the greater wine as a whole. The effort to acknowledge the ethereal is no effort at all. The ease of breath is touching and thankful. So pretty, firm, but really, just easy living. Like perfect parents who have raised a confident child with perfect social skills. It’s a medieval poem. You can actually drink this now. Drink 2017-2032.  Tasted February 2017

Maison Roche De Bellene “Collection Bellenum” Grand Cru Clos De La Roche 1998, Ac, Ac Burgundy (Agent, $364.95, WineAlign)

Clos de La Roche 1998 may be 19 years old but you have to swirl the britches out of this Grand Cru because reduction persists in its make-up. Once you work your way over the wall a field of wildflowers and a roses bouquet lays out as far as the nose can mind’s eye. This is pure candy in its most arid, blessed and gout de terroir way. It is as charming as Burgundy can be and yet so fine of tannin, tight and duplicitously-grained in clone upon itself. One of those wines so difficult to put to words because it teaches and you can do nothing but listen. I’d still want to wait two more years, maybe more, before knowing I’ve waited long enough. Close de la Roche speaks to me but to answer with any real credibility and respect I will need to think some more. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted February 2017

Maison Roche De Bellene “Collection Bellenum” Meursault Premier Cru Charmes 2002, Ac Burgundy (Agent, $214.95, WineAlign)

From Nicolas Potel in Meursault and a highly prized, charged and anticipated Charmes Premier Cru from 2002 no less, immediately distinctive for the smoky, flinty, direct and taut inflection. It would be hard not to appreciate how the barrel has integrated to the point of absence and in effect, walked out the door. Still the fruit persists and it is the years of melting lees that act as the buoy for that fruit to shine like the gem it obviously was, and is. Citrus yes but not definable as such and acidity also melted and dripping with paraffin in advance of honey. That alternative sweetness is still a few years away. The slow evolution and more to come is one of those great impossibilites to make you smile. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted February 2017

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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En route to Mondavi

Godello at Mondavi, February 2016 @CalifWines_CA @CBrandsCareers

I’m feeling a Mondavi shiver and a To Kalon shimmer coming on. Another anticipatory Mondavi experience is looming, a next week return venture to the iconic and archetypal Napa Valley winery. This will be my third deep delve into the wines of Robert Mondavi spread out over the past 15 months, after a February 2016 California visit and a June VINTAGES 50th Anniversary structured tasting and dinner. I thought it might be me that was the one getting around but clearly it’s the other way around.

THIS VINEYARD STOOD HEAD AND

SHOULDERS ABOVE THOSE AROUND IT

“The extraordinary quality of this wine originates in Napa Valley’s generous terroir. When I taste this, I’m reminded why Cabernet Sauvignon is the varietal on which Robert Mondavi built his reputation.” These are the comments of Genevieve Janssens, Director of Winemaking. I’d hedge my bets that Fumé Blanc should also fall under the auspicious umbrella of such a statement. Mondavi turned the ideal into copyright and it should be argued that Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc would not be where it is today without the farming, research and development put in by generations of the Mondavi team.

Mondavi @CalifWines_CA @CBrandsCareers — at Robert Mondavi Vineyard.

No matter the varietal, the To Kalon Vineyard is where it all stems from, the rib from which the eponymous winery was born and the subsequent 50 years of wines that have comes from those storied vines. In 1966 Mondavi chose To Kalon as the epicentre of what would turn out to be a great big winemaking universe. “It was a vineyard with a distinguished history and a magical nature, ” he wrote. “Ideal soils, sunlight and rain – to my eye, the vineyard was a treasure.” Five decades of Fumé Blanc have sprung, along with more than a hundred renditions of Cabernet Sauvignon.

During that February 2016 visit we tasted through Napa, Oakville and Reserve Fumé Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Carneros Pinot Noir and To Kalon Vineyard bottles were poured in the Margarit Mondavi Vineyard Room at dinner prepared by Chef Jeff Mosher, including the 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

Lorenzo Loseto predeliction @georgeonqueen Lobster, asparagus, quinoa, brioche #umami

Last June Mark De Vere MW led a masterclass in celebration of Mondavi’s 50th anniversary. The line up was outstanding bordering on ridiculous. Vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon starting at 2012 and going back through 2007, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1980 and 1975. The VINTAGES sponsored event and dinner at George Restaurant was prepared by the predilection of Executive Chef Lorenzo Loreto.

With 50 years of To Kalon and a specialized certification program up next, there is no better time than the present to publish these notes on 16 Mondavi wines tasted during these recent events and a few others that have found their way through the VINTAGES release program. Here they are.

Feeling a #mondavi shiver and a #tokalon shimmer #50thanniversary @RobertMondavi #markdevere

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, California (SAQ 221887 $22.95, WineAlign)

The landmark 2015 is the culmination of five Mondavi decades spent elevating and differentiating sauvignon blanc, now in the its 50th vintage. The name fumé blanc and Mondavi are synonymous with one another in unequivocal signature, identical twin, trademark, signature fashion. Not just for Oakville, Napa Valley and California but anywhere and everywhere. You can throw in benchmark, Fodor’s or Lonely Planet guide, dictionary entry or whatever moniker you like. Mondavi’s is all this and in 2015 at its richest and adroitly balanced best. The nose is all ripe orchard fruit from seed to stone and the palate full of texture, acidity and length. The flavours repeat the apple-pear-peach-plum fodder with great tang and near-essential aridity. Great vineyards produce great sauvignon blanc and the rest is history. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted February 2017

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Oakville 2013, Napa Valley, California (SAQ 13119254 $32.00, WineAlign)

The Oakville fumé blanc is a To Kalon gathering, the vineyard that surrounds the Robert Mondavi Winery. With so many “highest beauty” offerings it’s hard to keep track but this qualifies for the distinction with as much respect as any in the ever moving squall of the portfolio. Here from the geographic mean of the valley, a benchmark Bordeaux blend in bench abutment, composed of 89 per cent sauvignon blanc and (11) sémillon. This is only the third vintage and once in cohorts you note the elevated toast, struck flint and smoke. More citrus involves the senses, something almost rare for Napa Valley, in this way. With time (and please be encouraged to hang out for a while) the butterscotch joins the fumé party. The increased tense intention translates to excellent length. The sémillon makes a statement into the nicely bitter finish, with weight, stoicism and certainly the great potential for age. By way of comparison to the Napa Valley bottle there are 5,000 cases of this Oakville. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Fumé Blanc To Kalon Vineyard 2012, Napa Valley, California (SAQ 225599 $44.75, WineAlign)

The To Kalon Vineyard Reserve produces 2500 cases (in a big year) and 2012 topped out at 1700. The vintage delivers more green apple and elastic elegance so good luck in your search for reduction, flint, toast and smoke. You should look to 2013 for such a deferential stylistic and make plans to embosom the two side by side 10 years onward. This is mostly sourced from the 1959 planted Robert’s Block within the larger vineyard, primarily gravelly and well-draining with some alluvial soil edged against the Mayacamas Mountains. The spice here is exceptional, with some anomalic Napa Valley mineral tang afforded by the sémillon blended into the sauvignon blanc. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted February 2016

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, California (492124, $44.95, WineAlign)

There is a richness defined in a Mondavi chardonnay that goes beyond the simple fact that the fruit is Carneros in origin. It’s a luxe composition because of that terroir and also because winemaker Genevieve Janssens is painfully shy to let the fruit speak on its own behalf. The crux and the key lies and turns right there because this is a Mondavi wine. Just as it is always noted with fumé blanc, chardonnay too develops this obeisant disposition, full of emotive ability and perhaps not exactly what you are want to expect, varietally speaking. This is singular for Carneros chardonnay and it’s all Mondavi. It’s both country kitchen in weekend baking mode and a walk in the ripening orchard. It’s a starred Michelin kitchen in baking fury, with a multiplicity of sugars caramelizing overtop a myriad of ramekins welling with tropical fruit. Finally, it’s a Mondavi acidity, elevated and integrated. It’s good chardonnay. Drink 2017-2022.   Tasted April 2017

Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir Reserve 2013, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (SAQ 10219840, $60.50, WineAlign)

Some wise old conditioned and character building vines go into Mondavi’s pinot noir, “purchased from people who have better fruit than we do.” The Hyde Vineyard (40 plus year-old vines) and Rancho Carneros (which includes vines planted in 1979) bring the southernmost windswept part of Napa Valley into the pinot mix. This is optimum extraction in hyperbole, of fruit that runs the gamut from red to deeply dark. It is nothing if not a rich, concentrated and intensely flavourful pinot noir. There is a measure of stuffing to see it drink this way for at least five years from release. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016

50th anniversary @RobertMondavi @LCBO #VINTAGES tasting @GeorgeTO #constellationbrands #cabernetsauvignon

Robert Mondavi 50th Anniversary Maestro Red 2013, Napa Valley, California (459933, $60.00, WineAlign)

Maestro the proprietary blend endows another legacy building notch onto the Robert Mondavi name. This is accomplished through the tenets of wisdom in winemaking as an extension from historic estate vineyards. To Kalon is always the rock and in order to make this 50th Anniversary blend there were sources drawn from throughout Napa Valley though mostly from the Stags Leap District. Merlot (59 per cent) is the pillar with cabernet franc (25), cabernet sauvignon (7), petit verdot (6) and malbec. It’s a true five varietal Bordeaux-styled affair with classic Mondavi elevated pH and acidity. The concept is taken from the image of Robert Mondavi as the maestro of the orchestra and of greater Napa Valley. The liquor of merlot provides the base wine, joined dusty and injected with power by jolts of espresso. It’s an interesting 50th anniversary choice of voice, antithetical to the dominant cabernet sauvignon reds that Mondavi is so famous for and the varietal he staked his reputation on. But rich and velvety helps the cause and the result. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, California (255513, $37.95, WineAlign)

The aridity of 2013 has now translated into some lovely development in bottle that trials and tribulates with its wealthy pool of rich, ripe and silky chocolate texture. Such a typically reasoned Napa Valley explanation with 47 years under its increscent belt. Serious tannins need five years to seek settlement and to carry structure for to build a home for the ripe fruit. At 14.8 per cent alcohol there is much to fuel and keep the abode bathed in warmth, along with American oak in pancetta ooze, augmented by smoke and spice. Chewy and huge. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted twice, February and June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, Napa Valley, California (459883, $73.00, WineAlign)

This 1996 is the 30th anniversary bottling at 20 years-old showing with impossible structure and beautiful possibilities still lay ahead. Though expecting it to push through to its 30th birthday is overly ambitious it will drink just like this, with freshness, bright red fruit and pitch perfect acidity for at least three more years. The pleasure it currently brings suggests this is what was meant to be, by design, of great fortune or just plain luck, so get it while it rests in this ethereal state. Those who paid nothing for it early on were the wisest of the wise and also lucky. This Mondavi ’96 would be a Left Bank killer in a Bordeaux blind tasting, teasing as it does with whiffs of Cassis and tobacco, plus a fortune in subtle perfume. The finish brings a note of baked bricks, almost like nebbiolo but the structure is all cabernet sauvignon. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 1994, Napa Valley, California (459867, $73.00, WineAlign)

From a cool, oft times wet vintage with an elongated ripening season the under appreciated, under-valued and underestimated cabernet sauvignons of Napa Valley continue to get their say. This Mondavi ’94 will not be denied its voice, showing harmonious parts in symphony, of power, grip and elegance from To Kalon Vineyard fruit, amazing acidity and more than impressive longevity. Here now some notes of balsam wood, mushroom and soy have taken hold with more than just two years of extra time as compared to the silly fresh ’96, but the jig is not yet up. The combination of brown sugar and lingering mixed berry fruit is nothing but lovely. Drink up soon. Drink 2016-2017.   Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2012, Napa Valley, California (670463, $150.00, WineAlign)

Much of the fruit is brought to the Napa Reserve from the To Kalon Vineyard and it is rounded out with complimentary Napa and 16 months in 100 per cent new French oak. From a post 2011 hardship deliverance, more than welcome, hallelujah even vintage. Now a Mondavi return to floral posture above and beyond the Napa and Oakville bottle norms. So very pretty and powerful, out of saturation and into drought from which tannic structure is born. Full on fruit without borders, up to the top of the walls and back down in to the glass. With each sip the tannin builds and builds until the wall is constructed. There is no escape because the architecture is both classic and exceptional. Don’t be in a hurry. Struggle will only tighten the grip. Be patient and the next decade will deliver elegance and grace. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted February 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To Kalon Vineyard 2012, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (670463, $150.00, WineAlign)

This is just the second vintage of the To Kalon Oakville Reserve (as opposed to the Napa bottling) from a vineyard where Robert Mondavi established his winery in 1966 and the next “great one,” after 2009. The To Kalon (western) Oakville Reserve is like the Gretzky of cabernet sauvignons, a generational player that only comes along once (or in wine terms, two or three times) a decade. The finest blocks and the “walk in the park” vintage conspired to make To Kalon a focal point once again, of both pH and acidity on the elevated scale, telling us that longevity will never come into question. The wall of tannin exhibited by the Napa Reserve is not duplicated here and so it is a different sort of structure that builds, with more black cherry rich fruit and coveted acescence, but also an absence refined, as if the French barrel hides, deftly woven into the fineness of grain. There is a dusty, ropey and slow developing rise in character, as if a low, barely audible rumble can be heard, or sensed. A waffling between great and outstanding is certainly understood but by the time we reach 2030 and add up the career statistics of this To Kalon I’m quite certain the jury will be out. Drink 2018-2031.  Tasted February and June 2016

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley, California (670463, $144.95, WineAlign)

Tasted at the nine year mark the vintage warmth has nowhere to hide and the fruit is coming within reason of raisin. A small percentage of petit verdot is part of this Mondavi development from fruit as rich, concentrated and extracted as any. The choices made here surely went a long way towards teaching what subsequent decisions were made with the aridity of 2012, 2013 and 2014. The dried fruit as syrup glazing the layers of cake melts into the decadence of barrel chocolate and a roundness of acidity so different that the 2012s. Some earthy, woodsy floor grounds this ’07 so that you are able to see fruit through the forest’s trees. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa Valley, California (WineAlign)

Though sandwiched betwixt and gobsmacked between some infamous Napa Valley vintages (most notable 1995-7 and 1999) don’t look past this golden era 1998. To Kalon Vineyard is the source so right there is pretty much what you need to know about pedigree and potential. At this 17-18 years point in time a few drops of soy and a melt or two of caramel are noted in the ’98 Reserve’s development. Secondary affirmations and vintage structure bring out the purity of the herbaceous quality in cabernet sauvignon together with the slow evolution of a quiet, respectful wine. A tender and silky balsamic reduction chimes in though time is still a friend, willing and allowing the fruit to continue its natural path towards senectitude. I can’t find any reason to not seek tertiary character and continue to enjoy this over the next six years. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted February 2016

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1995, Napa Valley, California (670463, WineAlign)

A few points of merlot were blended into this 21-year salute to Mondavi’s legacy, a cabernet sauvignon impossibly fresh and bright this deep into life. The acidity is not only persistent it’s downright captivating and spellbinding. With thanks to the vintage of course, after a wet spring and a long, cool summer. Few double digit decade retrospective looks into the Mondavi cabernet sauvignon anthology would deliver such clarity of fruit seemingly immune to the truffled passages of time. By dint of tradition and without any forced supervision wines like this govern themselves and yet this might be a larger consideration regarding the entire portfolio. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June 2016

Say, friend – you got any more of that good Sarsaparilla? #thestranger #thebiglebowski #yeahthatsagoodone

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1980, Napa Valley, California (WineAlign)

Mondavi’s 1980 Reserve comes from a time when Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon was made in an unidentified, free and indirect style. The young To Kalon Vineyard may have already known its iconic place but if the makers also knew they could not have so easily created such an early success for us to revel in 36 years later. This is now and still fresh, at least in the context of three dozen years in the bag, with that tied To Kalon triumvirate of acidity, tannin and structure seamless and unsevered. How many aromatic notes can be described? Sarsaparilla, root beer, baked bricks, tomato leaf, pipe tobacco, eryngii mushroom, potpourri and mocha are eight that come to mind and nose. It’s a juicy ’80, not so much in terms of fruit though further sips bring faint memories on the back palate. All this 36 years later manages to remove responsibility from the omniscient perspective of the winemaker and lay it comfortably and pleasurably in our hands and minds. So much thanks for this opportunity. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1975, Napa Valley, California (WineAlign)

Forty one years is a long haul for a wine to hang in there and I’m not sure more than a handful of 1975 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon not plucked from the future iconic climat of To Kalon Vineyard could have survived this test of time. Even with the impressive longevity and lifeline ability this is now more curiosity than pleasure. Some might say at this stage the wine may be aimless but who can deny that it is also possessive of poised intelligence. From a vintage overshadowed by 1974, there is some old California Golden Seals hockey bag sweat in the aromatic mix along with savoury mulch and mushroom. There really is no fruit left to speak of, prune perhaps but no berries. The acidity still rips with some strength, swirling into the burnt caramel and all things considered this ain’t dead yet. It does show some Bretty notes that the 1980 does not and in the end the adage is true, spoken so eloquently by Mark de Vere MW. “Flavours you cannot replicate without time.” Drink 2016.   Tasted June 2016

Godello at Mondavi, February 2016 @CalifWines_CA @CBrandsCareers

Good to go!

Godello

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