Australasian tasting with Escarpment and Torbreck Vintners

Some of the worlds oldest vines continue to thrive in South Australia’s Barossa Valley and 3,600 kms away in Martinborough, New Zealand there are some vines upwards of 35 years of age now entering into their experiential phase. First there is the 1994 founded Torbreck Vintners, one of the Barossa’s upper echelon producers of bonzer shiraz, Rhône-inspired red blends, sémillon and a grenache to rival any in this world. Second along comes Escarpment Wines, a recent addition to the Torbreck portfolio created by the Marchesi of Martinborough himself, that being Larry McKenna back in 1999. The winery was originally established as a partnership between McKenna, his wife Sue, along with Robert and Mem Kirby, at a vineyard planted on the Te Muna river terraces, a few kilometres east of Martinborough town. McKenna had been in Martinborough since 1984, involved in the vineyards since ’86 and the winery was recently purchased by Torbreck in 2019.

With John Szabo MS and Torbreck’s Andrew Tierney

Back in September Torbreck’s Sales, Export and Marketing Director Andrew Tierney was in Toronto and so John Szabo MS and I sat down with him and his importing agent Craig de Blois of Noble Estates. We paced steadily with concerted haste through five Escarpment and eight Torbreck wines. Some will soon show up in VINTAGES and also by way of Classics catalogue releases from now through the Spring of 2023. Here are my notes on the 13 wines.

Escarpment Chardonnay 2021, Martinborough, New Zealand

Founder Larry McKenna had been in Martinborough since ’84, involved in the vineyards since ’86, started the property in ’99, mainly to chardonnay and pinot noir with a bit of pinot gris. Purchased by Torbreck in 2019. Alluvial-gravel soils and a property (Escarpment) that needed an infusion of commercial advantage. Quite a flinty strike, reminiscent of the Dog Point style in whites but here clearly attributable to the terroir. Low density in the new plantings and low volume output. From the original plantings (or at least those that survived Phylloxera) and a wine that sees no barrique, only puncheons. Intensity of tart and taut behaviour, lees-textured though nothing creamy caused by stirring. Gets to the top of the sides of the palate, lingers for a cocktail or two and slowly drifts away. Unique set of chardonnay circumstances right here. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted September 2022

Escarpment “Noir” Martinborough Pinot Noir 2020, Martinborough, New Zealand

Considered an “entry-level” pinot noir, poured first and leading into a few “Premier and Grand Cru” iterations. Consider this more of a mini or multi-Villages style or plan, done in stainless steel and old barrels. A combination of vineyard across Martinborough of fruit de-classified away from the Villages and Cru wines. Shows off that darker and mineral-stony intensity of varietal fruit and therefore quite typical for the greater sense of place. As floral as expected or better yet wanting it to be, strength of aromatic sense and then herbal though savoury so, like fennel and drying roses. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted September 2022

Escarpment Pinot Noir 2019, Martinborough, New Zealand

The next Escarpment steppe is a “Villages” level pinot noir, composed of 60-70 per cent estate fruit plus other Martinborough “Villages” sourced fruit. The next level concentration but more so the complex notions of fungi and Piedmontese-esque tar and roses take this to another level entirely. You need to take time here, allow the aromatics to rise and hover, pause again and then consider the range of flavour escaping with emotion. The encapsulation of Martinborough falls into and emerges from this Villages and my how it strikes a chord. Drink 2023-2025.  Tasted September 2022

Escarpment Pinot Noir Kiwa 2020, Martinborough, New Zealand

From the oldest (1.8 hectare) block with a higher level of alluvial-gravel, a township vineyard close to Ata Rangi, dating back to 1994. Expect high mineral and tannin though that is not necessarily what will come from sister bottling Kupe. Taking concentration, sensation and fascination to another level yet again, aromatic sure but harder to get and fully comprehend. Yet you know and intuit another dimension and scope of varietal fortitude, due to soil and place, someway, somehow. This is whole and a wine of breadth, clustered by 30-40 per cent intact berries and thereby a true gifting of the veritable pinot noir. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted September 2022

Escarpment Pinot Noir Kupe 2020, Martinborough, New Zealand

One hundred per cent Abel clone smothered and then smuggled from “somewhere” in France, here from a block that suggests 60-70 whole cluster fermentation and the winemaking team abides. There is a pickling effect, a reductive reticence and a demand in taut intensity by way of tension that would not want to open up any time soon. Showing some nightshade leafiness though subtly so and surely a component that will dissipate with time. A beast? Perhaps the term of endearment could be used but it should be considered more in terms of weaponry, medieval to a degree but a warrior’s accoutrement accruements for sure. Return before the next moment of strife to check in and see where Kupe is at. Drink 2025-2033.  Tasted September 2022

Ladies and gentlemen, Craig de Blois

Torbreck Woodcutter’s Sémillon 2022, Barossa Valley, South Australia

From plantings of 1984 and 1998 and yes indeed the first 2022 wine tasted (for now). Just over a third is aged in wood and the vintage was as non dramatic as it gets, “a good year,” tells Andrew Tierney, “no drought, no wildfires, no bad winds.” Bit more downy texture and fulsome mouthfeel than many which will surely equip this sémillon with the kind of stature to age into something elastic and forever. This will surely include buttered brioche and lemon curd, eventually. Just imagine how upper echelon, world class this wine could be were it’s vineyards farmed and crafting approached with religious reverence. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck Cuvée Juveniles 2021, Barossa Valley, South Australia

The first vintage that contains fruit from the recent carignan and cunoise plantings (2017) to go along with the syrah, grenache and mourvèdre. The “Côtes de Barossa” of Torbreck’s Rhône portfolio with such an added savoury element now that the C’s are involved and balancing out with the S, G and M. Gone are the days of confectionary pleasantries (a relative thing to say) and welcome to equanimity but better still Barossa Valley range. The new umami and depth descended than before. a great direction to be sure. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck The Steading 2020, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Here Torbreck’s world enters what can be considered and even referred to as “Châteauneuf de Barossa,” a place where a multitude of Rhône grapes gather for the full and complimentary layered effect. A true G-S-M, first made in 1996 and by many accounts the signature red wine of the company. Rich and structured, built for aging. Ages in large foudres and while it will almost certainly retract in a year or so, for now the open juiciness and up front beauty is there for the preview. Just wait until the 2017 plantings of carignan and counoise mature and join this mix. The future will be exciting indeed. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck Grenache Hillside Vineyard 2019, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Planted in 1949, all dry-farmed bush vine grenache on an estate property at 180m of elevation. The fruit used to go into The Steading but now finds its way into one large foudre for this lithe, elegant and copacetic example of pure grenache. Hard to find a Barossa Charter for Old Vines example any more impressive as a provider than this, a parent, grandparent and great-grandparent set of vines gifting a current vintage with all the acumen, experience and nurturing that is seemingly impossible but so very wanted. Started in 2017 with the elimination of small casks because grenache absorbs and then oxidizes, better best done up in foudres for the right result. Here the grenache swirls, inclusive of raspberry, then variegates (with far eastern Illicium Verum spices) and expands aromatically, in complex flavours and truth be told, über concentrated freshness. Gorgeous and honest wine. Drink 2024-2034.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck The Struie 2020, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Label does not say it (it’s a Torbreck thing) but this is solo shiraz, from “intermediate” vineyards in the 70-80 year range, 75 per cent from the Valley and the rest outside. Sure there is a feeling gained that’s expressly shiraz from Barossa but what’s more and truly important is this silken seamlessness, the glycerol and mint coulis that grabs the palate’s full attention. To grow at this quality level the yields have to be devilishly low, not an easy task when you’re working with 30 contract growers. Sustainably farmed and regionally framed in a shiraz of fruit, meat and sweet herbs, nothing tarry, charred or rustic about it. Smooth as it gets. Truth. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck Shiraz The Factor 2019, Barossa Valley, South Australia

The essential difference between Struie and Factor is complicated but the limiting is to four vineyards (90 to 125 years of age, in stone, sand, clay and red Barossa loam) and 40 per cent in French oak. The viscosity is again palpable but now so bloody accentuated, elongated, elasticized and multiplied in the Factor. Thus the name? Not exactly (or likely) but this is indeed a matter of place(s) and purpose. No deception in this depth, nor in the execution neither. Need to find more word hyperboles for glycerol and mouthfeel so bare with me for a moment.. Let’s call Factor a shiraz “triol bond multiplied by hydroxyl bomb” with the result being a diatomic molecule simply called “Radical.” Drink 2026-2037.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck RunRig 2019, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Six vineyards go into RunRig, 90-170 years of age, four estate and two by growers, from Lindoc to Ebeneezer. There is a tiny percentage of viognier added at bottling and the wines that are not chosen will end up in the Struie and The Factor. A drought year and there seems no real need to compare with those wines. The level of fortitude, intensity, trenchant purpose and just plain gumption is off the charts, shiraz or not, with a “willingness to get things done and just let this wine do the talking.” Not the solo black fruit that the others show but a full hematoma of hue and drupe, blues and reds in the scheme. Full varietal aperture, slow shutter speed and clarity like no other. Vintage snapshot captured that will live in infamy. Drink 2024-2039.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck RunRig 2016, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Six vineyards go into RunRig, 90-170 years of age, four estate and two by growers, from Lindoc to Ebeneezer. There is a tiny percentage of viognier added at bottling and the wines that are not chosen will end up in the Struie and The Factor. Surely age has begun to make a minor difference but more than anything it is a vintage that sets the record straight. RunRig was one thing and like all great wines has to change so here the set is that of a twain. And so 2016 marks the turn from one era towards another and establishes a revised launch point to accrue the new benchmark. Shiraz yes but a wine of certitude and confidence to transcend varietal definitions and celebrate some of the oldest plots in the land. Sure the texture is silky smooth but the “it factor” concerns these layers to peel away and the depths of (opposite of despair) that put this wine where it wants to be. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted September 2022

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Twenty-one Canadian wines that rocked in 2021

Another year comes to a close, one filled with the dark moments and the light, the romantic entanglements and debacles, highs and lows. In life, love and wine, here with any reference to a gesture, gaze, smile or any other sensory reaction coming from an account of someone who witnessed it. In this particular case that would be Godello and much of what he saw and heard included odd little episodes that reveal how grapes really lived under the conditions of not only this vintage, but also the ones that came before. This ninth edition of 21 Canadian wines that rocked in 2021 comes out as a derivative, spin-off and postscript to all of this.

Godello in the Similkameen Valley

Related – Twenty Canadian wines that rocked in 2020

As a reminder, year-end lists are a matter of personal fascination and should be met with a certain level of judgement so that highly subjective descriptors such as “best” or “most” can be consumed with doubt, thoughts askance and even heated moments of disbelief. That which makes us feel moved, stirred, excited, ignited and set aflame could very well be someone else’s nothingness. Classification, indexing and charting is truly personal and as such opens up wide for criticism and hopefully, healthy debate. So keep it real but also civil, if you please.

Related – Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

If we thought the 12 months that made up the 2020 calendar took things deep into the arena of the unfathomable and the absurd, then 2021 left the stadium and flew into the stratosphere of the preposterous. One silly year led to another but this one just seems to be concluding with some sort of level best described as fraught with “Vonnegutian violence.” Thank goodness there is Canadian wine to fall back onto and though it has been said before, this was indeed the very best year for the local stuff. A 2021 from which the highest to date level of greatness was achieved. Though these holidays are bittersweet and conditioned with some great unknowns, take solace in Canadian wine and what can be learned from their progression, evolution and continued excellence. They never give in or up but always strive forward, getting better all the time. To quote and then paraphrase from Britt Daniel and his band Spoon, “when you think your thoughts be sure that they are sweet ones. Don’t you know, love, you’re alright…don’t you know your (glass) awaits and now it’s time for (tasting).”

Related – Godello’s 24-hour Nova Scotia revival

This latest rocking roster of Canadian made wine is now the ninth annual for an exercise that first began back in 2013. When 2022 comes to a close the 10th will come to fruition in print, with 22 of Canada’s best laid to order. In 2021 Canadian wines were made available at every turn, especially at the WineAlign tasting table. In July the WineAlign critics’ crü took in Niagara for a pseudo-i4C 2021 Cool Chardonnay weekend. Godello made his own way to Nova Scotia in September to meet with and taste alongside eight of that province’s great winemaking teams. In October the WineAlign judging cartel sat through more than 2,000 entries at the National Wine Awards of Canada in the Okanagan Valley. Events such as the VQA Oyster competition, Somewhereness and Terroir Symposium were still no shows, or gos, nor walk-around tastings neither. Once again sad to miss Tony Aspler’s Ontario Wine Awards and David Lawrason’s Great Canadian Kitchen Party, the artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates. Here’s to hoping 2022 will finally usher in a return to assessing and celebrating together.

Related – Niagara’s cool for chards

As per previous incarnations of this annual compendium, “the numbers chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine continue to march ahead, as promised by the annual billing. In 2019 the list counted 19. In 2018 there were 18 and in 2017, 17 noted. In 2016 that meant 16 and 15 for 2015, just as in 2014 the filtered list showed 14, after  13 for 2013. Last year? You would be correct if you guessed 20. “Whence comes the sense of wonder we perceive when we encounter certain bottles of art?” Note that a third of the 21 most exciting Canadian wines of 2021 are in sparkling form. Does that need to be qualified? Of course not. Godello gives you twenty-one Canadian wines that rocked in 2021.

13th Street Premier Cuvée Sparkling 2015, Traditional Method, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Racy sparkling wine of traditional ways, dry, toasty and of great vigour. Top notch autolysis, fine lees and guesses to the end would have to be in the 48-plus month arena. The real deal, richly rendered, acids in charge, instructive and carrying the fruit to the mountain’s peak. Hard to top this in Canada. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noir 2013, Nova Scotia

While Ben Swetnam had wanted to dabble in sparkling going back to 2009 he can thank everyone in the Nova Scotia industry for showing him the ropes. That includes Gina Haverstock at Gaspereau, Bruce Ewart at L’Acadie, Simon Rafuse at Blomidon, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers at Benjamin Bridge and others. The 2011 would have been the first vintage of pinot noir production with the intent of making sparkling wine, of hot to cool years and all others in between. Dijon clones and a warmer edge of a ’13 season, a riper style but brought in at classic sparkling numbers, acids 11-12.5 and brix 17-19, picking in the third week of October. An early vintage. Intensity meets richness halfway there, fruit flavours are exceptional, just shy of eight years on lees, disgorged three months ago. “For the pinot I always wanted to do a minimum five years and the acidity was always there,” tells Ben. “The tertiary qualities were not out yet so the pause every six months kept the decisions at bay.” Got this apricot chanterelle fungi character, mousse and bubble are really in tact, dosage is 7.5 g/L almost fully hidden by that Nova Scotia acidity. There is something about this sight that maintains higher acidity levels while sugars rise but as an example perhaps it’s the gypsum based soil underneath the whole vineyard, or the tidal rivers and the specific diurnal fluctuations, cooler at night and “it’s something we can always rely on, in every year, that backbone of acidity.” So very Nova Scotia. Usually 500 bottles produced per year. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut Rosé 2017, Nova Scotia

One of the first wines to come to the surface with Pascal Agrapart’s involvement with winemakers Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Alex Morozov. When tasted the sentiment was that this particular vintage of this very particular sparkling wine was not yet there yet in terms of readiness or rather publicizing but truth be told, never have texture and acids come together as one in a BB Rosé. Crunch and chew, riff and rise, bellow and beauty, all despite the spiralling zeitgeist that underscores its urgency. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Blomidon Estate Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noirs 2016, Nova Scotia

Give or take 76 per cent pinot noir and 24 meunier, a similar vintage to 2015 (though a touch warmer) and here picked on the 17th of November. Almost all from Woodside Vineyard and some meunier off of the Blomidon estate vines, no longer here. Disgorged today, yes today and my oh my the potential here elevates to a very high ceiling. Just under 6 g/L RS so exactly extra brut, really primary but with the dosage that will arrive before you know it. The pinot delivers more fruit than the chardonnay, perhaps a counterintuitive concept but that’s Nova Scotia. And every vintage will flip the head and make you think again. Small lot, 50 cases or so. Searing succulence, a structural richness and transformative beyond the complex, curious and interesting. Assiduous if conceited blanc de noirs, pejorative to chardonnay, entangled inside enigma, mystery and riddle. Literally. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Blue Mountain Blanc De Blancs R.D. 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

A varietal estate grown chardonnay that spent upwards of 78 months sur lie is nothing short of dramatic, if not unconscionable. Not that no one else, anywhere else does such a thing but to do so, change so little and deliver unquestionable excellence is what dreams, expression and delivery are all about. If the Brut Reserve is Fillmore East than this Blanc de Blancs is Montreux, electric, mind-bending and so very exotique. João Gilberto, Marvin Gaye and Lou Reed wrapped into one, a sparkling wine of influence that only incidentally expands into mainstream visibility. This has stage presence and breaks fresh ground with creative sensibility, not to mention a deliciousness of flavour and mousse. That and 2012 in pocket permanently affixed to to the album cover. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted March 2021

Henry Of Pelham Estate Winery Cuvée Catharine Centenary Estate Blanc De Blanc 2010, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario

As a reminder this top H of P traditional method sparkling wine is named after Catharine Smith, Henry of Pelham’s wife and this Centenary is the crème de la crème for the label. A rarity for the estate and for Canadian wine, partially (20 per cent) barrel fermented and aged for up to 100 months on the lees. All Short Hills Bench chardonnay, all in with a hyperbole of toasty development and the most brûlée of any bubble in the village. The sparkling stage presence and prescience of being so connected to grape and place make this true to itself. Not to be missed. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted December 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut Estate Méthode Traditionelle 2014, Nova Scotia

Was embargoed until September 9th after having just received the Lieutenant Governor Award. Has evolved into a seriously toasted arena, gone long with lees contact, looking for peaceful co-existence between yeast autolysis and the fruit of the wine. “You don’t want conflict, you want that harmony, tells Bruce Ewart.” Disgorged January 2021 and so spent more than the minimum five years on lees. An insignificant dosage (more than most of these wines). Bruce’s program goes at it in terms of two and five year aging and he believes that while Nova Scotia can do ten or more there is only a minor incremental increase in complexity by doing so. This at six-plus has hit such a sweet spot, still in retention of currant and white/red berry fruit but also low and slow golden, tanned and long as an August afternoon Gaspereau shadow. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Two Sisters Blanc De Franc 2018, VQA Niagara River, Ontario

Stellar work here in blanc de franc, understated and effusive, lifted of black currants and sweet pepperoncini yet grounded by serious grape tannin. A sparkling wine of grape extract so full of depth and breadth. Not a wine of high autolysis but rather tart, tight and in command of all it wants to be. Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021.

The third vintage of Adam Pearce’s ground-breaking Blanc de Franc is as you would imagine a white sparkling wine made from the red cabernet franc grape. The aromas are distinct and secure, squarely wrested from the red currant and sweet peppery varietal post, expressed in a uniquely Two Sisters bubble that may once again, or rather should continue to rock one’s world. More richness and also excitement than ever before, risk taken and reward achieved. No acquiescence, no adjacent meanders but head down, goal in sight and hurdles overcome. At the end of the day this is one of the most impressive and essential wines made in Ontario. Nova Scotia is on the franc idea and others locally are beginning to follow. Autolytic and delicious, on point and regal. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario

From vines planted by proprietor Martin Malivoire “close to home” in what is the eponymous vineyard. Moira is a Beamsville Bench icon and has been for quite some time now, without question, nothing to discuss here, case closed. There is a complex and layered developed notation that Vivant does not have, not fort better or worse but Moira requires more thought and consternation. You can no longer think on it in terms of salinity, sapidity and satisfaction. Something more and other must be considered. Style. Style is what separates Moira from most other Ontario Rosé and in 2020 it exudes with prejudice and finesse. When a sip of a wine in this category stays with you for as long as Moira does, well you just know greatness is in the glass. This can saunter with the very best of Southern France. That’s the truth. Kudos to winemaker Shiraz Mottiar for this. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted April 2021

Martin’s Lane Riesling Fritzi’s Vineyard 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Shane Munn’s riesling from the volcanic, clay and white quarts Fritzi’s Vineyard continues to get better, all the while with a wine he seems to do less and less to try and control. Must be the place and the fruit from this 21 year-old block (as of this 2018 vintage) seeking a 48 hour skin-contact for oxidatively handled juice. Pressed once, lightly and so softly treated, then transferred to German casks where it stays for up to eight months. Just bloody delicious, hard to not conjure a frothie for this freshest of phenolic rieslings, which incidentally was only sulphured once, four months into the trek. Walks about from grippy to lovely and back again, with silk stops along the way. Will shine brightest two years from now. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted twice, October and December 2021

A really creative sémillon, rich, creamy and fulsome which is classic Mt. Boucherie while never abandoning the grape’s pointed and intense linearity. Hard not to be impressed by the soil intendment and how it creates a backbone in the wine, beyond acidity and into something sarsen-like, upright, timeless, forever. Plenty of grip, essential elements, minerals and metallics. Keeps the sémillon sensibility alive of an unconquerable nature, varietal invictus, solid construct but with more than ample fruit. Convincing follow-up to 2019 and really quite on par in every respect. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2019, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario

Notable reduction marks South Clos’ youthful entry and with that first nose in the glass we are put on immediate notice that 2019 will be a structured year for winemaker Keith Tyers’ and Closson Chase’s chardonnay. This and the following vintage will trade blows for bragging rights, longevity and excellence, so pay attention to this pool of varietal estate wines. That is something CC so generously affords their customers. Here at the top level the fruit is glorious, pristine, pure and cut by diamond clarity. The reduction flies away and a nose of marzipan, lemon preserve and a fresh bitten Ida Red apple come away from the vineyard. Acids here are tight, crunchy, friable, felt from the tongue’s tip to the wisdoms. The liquidity is so finely chalky with all signs pointing to spirit and balance with that ’19 crop of South Clos fruit at the core. Does not get much better from PEC, Ontario or Canada. Anywhere. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. No stirring, “I don’t like bâtonnage,” tells winemaker Jay Johnston, “unless I’m trying to get a wine to dry.” Never mind the lees aeration or the emulsification because texture in this ’19 is extraordinary to behold, gliding across the palate with Bench orchard fruit cleverness, penetrating perspicacity and juices running through unblemished flesh. Tighter and taut than ’18, while seemingly improbable but here yet unwound, far from the pinnacle at which point full expression will surely ache to be. The ’18 may be a beautiful thing but the ’19 is structured, manifold in destiny and ideal for those who know, or at least think they do. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted July 2021

Lightfoot And Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2018, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia

Frost year for the valley but again an escape by the vines at Lightfoot & Wolfville with thanks to the tidal influence to keep the chardonnay vines happy, healthy and secure. So much fruit and warm summer sunshine, a glade bathed in light and a luminescence rarely found in chardonnay. Consistent L & W elévage, increasingly into puncheons and away from 225L barriques. You can never forget and not remember what chardonnay has done for L & W, while now the richness and restraint work in optimized tandem. Less reductive than previous incantations, with new and improved connotations, consistencies and harmonic sway. Also a matter of vintage and cooperage. Stability is the key to being great. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Westcott Reserve Chardonnay 2020, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario

Almost seems redundant to say anything about the Reserve from 2020 because what more is there that was not already expounded upon from the Estate chardonnay. Same soft entry, slow developing charm, fruit neither richest nor gregarious but yet in Reserve truly ideal, less variegated and hinting at opulence. That is the crux and the key, hints, in shadows, speculations, possibilities and in Reserve form most surely probabilities. Elevates the crisp crunch and gets real trenchant with the pulverulent and tactile sensations. Seriously credible, professional and still emotive work here from Westcott at the pinnacle of Vinemount Ridge, but also Bench and Escarpment chardonnay. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2021

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

Bachelder Bai Xu Gamay Noir Niagara Cru 2019, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario

Bai Xu is unique within the Bachelder gamay domain encompassing whole cluster ferments and cru investigations. It reminds us all that time and patience are a must, an academic approach is not enough and one must follow their intuition, instinct and heart to deliver appreciated wine. In Niagara the philosophy has merged with gamay in ways the monk could never have known were possible. Here 20 per cent whole cluster may be less than the 22 and 52 crus, but this is a broader matter and one that fruits beyond the Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard. In a sense, a villages-plus wine (think Côte d’Or) but as a conceptual one. The clarity and slow release of flavour in Bai Xu happens without power, grip or forceful intent. The acidity neither startles nor does it cry out, but instead acts as architect for the infrastructure and the mosaic. Bai (it is presumed) from a Chinese language, meaning “pure,” (depending on the dialect and vowel’s accent) and Xu, “slowly, calmly.” Thomas Bachelder is surely looking for the chaste gamay, unadulterated and one that rushes nowhere, takes the slow and winding path, feet securely on solid ground. More than anything else, this gamay cru won’t chase after what it thinks may make us happy or search for things that deliver one and done, immediate and short-lived excitement. As another one of nature’s mysterious constructs the captured poise and effect make cause for great delight. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted June 2021

Cloudsley Cellars Cuesta Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Cuesta as a vineyard has more history behind it than one might have assumed, having been planted back in 2002. Adam Lowy has made 65 cases from Cuesta’s deeply resonant and soulful fruit, so as a consequence given it more new oak (28 per cent) than any of his other three single-vineyard pinot noirs. Clearly the brightest, most tonally effusive and transparent of the quadrangle, as Burgundian as it gets when it comes to mapping or contemplating the connectivity with the mothership. Just a lovely, elegant and sweet-scented pinot noir, classically arranged, scientifically opined and romantically delivered by Lowy’s prudent if so very hopeful elévage. The Côtes de Nuits notation is clearly defined, intuited and understood. Not quite but resembling Marsannay, or perhaps even something just a plot or three further south. Cuesta conduits as the “Robbinsian” one for which “the scientist keeps the romantic honest and the romantic keeps the scientist human.” Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Checkmate Silent Bishop Merlot 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

One of four Checkmate merlots, regional expressions, here a blend of three benches, Osoyoos West, Oliver North and Golden Mile. A Silent Bishop and a merlot are more powerful than those who speak and their ordinations may also be called consecrations. Here the silent 2015 is one that is dedicated, coordinated, devoted and sacred to proprietors, winemaker and place. When a merlot is silent it moves in dynamic tactical effect and like the bishop moving on a position, does not capture or attack an enemy piece. Truth be told this is a stealth merlot, of fruit so dark and mysterious, of structure hidden, enigmatic and prepared to go the distance. Such an efficient wine and the kind to cause a ripple effect. Taste this and you too will want to pursue making profound Okanagan merlot, an endeavour as frustrating as it can be elusive. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted June 2021

La Stella Maestoso “Solo Merlot” 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The decision whether to listen to Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 or Handel’s Allegro Maestoso (Water Music Suite 2) while tasting and sipping through La Stella’s “Solo” merlot is a difficult one. Less obvious than it might seem and the question is which piece best exemplifies “the highest peak in the crescendo, that moment of realizing you are in the presence of majesty.” Both, to be fair and so I find myself in good ears, and taste by the triad grace of Chopin, Handel and La Stella hands. Let’s revise to encompass all three, in decadence, rolling rhythm and Okanagan Valley merlot-defining precociousness come crashing onto a shore of strings. This is where the maestroso moment happens, in cumulative fruit substance joined by fine acid intensity, wrapped up in structural soundness. All this after a great deal of strong tempo variations which are prominent features in this Severine Pinte interpretation. The instruments are Glacio Fluvial and Fluvial Fan; Clay and Gravel mix, Alluvial deposit and Clay, playing in the orchestra of Osoyoos Lake District and Golden Mile. Support from the Okanagan’s best, written as a top merlot composition and executed flawlessly by the winemaking team. Bravissimo. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted May 2021

Phantom Creek Phantom Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Two weeks later than the usual norm defined the 2017 spring but hot and dry summer weather confirmed the intensity of Phantom Creek Vineyard’s southern Okanagan growing season. The cabernet sauvignon grows on the lower terrace of the Black Sage Bench’s Osoyoos sandy loam and it has been approximately 15 years that these vines have been fostering these wines. Magnanimously ripe and conspicuously copious fruit sees the unabashed generosity of (75 per cent new) French wood in a bone dry, healthy acidity endowed and elevated pH cabernet. This is essential edging up and into quintessential Okanagan varietal chattel, a wine of substance, grip and winched binding, oozing with expensive taste, fine dark chocolate and a depth of fruit that aches to be heard. That will have to wait and so should you because the structural parsimony will need three years or more to release and allow for stretching and breathing room. A prouheze as they say. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted May 2021

Stag’s Hollow Syrah 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Roes floral, elegant, ethereal, really effusive and just lovely stuff. Nothing remotely over the top, no blow to the head nor a crashing upon the senses. Sweet acids and silky tannins are the finality in what is clearly generated to conclude upon the notion of a very great wine. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Twenty-one mind-blowing wines of 2021

The greatest wines are considered as the ones that talk to us, connect with that part of our being that elicits sensory and emotional responses, feelings of zeitgeist and great release. Throughout the course of a year I taste thousands in my glass, countless banal, innumerable competent, others correct and many exceptional. Then there are the rare and peerless capable of altering time and space, chosen ones that after listening we then speak directly to. The mind-blowing wines.

Related – Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

This is what I might say to such a splendid creature. “I look upon the flash of your sheen, you a wine of scientific strategies. Your aromatics sum up for me my educational studies in science and lifelong memories. Your flavours remind me of experiments in vinous physics, your textures of exercises in galactic mechanics. Your structure recalls infinite chemical reactions and architectural engineering. Your energy, though carefully controlled, threatens to ignite and destroy my laboratory and yet binds my existential life together. You blow my mind.

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

Last year’s 20 for 20 was a much different list than ever before. Only 25 days of travel and while I did finally make a return to global discovery that number was even less in 2021. Two trips to Italy and one to B.C. in October and November. Once again just 25 days in total. A yearly schedule usually adds up to 100-plus but fortune also shines on the critics of WineAlign. Through quarantine, isolation and safe-distancing we still managed to taste through thousands of wines. I recorded well and above 4,000 tasting notes in 2021 so it would appear that palate discovery is still alive and well. For the first time ever there are three dessert wines on the list because well, stickies just don’t get enough love. And never before have I included a Canadian wine because I pen a separate list for local but a Thomas Bachelder chardonnay is wholly deserving of going global. These are Godello’s 21 mind-blowing wines of 2021.

Berlucchi Riserva Familia Ziliana Franciacorta DOCG 2001, Lombardy

A blend of chardonnay and pinot nero matured on lees for 218 months and a further 31 months after disgorgement. Zero dosage, tirage in June 2002. Tasting from “the stolen bottle,” and one would swear there is some sweetness in this wine, offset by twenty year-old persistent and rising acidity. The state of grace and ability this 2001 finds itself sitting royally in is quite something to behold. Stands firm and can stride with most any 20 year-old sparkling wine. A simple fact tells us that Arturo Ziliani’s father Franco and Guido Berlucchi decided to create sparkling wines in Franciacorta. They are the pioneers. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Krug Vintage Brut Champagne 2002

The year 2002 dubbed as “ode to nature” marked the first Krug “vintage of the millennium” and was presented after Krug 2003, just as Krug 1988 left the cellars after Krug 1989. A clement year, relatively dry to make for a homogeneous harvest. The blend is 39 per cent pinot noir, (40) chardonnay and (21) pinot meunier. Disgorgement would have been in the autumn of 2015 after having spent at least 13 years in Krug’s cellars. All this tells us that the vintage is one treated to great respect with the acumen to age seemingly forever. This bottle shows some advancement but mostly in toasted and spiced notes while acting so expertly oxidative, in total control of its own and also our senses. Smells of orange skin, zesty and by citrus spray, then pickled ginger and wild fennel. Tasted blind it feels just exactly 20 years old but it’s not hard to be tricked into imagining even older. I admit to guessing 1995 with thanks to a presentation of at once wildly exotic and then exceptional bubbles. Just a matter of being hoked up with celebration. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Kabola Malvazija Amfora 2017, Istria, Croatia

Kabola’s is malvazija istarska raised in traditional clay amphorae in combination with oak barrels. Kabola is found in Buje, not far from the coast and south of Trieste. While the combination of clay and wood seem to confuse or blur the game there is something wholly credible and intriguing about this wonderful aromatic mess. You can not only smell and sense but more deeply intuit the phenolic qualities inherent in here. Skins, pips and even a bit of herbaceous stem. Peach and orange tisane, exotic spice and high, high quality lees. Great winemaking here in the context of leaving your grapes to do the work but both timing and execution are spot on. Raises the varietal bar and shows what’s possible. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted April 2021

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 1998, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

A wine in which the switch has been flicked at least five times, at least three past the family’s preference but let’s be frank. This is a fascinating Friuli-Venezia-Giulia wine to taste. Oxidative in the most beautiful way, sapid and laden with 23 year-old tang. Very much a young adult of confidence and swagger borne out of phenolic fruit maturation. A long-hanging vintage, a note of botrytis, a late harvest sensation but truly salty, mineral and showing the biodiversity in clones and vineyards that one would expect a white blend of this ilk to display. Just a terrific example of friulano, sauvignon and pinot bianco in their arena of characterful array. Drink 2021.  Tasted October 2021

Bachelder Grimsby Hillside “North Slope, Starry Skies” Chardonnay 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

New in the pantheon for Bachelder and Niagara wines as an entity is this from Grimsby Hillside, the new frontier, next level up and future for the industry. In fact the time is already upon these precocious vines and their fruit specially formulated for the most wound and cinched kind of chardonnay, so precipitously witnessed in Thomas Bachelder’s “North Slope, Starry Skies” 2019. The vineyard was planted to vitis labrusca and used for Kaddish wine through the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s and just less than 20 years ago re-purposed to vinifera. Just two decades later winemakers like Thomas and Ilya Senchuk have discovered the magic of possibility and greatness of probability. Tasted this first in July with Thomas though it had just gone to bottle. Now the textural level of this GH-N triple-S has hitherto arrived at the immaculate, sweetly viscous, gleefully gelid and just right there at the apex of sensory enjoyment. Tight and delicious is a good combination. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2021

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018, Stellenbosch, South Africa

A single vineyard chenin blanc and the first vintage to the Ontario market for a unique project celebrating the family farm called Eden. From their Stellenbosch ward of Polkadraai and high density plantings on dolomitic, granitic soils. Of a richness, an intensity of parts and a presence only a handful of South African blanc ever reach. A wine that achieves a level of status by its work underground (through root competition) and a clone called Montpellier that produces small berries and even smaller yields, not to mention the plot is just 0.6 hectares in size. Eden is the mothership and matriarch of this clone and for that variety in South Africa. All parts contribute to a wine of outrageous acidity that is never sharp, vivid or dominant. Fruit, mineral, focus, elements and precision. Wet stone is pure Polkadraai, vaporous, omnipresent, all over the wine. “The most successful winemakers (and wine projects) are ones that specialize,” says Bruwer Raats. This Eden follows the credo to a “T” and with a capital “E.” Really cerebral and also age-worthy chenin, in the upper echelon of the finest in the pantheon. If ever a chenin signified “Bringing it all Back Home,” the Raats Eden is it. “Discuss what’s real and what is not. It doesn’t matter inside the Gates of Eden.” Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted June 2021

With Sofia Ponzini and Vico

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso Vigna Vico Pre-Phylloxera 2018, DOC Etna

Just another immediately memorable Piano dei Daini Etna Rosso Vico, Sofia Ponzini’s Cru-Vigna nerello mascalese (with 10 per cent nerello cappuccio) at 700m from the northern side of Mount Etna. Grown as alberello on a volcanic, sandy matrix with some stones from 100-plus-plus pre-phylloxera vines located in the town of Passopisciaro, Contrada Santo Spirito, parcels “Belvedere,” “Seimigliaia” and “Calata degli Angeli.” A tempest of steel and a feeling that runs with waves of acidity throughout, in many parallel and horizontal lines, at all levels. Spice cupboard, rich waves of red fruit, viscous wisdom, confidential and confident elegance, finishing at precision without recall. True value, scattered patterning, significant and relevant. A vintage of force, restraint and powerful lightness of being. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted October 2021

Domaine De Bellene Nuits Saint Georges Premier Cru Aux Chaignots 2019, AOC Bourgogne

The limestone soil Climat of Chaignots lies in the northern part of Nuits-Saint-Georges, up the slope and edging in location but also feeling towards that of Vosne-Romanée. The affinity is much discussed, real and therefore puts the Premier Cru at the top of what is most desired out of Nuits-Saint-Georges. A tiny (0.14 hectare) plot and simply a coup for Nicolas Potel to be able to secure this fruit. Everything about the aromatic front speaks to the Bourgogne mind and Chaignots heart. Cola but from the root, a tuber underground rubbed, that and a cocoa nut crushed between fingers. An almost diesel waft but not gaseous, instead sapid, nut-based, a liqueur toasted and intoxicating. The fineness of structure is the sort of wiry winding by winch that could cut through limbs due to tension so taut. All that you know, love, don’t know and hope to experience is in this wine. Neither I nor Nicolas Potel will be around when it blows someone’s mind in 2074. Look forward to that day young Alphonse. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted May 2021

Angela Fronti, Istine

Istine Chianti Classico DOCG Vigna Istine 2019, Radda in Chianti, Tuscany

One must have to look at, walk this and stand in awe of of this vineyard, the steepness at 30-50 per cent grade with a terrace in the middle to break it up. Heavy in Alberese inclusive of massive yellow calcareous boulders and also Galestro. In fact the medium stones removed were transferred to create terraces for olive trees on the other side of the cantina (by Angela Fronti’s father no less). The vineyard faces north so the freshness is off the charts, while the ripeness is so matter of purposeful vintage fact. The label represents the position of the vines in coordinates, echoed in the machicolations of a Fronti sangiovese that drops all the Radda stones on unsuspecting palates through fruit openings between supporting acid corbels of a projecting tannic parapet. Vigna Istine is at the forefront of Chianti Classico’s battle to win over the world. Follow this example. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted October 2021

“Molto parfumato,” binds an aromatic agreement between myself and Paolo de Marchi upon sniffing this ’11 found on Locanda Pietracupa’s wine list. “Cepparello needs time,” says Paolo, understatement of the obvious for the evening, year, decade and history with respect to sangiovese grown in the Chianti Classico territory. Also truth succinctly spoken, roses and violets exhaling and a 100 per cent varietal (or so it seems) profile of succulence and one to fully draw you in. Mint to conifers, multiplicity by complexity value, not to mention vigorous acidity sent straight to a mouth with a full compliment of wisdoms able to think about the situation. A linear Cepparello seeing its wide open window at the 10 year mark. And now a Paolo de Marchi story. “One side of the vine’s grapes were burnt and so I called up (Consorzio Direttore Giuseppe) Liberatore and asked are we changing the name of the appellation? Liberatore said what? To Chianti Amarone replied de Marchi, or sangiovese Port? Joking aside, a stringent selection and a five per cent inclusion of trebbiano did for this ’11 Cepparello what viognier might do for syrah. Not a Chianti Classico so perfectly kosher. A secret until now but all above board. Totally cool. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1999

The 1999 was the last (original) Riserva produced until it was again resurrected in 2011 and what’s so cool about this vintage is how it was held to some early esteem, though paling in comparison to that “vintage of the century” that was 1997. Underestimated over the last 20 years, drinking so beautifully now, with frutta di bosca, tertiary tartufo and fungi. Just doesn’t strike as a fully mature adult reminiscing about the way things used to be but more like a wine with an outlook for more promise, good times and adventures still ahead. If you are still holding onto ‘99s from this part of Toscana you will be very pleased. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Filo di Seta is Filippo Chia’s intuitive “transavanguardia” sangiovese of place, over the ancient beach where he and his father Sandro once painted the Montalcino sea. Mostly early picked fruit, all in tonneaux, at first thinking “croccante” but that’s too simple a way to describe what texture and sensation is combed in this reserve wine. Bottled on the 29th of June so just arriving at the ready, to look at if not to consume. Here there is a fineness of liquid chalkiness, a “fluido” or “scorrevole” to drive the way this sangiovese plays and also sings, a Riserva to move with the wind and musical sway. Somewhat unknown, finely tannic and clearly what could and should be described as “mountain” Brunello. Coming in late is the spice, almost cinnamon and such. Hate to refer to any wine as the best from an estate but too bad. That this is, beyond the avant-garde such as it is. Drink 2025-2038.  Tasted November 2021

Biondi Santi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Tenuta Greppo 1985

The longevity of this vintage is almost not to be believed. Has been in bottle for as many years as it would have matured in casks. The next year (2022) will se the re-release of this vintage (in 2021 that vintage was 1983) and the year 1985 is the one I entered university. A Biondi-Santi of resolved tannin but remarkably youthful. A wine that saw Grandi Botti more than before, seen in the gentlest of spice notes and the back to the future return of balsamic and pomegranate. Followed a winter of major snowfall, long and cold winter, a regular spring and uneventful summer. The acidity is just incredible, also youthful and so sweet, those lengthened tannins in liquid powdery-chalky form. The connection with 2016 may seem to be an uncanny one but so help me if the chain is not there. The bottle was opened one hour and forty five minutes earlier so grazie to Federico Radi and Biondi-Sandi for perfecting the timing. We can all learn so much from this wine, to be patient, calm, well-adjusted, confident and gracious. Style and temperament to live by. Should continue this way for at least 10 more years. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted November 2021

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 1979, Tuscany

A cooler vintage, especially as compared to 1978 and truly a Piedmontese style because the cellar workers closed the tanks, went on strike and returned two months later. Resulted in some carbonic maceration and surely an increased amount of vim in freshness. That mixed with true porcini, fungi and fennochiona. The extended maceration makes this act 43 years forward like an older nebbiolo, rich and once demanding tannins now long since melted away, tar and roses still showing with earthly perfume. Fabulous mouthfeel, lingering and lively. Surely the mean steak astringency would have been in control during the first 10 to 15 years but the beast relents and gives way to charm. Patience breeds gentility and the story is now unfolding. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

With Stefano Cesari, Brigaldara

Brigaldara Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2016, Veneto

Stefano Cesari’s farm concerns itself with all things sustainable and while that may seem like a catch phrase, In Brigaldara’s case it most surely is not. The family supports its workers financially, culturally and in health. The young winemaking team is encouraged to study and stage abroad, to learn new oenological skills and languages. The other farm workers and their families are additionally supported by being given stake in the profits of the farm. How can this not reflect in the qualities of the wines, including this very special vintage 2016 Amarone. A magnificent wine and one you can easily drink beyond one glass. Not that it’s a light example but it speaks in soft tones, clearly and with a distinct, precise and honest weight, in vernacular and feeling. All things fruit lead to roads of sweet acidity and fine tannin. A rare Amarone of this ilk and one to savour. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted October 2021

Errázuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2012, Aconcagua Valley, Chile

Don Maximiano 2012 is a blend of 75 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (12) carmenère, (8) petit verdot and (5) malbec. No cabernet franc back in 2012 and aside from the obvious notions ushered in by age there is a distinct lack of herbal notes as a result. This is just in a great place nearly nine years forward from vintage, now settling, acids still in charge but tannins having done most of their melting and rendering. This wine is far from done, in fact the next level notions have just begun to have their say and from a vintage as great as this there should very well be nine years nigh before true earthiness, umami and truffle set in. Pour this blind at dinners with old world counterparts and watch with awe as to the results. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Château Pétrus 1993, Pomerol, AC Bordeaux

Never easy to live in the shadow of siblings clearly designated as mom and dad’s favourites but sometimes overlooked vintages left for dead show greatness later on in life. The 1993 Pétrus is definitely a late bloomer and from a year when only 200 cases were produced, where normally 4,000-plus is the standard. Softened to an almost Burgundian sense of calm but the richness and concentration multiplied by a Spring verdant freshness and sweetly herbal pesto can only indicate one thing and that is Right Bank Bordeaux. I tasted this blind and immediately thought of Pomerol and its close proximity at the eastern border with Saint-Émilion because of the “fromage à pâte molle” feeling gained, along with vestiges of once formidable black fruit supported by a push-pull posit tug of merlot-cabernet franc acidity. A good hunch indeed and a more than surprising set of excellent parameters come to this for a 1993 Bordeaux. All in all a really satisfying and come together wine to hush the naysayers and win in the end. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1990, AC Hermitage, Rhône

Jaboulet’s 1990 La Chapelle is a kind of an echo of the year in history, an Hermitage of impeccable harmony, much like balance restored in relative peace and prosperity. In 1990 the Soviet Union fell, ending the decades-long Cold War. Hard to find more shiny opaque purple in a 30 year-old syrah plus a splendid floral nose of stone roses, pencil shavings and graphite. The combinative effect of heft and freshness elicit pleasantries from a bad boy able to play soft ballads to mellow a crowd. La Chapelle is a communicative, entertaining and business-like syrah, a link between the northern Rhône and the taster, an internet Hermitage that changes the way we think and feel. Things will never be the same after tasting Jaboulet’s 1990 and for good reason. Has 10 years left without worry of decline. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted November 2021

 

Reynvaan In The Hills Syrah 2017, Walla Walla Valley, Washington

Reynvaan is a family production of Rhône-style wines from two vineyard properties in the Walla Walla Valley. “In The Rocks” is their first vineyard located in Milton-Freewater, Oregon and the second vineyard is called “In the Hills.” short for “Foothills in the Sun.” It is found at the base of the Blue Mountains on the Washington/Oregon border and is planted to syrah, viognier and a gaggle of cabernet sauvignon rows. As one of the highest elevation vineyards in Washington (at 1200ft) and in this syrah co-fermented with up to 10 per cent syrah you might get a rendering of a northern Rhône-ish picture. Sure enough the perfume is floral but more than anything a smoulder of pancetta and smoked meat. Reductive as well, different as such than any syrah, anywhere else on the planet but liquid peppery and tire on asphalt nonetheless. The credibility and accountability here is profound and while the sheer concentration and beauty of In the Rocks in captivating, this In the Hills is alternatively vivid, dramatic and powerfully restrained syrah. Which one is you? Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted January 2021

Sine Qua Non Syrah The Hated Hunter 2017, Santa Barbara County

The hated hunter is named after Austrian immigrant and Los Angeles restaurateur turned winemaker Manfred Krankl’s grandfather, depicted on the label in gear, with rifle and hound. The blend is led by 82.4 per cent syrah with (7.8) petite sirah, (5.2) mourvèdre, (2) grenache, (1.2) petit manseng and (1.4) viognier. Clocks in at 15.9 alcohol but in this regard hardly garners even one per cent of the discussion. All anyone can talk about is the infinite expanse of pretty, pretty floral capture and personally speaking it simply reeks of syrah. A game of meat juices and marbling, part smoked meat and part pancetta. The only question tasting blind is whether to imagine it as Hermitage or Central Coast California. Once the abv is disclosed the answer can only be the latter but a syrah of such reclusive exclusivity is hard to pin down. Derives from a group of prized vineyards; 32 per cent Eleven Confessions (Santa Rita Hills), (41) The Third Twin (Los Alamos), (25) Cumulus (Santa Barbara) and (2) Molly Aida (Tepusquet Canyon). Adds up to the most luxe, deluxe and ultra-fantastic instrumental of a syrah, no lyrics needed. Man, Manfred, take a bow. A hunting bow. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Fèlsina Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico DOCG 2018, Tuscany

An absolutely lovely vintage for Fèlsina’s Vin Santo and for Chianti Classico Vin Santo as a rule because extract, temperament and adaptability are all in collective balance. All that you want, need and expect from this traditional and loyal dessert wine are present and accounted for. Dried and glazed fruit, low and slow developed nuttiness and a freedom of territory spoken through airiness and layering. The upside cake of life turns over to reveal a generational wine of clear standards, perfect layering and endless conversation. Nonna and Nonno would be proud. Drink 2021-2035.  Tasted June 2021

Agriturismo Hibiscus Zhabib Passito 2020, C.Da Tramontana, Sicily

From the island of Ustica in the Tyrrhenian Sea, 70 kilometres (36 nautical miles) of the coast of Sicily’s capital Palermo and the work of Margherita Longo and Vito Barbera. The vineyards for this zibibbo (moscato d’Alessandria) are grown very close to the water on volcanic soil and Hibiscus is the only winery game in town. There are other farmers that contribute grapes to this tiny production; also grillo, cataratto, inzolia to go along with the zibibbo that makes this Passito. A place where tomato, grapes and peached co-exist, in the gardens and in the wine. This carries that uncanny sweet to savoury feeling in the most specific and ethereal dessert wine both mind can conjure and emotion shall receive. Of orange, grapefruit, peach and tomato. Balanced, harmonious, silky, woollen and with a super-tonal capacity to love. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted October 2021

Taylor Fladgate Very Old Tawny Port – Kingsman Edition, Douro, Portugal

A bottle of wine is rarely tied to a film, let alone a Douro Port but Taylor’s Very Old Tawny has been blended and bottled to coincide and be product placed in the second Kingsman film, in this case a prequel to the first, this time set in the 1920s. Head Winemaker David Guimaraens chose reserve Tawnys from 70-100 years of age, wines crafted and set aside by generational predecessors past, no stretch for the master blender because we are talking about a house with extensive stocks from which to reach back into. Guimaraens was looking for harmonic balance between concentration and elegance and just a whiff will tell you he and his team have achieved a crossing between a magical vortex and a vanishing point of complexity. Two manifest matters have developed; concentration of sweetness and in this case by association, a focus of acids as well. Together they inspissate and cling comfortably to the skeletal structure. It feels like you are nosing 100 unique aromas, with just seven of them being marzipan, red velvet hazelnut cake, candied ginger rose, rau răm, roasting banana leaf, calimyrna fig and grilled pineapple express. Step six feet away from the glass and the aromatics persist just as sharp as if the glass were in hand. As for a sip of this maraviglioso Tawny, warmth, comfort, delicadeza and forever length make just an ounce last forever. Timeless. Approximately 1000 bottles were produced and in Canada 100 will be made available next September. That is when theatre goers should likely make a return to the cinema to take in the Secret Service spy thriller and Tawny Port fantasy up on the silver screen. Drink 2021-2050.  Tasted February 2021

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

WineAlign Nationals meet the Iconic Wineries of B.C.

Judging Rosé at the 2021 WineAligjn National Wine Awards of Canada – Photo (c) WineAlign

Back in the first week of October a special anniversary took place in Penticton, British Columbia. Special because it was the 20th running of Canada’s greatest wine show on wheels, now and for the past 10 years known as the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. Remarkable because the week of judging Canada’s finest wines and ciders brought together a group of erudite and beautiful people for the first time in nearly 28 months. It was in June of 2019 the last time a 50-plus strong NWAC gaggle assembled, of back room volunteers, behind the scenes technical wizards, scoring junkies and FOH judging professionals. The 2021 results are beginning to roll out, including the first four categories last week; Sparkling, Gamay, Pinot Gris and Rosé. Today you can read up on chardonnay and pinot noir. I was entrusted the Rosé category write-up and you can view it here:

Related – A record medal haul for Canadian Rosé

A record-setting number of wines were entered from coast to coast. The two-decade journey has been worth every moment for this most respected and important Canadian wine competition. I have been at these judging tables since 2013, to capture this most essential snapshot of Canadian wine and by now have witnessed a great change and evolution, as have mentors Anthony Gismondi and David Lawrason over two decades. The inaugural competition in 2001 drew 528 wines from 71 wineries and in 2021, 26 judges tasted 2,075 entries from more than 260 wineries.

Backroom at NWAC2021, photo (c) WineAlign

I have now published more than 270 wines tasted at the competition that can be viewed on WineAlign. Most have only been tasted the one time, that being during blind varietal and stylistic flights in Penticton and those reviews have only been edited for spelling, grammar, syntax and in a few instances musical reference fact checking. No information, estate history, principals’ stories or winemaking data have been added to those notes. In cases where wines had been previously reviewed or tasted in Kelowna just prior to the awards then the blind notes are added in.

Day one judging @winealign #NWAC2021 ~ With the inimitable @trevering and @bryantmao ~ Only 2,000 more to go ~ #canadianwine #winejudging #thenationals #wineawards

Upon arrival in the Okanagan on the eve of day one at the awards we were privileged to be guests at a walk-around tasting hosted by Anthony Von Mandl’s Iconic Wineries of British Columbia at Checkmate Artisanal Winery in Oliver. All seven estates were present and pouring some of their top tier bottles; CedarCreek Estate Winery (Kelowna), Checkmate (Oliver), Liquidity Wines (Okanagan Falls), Martin’s Lane Winery (Kelowna), Mission Hill Family Estate Winery (West Kelowna), Red Barn Winery (Oliver) and Road 13 Vineyards (Oliver). The following 19 tasting notes are from the bottles poured by all seven members of the IWBC.

CedarCreek Platinum Block 3 Riesling 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

From the Kelowna home vineyard and the oldest block of riesling vines at 30 years of age. A wild ferment, kept on the skins for 12 hours and aged half in stainless, half in German oak (not to be confused with the 1970s prog. rock/psychedelic band). “It’s very easy to make lime juice from this block,” is a reminder from winemaker Taylor Whelan to take great care, find focus and another gear. “We’re aiming for GG (Grosses Gewächs) numbers,” here emerging at 8 g/L RS, but the intensity and grip make the wine seem much drier. No detention or detection of wood whatsoever in a currently bracing riesling but one set up for a readied future of full embrace. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Cedar Creek Platinum Jagged Rock Vineyard Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

A 100 per cent wild and in barrel though with truncated malolactic fermentation, “because we’re CedarCreek, not Checkmate,” quips winemaker Taylor Whelan. Some banana emits in this moment of estimable youth and we both admit the wine is “not yet quite ready.” From the vineyard down in the valley below Checkmate Winery, a contributor to the freshness in a chardonnay straddling the line between reduction and flesh, flintiness and splendored expression. Tropical fruit hints, nary a creamy plasticity and zero gratuity, but plenty of gravitas. To say they are on to something would be a gross understatement in this a vintage readying to unroll later on in 2022. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted October 2021

CedarCreek Winemaker Taylor Whelan

CedarCreek Platinum Simes Vineyard Natural Pinot Noir 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Dark as a syrah night, pressed, full on violet to balsamic, rich beyond the pinot pale and fully into a film noir genre. A bit Wagner north, with gritty tannins and hidden greens.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Approximately 55 per cent (Clone 115) whole bunch concrete fermentation. A crunchy red in the guise of Beaujolais and the reference point is not such a stretch. Recently planted gamay vines will do the same or take the torch when they come to their fruition. Some pretty serious pitch and tannin, a cru on steroids, wild man, far from reductive and big. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Looking out from Checkmate Winery

Checkmate Queen Taken Chardonnay 2018, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench

From the unknown 1975 planted clone, same one used by Mission Hill going back to 1994 with a musqué intonation. The Vineyard is called Dekleva, coolish spot on the Golden Mile Bench. Lower slope soils are patch sandy, with fragmented rocks aboard a fluvial fan. The 2018 is a preview of what the vintage can be for chardonnay or perhaps better described in prologue as to what it has already shown to be. Layers upon layers, alternating chew and crunch, great freshness matching the buttery croissant and if you drop your guard this chardonnay will crush you. It has the game. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Checkmate Opening Gambit Merlot 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

From the Osoyoos Bench with 100 per cent merlot, a wild ferment and 21 months in new wood. Truly, ostensibly varietal Okanagan realism. Could be nothing but and anything at all, a merlot so cured, verdantly specialized and toasty because the growth cycle and viticultural handling all lead down a path where grape and place walk cane and shoot. Bramble, fully loaded spice masala, a modicum of intensity fleshing out the layers of brush, underbrush and ultimately a silken merlot style. Structured but not overtly so, best in the mid term though it will linger well into the latter stages of the decade. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Liquidity Reserve Chardonnay 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Poured by winemaker Amy Paynter, a Reserve chardonnay so aptly named as it submits to the ease with which assets of fruit and structural security are converted into ready to drink pleasure, without affecting cost, value or age worthiness. No searching for richness, nor unction neither, not to mention mille-feuille layering. Chewy enough, fleshy for certain and textural throughout, but always this ease of transitions, conversions and fluidity. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Liquidity winemaker Amy Paynter

Liquidity Viognier 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Golden hue, ripeness at the top, surely only B.C. can effect. Not nearly as unctuous as expected yet there is some sweetness and spice to be sure. Spicy too, tart, tincture of tang and all the while circumstantially evident.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Part estate with fruit from Oliver and Osoyoos. Very apricot in a chanterelle way so it’s scents is like the idea of a mushroom that smells like the memory of a ripe apricot. What else does one need. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Liquidity Estate Pinot Noir 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Made with one hundred per cent Okanagan Falls fruit, picked in lots, each small batch fermented, 14-15 months in (25 per cent new) wood. The decision as to what qualifies as Reserve is made at the time of bottling. A true OK Falls Liquidity Reserve in such regard, much in the way sangiovese is dealt with in Chianti Classico or Montalcino. But this is pinot noir, an animal all to itself, fickle and choosy, hard to get and yet Liquidity has their fruit down with proof right in this glass. Smooth, supple, strong and sure, a confident if simply delicious pinot noir of balance, harmony and grace. Tasted with incumbent winemaker Amy Paynter who’s first full vintage will be 2021 and look for her work ethic (and measured risks) to take this wine to a whole new level. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Riesling Fritzi’s Vineyard 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Shane Munn’s riesling from the volcanic, clay and white quarts Fritzi’s Vineyard continues to get better, all the while with a wine he seems to do less and less to try and control. Must be the place and the fruit from this 21 year-old block (as of this 2018 vintage) seeks a 48 hour skin-contact for oxidatively handled juice. Pressed once, lightly and so softly treated, then transferred to German casks where it stays for up to eight months. Just bloody delicious, hard to not conjure a frothie for this freshest of phenolic rieslings, which incidentally was only sulphured once, four months into the trek. Walks about from grippy to lovely and back again, with silk stops along the way. Will shine brightest two years from now. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Riesling Fritzi’s Vineyard 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Fritzi’s Vineyard on Mission Hill Road is a volcanic block on dry yet rich clay, with white quartz below, planted in 1997. The winemaking is consistent from year to year and as time passes forward what’s done to this wine “is very little, less and less” tells Shane Munn. Such a phenolic riesling and irrefutably circulating in a floating balloon of immaculate freshness. Yes there is some creamy richness but it can’t hold a candle to the level of “frische und enger” in a riesling interfacing the land at the base of Boucherie. Fritzbox and very cool cat. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir Fritzi’s Vineyard Missing Ear 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Some changes in 2018, nothing earth shattering but alterations nonetheless. This time around a 70 per cent whole bunch natural ferment for 42 days (and nearly Piedmontese cappello sommerso as such). No punch-downs nor pump-overs neither, instead a “semi-délestage,” notes winemaker Shane Munn, a fanning over the cap two or three times a day, to polymerize the tannins. Call this the Munn manifesto, unique to pinot noir, Fritzi’s Vineyard and the Okanagan, an infusion rather than a maceration. Fanning acts out so very gently, allowing for an elegant transfer of fruit through structure all the while in retention of some of the noble elements found in the skins. Surely an old-school reference point, a consciousness at the very least and a way to make a big but not dense wine, fulsome yet far from heavy, with great finesse and emotive wakefulness. Munn’s pinot noir is alert and at the ready, as should we all be, from the get go and with the slow moving current that will see aging take place over a six to eight year period. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir Fritzi’s Vineyard Missing Ear 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Tasted with winemaker Shane Munn, a 50 per cent whole bunch natural fermentation in concrete for 32 days, in this vintage quicker to resolve (five to seven days earlier) than the average. Polymers culminated, “melted” and melded with the richness of tannic volcanic thrush. The optimum if classic Fritzi’s pinot noir fruit at first precipitously gliding down so easy but the stem inclusion thankfully graduates the incline and slows the consumption process down to a much necessitated trickle. Also keeps the wine from lunging or lurching into its immediate future, ahead of promise and proper compulsion for brilliance. No comeuppance or envy here, only pinot mercy and possibility. Log life ahead, breezes in sails, drifts and finally, sandy shores. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Mission Hill Perpetua 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Top of the flinty pops, super reductive and oh so tight, taut and implosive. The fruit rolls on through, states a territorial claim and give thanks for all the right reasons. The includes a high level of quality salt, pepper and wood seasoning, which it submits to and willfully accepts. Fine work in chardonnay all around. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Mission Hill Terroir Collection Vista’s Edge Cabernet Franc 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Tasted with Graham Nordin, General Manager for Iconic Wineries of B.C. and a man passionate for cabernet franc, especially this fifth vintage of Vista’s Edge for Mission Hill. A wine that began in 2015 after winemaker Darryl Brooker took over from John Simes and the first full vintage for Aussie Ben Bryant who in 2018 succeeded Brooker as chief winemaker. The vineyard can be seen looking out from Checkmate Winery and just past Phantom Creek. The 2019 cabernet franc was fermented in concrete and then aged in Bourgogne wood. My this packs a punch, of fruit so primary, succulent acids secondary and bones tertiary, the latter only because so much flesh and antioxidant donation hangs upon the very backbone of the wine. A cabernet construct like this is neither common nor fully understood in such youth. Will exude charm and captivate to the fullest in two to three years time. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Red Barn Jagged Rock Vineyard Lost Art Sémillon 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Red Barn is the newest Black Sage Bench project for Anthony Von Mandl’s Iconic Wineries of British Columbia (IWBC). The seventh member joins Mission Hill, Cedar Creek, CheckMate, Road 13, Liquidity and Martin’s Lane. The winery should be ready to open its doors in 2022. The sèmillon is raised in both stainless steel and concrete, coming across with esteemed richness of fruit so very tropical, nearing a stylistic that usually comes from Okanagan viognier. Viscous with a lovely salt line running through, keeping the varietal faith and boding well for future renditions of this wine. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Red Barn Jagged Rock Vineyard Silent Partner Cabernet Franc 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

The newest kid on the Black Sage Bench for the Iconic Wineries of B.C. is Red Barn and this cabernet franc from Jagged Rock Vineyard of 30 per cent whole bunch fermentation was aged in concrete. Only 165 cases were produced for an all in, full varietal monty of great transparency, wonderful red fruit and perfect simplicity. A terrific entry point for vineyard and new order outfit. “I know, you know, we believe in a land of love,” that being this institution of an Okanagan bench, a pleasure zone for fun, ripe fruit and the sun’s perfect kiss. All the distractions are kept at bay in a cabernet franc well on its way. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Road 13 Vineyards Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2017, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley

Lots of fun here, funk too, western richness, sunshine and fulsome palate flavours and texture. Lots of lees and layers.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

From some of the oldest chenin planting in the Okanagan (1968) and North America for that matter, used exclusively for the sparkling wine program. Vinous yet sleek, rich and intense. Mineral fascination in bubble form, loaded with character. Spent 36 months on the secondary lees. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Road 13 Winemaker Barclay Robinson

Road 13 Vineyards Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2012, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley

Spent eight years on the lees, still now vibrant and acting as a solemn totem to what distance and time can do for chenin blanc in sparkling significance. Now a wine of fully developed character at the peak of complexities possible. Will linger in this lovely suspended state for a few more years. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Road 13 5th Element Jackpot 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

The intensity of blue fruit is something to behold, with imminent proposal and one’s imagination trends towards a high percentage of petit verdot (when in fact the number is only in the three to five range). Winemaker Barclay Robinson smiles a wry smile because he knows he’s onto something great and perhaps he too imagines a jackpot at the end of this rainbow. The merlot and malbec offer up interwoven waves of red and black fruit, all the while bespoken to chocolate and goji berry. Then the perfume hits, violet and hibiscus, followed by a return of that beautiful blue fruit. Onto something indeed. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Good to go!

godello

Judging Rosé at the 2021 WineAligjn National Wine Awards of Canada

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

Godello’s 24-hour Nova Scotia revival

Lightfoot & Wolfville estate vines overlooking the Minas Basin

Neither travel fatigue nor Ida on a wet and grey last day of August and first of September could hardly dampen the spirit nor get in the way of a most rewarding and highly educational visit to Nova Scotia wine country. On Thursday the skies looked like an unripe olive as photographed through gauze yet the fabric gifted a palpable feeling of optimism. As Friday progressed the resolute mood took on a confidence in airs. An exchange of ideas and a refreshed positivism rang from Newport to Wolfville, the Blomidon Peninsula, Gaspereau Valley and through permeate points dotting the Minas Basin. Looking back one month later, a persistent study in reflection wonders if the blood of Nova Scotia wines are closer to seawater than its bones are to soil. Considering the growing of grapes so proximate to the immense tidal sways of the Bay of Fundy can weaken or perhaps even profane the recurring thought, as if in fact in the whole of the Annapolis Valley there may be more earth than sea. If that is the answer then what is the question? Ponder this. Can you taste Nova Scotia terroir in the wine?

A rebirth with new blood. Caitlyn McNamara, Erin Carroll, Cat Taylor. Three new faces of Nova Scotia winemaking. Innovators, bringers of new, fresh and forward-thinking ideas to an industry well past the cusp, fully cognizant of and cementing its command of greatness. Arbiters of viticulture and viniculture who have joined the ranks of teams already entrenched and with positions of leadership occupied; Louis Coutinho, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, Bruce Ewart, Harold Gaudy, Gina Haverstock, Josh Horton, Rachel Lightfoot, Mike Mainguy, Alex Morozov, Simon Rafuse, Jürg Stutz and Ben Swetnam. There are others of course and yet on my most recent east coast swing to the Annapolis Valley there were six visits in total plus two remarkable if isolated wine experiences and meals; first at Heather Rankin’s Obladee Wine Bar in Halifax and then at Chef Geoffrey Hopgood’s Juniper in Wolfville. Add to that an ocean submerging of 300 bottles of sparkling wine and some after the fact assessments of more Nova Scotia bottles. Funny how a 24 hour jaunty through Nova Scotia wine country is the stuff of bagatelles, dear and near to a naturalist’s heartstrings, familiar as family and yet wrought with equalizing, objective professionalism. Please read on for a 2021 update to winery profiles and tasting notes for 40 wines from Nova Scotia.

Related – Consider the Gaspereau Valley

Winemaker Ben Swetnam, Avondale Sky Winery

Avondale Sky Winery, Newport

Andrew and Mary Bennet first planted the vineyard in 1987, in one of the hotter provincial zones. It would have been an old dairy farm, with an original schoolhouse, six old dug wells and the same number of split properties/buildinAvila,gs on the farm. In 2008 they realized the 12.5 acres was a bit much so put it up for sale. They were picky about the buyer and keen to keep it going. Winemaker Ben Swetnam was at Petite Rivière on the South Shore at the time and was hired by Chef Ray Bear, then Avondale sold five months later to Lorraine Vassalo who kept Ben on. They relocated an old hay barn from down the road without water and doors but that first harvest went through beautifully. The Coutinho family bought Avondale Sky Winery and Restaurant at the tail end of November 2019. They lost 95 per cent of their crop to the 2018 frosts. As an example l’acdie’s primary, secondary and tertiary buds all come out at the same time, not exactly frost protection and all hybrids were lost. The original 12.5 acres have turned into 25 which now includes an acre of pinot noir and this coming Spring the plan is to add more, along with pinot gris (as far as cleared land) with a possible five cares uncleared that could be used in the future. Up to 5,000-5,500 total cases at this point. Vineyard manager is Pete Smits and has been at Avondale for five years. The family are all involved; Louis (vineyard), Avila (finance), Sean (hospitality), Karl (CEO) and Jamie (Social Media).

Avondale Sky Winery

Avondale Sky Winery Gamay Pet Nat 2019, Nova Scotia ($50)

From a grower (Andre Dant’emont) in Mahoney Bay who has a small amount (he sold winemaker Ben Swetnam 96 kilos) with the intention of making a red from whole cluster and a gentle mash. Swetnam instead decided to “let this happen” because it just smelled clean. An as it happens sparkling pet-nat with just the right amount of lees, and a quick three day riddle so that it wouldn’t explode as Rosé P-N is want to be a little jumpy. Bloody delicious, as juicy and forthright as could possibly be. Bottled on November 18th, 2019, only 23 bottles made, from grapes brought in November 2nd and 3rd. Showing with vigour, intendment and kept determination. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noir 2013, Nova Scotia ($75)

While Ben Swetnam had wanted to dabble in sparkling going back to 2009 he can thank everyone in the Nova Scotia industry for showing him the ropes. That includes Gina Haverstock at Gaspereau, Bruce Ewart at L’Acadie, Simon Rafuse at Blomidon, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers at Benjamin Bridge and others. The 2011 would have been the first vintage of pinot noir production with the intent of making sparkling wine, of hot to cool years and all others in between. Dijon clones and a warmer edge of a ’13 season, a riper style but brought in at classic sparkling numbers, acids 11-12.5 and brix 17-19, picking in the third week of October. An early vintage. Intensity meets richness halfway there, fruit flavours are exceptional, just shy of eight years on lees, disgorged three months ago. “For the pinot I always wanted to do a minimum five years and the acidity was always there,” tells Ben. “The tertiary qualities were not out yet so the pause every six months kept the decisions at bay.” Got this apricot chanterelle fungi character, mousse and bubble are really in tact, dosage is 7.5 g/L almost fully hidden by that Nova Scotia acidity. There is something about this sight that maintains higher acidity levels while sugars rise but as an example perhaps it’s the gypsum based soil underneath the whole vineyard, or the tidal rivers and the specific diurnal fluctuations, cooler at night and “it’s something we can always rely on, in every year, that backbone of acidity.” So very Nova Scotia. Usually 500 bottles produced per year. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Méthode Traditionelle L’Acadie 2015, Nova Scotia ($55)

A first attempt at l’acadie (with 86 per cent estate) and because there was no pinot noir available at the time there is instead some frontenac blanc by a grower in Truro (grown in a gravel parking lot). It lends some (lol) acidity (21 g/L) but it’s almost all tartaric, meaning you can lose much of it during cold stabilization, which incidentally may have been lacking (hard to believe) while the fruit essentially came in at 19-21 brix. L’Acadie comes in around 18-18.5 brix with acid 10-10.5, so much less bracing than what reputation may proceed it. In fact it can be flabby if harvested late and happens to act the part of texture grape for Tidal Bay. May be revelatory to think this way but it is the least of the bunch. About five years on lees, disgorged this winter, 10.5 g/L of RS, mineral push, now out of the searing and into developing secondary moments, petrol to mild caramelization. Only 300 bottles disgorged, more citrus, a touch of pith, fine bitters, botanical, orange scrape, length, striking. Hair raising though never a scare. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Benediction 2017, Nova Scotia ($35)

“Our cheap and cheerful bubble as you will find here,” targeting 18 months on lees, with the idea being geisenheim fruit and higher dosage (20 g/L) to balance out geisenheim’s acidity. Smells like geisenheim alright, star fruit to the edge of elderflower, picked 17-18 brix, before the cabbage and burnt orange but with the fresh citrus well intact. The bliss (stalled ferment geisenheim) is employed for more green apple and grapey notes. More dried herbs here, fennel and a touch of anise. All works really well together. Surely one of the more consistent sparkling wines and ’17 may be a more linear, shall we say “classic,” unmeshed, non messed with or plussed vintage. So drinkable with great and sweet acids. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Riesling Small Lot NV, Nova Scotia ($25)

“A rescue wine,” blending re-fermented 2018 fruit with 2019 and “the wine is better as a blend than either one would have been on their own.” Super biased towards the Mosel (Ben Swetnam worked at St. Urbans-Hof in 2005) and so a riesling to prove that terroir does indeed exist. A child of stalled ferments, sugar kept naturally. Almost entirely Warner Vineyards fruit, down in the valley, been working with them since 2012. The sugar level is higher than imagined, upwards of 26 g/L (the ’18 fruit was at 38 and the ’19 part 40 and part fully dry). A better methodology to keep aromatics and shy away from vinous qualities. Also in avoidance of dilution, here the concentration and texture are in upright rise and uprising. Citrus prominence and at the lower end of the phenolic spectrum. Terrific work. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Tidal Bay 2020, Nova Scotia ($23)

A blend of l’acadie, vidal, frontenac blanc, geisenheim and muscat. The plan is “don’t screw it up, stick to your guns” and stay consistent. Even in frost destroying 2018 there was no non-Nova Scotia grapes allowed. Each winery has their own style and Avondale Sky’s is on the sweeter, stalled ferment part of the spectrum, keeping balance with the searing acids, finishing at 16-17 g/L of residual sugar, centring around fruit. So citrus, with plenty of juiced orange. Sweet and sassy, tart with a faux botrytis sauvignon character managed by riesling like acidity. Quite complex for Tidal Bay, sweet yet classy. Look beyond seafood for this, in particular hot and spicy. Hot wings and south asian dhosa, as examples. First made in 2010, first official vintage was 2011. Drink 2021-2023. Tasted August 2021

JB and Morozov, Benjamin Bridge

Related – Crush on Benjamin Bridge

Benjamin Bridge, Wolfville

From the name of the bridge that crosses the Gaspereau Valley and pays tribute to the Benjamin family who dammed up the river to become the first industrialists here. Sparkling wine specialist, unquestioned leader and now moving into uncharted territory but also deep waters. Watch these videos to learn more about the 2011 Blanc de Noirs that was “dunked into the sea to age and drift with the tides to test the effects of underwater ageing on sparkling.”

Each bottle has been carefully wrapped so as not to disturb the Bryozoa and sediments. The project was inspired by recovered Champagne on shipwrecks on the ocean floor and the fun daydreaming ways through the inquiring minds of Alex Morozov and Maxime Daigle. After a year at sea, though ice and snow, this wine is finally surfacing. But there’s more in the works at Benjamin Bridge, including newest member of the winemaking team Erin Carroll’s “Gamay Col Fondo,” a hybrid concept in ancient meets futuristic sparkling wine. The fun never ends at the Bridge, nor does the excitement.

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut Rosé 2017, Nova Scotia ($49.95)

One of the first wines to come to the surface with Pascal Agrapart’s involvement with winemakers Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Alex Morozov. When tasted the sentiment was that this particular vintage of this very particular sparkling wine was not yet there yet in terms of readiness or rather publicizing but truth be told, never have texture and acids come together as one in a BB Rosé. Crunch and chew, riff and rise, bellow and beauty, all despite the spiralling zeitgeist that underscores its urgency. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Benjamin Bridge Gamay Col Fondo Handcrafted Small Lot 2020, Nova Scotia ($49.95)

A hybrid concept, between Ancestrale and Traditional Method sparkling wine, driven by experimentation, constant reassessment of a varietal progression and the new injection of intelligence through the focused lens of assistant winemaker Erin Carroll. Though the term is normally associated with Prosecco there is really no reference point as such, not with gamay and certainly not the way the BB team approaches their work. Such gamay-ness glaring, vivid and concentrated never graced a glass, not before nor likely any time soon. Refosco meets Lambrusco and a quasi Valpolicella rifermermentato in bottiglia futuristic sentimentality. Despite the Nova Scotia acid structure that hangs in the balance it should be considered that Carroll’s Col Fondo is not likely to allow objectivity to nudge itself off of the pillar of its own perspective. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted August 2021

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut 2016, Nova Scotia ($45.00)

Perfect conditions, “an Olympic year.” The most tightly wound toast, the year that acidity through the roof while in control will bring the dosage down, from 8.5 to 2.6 g/L. At the most. And so Brut Reserve will be Brut zero. The epiphany, or at least the latest epiphany is upon Alex Morozov and Jean-Benoit Deslauriers. No longer the project incarnate, defined, teachable house style. Now the realization of a prophecy from words spoken three years ago by Deslauriers, then echoing in your head, now coming to idealistic fruition. “With the possibility of absolute transcendency.” Back then it was a matter of eventuality. Today it is the truth. This may not turn out to be the finest Brut made by the team in the new era but it sets a course for a neoteric sparkling wizardry shore, where climate, acids, vines, sugars and controlled emotion all meet to advocate in realization of their necessary dynamic. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Winemaker Simon Rafuse, Blomidon Estate

Blomidon Estate Winery, Canning

Blomidon Estate Winery is set on the western pastoral shelf of a shore overlooking the the Minas Basin in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. Perhaps the most intimate of all the seaside settings there is a sense of singularity in the milieu and atmospheric conditions on this side of the basin’s shores edging northerly up the Blomidon Peninsula. Surely a sparkling wine specialist but also a champion of chardonnay both in still and sparkling forms. Co-owner Tim Ramey purchased the property in 2007 and Simon Rafuse is the Winemaker alongside Harold Gaudy, the viticulturist.

Blomidon Estate Winery Crémant NV, Nova Scotia ($28)

Disgorged March of 2021, based on the 2019 harvest, bottled in early 2020. Three grapes, approx 60-20-20, seyval blanc, l’acadie and chardonnay. Moving up in pressure and therefore a new sweet spot, up to 5.5 bars of pressure, at 14-16 g/L RS, with more texture. This is the balanced spot, with seyval’s acidity equalizing into citrus and tree (peach) fruit. Tart and full on tang, fulsome and a healthy dose of fruit, so late in ripening, old school Nova Scotia. If too old school so be it because longevity and slow development is everything. Easy to drink and yet pointed, poignant even. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted August 2021

Blomidon Estate Winery Cuvée L’Acadie Brut Méthode Traditionelle, Nova Scotia ($39.95)

A 100 per cent estate l’acadie disgorged in March 2020, approx. 65-70 per cent 2017 with 2016 and a splash of 2015, 2,500 bottles caged in August 2018. Dosage is 6 g/L, very Brut, dry as the desert and not just because of a concept in which l’acadie is an acid king, because in fact it can be quite the opposite. A phenolic sparkler, picked early (first in fact) and therefore a self-starter, enthusiastic, cranking and varietally zealous. There will be 24 cases coming to VINTAGES in mid-September. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted August 2021

Charcuterie, Obladee Wine Bar, Halifax

Blomidon Estate Winery Brut Réserve Méthode Traditionelle 2014, Nova Scotia ($45.00)

A 100 per cent estate chardonnay picked relatively early (21st of October), having seen no malolactic fermentation and six years on the lees. Feels like this has moved into both secondary and tertiary character, that and so much deeper engagement with structure. Disgorged in the spring of 2020 then held for eight months before release. This to get new reactions past dosage (that was 6.5 g/L). The mushroom notes and other evolutionary gains are vintage driven and the lemon crème brûlée meets Nova Scotia finish is bridged by orchard fruits as creamy as they are striking. Toasty dichotomous bubbles of the extraordinary kind. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted August 2021

Blomidon Estate Winery Méthode Traditionelle Woodside Road Vineyard 2015, Nova Scotia ($45.00)

The second iteration, disgorged on August 31st, no malo, 7 g/L dosage, picked on the 20th of October. Made from 70 per cent chardonnay, (20) pinot noir, (5) meunier and splashes of pinot gris plus blanc. Base wines were bottled late summer 2016 and so now five years and a bit of lees aging. The pinot brings much ado in small quantity. The aromatics are temporarily not quite integrated, the gas is working the room and in due course all will come back together. Complex, graphing a new Minas course, small lot, 50 cases or so. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Shrimp Cocktail at Juniper, Wolfville

Blomidon Estate Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noirs 2016, Nova Scotia ($45.00)

Give or take 76 per cent pinot noir and 24 meunier, a similar vintage to 2015 (though a touch warmer) and here picked on the 17th of November. Almost all from Woodside Vineyard and some meunier off of the Blomidon estate vines, no longer here. Disgorged today, yes today and my oh my the potential here elevates to a very high ceiling. Just under 6 g/L RS so exactly extra brut, really primary but with the dosage that will arrive before you know it. The pinot delivers more fruit than the chardonnay, perhaps a counterintuitive concept but that’s Nova Scotia. And every vintage will flip the head and make you think again. Small lot, 50 cases or so. Searing succulence, a structural richness and transformative beyond the complex, curious and interesting. Assiduous if conceited blanc de noirs, pejorative to chardonnay, entangled inside enigma, mystery and riddle. Literally. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Jürg Stutz, Winemaker at Domaine de Grand Pré

Related – East coast swing 2015: Time, tides and wine

Domaine De Grand Pré, Grand Pré

Domaine De Grand Pré has recently celebrated 20 years of erudite work leading the Nova Scotia wine industry. As for riesling, well the work of Jürg Stutz speaks for itself and now in sparkling the game is on. A visit is well worth the tasting, local knowledge and great gastronomy of Chef Jason Lynch.

Domaine De Grand Pré Riesling Extra Dry Traditional Method NV, Nova Scotia ($44.50)

A blend of 2019 and (more) 2018 fruit reviewed by the traditional method and 12 months of lees aging, finishing at 18 g/L dosage of RS. Just released one month ago, the first such sparkling wine at Grand Pré. The ’18 juices at low pH and high acidity was adjusted by the ’19s, then sent back to bottle for an additional 12 months. Sometimes not acting with pragmatic immediacy turns into something special and complex. A matter of adjustments and not the ripest ’18 grapes but here the combination of autolysis and phenolics goes beyond acidity. Three thousand bottles of great energy in the wine, green apple bite and that phenolic rush. Very singular, even for Nova Scotia sparkling. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré Riesling 2020, Nova Scotia ($22.50)

Harvested Oct. 23rd at 18.3 brix, a pH of 3.05, with total acidity at 10.4, no malo and 18 g/L of RS. Picking can be the first week of November but 2020 saw picking towards the later stages of October. A wine without changes, a Grand Pré way stuck to, given extra care, in vinifera extra work put in, with cluster thinning and battling all the disease pressure grapes are likely to meet in this climate. Vinous riesling, fermented through with adding back sugar in a complex, layered and Mosel like riesling. Really balanced and perfect with subtly spiced cuisine. Will improve with two to three years of age. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré Tidal Bay 2020, Nova Scotia ($22.00)

In 2020 a blend of mainly l’acadie (44 per cent), with vidal (20), ortega (16), muscat (12) and seyval (8). TA is 8.6 g/L; RS 12 g/L; 11 per cent alc./vol. Certainly one of the most aromatic of all Tidal Bays, fruit spread across yellow, white and green spectrums, flowers too. Really pushes the appellative concept, ties the room together, bedroom, living space and community. Plums and oranges, apricots, peached and green apples. All the fruits, all in full regale and blossoms in bloom. The most fruit adjustment of all. The next (2021) will be labelled Annapolis Valley. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré Chardonnay 2020, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia ($35.00)

Second vintage from young Melanson Vineyard vines (planted in 2017), low yielding, definitely a work in progress. Harvested Oct. 16t at 20 brix, barrel fermented in new French oak, passed through malo and remained there for nine months altogether. Only two barrels were gained of this flinty, sulphide felt, clearly reductive style but also one that is explicitly Nova Scotia. The pH is 3.11, the tA 9.4. Some of this fruit will go to sparkling and it’s really quite a special vineyard (Melanson) that sits across the river in the Gaspereau Valley across from L’Acadie Vineyards. This will morph and flesh, placate the over-cumbersome wood at present and then settle in. Work in progress as mentioned. The vineyard is also planted to some pinot noir and cabernet franc. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré Millot 2017, Nova Scotia ($28.50)

One hundred per cent Leon Millot in American oak for two years. Was already planted when the Stutz family arrived, along with Marechal Foch. A lighter red here, lending itself to barrel aging, green when fresh and urged on to fleshy substance with two or three years of barrel put behind. A warm vintage and a remarkable brightness having emerged with gamay-like tang and circumstance. Very cherry, almost black but short of that darker hue-flavour profile. The least musky and foxy of hybrid reds. Really well made. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré 20 By Domaine De Grand Pré, Nova Scotia ($28.50)

A one-off, three part blend of cabernet foch (40 per cent) with equal (30) parts marquette and marechal foch, released to celebrate the winery’s 20th anniversary. Mainly from the hot 2016 vintage (70 per cent) with some warm 2017 mixed in. Again in American oak, most for two years, some even longer. Layered with some further musk this time, skins of dark red fruits and a forest floor component. A bit of tar and so much tang. More chalky texture and chew but still good balance. Was recently pulled off the shelf because only 20 cases remained. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Bruce Ewart, L’Acadie Vineyards

L’Acadie Vineyards, Wolfville

Bruce Ewart hired a viticultural manager and performed a three year terroir study on his vineyards in collaboration with three other wineries (Benjamin Bridge, Domaine de Grand Pré and Lightfoot & Wolfville). The study was assembled by the department of agriculture, or rather it was part of a program informally known as “farm extension,” services provided by Perennia on behalf of the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture. The idea was to get a good representation of the Nova Scotia wine industry. Rodrigo Layette who is Directeur Général de trois domaines (a Bordeaux viticultural consultant) dug test holes to look at the schist and sandstone. They found roots were three feet deep and like children and if you give them everything they want (like soft clay and loam) they will stay near the surface where the water is. If they have to work for the nutrients they will dig deeper and find the trace elements and minerals. Ewart also converted to Clover and Timothy employed as ground cover, part of the organic practice and to till only occasionally. The use of compost and horsetail teas, humus, etc. Caitlin McNamara is the vineyard manager and she did her degree at the university (Acadia), of which Bruce is half the faculty. “We used to employ organic chicken manure and the study determined this was no longer necessary. L’Acadie wanted to find a non-biodynamic organization.” They found Biocyclic Vegan (from Germany) whose concept is farming without any form of animal or animal product, opposite or rather apposite to biodynamism. This year (2021) they will become certified and from 2021 onwards their bottles will wear the certification. L’Acadie Vineyards will be the first in North America to gain this status.

L’Acadie Vineyards Pétillant Naturel Méthode Ancestrale 2020, Nova Scotia ($29.00)

This is the story of Saccharomyces paradoxus. Wild yeast present in the vineyard, naturally, like pre-packaged enzymatic magic ready and prepared to give a Pétillant Naturel its head start. Bruce Ewart explains they know this from analyses of the lees and his Pet-Nat acts as a conduit for microbial terroir, with no inputs showing itself off. Whole cluster pressed with no skin contact, a light disgorgement, no residual sugar, bottled just at dryness. Subtly orange, lithely citric, a marriage of acidities, tremendous flavour development and amazingly so considering the grapes are picked at sparkling time, four weeks ahead of when the l’acadie is picked for the still bottling. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted September 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut Estate Méthode Traditionelle 2014, Nova Scotia ($50.00)

Was embargoed until September 9th after having just received the Lieutenant Governor Award. Has evolved into a seriously toasted arena, gone long with lees contact, looking for peaceful co-existence between yeast autolysis and the fruit of the wine. “You don’t want conflict, you want that harmony, tells Bruce Ewart.” Disgorged January 2021 and so spent more than the minimum five years on lees. An insignificant dosage (more than most of these wines). Bruce’s program goes at it in terms of two and five year aging and he believes that while Nova Scotia can do ten or more there is only a minor incremental increase in complexity by doing so. This at six-plus has hit such a sweet spot, still in retention of currant and white/red berry fruit but also low and slow golden, tanned and long as an August afternoon Gaspereau shadow. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Tuna, Obladee Wine Bar, Halifax

L’Acadie Vineyards Joie De Vivre Charmat Method 2019, Nova Scotia ($28.00)

From a project that began three years ago, with vessels from Northern Italy, wines rested in tank during the pandemic, made from l’acadie (85 per cent) and (15) seyval blanc. “An earlier release, fruity sparkling for the market.” Held at 0-2 degrees celsius. The tanks arrived in early May and this was bottled last week. From the later picked l’acadie, fuller of tree fruit and lower in acidity. Low dosage for the style at 8 g/L and lithe at 11.1 per cent alcohol. Peach and apricot in a moscato d’asti vein, albeit higher of alcohol, mingling with yeasty col fondo, though crystal clean. Simple and satisfying. Delightful. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Vintage Cuvée Méthode Traditionelle 2018, Nova Scotia ($35.00)

From the frost year (June 5th), a blend of l’acadie and seyval blanc in a sparkling wine that shows the formers’s resilience, having raced out to meet bloom, veraison and harvest dates. In a 30 per cent crop but vines that bounced back the following year for a full yield out of harvest. A wine that meets the LV twain, somewhere between the fruit first sparklers and those of the longest tirage. The length of this is more than surprisingly impressive from a wine that looks for a new slate in every vintage. A wine of trials, investigations and experiments. Not at the toast ceiling but consistently malolactic and in that 8-12 g/L dosage. Truly a Brut style and middle of the road in the most complimentary way. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted September 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Tidal Bay 2020, Nova Scotia ($24.00)

Bruce Ewart’s first Tidal Bay, now being a part of the committee that holds a new standard to protect Nova Scotia wines from artificial carbonation. Here a combination of the two grape varieties where the hat is hung upon, they being l’acadie and seyval blanc. “My take on Tidal Bay is dry, even at five or ten g/L of RS it is not really our market.” Many are going dry and while there is stone fruit and white citrus this is truly a TB of mineral push and salty Fundy air. Just tastes like the vineyard so clearly showing off as a terroir based wine. Nova Scotia, part of a common thread but pretty specific to here. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted September 2021

Cat Taylor, Rachel Lightfoot and Godello

Related – The future is now for Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards

Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards, Wolfville

When I first arrived on the shores of the Minas Basin in 2013 to begin a near decade long (by now) immersion into the Nova Scotia wine industry it was Mike Lightfoot that I first came to know. With thanks to consulting oenologist Peter Gamble I spent a great chunk of time with the Lightfoots and their exciting new Wolfville project. My how things have changed, evolved, progressed and come to this astonishing point.

There is the home vineyard, Raven Hill across the road and what may just be the valley’s most important knoll in a vineyard at Avonport. Along with the most precocious work being executed by winemaker Josh Horton, Rachel Lightfoot and now with the addition of Assistant Winemaker Cat Taylor. Cat came from Toronto in logistics (Unilever) for 10 years, went to New York, then to wine school in France. She staged with Zind-Humbrecht alongside Biodynamic guru Olivier Humbrecht in 2016, worked at Tawse in Ontario with Paul Pender in 2017, then arrived here to Lightfoot & Wolfville in 2018. A biodynamic journey and now she is responsible for implementing the biodynamic aspect of the farming. “Using what’s on the farm around you,” Taylor notes, “seeing what the books say and what your farm says. It took me a while to get used to Nova Scotia acidity, I’m now much more comfortable with it.” Cat also brought in foudres from Alsace with thanks to Olivier Humbrecht. If around the time Cat Taylor arrived in Wolfville coincided with The future being now for Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards, well then that future is now the present.

The tasting line-up at Lightfoot & Wolfville

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blancs Extra Brut 2014, Nova Scotia ($75.00)

From a specific lower-cropped section of the home farm vineyard and an early 2019 disgorgement so an additional year on its lees, rounding it out just a hair further. Still the ripeness and added creamy character, engaging a new complexity by way of fruit fleshiness and crisp exterior crunches. This is the window, open, acclimatized and staid through a holding pattern of complex energies.  Last tasted September 2021

Disgorged just now. Looking for a late spring release. Built on 100 per cent clone 95 and 96 estate fruit, on its lees almost 50 months. This carries the most texture meeting energy piqued by pungency. The story is now beginning to truly set in with formative consistency. The lemon curd is swirled with bits of zest for a salty citrus intensity not yet known from this chardonnay. Was picked a bit riper and that’s quite obvious, plus some new play time with malo. Needs nine or ten more months of integration for the moving parts of tension and density to come together. Yet another Nova Scotia sparkling wine to inform us all. This must be the place and the sky is the limit. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted October 2018

Lobster Gnocchi at Juniper, Wolfville

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blanc Brut 2015, Annapolis Valley ($45.00)

From all three blocks of the home vineyard, 100 per cent chardonnay, classic line, part tank and part barrel, an extra year in barrel. Disgorged in February 2020, still only at 15 per cent malolactic, soon to become near 100 per cent in 2017. In these early-ish sparkling wine program days there was worry about how high to go with malic conversions and with so much acidity to play with these things were not yet known. Less tension, more cream, 15 g/L in RS as compared to 4 g/L in the Extra Brut. Still a toasted element and at 50-plus months of lees contact this is just shy of that perfect window. Some tropical fruit joins tree peach and pure yellow citrus, all following the brushy herbs. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Brut Rosé 2019, Annapolis Valley ($45.00)

Made from 100 per cent pinot noir off of the certified organic, third year Raven Hill Vineyard fruit across the road from the winery. Full malolactic fermentation and a wine that needed a few more months of time before disgorgement. Also to step away and allow the wine to say what it wants to say. After all it’s a wine made with red fruit, of more pulp and circumstance, fruit substance in waves and surely a great season following and in spite of the challenging 2018. Who would not be wooed, pleased and gainfully satisfied by a glass of this class, craft and equanimous Rosé? Methinks no one paying any attention. A gorgeous wine that shows off the L & W ability for shortening the wait times on enjoyment for their ever maturing, evolving and appetizing sparkling wines. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Small Lots Oak Island Vineyard Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2016, Annapolis Valley ($55.00)

In 2016 the one acre Oak Island Vineyard crop was split between this sparkling wine and the (still) barrel-fermented chenin blanc. The wine has progressed with slow haste, still tense and exited while in exemplary control. Driving forward with rhythmic dance step, forward and sideways but also times always gaining.  Last tasted September 2021

I tasted this unfinished wine in the Oak Island Vineyard back in November 2018 and I remember at the time Mike Lightfoot saying “out goes the muscat, in goes the chardonnay.” Truth is, in goes the chenin blanc as well. To say the grape variety is suitable to Nova Scotia sparkling would be a gross understatement. What it delivers is the expected tight and bracing local acidity but with longer hang time also the potential to accept a lees-aging development for downy to fluffy texture. Mousse without compromise to emotion and ardor. As with the L & W Blanc De Blanc Brut there is some white lightning by direct sunlight extended and mixed into weeks of cloud cover for a full east coast sparkling wine experience. Phenolics, acidities and specificity of flavours. Ideal now with a foreshadowing towards the memorable, three to four years ahead. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted February 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Ancienne Oak Island Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2017, Annapolis Valley ($39.00)

In a most interesting phase, not dumb but reserved, needing some coaxing. Shows off the 2017 structure, long-lasting and ever-bearing. Or vice versa. Spent 18 months in neutral French oak (three barrels full) and a vintage meant for still wines, not necessarily for sparkling. Hung really long, picked in early November and finishing at a remarkable 23-plus brix. Tough mudder this variety (on California rootstock) set into Nova Scotia soils. An Avonport, Oak Island child, one acre in an open place to the elements and elements there almost always are. Richness, fulsome character and textural gains are possible, even if there could have been no way to know it. A beautiful fall, especially October led to the hang, develop and creation of minutia facets of this wine. A one off perhaps but also the future.  Last tasted September 2021

The Oak Island hill in Avonport is Nova Scotia’s “mini Corton,” a vineyard unlike any other in surround of The Bay of Fundy’s Minas Basin. Lightfoot & Wolfville planted many engaging varieties on that convex mound through the course of the last decade and chenin blanc is just now coming into fruition. It was October of 2018 when I last walked it with winemaker Josh Horton, Mike and Rachel Lightfoot. The purpose that day was to sample the chenin projects, still and sparkling, while also tasting grapes just a couple of weeks away from picking. While still from young vines this 2017 shows great charm, a curious varietal precociousness and calling it a quick study speaks to the land and the choice of plantation. Aromatically sits in a tirage de liqueur place, prominent and demanding. Acids are Oak Knoll special, lifted and crunchy. High ceiling relationship between varietal and place is in the books, this being just the new beginning. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted February 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Gamay Noir Terroir Series 2020, Annapolis Valley ($30)

From a block just now coming into its own, on the far end of the Oak Island, Avonport Vineyard, planted in 2013 and 2014. The first vintage was 2018 though this is the fullest of the three and the question begs, is gamay perfect for Nova Scotia? Some neutral oak was incorporated because of increased ripeness, though just for a few months. Freshness of course but also a marine funk that speaks to food pairing possibilities. Lovely musk that talks of the grape and also other fruit skins. Very primary, delightful, floral and as Rachel Lightfoot says, “weirdly popular.” As it should be. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Ancienne Wild Ferment Pinot Noir 2018, Annapolis Valley ($45)

Despite the early frost of 2018 (June 5th) the pinot noir was unaffected, even at the Oak Island site where other (earlier developing) varieties were hit. The rest of the season was beautiful and with today being a spice day (or earth if you prefer) the sandalwood, fenugreek, cinnamon and cardamom all come through. Such a seep of tea, red tea that is, not quite rooibos but more floral, into hibiscus without any doubt. A wine of oscillations and grooves, sensitive, emotive, ever changing. That said the mood is more than good at this stage, an intuitive and responsive, paying attention and ranging to so many edges, corners and plateaus. Already secondary, perhaps empathetic in speaking about other vines’ suffering and expressive of beauty for all. Almost as if the pinot noir is saying I’ll take all the attention right now while the rest of you get healthy. 3,000 bottles made, approximately. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Kékfrankos 2018, Annapolis Valley ($30)

A near-finished product but still needing the final touches after nine months in mostly older wood. Well hello there Kék, welcome to the world. Structured like nothing that came previous and floral off the charts. Still so youthful in exuberance and yet to settle in, the richness and caky barrel notes still very much in charge. Oh my the sweetness of fruit, so ripe, full on tang, tannins a bit lowered but so much richesse. Vinous and primary, expressive and working through the gears of its journey. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted September 2021

Rachel Lightfoot and Cat Taylor

Lightfoot & Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2018, Annapolis Valley ($56.95)

Frost year for the valley but again an escape by the vines at Lightfoot & Wolfville with thanks to the tidal influence to keep the chardonnay vines happy, healthy and secure. So much fruit and warm summer sunshine, a glade bathed in light and a luminescence rarely found in chardonnay. Consistent L & W elévage, increasingly into puncheons and away from 225L barriques. You can never forget and not remember what chardonnay has done for L & W, while now the richness and restraint work in optimized tandem. Less reductive than previous incantations, with new and improved connotations, consistencies and harmonic sway. Also a matter of vintage and cooperage. Stability is the key to being great. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Riesling 2020, Annapolis Valley ($30)

A not quite finished wine but so very close, raised in foudres, lighter in oak impact as compared to what might happen in smaller barrel. Hard not to imagine an Alsace-Zind Humbrecht idealistic connection, long-pressed and slowly done, a 10-12 hour cycle without compromising the pH. That’s because you get plenty before it trickles in at the end of the cycle. Full malo as well, a few grams of sugar and definitely a lemon curd, perhaps but not in a Windsbuhl manner. Just enough crunch but to be fair the texture is more emulsified than in any other way. Gonna be a stunner. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Tidal Bay 2020, Annapolis Valley ($30)

Tidal Bay’s mix in 2020 is 50 per cent l’acadie with an almost equal amount of geisenheim and chardonnay. In a tree fruit moment, in apples and pears with citrus in the background. Sugar in the 12 g/L area and trying for drier, with higher toned fruit due to the pressing on l’acadie’s skins. Over time the sugars are less important, especially as compared to the wine in its extreme youth. This is the Tidal Bay for all and all will love what it brings to the appellative table. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Terroir Series Scheurebe 2020, Annapolis Valley ($30)

Skipped in 2018 due to the hurricane’s fall effect and now here back in 2020. Not merely a classic varietal vintage but an exaggerated one, in harmony and open to any and all benefactors. A benevolent and philanthropic scheurebe, a touch drier than before, toned back in the range of 10-12 g/L of sugar, along with the matching decreased acidity. Stays focused and balanced throughout. So much stone orchard fruit unrelenting and with feeling. Passion fruit as well, open-knit, expressive and very giving. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Luckett Vineyards, Wolfville

While I did not visit with winemaker Mike Mainguy on this trip I did have the pleasure of tasting through some of his essentials. These are three that stand out as wholly representative of Luckett’s increasingly focused varietal persona.

Luckett Vineyards Rosetta Rosé 2019 ($20)

The plan has been to get back to Nova Scotia and get a bottle of Luckett winemaker Mike Mainguy’s Rosé. Took two years to do so and Rosetta is the one, perhaps (if only in this fantasy) a reference to Lennon’s only utterance ahead of McCartney’s final crooning upon a London rooftop. Also a vidal, riesling and leon millet chorus of Nova Scotia phenolics, soft-pressed sentimentality and faintly funky-earthy Fundy salt. Consistently reeking of red berry and citrus, sweetly herbal and coaxing out (or in) stone fruit. Drinking well more than a year in. Crushable delicasse. Optimization and individuality meet upon a plain where all can enjoy this satisfying Rosé. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted September 2021

Luckett Vineyards Tidal Bay 2020 ($20)

Confirms the billing of 100 per cent Nova Scotia, as per the Tidal Bay manifesto and in Luckett’s view (which incidentally is a spectacular one) screams local, parochial and beneficially biased. The l’acadie, seyval blanc, chardonnay and ortega all conspire to speak the language or even more so the spirited vernacular of Tidal Bay. This package may have once been a searing machine but the ripenesses reached besides maintaining early enough picked acidity is a miracle of climate change and wine-growing intelligence. This new era is coming out clean, obvious and beautiful with new phenolic frontiers gained. Yes the lemon incarnate zests, juices and zings throughout this 2020 but so do orange, jasmine, lemongrass and honeyed herbals. Dry as it seems to get for the category yet opulent in its very own light alcohol, marine breezes, oyster shell way. Hello Santorini assyrtiko and Muscadet Sèvre et Maine melon de Bourgogne. Meet the new Tidal Bay. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Luckett Vineyards Chardonnay 2020 ($25)

Grapes are grown in Avonport, one of Nova Scotia’s wildcard if tiny micro zones in Kings County. The land is graced by flats, rolls of hills and well-positioned knobs or hillocks set between the mouths of the Avon and Gaspereau Rivers. No other Nova Scotia terroir offers up the kind of varietal-vinifera playground as Avonport and Luckett’s unoaked beauty takes on the marine air, silty saltiness and Fundy-proximate sway. Lean and characterful, herbaceous in an ox-eye daisy way, nearly chamomile and no woody parts denoted. Quite a precise chardonnay with snap-back green apple bite and positive energy. Drink early and on repeat. Drink 2020-2021.  Tasted September 2021

Good to go!

godello

Lightfoot & Wolfville estate vines overlooking the Minas Basin

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WineAlign

Niagara’s cool for chards

 

Niagara chardonnay, cornerstone of an industry, another one of nature’s mysterious constants, long-time member of both local and globally recognized greatness. A pandemic be damned the time had finally come to glide on down the QEW, inch by inch, to arrive in Niagara’s wine-lands and taste recently bottled vineyard bounty, plus some older surprises. At the behest, felicitations and facilitations of WMAO we the crü at WineAlign abided by the invitation. The visits included Le Clos Jordanne, On Seven Estate Winery, Stratus Vineyards, Trius Winery and Restaurant, Hidden Bench Estate Winery, Tawse Winery, Redstone Winery and Restaurant and the Bat Caves at Bachelder Wines. The next trip will take in at least seven more and after that, no less than seven again. And so on. Niagara is not conquered in a day, or a weekend.

And everybody tells me that it’s cool to be a cat
Cool for cats (cool for cats)

Related – A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

The steamy and canicular July varietal sally coincided with the physical return, if only in part and to limited display, of the region’s annual i4c Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. Ontario’s most famous annual gathering inclusive of international winemaking stars is one that so many media, sommeliers, producers, importers, marketers and consumers have come to know, embrace and love. With a commitment for more arms to get jabbed and further progress towards community safety be made in these next 11 months, there should be every reason for optimism that i4c 2022 will return in full force next July.

Thomas Bachelder between Hanck East and West

Related – David Lawrason’s Canadian Wine Insider – Niagara’s Regeneration

In addition to chardonnay (that cool refreshing drink) there too were touring pours of sparkling wines, riesling, pinot gris, skin contact whites, rosé, pinot noir, cabernet franc and gamay. Those tasting notes are included in this report because quite frankly Niagara’s varietal diversity and inclusivity on full display should be duly noted. The festivities concluded on Sunday afternoon with not one but two Bat Cave barrel tastings with the stupefied, hyper-hypnotized and monkified winemaking tour de force himself, the other tall and thin white duke, Thomas Bachelder. No I did not make any formal notes on the dozens of chardonnay and gamay thieved from his barrels because frenetics and focus do not jive, not when Bachelder, barrels and argumentative discourse are involved. Bachelder began with some re-visits of finished “Villages” wines in the guise of Mineralité de Niagara and L’Ardoise, same same but for different markets (Ontario and Québec), both from the 2019 vintage. Then the surprise of the tasting emerged, two unmarked magnums, as of that very moment yet untasted and very special. “From the Heart Cuvée Number 1” is a project with fellow enlightened, philanthropic aiding and abetting abbot Steven Campbell. Their chardonnay crushes the concept with its dynamic and lush configuration. Why because of the very notion of being figuratively layered, blessed with a frictional vitality burnished into its collective heart and chardonnay soul. I had to stop after each sip to reassemble my nervous system and scrape my mind of the cosmos, not to mention the universe, galaxies and stars.

Crazy eyes in the throes of a four-hour Bachelder barrel tasting

The concept began as an annual Canadian Charity Wine Auction in support of the battle against climate change and then further developed into the Rescue the Grapes auction in NYC in partnership with Christie’s. Campbell and Bachelder convinced dozens of winemakers to donate small-ish lots of unfinished wines to be gathered and vinified as a single wine, an Ontario supergroup-cuvée if you will and finished by Thomas, acting as lead singer and songwriter. In Canada he and Steven are asking wineries to sponsor winemakers dinners in their home province and if they do host a dinner also support our auctions in the other two provinces. For the other province they donate a six pack of wine and will include  VIP “Passport” to the winery to promote interprovincial wine tourism. So far in Ontario Trail Estate, Malivoire, Southbrook, The Farm, Trius, Cave Spring, Pearl Morissette, Bachelder, Henry of Pehlam, Tawse and Rosehall run have all stepped up with a few more in the wings. In British Columbia Black Hills, Stag Hollow, Burrowing Owl, Okanagan Crush Pad, Tin Horn Creek, Tantalus, Quails Gate, Mission Hill and an Arterra winery are in with more to come.

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

The chardonnays were pulled from Willms Vineyard, Wismer-Wingfield est and ouest, Wismer-Foxcroft, Saunders Organic and Bio and Grimsby Hillside Escarpment Red Clay Barn Block. The gamay barrels tasted were Bator, Jackson-Bai “Bai Xu,” Wismer-Parke, Hanck est and ouest. Thomas did reveal the first ever bottle of Grimsby Hillside Chardonnay. The personal connection to that storied plot along the Lincoln Lakeshore in Winona will be investigated to the fullest extent of Godello law in a report coming soon.

Godello with Hidden Bench winemaker Jay Johnston

Has one really taken full advantage of a cool chardonnay weekend if one has not gone nose, palate, heart and mind deep into a seven year Hidden Bench Marlize Beyers to Jay Johnston Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay vertical? Methinks not. Not to mention a viticultural tour with J.J. and Joel Williams, Brut 2014, Rachis & Derma skin-contact and of course, Gamay. Thanks to proprietor Harald Thiel and congrats on being bestowed with the honour of “Champion Chardonnay of the year!” Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving and industry leading partner. 👏 👏 👏

Hidden Bench Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturist Joel Williams

New to the Niagara Peninsula scene is On Seven Estate Winery, headed up by Vittorio de Stefano and with the charge in the hands of Canada’s most accomplished consulting winemaker Peter Gamble. Just as he has made giant viticultural and vinicultural strides with the likes of Stratus, Benjamin Bridge and Lightfoot & Wolfville, in typical, ambitious and big picture defining fashion it is Gamble who sees unlimited qualitative potential in the mineral-rich soils of OSEW’s Niagara-on-the-Lake soils. 

The sit-down at Stratus Vineyards titled “To lees or not to lees? That is the tasting” explained from the word go about the new direction concerns all things lees. To see two winemakers, they being J.L. Groux and Dean Stoyka existing on the same mad scientist solids page is something all Ontario wine pursuers should choose to follow. The pursuit is being played out in chardonnays and multifarious sparkling wines, in Blanc de Blancs, Brut Nature Zero Dosage and “Field Blend” Ancestral. For Ontario this means serious sparkling wine business.

Panko-Crusted Pork Rilette, poached plum & charred fennel salad, toasted hazelnuts, honey dressing, pickled mustard seeds – Executive Chef Steve Sperling, Tide and Vine Oyster House

“Lunch and Launch in Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard” moved us in many ways, first through distant Upper and immediate Lower Jordan Bench views, of Le Clos, Talon Ridge and Claystone Terrace. Tide and Vine Oyster House was responsible for feeding us to the breaking point, by oysters, yellow fin tuna tartar, cold smoked salmon, vichyssoise, pork rillete, surf & turf and olive oil cake. The chardonnay flowed, with Village and Grand Clos examples by hosts LCJ, but also international stars; Tasmania, Australia’s Dalrymple, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa’s Hamilton Russell and Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California’s Gary Farrell. Here are my notes on those three wines.

Dalrymple Cave Block Chardonnay 2018, Tasmania, Australia ($70.95, Noble Estates)

A steely year with the vineyard’s hallmark acidity in a cracker Tazzy chardonnay with lip-smacking energy, intensity and drive. Soil, site and place in relentless pursuit of a focus at the head of body and game. Crunchy, crisp, indelibly fresh and piqued with the finest wisp of white peppery kicks. Nuts, complexity, bolts and length. All in. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa ($47.95, Noble Estates)

From the air-conditioned, cool breeze motivated vineyards (52 hectares) 100 miles from the ocean. Wet vintage, cool and long-hanging. Concentrated flavours in chardonnay that draws from all parcels which is more than just the Hamilton Russell way but in fact the only way. No fruit is wasted, all parts commit and contribute to the whole. A vintage like this is special, restrained, understated and one should not be misled by the shadowy depth and layering. Fruit is but a conduit for all else happening in this streamlined chardonnay. The alcohol and opulence are subtle, the pleasure calming, the capitulations promising. Methinks time will be long, slow and kind to HRV ’18. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Garry Farrell Chardonnay Olivet Lane 2018, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California ($69.00, Noble Estates)

Pellegrini’s 1975 planted Olivet Lane Vineyard sits on 65 acres of sloping benchland in the Santa Rosa Plain, in between the warmer Westside Road region and the cooler Green Valley. If taking a step up from Gary Farrell’s estate label is even a possibility then yes Olivet Lane is just such an animal. Threefold (or ten times) more expressive, from jump started to flying ahead, in freshness, vitality and tightly wound intensity. Flesh and opulence submit to energy, motion and emotion. Captivated and caught up in a bold embrace. Forget bracing but surely feel the fineness and the purpose towards effecting satisfaction. Top, right, fine. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tres Cool Chardonnay

We’ve called on many estates over the last 10 years but truth is the visits were epic this time around, with thanks to the talent involved; Thomas Bachelder, Elsa MacDonald MW, Eugene Mlynczyk MW and the Arterra Wines Canada crew; Tide and Vine’s Mike Langley, Chef Steve Sperling and team; On Seven Estate Winery’s Vittorio de Stefano and Consulting Winemaker Peter Gamble; Stratus Vineyards Assistant Winemaker Dean Stoyka and Estate Director Suzanne Janke; Trius Winery and Restaurant’s Executive Chef Frank Dodd and team; Hidden Bench Estate Winery’s Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturalist Joel Williams; Tawse Winery Winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting; The Restaurant at Redstone Executive Chef Dave Sider and team; Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney. These are the 40 finished wines tasted over a near 30-hour period on July 24th and 25th, 2021.

Felseck Vertical

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($42.20)

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. No stirring, “I don’t like bâtonnage,” tells winemaker Jay Johnston, “unless I’m trying to get a wine to dry.” Never mind the lees aeration or the emulsification because texture in this ’19 is extraordinary to behold, gliding across the palate with Bench orchard fruit cleverness, penetrating perspicacity and juices running through unblemished flesh. Tighter and taut than ’18, while seemingly improbable but here yet unwound, far from the pinnacle at which point full expression will surely ache to be. The ’18 may be a beautiful thing but the ’19 is structured, manifold in destiny and ideal for those who know, or at least think they do. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench

First a walk through the Felseck Vineyard and then a tasting with winemaker Jay Johnston and viticulturist Joel Williams as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical retrospective. Very warm season, much like 2016 though not quite as scorching and sun-filled. Would not call this stoic but would say that concentration, grace and all things stretched are in optimum balance this time around. Pretty quick turn around for Johnston to exact an ideal Felseck chardonnay just a year and a bit into his tenure at Hidden Bench. Just crunchy enough, more than ample and most importantly understated within the context of a great richness inherent in its varietal meets plantation DNA. There is no denying how enticing, invigorating and attractive this chardonnay is and will be to many who showed buyer’s foresight, but also those now lucky enough to come across its terroir-motivated beauty. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A vintage of survival, saved by a glorious September and into October. Looks like the richness made it with thanks to the fall weather and yet the elongation, length, elasticity and texture are all what matters to speak, walk, talk and tow the Felseck line. Solid, mid-weight, mid-acid and structure chardonnay that acts with perfectly middling emotion between the warm ’16 and ’18.  Last tasted July 2021

Felseck gifts what chardonnay needs with fruit equipped to start out subtle, gain traction and then commit to gliding into grace. That state of delicasse is now, with a natural orchard-stone-melon sweetness and an integration seamless, layered and eternal. Drinking this now makes great sense and the honey notes that may follow will only add to the mystique. The Ontario epitome of intelligent and refined chardonnay. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2020

Felseck Vineyard

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. Smoking hot season, much like 2018. No other vintage will impress and woo a more general if elevated palate than this ’16 (save perhaps the high award winning ’18) because both concentration and grace reside in the arena of the beautiful, together, side by side. Not the tightest grain in the vertical retrospective Felseck ship. Can’t say this will live as long as the ’13 and ’14 but there is plenty of life in this gorgeous and not so alone 2016. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year, “we got slammed,” says winemaker Jay Johnstone, “but a wine of definite concentration.” Showing evolution and age in tones, developed richesse and caramelization well beyond both that of ’13 and ’14. No corn however, despite what the initial nose might have indicated. A faux creamed presentation that ended up more peach to apricot in drupe, not niblet. Nutty too, again idiosyncratic and a unique Felseck as such.  Last tasted July 2021

Sometimes I’m “walking down the street, minding my own business” when a taste of a chardonnay makes my eyes go wide. Like this lovely thing of really compelling and nuanced aromatics, diverting, bright and effusive. Intoxicating really, “must have been the sun beating down on me.” A soulful chardonnay, Darondo luscious, strutting at you, with golden fruit, layers of slaty under-vein, a bit of ancient bivalve fossil shell, piqued and long. Gets its texture from a pinpointed cru for sure and is very cool-climate Canadian, almost certainly Bench Niagara, more than likely in Beamsville. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year but a solid year. Now expressive with croccante and cracker sensibility. Aromatically touched by croissant to brioche biscuit richness, with still pulsing acids and mouthfeel second to none. This is a next era Hidden Bench Felseck and the launch point from off of the work put in through the previous five or six vintages. Tasted blind four years previous to now was a completely different experience. Drink 2021-2026.  Last tasted July 2021

Unction and creaminess, lost in a chardonnay dream because to nose it’s a sweet, floral, demure thing. Lees apparent so you can smell the work in progress and feel the texture. But it’s wound loosely tight with just enough give to make it so readily available. Beautiful little wine though I can’t help but imagine there’s more single-focus structure than a blind taste wants to give. Hope to come across this hard to get beauty again someday soon.  Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted with incumbent winemaker Jay Johnston as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. The vintage may very well be considered much like 2021 is shaping up to be, wet and humid, culminating in a late season. A short crop year but surely one of the Bench’s best dating back to 2009. Persistently flinty and aromatic, holding the citrus and stone fruit line, still quite tight and yet to evolve with any considerable haste. Not one to think on as a specific Bourguignons terroir per se but definitely Hidden Bench, amphitheatric Beamsville of origin, expression and conclusion. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Jordan Village Chardonnay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($24.95)

The first attempt and rather obvious pronouncement towards creating a Bourguignons Villages wine is this over-delivering for the price chardonnay from Thomas Bachelder and the re-invented spirit of Le Clos Jordanne. Jordan Village as in grapes gathered from the lower and upper Jordan benches. When warmed in the glass and were it drawn from a warmer vintage there might be even more fleshy opulence but with 2019 and this collection of LCJ single vineyards there is fresh magnification and edgy dance moves, shimmer and glitter, not to mention of glimmer of what this commercially viable brand will ultimately bring to the collective entity that is cool climate Ontario chardonnay. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2018, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($44.95)

Le Grand Clos signals the return of the lower Jordan Bench and “I’m very happen it’s back in the (Escarpment) lexicon,” says winemaker Thomas Bachelder for a chardonnay of origins truly different than the upper benches in Beamsville, Vineland and Jordan. A svelte vintage, not lean by any stretch but surely tight and what some might say restrained. That may or may not include fine white caramel, liqueur glazed fennel and a mild sense of grilling. A chardonnay from vines in a season that needed not shut down to either hydric nor heat stress. Funny how both 2018 in Niagara and Hermanus produced similar results. The big “E,” fine-tuning, chiseled features and sneaky structure.  Last tasted July 2021

Thomas Bachelder’s second vintage since the reprise of Le Clos Jordanne’s chardonnay and pinot noir is perhaps the most nurtured (and nurturing) because he and team treated this varietal fruit through all the early stages; newborn, infant, toddler and child. The attention to detail, from choosing cooperage, forests, barrels and in elévage design is both mathematical and surgical. After 22 months the result is just so imperfectly perfect. Unequivocally noted as a high acid vintage and rather then fatten up this fruit the monk chose the direction of vintage seasoning and identity. Drills down into the Clos and where it fits within the Twenty Mile Bench. The exiguity and heretical transparency makes this a great ’18 Le Clos because ambiguity is the enemy of accountability and also progress. As a forward thinking chardonnay it represents itself, the maker and proffers a sense of place. Perfectly easy to drink right now and imperfectly set up for aging, but that’s just not the point. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2020

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Seven acres, thus the name, in the hands of Vittorio de Stefano, “and a project paramount to wanting something sustainable that can compete at the international level and standard.” The vineyard is five acres and the property now 15.5. Planted half each to chardonnay and pinot noir, all organic. Bourgogne is the impetus, Niagara the goal. The genesis of planting decisions dates back to 2009, high vigour rootball SO4 rootstocks and clones finally acquired in 2014. Now at seven years of age the vines are ready to rock. A place of science, with oenological consultant/winemaker Peter Gamble at the fore and wines of minimalist approach starting out in reductive tendency, then finishing with longevity defining acidity. Richness and intensity meet at a general Côte d’Or vortex but in the end Niagara lake-proximate flesh and tension are the true meeting point. There is a distinct flintiness (and unlike other flinty chardonnays) but also a caramelization of high delectability and flavour. Vim and vigour, vivid and 20 per cent new oak over three years to gain such favour. Exotic too, with wood contributing to the extract, but surely essential trace elements; manganese, iron and calcium of causation allowing the minerals to make themselves heard. Intriguing wine if only at the beginning of a long story yet to be told. Only 82 cases made. The goal as the vines mature will be 800. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Perhaps not the highest of knowable excellence yet clearly the most intriguing chardonnay that may never be emulated any time soon, certainly not out of 2019 or 2020. Singular stylistic wine, reductive and opulent, more Pouilly-Fuissé (with thanks to 2017) and a warmth that creates such a textural buzz. More fat in spite of that 8 g/L acidity, but such energy and considering the age at this point it almost seems the wine is going a bit backwards. That said the vanilla and caramel comes in wafts and waves, the flavours and textures in layers, long, lingering, forever. Only 108 cases made.  Last tasted July 2021

The newest Peter Gamble consulting joint is this from upstart The Pursuit of Seven. The chardonnay fruit is Niagara-on-the-Lake and the concentration suggest established vines (of at least 15 years-old it would seem) and no holds barred in terms of extraction and wood support. The density and fruit bang for buck are impressive and there is some volatility in distraction. Ambitious to be sure and the acumen employed true to form, not to mention distinctly clear. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted March 2020

Vittorio de Stefano of @onsevenwinery with consulting oenologist Peter Gamble

On Seven Estate Winery The Devotion On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($65.00)

Imagine the minerals from these Niagara-on-the-Lake soils (manganese, iron and calcium) and the highest intensity fruit getting together in a tiny lot chardonnay case load. Then consider going against the grain with harder (elevated) turbidity in the ferments for more skin feel and purposed pulp for upfront loaded flavour intensity. That’s the direction and hyperbole of pursuit in The Devotion on Seven, an (only) 31 cases made chardonnay. Doubles (or perhaps triples) down on reduction, fulsome flesh and yet the warner vintage has as much to say as the inherent processes involved. Also a tannic chardonnay, in dramatic sensory extract as compared to the Pursuit on Seven ’18, though it can’t help but express more of everything as compared to the Pursuit of Seven. The acidity number of 8 g/L might seem extraordinary when considering the warmth and the ripeness of the vintage, however, and this matters most, ultimately it is the terroir that drives both the texture and the acidity of this special, barrel selection wine. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Peller Estates Signature Series Chardonnay Sur Lie 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Yet another cracker 2019 chardonnay with the coolest of vintages meeting varietal bones and a karst of energy to drive the lees machine. Spent 10 months sur lie to be exact in a fully malolactic confirmed textural tang that benefits from a certain restraint only such a season can affirm. That being particularly cool and elongated for a chardonnay just crunchy enough to support the promise and extend enjoyment for a good, long and fruitful spree. Expect a future filled with a soft and creamy centre, eventuating in some creamed Niagara corn. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($49.20)

“It’s not that we’re trying to change something every year,” explains assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka, which means that the R and D projects are in constant motion and take four to five years to come to fruition. The October 18-26 stretch is the latest harvest in quite some time (since 2009), fermented in various clay vessels and French oak, 76 per cent in neutral barrels and (24) in stainless steel. Great naturally developed acidity and just enough ripeness to gain favour with the fully-completely accessed, utilized and kept in the bottle lees. So lemon, so balanced and very fine. There is a combinative effect of mad scientist acumen for a wine that needs to be explained to a consumer mixed with absolute pleasure and amenability. One of the finest chardonnay peaks conquered nut just in Ontario but anywhere cool varietal mountains are meant to be climbed.  Last tasted July 2021

Tight one this 2019 chardonnay, seductively reductive and unwilling to relent this early in life. Knowable richness is optimized by being associated with green orchard fruit bite. Though so youthful and shrink wrapped at this time there are some ways to pair with potential and eek out enough charm. Boy do you feel the lees but the freshness really shines. Prosciutto comes to mind, as does mortadella, especially if it’s from Faenza. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2020

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Warm and ripe vintage if only because of a gorgeous September into October, more lees than ever before, no new wood and an extended elévage nearing a year in length. Alcohol has risen, as has the pH though neither are what you might call vivid. The palate is actually tightly strung, the texture fulfilling and a cloudiness so perfect for what the winemaking team had long wanted to achieve. Hard not to see 2017 as the teaching wine where lees usage is concerned, the (after the fact) ah-hah moment whereby knowing what to do and how deep to go was learned by how 2017 turned out. In this case fulsome of stone fruit, opaque clarity, an oxymoronic ying-yang of positives in apposite attractions. A Monet vintage, modernized and so very J-L Groux. A Stratus, unlike any other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

The 2014 vintage was essentially the first year when barrel lees would be left in the bottle and my how conservative this ’15 really was as compared to an evolution that culminates (currently) with the full on lees filed chardonnay vintage. Quite the opulent vintage mixed with aromatics still morphing, developing lees, brash and blushing by 40 per cent new oak, complimented by generous acidity. Showing with controlled drama and though the yields were low (only 88 tonnes) there is something quite special about this emotionally charged, vivid, scarce and remarkable chardonnay.  Last tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Tasting with assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka as part of a vertical exercise in “to lees or not to lees.” Neither hue nor aromatics suggest much evolution though the low-ish acidity and tropical fruit tell an emerging secondary story. Creamy and centred, gregarious of flavour, nothing left unsaid, hidden or kept hidden away. Up front and talking vintage warmth, opulence and ripeness. Was housed in only 18 per cent new wood. For a good time, drink up.  Last tasted July 2021

As per the house promulgation, in chardonnay, “still an assemblage process,” insists Groux, “no matter what we do.” Some grapes grown for Sparkling were added back in, for acidity, complexity and ultimately balance. That and though notably barrel burdened (a good, hard burden to bare) leading to a bargain, “the best I ever had.” Major key of whose who of Niagara fruit, power acoustic chords and 12-string harmonics. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted June 2015

A change in direction is duly noted with J-L Groux’s 2012 chardonnay, from fruit picked six weeks earlier than in 2010. The program is scaled back and the wine is more “typical” of the region, in weight, in barrel effect and in alcohol. Still quite defined by natural yeasts that “sometimes go a bit wild, but I’m getting better at it,” concedes the clinician of vinous letters. Those feisty microbes are difficult to work with, like dealing with a wine that lacks natural clarity. “You have to shut down the bacteria, teach the yeast to stop stealing the lees. In 2013 I really got it.” The ’12’s altered course is welcome and encouraged and the world should wait with bated breath for what ’13 will bring. Here the complexity of aromatics is matched only by the intensity of tropical fruit. Has balance and a soft, round feel. Again, more texture and aromatics than natural acidity. Classic J-L style. “It’s not about trying to imitate anyone. It’s about making the most interesting and most complex chardonnay in Niagara.”  Tasted March 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road 2018, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($35.95)

Definitely a warm vintage, picked on the early side, bite still clamped down, a bit of pesto and far from reductive as noted in Quarry Roads of the recent past (i.e 2011 and 2013). Pine nut pronunciation, no malic residual transformations (there will never me) and just bloody good freshness. Last tasted July 2021

No shocker that Quarry Road always finds a way to morph and change gears, meaning every so often, a year and up to two years later there will be some significant movement in this wine. Something about the Vinemount Ridge and how its players are in constant flux, adjusting sentiments and character to keep things curious, interesting and alive. Still the unencumbered and free-flowing expression it set out to be, free to be Quarry Road and as for me, I am always enamoured by how it marries personality with age. Natural (not unlike the Natural version of itself), enigmatic and very personal. Let it be. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Tawse winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge

Fantastic ten years after flinty reduction from arguably the most cracking vintage of the previous decade. As it is said, “you’ve got to feed the beauty, it doth not come cheap.” And that is what Paul Pender went for in 2011. At 10 Quarry is light on its feet, fresh, spirited jumping rope and spinning in concentric chardonnay circles. It simply reeks of beautiful Vinemount Ridge stone.  Last tasted July 2021

The pinpoint accuracy and gemstone capture of the Quarry is exaggerated in ’11, amplified and fully plugged in. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Carries that classic Paul Pender perfume; rocks and stones, flaxen, refulgent toast and the verdure Vinemount terroir. A free flying, linear, atmospheric smear of thermal fortitude and backbone. A polemic Bowie Chardonnay to make you believe “the strangest things, loving the alien.”  Tasted May 2014

Resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terroir makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit.  Tasted March 2012 (barrel sample)

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($34.95)

Prick, punch and torque from the conceptual vintage get-go, a classic 2019 in the making, if by so many yet to be understood standards. A chardonnay so cool it causes a brain freeze while simultaneously moving the soul. In fact put on some vinyl Gaye, get in on, or even disco foreshadowing Temptations, echoing the chardonnay law of the land. Don’t sleep on the high level fruit, not quite fleshy but surely potent and dynamic to match the season’s verve in acidity. Fine lees, better texture and all-around vitality so essential to chardonnay. Will improve with six more months in bottle. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($36.75)

A single-vineyard chardonnay once labelled Oliveira and then watching Tree Vineyard but no longer, though the source remains the same. Embraces a cool 2019 vintage played out through rewards in the guise of reduction, toast, flint and drive. In cool climate varietal terms this ’19 reminds of 2011 though to be clear and certain there is more focus where by the quantity and quality of ripenesses meet at the essential points of acidity and tannin. Here is a vintage to end a decade in the most poised and poignant way. Spot on, striking and graceful chardonnay. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Remarkable finesse, flavours and design @triuswines and Restaurant by Chef Frank Dodd with @coolchardonnay accompaniments.

Beyond Chardonnay

Hidden Bench Blanc De Blanc Zero Dosage 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench ($48.00)

Second vintage from a tightly contested and smaller crop, initiated by then winemaker Marlize Beyers and subsequently disgorged by Jay Johnston, following five years on the lees. Moves from the practice of poetics to the anticipatory embracing of tomorrow’s science. Full disclosure this was tasted while walking the Hidden Bench chardonnay vineyards with a traditional method sparkling wine in hand first disgorged in the summer of 2019, when the yeasts were removed and the bottle was topped with the same wine. This tasting featured a January 2021 disgorgement and the term “Brut Nature Zero Dosage used when no sugar is added to the finished wine, which provides the most authentic expression of (the Hidden Bench) terroir.” Truth and synchronicity, grace, striking engagement, pure citrus and pleasure. Who could not anticipate and wait on subsequent vintages of this wine? The best is yet to come. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Brut Nature Zero Dosage 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($100.00)

Comes across a bit cloudy, at least as compared to the B de B with thanks to the natural, lees left intact style. The citrus component is so pronounced, as is the taut, direct, lean and intense manifold destiny of what is truly a singular Sparkling wine. That being a living, breathing, inhaling and exhaling wine, slowly releasing proteins, acids and realizing its B de B Nature dream. Just amazing what lees can do for sparkling wine.  Last tasted July 2021

Released side by each with the Stratus Blanc de Blanc 2013 and while vintage and grape are the same, the similarities almost seemingly, ostensibly and allegedly end there. Yes in fact this 100 per cent chardonnay is a child of the most excellent varietal vintage and like the B de B spent six years on the lees. Comparisons cast aside it is the very fact that because much of the lees were transferred to bottle by a minimalist’s disgorging that this cloudy bubble with a Canadian artist’s series set of labels can’t help but elicit another memory. The Lilies of Monet and their clouds represent neither the horizon, nor the top or the bottom. Nor does a bottle of this Zéro Dosage Brut. The elements of water, air, sky and earth become intertwined in a composition without perspective, or so it goes in this hazy, opaque and dry as the desert sparkling wine. So many layers of lemon can be peeled, juiced and scraped away. If a Stratus wine could be a a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma then here it is. The texture here is palpable and the intrigue factor surely high, so it should be imagined that longevity will be this wine’s calling card. It’s more austere than the Blanc de Blanc but I think in fact it will. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($75.00)

One gram of dosage, disgorged in January 2020. Nearly six years on the lees based on the first R & D trials done in 2006 and 2007. High level autolytic entity, a toasted affair and an idea long time coming for the Stratus team. Fine tonic and bitters. With 15 minutes of air the blooming happens, floral, expressive and complex. This wine has really developed more layers, emotions and complexity.  Last tasted July 2021

The first (commercial) J-L Groux foray into traditional method Sparkling wine has been six plus years in the making, or in this case, senescence as the lees fly and his Blanc de Blanc has finally arrived. A notable moment in the Stratus continuum as they too now own a program of development, time, investment, research and acumen. The nose on this bubble tells a pensive story, or as fantasy goes like dipping your face into a tale-spun pensieve as it takes you back in time. In 2013 chardonnay excelled on the Niagara Peninsula and still today in 2020 we are drinking vintage examples persistent in their freshness and durability of construct. That this reeks of varietal lore is a hallmark moment, that and a conscientious adherence to reverence for solids and the focus on rotational detail. Speaks a Blanc de Blanc vernacular as a chardonnay should, with a bite out of a sharp fall apple, a pesto of verdant aromatics and a crunch of texture before drifting saline, briny and fine. Pretty good work J-L. Kudos for getting from there to here with intelligence and humility. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Vineyards “Field Blend” Ancestral 2020, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($35.00)

The inaugural Stratus commercially labelled release is what winemaker Dean Stoyka refers to as “in the mindset of monks.” A field blend of sémillon, chardonnay, riesling and viognier. Pressed all together, fermented dry and then re-fermented in the bottle with no sugar added. Dry enough, or so it seems, non-disgorged, under crown cap and so very fruity. Floral, allspice and spiciness overtop apricot, pear and black walnuts conceptually turning into Vin de Noix or Nocino. A natural testament to assemblage and a great use of varieties without a home. 100 cases produced. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Spark Laundry Vineyard Blanc De Noirs 2013, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

Actually quite shocked I’ve never tasted this wine before, a Spark about which winemaker Paul Pender exults by saying “2013 is my favourite vintage for all our sparklings.” Traditional method, pinot noir from Heather Laundry’s double L vineyard and a fizz that fits and sparks. Gingered and toasty, crunchy, wave cresting and fulsome by six years on the lees. The dosage was five to six g/L, in that Pender sweet spot all around, just right, so well and good. A little romanticism goes a long way where science is concerned, especially in this medium and in Spark Blanc De Noirs 2013 one is simply good for the other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Estate Vineyard Spark 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Tasted side by side with the 2013 Blanc de Noirs, making for a striking if surprisingly antithetical contrasting contract with this Blanc de Blancs. Aged three years on the lees and finished with the same 5-6 g/L of dosage yet here so upfront, centred and personal. More immediate richness than what pinot seems to do from Laundry Vineyard and so even in sparkling it is David’s Block and chardonnay that gift quicker satisfaction. Likely vintage driven (again, even in sparkling), very pear and shortbread, a savoury dessert of a sparkling wine. Like olive oil cake, all about the simple pleasures. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Brut Nature NV Méthode Traditionelle, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($55.00)

The dry as the desert Brut nature initiates with a yeasty faradism of excitement from what strikes as a minimum four to five years spent sitting on those fascinating lees. While the wine does not exactly smoulder with a toasty salutation that is no matter because textural acidity and blooming aromatics also arrive to an applause of immediate gratification. There is an exceptional level of “croccante” satisfaction that parlays that “texture” into a lasting display of bits and bites. The make up is 50 per cent chardonnay and (45) pinot noir with (5) pinot meunier and 2014 being the primary vintage source, though there is some 2013 involved. Zero dosage, top tier, notch and drop. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Rosé Limestone Vineyard 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($27.95)

Tawse began crafting Rosé from (Vinemount Ridge) Quarry Road Vineyard fruit in 2017 and now here they come with Twenty Mile Bench pinot noir. From Limestone Vineyard this represents a heads and tails Rosé, meaning 40 per cent is used for Spark traditional method bubbles and the bookends is destined for this salty, straight-shooting and crisp-freckled single-vineyard blush. Double-redheaded wow! Grape, place and style all on side for so many good reasons. 1000 bottles made. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Gris Lawrie Vineyard 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($27.15)

Not to be confused with the Lowrey Vineyard on St. David’s Bench and a best varietal vintage for Paul Pender. Far from being a “Miller-Lite or Corona” pinot gris, instead creamy, fulsome, well-versed and elastic. The furthest away from metallic and/or turbid, low on phenols, no bitters, nor tonics neither.  Last tasted July 2021

Fresh and while this young is full of its original fruit, which is the biggest plus for pinot gris because dry varietal wines have a hard time after enough time has passed on by. Sulphur is not really an issue so this delivers the varietal and stylistic goods with fruit at the lead. Good acids, persistence and balance. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted October 2020

Tawse Winery Carly’s Block Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

A sleeper vintage, not necessarily exacting out of the blocks, not heavy cropped, middle of the road in so many respects. If I tasted this before memory fails to draw any retrospective conclusions) but Carly’s ’15 has already turned towards the petrol sun, “let the shadows fall behind you, don’t look back, just carry on.” This perhaps began more than a year or two ago and today acts Rihanna outspokenly so. Lime and almost cordial by now, warm and friendly as a riesling liqueur. Quite stable, animated, holding its patterning, likely to do so for an additional three or fours years. Drink before it returns home. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Limestone Ridge Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Unlike the Carly’s ’15 (tasted at the same time) this Limestone ’12 has not moved forward with any vehement haste. The lack of advancing towards petrol is curious but the softening is surely comforting. Still resplendent with a particular 2012 meets Twenty Mile Bench acidity, now oscillating while integrating with waning fruit. Drinking beautifully.  Last tasted July 2021

From the newest estate vineyard, the single-vineyard Limestone Ridge exteriorizes its name in a rubric of pressed rock, struck flint and chalky density. Paul Pender has coaxed a multiplicity oft linear character, with major notes of lime zest and juice, persistent from start to finish. A mid-pause of oozing, residual sinensis is the determinant towards the wine’s matrix of longevity. A longer, leaner, meaner and mightier Riesling charged by a different sort of power. Kinetic, frenetic and electric.  Tasted twice, April and May 2014

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Aromatiq! Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster sauvignon blanc, viognier and riesling, layered atop one another, full on hilt in spice, a hit of gingerbread, light in talc and salve. Good-natured and textured when well chilled, oxidative for sure, drinkable, pleasurable, done in one puncheon. Simple really. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Chardonnay Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster chardonnay, more spirited than the Aromatiq!, crunchy even, definitely with more spice and plenty of bite. More tannin too, structurally sound to allow more secondary character and time spent developing cooler, more energetic waves of spirit. Wild ride yet just sound and subtle enough to attract the right kind of attention. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Gamay Unfiltered 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($29.95)

The inaugural gamay release from Hidden Bench is eight years in the planning and making, from 2013 through planting in 2017 and with third leaf fruit for this game changing 2019. That is because the grape and the maker were made for each other so the question begs, what took so long to take the plunge? No matter because such an auspicious start can never come too late. A wine of native yeasts, a properly prolonged, 24-day maceration, an eighth of new wood and the Lincoln Lakeshore being the ideal appellation for what wants and surely needs. More than impressive for such young vine fruit, of a light smoulder lending an essence of jasmine and by argan to red, red fruit, tightly winding acids and such gamay crunch, the likes of which are attributed to expectation, hopes and dreams. When the vineyard grows up there will be further anticipations, exegeses further afield to include cru and reserve concepts. That is a countable fact based on current evidence and credible speculation.  Drink 2021-2023. Tasted April and July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Gamay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Naturally refined, welcoming, open-knit and my oh my, juicy as a basket of Niagara plums and peaches blended into rooibos kombucha. Rachis, “main axis or shaft, a stem of a plant, bearing flower stalks at short intervals.” Derma, or Dermis, “the inner layer of the two main layers of the skin.” In R & D the inner workings of gamay are accessed at the natural axis between light to fruity and joyful to dark, before sous serious and after vide structured. Middle ground, believable and exhibiting intrinsic purity. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Noir Tintern Vineyard 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($50.15)

This July 2021 tasting is my first for Pinot Noir Tintern 2013 in bottle but I did run through two different barrels with Paul Pender back in March of 2014. The vines were only three years old at the time, on a site (next door to John Howard) Pender likens to “reclaiming the swamps,” or “the Golan Heights project.” From the Vosges medium toast the wine was already showing colour, freshness and drive. From the Vosges, medium plus toast it was a bit reductive, with more tannin and more sappy wood. This look back reveals not a vintage of varietal exhilaration but a malic one with credit due the high levels of potassium in the soil. A cherry generosity a la Central Otago by way of the Vinemount Ridge. Almost a volcanic presence, but not and yes a pinot from young vines come about as a result of winemaking. Up front, in motion, drinking really well. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Redstone Restaurant

Tawse Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($49.15)

Another high-toned pinot noir from an inverted vintage, in cherry spirit, a hit of fennel and enough lingering energy while there is a meld and morph towards darker black fruit. Broad shouldered, now tannic, settling in as a pretty big wine.  Last tasted July 2021

As for Cherry Avenue the twain is met, somewhere between Tintern and Quarry, in the middle of vintage and classic Tawse styling. Both firm and bright, the fruit a cherry but a darkening black one and then the grip of place though well within vintage reason. Less structured than Quarry but not as hematic and brooding as Tintern. Solid pinot noir. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted June 2020

Tawse Cabernet Franc Growers Blend 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula

How remarkably fresh, inviting, enticing and that is just the aromatic front. Effusive, the greater good of burgeoning, smelling like Bourgeuil in uncanny resemblance. Nothing leafy here, just the smell of youth, post-adolescence and from a notably warm vintage. A freshness that just may be a foreshadowing of what’s to come from 2021. Heat and water, humidity and rain, yet no vine stress nor disease pressure neither. A product of great agriculture and an example of 2010’s longevity. “On the riper side but not overly ripe,” tells Paul Pender with a pragmatically raised brow. Indeed. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Whole-souled, benevolent and keyed up though that’s the vineyard, persistent and in perpetuity. Red to charcoal fruit, quite firm and tannic for the Tawse-varietal relationship and in that sense mostly related to vintage. Was not picked until November 15th and stayed in barrel for 18 months. Not showy really, not the ripest vintage after all but surely one to promote variegation, fruit/acid layers and particularities. Wait long enough (as in seven-plus years) and these things become complexities. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Good to go!

godello

 

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Meyer-Näkel, Ahr Valley, March 2017

The village of Dernau, Ahr Valley

The Ahr Valley is one of Germany’s furthest northern wine regions (out of 13), more so than the Mosel. The total area is 150 hectares (of 100,000 total in Germany). Meyer Näkel is a young winery by Ahr standards, now at the fifth generation, with sisters Meike and Dörte Näkel at the helm. Before that there was a winery (Meyer) and a restaurant (Näkel). When the grandparents (Paula Meyer and Willibald Näkel) married the entities merged. In 1982 Meike’s father and mother (Werner and Claudia) took the winery and her uncle the restaurant. Started with 1.5, now there are 15 hectares under vines. Meike interned at the Dr. Heger winery in Baden and later with Weingut Fürst in Franken.

With Meike Näkel, Ahr Valley March 2017

The slopes are ridiculously steep. So difficult to work. Dangerously steep inclines, contours, weathered (in some cases blue) slate and greywacke define the grape-growing. “In our case it is both the shape and stone of the valley,” tells Meike. The Ahr runs west to east as a deep valley, creating canyon like topography. Just the southern part is planted to vines. Dark slate warms and conserves heat, returning it to the air very slowly. It’s a glass house in essence. The focus of the tasting was the varied ways in which Meyer Näkel makes use of spätburgunder, in sparkling, rosé and pinot noir varietal wine. I visited with Meike Näkel after attending the Prowein wine fair in March 2017. These were the nine wines she poured and my notes.

Meyer Näkel Rosé 2016

A 100 per cent pinot noir, one of two Rosés allowed under German law, no longer called weissaste, in which you need to use 100 per cent of that variety to say it on the label. Despite the old-school reputation (like the old aunt drinking sweet sherry) so the word Rosé gives credibility towards dictating quality. Intensely floral and full of strawberry essence there is also something very stony and certainly some sweetness. Summer refreshing with such capable acidity. Flavours promise citrus and candied flowers. It’s also just a bit crunchy. Success is not predicated on a stark and dry expression. The acidity sees to the balance and the energy. Just bottled too weeks ago. De-stemmed, crushed and two hours skin contact. Only stainless steel. RS 7.9 g/L ABV 12.5 TA 7.0. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017

Meyer Näkel Spätburgunder Blanc De Noir “Illusion” 2016

Spätburgunder Blanc de Noir “Illusion” is obviously not Rosé like, but just a hint though not even Vin Gris. Half is made saignée, then 10-15 per cent is removed. The second half is crushed bunches of pinot noir. If just saignée the lack of tannins would lead to a tannin-less, potentially dull wine. Ten per cent in new barriques. Bottled two weeks ago. It just smells viscous, beyond berries and into peaches. You can imagine toasty and creamy notes on the palate, even if those notes are not yet present. Just an illusion, “looking over your shoulder.” Just hints at effervescence but it’s more like an analgesic tingle on the tongue. The citrus is like pure lime with acidity inward and intense. Very long and should really develop with two years of concentrating, fleshing time. The lack of bitters when you consider how much pure lime and tight acidity is a factor of the dual process, two connecting systems, blending acumen. An illusion because it had to be sold as table wine for eight years, but today it’s fine to call it and sell it as Blanc de Noir. A perfectly cleaner version of a Jean-Pierre Frick. 7 g/L RS and TA. 13 ABV. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2017

Ahr Valley slope

Meyer Näkel Spätburgunder Ahr Valley 2015, Deutscher Qualitätswein

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

Steep grade of Ahr Valley vineyards

Meyer Näkel Spätburgunder Blauschiefer 2015

Spätburgunder Blauschiefer is from blue slate, from the steepest slopes with highest percentage of slate in the earth, to get it in the glass. A collection of all the blue slate sites in the two villages, this and the sister neighbour. “The stale gives us the specific micro-climate to grow grapes up here,” tells Meike Mayer, at 50 degrees of latitude, but also in the Rheingau and parts of the Mosel and the Nahe. “In our case it is both the shape and stone of the valley.” The Ahr runs west to east as a deep valley, creating canyon like topography. Just the southern part is planted to vines. Dark slate warms and conserves heat, returning it to the air very slowly. It’s a glass house in essence. Glass Houses. Billy Joel. Needs to be on the label. As a thank you and to tell the people. A niche wine locale and yes, there is this metal feel on the nose and even more so on the palate. It’s an intense impression, deep and mined. Vinified by a de-stem, followed by three days of cold soak, then heat and 18 days skin contact. Just new barriques, two to four years old. The tannins are long and indeed elegant with the stones imparting a constant warming blanket across the palate. This goes cool and warm then back again. Idiosyncratic and highly drinkable pinot noir. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2017

The weathered slate and greywacke of Ahr strata

Meyer Näkel Spätburgunder “S” 2015

The good problem to have is that as you grow and buy up land the accumulated hectarage become disparate, spread apart and generally all over the Ahr. Small pieces of land owned by older growers who stopped farming. The holdings are not contiguous. These small parcels need to be gathered and made in cuvées or blends. The plots are just too small for single-vineyards but the “S” is made from those tiny disparate plots. Also from some fruit “stolen” or bled from the three single-vinyard GG blocks, especially from fruit taken from younger vines. Small barriques and 40 per cent new oak after 21 days skin-contact maceration. You can’t write Selection on the label so you use the letter “S”. The nose shows tonic and cherry and a beautiful inhalant/liqueur. The fruit is made darker and more unctuous by the barrel but that fruit was clearly classified to begin with. The first pinot noir with true tang is here in this “S” so this and the wise Ahr bitters design the structure with long lasting intent. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted March 2017

Meyer Näkel Spätburgunder Sonnenberg GG 2013

The VDO follows the Bourgogne cru system, looking for the climats of highest quality. Ostensibly Granc Cru, known as GG (Grosses Gewächs). Sonnenberg is a single vineyard from the “sunny mountain,” in the lower part of the Ahr Valley. From steep slopes though not the most, the underbelly is rock, with loess-loam aboard. That top layer of earth brings the fruit to mix with the minerality. Ice age, glacial pinot noir, fertile and for the first time, a Burgundian presence, if only because of the sweet extract concentration. Five to seven days of cold maceration, followed by a slow warming for seven days and 23 days maceration. Barriques, 75 per cent new oak. It carries that barrel with remarkable ease, like the vintage, ripe, easy phenolic development ensured and by picking. Drink this at your whimsy. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017

The cemetary in Dernau

Meyer Näkel Spätburgunder Pfarrwingert GG 2013

From the high part of the valley, on Grauwacke slate, a highly decomposed slate (in the area known as Fabrigatte) easier to crush so the soil is filled with fine pieces of this stone. There is so much break down that the soil becomes loose, like sand. A crunchy, crispy and fragmented pinot noir, in acidity at least. Means “church vineyard,” of the local dialect in origin. Once belonged to the Catholic church. More mineral, less fruit, a touch more oak then the Sonnenberg, spice but less so with thanks to the quicksand soil work in the development of this wine. Once again the sweetness created by extract from a top quality vineyard is impressive. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted March 2017

Meyer Näkel Spätburgunder Kraüterberg 2013

Kraüterberg meaning “herbal mountain,” going back to the Romans who created the terraces and began the wine making processes. The thought is that the reference is in to gardens where herbs were planted along with vines. In the upper Ahr, very steep old terraces, this seems a combination of the first two but more body, with thanks to an increase of clay to go along with the stones. Complexity is a step above, as is fleshy, ripe and elegant character. There is a medicinal quality which is the herbs speaking and a texture as silky as the Ahr is long. It’s a beautiful wine, from 80 per cent new oak but I really do think that the terroir will speak louder with a bit less oak. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted March 2017

Meyer Näkel Spätburgunder “SR” 2013

A “Selection Reserve” made from one selected barrique, not made in every vintage. Looking for plants which suffer blossom loss, plants that only produce small bunches of the smallest berries. Mostly skin, small pips and very little juice. Not possible every year and the concentration is really noted on the nose. Again it can’t be called Selection Reserve so “SR” is the moniker. The first vintage was 2009, then 2012 and now here in ’13. Sees 24 months in a new barrel, a total of three years aging and now just released. Very creamy, pretty ambitious and likely costs double to make what it sells for. This shows oak way more (and in the tannin it delivers) because there just isn’t the juice to support it. It’s certainly ripe though the wood makes it seem so sweet. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2017

Good to go!

godello

The village of Dernau, Ahr Valley

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Memories of South Africa in 60 notes

Water hole, South Africa

As this passage through weltschmerz marches on, the defining feeling of melancholy and world-weariness continues, no doubt magnified in the hearts and minds of the wanderlusts accustomed to consistent world travel. So the question begs, as it has for 12 months, how to summon thoughts that will keep a deep sadness about the inadequacy or imperfection of the world at bay? Speaking from a personal place, a simple and distracting way is to compose retroactive wine reviews, unearthing and editing nuggets of meaningful playfulness, tasting notes created in the past but never having found their way to the light of day. Recent thoughts about South Africa are the impetus for this story.

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

In a pandemic-free world Cape Town’s Cape Wine would be taking place six months from now but a difficult and necessary decision by Wines of South Africa has moved the trade show from September 2021 to October 2022. Intensive planning for one of the great triennial wine fairs on the planet begins 18 months out and so with vaccine promise and good hope the time has arrived for the industry to launch preparations for a Spring 2022 Capelands revival. Soon enough the hurdles, obstacles, impediments and hoops of pandemic, lockdowns, sponsorship landing and export bans will be added to the growing list of “what has been overcome.”

Fly me back to South Africa

Related – Spotlight on South Africa in VINTAGES August 6th

Wine trips afford tasting hundreds of wines in a week’s time and while all bottles poured by every producer are given full attention and solicit a hundred or so scribbled words on history, tradition, agriculture, winemaking, varietal and regional relativity, many remain in raw form, relegated to computer folders and on the pages of moleskin journals. Pulling them out months, if not years later can induce that elusive feeling of relief and in some extraordinary occasions, epiphany. This to the creator of course, not necessarily to the producer, wine prose seeker, consumer, regional administrator or marketer. Notwithstanding who may be watching or reading, the exercise is a satisfying one and stands on its own merit, if only to be soothed and take refuge in a safe prosaic haven, free from the savage talon grip of a world gone mad.

“What happens in Cape Town stays in Cape Town” carries a three year statute of limitation. With the inimitable Ken Forrester

Nature, farmers and winemakers continue their work. Grapes are still growing and wines are still being made. Cape Wine is one of the greats, a collection and gathering by an industry of more varied character and industriousness than you will ever find. Let’s hope a global correction and stabilization brings everyone back together. During the last edition in 2018 I published several articles and many notes but these are the fruits of unfinished business left unsaid, scattered and streaming bits of consciousness having patiently waited it out for this moment in the sun. With thanks to all these erudite producers who shared a few ounces, engaged in conversation and offered up their time. These are the 60 wines tasted 30 months ago, assessed, critiqued, enjoyed and until now, unpublished.

A.A. Badenhorst Family White Blend 2016, WO Swartland

Simply a case of “fantastic grapes from old vineyards,” small parcels from Adi Badenhorst’s Kalmoesfontein farm, around the Swartland and the greater Paardeberg Mountain. A tienvoudig veldversnit of chenin blanc, roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, viognier, verdehlo, grenache gris, clairette blanche, sémillon and palomino. Hard to imagine that ten grapes could be so tactful and get together for such a discreet nose, but they are and they do. Secretive and seductive, full of mystery and enigma, ferments in 3000L vessels and then concrete, of a co-existence executing balance and a dedicated focus on texture. A ten-fold paradigm shift as part of the pioneering, Western Cape appellative white blend parade. Those who know it get lost in the varietal party and just like the makers the soirée will go on forever. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

A.A. Badenhorst Pinot Noir Bokkeveld 2017, WO Swartland

Grown further afield of the great old white grape vineyards, higher into mountainous terrain on the famed Bokkeveld shales. Makes for transitory, lifted pinot noir, “rain-slick’d, rubbed-cool, ethereal,” a little pastiche in a glass. Provides a cool flush of red berries, a note of allspice and truth is the fruit is really quite naturally sweet. Clean, characterful and only an afterthought of subtle savour. More than anything this pinot noir drifts and rises, kind of like reciting poetry. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Hanneke Krüger, A.A. Badenhorst

A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Cinsault 2018, WO Swartland

Of the Badenhorst second tier of wines, a red blend though mainly cinsault (82 per cent) with (10) syrah and (8) grenache. Though this is technically a tank sample it will be bottled next week so essentially across the finish line. There will be 130,000 bottles of this unfiltered wine. Red fruit incarnate Cape style, sweet baking spices and from a band knowing what is needed for playing live in concert, lekker balance seekers capable of working with any instrumentation, including 4,500 and 7,200L blending tanks. Badass sound, fury and energy, dry rocket fuel, pure, raw emotion and precision. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2018

A.A. Badenhorst Grenache Raaigras 2017, WO Swartland

From the home farm at Kalmoesfontein, a scant 1268 vines by lowest of low yields and considered to be the oldest (1951) grenache vines in South Africa. The Raaigras (ryegrass) is a vineyard choker so without human intervention it would literally strangle a vineyard. One of those wonderful whole bunch ferments though a portion is de-stemmed and well if this is not the right stuff from the right place, transparent, curative, a gastronomy of ancient meatiness and spice. Tannic yet elastic and one of those wines ready to go from creation but won’t likely change anytime soon. For now, long and wide. Feel free to think “see you in 15 years on the other side.” Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

Springbock Burger anyone?

David And Nadia Sadie Wines Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

A chenin blanc blend of 35-65 year-old 1960s, 70s and early 80s, mainly Paardeberg dry-farmed bush vine vineyards in the Swartland. Some shale and clay soils mix in for a top end chenin meritage with a faint if feigned salty vanilla sweetness. High and dry extract and grape tannin conspire in their conscription and into a stretched intensity requiring some patience for the opening up. Lingers forever thereafter. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

David And Nadia Skaliekop 2017, WO Swartland

Skaliekop, “hill of shale,” a curious dale of fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock amongst the Paardeberg granite. For David and Nadia Sadie a chance to make a chenin blanc with both prescient soils lending their presence and tutelage. The people here speak of the Skaliekop, knowing well the wisdom and aridity, the windswept open space, exposed and warm. They recognize and tell of the difference it makes, how a wine such as this can act so implosive, salty, targeted and fervent. The vintage only serves to magnify a sentiment already assured, that fruitful and mineral will align, swell and expand as one from these first grapes to be harvested in the wider Paardeberg zone. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

David and Nadia Aristargos 2017, WO Swartland

In 2017 a Swartland appellative white blend of chenin blanc (58 per cent), viognier (14), clairette blanche (13), sémillon (7), roussanne (5) and marsanne (3). David and Nadia’s only white that sees enough skin-contact to inch it up to but not quite breaching the natural-orange-amber stereotype so moving along now. A free-form, stacked blanc of multifarious juxtaposition, a Cape sensation that does this thing better and more interesting than anywhere else on the planet. Complex because florals and salinity get together and express the Swartland without a care in the world. What really comes across the palate is texture, downy and coddling with a finishing pesto of sweetly herbal fynbos and renosterveld. A perfectly broad expression overall though please don’t typecast or compartmentalize the Sadies’ white blend. Let it be. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Elpidios 2016, WO Swartland

An ever evolving or rather moving target, Rhône motivated but at this point in South Africa’s modern tenure just better to say Cape inspired. Has had many lead singers in its time; syrah, carignan and based on David Sadie’s language, who knows, perhaps grenache will take a turn at the microphone. Here in ’16 carignan (39 per cent) is centre stage with syrah (31), pinotage (16), cinsault (9) and grenache (5) rounding out the players. Elpidios means hope, as in “Cape of Good” and like the place itself there are so many layers to peel away from this heady foreland of a red wine. The berry aspect is magnified by the pinotage and you should know that David and Nadia treat this grape with utmost respect. A mix of styles and inspirations make this both muddled and brilliant as it stretches into breadth and potential. A nexus of varietal and micro-terroirs caught up in a whirlwind of extracts, flavours, liqueurs and expression. Still fresh, spirited and alive so drink this well over a ten year span. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Kreatuur Die Synachin 2017, WO Coastal Region

“A collaboration between a bunch of young blokes, making of-the-moment wines from little-known vineyards around the Cape,” and under monikers that refer to “pushmi-pullyu animals.” Also with the winemaking help of Alexander Milner from Natte Valleij. Really quite the drinkable Rhône-ish blend of 56 per cent syrah, (26) grenache and (18) cinsault. Iron in multifarious soils (mainly granitic) make this hematic and deeply plum but still, not so difficult to knock back. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Kop Ou Treffer Cinsault 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Ou Treffer, as in the ‘old hit’ in Afrikaans, also the old workhorse, in reference to cinsault of the Western Cape. Or if you will, like a hit song as the grape just seems to be the it one in South Africa these days. Or perhaps Traffic, by the Stereophonics. Beautifully aromatic, rich fruit and a soild funk from the particularities in these Stellenbosch vineyards. Half the ferment is de-stemmed, meaning the other half is whole bunch and old vines surely concentrate the fruit, stem funk and spun feeling all-around. Besides, “is anyone going anywhere? Everyone’s gotta be somewhere.” Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Knapsekêrel 2016, WO Stellenbosch

The second cabernet franc release of the De Kleine Wijn Koöp boys’ Knapsekêrel (a.k.a the spiky little black Cape plant) comes from the Polkadraai Hills. Not just any vineyard mind you but one planted in 2000 and biodynamically farmed by Old Vines Project pioneer Rosa Kruger and current Stellenbosch guru Johan Reyneke. The winemaking hands of Lukas van Loggerenberg are to thank and while this shows the sultry smoky smoulder that often emits from Cape franc it is a challenge and work in project to find the varietal sweet spot. That’s because cool temps and long growing seasons are best but look out for this breadth of a team’s members to find what works. In the meantime the tobacco, dusty plum and pushed to the raisin precipice make up a tasty if humid treat in a glass. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Heimwee 2015, WO Stellenbosch

As with the Knapsekêrel cabernet franc, the Polkadraai west of Stellenbosch is the fruit source, a biodynamic vineyard farmed by Rosa Kruger and Johan Reyneke. The boys at the Koöp are back in varietal town and refer to this all-around floral spiced cabernet sauvignon as running “with tannins as smooth as your grandmother’s polished imbuia coffee table.” No doubt and you can almost hear them singing in Phil Lynott workingman’s poetry. That said, this cab is no thin Lizzy, more like thick as a brick. Hung long and well-developed, of a liqueur that oozes of red, red fruit. Or perhaps, “man when I tell you she was cool, she was red hot. I mean, she was steamin’…” Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Johannes de Wet in Robertson

De Wetshof Riesling 2017, WO Robertson

A known fact that riesling and limestone make a great couple so this look at de Wetshof’s Robertson ’17 is met with great mineral anticipation. Yes the finest calcareous blocks are dedicated to chardonnay because Bourgogne is the de Wet inspiration but anyone who has learned a thing about riesling around the world will know that limestone can work wonders. Alsace of course, as in Clos Windsbul but also The Niagara Escarpment’s dolomitic limestone and Germany’s Muschelkalk (especially in the Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Franconia). And so Robertson joins the list as witnessed by this linguistically aromatic example, working the glass with a pure lime distillate notion. A nod to Alsace more than anything else with acidity that doesn’t need to scream and shout but it’s truly there. The potential to pioneer the movement is here, along with Elgin as Cape riesling standard bearers. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

De Wetshof Chardonnay Limestone Hll 2018, WO Robertson

Youth and drought make for the most naked and transparent of the past few Limestone Hill chardonnays. Absolute cool Kelvin freshness and a 270 degree vineyard scope to gather de Wetshof’s Robertson fruit from an amphitheatre of slope and aspect so subtle yet so meaningful. A fulsome regional DNA creates varietal layers gathered to make this cuvée a true spokes-wine for the limestone-based estate. Set foot on these soils, spin around, take it in. Then feel and intuit the truth in chardonnay that speaks to a place. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

De Wetshof Chardonnay Bataleur 2016, WO Robertson

Bataleur, as in a battalion of chardonnay soldiers, fruit up front, reduction and wood falling in, acids taking up the flanks and structure in support by land, air and sea. Or so it seems because this just marches like a military exercise in chardonnay. Flinty, biting back, yet buttered and toasted on the mid-palate with Roberston’s unique limestone felt from start to finish. Vanilla then white caramel with soft French cream fill and then the snap of lime acidity. Biting and downy, one and then the other, all tied up in robes and pearls, equalling out in the end. Fine work from 2016. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2000, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay

By this time 2000 is the 15th vintage of Hamilton Russell’s pinot noir and tasting both the 1986 and 1997 ahead of this only serves to heighten anticipation knowing full well longevity is by now a solid guarantee. The vintage seems like it must have been a demanding one because there is more hard grip, aridity and austerity here but it really has aged gracefully and beautifully. The posit tug between fruit and earth notes is performed like a string instrument’s bow, bending and angling with dexterity in balanced, fluid motion. Brings in the herbs and spices, wholly and truly of Hemel-en-Aarde origin, on hillsides and between rows of sagacious pinot vines. This is a treat and opens a portal into the future, beginning with the 2012 vintage that will usher in a string of sequentially impressive HR pinot noir. Drink 2018.  Tasted September 2018

Huis Van Chevallerie Circa Rosecco NV, WO Swartland

From a 32 year-old pinotage vineyard, great old vines that received some TLC from Old Vines Project pioneer Rosa Kruger. Secondary bottle fermented with a little help from “a special blend of liqueur de triage,” so unlike Prosecco in that regard. Early picked which is a given considering the granitic soil and therefore a “Rosecco” of low pH and severely high acidity. ‘Twas just a slight dosage and therefore comes across arid like the Swartland desert. A well cultured sparkling Rosé, crushable and easy like Sunday morning. Drink it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Jan Harmsgat Chardonnay 2015, WO Robertson

True reduction yet to dissipate as noted by the smoky smoulder with a healthy compliment of wood still needing to melt in and away. Looking to settle over the next six months or so and allow the combination of vanilla extract and green apple purée to integrate, compliment and go forward in agreement. Though creamy there is a bite back at the finish so while this is good now it still shows promise for improvement down the road. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2009, WO Constantia

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside the 1987 labeled “Blanc de Blanc” and the 1994. The vines date back to 1979, with the first South African sauvignon blanc made in 1986. That ’87 was a B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. A 100 per cent varietal wine, built by the soil and so bloody mineral as a result. Oak texture but really that’s the end of wood talk, a salty streak, so direct and so personal. The kind of sauvignon blanc that invades your airspace and a vintage more Bordeaux than the rest. Or, if you will Sancerre but not so much this time around. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 1994, WO Constantia

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside the 1987 labeled “Blanc de Blanc” and the 2009. The vines date back to 1979, with the first South African sauvignon blanc made in 1986. That ’87 was a B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. The ’94 vintage was another story altogether, apposite, far away from developing noble rot. Not the baller and perhaps even a bit “weak” with less weight but a saltiness that is more than intriguing. Perhaps more Sancerre-esque as a result but certainly lends longevity credibility to those passed over cool vintages neither celebrated nor considered to carry much staying power. May not be fleshy but is surely a curious and electric surprise. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Leeu Passant Chardonnay 2016, WO Stellenbosch

Andrea Mullineux continues to foster the Leeu Passant line of heritage vines wines with work from Rosa KrMuger alongside. The “post (leaf-roll) virus vineyard,” of smuggled in clean material planted in Stellenbosch in the 1980s. The site is home to loam-rich soils of the Helderberg and the wine stylistically modelled after the oxidative approach to chardonnay. “Death and resurrection,” as Andrea puts it, meaning after the fermentation you allow the must to oxidize again, literally to the colour of cola. Risk reward actionable take and one that requires some shall we say, cojones. This chardonnay is not about luck and the methodology can’t help but connect you to the vineyard. You end up with this unctuous, astonishingly rich chardonnay that bears a resemblance to the vines and the place from whence it came. Unlike the Mullineux chenins or Swartland and so say hello to Meursault. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Leeu Passant Dry Red Wine 2016, WO Western Cape

The throwback, ode and homage to South African reds made in the 50s, 60s, 70s, rustic, tannic, structured and reeking of the ancient soils that gave them life. Three locales are in the mix; Wellington, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. The vineyards are the first pro-Phylloxera planted sites, a willy-nilly varietal scattering, blocks of two cinsault, a cabernet sauvignon and a cabernet franc. “It’s a deconstructed reconstruction,” says Andrea Mullineux, “where you break down what you love and build it back up again.” First thing is to show utmost submissive respect to 95 and 117 year-olds, the oldest registered red wine vineyards in South Africa. So you hand harvest their low yields and keep a minimum half of the bunches intact for to ferment these wise and experienced grapes. They spend 20 months in barrel then emerge structured and fit for 20 years of longevity. As with those post mid-20th century wines the profile is rich, tart, spicy, robust and layered with serious grounding. Revivalist red, keeper of faith and a lost style, uniquely South African. Today that translates to vogue. Boom. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Sauvignon Blanc 2016, WO Greyton

The Cape’s south coast work of Samantha O’Keefe, a (500L) barrel fermented sauvignon blanc made in an oxidative way, or rather a wine of early introductions made with oxygen. Flinty no doubt then rich and full on the palate, of throttling grape tannin who’s antidote is a sense of settled calm. Late spice, Bordeaux in temperament but cooler still, an almost northern Sancerre-ish dexterity and layering. Composed and so very genteel. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Chardonnay Estate 2016, WO Greyton

From the Cape’s south coast and Samantha O’Keefe’s original Greyton Farm, in re-build for a promising future. This ’16 is 90 per cent estate fruit, a natural ferment and all done up in neutral (300L) barrels, 11 months on lees. No malo except when a great vintage comes along. Simply an orchard and gingered and delight, a woven tapestry of backroads eccentricities and southern exposures, with a kick and twist of finishing spice. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted September 2018

Lismore The Age Of Grace 2017, WO Elgin

From rose-quartz soil in cool Elgin, a 100 per cent viognier, so apposite relative to the achromatic shades of Greyton sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. High demeanour and a sense of vivid colour in the aromatic wonder but more so in the levels of palate, front through middle to back. They come like a rainbow, rolling, over stones, in “colours in the air, oh, everywhere.” Orange, peach, nectarine and fine, fine Elgin acidity. They are wrapped in sour spice yet sit cross-legged, in complete control. An aristocratic flower child, surely full of and situated in an age of grace. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Pinot Noir 2017, WO Western Cape

Fruit from both Walker Bay and Elgin and 30 per cent whole bunch (the first vintage was 15). So very herbal, savoury, stemmy and honest. A beacon in pinot noir you want to drink that comes equipped with an edginess about it. Full purity on display, grip, intensity and packed with provisions for the picnic. Marks the early beginnings of a varietal journey with some naïveté and dreams but look out. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Alette de Boer, Lowerland

Lowerland Tolbos Tannat 2016, WO Prieksa, Noord Kap

From South Africa’s furthest northern wine-growing area, a joint effort between grower Bertie Coetzee and winemaker Lukas van Loggerenberg. Wow does this ever smell like tannat with its depth of earthy fruit and suspension of oxidative animation. High acidity reminds of the really cool climate, more Niagara per se than southwest France. There really is something special here, as with Lowerland’s stellar whites, something singular, yet undefined, in enigma and mystery. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Witgat Viognier 2017, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

The viognier may scent of exotic flowers and tropical fruits but as with most of Alette de Beer and Bertie Coetzee’s range this is surely a cool climate wine. Subtly so and yet of a tension and a demand that accrue a sense of northerly South African wine-growing sense. The wine was made by JD Pretorius at the Constantia property Steenberg and it comes about quite normal, varietally speaking but also beautiful. There is a liquid chalky feel, a product no doubt of quality dry extract mixed with Prieksa soil of desert sand and silty clay. Lean and structured, a lanky viognier that in the end delivers quite the delight. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Die Verlore Bokooi 2016, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

Literally “easy drinking blend,” spoken through an indigenous vernacular from “the place of the lost goat.” At the time a blend of merlot, shiraz and tannat but like the Herd Sire Reserve that too will change over time. A racy and ripe red, earthy and parochial though fruitful in its red, black and blue mixed berry basket. There really is nothing to compare this too, neither old world origin or varietal mash up so assess it on its own terms. Just knock it back. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Herd Sire Reserve 2015, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

A red blend that will evolve (varietally speaking) but in 2015 it is based on cabernet sauvignon with petit verdot and a small amount of merlot. Bordeaux being the message but that too will change because the north of South Africa may actually share more affinity with the southwestern French wine-growing than anywhere else. This unique Noord Kaap Wyn van Oorsprong’s cool climate makes for early drinking reds and the 13 year-old vines here follow the party line for a red blend ripe enough to do what needs. There is more liqueur and spice here than what is noted in the merlot/shirtaz/tannat and also increased acid intensity. Somewhat oxidative but holding well and doling pleasure. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

Nina Mari and Ernst Bruwer, Mont Blois

Mont Blois Estate Chardonnay Kweekkamp 2016, WO Robertson

After 28 of not bottling their own wines the husband and wife team of Ernst and Nina-Mari Bruwer began again in 2017. This is one of the first, a single vineyard chardonnay off of 12 year-old vines, barrel fermented and aged 11 months. Speaks of Robertson, not specifically by limestone but with that WO’s orchard fruit and realism, by passing spice that’s merely a thought. Lovely snap, crack and bite which is truly Robertson while in delivery of everyday texture and mellow disposition. The kind of chardonnay to stay quiet and simply sip. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Mont Blois Chardonnay Hoog en Laag 2016, WO Robertson

“High And low,” in reference to the vineyard being a terraced block on clay. Heavy clay that is, a Robertson specialty and the Hoog En Laag receives the same elévage as the Kweekkamp chardonnay. Certainly a richer and fruit fulsome expression, less snap and bite. No subtle spice either and yet the barrel notes are equally noted. What this has is full-fledged texture, creamy and smooth, all day long. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Mont Blois Chenin Blanc Groot Steen 2016, WO Robertson

The “big” chenin blanc because of the dense clay that gives nutrient life to the 32 year-old block of vines. Quite the steen intensity, ripping with fruit and a mineral streak for layer upon layer of Robertson quality. Naturally sweet pears, ripe and dripping, plus an unusual or unaccustomed to herbology. Perhaps it’s the famous local Rooibos talking. Really persistent chenin with loads of potential. Likely some flint and smoulder in its future. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Western Cape

A true Cape chenin blanc assemblage, in fact it gives meaning to the gathered idea, like an AOC Chablis made by a houses in names of Fèvre, Drouhin, Moreau or La Chablisienne. Mullineux’s twist is the back blending with some old barrel ferments to balance to new and “other” fruit components. A chenin blanc that is bottled the same year it was picked though that’s easier to do in the southern hemisphere where harvest happens in the first quarter months. Expectation always dictates value from the Kloof Street and 2018 does not disappoint with an attractive spiciness that speaks to the preservation of freshness in a chenin blanc possessive of no boundaries. One of the most versatile wines on the planet. Sheet pan sausages and fennel would be just ideal. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Quartz 2017, WO Swartland

Soil is the single matter, catalyst and difference maker to dictate the peculiarities, idiosyncrasies and unique sets of behaviours in the Mullineux single-terroir wines. The chenin develops “freckles” in the sun, tells winemaker Andrea Mullineux and the warmth of the high presence of quartz retains and returns warmth, translating to a conduit of concentrated ripeness passing through the vines. Not a direct heat, otherwise the berries would burn but a reflected back-beat of light and one that is slowly transmitted with naturally occurring temperature control for how and when the plants are in need. The greatest positive is in the maturation of phenolics in the skins and not by a hasty overload in developed sugars. From out of the silica oxide comes vegetative growth that promotes and preserves a physiological process in retention of acid freshness. The result? A phenolic journey unique to chenin blanc as here with a striking 2017, dry as drought yet fresh as a daisy. Though there is some creamy texture there too is hyper intense clarity, a variegate of dappled aromatics and brindled flavours, all bound up in animated acid bounces. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Granite 2017, WO Swartland

In chenin blanc the Mullineuxs engage in this single-terroir comparison, first by Quartz and now through Granite. The reference is to the predominant mineral presence in the soil and in how it influences the chameleon varietal. In 2017 Quartz is a major concern but switching to sandy, decomposed rocky soil and everything changes. Berries leave the world of mottled and piebald to one of demure and decor with thanks to the diffused light set upon them. That and a place where roots must burrow, digging deeper through hunks of rock into the sub-strata. This is where trace elements and minerals are to be found in the water table below and while limestone and silex is not the tablet there is some ideological affinity here with the Loire. As such it is this Granite that speaks in a leaner, thoroughly mineral, less spice and increased sharpness vernacular. Precision cut, flint struck, metallic, a song of science and silence. Body and flesh are ambient, less “creamy” than in Quartz, linear in travels, long and of an aging potential surely cast forward. Focused all the way through, unrelenting but always in layers of overlap and subtlety. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Kloof Street Red 2017, WO Swartland

Kloof Street is a “heritage blend,” says Andrea Mullineux, “it’s a wine about the love for making wine, but having preferences.” From vintage to vintage maybe check the bottle for varieties because there is no steadfast formula. Heritage, as opposed to Rhône means playfulness, choices and the inclusion of a structure fortifying grape like tinta barocca, truly integral to the Western Cape meritage experience. Here in 2017 there are some notable added layers of flesh, drying tannin and largesse. An early extracted wine in fast stages of maceration to coax out the fruit and deter astringency. Comes away rich and robust, rocking the free and new world. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

“I still consider it a blend,” insists Andrea Mullineux,”because it comes from seven vineyards on three soils.” Spends up to six weeks on skins, depending on how big the tannins are. Big equals patience. Burly early with spice and elongation but that heft and girth will slowly melt away. An invisible friend called acidity will usher the transformation, those gnomes of silent structure. The next stage will celebrate the leathery cherry fruit and cumulative Swartland savour.  Last tasted September 2018

The first drought vintage for the Swartland syrah and so the extract, concentration and density are all in compression mode. The change is felt with palpable impression, meatier, more char, even tar, and a little bit of dogma was necessary to bring in more granite-raised syrah to keep things swimmingly cool and savoury along. It’s a hematic one in 2016. To some this would be the bomb, the massive reason to believe and to others it might seem an impossible wall to scale. With a combination of love and patience the ’16 will please them all. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Mullineux Syrah Schist 2016, WO Swartland

As with the two chenin blanc Quartz and Granite introspections there too is a Mullineux terroir combing of Swartland soils through the lens of syrah, there by Iron and here through Schist. The style or rather the result is befitting the monikers because Schist is the tamer one of the two and it is interesting to note that the syrah “blend” as Andrea Mullineux calls it is more like Iron than this elegant one. A huge January heat wave could have led this into the raisin danger zone because ripening under the shotgun is no way to approach harvest. Cooler heads and temperatures prevailed to allow for an unfurling, a plumping and a perking up. Schist comes out regal, aromatically civil and demure, but also juicier than a nosing might indicate. Acid retention is strong, sweet and quite friendly to work in cohorts with the cane and Baleni based spice. Dark in complexion, yes brooding yet sneakily serene, salty and so comfortable in its own skin. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Syrah Iron 2016, WO Swartland

The second of two Mullineux soil investigations for syrah is this dramatic and hematic nonpareil exemplar. Cultivar meets terroir, raised off of a heavy, gravelly clay, rich in iron, impressive and hallowed as antediluvian viticultural ground. That may not be completely Cape uncommon but this is clearly a paradigm shifter for drilled down South African syrah in attack meets beast mode, cimmerian, ferric and intense. Modish though, while inexorable character oozes from every pore and a mid-palate wells of extraordinary fill. Sharpens its wits on bullish tannin and expresses Northwest of Malmesbury iron with raw emotion and power, though without rusticity. What it may lack in elegance is made up by sheer force in reckoning, at first engaging and then gripping the palate by all means necessary. The velvet glove future lies somewhere in the next decade, likely latter first half. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2013, WO Elgin

Just a hint of evolution is showing in this five year-old pinot noir which is something because you had to work to find any in the just tasted 2009. The sweetest fruit comes from 2013, on of the riper, purest and most pristine vintages to express what Elgin has to offer. Ethereal actually, not loosely but effortlessly structured with a seamless bond forged between fruit and acids. Tannins are already subsiding in this elegant, balanced and slightly spiced pinot. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2011, WO Elgin

Such a composed vintage, cool, calm and collected. A Beaune Villages feel here, perhaps Aloxe-Corton with darker pinot noir fruit, almost black cherry but less obvious, more complex, full of baking spice. A genial and genteel Seven Flags nonetheless, elastic, pliable, amenable but not without undeniable and underlying composure. That backbone may bend with curvature ease but will not break. Provides the basis to see this Cluver from Elgin live easily up to and likely beyond its 12th birthday. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2009, WO Elgin

Harkens back to a time when the 1987 planted 113 clone was no longer the sole provider for the Seven Flags family after 115 and 667 had been planted in 2001. From 2009 it seems quite obvious the vintage was one to create big, robust, ripe and warm pinot noir. Even as it approaches its ninth birthday the evolution equation remains in early steps computation, perhaps just now moving to the next stage. Secondary development is still around the bend or on the next page, noted by the persistence of a cool climate, liquid but still grainy chalk. Also acts just a bit reductive which seems almost impossible but stranger things have happened out of South African vineyards. Just imagine the futuristic possibilities when these vines soon achieve heritage age. Remind me to ask Paul Cluver for a look at vintages from 2022 onward at Cape Wine 2039. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Callie Louw, Porseleinberg

Porseleinberg Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

Poured by Callie Louw at Cape Wine 2018, this Riebeek Kasteel, Porcelain Mountain syrah somehow sits at a pantheon’s peak vintage after vintage, as if each one is a once in a lifetime effort. This must have been the epitome of such a consideration because Louw calls it “a fucking hard vintage, eh.” Strong talking words from the stoic and pragmatic BBQ smoker, winemaker and cricket master. Callie may have experienced a craftsman’s pain but the 70 per cent foudres and 30 concrete elévage not only tamed the savage beast, it helped to turn heads and remind of where greatness comes from. Tasted side by each with 2012 and 2013 only magnifies the massive structure in this ’16, a reductively bouncy, glycerin and impenetrable syrah in need of getting lost in the cellar. Will also need an epic song, “into the blue again, after the money’s gone.” Through the next decade and well into the following one this syrah will remain in light. “Same as it ever was.” Drink 2022-2040.  Tasted September 2018

Callie Louw’s smoker hard at work in Malmesbury

The Sadie Family Palladius 2014, WO Swartland

If you Google “South African white appellative blend” the number one result should surely be Eben Sadie’s Palladius and these are the 11 reasons why; chenin blanc, grenache blanc, marsanne, sémillon, sémillon gris, viognier, clairette blanche, roussanne, verdelho, colombard and palomino. Eleven blocks, all on granites, some from the Riebeek-Kasteel side. If looking forward to the brilliant ’16 and seeing it as a wine of mixed tenses, then this ’14 speaks in the imperfect because it strikes as the one to talk about the past and to say what used to happen. As in language, love, war and the past continuous, all is fair when it comes to assessing the verticals of wine, especially in descriptions. The 2014 Palladius is the back to the future vintage, of warmth and spice when things were picked overripe and new beginnings are constantly forged. But the citrus preserve and sheer electric lemon-lime energy looks ahead to the intensity of a youthful 2016, leaving a taster confounded, satisfied and awake all at the same time. This may go forward before it retreats once again. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Palladius 2009, WO Swartland

When talking about the 2009 vintage Eben Sadie talks of the decision to add sémillon, clairette blanche and palomino to his appellative white blend that already held chenin blanc, colmbard, grenache blanc and viognier. “To up the acidity,” aid and abet the tendencies of fleshy fruit to fatten in overripe behaviour. More than just acidity mind you, Sadie also looked to heighten the “acoustics” in a wine that was quickly becoming a major Swartland concern. Tasting this is September 2018 it can’t help but be noted how development and evolution have nearly caught up to 2005, a vintage cause and effect action no doubt. Here is the spiciest, sauciest and flat out nasty attitude Palladius, unabashed and already having done most of its living. That said the track record of these wines tells us to stay put, be patient and continue to relish the sapid, saline and ever-changing paths carved out. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Pofadder 2017, WO Swartland

Part of Eben Sadie and family’s “Die Ouwingerdreeks,” the old vine series and a reference to either or both puff adder snakes and the small “bushman’s land” town in the Northern Cape. Can be 100 per cent cinsault though the percentage is 85 in 2017, aged in old but not Jurassic wood. The ideal, epitome and exemplar bench-land varietal wine, not to mention a pioneer in the South African paradigm shift to conscious exultation of a plan in collective commitment for varietal, heritage vine and whole cluster ferments. From granite shales (not the decomposed kind) and yet another red fruit incarnate, freshest of the fresh precision wines. Pure Cape cinsault is this, with tannin but the kind that is sweet and stretched. No bullshit here. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Treinspoor 2017, WO Swartland

Afrikaans for “railroad,” perhaps a reference to the method of transportation that brought these European grapes to the Cape, depending on how far back tinta barocca arrived in the Swartland. In fact it was in the 1920’s and now just a bit more than 200 ha’s of this hardy, rustic, dark-skinned, early ripening and versatile red lay scattered about, accounting for two one hundredth’s of a per cent for vineyard area in South Africa. Sadie’s is a single-vineyard line running through the Darling side of Malmesbury, a cimmerian blackish red reeking of Renosterbos which is ironic because animal activists have always believed that the railroads threaten Rhino habitat. Digressions aside this is a prime example of why some might consider tinta barocca to be the future grape of Swartland. Sweetly floral and in 2017 both ways perfectly ripe. Botanicals abound, bosplante in bloom while flowers await the bees. Where this shares affinities with cinsault and grenache is in the curative and salumi aromas leading to sweet yet elastic tannins. The finish and length are expressly Swartland in nature. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Columella 2016, WO Swartland

Red counterpart to the Sadie white signature Palladius and residing in the upper echelon of Western Cape appellative blends. Ontario lays claim to the Stratus White and Red while the Cape knows these. Allowing for some levity there is a kinship to be considered between Eben Sadie and J-L Groulx, two of the more unlikely mad scientists able to capture the lit and woke disposition of mastered assemblage. Imagine Groulx also pouring varietal shots of many different farmed varieties from the back of his pick up truck during a lawn bowl in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The full name is Columella Liberatus in Castro Bonae Spei, Latin for “liberated in the Cape of Good Hope” and as a pillar of strength Columella’s syrah, grenache, mourvèdre, cinsault and tinta barroca ascend to dramatic expression. Variegated in every respect; hue, perfume, flavour and structure, at once layered and then stratified with doric strength, able to bear the most concentrated weight. Relative acidity, fluted or grooved, wider in youth to help support and lengthen. Intensely fortified with help from the barocca, naturally and of itself, intuitively wild yet controlled. Such a focused wine one rarely comes upon. Drink 2019-2030.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family ‘T Voetpad 2017, WO Swartland

The “footpath” from both the Dutch (het Voedpad) and Afrikaans, also the name of Dirk Brand’s rooibos and wheat farm next to this oldest vineyard in the Kapteinskloof near Piketberg. Some say the oldest in South Africa, planted between 1920 an 1928, but others will say the first vines went in around the 1890’s through to the early 1900’s. Takes the Sadie Family “Die Ouwingerdreeks” to the farthest, most extreme reaches of the old vineyards idea. “The vines have seen it all,” tells Eben Sadie, “don’t fuck with us” is their message. “Don’t mess this up.” And so Eben co-ferments in an as is format but more importantly works at the agriculture to a point of obsession. Newer inter-plantings will go in, of sémillon, sémillon gris and palomino from massal selected material. To deal with drought cover crops will also be added between rows, all of course through an organic approach. The blend is sémillon, sémillon gris, palomino, chenin blanc and muscat d’Alexandrie, all processed together, but this is not about extreme winemaking. More like extreme farming, finding ways to keep these twisted kurktrekker and cavatappi bending vines alive for to produce their magic. The wine that emerges is all about tendencies and multiplicities of texture. The dry extract here is off the charts making it seem forcefully and fiercely tannic. Fantasy and zeitgeist just happens and the results are right there in the bottle. A remarkable wine and vintage from an isolated vineyard where drought is always a factor. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted September 2018

Abrie Bruwer, Springfield Estate

Springfield Estate Chardonnay Méthode Ancienne 2016, WO Robertson

Burgundian ode, ancient method of making chardonnay, a rare approach these days, with wild yeasts and no fining or filtration. No surprise that Springfield Estate is willing to give it a go because that’s how they roll. The plan is for deep longevity by a method akin to anti-aging serum, though 15 to 20 years would be astonishing in any case. Ground control to major tang, circuits wired tohu vavohu and a lemon custard to curd constitution that is simply merveilleux. Yes it is true that a hint of orange could turn into Cointreau after a half decade or more and the mid-palate cloud cover will continue to deliver warmth and appeal. Curious methodology plus romantic acumen equates to one of a kind. We’ll see where this goes. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Break A Leg Blanc De Noirs 2017, WO Paarl

Often referred to as a pink wine but to choose this term to call Lukas van Loggerenberg’s 100 per cent cinsault grown on Helderberg granite would not tell the right story. Blanc de noirs is more apt but even then more detail is necessary to do it justice. Sees nine months of lees time, “to remove the tutti frutti,” snarks van Loggerenberg, without jest but can you really know when he’s being serious? Leaves the arena of the Rosé absurd and settles at a hue of proper B de N colour, as if that really matters. Saltiness is the thing, the granite kind, the sort to set your eyes ablaze and your heart to rest. Not really a wine about texture, though there is plenty, but that’s not the goal. Anything but sweet and a wresting away from norms into a matter of reckoning. And all about five knee surgeries, something the winemaker and the critic know all about. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Chenin Blanc Trust Your Gut 2017, WO Western Cape

While there are wines in Lukas van Loggerenberg’s world that travel down the kamikaze viaduct, Trust Your Gut is not one of them. In fact there is a normalcy, a recognizable structure and an older Euro soul to the way this chenin blanc acts and feels. Sees 10 months sur lie in old French oak but no bâttonage, nor malo neither. Three zones bring the fruit; 45 per cent each Stellenbosch and Swartland plus 10 from Paarl. Take chenin blanc and treat it like a Villages wine by imagining Loire aromatics merging with Chablis texture. This my friends is a classic example of amalgamated Western Cape chenin style. There is irony in the name and no shocker there. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Early springtime in Cape Town

Van Loggerenberg Wines Cinsault Geronimo 2017, WO Western Cape

Geronimo is 100 per cent cinsault, 60 per cent from Stellenbosch and 40 “Break a Leg” Paarl. The get together finds energy that one without the other would not find “because cinsault doesn’t have high natural acidity,” explains Lukas van Loggerenberg, “it is a very good indicator of vintage.” The 2017 is, wait for it, 80 per cent whole bunch and while that is a factor of the Western Cape’s ripen anything, anywhere, anytime great advantage, it’s still an impressive strategy no matter where you are making wine. Spends nine months in barrel and comes out smelling like roses, candied petals mainly but other florals, hibiscus and such. A handsome cinsault to be sure and one that will take precious time to unwind, great acidity or not. Like the red Cape equivalent of white friulano in Collio, sneaky long and structured. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Cabernet Franc Breton 2017, WO Stellenbosch

A more than obvious ode to the Loire Valley, 100 per cent cabernet franc bearing the old world varietal name. Fruit drawn from Stellenbosch’s decomposed granite soils gets the 60 per cent whole bunch treatment, followed by 11 months in barrel. Transparent as cabernet franc is the understatement, open wide, ease of alcohol at 12.8 per cent and in delivery for the rapture of being alive. Lots of verdant tones but nary a green tannic moment. Seems like the beginning of a beautiful friendship so the future too is wide open. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Sheree Nothnagel

Wildehurst Velo White 2016, WO Swartland

A testament to non-pareil, Cape appellative white blend equanimity, of colombard, grenache blanc and viognier, 33 of each, give or take one per cent. Only the viognier is barrel fermented though the equilibrium os never compromised. Intensely herbal, of a nose uncanny in its fynbos reek, lovely glycerin texture, again balanced and knowing the place it wants to be. Acid structure travels though in a pas trop travaillé, no trouble way. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

Barrel fermented and six months matured, 100 per cent chenin blanc, acting as if freshly spiced and in Cape terms, a really chewy white wine. Counterbalanced by a leanness in vintage while wound tight, just now perhaps beginning to unwind in repeat of its specific refrain. Acid structure makes up the lyrical couplets, sung again and again, as a reminder that fruit and wood will always align and submit to the citrus rhyme. Almost feels like still perlage and chenin blanc like this is very much a string of pearls, inclusive of tannins in long chains. Helps to explain the success of Wildehurst’s Méthode Cap Classique. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Red 2014, WO Swartland

A blend of shiraz, grenache, mourvèdre, viognier and cinsault, aged in old French barrels for 18 months. Like the solo cinsault but an even more held back and hard to crack the savoury and sweet candied shell. Both elements emerge with good agitation, first the sweet variegate of red fruit and then the brushy and dusty fynbos bushiness, here acting as an energizer for equal opportunity. Spills over with that Wildehurst acid-tannin continuum as all the wines take their time to ready, pivot in the glass and then speak of their age ability going forward. Big bursts are all power and no cake. Rich yet elastic and surely capable of going deep. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Cinsault 2017, WO Swartland

Just two barrels were found to be extraordinary and thus pulled by Sheree Nothnagel, away from the red blend and into this solo album. Quite the richly emulsified and ropey red fruit cinsault and while it follows along the varietal Swartland thread the differences are as great as they are to the party’s similarities. That is due in respect to the Wildehurst style, tighter and more acid-structure intense, higher-toned and less in the meaty-salumi-curative vein. Still possessive of that red as red can be fruit but here more akin to barbera or sangiovese from high altitudes and limestone soils. There must be something about Koringberg and the other Swartland sites that bring a special je ne sais quoi to Joanne Hurst’s wines. Maybe in thanks to Swartland shale, granite, silcrete and alluvium Renosterveld. Who does not love the smell of Renosterveld in the morning? Drink 2019-2027. Tasted September 2018

The Wine Thief Costa Del Swart Viura 2017, WO Voor Paardeberg

From the Western Cape’s chameleon of a region where anything goes and all things are considered. Case in point this viura of Spanish roots as part of the single barrel series. Surely Swartland specific (as opposed to Paarl), 100 per cent viura and only 180 bottles produced. Less alchemy and more herbology, but flinty, sharp and exciting. Direct, full of fun and even a bit waxy, with a riesling or sémillon feel that can only mean some petrol in its future. So much citrus gets ya in the end. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Good to go!

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WineAlign

50 California blasts from the past

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

As each calendar year counts down I set out on a long December inward journey, sifting through thousands of tasting notes, looking for reminders to trigger emotion. The purpose is a honing, a zeroing in process, first to create a shortlist and then a numbered final register to match the century’s yearly suffix. The latest was Godello’s Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020. A bit painstaking to agglomerate while simultaneously offering a grouping of days in recollection of the year’s finest sips though rumination over the previous 365. On this the first of March 2021 there is a looming and gloaming of a particular sort, forced upon us by circumstance as the auspicious anniversary approaches. Thus it seems like a reasonably credible idea to act upon the concept of creating more top lists, or rather further “gathered reminiscences,” blasts from the past. These are 50 California wines tasted years ago, assessments that up until now remained raw and unfinished, just now committed to public record.

Carneros, Napa Valley

Chardonnay

Patz & Hall Chardonnay Alder Springs Vineyard 2014, Mendocino County

A vineyard of altitude and cool seven miles from the ocean at 1200 ft with fruit also sold to Kosta Browne. Her for banana, lemon and intense dry extract. Crisp as possible, freshness, balance, length, carries it all. No butter, no oil, no gratuitous aromas or flavours. Exceptional. Donald Patz has now retired having sold to Chateau Ste. Michelle. Buy it up. May never be this exceptional again. Wild ferment, full malolactic, 70 per cent new French wood. $60-70 US. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted August 2016

Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley

In the zone, reduction blowing off to the edges of the compound. The liberally spread butter fully absorbed, the wood subsidy subsided, now all laid out in retrospect. Ripeness from that beautiful vintage has settled into a cool, lemon curd tart and nectarous nectarine delectation. All tolled the cumulative is an effect of elegance, though in this case not necessarily richesse. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Kutch Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2014

Santa Mateo County, really reductive, very mineral, the most thus far in a line-up of 13 California chardonnays , from what is surely the coolest spot from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Great rocks, stones and bones. Yes bones, by karst and the sea air reaching out to make this seriously cool. The great mountain tang and natural acidity, intense, snappy, snapping back and long. From Jamie Kutch, “Burgundian to a fault,” this being his first effort with chardonnay. An “abandoned” chardonnay vineyard, 12 per cent abv, pH to give you lemon juice but when you get lemons you know just what to do. $40 US. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2016

Keller Estate Chardonnay Oro De Plata 2014, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County

This makes the previous wine (RS) seem oxidative. Reductive is at the fore for the Keller, freshness locked in, really wound on the coastal spindle, intense fruit and even more so, acidity, circular, reeling, wild. A Petaluma Gap leader to be sure, chardonnay of heritage with a winemaking tie to Hansell. No malolactic and all neutral oak. This is so very Chablis, Côte de Lechet and so, wow. $35 US, 800 cases. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted August 2016

Benovia Chardonnay Fort Ross Seaview 2014, Sonoma County

A coastal vineyard (and fruit that is also employed by Flowers) and many will rank this as the coolest spot in California for growing grapes. Mike Sullivan is the winemaker, with fruit that used to go to Marquesan. This done in a richer, expressive, layered style. Some tropical notes, deeply hued, mango, nectarine, creamsicle. Fresh, tart depth, Champagne like with toast and brioche. Luscious custard, 40 per cent new wood, 400 cases made. $55-60 US. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted August 2016

Melville Verna’s Estate Chardonnay 2014, Santa Barbara County

Both rich and really reductive, deeply hued, fully sun-worshipped and deftly but intently extracted fruit. A bite into a barrel, a Mutsu apple and the inside of a platinum pipe. Big, unabashed style with never ending mineral, tart, ripping and wisely no real malolactic. Plenty of lees though and the oldest of the oak. It’s all fruit, lemon curd and so dessert-like chardonnay but of savour and spicy sapidity. Saline finish. $40-50 US. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Migration Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

The richest and most “old-school” California of the lucky 13 tasting, fruit orchard apple and pear albeit folded and blended through ripe and creamy custard. Or at least the renderings thereof. Likely able to attribute that opaque, cloudy, clotted cream sensation from the fog injection. $40-45 US. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Presqu’ile Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County

Nice reserve on this nose, teasing some tropical fruit but keeping it calm, cool and collected. The calcareous aromas are quite fine, delineated like a chalky streak though less so on the palate follow through. Quite tart and nicely dry extract turn to creamy texture but not so thick in fluidity. Like barrel fermented chenin blanc so a unique expression. Listed at 13.9 abv, low pH, neutral oak and stainless, half and half. Matt Murphy is winemaker and co-owner. $35-40 US. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Ramey Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley

Some reduction and quite a corpulent, sweet herbology, genovese basil, pine nut and quality olive oil. Pesto of herb, glade, lemon and fine acidity. Always perfectly Russian River Valley, with a warm steal but ultimately cool. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted August 2016

Ramey Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley

Really showing some age from not the top of the top vintage, holding up but in display of its new barrels, nose oxidized and flavours still buoyed by acidity. So the corrective structure seems out of balance now while the wine marches on. Musty and microbial at this point with a fading sweetness on the finish. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted August 2016

Sonoma County vines
Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/SonomaCountyVintners

Beringer Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley

Continues along the Beringer scaling line of wood retreat, cool climate clarity and as a result a wider commercial appeal. Who would have predicted the success but it’s really working. There would never be a mistaking and the shining is always in play but the admiral work and practicum really does what is base, necessary and appreciated. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Martin Ray Chardonnay 2015, Green Valley Of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

A greener understanding, like the smell of algae on rock in a pretty little creek. Carries some unction and creamy sherbet texture on the palate. Listed at 13.7 abv, toasty by 40 per cent new french oak, full malolactic. It leans delicious but also verdant and commercial. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Rodney Strong Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast

Classic taut and reductive chardonnay with Petaluma Wine Gap scream, in suffragette of creamy, rich fruit. Early harvest, compressed vintage. The fruit is caught in the wine’s vacuum, a wine tunnel creating this centrifuge of richness and acidity. Commercial, composed and so very effective. $25 US Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted August 2016

Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands

A Wagner Family of Wines property, a fine restraint and a shine to cooler thoughts come from this highland chardonnay, with more than enough orchard pressed fruit to fill a trough for the quiet and the masses. Really ramps up and fleshes on the palate with some wild biters late. Good length. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Chamisal Stainless Chardonnay 2015, Central Coast

San Luis Obispo County, ocean proximate, cool spot, from the oldest producer in Edna Valley. Nicely lean, briny, saline, good acidity. Add some fish or seafood flesh and it will sing. Fresh and crisp. $18 US. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Menage A Trois Gold Chardonnay 2015

From the Trinchero Family Estates stable, classic buttery rich and slightly toasty broad California style. Barrel rendered middle road taken, wax polish, enamel-oleaginous spray. Intensely inward and uni-dimensional for commercial lobster fishing, crack a shell and pour into red plastic cup enjoyment. You know what’s it’s good for. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Scheid Chardonnay Escolle Road Vineyard 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County

The aromatics here are off the charts in the 13 strong grouping of this tasting. Waxy, caramel, smoky, flinty, butterscotch in gobs. Really odd conclusive nose and even stranger to taste, with a pencil lead and rubber tipped pencil flavour that reminds of childhood class boredom chewing mistakes. Inoculated, 7 per cent new oak, some of it “European.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Sonoma Coast
Photo (c): http://www.sonomawine.com/

Other White

Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley

Ripe and creamy aromas take this sauvignon blanc into fresh and exotic territory but it’s one of those wines that really improves on the palate, carrying weighty and energy together, expanding and elevating the status in so many ways. A gregarious and resourceful sauvignon blanc with more upside than many peers. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley

The high stirred SS, SB style, from high and dry extract effect, fine acidity and faux sugary spell. Full fleshy mouthfeel and terrific 2015 tang. Lays out the green carpet for the vintage, the varietal and what’s to come. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015, California

J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015, which strikes as pinot grigio in style, dry extract to aromatic sweetness, warm and inviting. Tart and citrus intense, very appealing commercial style and a buttery finish which tells some barrel is involved. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Treana Blanc 2015, Central Coast

A blend of 45 each marsanne and roussanne plus viognier, a bit of aromatic reserve, quite rich and dense on the palate. Flavours of very ripe pear and even riper apple. A bit into the sauce and the purée. Could use a more purposed shot of acidity and courage. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Cabernet Sauvignon

Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

As only Heitz can do this provides the combination of elegance and structure and what may just be the finest tannins available from Napa Valley for cabernet sauvignon. That this is so understated speaks volumes about the essence and the incredulity of a Martha’s and with the dry backdrop of a perfect Napa growing season this clambers through its reps with effortless ease, muscular tension and satisfying performance. More ballerina than gymnast and certainly more statesman than warrior. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted April 2016

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley

Continues the thread of dry, dusty, beautifully savoury and fruit fleshy cabernet sauvignon from the Groth team. It’s like biting into that perfectly ripe and juicy plum, in texture, not sweetness or even specific to the fruit, but that texture, its unmistakeable. Seamless, tender, age worthy and so friendly (but at the same time serious) cabernet sauvignon. Grothiness refined and defined. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted April 2016

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

A different world here, very floral, historic site with vines that go back as far as 1972, organic since the mid-1980’s. With a slice of reduction to grant forward structure where candied roses will always be there. Classic 1990’s Napa style, rich and full but focused, pure and detailed. Complex, 20 months in French wood, 60 per cent new, 88 per cent cabernet sauvignon 88 plus (8) cabernet franc and some petit verdot. The potential is great. This will become picture perfect. $185 US. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted September 2016

Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

The combination of fruit (could it be any riper or improved upon), acumen and no expense spared makes this the cabernet sauvignon of great esteem in that echelon where few reside. Berries in many forms; fresh, puréed and in clafouti are fully engaged. What will this not do for you, for 20 years and more? Everything. The most refined and sophisticated such a wine can be. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted April 2016

J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley

From Schramsberg Vineyards, a Napa Valley aromatic beauty, the most floral of any on this table and in so many ways the most Bordelais, or perhaps more specifically Margaux with such perfume only a scant few know or understand. So pretty and powerful, lovely, structured and intense. This will age for two decades easily and tasting this really puts it all into perspective. The palate brings more of the divine, silky, fleshy and with some spicy bite and chew. Really fine. Really, really fine. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted May 2016

 

Gallica Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Oakville valley floor Napa fruit gravelly soil, from Rosemary Cakebread. First wine in this haute line-up to amalgamate the blue, red and black fruit, with some volcanic aromatics. Acidity works in and all around and so this has it all going on with a chocolate finish more refined. Mainly (75 per cent cabernet sauvignon plus (25) cabernet franc, suave from blueberry to red currant to black berry. The corporeal tone is elegant and muscular. Has some real elegance and is is simply excellent. 249 cases. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted September 2016

Young Inglewood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Deep, low, bench land gravelly soils, extended maceration, rich concentrated depth, amazingly void of chalk and grain though the tannin is intense. Very refined, spicy and great acidity. It’s all in napa, all in from Josh. Wow, so long. $157 US. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Signorello Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, Unfiltered

From 1990 planted hillside, bench site vineyards, gravelly with good drainage, young but structured, just east of the Silverado Trail. Rich, black fruit, chalky, fine-grained and very sweet tannin. All natural yeasts, 22 months in 65 per cent new oak. All in but because the fruit is so rich and pure there is balance. Rich, spicy and focused, tempered chocolate finish, a prime example of today’s Bordelais in the retro-modern world. $156 US. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2016

Silverado Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Also high-toned but the level of serious, depth and bad-ass intent is on the table. From steep shale soils, there is a mountain herb aroma that is distinct, ahead of the chocolate curve,. All in 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 45 per cent new wood, heat factor notably reduced. There is a cool-menthol note but the flavour is a change of pace, into cool, thin mountain air and the tannins are a beast. Tart and grainy finish. Needs five to seven years to integrate. Exceptional wine. $150 US. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Y Rousseau Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Yannick’s work, in reduction and Mount Veeder depth. Further south with fog-maritime coverage so here winemaking is in, Bordelais for sure, reminds of St. Éstephe. Dark, pitchy, cimmerian, with a steep remoteness about it. Volcanic, serious at 2000 ft, so great acidity that just seems natural and raging. Candied flowers and this is just simply intense, gorgeous and alone. Eastern exposure, naturally fermented, 18 months in 75 per cent in new oak. The structure here is second to none with focus, determination and very aggressive tannins. Quite hot on the finish being the only detractor. 150 cases made. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2016

Daou Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Soul Of A Lion 2013, Paso Robles

Carries a cool, Mediterranean savour on the nose, with spirit, vitality and a black olive tapenade. Seamless, ripe in acidity and intensely naked but never wavering from its energy. This is a massively structured wine and no doubt will last 25 years but touched anytime in the first 10 will require hours of aeration and a more than obvious, double-digit ounce weighed, protein fleshy sidekick. It may be big and high octane on the nose, carry a truck load of architectural bones on its corpulent frame but it never loses sight of finesse and dare it be said, elegance. Well, maybe not elegance but it is charming, handsome and fine, even in the face of massive extraction. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted April 2016

Honig Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Going deeper and darker on the floor, ripe and tart black raspberries, dusty Rutherford fruit, 87 cabernet with a long splash of petit verdot, with some merlot. Aged in 100 per cent American oak (30 new). Good valley floor fruit absorption, some exotic black and white fruit, pod and kernel. Acidity is low profile, tannin slightly more but this is quite easy to get at for a Honig. A wine of good volatility. $78 US. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016

Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

High Mediterranean-savoury component, in black olive and caper volatility. So much ripe but tang-tart-sour raspberry, a product of high sun hours at elevation with the need for canopy management. Old vines, erosion hills, fog-influence, history and repetition. Very savoury and another wine with its very own kind of funk. Oak and spice with grainy tannins all over the finish. Wild, disparate and complex wine. A bit early to get to know and then it carries a bit of an advanced character or a natural cure to it that may always be there as it ages over a good long period of time. $175 US. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2016

Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley

Valley floor fruit where healthy ground cover leads for major florals and minor Mediterranean scents, namely black olive. Gravelly, Oak Knoll natural acidity giving rise to the AVA nature, that ripe and round acidity for a cool feel. Aridity, pinch of salinity, rises and lingers. Minor pitches from malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Overall epitome of red fruit. Better value than most. $60 US. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Rocca Family Vineyards 2013, Napa Valley

Single vineyard on a 21-acre farm, high toned, dark fruit from a warm bench land site, alluvial soil, organic. Sees 20 months in 75 per cent French oak and in this case it is necessary because the fruit and the acidity are ravers and ragers. Such a cooling back side, minty, chocolate mint, rubbed between the fingers, yes, like malbec. Oak is huge. $108 US. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2016

Darioush Napa Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

More of a proprietary red, 75 cabernet with some merlot and a minor amount of cabernet franc, plus malbec and petit verdot. More acetic tendency, tart and direct, even stark at first. High octane over bullish concentration, not so subtle, aromatically closed but the acidity and the overall structure is gritty. This needs time to settle, for the composed acidity to get together and layer into the fruit. The finish while hot is more composed. There is some dried fruit advanced character. Multifarious, both by varietal and picking times, or so it would seem. $95 US. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Farella Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

The tones are on the rise, up in the air, quite the herb influence, whiff of pipe tobacco, seems like a higher percent of malbec and/or petit verdot. From the most recently designated AVA, volcanic meets foxy, dried fruit with spice, fig, cherry, apricot, peach and plum. Chewy dried fruit, you need to work a while (it’s actually 100 per cent cabernet) some grainy, chalky tannin and really good length. New oak is well-integrated. Not as cultured and understood in fact perhaps a bit disjointed but so much potential and expectation runs high for what will come next. Oak is an imbalance factor. Simple finish. $65 US. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Sara d’Amato, ROM September 2016

Pinot Noir

Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros

The fullest of fruit, with spice and San Pablo Bay influenced tension. The combination of ripe and ripping, rich and ricocheting. Has found the right place. Typically atypical for Carneros or rather as Carneros within a Napa to Sonoma connectivity. Holds an ability to age like few varietal sistren or brethren in either AVA. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Longoria Wines Pinot Noir Lovely Rita 2015, Sta. Rita Hills

“Nothing can come between us.” A wine with a song in its title, offering up the lowest hanging fruit and ready for lyrical association. Fine and elegant pinot fruit, with slender, long fingers and legs, plenty of confidence and so perfectly Sta. Rita Hills representative of place. Restrained, elegant, beautiful and ethereal. That’s a really fine pinot noir with a shot of garrigue. Drink early, If for no other reason that there is no way to resist temptation. Drink 202017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County

Now under the ownership of Chateau St. Michelle Wine Estates, this is one of Donald Patz’s swan songs, a wine that has swept into a new price stratosphere, 50 per cent increase in the last what seems like five years (but is probably more like ten). Sweet pinot fruit in such a refined, elegant and classically secure Sonoma Coast style, with altitude, diurnal temperature changes and the maritime air all influencing the style. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Marimar Estate Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir 2013, Doña Margarita Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

Marimar Estate’s Mas Cavalis 2013 pinot noir shows great tension as always, acts nominally rustic and engaging. A turnkey pinot noir, expertly ripe and accented with sweet if spicy oak, tart but never lactic. Just terrific varietal wine noting vineyard and AVA with alternating slash double entendre distinction. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Reata Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands

From out of the Santa Lucia Highlands and a property owned by Jamieson Ranch Vineyards. Rich and velvety, slightly spicy but certainly spiced, very consumer friendly at the higher end of the scale, interesting in that it hits all the right notes and lingers nicely but it’s almost too vivid and appealing. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Benovia Pinot Noir Cohn 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

Sweet tension, red berry emotion, tar and roses, not as intense as perhaps expected. Great example however of Russian River Valley fruit, though low acidity, easy to like, hard to keep around. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016

Other Red

Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages 2013, Sonoma County

Full on deep, dark, arid and ranging wide trodding a silk road. Extensively far reaching red blend and with great formidable tannin and structure so perhaps the best of its ilk in many a moon. Top quality from Margo Van Staaveren through the looking glass of vivid transparency and vibrancy. Best I’ve tasted. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted April 2016

Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot 2012, Napa Valley

Duckhorn’s Three Palms ranks amongst the finest in Napa merlot and from 2012 I could paint my plate with this reduction. Thick, beautifully chocolatey and yet chalky, tart, angled and nearly bradding. It could pass for Masseto. Really Italianate and intense. So much chocolate and spice, clove, nutmeg, purple flowers. Not sure just anyone can handle its vivid truth but it’s a very intense and stylish merlot. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Twomey Merlot 2012, Napa Valley

From Silver Oak Cellars, just now coming into its window with the formidable barrel continuing its slow melt, now in a calm and gelid stage. Coconut and plum combine and then there is this chocolate smooth consistency and always the dusty feel of merlot. Still pulsing with energy but this is such a full on expression. All chocolate and espresso on the finish. So much oak. Silver oak. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016

C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery Syrah 2012, Sierra Foothills

From the Sierra Foothills, this is deep mahogany red pitchy, meaty and cured syrah, full aromatic fleshy and mouth coating/filling with terrific silky addendum. A seamless syrah from start to finish. Turns into something firm (feels like granite) and even porcine at the finish. There’s a lot of fun complexity and ever-changing personality, from its roots to the Rhône and back again. Fascinating. approx. $40 CAN. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Cline Big Break Zinfandel 2013, Contra Costa County

Cline’s Big Break zinfandel 2013 is rich, brambly and so full of dark berry fruit, though also a bit of oxidation. Chalky, lactic, not overtly tart and I like the fennel, tar and roses aspect. Complex and really big. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016

Good to go!

godello

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Retrospective, alternative Argentina

One of my favourite all-time documentaries is the 1967 “Don’t Look Back,” D.A. Pennebaker’s backstage biopic of Bob Dylan on tour. Who can forget “Don’t look back, ooh, a new day is breakin’,” by the mysteriously, somehow and against all odds timeless band Boston. Crazy as “F” Van Morrison sang “Don’t look back, to the days of yesteryear. You cannot live on in the past. Don’t look back.” Finally, in his wistful 1980s Boys of Summer ode to better days Don Henley sang, “A little voice inside my head said don’t look back, you can never look back.” Yet here I am, doing just that, but in this case for good reason.

Gerardo Diaz

Related – Making tracks in Argentina

Related – High altitude heliophiles in Argentina 

Time allows for such things and when you remember unfinished business there is some truth to fulfilling a long ago made promise. A silent accord of salient requiem with passionate people who shared prized bottles and as a wine writer you are bound by the unwritten and unbinding contract. Things demand closure and so the August 2015 sit-down with Gerardo Diaz and David Neinstein at Barque Butcher Bar finally comes full circle. Gerardo’s then epiphany happened in Argentina and the alternative universe he discovered was spoken through a few cases of wine he paid 10 times in duties as compared to what he shelled out at the source. Later in April 2016 we sat down with Emily McLean and Josh Corea (I miss them all) at Archive 909 and tasted the lava. A volcanic time was had by all, naturally. Meanwhile, what does alternative Argentina even mean six years later? By the time I had visited Argentina in November of 2018 the idea of alternative varietals, new, innovative and alternative winemaking styles were already a part of the fabric. But in 2015 the examples were few and far between. Gerardo sniffed them out long before bottle shops lined with labels of the far, wacky and away were even a thing. These were the sixteen we shared and my notes were blessedly easy to transcribe, a testament to Gerardo, the wines and their rebel makers.

Bodega Cruzat Charmat Style Chardonnay, Uco Valley, Mendoza

Juan Carlos is the winemaker for tis fine lithe chardonnay of fine mousse with yeast induction. A yeast of gastronomy, already having passed through some development, long hanging, creamy, rich, full, well-made. Nettles, sharp, pointed, a new Charmat direction and idea. Decent length, peach fleshy flavours and then citrus, ripe and late. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted August 2015

Bodega Cruzat Cuvée Nature Método Tradicional, Uco Valley, Mendoza

A blend of 60 per cent pinot noir and (40) chardonnay, full malo, 24 months on the lees. Full on dusty, leesy, funky fizz, on the platinum, concrete, oxidative side. A grower’s crust, and such righteous proper fromage making this something experiential. Ginger and endemic yeast, like red fife bread, with ferric tones. Goes new and old at the same time. It’s actually chewy! Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015

Domaine Alma Negra Brut Nature NV, Mendoza

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

Aged in 20 per cent new oak and 14 months on lees, unfiltered, smoky as a cranberry marsh brush fire, from Tupungato. Limestone, smoky, sharp and unctuous of candied peach, inciting the need to match this with the smell of an open charcoal grill. Such an amazing response to changing the face of making South American sparkling wine. Turns to cheese and stone on its slow decline which will be six, seven, maybe 10 years down the Uco road.  Tasted August 2015

Bodega La Azul Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza

Steel to bottle for six months rest, 10,000 cases and ostensibly a $10 wine. Reductive, fresh, noting quinine, sparked, pinging and so saline. A briny capering of South America and there is nothing like this, though no capsicum or overt grassiness. Neutral, big mineral, sweet stones, a bit dilute on the palate but also no inspiration. Just La Azul. Drink 2015.  Tasted October 2015

Bodega Finca La Escarcha Viognier Entrelíneas 2011, Tupungato

Saw 10 months in French barriques, a rare Uco Valley sighting, read between the Viognier lines. Clearly about where it’s from, in bite and texture. Would be hard pressed to pick it out blind as viognier yet the oak gives cream and custard, also a bit reductive and yet chardonnay like. So wild, natural, divine. Great length, like the unfurling of a long strip of savoury, saline taffy, smooth and effortless in glide down as if over the sloping ups, downs and moguls of a water slide. Beautiful bitter citrus finish. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted August 2015

Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda 2012, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza

The grape of the people, what people care for and an integral part of the the future for Argentina. No matter how hot it gets, acidity remains. Dark current of currant juice running through a charcoal vein, spice in its drip, bursting of iron, VA and sprays of cooking oil flavour. Velvet tongue and much more spice than many. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted August 2015

Alma 4 Sparkling Bonarda 2011, Santa Rosa, Mendoza

Alma 4 project was started in 1999 by Mauricio Castro, Agustín López, Marcela Manini and Sebastián Zuccardi. Avant-garde, on the radar ideal, 10 day maceration, natural fermentation, 36 months lease the lees, traditional method MASH. A grape Ne-Hi, slice of black cherry pie, yeasty oven aroma, then metal smoulder. Dry as the desert with more acidity than Lambrusco. Santa Rosa nary minerality, sanguine and wound very tight. Dramatic departure from still bonarda, hung for ripe fruit but vilified with zero dosage. Beautiful oxidation. Oh where this might go. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted August 2015

Alma 4 Sparkling Bonarda 2012, Santa Rosa, Mendoza

Lithe by comparison, still oxidative and more elastic, not as rigid and more purity, clean, playful and clear, a blue sky day versus a cloudy brood. Still the grape soda, the current and the ripeness but something softer and prettier here. Lingerer too and the finish is even more blessed with natural aridity. That said the 2011 was a whole helluva lot more fun. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted August 2015

Cara Sur Bonarda 2014, Barreal, San Juan

Dry farmed, down a garagiste of a dirt road, small production, Zuccardi funded. Natural run-off water and yeast, 500-600 bottles, from north of Mendoza, “Valle de Calingasta.” The natural cure is off the charts, the Emidio Pepe of Argentina, Winemaking is really just perfect, smells like the scrape of the amphora, already holds the aromatics of years, the answers of age, the design of ancients. You could keep this in the glass for a week and it will hardly evolve, 40 year wine for sure. Purity incarnate. Drink 2015-2030.  Tasted August 2015

Cara Sur Criolla 2014, Barreal, San Juan

Not gamay, though could very well be, but criolla (cree-oh-jah). Dusty and so floral, earthy of sweet variegated beets, THE Cru of/for criolla, fresh and yet of terra firma. Still has the natural cure, expert finesse, allowance for reality glaring and expansive,. Heads to the atmosphere, hovers as if on magic carpet or broomstick. Pure roses distillate. Taste the novella in the glass, but not the frostbite. The natural sweetness is of a remarkable rusticity. Warmer on the finish than expected. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Vista Flores Single Vineyard 2011, Mendoza

Organic and biodynamic, bruiser, big-boned, so much oak. Chocolate, ferric, sanguine, top-tier commercial malbec, were malbec to be made in Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe. Graphite, pencil lead, full on massive flavour, truly varietal, layered, chalky, full grain and big tannins. Huge bleeping wine yet somehow bleeds natural. Somehow. You really feel the alcohol in the late palate (14.8 per cent). Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted August 2015

Carmelo Patti Malbec 2006, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza

The indigenous natural cure persists in malbec form, eccentric winemaking here, a contrarian Malbec, non-aggressive of fruit jam yet muscular, masculine, oak coffee-chocolate driven. But with Bretty, wood spice character, on the rubber reductive side. With the age of patience, the need for thinking, the lack of care for conventions and standards. Not a major concern for aggressive acidity. Best days are passed but so very flavourful and characterful. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted August 2015

Mar E Pampas Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Patagonia

Young vines, terpenes in juicy waves, very tacky, concentrated, but not so very ripe . Piercing acidity, a grapefruit citrus, not grassy at all and very little spice. Quite in tune with cool climate sauvignon blanc or riesling. Direct, crisp crunch and bite. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted August 2015

Mar & Pampa Gewürztraminer 2014, Patagonia

As fresh as gewürztraminer will ever be, like muscat from the flats of Patras and not nearly tropical. Pear for sure, from sea level flats, with salinity, crisp and delicate. First vintage, waxy and glade citrus, pretty amazing. A late night tang that will keep it from being as simple as say, gewürz nouveau. The most interesting gewürz emotion from bubble gum to bones. Producers in Patagonia be woke. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted August 2015

Mar & Pampa Pinot Noir 2014, Patagonia

Has natural cure, funky socks, brightness of cranberry being. Just a terrific funk, a concrete feel from natural yeast. So pure, with porcine intent, spice, truffle, but again, so bright. Would never guess its origins. The terroir is correct for pinot noir. Has nuance in its litheness. Not exactly Burgundian, no surely Argentinian, clearly Patagonian. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted August 2015

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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