Fourteen wines that should be on your restaurant list

Fish and Chips at Small Town Food Bar

Fish and Chips at Small Town Food Bar

I taste a lot of wine. Lots of wine. Were I to manage a restaurant list with room for everything that deserves a place to call home, to share with the world the honest and the natural, a long list I would indeed create. The wine list at Barque Smokehouse I build is predicated on that premise but you can count on two hands the number of wines we offer by the glass. Necessity is our master.

Related – A resolution to drink honest wine

At the start of 2014 I penned that column and looking back eight months later, the ideas put out within that post-ice storm, mild January day apply to the concept of formulating a restaurant wine list. For the most part, a wine card should endorse the virtuous and the sincere. “Honest wine is juice that conveys the salient facts of a grape’s life. For a bottle of wine to be on the up and up it must not be disguised by the unnatural ways of artificial intervention nor should it make itself so available as to be obvious. Fruit should reside in the realm of the sequestered and the sacred. I am not alone in hoping for table wines to be stirring, gripping, unsweetened and unencumbered by an excessive coat of oak. My hard-earned dollars should earn the right to be stimulated .”

If your job title includes choosing what wine is poured at your restaurant, you should never dial it in. VINTAGES releases more than 100 new wines every two weeks. If 95 are what you might consider wantonly microdontic or overly tangential in influence, so be it. Five new wines every two weeks is more than enough to keep your list rocking, rolling, current and fresh. In Ontario the choices are many and the options endless. If driving the construction-riddled streets of Toronto is for you the time spent equivalent of root canal surgery in a Chilean coal mine then call an agent, request a tasting and let the cases be shipped to your doorstep.

“Wine only recognizes two temporal states. Fermentation and party time.” Be creative, read Tom Robbins, listen to the Tom Tom Club, mix it up a little, try new wines and add a spark to your wine program. Give it the genius of love. Guests just want to have fun. Here are 14 new releases, from VINTAGES and through some really terrific agents here in Ontario.

From left to right: Tenuta Le Velette Rosso di Spicca 2012, Tawse Gamay Noir 2013, Freiherr Von Göler Pinot Noir 2011, Coyote's Run Pinot Noir 2013, Lealtanza Reserva 2009, Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2012 and Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012

From left to right: Tenuta Le Velette Rosso di Spicca 2012, Tawse Gamay Noir 2013, Freiherr Von Göler Pinot Noir 2011, Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir 2013, Lealtanza Reserva 2009, Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2012 and Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012

Tenuta Le Velette Rosso di Spicca 2012, Umbria, Italy (Agent, $16)

The “Spicca” family owned the farm where the vines now grow. For a Rosso, from Umbria, Toscana or Piemonte for that matter to stand out (spicarre), it must have something unique and noticeable. Le Velette’s understated Umbrian blend of Sangiovese and Canaiolo is all about aromatics. Spicy cherries, leather and cinnamon with an underlying petrichor that seemingly bleeds fresh piquant juice straight from concrete. Like the oil exuding from lavender and rosemary growing out of the fissures of cracked terracotta over clay, after a warm summer rain. The palate gives a wee bit of spirited spritz and pizzazz. All this for $16 and change for a finishing espresso.   Tasted October 2014  @Noteworthywines

Tawse Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (322545, $18.95, WineAlign)

Darker berries define the Paul Pender take on Gamay for Niagara and in ’13 there is a level of tension and girth not yet approached. This third Tawse Gamay is overt in attitude, connotative of Beaujolais Cru staging, an ovule of rebellion and a disposition just as though in the grips of Asmodeus. The Tawse effect is entrenched in clay and possessive of  knowledge as if derived by an invitation only junket to the Gamay motherland. If the stance seems serious, the fruit is up to the task. A Gamay for now and fully capable of aging five or more years.  Tasted October 2014

Freiherr Von Göler Pinot Noir 2011, Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany (390971, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

You can take the Spätburgunder out of the nomenclature but you can’t take the nomenclature out of the Spätburgunder. The porcine dry, crunchy bits are front and centre, the pig offal under the crust. This is Baden red wine of a bitter and surprisingly sweet palate nature, a modern take on old male Pinot pattern baldness. So worth trying towards gaining a deeper understanding of varietal diversity.  Tasted October 2014  @HalpernWine

Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (53090, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Estate bottle represents a balanced amalgamation of terroirs with essential Niagara On-The-Lake Pinot Noir aromas, accents and distinction. Highly floral, thanks in kind to the red Trafalgar clay loam of the Red Paw Vineyard, as much as it has and will ever be. Extracted with reserved prejudice, with props to the dark Toledo clay loam of the Black Paw Vineyard, showing as a robust and retentive treacle, rich in tangy licorice and cherry pie. Much flavour is found in this Pinot Noir, so it will be well deserving of accolades and sales. If the sweetness prevails it is only because the fruit is shepherded in clean and Shepparded with blending acumen.  Tasted October 2014  @coyotesrun

Lealtanza Reserva 2009, Doca Rioja, Spain (208223, $20.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

Old, old school Rioja ramped up, given a natural injection of rock brine and garriga then sent out to play. Rarely does Lealtanza give so much fresh conjecture, so much considered condensation and dense consideration. Soft and muddled palate, mottled rocks seeping berries and an accent of candied tomato leaf. Funky finish keeps it real.  Tasted October 2014  @ProfileWineGrp

Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (36194, $21.95, WineAlign)  NWAC14 Silver Medal Winner

A dusty and gilded Cabernet Franc from one of the warmest Niagara vintages in recent memory. Vivid in Bench specific varietal tendency, as if the berries on the black currant bush were ripening and bursting in the late afternoon sun, right into the glass. A blueberry by you CF, spiced by the faint childhood memory of grandfather’s unlit pipe on the coffee table. There have been more tense and exciting Cab Franc’s by Richie Roberts but none so suave and grown-up as this 2012.  Tasted September 2014  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012, Doc, Piedmont, Italy (388660, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

Don’t worry Mr. Parker, this rare chance at assessing a Langhe made from the Freisa grape will not join the 100-point club but I can say with certainty that this take is anything but “totally repugnant.” Borgogno’s Freisa is rustic, with dried figments of raisin and fig, though zero notes of reduction. More dried fruit, in carob and licorice with biting, spicy notes and the seeping of black tea leaves. The whole Mediterranean potpourri seethes in altitude and attitude. A dry and sensual red with enveloping chalk and acidity. Perhaps “Bobbo” Butch Cassidy should give this Langhe a whirl.  Tasted August 2014  @TrialtoON

From left to right: Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, Rustenberg John X Merriman 2011, Pirramimma Shiraz 2011, Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine 2012, Millton Opou Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Ascheri Barolo 2010

From left to right: Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, Rustenberg John X Merriman 2011, Pirramimma Shiraz 2011, Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine 2012, Millton Opou Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Ascheri Barolo 2010

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

A classic Adam, amplified in 2013, riper and not as piercing as previously noted vintages. Still the layering is omnipresent but there is more juicy fruit and texture then ever before. This is a consumer friendly Adam, gregarious, outgoing, off-dry as never before. New slang for the bottling.  From my earlier, July 2014 note: “According to Cave Spring’s website this newer Riesling from older (18 to 35 year-old plantings) is from “a single block of vines in the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment, known as ‘The Adam Steps’. Really apropos, for this Riesling is the cantilever, the one with the outstretched arm. At 10.5 per cent alcohol and with an unmistakably stony, sweet and sour whiff the wine speaks of its off-dryness. The juiciest of all the Cave Spring Rieslings, with rounder acidity and good persistence. This is the all-around good guy, the one with an open invitation, the bridge from Estate to Dolomite to Csv. The well-adjusted one steps up its game to help win one for the team, especially out of the convivial 2013 vintage.”  Last tasted October 2014  @CaveSpring

Rustenberg John X Merriman 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa (707323, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

Despite the colour as dark as monster’s gore this is a relaxed X Merriman, not overly painted or rubbed by charcoal and rubber tree plant. The Bordeaux-styled blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (55 per cent), Merlot (37), Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec from South-West slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain, Stellenbosch opens its tight angled gates to reveal a cool centre, with juicy, rich, iced espresso, though in decomposed granite grit it’s tannic as hell. Makes judicious use of its (41 per cent) new and (59 per cent) 2nd and 3rd-fill 225L French oak barrels, along with balance in alcohol (14.3 per cent) integration. Solid South African red with just enough primal activity to pleasantly alter the temperature in the brain, without causing concussion or grey matter to go totally askance. Will drink well into the next decade.  Tasted October 2014  @WoodmanWS

Pirramimma Shiraz 2011, Mclaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (987784, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

A Pirramimma in the new vein from a warm and rich vintage. So hard to scale back when nature gives you this much fruit. Though 15 per cent is hardly a twinkle in its alcohol eye, there is only so much elegance that can be coaxed from this kind of hedonism. It’s big, juicy and just so alive. As simple as a candle, without magic and void of mystery. It will range hither and thither for 10 years before it makes the long, slow journey back home.  Tasted October 2014  @bwwines

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

Seven months have softened and mothered Gravity’s adolescence in ways to now see it as the most feminine, certainly of the last four vintages. Pretty dabs, perfumes of natural conditioning, warm days and warm nights in the bottle. More accessible than previous takes and of a new modernity perceived. Sweet dreams and sweet fragrances, roses and cinnamon, nothing fancy here mind you, with no bite and no gathering moss. Cherries and vanilla, lavender and simple pleasures. Straight up Gravity, no pull down, no drag and no excess weight. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “In a vintage potentially muddled by warmth and a humidor of radio frequency, duplicating berry phenolics, Flat Rock’s Gravity remains a definitive, signature house Pinot Noir. In 2011, the head of the FR class from its most expressive barrels shared the limelight (and top juice) with the Pond, Bruce and Summit one-offs. In ’12, Gravity’s sandbox was its own. The style is surely dark, extracted, black cherry bent, as per the vintage. Yet only the Rock’s soil does earth in this variegate, borne and elevated by the barrel’s grain. There are no fake plastic trees in a Flat Rock Pinot. “Gravity always wins.”  Last tasted October 2014  @Brighlighter1  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd

Huff Estates Cuvée Janine 2012, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Looks can be deceiving so much so Janine might look as is she were leading a bubble to red dye number 40. Not the case, rather the expressive hue is winemaker Frédéric Picard’s colourful bleed from 100 per cent Pinot Noir fruit. So, it must be sweet and tasting cloyingly like a bowl of sugared strawberries. Again, not so. Janine’s aromas are very berry and her texture is certainly cheese and crème fraiche-inflected from a 12 month lees mattress, but dry she goes. Much demonstrative behaviour and perspiring humidity comes from vintage warmth and here results in layering. Janine is an earthy, funky squared sparkler, with nothing shy or demurred about her, but all of the outwardly screaming smells and tastes are in check. Strawberry cream and shortcake cease from wrapped tight acidity coming in from the backside. Big bubbles.  Tasted October 2014  @HuffEstatesWine

Millton Opou Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand (92478, $30.00, WineAlign)

From estate fruit on a single vineyard planted in 1969 on the Papatu Road, Manutuke, Gisborne. On Waihirere soils of heavy silt and Kaiti clay loam. A most mineral driven Chardonnay thanks in part to some Riesling in the mix. This varietal symbiosis, along with a co-planted orange grove gives what James Milton calls “the sharing of astrality.” The five year-old biodynamic Opou does whiff orange blossom, along with crisp green apple and the wet rocks of a summer rain. Quite full on the palate with a bite of black pepper and olive oil drizzle over toasted Ciabatta, smeared by churned, salted butter. The length indicates five more relish piqued years and five furthermore in slow decline.  Tasted October 2014  @TheLivingVine

Ascheri Barolo 2010, Piedmont, Italy (341107, was $35.25, now LTO $32.25, WineAlign)

Standard issue Barolo of a canonical character so bankable as Nebbiolo and nothing but. Classic Piemontese funk comes wafting out, along with licorice in as many ways as can be described; anise, Sambuca or fennel. The palate is creamy and slightly sweet, accented with pepper and a dusty, grainy sensation. This is Barolo of old with a cough syrup confection, wild herbs and grit. It could not be mistaken for Malbec though its disjointed ways could use some finesse and polish.  Tasted October 2014  @liffordwine

Good to go!

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Fall is the time for Tuscan wine

Ripe wine grapes
PHOTO: ANDY DEAN/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Tuscany. Entrenched in place as one of the most storied, time-tested and traditional wine regions of the world. For right reason, thanks in great measure to the chimerical, paragons of Brunello, Vino Nobile, Bolgheri, Maremma and of course, Chianti Classico.

Tuscan wine laws, while more relaxed and inclusive than they recently were, continue to hold on to stubborn and hardheaded ways and remain transfixed on tradition and patriarchy. In the 1970′s some miscreant and rebellious winemakers began bottling with foreign varieties and gulp, in blends with the local, beloved Sangiovese. They broke as many rules as possible. Wine hippies. The movement paid no heed to the DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) laws and the wines came to be known as Super Tuscans. The new marketers labeled their bastardi as IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica). Antinori’s Tignanello, Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia, Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia’s Ornellaia and Masseto were the very expensive originals. So many followed and today a “Super Tuscan” can be had from $12 to $400. I turn to this concise and disseminated description on the genre from VinoinLove.

PHOTO: Daniela Scorza/Fotolia.com
Tuscan wines are to be found everywhere these days and tastings seem to teem with them in the fall.

All this in direct insult and dis to the salt of Tuscany’s wine earth, the sanguis Jovis, the “blood of Jove,” Sangiovese. Conventional and prescribed Chianti (Sangiovese), Brunello (Sangiovese Grosso) and Vino Nobile (Prugnolo Gentile) all contained, in majority proportions, a form or clone of the grape. Other autochthonous varieties were parochially permitted, like Canaiolo, Colorino, Malvasia and Mammolo. But Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah? No chance. Today, things have (somewhat) changed.

The Super Tuscan IGT holds court while Sangiovese-based wines fight for market share. Better yet, the IGT style paradigm is finally beginning to shift back to the future of Italian wine, in a focused, pure, fruit-driven style. Oak hindrance and high alcohol IGT, despite the reason for putting the genre on the map in the first place and while still so prevalent, will not survive the mode it has been mired in for the past 10-12 years.

Tuscan wines are to be found everywhere these days and tastings seem to teem with them in the fall. Tuscany was the themed centrepiece of the most recent VINTAGES September 28th, 2013 release. Wine importers have been showcasing their IGT’s at portfolio tastings and coming next month, Wines of Italy will offer more than a dozen among the 100+ wines on pour at that immense event. Here are five recently sampled Super-Tuscans and three rogue Sangiovese to seek out this fall.

Clockwise from left: Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2010, Fattoria Carpoli Sada Integolo 2010, San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, Carpineto Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Pertimali AZ. Livio Sassetti Fili di Seta IGT 2009, Terrabianca Campaccio IGT 2009, and Anima Libera Morellino di Scanzano 2011

VINTAGES September 28th, 2013 release

Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2010 (508531, $16.95) lets Sangiovese play chaperone to Cabernet Sauvignon and Canaiolo in its most modern and alluring incarnation to date. That’s not to say it clenches without tension, in seething red berry and cherry. Highly floral entry and dusty finish. Solid value. Will work for many a pasta.  88

Fattoria Carpoli Sada Integolo 2010 (350132, $18.95) the unheralded, consumer obscure yet not so unusual IGT blend from Cabernet Sauvignon, Montepulciano and Alicante feigns modernity at a refreshingly low, low alcohol by volume of 12.5 percent. Though not widely known, the blend is not so uncommon for the Tuscan coast. Uncomplicated and pure, dark red camera obscura with pitch emitting a ray of bright fruit light. Spit char roasting aroma, sun-dried flavour and energy in solar happiness, as “the rocks melt wi‚ the sun.”   89

San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009 (716266, $26.95, SAQ, 703363, $27) clocks in at 12.8 per cent abv. Are you following the theme here? This CCR is just so flippin’ foxy and gorgeous to nose. It’s also demanding in iron, dried sanguine char and tough like the label’s Titian-painted medieval knight. CCR stretched out on the rack, Italianate through and through and likely in need of 10 years lay down time. Funkless which, considering the lack of coat and obfuscation, is very, very interesting.  92

Carpineto Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (996553, $29.95) invites Chianciano/Montepulciano to the party mix and the result in 2007 is lush, lusty and downright funky. Usually one only finds this kind of funk and circumstance in a Napa valley Cabernet. So muttonous and crustaceous I’m tempted to say merroir but as my colleague JS notes, “withterroir like this who needs grapes.” Another IGT that dials my number at 12.5 per cent abv. Honesty thy name is balance.  90

Profile Wine Group Portfolio Tasting

Liberty Grand, September 24, 2013

Pertimali AZ. Livio Sassetti Fili di Seta IGT 2009 (Profile Wine Group private order, $37.95, B.C., International Wine Cellars, 16147, $46) is a Sangiovese (60 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (40 per cent) Montalcino blend. Rosso di Toscano, as opposed to Rosso di Montalcino, or baby Brunello. Lush, jet pitchy and earthy fruit that dances the Brett line but never crosses over into dangerously funky territory.  90

Terrabianca Campaccio IGT 2009 (Profile Wine Group consignment, $39.95) combines fruit from two Tuscan appellations, Chianti Classico and Maremma. The 70 per cent Sangiovese and 30 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon blend has never wavered or waffled, nor has the price. Same 40 bucks I paid for my ’97′s. If perhaps it were accused of being less complex and idiosyncratic and more accessible, so be it. Such a virtuous expression of Sangiovese where Cabernet supports. Harmonious, red fruit and rampart acidity in a wine capable of abstruse behaviour.  91

Connexion Oenophilia

August 1, 2013

Anima Libera Chianti 2011 (Connexion Oenophilia Private Order, $16.95) is the child of a “garagiste” project from flying consultant winemaker Emiliano Falsini. Composed of 95 percent Sangiovese and five Canaiolo, it’s juicy, lively, certainly a “made” wine but bursting with western Chianti earth, raspberry and strawberry. Ultimately approachable and sociable “from love I long to taste.” Libera me Chianti.  89

Anima Libera Morellino di Scansano 2011 (Connexion Oenophilia Private Order, $22.95) is a mix of Sangiovese (90 per cent), Alicante (five) and Malvasia Nera (five). More depth and robust, studied consternation than most Morellino. Corporeal, developed cherry fruit deliberated by grainy, chalky tannin. There’s an iodine and roasted chestnut note but the fruit remains fresh, neither rustic nor bruised and the wine is conclusively rooted sub-mediterraneanly beyond the Chianti’s reach.  91

Good to go!

Alternative wines for the August long weekend

Barque Smokehouse Cuban Corn
PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

as seen on canada.com

A word of advice if I may. Grab hold of the coming long weekend and put it in your pocket. Take full advantage of the time you have with family and friends. Eat corn. Local ears will never be as tender, sweet and perfect as they are right now. If Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are your go to grapes, by all means, enjoy them. The caveat comes now; just one more whisper of unsolicited wisdom to consider. Try something new.

Canadians will be sharing meals in larger groups so in many cases, a single bottle of wine will not suffice. Why not engage in a grape showdown? Open two wines of the same grape but from different producers or regions. So much can be learned from the comparison, most notably your preference so you will know what to buy next time around. Here are seven alternative wines to look for this coming August holiday long weekend.

Clockwise from left: Marc Bredif Vouvray 2011, Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Old Vine Reserve 2011, Rolly Gassman Riesling 2009, Greenlane Riesling Old Vines 2011, Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2011, Tawse Cabernet Franc Laundry Vineyard 2010, and Domain Capmartin Pacherenc Du Vic Bilh 2011

The grape: Chenin Blanc

The history: Native to the Loire Valley in France and cultivated world-wide but is most notably and commercially successful in South Africa

The lowdown/showdown: Loire versus Stellenbosch. Two polar opposite and conflicting styles, both representative of place and the versatility of Chenin, especially in dry styles such as these

The food match: Barque Smokehouse Cuban Corn

Marc Bredif Vouvray 2011 (LCBO $19.95, 685362, SAQ $19.55, 10267809) indicates grapevines grown of a mineral-rich terroir, like land left after the draining of a lake. Travels into the Loire Valley’s heart of darkness but also shows some increased honey in ’11, fattening the ever-present lemon drop, candied peel, ginger and stony goodness. Chenin as a man in pink pajamas. There is just no worthy value adversary to this tight, racy and wondrous Vouvray.  91  @ProfileWineGrp   @LoireValleyWine

Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Old Vine Reserve 2011 ($17.95, 231282) has an extended stay on the lees to thank for its impressive level of complexity. Works near-dangerous toasty oak to great advantage. Elevates Chenin to skillfully reckoned, barrel fermented Chardonnay status. Snug and spicy, viscous, charged and rising into a golden stratosphere. A bit furry and furtive in movement. Would be enriched by luxuriant food.  89  @KFwines  @WOSACanada

The grape: Riesling

The history: No longer an idiosyncratic Alsatian or German wine. Whether from Marie-Thérèse, Louis Rolly and Piere Gassmann in Alsace or Dianne Smith in Vineland, Riesling is incredibly versatile

The lowdown/showdown: Aromatic Alsace or Piercing Niagara?

The food match: Summer Corn Chowder

Rolly Gassman Riesling 2009 (328898, $20.95) has entered secondary life which only emphasizes its semi-dry mien. Mineral peach tang and non-taxing, petrol beach buoyancy are met by nectarine pith and ambient nut.  By George, this is quintessential, basal Alsace. “There’s one for you, nineteen for me.” Complex impressions cuz’ he’s the gassman.  90

Greenlane Riesling Old Vines 2011 (351486, $22.95) cracks the mineral whip, froths lime into foam and atomizes stone fruit into sweet and sour heaven. Wants to be semi-dry but never quite goes there. Walks a fine line, a tightrope actually. Up there with Charles Baker and Thirty Bench for sheer madness.  91  @GreenLaneWinery

The grape: Cabernet Franc

The history: Loire Valley reds are the benchmark but tell me this isn’t the most important varietal to grow in Ontario

The lowdown/showdown: Two consumer-friendly versions, both made by farmers working in natural and sustainable ways. One shows off the ambient climate of the Twenty-Mile Bench, the other the long tempered growing season of the Lincoln Lakeshore

The food match: Parlour Yaletown’s The Big Prawn Pizza

Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2011 (64618, $16.95) from David Johnson and Louise Engel is girl-next door pretty, perfumed by violet and mid-summer red berries. American oak lends a whiff of tobacco and spice.  Modern and tarried in capacious extraction yet unencumbered by the oak. Not overly chewy, unctuous or layered but just right.  88  @featherstonewne

Tawse Cabernet Franc Laundry Vineyard 2010 (130997, $31.95) assures us of several things. First, 2010 was a gift for making idiot-proof Cab Franc in Niagara, Second, the Lincoln Lakeshore is one of three obvious and essential CF locales in Niagara. Third and most important, properly adjudicated new oak can elevate CF to the upper reaches of the cool-climate troposphere. While not as masculine or bovine like brother Van Bers, Laundry’s got black cherry, tar, coal, herbs and a peaceful, grilling feeling. Essential CF from winemaker Paul Pender.  92  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Parlour Yaletown Ahi Lettuce Wraps

The grapes: Gros Manseng, Arrufiac and Petit Courbu

The history: From Maumusson in southwestern France, Domaine Capmartin produces 12 wines, which roughly divide into 65% Madiran reds, 20% Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh whites, and 15% Côtes de Gascogne reds and whites

The lowdown: For something bull and full-bodied, unique and completely different,

The food match: Parlour Yaletown’s Ahi Lettuce Wraps

Domain Capmartin Pacherenc Du Vic Bilh 2011 (328617, $15.95) is built upon 80 per cent Gros Manseng plus 10 each of the other two (Arrufiac and Petit Courbu).  Though 80 per cent of the juice ferments in tanks, the remaining 20 that spends time in oak barrels adds histrionic weight and structure. Philosophically elevated in brix and alcohol yet sweet talks dry. Akin to cool climate Chardonnay made in a restrained oak style. Vivacity, rigor and passion here, dissing the notion of simple sipper. There are notes of lime zest and ginger and the wine is both tight and tingling . Also possessive of an earthy morel-ness. Steal it. Give it a whirl.  90

Good to go!

Money back guarantee wines

Here are five wines that will present no reason to be looking for a refund or an exchange. PHOTO: ARCADY/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Ever opened a bottle of wine, had a sip or two and decided you just didn’t like it? Happens all the time, right? The thing is, in most cases you can return that wine, especially if it was purchased at one of the many provincial monopolies in Canada. Here’s a short primer on refund, return and exchange policies across Canada.

Related – more current releases

“The SAQ exchanges or refunds any product purchased in an SAQ outlet less than a year before. You must present the sales receipt when requesting a refund. For exchanges, the sales receipt is optional.” The LCBO used to offer their customers that same level of respect to offset the negative impact a monopoly’s policies can effect upon a helpless consumer (monochromatic and or lack of quality choice, lottery selections for small lot and hard to acquire selections, indifferent deference to local product, hyperbolic inflation on comparable US supermarket wines, archaic laws towards inter-provincial shipping, import agent strong arming, to name a few). As of April of 2012, you now have only 30 days to return a bad bottle and unlike the SAQ, you need the receipt for a direct exchange. For LCBO returns, wines “must be in ‘saleable condition’ and accompanied by the original receipt. Saleable means that the product must be unopened and have the label intact, for example.  Defective product is treated differently.” Manitoba follows suit. Who brought these guys to the party?

The same applies to defective products; wines with perceptible flaws, such as TCA (cork taint) or VA (volatile acidity). The 30-day LCBO rule is a sham, I mean shame. The open-ended return policy made up for so much of the monopoly’s shortcomings. Alas, no more.

British Columbia’s Liquor board is no piece of cake either. You can only “return a product in B.C for a full refund, provided the product is unopened, in saleable condition an official BC Liquor Stores receipt for the product is presented.” At least they’ve thrown a bone to caterers who can now return unopened liquor products. Nova Scotia follows Quebec’s policy. “Defective or broken product may be returned to any NSLC store for full exchange or refund and does not require a receipt. All customers returning defective or broken product must be willing to provide name, address and telephone number to the NSLC store representative.”

In Saskatchewan it appears that only “permittees can return any unopened spirit and wine bottles and sealed, full beer cases that were purchased for the event provided they provide the original sales receipt.” Remind me not to purchase defective wine in that province. As far as New Brunswick is concerned “at the discretion of the Liquor Store Manager, Alcool NB Liquor will accept product returns for full refund. The sales slip should accompany the returned item.”

Newfoundland’s system, at least on paper, is very fair and civilized, though all returns seem to be in the powerful hands of a store manager. “NLC will accept product returns, at the discretion of the Liquor Store Manager. In the case of defective merchandise, NLC will permit product returns or exchange, at the discretion of the Liquor Store Manager for a full refund where the product is no more than half empty and he product was listed by NLC within the last 12 months. Better than the LCBO. Best of all may me Prince Edward Island. “At the discretion of the Liquor Store Manager, the PEILCC will accept product returns for full refund. The sales slip should accompany the returned item. All returns will be on a “bottle-for-bottle” basis.” Civilized.

Alberta’s Gaming and Liquor Board only accepts “refunds for the following types of faulty products; returned due to customer complaint; a sealed bottle(s) which: is partially filled; has a damaged cap or cork; or is contaminated with a foreign material. A claim for a refund for a faulty product must be received by the AGLC Product and Pricing Department within 30 days of receipt of product by the claimant.” Quality retailers in provinces with a private system (like Alberta) will also take back an unwanted bottle, though they might not be so lenient when you try to bring back that bottle of First Growth Bordeaux. Some wines are sold with an unwritten rule. You lay down your money and you takes your chances.

Everybody’s got a hungry heart. “Lay down your money and you play your part.” So, to avoid disappointment and disappointing your local monopoly or retailer, here are five bargain wines, one for each day of the week beginning today, Monday June 10th. Five wines that will present no reason to be looking for a refund or an exchange.

From left: Place In The Sun Shiraz 2012, Fielding Estate Gewürztraminer 2010, Lealtanza Crianza 2009, Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2012, and A & G Papaioannou Estate Agiorgitiko SV Nemea 2007

The Grape: Shiraz

The history: New range of fair trade and sustainable wines from 321 year-old Stellenbosch winery Zonnenbloem

The lowdown: This is not a cheap bottle of fermented sugar. A breath of restrained, balanced and fresh grapes awaits

The food match: Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks and Local Asparagus

Place In The Sun Shiraz 2012 (286088, $13.10) is a balanced effort “at half the price” of many similar South African wines, here crafted by the Cape’s Zonnenbloem Winery from vineyards cooled by False Bay. Campfire smoke, grilled meat, spice and antipasti char attribute this chewy, biltong red. Characterized by a musical, magical, folk spirituality. A Hoodoo Guru88  @APlaceintheSunSA

The Grape: Gewürztraminer

The history: Grape King Curtis Fielding and winemaker Richie Roberts are swiftly crafting a mid-range, diverse portfolio into the Ontario wine industry, unparalleled in execution and success

The lowdown: This Gewürz leans Alsace in a sweet sense but not in heft or a serious, contemplative way

The food match: Grilled Cumin Salmon

Fielding Estate Gewürztraminer 2010 (146753, $15.95) acts likes lees dessert as almond vanilla pudding with a side of lychee preserve. While I heart more the Riesling and Pinot Gris from winemaker Richie Roberts, this sugarplum Gewürztraminer has earned a rightful place at the table.  88  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

The Grape: Tempranillo

The history: Tempranillo specialist from Spain, located in Fuenmayor, in the heart of Rioja

The lowdown: Consistent value Tempranillo from a modern facility crafting wine with a foot in the austerity of the past

The food match: Barque Smokehouse Brisket

Lealtanza Crianza 2009 (114835, $16.95) exhibits more heat and caramelization than previous vintages. Vivid Sangria, pumped up by cherries in simple syrup and fleshy plum fruit. Accented by fennel and basil. Good length and even better value.  89  @bodegasaltanza  @ProfileWineGrp

The Grape: Riesling

The history: Founded in 1999 on the Jordan Bench and operated today by Ed Madronich and his father Ed Madronich Sr. Winemaker is Jay Johnston

The lowdown: This just might be the most trocken Ontario Riesling on the market today

The food match: Grilled Veal Chops and Wild Leeks

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2012 (43281, $16.95) is a single varietal conundrum, intensely dry, dusty yet dripping in grape concentration. Huge soda nose, I mean a crazy proboscis. Love the dry entry and off-dry tangent. Twenty Mile Bench issue reminiscent of Rheinhessen. Admirable length and trebled finish.  90  @Winemakersboots @UnfilteredEd

The Grape: Agiorgitiko

The history: Main cultivar from a modern winery of the Ancient Nemea, located in the district of Corinth

The lowdown: A 100% indigenous Greek varietal, aged for one year in oak barrel and further matured in the bottle for six months

The food match: Halloumi

A & G Papaioannou Estate Agiorgitiko SV Nemea 2007 (47977, $19.95) has reached a ripe oxy age but this weathered and sensuous, sun-kissed by gods Greek red is still a classic beauty. Quintarelli-like toffee, tobacco acetic reduction and spiced plum seem like high praise I know but the acidity renders it a wash. Look out, buckets of cherries, tart currants and tar join the fun in this very interesting and intriguing Nemean single vineyard stunner.  89  @KolonakiGroup

Good to Go!

The Wine Diaries: Napa Valley’s Peter Franus

Vineyard in Napa Valley, California PHOTO: FRIDAY/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Peter Franus is a man at ease, comfortable within his own grape skin. His Ontario chaperon, the still markedly too legit to quit Mark Coster of Profile Wine Group showed the California winemaker around town, stopping to taste through the vintner’s portfolio at Barque Smokehouse. Franus has quietly cemented an iconic legacy by crafting a diverse resumé of corporeal wines in Napa Valley for more than 25 years.

A native of Greenwich, CT, the affable Franus comes across as an über-gentleman. He rarely produces more than a 1000 cases of any of his wines, from Bordeaux varieties, Zinfandel, Rhônes, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and even Spanish Albariño. His wines may not be Frisky Zebra-priced or fashioned for everyman but his laid back demeanor and sentimental passion are quintessentially Californian, like that of a successful 1970′s singer-songwriter. If I had to make a comparison, I’d lean more Jackson Browne than Don Henley.

Of the 10 disparate yet maze connected wines in the Franus portfolio, the most impressive for me is likely the least talked about. I am admittedly a sucker for Rhône in the diaspora so there is no surprise what happy thoughts his SGM put in my brain. I would be remiss to not make mention of the Sauvignon Blanc, blessedly balmy and herbal, subtle and never over-assertive in blanched green vegetable, passion fruit and grassy, gooseberry notes. Three wines crested and stood out as the most compelling. Here are their tasting notes.

From left: Red Wine, Red Hills Lake Country Red 2008, Zinfandel Brandlin Vineyard 2010, and Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2008

Red Wine, Red Hills Lake Country Red 2008 ($39.95) composed of Syrah (85 per cent), Grenache (10) and Mourvèdre (5) comes from Fore Family Vineyards fruit on the top of 3000 foot Cobb Mountain. A fiery paradox of climate met by altitude works a strange magic on the grapes. It’s no mistral but rather some sort of wine weather occult. This SGM is highly influenced by a very tempest of dramatic temperature changes, from solar radiation to cool, tempering Pacific breezes and at great heights. Exhibits the hills’ red earth, in colour, in fragrance and in rich berry flavour. I’m grateful for this SGM blend, cool and hot at the same time, “almost ablaze still you don’t feel the heat.”  93

Zinfandel Brandlin Vineyard 2010 ($46.95) from the slopes of Mt. Veeder gets a little 2+2+2 help from friends Charbono, Mourvèdre and Carignane and rested for 21 months in Burgundian Coopers. Anything but heavy-handed, it shows no signs of balsamic or toffee scars, despite the August heat spike, shriveled berries and low yield. This Brandlin “hits you over the head with pleasure,” says Franus, from a mountain that’s “as close to heaven as your going to get.” This PF Zin is PFG, if I do say so myself.  91

Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2008 ($54.95) holds out back to a time when every mancould savour this kind of wine. A Napa style made “in the warmth of the sun where sweet childhood still dances,” once again with finesse, restraint and an understanding of the place. Made in a style Franus calls “my signature of balance, harmony and elegance.” From a meticulous selection of grapes out of three vineyards, Truchard (muscle), Rancho Chimiles (acidity, florals) and Stewart (ties the room together).  Yes Peter, this is delicious.  90

Roast Chicken, Potatoes and Herbs (Photo: Michael Godel)

Good to go!

Super Bowl wine prediction: Red 49ers over black Ravens

San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick (7) celebrates with Leonard Davis and Daniel Kilgore (67) after the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, in Atlanta.
PHOTO: AP PHOTO/DAVE MARTIN

as seen on canada.com

Three more sleeps before the much anticipated “Harbowl,” a brother versus brother, mano a mano American football war set to play out in New Orleans at Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVII. Forget about the risqué ads, the hype and the hoopla. Break it down to Raven black against 49er red. A wine analogy emerges.

Wine grapes are considered as either white or red. Though many dark-skinned varietals pitch purple, black and blue hues, by definition they are all reds. But we’re talking about football here and the foods that accompany America’s most amplified sports spectacle. Nachos, chicken wings, chili, pizza, hamburgers, and ribs. The purples and the blues don’t cut it. It’s got to be red and black.

My Super Bowl recommendations do not discriminate against any wines of colour but in this case the earth, spice and verve of the reds are a better match to traditional big game fare. They will ultimately triumph over their black opponents. Sorry John and your Baltimore Ravenation, younger brother Jim and his talented San Francisco Red and Gold have got your number. Here are five black and red wines to drink on Super Bowl Sunday.

The Raven

The grapes: Carmenère and Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Organic and Biodynamic Chilean outfit in the Colchagua Valley

The lowdown: Central Valley grapes, aged for 6 months, 50% in french oak

The food match: Nachos, jack and cheddar cheese, jalapeno, guajillo salsa

Emiliana Novas Gran Reserva Carmenère/Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (66746, $14.95, NLC, 12168, $16.98) serves up Bordeaux-like tobacco, tar and smoke with roasted espresso-bean modernity. Carmenère as a taut, tight and tough duppy conquerer but softened by Cabernet Sauvignon’s rub-a-dub style. Hits you like a bombastic, Cossellian linebacker then offers a helping hand to get you back on your feet. “Yes, me friend.”  88  @VinosEmiliana

The Reds

The grapes: Sangiovese, Colorino and Canaiolo

The history: From Castellina in Chianti, between Colle Val d’Elsa and Monteriggioni

The lowdown: Exemplary CC, friendly and inviting in every way

The food match: Smoked BBQ Chicken Wings

Tenuta Di Capraia Chianti Classico 2010 (135277, $19.95) puts its best cocoa and red berry fruit foot forward, stepping tenaciously yet gracefully out of its dusty, tufaceous sands. Hints at game, like roasted goat or local, medieval buzzard and is also a touch funky without going off. It’s the red, clay earth soil talking. Classic example.  90  @ProfileWineGrp

The grapes: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinto Cão

The history: From Portugal’s Sobredos out of the Douro, based in Alijo. Francisco Montenegro of Quinta Nova is the winemaker

The lowdown: Terroir-driven red from the sub-sect Tua Valley, spends 12 months in new and used oak barrels

The food match: Individual Smoked Beef Sheppard’s Pies

Aneto Red 2009 (314930, $19.95) reminds me of the deepest, earthbound southern French reds, like Minervois or La Clape. Stygian and shadowy, the Aneto’s rusticity is borne of xistous terra, baking spice and dried fruit. Puts on her make up for prevailing balance in a show of hydrated, in vogue, darling pretty maturity. She can “heal my aching heart and soul.”  91  @liffordwine

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: From Marimar Torres, named after her father, Don Miguel

The lowdown: Rare alcohol/fruit/acidity balance for California Pinot Noir. European temperament, California style

The food match: Mini Hamburger Appetizers

Marimar Estate La Masía Pinot Noir 2007 (303974, $34.95, B.C. 711333, $37.99) is downright verdant what with its dry cherry and wilting rose nose and spicy, splintering palate. A smoldering whiff penetrates the maroon fruit, bricking with gold. This is 49’er country, led by a balanced attack and a leader capable of peeling off a Kaepernickian 50-yard run. Victorious Pinot.  90  @MarimarTorres

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Beamsville Bench winery and meadery specializes in Pinot, Chardonnay, Riesling and excellent Semillon. Mead wines are out of this world

The lowdown: Rosewood is old-school; the Niagara equivalent to the Italian Azienda Agricola or the German Erzeugerabfüllung.

The food match: Goat Cheese Arancini

Rosewood Estates Natural Fermentation Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 (318345, $39.95) is ageing gracefully with nary a bitter edge. Cranberry, pomegranate, cherry, plum and vanilla all combine to gather and linger in freshness.  My earlier review. “clocks in at 13.2% abv from 20 Mile Bench, Wismer-Ball’s Falls fruit that is whole cluster pressed under gentle, low pressure. So what? It means low phenolic (bitterness) extraction where seeds and skins are shunned and it’s all about “extracting the good stuff.” Fermented from the grape’s own yeasts, this Pinot has perfectly evolved to this point in time. Mushroom, earth and sweet red fruit will see the ’09 through another five years of joy.”  91  @Rosewoodwine

Good to go!

A wine’s a wine for Robbie Burns

A glass of Scotch whisky is pictured on a portrait of Robbie Burns.
PHOTO: PAT MCGRATH/POSTMEDIA NEWS

as seen on canada.com

“Go fetch to me a pint o wine,
And fill it in a silver tassie.”

He was lionized as the Ploughman’s Poet, the Bard of Ayrshire, writer, lyricist and favourite son of Scotland. Robert “Rabbie” Burns, Robden of Solway Firth, is the most famous Scot ever, no matter how many times Braveheart replays on TV. William Wallace got nothin’ on Robbie, who penned “Scots Wha Hae” and “Auld Lang Syne.” And yes, the bard liked his wine.

Robbie Burns day falls on Friday, January 25th, commemorating the writer’s birth date in 1759. Revelers will listen to pipers, sip wee drams of Scotch and scarf down balloons of Haggis. The Irish will join the party, if only for a day, donning the plaid and pouring a stout or two. This is the Scottish beer I plan to crack open on Friday.

Innis & Gunn Rum Finish (224881, $3.35) offers the thought of dried apricots, soaked and swelling, drizzled with agave and then stewed with black licorice and carob. Bold Scot this Innis, “well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane.” Holy malted milk Batman! Just slightly chilled, this Edinburgh elixir hints at sweet and stout. Happiness is a warm Gunn.  90

If it must be Scotch for you on Friday, look to Margaret Swaine for advice. The Robert Burns World Federation noted that Rabbie “would be astonished at his fame today,” and I would add that he might be rolling about in his proverbial grave at the thought of pairing fine wine with his countrymen’s modern-day celebrations. Let’s be honest here. Scotch and beer don’t speak to every Scot on the planet and certainly not to the rest of us who want to partake in the festivities. So, out on another limb I go. Failing the sudden import of Campbells Bobbie Burns Shiraz, here are four wines to raise a glass to the poet on January 25th.

Raise a glass to Robbie Burns

The grapes: Gaglioppo, Greco Nero, Nerello Cappuccio, Magliocco and Sangiovese

The history: Mostly indigenous varietal blend from Calabria at the toe of the Italian peninsula

The lowdown: Exotic and unusual, a red wine unlike anything you will have ever tried

The food match: Traditional Haggis

Odoardi Savuto 2006 (303057, $13.95) is something I have never nosed before. Truffles, mushroom, soy sauce, balsamic, caramelized onion and an Arran-esque sherry cask note to boot. Juicy toffee candy apple, coffee, earth, tobacco and fruit leather. So unusual and absolutely worth the $14 flyer.  87

The grape: Moscato Bianco

The history: A versatile varietal that produces a number of wine styles and sweetness levels. In Piedmont it is light, sparkling and sweet

The lowdown: Weighs in at a mere 5.5% abv, like beer, perfect for a Burnsian night

The food match: Champit Tatties

Ricossa Antica Casa Moscato D’Asti 2011 (72272, $15.95) effervesces ever so slightly and whiffs white flowers. Sweet and honeyed, nearing a golden amber reminiscent of a Highland Whisky. Marmalade, waxy lemon and candied ginger are present and the wine is never cloying. Studious prototype.  89  @SelectWines_BC

The grape: Merlot

The history: Kitschy label originated in St. Helena, California. Often donated to charity auctions

The lowdown: A wine you might want to hate but it’s astonishingly beautiful and complex

The food match: Lamb, Barley, Wilted Greens and Roast Roots

Marilyn 25 Anniversary Merlot 2009 (306738, $39.95, B.C. 491357, $41.99)  may be to some a “wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie” but it’s really more man than a mouse. Firm and taut yet rounded and full-bodied, this is voluptuous and irresistible stuff. Hang out with Marilyn and you might get to meet the kind of people Maf met. Some do like it hot and with a noticeable smokey peat, alcohol note, hot is what you get. A bombshell.  90  @MarilynWines

The grape: Riesling

The history: From John Howard on the Niagara Peninsula

The lowdown: Deeper than many of its peers, probably because “we kept them outdoors for a few days longer”

The food match: Cranachan

Megalomaniac Coldhearted Riesling Icewine 2008 (243519, 200 mL, $29.95) is a wonderful rendition of winter harvest Ontario Riesling. Candied peach, succulent orange marmalade and vanilla conjoin with Speyside-like lavender and a red, red rose. Grape as barley, wine as deep elixir. A fascinating conundrum. Icewine possessed of a Riesling riddle, wrapped in a brave mystery, inside a coldhearted enigma, “that’s sweetly played in tune.”  92  @megalomaniacwns @ProfileWineGrp

Good to go!