Riding red blends from Canadian frontiers

Ancient PEC red care of Geoff Heinricks

Ancient PEC red care of Geoff Heinricks

as seen on WineAlignRed Blends, White Blends and Sauvignon Blanc – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

Some producers may be riding red blends all the way to the bank while others, including many winemakers simply love making them. Hearing about or looking at the broad term “red blends” causes many of us to think about wines that are big in every respect. Broad shouldered, big-bodied, long-legged, tannic and age-worthy.  As for how these wines are made we imagine a barrel room of oak casks filled with deep, rich and dark liquids made by winemakers and their science flasks layered by endless combinations of samples in varying percentages. This is in fact how most red blends are made. Barrel and tank samples of different grape varieties are pulled and with a conditional maximum amount of each kept in mind, the constituent samples are mixed and matched until the blend just feels to come out right. Add in a bit of chemistry for scientific balance and Red’s your uncle.

Red blends is employed as that highly scientific wine-speak term used to define one of the largest, broadest and most undefined categories in wine. There are blends established in the Old World emulated and mimicked from Argentina to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and everywhere vinifera is grown. Bordeaux’s Left and Right Bank are most commonly copied but so too is the Southern Rhône. The triumvirate of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot lead the way while grenache, syrah and mourvèdre are the source of much imitation. Blending does not stop at such multi-varietal exactitude because the Australians (namely) decided that syrah/shiraz goes with everything and why not. The concept of admixture or fusion is becoming increasingly relevant and the norm for red blends made in Canada, especially in British Columbia and to a lesser extent in Ontario too.

Chef Albert Ponzo’s Gnocchi with Morels

Basically anything made with two or more grape varieties qualifies and in some cases a kitchen sink is amalgamated from literally dozens of locally planted options. To be honest the methodology categorically removes said wines from every other varietal class or division, in competition or otherwise. So the question begs. How do judges at the National Wine Awards of Canada assess, rate and ultimately dole out medals when the comparisons are all apples to oranges? How do we as a team decide which blends are most deserving in a sea of peers comprised of wholly different, antithetical and multifarious combinations?

The answer is complex but in the end not exactly rocket science. Truth be told the necessity of knowing the percentages in the blend is the mother of invention. This is because each wine is a sum of its combinative parts while success is predicated on the communal effort and seamlessness of the gathering. But more than anything and it’s certainly cliché to say, wines as blends must achieve balance and those that do will reap the most reward. News flash to corroborate that theory. Most varietal wines are blends too, made up of vineyard slash vessel percentages picked, mixed and matched by the winemaker. What really is the great difference?

Is there any wonder why Canadian winemakers love the category of Red Blends? At this year’s Nationals there are 105 medals awarded to a group of wines that in their collective make-up include just about every red (plus a white or two) grape varieties grown in Canada. Read that number again: 105! Three out of four Platinum winners are from British Columbia and 12 of 14 Silvers as well. As for Bronze, 60 are from B.C., 24 from Ontario and three are from Nova Scotia.

While it would be a joyous exercise to break down all the medal winning wines it would also be one that just might put you to sleep. So for the purposes of analytical brevity and for the fact that we have an unprecedented four Platinum winners in 2019, let’s stick to these exceptional wines. The Hatch Dynasty Red 2016 is syrah and malbec from the Hans Estate Vineyard in Osoyoos raised in all new French oak for 18 months. Yes, ALL new French oak. Noble Ridge Reserve Meritage 2016 from Okanagan Falls is essentially classic Left Bank Bordeaux led by merlot with cabernet sauvignon with minor amounts of cabernet franc plus malbec. Hester Creek Syrah Viognier 2017 from the Okanagan Valley is a stunner and steal for the price though truth be told could have very easily been awarded a similar accolade in the straight varietal category. Niagara’s Tawse Meritage 2015 is a three-pronged Bordeaux varietal mix of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc “with so much going on you might not understand what it’s trying to say.” It’s like Glossolalia but will surely live on through epochs of Canadian Meritage notability and infamy.

OK I lied. Some mentions and some love for the Golds as well. Out of Niagara the judges jumped for the merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon in Marynissen Heritage Collection Red 2015 and the kitchen sink blend only Stratus Red 2016 can gift; cabernet franc, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, malbec, tannat and petit verdot. The hits keep on coming from B.C., especially strong in this category demarcated by grip, grit and strength. The following 12 began their journeys with a plethora of varietal combinations, spoke with great ability to reach the judges palates and all ended up Gold.

Note the seemingly infinite combinations is this diverse group. Maverick 2016 Rubeus, syrah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc; Bench 1775 2016 Cabernet Franc MalbecCorcelettes 2016 Meritage Estate Vineyard, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot; Corcelettes 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah Menhir Estate Vineyard; Black Hills 2017 Addendum, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon; TIME Winery 2016 Meritage, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon; Mission Hill 2016 Quatrain, merlot, syrah, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon; Sandhill 2016 Single Vineyard One Small Lots Program Vanessa Vineyard, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon merlot and syrah; Moon Curser 2017 Dead of Night, syrah and tannat; Sun Rock Vineyards 2016 Red Meritage, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc; Red Rooster 2016 Golden Egg, mourvèdre, syrah and grenache; Nk’Mip Cellars 2016 Winemakers Talon, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot, cabernet franc and pinot noir.

If you don’t see a clear and obvious pattern in these Red Blends be neither confused nor discouraged because this is how things function and in turn offer up so much possibility in fresher frontiers. In today’s garden of climate change affected vineyards it is Canadian winemakers who are the beneficiaries of a wild west, anything goes environment where mates can be made across varietal lines both renewed and re-invented. Embrace the diversity and let it ride.

We finish we a special red blend tasted with Maggie Granger in Prince Edward County.

Grange Of Prince Edward Bunny Wine 2016, VQA Prince Edward County ($65.00, 1500ml, WineAlign)

Bunny Wine is nothing if not playful, a field blend that tugs on conceptual heartstrings and has been doing so for 18 months. It has come into kairos, whether unexpectedly, by chance or by the intuition of the moment, it matters little. Bunny is an extension of three plus years of furry flirtations, in cuvées that have come before, of gamay and pinot noir, of passe-tout-grains. I’ve tasted barrel samples and now here we are at the real thing, “the milk of the gamay bunny, drinkers of spillage by tipsy monks. Even if you know little or care less about bunnies and monks it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen, based on memories and perception, just as a look back at that taste and this note will be. Seamless weaving here, between Bourgogne cousins, north and south, grippy and supple. Hard to tell one from the other and isn’t that the point? From the Victoria Block, four rows of pinot next to four of gamay, picked, fermented and crushed together. All thanks to fruit of exemplary patience. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted June 2019

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WineAlign

It’s all been red before

Flat Iron steak, blood orange, scallion and chile

Flat Iron steak, blood orange, scallion and chile

At a major Burgundy tasting yesterday I tasted 18 whites and just three reds. Gasp! With the weather and the heaviness of winter still stuck to the bones it just can’t be helped. White wine is working right now.

Related – Whites of passage

So today reds it is and reds it will be, as it has been before. Tomorrow I’ll likely return to white once again. That’s all I have to say about that. Just reviews today folks. Mostly from the VINTAGES April 18th release coming this Saturday.

From left to right: M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2013, Le Cirque Carignan/Mourvèdre/Syrah 2013, Falernia Reserva Syrah 2010, Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Alpha Crucis Titan Shiraz 2012 and Quail's Gate Pinot Noir 2013

From left to right: M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2013, Le Cirque Carignan/Mourvèdre/Syrah 2013, Falernia Reserva Syrah 2010, Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Alpha Crucis Titan Shiraz 2012 and Quail’s Gate Pinot Noir 2013

M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2013, Ac Languedoc-Roussillon, France (168716, $15.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Perennial stalwart, especially considering the big box price. There is just so much going on in this veritable melting pot of character and boundless potential, right from the word sniff. Certainly modern and ripe but also layered with brush, scrub, duff, roots and rocks. A touch of briny salinity merges to liquorice and then there are the tannins woven with acidity. The length is a given. Lots of earth, plenty of smoulder and priced to case joint after LCBO joint. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @M_Chapoutier  @Dandurandwines  @LaRegionLR

Le Cirque Carignan/Mourvèdre/Syrah 2013, Vin De Pays Des Côtes Catalanes, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (277079, $16.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

A depth into earth crusts the dark fruit from wise old vines. Fresh and spring run sappy, from heat to be sure but in classic waves and stretches emanating from a floral, aromatic beginning. The bumble berry traffic jam in the middle is not enough to render it done at that point, despite its inability to avoid working up a sweat towards a woven textured finish. The citrus accent adds enough grain to see it through four more good years. Easy to love, hard to miss and smart to give it a try. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2015  @GBvins  @LaRegionLR

Falernia Reserva Syrah 2010, Elquí Valley, Chile (208371, $16.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Meaty, smoked, cured, reduced, reactionary, reductive, brambly, sappy, syrupy and still warm after the kill. All of these elucidations and more. Coconut and flowers meld in creamy waves within the muscular girth, sinewy grit and confident gumption of this high altitude, cool-climate Syrah. A huge varietal expression, like Barossa in a sausage factory, masculine, testosterone-driven, with layers upon layers of fruit, earth, game, pork belly, pepper and tannin. Not to mention raging acidity. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @FalerniaWine  @ProfileWineGrp @DrinkChile

Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Lodi, California (942599, $20.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Nearly a quarter of Petite Sirah blends into this (mostly) Lodi wizened vines fruit sourced out of San Joaquin County. Old vines are Zinfandel’s caché thing. The gnarly, petrified plants reach deeper underground and when the interstices of terroir and climate are in accord, the texture imparted by tannin is key. The ’12 Old Vines is a product of a maker (Joel Peterson), plot (Lodi) and conditions (cool and exceptional for the variety). Here a bottle to help define and divine Lodi. Elegance in as much as is possible, juicy in fruit in as much as can be found through texture and balance in so far as can be sheltered. Fresh is ascertained further along (as opposed to dry) on the spectrum, chewy of flesh, but not bone, silky and seductive. High quality Zinfandel in every respect. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted March 2015  @RavenswoodWine  @CBrandsCareers  @TheZinfandelOrg

Alpha Crucis Titan Shiraz 2012, Mclaren Vale, South Australia (377069, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Nothing about the source, treatment or specs on this Shiraz scream elegance or restraint but it’s “cool and slow with plenty of precision, with a back beat narrow and hard to master.” Four premium vineyards of mature vines between 20-40 years of age have laid a deeply drawn foundation. McLaren Vale sunshine has given it warmth (14.5 per cent alcohol). Individual lots spending 15 months in small French Oak barrels before being blended together has imparted creamy texture. Added up this might have forced the Titan through the doors to heavy burden. Not so. Dusty, rich, dried fruits and herbage merge seamlessly together. Smoke lodge and graphite, berries, back bite and beat fall into great structure. Big time McLaren Vale that does not sting like a wasp, nor is it a bully. Say what you will but “call it heavenly in it’s brilliance…soft drivin’, slow and mad, like some new language.” Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2015    @southaustralia

Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (585760, $26.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

In 2013 there is warmth all around; in vintage, fruit, alcohol, tannin and overall character. Much in the way of cherries, black liquorice, pepper and spice. Tilled earth but in no way bespattered or hazy. Fleshy and ripe, of a depth with bitter fathered tones that bite yet fall back in line with misty fun fruit times in Babylon. The upholstering is rewarding though it finishes with some brute stuffing. A warm reclining Pinot Noir for sure. The kind that makes me want to “smoke everything in sight with every girl I’ve ever loved.” Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @Quails_Gate  @hobbsandco  @AMH_hobbsandco  @winebcdotcom

From left to right: Domaine Des Roches Neuves 2013, Red Rooster Reserve Merlot 2012, Illahe Pinot Noir 2013, Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011, Louis Jadot Beaune Boucherottes 1er Cru 2009 and Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

From left to right: Domaine Des Roches Neuves 2013, Red Rooster Reserve Merlot 2012, Illahe Pinot Noir 2013, Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011, Louis Jadot Beaune Boucherottes 1er Cru 2009 and Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Domaine Des Roches Neuves 2013, Loire, France (Agent, $27.95, WineAlign)

There is Cabernet Franc, there is Samur and then there is Thierry Germain. Though a more intense single-vineyard bottle might render this one pedestrian, does it matter when the discussion involves biodynamic, 108 year-old, un-grafted, pre-phylloxera vines? The wow aromas and dense, dripping, liquid chalky, if intimidating texture is managed by wild sage, ancillary and marbled currants and acidity through the gambrel. The 2013 yield must have come in wild-eyed because while seemingly circular, in finished form it is a linear composition in diagrams intertwined. Not out of focus and will admittedly confuse a consumer or ten but if you can keep up with the changing gears the experience will be rewarding. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted October 2014 and March 2015  @rochesneuves  @GroupeSoleilTO  @LoireValleyWine

Domaines Des Roches Neuves 2013

Domaine Des Roches Neuves 2013

Red Rooster Reserve Merlot 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (408963, $29.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Remarkably ripe and to the point of extract distraction in Merlot. A vintage-driven, heat days harnessed expression, all about fruit, with kisses from extended maceration and oak. Chewy, dense, rib-sticking red that cries for same in gastronomy. An air dominating smoulder and plenty of basting are sticky upon the mid-palate, a comfort to hold onto in median possession. This density lingers and delays before submitting to the salty lick of bitter denouement. One shouldn’t miss this near-decadent beauty even if the style agitates or aggravates fears of thick brushstroke style. This has five extended years ahead, at the least. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2015  @PellerVQA  @winebcdotcom

Illahe Pinot Noir 2013, Willamette Valley, Oregon (403154, $31.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Chinook speak for “land, earth or soil,” that agglomeration is both calling card and impression left after a taste. When Pinot Noir from Oregon has that pointedly Willamette combination of super terram flora and subterranean salinity it speaks with clarity, however light and un-muscular it may be. One senses a drawn sapid tang from ancient burrowed riverbeds that crawl feel below the surface. Strawberry is the key fruit note but Burgundy is the desire. This reminds of yesterday’s Ponzi and Lemelson, but also today’s Johnson Vineyard, albeit on a frame less taut. The complexity may not equate but the subtlety exceeds those comparisons. It hits just the right piercing notes because it’s shrill is just so pretty. The grain running through is arid, zestful and saline. This has terrific citrus interwoven through texture and the 12.5 per cent alcohol is something to embrace. Were Lewis, Clark and Curtis in search of fine Pinot at the end of an expedition day, this would have been the one. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015  @illahevineyards  @wvwine

Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011

Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011

Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand (402651, $49.00, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Wow does this exuberant Kevin Judd Pinot Noir ever excite. The intensity of juicy calibrations and echoes, like breathtaking mountain peaks mirrored in the reflections of ancient lakes. Glassy and refractive, replaying upon itself, like a whirlpool of ocean tide. Silky like bean thread, transparent and glossy. A tug posits between cherry and anti-cherry. Layers of dried flowers and savoury accents. Accessible and worthy of a place in the deep cellar. Long and entirely special. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @Greywacke   @greywacker  @oenophilia1  @nzwine

Louis Jadot Beaune Boucherottes 1er Cru 2009, Ac Burgundy, France (121319, $52.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Interesting to see this 2009 released after the ’10, a vintage that had many swooning. This ’09 is charming and unbelievably accessible. It may strike some as bygone-evolved, ancient history even, but ripe fruit matched by silky tannins will dupe even the most experienced palate. Here the Beaune’s beauty is upfront, outgoing, warm, inviting and flirtatious. What a gorgeous layering of fresh berries and creamy, sweet redolence. Very feminine, fleshy and gregarious. The back end shows a little bit of tension, further proof that this Boucherottes has spine and time left in the till. Distinguished and wondrous as Jadot gets, ready to please and stuffed to last. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted March 2015  @ljadot  @HalpernWine  @BourgogneWines

Concha Y Toro

Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maipo Valley, Chile (403980, $70.00, WineAlign)

VINTAGES Online Exclusive

The 2010 Don Melchor harkens backwards, to years like 2001 and 2003, rephrasing and rewriting the paradigmatic book. From seven contiguous, sub-divided blocks of Cabernet, the ’10 speaks most highly of Lot Two, emphasized by chocolate, menthol and mineral, in cohorts with Lot Four, in elegance and depth. Extended glom and time-lapse picking between April 22 and May 27 was the casualty turned blessing of a cooler growing season in the semi-arid Mediterranean-like scrub desert of Puente Alto. The alluvial motion hauteur of slow-ripened fruit can’t be overestimated. The frame by frame capture has resulted in aromatics wafting off the charts; violet, anise, roasting cocoa bean, garrigue, ferric filings, mortar on wet stone, Cassis and eucalyptus. There is no heat, rendering the 14.6 declared alcoholic irrelevant. Best of all, it smells like Chile as much as it does Cabernet. There is no need to discuss the (97 per cent) CS in terms of Bordeaux, that is until you taste. Then the tobacco angst and silky texture elicit Margaux. Black currants and fine chocolate melt on the finish, still with a mouthful of stones. For winemaker Enrique Tirado, this may be his “El opus.” It will age effortlessly for 12-15 years. For anyone who purchased this wine more than 10 vintages ago, comparing current cost can be a byproduct in natural preoccupation. Who would not want a return to the sub-$50 Don Melchor going back a decade or more? Yet while tasting the present decimus, $100 crosses the fiscal mind and seems completely apropos. At $70 the clarity and sonority of its value is the blazon of an epistle. Few Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wines from Bordeaux or Napa Valley can compare. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted April 2015  @conchaytoro  @MikeAikins1  @DrinkChile

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