Franciacorta: Best kept sparkling secret on the planet

On the final, fourth day the most exceptional #bellavista becomes clear @LAlbereta #lagodiiseo #dolomites

Bella Vista Chardonnay, Lago Iseo and the Dolomite Mountains

As seen on WineAlign – Franciacorta and the Meraviglioso of Bellavista

Where can you find snow-capped Rhaetian Alps, double morainic amphitheatres, glacial lakes, ancient vineyards and one of the best kept Sparkling wine secrets on the planet? At the end of a day not in Franciacorta I could do well with a glass. Bubbles from north eastern Italy, where traditional method Sparkling wine of Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco come together masterfully to create Franciacorta. Satèn, Brut and Rosé, for Millesimato, Riserva and now the new elaboration, finalmente, some kind of wonderful, Meraviglioso.

Meraviglioso
perfino il tuo dolore
potrà guarire poi
meraviglioso

Large formats and the furnace @contadicastaldi @franciacorta #gamberorosso #moretti

Large formats and the furnace @contadicastaldi @franciacorta #gamberorosso #moretti

The month of November bids up translation to such an Italian vernacular as it is a wonderful time to visit Lombardy and the cellars of Franciacorta. A time before the snows of winter fall, long after the stems have turned to brown, the grapes picked, crushed and fermented, at a time when the vintage’s base wines rest comfortably in the caves of the region’s 110 wineries. You can take an early morning walk through a Chardonnay block and note the gentle south-east exposure slope engulfed by fog thick as porridge in the greater provincial Brescia world demurred a whiter shade of pale. On sunny days summon up a cool, crisp stroll through courageous Pinot Noir up on a hill above the village of Erbusco, with the Oglio River to the west, Lago Iseo and the snow-capped Dolomite Mountains rising in the deep distance. The vines stand stark, stripped and undraped, like petrified wood monuments, now only possessive of memories.

Standing with giants @BellaVistaVino Winemaker Mattia Vezzola and Vittorio Moretti.

Standing with giants @BellaVistaVino Winemaker Mattia Vezzola and Vittorio Moretti.

It is here where Lombardic legacies are cemented in this northerly Italian region, after 450 years of recorded Sparkling wine history. Newly appointed President of the Consorzio Franciacorta and Bellavista Winery proprietor Vittorio Moretti has recently bottled something no self-respecting vigneron on this fizz fermenting planet has ever had the enterprise or perspicaciousness with which to follow through. Not in Franciacorta and certainly not in Champagne. Moretti and his enologist/chef du cave partner of 30 years Mattia Vezzola gathered the wines of six great vintages (1984, 1988, 1991, 1995, 2001 and 2002) spread across three decades together in one singular, bold, ultra-elegant and exacting impossible cuvée. Meraviglioso.

Pouring Meraviglioso

Pouring Meraviglioso

Bellavista Studio Meraviglioso Vendemmia 2004, 6000 mL, Docg Franciacorta (WineAlign)

Poured from a Methuselah and can only be produced every 30 years. This is the first vintage. Studio equals a test product. This is something wholly other. The holy coming together of acidity (energy) and texture (elegance) From the best harvests of the last 30 years. Sparkling as the interaction between studying and working. One or the other alone will not achieve the culture of this wine. Middle rope lined by fine sea salt flecked by dried thyme. So refined. Gentlest mousse and forming the most amazing rim. As the winemaker notes, “it’s very exciting that technology must reside in the traditional. Idea must reside in craftsmanship. Manual work enables the soul.” Drink 2015-2045. Tasted November 2015

Meraviglioso

Meraviglioso

Bellavista Meraviglioso, 1500ml, Docg Franciacorta (WineAlign)

The best way to make a sensory profile last is to model it after someone. Choosing great vintages, as here with ’84, ’88, ’91 ’94, ’01 and ’04 is to offer a shared sensory profile and characteristics, along with the value of patience, something that lasts over time. This blend of vintages, which includes 1984 speaks to a winemaker’s emotion. “Nothing makes more sense than passion.” Will this leave a different mark on Spumante wines? “We wish that every of the 30,000,000 bubbles is a moment of happiness for each of you. Long term Franciacorta will have to take direction from this wine.” Words of proprietor Vittorio Moretti. The Studio (test) 2004 here transmogrifies into another turn of phrase, twirl of body, as told from marble. Watch the bubbles rise from the centre and widen to the edges, slowly, purposefully, without distraction. You can hear a pin drop with this wine sitting in glass. A wine to connect a string of great vintages, spanning decades, interlacing hands, sweat and passion, from contributors who are all represented in this bottle. They are all remembered, their lives, their wishes, their shared culture. Finesse, energy, mousse, elegance and length. For whom the Sparkling wine tolls. Drink 2015-2050.  Tasted November 2015

The playful and calculated wine pays respectful homage to a wine region immortalized, like warriors in stone, by classic authors; Pliny, Columella and Virgil. In the 16th century Lombardian physician Gerolamo Conforti encouraged a healthy lifestyle and widespread consumption, defining Franciacorta bubbles as “mordaci” or, lively and bubbly.

Temperatures at ripening are much higher as compared to Champagne. The mountains are a major part, as a barrier to the southern winds to preserve acidity. Franciacorta producers have the historic sparkling traditions of Champagne to compete against a crowded global market. That said, they have little interest in comparing their ancient method Sparkling wine to those from other regions, nor does it matter whether their roots were laid down prior to or subsequent from more famous peers. What matters is progression, innovation and resolution. Meraviglioso adheres and abides to Franciacorta’s deferential past. It also revises the scripture and reinvents the future.

Vigna Leone, Bellavista

Vigna Leone, Bellavista

The historic concept directs the winemaker to make wine that is fresh with acidity on the palate, but not felt in the stomach. Wines that are easy to digest. Wines to drink for all of eternity. Between 6.7 and 7.5 TA is the number on the base wines. This differs from Champagne in alcohol because the Champenoise reach a maximum level which is the minimum for Franciacorta and acidity is exactly the obvious. Everyone these days talks about terroir, which is important, but they seemed to have forgotten about genes.

Mattia Vezzola and Francesca Moretti

Mattia Vezzola and Francesca Moretti

The area’s modern era dates back to 1961, with 11 producers, 29 hectares of vineyards and a production of 2000 hectolitres of Pinot di Franciacorta. DOC status was granted in 1967, with nine pioneering agriculturalists in the mix. In 1990 the creation of the consortium for the protection of Franciacorta wines was accomplished with 29 producers as members. Now, after nearly 50 years of officially recognized production Franciacorta is poised to become the next big thing. Fizz is in demand worldwide and compared to other high quality traditional method sparkling wines, Franciacorta is well positioned. Pinot Noir has a role to play and perhaps everything to do with that. Chardonnay and its essential Blanc de Blancs sparkling oeuvre has managed bubble expectation and dominated output since time immemorial but the sweeping cloud of global warming is changing everything.

Erbusco, Brescia, Lombardy

Erbusco, Brescia, Lombardy

A portal into the Franciacorta compass dial only 15 years ago sees Chardonnay picked on average around August 15th. Cyclical weather patterns notwithstanding, temperature increases of nearly five degrees Celsius mean that in order to maintain freshness and protect necessary acidity these days the grapes are picked two weeks earlier. Short of washing this planet clean as the bible says or continuing to hot wire reality, something has to give.

Even while Chardonnay’s phenolic journey is finding its way to completion, some things can’t help but get lost in accelerated heat unit translation. Any winemaker worth their weight in viniculture excellence knows that the real future lies in the embrace of complex behaviour inherent within the later ripening condition of thin-skinned Pinot Noir. Chardonnay will not be abandoned any time soon but ripping up some of the dominant vineyard holdings and switching to Pinot Noir is in the cards.

Bellavista

Bellavista

On my late November trip the epiphanies came fast and furious when Franciacorta opened its arms to receive journalists from around the globe. My WineAlign colleague Treve Ring and I were introduced to Bellavista Vino and Contadi Castaldi pours at L’Albereta Relais & Chateaux and it was for me an initiation into a personal paradigm shift, in a dream that had just recently begun. Tasting the range on premises at Contadi Castaldi from Blanc de Blancs through Blanc de Noirs and into Pinot Nero aided in clarifying the varietal shift. The entire visit was qualified by Gambero Rosso’s principals Luigi Salermo, Marco Sabellico, Lorenzo Ruggeri and Tiina Eriksson, with their ushering of seminal tastings, including a Bellavista horizontal of 1987’s in 750 mL, Magnum, Jeroboam (3L) and Methuselah (6L), along with a Salmanzar 9L bottle from 1989. This line-up made for a rarest of opportunities, tasting chance of a lifetime.

Bellavista horizontal

Bellavista horizontal

Treve and I tasted a number of Franciacorta examples during our visit and we have also been able to sample imports in British Columbia and Ontario.

The Bellavista Horizontal

The purpose of this extraordinary tasting is to assess how this wine changes its sensory impression depending on the size of the vessel it was bottled in. Though it once contained 30,000,000 bubbles, now 28 years later, perhaps the number is just 13. Well, from now on I’m clearly only buying my sparkling wine in minimum 3L formats.

The wines were tasted in 1991 and 1998. This is the third and last chance to taste these large formats. From 1987, in 750 mL, Magnum, Double Magnum and Methuselah. The 9L bottle is a 1989 (because there are no more ’87’s in that format).

Five little ducks all in a row @BellaVistaVino #anothersongaboutthefizz #franciacorta #largeformats #1987 #1989

Five little ducks all in a row @BellaVistaVino #anothersongaboutthefizz #franciacorta #largeformats #1987 #1989

1987 (750 mL)

Composed of 80 per cent Chardonnay and 20 Pinot Nero, the harvest it refers to is 1987 though it is not a vintage wine. Runs straight to a marzipan and honey with lanolin dressing, marked  by orange rind and spice that needles into the olfactory nerve. Has aged well and would call it oxidative (at least this bottle). The hue has obviously changed. Was disgorged yesterday (November 27th) so there was no need for added liquor. Truth be told it has not developed into a tertiary, overly mature, oxidative step, but it has sublimated in micro-oxygenation.

1987 (Magnum – 1.5 L)

Sensory activation. Zero oxidation, prominent acidity and underlying nutty comprehension. No honeyed and waxy filming, a seeker yet to find any true tertiary life. In elegance now and with imaginations of 10 more years this way. Any yet only the Magnum.  Come back to it after ten minutes and the citrus is palpable. Finding a layer of preserved lemon 15 minutes later. Its next stage becomes more apparent with time, by size and in relation to what comes after.

1987 (Double Magnum – 3 L)

Completely different once again, now reductive, stinky, full of a preserved rage and with just two minutes in glass begins to soften and ready itself. A heap of aggression plus 28 years of time have blessed it with all the tools it needs. So alive, without the nutty accent but certainly in possession of the inside shaving of the barrel. Barrel peels, not fruit. More mineral here. Much more. Also tropical,  like ginger and cardamom. The most interesting of the three by kilometres.  The real access is toast and flint. This is the real deal. Rich and mature, not piercing and now accessible. Incredible length. Close to the edge in a mythical land, of impressions neither flora nor fauna, but of atmosphere.

1987 (Methuselah – 6 L)

The first wine to show similarly to another, this rocks out flinty and reductive like the 3L. The energy is consistent, but here the spice is magnified and the nutty sense that showed in the Magnum has come forth. This seems to combine the pique aspects of both the 1.5 and the 3. A best of all worlds bottle plus what it brings that neither had. Absolute freshness. Does not evolve in the glass in its first few minutes as the others that came before. It evens glistens unlike the others, as if it knows how complex, special, live and alive it is. This is the bomb for sure. Dart straight through the heart. Crazy exceptional Sparkling wine.

The big pour

The big pour

1989 (Salmanzar – 9L)

Absolutely, unequivocally, indisputably no evolution. If this dos not drive the point that if you want to age Sparkling wine you must bottle it in the largest format possible, then nothing will. At least do away with 750 mL bottles. Large format is not about pageantry. It is about age. The taste is very different than all the 1987’s. So much more acidity and vitality and it is wondered aloud that more Pinot Noir must be in the mix. The citrus is at the forefront and all over the hairs of this wine. Twenty six years in a 9L bottle is like five, certainly not 10.

It should be interesting to try and assess, which is a major act of liberty in assumption, to assume with accuracy how format affects age. To close one’s eyes tight and place a number on each wine, to where it has evolved and why. 750 mL left its post five years ago. Magnum is in the window as we speak and will not be perceived with evolutionary certainty to its tertiary development for two of three more. Double Magnum is still three to five years away from even that beginning. Methusaleh sits in a window of seven to 10 years and the 9L 1989 certainly 10-15. Perhaps as far away as 20. Truly.

The wines of Franciacorta

Bellavista Alma Cuvée Brut, Docg Franciacorta, Italy (SAQ 340505 $40.00, WineAlign)

Apropos alms giving Cuveé, in regards to balance, offering a broad swath and sweep of creamy, soft spoken bubbles. Produced from one half of the estate’s harvest selections, out of 107 plots ranged over 10 different Franciacorta municipalities. A child of both horizontal and (reserve wines) vertical blending. Composed of (80 per cent) Chardonnay, (19) Pinot Nero and (1) Pinot Bianco. Known to its makers by an “affectionate” term for the land that produces wonders, this may be the most calming of the Bellavista portfolio. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted November 2015

Bellavista Brut 2010

Bellavista Brut 2010

Bellavista Brut 2010, Docg Franciacorta, Italy (Agent, $65.00, WineAlign)

This Sparkling blend of Chardonnay dominant with support from Pinot Nero is the welcome mat, regional conduit and arms open wide portal into the impressing preoccupation of Franciacorta. From vines of healthy altitude on south/south-easterly exposures and an average age of over 25 years. A sussurrare measure of and not much more than 30 per cent of the juice ferments and matures in small white oak casks for no less than seven months. When we talk of the natural balance in nature, we may as well be referring to an arid, saline, citrus and ontological yeast-filled Franciacorta such as this Brut. Compressed from a vintage with legs, creamy texture and dreamy ideas. Sparkling wine of soft bubbles, lace curtains and plentiful energy. The dictionary opens with this, a wine personified as a “villa delle delizie.” Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted November 2015

Bellavista Franciacorta, L'Albereta

Bellavista Franciacorta, L’Albereta

Bellavista Gran Cuvée Rosé 2010Docg Franciacorta, Italy (SAQ 10540051 $66.25, WineAlign)

Red chicory hue in a blend where Chardonnay (62 per cent) dominates Pinot Nero. Rosé of truth, unable to fib, a bit risqué and anything but rustic. Magnetic, full of multi-variegated citrus, magnified, petrified, magnetized, its Chardonnay and Pinot Nero polarized. The latter so important, like recherché of the occult and suggesting that its part should be increased. Like a tidal wave of blanc de noirs aromatics boarding at once. Rosé as the last train home. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted November 2015

Betella Lovera Di Franciacorta Rosé Ardi, Docg Franciacorta, Italy (Agent, $40.00, WineAlign)

Like the Betella Blanc de Blanc, this is quite direct, but in a much different way. It’s funky reductive and yet super, hyper transparent and understood. Wound tight with racy acidity and spumes of an aridity that steals saliva and is nearly heart-stopping. These blush bubbles are savoury in a way the Chardonnay just can’t seem to herbalize and bracing in a way that does not fully compute. Exciting and tart if noticeably out of balance.  Tasted December 2014

Betella Franciacorta Brut Blanc De Blanc, Docg Franciacorta, Italy (Agent, $29.00, WineAlign)

This 100 per cent Chardonnay is so direct, so grounded, so black and white. Just a hint of funky earth and a swath of painted lees but otherwise fruit entrenched in traction and fermentation in beautiful suspended animation. Defines modernity in Franciacorta, a still frame of concentrated, dry bubbles, life affirming and void of any extraneous conditioning. No add-ons, just straight up sock it to me Sparkling wine. Tight, bracing and built for serious fun, without ceremony or pageantry. So effective and so well constructed.  Tasted December 2014

Ca’ Del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Brut, Docg Franciacorta, Italy (Agent, 105353, $39.95, WineAlign)

First introduced in 2007 after thirty years of Franciacorta’s salt pillar house’s trials, errors and magic. Chardonnay (75 per cent), Pinot Nero (15) and Pinot Bianco (10) are sourced from 134 vineyards, vinified separately and blended with the conceptualization towards “idem,” of being the same. Reserve juice from great vintages (at least 20 per cent) reinforces and elevates the cuvée, followed by 28 months on the lees. A stoic and somewhat tensely defined traditional method Sparkling wine with plenty of autolytic yeasty feel despite the modest time. Terrific, expansive and circulating mousse buoyed by unparalleled Franciacorta acidity. More Pinot Nero would really give it depth and breadth. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted January 2016

Contadi Castaldi

Contadi Castaldi

Contadi Castaldi Satèn 2010, Docg Franciacorta, Italy (Agent, $45.00, WineAlign)

Disgorged February 2015. The opposite of the thoroughbred that is the Pinot Noir. Satisfying, saturated, stretched and churned though Brut in style. The soul of Contadi Castaldi even in a world in which the winemaker is want to make more masculine, Pinot driven wines. A caressing wine, gentle and creamy. Full mouth. Round putty smooth in spite of and in line with such stretched acidity. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted November 2015  @contadicastaldi  @Cavinona

Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut, Docg Franciacorta, Italy (Agent, $28.50, WineAlign)

The Contadi Brut is a much more direct, linear, in your cerebral cortex cement of a Franciacorta. Still in assumption of a lightly bruised and oxidative bent though the fruit is anything but mealy and the appetite yet whets. The apple in the eye is green, the grass greener still. In here “green grow the rushes go.” This sparkler seems to still be working, pushing itself and evolving. It begins in earnest and never ceases to cycle. It’s a bit exhausting and leaves a trail of exhaust. In demand of much attention it may never leave you to find and achieve that state of REM. But it is that vapour trail that will see it go deep into the night. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted July 2015

Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Rosé, Docg Franciacorta, Italy (Agent, $33.50, WineAlign)

Statuesque, rustic, ancient ruin of Franciacorta, on a clear day, of tall grasses, oxidative apples and slices of hard Lombardian cheese. A total, classical, storied package of gastronomy in a bottle. Not so much Rosé as much as bubbles with a fostered history of age. Arid as the desert and piercing from acidity. This will be misunderstood by some, reveled in by others. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015

Contadi Castaldi Brut Zero 2011, Docg Franciacorta, Italy (Agent, $32.50, WineAlign)

Fashioned with essentially an equal proportion of Pinot Noir. A specificity to Franciacorta where Chardonnay is clearly pegged as feminine and Pinot Noir masculine. The winemaker demands this move, to power, vitality and how a cuvée’s direction is acclimatized from picking on acidity and through to firm, direct expression. Very balanced wine. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted November 2015

Contadi Castaldi Piñonero Natura 2009, Docg Franciacorta, Italy (Agent, $45.00, WineAlign)

Only 9,000 bottles are produced of this ultra niche product. Part of the move in concept and passion to masculine, powerful and vital Pinot Noir. A bull of bubbles and extremely long, trailing a tail of star fire. Brut to the most natural degree. Lime and direct energy. Tight as a fist. This is Thibault to the Contadi Castaldi Blanc de Noirs Romeo. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted November 2015

Ricci Curbastro Satèn Brut

Ricci Curbastro Satèn Brut

Ricci Curbastro Satèn Brut, Docg Franciacorta, Italy (Agent, $59.95, WineAlign)

A Franciacorta blanc de blancs with a settled elegance in its stride and the persistence of far eastern aromatics. Though Satèn can contain up to 50 per cent Pinot Bianco, Ricci Curbastro’s is exclusively made from Chardonnay and at this stage even less atmospheric than the freshest examples. A pinch of ginger and a dash of lemongrass mark the aromatic territory. Preserved lemon fills the palate with residual fruit. This 2011 is in its drinking window right at present, its 40 month (48 from harvest) autolytic yeast lees having done the yeomans texture work in completion for the overall expression. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted January 2016  @Ricci_Curbastro

At the end of a day not in #franciacorta I could do well with one of these @contadicastaldi

At the end of a day not in #franciacorta I could do well with one of these @contadicastaldi

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign: Michael Godel

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50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more

I arrived at Brock University for the Cool Chardonnay conference on Friday and we began tasting the first of 117 sometime around 11:00 am. On Friday night we convened under the stars st 13th Street Winery for the Barrels and Bonfires event. On Saturday I taxied up the Cave Spring Road runway for an afternoon in the Cave Spring vineyard with the Pennachettis and on Saturday bussed over to Vineland Research and Innovation Centre for the grand Cool Chardonnay dinner.

Related – The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind

On Sunday we wrapped up at Ravine Vineyard. In between events, we tasted Chardonnay in the Media Room at White Oaks Resort and Spa. All of this not would not have been possible without the efforts of Wine Country Ontario.  I posted 20 or so tasting notes in Monday’s column, scribbles apropos to the events associated with the presented wines.

Here are 50 more tasting notes in 5,000 Godello words, add or subtract a few hundred. If you follow doctor’s orders and take one Chardonnay every hour for 50 hours, this is the result.

I've fallen and I can't get up. @mikedicaro channelling his inner MacGyver to save #i4c14

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. @mikedicaro channelling his inner MacGyver to save #i4c14

Angels Gate Old Vines Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116350, $23.95, WineAlign)

The long hanging fruit left to develop sugar and richness, the new oak, the eight months rest on the lees. These are all winemaker favourite things, stylistic choices that contribute to a viscous mess of a Chardonnay. A full take has been liberally advantaged from the hot vintage. The alcohol is listed at 13.5 per cent but the wine sweats higher, in a sun-caramelized toast, leaning to oxidative, even bruised and battered orchard fruit territory. As a consequence and in retreat, the acidity dot does follow. The new wood has melded well and good so in terms of texture, the old vines feel right.  Tasted July 2014

Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116384, $15.25, WineAlign)

The Mountainview, despite being a value offering as compared to the Old Vines just seems to be in better temper. There is more mineral on the palate, too. Angles here are less extreme, fruit not as languid or encumbered. The persistence in length seems greater, thanks in most part to freshness, even if the fruit is not quite as fleshy as the OV.  Tasted July 2014

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 and Hidden Bench Felseck Chardonnay 2011

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 and Hidden Bench Felseck Chardonnay 2011

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

Has Wismer found a cruising altitude? Has this Grand Cru vineyard from a most perplexing 2011 vintage entered the telephone booth in civilian clothes, only to soon emerge as a super hero? Will it sing, “I am, I am Superman and I can do anything?” Wismer has rounded out a bit, at present in a grounded form, but we know it will fly to greater heights and at faster speeds. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice.” Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with it’s touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”  Last Tasted July 2014

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

Juicy and immediately perceived as existing in unwavering balance. The juxtaposition of the stainless steel and (three year-old oak for seven months) barrel aging intertwines fresh and reductive aromas to a common meld. More orchard fruit than I remember, more linear acidity, more expression. Raises the bar and the score. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Half barrel-aged, this Chardonnay has a silky mouth feel and as much nip as can be assimilated in a single mouthful. Green apple, blanched nuts and a metallic tickle give the sensation of chewing on crumbling stones. There is considerable girth and texture here, spicy folds and tangible tension. The alloy trumps the fruit so consider drinking up now and for another year or two.”  Last tasted July 2014

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

A thick, rich and medicated goo this ’11 Blue Mountain Chardonnay. “Mother Nature just brewed it and there’s nothing really to it I know.” A traffic of oak waves in not so much woody but more so simply tannic. The palate is clenched, those tannins angular and ever so slightly bitter, intense and want to be bigger than the fruit would be willing to allow. This is Chardonnay with personality and ability, if just a bit big for its own head. Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring wines

Cave Spring wines

Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (213983, $29.95, WineAlign)

Today a fine misty Blancs, looking very much the coppery, crisp slice of apple it need be. Slate stone tone directive, grapefruit very much in play. A slice of tart key lime pie. From my earlier May 2014 note: “The freshest style of the #ONfizz B de B flight. Fruit, escarpment bench stone layering, richesse, biscuits and toast are all in. Acidity meets complexity.” From my earlier, December 2012 note: “Sees no malolactic fermentation and sits at the top end of dry (12-14 dosage). Most of the fruit is 2008, despite the NV designation. A soda fountain of argon and nitrogen bunsens forth through clean lines and carries an entire cider house orchard of Spartan apple. This one certainly hints at Champagne-like characteristics, of brioche and toast. The apples never relent.” Last tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Dolomite Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (902610, $16.95)

The Dolomite is the eponymous CS Chardonnay via 86 per cent Beamsville Bench (Cave Spring Vineyard) and 14 per cent Lincoln Lakeshore . Driven to the licensee market, this is 25 years of winemaking in a nut (or limestone) shell. Made in a fresh, clean, juicy and oh so approachable style, the Dolomite finishes with a slight bitter pith, very obvious citrus zest slant. Remains clean and pure throughout, thanks in large part to the 26 percent more aromatic and very presentable portion of Chardonnay Musqué.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2011, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $15.95, WineAlign)

Musqué is slowly creeping into the Niagara consciousness and into the hearts of winemakers across the peninsula. The aptitude with which it accedes to perfumed heights and respectable complexity without needing excessive coercion makes it both necessary and inviting, especially when a vigneron like Cave Spring is attempting to produce so many levels of quality juice. Chardonnay made easy and without compromise, exemplified here, though the CS take heads straight to the mandarin-clementine stage. Dry, direct, linear, fine and knowing Musqué, not unlike basic yet effective Gruner Veltliner.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2012, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (256552, $18.95, WineAlign)

The vine age on the Estate runs between 18 and 35 years, a wisdom not to be ignored. Usage of older Hungarian oak lends spice to Chardonnay on-line and always climbing the right and proper varietal tower. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Terrific balance to the warm and inviting fruit, certainly orchard driven and kissed by the Spring’s obvious mineral slate. Clean, open-knit, ready, willing and able.”  Last tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Csv Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (529941, $29.95, WineAlign)

Though currently subtle and reserved, if the Csv were once in a wonky phase, the doors to a new perception are now open. Soaked orchard fruit, the underlay of stone and a surround sound of chalky tenderness leads to length, for time is what this Chardonnay has got. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Here is a vibrant and wild at heart expression of Bench Grand Cru terroir, the Cave Spring Vineyard. While the first impression may be a warm one it seems (for the vintage) that is because it’s big, boisterous and a bit clumsy in wood right now. The acidity seems buried at times and at others on top. It is also a touch reductive so this will need more years to settle and to play nice. The aromas indicate green apple meets metal pipe, the flavours orchard and salinity by way of limestone minerality. The length is more than admiral and admirable.” Last tasted July 2014

Clois du Bois Calcaire Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, California, USA (421941, $28, WineAlign)

Inserting the calcaire nomenclature into your RRV label is to announce that your Chardonnay is influenced by calcium carbonate and the ancient, long ago decomposed bones of coral and foraminifera. A heady designation for sure and Clos Du Bois backs it up with its sedimentary and chalky textured ’11. There is a fine stone-ground spice and floral lilt, not to mention a demurred wave, like an under water coral and vegetative scene in slow motion. Clean, pure, lively fruit, picked just in time and left to develop low and slow. I can see this Calcaire gaining complexity for 10 plus years and always living up to its name.   Tasted July 2014

Creation Chardonnay 2012, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (379297, $29, WineAlign)

A macadam drafts from the Creation drawn from what might provocatively be a pair of gravel pits at the base of the Hemel En Aarde Valley. A soul 2012 brother to the Sumaridge though grounded and layered by the lower slopes. That said it does the heavy lifting, offers up more green apple driven fruit and less tannic mineral activity. A bigger wine but by no means a serf to its wood liege. Another stellar ’12.  Tasted July 2014

Creation Chardonnay 2013, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (378554, $32, WineAlign)

Creation brightens in 2013, lifts up to more intense rose flower and potpourri aromas. The intensity follows on the very viscous palate, bringing an increased ocean breeze salinity and scraped rock sensibility. There is a granitic feel that reminds of Rangen Riesling in its own tannic way. In the end the elegance factor takes over and the wine perseveres for a spell.  Tasted July 2014

Decelle Villa Savigny Les Beaune Blanc 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (378208, $40.95, WineAlign)

From low-yielding (20 hL/l) vines, like all of Burgundy (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), as opposed to the 40-45 quotient that might be expected from much of ‘lighter’ Savigny Les Beaune, especially for Chardonnay. Aged for 12 months in two year-old, 500l barrels, there is an alluring and rich feel here, though the wine is fresh, inviting and immediately integrated. A more than approachable White Burgundy to relish now and for a quick tour of the village.  Tasted July 2014

Decelle Saint Aubin 2012

Decelle Saint Aubin 2012

Decelle Villa Saint Aubin 1er Cru Sur Gamay 2012, Saint Aubin, Burgundy, France (377713, $69, WineAlign)

From the partnership of Olivier Decelle, Pierre-Jean Villa and the confidence of winemaker Jean Lupatelli. The town is Gamay, the variety Chardonnay. Only five barrels (125 cases) were produced by a trio of men with zero interest in speculating over land, fruit or success. Barrel fermentation is key, natural yeast a must and a kinship with Puligny uncanny. Not surprising considering the famed locale is but three kilometres away. This cooler fruit spent 15 months in two year-old barrels and though only bottled five weeks prior to tasting there is nary a shocky note. Such a well-adjusted Gamay. Entrancing and engaging Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Domaine Dublère Savigny-Lès-Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1er Cru 2011, AC Burgundy, France (376095, $58.95, WineAlign)

Unusual nose that begins with white candy floss, transforms to gun powder and finishes into the toasty mystic. Unexpectedly warm, buttery and tingling on the tongue, though that is just a faint and fleeting notion. A taste brings out apple-butter terpenes, though once again, that’s just for an instant. While looking for richness their instead ticks intelligence but everything is in foreign tongue shorthand. Balance is key and that it has but ultimately there lacks a certain level of depth.  Tasted July 2014

Domaine Dublère Les Terres Blanches Nuits-St.-Georges 1er Cru 2011, AC Burgundy, France (376079, $105, WineAlign)

Big, boisterous and highly terpenic, so steroidal in apples. MdC  “Donut wines…a hole in the middle.” A tang as well that just doesn’t sit right, a dog that bites. Bitter, tight, bracing, non repentant for its sins.  Don’t really get it.   Tasted July 2014

Gérard Bertrand Domaine De L’Aigle Limoux Chardonnay 2012, AC Midi, France (377671, $33.00, WineAlign)

Rich, honeyed and seemingly sweet, not from sugar (3 g/L) but rather the pressing, squeezing and juicing of stones. That limestone tannin is a trick only grape must and its parent vines know, wondrous and inexplicable. Great body and mouthfeel come from this baby Aigle, a Chardonnay with locally incomparable structure, if not quite the elastic length and girth of the Bertrand Royal. Exceptional quality from the Midi.  Tasted July 2014

Gérard Bertrand Aigle Royal Chardonnay 2012, AP Limoux, Midi, France (377689, $75.00)

Anxiety in high caste mineral, in ingot and in southern French platinum rock. Full textured beauty of attitude and high-slope altitude, with formidable weight, smouldering, perfumed toast and exceptional texture. Full in every way, taking every liberty in the name of equality, and quality. A who knew such bounds could be leaped by the warmth of the place.  Tasted July 2014

Godello and Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Winery

Godello and Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Winery

Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68817, $28.95, WineAlign)

Yet rigid in its youth, the wood is not yet settled. Bottled in September of 2012, the ’12 will need every day of its first year to be ready, willing and able to please upon release. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Always aromatically embossed and texturally creamy, the Estate Chardonnay finds a way to elevate its game with each passing vintage. The uplifting elegance factor acquiesces the poise needed to battle the effects of ultra-ripe fruit out of a warm vintage. In ’12 the middle ground exchanges more pleasantries though the finale speaks in terse, toasted nut and piquant daikon terms. Not harshly or witchy, mind you, but effectively and within reason of the season. When you look in the window at Harald (proprietor Thiel) and Marlize’s (winemaker Beyers) Chardonnay, “you’ve got to pick up every stitch.”  Last tasted July 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $38, WineAlign)

Bottled in March of 2014, the Felseck draws fruit from vines planted in 1988. Proprietor Harald Thiel notes a three-pronged picking regimen, early, mid and late, vinified separately and brought together to bring layering and tapestry out of this extraordinary vineyard and into the finished wine. The many folds and clay-silt soil provide a tannic structure dichotomously “champlant” in style, pastoral even, subdued and ethereal. The nerve in this Chardonnay comes by way of the active limestone, highest in Felseck as compared to any other HB block. This may be the most direct Chardonnay in all of Niagara, the house of permanent cards, the as of yet not witnessed balance achieved. This is the check that affirms a stand and a step towards a legacy.  Tasted twice, July 2014

Godello and Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines

Godello and Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines

Josef Chromy Chardonnay ‘Pepik’ 2012, Tasmania, Australia (378240, $22)

Chardonnay of stainless steel from Chromy’s estate vineyard at Relbia in northern Tasmania, cool, savoury green, spirited and grinding in tight, sharp angles. From what winemaker Jeremy Dineen describes as “a pungent must,” the Pepik is entry-level and anything but. There is a gentle, stable and clarified zesty personality in ‘er, fragrant, snappy and poignant. Versatile for a walkabout with many a pre-dinner flavour.  Tasted July 2014

Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2013, Tasmania, Australia (378232, $32, WineAlign)

In a world where 30+ degrees celsius is a veritable anomaly and the maritime winds spray salt to and fro, there can be little argument against the celebration of (winemaker) Jeremy Dineen’s Chardonnay at a cool climate conference. Sulphured early and housed in one-third new French oak, his lees were stirred often and always. Highly textured, he is succinctly clean, cutting and crunchy with an underlying chalky rationale and smokey, tonic toast. The Chromy ’13 is a demanding croon that must creep up to get a hold of you. Though you tell him “you treat me badly, I love you madly,” there is a miracle in his non-malolactic ways.   Tasted July 2014

Kistler Les Noisetiers 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (251223, $80, WineAlign)

Long distance runner built for endurance, a cool customer able to withstand the heat from a season’s relentless, though moderate, gentle sun, from start to finish. No shortage of ripe fruit and certainly not wanting for the micro-oxygenated slow release of a prized barrel. This might be the two-bit Kistler bottling but it offers up exemplary Sonoma fruit with the temperament and conceit of high caste Burgundy. The style is culled from two poles and pulls in two directions.  At once sharp and piquant, then golden and in mirth. All in all it’s exactly what should be wanted for the buyer who wants what it has to give.  Tasted three times, July 2014

Kistler Stone Flat Vineyard 2012, Carneros, California (agent, $80, WineAlign)

The Carneros vineyard of Tuscan clay is filled with giant river stones. It consequently offers up more of a stone groove, but also an everglade humidity, a lemony spray and a rub of savoury, evergreen. The palate brings a crisp, cool, mountain morning, a rushing stream of fresh water and the cool mountain air. There is a piercing bite on the mid-palate, a peppery spice that lingers than releases for a full wash, a cleanse in mineral. Amazing balance in tightrope tension and length to a horizon out of sight.  Great wine. Finds its elegance and its cool without any effort, like the power lift of a ballet dancer.  Tasted three times, July 2014

Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2011, Sonoma Coast, California (agent, $89.95, WineAlign)

This is from the vineyard in surround of Kistler’s home base and from soil anything but flattering to the host vines. Sandy, deficient in nutrients, “like beach sand,” says Geoff Labitzke, MW, that seemingly has no bottom. Irrigational tubing is employed and perhaps some nitrogen in mid-summer but as per the Kistler stratagem, the VH is dry-farmed. This has the most golden sunshine of the three Chardonnays tasted at #i4C14. It’s brighter, with linear acidity and a very toasty, nutty feel. Sitting with it a while is necessary to appreciate its charm and gathering power.  Tasted July 2014

Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyard at 13th Street Winery

Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyard at 13th Street Winery

Lailey Brickyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (2908, $30.20, WineAlign)

From a vineyard planted in 2004 on the east end of the Lailey property, right next to the river. The red clay soil, the cooler nights and the longer growing season produced just 70 cases of this highly singular and stupidly inexpensive Niagara Chardonnay. This is a vineyard transformed over 10 years from a brickyard and cherry tree farm, now rich yet elegant in simultaneous motion, not to mention seamless in transition, within and without. Brother Derek Barnett is generously giving this rare, small lot Chardonnay away, all the while “talking, about the space between us all…and life flows on,” along the Niagara River.  Tasted July 2014

Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay Old Vines 2012, VQA Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $40.20, WineAlign)

The old Vines were planted between 1974 and 1978, ancient by Niagara standards. Only gnarly old, gristle veteran dudes like these could handle the beastly burden of 16 months in 50 per cent new French oak, not to mention all the while sitting on top of the lees heap. It may ask you “am I hard enough, am I rough enough, am I rich enough?” You may tell it “you’re tropical, you’re subtle, you’re sweet yet cool in mouthfeel, you’re elegant and you’re “not too blind to see,” but you carry that oak with ease.  Tasted July 2014

Malivoire Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (573147, $19.95, WineAlign)

Essentially bone-dry, kissed by a minor peck of new oak and consistently established, here from fruit out of Estate, Moira and (10 per cent) Vinemount Ridge vineyards. The latter adds flinty complexity by way of an intangible, aeriform note, magnified by the warmth of the vintage. The humidity is very minor, thanks to prudent early (September 1 to 12) picking of Beamsville Bench grapes in ever-present rooted stability. Here is hospitable Chardonnay gaining traction and interest with each passing vintage, showcasing the work of winemaker Shiraz Mottiar and as a portal to the investigations of Small Lot, Moira, Mottiar and Cat on the Bench. Tasted July 2014

Malivoire and Riedel, Image (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Malivoire and Riedel, Image (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

In admiral control this summer, rich in stone-churned butter and in residence of a right honourable place. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Gamay may be winemaker Shiraz Mottiar’s decisive resource but Chardonnay is his thing. The Moira’s ranks as one of Niagara’s best, vintage in, vintage out and this Mottiar, from the winemaker’s home vineyard is the trump card. This Malivoire special agent is set in 2 – 5 year old 300 L French oak hogsheads and aged on the lees in barrel for 10 months. The result? Texture. With the use, or lack thereof in new oak, Mottiar’s Chardonnay becomes a study in compages, with strong abilities and the accents of green orchard fruit and a faint sensation of blanched nut. Nothing toasty mind you because it’s all about density and girth; a Shiraz thing. I find his Chardonnay is all about texture.”  Last tasted July 2014

Manciat-Poncet Crémant de Bourgogne Brut NV, Burgundy, France (378653, $28)

A tragically gingered peach, a candied rhinestone, a ready to bake hip cake for the easy oven. Safe bubbles here, “pale as a light bulb hanging on a wire, sucking up to someone just to stoke the fire,” from a distance, with simplicity and caution. Like getting caught in New Orleans with a sinking feeling.  Tasted July 2014

Marie-Pierre Manciat Les Morizottes Mâcon 2012, Burgundy, France (376137, $27, WineAlign)

There are some unhinged and unusual aromas in this Mâcon, of carbon copies, a stainless tank and Musa. Pears too, pinballing and ready for poaching. Faux or perhaps near-mineral texture, slightly saline, with flint and slate. The complexities are boundless and confounding. Highly expressive but the expressions are not all created equal.   Tasted July 2014

Marie-Pierre Manciat Les Petites Bruyères Pouilly-Fuissé 2012, Burgundy, France (376129, $39, WineAlign)

There is a deep rust, faded jeans vine wisdom in the Pouilly-Fuissé. It steps out with more richness and tension than the Mâcon. Balanced energy and stretched length.  Tasted July 2014

Marimar Estate La Masía Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, (331918, $49, WineAlign)

First notes are high in the hills of the tropics, in pineapple, mango and papaya. A veritable smoothie of very ripe, creamy fruit and though it carries a 14 per cent mark in alcohol there rests a jury of acceptable behaviour. Finesse has won the argument, leaving bits of white pepper, reduction and vineyard funk behind. There is a persistence that belies the price on this judiciously-oaked Chardonnay, complete with its avocation of high-powered notations in an expensive suit.  Tasted July 2014

THe Chardonnay of #i4c14

The Chardonnay of #i4c14

Maycas Del Limarì Sumaq Chardonnay 2013, Limari Valley, Chile (Agent, $15.00, WineAlign)

This unoaked Chilean is fresh yet herbal, though mildly so and lime-accented, but certainly not spiked in any Tequila or other southern hemisphere distilled spirit from a large seeping plant kind of way. Fine and subtle actually, so not overtly cool or lifted by altitude influenced climatic acidity. Peacefully, Pacifically tempered Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Maycas Del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2010, Limarí Valley, Chile (162040, $20.00, WineAlign)

This unoaked Chilean is fresh yet herbal, though mildly so and lime-accented, but certainly not spiked in any Tequila or other southern hemisphere distilled spirit from a large seeping plant kind of way. Fine and subtle actually, so not overtly cool or lifted by altitude influenced climatic acidity. Peacefully, Pacifically tempered Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Maycas Del Limarì Quebrada Seca Chardonnay 2011, Limari Valley, Chile

Known as the “dry cliff” this is from a southern parcel (Pinot Noir comes from the north), a calcium carbonate plot that leads to this stone-driven Chardonnay. Nearly 200 metres above sea level, the altitude brings more cool to this bottling, more ventilated salinity, an almost wet-air, asthmatic sense of breathing. Really defined by oyster shell, this has more fruit than the value-based offerings, increased density, more citrus, both dried and condensed. A lot going on here, quite unique and worth a good look.  Tasted July 2014

Niagara College Teaching Winery Balance Barrel Fermented Chardonnay Donald Ziraldo Vineyard 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.15, WineAlign)

From the St. David’s Bench, this avant-garde label saw 11 months in French and American barriques, along with regular lees stirring. Certainly hovering and circulating in wide-ranging textural graces. A whole lotta love and learning is in this bottle; it’s round and golden with a high-spirited tang. At once typical and contrived, it’s also reeking and soaking like a sponge. Many an orchard makes an aromatic class audit. A high-toned citrus exam demands attention and focus. The wood is obvious but it too will learn. All in all this is cool Chardonnay, well-made and ready for the world.  Tasted July 2014

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (173377, $24.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Martin Werner’s 2012 may just be the hardest working Chardonnay in showbiz and in Niagara. Winnowed from Estate (St. David’s Bench) and (Niagara) river fruit, there lurks within, a 20-30 percent perfumed compression of Chardonnay Musqué. The additive is a tonic fanned from the wine’s olfactic communicative nerve centre, adding tree fruit notes no more serious than should be gathered. Werner picked real early, like five weeks ahead (first of September) and the resulting noisome perfume makes for some funk. “It’s these little things, they can pull you under,” but they blow away and settle into a rich, viscous Chardonnay for the palate to collect, contain and command. “Oh, oh, but sweetness follows.” This Ravine works automatically, of the people, for the people.  Tasted July 2014

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (381905, $40.00, WineAlign)

From 100 per cent hillside Estate fruit, a limestone and slate parcel in St. David’s on the Niagara Escarpment. This is fruit from low yields that spent 24 months of unabashed pleasure in French oak. Though highly concentrated and bent in an oxygenated stratosphere, the reduction is in elevated citrus aromas and piercing mineral flavours. Bigger than many, than your head, than a yottabyte. The complex notations are elevated in so many ways. Strung tighter than a leer kite, the heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds are years away from settling so put this Ravine away. Come back next decade to see where it’s at.  Tasted July 2014

Rex Hill Dijon Clone Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon (378455, $46.00, WineAlign)

Palate cleansing Chardonnay, an attribute that can’t be stressed or praised enough when tasting 117 renditions in a span of 50 hours. The Rex Hill is lithe, crisp and pure, a wine with a sense of wisdom. He is a subtle act of wine generosity. He smells like clove-scented, fine-casted ingot and is full of health increasing salinity and minerality. A wine of direct discovery, simple professionalism, restraint and impeccable balance. There is a green apple flavour, gently pressed and juiced. There is a texture from quarry rocks, the creamed kind, slightly piquant, merely dusted. The Rex is a very fine, calm representative with a sure sense of place.  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! “Richness” Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

This special, specific and idiosyncratic batch by winemaker Ann Sperling is a whirlwind of terpene, wood and lees, all in a whorl. Though all three demanding notions make a play to bully the fruit, this is no ordinary fruit and touched by no passive hands. Complex and textured like angelic cake, there is a distinct aroma coming from the righteous barrel, a high octane, tropical nuance, in smouldering pineapple, creamy mango and mangosteen. This Chardonnay spits the vintage heat out through the gap in its front teeth, goes all tense and nervous, does not relax. There is chalk and stone, like slate, like Calcaire Riesling, all in at 14.3 per cent abv. An all out intense effort, a wow bit of Niagara, but what exactly is this monster? The amazing thing is that there is just a ton of fruit so you can let this settle down for 10 years or more. As BMS notes, “it’s raw and unleashed.”  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (366500, $50.00, WineAlign)

Has integrated nicely though certainly persists as a big, lush Chardonnay. If there were splinters or sinewy bits they have melted away.  From my earlier, May 2014 note: “The Poetica underwhelms at the present time, or perhaps hides in her youth. She’s a calm, buttery, mildly toasted, supportive softie and more accessible than her Sperling west coast sistren. Like a cool Chardonnay soffit hiding beneath a warm bench, the Poetica speaks not for the vintage but more for the current vineyard, a warm and hip spot in the Four Mile Creek appellation. The site remains (at least to me) understood but the unctuous aspect in texture and gathering sweetness with time in the glass will realize a richesse yet unseen. Poetica’s refrain is like “wind on the weathervane,” her tragically subdued fruit quiet, but able to travel long. Time will be the reveal, so be patient.”  Last tasted July 2014

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2012, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (378760, $35, WineAlign)

In direct antithesis to what was a more than commendable 2011, this follow-up takes the Sumaridge illustrious Cru torch and raises the Hemel En Arde bar to the most complex portion of the ridge. Proprietor Holly Bellingham notes the near perfect vintage, with rain falling gracefully and slowly throughout, unlike the heavy shelling just before the 2011 harvest. Here the seamless connections of ocean winds, granite give and beatific vines mean this ’12 is super bad. Sunshine intensity, cool godfather of soul moves and dancing nerve are all as one. This is like a mineral sponge, sopping up fresh fruit and the slightest notion of toasted nuts. “Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme. Heeeeey, (scream). Uh, come on!” How will Sumaridge top this?  Tasted July 2014

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2011, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (378760, $35, WineAlign)

Though it lacks the elegance of the astonishing 2012, there is a freshness and a vigor that still defines the Valley. The aromatics create an expectation despite the heavy rains at harvest, a deluge that had a thinning effect on the fruit. The kick or punch in the pith caused neither dilution nor disease and this ’11 rebounded to carry the fire. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Though it would be naïve to think every Chardonnay produced out of the Hemel En Aarde Valley is the stuff of grand cru, recent examples have done nothing but impress. Sumaridge joins Hamilton Russell and Creation on the Walker Bay dream team. Ocean breeze-cooled slopes and deprived soils of decomposed granite loam with quartzite manage rich fruit with cool ease. In this 2011 a most excellent trifecta of dryness (1.7 g/L), acidity (6.9 g/L) and PH (3.45) brings together texture and tannin. Though seemingly sweet it is anything but a cloying example. Buttery but mild in toast, quite piercing yet tempered by an herbal quality, not warm or balmy, but inexorably herbal. Schematically waxy, splashed by lemon and piqued by zest.”  Last tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA  (agent, $41.95, WineAlign)

Tasted with proprietor Brian Talley at Cave Spring Vineyard in a setting to do justice for a wine with an irrigated gully of heart. Barrel fermented, using wild yeasts and aged for 10 months in French oak, 20 per cent of it new. Pours thick, rich and viscous into the glass with a reality that is pure, light and elegant. This is so much cooler in direction than could be perceived or believed. “I want to make wine that tastes like our grapes and not someone else’s barrels,” insists Talley. That philosophy equates to a pansophy of orange citrus and the misty spray of its scored skin, so aromatic, so in blossom, so floral. Not sure there has been nosed such succulence in restraint from Arroyo, from California or from anywhere Chardonnay grows in warm climes.  Tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA  (winery, $61.95, WineAlign)

The Rincon Block was planted in 1984, the “home” vineyard next to the winery. Tight, bracing, savoury and bound by a tannic, mineral extraction. Only 17 barrels (just under 500 cases) were produced of this 100 per cent (14 months in 20 per cent new oak) barrel fermented Chardonnay marked by wow intensity. “Jump back, what’s that sound, here she comes, full blast and top down.” Wailin’ Halen Chardonnay trampled underfoot, what can you say, like chanting “Panama ah-oh-oh-oh-oh.” Talley’s Rincon ’12 never relents, stays on the throttle, puts the pedal to the metal and speeds the van towards a persistent, consistent finish. Bring on the Digby, Nova Scotia scallops, from coast to coast.  Tasted July 2014

Tantalus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (VINTAGES 378821, $42, BC VQA, 114884, $29.90, WineAlign)

The immediacy of this Chardonnay is felt, in perfumed poise, in palate roundness, in a velvet wrap of texture. A finely balanced and over-achieving elegance from out of a single vineyard, specifically “block 6,” which sits above a gravel bed, on an eastern aspect in South East Kelowna. A mild toast, a blanch of nuts and creamy citrus coagulate to create a transcendent B.C. Chardonnay experience, one that seems like it could be eaten with a spoon. “It peels off and ties that bind me,” and after tasting I saw the light. Chardonnay with an unconscious redirection of feelings, a transference unique and welcome.  Tasted July 2014

Thelema Mountain Blanc de Blancs 1994, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (376111, $28)

Méthode Cap Classique fine bubbles still motivated and in blender motion that if fading can be excused with a thousand pardons. With no more than 2 g/L of residual sugar it’s an Extra Brut style that has survived two decades. Far eastern spices and orange melon that remain cool, juicy and unfermented give it youthful aromas. One of those hard to believe 20 year-old success stories that will continue to give to 25. Wild yeast and grated wasabi square off the peg in this Stellenbosch ringer for vintage Champagne. Buy one now at VINTAGES Shop Online, bring it to a party, be the coolest Chardonnay cat around.  Tasted July 2014

A selection of international and Ontario sparkling wines on ice. Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

A selection of international and Ontario sparkling wines on ice. Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (20431, $23, WineAlign)

Fruit divides time and space from the (sandy, Black Sage) Diamondback Vineyard and the (sandy gravel, Golden Mile) Tinhorn Creek Vineyard. So what? So let’s dance to Andrew Moon and Sandra Oldfield’s fresh recognisance mission, to offer up a slight oak and stirred lees textural sui generis, but mostly the intent to keep things crisp and real. The sugar and PH are low, the acids medium to high. Overall there generates a cool orchard fruit blooming breeze and a south-west feeling of ease. Bring it on.  Tasted July 2014

Good to go!

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Take them home, County wines

County in the City PHOTO: Michael Godel

County in the City at the Berkeley Church

Life is old there, older than the trees,
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Can you think of an island (leaving Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand out of the discussion) of greater interest anywhere for growing grapes and making world-class wine? Prince Edward County’s just a shade more than 1000 square kilometers, 800 kilometers of shoreline and tiny 22,000 population is that place. It’s geology and climate eerily mimics that of Burgundy. A superficial layer of limestone peppered clay loam hovers above penetrable layers of larger limestone. Fissures in that bedrock allow vines to reach deep into its crevices. It’s a veritable mineral wonderland.

Related – You can lead a county to the city

Huff Estates Photo: Michael Godel

Huff Estates

More than 30 wineries dot the land and water interspersed honeycomb of a wine trail. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the obvious cornerstone varieties but unique Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Gris have joined the attention gaining fray. Ontario’s finest Sparkling wine is being made at Hinterland. Vintners like Rosehall Run and Keint-He Winery exemplify top to bottom consistency. They and others like Lacey Estates are involved in the yeoman’s ambassador work, in the field, at tastings or through social media. Smaller production houses like The Old Third Vineyard, Hubbs Creek and Exultet Estates are sought after by those who know.

Stanners

Stanners

The County returned to the city on April 3, 2014 to showcase a cross-section of their wares at Toronto’s Berkeley Church. The usual suspects continued to impress, yet the collective needs to embrace the Sparkling example set by Jonas Newman and Vicky Samaras at Hinterland. If White Cap and Ancestral are any beacon to be drawn towards, plantings of Vidal, Riesling and Gamay should be employed in earnest in the turning towards pressure in the bottle. Lighthall’s Glen Symons gets it, as does Frédéric Picard, with his Cuvées, not to mention Bill Turnbull and his 3630 Bubbles. True, Casa Dea has the shy Dea’s Cuvée and the Grange makes a Sparkling Brut and a Riesling (346726, $24.95). But the questions begs, is fizz just another word for everything to lose in the County?

Here are notes on 23 wines tasted. The soundtrack to these PEC Wines includes Foo Fighters, Cracker, Nine Inch Nails, Modest Mouse, REM, Sufjan Stevens, The Beatles and Dire Straits.

From left to right: Casa Dea Riesling 2011, Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012

From left to right: Casa Dea Riesling 2011, Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012

Casa Dea Riesling 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario  (winery, $16.95, WineAlign)

Pours and perches in the glass dry and stoic, as if bled from concrete or amphora. Swirled or not this fighter begins to rumble in a growing momentum of tang and acidity, as if it were being fed by sugar and feeding on yeast. So primary, like a sample in thief, yet already circling in complexity. A spike of spicy sweetness, a delicate dressing of aglio e olio, a chiffonade of basil on top. The County does this style of dry Riesling at this price in ways no one in Niagara can. This is no foo but rather a “blessing in disguise. Believe it or not, hands on a miracle.”   @casadeawinery

Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, VQA Ontario (155606, $17.95, WineAlign)

Note the VQA Ontario designation, meaning the fruit is a combination of PEC and Niagara. The former brings limestone to the table while the latter weight and substance. Typically soda-driven and spatially atomic in maximum thrust. Turns towards the lake with sweet emotion and sails off into the sunset. Multi-purposed, works to great summer afternoon effect, especially with the waves of the bay lapping at the shore.  @HuffEstatesWine 

Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $18.00, WineAlign)

Light, airy, delicate and nearly ethereal Pinot Gris that takes few chances, instead choosing an acquiescence with life’s simple pleasures. The vanilla of Gris, malleable, agreeable and ready to pair with whatever comes its way. A minor spike of Hillier minerality gives accent to pears and its blossoms.

Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

A most non-pretentious sparkler that holds a pertinacious attitude towards anything but serious fun. From estate Vidal grapes that has seen a second fermentation using the Charmat Method, Lighthall’s ’12 picks up right where its solid ’11 left off. Picked early to preserve freshness and acidity, the Progression is big on tart green apple preserved by a squeeze of lemon. Chill it, refresh with it, serve it up and bring the house down.

Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, VQA Ontario (131169, $21.00, WineAlign)

Twenty Mile Bench in Niagara borrows 30 per cent County fruit to complete Hardie’s cracker Riesling. Low in alcohol (9.1 per cent) and residual, bound by jacked up acidity and tension. Pale platinum with an old-school aromatic sentiment that “fruit is rusting on the vine,” and flavours recalling that “the fruit is calling from the trees.” A masonic force of winemaking, “like being low, hey hey hey like being stoned.”  @normhardie

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

The Huff Chardonnay bent has seen a shift as strong as South Bay’s prevailing winds, away from the weight of barrel ferment to a clean, Chablis-like style. The ’10 might just have been the turning point and though they now make two versions, this ’12 is the cementing of the attitude. What is most amazing is that the texture, aromas and feel remain those of an oak-influenced wine. Huff manages the linear consistency without the need to encumber, toast or char the purity of its glade, glycerin and citrus fruit. Only Prince Edward County’s limestone soil can effect this kind of nine inch nails drive into Chardonnay without oak and only Huff can do it with this kind of elegance. A wine “less concerned about fitting into the world.” Do not miss this singular effort.  @HuffEstatesWine

Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Karlo’s take is Riesling in torsion, barrel fermented & aged in older (six-year) French Oak. The program adds wax and herbal mucilage to what otherwise would have been a frenetic study in bone chilling acidity. This unique and neo-progressive intuit invites a global Riesling symposium to the County to learn something old and something new within this single bottling. Riesling with attitude that’s got glycerin and a medicinal meets floral, pear extract meets candied lilac viscidity. Though so young, it seems wise, with an anamnesis for old Mosel, a coolant aroma and a taste that recalls white sangria. Yes, it’s different and eclectic. Anti-bracing stuff, not for everyone, but everyone should be for it.

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011, Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011, Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Vinemount Ridge, VQA Ontario  (winery, $23, WineAlign)

This is the inaugural Riesling release for Stanners, from a single Vinemount Ridge plot. If it were not so winged-footed it might gain more positive repute from the appellation’s quarry effect, but in time and with experience, Colin Stanners will settle the grassy aromas into the limestone demand. For now it remains effortless and balanced with a dismounting of acidity and well provided apple and lemon flavours.  @StannersWines

Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay, Unfiltered 2011, Niagara River, VQA Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The 2011 Brock has settled into its Niagara River appellative skin, having now been in bottle 18 months. Working with fruit from 300 kilometres away increases the unknown quotient, magnifying the adage that you have “one chance to get everything right,” Closson’s ’11 is neither modest nor is it a mouse but it is less frenetic than it acted when tasted repeatedly last year. The hard deposits have oozed into liquid metal gold and the ripe orchard fruit has mellowed into a creamy pudding with a hint of spice. I don’t see the Brock as a very public wine, but more from a maker, for friends, from habit, for family. A wine that you need to get to know, to patronize with repeated listening’s, to accept.   @ClossonChase

Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay, Unfiltered 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Brock was only sulphured and bottled a month ago so it’s quite shocky and shaky. Still in the REM sleep stage, the ’12 is not quite ready to reveal the warmth so generously granted by the Niagara River appellation’s extending growing season. The ripe tropical fruit notes are there, if subdued and the omnipresent minerality will rear its rocky head before too long. This Brock will see a lifting “but gravity is holding” it down for now. Look to see the weights fall away late in 2014 “and in review,” you will have noted “the air was singing,” all the way to 2020.

Huff Estates Gamay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (winery, $25, WineAlign)

If $25 seems a premium to pay for Ontario Gamay, consider all that is on offer in winemaker Frédéric Picard’s take on the friendly French grape. Picard caddies for 13th Street (Niagara) fruit, vinifies it bone-dry with the minimalist edge of 14 months in 15 per cent new French oak.  The fruit is so very ripe, in raspberry and gritless, creamy blueberry. Like savoury adult ice cream, silky smooth and with nary a hint of chalky grain. Well-designed and consumer-friendly as any Gamay has ever graced the Ontario consciousness. So you’ve “got that going for you, which is nice.” Shack up with Huff’s Gamay treat.

Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Proprietor Glen Symons sources his fruit for this unctuous Gewürztraminer from Vineland at the base of the Escarpment’s steps. Highly tropical and exaggerated by the warm summer of 2012 to the point of candied, but with an edge. Just restless enough to divine temptation for further sips which when multiplied, relax the palate rather than excite it. The flavours turn nutty, waxy, even and calm. A mistral wind blows through in a breezy finish.

Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

It should be assumed that the four types of wood used to house this warm and inferential Choa (cherry, hickory, oak and ash) would smother and smoulder other aromatic suitors but those woods are actually quite subtle. The other woods, as in forest, backyard and compost are the acute players. The Choa goes from fromage to funky, from an enzymatic leesy feeling to inner, inward innards. It barks of a dogged persistence, I will give it that. Most definitely singular of style to be sure and will need a few years to settle down.

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 Cabernet Franc comes of age out of a preternatural and ontological perfect storm. Casts odds into the river of ideal weather, procures phenolic grape ripeness out of the vineyard, avoids the green and embraces the brown stems. Ferments under the natural eye of indigenous yeasts and settles into its silky skin at a low, low 10.8 per cent (give or take a lab sample) alcohol. Cabernet Franc of impossible soul, its “burden is the weight of a feather.” Pepper and currants are noted, tobacco and tomato are not. Comes “bearing a sword” but seduces with primal proclamations. Radical County red.

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The oak repeal in decreased new barrel impact allows the County to speak in the clearest of voice. As it should, from a South Bay landscape and terroir as rugged and dramatic that can be found anywhere Chardonnay is made in Ontario. There is a honeyed unctuous and viscous feel to the South Bay ’10, no doubt a result of its middle filled in by a meritorious and pure lees. Limestone wraps up the fruit in a clean, crisp and pure package.

Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The licensee only Loyalist is the micro-embodiment of the Deborah Paskus style. Rich, compact and built to satisfy a need for lush, nearly tropical Chardonnay. From a vintage that saw bud reducing spring frosts and resulting yields of only one tonne per acre. The oak influence comes to it with a scaled back embracing, allowing the County’s rock bent to connect and form a bond with the acidity’s bracing intent. Perhaps the profits will suffer from the year’s miniscule crop, but the level of quality will making it all right.

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Ontario (winery, $30, WineAlign)

A year later has softened considerable and thinking of laying down in softer pastures.  From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Combines 60% (horizontal) County fruit with 40 per cent (vertical) Niagara (Lincoln Lakeshore) grapes in balance and with finesse. Simply apply the distance formula to figure out the length of the hypotenuse. Bridging the kilometres that lie between, though inadmissible to some, comes by way of a deft winemaker’s vision and touch. Plum good, mineral rich and perceptibly tannic without breaching a threshold of varnish. Cherry toffee speaks of the sunshine and indicates time is of the essence. Will look forward to full-on County issue for 2013 in the hands of Cliff and Colin Stanners.”  Last tasted April 2014

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Prince Edward County (winery, $30, WineAlign)

After wetting their Pinot Noir feet with a few vintages that coalesced Niagara and County fruit, this is the first go it alone release for Stanners. It’s yet another effortless and quiet handed response to impressionist County fruit. A noticeable step up from what came before, this has primary balance, secondary (floral) aromatics and tertiary brightness. Like Hillier lavender, drying on the rocks in the waning afternoon sun.

Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, VQA Ontario (Winery, $33.00, WineAlign)

Mounds of respect are due any Ontario winemaker that decides to tackle single-varietal Petit Verdot, especially in a climate-forsaken locale like the County. Richard Karlo tackles such a struggle between good and evil, looking to elevate this fifth most important Bordeaux grape (not Malbec?) to great PEC heights. His dark, brooding wine of massive extraction starts off into the toffee, the after dinner mints and a suck of coffee cream through a wood straw. Twiggy, angular, resinous and wired, the wine then turns incredibly floral, in violets, from boron to aether and then returns to its roots. The rebound is to acidity, freshness and tang. An intriguing wine that “used to be angry young man” but the evolution it shows in glass bodes well for its future. Give it three to five years to achieve quintessence. “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time.”

Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Only 165 cases were produced of this Niagara born Pinot Noir. Discreet and unpretentious in every facet of its being. Like the colour of beautiful Rosé, the Watson causes such small-scale tannic pain. Though elegant and lithe, don’t be fooled. It’s not Burgundy. It’s Deborah Paskus. It’s Closson Chase. Profoundly appointed, in mind of those who mind. A signal to the understanding and knowledge of what the variety is and from this place. Clarity comes from an intensity in flowers, quality from a high sense of purpose.  Really fine.

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $35.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 County Pinot Noir is a beacon, a flashing light on the shore, an invitation to copycats because this is what making red wine from limestone foundations is all about. To taste this ’12 is to experience Hardie’s purest berry maceration and distillation to date. It’s as if there was no alcohol present and in fact, at 11.5 per cent it is a modest and transparent pronouncement. Longevity may not bless the ’12 as in other vintages but this is certainly the most groomed and coiffed County Pinot Noir.

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (208702, $39.00, WineAlign)

The calcareous clay, the edgy stone, the molt of the earth. Dense, cluttered and clamorous fruit. A different animal then what walks the County. Magnanimous Pinot Noir full of fruity flesh and medieval attitude. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “That Norman Hardie can make Pinot Noir in Prince Edward County that could never be confused with any other makes it that much more incredulous to nose this Niagara cousin and know it can only be his. A barb on the very verge of ripe, tart cranberry and as smoky a nose as Hardie’s Pinot wants to be. Strawberry and raspberry red beret. Ashes to ashes but not funk to funky, we know Hardie is a Pinot junkie. Still, this is a warm and melodious example with only one coat of primer. Impressive.

Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

Norman Hardie’s uncanny ability to coax hyperbole at the lowest alcohol levels is again blatantly apparent in this climatically epochal, yet restlessly cool County Chardonnay. Recalling and expanding on the exceptional ’08, the tonality, texture and motion are achieved by way of a) early picking, b) indigenous yeasts, c) arrested fermentation, d) lees and e) moxie. The dire straits of the vintage wants to exaggerate the fricassee, the roasted nuts and the chemical flow but who might argue against the gape at Burgundian reduction? She’s a roller girl this ’10, taking chances. She skates away, “making movies on location,” all in the name of learning ahead of the curve.

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Big night of wine at Barque Smokehouse

Wine and BBQ. Photo courtesy Jill Chen @ freestylefarm.ca

as seen on canada.com

On Tuesday night Barque Smokehouse welcomed South African winemaker Marc Kent and RKW Imports for an eight course paired tasting event alongside eight wines from the Boekenhoutskloof portfolio. The ambitious Kent is the vintner equivalent of an air force pilot. Thrill seeker, pioneer, risk-taker, restless soul and difference maker. Very few South African outfits manage to fill two polar niches with such a high level of success ; the Porcupine Ridge and Wolftrap ranges appeal to the market inhabited by the everyday drinker and Kent’s serious Syrah goes out to the collector.

Barque Smokehouse

The cellar master from this outrageously efficacious Franschhoek operation works tirelessly to champion Syrah and to indulge in atypical varietals (for South Africa) like Semillon. Now in his (very) early 40’s, the buoyant Kent’s wines continue to express a longing for the northern Rhône,  though they fall into their own, unique category. To a red, the sanguine, savoury, warm climate, mountain and maritime sensation is always present. Syrah of liquid white pepper sprinkled over a periodic table of elements.

Marc Kent

The affable Kent and master of ceremonies Zoltan Szabo led a group of 85 diners through the Boekenhoutskloof range concomitant to an astute and benevolent menu from chefs David Neinstein and Bryan Birch.

Shrimp with tarragon crème fraiche, garlic chips

Wolftrap Rosé 2012 (169409, $12.95) talks turkey and shrimp of a Turkish delight, candied strawberry and cream tongue. Sprinkled with spiced nuts. 86

Salad of warm fior de latte, heirloom tomatoes, basil and reduced balsamic

Wolftrap White 2011 (263608, $14.95) makes use of a balanced and warmer vintage, allowing the honey and pep of Chenin Blanc to truss the Viognier and Grenache Blanc together as one. “It’s richer in ’11, ” says Kent, “and still commercial, if I can use the term.” My thoughts too.  87

BBQ Chicken and Goat Cheese croquettes

Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2011 sees no oak, only the cool, steel walls of the tank. High acidity and herb pistou, unctuous and great value for SB, anywhere.  88

White Fish En Papillote leeks, oyster mushrooms, lemongrass broth

Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2009 is my WOTN. Made in miniscule quantities, a near-Bordeaux ringer attributed with white CDP-like Marsanne, Roussane vigor. Runs a gamut of aromas and mouthfeel; honey, wax, acorn, lime, ginger, peach and orange blossom. “The truth is in the second half of the bottle, ” notes Kent.  91

Marc Kent wrapping briskets

Pulled Duck Tacos , pickled carrots, scallions, ahoy sauce

Wolftrap Red 2011 (292557, $13.95) is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Dictionary red fruit in every sense of the inclination. The South African version of broad appeal Australian Shiraz. The only bottle without SA typicity. Tasty yet homeless and residing in Smallville. Begs the question. “What are you, man or Superman?”  86

Brisket (photo courtesy of Jill Chen @ freestylefarm.ca)

BBQ Brisket with hush puppies

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2011 (595280, $14.95) the consistent one outsells all other VINTAGES Essentials. Why? Because it’s well-made, affordable and precocious. Dips into Northern Rhône waters and swims with the fishes. Walks out unscathed, vintage after vintage.  88

Braised Short Rib, creamy polenta, green peppercorn jus

The Chocolate Block 2010 (129353, $39.95) sends Syrah to study abroad. Though the blend is Rhône plus 13% Cab, the intense chocolate notes (go figure) seem not unlike Chile’s elite Carmenère and Cabernet blends. Montes Purple Angel and Don Melchor come to mind.  Dusty Theobroma cacao, purple flowers and reduced red berries join forces for what really is an elegant brew.  Knows the pathway to your heart. 89

NY Striploin with black pepper dumpling

Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2009 (52076, $59) is the doctrine to preach Marc Kent’s ability to procure excellence. Balanced and focused to a sip and in every sip. Distinctly Guigal and even Delas in refinement. A varietal likeness no other SA Syrah can touch. Never over the top, here “quality is in the second half of the bottle.” Kudos Kent.  90

Good to go!

C’s Get Degrees – Carmenere and Chardonnay From Chile and Califor-ni-a

VINTAGES March 3rd Release

Friday March 2, 2012

http://blogs.canada.com/2012/03/02/vintages-march-3rd-release/

 

Theme here is ‘Made in France, 13 Benchmark-Setting Grapes’ and though I pause over the possibilities of essential Alsatian Pinot Gris, ory Burgundian Chablis and even Northern Rhône Crozes-Hermitage, France today feels an ocean away. Second thoughts choose to sail alongside the emigration of Bordelais rootstock, round the horn of South America and making land where expatriate vines flourish in Chile.

Errazuriz Max Reserva Estates Single Vineyard Carmenère 2009 (273300, $18.95)

Priced in Alberta and British Columbia at $23, Manitoba $29.

While Concha Y Toro’s Block 27 (562892, $29.95) and Montes Purple Angel (062364, $56.95) are two upwardly mobile examples of the varietal, this SV is the wine to buy on March 3rd. My tasting note pulls a number and stands in line behind a battery of critical flattery. My two cents. Rich, textured, unctuous with a hint of Orange Crush, the Max Reserva has got its spine and is typically green, but in a good way. Electric, riveting and made of conscious movement.  90

Stephen Tanzer, International Wine Cellar (90), “…packs a solid punch but this wine is quite elegant and seamless.” Decanter (****, 16.5), “…very harmonious wine with juicy, ripe, succulent red and black fruit layering spice and bitter chocolate flavour.” Anthony Gismondi, The Vancouver Sun (91), “…speaks to what is possible when care is taken…the finish is like a sunset with bits of dried tomatoes, spice, tobacco and ripe tannins.” International Wine Report (90+), “…full body coats your palate while the round polished tannins glide into the silky finish.” Wall Street Journal, “…a superb wine for those cold nights ahead.” Kurtis Kolt, Wine Access, “…brilliant acidity and perfectly integrated tannins. A stunner.” Tracey, 40-Something Life, “..memories of bonfires in England, of smoky cedar wood with a hint of cassis and fresh herbs.” Also WE (88), RJ (88), CT’s (89). 

 Errazuriz Single Vineyard Carmenere 2009

Next an IVR* deal in California Chardonnay here today, gone tomorrow. Act quick.

Marimar Estate La Masía Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 (270090, $19.95) wants to be consumed in the here and now. Progression has reached the optimum wheelhouse core, freshness and pique wound tightly around juicy citrus and mild vanilla buttered toast. In fact the oak is so subtle the medium-bodied fruit remains the star.  90

The Marimar is named after the man himself, Miguel Torres. The price here may be a one-off but not exactly 50% off, more like 30%. Heimoff of WE (90) says “dry, crisply acidic and strong in flavor in its youth.” CC Guide (90) notes, “a complete and involving wine” while David Lawrason is reverent with “riveting and intriguing.” La Masía is on Susan Desjardins’ list as she praises it as having, “loads of personality.” WS (88) and CT’s (88).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Wines of Note:

Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (711663, $119.95)

Antinori Guado Al Tasso 2008 (986380, $89.95)

Clos Del Rey 2004 (154385, $49.95)

Le Salette Pergole Vece Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2006 (19984, $95.95)

 

 

IVR*  – Vintage Direct Intrigue-to-Value Ratio

 

 

 

Good to go!