2013: It was the best of wines

Red wines

15 wine releases $30 and over
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The long and wine-ding road of 2013 began with a personal plea for it to be the year of drinking better wine. I wrote about iconic wines at affordable prices and a personal hermeneutic public service announcement, a wine prescription for cold and flu. January rounded out with good reds, twenty-somethings, Robbie Burns, weekday wines and a wine analogy Super Bowl prediction gone bad.

I played pond hockey, chatted about wine and said no to ambient, rich pinks because you gotta be cruel to be wine for Valentine’s.  Real wines, more hockey, Oscars, French grapes and a Somewhereness sea of grape-driven humanity occupied my winter thoughts, along with California, The Beamsville Bench, Cuvée 2013 and the zeitgeist of my virgin expert’s tasting with music as its guide. Cool grapes marched on with wines for the Ides, St. Patrick, Passover, Momofuku in Toronto and New York City.

Spring brought 100-km wine, value reds, sunshine, Masters’ colours, a Stanley Cup for house league hockey, Ontario wine events, Peter Franus, wild leeks and Mother’s Day. There was a ‘London Calling’ for Canadian wine, Go Gamay Go, an averted LCBO strike and the Elsie Awards. I delved into the schadenfreude matters of tasting notes, the humanity in real value wine and the Venn Diagrams in a paradox of accents.

The weather warmed, I cooked for 1,300 Ultimate Frisbee players, contemplated the Rolling Stones and struck Semillon in a showcase showdown. Father’s Day, Riesling and the Canada Day long weekend preceded excursions to Fenway Park and the eleemosynary earth in the North Fork of Long Island. This followed by a search for the wine pulse of the Finger Lakes and the indelible stamp of British Columbia‘s Okanagan Valley.

The International Cool Climate Chardonnay conference took Niagara by storm (literally), leading into the August long weekend. I wrote on Sauvignon Blanc, chill red wine, The Great Canadian Wine Challenge, Free My Grapes and the plea for wine to flow across Canadian provinces.

September came, as did Low alcohol wine for the High Holidays. Ontario wines shone on, especially those from Stratus, along with Spanish and Italian reds. I touted the vinous acumen of Canadian wines for Thanksgiving, the wines of Chile, the best from Ontario and presided as guest judge at the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2013. October ended with Champagne and reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween.

Napa Valley came to town, there were private tastings with Ontario winemakers and I made notes on Canadian made apolitical wines. There were gems, Friday bites, Beaujolais Nouveau and more from Italy. At the end of November I wondered if the wine sign of the apocalypse was upon us. Sparkling wines and the unavoidable Christmas picks have brought us to here.

Edward Steinberg once asked Angelo Gaja, “how do you make the best wine?” to which Gaja replied, “with the best grapes.” In tasting notes I extrapolate from that base and simple notion, with an intent to convey the salient facts of the grape’s life, to give life to the agriculture, even if the first two syllables are removed in the process.

Tasting notes can be clerihews, pithy poems that begin with a winemaker’s name, become the reviewer’s purport and more often than not, are penned in four lines. Word play leading the mind to consider wine as anagram, palindrome and lipogram. Writing a tasting note not as a vinous jape, but rather an artfully woven acrostic.

Reviews align like Burma Shave signs on North American highways, spaced one hundred feet apart, connected by their language. Phrases are turned on their heads, causing the notes to be peculiarly unsuccessful in making any decided impact upon the consumer college. So be it.

The musical and other (sometimes) obscure references bring about metaphasis to the tasting notes, an habitual transposition of sounds, connecting smell, flavour and structure to groove, pitch and aesthetic. The best wines produce the greatest emotion and excess of language. Here is a look back at the top 15-$30 and over releases tasted in 2013 and the tasting notes that brought them to light.

15 wine releases $30 and over

From left: RAINOLDI CRESPINO VALTELLINA SUPERIORE 2006, TAWSE CABERNET FRANC LAUNDRY VINEYARD 2010, CHARLES BAKER WINES RIESLING 'PICONE VINEYARD' 2011, PETER FRANUS RED WINE 2008, and FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO TAURASI 2007

From left: RAINOLDI CRESPINO VALTELLINA SUPERIORE 2006, TAWSE CABERNET FRANC LAUNDRY VINEYARD 2010, CHARLES BAKER WINES RIESLING ‘PICONE VINEYARD’ 2011, PETER FRANUS RED WINE 2008, and FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO TAURASI 2007

RAINOLDI CRESPINO VALTELLINA SUPERIORE 2006, Lombardy, Italy (316331, $31.95, WineAlign)

Composed of 100 per cent Chiavennasca (Nebbiolo) from Lombardy. Grace, flowing ruby robe, striking. Lit by cherries bathing in a silica and gravel mineral bath, tightly wound in a swirling pensieve of real vinous thought. Elevated by cool, altitudinous breezes and gothic, statuesque like a Mantegazza. Northern, alpine and proud.  93  Tasted April 2013  @VinumValtellina  From: Top ten wines for May Day

TAWSE CABERNET FRANC LAUNDRY VINEYARD 2010, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130997, $31.95, WineAlign)

Assures us of several things. First, 2010 was a gift for making idiot-proof Cab Franc in Niagara, Second, the Lincoln Lakeshore is one of three obvious and essential CF locales in Niagara. Third and most important, properly adjudicated new oak can elevate CF to the upper reaches of the cool-climate troposphere. While not as masculine or bovine like brother Van Bers, Laundry’s got black cherry, tar, coal, herbs and a peaceful, grilling feeling. Essential CF from winemaker Paul Pender.  92  Tasted July 2013  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender  From: Alternative wines for the August long weekend

CHARLES BAKER WINES RIESLING ‘PICONE VINEYARD’ 2011, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

Does not so much pick up where cracking ’09 left off (with no offence meant to the soothing and tuneful ’10) but rather re-writes the Baker book. From the almost famous windswept vineyard atop the Vinemount Ridge, this Picone, from older Riesling plantings is crazy lively. That ’10 is now imbued with rich, oily glück. The ’11 will realize such a future, but much further along and in combination with its inborn tension. Right up there with Baker’s “perfect vintage” 2006.  93  Tasted October 2013  @cbriesling  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

PETER FRANUS RED WINE 2008, Red Hills Lake County Red, California ($39.95)

Composed of Syrah (85 per cent), Grenache (10) and Mourvèdre (5) comes from Fore Family Vineyards fruit on the top of 3000 foot Cobb Mountain. A fiery paradox of climate met by altitude works a strange magic on the grapes. It’s no mistral but rather some sort of wine weather occult. This SGM is highly influenced by a very tempest of dramatic temperature changes, from solar radiation to cool, tempering Pacific breezes and at great heights. Exhibits the hills’ red earth, in colour, in fragrance and in rich berry flavour. I’m grateful for this SGM blend, cool and hot at the same time, “almost ablaze still you don’t feel the heat.”  93  Tasted April 2013  @ProfileWineGrp  From: The Wine Diaries: Peter Franus

FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO TAURASI 2007, Campania, Italy ($39.95)

Lush and gorgeous. The most immediately gratifying young Aglianico yet such an infant. Earthbound red berries, perfectly ripe plums, biting tannin and off the charts acidity. Epochal verve of Middle Pleistocene volcanic rocksSouthern Italian equivalent to Southern Rhône reds, offering tremendous value under $50 where Bordeaux and Tuscany pedantically fall short. Should join the ranks of recent great vintages, ’01 and ’04.  93  Tasted January 2013  @FeudiDSGregorio  @StemWineGroup  From: Iconic wines, affordable prices

From left: CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES EQUULEUS 2010, BACHELDER CHARDONNAY WISMER VINEYARD 2010, CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, GIROLAMO RUSSO SAN LORENZO 2008, and PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008

From left: CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES EQUULEUS 2010, BACHELDER CHARDONNAY WISMER VINEYARD 2010, CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, GIROLAMO RUSSO SAN LORENZO 2008, and PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008

CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES EQUULEUS 2010, St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (319525, $40, SAQ,  11156334, $41.25, WineAlign)

From the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard is a classically styled blend of 50 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 per cent Cabernet Franc and 25 per cent Merlot, only made in exceptional years. Apropos choice from 25-year old vines (in 2010) from the warmer St. David’s Bench for Cuvée’s 25th show.  Poised, balanced and regal yet this mare is temporarily a head-shy, sensitive equine red. Will trot out furlongs of tobacco and meaty aromas from now and through maturity in five plus years. A saddle of round, red fruit will age gracefully.  92  Tasted March 2013  @MBosc  From: Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary

BACHELDER CHARDONNAY WISMER VINEYARD 2010, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

So sumptuous, presumptuous and precocious. Ahead of the curve, effortless and full of 20 mile mineral length. The ripe green apple never quits. My earlier note from Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary from the Twenty Mile (Vineland) Bench is the most righteous, understated charred butterscotch remoulade sauce of dreams. Richly textured and built upon a sneaky, slow and stretched breath of wild yeasts. A creeper, gatherer and traveler of both knowledge and persistence. The journey with Thomas Bachelder as related by partner Mary Delaney, from out of Quebec, by way of Ponzi and Lemelson in Oregon and to Niagara is the stuff of dreams. Tasted twice same night and hypnotized both times.  94  Tasted July 2013  @Bachelder_wines  From: Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay

CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, Priorat, Spain (156398, $49.95, WineAlign)

Stupid gorgeous Priorat and though inaccessible to most of us mere mortals, if you were to shell out $50 in November for one wine, this has to be considered. A blend of 65 per cent Cariñena, 22 per cent Garnacha, with a smattering of Syrah and Merlot. Pure purple pitch, an early summer Catalonian garden in bloom, air warm, breeze light. Wow. Blows high priced Napa and over the top Châteauneuf-du-Pape out of the water. The oak is so beautifully integrated.  94  Tasted October 2013  From: Nine big November best buy wines

GIROLAMO RUSSO SAN LORENZO 2008, Sicily, Italy ($59.95)

From agronomist and oenologist Giuseppe Russo lives a Sicilian dream. Composed of Etna’s indigenous Nerello Mascalese with a small percentage of Nerello Cappuccio, this red is a veritable lava flow of molten magma, volcanic igneous solder and opulent Scoria. Pure, unchained fruit, no disguise, striking.  94  Tasted February 2013  @Oenophilia1  From: Real wines, whisky and boys night out

PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008, Piedmont, Italy (280412, $68.00, WineAlign)

This just has the look, the look of love. “A look that time can’t erase.” Nebbiolo you can see right through, this impossible light, this impossible life. Tea, tar and roses. A mineral spring, iron-earth field, where the game runs wild. You can relate to this Barolo, love it, relish it now but it will give pleasure for years. Not necessarily 25 but certainly 10-15. “Well, it takes my breath away.” Great vineyard.  94  Tasted October 2013  From: Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

From left: M. CHAPOUTIER LES BÉCASSES CÔTE-RÔTIE 2010, MOËT & CHANDON GRAND VINTAGE BRUT CHAMPAGNE 2004, DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010, and MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006

From left: M. CHAPOUTIER LES BÉCASSES CÔTE-RÔTIE 2010, MOËT & CHANDON GRAND VINTAGE BRUT CHAMPAGNE 2004, DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010, and MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006

M. CHAPOUTIER LES BÉCASSES CÔTE-RÔTIE 2010, Ac Northern Rhône, France (280420, $82.95, WineAlign)

Strictly beautiful Syrah. The offspring of the Côte Rôtie’s two necessary points of view. First, the schist, silt and shingle of the Brune. Second, the silica and limestone of the Blonde. In combination they produce an iron-rust wine of a ferruginous nature, in colour and in aroma. Seeping, exotic Rooibos tea, Provençal tapenade and smouldering flowers send smoke signals clear as day. Smells so rich though it’s full of grace and bathed in ultra-elegance.  94  Tasted October 25, 2013  From: Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

MOËT & CHANDON GRAND VINTAGE BRUT CHAMPAGNE 2004, Ac Champagne, France (69773, $83.95, WineAlign)

May not be the esteemed house and vintage of the century’s love-child but I can’t think of a single reason not to spend a pittance more on a vintage-dated Champagne like this Moët in lieu of a sea of NV alternatives. Granted it’s wound maddeningly tight, spewing still young venom, crazed by pear and citrus concentrate but…trust must be placed in its charms. This Moët is quite refined. Apples tempered in acidity, beloved for its building blocks, it’s really good Champagne.  94  Tasted November 2013  @MoetUSA  From: Ten sparkling wines to life

DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, Monopole, Ac, Burgundy, France (46706, $89.95, WineAlign)

From Mathieu Mangenot’s ”Grand Cru” plots, the Monopole holdings in the steep amphitheatre slope of Vaudésir and the gentle rise of Les Preuses. The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine. He spoons piles of flint and chunks of rock. He explains the tin pan elevation of Chablis and Chardonnay squeezed from the bedrock, capturing every last drop of geology, refuse of stars and fossils of the ancient animals. Stoic, metazoic, super Chablis, with tremendous length. How can this Chablis have so much fruit but no apple, no lemon, no pith. “You think things are straight but they’re not what they seem.” Candy for the soul. Novacaine in liquid form. Amazing.  94  Tasted November 2013  From: Twelve days of wine for Christmas

CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010, Ac Burgundy, France (344887, $101.95, Quebec $85.00, WineAlign)

A mild sylvan reductive stink is neither abstruse nor in fruit obstruction. What we have here is a brass tax in Chardonnay histrionics. Yellow and green tree fruit, wicked wild yeast game and just about as much ruminating, mineral tang as one might desire. Something wicked this way woos my wistful longing for quality white Burgundy. I could imagine drinking this well into my pension days.  95  Tasted November 2013  From: Twelve days of wine for Christmas

MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006, Doc, Veneto, Italy (215764, $99.95, WineAlign)

If a wine clocking in at 16 per cent alcohol by volume can be considered elegant and restrained and if that’s even possible, the Mazzano is the one. Though there is nothing outright prune, dried raisin or fig paste about it, this single-vineyard Amarone is enormously tannic. Any attempt at cracking its hard shell inside of 15-20 years should be thought of as counter-productive. Smells like the aforementioned fruit just picked at maximum ripeness so there is nothing cooked, roasted or overdone here. You simply have to wait for tertiary complexity to see what it will become. I sense great. Near-perfect vintage.  96  Tasted October 2013  From: Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

Good to go!

Is $17 your wine sweet spot?

Anyone who has stood staring at a wall of bottles can relate. Those moments in the liquor store, trying to pick a bottle of wine, not being able to make a decision.
PHOTO: TATTY/FOTOLIA.COM

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Anyone who has stood staring at a wall of bottles can relate. Those moments in the liquor store, trying to pick a bottle of wine, not being able to make a decision.

Related – Nine big November best buy wines

Most buyers have a price point in mind. Under $15, $15-20, $20-25, $25-50 and sky’s the limit. The WineAlign Wine Awards focus on finding values in these price ranges. As one of the WineAlign critics, I am part of a team that tastes and subsequently recommends what to buy and what to avoid. Over the past week I have posted nearly 70 tasting notes and reviews for the VINTAGES, November 9th release. Some of the wines are also available in other provinces.

Life is indeed too short to drink bad wine. As always, I encourage reading, tasting and as much trial and error as time mixed with budget constraints allow. If I can help make the purchasing less painful, here then are ten current release wines available right now at or near that $17 sweet spot.

From left: VILLA WOLF WACHENHEIMER RIESLING 2011, ROSEWOOD MEAD ROYALE HONEY WINE 2008, HINTERBROOK SAUVIGNON BLANC 2011, and ROCKWAY SMALL LOT RESERVE WHITE ASSEMBLAGE 2012

VILLA WOLF WACHENHEIMER RIESLING 2011 (366047, $13.95, SAQ 10786115, $14.30)

A basic and purposeful Riesling from Dr. Loosen, medicinally perfumed, waxy and in part reminiscent of calcium citrate. At $13 it may speak quickly and arrive at an abrupt halt but it’s sweet, salty and effective.  87  Tasted October 4, 2013

ROSEWOOD MEAD ROYALE HONEY WINE 2008 (296178, 500 mL, $14.95)

From honey bees to world class wine “Files in at 12.5% abv in a vintage where honey outsells water. Well-balanced, this is the dessert wine of the bees’ mile-high club. Whiffs of the flowers they feed upon with a touch of ginger and lavender. The honey comb pool beneath the (aged Gouda) cheese is worth the price of admission.”  88  Tasted October 2012  @RosewoodWine

HINTERBROOK SAUVIGNON BLANC 2011 (359372, $16.95)

Constrained and exacting Sauvignon Blanc. Pale, cloaked, lithe and balmy. Shows good tang and juicy acidity, assisted in kind by breezy, long and even-tempered fruit. Looks away from the dearly Sauvignon Blanc bereft, of blanched green vegetable, grass and Niagara gold. Builds to a mouth tingling grapefruit finish. The right grape (like red counterpart Cabernet Franc) to foster down at the Lincoln shore.  88  Tasted October 4, 2013  @Hinterbrook

ROCKWAY SMALL LOT RESERVE WHITE ASSEMBLAGE 2012 (359315, $16.95)

Though Chardonnay dominates the blend (75 per cent) it is not the aromatic master of its domain. The Gewurztraminer (15) and Riesling (10) are more than bit players, imparting medicinal, floral and tropical smells. A white blend with the leesy tang a la Loire or Alsace, figuratively rendering captain Chardonnay as a dispensable member of the team. Does not really make much sense but Niagara white assemblage is a funny business and takes years to master. Just ask J-L Groux.  86  Tasted November 5, 2013  @RockwayWine

VINTAGE INK MARK OF PASSION MERLOT/CABERNET 2011 (250209, $17.95)

Noticeable coarse ground dried clay and spice note, then rehydrated, soluble and integrated into ripe damson and licorice. Intense for the vintage and the price, if a bit like a lick of the inside of a copper pipe. Leaves a scar and a lasting impression.  87  Tasted November 5, 2013

From left: CHILENSIS LAZULI 2010, FAMILLE PERRIN LES CORNUDS VINSOBRES 2011, SANTA VENERE GAGLIOPPO ROSSO CLASSICO CIRÒ 2009, and DE CHANCENY EXCELLENCE BRUT VOUVRAY

CHILENSIS LAZULI 2010 (348128, $17.95)

It’s easy to get lost in the depths of this Maule Valley ink, to be “drowned in out in that deep blue sea.” The pitch of a moonless sky. The animal musk of a muscular, four-legged mammal with horns. The growl of a grizzly bear and the bite of a cobra. These are the traits of an $18 Chilean red blend that pulls no punches and tips the scales above its weight. A crushed Lapis intensity singing the blues like a Clare Valley demasiado caro. Buy a few and put them away to see if five years will honour the effort.  91  Tasted November 5, 2013  @ViaWines

FAMILLE PERRIN LES CORNUDS VINSOBRES 2011 (566844, $17.95, SAQ 2010 11095981, $20.65, NLLC 8909, $20.47)

On one hand this Vinsobres might be given mini Beaucastel due because of its alpine, alluvium flaunting and marine molasses, haunting and violent Rhône aromas. On the other hand, that’s a stretch. Savoury redolence from long-stemmed berries and licorice work favourably but there lacks the framework and layering to sublimate more than the obvious. Tastes great but pontificating forward, what will it look like? Hold the galets. It’s $18. Great value.  89  Tasted November 5, 2013

SANTA VENERE GAGLIOPPO ROSSO CLASSICO CIRÒ 2009 (52332, $17.95)

Cheery, cherry fresh, uncomplicated and juicy Gaglioppo as a bite of ripe, just picked plum. A moment of anxiety keeps the fruit honest and will allow this Calabrese to offer food-paired pleasure, like ripe cherry tomato, soft cheese and fresh basil.  88  Tasted November 5, 2013

DE CHANCENY EXCELLENCE BRUT VOUVRAY (352237, $20.95)

Anything but obvious Sparkling Chenin Blanc.  Extreme arid behaviour and highly seasoned by grapefruit, lemon curd, ginger and horseradish. Exciting example to Jones over a staid set of forbearers, a bubbly bottle of “white lightning ‘stead of mountain dew.”  91  Tasted October 4, 2013  @LoireValleyWine

Good to go!

He spits, he scores: World Wine Awards of Canada results

Fresh off the presses, here are the results from World Wine Awards of Canada 2013, presented by WineAlign
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Drinking, by definition, includes consuming and that would obviously be counterproductive to the wine evaluation process. So, wine writers and critics spit for their living. Why would anyone buy a wine on the recommendation from someone who spit it into a bucket? Good question.

Consider another question. How many wine critics does it take to change a light bulb? If the answer were 10, that would be because it would take one to hold the bulb and nine to spin the room. Or the answer might be three. One to decant, taste and spit, and two to take him to the hospital before he bleeds to death. Is the joke and are these responses indicative of how the general public feels about wine criticism? If yes, then the wine consumer’s attitude towards the relevance of wine competitions and the doling out of awards may not exactly be positive and indiscriminate.

A bit of insight for you into the modus vivendi of those who judge wine. Chew over this. A wine is submitted to a concours, tasted several times by a minimum of three critics, all of whom are kept blind as to the clues regarding producer, appellation, region and country. These wine professionals are chosen by and with their peers to judge, sniff, sip, spit and repeat. They consider, contemplate and formulate on the spot tasting notes and then discuss the attributes with a panel before passing final judgement. Seems like a perfectly and indisputably sound and reasonable approach, don’t you think? But what about the spitting part?

Whatever you might think about the use of such an exercise to determine the merit of a bottle of wine, competitions, when run and operated with unbiased integrity, do in fact empower justice to the entrants. Poke fun at the wine critic if you must, felicity knows they can take it, but know their modus operandi is just the same as yours. To seek out the most worthy and best value wines available in their market. The wine critic is self-taught, to internalize the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of a wine without swallowing it. It takes focus and years of practice to figure it out.

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2013

PHOTO: WineAlign.com
WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2013

The WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada (WWAC) held in September featured a week-long evaluation process for nearly 1,000 wines (996 to be exact) from around the world. Assembled and organized by an army of volunteers, the Herculean task was orchestrated by one of North America’s most respected wine critics and WineAlign Partner Anthony Gismondi, aka The Spitter. The Vancouver Sun columnist was also responsible for the immeasurable and exacting task of overseeing the pouring and the critical timing of delivery to the judges. Not to mention piles upon piles of tasting notes and scores.

WineAlign WWAC13 Wine Room

WineAlign WWAC13 Wine Room

The WWAC is open to both imported and domestic wines for sale in Canada, provided the wine sells for less than $50 somewhere in the country.  This affords an unparalleled opportunity for all wines sold in Canada to show that they can compete in quality and value with wines from anywhere in the world.  Wines are tasted in three price categories based on the lowest selling price in Canada. Less than $15, from $15 to $25 and from $25 to $50. As a consequence WWAC is really three competitions in one with wines being tasted alongside their peers by price and with awards given by price category.

I was invited to join the other 17 judges for the preliminary rounds. If I were to measure my prosperity by the company I keep, I would indeed be a pecunious wine scribe. I was joined in Mississauga, Ontario by David Lawrason, John Szabo, MS, Steve Thurlow, Sara d’Amato, Bill Zacharkiw, Janet Dorozynski, Rémy Charest, Marc Chapleau, Rhys Pender, MW, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson, DJ Kearney, Treve Ring, Brad RoyaleJulian Hitner, Evan Saviolidis, Anne Martin and Zinta Steprans.

WineAlign WWAC13 judges John Szabo, Julian Hitner and Sara d'Amato

WineAlign WWAC13 judges John Szabo, Julian Hitner and Sara d’Amato

Judges sit three or four together at a table, taste solo through flights of like varieties, procure notes and assign individual scores. Each flight of (three to 12) wines is then discussed, argued, debated and an ultimate meeting of the vinous minds either pushes a wine through to the next round or relegates it to the discard heap. This method of awarding by committee ensures that good wines receive their due blessings and flawed specimens are put in their rightful place.Here’s the kicker. Aside from knowing the price range and specific variety or varieties in a blend, the judges taste all the wines blind. Continent, country, region, appellation and vineyard are not part of the equation. This ensures the most equitable results.

So, fresh off today’s presses, here are the results from WWAC13, presented by WineAlign. Special thanks go out to Head Wineaux, Bryan McCaw, along with Steve Thurlow, Carol Ann Jessiman and Sarah Goddard.

2013 World Wine Awards of Canada Results

Each judge was asked to write reviews on a specific cross-section of wines they were a part of assessing during the competition. Here are my notes on my 28 of them, across a wide range of categories.

From left: Gustave Lorentz Cuvee Amethyste Riesling 2011, Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013, Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2012, and De Vine Vineyards Vrm 2011

Riesling $0-15

Gustave Lorentz Cuvee Amethyste Riesling 2011, Alsace, France $14.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice WWAC 2013 Best of Variety Under $15

Peppery, perspiring, basal, nasal fruit. Propellant driven with a bite of crisp golden delicious apple and green goddess acidity. At under $15 this achieves Trocken success. Unshakable, abecedarian if not the most formidable Riesling.  88  @AmethystWineInc  @drinkAlsace

Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling 2012, Qualitätswein Mosel, Germany $13.95

Pressed and packed with tropical fruit, as if a roll-up, in liquid form. Thoughts head east and south but the textural, angular and vertical intensity peels back that inclination. The extended play and fruit replay is a study in delineated Riesling depth. There must be some history behind the bottle.  87  @drloosenwines  @Select_Wines

Jackson Triggs Reserve Riesling 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, $13.99

Drawn to the off-dry resonance which is both tropical and florid in citrus maxima. That pomello repeats to taste but it falls under a balmy and herbal spell, in a relaxed way. A valley’s elongated attitude, at the foot of a mountain and architecturally sound. Re-mastered, utilitarian Riesling.  85  @Jackson_Triggs

Chardonnay Oaked $15-25

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2012, California, USA $16.95

Deft, lissome touch of oak. Subtle, determined orchard fruit, namely pear, barely kissed by a rose and the barrel. Exiguous yet meaningful and pragmatic aromatics. Bright Chardonnay so “a light hits the gloom on the grey.” Seals the deal astir with tang on the snappy finish.  88

PHOTO: Michael Godel White wine flight at the WineAlign WWAC13

Sauvignon Blanc $15-25

Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile $9.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Great show savvy, really great show. Outright fast flint, white pepper, citrus and fresh herbs. Luscious texture, convincing up the middle and goes deeper than many. Grapey and succulent. Clean, concise winemaking.  90  @Caliterra  @imbibersreport

Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand $15.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Equatorial and profuse but not over the top. Quick, painless slice of jalapeno, a sweet heat capsicum moment. Sauvignon Blanc with a drop of Sriracha, spritz of lime and pinch of salt on ripe tree fruit, like papaya and mango. Add in golden pineapple and kumquat for good salad measure. Nearly great value, if only it were graced with a bit more finesse.  88  @yealands  @TrialtoON

The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand $15.99

Stoic initially, with acute notes of gooseberry, grass and blanched legume. Turns tropical and balmy with a sense of orange marmalade. Confounding in that it could be South Island or Sancerre, but being subjected to such toe tipping is this Sauvignon Blanc’s calling card.  88  @MariscoWine

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand $18.95

Commodious Sauvignon Blanc, candid, candied and calcified. Tropical from what must be an intense vintage, whiffing dewy teak gold plum and prickly pear. Full-bodied and blessed with a long aftertaste. A slice of southern hemisphere confiture on toast.  88  @kimcrawfordwine

White Blends $15-25

De Vine Vineyards Vrm 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $23.00

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice WWAC 2013 Best of Variety $15 – $25

A Rhône-ish boy with a tithe of Marsanne in support of equal 45′s of Roussane and Viognier. Mutters in rhyme, beating the drum slowly, in a subtle white flower, pretty print dress. Nothing muddy about the waters this graceful swimmer treads. Sidled by just enough rigor to replay in refrain, “I’m a natural born lovers” wine. Egalitarian revolutions per minute.  90  @deVineVineyards

Road 13 Honest John’s White 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada $25.95

A group of seven grapes, riding on a carousel. A who’s who of white varieties going “round and round and round and round with you. Up, down, up, down, up, down, too.” Elegant and in control, like the stationary horses, this endearing and human blend. Nectarine and longan make appearances in the by committee, ensemble performance.  88  @Road13Vineyards

Pfaffenheim Tete A Tete Pinot Gris Riesling 2012, Alsace, France $15.49

A 50/50 split of Riesling and Pinot Gris, please do not adjust your set, go head to head, mano a mano to duke it out, agree to disagree and ultimately settle to blend and accept the results. Together they procure Époisses and worn socks. On the bright side there is orange zest and fresh squeezed grapefruit. “So they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.” Tangy and pithy finish. Abbreviated and horizontal.  85  @AlsaceWines

From left: Jackson Triggs Merlot Gold Series 2008, Road 13 Syrah Malbec 2011, Creation Syrah Grenache 2011, and Cassiano Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008

Syrah $0-15

Fifth Leg Old Dog New Tricks Shiraz 2011, Western Australia, Australia, $15.95

Less calamitous fruit compression in relation to the rest of the flight. Blueberry pie and a concord of baking spices predominate, along with unsettling though bracketing elevated levels of tannin and acidity. Wild and whacking lack of overall integration but possessive of many positive moving parts.  87

Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $19.60

A convection of raspberry jam and forest floor verdant wildness. Notable in not being nearly as wood-driven in relation to peers in adjacent stemware. An inelasticity and diaphanous texture suggests Syrah. Simpatico Shiraz.  87  @MissionHillWine

Red Blends $0-15

Hardys Stamp Series Shiraz/Cabernet 2012, South Eastern Australia, Australia $10.05

Initial thoughts lean towards flattery, in finesse and generosity. Rhône-like rocks and stones trot out the red fruit, spiked by citrus (ripe orange, juiced and reduced). Structured in oxymoronic astringent elegance. Decent to medium length.  87

Sumac Ridge Cabernet Merlot Private Reserve 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $14.99

Stands apart from the under $15 Red Blend flight as an axiomatic, soft conifer in a forest of hardwoods. I was admittedly fooled into thinking Niagara when it really calls the Okanagan Valley home. Semi-hemi-ripe, red stone fruit soused in halogen, spiced by Ween’s seventh album and Korean red pepper. “Even If you don’t” like the alternative character you will be charmed by its friendly production and likable wine/musicianship.  87  @SumacRidgeWine

Louis Bernard Côtes Du Rhône Rouge 2012, Rhone, France $13.00

A copacetic Grenache and Syrah Côtes du Rhône blend that just seems to exist in an Iberian state of mind. It’s the modernity speaking, in deep mauve, lilaceous essence and a palate clotted with poached tomato. Stops adroitly short of cooked or stewed fruit character. Juicy fruit from presumably young vines. Quick yet resplendent.  87  @LouisBernard84  @AuthenticWine

Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2011, Mendoza, Argentina $13.95

Malbec and Venetian Corvina in Ripasso’s Argentinian hands. Raising, hair-triggering, eye-opening aromas in acerbic Daikon intensity. Black bean paste and cedar, earth and char. The flavours echo and further Ripasso’s absorptive ability. Tack on a  snippet of sour mix and an elevated, grizzly bear, altitudinous attitude. This one leaves me “frozen in my tracks.” Certainly not gun-shy85 

Merlot $15-25

Jackson Triggs Merlot Gold Series 2008, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $23.99 WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Like a wine lover’s dessert, this JT Merlot spoons gobs of sun-dried fruit, anise and dried raisin over a compressed and chalky cake of balmy green tea. Youth purloined by developed character, marked by the sauce, not unlike some manic red advance cassettes from Italy’s Mezzogiorno. Now long in the tooth, “how you wound me so tight,” with your unique style, so “don’t say that I’ve lost you.” Its heft will carry it through.  88  @JacksonTriggsBC

Michael Godel, Zinta Steprans and David Lawrason at the WineAlign WWAC13

Red Blends $15-25

Musella Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2009, Verona, Veneto, Italy, $15.95

Soaked and sappy, with braised tree fruit flavours, concentrated and passed over upon itself. Certainly trying very hard to entice and invite hedonistic pleasure. Like an upside down plum and fig cake, dripping in macerated syrup but with enough mineral tension to prorogue another day. Good rehydrated example.  88  @3050Imports

La Fiole Cotes Du Rhone 2010, Rhone, France $15.05

Simultaneously juicy and brooding. Tension from the get go. A depth of dried, fruit leathery plum, soaking in spiked Kefir grain. Bound tight but aching to race free. In Rhône ranger territory, or a Rhône acting on a Hollywood set. Tannic, oaky, manly yes, but I like it too. Admirable length.  88

California Square Paso Robles Red Bland 2012, California, USA $18.95

Downy soft, delicate, cheerful red blend. Pastel watercolour, flower-patterned print as perfume. Warm climate red licorice, plum permeate and cherry saturate, well-integrated acidity and some iron astriction. Would gain weight alongside rich foods.  86  @TrialtoBC

Vignoble Rancourt Meritage 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada $19.80

Chalk dust followed by quality, perceptive, frank and just red fruit. Understated, not overly expressive and walking softly down the road.  85

The Cloof Cellar Blend 2009, Wo Darling, South Africa $20.00

Leaps from the glass with earth expanding aromas. Strapping Pinotage java component shows accommodating restraint in advance of a Turkish viscidity. Red fruit is bright, adhesive and enervetic. Overall a bouncy, tannic and splintered affair.  85  @Cloofwines_ZA

Red Blends $25-50

Road 13 Syrah Malbec 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $25.00

A count five psychedelic strawberry and savoury rhubarb aromatic behemoth. Crazy cherries too. Then, a mind-altering, animal hide moment, not exactly gamey, but something other, enough to cause a psychotic reaction. “(Shouted) And it feels like this!”  90  @Road13Vineyards

Creation Syrah Grenache 2011, Walker Bay, South Africa $32.50

A requiem for an exaggerated swirl, or at least the respect of a decant. Quite a head-smacking whack of mineral-iron-metal, with the tempering lift of a citrus-scented candle. Kirsch, vanillin oak “and my time is a piece of wax fallin’ on a termite, who’s chokin’ on the splinters.” I am the loser, the wine is the winner. Very berry, big and beautiful.  90  @gradwellwines

Cassiano Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008, DocVeneto, Italy $35.25

Quite the animal, this plum juicy and high-octane alcohol, cloying acetone and chocolate-dipped red licorice Venetian red blend. Sounds ridiculously Ripasso and near-Amarone delicious and were it endowed with the balance and structure to walk with the giants I’d sing its praises. Even so, I really believe it’s a “soul who’s intentions are good” so please don’t let it be misunderstood.  87

Masi Costasera Amarone 2008, Veneto, Italy $39.95

A stew of red fruit, prune and fig. Cauterized, steroidal, excessive, welling sensory overload. Leaking car fluids. Certainly a problematic, off-bottle from a reliable, age worthy brand.  80

Pinot Noir $25-50

Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir 2012, Leyda Valley, Chile $45.00

Beaucoup de terre, or more likely, mucho suelo. An extreme example of Pinot Noir, a flamboyant king, ostentatious, peacockish and wired by a constriction of spices. There is perhaps too much earthly, saftig body. Though my first impression was admittedly old world, there is no way that theory will hold. A glass in and the thrill is gone, “And now that it’s over, all I can do is wish you well.”  87  @BadDogWine  @WinesofChile

Good to go!

Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay

Malivoire Wine Company
PHOTO: STEVE ELPHICK, MALIVOIRE.COM

as seen on canada.com

My skies of late have espied no dark clouds and no rain. While torrential storms and unprecedented flooding hit Toronto last week I was fortunate to be basking in six days of Vancouver sun. I returned home to those same kind of skies, only now the mercury has climbed north of 30 degrees Celsius and the humidity well beyond the perspiration line.

There are two things you need to beat this kind of summer heat. Wine and wine. Start with Rosés and crisp, refreshing, aromatic whites. My current release recommendations also include a few reds (for the grill) and most are so hot that you’d better act fast because blink and they will be gone.

The second is to seek out Chardonnay. Cool, cool Chardonnay. This weekend I will be gathering with wine lovers making a pilgrimage to Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula to celebrate Cool Chardonnay, three vinifera and exceptional cuisine packed days (July 19-21, 2013) in my backyard’s great wine region. The international cool climate celebration is known as #i4c2013, an unprecedented gathering “spent exploring seductive shades of the most planted grape on earth.” The event’s mantra is simple. “40,000 acres can’t be wrong.” Cool Chardonnay will be three days of wine tasting and food pairing bent on altering and furthering the perception of the grape and just how incredible it can be in the hands of the cool climate winemaker. More than 120 wines from 60-plus wineries worldwide will be represented, including the greats from Niagara, Prince Edward County and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.

To celebrate the re-birth of cool, seek out any of these suggested wines and raise a toast to the cool climate winemaker, the gift of their land and the fine Chardonnay made by their hands.

Clockwise from left: Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2010, Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2011, Flat Rock Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Domaine Corne-Loup Tavel Rosé 2012, Chateau D’Angles Le Clape Rosé 2012, Rolly Gassmann Auxerrois Rotleibel de Rorschwihr 2007, Stratus Tollgate Fumé Blanc 2009, and Sister’s Run Shiraz Epiphany 2011

The Chardonnays

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2010 (318303, $16.95, B.C. 230961, $18.99) intensifies in juicy, bright, nearly candied fruit cut by sour patch and blanched nut. Clean, cool Chardonnay and right on. My earlier note, from ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ (but I like wine) is the unoaked result of aromatic Clone 809 combed from the heavier clay-based soils from the St. David’s Bench Vineyard and the silty, mineral rich soils from Seven and Seven Vineyard. Tropical, strutting stunner with “a thousand lips I would love to taste.” Tell Ms. Musqué if you can’t rock me, nothing can.  90  @MBosc

Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2011 (338434, $27.95, B.C. 732958, $21.90) sees minimal (15 percent new French) oak influence and while there is a ripe coconut tang, a sense of creamy butter and a spike of citrus, there really isn’t too much of anything at all. Tasted this fresh Okanagan a second time in Vancouver, alongside Another Side of Bob Dylan at Salt Tasting Room, I decided I could drink a barge full of the stuff. “All I really want to do, is, baby, be friends with you.”  90  @poplargrovewine

Bachelder Wismer Chardonnay 2010 (345819, $44.95,) is so sumptuous, presumptuous and precocious. Ahead of the curve, effortless and full of 20 mile mineral length. The ripe green apple never quits. My earlier note from Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary from the Twenty Mile (Vineland) Bench is the most righteous, understated charred butterscotch remoulade sauce of dreams. Richly textured and built upon a sneaky, slow and stretched breath of wild yeasts. A creeper, gatherer and traveler of both knowledge and persistence. The journey with Thomas Bachelder as related by partner Mary Delaney, from out of Quebec, by way of Ponzi and Lemelson in Oregon and to Niagara is the stuff of dreams. Tasted twice same night and hypnotized both times.  94  @Bachelder_wines

The Rosés

Flat Rock Pinot Noir Rosé 2012 (39974, $16.95) achieves pink Pinot nirvana by way of foxy strawberry, vanilla crème, and orange rind. Peppery red currants bring balance, some sizzle and spice.  88  @Winemakersboots

Domaine Corne-Loup Tavel Rosé 2012 (71209, $17.95) is the hot weather cold maker, big in ripe, strawberry fruit, citrus and red apple. Imagine a glass’ glistening condensation by the seawall on a hot afternoon, the wine deliquescing like dew, Hemingway open at page one.  89

Chateau D’Angles Le Clape Rosé 2012 (323386, $15.95) goes classic holy trinity Midi in Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. Creamy, frosty and savoury in strawberry, rhubarb, balmy tarragon and shrubbery. Finishes with salinity pressed like a salt herring.  91  @chateaudangles

The Aromatic Whites

Rolly Gassmann Auxerrois Rotleibel de Rorschwihr 2007 (328872, $19.95) elevates the grape to great heights. Gold carat, rich golden marmalade and aromatics simulating Sauternes. Pencil leads apricot and clementine in this life-sustaining sap. Has lived well and will live long.  90

Stratus Tollgate Fumé Blanc 2009 (335711, $24.95) gives a goblet of lavish, good pleasure in honey and near Gewürztraminer, lychee-ish tropical fruit. Not so smoky but pulchritudinous in yellow candy apple and its fumé comes from a scotch oak flavour. Replicates upon itself in rich and viscous waves. Total and utter unique Ontario white.   89  @Stratuswines            

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2010 (241182, $35.20) from the Vinemount Ridge appellation can’t help but froth forth in soda and A16 out of such a warm vintage but still, only CB perfumes like this. Ahhh, that Baker perfume. No level of encomium can express the intoxicating effect of Picone, vintage in, vintage out. So much apple, great acidity but more nut warmth than ’09. Shuns lassitude and shines bright.  90  @cbriesling

The Reds

Sister’s Run Shiraz Epiphany 2011 (269464, $16.95) is mineral prone like the northern Rhône in iron and bloody intense in sanguine rush. Not sure I could drink too much but it’s a study for sure.  Long on blueberry, pencil and though McLaren Vale issue, it seems reminiscent of older, Great Western Seppelt Shiraz, circa 2000.  89

Malivoire Cabernet Franc 2011 (310383, $24.95) reaches deep into the well to draw up an elixir of incredible luxuriance bolstered by a tart and tight, ripe red currant depth. Layered by Christmas and Black Forest cake with a sour black cherry glaze and a garth of earth and bushes.  91  @MalivoireWine

Good to go!

Working wines for the Canada Day weekend

Barque Breakfast, eggs, pulled pork, potato pancakes, guacamole
Barque Breakfast, eggs, pulled pork, potato pancakes, guacamole
PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

June has been long, wet, arduous and full of promise. Exhausting too. It began with a cooking ordure show for 1,300 Ultimate athletes. There have been food and wine tastings all over Ontario. The palate may never experience this level of fatigue as it does at the end of June. Think about how the Wine Align team feels!

Last week I attended the Stop Night Market, an unforgettable food and beverage extravaganza that rivals any outdoor gastro-experience you are likely to find, anywhere. The unparalleled $50 all you eat and drink ticket from the best of Toronto’s best aside, the SNM helped to solidify the STOP’s position as a leader in community food programs.  The next night I attended Sip and Savour Ontario in the Fermenting Cellar located within the historic Distillery District. Wine and food pursuers lapped up Ontario wines in every incantation matched by seriously excellent small edibles. Sip & Savour Ontario is dedicated to bringing education, support and accessibility of Ontario’s local wine, culinary and agricultural industries to the public, all in support of Houselink.

This coming Friday, June 28th has been declared #CanadianWineDay (or #CdnWineDay) so get out there and sample whatever you can find out of our wine regions, from coast to coast. Make sure to tweet what you tasted.

Time for a brief respite. Canada’s wine and food industry peeps and tweeps have been working overtime, taking care of business, working for the weekend.  What we all need is an extended rest, out in the air, down by the bay, surrounded by family and friends, with a good glass of wine. Here are 10 current releases, ready and willing to work for your long weekend.

Clockwise from top left: Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2012, Villa Tonino Grillo 2010, Lone Birch Pinot Gris 2012, Rosewood Estates Sémillon 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Pinot Gris 2008, Caves D’esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2012, Vineland Estates Pinot Meunier 2011, Jean-Ernest Descombes Morgon 2011, Stratus Tollgate Merlot 2010, and Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010

Clockwise from top left: Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2012, Villa Tonino Grillo 2010, Lone Birch Pinot Gris 2012, Rosewood Estates Sémillon 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Pinot Gris 2008, Caves D’esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2012, Vineland Estates Pinot Meunier 2011, Jean-Ernest Descombes Morgon 2011, Stratus Tollgate Merlot 2010, and Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010

The Sparkling

The grapes: Muscat, Perle of Csaba

The history: Traditional Champagne style bubbles from a Nova Scotia pioneer out of the Gaspereau Valley

The lowdown: Think Moscato D’asti from Piedmont mixed with the Hungarian Vinifera derived grape. The remarkably low 6.5 percent alcohol aims to please and refresh every palate on a warm Canada Day weekend

The food match: Barque Breakfast, eggs, pulled pork, potato pancakes, guacamole

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2012 (256289, $25.95, Nova Scotia $24.99) while nowhere near Champagne in proximity nor character holds a perfume immediate in marmalade, candied orange peel, lit wick and melting paraffin. To taste it sweetens up a sun-setting, waning day with a convexity of creamy rhubarb, orange sherbet, strawberry and pink grapefruit. Like a song in 6/4 compound, musical meter. With so much going on this is certainly a bridge to somewhere and it’s “gettin’ there fast.” 90  @Benjamin_Bridge

The Whites

The grape: Grillo

The history: Native and classic Sicilian varietal, dating back to B.C.E times though it now only comprises 3 per cent of the white grapes planted in Sicily

The lowdown: Boundless personality of a white wine from the thick-skinned and bold grape built for the blazing Sicilian sun and arid Mediterranean climate

The food match: Chickpea, Parmesan & Fennel Salad

Villa Tonino Grillo 2010 (289579, $14.95) owns a melon’s ripe musk melding to fermenting aroma, matched by a warm, juicy and mouth-watering texture. Blanched nut, coconut and lime zest party on the beach with steaming decapod crustaceans. Grillo, grilling and the sur beating up the sea wall would do just fine.  89  @RegazziWines

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Family owned & operated winery, located in the Yakima Valley of Washington State

The lowdown: Just a bit more than 4,000 cases produced and has only been in bottle for three months

The food match: Pacific Rim Chowder

Lone Birch Pinot Gris 2012 (324905, $15.95) gives away a whole lotta’ love for 16 bones. Rich, ropy mandarin and orange melon acidulated with a shot of white pepper coolant. LB, “you’ve been cooling and baby I’ve been drooling.” Dizzying on the tongue, gone bananas and twiddling on every bud.  90 @WINESofWA

The grape: Sémillon

The history: Beamsville’s Rosewood Estate has been pouring their heart, soul and honey (not literally) into this  varietal’s future

The lowdown: Most often employed in combination with Sauvignon Blanc to forge the dry white wines of Bordeaux and more famously, the dessert wines from Sauternes and Barsac. Rosewood is leading the North American charge. #StandSémillonStand

The food match: The Spoke Club‘s Crab Salad + Braised Pork Belly with spring onion and sea buckthorn

Rosewood Estates Sémillon 2011 (177758, $17.95) is the leader of the pack. The honey is uncanny. From an earlier note: “is frighteningly honeyed and its blatant acidity brings out all the right zest notes in the seafood. Major (three times) cropping from a “disease control vintage” by Orwinski who “knows the vineyard. It really is his home.” He’s still chanting “drop the crop!” in his sleep. The citrus and soda are glaring, exciting and invigorating in ’11, as is the aforementioned honey, the trump card keeping the Sémillon from being confused for Riesling.  Fascinating study.”  91  @RosewoodWine

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Alsace family estate winery dates back to 2010.

The lowdown: Grand Cru Pinot Gris. Kessler has been sold under its own name since 1830

The food match: Citrus Smoked Salmon Salad, goat cheese mousse, pickled strawberry, baby frisée

Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Pinot Gris 2008 (249623, $25.95) wants to tell you she’s late harvest but you know better. “You might say you can only fool yourself.” Golden gorgeous, silken pear custard and southern hemisphere, capsicum spiked fruit. Walks on little feat but ultra-marathon runs a sweet to dry crescendoing gamut.  92  @drinkAlsace

The Rosé

The grapes: Grenache, Rolle, Cinsault, Syrah, and Mourvedre

The history: From the Côtes de Provence, the brainchild of Bordeaux royalty Sacha Lichine (Chateau Prieure Lichine) and Patrick Leon (Baron Phillipe de Rothschild)

The lowdown: As classic a southern French Rosé as you are likely to find, gaze upon or taste, anywhere

The food match: Buttermilk Pancakes, bacon

Caves D’esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2012 (325076, $19.95) of calm, pale arctic char hue and creamy alabaster porcelain skin is a most statuesque and regal RoséWild herbs and country spice walk along a dry road in this most excellent pink drink.  89  @WhisperingAngeI 

The Reds

The grape: Pinot Meunier

The history: This is the third vintage for Vinleand Estates and the rare planted (approximately 1.5 acres) cousin of Pinot Noir

The lowdown: Winemaker Brian Schmidt is exploring the “potential of this unique varietal within the dynamic frame of Niagara. More reliable and consistent that it’s often “psycho” mirror image, Pinot Noir.”

The food match: Steak & Frites, Marinated Skirt Steak, Smoked Pepper Relish

Vineland Estates Pinot Meunier 2011 (225508, $17.95) offers a simple twist of fate from the vinous research control centre in Niagara. Has now gone well beyond experimentation, this 2011 tingles to the bone with pronounced floral waves and a sweet, tangy, concentrated cherry core. Solid focus and structured to please.  Piques a familiar rich scent of leather. Drank it “as the evening sky grew dark.”  88  @benchwineguy

The grape: Gamay

The history: Cru Gamay from Morgon. After Brouilly, Morgon is the largest winemaking area in Beaujolais. From the Georges Duboeuf stable

The lowdown: Straddles a serious and commercial line but the consistency of this Gamay is not to be disputed

The food match: Fried Green Tomatoes, corn salsa, feta

Jean-Ernest Descombes Morgon 2011 (946186, $17.95, SAQ 856898, $19.30, B.C. 866673 $21.99) is simply rich and decadent in raspberry, a bit cakey and jammy for the appellation yet structured and stylish. Barbera-like with tar, roses, fennel and balancing tannin.  89  @Dandurandwines

The grape: Merlot

The history: From master and mad scientist J.L Groux, winemaker at marketing and class organization extraordinaire Stratus Vineyards

The lowdown: When Stratus rolled out the Tollgate line I was skeptical. Where the Wildass group might hit you upside the head (in a good way, of course) the Tollgates earn their stripes with finesse and elegance. Created primarily for the restaurant industry. An ode to agricultural activity of Upper Canada

The food match: Panko-Custed, Pulled Slow-Cooked Beef Chuck, horseradish aioli, charred brussel sprouts

Stratus Tollgate Merlot 2010 (344101, $24.95) is a picture of modernity, warm and a touch oxy. Raspberry jam, dusty mulberry. Indicative of how special 2010 was for Merlot in Niagara. Really well made, built of a confident structure, mindful of an incandescence in finesse. Linear experience, with no breaks or pauses. Solid red.  88  @Stratuswines

The Splurge

The grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault

The history: From the Rhône Valley in Southern France, Château La Nerthe was born in the 12th Century around the time vines were first planted in the stone-strewn soil of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (literally the “Pope’s new castle”)

The lowdown: While the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are anything but cheap, they more often than not offer the best high-end wine values in the world. This is one of the best.

The food match: Braised Duck Leg, duck fat potatoes, ontario cherries

Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (735407, $43.95) exudes a bigger, bolder cherry and Kirsch liqueur than from memory, indicating both a flamboyance of the vintage and a torrent to a long future. A swirl of black cassock cooling the candied, cherry blossom centre is met by a wall of harsh tannin with a lash of tang pushing back the fruit. Will be stellar in five, or more likely ten years on. Love this house.  92 

Good to go!

See the humanity in real value wine

Glass of red wine PHOTO: FONS LAURE/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

There is no secret that Canadians and especially the wine consumer from Ontario, desperately want more choice. We want private wine shops that can specialize in niche products. We want all Canadian grapes to be granted passports to travel freely from province to province. We want access to real wines made by passionate human beings. We don’t want plonk.

Twice a month I taste through in excess of 100 hundred wines scheduled for release through VINTAGES, the fine wine and spirits division of the LCBO. On some days the wines, as a group, seem merely “better than dough.” On other days they cause one or more of my colleagues to say things like “this is the worst red wine day of my life.” The public knows that we have lagged for many years in wine retail. The public is ahead of the LCBO think tank on this.

Fortunately, or not, depending on how bright a side of life you look, more often than not I can look through and beyond the barbaric fringes and pick out a few primitive, unfettered warriors from the monopolistic offering. Once in a while the sea of humanity reveals itself and many wines shine, express their terroir, their somewhereness, their completeness. Here are nine estimable examples ready for immediate enjoyment, now in a store near you.

Clockwise from left: Delas Frères Saint-Esprit Cotes Du Rhône Rosé 2012, Le Gravillas Plan de Dieu Cotes Du Rhône Villages 2010, Marechal Brut Crémant De Loire, Domaine Des Aubuisières Cuvée De Silex Vouvray 2011, Domaine Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2010, Château Lyonnat 2006, Château La Grange De Bessan 2009, Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko 2011, and Bonaccorsi Viognier 2010

Delas Frères Saint-Esprit Cotes Du Rhône Rosé 2012 (224964, $13.95) is all sun and strawberry, almond and grapefruit tree scents after dark, so much spirit in the night. Salinity, markedly well-made and Muga-like. “Stand right up now and let it shoot through you.”  87  @HHDImports_Wine

Le Gravillas Plan de Dieu Cotes Du Rhône Villages 2010 (264648, $14.95) is simply a ton of wine for $15. That said, it takes extraction to the maximum and is yet blessed with a graceful level of gravitas. I wouldn’t want to drink too much of this, or any other similarly concentrated and heavily fruit- endowed Rhône but there is enough mineral and tar character to keep Le Gravillas honest.  88

Marechal Brut Crémant De Loire (141077, $15.95) foams frothy forth alive and expansive out of a yeasty starter, spins lightly on its A16 axis and revolves tightly wound around a citrus spindle. A working class Marechal, real and made for the people. Perhaps not La Grande Illusion but a wine that will “show the common humanity present across these divisions.” About as good as Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling Loire Chenin Blanc can be and priced to fly.  89

Domaine Des Aubuisières Cuvée De Silex Vouvray 2011 (57042, $17.95, SAQ, 858886, $17.60) speaks sedimentary cryptocrystalline vernacular to narrate its Loire Chenin Blanc story by way of a ripe apple and blooming rose style. Off-dry and dehydrated by the chert, that defining, dusty silex soil. There should be land-driven $18 wine available, always and everywhere.  89  @LoireValleyWine

Domaine Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2010 (21253, $19.95, SAQ, 913897, $22.85) returns the storied Alsatian to top form after a confounding ’09. Cool climate, perfervid pear considers dressing up in lime-spiked papaya but chooses to turn on its heel to put on a sequin-dotted silk dress. Spot on, shimmering scintillant.  90  @drinkAlsace

Château Lyonnat 2006 (243774, $19.95) built upon 85 percent Merlot, 11 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and four percent Cabernet Franc has ancient and learned Right Bank morphology written all over its sweet, scorched earth perfume. Has entered the zone, in toasted cedar and grilled beef on the bone integration but caramel and kindling are just around the corner. Get in while the coals are smoking. Reminds me of the good oak days.  89

Château La Grange De Bessan 2009 (321331, $19.95) is a poster child for affordable, humanistic Médoc, Left Bank, hyped vintage Bordeaux. Mutton on the reductive nose does not impose a run and hide. Purple flowers, parquet smoke and dark chocolate co-mingle with iron, calcium and limestone. Meat-friendly, complex, well-structured.  90  @BordeauxWines

Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko 2011 (74781, $21.95) must be a fairy tale, a Boucles d’or narrative of structure and complexity from the first swirl and sniff. Airy, saline, built of rich, gold guts. Perfectly ripened orchard fruit and fresh-squeezed grapefruit. Taste it and there’s a joyous dance, a kefi bursting inside, like great Champagne but minus the bubbles.  92  @KolonakiGroup

Bonaccorsi Viognier 2010 (318121, $23.95) from Santa Barbara’s Happy Canyon is bottled, golden Californian sunshine, rich, unctuous and tanned. Will be accused of being obnoxious, bellicose, even Sisyphean, but she and I don’t care. Spicy, candied yellow apple, sappy, honeysuckle scent meets an efflux of buttery cashew, like toasted Chardonnay crossed with aged Chenin. Grand Cali Viognier.  91  @jbonaccorsi

Good to go!

The Wine Diaries: Grapes and Peaches

Má Pêche, Momofuku – Duck Two Ways PHOTO: GABRIELE STABILE

as seen on canada.com

If I had my little way

I’d eat peaches every day

Eat a peach. Listen to the music. Taste wine. Feel like a president. My wine codex is in full, binary cross-cultural mode. These days I can’t help myself singing (in a quiet whisper) Dave Grohl songs – I’m not even such a big fan of his music! Maybe it’s because he seems to be everywhere; in tweets about the SXSW Festival, on the cover of Delta’s in-flight magazine, on satellite radio in the rental car. Recent wine events and food experiences have left me with the distinct impression that “it’s times like these you learn to live again.”

Passionate chefs, exceptional “100km” wines, and a good cause are a triumvirate for success. Also, a city that never sleeps, a superstar chef’s empirical outpost, and sublime food are a second triad for victory. And what do these two scenarios have in common? Grapes and peaches.

BAAH! The Great Lamby Cook-Off, Thursday, March 21st, 2013, Imperial Ballroom, Fairmont Royal York Hotel

BAAHTony Aspler knows more about wine than just about anyone I know. That he has taken his knowledge, his craft and his contacts in the food and wine world to champion a noble cause, well that is something to be admired. The organization he gives time to is called Grapes for Humanity, globally providing much needed relief to those less fortunate. Mr. Aspler organized yet another memorable GFH event, to benefit a child’s education by constructing a needed school in Guatemala. Twelve chefs, 12 lamb dishes, 12 wine pairings. You couldn’t spit without hitting a sommelier or a local oenologist. Chef Michael Pataran took home the top prize for his Goan Lamb Shoulder with a coconut, chili, lime chutney and paddle skewer. The best wine pairing went to the Henry of Pelham Baco Noir Reserve 2010, poured alongside Pataran’s “curry”; a double win. Stock Sommelier Zoltan Szabo directed the room with tireless energy.

Here, my favourite three wines at “BAAH”, plus a gorgeous Gigondas tasted in NYC on Saturday night.

From left: Rosewood Estates Merlot 2010, Tawse Merlot ‘David’s Block’ 2010, Norman Hardie ‘County Unfiltered’ Cabernet Franc 2011, and Domaine du Gour de Chaulé Gigondas 2007

Rosewood Estates Merlot 2010 (211896, $22.00) on this night walked a Niagara Wallendian tightrope of balance between heft and deft, sidling effortlessly up to Barque Smokehouse chefs David Neinstein and Tony Starratt’s ‘Mici‘ and travelling further on up the evolutionary road past “enjoyable if unremarkable.” From my earlier note: “Continues to show a reductive note in the form of vanilla and maple syrup, no honey actually, but all signs point to further excellence. High quality chocolate spiked by cherry, orange and a peppery, nasal tickle open up beautifully and expressively towards the dusty, berry main event. Knock your baby’s socks off with this double-stuffed Oreo and let the night unfold.  89 @Rosewoodwine

Tawse Merlot ‘David’s Block’ 2010 ($49.95) from certified organic and biodynamic estate fruit puts the double ‘L’ back in lush. Endowed of a caressing cashmere. Could act as spokesperson for Niagara Merlot announcing, “there are 10 kinds of people in the world, those who like Merlot, and those who don’t.” Calm, confident and marked by an insouciant nature. Earlier note: “Suffers no stenosis and instead flows as a sanguine and savoury riverine expression. Olives and the smokey whiff of yeasty bread on the grill. Not surprising considering the quality of Pender’s lees so often collected and added back to the next generation’s barrels.”  91  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Norman Hardie ‘County Unfiltered’ Cabernet Franc 2011 ($25) rolls the barrel out from a velvet underground into the Prince Edward County sun, pours singular Foster Vineyard fruit over crushed limestone then infuses the juice with ripe cherries. The warmth of 2010 lingers on in the ’11 CF’s pale blue eyes. Makes “the world as pure and strange as what I see.” Persists as the definitive expression of this grape in The County.  91  @normhardie

Dinner at Momofuku, Má Pêche, 15 w. 56th street, New York City, @momofuku

Má Pêche knows how to treat a lady, the President of the United States, and me. David Chang’s midtown eatery located in the Chambers Hotel opened in April, 2010. The Executive Chef is Paul Carmichael, a Barbados native who transmits Chef’s vision through elegant, restrained and poetic flavours. Carmichael and Chef de Cuisine Johnny Leach compose dishes as colourful canvasses but they are never over-painted nor monochromatic abstractions. Food of distinction and singularly distinct from plate to plate. Vegetables, many of the root kind, are succulent, glossy, al dente, and clearly defined. Service offers no pretense, no hovering, no massaging. Casual and professional. No hipster attitude neither.

Má Pêche AppetizersPhoto: Michael Godel

Má Pêche Oysters
Photo: Michael Godel

Oysters, especially New Brunswick Hurricane and Salt Pond Rhode Island are fresh makers, like spirits moving through the ocean. Washed those suckers down with 21st Amendment “Bitter American” Extra Pale Ale. Spanish Mackerel is a smokey, charred wave of umami with crisp, crunchy romaine and a silken tofu sauce, like citrus-spiked tahini. Barnegat Light Scallops are buttery, whispering, ethereal.

Appetizers

Má Pêche Appetizers

Chatham, MA Cod is foam cloud-enveloped, braised fish and brussel sprout ‘chips’ attenuated by malt vinegar. Jurgielewicz Farm, PA Duck two ways is perfect pink breast accented by candied orange rind and also piquant mici-like sausage, bucked by peppery spice. Provitello Fams, NJ Veal is fall apart, rosy neo-osso bucco, soft, supple and flat out delicious. The only non-wow moment comes from Barnegat Light, NJ Monkfish which shows indifference and a dry, dusty mole that barely mingles with needs to be further-rendered skin.

The wine list is more than thoughtful, embracing many needed food companion varieties, like Sylvaner, Trebbiano, Scheuerebe, Cabernet Franc, Nerello Mascalese and Teroldego. I opted for a southern Rhône Grenache blend imbued with just the perfect amount of age.

Domaine du Gour de Chaulé Gigondas 2007 ($31, Menu: 375 mL $32) of black/crimson mephitic and inky berry blush and lush, full-on sun-drenched fruit has reached full resolve. Licorice, kirsch and stony, meta-anthracite show off in the wine’s perfect window.  Decadent Gigondas.  92

Good to go!