March 21 big guns

From left to right: Ridge Three Valleys 2012, Amisfield Pinot Noir 2011, Brezza Barolo 2010, Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Château Clerc Milon 2011, Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Dominus 2011

From left to right: Ridge Three Valleys 2012, Amisfield Pinot Noir 2011, Brezza Barolo 2010, Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Château Clerc Milon 2011, Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Dominus 2011

The first day of spring strikes me as a strange time to roll out a VINTAGES release full of big guns, from Cabernet Sauvignon passing by Pinot Noir to Zinfandel and from Nebbiolo to Sangiovese Grosso. A bold group in large numbers is usually reserved for the November and December offers leading up to wallet emptying Christmas shopping days. If the March 21st release is any indication, the powers that be at the LCBO must feel pretty good about the current state of Ontario’s economy.

Related – I shall be Riesling

How else to explain the laying out of the fine red wine carpet in purchasing timeline purgatory? The other alibi in justification is a concern of surplus and overcrowded warehouse shelving, caused by a back log of unsold Bordeaux futures and a consumer shift to less vivid, decreased drama and all around #GoGamayGo sentiment.

For all my reviews from the March 21, 2015 VINTAGES release, see them @WineAlign

I tasted through most of the bad boys on this release and while many are more overpriced than a $20 bucket of bullfrogs in an Algonquin Park bog, these six wines stood tall and shook their value obvious money-maker amongst a slouching and gouging crowd. Forceful wines, all meant to spend at least some slumbering time in the cellar.

Ridge Three Valleys 2012, Sonoma County, California (652875, $35.95, WineAlign)

This Sonoma County Zinfandel melting pot was first produced in 2001 and the 12th vintage contains grapes from seven different Sonoma vineyards. Many of Ridge’s wines bull the intent of single-vineyard, terroir-driven expression. The TV is more about bear assemblage, the search for differential balance and winemaking. Zinfandel (79 per cent) is joined by Carignane (12), Petite Sirah (8) and Alicante Bouchet. Approximately one fifth of the American oak is new, with the wood waft leaning to spices directed by clove, cocoa kernel and faint coconut that infiltrates the Draper perfume. The rich red fruits combine for a brawny voice, bold, peppery and so very ripe. Though not hesitant or introverted, this Zinfandel avoids excessive character and exemplifies the fine art of blending.  Tasted March 2015  @RidgeVineyards  @rogcowines

Amisfield Pinot Noir 2011, Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand (179754, $41.95, WineAlign)

The agglomeration of Central Otago wild vegetative conglomerate is in this Pinot Noir. Strawberries and their leaves, dug up clay, saturated syrup with dark cherries and braising meat make for big aromatics. This is a very meaty, terrifically cimmerian Pinot, with a replay in flavour of loamy and corpulent stock, like a reduction of mire poix and beef bones. Finishes with dried fruits, marigold, a kick of cinnamon spice and pine needles. A bit of wow from the hinterland of Central Otago.  Tasted March 2015  @Amisfield  @COPinotNoirLtd  @CentralOtago_NZ  @HalpernWine

Brezza Barolo 2010, Piedmont, Italy (711788, $46.95, WineAlign)

The gusto and earnestness of antiquity is right upfront in this Nebbiolo, the silliness of modernity left to the practices of more fickle and irresolute houses. A faint and impertinent percussion of volatility beats the near term olfaction into temporary submission, but the wine is bright and the acidity chants with proper diction. The tannic grain is sweet and savoury, well-structured and you can certainly smell the roses. The taste of Nebbiolo is succinct and the overall design is a seven to year plan, with nothing but pleasure on the next decade’s horizon.  Tasted March 2015  @NaturalVines  @jcmeli

Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (651141, $59.95, WineAlign)

Here flatters definitions of Sangiovese Grosso, of rusty and rustic pasts, big, bold beginnings and distant, slowly etched futures. A faint tease of soy in feign of premature corrosion is the product of the terroir’s liquor. This is so far from its secondary times. It’s as though it teases with an aroma and flavour of melted caramel but the mirage is tantalizing and unreal. The lack of sweetness confirms the notion and instead this Brunello offers dried flowers in dreams and fresh ones placed in vessels not yet tangible, nor yet set upon the table. Wild sauvage, sage and garriga are transubstantiated into liquorice, game and distilled amari. This is perhaps the finest Pian Delle Vigne of the (post 1990) modern age. Very exciting wine. Drink 2019 – 2029.  Tasted March 2015  @AntinoriFamily  @HalpernWine  @ConsBrunello

Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Monte Bello Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, California (89284, $61.95, WineAlign)

A perennial three plus one quarter blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, give or take a few points, that always punches well above its weight and cost. Not just in relation to similarly priced Cabernets but when looked at alone and on its own merit. There is a searing red intensity in 2011, with steroidal currants and a whiff of lodge smoke, plenty of creamy vanilla and lavender. An injection of liquid chalk, circulating acidity and in the end, some bold coffee notes. No bell pepper. None. Well made, of course and despite the cold and the wet, the omnipresent Draper perfume and very good length. My only cavil would be a degree of over-employed new oak in a vintage where less would ironically be more.  Tasted March 2015  @RidgeVineyards  @rogcowines

Château Clerc Milon 2011, Ac Pauillac, 5e Cru, Bordeaux, France (301119, $89.95, WineAlign)

The principals at Clerc Milon consider 2011 “to be ranked among the finer, or perhaps even the finest” of Bordeaux vintages. The better news is that despite that declaration the price on this classic, structured and flat-out enjoyable Médoc is relatively affordable, especially considering the astronomy of pricing since 2000. This early picked (finished by September 28th) blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (54 per cent), Merlot (37), Cabernet Franc (7), Petit Verdot and Carmenère has vintage steal written all over its painted berry face. Terrific wood spice, more fruit from plum and rapturous acidity travel great lengths to pleasure. The coffee component is in but with just a light alcohol spike. This is really fine Paulliac, elegant, refined and not outrageously priced.  Tasted March 2015  @Noble_Estates

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, California (325027, $112.95, WineAlign) LCBO Inventory

Though prepped by notions of a cooler and later ripening vintage, there is even more savoury, tobacco and cool clime (altitude) aromatics than might have been imagined. This Cade is so very bright in a cherry-plum-pomegranate continuum yet in contrast to a (negatively impacting) sweet-sour-tang drupe. Tends to angles more akin to Tuscan summer savour, like lavender, rosemary, sage, and vanilla. The overall impression to palate is that of a chew of the toffee that might be made by the aromatic combination, or a pull of syrupy tea. In the end there is nothing simple about this thoughtfully crafted Cade.  Tasted October 2014  @CADEWinery  @TheVine_RobGroh

Dominus 2011, Napa Valley, California (212381, $176.95, WineAlign)

In 2011 the breakdown is Cabernet Sauvignon (86 per cent), Petit Verdot (9) and Cabernet Franc (5). From an antithetical Napa growing season, wet, cold and in requiem of acumen to deal with what the winemaker in Bordeaux faces in every vintage not hailed as best of the century. The ’11 Dominus has been in the market for just a shade under a year, just the right amount of time for a poured glass to reveal its charms. The new barrel count is approximately 40 percent, a substantial but not egregious number. We want to know what fruit the vintage gives, regardless of the conditions and in ’11 that drupe is savoury, more sage than nettle, and saliferous. That minerality is cute and key because the expression remains huge, so the cure helps to leave an indelible mark. The attributes of massive fruit, (no small feat considering the weather), smoke and phite makes for a mess of aromatic intensity. The flavours are accessible and the texture quite full. Though not the thickest Dominus to date (due to the oak not overwhelming the fruit) this will offer up seven to 10 staid years of development, followed by another five to 10 of minor decline.  Tasted March 2015  @rogcowines

Good to go!

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‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ (but I like wine)

The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, centre, Keith Richards, right, Charlie Watts, back, and Ronnie Wood perform during a concert in Toronto as part of the band’s “50 & Counting Tour” on May 25, 2013. PHOTO: THE CANADIAN PRESS/FRANK GUNN

as seen on canada.com

It’s all about the rocks and stones, in music and wine. Witness songs of raw power, laid wide open, where the squeaks of chord changes, the twang of a plucked bass and the bee bop of a snare hang out exposed and naked. Seek relief in the soothing sound of a soulful ballad but nothing eases pain like a raunchy tune that “invites us to dance in the face of its own despair.” Rolling Stone Magazine rock critic Jon Landau‘s 1974 review of the Rolling Stones quintessential “we’re a rock ‘n roll band” album It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll hit the proverbial nail on the head, then and now. Like the title track, “it resonates like the sound of a shotgun.”

There was no It’s Only Rock and Roll Carrie Underwood duet with Mick Jagger last night at the The Rolling Stones 2nd ’50 and Counting’ tour Air Canada Centre show. I did not go. I had my fill of totemic super group, epic rock concerts in the 80′s and 90′s; Stones, Who, Kinks, Grateful Dead, Dire Straits, Genesis, Supertramp, Allman Brothers, Crazy Horse, E Street Band. Now give me shelter in the sounds of Spoon or Divine Fits. The best concerts then were the rock royalty derivative or solo shows; David Byrne, Peter Townshend, Mark Knopfler, Peter Gabriel and Keith Richards with arguably the greatest grape-related band name ever, the Expensive Winos.

The wine analogy qualifies as yet another hermeneutic. Minerals walk the walk and talk the talk. If the wines qualify as natural all the better, especially when the ferment is unafraid to expose its flaws and idiosyncrasies to be ogled and gazed upon. To smell rocks and stones in a swirled glass fulfills a base and necessary need. The fascination for geology can be quenched by so many international varieties and soils. Chenin Blanc in the Silex of the Loire, Nerello Mascalese atop volcanic Etna, Grenache amid the boulders of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Sangiovese from the ultramafic of Tuscany and Chardonnay out of the Kimmeridgian soil of Chablis. To each animates an ownership of terroir. The world’s quarries have accustomed wine geeks with centuries of fine drink but never has an obsession possessed a community with such pleasures ere unknown. Enter the studios of the Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County. Electric Lady, Motown and Muscle Shoals all rolled into one.

The collective geological consciousness embraced by the Ontario wine engineer is only rock and roll but everyone is digging it. If Let it Bleed signaled the Rolling Stones’ entry into an affair and infatuation with all things Americana, especially for vocals and guitar with a country music accent and twang, then It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll is the high swagger point. As a record it represents the culmination of a period where the room is eventually tied together by the rug of Some Girls. Ontario winemakers have entered the ‘open G’ tuning period in their careers, now with a few passionate, penetrating records under their belt. A ten year road lays ahead, destined to me mapped out by their greatest works, lithospheric wines to define their legacies, in toto as the supergroup history will remember them by.

Rocks and stones have for millenniums been used to construct homes, pathways, fences and places of worship. They have also been used to build wine. Here are ten current releases, forged from diverse mineral terrains and available now.

Clockwise from top left: Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2010, Valdeorras Tempestad Godello 2011, The Foreign Affair The Conspiracy 2011, Coyote’s Run Red Paw Chardonnay 2011, Malivoire Pinot Noir 2010, Laurent Miquel Bardou St.-Chinian 2007, Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, and Grgich Hills Chardonnay Estate Napa Valley 2010

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2010 (318303, $16.95 and at the winery) 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

Valdeorras Tempestad Godello 2011 (276071, $17.95) from Bodegas Abanico in Valdeorras whiffs the mineral temptation of a weathered, wet copper penny, secondary Riesling-like petrol, ripe peach and jamón wrapped around white date.  Delicious juicy fruit, nutty and just a touch of lees. Late seafood aftertaste, a crab drink to enjoy with a tempest of Spanish tapas. Ain’t Too Proud To Beg for this one.  89  @bodegasabanico

The Foreign Affair The Conspiracy 2011 (149237, $19.95), kissed, re-passed over and threatening to push boundaries as if it were singing “if I could stick a knife in my heart, suicide right on stage.” This Ilya Senchuk beauty may only be ripasso but I like it. Eases my pain and my brain. Excellent verve and honed of a rock star’s capacity to be loved, with tart, red and black fruit in waves, tar and charcoal. Svelte balance in fruit, alcohol, sweet and sour. This is THE vintage for this wine. Ten plus years lay ahead for a long affair and it will be rewarded with praise in future tastings.  92  @wineaffair

Coyote’s Run Red Paw Chardonnay 2011 (336115, $19.95) reminds of the lyric “and I don’t need no fancy food and I don’t need no fancy wine.” Many may not know it but David Sheppard’s Red Paw Chardonnay at $20 is fancy and serious. There is more toast than from memory and four miles of apple butter in the glass. Red Trafalgar clay loam and Queenston shale bedrock give it strength. Warm Chard for a cool climate with green herbs and a late mineral tinge. Apples in replay. Sadly, sister vineyard Black Paw was pulled due to a virus so we’ll savour this Red Paw Till The Next Goodbye.  88  @coyotesrun

Malivoire Pinot Noir 2010 (996777, $24.95) shows great warmth in rusty, bricking hue. High toned glossy fruit not to be mistaken for anything but Pinot. Tons of fruit character,  some tannin getting warmer in the glass. Time Waits For No One, least of all this very solid Pinot, verging on stunning. “Drink in your summer, gather your corn” for the Malivoire ’10′s time is now.  91 @MalivoireWine

Laurent Miquel Bardou St.-Chinian 2007 (328583, $24.95) the Syrah funk monster is heavy on mineral, chewy with currant flavours and a citrus hint. Like sucking on an iron lollipop that lasts and lasts. Luxury Languedoc.  90  @LanguedocWines

Raoul Gautherin Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons 2010 (159236, $28.95) has the rocks and stones, rolling in orchards, fields and dreams. Dancing Little Sister, bang on mineral, blessed length, wonderful. Full-on nervy and relevant Chablis. With her “we bacchanal, there ain’t no dawn.”   91  @purechablis

Domaine De L’aigle A Deux Tetes Cotes Du Jura Les Clou 2010 (323618, $39.00) is uncanny in apple cider character from ’08 planted Savagnin grapes and only 50 cases produced. Intense honey with just a touch of fromage, piercing mineral. The apples and honey are everywhere. A little Rosh Hashanah for you with tang, verve and length. “Give me the look of love,” says this Jura, If You Really Want To Be My Friend.  92  @JuraWine

Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (89284, $52.95) makes you gotta love the anti-napa concept, attitude and execution. The ’09′s nose is high in tone, accent and richesse but there is no syrup or gratuitous chocolate barrel aging or excessive berry extraction. Great finesse, balance and a sense of crushed rocks is a throwback to better times. Alcohol at a manageable 13.8 per cent so within reason, built on meter in metronome precision. Will be invited to dinner every night of the year. No Short And Curlies problem here.  94  @RidgeVineyards

Grgich Hills Chardonnay Estate Napa Valley 2010 (346304, $54.95) tasted previously continues to thrill in mineral char and length. From the Fingerprint File, my previous note, “glides in so much variety balance I can imagine showering with wine. You will not pigeon-hole this-worldly and structured white because its finesse reaches out across the great mineral vs tropical divide debate. Sure, there is timbered-driven, golden-fleshed apple, green melon and buttered, toasted bread, but there too is a sting of acidity. Stellar year for Napa Chardonnay. Great glass of sunshine93  @GrgichHills

Good to go!