Godello’s 24-hour Nova Scotia revival

Lightfoot & Wolfville estate vines overlooking the Minas Basin

Neither travel fatigue nor Ida on a wet and grey last day of August and first of September could hardly dampen the spirit nor get in the way of a most rewarding and highly educational visit to Nova Scotia wine country. On Thursday the skies looked like an unripe olive as photographed through gauze yet the fabric gifted a palpable feeling of optimism. As Friday progressed the resolute mood took on a confidence in airs. An exchange of ideas and a refreshed positivism rang from Newport to Wolfville, the Blomidon Peninsula, Gaspereau Valley and through permeate points dotting the Minas Basin. Looking back one month later, a persistent study in reflection wonders if the blood of Nova Scotia wines are closer to seawater than its bones are to soil. Considering the growing of grapes so proximate to the immense tidal sways of the Bay of Fundy can weaken or perhaps even profane the recurring thought, as if in fact in the whole of the Annapolis Valley there may be more earth than sea. If that is the answer then what is the question? Ponder this. Can you taste Nova Scotia terroir in the wine?

A rebirth with new blood. Caitlyn McNamara, Erin Carroll, Cat Taylor. Three new faces of Nova Scotia winemaking. Innovators, bringers of new, fresh and forward-thinking ideas to an industry well past the cusp, fully cognizant of and cementing its command of greatness. Arbiters of viticulture and viniculture who have joined the ranks of teams already entrenched and with positions of leadership occupied; Louis Coutinho, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, Bruce Ewart, Harold Gaudy, Gina Haverstock, Josh Horton, Rachel Lightfoot, Mike Mainguy, Alex Morozov, Simon Rafuse, Jürg Stutz and Ben Swetnam. There are others of course and yet on my most recent east coast swing to the Annapolis Valley there were six visits in total plus two remarkable if isolated wine experiences and meals; first at Heather Rankin’s Obladee Wine Bar in Halifax and then at Chef Geoffrey Hopgood’s Juniper in Wolfville. Add to that an ocean submerging of 300 bottles of sparkling wine and some after the fact assessments of more Nova Scotia bottles. Funny how a 24 hour jaunty through Nova Scotia wine country is the stuff of bagatelles, dear and near to a naturalist’s heartstrings, familiar as family and yet wrought with equalizing, objective professionalism. Please read on for a 2021 update to winery profiles and tasting notes for 40 wines from Nova Scotia.

Related – Consider the Gaspereau Valley

Winemaker Ben Swetnam, Avondale Sky Winery

Avondale Sky Winery, Newport

Andrew and Mary Bennet first planted the vineyard in 1987, in one of the hotter provincial zones. It would have been an old dairy farm, with an original schoolhouse, six old dug wells and the same number of split properties/buildinAvila,gs on the farm. In 2008 they realized the 12.5 acres was a bit much so put it up for sale. They were picky about the buyer and keen to keep it going. Winemaker Ben Swetnam was at Petite Rivière on the South Shore at the time and was hired by Chef Ray Bear, then Avondale sold five months later to Lorraine Vassalo who kept Ben on. They relocated an old hay barn from down the road without water and doors but that first harvest went through beautifully. The Coutinho family bought Avondale Sky Winery and Restaurant at the tail end of November 2019. They lost 95 per cent of their crop to the 2018 frosts. As an example l’acdie’s primary, secondary and tertiary buds all come out at the same time, not exactly frost protection and all hybrids were lost. The original 12.5 acres have turned into 25 which now includes an acre of pinot noir and this coming Spring the plan is to add more, along with pinot gris (as far as cleared land) with a possible five cares uncleared that could be used in the future. Up to 5,000-5,500 total cases at this point. Vineyard manager is Pete Smits and has been at Avondale for five years. The family are all involved; Louis (vineyard), Avila (finance), Sean (hospitality), Karl (CEO) and Jamie (Social Media).

Avondale Sky Winery

Avondale Sky Winery Gamay Pet Nat 2019, Nova Scotia ($50)

From a grower (Andre Dant’emont) in Mahoney Bay who has a small amount (he sold winemaker Ben Swetnam 96 kilos) with the intention of making a red from whole cluster and a gentle mash. Swetnam instead decided to “let this happen” because it just smelled clean. An as it happens sparkling pet-nat with just the right amount of lees, and a quick three day riddle so that it wouldn’t explode as Rosé P-N is want to be a little jumpy. Bloody delicious, as juicy and forthright as could possibly be. Bottled on November 18th, 2019, only 23 bottles made, from grapes brought in November 2nd and 3rd. Showing with vigour, intendment and kept determination. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noir 2013, Nova Scotia ($75)

While Ben Swetnam had wanted to dabble in sparkling going back to 2009 he can thank everyone in the Nova Scotia industry for showing him the ropes. That includes Gina Haverstock at Gaspereau, Bruce Ewart at L’Acadie, Simon Rafuse at Blomidon, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers at Benjamin Bridge and others. The 2011 would have been the first vintage of pinot noir production with the intent of making sparkling wine, of hot to cool years and all others in between. Dijon clones and a warmer edge of a ’13 season, a riper style but brought in at classic sparkling numbers, acids 11-12.5 and brix 17-19, picking in the third week of October. An early vintage. Intensity meets richness halfway there, fruit flavours are exceptional, just shy of eight years on lees, disgorged three months ago. “For the pinot I always wanted to do a minimum five years and the acidity was always there,” tells Ben. “The tertiary qualities were not out yet so the pause every six months kept the decisions at bay.” Got this apricot chanterelle fungi character, mousse and bubble are really in tact, dosage is 7.5 g/L almost fully hidden by that Nova Scotia acidity. There is something about this sight that maintains higher acidity levels while sugars rise but as an example perhaps it’s the gypsum based soil underneath the whole vineyard, or the tidal rivers and the specific diurnal fluctuations, cooler at night and “it’s something we can always rely on, in every year, that backbone of acidity.” So very Nova Scotia. Usually 500 bottles produced per year. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Méthode Traditionelle L’Acadie 2015, Nova Scotia ($55)

A first attempt at l’acadie (with 86 per cent estate) and because there was no pinot noir available at the time there is instead some frontenac blanc by a grower in Truro (grown in a gravel parking lot). It lends some (lol) acidity (21 g/L) but it’s almost all tartaric, meaning you can lose much of it during cold stabilization, which incidentally may have been lacking (hard to believe) while the fruit essentially came in at 19-21 brix. L’Acadie comes in around 18-18.5 brix with acid 10-10.5, so much less bracing than what reputation may proceed it. In fact it can be flabby if harvested late and happens to act the part of texture grape for Tidal Bay. May be revelatory to think this way but it is the least of the bunch. About five years on lees, disgorged this winter, 10.5 g/L of RS, mineral push, now out of the searing and into developing secondary moments, petrol to mild caramelization. Only 300 bottles disgorged, more citrus, a touch of pith, fine bitters, botanical, orange scrape, length, striking. Hair raising though never a scare. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Benediction 2017, Nova Scotia ($35)

“Our cheap and cheerful bubble as you will find here,” targeting 18 months on lees, with the idea being geisenheim fruit and higher dosage (20 g/L) to balance out geisenheim’s acidity. Smells like geisenheim alright, star fruit to the edge of elderflower, picked 17-18 brix, before the cabbage and burnt orange but with the fresh citrus well intact. The bliss (stalled ferment geisenheim) is employed for more green apple and grapey notes. More dried herbs here, fennel and a touch of anise. All works really well together. Surely one of the more consistent sparkling wines and ’17 may be a more linear, shall we say “classic,” unmeshed, non messed with or plussed vintage. So drinkable with great and sweet acids. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Riesling Small Lot NV, Nova Scotia ($25)

“A rescue wine,” blending re-fermented 2018 fruit with 2019 and “the wine is better as a blend than either one would have been on their own.” Super biased towards the Mosel (Ben Swetnam worked at St. Urbans-Hof in 2005) and so a riesling to prove that terroir does indeed exist. A child of stalled ferments, sugar kept naturally. Almost entirely Warner Vineyards fruit, down in the valley, been working with them since 2012. The sugar level is higher than imagined, upwards of 26 g/L (the ’18 fruit was at 38 and the ’19 part 40 and part fully dry). A better methodology to keep aromatics and shy away from vinous qualities. Also in avoidance of dilution, here the concentration and texture are in upright rise and uprising. Citrus prominence and at the lower end of the phenolic spectrum. Terrific work. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Tidal Bay 2020, Nova Scotia ($23)

A blend of l’acadie, vidal, frontenac blanc, geisenheim and muscat. The plan is “don’t screw it up, stick to your guns” and stay consistent. Even in frost destroying 2018 there was no non-Nova Scotia grapes allowed. Each winery has their own style and Avondale Sky’s is on the sweeter, stalled ferment part of the spectrum, keeping balance with the searing acids, finishing at 16-17 g/L of residual sugar, centring around fruit. So citrus, with plenty of juiced orange. Sweet and sassy, tart with a faux botrytis sauvignon character managed by riesling like acidity. Quite complex for Tidal Bay, sweet yet classy. Look beyond seafood for this, in particular hot and spicy. Hot wings and south asian dhosa, as examples. First made in 2010, first official vintage was 2011. Drink 2021-2023. Tasted August 2021

JB and Morozov, Benjamin Bridge

Related – Crush on Benjamin Bridge

Benjamin Bridge, Wolfville

From the name of the bridge that crosses the Gaspereau Valley and pays tribute to the Benjamin family who dammed up the river to become the first industrialists here. Sparkling wine specialist, unquestioned leader and now moving into uncharted territory but also deep waters. Watch these videos to learn more about the 2011 Blanc de Noirs that was “dunked into the sea to age and drift with the tides to test the effects of underwater ageing on sparkling.”

Each bottle has been carefully wrapped so as not to disturb the Bryozoa and sediments. The project was inspired by recovered Champagne on shipwrecks on the ocean floor and the fun daydreaming ways through the inquiring minds of Alex Morozov and Maxime Daigle. After a year at sea, though ice and snow, this wine is finally surfacing. But there’s more in the works at Benjamin Bridge, including newest member of the winemaking team Erin Carroll’s “Gamay Col Fondo,” a hybrid concept in ancient meets futuristic sparkling wine. The fun never ends at the Bridge, nor does the excitement.

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut Rosé 2017, Nova Scotia ($49.95)

One of the first wines to come to the surface with Pascal Agrapart’s involvement with winemakers Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Alex Morozov. When tasted the sentiment was that this particular vintage of this very particular sparkling wine was not yet there yet in terms of readiness or rather publicizing but truth be told, never have texture and acids come together as one in a BB Rosé. Crunch and chew, riff and rise, bellow and beauty, all despite the spiralling zeitgeist that underscores its urgency. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Benjamin Bridge Gamay Col Fondo Handcrafted Small Lot 2020, Nova Scotia ($49.95)

A hybrid concept, between Ancestrale and Traditional Method sparkling wine, driven by experimentation, constant reassessment of a varietal progression and the new injection of intelligence through the focused lens of assistant winemaker Erin Carroll. Though the term is normally associated with Prosecco there is really no reference point as such, not with gamay and certainly not the way the BB team approaches their work. Such gamay-ness glaring, vivid and concentrated never graced a glass, not before nor likely any time soon. Refosco meets Lambrusco and a quasi Valpolicella rifermermentato in bottiglia futuristic sentimentality. Despite the Nova Scotia acid structure that hangs in the balance it should be considered that Carroll’s Col Fondo is not likely to allow objectivity to nudge itself off of the pillar of its own perspective. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted August 2021

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut 2016, Nova Scotia ($45.00)

Perfect conditions, “an Olympic year.” The most tightly wound toast, the year that acidity through the roof while in control will bring the dosage down, from 8.5 to 2.6 g/L. At the most. And so Brut Reserve will be Brut zero. The epiphany, or at least the latest epiphany is upon Alex Morozov and Jean-Benoit Deslauriers. No longer the project incarnate, defined, teachable house style. Now the realization of a prophecy from words spoken three years ago by Deslauriers, then echoing in your head, now coming to idealistic fruition. “With the possibility of absolute transcendency.” Back then it was a matter of eventuality. Today it is the truth. This may not turn out to be the finest Brut made by the team in the new era but it sets a course for a neoteric sparkling wizardry shore, where climate, acids, vines, sugars and controlled emotion all meet to advocate in realization of their necessary dynamic. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Winemaker Simon Rafuse, Blomidon Estate

Blomidon Estate Winery, Canning

Blomidon Estate Winery is set on the western pastoral shelf of a shore overlooking the the Minas Basin in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. Perhaps the most intimate of all the seaside settings there is a sense of singularity in the milieu and atmospheric conditions on this side of the basin’s shores edging northerly up the Blomidon Peninsula. Surely a sparkling wine specialist but also a champion of chardonnay both in still and sparkling forms. Co-owner Tim Ramey purchased the property in 2007 and Simon Rafuse is the Winemaker alongside Harold Gaudy, the viticulturist.

Blomidon Estate Winery Crémant NV, Nova Scotia ($28)

Disgorged March of 2021, based on the 2019 harvest, bottled in early 2020. Three grapes, approx 60-20-20, seyval blanc, l’acadie and chardonnay. Moving up in pressure and therefore a new sweet spot, up to 5.5 bars of pressure, at 14-16 g/L RS, with more texture. This is the balanced spot, with seyval’s acidity equalizing into citrus and tree (peach) fruit. Tart and full on tang, fulsome and a healthy dose of fruit, so late in ripening, old school Nova Scotia. If too old school so be it because longevity and slow development is everything. Easy to drink and yet pointed, poignant even. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted August 2021

Blomidon Estate Winery Cuvée L’Acadie Brut Méthode Traditionelle, Nova Scotia ($39.95)

A 100 per cent estate l’acadie disgorged in March 2020, approx. 65-70 per cent 2017 with 2016 and a splash of 2015, 2,500 bottles caged in August 2018. Dosage is 6 g/L, very Brut, dry as the desert and not just because of a concept in which l’acadie is an acid king, because in fact it can be quite the opposite. A phenolic sparkler, picked early (first in fact) and therefore a self-starter, enthusiastic, cranking and varietally zealous. There will be 24 cases coming to VINTAGES in mid-September. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted August 2021

Charcuterie, Obladee Wine Bar, Halifax

Blomidon Estate Winery Brut Réserve Méthode Traditionelle 2014, Nova Scotia ($45.00)

A 100 per cent estate chardonnay picked relatively early (21st of October), having seen no malolactic fermentation and six years on the lees. Feels like this has moved into both secondary and tertiary character, that and so much deeper engagement with structure. Disgorged in the spring of 2020 then held for eight months before release. This to get new reactions past dosage (that was 6.5 g/L). The mushroom notes and other evolutionary gains are vintage driven and the lemon crème brûlée meets Nova Scotia finish is bridged by orchard fruits as creamy as they are striking. Toasty dichotomous bubbles of the extraordinary kind. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted August 2021

Blomidon Estate Winery Méthode Traditionelle Woodside Road Vineyard 2015, Nova Scotia ($45.00)

The second iteration, disgorged on August 31st, no malo, 7 g/L dosage, picked on the 20th of October. Made from 70 per cent chardonnay, (20) pinot noir, (5) meunier and splashes of pinot gris plus blanc. Base wines were bottled late summer 2016 and so now five years and a bit of lees aging. The pinot brings much ado in small quantity. The aromatics are temporarily not quite integrated, the gas is working the room and in due course all will come back together. Complex, graphing a new Minas course, small lot, 50 cases or so. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Shrimp Cocktail at Juniper, Wolfville

Blomidon Estate Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noirs 2016, Nova Scotia ($45.00)

Give or take 76 per cent pinot noir and 24 meunier, a similar vintage to 2015 (though a touch warmer) and here picked on the 17th of November. Almost all from Woodside Vineyard and some meunier off of the Blomidon estate vines, no longer here. Disgorged today, yes today and my oh my the potential here elevates to a very high ceiling. Just under 6 g/L RS so exactly extra brut, really primary but with the dosage that will arrive before you know it. The pinot delivers more fruit than the chardonnay, perhaps a counterintuitive concept but that’s Nova Scotia. And every vintage will flip the head and make you think again. Small lot, 50 cases or so. Searing succulence, a structural richness and transformative beyond the complex, curious and interesting. Assiduous if conceited blanc de noirs, pejorative to chardonnay, entangled inside enigma, mystery and riddle. Literally. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Jürg Stutz, Winemaker at Domaine de Grand Pré

Related – East coast swing 2015: Time, tides and wine

Domaine De Grand Pré, Grand Pré

Domaine De Grand Pré has recently celebrated 20 years of erudite work leading the Nova Scotia wine industry. As for riesling, well the work of Jürg Stutz speaks for itself and now in sparkling the game is on. A visit is well worth the tasting, local knowledge and great gastronomy of Chef Jason Lynch.

Domaine De Grand Pré Riesling Extra Dry Traditional Method NV, Nova Scotia ($44.50)

A blend of 2019 and (more) 2018 fruit reviewed by the traditional method and 12 months of lees aging, finishing at 18 g/L dosage of RS. Just released one month ago, the first such sparkling wine at Grand Pré. The ’18 juices at low pH and high acidity was adjusted by the ’19s, then sent back to bottle for an additional 12 months. Sometimes not acting with pragmatic immediacy turns into something special and complex. A matter of adjustments and not the ripest ’18 grapes but here the combination of autolysis and phenolics goes beyond acidity. Three thousand bottles of great energy in the wine, green apple bite and that phenolic rush. Very singular, even for Nova Scotia sparkling. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré Riesling 2020, Nova Scotia ($22.50)

Harvested Oct. 23rd at 18.3 brix, a pH of 3.05, with total acidity at 10.4, no malo and 18 g/L of RS. Picking can be the first week of November but 2020 saw picking towards the later stages of October. A wine without changes, a Grand Pré way stuck to, given extra care, in vinifera extra work put in, with cluster thinning and battling all the disease pressure grapes are likely to meet in this climate. Vinous riesling, fermented through with adding back sugar in a complex, layered and Mosel like riesling. Really balanced and perfect with subtly spiced cuisine. Will improve with two to three years of age. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré Tidal Bay 2020, Nova Scotia ($22.00)

In 2020 a blend of mainly l’acadie (44 per cent), with vidal (20), ortega (16), muscat (12) and seyval (8). TA is 8.6 g/L; RS 12 g/L; 11 per cent alc./vol. Certainly one of the most aromatic of all Tidal Bays, fruit spread across yellow, white and green spectrums, flowers too. Really pushes the appellative concept, ties the room together, bedroom, living space and community. Plums and oranges, apricots, peached and green apples. All the fruits, all in full regale and blossoms in bloom. The most fruit adjustment of all. The next (2021) will be labelled Annapolis Valley. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré Chardonnay 2020, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia ($35.00)

Second vintage from young Melanson Vineyard vines (planted in 2017), low yielding, definitely a work in progress. Harvested Oct. 16t at 20 brix, barrel fermented in new French oak, passed through malo and remained there for nine months altogether. Only two barrels were gained of this flinty, sulphide felt, clearly reductive style but also one that is explicitly Nova Scotia. The pH is 3.11, the tA 9.4. Some of this fruit will go to sparkling and it’s really quite a special vineyard (Melanson) that sits across the river in the Gaspereau Valley across from L’Acadie Vineyards. This will morph and flesh, placate the over-cumbersome wood at present and then settle in. Work in progress as mentioned. The vineyard is also planted to some pinot noir and cabernet franc. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré Millot 2017, Nova Scotia ($28.50)

One hundred per cent Leon Millot in American oak for two years. Was already planted when the Stutz family arrived, along with Marechal Foch. A lighter red here, lending itself to barrel aging, green when fresh and urged on to fleshy substance with two or three years of barrel put behind. A warm vintage and a remarkable brightness having emerged with gamay-like tang and circumstance. Very cherry, almost black but short of that darker hue-flavour profile. The least musky and foxy of hybrid reds. Really well made. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré 20 By Domaine De Grand Pré, Nova Scotia ($28.50)

A one-off, three part blend of cabernet foch (40 per cent) with equal (30) parts marquette and marechal foch, released to celebrate the winery’s 20th anniversary. Mainly from the hot 2016 vintage (70 per cent) with some warm 2017 mixed in. Again in American oak, most for two years, some even longer. Layered with some further musk this time, skins of dark red fruits and a forest floor component. A bit of tar and so much tang. More chalky texture and chew but still good balance. Was recently pulled off the shelf because only 20 cases remained. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Bruce Ewart, L’Acadie Vineyards

L’Acadie Vineyards, Wolfville

Bruce Ewart hired a viticultural manager and performed a three year terroir study on his vineyards in collaboration with three other wineries (Benjamin Bridge, Domaine de Grand Pré and Lightfoot & Wolfville). The study was assembled by the department of agriculture, or rather it was part of a program informally known as “farm extension,” services provided by Perennia on behalf of the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture. The idea was to get a good representation of the Nova Scotia wine industry. Rodrigo Layette who is Directeur Général de trois domaines (a Bordeaux viticultural consultant) dug test holes to look at the schist and sandstone. They found roots were three feet deep and like children and if you give them everything they want (like soft clay and loam) they will stay near the surface where the water is. If they have to work for the nutrients they will dig deeper and find the trace elements and minerals. Ewart also converted to Clover and Timothy employed as ground cover, part of the organic practice and to till only occasionally. The use of compost and horsetail teas, humus, etc. Caitlin McNamara is the vineyard manager and she did her degree at the university (Acadia), of which Bruce is half the faculty. “We used to employ organic chicken manure and the study determined this was no longer necessary. L’Acadie wanted to find a non-biodynamic organization.” They found Biocyclic Vegan (from Germany) whose concept is farming without any form of animal or animal product, opposite or rather apposite to biodynamism. This year (2021) they will become certified and from 2021 onwards their bottles will wear the certification. L’Acadie Vineyards will be the first in North America to gain this status.

L’Acadie Vineyards Pétillant Naturel Méthode Ancestrale 2020, Nova Scotia ($29.00)

This is the story of Saccharomyces paradoxus. Wild yeast present in the vineyard, naturally, like pre-packaged enzymatic magic ready and prepared to give a Pétillant Naturel its head start. Bruce Ewart explains they know this from analyses of the lees and his Pet-Nat acts as a conduit for microbial terroir, with no inputs showing itself off. Whole cluster pressed with no skin contact, a light disgorgement, no residual sugar, bottled just at dryness. Subtly orange, lithely citric, a marriage of acidities, tremendous flavour development and amazingly so considering the grapes are picked at sparkling time, four weeks ahead of when the l’acadie is picked for the still bottling. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted September 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut Estate Méthode Traditionelle 2014, Nova Scotia ($50.00)

Was embargoed until September 9th after having just received the Lieutenant Governor Award. Has evolved into a seriously toasted arena, gone long with lees contact, looking for peaceful co-existence between yeast autolysis and the fruit of the wine. “You don’t want conflict, you want that harmony, tells Bruce Ewart.” Disgorged January 2021 and so spent more than the minimum five years on lees. An insignificant dosage (more than most of these wines). Bruce’s program goes at it in terms of two and five year aging and he believes that while Nova Scotia can do ten or more there is only a minor incremental increase in complexity by doing so. This at six-plus has hit such a sweet spot, still in retention of currant and white/red berry fruit but also low and slow golden, tanned and long as an August afternoon Gaspereau shadow. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Tuna, Obladee Wine Bar, Halifax

L’Acadie Vineyards Joie De Vivre Charmat Method 2019, Nova Scotia ($28.00)

From a project that began three years ago, with vessels from Northern Italy, wines rested in tank during the pandemic, made from l’acadie (85 per cent) and (15) seyval blanc. “An earlier release, fruity sparkling for the market.” Held at 0-2 degrees celsius. The tanks arrived in early May and this was bottled last week. From the later picked l’acadie, fuller of tree fruit and lower in acidity. Low dosage for the style at 8 g/L and lithe at 11.1 per cent alcohol. Peach and apricot in a moscato d’asti vein, albeit higher of alcohol, mingling with yeasty col fondo, though crystal clean. Simple and satisfying. Delightful. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Vintage Cuvée Méthode Traditionelle 2018, Nova Scotia ($35.00)

From the frost year (June 5th), a blend of l’acadie and seyval blanc in a sparkling wine that shows the formers’s resilience, having raced out to meet bloom, veraison and harvest dates. In a 30 per cent crop but vines that bounced back the following year for a full yield out of harvest. A wine that meets the LV twain, somewhere between the fruit first sparklers and those of the longest tirage. The length of this is more than surprisingly impressive from a wine that looks for a new slate in every vintage. A wine of trials, investigations and experiments. Not at the toast ceiling but consistently malolactic and in that 8-12 g/L dosage. Truly a Brut style and middle of the road in the most complimentary way. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted September 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Tidal Bay 2020, Nova Scotia ($24.00)

Bruce Ewart’s first Tidal Bay, now being a part of the committee that holds a new standard to protect Nova Scotia wines from artificial carbonation. Here a combination of the two grape varieties where the hat is hung upon, they being l’acadie and seyval blanc. “My take on Tidal Bay is dry, even at five or ten g/L of RS it is not really our market.” Many are going dry and while there is stone fruit and white citrus this is truly a TB of mineral push and salty Fundy air. Just tastes like the vineyard so clearly showing off as a terroir based wine. Nova Scotia, part of a common thread but pretty specific to here. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted September 2021

Cat Taylor, Rachel Lightfoot and Godello

Related – The future is now for Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards

Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards, Wolfville

When I first arrived on the shores of the Minas Basin in 2013 to begin a near decade long (by now) immersion into the Nova Scotia wine industry it was Mike Lightfoot that I first came to know. With thanks to consulting oenologist Peter Gamble I spent a great chunk of time with the Lightfoots and their exciting new Wolfville project. My how things have changed, evolved, progressed and come to this astonishing point.

There is the home vineyard, Raven Hill across the road and what may just be the valley’s most important knoll in a vineyard at Avonport. Along with the most precocious work being executed by winemaker Josh Horton, Rachel Lightfoot and now with the addition of Assistant Winemaker Cat Taylor. Cat came from Toronto in logistics (Unilever) for 10 years, went to New York, then to wine school in France. She staged with Zind-Humbrecht alongside Biodynamic guru Olivier Humbrecht in 2016, worked at Tawse in Ontario with Paul Pender in 2017, then arrived here to Lightfoot & Wolfville in 2018. A biodynamic journey and now she is responsible for implementing the biodynamic aspect of the farming. “Using what’s on the farm around you,” Taylor notes, “seeing what the books say and what your farm says. It took me a while to get used to Nova Scotia acidity, I’m now much more comfortable with it.” Cat also brought in foudres from Alsace with thanks to Olivier Humbrecht. If around the time Cat Taylor arrived in Wolfville coincided with The future being now for Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards, well then that future is now the present.

The tasting line-up at Lightfoot & Wolfville

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blancs Extra Brut 2014, Nova Scotia ($75.00)

From a specific lower-cropped section of the home farm vineyard and an early 2019 disgorgement so an additional year on its lees, rounding it out just a hair further. Still the ripeness and added creamy character, engaging a new complexity by way of fruit fleshiness and crisp exterior crunches. This is the window, open, acclimatized and staid through a holding pattern of complex energies.  Last tasted September 2021

Disgorged just now. Looking for a late spring release. Built on 100 per cent clone 95 and 96 estate fruit, on its lees almost 50 months. This carries the most texture meeting energy piqued by pungency. The story is now beginning to truly set in with formative consistency. The lemon curd is swirled with bits of zest for a salty citrus intensity not yet known from this chardonnay. Was picked a bit riper and that’s quite obvious, plus some new play time with malo. Needs nine or ten more months of integration for the moving parts of tension and density to come together. Yet another Nova Scotia sparkling wine to inform us all. This must be the place and the sky is the limit. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted October 2018

Lobster Gnocchi at Juniper, Wolfville

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blanc Brut 2015, Annapolis Valley ($45.00)

From all three blocks of the home vineyard, 100 per cent chardonnay, classic line, part tank and part barrel, an extra year in barrel. Disgorged in February 2020, still only at 15 per cent malolactic, soon to become near 100 per cent in 2017. In these early-ish sparkling wine program days there was worry about how high to go with malic conversions and with so much acidity to play with these things were not yet known. Less tension, more cream, 15 g/L in RS as compared to 4 g/L in the Extra Brut. Still a toasted element and at 50-plus months of lees contact this is just shy of that perfect window. Some tropical fruit joins tree peach and pure yellow citrus, all following the brushy herbs. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Brut Rosé 2019, Annapolis Valley ($45.00)

Made from 100 per cent pinot noir off of the certified organic, third year Raven Hill Vineyard fruit across the road from the winery. Full malolactic fermentation and a wine that needed a few more months of time before disgorgement. Also to step away and allow the wine to say what it wants to say. After all it’s a wine made with red fruit, of more pulp and circumstance, fruit substance in waves and surely a great season following and in spite of the challenging 2018. Who would not be wooed, pleased and gainfully satisfied by a glass of this class, craft and equanimous Rosé? Methinks no one paying any attention. A gorgeous wine that shows off the L & W ability for shortening the wait times on enjoyment for their ever maturing, evolving and appetizing sparkling wines. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Small Lots Oak Island Vineyard Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2016, Annapolis Valley ($55.00)

In 2016 the one acre Oak Island Vineyard crop was split between this sparkling wine and the (still) barrel-fermented chenin blanc. The wine has progressed with slow haste, still tense and exited while in exemplary control. Driving forward with rhythmic dance step, forward and sideways but also times always gaining.  Last tasted September 2021

I tasted this unfinished wine in the Oak Island Vineyard back in November 2018 and I remember at the time Mike Lightfoot saying “out goes the muscat, in goes the chardonnay.” Truth is, in goes the chenin blanc as well. To say the grape variety is suitable to Nova Scotia sparkling would be a gross understatement. What it delivers is the expected tight and bracing local acidity but with longer hang time also the potential to accept a lees-aging development for downy to fluffy texture. Mousse without compromise to emotion and ardor. As with the L & W Blanc De Blanc Brut there is some white lightning by direct sunlight extended and mixed into weeks of cloud cover for a full east coast sparkling wine experience. Phenolics, acidities and specificity of flavours. Ideal now with a foreshadowing towards the memorable, three to four years ahead. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted February 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Ancienne Oak Island Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2017, Annapolis Valley ($39.00)

In a most interesting phase, not dumb but reserved, needing some coaxing. Shows off the 2017 structure, long-lasting and ever-bearing. Or vice versa. Spent 18 months in neutral French oak (three barrels full) and a vintage meant for still wines, not necessarily for sparkling. Hung really long, picked in early November and finishing at a remarkable 23-plus brix. Tough mudder this variety (on California rootstock) set into Nova Scotia soils. An Avonport, Oak Island child, one acre in an open place to the elements and elements there almost always are. Richness, fulsome character and textural gains are possible, even if there could have been no way to know it. A beautiful fall, especially October led to the hang, develop and creation of minutia facets of this wine. A one off perhaps but also the future.  Last tasted September 2021

The Oak Island hill in Avonport is Nova Scotia’s “mini Corton,” a vineyard unlike any other in surround of The Bay of Fundy’s Minas Basin. Lightfoot & Wolfville planted many engaging varieties on that convex mound through the course of the last decade and chenin blanc is just now coming into fruition. It was October of 2018 when I last walked it with winemaker Josh Horton, Mike and Rachel Lightfoot. The purpose that day was to sample the chenin projects, still and sparkling, while also tasting grapes just a couple of weeks away from picking. While still from young vines this 2017 shows great charm, a curious varietal precociousness and calling it a quick study speaks to the land and the choice of plantation. Aromatically sits in a tirage de liqueur place, prominent and demanding. Acids are Oak Knoll special, lifted and crunchy. High ceiling relationship between varietal and place is in the books, this being just the new beginning. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted February 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Gamay Noir Terroir Series 2020, Annapolis Valley ($30)

From a block just now coming into its own, on the far end of the Oak Island, Avonport Vineyard, planted in 2013 and 2014. The first vintage was 2018 though this is the fullest of the three and the question begs, is gamay perfect for Nova Scotia? Some neutral oak was incorporated because of increased ripeness, though just for a few months. Freshness of course but also a marine funk that speaks to food pairing possibilities. Lovely musk that talks of the grape and also other fruit skins. Very primary, delightful, floral and as Rachel Lightfoot says, “weirdly popular.” As it should be. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Ancienne Wild Ferment Pinot Noir 2018, Annapolis Valley ($45)

Despite the early frost of 2018 (June 5th) the pinot noir was unaffected, even at the Oak Island site where other (earlier developing) varieties were hit. The rest of the season was beautiful and with today being a spice day (or earth if you prefer) the sandalwood, fenugreek, cinnamon and cardamom all come through. Such a seep of tea, red tea that is, not quite rooibos but more floral, into hibiscus without any doubt. A wine of oscillations and grooves, sensitive, emotive, ever changing. That said the mood is more than good at this stage, an intuitive and responsive, paying attention and ranging to so many edges, corners and plateaus. Already secondary, perhaps empathetic in speaking about other vines’ suffering and expressive of beauty for all. Almost as if the pinot noir is saying I’ll take all the attention right now while the rest of you get healthy. 3,000 bottles made, approximately. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Kékfrankos 2018, Annapolis Valley ($30)

A near-finished product but still needing the final touches after nine months in mostly older wood. Well hello there Kék, welcome to the world. Structured like nothing that came previous and floral off the charts. Still so youthful in exuberance and yet to settle in, the richness and caky barrel notes still very much in charge. Oh my the sweetness of fruit, so ripe, full on tang, tannins a bit lowered but so much richesse. Vinous and primary, expressive and working through the gears of its journey. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted September 2021

Rachel Lightfoot and Cat Taylor

Lightfoot & Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2018, Annapolis Valley ($56.95)

Frost year for the valley but again an escape by the vines at Lightfoot & Wolfville with thanks to the tidal influence to keep the chardonnay vines happy, healthy and secure. So much fruit and warm summer sunshine, a glade bathed in light and a luminescence rarely found in chardonnay. Consistent L & W elévage, increasingly into puncheons and away from 225L barriques. You can never forget and not remember what chardonnay has done for L & W, while now the richness and restraint work in optimized tandem. Less reductive than previous incantations, with new and improved connotations, consistencies and harmonic sway. Also a matter of vintage and cooperage. Stability is the key to being great. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Riesling 2020, Annapolis Valley ($30)

A not quite finished wine but so very close, raised in foudres, lighter in oak impact as compared to what might happen in smaller barrel. Hard not to imagine an Alsace-Zind Humbrecht idealistic connection, long-pressed and slowly done, a 10-12 hour cycle without compromising the pH. That’s because you get plenty before it trickles in at the end of the cycle. Full malo as well, a few grams of sugar and definitely a lemon curd, perhaps but not in a Windsbuhl manner. Just enough crunch but to be fair the texture is more emulsified than in any other way. Gonna be a stunner. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Tidal Bay 2020, Annapolis Valley ($30)

Tidal Bay’s mix in 2020 is 50 per cent l’acadie with an almost equal amount of geisenheim and chardonnay. In a tree fruit moment, in apples and pears with citrus in the background. Sugar in the 12 g/L area and trying for drier, with higher toned fruit due to the pressing on l’acadie’s skins. Over time the sugars are less important, especially as compared to the wine in its extreme youth. This is the Tidal Bay for all and all will love what it brings to the appellative table. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Terroir Series Scheurebe 2020, Annapolis Valley ($30)

Skipped in 2018 due to the hurricane’s fall effect and now here back in 2020. Not merely a classic varietal vintage but an exaggerated one, in harmony and open to any and all benefactors. A benevolent and philanthropic scheurebe, a touch drier than before, toned back in the range of 10-12 g/L of sugar, along with the matching decreased acidity. Stays focused and balanced throughout. So much stone orchard fruit unrelenting and with feeling. Passion fruit as well, open-knit, expressive and very giving. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Luckett Vineyards, Wolfville

While I did not visit with winemaker Mike Mainguy on this trip I did have the pleasure of tasting through some of his essentials. These are three that stand out as wholly representative of Luckett’s increasingly focused varietal persona.

Luckett Vineyards Rosetta Rosé 2019 ($20)

The plan has been to get back to Nova Scotia and get a bottle of Luckett winemaker Mike Mainguy’s Rosé. Took two years to do so and Rosetta is the one, perhaps (if only in this fantasy) a reference to Lennon’s only utterance ahead of McCartney’s final crooning upon a London rooftop. Also a vidal, riesling and leon millet chorus of Nova Scotia phenolics, soft-pressed sentimentality and faintly funky-earthy Fundy salt. Consistently reeking of red berry and citrus, sweetly herbal and coaxing out (or in) stone fruit. Drinking well more than a year in. Crushable delicasse. Optimization and individuality meet upon a plain where all can enjoy this satisfying Rosé. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted September 2021

Luckett Vineyards Tidal Bay 2020 ($20)

Confirms the billing of 100 per cent Nova Scotia, as per the Tidal Bay manifesto and in Luckett’s view (which incidentally is a spectacular one) screams local, parochial and beneficially biased. The l’acadie, seyval blanc, chardonnay and ortega all conspire to speak the language or even more so the spirited vernacular of Tidal Bay. This package may have once been a searing machine but the ripenesses reached besides maintaining early enough picked acidity is a miracle of climate change and wine-growing intelligence. This new era is coming out clean, obvious and beautiful with new phenolic frontiers gained. Yes the lemon incarnate zests, juices and zings throughout this 2020 but so do orange, jasmine, lemongrass and honeyed herbals. Dry as it seems to get for the category yet opulent in its very own light alcohol, marine breezes, oyster shell way. Hello Santorini assyrtiko and Muscadet Sèvre et Maine melon de Bourgogne. Meet the new Tidal Bay. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Luckett Vineyards Chardonnay 2020 ($25)

Grapes are grown in Avonport, one of Nova Scotia’s wildcard if tiny micro zones in Kings County. The land is graced by flats, rolls of hills and well-positioned knobs or hillocks set between the mouths of the Avon and Gaspereau Rivers. No other Nova Scotia terroir offers up the kind of varietal-vinifera playground as Avonport and Luckett’s unoaked beauty takes on the marine air, silty saltiness and Fundy-proximate sway. Lean and characterful, herbaceous in an ox-eye daisy way, nearly chamomile and no woody parts denoted. Quite a precise chardonnay with snap-back green apple bite and positive energy. Drink early and on repeat. Drink 2020-2021.  Tasted September 2021

Good to go!

godello

Lightfoot & Wolfville estate vines overlooking the Minas Basin

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WineAlign

Niagara’s cool for chards

 

Niagara chardonnay, cornerstone of an industry, another one of nature’s mysterious constants, long-time member of both local and globally recognized greatness. A pandemic be damned the time had finally come to glide on down the QEW, inch by inch, to arrive in Niagara’s wine-lands and taste recently bottled vineyard bounty, plus some older surprises. At the behest, felicitations and facilitations of WMAO we the crü at WineAlign abided by the invitation. The visits included Le Clos Jordanne, On Seven Estate Winery, Stratus Vineyards, Trius Winery and Restaurant, Hidden Bench Estate Winery, Tawse Winery, Redstone Winery and Restaurant and the Bat Caves at Bachelder Wines. The next trip will take in at least seven more and after that, no less than seven again. And so on. Niagara is not conquered in a day, or a weekend.

And everybody tells me that it’s cool to be a cat
Cool for cats (cool for cats)

Related – A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

The steamy and canicular July varietal sally coincided with the physical return, if only in part and to limited display, of the region’s annual i4c Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. Ontario’s most famous annual gathering inclusive of international winemaking stars is one that so many media, sommeliers, producers, importers, marketers and consumers have come to know, embrace and love. With a commitment for more arms to get jabbed and further progress towards community safety be made in these next 11 months, there should be every reason for optimism that i4c 2022 will return in full force next July.

Thomas Bachelder between Hanck East and West

Related – David Lawrason’s Canadian Wine Insider – Niagara’s Regeneration

In addition to chardonnay (that cool refreshing drink) there too were touring pours of sparkling wines, riesling, pinot gris, skin contact whites, rosé, pinot noir, cabernet franc and gamay. Those tasting notes are included in this report because quite frankly Niagara’s varietal diversity and inclusivity on full display should be duly noted. The festivities concluded on Sunday afternoon with not one but two Bat Cave barrel tastings with the stupefied, hyper-hypnotized and monkified winemaking tour de force himself, the other tall and thin white duke, Thomas Bachelder. No I did not make any formal notes on the dozens of chardonnay and gamay thieved from his barrels because frenetics and focus do not jive, not when Bachelder, barrels and argumentative discourse are involved. Bachelder began with some re-visits of finished “Villages” wines in the guise of Mineralité de Niagara and L’Ardoise, same same but for different markets (Ontario and Québec), both from the 2019 vintage. Then the surprise of the tasting emerged, two unmarked magnums, as of that very moment yet untasted and very special. “From the Heart Cuvée Number 1” is a project with fellow enlightened, philanthropic aiding and abetting abbot Steven Campbell. Their chardonnay crushes the concept with its dynamic and lush configuration. Why because of the very notion of being figuratively layered, blessed with a frictional vitality burnished into its collective heart and chardonnay soul. I had to stop after each sip to reassemble my nervous system and scrape my mind of the cosmos, not to mention the universe, galaxies and stars.

Crazy eyes in the throes of a four-hour Bachelder barrel tasting

The concept began as an annual Canadian Charity Wine Auction in support of the battle against climate change and then further developed into the Rescue the Grapes auction in NYC in partnership with Christie’s. Campbell and Bachelder convinced dozens of winemakers to donate small-ish lots of unfinished wines to be gathered and vinified as a single wine, an Ontario supergroup-cuvée if you will and finished by Thomas, acting as lead singer and songwriter. In Canada he and Steven are asking wineries to sponsor winemakers dinners in their home province and if they do host a dinner also support our auctions in the other two provinces. For the other province they donate a six pack of wine and will include  VIP “Passport” to the winery to promote interprovincial wine tourism. So far in Ontario Trail Estate, Malivoire, Southbrook, The Farm, Trius, Cave Spring, Pearl Morissette, Bachelder, Henry of Pehlam, Tawse and Rosehall run have all stepped up with a few more in the wings. In British Columbia Black Hills, Stag Hollow, Burrowing Owl, Okanagan Crush Pad, Tin Horn Creek, Tantalus, Quails Gate, Mission Hill and an Arterra winery are in with more to come.

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

The chardonnays were pulled from Willms Vineyard, Wismer-Wingfield est and ouest, Wismer-Foxcroft, Saunders Organic and Bio and Grimsby Hillside Escarpment Red Clay Barn Block. The gamay barrels tasted were Bator, Jackson-Bai “Bai Xu,” Wismer-Parke, Hanck est and ouest. Thomas did reveal the first ever bottle of Grimsby Hillside Chardonnay. The personal connection to that storied plot along the Lincoln Lakeshore in Winona will be investigated to the fullest extent of Godello law in a report coming soon.

Godello with Hidden Bench winemaker Jay Johnston

Has one really taken full advantage of a cool chardonnay weekend if one has not gone nose, palate, heart and mind deep into a seven year Hidden Bench Marlize Beyers to Jay Johnston Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay vertical? Methinks not. Not to mention a viticultural tour with J.J. and Joel Williams, Brut 2014, Rachis & Derma skin-contact and of course, Gamay. Thanks to proprietor Harald Thiel and congrats on being bestowed with the honour of “Champion Chardonnay of the year!” Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving and industry leading partner. 👏 👏 👏

Hidden Bench Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturist Joel Williams

New to the Niagara Peninsula scene is On Seven Estate Winery, headed up by Vittorio de Stefano and with the charge in the hands of Canada’s most accomplished consulting winemaker Peter Gamble. Just as he has made giant viticultural and vinicultural strides with the likes of Stratus, Benjamin Bridge and Lightfoot & Wolfville, in typical, ambitious and big picture defining fashion it is Gamble who sees unlimited qualitative potential in the mineral-rich soils of OSEW’s Niagara-on-the-Lake soils. 

The sit-down at Stratus Vineyards titled “To lees or not to lees? That is the tasting” explained from the word go about the new direction concerns all things lees. To see two winemakers, they being J.L. Groux and Dean Stoyka existing on the same mad scientist solids page is something all Ontario wine pursuers should choose to follow. The pursuit is being played out in chardonnays and multifarious sparkling wines, in Blanc de Blancs, Brut Nature Zero Dosage and “Field Blend” Ancestral. For Ontario this means serious sparkling wine business.

Panko-Crusted Pork Rilette, poached plum & charred fennel salad, toasted hazelnuts, honey dressing, pickled mustard seeds – Executive Chef Steve Sperling, Tide and Vine Oyster House

“Lunch and Launch in Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard” moved us in many ways, first through distant Upper and immediate Lower Jordan Bench views, of Le Clos, Talon Ridge and Claystone Terrace. Tide and Vine Oyster House was responsible for feeding us to the breaking point, by oysters, yellow fin tuna tartar, cold smoked salmon, vichyssoise, pork rillete, surf & turf and olive oil cake. The chardonnay flowed, with Village and Grand Clos examples by hosts LCJ, but also international stars; Tasmania, Australia’s Dalrymple, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa’s Hamilton Russell and Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California’s Gary Farrell. Here are my notes on those three wines.

Dalrymple Cave Block Chardonnay 2018, Tasmania, Australia ($70.95, Noble Estates)

A steely year with the vineyard’s hallmark acidity in a cracker Tazzy chardonnay with lip-smacking energy, intensity and drive. Soil, site and place in relentless pursuit of a focus at the head of body and game. Crunchy, crisp, indelibly fresh and piqued with the finest wisp of white peppery kicks. Nuts, complexity, bolts and length. All in. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa ($47.95, Noble Estates)

From the air-conditioned, cool breeze motivated vineyards (52 hectares) 100 miles from the ocean. Wet vintage, cool and long-hanging. Concentrated flavours in chardonnay that draws from all parcels which is more than just the Hamilton Russell way but in fact the only way. No fruit is wasted, all parts commit and contribute to the whole. A vintage like this is special, restrained, understated and one should not be misled by the shadowy depth and layering. Fruit is but a conduit for all else happening in this streamlined chardonnay. The alcohol and opulence are subtle, the pleasure calming, the capitulations promising. Methinks time will be long, slow and kind to HRV ’18. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Garry Farrell Chardonnay Olivet Lane 2018, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California ($69.00, Noble Estates)

Pellegrini’s 1975 planted Olivet Lane Vineyard sits on 65 acres of sloping benchland in the Santa Rosa Plain, in between the warmer Westside Road region and the cooler Green Valley. If taking a step up from Gary Farrell’s estate label is even a possibility then yes Olivet Lane is just such an animal. Threefold (or ten times) more expressive, from jump started to flying ahead, in freshness, vitality and tightly wound intensity. Flesh and opulence submit to energy, motion and emotion. Captivated and caught up in a bold embrace. Forget bracing but surely feel the fineness and the purpose towards effecting satisfaction. Top, right, fine. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tres Cool Chardonnay

We’ve called on many estates over the last 10 years but truth is the visits were epic this time around, with thanks to the talent involved; Thomas Bachelder, Elsa MacDonald MW, Eugene Mlynczyk MW and the Arterra Wines Canada crew; Tide and Vine’s Mike Langley, Chef Steve Sperling and team; On Seven Estate Winery’s Vittorio de Stefano and Consulting Winemaker Peter Gamble; Stratus Vineyards Assistant Winemaker Dean Stoyka and Estate Director Suzanne Janke; Trius Winery and Restaurant’s Executive Chef Frank Dodd and team; Hidden Bench Estate Winery’s Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturalist Joel Williams; Tawse Winery Winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting; The Restaurant at Redstone Executive Chef Dave Sider and team; Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney. These are the 40 finished wines tasted over a near 30-hour period on July 24th and 25th, 2021.

Felseck Vertical

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($42.20)

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. No stirring, “I don’t like bâtonnage,” tells winemaker Jay Johnston, “unless I’m trying to get a wine to dry.” Never mind the lees aeration or the emulsification because texture in this ’19 is extraordinary to behold, gliding across the palate with Bench orchard fruit cleverness, penetrating perspicacity and juices running through unblemished flesh. Tighter and taut than ’18, while seemingly improbable but here yet unwound, far from the pinnacle at which point full expression will surely ache to be. The ’18 may be a beautiful thing but the ’19 is structured, manifold in destiny and ideal for those who know, or at least think they do. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench

First a walk through the Felseck Vineyard and then a tasting with winemaker Jay Johnston and viticulturist Joel Williams as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical retrospective. Very warm season, much like 2016 though not quite as scorching and sun-filled. Would not call this stoic but would say that concentration, grace and all things stretched are in optimum balance this time around. Pretty quick turn around for Johnston to exact an ideal Felseck chardonnay just a year and a bit into his tenure at Hidden Bench. Just crunchy enough, more than ample and most importantly understated within the context of a great richness inherent in its varietal meets plantation DNA. There is no denying how enticing, invigorating and attractive this chardonnay is and will be to many who showed buyer’s foresight, but also those now lucky enough to come across its terroir-motivated beauty. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A vintage of survival, saved by a glorious September and into October. Looks like the richness made it with thanks to the fall weather and yet the elongation, length, elasticity and texture are all what matters to speak, walk, talk and tow the Felseck line. Solid, mid-weight, mid-acid and structure chardonnay that acts with perfectly middling emotion between the warm ’16 and ’18.  Last tasted July 2021

Felseck gifts what chardonnay needs with fruit equipped to start out subtle, gain traction and then commit to gliding into grace. That state of delicasse is now, with a natural orchard-stone-melon sweetness and an integration seamless, layered and eternal. Drinking this now makes great sense and the honey notes that may follow will only add to the mystique. The Ontario epitome of intelligent and refined chardonnay. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2020

Felseck Vineyard

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. Smoking hot season, much like 2018. No other vintage will impress and woo a more general if elevated palate than this ’16 (save perhaps the high award winning ’18) because both concentration and grace reside in the arena of the beautiful, together, side by side. Not the tightest grain in the vertical retrospective Felseck ship. Can’t say this will live as long as the ’13 and ’14 but there is plenty of life in this gorgeous and not so alone 2016. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year, “we got slammed,” says winemaker Jay Johnstone, “but a wine of definite concentration.” Showing evolution and age in tones, developed richesse and caramelization well beyond both that of ’13 and ’14. No corn however, despite what the initial nose might have indicated. A faux creamed presentation that ended up more peach to apricot in drupe, not niblet. Nutty too, again idiosyncratic and a unique Felseck as such.  Last tasted July 2021

Sometimes I’m “walking down the street, minding my own business” when a taste of a chardonnay makes my eyes go wide. Like this lovely thing of really compelling and nuanced aromatics, diverting, bright and effusive. Intoxicating really, “must have been the sun beating down on me.” A soulful chardonnay, Darondo luscious, strutting at you, with golden fruit, layers of slaty under-vein, a bit of ancient bivalve fossil shell, piqued and long. Gets its texture from a pinpointed cru for sure and is very cool-climate Canadian, almost certainly Bench Niagara, more than likely in Beamsville. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year but a solid year. Now expressive with croccante and cracker sensibility. Aromatically touched by croissant to brioche biscuit richness, with still pulsing acids and mouthfeel second to none. This is a next era Hidden Bench Felseck and the launch point from off of the work put in through the previous five or six vintages. Tasted blind four years previous to now was a completely different experience. Drink 2021-2026.  Last tasted July 2021

Unction and creaminess, lost in a chardonnay dream because to nose it’s a sweet, floral, demure thing. Lees apparent so you can smell the work in progress and feel the texture. But it’s wound loosely tight with just enough give to make it so readily available. Beautiful little wine though I can’t help but imagine there’s more single-focus structure than a blind taste wants to give. Hope to come across this hard to get beauty again someday soon.  Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted with incumbent winemaker Jay Johnston as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. The vintage may very well be considered much like 2021 is shaping up to be, wet and humid, culminating in a late season. A short crop year but surely one of the Bench’s best dating back to 2009. Persistently flinty and aromatic, holding the citrus and stone fruit line, still quite tight and yet to evolve with any considerable haste. Not one to think on as a specific Bourguignons terroir per se but definitely Hidden Bench, amphitheatric Beamsville of origin, expression and conclusion. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Jordan Village Chardonnay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($24.95)

The first attempt and rather obvious pronouncement towards creating a Bourguignons Villages wine is this over-delivering for the price chardonnay from Thomas Bachelder and the re-invented spirit of Le Clos Jordanne. Jordan Village as in grapes gathered from the lower and upper Jordan benches. When warmed in the glass and were it drawn from a warmer vintage there might be even more fleshy opulence but with 2019 and this collection of LCJ single vineyards there is fresh magnification and edgy dance moves, shimmer and glitter, not to mention of glimmer of what this commercially viable brand will ultimately bring to the collective entity that is cool climate Ontario chardonnay. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2018, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($44.95)

Le Grand Clos signals the return of the lower Jordan Bench and “I’m very happen it’s back in the (Escarpment) lexicon,” says winemaker Thomas Bachelder for a chardonnay of origins truly different than the upper benches in Beamsville, Vineland and Jordan. A svelte vintage, not lean by any stretch but surely tight and what some might say restrained. That may or may not include fine white caramel, liqueur glazed fennel and a mild sense of grilling. A chardonnay from vines in a season that needed not shut down to either hydric nor heat stress. Funny how both 2018 in Niagara and Hermanus produced similar results. The big “E,” fine-tuning, chiseled features and sneaky structure.  Last tasted July 2021

Thomas Bachelder’s second vintage since the reprise of Le Clos Jordanne’s chardonnay and pinot noir is perhaps the most nurtured (and nurturing) because he and team treated this varietal fruit through all the early stages; newborn, infant, toddler and child. The attention to detail, from choosing cooperage, forests, barrels and in elévage design is both mathematical and surgical. After 22 months the result is just so imperfectly perfect. Unequivocally noted as a high acid vintage and rather then fatten up this fruit the monk chose the direction of vintage seasoning and identity. Drills down into the Clos and where it fits within the Twenty Mile Bench. The exiguity and heretical transparency makes this a great ’18 Le Clos because ambiguity is the enemy of accountability and also progress. As a forward thinking chardonnay it represents itself, the maker and proffers a sense of place. Perfectly easy to drink right now and imperfectly set up for aging, but that’s just not the point. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2020

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Seven acres, thus the name, in the hands of Vittorio de Stefano, “and a project paramount to wanting something sustainable that can compete at the international level and standard.” The vineyard is five acres and the property now 15.5. Planted half each to chardonnay and pinot noir, all organic. Bourgogne is the impetus, Niagara the goal. The genesis of planting decisions dates back to 2009, high vigour rootball SO4 rootstocks and clones finally acquired in 2014. Now at seven years of age the vines are ready to rock. A place of science, with oenological consultant/winemaker Peter Gamble at the fore and wines of minimalist approach starting out in reductive tendency, then finishing with longevity defining acidity. Richness and intensity meet at a general Côte d’Or vortex but in the end Niagara lake-proximate flesh and tension are the true meeting point. There is a distinct flintiness (and unlike other flinty chardonnays) but also a caramelization of high delectability and flavour. Vim and vigour, vivid and 20 per cent new oak over three years to gain such favour. Exotic too, with wood contributing to the extract, but surely essential trace elements; manganese, iron and calcium of causation allowing the minerals to make themselves heard. Intriguing wine if only at the beginning of a long story yet to be told. Only 82 cases made. The goal as the vines mature will be 800. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Perhaps not the highest of knowable excellence yet clearly the most intriguing chardonnay that may never be emulated any time soon, certainly not out of 2019 or 2020. Singular stylistic wine, reductive and opulent, more Pouilly-Fuissé (with thanks to 2017) and a warmth that creates such a textural buzz. More fat in spite of that 8 g/L acidity, but such energy and considering the age at this point it almost seems the wine is going a bit backwards. That said the vanilla and caramel comes in wafts and waves, the flavours and textures in layers, long, lingering, forever. Only 108 cases made.  Last tasted July 2021

The newest Peter Gamble consulting joint is this from upstart The Pursuit of Seven. The chardonnay fruit is Niagara-on-the-Lake and the concentration suggest established vines (of at least 15 years-old it would seem) and no holds barred in terms of extraction and wood support. The density and fruit bang for buck are impressive and there is some volatility in distraction. Ambitious to be sure and the acumen employed true to form, not to mention distinctly clear. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted March 2020

Vittorio de Stefano of @onsevenwinery with consulting oenologist Peter Gamble

On Seven Estate Winery The Devotion On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($65.00)

Imagine the minerals from these Niagara-on-the-Lake soils (manganese, iron and calcium) and the highest intensity fruit getting together in a tiny lot chardonnay case load. Then consider going against the grain with harder (elevated) turbidity in the ferments for more skin feel and purposed pulp for upfront loaded flavour intensity. That’s the direction and hyperbole of pursuit in The Devotion on Seven, an (only) 31 cases made chardonnay. Doubles (or perhaps triples) down on reduction, fulsome flesh and yet the warner vintage has as much to say as the inherent processes involved. Also a tannic chardonnay, in dramatic sensory extract as compared to the Pursuit on Seven ’18, though it can’t help but express more of everything as compared to the Pursuit of Seven. The acidity number of 8 g/L might seem extraordinary when considering the warmth and the ripeness of the vintage, however, and this matters most, ultimately it is the terroir that drives both the texture and the acidity of this special, barrel selection wine. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Peller Estates Signature Series Chardonnay Sur Lie 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Yet another cracker 2019 chardonnay with the coolest of vintages meeting varietal bones and a karst of energy to drive the lees machine. Spent 10 months sur lie to be exact in a fully malolactic confirmed textural tang that benefits from a certain restraint only such a season can affirm. That being particularly cool and elongated for a chardonnay just crunchy enough to support the promise and extend enjoyment for a good, long and fruitful spree. Expect a future filled with a soft and creamy centre, eventuating in some creamed Niagara corn. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($49.20)

“It’s not that we’re trying to change something every year,” explains assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka, which means that the R and D projects are in constant motion and take four to five years to come to fruition. The October 18-26 stretch is the latest harvest in quite some time (since 2009), fermented in various clay vessels and French oak, 76 per cent in neutral barrels and (24) in stainless steel. Great naturally developed acidity and just enough ripeness to gain favour with the fully-completely accessed, utilized and kept in the bottle lees. So lemon, so balanced and very fine. There is a combinative effect of mad scientist acumen for a wine that needs to be explained to a consumer mixed with absolute pleasure and amenability. One of the finest chardonnay peaks conquered nut just in Ontario but anywhere cool varietal mountains are meant to be climbed.  Last tasted July 2021

Tight one this 2019 chardonnay, seductively reductive and unwilling to relent this early in life. Knowable richness is optimized by being associated with green orchard fruit bite. Though so youthful and shrink wrapped at this time there are some ways to pair with potential and eek out enough charm. Boy do you feel the lees but the freshness really shines. Prosciutto comes to mind, as does mortadella, especially if it’s from Faenza. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2020

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Warm and ripe vintage if only because of a gorgeous September into October, more lees than ever before, no new wood and an extended elévage nearing a year in length. Alcohol has risen, as has the pH though neither are what you might call vivid. The palate is actually tightly strung, the texture fulfilling and a cloudiness so perfect for what the winemaking team had long wanted to achieve. Hard not to see 2017 as the teaching wine where lees usage is concerned, the (after the fact) ah-hah moment whereby knowing what to do and how deep to go was learned by how 2017 turned out. In this case fulsome of stone fruit, opaque clarity, an oxymoronic ying-yang of positives in apposite attractions. A Monet vintage, modernized and so very J-L Groux. A Stratus, unlike any other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

The 2014 vintage was essentially the first year when barrel lees would be left in the bottle and my how conservative this ’15 really was as compared to an evolution that culminates (currently) with the full on lees filed chardonnay vintage. Quite the opulent vintage mixed with aromatics still morphing, developing lees, brash and blushing by 40 per cent new oak, complimented by generous acidity. Showing with controlled drama and though the yields were low (only 88 tonnes) there is something quite special about this emotionally charged, vivid, scarce and remarkable chardonnay.  Last tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Tasting with assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka as part of a vertical exercise in “to lees or not to lees.” Neither hue nor aromatics suggest much evolution though the low-ish acidity and tropical fruit tell an emerging secondary story. Creamy and centred, gregarious of flavour, nothing left unsaid, hidden or kept hidden away. Up front and talking vintage warmth, opulence and ripeness. Was housed in only 18 per cent new wood. For a good time, drink up.  Last tasted July 2021

As per the house promulgation, in chardonnay, “still an assemblage process,” insists Groux, “no matter what we do.” Some grapes grown for Sparkling were added back in, for acidity, complexity and ultimately balance. That and though notably barrel burdened (a good, hard burden to bare) leading to a bargain, “the best I ever had.” Major key of whose who of Niagara fruit, power acoustic chords and 12-string harmonics. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted June 2015

A change in direction is duly noted with J-L Groux’s 2012 chardonnay, from fruit picked six weeks earlier than in 2010. The program is scaled back and the wine is more “typical” of the region, in weight, in barrel effect and in alcohol. Still quite defined by natural yeasts that “sometimes go a bit wild, but I’m getting better at it,” concedes the clinician of vinous letters. Those feisty microbes are difficult to work with, like dealing with a wine that lacks natural clarity. “You have to shut down the bacteria, teach the yeast to stop stealing the lees. In 2013 I really got it.” The ’12’s altered course is welcome and encouraged and the world should wait with bated breath for what ’13 will bring. Here the complexity of aromatics is matched only by the intensity of tropical fruit. Has balance and a soft, round feel. Again, more texture and aromatics than natural acidity. Classic J-L style. “It’s not about trying to imitate anyone. It’s about making the most interesting and most complex chardonnay in Niagara.”  Tasted March 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road 2018, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($35.95)

Definitely a warm vintage, picked on the early side, bite still clamped down, a bit of pesto and far from reductive as noted in Quarry Roads of the recent past (i.e 2011 and 2013). Pine nut pronunciation, no malic residual transformations (there will never me) and just bloody good freshness. Last tasted July 2021

No shocker that Quarry Road always finds a way to morph and change gears, meaning every so often, a year and up to two years later there will be some significant movement in this wine. Something about the Vinemount Ridge and how its players are in constant flux, adjusting sentiments and character to keep things curious, interesting and alive. Still the unencumbered and free-flowing expression it set out to be, free to be Quarry Road and as for me, I am always enamoured by how it marries personality with age. Natural (not unlike the Natural version of itself), enigmatic and very personal. Let it be. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Tawse winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge

Fantastic ten years after flinty reduction from arguably the most cracking vintage of the previous decade. As it is said, “you’ve got to feed the beauty, it doth not come cheap.” And that is what Paul Pender went for in 2011. At 10 Quarry is light on its feet, fresh, spirited jumping rope and spinning in concentric chardonnay circles. It simply reeks of beautiful Vinemount Ridge stone.  Last tasted July 2021

The pinpoint accuracy and gemstone capture of the Quarry is exaggerated in ’11, amplified and fully plugged in. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Carries that classic Paul Pender perfume; rocks and stones, flaxen, refulgent toast and the verdure Vinemount terroir. A free flying, linear, atmospheric smear of thermal fortitude and backbone. A polemic Bowie Chardonnay to make you believe “the strangest things, loving the alien.”  Tasted May 2014

Resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terroir makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit.  Tasted March 2012 (barrel sample)

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($34.95)

Prick, punch and torque from the conceptual vintage get-go, a classic 2019 in the making, if by so many yet to be understood standards. A chardonnay so cool it causes a brain freeze while simultaneously moving the soul. In fact put on some vinyl Gaye, get in on, or even disco foreshadowing Temptations, echoing the chardonnay law of the land. Don’t sleep on the high level fruit, not quite fleshy but surely potent and dynamic to match the season’s verve in acidity. Fine lees, better texture and all-around vitality so essential to chardonnay. Will improve with six more months in bottle. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($36.75)

A single-vineyard chardonnay once labelled Oliveira and then watching Tree Vineyard but no longer, though the source remains the same. Embraces a cool 2019 vintage played out through rewards in the guise of reduction, toast, flint and drive. In cool climate varietal terms this ’19 reminds of 2011 though to be clear and certain there is more focus where by the quantity and quality of ripenesses meet at the essential points of acidity and tannin. Here is a vintage to end a decade in the most poised and poignant way. Spot on, striking and graceful chardonnay. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Remarkable finesse, flavours and design @triuswines and Restaurant by Chef Frank Dodd with @coolchardonnay accompaniments.

Beyond Chardonnay

Hidden Bench Blanc De Blanc Zero Dosage 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench ($48.00)

Second vintage from a tightly contested and smaller crop, initiated by then winemaker Marlize Beyers and subsequently disgorged by Jay Johnston, following five years on the lees. Moves from the practice of poetics to the anticipatory embracing of tomorrow’s science. Full disclosure this was tasted while walking the Hidden Bench chardonnay vineyards with a traditional method sparkling wine in hand first disgorged in the summer of 2019, when the yeasts were removed and the bottle was topped with the same wine. This tasting featured a January 2021 disgorgement and the term “Brut Nature Zero Dosage used when no sugar is added to the finished wine, which provides the most authentic expression of (the Hidden Bench) terroir.” Truth and synchronicity, grace, striking engagement, pure citrus and pleasure. Who could not anticipate and wait on subsequent vintages of this wine? The best is yet to come. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Brut Nature Zero Dosage 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($100.00)

Comes across a bit cloudy, at least as compared to the B de B with thanks to the natural, lees left intact style. The citrus component is so pronounced, as is the taut, direct, lean and intense manifold destiny of what is truly a singular Sparkling wine. That being a living, breathing, inhaling and exhaling wine, slowly releasing proteins, acids and realizing its B de B Nature dream. Just amazing what lees can do for sparkling wine.  Last tasted July 2021

Released side by each with the Stratus Blanc de Blanc 2013 and while vintage and grape are the same, the similarities almost seemingly, ostensibly and allegedly end there. Yes in fact this 100 per cent chardonnay is a child of the most excellent varietal vintage and like the B de B spent six years on the lees. Comparisons cast aside it is the very fact that because much of the lees were transferred to bottle by a minimalist’s disgorging that this cloudy bubble with a Canadian artist’s series set of labels can’t help but elicit another memory. The Lilies of Monet and their clouds represent neither the horizon, nor the top or the bottom. Nor does a bottle of this Zéro Dosage Brut. The elements of water, air, sky and earth become intertwined in a composition without perspective, or so it goes in this hazy, opaque and dry as the desert sparkling wine. So many layers of lemon can be peeled, juiced and scraped away. If a Stratus wine could be a a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma then here it is. The texture here is palpable and the intrigue factor surely high, so it should be imagined that longevity will be this wine’s calling card. It’s more austere than the Blanc de Blanc but I think in fact it will. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($75.00)

One gram of dosage, disgorged in January 2020. Nearly six years on the lees based on the first R & D trials done in 2006 and 2007. High level autolytic entity, a toasted affair and an idea long time coming for the Stratus team. Fine tonic and bitters. With 15 minutes of air the blooming happens, floral, expressive and complex. This wine has really developed more layers, emotions and complexity.  Last tasted July 2021

The first (commercial) J-L Groux foray into traditional method Sparkling wine has been six plus years in the making, or in this case, senescence as the lees fly and his Blanc de Blanc has finally arrived. A notable moment in the Stratus continuum as they too now own a program of development, time, investment, research and acumen. The nose on this bubble tells a pensive story, or as fantasy goes like dipping your face into a tale-spun pensieve as it takes you back in time. In 2013 chardonnay excelled on the Niagara Peninsula and still today in 2020 we are drinking vintage examples persistent in their freshness and durability of construct. That this reeks of varietal lore is a hallmark moment, that and a conscientious adherence to reverence for solids and the focus on rotational detail. Speaks a Blanc de Blanc vernacular as a chardonnay should, with a bite out of a sharp fall apple, a pesto of verdant aromatics and a crunch of texture before drifting saline, briny and fine. Pretty good work J-L. Kudos for getting from there to here with intelligence and humility. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Vineyards “Field Blend” Ancestral 2020, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($35.00)

The inaugural Stratus commercially labelled release is what winemaker Dean Stoyka refers to as “in the mindset of monks.” A field blend of sémillon, chardonnay, riesling and viognier. Pressed all together, fermented dry and then re-fermented in the bottle with no sugar added. Dry enough, or so it seems, non-disgorged, under crown cap and so very fruity. Floral, allspice and spiciness overtop apricot, pear and black walnuts conceptually turning into Vin de Noix or Nocino. A natural testament to assemblage and a great use of varieties without a home. 100 cases produced. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Spark Laundry Vineyard Blanc De Noirs 2013, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

Actually quite shocked I’ve never tasted this wine before, a Spark about which winemaker Paul Pender exults by saying “2013 is my favourite vintage for all our sparklings.” Traditional method, pinot noir from Heather Laundry’s double L vineyard and a fizz that fits and sparks. Gingered and toasty, crunchy, wave cresting and fulsome by six years on the lees. The dosage was five to six g/L, in that Pender sweet spot all around, just right, so well and good. A little romanticism goes a long way where science is concerned, especially in this medium and in Spark Blanc De Noirs 2013 one is simply good for the other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Estate Vineyard Spark 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Tasted side by side with the 2013 Blanc de Noirs, making for a striking if surprisingly antithetical contrasting contract with this Blanc de Blancs. Aged three years on the lees and finished with the same 5-6 g/L of dosage yet here so upfront, centred and personal. More immediate richness than what pinot seems to do from Laundry Vineyard and so even in sparkling it is David’s Block and chardonnay that gift quicker satisfaction. Likely vintage driven (again, even in sparkling), very pear and shortbread, a savoury dessert of a sparkling wine. Like olive oil cake, all about the simple pleasures. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Brut Nature NV Méthode Traditionelle, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($55.00)

The dry as the desert Brut nature initiates with a yeasty faradism of excitement from what strikes as a minimum four to five years spent sitting on those fascinating lees. While the wine does not exactly smoulder with a toasty salutation that is no matter because textural acidity and blooming aromatics also arrive to an applause of immediate gratification. There is an exceptional level of “croccante” satisfaction that parlays that “texture” into a lasting display of bits and bites. The make up is 50 per cent chardonnay and (45) pinot noir with (5) pinot meunier and 2014 being the primary vintage source, though there is some 2013 involved. Zero dosage, top tier, notch and drop. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Rosé Limestone Vineyard 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($27.95)

Tawse began crafting Rosé from (Vinemount Ridge) Quarry Road Vineyard fruit in 2017 and now here they come with Twenty Mile Bench pinot noir. From Limestone Vineyard this represents a heads and tails Rosé, meaning 40 per cent is used for Spark traditional method bubbles and the bookends is destined for this salty, straight-shooting and crisp-freckled single-vineyard blush. Double-redheaded wow! Grape, place and style all on side for so many good reasons. 1000 bottles made. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Gris Lawrie Vineyard 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($27.15)

Not to be confused with the Lowrey Vineyard on St. David’s Bench and a best varietal vintage for Paul Pender. Far from being a “Miller-Lite or Corona” pinot gris, instead creamy, fulsome, well-versed and elastic. The furthest away from metallic and/or turbid, low on phenols, no bitters, nor tonics neither.  Last tasted July 2021

Fresh and while this young is full of its original fruit, which is the biggest plus for pinot gris because dry varietal wines have a hard time after enough time has passed on by. Sulphur is not really an issue so this delivers the varietal and stylistic goods with fruit at the lead. Good acids, persistence and balance. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted October 2020

Tawse Winery Carly’s Block Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

A sleeper vintage, not necessarily exacting out of the blocks, not heavy cropped, middle of the road in so many respects. If I tasted this before memory fails to draw any retrospective conclusions) but Carly’s ’15 has already turned towards the petrol sun, “let the shadows fall behind you, don’t look back, just carry on.” This perhaps began more than a year or two ago and today acts Rihanna outspokenly so. Lime and almost cordial by now, warm and friendly as a riesling liqueur. Quite stable, animated, holding its patterning, likely to do so for an additional three or fours years. Drink before it returns home. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Limestone Ridge Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Unlike the Carly’s ’15 (tasted at the same time) this Limestone ’12 has not moved forward with any vehement haste. The lack of advancing towards petrol is curious but the softening is surely comforting. Still resplendent with a particular 2012 meets Twenty Mile Bench acidity, now oscillating while integrating with waning fruit. Drinking beautifully.  Last tasted July 2021

From the newest estate vineyard, the single-vineyard Limestone Ridge exteriorizes its name in a rubric of pressed rock, struck flint and chalky density. Paul Pender has coaxed a multiplicity oft linear character, with major notes of lime zest and juice, persistent from start to finish. A mid-pause of oozing, residual sinensis is the determinant towards the wine’s matrix of longevity. A longer, leaner, meaner and mightier Riesling charged by a different sort of power. Kinetic, frenetic and electric.  Tasted twice, April and May 2014

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Aromatiq! Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster sauvignon blanc, viognier and riesling, layered atop one another, full on hilt in spice, a hit of gingerbread, light in talc and salve. Good-natured and textured when well chilled, oxidative for sure, drinkable, pleasurable, done in one puncheon. Simple really. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Chardonnay Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster chardonnay, more spirited than the Aromatiq!, crunchy even, definitely with more spice and plenty of bite. More tannin too, structurally sound to allow more secondary character and time spent developing cooler, more energetic waves of spirit. Wild ride yet just sound and subtle enough to attract the right kind of attention. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Gamay Unfiltered 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($29.95)

The inaugural gamay release from Hidden Bench is eight years in the planning and making, from 2013 through planting in 2017 and with third leaf fruit for this game changing 2019. That is because the grape and the maker were made for each other so the question begs, what took so long to take the plunge? No matter because such an auspicious start can never come too late. A wine of native yeasts, a properly prolonged, 24-day maceration, an eighth of new wood and the Lincoln Lakeshore being the ideal appellation for what wants and surely needs. More than impressive for such young vine fruit, of a light smoulder lending an essence of jasmine and by argan to red, red fruit, tightly winding acids and such gamay crunch, the likes of which are attributed to expectation, hopes and dreams. When the vineyard grows up there will be further anticipations, exegeses further afield to include cru and reserve concepts. That is a countable fact based on current evidence and credible speculation.  Drink 2021-2023. Tasted April and July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Gamay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Naturally refined, welcoming, open-knit and my oh my, juicy as a basket of Niagara plums and peaches blended into rooibos kombucha. Rachis, “main axis or shaft, a stem of a plant, bearing flower stalks at short intervals.” Derma, or Dermis, “the inner layer of the two main layers of the skin.” In R & D the inner workings of gamay are accessed at the natural axis between light to fruity and joyful to dark, before sous serious and after vide structured. Middle ground, believable and exhibiting intrinsic purity. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Noir Tintern Vineyard 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($50.15)

This July 2021 tasting is my first for Pinot Noir Tintern 2013 in bottle but I did run through two different barrels with Paul Pender back in March of 2014. The vines were only three years old at the time, on a site (next door to John Howard) Pender likens to “reclaiming the swamps,” or “the Golan Heights project.” From the Vosges medium toast the wine was already showing colour, freshness and drive. From the Vosges, medium plus toast it was a bit reductive, with more tannin and more sappy wood. This look back reveals not a vintage of varietal exhilaration but a malic one with credit due the high levels of potassium in the soil. A cherry generosity a la Central Otago by way of the Vinemount Ridge. Almost a volcanic presence, but not and yes a pinot from young vines come about as a result of winemaking. Up front, in motion, drinking really well. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Redstone Restaurant

Tawse Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($49.15)

Another high-toned pinot noir from an inverted vintage, in cherry spirit, a hit of fennel and enough lingering energy while there is a meld and morph towards darker black fruit. Broad shouldered, now tannic, settling in as a pretty big wine.  Last tasted July 2021

As for Cherry Avenue the twain is met, somewhere between Tintern and Quarry, in the middle of vintage and classic Tawse styling. Both firm and bright, the fruit a cherry but a darkening black one and then the grip of place though well within vintage reason. Less structured than Quarry but not as hematic and brooding as Tintern. Solid pinot noir. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted June 2020

Tawse Cabernet Franc Growers Blend 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula

How remarkably fresh, inviting, enticing and that is just the aromatic front. Effusive, the greater good of burgeoning, smelling like Bourgeuil in uncanny resemblance. Nothing leafy here, just the smell of youth, post-adolescence and from a notably warm vintage. A freshness that just may be a foreshadowing of what’s to come from 2021. Heat and water, humidity and rain, yet no vine stress nor disease pressure neither. A product of great agriculture and an example of 2010’s longevity. “On the riper side but not overly ripe,” tells Paul Pender with a pragmatically raised brow. Indeed. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Whole-souled, benevolent and keyed up though that’s the vineyard, persistent and in perpetuity. Red to charcoal fruit, quite firm and tannic for the Tawse-varietal relationship and in that sense mostly related to vintage. Was not picked until November 15th and stayed in barrel for 18 months. Not showy really, not the ripest vintage after all but surely one to promote variegation, fruit/acid layers and particularities. Wait long enough (as in seven-plus years) and these things become complexities. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Memories of South Africa in 60 notes

Water hole, South Africa

As this passage through weltschmerz marches on, the defining feeling of melancholy and world-weariness continues, no doubt magnified in the hearts and minds of the wanderlusts accustomed to consistent world travel. So the question begs, as it has for 12 months, how to summon thoughts that will keep a deep sadness about the inadequacy or imperfection of the world at bay? Speaking from a personal place, a simple and distracting way is to compose retroactive wine reviews, unearthing and editing nuggets of meaningful playfulness, tasting notes created in the past but never having found their way to the light of day. Recent thoughts about South Africa are the impetus for this story.

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

In a pandemic-free world Cape Town’s Cape Wine would be taking place six months from now but a difficult and necessary decision by Wines of South Africa has moved the trade show from September 2021 to October 2022. Intensive planning for one of the great triennial wine fairs on the planet begins 18 months out and so with vaccine promise and good hope the time has arrived for the industry to launch preparations for a Spring 2022 Capelands revival. Soon enough the hurdles, obstacles, impediments and hoops of pandemic, lockdowns, sponsorship landing and export bans will be added to the growing list of “what has been overcome.”

Fly me back to South Africa

Related – Spotlight on South Africa in VINTAGES August 6th

Wine trips afford tasting hundreds of wines in a week’s time and while all bottles poured by every producer are given full attention and solicit a hundred or so scribbled words on history, tradition, agriculture, winemaking, varietal and regional relativity, many remain in raw form, relegated to computer folders and on the pages of moleskin journals. Pulling them out months, if not years later can induce that elusive feeling of relief and in some extraordinary occasions, epiphany. This to the creator of course, not necessarily to the producer, wine prose seeker, consumer, regional administrator or marketer. Notwithstanding who may be watching or reading, the exercise is a satisfying one and stands on its own merit, if only to be soothed and take refuge in a safe prosaic haven, free from the savage talon grip of a world gone mad.

“What happens in Cape Town stays in Cape Town” carries a three year statute of limitation. With the inimitable Ken Forrester

Nature, farmers and winemakers continue their work. Grapes are still growing and wines are still being made. Cape Wine is one of the greats, a collection and gathering by an industry of more varied character and industriousness than you will ever find. Let’s hope a global correction and stabilization brings everyone back together. During the last edition in 2018 I published several articles and many notes but these are the fruits of unfinished business left unsaid, scattered and streaming bits of consciousness having patiently waited it out for this moment in the sun. With thanks to all these erudite producers who shared a few ounces, engaged in conversation and offered up their time. These are the 60 wines tasted 30 months ago, assessed, critiqued, enjoyed and until now, unpublished.

A.A. Badenhorst Family White Blend 2016, WO Swartland

Simply a case of “fantastic grapes from old vineyards,” small parcels from Adi Badenhorst’s Kalmoesfontein farm, around the Swartland and the greater Paardeberg Mountain. A tienvoudig veldversnit of chenin blanc, roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, viognier, verdehlo, grenache gris, clairette blanche, sémillon and palomino. Hard to imagine that ten grapes could be so tactful and get together for such a discreet nose, but they are and they do. Secretive and seductive, full of mystery and enigma, ferments in 3000L vessels and then concrete, of a co-existence executing balance and a dedicated focus on texture. A ten-fold paradigm shift as part of the pioneering, Western Cape appellative white blend parade. Those who know it get lost in the varietal party and just like the makers the soirée will go on forever. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

A.A. Badenhorst Pinot Noir Bokkeveld 2017, WO Swartland

Grown further afield of the great old white grape vineyards, higher into mountainous terrain on the famed Bokkeveld shales. Makes for transitory, lifted pinot noir, “rain-slick’d, rubbed-cool, ethereal,” a little pastiche in a glass. Provides a cool flush of red berries, a note of allspice and truth is the fruit is really quite naturally sweet. Clean, characterful and only an afterthought of subtle savour. More than anything this pinot noir drifts and rises, kind of like reciting poetry. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Hanneke Krüger, A.A. Badenhorst

A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Cinsault 2018, WO Swartland

Of the Badenhorst second tier of wines, a red blend though mainly cinsault (82 per cent) with (10) syrah and (8) grenache. Though this is technically a tank sample it will be bottled next week so essentially across the finish line. There will be 130,000 bottles of this unfiltered wine. Red fruit incarnate Cape style, sweet baking spices and from a band knowing what is needed for playing live in concert, lekker balance seekers capable of working with any instrumentation, including 4,500 and 7,200L blending tanks. Badass sound, fury and energy, dry rocket fuel, pure, raw emotion and precision. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2018

A.A. Badenhorst Grenache Raaigras 2017, WO Swartland

From the home farm at Kalmoesfontein, a scant 1268 vines by lowest of low yields and considered to be the oldest (1951) grenache vines in South Africa. The Raaigras (ryegrass) is a vineyard choker so without human intervention it would literally strangle a vineyard. One of those wonderful whole bunch ferments though a portion is de-stemmed and well if this is not the right stuff from the right place, transparent, curative, a gastronomy of ancient meatiness and spice. Tannic yet elastic and one of those wines ready to go from creation but won’t likely change anytime soon. For now, long and wide. Feel free to think “see you in 15 years on the other side.” Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

Springbock Burger anyone?

David And Nadia Sadie Wines Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

A chenin blanc blend of 35-65 year-old 1960s, 70s and early 80s, mainly Paardeberg dry-farmed bush vine vineyards in the Swartland. Some shale and clay soils mix in for a top end chenin meritage with a faint if feigned salty vanilla sweetness. High and dry extract and grape tannin conspire in their conscription and into a stretched intensity requiring some patience for the opening up. Lingers forever thereafter. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

David And Nadia Skaliekop 2017, WO Swartland

Skaliekop, “hill of shale,” a curious dale of fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock amongst the Paardeberg granite. For David and Nadia Sadie a chance to make a chenin blanc with both prescient soils lending their presence and tutelage. The people here speak of the Skaliekop, knowing well the wisdom and aridity, the windswept open space, exposed and warm. They recognize and tell of the difference it makes, how a wine such as this can act so implosive, salty, targeted and fervent. The vintage only serves to magnify a sentiment already assured, that fruitful and mineral will align, swell and expand as one from these first grapes to be harvested in the wider Paardeberg zone. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

David and Nadia Aristargos 2017, WO Swartland

In 2017 a Swartland appellative white blend of chenin blanc (58 per cent), viognier (14), clairette blanche (13), sémillon (7), roussanne (5) and marsanne (3). David and Nadia’s only white that sees enough skin-contact to inch it up to but not quite breaching the natural-orange-amber stereotype so moving along now. A free-form, stacked blanc of multifarious juxtaposition, a Cape sensation that does this thing better and more interesting than anywhere else on the planet. Complex because florals and salinity get together and express the Swartland without a care in the world. What really comes across the palate is texture, downy and coddling with a finishing pesto of sweetly herbal fynbos and renosterveld. A perfectly broad expression overall though please don’t typecast or compartmentalize the Sadies’ white blend. Let it be. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Elpidios 2016, WO Swartland

An ever evolving or rather moving target, Rhône motivated but at this point in South Africa’s modern tenure just better to say Cape inspired. Has had many lead singers in its time; syrah, carignan and based on David Sadie’s language, who knows, perhaps grenache will take a turn at the microphone. Here in ’16 carignan (39 per cent) is centre stage with syrah (31), pinotage (16), cinsault (9) and grenache (5) rounding out the players. Elpidios means hope, as in “Cape of Good” and like the place itself there are so many layers to peel away from this heady foreland of a red wine. The berry aspect is magnified by the pinotage and you should know that David and Nadia treat this grape with utmost respect. A mix of styles and inspirations make this both muddled and brilliant as it stretches into breadth and potential. A nexus of varietal and micro-terroirs caught up in a whirlwind of extracts, flavours, liqueurs and expression. Still fresh, spirited and alive so drink this well over a ten year span. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Kreatuur Die Synachin 2017, WO Coastal Region

“A collaboration between a bunch of young blokes, making of-the-moment wines from little-known vineyards around the Cape,” and under monikers that refer to “pushmi-pullyu animals.” Also with the winemaking help of Alexander Milner from Natte Valleij. Really quite the drinkable Rhône-ish blend of 56 per cent syrah, (26) grenache and (18) cinsault. Iron in multifarious soils (mainly granitic) make this hematic and deeply plum but still, not so difficult to knock back. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Kop Ou Treffer Cinsault 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Ou Treffer, as in the ‘old hit’ in Afrikaans, also the old workhorse, in reference to cinsault of the Western Cape. Or if you will, like a hit song as the grape just seems to be the it one in South Africa these days. Or perhaps Traffic, by the Stereophonics. Beautifully aromatic, rich fruit and a soild funk from the particularities in these Stellenbosch vineyards. Half the ferment is de-stemmed, meaning the other half is whole bunch and old vines surely concentrate the fruit, stem funk and spun feeling all-around. Besides, “is anyone going anywhere? Everyone’s gotta be somewhere.” Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Knapsekêrel 2016, WO Stellenbosch

The second cabernet franc release of the De Kleine Wijn Koöp boys’ Knapsekêrel (a.k.a the spiky little black Cape plant) comes from the Polkadraai Hills. Not just any vineyard mind you but one planted in 2000 and biodynamically farmed by Old Vines Project pioneer Rosa Kruger and current Stellenbosch guru Johan Reyneke. The winemaking hands of Lukas van Loggerenberg are to thank and while this shows the sultry smoky smoulder that often emits from Cape franc it is a challenge and work in project to find the varietal sweet spot. That’s because cool temps and long growing seasons are best but look out for this breadth of a team’s members to find what works. In the meantime the tobacco, dusty plum and pushed to the raisin precipice make up a tasty if humid treat in a glass. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Heimwee 2015, WO Stellenbosch

As with the Knapsekêrel cabernet franc, the Polkadraai west of Stellenbosch is the fruit source, a biodynamic vineyard farmed by Rosa Kruger and Johan Reyneke. The boys at the Koöp are back in varietal town and refer to this all-around floral spiced cabernet sauvignon as running “with tannins as smooth as your grandmother’s polished imbuia coffee table.” No doubt and you can almost hear them singing in Phil Lynott workingman’s poetry. That said, this cab is no thin Lizzy, more like thick as a brick. Hung long and well-developed, of a liqueur that oozes of red, red fruit. Or perhaps, “man when I tell you she was cool, she was red hot. I mean, she was steamin’…” Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Johannes de Wet in Robertson

De Wetshof Riesling 2017, WO Robertson

A known fact that riesling and limestone make a great couple so this look at de Wetshof’s Robertson ’17 is met with great mineral anticipation. Yes the finest calcareous blocks are dedicated to chardonnay because Bourgogne is the de Wet inspiration but anyone who has learned a thing about riesling around the world will know that limestone can work wonders. Alsace of course, as in Clos Windsbul but also The Niagara Escarpment’s dolomitic limestone and Germany’s Muschelkalk (especially in the Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Franconia). And so Robertson joins the list as witnessed by this linguistically aromatic example, working the glass with a pure lime distillate notion. A nod to Alsace more than anything else with acidity that doesn’t need to scream and shout but it’s truly there. The potential to pioneer the movement is here, along with Elgin as Cape riesling standard bearers. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

De Wetshof Chardonnay Limestone Hll 2018, WO Robertson

Youth and drought make for the most naked and transparent of the past few Limestone Hill chardonnays. Absolute cool Kelvin freshness and a 270 degree vineyard scope to gather de Wetshof’s Robertson fruit from an amphitheatre of slope and aspect so subtle yet so meaningful. A fulsome regional DNA creates varietal layers gathered to make this cuvée a true spokes-wine for the limestone-based estate. Set foot on these soils, spin around, take it in. Then feel and intuit the truth in chardonnay that speaks to a place. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

De Wetshof Chardonnay Bataleur 2016, WO Robertson

Bataleur, as in a battalion of chardonnay soldiers, fruit up front, reduction and wood falling in, acids taking up the flanks and structure in support by land, air and sea. Or so it seems because this just marches like a military exercise in chardonnay. Flinty, biting back, yet buttered and toasted on the mid-palate with Roberston’s unique limestone felt from start to finish. Vanilla then white caramel with soft French cream fill and then the snap of lime acidity. Biting and downy, one and then the other, all tied up in robes and pearls, equalling out in the end. Fine work from 2016. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2000, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay

By this time 2000 is the 15th vintage of Hamilton Russell’s pinot noir and tasting both the 1986 and 1997 ahead of this only serves to heighten anticipation knowing full well longevity is by now a solid guarantee. The vintage seems like it must have been a demanding one because there is more hard grip, aridity and austerity here but it really has aged gracefully and beautifully. The posit tug between fruit and earth notes is performed like a string instrument’s bow, bending and angling with dexterity in balanced, fluid motion. Brings in the herbs and spices, wholly and truly of Hemel-en-Aarde origin, on hillsides and between rows of sagacious pinot vines. This is a treat and opens a portal into the future, beginning with the 2012 vintage that will usher in a string of sequentially impressive HR pinot noir. Drink 2018.  Tasted September 2018

Huis Van Chevallerie Circa Rosecco NV, WO Swartland

From a 32 year-old pinotage vineyard, great old vines that received some TLC from Old Vines Project pioneer Rosa Kruger. Secondary bottle fermented with a little help from “a special blend of liqueur de triage,” so unlike Prosecco in that regard. Early picked which is a given considering the granitic soil and therefore a “Rosecco” of low pH and severely high acidity. ‘Twas just a slight dosage and therefore comes across arid like the Swartland desert. A well cultured sparkling Rosé, crushable and easy like Sunday morning. Drink it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Jan Harmsgat Chardonnay 2015, WO Robertson

True reduction yet to dissipate as noted by the smoky smoulder with a healthy compliment of wood still needing to melt in and away. Looking to settle over the next six months or so and allow the combination of vanilla extract and green apple purée to integrate, compliment and go forward in agreement. Though creamy there is a bite back at the finish so while this is good now it still shows promise for improvement down the road. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2009, WO Constantia

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside the 1987 labeled “Blanc de Blanc” and the 1994. The vines date back to 1979, with the first South African sauvignon blanc made in 1986. That ’87 was a B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. A 100 per cent varietal wine, built by the soil and so bloody mineral as a result. Oak texture but really that’s the end of wood talk, a salty streak, so direct and so personal. The kind of sauvignon blanc that invades your airspace and a vintage more Bordeaux than the rest. Or, if you will Sancerre but not so much this time around. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 1994, WO Constantia

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside the 1987 labeled “Blanc de Blanc” and the 2009. The vines date back to 1979, with the first South African sauvignon blanc made in 1986. That ’87 was a B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. The ’94 vintage was another story altogether, apposite, far away from developing noble rot. Not the baller and perhaps even a bit “weak” with less weight but a saltiness that is more than intriguing. Perhaps more Sancerre-esque as a result but certainly lends longevity credibility to those passed over cool vintages neither celebrated nor considered to carry much staying power. May not be fleshy but is surely a curious and electric surprise. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Leeu Passant Chardonnay 2016, WO Stellenbosch

Andrea Mullineux continues to foster the Leeu Passant line of heritage vines wines with work from Rosa KrMuger alongside. The “post (leaf-roll) virus vineyard,” of smuggled in clean material planted in Stellenbosch in the 1980s. The site is home to loam-rich soils of the Helderberg and the wine stylistically modelled after the oxidative approach to chardonnay. “Death and resurrection,” as Andrea puts it, meaning after the fermentation you allow the must to oxidize again, literally to the colour of cola. Risk reward actionable take and one that requires some shall we say, cojones. This chardonnay is not about luck and the methodology can’t help but connect you to the vineyard. You end up with this unctuous, astonishingly rich chardonnay that bears a resemblance to the vines and the place from whence it came. Unlike the Mullineux chenins or Swartland and so say hello to Meursault. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Leeu Passant Dry Red Wine 2016, WO Western Cape

The throwback, ode and homage to South African reds made in the 50s, 60s, 70s, rustic, tannic, structured and reeking of the ancient soils that gave them life. Three locales are in the mix; Wellington, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. The vineyards are the first pro-Phylloxera planted sites, a willy-nilly varietal scattering, blocks of two cinsault, a cabernet sauvignon and a cabernet franc. “It’s a deconstructed reconstruction,” says Andrea Mullineux, “where you break down what you love and build it back up again.” First thing is to show utmost submissive respect to 95 and 117 year-olds, the oldest registered red wine vineyards in South Africa. So you hand harvest their low yields and keep a minimum half of the bunches intact for to ferment these wise and experienced grapes. They spend 20 months in barrel then emerge structured and fit for 20 years of longevity. As with those post mid-20th century wines the profile is rich, tart, spicy, robust and layered with serious grounding. Revivalist red, keeper of faith and a lost style, uniquely South African. Today that translates to vogue. Boom. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Sauvignon Blanc 2016, WO Greyton

The Cape’s south coast work of Samantha O’Keefe, a (500L) barrel fermented sauvignon blanc made in an oxidative way, or rather a wine of early introductions made with oxygen. Flinty no doubt then rich and full on the palate, of throttling grape tannin who’s antidote is a sense of settled calm. Late spice, Bordeaux in temperament but cooler still, an almost northern Sancerre-ish dexterity and layering. Composed and so very genteel. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Chardonnay Estate 2016, WO Greyton

From the Cape’s south coast and Samantha O’Keefe’s original Greyton Farm, in re-build for a promising future. This ’16 is 90 per cent estate fruit, a natural ferment and all done up in neutral (300L) barrels, 11 months on lees. No malo except when a great vintage comes along. Simply an orchard and gingered and delight, a woven tapestry of backroads eccentricities and southern exposures, with a kick and twist of finishing spice. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted September 2018

Lismore The Age Of Grace 2017, WO Elgin

From rose-quartz soil in cool Elgin, a 100 per cent viognier, so apposite relative to the achromatic shades of Greyton sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. High demeanour and a sense of vivid colour in the aromatic wonder but more so in the levels of palate, front through middle to back. They come like a rainbow, rolling, over stones, in “colours in the air, oh, everywhere.” Orange, peach, nectarine and fine, fine Elgin acidity. They are wrapped in sour spice yet sit cross-legged, in complete control. An aristocratic flower child, surely full of and situated in an age of grace. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Pinot Noir 2017, WO Western Cape

Fruit from both Walker Bay and Elgin and 30 per cent whole bunch (the first vintage was 15). So very herbal, savoury, stemmy and honest. A beacon in pinot noir you want to drink that comes equipped with an edginess about it. Full purity on display, grip, intensity and packed with provisions for the picnic. Marks the early beginnings of a varietal journey with some naïveté and dreams but look out. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Alette de Boer, Lowerland

Lowerland Tolbos Tannat 2016, WO Prieksa, Noord Kap

From South Africa’s furthest northern wine-growing area, a joint effort between grower Bertie Coetzee and winemaker Lukas van Loggerenberg. Wow does this ever smell like tannat with its depth of earthy fruit and suspension of oxidative animation. High acidity reminds of the really cool climate, more Niagara per se than southwest France. There really is something special here, as with Lowerland’s stellar whites, something singular, yet undefined, in enigma and mystery. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Witgat Viognier 2017, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

The viognier may scent of exotic flowers and tropical fruits but as with most of Alette de Beer and Bertie Coetzee’s range this is surely a cool climate wine. Subtly so and yet of a tension and a demand that accrue a sense of northerly South African wine-growing sense. The wine was made by JD Pretorius at the Constantia property Steenberg and it comes about quite normal, varietally speaking but also beautiful. There is a liquid chalky feel, a product no doubt of quality dry extract mixed with Prieksa soil of desert sand and silty clay. Lean and structured, a lanky viognier that in the end delivers quite the delight. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Die Verlore Bokooi 2016, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

Literally “easy drinking blend,” spoken through an indigenous vernacular from “the place of the lost goat.” At the time a blend of merlot, shiraz and tannat but like the Herd Sire Reserve that too will change over time. A racy and ripe red, earthy and parochial though fruitful in its red, black and blue mixed berry basket. There really is nothing to compare this too, neither old world origin or varietal mash up so assess it on its own terms. Just knock it back. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Herd Sire Reserve 2015, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

A red blend that will evolve (varietally speaking) but in 2015 it is based on cabernet sauvignon with petit verdot and a small amount of merlot. Bordeaux being the message but that too will change because the north of South Africa may actually share more affinity with the southwestern French wine-growing than anywhere else. This unique Noord Kaap Wyn van Oorsprong’s cool climate makes for early drinking reds and the 13 year-old vines here follow the party line for a red blend ripe enough to do what needs. There is more liqueur and spice here than what is noted in the merlot/shirtaz/tannat and also increased acid intensity. Somewhat oxidative but holding well and doling pleasure. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

Nina Mari and Ernst Bruwer, Mont Blois

Mont Blois Estate Chardonnay Kweekkamp 2016, WO Robertson

After 28 of not bottling their own wines the husband and wife team of Ernst and Nina-Mari Bruwer began again in 2017. This is one of the first, a single vineyard chardonnay off of 12 year-old vines, barrel fermented and aged 11 months. Speaks of Robertson, not specifically by limestone but with that WO’s orchard fruit and realism, by passing spice that’s merely a thought. Lovely snap, crack and bite which is truly Robertson while in delivery of everyday texture and mellow disposition. The kind of chardonnay to stay quiet and simply sip. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Mont Blois Chardonnay Hoog en Laag 2016, WO Robertson

“High And low,” in reference to the vineyard being a terraced block on clay. Heavy clay that is, a Robertson specialty and the Hoog En Laag receives the same elévage as the Kweekkamp chardonnay. Certainly a richer and fruit fulsome expression, less snap and bite. No subtle spice either and yet the barrel notes are equally noted. What this has is full-fledged texture, creamy and smooth, all day long. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Mont Blois Chenin Blanc Groot Steen 2016, WO Robertson

The “big” chenin blanc because of the dense clay that gives nutrient life to the 32 year-old block of vines. Quite the steen intensity, ripping with fruit and a mineral streak for layer upon layer of Robertson quality. Naturally sweet pears, ripe and dripping, plus an unusual or unaccustomed to herbology. Perhaps it’s the famous local Rooibos talking. Really persistent chenin with loads of potential. Likely some flint and smoulder in its future. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Western Cape

A true Cape chenin blanc assemblage, in fact it gives meaning to the gathered idea, like an AOC Chablis made by a houses in names of Fèvre, Drouhin, Moreau or La Chablisienne. Mullineux’s twist is the back blending with some old barrel ferments to balance to new and “other” fruit components. A chenin blanc that is bottled the same year it was picked though that’s easier to do in the southern hemisphere where harvest happens in the first quarter months. Expectation always dictates value from the Kloof Street and 2018 does not disappoint with an attractive spiciness that speaks to the preservation of freshness in a chenin blanc possessive of no boundaries. One of the most versatile wines on the planet. Sheet pan sausages and fennel would be just ideal. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Quartz 2017, WO Swartland

Soil is the single matter, catalyst and difference maker to dictate the peculiarities, idiosyncrasies and unique sets of behaviours in the Mullineux single-terroir wines. The chenin develops “freckles” in the sun, tells winemaker Andrea Mullineux and the warmth of the high presence of quartz retains and returns warmth, translating to a conduit of concentrated ripeness passing through the vines. Not a direct heat, otherwise the berries would burn but a reflected back-beat of light and one that is slowly transmitted with naturally occurring temperature control for how and when the plants are in need. The greatest positive is in the maturation of phenolics in the skins and not by a hasty overload in developed sugars. From out of the silica oxide comes vegetative growth that promotes and preserves a physiological process in retention of acid freshness. The result? A phenolic journey unique to chenin blanc as here with a striking 2017, dry as drought yet fresh as a daisy. Though there is some creamy texture there too is hyper intense clarity, a variegate of dappled aromatics and brindled flavours, all bound up in animated acid bounces. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Granite 2017, WO Swartland

In chenin blanc the Mullineuxs engage in this single-terroir comparison, first by Quartz and now through Granite. The reference is to the predominant mineral presence in the soil and in how it influences the chameleon varietal. In 2017 Quartz is a major concern but switching to sandy, decomposed rocky soil and everything changes. Berries leave the world of mottled and piebald to one of demure and decor with thanks to the diffused light set upon them. That and a place where roots must burrow, digging deeper through hunks of rock into the sub-strata. This is where trace elements and minerals are to be found in the water table below and while limestone and silex is not the tablet there is some ideological affinity here with the Loire. As such it is this Granite that speaks in a leaner, thoroughly mineral, less spice and increased sharpness vernacular. Precision cut, flint struck, metallic, a song of science and silence. Body and flesh are ambient, less “creamy” than in Quartz, linear in travels, long and of an aging potential surely cast forward. Focused all the way through, unrelenting but always in layers of overlap and subtlety. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Kloof Street Red 2017, WO Swartland

Kloof Street is a “heritage blend,” says Andrea Mullineux, “it’s a wine about the love for making wine, but having preferences.” From vintage to vintage maybe check the bottle for varieties because there is no steadfast formula. Heritage, as opposed to Rhône means playfulness, choices and the inclusion of a structure fortifying grape like tinta barocca, truly integral to the Western Cape meritage experience. Here in 2017 there are some notable added layers of flesh, drying tannin and largesse. An early extracted wine in fast stages of maceration to coax out the fruit and deter astringency. Comes away rich and robust, rocking the free and new world. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

“I still consider it a blend,” insists Andrea Mullineux,”because it comes from seven vineyards on three soils.” Spends up to six weeks on skins, depending on how big the tannins are. Big equals patience. Burly early with spice and elongation but that heft and girth will slowly melt away. An invisible friend called acidity will usher the transformation, those gnomes of silent structure. The next stage will celebrate the leathery cherry fruit and cumulative Swartland savour.  Last tasted September 2018

The first drought vintage for the Swartland syrah and so the extract, concentration and density are all in compression mode. The change is felt with palpable impression, meatier, more char, even tar, and a little bit of dogma was necessary to bring in more granite-raised syrah to keep things swimmingly cool and savoury along. It’s a hematic one in 2016. To some this would be the bomb, the massive reason to believe and to others it might seem an impossible wall to scale. With a combination of love and patience the ’16 will please them all. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Mullineux Syrah Schist 2016, WO Swartland

As with the two chenin blanc Quartz and Granite introspections there too is a Mullineux terroir combing of Swartland soils through the lens of syrah, there by Iron and here through Schist. The style or rather the result is befitting the monikers because Schist is the tamer one of the two and it is interesting to note that the syrah “blend” as Andrea Mullineux calls it is more like Iron than this elegant one. A huge January heat wave could have led this into the raisin danger zone because ripening under the shotgun is no way to approach harvest. Cooler heads and temperatures prevailed to allow for an unfurling, a plumping and a perking up. Schist comes out regal, aromatically civil and demure, but also juicier than a nosing might indicate. Acid retention is strong, sweet and quite friendly to work in cohorts with the cane and Baleni based spice. Dark in complexion, yes brooding yet sneakily serene, salty and so comfortable in its own skin. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Syrah Iron 2016, WO Swartland

The second of two Mullineux soil investigations for syrah is this dramatic and hematic nonpareil exemplar. Cultivar meets terroir, raised off of a heavy, gravelly clay, rich in iron, impressive and hallowed as antediluvian viticultural ground. That may not be completely Cape uncommon but this is clearly a paradigm shifter for drilled down South African syrah in attack meets beast mode, cimmerian, ferric and intense. Modish though, while inexorable character oozes from every pore and a mid-palate wells of extraordinary fill. Sharpens its wits on bullish tannin and expresses Northwest of Malmesbury iron with raw emotion and power, though without rusticity. What it may lack in elegance is made up by sheer force in reckoning, at first engaging and then gripping the palate by all means necessary. The velvet glove future lies somewhere in the next decade, likely latter first half. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2013, WO Elgin

Just a hint of evolution is showing in this five year-old pinot noir which is something because you had to work to find any in the just tasted 2009. The sweetest fruit comes from 2013, on of the riper, purest and most pristine vintages to express what Elgin has to offer. Ethereal actually, not loosely but effortlessly structured with a seamless bond forged between fruit and acids. Tannins are already subsiding in this elegant, balanced and slightly spiced pinot. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2011, WO Elgin

Such a composed vintage, cool, calm and collected. A Beaune Villages feel here, perhaps Aloxe-Corton with darker pinot noir fruit, almost black cherry but less obvious, more complex, full of baking spice. A genial and genteel Seven Flags nonetheless, elastic, pliable, amenable but not without undeniable and underlying composure. That backbone may bend with curvature ease but will not break. Provides the basis to see this Cluver from Elgin live easily up to and likely beyond its 12th birthday. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2009, WO Elgin

Harkens back to a time when the 1987 planted 113 clone was no longer the sole provider for the Seven Flags family after 115 and 667 had been planted in 2001. From 2009 it seems quite obvious the vintage was one to create big, robust, ripe and warm pinot noir. Even as it approaches its ninth birthday the evolution equation remains in early steps computation, perhaps just now moving to the next stage. Secondary development is still around the bend or on the next page, noted by the persistence of a cool climate, liquid but still grainy chalk. Also acts just a bit reductive which seems almost impossible but stranger things have happened out of South African vineyards. Just imagine the futuristic possibilities when these vines soon achieve heritage age. Remind me to ask Paul Cluver for a look at vintages from 2022 onward at Cape Wine 2039. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Callie Louw, Porseleinberg

Porseleinberg Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

Poured by Callie Louw at Cape Wine 2018, this Riebeek Kasteel, Porcelain Mountain syrah somehow sits at a pantheon’s peak vintage after vintage, as if each one is a once in a lifetime effort. This must have been the epitome of such a consideration because Louw calls it “a fucking hard vintage, eh.” Strong talking words from the stoic and pragmatic BBQ smoker, winemaker and cricket master. Callie may have experienced a craftsman’s pain but the 70 per cent foudres and 30 concrete elévage not only tamed the savage beast, it helped to turn heads and remind of where greatness comes from. Tasted side by each with 2012 and 2013 only magnifies the massive structure in this ’16, a reductively bouncy, glycerin and impenetrable syrah in need of getting lost in the cellar. Will also need an epic song, “into the blue again, after the money’s gone.” Through the next decade and well into the following one this syrah will remain in light. “Same as it ever was.” Drink 2022-2040.  Tasted September 2018

Callie Louw’s smoker hard at work in Malmesbury

The Sadie Family Palladius 2014, WO Swartland

If you Google “South African white appellative blend” the number one result should surely be Eben Sadie’s Palladius and these are the 11 reasons why; chenin blanc, grenache blanc, marsanne, sémillon, sémillon gris, viognier, clairette blanche, roussanne, verdelho, colombard and palomino. Eleven blocks, all on granites, some from the Riebeek-Kasteel side. If looking forward to the brilliant ’16 and seeing it as a wine of mixed tenses, then this ’14 speaks in the imperfect because it strikes as the one to talk about the past and to say what used to happen. As in language, love, war and the past continuous, all is fair when it comes to assessing the verticals of wine, especially in descriptions. The 2014 Palladius is the back to the future vintage, of warmth and spice when things were picked overripe and new beginnings are constantly forged. But the citrus preserve and sheer electric lemon-lime energy looks ahead to the intensity of a youthful 2016, leaving a taster confounded, satisfied and awake all at the same time. This may go forward before it retreats once again. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Palladius 2009, WO Swartland

When talking about the 2009 vintage Eben Sadie talks of the decision to add sémillon, clairette blanche and palomino to his appellative white blend that already held chenin blanc, colmbard, grenache blanc and viognier. “To up the acidity,” aid and abet the tendencies of fleshy fruit to fatten in overripe behaviour. More than just acidity mind you, Sadie also looked to heighten the “acoustics” in a wine that was quickly becoming a major Swartland concern. Tasting this is September 2018 it can’t help but be noted how development and evolution have nearly caught up to 2005, a vintage cause and effect action no doubt. Here is the spiciest, sauciest and flat out nasty attitude Palladius, unabashed and already having done most of its living. That said the track record of these wines tells us to stay put, be patient and continue to relish the sapid, saline and ever-changing paths carved out. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Pofadder 2017, WO Swartland

Part of Eben Sadie and family’s “Die Ouwingerdreeks,” the old vine series and a reference to either or both puff adder snakes and the small “bushman’s land” town in the Northern Cape. Can be 100 per cent cinsault though the percentage is 85 in 2017, aged in old but not Jurassic wood. The ideal, epitome and exemplar bench-land varietal wine, not to mention a pioneer in the South African paradigm shift to conscious exultation of a plan in collective commitment for varietal, heritage vine and whole cluster ferments. From granite shales (not the decomposed kind) and yet another red fruit incarnate, freshest of the fresh precision wines. Pure Cape cinsault is this, with tannin but the kind that is sweet and stretched. No bullshit here. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Treinspoor 2017, WO Swartland

Afrikaans for “railroad,” perhaps a reference to the method of transportation that brought these European grapes to the Cape, depending on how far back tinta barocca arrived in the Swartland. In fact it was in the 1920’s and now just a bit more than 200 ha’s of this hardy, rustic, dark-skinned, early ripening and versatile red lay scattered about, accounting for two one hundredth’s of a per cent for vineyard area in South Africa. Sadie’s is a single-vineyard line running through the Darling side of Malmesbury, a cimmerian blackish red reeking of Renosterbos which is ironic because animal activists have always believed that the railroads threaten Rhino habitat. Digressions aside this is a prime example of why some might consider tinta barocca to be the future grape of Swartland. Sweetly floral and in 2017 both ways perfectly ripe. Botanicals abound, bosplante in bloom while flowers await the bees. Where this shares affinities with cinsault and grenache is in the curative and salumi aromas leading to sweet yet elastic tannins. The finish and length are expressly Swartland in nature. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Columella 2016, WO Swartland

Red counterpart to the Sadie white signature Palladius and residing in the upper echelon of Western Cape appellative blends. Ontario lays claim to the Stratus White and Red while the Cape knows these. Allowing for some levity there is a kinship to be considered between Eben Sadie and J-L Groulx, two of the more unlikely mad scientists able to capture the lit and woke disposition of mastered assemblage. Imagine Groulx also pouring varietal shots of many different farmed varieties from the back of his pick up truck during a lawn bowl in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The full name is Columella Liberatus in Castro Bonae Spei, Latin for “liberated in the Cape of Good Hope” and as a pillar of strength Columella’s syrah, grenache, mourvèdre, cinsault and tinta barroca ascend to dramatic expression. Variegated in every respect; hue, perfume, flavour and structure, at once layered and then stratified with doric strength, able to bear the most concentrated weight. Relative acidity, fluted or grooved, wider in youth to help support and lengthen. Intensely fortified with help from the barocca, naturally and of itself, intuitively wild yet controlled. Such a focused wine one rarely comes upon. Drink 2019-2030.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family ‘T Voetpad 2017, WO Swartland

The “footpath” from both the Dutch (het Voedpad) and Afrikaans, also the name of Dirk Brand’s rooibos and wheat farm next to this oldest vineyard in the Kapteinskloof near Piketberg. Some say the oldest in South Africa, planted between 1920 an 1928, but others will say the first vines went in around the 1890’s through to the early 1900’s. Takes the Sadie Family “Die Ouwingerdreeks” to the farthest, most extreme reaches of the old vineyards idea. “The vines have seen it all,” tells Eben Sadie, “don’t fuck with us” is their message. “Don’t mess this up.” And so Eben co-ferments in an as is format but more importantly works at the agriculture to a point of obsession. Newer inter-plantings will go in, of sémillon, sémillon gris and palomino from massal selected material. To deal with drought cover crops will also be added between rows, all of course through an organic approach. The blend is sémillon, sémillon gris, palomino, chenin blanc and muscat d’Alexandrie, all processed together, but this is not about extreme winemaking. More like extreme farming, finding ways to keep these twisted kurktrekker and cavatappi bending vines alive for to produce their magic. The wine that emerges is all about tendencies and multiplicities of texture. The dry extract here is off the charts making it seem forcefully and fiercely tannic. Fantasy and zeitgeist just happens and the results are right there in the bottle. A remarkable wine and vintage from an isolated vineyard where drought is always a factor. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted September 2018

Abrie Bruwer, Springfield Estate

Springfield Estate Chardonnay Méthode Ancienne 2016, WO Robertson

Burgundian ode, ancient method of making chardonnay, a rare approach these days, with wild yeasts and no fining or filtration. No surprise that Springfield Estate is willing to give it a go because that’s how they roll. The plan is for deep longevity by a method akin to anti-aging serum, though 15 to 20 years would be astonishing in any case. Ground control to major tang, circuits wired tohu vavohu and a lemon custard to curd constitution that is simply merveilleux. Yes it is true that a hint of orange could turn into Cointreau after a half decade or more and the mid-palate cloud cover will continue to deliver warmth and appeal. Curious methodology plus romantic acumen equates to one of a kind. We’ll see where this goes. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Break A Leg Blanc De Noirs 2017, WO Paarl

Often referred to as a pink wine but to choose this term to call Lukas van Loggerenberg’s 100 per cent cinsault grown on Helderberg granite would not tell the right story. Blanc de noirs is more apt but even then more detail is necessary to do it justice. Sees nine months of lees time, “to remove the tutti frutti,” snarks van Loggerenberg, without jest but can you really know when he’s being serious? Leaves the arena of the Rosé absurd and settles at a hue of proper B de N colour, as if that really matters. Saltiness is the thing, the granite kind, the sort to set your eyes ablaze and your heart to rest. Not really a wine about texture, though there is plenty, but that’s not the goal. Anything but sweet and a wresting away from norms into a matter of reckoning. And all about five knee surgeries, something the winemaker and the critic know all about. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Chenin Blanc Trust Your Gut 2017, WO Western Cape

While there are wines in Lukas van Loggerenberg’s world that travel down the kamikaze viaduct, Trust Your Gut is not one of them. In fact there is a normalcy, a recognizable structure and an older Euro soul to the way this chenin blanc acts and feels. Sees 10 months sur lie in old French oak but no bâttonage, nor malo neither. Three zones bring the fruit; 45 per cent each Stellenbosch and Swartland plus 10 from Paarl. Take chenin blanc and treat it like a Villages wine by imagining Loire aromatics merging with Chablis texture. This my friends is a classic example of amalgamated Western Cape chenin style. There is irony in the name and no shocker there. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Early springtime in Cape Town

Van Loggerenberg Wines Cinsault Geronimo 2017, WO Western Cape

Geronimo is 100 per cent cinsault, 60 per cent from Stellenbosch and 40 “Break a Leg” Paarl. The get together finds energy that one without the other would not find “because cinsault doesn’t have high natural acidity,” explains Lukas van Loggerenberg, “it is a very good indicator of vintage.” The 2017 is, wait for it, 80 per cent whole bunch and while that is a factor of the Western Cape’s ripen anything, anywhere, anytime great advantage, it’s still an impressive strategy no matter where you are making wine. Spends nine months in barrel and comes out smelling like roses, candied petals mainly but other florals, hibiscus and such. A handsome cinsault to be sure and one that will take precious time to unwind, great acidity or not. Like the red Cape equivalent of white friulano in Collio, sneaky long and structured. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Cabernet Franc Breton 2017, WO Stellenbosch

A more than obvious ode to the Loire Valley, 100 per cent cabernet franc bearing the old world varietal name. Fruit drawn from Stellenbosch’s decomposed granite soils gets the 60 per cent whole bunch treatment, followed by 11 months in barrel. Transparent as cabernet franc is the understatement, open wide, ease of alcohol at 12.8 per cent and in delivery for the rapture of being alive. Lots of verdant tones but nary a green tannic moment. Seems like the beginning of a beautiful friendship so the future too is wide open. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Sheree Nothnagel

Wildehurst Velo White 2016, WO Swartland

A testament to non-pareil, Cape appellative white blend equanimity, of colombard, grenache blanc and viognier, 33 of each, give or take one per cent. Only the viognier is barrel fermented though the equilibrium os never compromised. Intensely herbal, of a nose uncanny in its fynbos reek, lovely glycerin texture, again balanced and knowing the place it wants to be. Acid structure travels though in a pas trop travaillé, no trouble way. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

Barrel fermented and six months matured, 100 per cent chenin blanc, acting as if freshly spiced and in Cape terms, a really chewy white wine. Counterbalanced by a leanness in vintage while wound tight, just now perhaps beginning to unwind in repeat of its specific refrain. Acid structure makes up the lyrical couplets, sung again and again, as a reminder that fruit and wood will always align and submit to the citrus rhyme. Almost feels like still perlage and chenin blanc like this is very much a string of pearls, inclusive of tannins in long chains. Helps to explain the success of Wildehurst’s Méthode Cap Classique. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Red 2014, WO Swartland

A blend of shiraz, grenache, mourvèdre, viognier and cinsault, aged in old French barrels for 18 months. Like the solo cinsault but an even more held back and hard to crack the savoury and sweet candied shell. Both elements emerge with good agitation, first the sweet variegate of red fruit and then the brushy and dusty fynbos bushiness, here acting as an energizer for equal opportunity. Spills over with that Wildehurst acid-tannin continuum as all the wines take their time to ready, pivot in the glass and then speak of their age ability going forward. Big bursts are all power and no cake. Rich yet elastic and surely capable of going deep. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Cinsault 2017, WO Swartland

Just two barrels were found to be extraordinary and thus pulled by Sheree Nothnagel, away from the red blend and into this solo album. Quite the richly emulsified and ropey red fruit cinsault and while it follows along the varietal Swartland thread the differences are as great as they are to the party’s similarities. That is due in respect to the Wildehurst style, tighter and more acid-structure intense, higher-toned and less in the meaty-salumi-curative vein. Still possessive of that red as red can be fruit but here more akin to barbera or sangiovese from high altitudes and limestone soils. There must be something about Koringberg and the other Swartland sites that bring a special je ne sais quoi to Joanne Hurst’s wines. Maybe in thanks to Swartland shale, granite, silcrete and alluvium Renosterveld. Who does not love the smell of Renosterveld in the morning? Drink 2019-2027. Tasted September 2018

The Wine Thief Costa Del Swart Viura 2017, WO Voor Paardeberg

From the Western Cape’s chameleon of a region where anything goes and all things are considered. Case in point this viura of Spanish roots as part of the single barrel series. Surely Swartland specific (as opposed to Paarl), 100 per cent viura and only 180 bottles produced. Less alchemy and more herbology, but flinty, sharp and exciting. Direct, full of fun and even a bit waxy, with a riesling or sémillon feel that can only mean some petrol in its future. So much citrus gets ya in the end. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Twenty Canadian wines that rocked in 2020

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Year-end lists and greatest hits have always elicited a personal introspective fascination, not any lists mind you but mostly those involving music. Always curious to find out if someone else thought the same songs or albums aligned with your own. Such lists are met with growing skepticism and so the words “top” or “best” should be taken with a grain of salt, scrutinized with impunity, viewed with subjective prejudice. Music and wine need not be considered as ranked, top or best but instead contemplated with dead reckoning, as if throwing a buoyant opinion overboard to determine the speed of the mind’s emotion relative to thought, which was assumed to be dead in the waters of judgement. The feeling of being moved, stirred up in sentiment, excited and reaching deeper into understanding, these are the reasons to tally a culminating register. Neither for enumeration nor for classification, but for the indexing, of harbingers and that which makes us feel.

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

What transpired over the previous 12 months has not left the arena of the unfathomable and the absurd, but with respect to Canadian wine there can be no doubt that a next level of greatness was reached. Holiday time will be somewhat solitary as 2020 winds down and while the sharing of bottles will surely mean more repeated sips for the few involved, they will be sweet ones and are not to be taken for granted. As for the exercise of creating a rocking roster of Canadian made wine, well here on Godello this so happens to be the eighth annual for an instalment that first appeared in 2013. Now adding up to seven more entries than the first and acting as natural segue, a transition and salvo towards crossing over the threshold where 2021 awaits.

Related – Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

Twenty. Not an arbitrary number but rather an arbiter of perpetual and developmental prowess of a nation’s wine-producing ability and surely while knowing that no fewer than 20 others could of, would of, should of made the grade. The quote is a timeless one and will be employed once again. This curated list is “biased, exclusive and decisive but it is meant to celebrate a select few with a mandate to elevate and exult the rest. It’s also a proclamation read to many who remain ignorant to an ideal of great wine being made in Canada. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it.”

Related – Eighteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2018

In 2020 Canadian wine came to my tasting table in ways no other year made it happen. There were no excursions to British Columbia, Nova Scotia or Quebec, save for a 36-hour round-trip drive to Halifax in delivery of precious human cargo. No Cuvée or i4c. No VQA Oyster competition, Somewhereness or Terroir Symposium. No walk-around tastings. Despite going nowhere the opportunities to sample Canadian wines were of a number higher than ever before. Safely distanced tastings at WineAlign headquarters, at the welcome emptiness of Barque Smokehouse and in our homes brought Canada’s finest bottles to us. Though we were unable to convene in June at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, a prodigious alternative became surrogate in the guise of the Guide to Canada’s Best Wines, a.k.a WineAlign’s GCBW. Over the course of six weeks we tasted through 860 samples and not just any mind you but truly Canada’s best. We were sad to miss Tony Aspler’s Ontario Wine Awards and David Lawrason’s Great Canadian Kitchen Party, the artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates. Here’s to hoping 2021 will usher in a return to assessing and celebrating together.

Related – 17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

Aldé Rosé, Interloper and As Is

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

The numbers chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine continue to march ahead, as promised by the annual billing. In 2018 the list counted 18. In 2017 there were 17 and in 2016, 16 noted. In 2015 that meant 15 and 14 for 2014, just as in 2013 the filtered list showed 13. Last year? You would be correct if you guessed 19. There is no red carpet for 2020, it just doesn’t feel appropriate or right but keeping on is essential. “Whence comes the sense of wonder we perceive when we encounter certain bottles of art?” Here are 20 most exciting Canadian wines of 2020. Twenty Canadian wines that rocked.


Le Vieux Pin Ava 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($29.99)

Calculated, figured and reasoned, a 51 per cent roussanne, (36) viognier and (13) marsanne organized, Rhône motivated blend that just fits right. A kiss of new wood and a 35 per cent wood campaign, slightly more in steel and then the other freshener, that being a fifth of this exceptional vintage fruit having seen time in concrete tank. Yes the aromas are wildly fresh, far away tropical and cumulatively enticing. A white blend of rhythm and soul, actionable in every part of its drift and coil, democratic, of no accident, come up to please and at the same time, foil. Offers this and that, high tempo acids opposite fully ripened fruit and all tolled, wrapped up with a tailored bow. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted October 2020

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($29.95)

Cave Spring’s is Ontario riesling and along with three or four others the CSV has been the benchmark for decades. CSV is one of the reasons to believe in riesling, versatile, brutally honest, speaker of the mind, telling us like it is. As for 2018, frosts in late ’17 reduced the upcoming vintage’s yield potential. Long, hot and dry was ’18’s summer and so doubling down occurred. Less yet highly concentred fruit was pretty much assured before September turned wet and humid. CSV embraces and stands firm in its dealings with nature so while there is more flesh and flavour intensity there too is the tried and true structural backbone. Surely a highly phenolic riesling but every aspect is elevated in this game. A hyperbole of itself, gangster riesling, the jumbo package, age-worthy and stone-faced beyond compare. Best ever, perhaps no but perchance something new, riveting, magnified, extravagant and well, fine. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted October 2020

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2017, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($37.20, Stratus Wines)

The concept behind Baker’s single-vineyard riesling is for the top tier one to be possessive in the matters of majestic and dignified, which quite honestly it is. Funny vintage that ’17 was and yet in riesling there can be this slow melt, tide and release of intricacy and intimacy, which this Picone does. Like taking a picture with the slowest shutter speed, allowing the sensor a full allotment of time in its exposure to light. This is the dramatic and hyper-effect and how Baker captured the highest riesling resolution imaginable. The succulence in the acids over top juicy, juicy fruit and this great entanglement is majestic and dignified. My goodness Charles, I think you’ve done it. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted April and October 2020

Martin’s Lane winemaker Shane Munn

Martin’s Lane Riesling Simes Vineyard 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($45.00)

First tasted at the winery in 2018 after only one year in bottle. A cooler vintage and less residual sugar (4 g/L vs. 6 in 2015) and also one reaching for its phenolics. The Alsace Clone (49) planted in 2008 is coming into the zone with this textured ’16 from one of three single vineyards on granite in East Kelowna. There is that minor number of sugar but there are acidities and reminiscences to the motherland that supersede and infiltrate the nooks and crannies of the fruit. Who in the Okanagan neighbourhood would not be envious of the clean clarity that this riesling achieves. Very focused, tightly wound and surely able to unravel ever so slowly, developing beeswax, honey and gasses as it will, over a ten year period. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted April 2020

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($37.15)

Wound tight like a coil around a winch with precise threading and pinpoint spacing for chardonnay that wins the vintage. Reductive style to be sure but only truly noted because of the freshest vibes this side of Motown. Got rhythm and blues, not to mention funk and soul. Clean beats, in step, three-part backing vocals and a purity of sound. Taste relays all these things and more, of succulence and in satiation guaranteed. In other words timeless and the willingness to pour on repeat will be a continuous thing of perpetual satisfaction. Last tasted October 2020. There is no secret that 2016 can align itself with the best of them in Niagara and chardonnay is clearly right in the middle of the discussion. Knowing that, how could the iconic triad of varietal, producer and vineyard not rise like fresh summer fruit cream to the top of the discourse? The years of Pender and Bourgogne barrel studies have come to this; spot on in blending Quarry fruit from wood and associated forests, staves and toasts, here the crux of sonic, sonar, and olfactory waves are met in optimum phenolic crash. The crush of chardonnay, the cryogenic liquid wait and the ultimate goal is achieved. Balance is struck at 12.5 degrees alcohol and all the perfectly seasoned grape tannin you could want. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted May 2020

Leaning Post Senchuk Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario ($45.20, Nicholas Pearce Wines)

Set apart from the Bench wineries and while still beneath the Niagara Escarpment Senchuk Vineyard sits on more of a plain that gently slides down the Lincoln Lakeshore and into Lake Ontario. Perhaps it will become Ontario’s next sub-appellation. Sandy soil is maculated by largish stones three to four feet down. This atop a bed of grey clay so the low vigour of the sandy soil will be offer up a flip-side, a foil to the heavy clay of nearby locales like the Beamsville Bench. This third chardonnay from the home vineyard comes off of vines planted in 2011 so now this seven-year old fruit is starting to really mean something. And Ilya Senchuk is a winemaker who studies, concentrates and plans his work around clones. It’s not just about where to plant which varietals but which clone will work best and where within the greater where. Vineyard, vintage and variance. Senchuk truly believes that greatness is determined by varietal variegation, from vineyard to vineyard and from year to year. From 2018: 64 per cent Clone 548 and (36) Clone 96. Listen further. Warm season so picked on September 18. The grapes were gently whole cluster pressed (separated by Clone), allowed to settle in chilled tanks over night. The juice was then racked into barrels; Clone 548 – one puncheon and three barriques, Clone 96 – three barriques, where they underwent spontaneous alcoholic and malolactic fermentation. The lees were not stirred and it was allowed to age for 16 months. Power, body, tons of fruit, definite barrel influence, a southern Bourgogne kind of vintage, so maybe Pouilly-Fuisée or Maconnais Village with a specific Climat. For the time being we call the Village Lincoln Lakeshore and Senchuk Vineyard the geographical designation. The lemon curd and the acidity are there in a great tangle so yes, this is trés cool chardonnay. I think we can safely say already that the Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay grown in Ilya and Nadia’s home vineyard is on its own, one of a kind and makes wines that don’t taste like anywhere else. This 2018 cements the notion and opens the next stage of the discussion. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2020

Lightfoot And Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2017, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia (462093, $56.95)

Exceptionalities worthy of hyperboles are befitting this chardonnay of concentration, textural satisfaction and immediate gratification. Apple distillate to nose, a walk through a perennial garden on Fundy shores in late summer bloom and then citrus in so many ways, incarnate and teeming with briny, zesty flavour. If your are counting at home, this Lightfoot family wine by way of Peter Gamble and in the hands of winemaker Josh Horton is now six years into its tenure. As the crow flies, qualitatively and quantitatively speaking refinement has never ceased to improve. Has arrived at its new Minas Basin tidal heights, crisp and salivating, finishing on the highest of notes. Chardonnay god of ocean tides, “all night long, writing poems to” Nova Scotia. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted October 2020

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Mission Hill Perpetua 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($60.00)

Dichotomy in chardonnay, grand and graceful, powerful and elegant. Reductive and not acting this way but rather in what is now descried as the post modern style of chardonnay, from Australia to New Zealand, Bourgogne to B.C. Huge fruit concentration, wood equalizing yet in check, acids controlling yet relenting, structured assured though not overly complicating. Orchards combed and fruit brought in to make the composition sing with flavour while the work put in shaves down the rough edges and pieces fit snugly together. Top vintage for this label. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2020

Blomidon Cuvée l’Acadie, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia ($35.00)

The entirety of a sparkling wine oeuvre is modified and transmogrified, designed and decreed of a new morphology where l’Acadie is concerned. It must be conceded that the Nova Scotia varietal speciality is destined to create cracker, lightning rod, back beats and bites in Nova Scotia sparkling wine. This from Blomidon adds spice, apple skin, orange zest and stony moments throughout. It’s amazing. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted October 2020

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc 2015, Traditional Method, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (315200, $49.95)

As always 100 per cent chardonnay and 2015 is perhaps the vintage of the most golden toast, as if made by agemono, with the most lemon and lees ever assembled in a Cuvée Catharine, vintage-dated Sparkling wine. An intensity of aromas swirl around in citrus centrifuge into which the gross cells don’t seem to want to go. On the palate is where they rest, layered and leesy, textured with a sense of weightlessness and wonder. Henry of Pelham channelling an inner Japanese cooking technique. Feels like some time is warranted to pull all this together. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2020

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2013, VQA Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario ($75.00)

The first (commercial) J-L Groux foray into traditional method Sparkling wine has been six plus years in the making, or in this case, senescence as the lees fly and his Blanc de Blanc has finally arrived. A notable moment in the Stratus continuum as they too now own a program of development, time, investment, research and acumen. The nose on this bubble tells a pensive story, or as fantasy goes like dipping your face into a tale-spun pensieve as it takes you back in time. In 2013 chardonnay excelled on the Niagara Peninsula and still today in 2020 we are drinking vintage examples persistent in their freshness and durability of construct. That this reeks of varietal lore is a hallmark moment, that and a conscientious adherence to reverence for solids and the focus on rotational detail. Speaks a Blanc de Blanc vernacular as a chardonnay should, with a bite out of a sharp fall apple, a pesto of verdant aromatics and a crunch of texture before drifting saline, briny and fine. Pretty good work J-L. Kudos for getting from there to here with intelligence and humility. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2020

At a Somewhereness gathering a few years back Thomas Bachelder poured me his first gamay and while I remember the light, I could not have known what complex cru notions the maniacal monk had up his sleeve. Who knew that Twenty Mile Bench gamay would gain standing in “Villages,” “Naturaliste,” and two Wismer-Foxcroft iterations. And so here we are with the more intense of the two whole cluster siblings and the one chosen to celebrate its 52 per cent wild bunch inclusion. The fermentation technique transposed seems almost “alla vinificazione Piedmontese a cappello sommerso,” though by way of sangiovese in Chianti Classico what with a glycerin feel and a formative fabric so tactile to the mouth’s touch. Stemmy? Not a chance. Herbal? Nope. More like a Côte de Brouilly to the Wismer-22’s Brouilly, not quite Morgon but savour and structure are serious, righteous and very much here. That I did not buy cases of this stuff is a real concern. Drink 2020-2027. Tasted November 2020

Malivoire Courtney Gamay 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (524231, $29.95)

What Courtney brings to the table in gamay is what we’ve come to expect from Ontario, that is structurally contracted and age-worthy wine. Now understood to be a Cru designate, carved from a decade of research and well-defined. You could build an entire cellar by way of Malivoire’s multi-varietal work and the many tiers they fashion from drink now, through mid-term aging and up to here in a gamay that will go long. I’ve tasted a few older Malivoires lately and have been blown away by their longevity and also tasted this Courtney from barrel last winter. The whole bunch strategy has come to this, a knowable, beautifully swarthy, fruit protected and into the future protracted guarantee of fortitude and change. Reminds me of Michael Schmelzer’s Montebernardi Panzano sangiovese. Grande. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted October 2020

Rosehall Run’s Dan Sullivan and Goode

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2018, Prince Edward County, Ontario ($42.00)

Fortuitous time and place are the combined recipient of the primary assist for Rosehall’s JCR Vineyard pinot noir, a varietal stunner that seduces from the word go. A drinking vintage, early, ethereal, not lacking but easing in and out of structure, ready to please in the proverbial vein of immediate gratification. Then the County tones, reverb and static mosey on in like a Telecaster’s light jing-a-ling. Rises to an interlude crescendo and explodes into rock ‘n roll bands. In the County the poets make these things happen, then “sit back and let it all be. Tonight, in Jungleland.” Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July and October 2020

CedarCreek Platinum Pinot Noir Block 2 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($54.90)

Block “2” is genuine and fine pinot noir, a pinpointed example multi-faceted in its origins. An exclusive block and also a dedicated clone to make this what it is; ripe stem earthy in phenolics ripe and ready plus a natural and wild fruit sweetness that can’t be replicated by anything but what happens on and from the vine. Anytime pinot noir is experienced as a wine at one with site, clone and vine you know it, feel it and intuit the connection. The forging is a bond unbreakable, as here with Block number two. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted October 2020

Culmina Hypothesis 2014, Golden Mile Bench, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (414243, $49.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

The Triggs original, Hypothesis is an Okanagan Valley flagship red that celebrates the upper benches in what has become the great Golden Mile. This district is no longer a matter of new fashion, it is in fact a place to make serious Bordeaux-varietal red wine. Whether cabernet franc or merlot take the lead there is always cabernet sauvignon to tie the room of lit luminescence together. Culmina’s is bright-eyed on a face of dark fruit, chewy like liquorice and sweetly herbal, naturally sweetened by dessert warmth ripening. You smell, feel, sense and taste the land in this wine. That’s what makes it so special. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted June 2020

Black Hills Nota Bene 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($68.99)

Methinks winemaker Ross Wise is giddy (and that’s a stretch for the stoic man of leisure) in what he must know will be the great eventuality of the Nota Bene 2018. By way of reminder this is one of Canada’s most accomplished and massive reds of great notoriety. The flagship of Black Hills in Bordeaux blend apparel, master of ceremonies and lead singer for B.C. Climat, Somewhereness and terroir. The maestro blend to speak of mystery, riddle and enigma. This ’18 is smooth and I mean smooth, ganache silky and focused. In youth you chew the mouthful, later on you’ll draw and imbibe. Further on down the road you will sip and savour. Quietly luxurious, rampantly delicious and pridefully profound. Top. Grande. Drink 2023-2031.  Tasted June 2020

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Megalomaniac Reserve Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario ($49.95)

Ah, finally! This is the aromatic profile of a reserve style Ontario cabernet franc, well, not “the” but “a” godly one. Concentrated and layered, like phyllo or puff pastry folded again and again upon itself. May seem dense and without air at this time but with time the folds will expand and stack with weightlessness. The variegated red fruit in betweens are juicy, sumptuous and so packed with flavour they will burst when bitten into, or in this case, explode in the mouth. Texture too is all pleasure, as will be the eventuality of exceptionality created by a triangle that includes complete and fine tannin. One of the finest and from a vintage that holds the cards for cabernet franc excellence. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted October 2020

Thirty Bench Small Lot Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($75.00)

Niagara’s most premium solo cabernet franc is turned upside in 2017 and does everything that needed doing to make what is quite possibly the best solo effort in that vintage. Of fruit so dark yet pure and allowed to act, move and speak as varietal in place. Walks that Beamsville Bench walk and talks that cabernet franc talk. World-beating, wholly and truly. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted October 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($85.20)

From a La Brunante year to speak of truths and there is no doubt the team was excited about the prospects of this formidable Beamsville Bench blend. The triad is merlot (43 per cent), malbec (35) and cabernet franc (22). I’d say it was the warm climate and long season that lead to then winemaker Marlize Beyer’s decisions of assemblage. You could pour this blind with red blends from Bordeaux and Australia with nary a taster being able to truly separate one from many others. And yet there is a singularity about these aromatics that are so hard to define, like spices in their simmering infancy ahead of what brand of togetherness they will assign. As for texture and length, balance is exemplary and longevity guaranteed. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted May 2020

Good to go!

godello

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

There are times when you do it just for the continuity because time marches on, no matter the circumstances. There is no disputing how different 2020 was and frankly the flip to 2021 will not bring about significant change or any semblance of a return to what was, at least not in the first several months. Yet the compelling urge is there, to quantify and qualify this annual Godello list of wines that opened, expanded and blew a mind in 2020. The concept for a year-end summation was launched in 2012 though it was the publishing of 14 in 2014 that made it very official, if only in the mind of one Godello. Matters little whether this qualifies as the seventh or the ninth because in wine one should always eschew semantics for the liquid truth found inside the bottle, elixirs they are of most profound, ethereal and honest propriety.

Related – Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

This will be a much different list than ever before. While I did manage to squeeze in 25 days of travel in the first 56 of 2020 those were the last of this calendar year. That’s at least 75 short of my normal yearly schedule and so imagine that if an average of 30 wines are tasted each and every day on the road, well then that would tell us that at the very minimum 2,250 wines were missed this year. Not entirely true because at least half that many, if not 75 per cent more were made available to me and my WineAlign colleagues over these past nine month of quarantine, isolation and safe-distancing tastings. Still the make-up of what was tasted has been very different, the most notable being the lack of unrepresented or not found in market wines. Less discovery in 2020 to be sure.

Campo Spritz

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

According to my personal critic’s database on WineAlign I reviewed 4,450 wines in 2020, keeping in mind that many of those reviews were for wines tasted in 2019. Up until this year I was consistently behind or back-logged with hundreds if not more than a thousand tasting notes in the queue, unedited, unresolved, not yet reconciled, unfinished, not-posted. Since the global pandemic abruptly delivered me home in the dead of a late February night from Faenza to Firenze, through Frankfurt and to Pearson I have not been able to resume travel. These last 10 months have allowed for a massive catching up. There are now a thousand less wines to finesse and publish then there were this time last year, very few raw and rustic songs waiting for the editing process. All the choices on this 2020 list have been solidified and already been opined with confidence for the world to scrutinize. In 2020 there is nothing left on the table.

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

Slipped outta Dodge under the cover of darkness…

This year’s list is indeed different. The get togethers were few and far between. The travel non-existent. That is why you will recognize more producer names and also a more “archetypal” bent to the choices. The year dictates such a direction and as we all know, you have to listen to what the vintage tells you but also to remember and thank the true pioneers for getting all of us here. Perhaps the greatest influence on how this composition came to be was a conscious choice to omit the older vintages tasted in 2020. There were less to be sure but it just feels like keeping them kind of secretive is the way to go. Let’s hope a connection to that part of this exercise will make a return in 2021. As always, heartfelt thanks to everyone who poured a glass. The producers, winemakers, export managers, friends, colleagues and pirates, so please be encouraged and read on. Alas, Godello’s 20 mind-blowing wines of 2020.

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (23128, $17.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Gets me every time. Not just one of the finest meets best value chenin blancs available out of South Africa but an example to hang all your hats on no matter where white wine comes from in this world. Still the knowing nod and incredulous head shake that $18 CDN can buy you fruit from six blocks that are mainly 38 years of age but could possibly include 1974 Helderberg planted vines in Stellenbosch. “Core of the business” and arrow through a chenin heart. Great ferment, like a (catherine) wheel. Layers of design, creamy with thanks to secondary lees aging but somehow still texturally chewy. Barrel notes make a point in a vanilla brûlée way and yet each sip is like taking a bite from a piece of firm, ripe fruit. “I need more texture. You need to give me more texture, texture, texture. You need to give me more texture.” Old Vine Reserve obliges every time. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted June 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Selbach Oster Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2018, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany (17498, $45.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

The triad of producer, appellation and vineyard gets no more arch classic than this with a riesling in Spätlese form at the hands of Selbach-Oster. The pitch and sway in this Wehlener Sonnenuhr vinyeard is 2018 dance card perfect, tight and fluid. Succulent acids are burgeoning and urging the fruit forward, sideways and every which way but loose. This is a wine that gets what needs and gives what is wanted. Will only improve with a few years and then there will come a day when an air or vapour trail falls away. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted November 2020

Tyrrell’s Belford Sémillon 2017, Single Vineyard, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, South Australia (14322, $46.95, Select Wine Merchants)

Belford Vineyard (formerly Elliot Farm) is Hunter Valley leader Tyrrell’s single-vineyard leased sémillon with so much promise in its corner. A top varietal vintage for one thing and the well-draining sandy soils for another. Sémillon thrives in these conditions and so what comes from this awe-inspiring wine is exactly what you possibly wish for when selecting from Hunter Valley. This wine is swiftly, justly and perpetually lit, a smoky, paraffin waxy, über salty, elemental, aerified, verified mineral wine. So focused and precise. Mon dieu, Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted June 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Fresne Ducret La Grande Hermine Champagne Premier Cru 2008, AC Champagne, France ($78.00, Nicholas Pearce Wines)

Hard to believe the age because while this almost certainly achieved an immediately retro toasted and evolved stage in its youth and though 12 years have passed the present day imaginings are dreamed to persist within that very immediate stage. As creamy as it is toasty, the textural body politic in La Grande Hermine is one of great cerebral and figurative impression. You feel, intuit and embrace such honesty and possibility. Drink this vintage dated Champagne all winter long. Its calming presence will preserve you in a state of grace lower than a snowman’s blood pressure. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2020

El Esteco

El Esteco 1947 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (15082, $24.95, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.)

From Argentina’s northern desert where some of the country’s oldest vines perpetuate existence while thriving fiercely in a hot climate. So yes it is true that some fruit from 70-plus year old vines, well trees really, make their way into this special Salta wine. Dense and concentrated, Cassis times 10, savoury and truly expressive. Oak is well-managed, not shy mind you but these old vines deserve some added and fortifying structure. Do not miss this. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted August 2020

Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Maipo Valley, Chile (403980, $160.00, Escalade Wines & Spirits)

Though essentially a cabernet sauvignon at minimum 90 per cent, it would normally need saying to never discount the blending attributes of cabernet franc, merlot and in recent years, petit verdot. The nooks and crannies filled by the other grape varieties are some of the senses of wonder that have illuminated and elucidated the magic of Don Melchor. And yet years of such thought is turned on its head in 2017 with a 98 per cent pure cabernet sauvignon Don Melchor and only two bits of cabernet franc. Speaks to winemaker Enrique Tirado’s vision of the varietal and vintage relationship. After all, this is his baby, a passion project that spans 20 vintages, from which he looks to “harvest the beauty of the balance of the Puente Alto terroir.” From Viñedo Don Melchor, D.O. Puente Alto and Valle del Alto Maipo, old vines planted 1979 to 1992, new from 2004-2013. The vintage was above average in terms of warmth, cooler temperatures at harvest preserved acidities and sealed the (near) mono-varietal deal. At 30 years into its tenure Don Melchor hits a new stride and it would be hard to argue against the levels of subtle, demure, balanced and ethereal in this 2017. Perfect fruit? Pretty darn close and a bouquet of fresh picked flower-herb-fruit that merge, meld and grace together. One for this age and to age gracefully, slowly and predictably for 20-25 years. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted October 2020

Taub Family Vineyards Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Napa Valley, California (849434, $235.00, Dionysus Wines & Spirits Ltd.)

From proprietor Marc Taub who’s family has been prominently part of the Napa Valley wine fabric since prohibition and who in 2013 acquired Napa Valley producer Heritance, later evolving into Taub Family Vineyards. His winemaker is Tom Hinde, a Sonoma and Napa specialist who cut his teeth for seven years at Flowers, but also at Kendall-Jackson, Hartford, La Crema, Lakoya, Cardinale, Stonestreet and Verite. Add in a mere three acres within the historic 300-acre Beckstoffer Vineyard first purchased by Beaulieu founder Georges de Latour in 1928, called Beaulieu Vineyard Number 3 and made by winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. The 2017 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon are a very special lot. That much we know. Add in the pedigree, torch passing and respect for these necessary tenets of wine-producing business and well, hello. Utmost attention to detail, optimum extraction and concentration, sultry, supple and ultimately divine. There is this fine, fine, almost indescribable salty vein that cuts through the fruit and the fat like perfect umami seasoning in the most decadent dish. With meat or seafood, California or Japan, take your pick. Drink this either way. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2020

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2018, WO Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $59.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Even though the ’18 HR PN took my breath away nine months ago, the not yet understood nuance of this wine surely clouded first impressions. However small a sample size this may be is more than enough to prove time’s effect on wine, pinot noir and Hamilton Russell’s spiritual connection with the grape and how it personifies the Hemel En Aarde Valley. Fragrance, perfume, essential oils, Lilac, Lilly of the Valley and the sweetest tobacco smoulder. Captivating now and quite likely will be so into the mid 30s.  Last tasted August 2020

There have been many Hamilton Russell pinot noir poured in my anxiously awaiting glasses over the last five years. It’s hard to believe we are here at 2018 but time is a joy when you are having a noirmance. The fruit is exceptional in this vintage because it just feels like the warm day/cool night fix is in. The diurnal flux has locked in freshness and sweet tension like no recent memory can recall. Makes for a most grippy yet excitable pinot noir of concentration, presence and promise. Benchmark in every respect. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted November 2019

That Marco Cirese Sangiovese stare. His Noelia Ricci and Pandolfo are crucial, fundamental and illustrative of what is possible in Emilia-Romagna. #sangiovesediromagna #viniadarte #viniadarte2020

Noelia Ricci Pandolfa Romagna Sangiovese Predappio DOC Godenza 2018, Emilia Romagna, Italy (The Vine Agency)

Godenza was the name of the podere (house) on site at a one hectare vineyard at 340m, the highest section of Ricci’s land. The introduction of concrete tanks is surely responsible (in part) to the freshness and reduction but also poor, well-draining calcareous soils that complete a relationship with open-knit and fragrant red fruit. Adds up to complexities and beauty, not to mention the hands-off, unadulterated feel of this wine. At the top end of quality and elaborate expression for the appellation. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted twice at Vini Ad Arte, Casa Spadoni, Faenza February 2020

Because he’s Dario F-in Faccin, that’s why g-dammit! #carobbio #sangiovese #chianticlassico #panzano #galestro

Tenuta Carobbio Chianti Classico DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy ($33.60, Alta Wines)

Stop in here for a rest and exult in the near perfect grace, charm and collective soul in the heart of an Annata. To say that the Novarese family and Dario Faccin should feel the greatest sangiovese reward from this appellation would be a grand understatement. This version of Panzano and Chainti Classico DOCG is what it is, what it can and must be. Should be. Has to be. Richly glorious and confidently understated. The cleanest sangiovese and the one that speaks most succinctly of the land. These are the reasons why Carobbio is the most underrated, but for how long? This ’16 will see proof to that and so much more. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted February 2020

With the brothers Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli

Now to introduce you to the Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli brothers, Alessandro and Andrea, two men who covet, own and articulate their western wing of Castelnuovo terroir. As custodians of these classic southern Chianti Classico Alberese and Galestro vineyards they have come to understand their nuance and their specialities. So, Riserva from 2015 now comes to its beginning having needed every bit of the extra two years in bottle it has received. Yes this Geggiano ’15 Riserva still needs time and if you abide by the premise it will come alive, surmise and in turn, surprise. In fact it will make a lasting impression and stay with you forever. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2015, Tuscany, Italy (Stem Wine Group)

The acumen, wisdom and also the persistent reduction are formidable in this incredibly concentrated wine. So Monsanto, so in delivery of San Donato in Poggio, so Laura Bianchi. Seemingly equipped with the needed stuffing in the way that 1968 managed to accrue over 50 years of travels. Here in Gran Selezione form the tendencies and the abilities are multiplied tenfold. Magnificent and magnanimous, the concentration is foiled by focus and precision, from all that has come before, moving into the present and then going forward with everything that occupies, in hopes and dreams. Drink 2025-2037.  Tasted February 2020

Vineyard at Salicutti

Podere Salicutti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Sorgente 2015, Tuscany, Italy

Organic, biodynamic and unfiltered, from the then first in Montalcino, at the hands of Francesco Leanza, in 1995. Now (and since 2015) in the custodial hands of Felix and Sabine Eichbauer, halfway between Montalcino and Castelnuovo dell’Abate. The last of the cru, single-vineyards planted at Salicutti and not surprisingly the one with most red fruity juiciness that keeps a lineage with the Rosso. If a portal into knowing what it makes to taste the bright side of 2015 could be described then why not make use of this ethereal Sorgente to learn of such things. Voltage, tension and vibration. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Francesco Ripaccioli

Canalicchio Di Sopra Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Casaccia 2016, Tuscany, Italy (Le Sommelier Inc.)

Barrel Sample. Now this is something exceptional. This is what Casaccia is obviously capable of producing, The sweetest Canalicchio fruit of all, to date and with a rising low and slow angling of acidity (as opposed to straight verticality) that carries the fruit to great heights. This will be a triumph and in fact it is already tasting like a piece de Canalicchio resistance while it sings a long maestro song. A soloist that needs no accompaniment although food, company and peace would not hurt at all. Obviously this is more than just the northern side of Montalcino and more than Canalicchio. This is Casaccia. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted February 2020

Lorenzo Magnelli, Le Chiuse

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Diecianni 2013, Tuscany, Italy

The ’13 will be released on January 1st, 2023 and as the name Diecianni suggests it is a Riserva that 10 years minimum are needed before readiness begins to take shape. The selection is from the smallest grape clusters in estate vineyards and mainly the oldest vines, originally planted in 1987. The vintage of the great polyphonic-phenolic, elastic and stretched ripeness, by photosynthesis without heat, of muscles with energy and ones that will develop, remain and use their power to keep the fruit alive. That said it’s a wine of wood and the highest level of salinity, sapidity and a tang that is exhibited by no other Brunello di Montalcino. A concentration that is simply outstanding and in some minds, will even be eclipsed (or not) by 2016. The finesse and architecture of this wine are as good as it gets. Drink 2026-2042.  Tasted February 2020

Lucrezia Carrega Malabaila

Malabaila Di Canale 1362 Roero Riserva DOCG Castelletto 2015, Piedmont, Italy ($59.95)

From Canale vines 50 years old and the most historical vineyard for Malabaila, as documents show. Riserva here means two years in two, three and four year-old barrels. Yet another silky Roero and example of nebbiolo that could not have been born anywhere else. The “little castle” is a charming nebbiolo, fine of all its constructive parts with an ease of sensuality that just shows how confident, casual and natural life as it is just happens to be. Castelletto knows what it is. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted January 2020

Elena Sottimano

Sottimano Barbaresco DOCG Basarin 2016, Piedmont, Italy ($103.95, Le Maitre de Chai)

Basarin in the newest Cru for Sottimano, established in 2014 though the vines are already between 45-50 years old. Released just at the start of 2020 and already displaying a prominence in aromatics that speak to this exceptional nook just below Neive. From a vintage blessed for its place in history matched by a requiem for a dream. Crunchy for nebbiolo surely caused by the policy of classically long Piedmontese maceration, drawing fruit with gentle impunity and long-grained tannins in thrushes and intermingling chains. Pure dark fruit (almost raspberry) and a generous application of wood varnish. Architecture, length and character, all together. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted January 2020

With Francesca Vaira

G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Bricco Delle Viole 2016, Piedmont, Italy ($113.95, Groupe Soleil)

The thing of Bricco delle Viole that is beauty emits with gala fruit force into the canals of the layers. Bricco dell Viole the singular Barolo cru, from which fruit, texture and extension are consistently planned out, mapped and organized. So wound, so found and following a path that runs along a line along a circle. Slow unwind and unfolding coming, culminating in developed notes, to be far away, somewhere between then and then. Too soon to tell. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted January 2020

Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz 2017, South Australia, Australia (12016, $150.00, Mark Anthony Group)

Another old friend, St. Henri, once a wine for a special occasion, now one for all times. No, not a baby Grange but to me this is to Penfolds as Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus is to Maison Bouchard Père & Fils. Not that there is any resemblance to pinot noir save for the fact that in terms of shiraz, St. Henri is the elegant or if you will, the Burgundian one. Penfolds like to refer to Henri as “an intriguing counterpoint to Grange,” and that seems right in the sense that power and optimum concentration are never the point. It is a multi-regional blend, from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Eden Valley and Port Lincoln. There is no new wood exercised; it spends 12 months in 50-plus year old vats. Distinct style, unique pedigree and alternative execution. Adds up to intrigue, enigma and mystery, which is just what an iconic and signature counterpoint should do. Acidity and structure are tops, bar none. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2018, Douro Valley, Portugal (12076, $160.00, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits)

The third consecutively declared Vintage Port by Taylor is one of 18’s most powerfully restrained. Taylor describes their 2018 from a “year (that) seems to have given it an additional layer of density and weight.” Apropos it needs saying because texture this viscous is clearly vintage driven. After record aridity in 2017 it was a wet March that was welcomed with open arms and water tables but the rain kept up and so mildew became the challenge. Worse was damage from hailstorms in the Pinhão area, including Taylor Fladgate’s Quinta do Junco. But the heat came and on August 3rd at Quinta de Vargellas they recorded a temperature of just over 44°C. Ripening happened in a shorter and more concentrated window, a good thing in the world of VP, as witnessed by the no holes, all in, singular in vision and style Taylor 2018. Not the gangster power surge of some others mind you and the violets give little aromatic space to fruit nor perfume that tries to steal the spotlight. These are remarkable tannins and it could be periods of ages and epochs before this begins to move into complexities secondary and tertiary. If I were as young as I think you are I’d invest in this Taylor for the next 30-plus years of evolution. Drink 2027-2044.  Tasted November 2020

Good to go!

godello

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A Barque Smokehouse pack of Smoke’s finest wines for home

The Barque Smokehouse Restaurant Relief Case is a mixed 12-pack of wines curated by Chef/Owner David Neinstein and Wine Director Michael Godel. The wines are representative of local and international producers that have been a part of the Barque family of wines during the restaurant’s nine years in existence. The choices for the mixed case are thanks to four outstanding Ontario wine agents who have consistently been some of the restaurant’s most loyal and supportive partners.

Click here to view the Barque Smokehouse wines for home offer from the WineAlign Exchange Agency Cases

The collective challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many hard choices and put great demands on both the physical and mental health and well-being of so many in the hospitality industry. The Barque team is not immune to such adversity and that is why there is great need plus the will to pitch in and help. Part of the proceeds from the sales of these cases will go towards helping The Restaurant Relief Fund as well as much needed financial support for Smokehouse staff currently isolating at home.

Three wines each from Noble Estates Wines and Spirits, Nicholas Pearce Wines, Brand New Day Wines and Spirits and Le Sommelier Wine Agency make up the case. You will receive one sparkling wine, one Rosé, three whites and seven reds, along with a complimentary signature Barque rub.

The final case price will be $275/case plus delivery. Delivery fees are estimated at $17 in Ontario (shipping locations, fees & COVID-19 update). Delivery is expected in late May 2020. The $275 price includes all taxes and our $20 procurement, admin, storage & handling fee.

CHECK OUT THE WINES & ORDER A CASE!

Corretta Chianti Classico DOCG
2015
Italy
Tuscany
Sangiovese
No Place Wines “As Is” Field Blend
2017
Canada
VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario
Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc
Bussoletti Ciliegiolo di Narni
2018
Italy
Umbria
Ciliegiolo
Sepp Moser Grüner Veltliner Classic
2018
Austria
Niederösterreich
Grüner Veltliner
Alpha Box & Dice Tarot Grenache
2018
Australia
McLaren Vale, South Australia
Grenache
Fita Preta Red
2018
Portugal
Alentejo
Aragonêz, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet
Pearce-Predhomme Chenin Blanc
2019
South Africa
Stellenbosch
Chenin Blanc
Marco Zunino Malbec
2018
Argentina
Mendoza
Malbec
Gilvesy Bohém
2017
Hungary
Lake Balaton
Olaszrizling, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc
Pares Balta Brut Cava
NV
Spain
Penedès
Parellada, Macabeu, Xarel-Lo
Mas Buscados
2018
Spain
La Mancha
Tempranillo, Petit Verdot
Les Oliviers Rosé
2017
France
Languedoc
Grenache, Cinsault

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

@BarqueBBQ

Facebook: Michael Godel

Barque Smokehouse

WineAlign

Godello’s Ontario wines playlist

Writing about Canadian wines has been intrinsically inspired by music because quite frankly, one is always connected to the other. The wines of Ontario have always been at the head of this coupling and the relationship is borne more or less of its own accord. Music came first of course because before wine there was this gangly Toronto teenager every Saturday morning at 8:59 am sitting on the curb in front of Vortex Records at Dundas and Mutual Streets waiting for Bert Myers to open his shop so that kid could be the first in. The 1,600 vinyl record collection still gets plenty of spin time, as does Spotify and Google Music. The CDs? Not so much. Invariably a glass of wine is in hand, more often than not with an Ontario VQA designation in tow.

Canadian music has been great for as long as I have been listening. When did Ontario wine get here too, or the question begs, how? Not by virtue of any particular ethos through customs and traditions going back over many generations of wines. No, success and cumulative proficiency exists by dint of these wines without any forced supervision. They are governed by themselves and indeed across the entire industry. Done are the blanketing days of spare and powerful Ontario wines that were often too spare, so that the ribs of tannin showed through in painful obviousness. Today the contigious embracing of cool climate idiosyncrasy, fringe exceptionality and a unique Somewhereness makes Ontario the envy of the developing wine world.

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

My writing about wine an occupation whose reality is examined to points of madness, of long, run-on sentences, often at odds with grammatical winemaking realism. My tireless, tiring sentences and phrasing can at times offer a feeling that is potentially endless. Often I like my music to be the same in a Genesis-Frank Zappa-Pat Metheny like continuum but that too is changing. The young pop meeting hip-hop stars that my children listen to are growing on me. As are the unknown, the indie and the tireless players. And they need our help. The wineries too. Just ask Neko Case. “For every piece of music you stream/use for free today, please pay for one if you can. Music and art seem as effortless and breathable as air because an army of humans lovingly make it and propel it for the good of all.” Support local and order your next case of wine from an Ontario winery.

Compiling any wine list is never easy. Not when the subject matter is the most fleeting of consumables, a drink ever-changing, almost never tasting the same twice and destined for eventual failure. We know by instinct that wines cast the shadow of their own destruction before them and are designed from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins. Wine critics can only regard what is in the glass by what sensory enjoyment or displeasure is activated at that exact time. In most cases there are no second chances. Music is different, timeless, often repetitive and can always be given a second chance.

Music and wine can work magic when paired together. Sometimes it’s just a matter of breaking wine down to the base, choosing grapes from places where they are made in straightforward and simply powerful ways. Likewise, clicking an uncomplicated, three-chord arrangement on YouTube or Spotify can really change the outlook of a day. With a glass of wine in hand there’s a familiar internal silence when sublime music plays, is performed, gifted. The following wines combine lyricism with melody. They write the songs.

Sparkling Wine

Ontario’s sparkling wine oeuvre has transformed into something unstoppable, immoveable and utterly impressive. Truly. Examples tend to be sharp, of lean and intense fruit, with more toast and edges than other Canadian counterparts. The climate is ideal for making bubbles of all ilk; traditional method, cuvée close, ancestral, charmat and pétillant naturel, a.k.a. pét-nat. For every occasion and at all times, especially with music blaring, or soothing softly, as you wish. There are no wrong pairings for Ontario sparkling wine.

Hinterland Lacus Pétillant Naturel 2017, VQA Ontario ($24.00)

Hinterland’s Lacus is gamay noir made in a fully accumulated yeasty style, re-fermented in bottle and yet wholly antithetical to the Jonas Newman’s sweeter Ancestral. Lacus could mean “lake” or “cistern,” perhaps in nod to all the meandering, surrounding and irregularly patterned water in the County, or perhaps it might mean “award,” as should be what we all get in tasting this delightful sparkling wine. Different and comforting, textural and exceptional in varietal, land and stylistic usage. Utterly versatile and electric as need be. Elevates pétillant naturel wine into the real world for many to enjoy. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted June 2019

Pairs with The Tragically Hip’s My Music at Work

Why? The opening lines say it all, for what’s happening today.

Everything is bleak
It’s the middle of the night
You’re all alone and
The dummies might be right
You feel like a jerk
My music at work
My music at work

 

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc 2014, Traditional Method, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment (315200, $44.95)

The vintage tension is felt right from the aromatic get go and there can be no doubt that you are nosing Niagara’s most accomplished sparkling wine. Lime and wet concrete, fennel pollen and Baked Alaska. All tolled a terrific entry and no downturn into ginger and savoury crème brûlée followed by a moment of silence and contemplation. Use this for all, whenever and wherever. It will work for everyone, including those who will appreciate the faint sweetness to balance the year’s anxieties. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted November 2019

Pairs with Alessia Cara’s Scars to Your Beautiful

Why? H of P’s Cuvée Catharine is also a wine of hope, youth and beauty. A wine from our very own backyard, just like the the singer from Brampton. The first line helps.

But there’s a hope that’s waiting for you in the dark

Riesling

It seems that in Ontario riesling is perpetually on the rise and the reasons why are as varied as the artistry it’s equipped to display. It has been 40 years since the Pennachetti family of Cave Spring Vineyard and German vintner Herman Weis planted riesling in St. Urban Vineyard on what is now Vineland Estates. My how things have changed. The trending line ascends as the general public comes around and warms to the versatile grape so popularity is not just in the hands of geeks, oenophiles and connoisseurs. Ask your favourite sommelier, product consultant or wine writer. Riesling’s neighbourhood is beginning to gentrify in a big way but it’s also expanding experimental and ancestral horizons. Varietal power, finesse and omniscient existentialism for a signature and singular Ontario purpose is perpetual and unwavering. Versatility goes with eccentric, electric and eclectic tunes so get your funk, funky and funkadelic groove on.

Adamo Estate Riesling Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench (11236, $19.95)

Grower’s Series as in purchased fruit raised by serious Ontario grape farmers, in this case the Wismers and their expansive and generous Twenty Mile Bench-Foxcroft Vineyard. In Shauna White’s hands this Wismer fruit is ripe, developed and open-knit for skies the limit flavour potential. Cut your teeth on this juicy somnambulist riesling of citrus, peach, yellow plum and wide-eyed excitement. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted March 2020

Pairs with The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights

Why? The song is new but timeless, retro, thrown back to the mid 1980s with synth rhythms like Take on Me by A-Ha. Adamo’s riesling sleep walks, blinds us by its light and connects rieslings going back through time to today.

Oh, when I’m like this, you’re the one I trust
Hey, hey, hey

Cave Spring Riesling Adam Steps 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench ($24.95)

Adam Steps is the riesling positioned up the middle lane, with more sugar than the Estate and near equal to CSV, with acidity higher than the former and similar to the latter. It’s the fatter, juicier, more generous one and in many ways much like the Feinherb’s of Germany. This is a very forward vintage with elevated levels of all its typical character, including tropical notes of guava and pineapple. May not be the longest age worthy AS but it is a most pleasing one. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted February 2019

Pairs with Drake’s Passion Fruit

Why? You might think this would pair better with sauvignon blanc but Adam’s Steps smells just as tropical and well, the first line.

Ayy, y’all get some more drinks goin’ on, I’ll sound a whole lot better

Ravine Vineyard Riesling Patricia’s Block 2018, VQA St David’s Bench ($35.00)

From the botrytis block and you can feel, sense, and taste it very much so in this vintage. This in spite of a 30 per cent number out of a year when humidity and brix did not quite jive in terms of penultimate timing. Tart, leesy and so bloody sensorial. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted September 2019

Pairs with DJ Shub’s Indomitable

Why? The indigenous electronic music of PowWowStep is so riesling, so Ravine and so Patricia. “I want Canadians to see that pow wow culture is beautiful in both imagery and spirit,” explains DJ Shub. “I also want young Native kids to know that they can find support and happiness in their lives, even if they can’t see it right in front of them.”

Chardonnay

In Ontario, raising chardonnay is about growing grapes and making wines in places previously discounted. There is no secret that Ontario winemakers have worked tirelessly to develop the ability and the acumen to make world-class chardonnay. Always reinventing itself and potential fulfilled, chardonnay, the slow train coming. Few ideals or notions are hotter these days than those relating to cool climate viticulture and the selvage regions from where such wines are produced. As for music and chardonnay? The great singer-songwriters and bands of course; the classics, icons and archetypes.

Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2017, VQA Vinemount Ridge (424507, $27.95)

This 2017 from Westcott is really just what you might imagine were you to close your eyes and draw a triangle in your mind from the Vinemount Ridge, to judiciously oaked chardonnay and through to Westcotts’s manifesto. Niagara chardonnay should be about farming and this most certainly is, but also a microcosm of place, again of truth, but like all good, great and ethereal chardonnay must be. The florals are high for the place and the texture like organza, filament and lace. The obtuse vintage be damned it is this team that has found the right path and the way to varietal understanding. This teaches us about the ridges and benches but also about cool climate chardonnay. Thanks for this. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted October 2019

Pairs with Bruce Cockburn’s Wondering Where the Lions Are

Why? Like the song everyone always wants to hear him play, timeless, so Canadian and one that teaches so much about being us. The dictionary and playlist wrapped into one with a chardonnay that speaks to all of us in a cool climate vernacular.

Sun’s up, mm-hmm, looks okay
The world survives into another day
And I’m thinking ’bout eternity
Some kinda ecstasy got a hold on me

Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment (68817, $29.95)

You may consider this 2017 (estate) chardonnay from Hidden Bench the transition, meaning it demarcates the passing of the varietal torch, from Marelize Beyers to Jay Johnston. And indeed there is a little bit of each winemaker’s finesse, grace and cumulative style. Perhaps a step away from richesse with a step forward in structure. That means the linearity and subtlety speaks ahead of the developed flavours and so a longer primary period will allow this to drink consistently for nearly five years. After that it will develop more flint and smoulder, if less golden sunshine richness. These are of course details in minutia and shadows to discover. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Pairs with Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows

Why? Everything about Cohen’s music lives in shadows and everybody knows that a Hidden Bench chardonnay does the same. Even if the plague is coming fast, from one great to another, everybody knows.

Everybody knows,
Everybody knows,
That’s how it goes,
Everybody knows

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($44.95)

Welcome back, to that grand vineyard place that we’ve talked about. Down on the farm near the water where chardonnay was purposed grown and put in the hands of a young Thomas Bachelder. The results were dramatic and now that unparalleled fruit is back in the monk’s world, he wiser and more experienced than ever. The transition is spooky seamless and the awe in hand providing breathtaking posits in moments more than fleeting. Behold the presence of orchards and their just ripened glow of fruit with sheen so fine. Let your glass allow the ease of the aromas and flavours to fall in and emit with conscious movement, without conscience or effort. That’s the 2017 Grand Clos. Chardonnay that is. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted November 2019

Pairs with Rush’s Limelight

Why? Le Clos Jordanne is back in the limelight and on a literal level, the return of this iconic Ontario chardonnay by Thomas Bachelder is about living as a performer, on a stage, with all eyes upon them. A wine with a higher purpose.

Get on with the fascination
The real relation
The underlying theme

Rosé

Who needs only light, southern French styled Rosé when you can also have full fruit, plenty of colour and a healthy dose of personality? In many cases the nearly pale and vin gris examples still persist and excite but there are those bled and rendered, heavily hued and teeming with fruit. Ontario made Rosé is more diverse, complex and multifarious than ever before. In terms of working for the consumer that means more choice and that’s a beautiful thing. Whether you are making yours to be a crowd pleaser with a heathy dose of residual sugar or dry as the desert, the unequivocal voice of necessary conscience will always whisper “balance in Rosé is key.” Like Canadian music which also pairs well with bottles of blush.

Leaning Post Rosé 2018, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($20.95)

Hmmm…salty. Lovely lithe and spirited Rosé here from the LP boys, redolent of fresh-picked strawberry, Maldon sprinkled and just herbaceous enough to care for signature red grape varieties ideal for the quick, calm and easy blush bleed. The sour edge just adds to the mystique and the by the boatload charm. Just right. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted February 2019

Pairs with Shawn Mendes’ Stitches

Why? Don’t want to get too serious with Rosé so a little pop music with a slightly salty and bitter sound seems like just the plan.

And now that I’m without your kisses
I’ll be needing stitches

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($24.95)

Production is “as much as I can get from that site,” tells Shiraz Mottiar, so maximum 800 cases. As always the aridity and the salinity continue to rise, the acids, minerality, near brininess and ultimate stoic balance so secure at the top of the game. Such a high acid vintage for everything but certainly that includes Rosé, yet still the least amount of skin-contact of the three Malivoire blush. Acids just don’t correlate to hue and flesh. Thank pH for the needle’s movement in how this translates from vintage to vintage. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted January 2020

Pairs with Justin Bieber’s Intentions

Why? Moira just gets to me and a glass always leads to creativity. The Ontario Rosé muse unparalleled.

Shout out to your mom and dad for making you
Standing ovation, they did a great job raising you
When I create, you’re my muse
The kind of smile that makes the news

Gamay

Not that there is ever a bad time to partake in the wonders of gamay, but with the mercury rising, spring is the right time to be with the gamay you love. If you’ve never experienced the nuanced pleasure of great gamay, whether it be from Beaujolais in Bourgogne’s southern reaches or from Ontario’s cool-climate hinterlands, its prime time you did. The gamay produced in Ontario can run the gamut from light, fruity and joyful to dark, serious and structured. Winemakers are on their gamay game and the quality has never been better. The kind of songs to match gamay need to exhibit intrinsic purity and also variance so be picky and intentional here.

Château Des Charmes St. David’s Bench Vineyard Gamay Noir Droit 2017, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara On The Lake (346742, $19.95)

Quite a reductive and structured gamay with healthy extraction and great vintage fruit. Resides in the black raspberry realm with a balancing sheet of strawberry roll-up. Nothing shy about this, in a ripest of St. David’s Bench vein and so much could be taught about Ontario gamay through the work of this maker. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted October 2018 and March 2020

Pairs with Neil Young’s Homegrown

Why? Both Château Des Charmes and gamay strike me as the epitome of homegrown and the St. David’s Bench estate is simply the Neil Young of Ontario.

Homegrown’s
All right with me
Homegrown
Is the way it should be
Homegrown
Is a good thing
Plant that bell
And let it ring

Stratus Gamay 2017, VQA Niagara On The Lake ($29.20)

Gamay gets neither more ripe nor extracted in Ontario and yet there’s a step back dance grace about this singular ’17. If ever the word Cru might come to mind when nosing and tasting local gamay this would be one, specific to a time and a place. Wild cherry, black cherry and concentrated cherry syrup are the big, bigger and biggest attributes, all cut through by a knife’s edge acidity. Wild gamay of grip, with very good length. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February 2019

Pairs with Robbie Robertson’s I Hear You Paint Houses

Why? To be honest lyrically this song has nothing to do with Stratus or gamay but it features Van Morrison and that’s pretty much the reason. Robbie and Van together is like Stratus and gamay.

I hear you paint houses
Right down to the wire

Pinot Noir

Thoughts about pinot noir always articulate an opinion. Smells like cherries, shows earth and mineral notes of/from clay and limestone. Texture is specific to the village where it is grown. In Ontario there are pinot noir crus few would ague against the probability that in most vintages quality will be a guarantee. Crus like Lowrey Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench, top blocks in Prince Edward County, several vineyards up on the Beamsville Bench, Wismer-Foxcroft, much of the Twenty Mile Bench and Four Mile Creek. The naysayers who continue to doubt whether pinot noir is a viable signature grape in this province are not paying close enough attention to the signs, portents and in conclusion, the results. As for the songs it plays and sings? Gotta be both old and new, retro and still avant-garde, crooning while ambient, poppy yet just a bit unusual and always stuck in your head.

Inniskillin Montague Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula ($30.95)

From a vintage both turned on and stood on its head with cool and wet summer conditions followed by unprecedented heat in September. The resulting look at pinot noir means strawberry like you’ve never noted before and Montague’s certainly jamming with concentration. Sweet fruit carries just enough varietal tension and depth to keep it grounded in the clay-earthy realities of Niagara. Not like Montague’s past perhaps but great fun nonetheless. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Pairs with City and Colour’s Hope for Now

Why? Dallas Green’s voice, of sweet tension, like Ontario pinot noir and Montague’s clay-earthy reality.

What will it take to live as if I would not another day?
To live without despair, and to be without disdain
How can I instill such hope, but be left with none of my own?
What if I could sing just one song and it might save somebody’s life?

Rosehall Run JCR Pinot Noir 2017, VQA Prince Edward County ($39.00)

A bit high-toned, magically spirited and rebelliously volatile. Earthy and lithe in fruit though quite raspberry-pomegranate and exciting for those who like it not only lightning searing, but intensely meaningful. Hard not quiver with impatience at the thought of this treat before me and what such a singular pinot noir will become when it matures. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Pairs with Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You

Why? PEC pinot noir, this vineyard and that winemaker. Musically structured like a song from Blue, chord and tempo changes, magically spirited and intensely meaningful. Thank you Dan Sullivan.

You taste so bitter
And so sweet, oh
I could drink a case of you darling, and I would
Still be on my feet

Congrats to Cliff and Colin @stannerswines for their The Narrow Rows Pinot Noir 2017 Gold Medal performance @judgement.of.kingston 2019. We the judges deliberated long and with great care to come to this well-deserved conclusion.

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir The Narrow Rows 2017, VQA Prince Edward County

A super-saturated, honed and zeroed in upon place in a vineyard ripeness with a touch foxiness. Reality from limestone bled into fruit wavering on a spectrum where berry fruit

sits on one end and earthy beetroot all the way over on the other. Touches both and then properly meets in the middle. Cherries are red, herbs are green and tension stretches a wire between two poles. Tomato water and tomato leaf with fresh basil. That’s just matter of fact and a good struck balance in combination. You almost feel it’s at once too ripe and then a bit green but those moments are fleeting and so the summation in accumulation is the thing; must, seeds, stems and the work of kind, nurturing and gentle hands add up to great delicacy. It’s local and it’s so bloody good. Delicious even. Unlike any pinot noir ever made previously in Ontario. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted blind at the Judgement of Kingston, November 2019

Pairs with Ron Sexsmith’s Gold in Them Hills

Why? Pinot is a song of hope, crooned by a Canadian treasure. Colin Stanners may as well be the Ron Sexsmith of Prince Edward County, shy and brilliant, reserved and funny.

But maybe it’s the perfect day
Even though the bills are piling

There’s gold in them hills
There’s gold in them hills
So don’t lose heart
Give the day a chance to start

Cabernet Franc

At the brazen and confident right of Ontario’s most important varietal reds is cabernet franc, a Bordelais grape that paints a more palatable picture than those brushed by both merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Transparently honest and forthright by nature, brassy and highly energetic, righteously indignant like a young band with a big sound and no shortage of swagger. Frank Ontario red, frankly speaking.

Tawse Natural Wine Cabernet Franc Redfoot Vineyard 2018, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula ($28.95)

There’s a symmetry in this cabernet franc and as it is the natural one in the Tawse stable, it’s actually the connection between vineyard and varietal that brings about the a ha moment. Redfoot has to date been the gamay block for natural executions and cabernet franc has been a Laundry Vineyard affair. The dots are connected through the Lincoln Lakeshore lexicon from one to the next, first in grape and then in winemaking, or lack thereof. This Vin Nature is both the least “natural” of all the Tawse tries while at the same time most like the Laundrys of past vintages, though it’s really somewhere in the circulative middle of a stylistic that includes the Grower’s Blend. In fact there’s no great departure from those cabernet francs so why not make them all this way? If the results are same dark fruit, same blushing acidity, same piquancy, same herbal undertones and nearly the same clarity of structure, why not risk it across the board? Could drink this with abandon. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2019

Pairs with The Arkells Knocking at the Door

Why? “There’s a fearlessness to it that I think a lot of sports fans and teams want to feel,” said frontman Max Kerman. The song has been anthemic at hockey games and women’s marches. Paul Pender’s natural wines do something eerily similar and reach a very large audience.

That’s me, I’m knockin’ at the door
I’m thirsty
For more, for more, for more
That’s me, I’m knockin’ at the door
I’m knockin’ at the door
I’m knockin’ at the door
That’s me

Southbrook Saunders Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2018, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($28.95)

Nothing if not classic Bench-raised cabernet franc with crunchy fruit, dark red and savoury plus that unmistakeable current of dark currant and capsicum. There’s no mistaking the origin or the execution, nor the varietal expressiveness. Transparent, honest, real and blessed of so much purposeful character. May not charm everyone from the word go but a couple of years will sort them out. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted December 2019

Pairs with Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs

Why? The bounce in this song reminds of cabernet franc’s varietal dance, crunchy, savoury and honest. That’s just how Ann Sperling interprets fruit from Saunders Vineyard, tripping over piano keys and a background of strings making ambient sounds, rising to a crescendo.

Sometimes I can’t believe it
I’m moving past the feeling
Sometimes I can’t believe it
I’m moving past the feeling again

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Gone Vajra in Piemonte

Stained Glass Window by Padre Costantino Ruggeri and Vajra’s Inox Tanks

Head west from the village of Barolo, climb the SP3 up to 400 metres above sea level and you will arrive in Vergne, the highest village of the regal Piedmontese appellation. This is where the most forward thinking, visionary and traditionally romantic estate of G. D. Vajra is found. Vajra is the house that Aldo and Milena Vaira built, are in the continued process of building (literally) and produce wines along with their children, Francesca, Giuseppe and Isidoro. On a recent December 2019 trip to Piemonte I drove down the A33 from Asti through Alba, skirted Barolo up the SP3 to spend a few hours with Isidoro and Francesca Vaira on a soggy Sunday morning. Vajra’s wines have been trending big time, gaining ground, rising in prominence and spreading fast. I knew it was time to find out why things have gone Vajra.

Family, roots and vineyards. Having talked and tasted with Francesca and Isidoro @vajra_barolo there can be no doubt many words and feelings will follow. Their’s is a story of resilience and constant renewal.

If you engage in obsessive study or even share a casual interest in religious iconography and emblematic ordnance then the term Vajra will no doubt be recognizable. Vajra, a symbolic ritual tool or object used in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism to represent the unyielding power of spirit. Vajra, the symbol of the Vajrayāna school of Buddhism, a type of club with a ribbed spherical head, the “diamond thunderbolt.” The family may not adhere to the far eastern credo or for that matter even mention any possibility of connection, but a listen to their story and a study of their life’s work can be looked at in the emblematic light of ideals relating to indestructibility and irresistible force. An explanation is forthcoming and in due course.

Dude’s getting married next week. No wonder Isidoro Vaira is a happy man.

It’s only one week before his wedding and Isidoro generously takes the time to meet. He begins with a winter’s tale, extolling the virtues of snow cover, which incidentally arrived to the slopes in December and early January, then subsequently disappeared for the remainder of the mild 2020 winter. The Piedmontese saying goes like this. Sotto la neve, il pane, orunder the snow, the bread.” Snow is better than water because it holds more oxygen and encourages the plants to draw more nutrients from the soil. This is an example of generational knowledge because as Isidoro reminds us, when you spend time with your father and the elders “you learn the importance of nature.”

sotto la neve, il pane

under the snow, the bread

Aldo Vaira began this six decades old journey in 1970 with a 0.3 hectare plot at Bricco Viole. The first vintage was 1972, of no ripeness and fruit sold away. He thought “with this money I don’t pay for my work,” and so began to bottle for himself. By 1986 Aldo was farming seven hectares but on the 29th of May the storm of the century killed everything, save for 300 bottles worth of fruit. He was in his mid-30s, with one child already born and two more to come over the next four years. It was what we call the point of calling it quits or forging ahead with no turning back. Milena stepped up, in fortitude, conviction and an ultimatum issued to her husband. Aldo responded, made a life decision and ploughed ahead.

The Vairas began anew, hailstorms occurring five to seven times each decade be damned and dug their heels into the Vergne terra firma.  With experience as a teacher and having built a winery Aldo became affectionately known as Dutur, a dialectical Piedmontese term of endearment which could allude to the word doctor but also as a part of the Italian word for producer, or produttore. Francesca tells me that 1986 is the vintage form which “you could have (or begin) your dream, by being resilient, persistent and move forward.” She shrugs. “It had to be a priority.” And so from 1986 on the Viaras completely changed direction and course.

Thirty-three years have beget great success. Francesca explains the impetuses for how her family goes about their lives. “What we have learned from our parents is not just life and to make wine but a social motivation to have the life of the people. Imagine a life without these things; music, art, books and wine. It’s not possible.” The goal is to make connections. “We need to make wine to make people happy. Our prices are very democratic.” There are always new considerations, like the “diversification of risk” and it has become the ingrained philosophy, in terms of wines and varieties but also the idea of a two-month long picking time. Always diversity, all the time. One step inside the winery and the light shines in. The stained glass windows that adorn the fermentation room are a reflection of everything that is embodied by the Vajra oeuvre.

They hang in their stark and prolate ways as a severe yet arrant contrast to the line of steel tanks below. When Aldo and Milena went to visit the artist at Canepanova Convent in Pavia he answered the door dressed as a Franciscan Monk with a blue hat. A crazy man in a crazy beautiful studio. Padre Costantino Ruggeri was in fact a real monk, ordained a priest in 1951 by Cardinal Schuster in the Cathedral of Milan. That meeting yielded no conclusion for a commission, or so thought the Vairas, that is until the Father showed up with the first installation, in 1989. He was given no instruction or direction. The rest as they say is history and the works are nothing short of magnificent. They succeed, in Ruggeri’s words, “in that moment of light and mystery the stained glass window captures (the infinite) and introduces it naturally into the temple, as a total dimension that is divine as well as human.” The metal that holds the glass is effected a piombo, aplomb, vertical, exact. No two pieces are the same.

What congruence links a Ruggeri stained glass to other masterpieces of art? Gazing upon the padre’s windows elicits a feeling of consonance and beauty is easy to find. They are arranged exactly as they should be, that much is clear. Their power is felt because of their interaction with their cold and utilitarian surroundings. They hold our gaze and work together with us, inexplicably and without reservation. Their universal appeal transfers energy, pivots, solicits our personal and singular nature so that we share in their consonant form.

On June 24th 2007, his last sculptural work representing “Franciacorta’s Facets” was presented in Adro, his birthplace. On the following day, June 25th 2007, Costantino died at the hospital of Merate, near the convent of Sabbianello, where he had spent the last weeks of his life. The spirit of his work carries on at Vajra where 160 different fermentations are carried out because explains Francesca “harvest is the only time of year when you can really learn. If you have to ask for permission then you are not a true artist.” Just like Father Costantino who created without asking.

“Always think of the cherry. The grapes will follow,” reminds Isidoro. Organics. Methodologies. Patience. Picking decisions are made day by day, by brother Giuseppe and by Aldo. For them 2018 was a great nebbiolo vintage, of cold nights and warm days with humidity. The high risk of rainstorms at harvest made for some sleepless nights and the weather was tough on the skins of the grapes. So 100 pickers were employed, to ensure quality but Vajra’s altitude and attitude makes them one of the last to pick so the harvesters were available. They finished on October 22nd and in 2019 on the 23rd. 

On that day in December Francesca poured seven of her family’s wines, including riesling, dolcetto, freisa, barbera and nebbiolo. These are my notes.

G.D. Vajra Riesling Pétracine 2018, Langhe DOC ($55.95)

The law changed to be able to plant in 1985 and a new opportunity arose in 2018 for a vineyard with sandy soil beneath the clay. Going back the first planting came from a Geisenheim clonal selection and planted at the top of the hill above the cru Fossati. The second vineyard is from Marcel Deiss clonal selection material, just outside the Barolo production area. Here a combination of the two, and the first wine that got together was 2011. There’s weight, energy and balance to this riesling and it is so very real. Remarkable verve and youthful freshness and the impression of great aridity. It is in fact quite dry. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Coste & Fossati 2018, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC ($31.95)

From two old cru Barolo vineyards, Coste di Vergne and Fossati, close by to one another at the top of their shared hill. De-stemmed and crushed separately, of vines 40 years in age. If there is dolcetto that carries the structure to age you best believe this is the one. Tannic in its youth, a house with the potential to grow roses in one year and then violets in another. Modern and grounded, better with fresh eggs and delicate proteins, certainly the romantic tartufo Piemondtese. Already teasing something floral but still in a shell and cast under a spell. Wait two years or more. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba DOC 2017 ($31.95)

Like the dolcetto, barbera is drawn off of two vineyards with tow soil types, from Bricco delle Viole and in Serralunga d’Alba, Bricco Bertone. An east-west expression, at once rich and luxurious and then inward, implosive and almost intolerant. Could only be barbera with its sweet fruit and dark berry compote but it’s a variety that needs time, it needs the bottle and then, the glass. Somehow bright through all the dark fruit, like the singular stained glass that allows light to shine in.  Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Kyè 2015, Freisa Langhe DOC ($60.95)

Like the French “C’est qui?” this dialectical freisa is actually two syllables, key-eh, and you cannot define this wine with anything or any other freisa. Darker, woolly and a bit of wild, feral and animale beauty. Like somewhere between red Sancerre and Faugères but bigger, more power and also more control. Herbaceous, iron-clad and hematic. Mimics blood-red preparations of proteins; duck breasts, rack of lamb, venison. Also Rhône-ish and laying somewhere between barbera and nebbiolo. Make your head spin with comparisons when none are correct. There is evidence of climatic cut and biodynamic preparations. Earthy, rich and poignant. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2018 ($34.95)

The Baroli are made from vines minimum 10 years old and the younger vines are used for this Langhe, which includes fruit from Bricco Bertone just outside the territory. Creeps up with its structure, nothing powerful or demanding but nebbiolo architecture nonetheless. Cherries, pencil lead and mountain herbs. Keeps the vineyard faith and accumulates even as it opens which tells us it is also youthfully closed. The potential is two years and thence forth. Tasted from two bottles opened a day apart, the first ready and willing, the second yes at first and then making a request for time. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Coste Di Rose 2015 ($101.95)

A very sandy decomposed peculiar site and soil type rich in Arenaria (sandstone) with the presence of sandstone rocks of quite decent size. The first vintage is this 2015 and from vines 30 years old going up the hill from Bussia. Delivers very pretty fruit of sneaky structure and intent. The rose floral gift of a vineyard, part apposite and part complimentary to Bricco delle Viole. It’s a ventilated place translating to a great freshness in the wine. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Bricco delle Viole 2015 ($113.95)

An about face in style and character with more dimensions accessed and so many aromatics acquiesced. Vines are 40-80 years old and the handling involves a diversification of treatments; longer maceration and fermentation, up to 45-60 days. A tight, compact and fine-grained construct with so much taken from the beneficial skins and the assistance of a submerged cap (a merso) during that fermentation (in stainless steel), followed by at least 24 months in large casks, some 25hL and some 50 hL. Some tonneaux but just as an addendum. Such a tactile nebbiolo, fruit of presence and intricacy out of a Cru that is felt as much as it is nosed or tasted. It’s not just a matter of nebbiolo and Barolo but a thing of great importance, mainly tradition and family. Drink 2023-2034.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

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Stained Glass and Inox Tanks

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

Love year-end lists? Stick around. Hate ’em? See ya. It is always a matter of great difficulty to contain the retrospective excitement in thinking about what happened over the previous 12 months with respect to Canadian wine. This while enjoying holiday down time, with December winding down. The exercise began on Godello in 2013 and this seventh instalment naturally not only includes six more than the first, it also happens to act as segue, transition and salvo to usher in a new decade.

Related – Eighteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2018

Unity opinions aside this nineteen as a number is but a fraction of what could, should or would be celebrated in this coast to coast entity we call Canadian wine.  Allow a quote to be used again, in unabashed redundancy of repetition. This curated list is “biased, exclusive and decisive but it is meant to celebrate a select few with a mandate to elevate and exult the rest. It’s also a proclamation read to many who remain ignorant to an ideal of great wine being made in Canada, to tell the insolent they are not welcome here anyway. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it.”

Fearless #ontariowineawards leaders @tony.aspler and Deborah Benoit running a tight #owa2919 ship @gbcchca ~ best quality work coming out of Ontario folks

Related – 17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

In 2019 the opportunities for tasting Canadian wine upped the ante and increased the possibilities hundreds fold. This despite doubling international travel over a year further afield and abroad which made it twice as difficult to keep up the Canadian pace of assessment. That said there were more than 1000 tasted once again. The WineAlign team never wavers in the relentless pursuit, often at the WineAlign headquarters and in 2019 in convene at the June WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada in Prince Edward County, Ontario.  Ontario wines were judged as well thanks to Tony Aspler and also with David Lawrason at The Great Canadian Kitchen Party, the artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates.

Aldé blending session day @ravinevineyard ~ Rosé 2018 looking stellar

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

Over the past 12 months the little négoce project known as Interloper Wines with Scott Zebarth, Marty Werner and Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery continued the pursuit of Niagara Lakeshore and Niagara-on-the-Lake excellence with Aldé Rosé 2018, a 100 per cent cabernet franc. The third vintage of Interloper Cabernet Franc appeared with the 2018 release, as did the second incarnation of the As Is Field Blend 2018.

Oh hey @nicholaspearce_ thanks for making us look so good!

In 2017 there were 17 and in 2016 there were 16 noted. In 2015 that meant 15 and 14 for 2014, just as in 2013 the filtered list showed 13 as the number chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine. Last year? You would be correct if you guessed 18. Roll out the 2019 red carpet. Whence comes the sense of wonder we perceive when we encounter certain bottles of art? Here are the 19 most exciting Canadian wines of 2019.

Avondale Sky Sparkling Rosé Méthode Traditionnelle 2017, Nova Scotia ($27.82)

Leon Millet like you’ve never experienced with red currants folded into tomatillo salsa from a traditional method upbringing and a recent disgorgement. Energy, excitement and then boom, black currants and a whoosh tidal wave of Fundy exhilaration. An entirely new look at bubbles and from a Nova Scotia class where the sky is the limit. Drink 2019-2020. Tasted September 2019

NWAC19 Gold Medal Winner

The 2014 vintage, labelled as Balance Blanc de Blanc Brut, marks the Teaching Winery’s first venture into the style of Sparkling made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. It also marks the first product made 100 per cent from grapes grown on the College’s Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus vineyards. “It celebrates the balance of knowledge, passion and creativity of the winemakers, professors and students who all pursue excellence in the field of winemaking.”

Niagara College Balance Blanc De Blanc Brut 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario ($26.95)

Gingered entry for blanc de blanc of stoic beauty, marbled bust focus. Lemon and a dustiness indicative first of low yields, but then, the obviousness of do not disturb winemaking. Toasty and preserved lemon richesse, elegant and cumulative. So good. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

From a crown cap versus cork closure tasting with Flat Rock’s owner Ed Madronich and current winemaker David Sheppard. The two wines count as one for the purpose of this list.

Flat Rock Sparkling (Crown Cap Closure) 2006, Traditional Method, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (383315, $34.95)

Wines were all under crown for 36 months, disgorged in January 2010, three quarters pinot noir plus chardonnay and then re-sealed under crown, Six cases were sealed under cork but otherwise both wines are exactly the same, same cellar conditions, same dosage, same everything. Less hue in this number two (crown), same but different, less oxidation, less caramelization and yet on par or near in terms of that ginger-miso tone. Lemon adds to the milder orange crème brûlee and the energy, spirit and lift is more pronounced. Greater vision in acidity and even some lingering reduction. Like the first it is in fact full of sensibility, reason, plenty of seasoning. Likewise and differently so much fun to behold and to drink. Certainly more heightened sensation created by mousse and carbonation that actually affect the mouthfeel and texture. Made by Marelise Beyers. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2019

Flat Rock Sparkling (Cork Closure) 2006, Traditional Method, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (383315, $34.95)

Wines were all under crown for 36 months, disgorged in January 2010, three quarters pinot noir plus chardonnay and then re-sealed under crown, “However,” explains Ed Madronich and the big raison d’etre for this tasting is that six cases were sealed under cork, complicit with or perhaps explicitly for Ed’s Mom. Both wines are exactly the same, same cellar conditions, same dosage, same everything. Just the seal on 72 bottles changes the nature of the game. The colour is deeper in this number one (cork), more oxidation, more caramelization and more deep ginger-miso tone. Quite orange crème brûlee as well. Acidity persists, wealthy, rising, more than intact. In fact it’s well-reasoned, seasoned and in tact. So much fun to behold and to drink. Made by Marelise Beyers. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted September 2019

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (241182, $37.20)

Baker’s ’16 is the child of a great vintage’s phenolics and so without needing to concern oneself in wondering about ripeness or fruit quality it allows for a beeline straight to the tannic structure. That’s the crux of 2016, built upon a core that may as well be centred in the very heart of Colmar. Sugar may as well be nowhere and nothing because balance induces dreams utterly grounded in aridity. So reminded of Bernard Schoffit and The Rangen, austere yet entangled, lean, direct, sure, focused and precise. In the zone and will be for 12 blessedly slow developing years. Drink 2021-2030.  Tasted October 2019

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (173377, $28.00)

Looking at this 2011 Chardonnay now and with learned imagination back through time this screams the vintage. Great Scott, cracker jack Chablis dressing up into Premier Cru status cloaked candidly in Ravine clothing. This eight year-old chardonnay shows off as one of then winemaker Shauna White’s great early moments, an achievement of planning through execution and clearly a success from a cool, austere and so very varietal vintage. Maybe even a legacy defining moment for what was and can continue to be. A purveyor of land, a youthful precociousness and all the local possibilities on offer. This is so pure and purposeful for the grape and for Ravine. Just great right now. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted September 2019

Le Clos Jordanne Winemaker Thomas Bachelder

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184549, $44.95)

Welcome back, to that grand vineyard place that we’ve talked about. Down on the farm near the water where chardonnay was purposed grown and put in the hands of a young Thomas Bachelder. The results were dramatic and now that unparalleled fruit is back in the monk’s world, he wiser and more experienced than ever. The transition is spooky seamless and the awe in hand providing breathtaking posits in moments more than fleeting. Behold the presence of orchards and their just ripened glow of fruit with sheen so fine. Let your glass allow the ease of the aromas and flavours to fall in and emit with conscious movement, without conscience or effort. That’s the 2017 Grand Clos. Chardonnay that is. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted November 2019

Closson Chase Churchside Chardonnay 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($44.95)

Platinum hue and reserved aromatics indicate a reductive tendency so give it some air. Comes out and away clean and more expressive, with periodic mineral notes, not exactly saline but certainly from the table. Lovely fruit in the melon to orchard way and elevated by acidity plus fine grape tannin. Lovely and composed wine right here.  Last tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Truth be submitted, discussed and told the 2017 Closson Chase Vineyard is a lovely, accessible, County for all chardonnay but this, this is something other. This Churchside ’17 from a block of vines at the prettiest little chapel around delivers the fullest fruit compliment of the times, in headline, lede and body of work. It does so with a posit tug of tension and spot on, pinpointed and precise attention to balance. States a case with best butter, better toast and even greater purpose. The ’17 Churchside undulates and circles, coming to rest in the moment where it all melts down, like a ball in place on the roulette wheel, always having known what number it would be.  Drink 2019-2026. Tasted June 2019

Meyer Micro Cuvée Chardonnay Old Main Rd Vineyard 2017, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($65.00)

The Old Main Road is a Naramata Bench growing site of silt over clay loams at 350m. The northerly aspect links fruit to indirect sun for higher acid-driven chardonnay. This specialized plot-block-pick-separation of origin intensifies the citrus and the savoury strike of scintillant. It’s reductive and not redacted in that it’s protected by a shell of tannin but bursts with rumbles and shakes. This is singular and unique in ways most Okanagan chardonnay does not begin to touch. Great potential and possibility exist so expect so much from this wine now and for a half decade minimum more. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted April 2019

Stratus White 2015, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.20)

The latest incarnation of Stratus White is a gem-like one, part reductive and part honeyed. The dual attack is duly noted and doubly paid great attention. Warmth and this remarkable phenolic multiplicity add up to the most strikingly reserved White in quite some time. It will develop more secondary personality and less fade into lean, smoky, shadowy and unfruitful feelings than many that have come before. By many stretches of imagination this is a deeply curious blend and ultimately a beautiful one. So bloody didactic and interesting. A ten years forward retrospective will regard White 2015 as a benchmark for the locomotive Ontario appellative white locution. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted February 2019

Congrats to Cliff and Colin @stannerswines for their The Narrow Rows Pinot Noir 2017 Gold Medal performance @judgement.of.kingston 2019. We the judges deliberated long and with great care to come to this well-deserved conclusion.

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir The Narrow Rows 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($45.00)

A super-saturated, honed and zeroed in upon place in a vineyard ripeness with a touch foxiness. Reality from limestone bled into fruit wavering on a spectrum where berry fruit sits on one end and earthy beetroot all the way over on the other. Touches both and then properly meets in the middle. Cherries are red, herbs are green and tension stretches a wire between two poles. Tomato water and tomato leaf with fresh basil. That’s just matter of fact and a good struck balance in combination. You almost feel it’s at once too ripe and then a bit green but those moments are fleeting and so the summation in accumulation is the thing; must, seeds, stems and the work of kind, nurturing and gentle hands add up to great delicacy. It’s local and it’s so bloody good. Delicious even. Unlike any pinot noir ever made previously in Ontario. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted blind at the Judgement of Kingston, November 2019

Hidden Bench Pinot Noir Locust Lane Vineyard 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($48.00)

Locust Lane is the one of greater tension and posit tug, holding court and keeping fruit on a short leash. The aromatics are not as sweetly floral but what you will note, if you wait for the fleshing is this glycerin texture and seamless weave of structure. This is the savoury, almost minty and surely cantilevering pinot noir, from the field and out over the length of the wine’s attention. Will linger, prosper and live long. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted March 2019

NWAC19 Platinum Medal Winner

Howling Bluff Pinot Noir Century Block 2016, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($35.00)

Wow. Now we’ve come into pinot of some curious, unusual and stand up to be noticed excitement. The aromatics are circling, rising, elemental, exaggerated and complex. There’s umami here that few others seem to find or are capable of seeking out. Fine if slightly tonic tannins and structure, texture, architecture and blessed complexity. This will morph into many things by way of many stages. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Thirty Bench Winemaker Emma Garner

Thirty Bench Small Lot Cabernet Franc 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($75.00)

In many respects this is the flagship of all the Thirty Bench wines, a varietal exploration like no other, of direction, microcosm and intention. It’s an extracted and concentrated cabernet franc but stays free of encumbrance, hinderance or adulteration. It’s dramatically plush and yet shows nary a note of green or gritty, nor astringency neither. It’s a showpiece to be sure and even of an ambition not typical of its maker but as for structure, well that’s as impressive as the concentration. We’ll be tasting this at an Expert’s Tasting in the mid 20s. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted August 2019

NWAC19 Platinum Medal Winner

Desert Hills Estate Winery Ursa Major Syrah Eagle’s Nest Vineyard 2016, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($40.00)

Inky, ferric, serious, structured, regaling and ripping syrah. Full throttle, absolute ripeness, carefully extracted and utterly purposed. The acidity, tannin and overall structure seal all the deals and put this in a category of its own. Drink 2021-2026. Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Big Head Raw Syrah 2017, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario ($65.00)

Never before have we encountered syrah this way in Ontario. A wild ferment and use of concrete vats is one thing but the Brettanomyces off the charts is intonate of something wholly other. The exclamation is emotion both Andrzej and Jakub Lipiniski acknowledge and embrace. The thought and the recognition lights up their faces. It expresses itself in peppery jolts, with sultry, hematic, ferric and magical notation. It’s like liquorice on steroids, melting into a feral liqueur. “Wow that syrah is crazy,” tasters are heard to exclaim and yet you can see how much they relish the experience. As I do, without knowing why, except for the fact that in its big headedness this is a very balanced wine. Some way, somehow. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted March and April 2019

Lawrason and Gismondi

NWAC19 Gold Medal Winner

Nk’mip Cellars, 51 percent owner by the Osoyoos Indian Band Cellars, part of the Arterra Wine Group, as per Anthony Gismondi is “ably guided by winemakers Randy Picton and Justin Hall. Nk’Mip Cellars took home one platinum, two gold, three silver and five bronze medals, adding to its legacy of consistent performances at the nationals. The unique, First Nations winery is well worth a visit, as is lunch on the patio.”

Nk’mip Cellars Winemakers Talon 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($23.99)

Really juicy shiraz based blend (44 per cent with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc and pinot noir) with rich, ropey, red berry and savoury tones. Big fruit and if oaked with generosity it’s a construct that seems more than capable of the handling. Big effort, personality and acidity to carry it high. Boozy to a degree and again capable of finding balance. Isn’t this what cool climate blends should strive to achieve? Forget the formulas. Look to great agriculture and a master blender to realize goals. This reaches a milestone and likely at a ridiculously affordable price. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Tawse winemaker Paul Pender

Tawse Meritage 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (581165, $67.95)

That aromatic combination of dark plummy fruit and tangy blood orange is a straight give away for many more impending complexities to come. A three-pronged Bordeaux varietal mix of merlot (45 percent), cabernet sauvignon (28) and cabernet franc (27) with so much going on you might not understand what it’s trying to say. It’s like Glossolalia, a “fluid vocalizing of speech-like syllables that lack any readily comprehended meaning,” a.k.a. in tongues. Never mind the distractions and the madness but instead head straight to the intersection of structure and balance because that’s what matters. The fruit is bold, the woodwork finely chiseled and precise and the end result is the work of masters; agriculturalists, oenologists and winemaking hands. This will live on through epochs of Canadian Meritage notability and infamy. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

With Phantom Creek’s Anne Vawter

Phantom Creek Phantom Creek Vineyard Cuvée 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($100.00)

Some of the estate’s finest cabernet sauvignon makes its way into the flagship red, also made up of the other four Bordeaux red grapes. There is a sweetness that comes through from layering so much quality fruit in a way that neither the Becker blend nor the varietal cabernet sauvignon seem capable to manage. There’s also a deep sense of tannin and an almost dark brooding character, but also a smoky, savouriness that adds to the mystery and the dimension. So stylish and composed, amalgamated of the finest fruit bred from great attention to agricultural detail. Incredible length too. One of the most professional wines in Canada. Drink 2021-2030.  Tasted February 2019

Southbrook winemaker Ann Sperling

Southbrook Organic Vidal Icewine 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (581165, 375ml, $49.95)

The most unusually brick red-orange hue makes this vidal Icewine a one-of-a-kind wonder and the best news of all is how complex the wine is to follow suit. Yes the curiosity factor runs high but so do the gamut of aromatics and flavours. Coffee, toffee, crème brûlée, apricot, guava and strangely enough the spongey filling of a Crunchie Bar. What a childhood memory that digs up. Acids are strong, relevant and still humming so the sugars are carried along with great companionship. Benchmark vidal usage and to no surprise. Ann Sperling’s work with varietal orange wine combined with her knowledge of Icewine make for a union divine. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

1964

Tout vient à son heure pour qui sait attendre, wrote Clément Marot, Renaissance poet. Everything comes at its appointed time. From Cahors to Turin. War, peace, hate, love, fruit, acid and tannin. Wine is all about the pauses and the balances. At its core the value is in that feeling of things being natural and equal. That’s the way it should be. When you drink you enjoy what you have, without competition. One sensation after another. You feel like you have more, even if you have less. Like consomée with just a chop of vegetables.

Welcome to Godello’s annual list of the most conspicuous, head-turning and psychotropic moments, better known as his 19 mind-blowing wines of 2019. Godello first initiated the concept for a year-end culminating evaluation in 2012 though did not actually coin the phrase until publishing his 14 mind-blowing wines of 2014. Call it the sixth or the eighth but who really cares because the wines are the crux and the heart of the matter.

Related – Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

Hard to know how many wines he actually tasted in 2019 but the best guesstimate would be 2,500 because that is how many reviews have been posted to WineAlign in this calendar year. A couple hundred were for wines tasted in 2018 but the editing and posting of at least that many for wines tasted in 2019 have yet to become permanent. So the number is pretty close, one way or another.

There were at least a few dozen stellar and jaw-dropping wines that should of, could of, would of made this list. For every one chosen another was left behind for no reason other than necessity and its relationship to the mother of invention. These images exhibited are but a few that had every reason to be one of 19’s 19.

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

With thanks to everyone who poured a glass. The producers, winemakers, export managers, friends, colleagues and pirates, please be encouraged and read on. Godello’s 19 mind-blowing wines of 2019.

AB Wines Opçāo Avesso “A” Vinho Verde 2016, Portugal

From winemaker/oenologist António Sousa’s personal label (with partner Bernardo) and a vineyard planted in 2003, in Amarante. These are avesso grapes just a few years away from what António considers the optimum age, when they reach 18 years, 10 years older than the age from which they begin to deliver excellence. This A is in position A, from a perfect vantage point out of a very good vintage. This is the role model and exemplar for avesso, from a project that began in 2016, with all the adjunct components in line; lemon, lime, orange, ripe acidity, juicy nature and just a minor creamy, fleshy and boozy happiness. Great balance. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted October 2019

Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Tocai Friulano Collio DOC 1997, Friuli, Italy

So remarkable, from the old messaging in the riesling/tocai bottle, stricken from the consorzio record. This is now a wine bottled in Bordeaux style but this look back 20-plus years shows freshness, spirit and only the beginnings of secondary character. Gassy and lemon intense, a near-perfect example of what was and could be, of how aged whites of Collio can keep freshness and the saltiness of place. All thjis and without crazy acidity. That is the conundrum and the magic of Collio. The persistence is romanticism incarnate with fruit oozing out of pores in great remain. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Goisot Gulhem Et Jean Hugues Gondonne 2017, Bourgogne Côtes D’auxerre AOC, Bourgogne, France

A soil of kimmeridgian and marl, of white and blue, with great layering of fruit and that is in fact what you feel from Gondonne. There is something rich and overtly expressive here and while it’s anything but simple it could be imagined that so many consumers would understand this chardonnay, love it and want to drink it with abandon. That said the structure, goût de terroir and joie de vivre are just exceptional. The wood and the land just melt right in. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted November 2019

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2007, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa

These Helderberg vines would have been 33 years of age at the time and to think the wine would have cost $10 or so. Now 12 years later we’re graced with this hyperbole of toast, smoulder, lit paraffin and the edge of saffron honey. It’s hard to believe and this the from the tier-two, non-selected grapes at the back of the line behind a Forrester wine like the FMC. Nothing less than incredible. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted October 2019

Ornellaia Bianco 2016, IGT Toscana Bianco, Tuscany, Italy

The Bianco was first introduced in 2013, following fast forward to the original 1980s and 1990s work with Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia. That project had been abandoned because says Axel Heinz “stylistically it just wasn’t right.” That wine was mainly sauvignon blanc on one of Ornellaia’s great vineyard sites. What was wanted was something more than a varietal wine and a new age of finding vineyard sites that were more than merely good for white wine. That means making use of northern slopes and those blocks favourable to whites, including the use of (indigenous) vermentino and viognier. The practice had already been proven with success by colleagues. Bianco is the alter ego to the Rosso, priced as such “and reflects the spirit of Ornellaia, but it had to build itself up to that premium level. We intend to make one of the great white wines of the world,” explains Heinz. That may sound like bragging swagger but the reality is that experience, acumen and especially confidence breed the truth. I Bianci are aged for 12-15 months in (30 per cent new) barriques before bottling. I do dare you to find a wine that smells anything like this Bianco. They are flowers unnamed or perhaps not yet discovered. The flinty reductiveness is also truly and wholly unique. Though the way sauvignon is raised and the place are surely not the same, the Bordeaux styling and sensibility of affinities are more than uncanny and even served by purpose. The vintage brings great maturity, fruitiness and salinity. Fruit presence under the spell of fleur de sel. Nothing but a brilliant combination. Says Heinz without equivocation, “it’s a benchmark for us, ’16 that is.” Drink 2020-2031.  Tasted March 2019

Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2017, AOC Bourgogne, France

The couverture is all encompassing acting as a full sheathing tapestry in surround of a fruit core of sheer concentration and yet as a whole so understated. It’s hard to imagine more coaxing and less pronouncement. Relatively speaking there’s no estate equal to what has happened here. Great mineral crash into life and love, into fruit and impossible acidity. A magnificent chardonnay with 25 years of life ahead. Drink 2021-2039.  Tasted September 2019

Adelsheim Pinot Noir Boulder Bluff 2015, Chehalem Mountains AVA, Oregon

From a steep, southwest facing site and picked really early, especially in the warm 2015 vintage. Again the confluence of vineyard conflagration of more than one soil type leads to an estate stylistic but let’s face it one that is bent into shape by focus and precision. There is great generosity and freshness, again in spite of or despite the hot vintage. More floral from this bluff and bigger, albeit finer quality signature tannin from this neighbourhood, with more thanks to basaltic blocks. Long ageing surely ahead with fruit turning to bramble, at times. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted April 2019

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso DOC Vigna Vico Pre Phylloxera 2015, Sicily, Italy

The litheness of this nerello mascalese from Mount Etna off of 100-plus years of age pre-phylloxera vines cannot be over-stated or overstressed. The light, ethereal beauty of this wine may very well transport you to a place, to a vacuum within a bubble that is a hidden world inside a biodome. Few words are available when a wine speaks to you such as this Vico does to me at this time. This impossibility of such fruit concentration is also implausibly understated, as are the tannins and the acidity, yet all align and intertwine along a perfectly rendered line. You recognize the automatic brilliance, for the people and from the place. You just know it when you taste it. If you can find this wine, if you ever get the chance to purchase a bottle or two, you owe it to yourself to act, for you and for anyone you might happen to share it with. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2019

Donnafugata Mille E Una Notte 1996, DOC Contessa Entellina, Sicily, Italy

An arch classic from Sicilia sud Occidentale and more specifically Tenuta Contessa Entellina. Of the oldest wines this is one of the highest tonality, not unlike older and older schooled nebbiolo from Barbaresco, in a queen’s throne sort of way. There is siply no way to argue that this wine did not deserve to be aged this way and to be waited on for such a moment of appreciation. Age worthy and load management indeed, with every resolution hoped for and expected. Brilliance and a benchmark, with a half decade of life still ahead. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Scarpa Barbera d’Asti DOC La Bogliona 1996, Piedmont, Italy

At 23 years you just have to launch yourself headfirst into the blood orange. That this piece of barbera wow factor happened before the year 2000 is the thing, especially because climate was very different. Rain fell often and slowly through the year, as opposed to the deluges of globally disaster-orchestrated today. Higher acidity simply speaking and this of the great lean, salty and direct-fitted pieces of barbera composure. Still fresh with dried fruits and low alcohol (at 13.0 per cent declared) but who knows which way the marketing directed labelling in those days? More than a lovely look back. Educational, instructional, cerebral and mind-bending from the lesser appreciated Piedmontese sector. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted December 2019

Maison Roche De Bellene Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2012, AOC Bourgogne, France

Do not adjust your set. The vintage brought everything to the table and while the foreground presents a picture crystalline and transparent the entirety of the frame is frozen clear. As for the aromatics this teases a meaty cure like few other and teases as if by the ambience of a cave, restricted of access, hiding what lurks, hangs and excites. Crunchy to say the least, layered to say more and complex to speak the ultimate truth. Magnifique and still twenty years away from the beginning of the end. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted September 2019

Domaine De La Pousse D’or Pommard Premier Cru Les Jarollières 1964, Appellation Pommard Controlée, Bourgogne, France

Calling this 55 year-old Bourgogne Premier Cru a piece of history is not enough to do justice because family, lineage and the passing of the generational torch beyond domaine lines are everything that matters. Nicolas Potel pulled this one out of thin air and not merely by a human ability to disappear and reappear. No, Nico chose the way of disapparating and then apparating (in the wizard sense of “apparition,” a magical form of teleportation). His father Gérard’s ’64 was in his hands and a great big, merde-eating grin was posted all across his face. Les Jarollières is a 1.44 ha plot of marl and calcaire and even today half of the plantings are those that were fitted in 1925 and 1962. It was Gérard Potel who resurrected Domaine de la Pousse d’Or to its glory and in 1964 he acquired the domaine through a marriage to the then owner’s niece. Along with Henri Boillot this cru has been famous being meaty, earthy and owning an ability for supernatural integration. This 1964 had taken all that, everything and more, left nothing in the vineyard and had now become the epitome of the ethereal. The fruit was fully intact, so bloody strawberry, still with lightning quick reflexes and able to pour fresh glasses of spirit and energy over the course of a full hour. The experience was a once in a lifetime type, a shared moment and the kind to create a banked memory that will always be generous when a good one is needed. Thank you Nico. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted December 2019

 

I Fabbri Chianti Classico DOCG 2000, Tuscany, Italy

At the time it was labeled as an (Annata) Chianti Classico though it was really Riserva. Yes it has evolved but 18-plus years should have moved it much further along. Carries a spice like the exoticism in resemblance to 2006 but this is something other. Still some very fine, present and notable acidity. Amazing purity, honesty, luck, circumstance, place and gentile personality. The sapidity is there again and the age ability nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted February 2019

Volpaia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Il Puro 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($150.00)

Il Puro takes her purity to another level in 2015 with fruit so silky fine and chalky tannins integrated into liquid even finer than that fine. The accumulation is just impressive and the charm meeting grace even more so than that. The Mascheroni-Stianti family has really found a stride in this GS to explain why it exists and how it can make many people happy. The structure here will take this through two or three decades of unfolding. There is a house record to prove it, ironically regardless and in spite of the bottle’s name. This is sangiovese. Drink 2023-2037.  Tasted February 2019

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Diecianni 2010, Tuscany, Italy

“A muscle vintage, of huge character,” tells Lorenzo Magnelli. The name of the wine is Diecianni to tell us that Lorenzo’s Riserva is not released until the 10th year. Brings about all the complexities that come from such an extended elévage. Tobacco, savour, forest floor, frutta di bosco and frutto secco but don’t be succumbing to depths and sottosuolo because the freshness persists. A wine so wise beyond its years, like its maker. Sure you can release a Riserva one year after Annata but when it has been protected and taken care of for you then it presents as it was intended to. We are thankful for the triage and the investment on our behalf. The fruit persists with great natural sweetness out of 2010. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted October 2019

Conti Costanti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Colle Al Matrichese 2015, Tuscany, Italy

Andrea Costanti is convinced this is a great vintage. “One of the best.” The weather was perfect following a beneficial cold winter. The harvest was early but not compromisingly so and it saw no hurdles, obstacles or intendments. The barrel use is bigger, older and wiser. This is the sort of concentrated Costanti that speaks to the 2019 philosophy, of acidity, ripeness and balance. Time on skins was about a month (including two weeks of fermentation and oxidation introducing délestage) and no protective sulphur. There is a control in this sangiovese, a powerful restraint but more than that, more so a calm, but not before storm. Finesse, grip and beauty, like a statue of a stag, in a courtyard, lit by moonlight. Tannins are all pervasive, fully stated, yet to feel a necessity for attack. They will and we will retreat, Then we will advance, with caution, further to find full pleasure for two decades. At the very minimum. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted February 2019

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Vecchia 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($177.00)

Planted in 1968 and from a warm vintage all the way to the end, into October. Riccardo Campinoti is smiling wryly, knowingly and confidently after he pours and begins to speak of it. “The longer you waited the riper it became” and the healthy grapes allowed for hanging to mid-October. Deeper and of more sponge-soaked earth in the old vines with a higher tone juxtaposed against the depth drawn by long vine roots. The aromatic complexities run, jump and ride off the proverbial charts and you may find yourself drunk and mystified just from the smells. Once you gain palate entry you are hooked and then you climb in, headfirst, unencumbered, no strings attached. A tour de force beloved of sangiovese, Montalcino and old vines. Vigna Vecchia is the epitome of a true structured wine, one which does not grow old, despite the passage of time. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2019

Antiche Cantine Dei Marchesi Di Barolo 1990, Barolo Riserva, Piemonte, Italy

A grande dame or marchesa in the parlance of these woods, a nebbiolo of persistence, resilience and strength of character. Initiates contact with the past and a contract with tradition by way of the things that matter most. Family for one, roots dug into the earth second and the vineyard’s tongue, if it were able to speak. The overall gist in the parlance is heard and even understood although the dialect is hard to decipher if you are not of this place. This 1990 is found to be of high though level tempered energy and then with an ear, a nose and a soul so close to the earth. Smells like the soils amalgamated, preserved and demonstrated through the tempered liquor of a wise old 29 year-old nebbiolo. So much more than a piece of the past, this is an auguri gathering of storytelling, kin, culture and DNA. You must pay thanks for a chance to taste a thing such as this. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted December 2019

Gaja Sorì Tildìn 2016, Barbaresco DOP, Piemonte, Italy ($810.00)

Angelo Gaja sees 2016 as a perfect vintage in Barbaresco and the one from which climate change is viewed with great irony in the wink-wink guise of parenthetical thanks. That means the cosmic and astronomical alignment makes for wines that are both pleasant in their youth and also impossibly structured to age. Named for the sunny position of the slope and Mr. Gaja’s grandmother Clotilde. Now the clay and the calcaire have conspired, along with the purchased land of which Clotilde was custodian and in how she pushed her husband to make great wine. The vines are now on average 50 years-old and the composition meeting aspect bring a depth of complexity as poignant as it gets in this tiny part of nebbiolo production. All the flowers, rocks and elements are contained within the interior walls of this gently forceful Langhe red. It mimics the matriarch by the strongest power of suggestion and will not take no for an answer. Perhaps never will. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

godello

1964

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