Tasting Ontario Part Five: Varietal Whites and Appellative Blends

There were 33 medals handed out to White Blends at the 2018 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada; seven Golds, 17 Silvers and nine Bronze. Quietly, stealthily and without great fanfare the strength of the white blend category has taken NWAC18 by storm. The quality of the wines entered has never been higher, visibly and notably spread across the country. The time has come to establish party lines, to create truly parochial white appellative blends under appropriately chosen names. Nova Scotia has long been there with their apt-scripted Tidal Bay. Ontario and British Columbia should heed the economic and marketing success enjoyed by their maritime cousins and join the appellative party.

Related – Results of the 2018 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals): Best of Blends: Red, White and Tidal Bay

The French regions of Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley are clearly the benchmarks and the inspiration for Canadian-made emulative examples, first from a sauvignon blanc-sémillon connection and then with blends that make use of marsanne, roussanne and viognier. A testament to expatriate excellence is noted in the seven overall Gold Medals in this year’s judging and no less than six others finishing at high Silver status on the cusp of Gold. I for one awarded five 90-plus scores to wines I clearly deemed worthy of such accolade and esteem.

It is interesting to note that White Blends centred by sauvignon blanc in the Okanagan Valley rely on much higher percentages of sémillon than their counterparts in Ontario. The simplest explanation tells us that the grape variety has trouble surviving harsh Ontario winters, especially when we look back at 2015 and 2016 when much of the province’s vines were killed by sub-25 degree temperatures. But it’s more than that. In B.C. sauvignon blanc can get pretty ripe, tropical and zaftig so it is sémillon that helps to mitigate, temper, inject a flinty-smoky-mineral streak and ultimately bring balance to the relationship.

There was a time not too long ago when after the best juice was chosen for varietal wines producers then needed to find a way to use up the dregs of their white ferments. White blends came about out of economic necessity, but like Rosé production in this country so many are now produced with a purpose. As a farmer, if you know specific blocks of sauvignon blanc are destined to join with other plots of sémillon you’re going to prune, pluck, green harvest and ultimately pick in very specific ways. Appellative blends have become a year round occupation. That much is clear.

Related – Tasting Ontario Part Four: Gamay

The top scorers at this year’s Nationals have been awarded to seriously and thoughtfully crafted wines. The winners are not entry-level, introductory products at the lower or lowest common denominational levels. They are not simple aromatic blends of vague fruit and sweet impression, in fact many are graced by beneficial and forward thinking structure. The future certainly looks white blend bright. Here are 36 recently tasted Ontario varietal whites and appellative white blends.

Summer spread

Sprucewood Shores Pinot Grigio 2017, VQA Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (426577, $14.95, WineAlign)

Just a hint of contact it would seem, leading to a not so obvious result in platinum gold hue but more so into the floral nature of its aromatics. Some sweet melon and pear fruit with good concentration and equal if necessary acidity. Can certainly drink a glass of this. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  sprucewoodshores  @SprucewoodWine  @SprucewoodShores

Château Des Charmes Aligoté 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (296848, $15.95, WineAlign)

The Château des Charmes self-proclaimed “pinot grigio” alternative was never more truthfully written than in reference to this 2017 aligoté. Screwy wet summer merging into crazy hot autumn weather made for one of the latest harvest dates in the estate on the York Road in St. Davids storied history. The rare Niagara Peninsula varietal vines are planted primarily at St. David’s Bench and Paul Bosc Estate vineyards but more are going in, surely out of testimony to the sales of this more than apropos local grape. Surely no one knows aligoté like the Bosc family and yet even they could not have seen this peachy, melony, fleshy and ripe one coming. It’s like a hyperbole of Val do Salnés in Rias Baixas albariño, crisp, aromatic and marched along by natural acidity. It seems sweet but trust me it’s not. It’s the long-hung, fully phenolic fruit and higher pH talking. This is not your average Bourgogne aligoté, searing, taut and intense. It’s a departure for the house but if it could always be made this way I think they would gladly go for the style. Waxy finish too, bringing an added note of complexity. Very cool. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted July 2018  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Nyarai Cellars Pinot Gris 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.95, WineAlign)

This is quite a striking, rich, creamy and yogurt-leesy, a.k.a. Loire chenin blanc, fixedly in the guise of pinot gris. More skin contact then some plus so much yeasty texture combine to make for the fullest of an Ontario gris expression. This is the sort of feeling that normally comes from multi-varietal, dry white appellative Niagara blends but in a solo pinot gris it’s nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  #nyaraicellars  @NyaraiCellars  Nyarai Cellars

Tawse Winery Pinot Gris Redfoot Vineyard 2017, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

From out of the dense Lincoln Lakeshore clay comes this flush and luxurious pinot gris, literally rolling in it. It makes for a highly aromatic take on the grape, all in for gris and not to be confused with lighter, less meaningful grigio. The Redfoot Vineyard is clearly earmarked for such a purposed way of interpretation and though the clays of the double L sub-appellation are best with syrah and cabernet franc there can’t be any reason not to allot 10-15 per cent of acreage to white plantings. In the hands of Paul Pender it seems obvious that pinot gris is the one. This dry take is just about perfectly right, with citrus and wet stone hanging around the fruit. Leaner might be more suitable but ultimately it’s balance that is most important for this rich fruit raised by the pottery soil. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted June 2018  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

G.Marquis Sauvignon Blanc The Red Line 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $13.95, WineAlign)

Big love, big fruit, all about texture and juicy fruit on the palate but with some fine, wound acidity. Excellent. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   g.marquisvineyards  @GMarquisWines  @G.MarquisVineyards

North 42 Degrees Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc North 43 2017, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (547836, $14.95, WineAlign)

Quite the character this North 43/North 42 degrees sauvignon blanc, fruit amassed on the nose, from canteloupe to underripe passion fruit with a wet, coppery alloy build that translates across latitudinal lines onto the palate. The metallic flavours are undercut by an herbal tonic with a spoonful of tinned fruit cup. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  north42wines  @StratusWines  North 42 Degrees Estate Winery & Bistro 42  @north42degrees

Château Des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (296848, $15.95, WineAlign)

Interesting take, quite a mineral salt wiring through the green apple fruit, here some feel of barrel but not the malo-creamy effect created. Goes quite juicy and crunchy without resorting to tart. A bit more acid intensity would have sealed the deal. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018    chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Lakeview Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (483958, $17.95, WineAlign)

An interesting sauvignon blanc for the Peninsula because the pungency is quite Marlborough but the relaxed state and relative weight is all Niagara. Very easy drinking as far as SB is concerned with notable extraction and a green streak, herbal mostly, running through. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  lakeviewwineco  @LakeviewWineCo  @LakeviewWineCo

Kacaba Susan’s Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $17.95, WineAlign)

Quietude in such a lovely way, mineral meets orange blossom, soft and amenable through the middle, quiet and mellow, fades off slowly, into the sauvignon blanc sunset. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  kacabavineyards  @KacabaVineyards  Kacaba Vineyards and Winery

Stratus Wildass Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (376814, $18.95, WineAlign)

t’s more Stratus than sauvignon blanc, even by regional varietal standards, whatever that is, due to the ripe flavours and long-developed phenolic ripeness. Ultimately it is the quotient of a cup of fruit cocktail and an energy level that serves to encourage a sitting back with a glass in meditative state more than a mind stimulated to invigorate. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  stratuswines  @StratusWines  @StratusWines

Organized Crime Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (396275, $18.95, WineAlign)

Sometimes sauvignon blanc goes tropical and green at the same time, or at least it is the two poles by picked grapes that combine for such a layering. Citrus and bitters mix into the two sides and all the components walk along, separate and alone together, without making any real contact. Maybe a year will tie the room but the acidity is low so waiting is a counterintuitive idea. Drink 2018.  Tasted April 2018  organizedcrimewinery  Organized Crime Winery

Henry Of Pelham Fumé Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (444268, $19.95, WineAlign)

With a wink and a nod to Mondavi this lays the lumber in smoulder upon sauvignon blanc with just a wisp, like cold smoking salmon so that it breathes cool and mentholated, without char and a real smoky feeling. The fruit is light and even a bit precious, the weight quite lithe and the overall notation one of gentle demure. You have to appreciate the deft, slight of winemaking hand approach. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  henryofpelham  @HenryofPelham  Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery

Meldville Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Derek Barnett’s sauvignon blanc may be the fleshiest of the Ontario lot, ripe, tropical and impressively coaxed from off the vine. The phenolic aggregate is a 2016 triumph even while it dances a funky step into botrytis-like rhythms. Notes here and there of herbs and tonics add to the mystique and the rapport. So bloody interesting, singular and meditative for the grape. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  meldvillewines  @meldvillewines  Meldville Wines

Peller Estates Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Massively fruit aromatic sauvignon blanc, all gathered in a tin cup found in the exotics isle. Juicy melon meets passion fruit and so much more in between, then with a side of metalloid. Raps so commercially viable and succesful it hurts my ears and my eyes. “Any awards show or party I’ll get fly for it, I know that it’s coming I just hope I’m alive for it…I just wanna be, I just wanna be.” Remarkable success for sauvignon blanc, in Ontario. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   pellerwines  @PellerVQA  @PellerEstates

Redstone Sauvignon Blanc Limestone Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $23.15, WineAlign)

There isn’t a ton of sauvignon blanc grown up on the Limestone Ridge but as a top level Twenty Mile Bench riesling terroir it changes the varietal course with considerable concern. As far as it goes this is quite an alloy challenged, mineralized expression, not quite flinty but certainly feeling like a mouthful of richly compressed, calcareous stones. The fruit is so anti-tropical it’s almost reductive and most certainly draws its tang from the soil. Such a curious sauvignon blanc with almost no frame of reference, save for a moment to consider Sancerre, but yet another successful effort from winemaker Rene Van Ede. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Traynor Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Reductive, not flinty or smoky, but reductive. This carries the gooseberry-passion fruit suitcase of fruit. I like the fruit-acid balance and the way it delivers semblances of tart and tangy. Really nicely judged wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   traynorvineyard  @TraynorVineyard  @traynorfamilyvineyard

Hidden Bench Fumé Blanc Rosomel Vineyard 2016, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68825, $29.95, WineAlign)

The vineyard gains another year, the farming and winemaking too and so fumé blanc out of Rosomel gets better, as things often do with age and wisdom. ’Twas a great year for growing grapes on this amphitheatre of a vineyard block up on the Bench and no love lost for sauvignon blanc neither. There is tension, wound intensity and fierce competitiveness in the ’16, perhaps the most Sancerre and least Pouilly-Fumé it has ever been and so the declaration leans to saying it is “a mineral year.” Nothing against the fruit because the personality cult of lean, crisp and crunchy is in full order, though each sip after sip speaks in those Sancerre or Chablis by way of Saint Bris terms. Stellar, as always, in continuance, moving towards the best it can be. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2018  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Trius Showcase Clean Slate Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2016, Niagara-on-the Lake, Ontario (Winery, $31.95, WineAlign)

Quite flinty, barrel-aged sauvignon blanc, buttery nearly, banana and cantaloupe. So much fruit along with the toasty-creamy barrel. Almost perfectly in balance but it’s wildness and sweet-yeasty lees cumulative turns to a bit of caramel and only accentuates the vanilla. A really cool take on the grape with exceptionally developed flavours. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   triuswines  @TriusWines  @TriusWines

Not all screw cap closures are created equal

Two Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.00, WineAlign)

Excessive tightness of screw caps does not allow any kept reduction to blow off so winemaker Adam Pearce closed here with a screw cap threading just a bit less rigid. A fine detail but an important one and the only wine to receive this attention, so just a minute amount of oxygen transfer can occur. Just released 11 days ago. The big change is now a fruit vineyard blend that is 70 per cent Four Mile Creek and (30) Twenty Mile Bench. From a cool, wet and rainy season so really it’s all about the grower in a vintage where the varietal struggled with mould and mildew. Eight per cent barrel ferment was used to augment the leanness, for body and peace of mind. A bit reductive and tight with good acid structure to the peach-yellow-plum-kumquat fruit. Good linger. Delicious. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted July 2018    twosisters_vineyards  @TwoSisters_wine  Two Sisters Vineyards

Fielding Estate Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (146753, $19.95, WineAlign)

Fielding’s pays respect to how gewürztraminer has to be made in Ontario with a fleshy, off-dry style though making sure to counterbalance with a fine dose of acidity. From dosage to dose it dances the do-si-so with high quality peach-litchi fruit and grapefruit acidity. If you’re in need of a white to compliment some high-octane, multi-seasoned and possibly spicy food, Fielding’s is textbook and will do the work. It’s a gewürztraminer you can trust. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted January 2018  fielding winery  richiewine  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  Fielding Estate Winery

Redstone Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

A sip sends a warm shiver through from a simple off-dry gewüztraminer attack more flat than round earth, trying hard to stay on the dry though the bitters and creamy fruit deliver more sweetness than what might have been intended. Some skin contact deals peach skin and those bitters while the acidity quietly abides. It’s nearly, almost and close to cloying by honey mixed in concentrate with a note of alkali. Everything lingers. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

@mackbrisbois brought the past, the present and the future @trailestatewine to taste. Thanks Mack! Indeed, to my pleasure and my education.

Trail Estate Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Few winemakers in Ontario are as curious, aloof and serious about making gewürztraminer like this,”looking through that window, into the delicate place.” The changing of mind is so important during the process because it shows an understanding of both mistake and possibility. Mackenzie Brisbois takes a spoon of Niagara Lakeview fruit (Glen Elgin/Wismer farmed), puts it through a whole cluster press, a fermentation in old oak and then wait a minute. An about face transfer to stainless steel tank (just after a few days) because it is too reductive, but then sends it back to old wood where it remains for about nine months. Bottles back in September of 2017. The result is a gewürz that finishes dry (under 3 g/L) so delicate for a customer’s palate, with lots of lemon and lime but never searing, perfect for cold smoked or tataki prepared salmon. Bitter pith note but it dissipates, as does the acidity so keep in mind this is floral and fine. “The delicate place. The questions it raise. The delicate place yeah.” Enjoy it now and gimme fiction. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Trail Estate Skin Contact Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

The 2016 gewürztraminer fruit is from the Werscht’s (Between the Lines) Niagara farm, super ripe at 24 brix and aromatics on steroids. It clocks in at a healthy 13.5 alcohol, after 13 days on skins and beyond. Close your eyes and the warm pungency will simulate a sensory experience, like standing inside the butterfly conservatory, with all the dessicating fruit, secretions and balmy, humid aromas wafting around. Or maybe even more exotic, like walking past stalls in a south asian market, with fruits cut open so you can see what they are, mangoseteen, marquesa, jackfruit and durian. There is great fun to be had in acidity and spice. Lush, floral and nicely funky. By now an understanding and a level of maturity to think on is as a classic Brisbois white. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Malivoire Viognier Stouck Vineyard 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Agent, $24.25, WineAlign)

From vines planted in 2010 the magic of excitable youth with just a hint of maturity has brought this block of the terrific Lincoln Lakeshore vineyard to this vintage. Warmth and ultimately ripeness have released the aromatic blessedness of viognier, which along with an unpurposed number of residual sugar will allow this to gain some further complexity with age. May just be the most varietal viognier ever produced out of Niagara but it’s obviousness as a regional example can’t be denied. It exudes confidence without even trying, is naturally oily and grippy because its acidity matches the high notes. It’s a touch boozy at 13.5 alcohol, at times metallic and at others, tropical, because that’s what viognier wants to be. It’s just a terrific effort from winemakers Shiraz Mottiar and Dan Stouck. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted February 2018  malivoire  noble_estates  @MalivoireWine  @Noble_Estates  Malivoire Wine  Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Lakeview Cellars Viognier 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Pretty tart stuff from the get go, full of tangerine and beautifully dry. Gently pressed and kept in spirit high through the use of stainless steel tanks. Quite floral, not potpourri mind you but a fresh blossoming breath of a bouquet. Simple viognier, effectively executed and perfectly correct. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted February 2018  lakeviewwineco  @LakeviewWineCo  @LakeviewWineCo

Redstone Viognier Redfoot Vineyard 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign)

The barrel is a big time influence here, offering a combination of creamy vanilla and yet some reduction. There must be some lush viognier fruit back there somewhere but the wood is really in control. Subtle hints of varietal florals, far eastern fruit and spice linger behind the veil. Tasted blind it is the creamy texture and vanilla that makes cause for it to be considered so much like California chardonnay. Good acidity however rescues and thinks about the future. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted twice, June 2018 and then blind at NWAC18, June 2018  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Calamus Estate Winery White Night 2014, VQA Ontario (484014, $13.95, WineAlign)

A very good use of vidal (85 per cent) gets an apple jolt from chardonnay in this very peach and grapefruit oriented white. It’s like fruit cocktail in a glass but drier than off-dry and quite savoury. Stage right spicy too, like clove and capsicum, in a way akin to Kiwi sauvignon blanc but in the end it’s white appellative blend in hybrid dominance, running all the way. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted January 2017  #calamuswinery  @calamuswinery  Calamus Estate Winery

Featherstone Four Feathers 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (341586, $14.95, WineAlign)

Varietal birds of four feathers (riesling, chardonnay, gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc) flock together for a wild ride in aromatics, texture, tang and acidity. Here a notable waxiness from the gewürztraminer does oily, glück potpourri with outgoing nature and a sweet meets sour set of flavours. Runs from orchard fruit with bite into the tropical and then some bitters. Nothing simple and quite stirred. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  #featherstonewinery  @featherstonewne  Featherstone Estate Winery

13th Street White Palette 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (207340, $15.95, WineAlign)

White Palette is at the top of its hyperbole game in 2016 with a light’s glare flooding a room of high aromatic and flavour intensity. Glade, polish, wax and major citrus all max factor the scents and smells. Lemon and caramel well through the palate and funky emissions deal in Peninsula clay with obvious earth. It’s a case of the curious and not fully expected in 2016. Worth a look nevertheless, with fresh seafood off the coals. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted May 2018  13thstreetwinery  @13thStreetWines  13th Street Winery

Rockway Vineyards Chardonnay/Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (545905, $16.95, WineAlign)

The varietal get together is both convenient and seamless, in delivery of a cool climate nose and a ripeness to imagine a warmer climate palate. It’s layering is one stacked by alternating textures and walks straight ahead, simple and for the sake of nothing, but for to enjoy.  Drink 2018-2020. Tasted April 2018  rockwayvineyards  @RockwayVineyard  Rockway Vineyards

The Hare Wine Company Crown Land White 2016, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

The blend of 60 per cent gewürztraminer and (40) riesling is a lovely mix of lemon, apricot and mild barrel notes. It’s a pithy affair, mildly battered and of a soft demeanour. Fresh with fruit skin scents, a passion fruit tang and acidity that’s pretty darn close to spot on. Chewy texture, finishing strong and long. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  theharewineco  @TheHareWineCo  The Hare Wine Co.

Kew Vineyard Estate Marsanne 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

The dominant marsanne (90 per cent) is joined seamlessly by viognier in a white blend rich with barrel notes, nutty and toasty. Perhaps a touch less interesting on the palate but it’s welling with presence and persistence. Metallic and effective, with great finishing bitters. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  kewvineyards  @kewvineyards  @kewvineyard

Tasting at Pearl Morissette, July 2017

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Blu 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Cuvée Blu is an appellative blend like no other, amphora fermented, 100 per cent whole cluster chardonnay, with pinot gris, riesling and sauvignon blanc. The group spent three and a half (no, not a typo) months on skins, pressed and aged in foudres. I taste this and self-reflected that I would need to taste this once a day for two weeks to wrap brain, heart and imagination around its mythology. I’d also need to understand how it pushed further then just about anything and to see what would happpen, over and over, again and again, each time anew. You can drink this immediately or anytime over the next six years. What’s the difference? How can you know what to do? Self-described by the PM team as “a chameleon charmer and a poem built from the taste of colours.” Memories of a 2017 summer recall the whimsy of hues. “Yellow, orange,” smiled Svetlana Atcheva, “it might as well be blue!” Drink 2018-2024. Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Southbrook Vidal Skin Fermented White 2016, Small Lot Natural Wine, VQA Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The first time I tasted this blind (at Terroir Symposium) I noted it to be “vidal-like,” a touch oxidative, of this elegant paste or salve, with notes of green plum and just a touch of grapefruit. The second pass confirms it to be a fine vidal orange wine, with more texture than should or would be expected. It delivers lemon and tannin, plus a calculated layering of ample and enough acidity to carry it along. A fine example. Really mouth coating and so tannic. Takes what was learned from 2014 and 2015 experiments and with VQA category approval in its back pocket, begins the true journey forward. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017 and February 2018 southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @SouthbrookWine  @TheLivingVine  Southbrook Vineyards  The Living Vine inc.

Stratus Vineyards Stratus White 2014, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.20, WineAlign)

White assemblage under the Stratus label is not like spinning a single record, it’s like Rock ‘n Roll radio. Opening a bottle brings great excitement and anticipation, with a sense of wonder. What songs am I going to hear or more to the point, which grape varieties am I going to taste, in which percentages and in what order? In 2014 it’s a medley of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier, sémillon and gewürztraminer. The blend spent 21 months in (15 per cent) new oak. The fruits are varied and each one (or mélange of several) represented a hit in their own right. Tutti frutti, orange blossom special, little green apples, the lemon song, kiwi, peach, tangerine and forbidden fruit. In the end I heard it through the grapevine, by way of a conduit provided by great and necessary acidity. A top quality Stratus White, worthy of repeat plays. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted twice, May and June 2018    stratuswines  @StratusWines  @StratusWines

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

It’s primarily sauvignon blanc (94 per cent) but don’t discount the effect created by sémillon. This is a really lovely barrel fermented stroll through a fresh morning glade, with ripe fruit everywhere and a perfectly pointed and lifted flinty nose. A bit reductive and fresh, as it should and absolutely must be, with hints of vanilla and caramel. Quite ambitious and serious with a focus and a precision that speaks to the acumen of a specific cru that in the end, instructs for sauvignon blanc meets sémillon education. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018    hiddenbench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Good to Go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

he-always-distracted-me-so-that-i-thought-of-nothing-else-while-listening-to-the-words-and-the-sound-of-his-voice

He has always distracted me so that I thought of nothing else while listening to the words. And the sound of his voice.

Compiling a best of 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.

I do my best to taste wines twice before passing judgement. Too often I can’t fulfill this prophecy, especially when plodding through 100-plus on a VINTAGES release. In 2016 I made a great effort to visit these 16 wines three times before penning a review. It was not always possible but I tried. When it comes to Canadian wines and even more so with wines from Ontario, there are often second and third chances. And so I feel very confident in sharing this definitive list with you.

Hallelujah

It must be said that 2016 was a most difficult year. Too many special people were taken from us far too early. I lost two friends this fall as I’m sure some of you did as well. Many of us dwell on favourite celebrity deaths and especially the loss of musicians, some of us more than others. If you are one who takes to social media to mock the romantic who shares grief with others at the loss of a musical icon, well just skip past this and go straight to the wines. Or please refrain from comment and respectfully remain quiet.

David Bowie. Prince. Leonard Cohen. Sir George Martin. Glenn Frey. Paul Kantner. Leon Russell. Keith Emerson. Greg Lake. Alan Vega. Mose Allison. Bernie Worrell. Muhammad Ali. Gene Wilder. Arnold Palmer. Craig Sager. David Huddleston. Ken Howard. George Kennedy. Abe Vigoda. Ron Glass. Florence Henderson. Fuck 2016. And this tree fell on my house.

hows-your-sunday-going-so-far

How’s your Sunday going so far?

On a much brighter note 2016 was a banner year for tasting Canadian wines. It also provided a vintage of quantity meets quality and one that was desperately needed, especially here in Ontario. My tasting regimen saw no quit or slow down in 2016. I’m not sure how many Canadian wines I tasted but if it was less than a thousand I’d be shocked. I tasted more at home, assessed a greater number in the LCBO’s sensory lab, delved deeper at the WineAlign office and spread the web wider at events in Ontario. I judged with Tony Aspler at the Ontario Wine Awards, in Penticton at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and with David Lawrason at Gold Medal Plates.

Related – 15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

In 2015 I counted 15 on the filtered list. In 2014 the highlights numbered 14, just as in 2013 the number chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine was 13. And so forth will lead to 17 in 2017.

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Welcome @muller_brent to team RED! with nazlanmak captain @treve_ring #nwac16 @winealign

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

And again, I quote. “Picking a top anything list is both a chore and a labour of loyalty. The opportunities to learn more about Canadian-made wine, especially the processes and the efforts, were numerous in 2014. Canadian winemakers opened their doors and when people came, they taught. They walked the vineyards, showed off their prized barrels and walked through the processes of making wine. Tasting and barrel rooms make for the greatest classrooms. Get out there in 2015. The experience is priceless.” In 2017, trust in Canadian wine.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

return-syrah-engagement-creeksidewine-pouring-on-tap-barquebbq-and-barquebutchers-freshtap-wineontap

Return Syrah engagement @CreeksideWine pouring on tap @barquebbq and @barquebutchers #freshtap #wineontap

My wine on tap program at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar added some new wines in 2016 to follow those poured from Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus and Leaning Post. Between the Lines, Coyote’s Run, Vineland Estates and new offerings from Creekside continue to fill your glasses.

The year began with great excitement at Niagara’s Icewine Festival in January. In February I returned for Cuvée Weekend. In June we convened the WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards in the Okanagan Valley and a confession I need to make is that I wanted to publish with the title “Why you don’t know shit about B.C. wine” but chickened out at the last second and instead came out with Why you don’t know jack about B.C. wine. Before judging we paid a visit with The Wines of British Columbia for the Judgement of B.C. The second annual cage match was hosted by the B.C. Wine Institute and took place on Tuesday, June 21, pitting 12 B.C. Wines against 12 acknowledged global benchmarks. Riesling and Pinot Noir squared off, curated by DJ Kearney and judged by a who’s who of Canadian wine writers, critics and educators, along with international WineAlign Awards judges Dr. Jamie Goode and Elaine Chukan Brown.

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How lucky we all were to have her back in the captain’s chair. Happy Canada Day @djwines #nwac16

As the week progressed, the WineAlign judges paid visits to Okanagan Crush Pad Winery in Summerland, Culmina Family Estate Winery in Oliver, Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna, Rustic Roots Winery with the Similkameen Wineries Association and Deep Roots Winery on the Naramata Bench. I tasted more than 100 wines over the course of the five days from the appellations of Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Falls, Oliver-Osoyoos, Golden Mile, Similkameen Valley and Naramata Bench. At the awards I tasted more than 500 Canadian wines.

Of greatest importance was my return to the International Chardonnay Cool Climate conference that took place between July 22nd and July 24th in Niagara. Before attending for a fourth straight year I penned The democracy of Cool Chardonnay. It was there I wrote that “plus has joined the i4c, an ideogram of addendum, a character of diversity for the fluently persuasive and forceful congress. This gathering will open its arms for colour and to allow its constituents to regale with what they do best. For an event-driven pure as single-varietal snow and formerly known exclusively as chardonnay, is this really a shocker? This is the reality of democracy.”

#cool

People bitched and moaned. How can a chardonnay conference include other grape varieties? Sacrilege and foul play they (secretly and not so secretly) complained. In the end the inclusion of red varietals confused nothing and no one. Chardonnay remained the focus and the star. No chardonnay were harmed.

We broke cool climate bread and spread chardonnay gospel with Ian D’Agata (Decanter, Vinous.com), John Szabo M.S. (Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power), Jean-François Bordet and Françoise Roure from Wines of Chablis. We tasted with sixty winemakers at the School of Cool, “Flights of Chardonnay” at Niagara District Airport and the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner at Ridley College in St. Catharines, Ontario. Red wines were poured after dinner!

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Only American presidential candidates carry babies at #i4c @coolchardonnay

We welcomed writer Kurtis Kolt from Vancouver, sommeliers Carl Villeneuve-Lepage and Elyse Lambert from Quebec. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Tex-Somm Director James Tidwell made the long trip north and a second Canadian courting immersion in as many months was performed by visionary wine raconteur Elaine Brown.

So what did Godello learn from Cool Chardonnay in 2016? Well, he found out that we have to look at organoleptics and ask a very important question. Is your expectation of a Chablis going to be the same as chardonnay made from anywhere else? More important, who are we putting this wine in front of? Ian D’agata’s take struck a Canadian chord.  He talked of “a welcome astringency characterized by piercing flavours. These are cool-climate wines.  Cool climate chardonnay is not about a long litany of fruit descriptors. If you have a cool-climate viticultural area it behooves you to give the people what they are looking for.”

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Potential is the past @Somewhereness

After i4c16 I took part in an Impromptu tasting at Ravine. Four months later the intrepid sophist Scott Zebarth and I tasted with winemaker Marty Werner for a second time. That same day we visited with J-L Groux at Stratus and with Paul Pender at Tawse. Our focus was cabernet franc. That report is coming soon and I can promise this. The 17 in 2017 and 18 in 2018 will be graced by cabernet franc. Fall events were led by the constitutive Somewhereness, as fundamental and essential as any agminate Ontario tasting can and will ever be. Then there was the Great Canadian Oysters and Wine Experience at Rodney’s Oyster House. The event was hosted by Wine Country Ontario and paired a curated who’s who of Ontario VQA wines with the local iconic fare. Exceptional all around.

%22ill-do-what-i-can-so-you-can-be-what-you-do-%22-rodneystoronto-coasttocoast-oysters-winecountryontario-dukes-peioysters-bcoysters-elliotsmith-greatcanadianoystersandwineexperience

“I’ll do what I can so you can be what you do.” @rodneystoronto #coasttocoast #oysters #winecountryontario #dukes #peioysters #bcoysters #elliotsmith #greatcanadianoystersandwineexperience

Where are we now?

Despite all the talk of rules, regulations and governing boards that restrict movement, labelling and profits, the Canadian landscape is evolving in a beneficent direction. Though the move to loosen monopoly control and increase competition has backfired in the short term, corrections to British Columbia’s wine trade will happen, sort itself out and right the ship. Decades of bureaucracy don’t dismantle and do right by the consumer overnight. Things always get worse before they get better. The move to supermarkets in Ontario is indeed one of smoke and mirrors but it opens the door to gaining advantage through loopholes and creative minds kickstarting new business ventures. The wave to privatization can no longer be averted or snuffed out. Momentum will gain traction and open the flood gates to wine trade nirvana.

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The man, the chardonnay @normhardie #princeedwardcounty ’14 #vqa #winecountryontario “As sure as fire will burn There’s one thing you will learn Is things you have cherished Are things that you have earned.” #tomwaits #littleman

Canadian wines run more or less of their own accord, not so much thanks to the winemakers or the condition of the current culture, as in spite of them. And certainly 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 often powerful Canadian wines that were often too spare, so that the ribs of tannin showed through in painful obviousness. The embracing of cool climate idiosyncrasy and unique-somewhereness make Canada the envy of the developing wine world.

Controversy

Now this. VQA is expected to pass regulatory approval and introduce a new category of wines called “skin contact whites.” While Orange wines are the most notable example of skin contact whites, who’s to say the ambiguity of the designation could not impel the inclusion of other cabalistic and achromatic specimens? Let’s look at Riesling as a perfect example.

skin-contact-riesling-from-mackbrisbois-trailestatewine-invisibly-stitched-and-tart-pan-curl-burgunder-less-than-50-cases-hughes-lakeview-foxcroft

Skin contact #Riesling from @MackBrisbois @TrailEstateWine Invisibly stitched and tart-pan curl. #burgunder less than 50 cases #hughes #lakeview #foxcroft

Leaning Post’s The Geek, Trail Estate’s Skin Contact Foxcroft and Pearl Morissette’s Blackball are all atypical, mad scientist outtakes. Will the new category allow these wines to pass easily through the borders of VQA? Will the wall regarding place of origin on labelling be the next to crumble? Let’s hope reason in the name of progress born out of trust for altruistic and dedicated producers will carry through to a new frontier. Right Bruno and Jens?

New Kid in Town

You might notice that all 16 wines I have chosen are from very established producers. The next wave of young winemakers and wineries is taking shape in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and especially in Nova Scotia. I would expect new kids on the list in the coming years. I want you all to know that I traveled through great pains, algorithmic calculations and much unavoidable emotion to arrive at this rocking list. For every wine that made the grade there were three more that narrowly missed. They are all important but these 16 combine lyricism with melody. They write the songs.

Flat Rock Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara PeninsulaPhoto: Brian Barton - Guelph, Ontario

Flat Rock Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula
Photo: Brian Barton – Guelph, Ontario

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (1552, $24.95, WineAlign)

It’s as if this label had bided all this time to be the benefactor of 2013 fruit. This Rusty Shed, this 20 miler with the track record to age, a wine that sheds baby fat over a 10 year mineral through echelon stratum, in ways few other peninsula to bench chardonnay can do. This Jay Johnston handled surfer of a wine, buoyant and balanced, centred and able to withstand turbulence, oscillation and tidal sway. Here with sumptuous and spiralled fruit gaged in lode intervals and a tartness held in lope and line by a membrane of extract and tannin. Best ever. Showing well, repeatedly and to forecasted repute. Impressing critics and consumers alike. Bravo. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted June 2016  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

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Sometimes there comes a wine, of the impossible, at the frontier. This by @SynchromeshWine #riesling #stormhavenvineyard #okanaganfalls #8.9%

Synchromesh Riesling Storm Haven Vineyard 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.90, WineAlign)

If this riesling is sweet I couldn’t say. That is the first thought that comes to mind. From Alan Dickinson’s home property, this is his baby, an Okanagan Falls derived riesling that lives an entirely holistic existence. No spraying, none, nada, niente. Not ever. The wine could not get any cleaner. Purity is its cognomen. The vineyard is subject to the highest diurnal temperature swing than just about anywhere in the valley. That might explain the risk-reward probability factor. The technical specs are a triumvirate of implausibility; 46 g/L RS, 11.5 g/L TA and pH below three. What? This is the most impossible wine made in B.C. In its concentrated velocity it wheezes like something ancient. We could almost be drinking Greek debina or 20 year-old Alsatian auxerrois. Dickinson makes three passes over each of the two blocks so even if the hands are off, the meticulous picking breeds asepsis. Citrus such as found in the Storm Haven fruit does not happen very often, if rarely. It’s like citrus soma. Citrus unknowable out of determination unthinkable. Direct misunderstanding by indirect whimsy. And so the vintage offers good fun but not greatness. Imagine the possibilities. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted June 2015  @SynchromeshWine

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Ah, geek out, le geek, c’est chic @LeaningPostWine #pinotnoir & #riesling lees experiments #pushingboundaries

Leaning Post Riesling “The Geek” 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Senchuk and swot-out cohort Ryan de Witte pulled 350 litres of riesling aside, accoutred with all readily available lees and shacked the whole gross mess in tank together, Vinification was completed at nine grams (RS) nearly-dry, in what can only be described as a reductive, cloudy, super-geeky riesling. Acquires an increased resonance from its designation stowed at a way station on what really is a longer, personal journey. The 2015 will be bone dry and like this ’14 will sit for 18 months in encouragement of a truly experimental, waiting for something to happen riesling. Time will act to fill in the gaps and increase its already developed texture. If you have ever had the pleasure you will see this as Jean-Pierre Frick-ish to be sure. When asked the question, he ‘The Geek’ will repeatedly reply, “I am not ready.” Drink 2018-2022.   Tasted March 2016  @LeaningPostWine  @Witte_Wine

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If the establishment wants what you got give it to them. Blackball ’14 #riesling by @PearlMorissette

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2014, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (416073, $32.20, WineAlign)

One whiff and you are hep to what can only be Pearl Morissette, but with a neoteric twist. Riesling that flaunts full-frontal, of furthered acidity, vitality and multi-tined nuance. Farther too of age advanced but without any quirky or funky naturalist intrusion. Already chill, relaxed and with thanks to the vintage, almost round. The precise weave is tapestry fine and deceptively simple, what François Morissette likes to call a “crystallized cream of texture.” The oversized 2012 still digests itself, ’13 is organoleptically structured, long and cool. But ’14? A ‘no foudres’ vintage, from 100 per cent concrete fermentation, wild through malolactic and with zero grams of residual sugar. Bone dry. Concrete was chosen for must intricacy, palate texture, flavour and necessary balance. Riesling borne of crunchy, concrete desire, bright, with preserved lemon across the palate, gentle, feminine and beautiful. This is the focused consistency in loyalty to ’12 and ’13. Try and stereotype this Black Ball to Vin Nature funk. I dare you. Pour it in an expansive Ontario riesling flight and it will stand out like a solar flare in a fulmination of fireworks. There will be no mid-life, black hole of disappearance crisis. It will always be fine and pristine, drink well, like an impossibly dry version of a Coulée de Serrant. Only 186 cases were made so yes, the Blackball is a wine of very small production. Establishes yet another reference point and just wait for ’15. That vintage will deliver the greatest of bones. The new age will really launch then. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted November 2016  @PearlMorissette  @lassvet

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Sincerity @CulminaWinery from Elaine & Don Triggs and a superfluity of @WineBCdotcom pours #ohwhatanight #hospitality #nwac16

Maverick Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Bertus Albertyn bottled a meagre 200 cases of this Golden Mile Bench sourced syrah after 18 months in three to four year-old French Oak. If you are a fan of fresh, well-spoken, confident and blessedly transparent syrah then look for the next vintage of this sold out beauty. So gauzy gossamer textured, peppery but of scant bite and driven by a northern, smoky beat. The cure and depth in its make-up nearly adds up to beefy but its form of athleticism is built upon the quiet politesse of its maker’s execution. The comparison must be made to septentrional Rhône and the lack of new oak is so appreciated. This is a wine to watch for. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @MaverickWinery

Charles Baker Rieslings

Charles Baker Rieslings

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

There was this intuitive moment with Picone 2013 as if it was waiting on me. Not doting or soliciting, but waiting. I will admit to have been wondering, reeling and speculating. To peer or peek into what Mark Picone’s Vinemount Ridge vineyard would adjudge and then bestow Charles Baker’s riesling in 2013? Would it be a case of weight, hyperbole, a hang in the balance out of misjudged necessity? Nah. Picone is no longer a mature 20 year-old vineyard but now a wise old thirty year-old one. Picone 2013 is in fact a fun park mirrored image of itself, with haughty, aerified aromas and variegated, leaning to tropical fruit flavours, taut like a flock in line with the vintage. The riesling berries just seem to have imploded and the results that have followed are nothing if not intense. Imagine a Yogyakarta market and a two-wheeled, glass-cased push cart stacked with a pyramid of tart mangoes. The fruit had been picked just as the sugars had begun to run like sap and bleed sticky on the cracking skin. A mango is sliced and doused with the intensity of Java lime juice and then sprinkled with Laut Jawa salt. The flavours are searing, sweetly saline and quenching. Only this tart is this, where tart and acidity meet, intertwine and connect on an emotional level. Picone 2013. The first non-inoculated riesling at first and then touched up near the end. “The best vintage you could ask for in riesling,” notes Baker, “cloud-covered, a meeting of the minds, vibrant.” The arid, cranky one will live without fret for 15 years. Drink 2018-2028.  First tasted in March of 2015, then twice, October 2016  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Csv Blanc De Blancs Brut 2008, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

As expected the Cave Spring 2008 Chardonnay Sparkling solicits thoughts and ideas centred around age. It elicits a complexity response and one taste means a succumbing to the contagion of its vitality. With its autolytic character shining bright, Cave Spring’s BdeB acts out a fantasy up on a silver screen. Another seven year itch is realized in guaranteed Ontario age ability. Has acted way past simple citrus and yet remains a little closed, just now entering the window of showmanship. Another year or two and this will vie for an Oscar. The bubble program production is unparalleled at Cave Spring, perhaps more than any studio in Ontario.  Tasted February 2016  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

Nuit Blanche is one of Canada’s most unique commodities, a White Meritage (of sauvignon blanc and sémillon) blended from exceptional and aromatically delicate Rosomel Vineyard fruit. As part of Hidden Bench’s “Terroir Series” it righteously expresses white Bordeaux varietal purity from the southern blocks of the Beamsville Bench vineyard. Expectation runs high because 2014 seems a perfect Fumé Blanc vintage if ever there will be one for (40 year-old) vineyards tucked snugly in abutment to the Niagara Escarpment. A struck flint nosing entry is followed by taut strung acidity and palate tension eased by a fictionalized adult cotton candy, wisps of smoke, honey and lanolin. The grace of it all is hidden beneath a filigree of molecular green apple caviar gastronomy. In 2014 Nuit Blanche reflects propriety, elegance and genteel balance, caressed from the hands of winemaker Marlize Beyers. It is as if Beyers let this ferment slip away as a parent would encourage a child who is ready to leave the home. After tasting it at Gold Medal Plates in Toronto I spent a sleepless night, not from restlessness or over-indulgent behaviour but because I wished to pull an all-nighter with the best ever sauvignon blanc bled and led Ontario white. I would suggest leaving this be for two years for the subtle though generous barrel to melt into fruit but time will gather for up to two decades before the sun sets on the 2014 Nuit Blanche. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted November 2016  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron  @ImportWineMAFWM  @MarkAnthonyWine

Mini #lonnasblock @RavineVineyard Cabernet Franc vertical. Loaded with the S-word...structure @marty_werner #i4c16

Mini #lonnasblock @RavineVineyard Cabernet Franc vertical. Loaded with the S-word…structure @marty_werner #i4c16

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Lonna’s Block 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

Lonna’a Block alights straight out from the retail shop to the west side of the driveway (and is named for Ravine owner Norma Jean Harber’s sister). The site was planted in 2004 and here, 10 years on, its warm St. Davids’ Bench fruit is simply welling, hermetically sealed and antithetically intense. The block has come to this, in production of cabernet franc with side-splitting, tongue tripping acidity to work lightning crack geometry into the wood-derived chocolate and the ferric-tannic tension. The fissures are filled but there is the right kind of cabernet franc fragmentation. The liquid metal mineral and deep blackberry ooze is smooth and polished. The fruit was “picked early,” or if you will, in Grouxian, Gambleized and risk, Werner reward exercised terms, mid-November. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted July 2016  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

Creekside Broken Press Syrah Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $42.95, WineAlign)

Creekside’s website waxes about the vintage, noting “the 2012 growing season felt like it had been imported up from California.” This is a type of pragmatic truth (as opposed to correspondent or coherent) because it is useful in applying winemaker Rob Powers’ gathering of phenolic ripeness in lieu of extraneous matter to make this Broken Press. When perfect provisos give you perfect fruit you listen to the winds of the vintage and just go with it. Viognier conditions the mess of richness with more pragmatism in 2012, lifting the aromatics and hooking the rug, up and away from drought conditioning. This BP dips into the earth of the northern Rhône to recover its fearless tactility. And so you feel the autumn’s moderate, crucial rainfall in this wine, its warm days and cool nights. The harvest on October 2nd from the St. David’s Bench Queenston Road Vineyard amounted to nine barrels, eight older French and one new Hungarian, leading to 210 cases. This is the best Syrah from QRV made to date. It will live long because of that aforementioned pragmatic truth. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted March 2016  @CreeksideWine  @AMH_hobbsandco  @hobbsandco

J.L. Groux, Winemaker, Stratus Vineyards Photo: Michael Godel

J.L. Groux, Winemaker, Stratus Vineyards
Photo: Michael Godel

Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (131037, $44.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus Red 2012 resides both in a virtuoso’s hollow and in a pantheon inhabited by some of Niagara’s great reds. The fact that such ripe phenology can anticipate and foretell to balance and freedom in the byplace of the blending process is nothing short of amazing. Sinuous and exact, of berries so indefatigable, layering raspberry over blackberry atop strawberry. Cedar and red citrus compound, without jamming the fluidity, but certainly accentuating the Fragaria vesca. Confident and fluid in movement, the ’12 neither shakes nor stirs and its acidity is flat out terrific. At this early point in its evolution it is showing as well as could be expected, or hoped for. Its core of fraises du bois will always be there. Time will be kind, gentle and patient. Drink 2015-2024.   Tasted April and June 2015  @StratusWines

bachelder

Bachelder Pinot Noir Wismer Parke Vineyard 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

Thomas Bachelder has never had a problem with timing. His first pinot noir from the specific Wismer Parke Vineyard (labeled as such) comes from a veritable cracking jackpot of a great varietal vintage. If you need some geographical placement here, The Parke is contiguous to the Foxcroft and Wingfield sections of Wismer in the eight farm-strong holdings on and around the Twenty Mile Bench. It is here that Bachelder concentrates the microscope on a sectional-cordoned off Wismer micro-terroir and its precision-apportioned mineralogy mined for sidetracked and step out of the box focus. What The Parke delivers in 2014 is a sweeter extract than Wismer proper and one that is stationary, static and accessible. The overall grasp is a mouthful easy on the spice or rather subtle in attack after it has climbed in and out of its barrels. Most polls would place Lowrey at the pinnacle of Ontario’s pinot noir vineyards but Thomas Bachelder’s 2014 work with Wismer Parke establishes a new player on the shortlist. This is an exciting entry point and the future will be bright. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted October 2016  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $45.20, WineAlign)

A second taste four months later confirms the impossibility from Hardie in 2014, a vintage that just begs for Norm’s magic handling, from exemplary, slow-developed fruit off of a vintage’s hyperbole of low-yielding vines. The low alcohol continuum persists, the freshness and richness of County berries magnifies and the development of flavour is beyond and above. The tart is a membrane and the sweetness a virtue, feigned and delicate. Tremendous work made easy by Norm and a pinot noir that will live longer than any he has produced before. Drink 2017-2027.  Last tasted August 2016

In Prince Edward County and for pinot noir there is no substitute and no comparison. Quixotically sweet pinot noir fruit, from the lowest of the low yields, scrupulously heeded and handled with care and yet also, somehow without a care to the world. As self-effacingly pretty and impossible as ever though in 2014 the tensity is lower, the anxiety bereft and not so crucially or dearly developed. There is almost no crisis from out of this first of the near-crisis vintages. This is an early to love Norm pinot noir, brought to life and with red citrus that only a Hardie low alcohol pinot can bring. Humility only exceeded by impossibility. Ready to enjoy younger than most.  Tasted April 2016  @normhardie

a-back-pages-cabernetfranc-moment-with-paul-pender-tawse_winery-wismervineyards-everythingfranc-2007-vanbers

A back pages #cabernetfranc moment with Paul Pender @Tawse_Winery @wismervineyards #everythingfranc #2007 #vanbers

Tawse Cabernet Franc Van Bers Vineyard 2007, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $49.95, WineAlign)

The state of freshness is static, a sameness that is mostly impossible but the perfume is settled and obvious, of violets and blackberries, closer to ’12 than ’10. Hot and dry but still, balanced. Tasted blind there would be no way of knowing where or from when this was. Sure Bordeaux could be imagined but Niagara, Beamsville Bench, Lincoln Lakeshore, Creek Shoes, or the confluence of the three? How could you know. Two years ago this opening began and now the invitation reads with utter clarity, the door widely agape. There seemingly is not a single moment of aromatic evolution and the acidity rages with great vibrancy. The longevity factor is in my friends. Paul Pender knew then what he knows now, at least with respect to cabernet franc. It’s like this. Just like this. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted October 2016  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

Benjamin Bridge Wines from left to right:

Benjamin Bridge Wines

Benjamin Bridge Brut 2011, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (381533, $49.00, WineAlign)

First sips were blind at #i4c16 with ripeness and yeasty lees so apparent early and smouldering, flinty and then turned to citrus, freshness and acidity. Burgundian-Champagne dichotomous directional pull, certainly, though with eyes shut tight imagination travels and falls on a far east Canadian clime, though likely from an early ripening site. As in October. The reveal presents the first Blanc de Blancs in Benjamin Bridge Brut form, taking the cue from an exemplary vintage for chardonnay to go it alone, leaving seyval blanc and l’acadie behind as Nova Scotian relics of a bygone era. Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers cants with insightful eloquence. “It’s in our collective consciousness to say that white wines will rely on acidity while reds are determined by phenolics. (The science of) pH will help to locate electrons between reduction and oxidation. It’s a very eccentric proposition, being on the edge of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. Lodi harvested pinot noir yesterday. We are harvesting in November. The beauty of moderation is that it’s a step away from the model of extremes. Our ability to ripen fruit and preserve the Titratable Acidity at unspoiled levels is going to translate into tension and ageability.” This Brut 2011 is far too young, extremely bright and blessed with so much citrus. The level of lemon is extraordinary. Just as recent past tastes of the Brut Reserve 2004 spoke of its remarkable youth, this ’11 is full of orchard fruit but it’s hard to fathom the extreme level of tightly wound strength that yet persists. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2016  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

CedarCreek

CedarCreek Amphora Wine Project Desert Ridge Meritage 2014, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $60.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Alexis Moore inherited the (Chianti sourced) clay amphora from former winemaker Daryl Brooker and this (second vintage) meritage is her first kick at the urn. The co-fermented, all natural, don’t even think about peeking and sneaking a taste blend is cabernet sauvignon (54 per cent), cabernet franc (35) and malbec (11). The hallmark desert notes of rich, caky and dusty are necessarily present but it is the preservation of red earth savour that gives this formidable flagon of magic juice its inimitable personality. Mature rows of fruit are to blame and thank for the just desert reward. Transferred to amphora the fruit is preserved in such a way no B.C. reds have ever really seen and the new territory is not so simple for making quick, on the spot judgements. I have thought about this wine for quite some time and the conclusion is positive for two important reasons. Spice and tannin. Together they combine for an infinite finish. Here is the crux of the vessel’s power, to preserve fruit and slowly release its charms within the structure provided. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted June 2016  @CedarCreekWine

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A hip of wine from Hidden Bench

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

A visit to the Beamsville Bench on a warm September morning is a beautiful thing. Facilitated by their sagacious Ontario agent Bernard Stramwasser of Le Sommelier, the royal welcome was presented at Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery. Proprietor Harald Thiel and winemaker Marlize Beyers left no barrel, vine, wine or helping left to the imagination. What a terrific day.

Marlize Beyers is as close to artisanal perfectionism as it gets on the Niagara Peninsula. The texture and grace of the wines reflect their maker. Beyers showed off the underbelly of Hidden Bench, including the 600L concrete egg fermenter (which actually holds 700L of juice). The concrete must be primed with tartaric acid before use or the egg will de-acidify the wine. What will emerge from within the thick chitinous walls of that oospore is on my future tasting agenda.

Out in the vineyard, vigneron Harald Thiel tells the story of Fel-seck, the “corner of a cliff,” in the angled nook of the Niagara Escarpment. The soil is filled with glacial till left from ancient Lake Iroquois pulled up from four retreating glaciers. “The glacial till deposit IS the Bench,” says Thiel. His winery operates on more than a quarter of the Beamsville Bench, in high density plantings. All wines are made from estate fruit. The control centre manages that fruit 24/7. The crux of the operation. And leaves.

Harald Thiel in front of Pinot Noir vines in the Felseck Vineyard

Harald Thiel in front of Pinot Noir vines in the Felseck Vineyard

Leaves are a huge preoccupation at Hidden Bench. “Rule of thumb is you need 14 leaves to ripen one bunch,” confirms Harald. Canopy leaf management is a rigorous exercise, to compensate for wrong orientation. The inherited Felseck was planted east-west, but the south gets the sun, the north not so much. The spur pruning system (as opposed to double-Guyot) works to benefit in Felseck. To compensate for the winter of ’14 and to stop the “middle-age spread,” the leaves (shoots) are kept between wires. Other benefits include less disease stress and no fruit shadowing.

Sun on the fruit in the morning is key and to avoid sunburn, the leaf orientation is managed accordingly. “Manage the umbrella leaves,” notes Thiel. What about birds? “We use 32 km’s of nets,” and no bird bangers. “Pinot Noir is the favourite varietal of birds,” because they turn colour first. Anti-aviary veraison. Insects? “We use sexual confusion to ward off (insects).” There are 7500 pheremone ties (of the Paralobesia Viteana or female Grape Berry Moth) in the vineyards. Confuses the hell out the males. Translation: No insecticides.

Harald is proud to say this about Marlize. “Winemaking is an artfully applied science.” This was Beyers’ answer to the age-old question,”art or science?” So it goes without saying that grapes are picked on flavour, not sugar levels determined in the laboratory. You take what the vintage gives and make the appropriate, corresponding wine. Ideally Chardonnay is picked at 21-22 degrees brix, but regardless, at Hidden Bench it is always picked on flavour.

Pinot Noir comes from high density planting, with one cane and a single Guyot system. Yields are Grand Cru in quantity (1.6 – 1.9 tonnes per acre or 26-28 hL/L) but not at proportionate pricing. To many a consumer and outspoken wine trade professional they are exceedingly high. Spend some time with Harald and Marlize and you may just figure out why.

The two have developed a “Bistro” line bottled for the restaurant licensee industry. The Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Red Blend and Rosé are essentially the sum total of the collected and filtered run-off from the rich and select HB vineyard pool. The Riesling ’13 slings sugar and salinity in a push-pull, posit tug. It serves up typicity with bias and honesty. The Chardonnay ’13 is a perfectly round sipper, coagulating all of Marlize’s varietal plans; canopy management, earlier picking, gentle pressing, pumpover, the management of new wood barrels – all in the name of affordable structure. The Red ’11 is composed of Cabernet Franc (68 per cent), Malbec and Merlot. The CF smothers and smoulders above the M & M’s with all its currant, tobacco and black pepper power.

Here are notes on the 16 other wines tasted at Hidden Bench that day. Not to mention a sumptuous Coq au Vin.

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2011 and Select Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2013

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2011 and Select Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2013

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

The Estate Riesling is as vigneron-defining as any wine on the Niagara Escarpment. Hidden Bench is a 100 per cent estate-fruit operation so this Riesling is spokesperson, prolocutor, mouthpiece, champion, campaigner and advocate for the concept. The estate ’13 reaches deeper for nutrient pot sweetening, into shale and in conceit of its varied, positively cultivated terroirs. Compact and jelled, this is several steps up from most other entry-level Niagara Riesling and in fact, is really anything but. The transparency here is patent. This is Riesling that simply knows what it is; pure Bench, unequivocally real and forthright. Knows what it wants to be.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (28312, $28.00, WineAlign)

Felseck, “the corner of the cliff,” creates twisted Riesling, as per the directive in this angled, mineral nook of the Niagara Escarpment. Choose your planting politics if you will, left of centre Chardonnay or right of the compass Riesling, to determine which one speaks in the amphitheater’s clearest varietal vernacular. If sugar is a determinant or a catalyst in this ’13, it would take a zafrero to suss out that truth because sweetness succumbs to noble bitterness. The Felseck Riesling mixes ginger in tonic in a hyper-linear solution. It’s tightly wound, like a spooled reel rid of memory and twisting. A soldier marching in patriotic allegiance, to the soil and to the maker. There is no hurry to drink this ’13. Its pot will sweeten after the fighting’s done.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Roman’s Block Riesling 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Of the estate’s Rosomel Vineyard from vines exceeding 35 years in age. This is the belletristic Riesling in the Hidden Bench stable, handled with mathematical precision and utmost care; specific sun exposure, green harvesting, low yields (29.4 L/hL) and a free run juice cap at (500 L). The density and distinct crux of the Bench nook character circulates aromatics in through the out-door. Lime melds to lemon and returns. The wine is plentiful, nearly generous but not all is sweet and amenable. Roman is policed by wild sage in dusty herbal efficacy unleashed. Honey is a fleeting tease but the numeral knowledge indicates mellifluous viscosity down the road. This is Riesling of finesse to realize power and sting. “It’s murder by numbers, one, two, three. It’s as easy to learn as your ABC’s.” Wait five years and settle with Roman’s synchronicity for five years more.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (278812, $40.00, WineAlign)

Taking what the vintage gives, Rosomel’s Sauvignon Blanc was king in 2012, dominating at a 95 per cent share of the Bordeaux-styled blend with Sémillon. Barrels were stirred weekly during fermentation and the creamy texture thanks that regimen, as does the tannic fullness of the round back-end. It rocks out bracing, formidable and nobly bitter, in pear and its pith, in lemon, of rind and in curd. The SB lounges in tall grasses but avoids goose feathers and blanching veg. So very savoury, in gorse tension, thistle and nettle. These notes all cut through the roundness and are finally tied together by the flinty rock of Rosomel.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2007, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (278812, $40.00, WineAlign)

The varietal components of the 2007 NB were not blended until August 2008 and then filtered to bottle. That barrel time and prior weekly stirring provided the pelage texture and now developed, tepefying character. Rumour has it I’d tasted this ’07 once before when it fact it was the ’08 in March of 2012. Must be the “marzipan, musky and risky, on the edge of a roasted, toasted Nutella thing.” The Niagara white Bordeaux idiom and its use of prime vineyard space has yet to prove itself so to this Nuit Blanche I would say, “you made my heart melt, yet I’m cold to the core.” Perhaps by ‘21 that attitude will have changed.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Gewürztraminer Felseck Vineyard 2012, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $28.00)

The key to ripeness is sunlight, something both 2012 and the practice of leaf removal on the East sides of the canopy gave this Felseck stunner. Oh so full with a hint of that typical glycerin and bitter pith so necessary for definition. This reminds me of an off-dry Zind-Humbrecht take, with its late feel of residual sugar and planing finish. There is a wonderfully humid condensation of south Asian drupe and fruit moisture droplet, never in syrup, but rather on the glistening, post-rain skin. Top Bench example.  Tasted September 2014

East sides of the canopy to encourage fruit ripening

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

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

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

The richness has yet to melt away, nor will it likely do so any time soon. Must give credit where due; ’10 managed to seek out tempering acidity where it was not necessarily in sui generis mind, nor did it want to be found. From my earlier March 2013 note: “Akin to Russian River Valley, allowing the comparison, in platinum, edging to gold and in stony, mineral rigidity. Tends to the orchard in a fell swoop of swelling fruit. Nobody does it better on the Bench. The sec who loves me, “makes me feel sad for the rest.”  Last tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (20906, $45.00, WineAlign)

Tête De Cuvée by Hidden Bench, like a Champagne best of the best abstraction, makes an appeal to self-esteem and esteem for others, to consumers who have come to recognize Niagara and even more specifically, the Beamsville Bench for head of the class, cool climate Chardonnay. That mouthful congregates and works in congruence with the quality in the Tête’s composition; full-on freshness, density, weeping cerate texture, toasted and popping kernel, fine-grained localization, utterly integrated barrel. There was scant quantity (32.5 hL/h) from some very old and wise vines, pronounced like others but louder than most, from the bullhorn of a stentorian vintage. What is felt and spoken about the quality inherent from out of the finest parcels in the Locust Lane and Rosomel Vineyards Chardonnay fruit is more than a patent observation. The ability to take on toast cuts to the nougat and the synoptic rises to the ethereal ozone. Not to mention gross minerality. On the shortlist for best Niagara Chardonnay to date. Drink now and beyond 2025.  Tasted twice, September  and October 2014

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (274753, $29.95, WineAlign)

Now into the mid-point of its six to seven year life, this essential Bench Pinot brings worlds together. A toffee, taffy, salted (not caramelized) caramel mulch comes from pinpoint smoke oak. Has a palpable sende of chew and density. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Five months more in bottle has come to this, a Bench perfumed state of mind. On a red raspberry road to absolution. The international coat has now begun to surrender to the maturity and wisdom of the local vine’s intellect, its maker and overseer acting as artificers in planned execution.” From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Deeper, earthier, decreased propriety and more pelage than the previous two vintages. I sense longer hang time, more redress and slower slumber. In Hidden Bench I thought I knew and would always associate with a specific Pinot Noir feel but this ’11 confounds. In a way, that is a large compliment. Fruit reminiscent of a top Central Otago in that it grips my Pinot interest if not my Ontario heart.”  Last tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2007, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (274753, $29.95, WineAlign)

The summer swelter of the 2007 vintage was not lost on this Pinot Noir and although the black fruit spectrum was picked clean from all available plum, fig and cherries, they and their tannins have evolved in clemency and snug harmony. That and a whipped beet shake of hide, vanilla and lavender.  This would be a diverting and polarizing ringer to toss into a blind tasting.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

Transplants Nuits-Saint-Georges into the coliseum of Felseck with frisky and fine-grained tannin. The aromatic aggregate of flowers, orange grove and red cherry is akin to Les Perrières. This is micro-managed, micro-plot Niagara at its very core, the diminutive, wee berries singing the nook’s furtive, foxy and salient song. The late bitter note is both beautiful and honed in on the vineyard’s frequency. Graphite trails with back-end nerve. This Felseck has entered the zone. Drink over the next three years.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

On benches all along the Niagara Escarpment, each single-vineyard grown, vinified and bottled Pinot Noir has an affinity for a particular vintage. The Locust Lane and 2010 share a commonality that exceeds the level of companionship seen in the more rigid, bookend vintages of ’09 and ’11. Here is the richest density, though still teasing and leaning against the black cherry tree. There is a limestone, Alsatian, Albert Mann thing going on, rolling like thunder, bobbing like drinking birds. Still formidable, the stuffing yet burst from its cloud. A sniff and a sip of the ’10 “and the locusts sang, yeah, it give me a chill. Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody.” The vineyard takes heat and gives Pinot Noir its energy. The ardor will slowly release over the next eight to 10 years.  Tasted September 2014

http://rd3.videos.sapo.pt/playhtml?file=http://rd3.videos.sapo.pt/2GntSr2rbWHU3Gg0DLdK/mov/1

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.00, WineAlign)

With another summer beneath its brooding belt, the aromatics are now in full flight. From my earlier, June 2014 note: “The richest Terroir Caché to date, making use of its barrel in judicious but never obnoxious ways. Huge Bench wine, needs 10 years for sure. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “No other Niagara red and for sure no alternative Peninsula Bordeaux blend exists in such a vacuum of dichotomous behaviour. Act one is an out-and-out boastful, opulent show of Rococo. Act two a gnawing and gnashing by beasts. The pitch and pull of the Terroir Caché 2010 optates and culls the extraordinary through the practice of extended délestage, what Hidden Bench notes as “a traditional method of gently draining the wine and returning it to tank with its skins during fermentation.” The ’10 is about as huge as it gets, highly ferric and tannic. Still chemically reactive, you can almost imagine its once small molecules fitfully growing into long chains. Berries of the darkest night and he who should not be named black fruit are confounded by minerals forcing the juice into a cold sweat. Will require a minimum of 10 years to soften its all-powerful grip. From my earlier March 2013 note: “Has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine.”  Last tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $75.00, WineAlign)

Welcome to the world ’11 LB, the flotilla leader in the Hidden Bench brigade. This fierce Bordeaux-styled blend of exemplary fruit out of the three Estate parcels is composed from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Not home from a hot climate, and not the most likely candidate to be made in the 2011 vintage, La Brunante is “like a mudship becalmed in a rusty bay cracking with an emboldened abandon.” Bottled in a strong compression but without aggression, it lies in wait, creaking, twitching, smoldering and aching with desire. When it should be released, somewhere up to 10 years down the road, it will sail, cutting through waves of tannin, with multiple berries, dust, diesel and into a show that never ends.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The benchmark for such a rare Niagara animal is of course Alsace and more specifically the iconic and consumer-recognizable brands such as Zind-Humbrecht and Domaine Weinbach from the Hengst and Furstentum Grand Crus. This HB is decidedly not that. Even the kings of Alsace late harvest only go to bofttle in the finest vintages, when a level upwards of 50 percent botrytis is achieved. After a few freeze/thaw cycles the fruit was picked on the 28th of November. The ’13 Vendanges Tardives has the subtlety and attributes to call itself VT, with residual sugar (119 g/L) and alcohol (10.5 per cent) numbers in line. Near-needed acidity, PH and exceptional phenolic character mix to balance and so the reduction in sweetness is nicely tempered. Pears meet apricots in hinted whispers. As per the Alsatian requiem, this never enters the arena of the cloyingly sweet and absurd. Utilitarian to a fundamental degree, in the end I would have liked more acidity in this very pretty wine.  Tasted September 2014

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