Fifty ways to Taste Ontario

The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. That much I’ve said before and this. “Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.”

Related – Where does the taste of Ontario go from here?

Though it’s not always obvious at what time of year the event will happen, the annual get to know Ontario wines gathering’s 2017 parlay affectionately known as Taste Ontario Toronto was held a week ago today, on Monday, March. 6, 2017 at the Royal Ontario Museum. The number of Ontario vintners who have participated in Taste Ontario over the past five years seems as random as it is consistent. We’ve seen as few as 30, as many as 55 and 42 participants in 2017. I’ve been tracking varietal representation and this year considered a cease and desist order for placing a trending finger on the pulse of any given grape.

Related – Why taste Ontario?

Chardonnay rules, plain and simple and call it risk aversion if you must but why should Ontario shy away from developing the coolest climate designation on the planet? Chardonnay works and if you’ve spent any quality immersion time in Chablis you’ll drop the fight and join the team. Gamay remains an important and viable alternative to big bad reds but please, enough with trying to dress this sheep in wolf’s clothing. Cabernet Franc is getting better all the time. With thanks to venn diagram circles drawn in and out of the Lincoln Lakeshore but also magically deep into the Prince Edward County limestone, the great Ontario hope is developing into what we thought it might be. Getable and structured red wine.

Related – Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality

I don’t always taste Ontario but when I do I like to do it with Mike Di Caro. Mike grounds me and tasting by his side helps to keep my pulse at a healthy, wine tasting athletic rate of 40 – 60 beats per minute. Mike knows Ontario wine and never gets too high or too low. Tasting with him as Michael to his Mike I get to hang out inside the kind of discourse that delves into the ground, the makers and the market. Mike knows.

Related – Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

With so many other opportunities to taste Ontario wines throughout the year, last week’s staging afforded the chance to re-taste a great number. These new assessments are so important to understanding and gaining new perspective on not just how our wines age but also how they are affected by early reductive environment shock and their ability to change (for the better) after a mere six to 12 months in bottle. The first snapshots are not always the clearest. Taste Ontario also brings new wineries to the table. It’s now my job to pay them visits. Here are 50 ways to Taste Ontario.

Sparkling

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Traditional Method Sparkling 2010, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (383315, $29.95, WineAlign)

Time makes a difference so here the extended lees age (six months further, to 60) takes Riddled to another level. Considering the cost and attention to time, in the broad realm of traditional method sparkling wine there are some that are given away. Riddled. A whole lot of biscuit warmth, sody saleratus, gingersnap, tart Ida Red apple, breadth and a smile-inducing creamy palate. There is more wisdom and calm from 2010 so do not come around demanding tension and over-exciteability. Think Grower’s Champagne with Ontario heart and soul, dedication and purpose. The extended arm of Madronich-Johnston love is here, this year. It won’t get much better than this. Great length. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted October 2016 and March 2017  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1  @wine_gems

The Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery Traditional Method Brut Rosé 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Caroline and Maggie Granger have reset the compass and brought to market this original sparkling wine with a whimsical outré bounce in its step. It was a fortifying and henna-russet collecting 40 months time spent on the lees that to me has magnified and clarified the varietal expression. This is so pinot noir it gazes at itself in a mirror and vaporizes a telluric perfume replete with strawberry, dried cherry, peach and almond. Estate fruit shed of such lithe and delicate, near zero dosage animation tempts fate, digs into danger and elicits a nervy period of risk-reward. Reflection time is now and the oxidative Grange Brut Rosé walks a fine volatile edge and succeeds. Few sparkling wines can go gossamer this way and survive but like the finest spun web by a leggy creature cunning and wise, strength comes out of the most delicate weave. Science can be pretty cool.  There were 150 cases made. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  @grangewinery

Riesling

Château Des Charmes Riesling Old Vines, Estate Bottled 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $17.95, WineAlign)

The language in ’14 is cordial and effete, with ripe sweetness trumping the pulse of energy. The old vines deliver distinct impression, compression and phenolic bitterness. There is no mistaking this distinct wine and in the vintage its clarity is only eclipsed by its easy drinking compatibility. Enjoy early. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @MBosc

2027 Cellars Riesling Falls Vineyard 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

Virtual winery producer Kevin Panagapka continues his obsession with single-vineyard wines with this riesling grown just above and south of the brow of the Niagara Escarpment. Clay loam till soils with silt and shale face south along the long, one km wide, hummocky ridge and as per the vintage, a bit of simplicity is narrowed from good biodiversity. It all works towards simple pleasure, with sun-warmed fruit; pears, apples and such. Falls Vineyard grants top notch acidity and a bit of lime bitters for what is always a solid Vinemount Ridge expression. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @2027cellars

Rosewood Origin Riesling Mima’s Block 2014, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

Smells like Bench riesling spirit. The energy comes from the über vineyard’s way of emission, gasseous and vital, linear, introspective and direct. This may just be the most aridity and brine ever teased from a Mima’s riesling, acidity coveting sugar notwithstanding, startling from beginning to end, with spirited shots of lime. Underrated and honest, the consistency of this riesling is possessive of great triggers and so beautifully defines the mineral Bench. Early suffocations blow off with ease and in the denoument there are crunchy stones, forever and always something to like. Mima’s never really needed an abundance of sugar for balance and kudos to that. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017  @Rosewoodwine

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2015, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

In a word, balance. Well two, balance and brilliance. CSV in 2015 takes the reigns from itself and stands firm. The fruit is in charge, the mineral a support system unparalleled and the minor celebratory sweetness a mere afterthought when it comes to rounding out the complexity. CSV is pretty darn back in ancient dolomite time travel and escarpments high great in 2015, uplifting, serious but yet not so. The numbers trip the light fantastic, fooling like gold and bones dry are seemingly preserved in karst but impossibly not. The sensoria apprised reel from the finest acidity it can possibly carry in its veritable truth. Deep lemon intent and a new wax vernacular speak the clarity of a wine that listens to its own expert advice. Might as well have made itself. CSV 2015 is one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted March 2017  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

Chardonnay

Redstone Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

It would be hard not to make a most drinkable and full-fleshy chardonnay from the stellar vintage, especially with the omnipresent cool tempering from Beamsville bench fruit. Redstone does not disappoint though at first it may seem both reluctant and extremely taut. The flavours stretch out more than the aromatics which are flinty, woody and tart. They will relent and meld into the palate with some further bottle time. This is classic for the house braintrust and reminiscent of sketches drawn in some earlier vintages, like 2009. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2016 and March 2017  @RedstoneWines

Henry Of Pelham Family Estate Winery Chardonnay Estate 2015, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (268342, $19.95, WineAlign)

Perhaps by virtue of the language spoken by the 2015 vintage this chardonnay is hard to crack and touched with a minor, vitality-preserving note of reduction. It will yield to swirl and air, opening up many floral blossoms, notably apple and peach. Intensity is consistent for the Short Hills Blench vineyards stalwart, both for its locked in freshness and aromatic heavy breathing with thanks to dense clay soils and their “tossed up limestone.” Think cool-climate chardonnay with added layers of compression, fervent soil tang and as of yet unresolved (one-third) new French and North Ameriacn oak. Two to three years in process from two to three bottles per vine naturally translates and extrapolates to needing two or three more years in bottle to make it all come swimmingly integrated together. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February and March 2017  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Meldville Chardonnay First Edition 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Foremost a Derek Barnett perfume, rational from a generous barrel and irrational from the ripest fruit at a twain where each meet, both matter and neither dominate. Classic Barnett chardonnay viscosity, deep tang and the sweetest of dry extract. If this isn’t the most ambitious effort early in a re-invented career it would be hard to say what is but wisdom and experience count for more than a bottom dollar. Real length in real time will develop the vanilla, honey and liqueur well into this chardonnay’s tithe year. If singular isn’t the current descriptor now, it surely will be then. A new stylistic benchmark for Lincoln Lakeshore is born. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @meldvillewines

Fielding Estate Winery Chardonnay Estate 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (355842, $21.95, WineAlign)

The vintage offered up a whole set of challenges, especially for chardonnay on the Lincoln Lakeshore. Right off the aromatic bat I sense a little extra wood on the nose but low-yielding, ripe and healthy fruit can handle that sort of vintage-related truth. The coolness of a preceeding winter’s anti-glaze is contravened by the barrel up front and personal on the nose. The palate is all about cool-climate relegation, resignation and the overall picture is painted in balance; advance, recede, attack and retreat. Finishes with love interest, commercial appeal. Pretty complex chardonnay. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2016 and March 2017  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  @Heidi_Fielding

Bachelder Chardonnay Mineralité 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $22.20, WineAlign)

Mineralité is clearly nose-marked and cleverly marketed to celebrate rocks and soil, not barrel. The fruit seems plucked straight from the apple tree, crisp, tart and crunchy. Everything about this exacting Thomas Bachelder chardonnay screams foil to most else, from his wide reaching chardonnay domain and from the rest of the province. Other mettalurgical label referenced chardonnays still reek of oak and are too shy to distance themselves from the heart of the rocky matter. Thomas is serious about the moniker and goes at it with great intent. The vintage nearly, fully completely complies. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Southbrook Vineyards Chardonnay Triomphe 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (172338, $22.95, WineAlign)

The fruit for Ann Sperling’s chardonnay Triomphe ’15 is sourced primarily from Saunders (Beamsville Bench) with auxiliary support out of Heather Laundry’s old vine Lincoln Lakeshore vineyard. There are older, non-clonal blocks with perhaps some Musqué mixed in so the aromatics fly, with no restraint applied by the wild ferment and (mostly 300L) neutral oak. This Triomphe is anything but reductive, a no stress chardonnay from such a far from sluggish, clean ferment. The simplicity and complicity explain how beauty is curated, from a vintage where reduction did not happen or beg to happen so why try to force it. The copacetic re-quiescence bears witness to classic Ann Sperling in such a vintage. Chardonnay of mellow smoulder, of old barrel spice and one to define a certain kind on a line of disparate and unique, cool climate, i4c selections. There are 800 cases made. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted January and March 2017  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling  @PaulDeCampo  @thesirengroup

@wismervineyards royalty, Craig, Thomas @Bachelder_wines & @normhardie (and delegate Peter @BouchardFinlayson ) talking north and south #vinelandbench

2027 Cellars Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (421362, $22.95, WineAlign)

The ability of Craig Wismer’s Foxcroft Block to gift fruit, regardless it seems of vintage, is one of Niagara’s great stories. Even more special is how it allows each producer to own it and create value from differentiation. Kevin Panagapka works a decidedly reductive room with bees-waxy fruit from 2014 and of a wood creativity that deals more in spice than anything else. I really think this takes more risk than other Foxcroft efforts and they are numerous. The reward here is in the pudding, literally, in proofed fruit set up for unbreakable structure. The Sonoma glade and fog rings true in Bench-driven chardonnay speak while wood only creates a leesy stir. A very good vintage, as good as the previous two I would say and creates even more buzz for what will come next. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted March 2017  @2027cellars

Creekside Estates Chardonnay Queenston Road Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

If classic Queenston Road Vineyard might be explained in one drop, try using the Creekside ’14 to do so. Riper than most Niagara fruit and easy as Sunday morning barrel influence come together for everything to gain. Here the chardonnay equivalent of reading a good book falls into lunch, followed by a mid-afternoon slumber. Mild notes of caramel and sandlawood come through on the lightly buttered rye toast palate. The only thing missing is a good slice of bacon. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @CreeksideWine

Domaine Queylus Tradition Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent489591, $24.95, WineAlign)

The vintage brings an excess of riches and richesse to the Queylus chardonnay entry point, a place you would be wise to begin your foray into high-level, carefully crafted, cool-climate wine. This 2014 offers up its tour-guide expertise as a representational bridge into what Thomas Bachelder, Kelly Mason, the Queylus team and lake-proximate, lower Bench chardonnay is all about. The vintage takes an ambitious departure for the house and yet it carries enough (short history of) tradition in its DNA to resemble past issues of itself. Such a balanced wine for you here, of ripe and tart fruit, elasticity, stretch, rebound and finally, great length. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted January and March 2017  @QueylusVin  @Dandurandwines

13th Street Chardonnay Sandstone Vineyard Reserve 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

No surprise the vintage is a major plus for the Sandstone and the natural funk it owns. And I mean owns. Only Sandstone has such geological drive, not unlike chardonnay from South Africa’s Hemel-En-Aarde Valley. In 2013 there is a sweetness to the fruit mixed with a misty humidity and finally that falling over backwards with feet stuck in the clay and the calcaire. Wildness from J. P. Colas here and with attentiveness to place and time. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted at #i4c16, July 2016  @13thStreetWines

Adamo Estate Chardonnay Oaked Willms Vineyard 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $31.00, WineAlign)

Adamo sources from the same vineyard that provides fruit for 13th Street’s Sandstone Reserve in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Planted in 1983, it is owned and farmed by Erv, Esther and Eric Willms. In its early stages the fruit acted and reacted as a lean, taut and tension fuelled chardonnay with party a sign of letting up. Eight months later the juicy flesh of orchard fruit pushes past the vintage’s grip and lets tis wine breath a sigh of relief. Chalk one up to yet another cool-climate, calcareous clay stuck moment in time. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted twice, at #i4c16, July 2016 and Taste Ontario, March 2017  @AdamoEstateWine

Westcott Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay 2015, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $31.20, WineAlign)

I don’t mean to skip forward and get ahead of Westcott’s aromatic propriety but knowing how a winemaker likes to celebrate texture and flavour sends me direct to a sip. That first taste reveals the sumptuousness of 2015 Vinemount Ridge fruit, ripe, savoury and fleshy peach-organized. Accomplishment number one for Arthur Harder and crew. An aromatic retrospective notices tradition and cool-climate reserve, as the name would suggest and then a full-on conversion moving forward, back to the present and into the variegated luxe of flavour gifted to mouthfeel. I love how this wine lingers with an almost analgesic sensation on the gums and up the sides of the mouth. If at moments it may seem too warm or right of balancing centre it is only because it has the gumption to test and heighten the senses. If any Peninsula chardonnay were a drug that could lead to addiction, Westcott’s ’15 is the one. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @WestcottWines

Icellars Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

The aromatic hard to get personality is intriguing, not because of absence but due to a gentle wisdom and beautiful demure lurking behind the veil. I get the extract and the mineral quality inherent but need more. The palate gives more and more, especially a calcareous sensation and the lean qualities throughout are neither deficient nor bothersome. This is ambitiously market-introduced chardonnay created without getting ahead of itself and though the best the fruit has to offer is not quite coaxed, nothing has been added to distract or suppress what orchard fruit is there. Great appreciation is afforded the winemaker for keeping it simple, unadulterated and real. Drink 2017-2010.  Tasted March 2017  @FoolAnd60Acres

Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

Sometimes time matters. A year later the South Clos in 2014 has separated itself as the true Closson star, away from the CCV in ways it did not do in 2013, or before. The range of motion, aromas and flavours are dramatic and in beautiful flux, beginning with top notch orchard and stone fruit. The southern hill’s intense stony quality infiltrates before this opens up to reveal flavours as broad as the varietal spectrum will alow. If fruit slightly dehydrated, leather chewy and mille-feuille layered with fine, limestone wire interlocking are something of great appeal then chew on this South Clos for the next seven years. The texture and the length are wholly encouraging of the exercise. The score must change and the window be expanded. Drink 2018-2025.  Last tasted March 2017  @ClossonChase

The 2014 CCV South Clos Chardonnay is imbued with less tension, more elegance and fully-aclimatized cool-climate bent. It’s a linear, calm and directed soul raised from Prince Edward County soil royalty. The vintage offers up low-crop, scrupulously cropped stable if unexceptional fruit. This from a portion of the vineyard with the ability to plateau what can otherwise get season’s growth-mired in the proverbial middle of the road. Though not so tart, nor tense neither, there is a sense of tannic zest. Cool and precise, this represents concrete work from incumbent winemaker Keith Tyers. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted February 2016

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

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $45.20, WineAlign)

So much locked in tight obscures the coaxing of a distinct and clear impression of Norman Hardie’s ’14 County chardonnay so I search for a reference point. There is danger in drawing comparisons between two single-vineyards and even more so Niagara to Prince Edward County, but I have to go there. Norman Hardie’s 2014 Niagara chardonnay is the rich and reductive, bullet-proof one. His extreme, hard as nails ’14 PEC counterpart may be the most mineral-focused ever produced off of County soils. The ferment spent 10 months in barrel plus 10 more in stainless steel and never fully completed malolactic. Chablis never had it so good. I can’t ever before recall this flirtatious and furtive combination conjoined by preserved lemon and ginger but also the smell of the apple orchard grinding through metal gears in the cider press. The magnitude of this ’14 chardonnay is felt even before the flavours begin their reveal because the layers of texture and tang are nothing short of remarkable. Hardie has gone for structure broke from this vintage reeling with impression, soliciting oyster, lobster and grand gustatory associations. There is so much going on, eliciting a response that imagines a change in direction and at least an unconscious metaphrasing of terroir. With this formidable chardonnay the idea of better or worse for Niagara versus PEC is finally laid to rest. Vintage rules. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @normhardie

Southbrook Vineyards Chardonnay Poetica 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $49.95, WineAlign)

Always Ontario’s outlier, eccentric and non-conformist chardonnay and I say this with complimentary, best of intention flattery. The 2013 vintage is simply chivalrous to chardonnay and in Poetica’s corner, a perfect calm case of preux meets elegante. Here is a chardonnay of inherent oxidative wisdom, from cloud cover, cool, long breaths of Niagara air well into the elongated autumn and the address for what I refer to as “the age apparent one.” The iconoclast Poetica ideal conforms because it is matched with equal breadth by richness of fruit and confirms the way Ann Sperling makes her signature wine. Tasted blind my first guess would put this at five years old because of the exuding warmth so 2010 might just be the order. A 2012 Bench chardonnay might have also been the answer. But with Poetica the promise is like Meursault with uptown fruit, honey, vanilla, caramel, a Niagara vapour and ethanol. Such a telling display that only Poetica can play. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted October 2016, January and March 2017  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling  @PaulDeCampo  @thesirengroup

CHABROL. That is all. #snacks @chabrolto

Other Whites and Blends

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

With a string of no less than five well-executed and received pinot gris vintages tucked comfortably like brass in pocket, Malivoire’s pinot gris 2015 goes one step deeper. No pretender or pretension but yes with compression in ’15, noting melon and lime, white stone fruit, not dense but layered. More Alsace than before and poured blind would always and only be pinot gris. In the hands of Shiaz Mottiar the ’15 knows and says it. “Intention, I feel inventive. Gonna make you, make you, make you notice.” Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted January and March 2017  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @GroupeSoleilTO

Meldville Sauvignon Blanc First Edition 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Not so much an aromatic sucess for sauvignon blanc though some faux botrytis in the guise of white peach and even mango is nosed. It is the palate that defines Derek Barnett’s First Edition and offers up description. Quite creamy in texture, tangy again from mango and then sharp and linear with the type of acidity that folds over itself to increase the notion and the effect that leesy textures creates. This lingers on the palate like a tropical pastille and sapidity is very real. It’s classic antithetical Niagara Peninsula sauvignon blanc and could not be confused with Marlborough, Elgin, Sancerre or any other varietal play in the great diaspora. Derek Barnett takes less risk here (as compared to his chardonnay) but at the same time perpetuates the marked differences in expression of NP sauvignon blanc. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @meldvillewines

Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Does not get much fresher in Viognier, anywhere. The tank has yet to leave the bottle which does not so much stand transfixed in shock as much as it buzzes like a fridge. Heady, radioactive, reductive and policed tight which I very much like. The expected flavours of peach and the pits are in while the texture thrushes inward and the linear, distillate character lashes out. Solid as a rock in a Niagara quarry. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016 and March 2017  @NyaraiCellars  @TerroirLover

The Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery Pinot Gris Select 2015, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

If you are going to go for something you may as well go all in. Maggie Granger tells me the ’15 pinot gris saw 36 hours of skin contact. My math tells me that’s a 240 per cent increase over 2013 and 2014. As I said, all in. Now we have something that raises the stakes and despite some energy flatlining the sweet extract quality has never been finer. The Grange’s ’15 and its oxidative meets lactic and red berry-currant leafy personality is remarkably pure, clean, saline and yes, unusual. Add it should be because halfway there is nowhere. This succeeds because it crosses an imaginary line and fear is ignored. I can really imagine sipping this with pork liver mousse or cured Ontario fish, like rainbow or salmon trout. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @grangewinery

The Good Earth Viognier 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Some of Ontario’s best viognier fruit comes from these picturesque vineyards, fruit that shines with tangy delight and also takes on the weight of compression from the great clay below. I do feel the 2013 vintage was better suited to both the varietal but also the way winemaker Ross Wise procured viognier in the purest form with glassy clarity. It will be most interesting to see what incumbent consulting winemaker Ilya Senchuk does with 2016 fruit going forward. Here, from what could only have been the lowest of low yields, this aromatic and treacly textured viognier is seamless and full of peach flavour. It lingers with its phenolic ripenss well into the next minute. Highly recommended especially for its lack of waxy or bitter edges. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @goodearthtweets  @goodearthNico

Stratus White 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (660704, $38.20, WineAlign)

In 2013 viognier is back in the varietal mix, in reprise of its earlier role in support of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling. A different sort of vintage here for the White, seemingly led by a circular turning of chardonnay and viognier, like a cat chasing its tail. This really goes round and round with no obvious signs of where it will stop. Quite fleshy and lime juicy with stone fruit flavours in righteous abound. Really amalgamated and seamless even for itself. It is here that I think of it as The White. Niagara’s White. Lake Effect™. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted November 2016 and March 2017  @StratusWines

Gamay

Malivoire Gamay Small Lot 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A change of pace is noted for gamay in 2015 and perhaps it takes itself to a place beyond. Seriously dark fruit (with more tannin showing up after some time in bottle than might have originally thought possible) is noted from just a nose on Malivoire’s 2015. The pressed extraction may turn out to be a process leading to greatly improved structure. This is not the gamay rising from riding on the go-go train but one more akin to Cru doctrine and demagogy. Flavours of black cherry and tart citrus lead to plenty of leafy and earthy savour. Look out Juliénas, here comes Small Lot. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @GroupeSoleilTO

Tawse Winery Gamay Noir Unfiltered Redfoot Vineyard 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign)

The fruit for this deeply coloured gamay is drawn from Tom Koscis’ vineyard, big batch fermented but with a minimalist sulphured approach. Gamay that went through full malolactic in barrel out of sheer necessity. Winemaker Paul Pender is a big fan of this great site, a place that gifts perfect colour and a soil’s funk that is spot on. This is gamay of a noticeable velvety texture. Something strikes as deja nosed and sure enough, this was Pearl Morissette’s fruit in 2013 and 2014. Wisely natural and so bright, gulpable, back up the truck gamay. So beautifully and perfectly dry and even a wee bite of tannin. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016 and March 2017  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

The Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery Gamay-Pinot Noir Select 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The ’14 is the first Grange gamay-pinot where the grapes were simultaneously picked and co-fermented. It’s a really ripe co-mingling and so much brighter than you’d think. “This is the vintage I was waiting for with this wine,” tells Maggie Granger. Clean, pure essence of raspberry dances on the nose and texture liquid chalky, lactic and taut. This wine also proves that this more than obvious bedfellow varietal combination makes more sense in the County than Bordeaux meetings of the kind. It remains to be seen if the Grange’s irreligious pagan pairing idea will catch on but if any vintage can spur the revolution, 2014 is the one. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @grangewinery

Pinot Noir

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2014, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (1545, $20.20, WineAlign)

The Flat Rock has been a VINTAGES essential for several seasons and like any maturing pinot noir vineyard, four or five years are needed before quality is ensured. This wine has always provided quality but it is in 2014 where the stakes are raised. For the Twenty Mile Bench (and others Benches too) this vintage provides sweet extract, steadfast fruit, polished tannins and exceptional structure. Jay Jonhston did not mess with the cards, blended with acumen and has subsequently ran the table for his basic, normale, bring it to the (relative) masses pinot noir. It’s all you need to understand Flat Rock, The Twenty Mile Bench and the Niagara Peninsula. It’s essential. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted October 2016 and March 2017  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1  @wine_gems

Bachelder Pinot Noir Parfum 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $22.20, WineAlign)

Parfum doles out the Bachelder perfume with great Beaune intent and whole bunch hints from this most celebrated 2014 Niagara pinot noir vintage. With potpourri so bright and wildly tonal there needs to be some firmness for balance and this is present with tonic injection and finishing grip. The overall impression is a broad brushstoke and wells with its tea-seeping pot of mild but effective tannin. With thanks to “de-classified” Lowrey and Wismer-Parke vineyard fruit an ideal launching point progresses for the Bachelder way and encourages Le Parfum to set the stage for further investigative play. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Hard to believe what I see, a hue not blush nor pink, but gris. That “if my eyes don’t deceive me there’s something going wrong around here.” Forget about Provençe, don’t think too hard about Vin Gris but concentrate only on what Shiraz Mottiar has acceded with Rosé for Moira in ’16. Light and lithe do not begin to explain the rub. Rocks and stones are what come through the good earth on the nose. Is this the blush equivalent of mineralité, away from chardonnay and into pinot noir? “Is she really going out with him?” But the pinot noir component is almost non-existent so what is the phenolic advantage here? Has this gone too far or not far enough? Don’t mistake the things I say. This is delicious, understated and fully underestimated Rosé. It will have great appeal to a specific cognoscenti population and who could not think to drink it any day of the week? Commercially considered however, it may not speak a universal language. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @GroupeSoleilTO

The Good Earth Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Moving away from the Lincoln Lakeshore and up on to the ledges of the Niagara Escarpment we find pinot noir taking on a decidly firm and stony aromatic profile. Fruit in 2015 is graced with phenolic ripeness though certainly submissive to the elevated mineral tones. The strawberry-cranberry spectrum is acquiesced and the winemaking has rendered this clean as a pinot noir popsicle whistle. Great simplicity and consumer complicity is gained. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @goodearthtweets  @goodearthNico

You’re gonna want to make room for a whole cluster of these @SouthbrookWine #pinotnoir #triomphe #annsperling #laundryvineyard #organic #niagarapeninsula #vqa #beamsvillebench

Southbrook Vineyards Pinot Noir Triomphe 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Ann Sperling’s inaugural pinot noir for Southbrook makes swift, acumen accomplished first time work with Heather Laundry’s vineyard fruit. While her peers of the current generation begin to play and progressively experiment, Sperling helps to usher in the whole cluster brigade with her own 40 per cent packed, tiny berry ferment. This sterling effort takes Lincoln Lakeshore pinot noir to another dimension and Ann is confident the 115 clone is so perfectly suited to the ideal. This whole cluster thing with pinot expresses the floral lift and in turn a gift into elegance and purity. Ripeness and richness take turns without drifting into black cherry darkness. There is some chalky, earthy reduction that needs to mellow and it’s still a bit gritty, palpable of textural and even a bit mean. It won’t take long for this just recently released Triomphe to pirouette, assimilate and dutifully represent an unmitigated success for Sperling, in this her 11th vintage at Southbrook. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted January and March 2017  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling  @PaulDeCampo  @thesirengroup

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, St. David’s Bench, Ontario (421370, $35.00, WineAlign)

Bright, high-toned Pinot Noir with rambling warm, St. David’s Bench red fruit aromas, out of the raspberry patch (thorns and thistles in) and off of the ripening pomegranate tree. Some rusticity and quarried character refracts within a mild tannic frame. Very floral and high on acidity. Blissfully and blessedly not over pressed and in fact rather well made. Yet another success employed by winemaker Kevin Panagapka with stylistic firm talon grip from out of the Queenston Road Vineyard. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016 and March 2017  @2027cellars

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 and March 2017  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Icellars Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

The pinot noir condition is really challenged with Icellars ’15, a wine that acts as ambitious as its sister chardonnay but the results filtered through just the opposite. The aromas are dusty, rusty, coppery and full of dried fruit, but also weathered leather and savour. The palate goes deep south, humid and balmy with red citrus, plenty of tonic and a finish left by bitter citrus pith. Incredibly firm and old-world schooled, way back to Burgundy from another era. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @FoolAnd60Acres

Norman Hardie Winery & Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (208702, $45.20, WineAlign)

Great purity of Twenty Mile Bench fruit lightens the load, re-focuses, revives, prolongs and re-lives the magic. Sweet, salty and bitter combinative phenols in cohorts distinguish the layering effect of a Norm Hardie pinot noir, no matter the source but here distinct as the s-shaped micro-cilmate curves of 20 Mile blocks. Quite the cake creamy texture and silky mouthfeel for a Hardie pinot noir would indicate that alcohol has crept above the norm but the magic is never abandoned and always prolonged. Heat and alcohol “never there. You’re never there. You’re never ever ever ever there.” Under 12 per cent, every time. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017   @normhardie

Cabernet and Red Blends

Redstone Cabernet 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (415885, $19.95, WineAlign)

A cabernet blend more franc than sauvignon because of the savour and the plugged in currant fruit. Though the aromatic tones are elevated and venturing into menthol territory, the structure provided by palate and finish ground this two cab blend into solid clay. Will drink well for up to five BBQ seasons. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016 and March 2017  @RedstoneWines

The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Just as cabernet franc is inherently wont to be this Good Earth celebrates a grape’s verdant habitual greenness of warming spring and fresh vegetal in waves that bring more advantage than not. Nicely tart and expressive of varietal ways, this is neither overly ambitious nor does it use wood to excessive advantage. With understated the great operative we are faces with cabernet franc allowed to go about its business, for under appreciated grace and the sort of electric and elastic length that goes on for days. Some will say too much of a good thing but if you know cabernet franc, it’s just right. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @goodearthtweets  @goodearthNico

Can I be #cabernetfranc for a minute? @meldvillewines @grangewinery

The Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2013 Select, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

An extra year has paid great compliment to Caroline Granger’s ’13 cabernet franc, a wine of deeply aromatic and summer savoury dark fruit. Comparisons politically correct or not, this kind of County cabernet franc is so much more closely connected to Chinon than most from Niagara and it really combines cool-climate with limestone geology. What wood there was has melted and blended in with copacetic liquid chalky ooze, leaving this in a pure and pleasurable state of cabernet franc grace. A near perfect place. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @grangewinery

Henry Of Pelham Family Estate Winery Cabernet/Merlot Estate 2012, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (395855, $24.95, WineAlign)

Exceeds elegant expectations with poise and presence, a Bordeaux blend so refined it pleases. Effectively restrained and remedies with tonic. Circulating acidity ranges while chocolate whips, but wholly within reason. Spice accents assist in the celebration (why not?) to effectuate this red’s firm grip and grasp of Claret reality. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015, January and March 2017  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Syrah 2014, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (258657, $25.15, WineAlign)

The rare and elusive Ontario cabernet-syrah returns with Fielding’s 2014, from mostly Lowrey Vineyard fruit set in 20-25 per cent new barrel for 16 months. Neither a 2009 or a 2013 was produced because “it’s a priority, not an afterthought,” insists winemaker Richie Roberts. The ’14 is a (50 per cent) cabernet sauvignon, (30) syrah and (20) cabernet franc compendium, treated like a top tier Bordeaux-esque blend with a French-Niagara twist. This is sultry-smoky, curative and red fruit, earthy-dried salumi-salmagundi, holy gastronomy in a glass blend. The Fielding-Roberts wisdom and acumen are all over in a wine that will prepare you for every eventuality. Would undoubtedly pair famously with the rare and elusive king of game birds, le bécasse, with bacon and fleur de sel. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted January and March 2017  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  @Heidi_Fielding

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Only 100 cases were made of Hardie’s 2015 County cabernet franc with thanks to a late spring frost. The impossible one is a destemmed, small basket press wonder that spent 11 months (one more than usual) in 30 per cent new (plus 70 neutral) 228L French barrels. The tartful dodger is slick, smart and spirited. Impossible because of its wood-smothered and smouldered upbringing and how it stays so lean, clean, stealth and low in alcohol. Some things are best left unexplained. Just take in the raspberry, cranberry and cool limestone, followed by the star anise and cassia red braised pork belly imagined, even if that’s just what dish would be so right alongside. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017   @normhardie

Meldville Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

A beautifully sweet, savoury aromatic cabernet franc of verdant bright tones and such commissioned, defined red fruit. Character is at the forefront, both for attitude and complexity, gently pressed and in varietal synch. This is precisely why Lincoln Lakeshore is the right place to be with the cabernet franc you love. This has great tension without being too firm, gritty or tannic. Though this celebrates the bright and the fruity it is not without enough structure to carry it forward five plus years. Pyrazine or green notes are curiously absent and there nothing suffers as a result of their omission. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017  @meldvillewines

Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc Small Lot “101” 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Gone is the Whimsy! idiom and preserved is the varietal freshman year class denotation. The “101” actually refers to the vineyard, a block in purport of aromatic restraint in a confident Cabernet Franc with more richness and tannin, not to mention raging acidity and acceptable volatility. There is lightness and brightness within the rigid tannic frame. The “101” vineyard shines while it broods. Dichotomous Cabernet Franc with an as yet undecided future. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted at Gold Medal Plates, November 2016, February and March 2017  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling  @PaulDeCampo  @thesirengroup

Icellars Arinna 2014, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

Without knowing much about the blend, the nose tells me cabernet sauvignon leads the way. Merlot and cabernet franc trail behind the tart, purple citrus and tobacco-verdant personality. The accumulation is quite chalky, wood-inflected and with the middle palate transparency this emits as another example of a big effort (like the pinot noir) with a shortfall because it gets ahead of itself. Would likely better be served with less pressing, structural dreaming and more easy going impression. I suppose the style has to justify the price but for value and enjoyment a prudent decision would choose instead to follow the lead set out with the estate’s chardonnay. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @FoolAnd60Acres

Creekside Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

The time in bottle has eased up the tannic throttle, leaving Creekside’s ’12 in a pleasurable if not quite fuly accessible state. The great fruit vintage was deftly pressed, that much is clear, because as the wood subsides it is not astringncy and bitters sliding into its place. Cassis, cassia and black cherry are the aromas of ilk, in delivery at this time and followed up with cabernet sauvignon silk. This is rightfully and righteously chewy cabernet sauvignon and without a doubt just about as good as it gets for Ontario. Though the limbo bar starts low, Rob Power’s 2012 climbs under with great agility and raises the stakes for everyone else. Still, I’d hedge bets and wait two more years for further integration and a little bit of truffling to begin. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted March 2017  @CreeksideWine

Icellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $50.00, WineAlign)

Good quality fruit and equanimity from generous barrels define this ambitious effort. There is this underlying green streak that can’t be missed nor denied though it’s neither unexpected nor unusual. The texture runs quite complex, chewy and at times even crunchy, with enough structure to work towards a promising future. Wood and stemmy savour are certainly part of the mix but with time should integrate without much trouble. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @FoolAnd60Acres

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

One the eve of the 2016 WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards

One of the true pleasures in wine & life to judge with two amazing women @treve_ring @curlyluddite #NWAC15 #thenationals #winealign

One of the true pleasures in wine & life to judge with two amazing women @treve_ring @curlyluddite #NWAC15 #thenationals #winealign

Wine. The ancient mocker, a drink unknowable and illustriously beyond judgement. That is until a national organization builds a mountain out of bottles, gathers together a court of 22 like-minded adjudicators and brings a nation’s wine culture together. The WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards is this country’s own version of unfathomability, as a thinking and tasting machine to test the romantic mysteriousness of an overall expression laid out by deferential wines produced from coast to coast.

The Nationals or #NWAC2016 will amass and coordinate more than 1,500 entries from Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. The romantic grandiosity of the project will merge with the mainframe abacus of wine awards algorithms. The WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC) are held annually in June. Each year the country’s leading wine writers and judges gather somewhere in Canadian wine country to evaluate wines grown in Canada. They award Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in some two dozen categories, with medal rankings further determining Winery of the Year and the country’s Top Twenty wineries.

WineAlign team at Trius

WineAlign team at Trius

Related – To Trius by air

When I roll out of bed Tuesday morning my Air Canada flight to Kelowna, British Columbia will be in its early stages of preparation. AC 1975 will transport me ceremoniously to the golden western frontier of the Okanagan Valley and it is there in Penticton that I will join 21 fellow judges (plus two apprentice judges) at the 2016 WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards.

Co-Chief Judge Anthony Gismondi has let us all know that “we have had a tremendous response from wineries across the country. Entries to date to are at 1,505 wines, a new record. With that number comes much responsibility so please be prepared to work hard for a full five days in the tasting room.” We welcome our visiting international judges, Elaine Chukan Brown of JancisRobinson.com, WakawakaWineReviews.com and Wine & Spirits, along with WWAC veteran Dr. Jamie Goode, The Sunday Express and wineanorak.com. Vancouver’s DJ Kearney oversaw the apprentice judges program and this year Brent Muller and Alistair Veen prevailed in a tryout that included 5 top BC sommeliers and retail buyers.

Related – Meeting of the wines at Treadwell Cuisine

WineAlign judges, a rainbow and the American Falls

WineAlign judges, a rainbow and the American Falls

This will be my fourth Nationals. It is one of the greatest privileges in wine journalism and a profound honour to be gifted the opportunity to contribute towards bestowing medals on the best wines produced in Canada. It is an equally awesome grant of companionship and shoulder rubbing to work alongside the WineAlign crew. The war room leaders Bryan McCaw, Sarah Goddard, Carol-Ann Jessiman, Earl Paxton and Anthony Gismondi. The judges I’ve worked with before; David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Steve Thurlow and Dr. Janet Dorozynski from Ontario. Rémy Charest, Michelle Bouffard, Bill Zacharkiw and Nadia Fournier from Quebec. Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson from Manitoba. DJ Kearney, Treve Ring and Rhys Pender, MW from British Columbia. Brad Royale from Alberta. Craig Pinhey from New Brunswick. Heather Rankin from Nova Scotia. I look forward to meeting David Scholefield and Sharon McLean from B.C.

Day 2 #NWAC15 with @curlyluddite and the maestro @DavidLawrason .. I will taste f'in #merlot !! @winealign

Day 2 #NWAC15 with @curlyluddite and the maestro @DavidLawrason .. I will taste f’in #merlot !! @winealign

The judging is overseen by WineAlign principal critics and partners Anthony Gismondi and David Lawrason. All competition wines are blind-tasted and judged in categories according to varietal or style, not by region, using the same 100-point system as used on WineAlign. Each wine earning the requisite points will get a medal. Wines with the top scores in the entire awards will be awarded a Platinum medal (approximately 1% of the total entries). Gold medals = 90 – 100 points, Silver medals = 88 – 89 points and Bronze medals = 87 points

At last year’s Nationals held in Ontario we handed out a record number of awards; 14 Platinum, 101 Gold, 263 Silver and 375 Bronze. Given that a bronze must have been scored 87 points by a panel of a minimum of three judges, we have hundreds of wines in Canada that our experts felt were ‘very good’or better. That should instil some confidence among consumers. I tasted and reviewed many of the 14 platinum medal winners. Here are some of my notes.

Flight 3, code red #pinotnoir redux. Right proper #NWAC15 picks & pours @FortessaCanada stems @winealign staff rock!

Flight 3, code red #pinotnoir redux. Right proper #NWAC15 picks & pours @FortessaCanada stems @winealign staff rock!

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

Four months has upped the funk for ’13, with tar and bitters still and thick as summer air. Rich and ripe, notable for its black cherry aroma and that J.P. Colas natural truncation. Unique, as always and very Gamay. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of December 2014:

Fruit was sourced from both the Sandstone and Whitty Vineyards for 13th Street’s Gamay Noir, a focused and gritty adjunct in ode to the Cru Beaujolais approach. This ’13 raises the aromatic and texture bar and just may be the most striking from a 13th Street estate mix. All the important berries are there, as are the mineral quandaries. In a Gamay moment this will lead you to gulp and giggle with #GoGamayGo delight.

Last tasted April and June 2015  @13thStreetWines  @Noble_Estates

Tres hombres in @TheGoodEarthTweets light @johnszabo @billzacharkiw @bradroyale #NWAC15 #beerdrinkersandhellraisers

Tres hombres in @TheGoodEarthTweets light @johnszabo @billzacharkiw @bradroyale #NWAC15 #beerdrinkersandhellraisers

C.C. Jentsch Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Oh so beautifully nasty Syrah, spicy, saucy and wicked. Resin, somewhere between myrrh and mastic, redacts reductively and tension stretches the savoury aspects in all directions. Blood orange and anise blend into the aromatic grain, repeating again through flavour mettle. Fruit, acidity and tannin are interwoven, circulating and on edge, in pitch perfect darkness. Syrah in the big time with the stuffing to age. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015  @CCJentschCellar

Merlot, Cabs, Red blends #NWAC15 messed with kilters but @DavidLawrason & @curlyluddite set me straight. #cdnwine #thenationals #winealignnationalwineawardsofcanada #sheratonfallsview

Merlot, Cabs, Red blends #NWAC15 messed with kilters but @DavidLawrason & @curlyluddite set me straight. #cdnwine #thenationals #winealignnationalwineawardsofcanada #sheratonfallsview

Château Des Charmes St. David’s Bench Vineyard Gamay Noir Droit 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $16.95, WineAlign)

The increased Droit depth in black cherry positions this CdC Gamay like a cousin to the same vintage Pinot Noir with shared DNA and more funk meets reduction than I would have expected or even guessed at. Should this be chalked up to complex conscientious forethought or the denude of a brilliant mistake? The raspberries and strawberries are in the mulch and the mire, the acidity and tannin thinking cru, cru thoughts. A near behemoth for Ontario Gamay, as much to do with the St. David’s Bench and the vintage as anything. Droit redux, new, improved and polarizing. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June 2015 and February 2016  @MBosc

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

The ’12 Niagara has swapped spontaneity for coherence, licentiousness for logic. Has entered the stage of non-reductive peel, where skin is discarded, flesh is exposed and juices run free. If you like your Chardonnay settled and yet vitally fresh, now is the time to enjoy the Hardie 2012 Niagara Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2022.  @normhardie

From my earlier more of May 2014:

Norm’s Niagara is such a different animal to the County 2012. The warm summer and dry fall means more humidity and even more reduction. Currently cothurnal so less like Burgundy but only because there elevates the high-tones and percipience from Niagara. Texture is key but this Hardie needs time. It’s not angular but it is steroidal, injected, like a wild thing, as if the yeast were still in control, munching away even though there is no more sugar to be had. Undomesticated ’12, at heart, in spirit, out of mind. Hard to imagine there could be this much anxiety from the even-tempered vintage, but when you pick real early and keep the oak to a bare minimum, Hardie happens. Norm picked ripe fruit between September 7 and 10, six weeks ahead as compared to some years. He said the fruit had a “golden tan, ready to go.” The use of smallish 500L barrels works wonders for texture and though 40 per cent was new wood, you would never know it. Malolactic fermentation didn’t happen until late August, nearly a full year on so no sulphuring was required until that time. This is Hardie’s freshest Niagara fruit ever, from Duarte Oliveira’s farm between Victoria and Ontario Street, the same spot as Hillebrand’s Chardonnay Reserve. Terrific Beamsville Bench Chardonnay.

Last tasted April 2015

Sea of #schottzwiesel via @FortessaCanada #NWAC15

Sea of #schottzwiesel via @FortessaCanada #NWAC15

The Good Wine Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (350751, $19.95, WineAlign)

While wood plays a prominent role it does not saturate to distraction. The barrel extract adds warmth and spice in contribution to balance. A high-toned syrup on the nose gives way to an evenly weighted palate. A scraped bean flavoured creamy toddy texture is topped with chocolate shavings, a dry of bell pepper and tobacco smoulder from out of the chamber. Nicely judged fruit, acidity and texture with admirable length. A necessary example of $20 Lincoln Lakeshore Cabernet Franc offering up every reason to drink it and demand that more me made.  Tasted March 2015  @goodearthtweets

We @WineAlign came to judge nearly 1,500 wines #NWAC15 and it was fair and just.

We @WineAlign came to judge nearly 1,500 wines #NWAC15 and it was fair and just.

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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No County for old wines

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

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

To me, Prince Edward County is the most enigmatic wine region in the world. Why is that? The coterminous climate and geology comparison to Burgundy never wanes and the vintners who painstakingly cultivate and produce Chardonnay and Pinot Noir never quite abandon the methodology. The Burgundian model of viticulture is almost universally applied to the County microclimate. Think about it further and note that latitude and soil composition aside, PEC is not Burgundy, never will be and the parallels drawn ad nauseum should begin to cease and desist.

There are many reasons for saying this. The most obvious has to do with winter and the painful condition of a once or twice every 10-15 year pain in the arse deep freeze that necessitates the hilling up of vines. Farmers select canes chosen for the following growing season and tie them to a wire very close to the ground. Upwards of two feet of soil is plowed onto the tied-down canes. The labour required is extensive and the subsequent yields are lower than most grape growing places on the planet.

Related – I’m a little bit County

At the 2015 spring County in the City event I noted that WineAlign primo scrittore David Lawrason presented his PEC state of the union address via the company website. “David touched on some integral points for growers and winemakers in the County, including the rise of Riesling and a case for increasing plantings of varieties like Chenin Blanc.” At the time I hung on to Burgundy with no immediate plans to recognize an imminent diurnal varietal shift.

Related – The ridges of Prince Edward County

Last fall I wrote a mini-dissertation on the ridges of PEC. “It all adds up to minerality in the wines and nowhere does the geology matter more than on the ridges.” Which brings me to the third bit of logic and one that is varietal based. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay share the stage with a wide range of planted grape varieties and it is the emergence of Pinot Gris that shakes the foundations of PEC-Burgundy thought. If this year’s grand tasting of County wines at the Berkeley Church showed one thing it’s that Pinot Gris is a must. From Hillier clay-loam to omnipresent limestone, the group begs for Pinot Gris, a mineral-loving, dry extract extricating and tertiary tannin absorbing grape. The makers know it.

Related – The Old Third and older County wines

A fourth dialectic concerns rules and regulations. A wine growing community may talk a big game of homage and publicly declare with politically correct language their allegiance to, a following of and the emulation of a wine-producing deity that has proven its success with hundreds of years of tradition behind it. But the fact of the matter is Prince Edward County does not yet know exactly what it means to be a community of wine producers. The grand cru, premier cru and lieu-dit blocks are only beginning to be understood and working with the climate is still an unmitigated, trial and error disaster.

So in steps a governing body to determine what winemakers are supposed to and even allowed to produce and what exactly they can call it. Absolute authority is exercised against a brilliant vintner who owns land, lives and produces wines in the County, but can’t label it as such. Forget about the economics of an acronym that saves on taxes. They are not allowed to write Prince Edward County on their label.

I hear you. Regulatory boards are needed to make sure a region is putting its best foot forward out to the country and to the world. You can’t have a golfer wearing cut-off jeans, a fishnet tank and a mesh visor shanking nine-irons on the perfectly groomed country club 18. But what if one guy’s wines are off the charts, gorgeous representations of terroir? So what if her skin-contact whites are not what we are used to? Who cares what either of them are wearing. Who should complain that they make new tracks in their own special way? Exactly how is it they bring shame, detriment or housing market decline to the neighbourhood?

Related – Take them home, County wines

Rant aside, the last piece of the Prince Edward County puzzle stretches from the idea of freedom and into a polemical discussion in which no two County wines are the same. Dynamism has never known such hyperbole as it does in the County. Yet another Sparkling epiphany was had after tasting Lighthall Vineyard’s first (not yet labeled) traditional method fizz. It should be called “Au Courant” because it takes everything we have assimilated from Champenoise bubbles, filters it through Cherry Valley soil and rewrites the book. The collective needs to embrace the Sparkling example set by Jonas Newman, Bruno Francois and Glen Symons.

The endearment “The County” is a term meant to bestow a sense of down to earth affection on a place you have to detour through to pay it a visit. “The County” is in fact Ontario’s most diverse and magnetic wine region. To borrow from the American literary critic James Wood, PEC is “one of those rare occasions where the absence of evidence is evidence.” Everything is changing all the time and everything is new. No County for old wines.

I recently reviewed 20 County wines. Here they are.

First @lighthallvyard strike #methodetraditionelle #2011 #fortytwomonths

First @lighthallvyard strike #methodetraditionelle #2011 #fortytwomonths

Casa Dea Dea’s Cuvee 2015, VQA Ontario (261263, $18.95, WineAlign)

Distinctly August cling stone peach, ripe, lightly crushed and fenocchio glacier. Really pollinated fizz, with a bright pink grapefruit granita personality and cool chardonnay exemption. Pretty, pretty stuff. Lingers precisely and there is nothing remotely precious about it. Well made. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @casadeawinery  @PECWinemaker

Huff Estates Cuvee Janine 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Comes from a place and will return again to the junction where rusticity and elegant oxidative character live. Erstwhile fresh, alive, prescient and yet must have been a challenge to tame. Quite the gustatory, culinary, mis en place of torched vegetables and acidity de-glazed game seared off into caramelization. Intensely real, characterful and attention grabbing Janine but not funky. Slow braise ahead. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016  @HuffEstatesWine

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Reductive and reeling from the pushy barrel, young, tight, angular and closed. Green apple, tart white berries and barrel spice. Emerald gem Chardonnay leaving little to no wonder Niagara Bench winemaker Paul Pender is so interested in the fruit. South Bay is the Quarry Road of the County. Wait for the richness and the platinum peaches and cream to emerge commensurate to ostensibly consummate cool climate Chardonnay. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Karlo Estates Pinot Gris 2015, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Welcome winemaker Derek Barnett to the County and to Pinot Gris with a Gorrilaz style, “the essence, the basics,” gone ripe beyond the pale, round and full. Sweet green apple and basil relish, veritable tang, baked tart shell filled with apple-citrus curd but so far from sour. Wish it hung around for longer. I suppose I have only myself to blame. “I ain’t happy, I’m feeling glad. I got sunshine in a bag.” Clint Eastwood and Pinot Gris in the County. “The future is coming on.” Drink 2016-2018. Tasted April 2016  @KarloEstates

Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2015, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

Very Mosel Germanic Riesling Kabinett in style, with some residual and low alcohol. Juicy, round acidity, ripe sapidity and almost tersely spoken from the edge of the late harvest forest. Good length and will live a half decade or more with severity tempered by herbal countenance. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Keint He Portage Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Tart and tight, rich and tangy, as expected and with some density. What needs from reduction lays low and melds into wood. The handling was necessary from out of a challenging and demanding 2014 vintage. The Portage is fully entrenched as a true County stalwart. This is what defines what Keint He is, has come from and to where it will go. Ground zero for the range, from what others will feed from. Sister Chardonnays Greer and Frost embark from this Portage starting point. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016  @KeintheWinery  @Nicholaspearce_

Keint He Greer Road Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The specificity of the label conjures up territorial Hillier thoughts for Chardonnay made by Norm Hardie, Dan Sullivan and Paul Battilana. While the Greer thread runs through and keeps it in the family this is all in Keint-He issue. Possessive of a richness shown by few other PEC Chardonnay, there counteracts and stabilizes a cool climate snap, crackle and green apple pop. Tang folds into lovely tart, citrus bitter curd with a wisely executed tumult. And there is no relent. A Chardonnay ripper. Beware the power. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted April 2016

Lighthall Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Glenn Symons’ 2014 from the southern flank in the Cherry Valley is perhaps the most regionally intense, lights out Chardonnay in Prince Edward County. ‘Twas a good growing season in the Lighthall Road ward so say hello to phenolic ripeness and an old school, reductive and layered striker of flint and wood. The yields being as low as they are and exponentially were, there grunges much tonic reverb stirred into leesy, sweet extract in its rather ripped sonic youth. Such a mineral wine, sword-wielding, axe-grinding and tannin mining. Will find its unctuous way with time. ‘Cause it’s lights out right now. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016  @lighthallvyard

Lighthall Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The paradigm shift that began with Lighthall’s 2013 Pinot Noir continues with this stay the course 2014 and then some. The vintage offered up a slower developed phenolic yawning so the stygian runs deeper than the vermillion. That is to say the cherry fruit turns to black even while such a pretty Pinot pours with tension beneath the rich and glorious surface. Tension yes, but also soil infiltration and cooling breezes to temper the Cherry Valley conflagration. Tautness de-armed by a necessary streak of humus conditioning pomace, for grounding. Voluminous palate notes are repeated in demonstrative refrain. Another step forward for Prince Edward County Pinot excellence. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Lighthall Pinot Gris 2014

Lighthall Pinot Gris 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Made in the Lighthall style mixed with location, location, location. Vines of healthy fruit in the Cherry Valley, making for wines that are stark, sturdy, demanding, self-fortified and of limited quantities. Like its siblings, this Pinot Gris is also exempt from weakness. Here PG reminds of lieu-dit Alsace, of attitude, with tannin, extract, salinity and and of course, mineral. Singular County Pinot Gris. Could age for a decade. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Norman Hardie Riesling 2015, VQA Ontario (131169, $21.00, WineAlign)

More reductive for a Norman Hardie Riesling than even it ordinarily shows and also pervasive of penetratingly concentrated stone fruit. While the acids may be received as hard and potentially malic that perception is calibrated by this wine’s typical aggregate. The walls need breaking down and the road is purposely graded high knowing full well it will eventually finish even with the shoulder. I like the sweet tannins and the difficult way in which it uses extract to a futuristic advantage. Wait a year and imagine the possibilities of balance. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @normhardie

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

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. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir J C R Rosehall Vineyard 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

The vintage steps out of a particular shadow and into bright light, exposing the JCR Pinot Noir with a particularly beautiful level of freshness and vitality. What has come before is not forgotten; the County tartness, the limestone preparation and the earthy red ochre fruit. But here is something other, something new, exciting and structured. The balance begins and ends on a seamless circle with no obvious demarcation point. The most elegant Rosehall Run Pinot Noir comes out of this 2013 and its level of poise should see it enjoyed now and for 10 more years easy. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted April 2016  @Rosehall_Run  @sullywine

Rosehall Run J C R Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

A tenderly and beautifully rich, stone roses reductive and buttery Chardonnay, fully malo-activated, in adherence to the consistently classic Dan Sullivan righteous style. Makes me think of 1990’s Manchester post-punk, 60’s retro guitar pop, with a sweet softness as foil to an angst-riddled, contemporary acid house rhythmic sensibility. Sullivan’s JCR draws from influence, playing both time-tested Burgundy and new world Chablis pop hooks. “Where there’s life there’s gotta be hope and where there’s a will there’s a way.” Just sip along with the Rosehall Run JCR Chardonnay. It’s hard not to become enamoured after experiencing such great, coherent length. So young. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Stanners Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Quite remarkable and reductive Chardonnay, from fermentation of a certain halting, the yeast not quite having finished munching and malo just short of finding fulfillment. Low in alcohol after posting pH similarly reserved. This has real gumption, a stalwart of phantasmagorical Chablis allegory in the guise of salty, mineral PEC with minor residual sugar and a dip into the funky well. Just lettin’ it all hang out. This is a very promising wine. Just wait until the weather holds out and the yields go up just enough for Colin Stanners to make a really proper Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016 @StannersWines  @GroupeSoleilTO

It's not what you think but it's just what you imagine @Stannerswines @GroupeSoleilTO @therealbenhardy #PinotGris #cuivre #skincontact #pecwine #princeedwardcounty

It’s not what you think but it’s just what you imagine @Stannerswines @GroupeSoleilTO @therealbenhardy #PinotGris #cuivre #skincontact #pecwine #princeedwardcounty

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Gris Cuivré 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Agent, $25.00, WineAlign)

The coppery-hued Stanners Pinot Gris Cuivré 2014 is like a member of the cup of coffee club, its skin contact time limited but forever significant. The PEC conceptualization may seem as strange as surfing Wellington waters but this Pinot Gris is a boy who trapped the sun, having sealed in brightness and freshness beneath the surface, cauterized during fermentation. This is not an orange wine but rather a a Pinot Gris with poise and a balladeering sense of calm. The Cuivré comes from pure sourced County fruit, spent time in stainless steel, is more than a curiosity, is a little funky and offers a feeling of rosé as a gateway drug to orange wine. Saline, nicely savoury, with a tinge of wild sauvage, all within reason. Such a skin contact white in self-proclamation “when you go into your skin, I’ll be the hope joining the walls.” The missing piece is tension, dynamic tempo changes, rises, falls and a crescendo. Though it lacks such structure it is still a beautiful mistake by the lake. Copper down. Only 230 cases were produced and it was released in February, 2016. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

 

Trail Estate Skin Contact Series Riesling Hughes Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

One of three Skin Contact Rieslings from winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois, from Lincoln Lakeshore fruit out of Ed Hughes’ farm. For whatever reason this vineyard is far less reductive then the (Wismer) counterparts. It may be attributed to site, of decreased nitrogen (or not) and/or when sulphur is applied. “Ed Hughes is a very calculated grower,” notes Brisbois, which may account for what stylistic deference is syllogistically accrued. “They’re very dry and they will be very tart,” she warns, “and aromatic.” Pressed when fully dry and 14 days on the skins. Arid is the understatement, this shining and whispering Riesling, of tartness not on top slides beneath the surface of acidity. So much length. Youth is not on its side while it wiles away in withheld revelations though longevity is not necessarily its greatest ally. This is Riesling of stark realities, arid with no Niagara frame of reference and fruit so crisp it cracks into perfectly linear fissures. Laser focus without pierce or citrus. Spellbound skin contact stuff. Needs six months to seek a wave beyond the shock. Only 32 cases made. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted April 2016  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois

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

Trail Estate Skin Contact Series Riesling Lakeview Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The second of three skin contact, Niagara borrowed Rieslings from winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois. This time from Craig Wismer’s Lakeview, a Twenty Mile Bench block with 18 years-ish old vines. Spent 21 days on the skins and comes through in or around 10 per cent alcohol (like the others). More herbology balms the nose and while it may not waft with equanimity or gregarious aromatics, it’s bleeding delicacy and savoury sapidity breathes freshness. If it just came with an added juicing of lime it would help to bring out structure and balance the anterior acids. As it is the acidity runs through the middle, streaks and halts the fruit from gaining on time. Adheres to acting typical of a 20 Mile Bench Alsatian Clone 49 example. Only 15 cases made. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Trail Estate Skin Contact Series Riesling Foxcroft Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The third and most effectually ingenious of Mackenzie Brisbois’ skin contact series Rieslings, with far more texture on the palate and overall Riesling acumen. Endowed with a gram less acidity than the Lakeview and burgeoning with veritable Twenty Mile Bench viscosity. Can it be such a coincidence that so many winemakers choose Foxcroft for their Riesling fruit? A real burgunder sensation is to be annexed out of the crafted brim of an invisibly stitched, tart-pan curl. This is irrefutably the most accomplished of the three (that includes Hughes and Lakeview), of length increased, laser focus and thirst quenching pleasure. Such a pity that only 12 cases were made. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Trail Estates Sauv Blanc

Trail Estate Skin Contact Series Sauvignon Blanc Hughes Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The concept is in line with what winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois set out to do with Riesling but the result couldn’t be further from the truth or the ideal. Sauvignon Blanc is nothing like Riesling. It’s malleable, amenable and submissive. The process took de-stemmed fruit, saw it ferment on its own (dry, in nine days), needing no inoculation and then handled with hand-punched, TLC. In the end it was sterile filtered, leaving it to shine with latent lucidity, of brilliant clarity and with skin-deep grace. The whole is a snapshot of nothing less than supple integration. I would like to taste this side by side in 2020 with Jean-Benoit Deslauriers’ similarly struck Benjamin Bridge (sweeter and cloudier) 2014. The divergence should be fascinating and confounding. Only eight cases made. A drop in the skin contact bucket. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Good to go!

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15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

15 in 2015

In the past 12 months I have tasted Canadian wines. Somewhere between hundreds and a thousand of them. Aside from day-to-day assessments at home, in the LCBO sensory lab, at the WineAlign office and at events in Ontario, I’ve also been a part of judging panels. In 2015 I sat in at the Ontario Wine Awards, WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada and Gold Medal Plates.

Flight 3, code red #pinotnoir redux. Right proper #NWAC15 picks & pours @FortessaCanada stems @winealign staff rock!

Flight 3, code red #pinotnoir redux. Right proper #NWAC15 picks & pours @FortessaCanada stems @winealign staff rock!

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 leads to 15 in 2015.

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

The Legend, the Sommelier and the Godello #geddy #yyz #gmp2015 #goldmedalplates #rush

The Legend, the Sommelier and the Godello #geddy #yyz #gmp2015 #goldmedalplates #rush

Canadian wine is growing with exponential force, gaining ground in markets at home and abroad. Brits dig us. I know, they told me. British Columbia is a desert oasis of variable climates to fascinating degrees. Oh the Syrah, Riesling and Gamay that rocks forth. Ontario stood up to two straight brutal winters and screamed, “we still made great fucking wine.” Take that mother nature.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

And 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.”

Riesling at the Carriage House, Vineland Estates Winery - March 7, 2015

Riesling at the Carriage House, Vineland Estates Winery – March 7, 2015

So I did. In 2015 I visited Niagara for Icewine Fest, discovered exceptional cider (with percentages of Pinot Noir and Riesling) made by Angela Kasimos at Small Talk Vineyards and have been pouring it on tap at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar ever since.

The pioneer for #vqa #wineontap feel good recognition from @winecountryont Thank you from @barquebbq #ontariowineweek #ontwine #drinkontario #pourontario

The pioneer for #vqa #wineontap feel good recognition from @winecountryont Thank you from @barquebbq #ontariowineweek #ontwine #drinkontario #pourontario

The taps at the two restaurants poured a record number of wines in 2015, from Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus and Leaning Post. In March we travelled with CAPS Ontario for an eight-hour intense immersion into Niagara Riesling and Cabernet Franc.

Smiles with hops. Beer fridge @Niagara_College @mkaiserwine @chefmolson @drjamiegoode #niagarateachingbrewery #notwine #greatbeer

Smiles with hops. Beer fridge @Niagara_College @mkaiserwine @chefmolson @drjamiegoode #niagarateachingbrewery #notwine #greatbeer

Another visit with Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario shed new lights, especially for Syrah from the Lincoln Lakeshore. In June I toured the facilities at Niagara College with Dr. Jamie Goode, Magdalena Kaiser and our host Chef Michael Olson. Jamie and I tasted through an impossible number to count Domaine Queylus wines with Thomas Bachelder. On that I will report really soon. Really soon…

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

The Cool Chardonnay conference in July was in fact, the coolest yet. I spent three more glorious Annapolis-Gaspereau Valley days with Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Visits to Domaine de Grand Pre, L’Acadie Vineyards and Benjamin Bridge filled out the east coast foray.

Comity in the County godello.ca #PECwine #princeedwardcounty #cherryvalley #clossonridge #danforthridge #greerroad #laceyestates #hubbscreekvineyard #hinterlandwine #lighthallvineyards #clossonchase #adamoestatewinery #northshoreproject

Comity in the County godello.ca #PECwine #princeedwardcounty #cherryvalley #clossonridge #danforthridge #greerroad #laceyestates #hubbscreekvineyard #hinterlandwine #lighthallvineyards #clossonchase #adamoestatewinery #northshoreproject

In the fall I made pilgrimage to Prince Edward County to get a grip on the eskers, ridges and aspects of what makes wine so special in that part of Ontario.

As always there are wines that should have, would have and could have made the cut were there more time, space and yet another, better headline to write. Some were knocked off the shortlist because they may not have been quite as exciting though were this list one of “most important,” then perhaps they would have stayed put. These four are perfect examples of that condition.

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2008, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $16.95, WineAlign) Perhaps the assessment seven years later creates an unfair advantage but come now, a great wine is a great wine from its humble beginnings. At $16.95, in 2008 or 2015, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, on the Peninsula, this type of emerging propensity is more than gold or platinum, it’s money.

The Good Wine Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (350751, $20.95, WineAlign) from winemaker Ross Wise and The Good Earth Wine Company’s Nicolette Novak is a necessary example of $20 Lincoln Lakeshore Cabernet Franc offering up every reason to drink it and demand that more me made.

Creekside Estate Winery Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign) is what winemaker Rob Power refers to as a lay lady lay style. Still the Kama Sutra Pinot Noir of inviting behaviour.

Hubbs Creek

Hubbs Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign). The HCV Danforth Ridge is clearly a top Pinot site in the County (along with slopes on the Greer and Closson roads). Planted to high density the results are proven in wines like this 2010

The year that was 2015 seemed to bring out the adventurous winemaker, the risk-taker and the progressive thinker. While these five wines were not so much exciting as much as they were cerebral, they need to be mentioned. Whenever the envelope is pushed and the emotions of geeks are sequestered, well then a wine has achieved something special. These five really opened some doors.

Bergstrom and Hillebrand

Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (199273, $36.20, WineAlign) speaks the treble language of the vintage, predicated on bold ideas looking forward towards a bright future. Ultimately it is yeast and vintage, non partisan to site, that elaborate the Wild Ferment.

Southbrook Vidal Orange Wine 2014

Southbrook Vidal Orange Wine 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Orange Wine 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign). The technique and the practice is ancient and has been kept alive. The only questions need asking are “is it good, is it well-made and would I like to drink it?”

In bottle @Tawse_Winery #quarryroad 2014 #natural soon to tap @barquebbq #chardonnay #naturalwine #unfiltered #paulpender #vinemountridge #niagarapeninsula #vqa #ontwine

In bottle @Tawse_Winery #quarryroad 2014 #natural soon to tap @barquebbq #chardonnay #naturalwine #unfiltered #paulpender #vinemountridge #niagarapeninsula #vqa #ontwine

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign). It’s one thing to make a natural wine in Ontario and a world away to do so with Chardonnay. “The law was never passed, but somehow all men feel they’re truly free at last. Have we really gone this far through space and time?”

The latest rendition of Vin de Curé, the “Parish Priest’s,” and the Jura’s Vin de Paille (Straw Wine) of Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, VQA Ontario (367144, $24.95, WineAlign) is a white elixir in search of roast pork, braised belly and cured bacon. Not to be missed.

Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula (375ml), Ontario (405027, $39.95, WineAlign) though not a common Viognier practice can be imagined with Vendanges Tardives simulation.

Filtering Nova Scotia #peggyscove #eastcoastswing15

Filtering Nova Scotia #peggyscove #eastcoastswing15

I try to concentrate on new releases, unless something old (read: Riesling) jumps out and bites me in the ass. The 15 Canadian wines tasted in 2015 that wooed, wowed and whetted the appetite are the fingers, toes and tongues of their creator’s ideals, hopes and dreams. They are also quintessentially representative of their time and place.

And the winners are...

And the winners are…

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

From the rich limestone and sandstone beneath the clay, 1.1 acre Misek vineyard, a southerly ledge up from Highway 8 and an easterly hill down from Cherry Avenue. A very linear Ivan combs the catacombs of the Escarpment’s underpinning. A retaining wall of vintage attenuated rocks and stones, a vineyard’s low yields and the voices in Charles’ head have produced a striking Riesling. In 2014 adolescence has entered adulthood. Now before us is a grown up Ivan, mature Ivan, maybe even wise Ivan. Texture is in manifest control in this loyal, stay at home Baker, not yet running wild like free-spirited Picone. Ivan has presence, sometimes a great notion and is Baker’s longest bit of prose to date. The next great Riesling vintage will make it iconic. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @cbriesling

Swan Song- @ClossonChase Chardonnay CCV 2013 #clossonchasewinery #deborahpaskus #pecwine #pec #winecountryontario

Swan Song- @ClossonChase Chardonnay CCV 2013 #clossonchasewinery #deborahpaskus #pecwine #pec #winecountryontario

Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $27.95, WineAlign)

This CCV Chardonnay is one of departed winemaker Deborah Paskus’ final acts at Closson Chase. It will forever be noted as a legacy-cementing, swan song of career excellence. Crafted by Paskus and bottled by the next one, current winemaker Keith Tyers, the 2013 CCV is simply a tour de force. No such combination of richness, tropicality and pure grape tannin has ever infiltrated this Chardonnay, from this vineyard. I’m not sure there is a comparison in Ontario, at this level of excellence and at this price. A wine of pure impression, with Montrachet-like structure and Folatières-like precision. Seemingly capacious, its facile legerity is hypnotizing, quantitatively escalating in assembly of aromas, flavours, through texture and finally to longevity. The wine spent 16 months in a mere (17.25 per cent new) oak. That it notes 12.5 per cent alcohol on the label is next to impossible. The substance is just too buttressed to be so tender and effete. Impeccable balance, refinement and mineral finish. This is Chardonnay to confuse the world’s fine white collectors, to wreak havoc at international tastings for five to 10 years. Only 712 cases are available and at $27.95, is down $2 in price from the 2012. Best ever, hands down. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted March 2015  @ClossonChase

"There's no work in walking in to fuel the talk." @MalivoireWine Melon & @PearlMorissette Gamay #NWAC15 Parting of the Sensory #CuvéeMonUnique #shirazmottiar #treadwells #winealign #winecountryontario

“There’s no work in walking in to fuel the talk.” @MalivoireWine Melon & @PearlMorissette Gamay #NWAC15 Parting of the Sensory #CuvéeMonUnique #shirazmottiar #treadwells #winealign #winecountryontario

Pearl Morissette Gamay Cuvée Mon Unique 2014, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

In December of 2014 I counted the ’13 CMU Gamay as one of my mind-blowing wines of the year. Once again we are witness to the authentic, raw and natural impossibility of the wine, from 100 per cent whole clusters sent to cement fermenters. The hue is just impossible, the wine sulphur-free. That ’13 Gamay did not last. I tasted again this winter and it failed me. It may return. This ’14 will never leave. It is natural to the 14th degree and yet its rich, smokey chocolate  centre and structure of pure physical stature will not let it slide, into a dumb phase or oblivion. This Gamay will strut. It already does. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted June 2015  @PearlMorissette

Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2013, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

That flesh, that Kabinett flesh, fills the CSV in every crevice. In 2013 the residual sugar number lies between 15 and 16 g/L, and though the crop was bigger, it was still picked later than in 2012. The result is formidable corporeal concentration, consistency of house style and perhaps the only ’13 Niagara Riesling to imitate, perpetuate and extrapolate on the vintage that came before. This Cave Spring concentrates fruit and Escarpment into a powerful Riesling, streaming like charged particles through changing expressions. A lingering ascension hovers as it rises, until it slowly fades into the welkin, like a balloon that languidly gets lost into the blinding blue of a midday sky. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted April 2015  @CaveSpring

Malivoire Mottiar Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Any Chardonnay from a vineyard discovered on a bicycle just has to be the bomb. Winemaker Shiraz Mottiar has had many an adventure on his bicycle and it all began here in a plot of perfectly planted Chardonnay. A block that became his home vineyard. The fodder for this most balanced Chardonnay and its abilities transcend all that has come before. You would never know a barrel was ever involved and yet the silken sheaths of texture are well compressed and expertly ingrained. Nothing falls out of place. Everything remains in its right place. The radio is dialled in, from the top and outward in waves. “There are two colors in my head,” Everything in its right place. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted November 2015  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar

Thirty Bench Small Lot Steel Post Vineyard Riesling 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Riesling Masterclass

Riesling Masterclass at Terroir 2015

Balance is and therefore always was struck. The match percusses flint for a mere nano-second, with just a brush on cymbal, the rock bleeds but is quickly clotted because the fruit shines still, like around the clock light. The steely aspect is a posterior one, antithetical and yet purposed, from this vineyard. Youth tells common sense to think 2011. The Riesling behaviour seems to play that part, of a chalky, piercing acidity, so typical of that vintage and so distinctly Thirty Bench. That the wine is older is not a big surprise because 2009 is the bomb. It may just be the best Riesling vintage, from on that Bench, in the last 10. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted May 2015  @ThirtyBench

C.C. Jentsch Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Oh so beautifully nasty Syrah, spicy, saucy and wicked. Resin, somewhere between myrrh and mastic, redacts reductively and tension stretches the savoury aspects in all directions. Blood orange and anise blend into the aromatic grain, repeating again through flavour mettle. Fruit, acidity and tannin are interwoven, circulating and on edge, in pitch perfect darkness. Syrah in the big time with the stuffing to age. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015  @CCJentschCellar

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Leaning Post Wines Pinot Noir McNally Vineyard 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

“I want you to see the difference between vineyards. That’s terroir.” This the crux and the impetus to abide and acquiesce fruit from McNally, a cooler, higher site of younger vines. For Ilya, this is “truffle hunting, eating roasted pig, at the base of an oak tree.” The forest floor and the catalytic funk come across more in flavour than smell, following cherries in the dead of an aromatic night. Modernity be damned, this strikes ripe, layered and nearly indelicate. The wine’s got some real chew to it, along with crispy flowers, like nasturtium and lavender. “I think this is the best Pinot that I’ve made,” boasts Senchuk, from 15 year-old vines at Peninsula Ridge. Ilya’s muse came from the 2010 made by winemaker Jamie Evans, along with the Voyageur ’10 made by Ross Wise at Keint-He. Wines that spoke in a vernacular that Senchuk could understand and relate to on a deeper level. Prime ripeness defines 2012. Though it teases of grandiose terroir, its complexities reign in the power with each sip, every time. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @LeaningPostWine

Potatoes, not wine #pei @normhardie

Potatoes, not wine #pei @normhardie

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)

Procuring depth in County Pinot Noir is a tough task within the constraints of resisting a temptation to reach for sugars, alcohol and dark berry fruit. Norm Hardie’s 2013 unfiltered (at 10.9 per cent) and lambent exegesis succeeds because it offers the best of all available worlds. Roots for vines that burrow to limestone develop a structure that while may have at one time been inconsistent, have crossed the threshold in ’13 to establish a guarantee. A Hardie PEC Pinot Noir can be bright and accessible. It can also be tough, tart and tannic, as it is here, again, but not without its foil. The work is now innate, the transitions seamless, the crossroads left in the dust. This wine will please two camps; those who can afford and demand immediate gratification and those who are willing to wait for secondary (two to three years) and tertiary (four to seven) character development. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted April  and September 2015  @normhardie

Culmina Hypothesis 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (Winery, $39, WineAlign)

In 2013 the blend is not listed on the label though it strikes as a return to Cabernet Franc, albeit with a layer of lush not yet perceived. The 2013 combines the best of worlds put forth by the two previous vintages; ripe fruit, earthy-mineral tang, proper acidity and ripe, tonic tannin. The composition here is the most, accomplished, distinguished and relished. In 2013 the enjoyment can be right now or up to 10 years on. All this with thanks to exceptional balance. Drink 2015-2023. This wine has not yet been released. Tasted November 2015  @CulminaWinery

Sparkling wines by Hinterland

Sparkling wines by Hinterland

Hinterland Les Etoiles 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

An axial split between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay balances this traditional method Sparkling wine, specific to and what can only, obviously be from Prince Edward County. Acidity defines its existence in every facet of its being. A rich star to be sure, from a warm vintage, free from frost and more importantly, immune to mould. Jonas Newman talks of the methodology, in growing low to the ground. As the sun goes down, the canopy shades the fruit, slowing down the ripening, extending the season, developing the sugars, the complexities and preserving the acidity. At 6 g/L RS, with limestone communication and that sassy acidity, Les Etoiles in ’12 is pure County Sparkling. It exudes untamed apple and unnamed acidity. The Hinterland acidity. It strikes early and often. Just add warmth, stir and voila. Terrific year. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted October 2015  @hinterlandwine

Ancienne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir 2013 with a glass of soon to be released Rose

Ancienne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir 2013 with a glass of soon to be released Rose

Lightfoot & Wolfville Pinot Noir Ancienne 2013, Nova Scotia (Winery, $40, WineAlign)

If de novo for Pinot Noir is to be found in Nova Scotia then count me in because the inaugural release from Lightfoot & Wolfville is the trailblazer for and from the extrinsic frontier. Tasting the painstakingly measured yet barely handled 2013 for the first time (from bottle) is like falling into a glass of Nova Scotia cherries. Somehow there is this simultaneous and virtual voyage abroad to imagine a comparison with Nuits-Saint-Georges, in its earth crusted, sanguine, welled up tension that begs questions and belies answers. A year yonder the taste from barrel and what can be said? Pinot Noir adjudicated, into a cortex of recognizable consciousness and thus into the natural Nova Scotia mystic. Ignore and forgive the dope of first returns, for no one could have imagined such ripeness and immediate gratification. Future releases will dial back in the name of structure. That said, in 2013 there is a red citrus, ferric debate that will send this to an exordium seven years down the road. Impossible inaugural release. Approximately 50 cases made. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted July 2015  @lwwines  @rachel_hope

Stratus assemblage and varietals

Stratus assemblage and varietals

Stratus Tannat 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

“To me this is one of the most successful new varieties we are planting,” exclaims J-L Groux. In similar ways with Stratus varietal cousin Petit Verdot, acidity rules the roost. Smells like a just sliced open bag of organic earth, freshly neutral, funkless and emptying into a (first use) terra cotta pot. A rich, looking straight ahead expression. What it hides in fruit is lost to the brilliance of balance though plum is the operative hidden flesh and it will make a clearer impression when it steps clear of the tar and the tannin. This is pitchy sagacity, with poise and length. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @StratusWines

Tasting The Old Third at White Oaks

Tasting The Old Third at White Oaks

The Old Third Sparkling Pinot Noir à la Volée 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $59, WineAlign)

“On the fly” is not exactly what comes to mind from this 100 per cent Pinot Noir, first Sparkling wine made by Bruno Francois. Calculated, attention to detail and intensity of ideation more like it. Three years on the lees, no dosage and from a vintage to speak in more than whispered voices, of acidity that announces its arrival with immediacy and a summons to contest. The nose does yeast, toast, citrus and ginger. A first release revelation as ever graced Ontario’s waves, as dry as the desert and lingering with switch back traces of its yeasty, toasty self. A single vineyard can be this way, equally and in opposition of natural and oxidative, with a hue less than Pinot Noir, though unrequited as a triumph when you get a ripe white from such Pinot. The production of 1200 bottles is relatively house high in a stunner that needs no sugar to draw up its flavours. Drink 2015-2023.  Tasted twice, July and October 2015

asting across the @Benjamin_Bridge Vero, '08's, '04, Sparkling & Cab Franc Rosé. Thanks JB, Scott & Mike

asting across the @Benjamin_Bridge Vero, ’08’s, ’04, Sparkling & Cab Franc Rosé. Thanks JB, Scott & Mike

Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2004, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $95.00, WineAlign)

The ’04 is hanging in beautifully, on a wire of impossible balance, at 11 years old not yet really transitioning. There is simply too much brightness for it to give up its youth. You have to strain your ears, nose and throat to assuage just a hint at oxygen, life affirming breaths and then a keener sense of toast and yeast. Still behold the grapefruit, a sign of remarkable adolescence, the hang time amplified and in mass hyperbole here, in this current appraisal, address and time. How can richness act and display with such alpha freshness? How can an aging body not shed baby weight, turn lanky, lean and awkward? How is it neither the bitter pill of juvenility or senility has been swallowed? That is not the case here in a Blanc de Blancs which still has five to seven years of very active life ahead. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted July 2015  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

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October surprise

Beef shank, romano bean and lentil soup, tomato, basil, nasturtium

Beef shank, romano bean and lentil soup, tomato, basil, nasturtium

Just over two weeks separates us from another federal election, a national concern in address of criminal activity. Criminal because the choice, at least in the hazy, politically discharged context of my age of voting lifetime, has never been more difficult to make. This I can say. If any of the three leaders pulls out an October surprise from their proverbial political hat, I’m calling their bluff.

Political theory and editorial aside, the one organization that clearly invokes the OS trump card repeatedly and with outright conceit is the LCBO. The operating system is predicated on spin tactics to influence booze czars and to turn business reports inside out. Every month of the year can be aligned with surprise, to make certain the Province of Ontario and whichever elected (or keys to the castle given) Premier stays on the lee side.

Ontario beer, wine and spirit commentary aside, the VINTAGES release calendar continues to cycle on through with expert efficiency and en ever-increasing delightful, thoughtfully purchased and seemingly never-ending supply of quality wine. In 2015, the October surprise is one I can get behind, support and outright cheer for. Finding 10 wines I’d feel honoured to sip, pour and relegate to the mid-life crisis racks of the cellar is nothing short of shooting fish in a barrel. For October 3rd, here they are.

From left to right: Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2013, Stephane Aviron Vieilles Vignes Morgon Côte Du Py 2012, Altos Las Hormigas Terroir Malbec 2012, Rosewood Origin Cabernet Franc 2013 and 2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2013, Stephane Aviron Vieilles Vignes Morgon Côte Du Py 2012, Altos Las Hormigas Terroir Malbec 2012, Rosewood Origin Cabernet Franc 2013 and 2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2012

Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (391995, $19.95, WineAlign)

Another notch on the Escarpment knows Cabernet Franc totem, with similar if deeper, earthy red fruit character in 2013 for the Cave Spring. The tonalities are further elevated in a vintage that should offer more balance. That it does in terms of handling ripeness in opposition to acidity but at a young age it is further from its intended truth than was the ’12. This may be a better, bigger and deeper CF of potentiality but it’s awkward right now. Give it a year plus to answer the bell. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted September 2015  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

Stephane Aviron Vieilles Vignes Morgon Côte Du Py 2012, Ac Beaujolais, France (424804, $19.95, WineAlign)

Like dark cherry for freshness, maceration for thickness. Entirely, satisfyingly and flat-out rung up in juicy Côte de Puy. Meaty and leaning to roasted, this consistent Morgon makes an honest bedfellow with the Cru. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @Nicholaspearce_

Altos Las Hormigas Terroir Malbec 2012, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (366005, $22.95, WineAlign)

Tremendously different Malbec, within the context of largesse. Deep, natural funk, like Syrah of meaty, smoky, porcine intent, from the northern Rhone or Franschhoek. But as Malbec, to Cahors, or not, it is simply cimmerian, intense, of iodine and blood, of minerals not often sensed. Well scripted by a big box outfit with much on its plate. High commendation to be sure. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2015 @ALHmalbec  @winesofarg

Rosewood Origin Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (427534, $25.95, WineAlign)

Cabernet Franc moving with all the correct intentions. Plods a disciplined direction of self-harnessing variegated power out of the ripening challenges abetted by The Bench’s rolling hillside vineyards. Esteemed of low alcohol, on a knife’s edge verge of ripe, ripe fruit and with tannin to add necessary stuffing. Depth of Cab Franc terroir clay, simulating the beautiful rascal flats of the lakeshore, here up higher, crusted by the Escarpment, combining for depth and matter. This matter. This bottle matters, this varietal necessity, this excerpt. It has meaty, smoky, binging bent. It will age for a minimum five and likely, efficiently, for an excavating seven or eight. Drink 2015-2023.  Tasted September 2015  @Rosewoodwine

2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (421362, $30.00, WineAlign)

In the hands of winemaker Kevin Panagapka, Craig Wismer’s fruit retains un underlay of power not recognized in other Foxcroft Chardonnays. Neither Thomas Bachelder nor Ross Wise (Keint-He) make anything near spirited as this 2027 take. Chardonnay loves the sun in the Foxcroft Block and Panagapka loves to see that sun hook up with the inside of a barrel. This ’12 makes a nice date for a wood wedding. A product of the Dijon 96 clone, the reduction in this Chardonnay drives its fresh, spritely if mettlesome nature, with a bark and a barrel bellow, but longevity will not suffer as a result. This could take 30 years to oxidize, it’s that audacious and also courageous. Let it and its buttered popcorn rest a while. Drink 2017-2025. Tasted May 2015  @2027cellars

From left to right: Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2013, Vina Real Gran Reserva 2008, Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2013 and Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013

From left to right: Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2013, Vina Real Gran Reserva 2008, Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2013 and Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013

Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2013, Coonawarra, South Australia (509919, $34.95, WineAlign)

One thing is certain, never judge a Penfolds by its cover, in its youth. Here Shiraz is meaty and pepper laces the brawny fruit. A purely bovine expression with enough ganache to ice a birthday cake for 50. But the level of structure, brick laying foundation and utter momentous occasion means this must be assessed with a waiting for the compression to emerge, from out beneath the cumbrous suppression. In time, that it will. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted September 2015  @penfolds  @alyons_wine

Vina Real Gran Reserva 2008, Rioja, Spain (280545, $36.95, WineAlign)

Highly volatile at this stage and perhaps will be at further stages, but the fruit slinging to acidity bringing it to and from tannin is immense and beautiful. Big structure, stuffing and stage one temper. Has every right to fly its name up high because this represents firm 2008 Rioja with distinction and is as real as it gets. Needs three years to settle down and play a proper, righteous Rioja tune. Wow. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2015  @Cvne  @vonterrabev

Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma County, California (944843, $39.95, WineAlign)

Always fruitful, full and necessary. No holes, plentiful in high quality chocolate and bountiful by way of stuffing. Deep and intense. Big tannins. Tells it from Sonoma Mountain in the way the author would have prescribed. In the proper function of Cabernet, “to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” Persists as a top under $40 California Cabernet, as it always has. A London for the 10-15 year haul. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2015  @KenwoodVineyard  @sonomavintners

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (349019, $44.95, WineAlign)

No combination of ripeness and desert derived concentration can be found in any Cabernet Franc, not just in this country but really anywhere. That the Owl can achieve such massive structure and red fruit containment is remarkable, unparalleled and in singular ownership of style. Extraction clearly matters, layering is key and quality must ride with ripeness. “You know what I’m saying baby,” this is a sky rocket of a Cabernet Franc. Full on, flat-out expression, without compromise.  Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @BurrowingOwlBC  @LeSommelierWine
Owl - Sky Rocket

Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013, Rhône, France (700922, $58.95, WineAlign)

A thankful. restful and wistful return to form, away from heat and into perfume. Cherry melting into garrigue, beautiful musty wood, the way things were, not so long ago, when the evening meal and the garden mattered. As things do and will again. This Donjon will be a part of future’s past. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2015  @VINSRHONE  @RhoneWine

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I’m a little bit County

Keint-He Vineyards

Keint-He Vineyards

Aren’t we all? In the wake of recent frosts, a compounding ass-kicking at the hands of Mother Nature in the wake of two harsh winters, the farmers of Prince Edward County now have to work that much harder to make viable an already arduous road to growing Vinifera. I’m not so much the type to report on bad news so I leave it to my revered colleague Rick VanSickle to hand you the news. Rick does it with empathy, grace, subtlety and truth. Here is what he is telling us about vine damage in PEC.

UPDATED: Prince Edward County vineyards hit hard by brutal frost, Niagara assessing damage, Lake Erie North Shore spared wide-spread damage

If I was not before, with thoughts constantly streaming east to the north shores of Lake Ontario, where precarious soils sit like Buddha astride one very massive and far-stretching bed of limestone rock, at present I am a little bit County. Therefore today is the day to put some notes out on the Prince Edward County wines I tasted last month at Airship 37 in the Distillery district. The County came to town for their annual fair.

County in the City at Airship 37

County in the City at Airship 37

WineAlign primo scrittore David Lawrason presented his PEC state of the union address via the company website last week. David touched on some integral points for growers and winemakers in the County, including the rise of Riesling and a case for increasing plantings of varieties like Chenin Blanc. The story mentions new wineries and untrodden varietal production yet when all is said and done, the best wines on his recommended list are almost exclusively produced from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Those Burgundian soils don’t really lie, do they?

Related – Take them home, County wines

What strikes me most in this retrospective look at the 40 or so wines that I tasted last month is how varieties perform once the vines have matured and their profiles becoming increasingly County in character. Maturity, wisdom and acumen are developing a condensing of Prince Edward County hyperbole. The wines are serially developing a house style and regional disposition. With each successive vintage the wines of Norman Hardie, Dan Sullivan, Jonas Newman, Frédéric Picard, Glen Symons, Bryan Rogers, Paul Battilana, Gerry Spinosa, Colin Stanners, Caroline Granger, Bruno Francois, Bill Turnbull, Dan Tweyman, Deborah Paskus (to Keith Tyers) and the late Richard Karlo (with torch passed to Milan Vujnic) leave the Burgundy comparison behind to speak a strictly PEC vernacular.

Maggie Granger with The Grange of Prince Edward County Gamay Select 2009

Maggie Granger with The Grange of Prince Edward County Gamay Select 2009

The voice and the news is a very good thing. The clarity of the County is glaring and vivid, leading to what David Lawrason calls “great highs to significant lows,” but yes, Lawrason is correct in saying “overall the playing field is evening out.” Prince Edward County is coming into its own, growing comfortably into its cool skin and if mother nature has any balancing to offer, the future will be bright.

Related – You can lead a county to the city

Keint He Chardonnay Voyageur 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (389544, $16.00, WineAlign)

A quiet, somewhat demurred aromatic hone succeeds in drawing rather than distancing curiosity. Deeper inhalation gets to the toasty, nutty crux of the cool fruit and the conclusion is valour, chivalry and generosity. Picks right up where ’12 left off if just a bit more gelid by nature. Niagara fruit (Foxcroft, Queenston and Malivoire) provide ample combined cream and lactic limestone tack with palate driving citrus bent. Takes up several lanes of breadth on the texture trek to become a distinct PEC composed Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Keint He Chardonnay Portage 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The PEC derived Portage Chardonnay goes deeper than the Niagara Voyageur, no doubt in part to roots from maturing vines that work and dig for limestone. That raison d’être is the constant yet in ’13 the expression is rounder, fleshier, enigmatic, akin or at least prompts the idea of June’s Vineyard in Niagara. Shows its oak with increased weight, fuller favour and more beneficial bitters. The minor decrease in acidity stalls the Prince Edward County mechanism and solicits earlier term consumption. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015

Keint He Chardonnay Foxcroft 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

A year on the wilder times have settled for the early aromatics. The progression pauses at the juste milieu and gracefully glides across the palate to a similar nimble finish. Has reached the optimum condition of cool climate Chardonnay to remain in that state of pliancy for another year or two. Drink 2015-2017.

From my earlier note of February 2014:

Fruit sourced from a single Niagara block. Despite having made the yeomans voyageur trek out to the County for vinification, integrity of the Foxcroft vibe has been maintained. Freshly cored Kenyan pineapple juice poured atop oat grain in a limestone molcajete. Bottled on Sept. 15th, like all the ‘12’s. Fullish, bullish extraction and at 13.5 percent abv, this Foxcroft has been handled with Wise acumen, with more rich texture than the others. A chew of nutty, non-acidic hard pineapple comes later and this finishes with a mild-mannered, even keel feel to it, like the winemaker and the estate’s keeper.

Last tasted April 2015

Keint He Gamay Noir Voyageur 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)
From fruit sourced at Malivoire on the Beamsville Bench and from a vineyard that was lost to the ice storm of 2014. Really too bad considering the outright fresh and bright Gamay that has come forth out of this ’13. Black raspberry, at just the optimum brix fills in this shining though simple example. It has just the correct balance of tart and twinge of carbonic meets late spice. Its simplicity lies in the structure where one component concedes to the next, as opposed to layering upon one another. Very linear and immediate Gamay. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted April 2015

Keint He Pinot Noir Voyageur 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.00, WineAlign)

Quite a pretty vintage for the PEC Pinot traveller by way of Malivoire and Queenston Road in Niagara. With a spray of cola and an inside edge of liquorice root in its gait, the Peninsula Pinot has already ignited its development. The 18 months in bottle have finished designing the invitation to solicit partake in reward for prompt gratification. The world is a charming one, replete with interchangeable aromatics and flavours, replayed, rewound and woven within the fabrics. Very efficient and studious Pinot Noir. Very Pinot Noir. Drink 2015-20178.  Tasted April 2015

Keint He Pinot Noir Portage 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

Depth of character despite the light hue and frame, a dichotomy expressed in Pinot Noir, in this vintage most akin to entry-level Bourgogne and less like its County self. Goes directly subterranean, away from fruit, if only for a spell, to a bound and binding rock cavern. Returns later, is showered by peppers and bitters, ground by tannin and grinds back down to earth. Missing are the cherries and the chocolate, replaced by wacke and substrata. Perhaps give it a year or two to settle, refine and make another call for that hermetical fruit. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Keint He Pinot Noir Queenston Road 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Keint He’s take on a single-structured Pinot Noir from the Queenston Road is highly aromatic, warmer than (by comparison, Creekside Estate’s) and yet not obscured or veiled by any discernible layer of veneer. The cool, savoury centre is the oasis offering respite from the full environmental gamut on display at the hands of sweet, sour, salty and lardy. Quite characterful, bold and cool-climate kitschy with a kinesthetic, corporeal feel. When Bryan Rogers and Ross Wise gain another level of Queenston understanding, it will not be hard to imagine a churning of something special in 2013. I’d put my money on it. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015

The Grange of Prince Edward County Gamay Select 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $15.95, WineAlign)

Daughter (Maggie) convinced mother (Caroline) to let her hold back 15 cases of this County Gamay, a variety that has some difficulty sharing the sandbox with limestone. The additional five years in bottle has brought the downy fruit back from acidity’s precarious cliff edge, from the brink of piercing danger and disaster. The current state is one of conciliation and quiescence. There remains a major key of funk mind you, parliamentary even, but sniff past and the plot thickens, as does the texture. Chalky, gritty and persistently grainy, this ’09 Gamay is very much alive, like a scaling bass line supported by a rising horn section. A real fun look at the past with an eye to drive the future. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

The wines of Norman Hardie

The wines of Norman Hardie

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)

Procuring depth in County Pinot Noir is a tough task within the constraints of resisting a temptation to reach for sugars, alcohol and dark berry fruit. Norm Hardie’s 2013 unfiltered (at 10.9 per cent) and lambent exegesis succeeds because it offers the best of all available worlds. Roots for vines that burrow to limestone develop a structure that while may have at one time been inconsistent, have crossed the threshold in ’13 to establish a guarantee. A Hardie PEC Pinot Noir can be bright and accessible. It can also be tough, tart and tannic, as it is here, again, but not without its foil. The work is now innate, the transitions seamless, the crossroads left in the dust. This wine will please two camps; those who can afford and demand immediate gratification and those who are willing to wait for secondary (two to three years) and tertiary (four to seven) character development. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)

The anxiety of the vintage has not left the bottle while the raging fruit and acidity battle for supremacy. The space-time-chaos continuum will perdure in this Pinot Noir of unpaired anatomical structure. Wait a further three years minimum for the azygous to drain. The heft will subside. Drink 2018-2022.

From my earlier note of March 2013:

Norman Hardie needs little introduction. He is the reason Prince Edward County Pinot will secure a place on that grape’s world stage. The 2011 vintage will go down as a classic for PEC. The tens have mass appeal, the nines turned out to be stellar but it is the elevens that gather the best of both worlds; ripeness and acidity. Stock up. Paints the County red in layered and structured brushstrokes. Ripe, bright cherry tonality in super-heightened, mesmeric sensuality. Accented by weeping rock, black earth and that cherry. Would not figure this to be Norm’s most rugged or gregarious and yet it holds more heft than it looks. Currently in a great place and will live longer than any other.

Last tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

The ’12 Niagara has swapped spontaneity for coherence, licentiousness for logic. Has entered the stage of non-reductive peel, where skin is discarded, flesh is exposed and juices run free. If you like your Chardonnay settled and yet vitally fresh, now is the time to enjoy the Hardie 2012 Niagara Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2022.

From my earlier more of May 2014:

Norm’s Niagara is such a different animal to the County 2012. The warm summer and dry fall means more humidity and even more reduction. Currently cothurnal so less like Burgundy but only because there elevates the high-tones and percipience from Niagara. Texture is key but this Hardie needs time. It’s not angular but it is steroidal, injected, like a wild thing, as if the yeast were still in control, munching away even though there is no more sugar to be had. Undomesticated ’12, at heart, in spirit, out of mind. Hard to imagine there could be this much anxiety from the even-tempered vintage, but when you pick real early and keep the oak to a bare minimum, Hardie happens. Norm picked ripe fruit between September 7 and 10, six weeks ahead as compared to some years. He said the fruit had a “golden tan, ready to go.” The use of smallish 500L barrels works wonders for texture and though 40 per cent was new wood, you would never know it. Malolactic fermentation didn’t happen until late August, nearly a full year on so no sulphuring was required until that time. This is Hardie’s freshest Niagara fruit ever, from Duarte Oliveira’s farm between Victoria and Ontario Street, the same spot as Hillebrand’s Chardonnay Reserve. Terrific Beamsville Bench Chardonnay.

Last tasted April 2015

Casa Dea Gamay 2013, Huff Estates Chardonnay South Bay Vineyards 2012 and Karlo Estates Pinot Grigio 2013

Casa Dea Gamay 2013, Huff Estates Chardonnay South Bay Vineyards 2012 and Karlo Estates Pinot Grigio 2013

Karlo Estates Pinot Grigio 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $21.00, WineAlign)

The adage is so very true; a good Pinot Grigio is hard to find, just like a man. The take here is decidedly and strikingly Pinot Grigio, a flash of Friuli and a Bessie to be reckoned with. This just has that positive, smithy oxidative side, the kind that rocks and stones mixed with winemaking cause an exchange of electrons between reactants. The fruit is big, lucidly piqued by pear, but also leaning mango and jack. Quite fleshy, with schematic, scenic, natural acidity and panoramic minerality. This is about as mnemonic as it gets for Gris, or in this case Grigio, in Prince Edward County, especially considering who the buyers will be. One can only hope they intuit the condition and here’s to planning for that consumer base to expand. “Lord, a good (Pinot Grigio) is hard to find, you always get another kind.” Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Lighthall Sparkling Rosé ‘The Fence’ 2014, VQA Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

This is Glen Symon’s first Sparkling Rosé, a 100 per cent Pinot Noir from estate vineyards, refermented using the Charmat method. Intensely fizzy, in toto fruity and actually gives off a Pinot Noir vibe. Something racy, spicy and wild runs rampant, rendering this blush bubble in an Ontario class of its own. It’s like 1980’s alt-dance fizz, with a New Order or B-52 thing going on. It just seems to do the “she-ga-loo, shy tuna, camel walk, hip-o-crit, coo-ca-choo, aqua velva, dirty dog and escalator.” Has the direct beat, retro and futuristic at the same time. Dance this mess around, in sweet and savoury tones, warm, day-glo, slow and gyrating. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted April 2015

Lighthall Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

This may not be the first Pinot Noir made by Glen Symons but it marks a categorical paradigm shift for the Lighthall oeuvre. Elicits a “well, well, what have we here” response. Unfiltered, reflexive and flexing, not so much in weight as in protein. This is an entirely different sort of Prince Edward County Pinot Noir, neither dark as black cherry nor bright as sour cherry. It’s aromas and flavours recall both. I can’t say for sure that any Ontario Pinot has crossed into such territory. Offers a shade of calignosity for those who believe that genuine Pinot Noir only thrives in the dark. Yet the clarity is conversely illuminating. It’s pure, crisp and forking over real gastronomic delicacy. Intimates aspects of Sonoma and Otago with PEC intimacy. Really well-defined and culminating with a positive bitter finish. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015

Huff Estates Chardonnay South Bay Vineyards 2012, Lighthall Pinot Noir 2013 and Sparkling Rosé 'The Fence' 2014

Huff Estates Chardonnay South Bay Vineyards 2012, Lighthall Pinot Noir 2013 and Sparkling Rosé ‘The Fence’ 2014

Huff Estates Chardonnay South Bay Vineyards 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Reductive but not to excess. If you can appreciate a Norm Hardie Chardonnay then Huff’s style is a walk in the park. A few swirls brings the rest of the players to the fore stage and the party. This is big band Chardonnay, with a feminine and demonstrative lead vocalist. Richly textured, from PEC plots at South Bay that are the Niagara equivalent of Wismer Vineyards, lending warmth, soil fixation and unconscious aid. There is a level of supposition that leads to breeding a sensation of succulence that is not found anywhere else in the County. Barrel is important, mostly unobtrusive and so this gathers up layers, separates, divides and then meshes. The wood is employed towards a west coast groove but it works with the best, best fruit. The corpulence is not built on butter but rather demi-glace, or perhaps perfect beurre-blanc. A very long and driven Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2015

Rosehall Run Riesling The Righteous Dude 2014

Rosehall Run Riesling The Righteous Dude 2014

Rosehall Run Riesling The Righteous Dude 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Thank you Dan Sullivan for the fodder, to go on more tangents than should be allowed in a tasting note. And thank you for fixing a righteous Riesling, exemplary to Twenty Mile Bench and in a vein that represents the Double R. Has Mosel meets 20 Mile in verse. Feigned sweetness is managed by thriving acidity, much as others have similarly done in the area; Jay Johnston with Nadja and Paul Pender with Limestone Vineyard. Here lies Niagara Riesling you can really sink your teeth into, made by PEC-minded folk, really tying the Ontario room together. A hooked rug of Niagara and PEC in the hands of Sullivan, with really fine lines and good length. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Casa Dea Gamay 2013, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $15.95, WineAlign)

Fine work in 2013, for Gamay, by winemaker Paul Batillana. Gamay is so very welcome when the fruity matter matters most, as witnessed by this Casa Dea. Some depth from soil and an ever so slight scorch of earth add complexity to hang a #GoGamayGo hat upon. Has the bends in a way, going just a bit too deep but rescues itself with a fresh radio frequency and a changeling face to red orchard fruit. This has real cru class, good funky bass and a driving sound to regeneration. Will evolve nicely for five years. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015

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Top 15 under-$25 wines of 2014

Barque Smokehouse Miami Ribs PHOTO: Kevin Hewitt and Jill Chen (http://www.freestylefarm.ca/)

Barque Smokehouse Miami Ribs
PHOTO: Kevin Hewitt and Jill Chen (http://www.freestylefarm.ca/)

The year-end list. Why? To “free the individual from the collective.” To ponder, speculate and formulate a narrative. To create the sociological, world of wine equivalent of splitting the atom. To celebrate the triumph of laic heterodoxy and the arrogance of modernity.  To seek purity from beneath the massacre caused by an avalanche of contrived wines. In anthropological terms, “to make a housecleaning of belief.”

For the great majority, $25 is the threshold rarely exceeded when shopping for a bottle of wine. If a solid, honest to good bottle can’t be had for less, grape dismissal rears its ugly head and the switch turns to beer, or worse, rail booze mixed with sugar and/or chemical bitters. Oh, the drab humanity of it all.

But a great wine can be had for less than $25 and once found should be exalted and purchased by the case. The category of reds and in less instances whites, need company. This is where Sparkling, Sherry and even Dessert wines seek the embrace of an open mind and a willing palate. Spread the wealth, into glasses filled, from methods and styles unknown.

You will note that this list is filled with such rare animals and not just from the calculations in ferment, but from places unexpected, far off, of gestalt, historical significance and of the ancients. Places like Naoussa and Santorini in Greece, Montilla Moriles from Spain and Alsace, France.

These 15 wines are (almost all) culled from VINTAGES releases. I tasted countless other terrific under-$25 examples in 2014; local, parochial, from beyond Ontario’s borders and abroad. For the purposes of what the Ontario consumer needs to know and for what serves them best, restricting the bulk of the list to what is available in LCBO stores (or in many cases, what was and will again, as a newer vintage, be released), these 15 wines are not hard to find.

So yes, this is an ode, a nod, shout out and props to our faithful and loyal provider, the LCBO and truer to the point, VINTAGES, the fine wine and spirits division of the Ontario monopoly. The supply chain for great wine is alive and well, despite the efforts required to sift through the chaff, to separate it from the proverbial wheat. The gems, though oft-times hidden, can be unearthed. The diamonds will time and again be scooped from the rough and the cream will also rise to the top. Cliché is a by-product of wine life in Ontario.

What stands out and above is the contribution made and presented by the winemakers and vintners in this province. Six out of my 15 choices are from Ontario. The attitude that Ontario wines are too expensive and do not offer good value as compared to similar wines from Chile, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, Germany, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand is rubbish. My decision to include six such beasts drives the point. Many excellent wines are available at the u-$25 price point.

Here are my wines of the year that came in under $25. Some are sold out, many are not. Find them before the year is out.

Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (Agent, $14.95, 500ml, WineAlign) From Recently tasted here, there and everywhere, November 24, 2014

The winery was founded in 1844 and in 1970 Toro Albalá became the first commercial Montilla producer in the classic Solera method, from (estate-grown) Pedro Ximénez vines. This is unfortified Fino, at a naturally achieved alcohol of 15 per cent, from an average age of 10 years. It’s so dry, like a desert you could walk for astral weeks, as if it should be measured in negative residual sugar. Like pure almond extract paste, bones in the sand and the essence of pulverized, powdered nuts, void of moisture. The chalky-white Albariza soils of the Moriles Alto subzone are hardwired into its Akashic, astral Electrico plane. This Fino ventures in the slipstream, between viaducts of dreams, “where immobile steel rims crack.” Impossibly long finish.  Tasted November 2014  @toroalbala  @MontillaMoriles  @LeSommelierWine

Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa (231282, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 Release

Always a diamond cut above its like-minded and similarly priced peers. Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc has the most wonderful smell of bleeding, oozing metal and the bitten into stones of many tree fruits, in bittering nobility. Not to mention the pith of citrus and the pits of tree nuts. Though currently in a sulphurous, reductive state, with age this will seek and find an earthen, honey bronzed gorgeousness, in say five to seven years and live in sweet CB infamy until 2025. For a wine that crosses oceans to arrive in your tasting glass, at $18 it represents the finest value in Chenin just about anywhere on the planet. Terrific length. Chenin meets Montrachet.  Tasted May 2014  @KFwines  @WOSACanada

Artichoke and Fiddleheads PHOTO: Michael Godel

Artichoke and Fiddleheads
PHOTO: Michael Godel

Boeckel Brandluft Riesling 2012, Alsace, France (392928, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES November 8, 2014 Release, Big release, bigger wines, November 7, 2014

From a northern part of Alsace, southwest of Strasbourg comes this epitome of Dry Alsace Riesling, stone cold stoic and bereft. The impossibility of this style is what Alsace does with impunity and propriety; gaseous and aerified without petrol or vitriol. But it will condense and go there after five years time. The quality is excellent for the price, from a limestone and silica lieu-dit just this side short of Grand Cru. Citrus would be the wrong descriptor but it does act like an exuding of citric acid. So stark and beautiful. Such a mineral expression in every fighting sense of the argument. Like chewing on rock salts and dehydrated limestone, the second tablet then dropped into the glass. A famous wine merchant in London sells this for $25 CAN. In Ontario, this is a must purchase by the case.  Tasted October 2014  @HHDImports_Wine  @drinkAlsace

Dirty Ramps

Dirty Ramps

Rosewood Select Sémillon 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (winery, $18.00,WineAlign) From Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality, October 8, 2014

After tasting Rosewood’s ’12, I urged the region’s cultivation of the great white wolf variety. Then the winter of 2014 happened. Rosewood’s vines were wiped clean off the map, erased like a child of parents who never met. The ’13 Sem is the last Mohican and its 12.5 per cent alcohol (down two from ’12) is a fitting, subdued and graceful epitaph to an amazing Beamsville run. This final cut is lean, stark, raving mad. So very savoury, tannic and built to linger for longer than most. The Rosewood honey is in hiding,”far from flying high in clear blue skies,” but like all memorable vintages of this wine, it will emerge in time. This Sémillon asks, “and if I show you my dark side, will you still hold me tonight?” Yes is the answer, and not just because she is the last one. Terrific curtain call.  Tasted October 2014  @Rosewoodwine

Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (372441, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES July 19, 2014 Release, Release the summer wine, July 17, 2014

Noticeably dry but also earthy/funky. Struck match and plowed earth. As it settles into its skin and your consciousness it develops body, depth and acidity. Grows and expands, reaches heights you thought it would not. The vintage works wonders for the Twenty Mile Bench and this block has expansive stuffing to take it long, not to mention the earthy complexity to see it change and evolve. It may go through a disturbing, unusual phase but be patient and set one aside for 15 years from now. You will be amazed what honey and deep geology it discovers and uncovers.  Tasted June 2014  @RockwayVineyard

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES December 6, 2014 Release, The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014

Who has not waited for Elevation to hit out of the 2012 vintage? Straight up it must be noted that this will rank over and above the best from the St. Urban Vineyard. The ’12 Elevation will not only find long-term success among the great values in Bench Riesling, it will go down as one of the best ever, at any price. The vintage impart is a natural for this wine. At the moment it is the most primary of all because of the layers that texture bring. The Elevation will go thirty years and climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, gaining flesh and personality. The already seamless gathering of fruit and mineral is palpable. And still a reminder, the price is $20. This is a Schmidt gift to Ontario, for anyone and everyone to be one of the lucky ones. To purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling.  Tasted November 2014  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Maine Lobsters

Maine Lobsters

Nugan King Valley Frasca’s Lane Chardonnay 2012, King Valley, Victoria, Australia (288191, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 7, 2014 Release, Australian rules VINTAGES, June 4, 2014

The toast in this Victorian charmer comes across in a mild-mannered, spoken word way with a simmering, buttery bass line. The fruit is high but the rhythms are delicate and even-keeled. More white flowers than your average Australian Chardonnay, brighter, with more grace and more beauty. She’s a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket eating angel cake. Still firm towards the back-end with citrus zest and mouth-watering acidity, she’s “fast and thorough and sharp as a tack.” Finishes with a long and persistent held trumpeting line. “Na,na,na,na,na,na.”  Tasted May 2014  @PMA_int

Katogi & Strofilia Averoff Xinomavro 2008, Pdo Naoussa, Greece (249615, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release, From VINTAGES for Thanksgiving, in wine and with song, October 10, 2014

It’s not that every Xinomavro is infallible but every Xinomavro is worth exploring. The Averoff is classic; smoky, rich plum meets cherry intensity, tannic and textured, layered, like old school Pinot Noir. Liqueur of Naoussa terra firma, rocks and sweet beets. Balance of earth, wind and fire, fun funky and moving. Shares the spice of life so “let this groove, light up your fuse, alright. Let this groove, set in your shoes.” Parts unknown gather to subvert the uninitiated and make them move to Greece.  Tasted October 2014  @katogistrofilia

Thymiopoulos Vineyards Yn Kai Oupavós Xinomavro 2010, Unfiltered, Naoussa, Greece (360750, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES January 20, 2014 Release, From Super Bowl XLVIII wine odds, January 30, 2014

Magnificent Macedonian, built upon the unheralded yet stalwart variety Xinomavro. Pure, sweet-smelling gardenia and the refuse of ancient rolling stones express every bit of sun and wind-swept, low bush vines goodness. Purposefully and thankfully unfiltered, so that all the delicious sweet and sour cherry and great biting but sweet tannin are left in. Purity, good sugar/alcohol heights without oak corruption. Earth possessive of mythic undercurrent, sage, wealth of  knowledge, sweet anise and hyssop. Scents of game on the grill. Amazing complexity and length. While tasting this Xinomavro it made me “feel so hypnotized, can’t describe the scene.” Get your rocks off to the Greek Tasted January 2014  @thymiopoulosvin

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign) From Take them home, County wines, May 20, 2014

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

Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2011, Santorini, Greece (366450, $22.95, SAQ 11901091, $24.50, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release, On a wine and a prayer, March 24, 2014

A 100 per cent Assyrtiko from a 150 year-old, Cycladic Phylloxera sanctuary vineyard. Separates itself from other Santorini adelphoi by ageing 20 per cent of the inoxydable, ancient-minded grapes in French barrels. An Assyrtiko that can’t help be anything but stony, atomic driven goodness. Volcano flow and spew, with more texture than most, its elevated price a necessary reflection of a tertiary expertise. Elevated aromatics, locked in tight by the barrel and matched by extreme flavours, so primary, raw, powerful, relentless and grippy. A remarkable white wine that impresses with a sensation of mouth rope burn full of complex, seafaring knots, this Assytiko will age for 15 years in the cellar and develop into something ethereal. Will melt away in dreamy waves when it settles together. Myth will beget legend, legend will beget truth.  Tasted March 2014 @KolonakiGroup

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard Photo: Michael Godel

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard
Photo: Michael Godel

Bordón Gran Reserva 2005, Doca Rioja, Spain (114454, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 25, 2014 Release, Wine on company time, October 23, 2014

If it were so because of cryogenic preserved must or an accidental tipping and topping up into an unused barrel by recent vintage juice I would not be left hanging with mouth fully agape. Considering the amount of time this flat out delicious Gran Reserva saw in barrel, the mystery must somehow be explained, how it came to be so surprisingly modern and bright (for its age), especially at $23. But it has been seen many times before, with no greater example than the Montecillo 1991 GR that drank fortuitously well into the last years of the previous decade. This is the magic of Rioja. That said, there is some sinew and some raw character here as well – that’s the old school treatment and style talking. Red cherry fruit. Ripe fruit roasted, rested and now sliced, showing its perfectly cooked rare cut. Juicy and with sanguine notes still running through its grain. Wonderful old school yet bright Rioja. Riotous red wine with a calming aura of quietude.  Tasted October 2014  @RiojaBordon  @Eurovintage  @RiojaWine

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva 2006, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (382945, $23.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES December 6, 2014 Release, The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014

An ’06 Chianti Classico Riserva you say, pre-aged, delivered to the Ontario market and presented here in 2014, all in for $24? You can’t fool us. We’ve been duped too many times before. This must fall into the “too good to be true” category. The answer depends on which style of Chianti you prefer. This walks all the halls, plies the trades and hits the marks of the CCR ancients. Comes from a remarkable vintage, holding on but in true advanced, oxidizing and fruit diminishing character. Mushrooms and truffles abound, as does game in the early roasting stage. A note of Brett is here too, not over the top but its presence can’t be denied. Acidity speaks, as does bitter chocolate. This is not for all but all should have a go.  Tasted November 2014  @Ilmolinodigrace  @chianticlassico

Riesling and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Riesling and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Pearl Morissette Riesling Cuvée Blackball Barrique 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($25, WineAlign) From The pearls of Morisstte’s wisdom, May 26, 2014

When tasted in July of 2013 the ’12 Barrique had only been in bottle for three days so the musk was quite front and centre. Aged in foudres (neutral, old wood casks) it held much latitude at such a young age with notes of herbiage (mint, tarragon), nary a drop of residual sugar and a wholly unique type of dry acidity. “It will not always show this way,” commented Morissette. Tasted 10 months later I can say this. The ’12 Riesling Barrique avoids excessive malic and tartaric acid, not to mention any amount of volatile acidity. It is viable, vital and technically sound. “This is a wine that will take time,” pleads François . “I care about texture, not about varietal character.” Though perplexing and untamed, the wine has undeniable body and that noble bitterness in its unsung tang. It is the anti-Riesling hero, full of experiential conceit and needs to be revisited often, to see where it will go.  Tasted July 2013 and May 2014  @PearlMorissette

Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25,00, WineAlign) From Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence

Just released today, the anterior sniff and first sip procure a sense of immediacy in declaration: This is Jonas Newman’s finest Ancestral to date. Amethyst methustos bled from Prince Edward County Gamay. If a continuing study on such sparkling wine were to be conducted in the méthode ancestrale diaspora, the anthropologist would lose time in the County. Say what you must about the method and the New World place, this elevates an old game, in fact it creates a new one. Strawberry is again at the helm with the sugar number high and balanced by three necessary portents of chemistry; low alcohol, savor and acidity. The finish is conspicuously dry, conditioning the palate to activate the phenotypic sensors. Hits all the right bells, traits, whistles and behaviour. Careful, it will make you want to go out and make babies.  Tasted November 2014  @hinterlandwine  on the card at @barquebbq

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