Why you don’t know jack about B.C. wine

Culmina Family Estate Winery, Oliver, B.C.

Culmina Family Estate Winery, Oliver, B.C.

Some folks in Ontario know quite a lot about the B.C. wine industry but they are few and far between. Wine professionals with decades of experience and those who have travelled extensively to the Okanagan Valley and Vancouver Island have their fingers pointed in the right western direction. But most of us living and imbibing here in Ontario are clueless as to the breadth of B.C.’s wine culture. It’s not our fault. Our government is keeping us in the dark.

Ontario still refuses to agree that it should not be illegal to carry or ship wine for personal use across provincial borders. That issue is at the forefront of what keeps Canada’s wine regions isolated from one another. The Canadian Vintners Association (CVA) recently met for their annual AGM in Kelowna, B.C. The CVA is the industry’s governing board that deals with national regulatory issues, standards and policies. The idea of direct to consumer interprovincial shipping was again tabled and discussed with five MP’s from Ontario and B.C. in attendance. WineAlign’s David Lawrason was there.

“The politicians and CVA members were most vocal about getting Canadian wine moving freely and directly across all provincial boundaries in Canada. Alas, there was no breakthrough to announce in terms of more provinces dropping their opposition, but I was surprised by how loud, frequent and public the CVA and its members, as well as the politicians, have become – insisting that action be taken sooner rather than later. There was a mood in the room.” Still Ontario consumers continue to be ignorant about the wines of British Columbia. It remains to be seen if the recent CVA meeting will help constitute a step forward.

Related – B.C. wine: From Vancouver to your table

Back in June we took the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada on the road and hunkered down in Penticton, British Columbia to assess and pick winners from over 1,500 Canadian produced wines. And we did so much more. First we paid a visit with The Wines of British Columbia for the Judgement of B.C. The second annual cage match was hosted by the B.C. Wine Institute and took place on Tuesday, June 21, pitting 12 B.C. Wines against 12 acknowledged global benchmarks. Riesling and Pinot Noir squared off, curated by DJ Kearney and judged by a who’s who of Canadian wine writers, critics and educators, along with international WineAlign Awards judges Dr. Jamie Goode and Elaine Chukan Brown.

Showtime! #judgementBC @WineBCdotcom @djwines #BCWine @WineAlign #nwac16 #bcwineinstitute #bcvqa #bcdna

Showtime! #judgementBC @WineBCdotcom @djwines #BCWine @WineAlign #nwac16 #bcwineinstitute #bcvqa #bcdna

Max Ferd. Richter Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 2013 from the Mosel Valley, Germany placed first in the Riesling category, followed by two B.C. entries, CedarCreek Platinum Block 3 Riesling 2014 BC VQA, Okanagan Valley, B.C. and Wild Goose Stoney Slope Riesling 2013 BC VQA, Okanagan Falls, B.C. Three international Pinot Noirs medalled, Bouchard Père Premier Cru Beaune Clos de la Mousse Monopole 2012, Burgundy, France, Bachelder Oregon Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley AVA Oregon, USA and Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2014, Central Otago, New Zealand. B.C. Pinot Noir took the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and (tied for) eighth spots. “What was really interesting when I tasted through those 12 wines blind, I couldn’t pick out the BC Wines which tells me they belong in their peer group which is a ringing endorsement for BC Wine that we’re on the right track,” noted Dr. Jamie Goode.

Faultless evening @OKCrushPad above reproach and the wines beyond #nwac16

Faultless evening @OKCrushPad above reproach and the wines beyond #nwac16

As the week progressed, the WineAlign judges paid visits to Okanagan Crush Pad Winery in Summerland, Culmina Family Estate Winery in Oliver, Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna, Rustic Roots Winery with the Similkameen Wineries Association and Deep Roots Winery on the Naramata Bench. I tasted more than 100 wines over the course of the five days from the appellations of Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Falls, Oliver-Osoyoos, Golden Mile, Similkameen Valley and Naramata Bench. Whatever I thought I knew and understood about wines coming from B.C.’s diverse and variegated landscapes has been tossed out the window and diapason replaced with an entirely renewed subset of thought. It is even clearer to me now, from an Ontario perspective with limited access to B.C. wines and an even smaller vocabulary that here in this province we really don’t know shit about B.C. wines.

Exceptional eats @CulminaWinery in adroit by @Quintoquorto and @hooydonk_van

Exceptional eats @CulminaWinery in adroit by @Quintoquorto and @hooydonk_van

In talking and reflecting recently with Elaine Brown she told me how “Canada’s Provincial restrictions around wine have created what are essentially isolated sovereignties of wine. There is a lot of good wine made throughout Canada but speaking with wine lovers across the country I am impressed with how little access they have to wines from other provinces.” Brown hits the proverbial screwcap right on the head. In a country where distance makes community so difficult, the only way to seek unity is to tear down trade barriers and that is something our provincial government has outright refused to docket. As a result, the consumer in Ontario has little access to the diversity that the B.C. wine industry has to offer.

So much @WineBCdotcom amour in the @tantaluswine cellar last night #nwac16

So much @WineBCdotcom amour in the @tantaluswine cellar last night #nwac16

One of the great B.C. revelations on the June trip was all about riesling. In his recent WineAlign column, Rhys Pender wrote the following. “It feels to me that the last few years have seen a really strong focus towards quality in BC. Not that good wines weren’t made, but most of the riesling seemed to be aimed at being a low price, broad crowd pleaser. More and more wines are a little pricier but a lot more intense and quality focused. This was evident in the recent judging of the National Wine Awards of Canada. To be honest, Ontario riesling has pretty much always been superior to BC in these competitions and while there were still many great Ontario wines, this year things were different and many of the best rieslings I personally tasted in my flights were from BC. Less simple, fruity wines and more serious, intense and concentrated examples. Seven of the top ten riesling overall were from BC this year including the Gray Monk 2013 Riesling which won a Platinum medal. An impressive showing.”

Related – From coast to coast: Top 40 wines from the 2016 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada

Another adumbrate scoop came outlined in out-of-the-box white varietals, with very interesting results by albariño, grüner veltliner, muscat ottonel and trebbiano. The same quality of wines made from these grape varieties can’t be found in Ontario, nor can the success of red blends from the Similkameen Valley and from single varietal reds in the Okanagan Valley as a whole. When B.C. winemakers begin to dial back the oak and take full advantage of ripe, fresh fruit, the world won’t know what hit them. In his National Wine Awards of Canada report, David Lawrason noted that “two B.C. wineries, Moon Cursor and Stag’s Hollow, are worth watching for their medal winning experiments with grapes like tempranillo, grenache and petit verdot.” Another nod to experimentation.

I liken the Okanagan to South Africa, a varietal playground where just about anything can achieve phenolic ripeness in almost any given vintage. B.C. has one distinct advantage and that is a cooler climate. It should be exploited to the fullest, in the name of balance and quality. Though I tasted many more, in the name of 5,000 words or (slightly more) brevity, here are notes on 40 wines tasted and reviewed in June.

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

Bartier Bros. Cabernet Franc Cerqueira Vineyard 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

A rich, savoury mess of red fruits comes clean if surreptitiously divided by barrel on the nose on this gently intended cabernet franc from the gentle Cerqueira slope. More than a modicum of concentration of dusty raspberry and some new leather jacket. Silky smooth mouthfeel and the condensed tangy extraction really pops up on the finish. Another crunchy, chewy, smoky, serious cabernet franc turning bitter and tough with alcohol and bramble on the finish. More freshness would be ideal so let it rest for two years instead. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted June 2016  @bartierbros

Semillom

Bench 1775 Semillon 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $19.90, WineAlign)

A virtually bone-dry, stainless steel raised semillon that is quintessentially fresh and varietally correct though even more attentive to the Okanagan Valley. There is an abundance of fruit in the green mango/citrus realm and a je ne sais quoi spirit. All in all quite amenable and no reason to seek a future dripping with honey. The sense of anti-austerity, fruit over mineral reaction means drink it young. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @bench1775

Black Hills Viognier 2014, BC VQA, British Columbia (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

A very impressive viognier from a mother nature conspired vintage to make it shine. This is so very viognier as much as it is B.C. which is a great thing. White floral, viscous and split between honey suckle and white pepper-edged, green apple bite. Against all odds in a way and certainly a top example for the region. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @BlackHillsWine

Nota Bene

Black Hills Nota Bene 2014, BC VQA, British Columbia (Winery, $52.09, WineAlign)

This Nota Bene can be espied as of the Okanagan Valley’s most ambitious reds filled with good notes, in winemaking conditioned real tones, as opposed to pure, simple acoustic ones. The Black Sage Bench blend of cabernet sauvignon (52 per cent), merlot (33) and cabernet franc (15) is pulled from two vineyards, Double Black and Sharp Rock. The proprietary junction is criss-crossed where rich chocolate takes up address at a certain genre of Napa ideology. Black Hills’ premium wine is big and full of brawn, backbone and guts. The three real tones played together express pronounced dissonances between many of their harmonics. Dissonance is related to (barrel developed) spice so I would think that a minimum of five years will be needed to connect and make seamless the overlapping harmonics. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted June 2016

Bordertown

Bordertown Living Desert Red 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The first vintage of Mohan Gill’s 600 case merlot and cabernet franc blend is one of the more curious and engaging Osoyoos reds that is really worth some study. The 18 months spent in all new French wood should ring the alarms but instead it seems a combination of vaguely engaged and greatly spectatorial. Reduction and volatility strike an accord with the wood and the result is a rich, meaty, full on expression from which fruit emerges virtually unscathed. “It’s the first vintage,” shrugs Gill, “what else could I do?” More of the same Mohan. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @BordertownWine

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

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

CedarCreek

CedarCreek Platinum Series “The Last Word” 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $77.99, WineAlign)

The “Last Word” is at the pinnacle of CedarCreek’s Platinum Series, single-vineyard wines and only made in “nature conspired,” exceptional vintages. The biggest and baddest red is a “wine that leaves nothing left to say,” thus the moniker. The blend is cabernet sauvignon (34 per cent), merlot (32), cabernet franc (24) and malbec (10) in true Meritage style. Talk about big reds, talk about the passion. Plan on getting extra hours of REM sleep after a glass, after the punch, the ripest fruit, tempered chocolate, grip and after the heavy hitting acidity. Every crevice is filled in with a jangle of notes and few winemakers can find balance with such a wealth of material. There is simply no way not to make a bold, tannic statement. “Not everyone can carry the weight of the world” but CedarCreek has managed to grin and bear it. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted June 2016

Church

Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

Reductive, dark, stormy raging and off the charts spicy syrah but there is terrific ripe fruit and cool, cool savour. Edgy but tannic within range. After the violets come sweet purple palate fruit but it’s a feigning sweetness. Long drifts of acidity and tannin but again, like so many Okanagan peers the finish dusts with espresso and not the mocha. The spice lingers well after all else has resolved. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @ChurchStateWine

Clos du Soleil

Clos Du Soleil Estate Reserve Red 2012, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $58.90, WineAlign)

The apropos named winery, the “Vineyard of the Sun,” describes British Columbia-Okanagan-Similkameen so well. That and what can happen when Bordeaux varietals are the recipients of proper sun-worshipping phenolic journeys is the crux to understanding and enjoying such a proper and righteous red. Tasting this Michael Clark characteristic fruit handling facture with Spencer Massie sheds enlightened light on the Clos du Soleil passion project and the red ability of the Similkameen Valley. Taken from the Estate Vineyard on the Upper Bench of the Similkameen Valley, the prettiest and most inviting nose pops up here, led by cabernet sauvignon and in usage of all five Bordeaux varietals. The best red fruit, the hint of mineral and sage, the aridity of the land, the restraint from wood. It’s all correct and truth be told. Solid red blend. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2016  @ClosduSoleil  @spencemassie

Corcelletes

Corcelettes Menhir 2014, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.90, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

It’s hard not be endeared into the red blend culture of the Similkemeen Valley and the variegation various positions occupy on the slopes of its benches. This ode in OZ style of cabernet Sauvignon (62 per cent) and syrah (38) is pulled from vines set on the rocky soils of the Corcelletes Middle Bench Vineyard. Though the herbal, savoury, currant and tobacco laced cabernet should dominate it does not with witness thanks to a more than peppery edge and black fruit ooze of the syrah. Only the Similkameen can bring such shared duality and find common ground like this in the overall B.C. genre. Like Beamsville in Ontario and with grace in wood usage, here the two varieties co-exist with copacetic simpatico. The ancient monolith believed to date back 2741-2488 BC on the Baessler family farm off the shores of Lac de Neuchatel, Switzerland gives this blend its name. This wine is no monolith, nor does it strike as ancient or antediluvian, but it does stand out as singular for the Similkameen and for B.C. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June 2016  @corcelettes

Culmina Dilemma 2014, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $35.65, WineAlign)

The road taken for this chardonnay should have led to rich, buttery and fat because the approach mimics a throwback west coast style. Alcohol, pH, new barrel usage are all generous but so is acidity. So this could have emerged huge but it’s impossibly restrained. The cool-climate metal factor sings with austerity and the gemstone crunch folds with richness. The Margaret’s Bench land speaks and gives so all tolled Culmina’s signature chardonnay is a study in heutagogical learning because it teaches knowledge sharing. This is chardonnay and in many ways, this is Burgundy. Chances taken have landed reward, if a bit unexpected, but certainly appreciated. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @CulminaWinery  @CulminaSara

Culmina Merlot 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.00, WineAlign)

Red over green merlot to substantiate a vintage called better on the Golden Mile (Arise) Bench. Here is bone-dry, full malolactic, high acidity merlot, so very vacuous, inward, implosive and wild. The wood blankets with purpose in lieu of reckless abandon and because the fruit is just ripe enough to defend itself the return is an effusive one. Would love to taste this merlot in a best vintage with 20-25 per cent less new oak and a number close to this healthy 6.4 g/L of acidity. Now we’re talking, in tones red over green. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted June 2016

Unicus

Culmina Unicus 2014, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.05, WineAlign)

B.C. is a playground for experimentation, a place not unlike South Africa where phenolic ripeness is almost always accomplished yet it has a distinct advantage. Cooler sites and the availability, if embraced, of equally ripe acidity. So grüner veltliner, along with trebbiano, muscat ottonel, auxerrois, sylvaner and others should be investigated. Culmina’s work with grüner is fought properly, in a combination of concrete amphora, egg and steel, allowing varietal to share equal ground with terroir. A sense of some white-ish rhubarb here is noted in the most complimentary vegetal sense, along with white flowers and a dash or two of white pepper. This is a gustatory and gastronomic grüner with intensity and vitality that good slope Marlborough sauvignon blanc will similarly give. The difference here is the absence of searing citrus which is a good thing, all things considered. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016

Deep Roots Syrah

Deep Roots Syrah 2014, Naramata, British Columbia (Winery, $34.00, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

Tasted twice, first blind at #NWAC16 and then at the winery, this is syrah with a dual northern intent, more Naramata than Rhone though the bent is a soulful repent in the church of St. Joseph. Beautifully savoury and smoky, like a big meat and smoulder sandwich with great fruit and a silken texture. The peppery bite is a sure tell sign of well-made syrah. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @DeepRootsWine

Gehringer Auxerrois 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $13.29, WineAlign)

Despite the off-dry (11 g/L RS) directive because that is what auxerrois always wants to do and though the vintage brings much warmth, this persists as a delicate and fresh wine. Auxerrois as a grape variety is set in an imprecise past, shaded by myth, carried forward and planted decades ago in B.C. These old vines could tell stories but today its fruit expresses itself simply, with richness and with plenitude. I wouldn’t tie a cellophane bag around one and leave it in the cellar to revisit in 30 years. I’d rather hook some trout, pan roast it and work in some acidity. The auxerrois will compliment such a move just fine. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @GB_Wines

Haywire Chardonnay Canyonview Vineyard 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $22.90, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

From the Summerland vineyard, raised in concrete and emerged with a semi-unoaked feel. There is a certain sort of sweet condense as if a tank and a barrel had merged. Clearly managed in the slow, micro-oxygenated way, with notes of curd, cream and whey. A chardonnay smoothie with many beneficial enzymes running wild, the yeasts working and munching away. Still retains a cool-climate feel regardless of the vat influence with top notch acidity and tannin to lengthen the chain. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @Haywirewine  @OKCrushPad  @brixandmortar

Haywire Pinot Noir 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

From the steep limestone and granite Waters & Banks Vineyard, this is a limber, lissome and rusty pinot noir, gently pressed, caressed and left to find its own singular way. Reminds me of the salinity graced Willamette Valley, set upright and alert on the bright side of life. Their is a musky lime aroma and a lithe tartness that belies its mineral gifting. Well done. Don’t envision this losing its charm any time soon. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016

Trebbiano

Hester Creek Trebbiano Old Vines Block 16 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

From vines planted in 1968 which in itself is a wild and mind-blowing proposition. Trebbiano has well-adapted to the Okanagan Valley, or at least these two acres have and only fools would not try to get their hands on one of the 1100 cases produced. No it’s not Emidio Pepe nor is it your nonno’s trebbiano but it is a singular expression for B.C. Terrific acidity layers over rich and viscous stone-orchard fruit. Something creamy evolves, not like similar styled Okanagan viognier but in another realm. It’s a derivative sensation, like the way children look like their mothers, so the connection to Abruzzo is really there. This is a special proprietary moment and good on Hester Creek for brokering the proviso. I will agree to abide. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @HesterCreek

Hillside

Hillside Muscat Ottonel 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $24.99, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

Floral, as expected, but in contrast to the globally spoken style, this does orange blossom and mineral mining with equal and opposing ease. Acidity rings round, not overtly meaningful but nonetheless wild. From 30-plus year-old vines (circa 1982), to not find fun, joy and pleasure would be to miss every pertinent point. Hillside presents a provincial comic flick of a muscat phrase and does so with lighthearted resourcefulness and ingenuity. Drink 2016-2018.   Tasted June 2016  @hillsidewines

Fortissimo

La Stella Fortissimo 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

In 2014 Fortissimo is mostly merlot with sangiovese playing a vital role along with a splash of cabernet sauvignon. This is found to be softer, more amenable and structured with bungalow sprawl. Bright, maximum juiced red berry fruit resemblance is anti-savoury, friendly, and ready to roll but still with some smoky spice. The 21 per cent sangiovese is significant (up seven points from 2013) so the Classico factor runs high. This is the alternative world case of Fortissimo where in some years you make Chianti Classico and in others, Gran Selezione. Though she may not consider 2014 to be her most accomplished Fortissimo, winemaker Severine Pinte will have to accept that she has procured a very elegant red blend. A Classico. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @LaStellaWinery

LFNG

Laughing Stock Portfolio 2007, Naramata Bench, British Columbia (Winery, $52.95, WineAlign)

Poured from Magnum the LSV ’07 has resolved from cool vintage and micro-oxidation into cool-climate meets right bank stylistic personality. Soy, Chinese five-spice, cassia, balsamic, fig and a caramelization that lists to part vegetal and part demerara sugar. The palate is expressly vital still, carrying a torch that for a cabernet-merlot Okanagan blend is fun to reason with. Magnum is obviously a major plus for this nine-year advancement. Sweet with no noticeable heat finish. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @lfngwine

Maverick

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

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

Moraine Gewürztraminer 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $17.90, WineAlign)

Classic Okanagan Valley gewürztraminer with a touch of mute reserve relative to more forward peers. The aromatics pause at traditional exoticism then veer to pear and apricot. The palate concentrates the off-dry varietal tendency with a furthered spin out of the seed orchard and into the pit. Not necessarily a gewürztraminer with extended play acidity but highly pleasurable nonetheless. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @MoraineWinery

Moraine

Moraine Riesling 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $19.90, WineAlign)

Slightly airy and hyper-opiated riesling up to here, of burgeoning talent, suggesting what is yet to come from Moraine with respect to the great varietal Okanagan potential. On the off-dry scale this falls somewhere in the middle, going at it with heavy Mosel fuel. Quite intense with acidity to match. Hip riesling, “addicted to approval, addicted to the air. It was see if you like it or see you up there.” Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016

Moraine Pinot Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.95, WineAlign)

Moraine’s Okanagan Falls pinot noir is lambent with great rust and conversely vapid in desert dust. The entire red fruit spectrum is seemingly sung and stung with range and breadth; cranberry-cherry-pomegranate-strawberry-raspberry, from tart all the way to sweet. Taut, tight and bracing. This will work with pairing pride for short to mid-term enjoyment. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016

Quails’ Gate Chenin Blanc 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

The fruit hails from both Quails’ Gate Estate and Osoyoos vineyards. Tasted just three months after bottling, the sweet (whole bunch pressed) serenity of chenin blanc has already settled in with equal and opposing acidity in tact. An angle of bitters works the lush fruit (thickened by a small percentage of older wood) and weaves the two as one in this eager and enthusiastic young (albeit early sulphur persistent) white. A splash or two of sauvignon blanc helps in the ushering. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @Quails_Gate  @  @hobbsandco

Quails' Gate

Quails’ Gate Connemara 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (Winery, $64.00, WineAlign)

The inaugural vintage and first ever Quails’ Gate Bordeaux-style blend is winemaker Nikki Callaway’s ode to her stage/cellar hand/winemaking time spent in Bordeaux. The cumulative of merlot (55 per cent), cabernet sauvignon (30) and cabernet franc (15) is formidable in its perplexing youth, taut, rigid and so very tannic. The minor’s current approach is virtually unapproachable but look for something to grab for, like perfectly ripe fruit or structure. The beatitude is easily found in these two essential components. You’ll then think “if you were another pretender, oh I’d pass you by,” but in the case of the Connemara, put in the effort and the time. The reward will come later. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted August 2016

Quails’ Gate The Boswell Syrah 2014, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $61.05, WineAlign)

Named in ode to grandparents, The Boswell is a deep, brooding and extreme-bodied syrah that is actually quite floral. Smoky, meaty, chewy fruit mixes with tar and roses in a heightened, variegated state. Rich and piqued by peppery spice and then the chocolate warmth settles in on the finish. Sip again and note that every pass circles back to the beginning. Though it nods to the northern Rhône and wells up like Barossa, you can’t take the Okanagan out of the Boswell. It wins every time. Would prefer to see this again in three years. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted June 2016

Stoneboat

Stoneboat Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (429332, $29.95, WineAlign)

I tasted this blind at #NWAC16 and with Larry Martiniuk that same week and both times was struck by the electric pinosity, density and beneficial volatility. The pre-integration period is apparent so I’d hazard a guess that 18 months more are needed to assimilate the 18 months spent in (20 per cent new) French oak. To whiff it’s like peat moss mixed with a cassia-cassis cocktail. Black cherry sweetish on the palate and quite spicy. This neon pinot is quite volatile and yet closed, but it carries a downy pilosity texture. Very west coast. Though I return to thinking it out of whack, still feeling the alcohol and wondering why it has to be so loud, the texture and the complexity always bring me back. The raindrops are alive. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted June 2016  @stoneboat  @Noble_Estates

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

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

Synchromesh

Synchromesh Riesling For Shadows Vineyard 2015, BC VQA Naramata Bench , British Columbia (Winery, $23.00, WineAlign)

Like its brethren Storm Haven Vineyard, this Synchromesh draws blood from stone in holistic ways that few Canadian riesling seem to do. The Four Shadows is different in that it chooses wisdom over risk. A clear, clean and precise nose reveals lemon drop and a honey drip. Though the sugar is more noticeable than the SHV, the older world (Germanic) impression is filled with a sense of tradition. The vineyard is in fact of very high elevation on an extremely steep slope (think Mosel) of gravel and clay layered over fractured bedrock and granite. The sugar is also elevated (50.93 g/L) and the acidity lower (8.4 g/L) so what you get may seem to lower the impossibility factor. Don’t be fooled into thinking this a riesling of privilege and lassitude. It does not drip with sleep but rather rages with life. The stones seem to speak. And the riesling listens. Drink 2016-2022. Like its brethren Storm Haven Vineyard, this Synchromesh draws blood from stone in holistic ways that few Canadian riesling seem to do. The Four Shadows is different in that it chooses wisdom over risk. A clear, clean and precise nose reveals lemon drop and a honey drip. Though the sugar is more noticeable than the SHV, the older world (Germanic) impression is filled with a sense of tradition. The vineyard is in fact of very high elevation on an extremely steep slope (think Mosel) of gravel and clay layered over fractured bedrock and granite. The sugar is also elevated (50.93 g/L) and the acidity lower (8.4 g/L) so what you get may seem to lower the impossibility factor. Don’t be fooled into thinking this a riesling of privilege and lassitude. It does not drip with sleep but rather rages with life. The stones seem to speak. And the riesling listens. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted June 2016.Tasted June 2016

Tantalus Brut

Tantalus Blanc De Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.90, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

Winemaker David Paterson “squeezes it like Champagne” and lets it rest for six months in chardonnay barrels. Two years of triage and boom! Freaking elegant Blanc de Noir. Rusty, rosy, the absolute spot on ripe vernacular spoken, the right tart exposed. It’s curious and foreshadowed thinking to know that 100 cases have been set aside for a five to seven year disgorgement. D’ya think Paterson is high on the vintage? Tasted June 2016  @tantaluswine

A single block of Clone 93 pinot noir planted in 1985 is responsible for this breath of fresh Okanagan Valley Blanc de Noir. Fashioned with the omnipresent Tantalus acidity, this rages out with aridity, salinity and palpable tension. Only pinot noir can act like this, with layers of sous bois and fraises du bois. The age of the vines, the early-picked necessity and the allowance for needful and natural expression has resulted in a wine simply stressed as terroir and boîte. Carries the acidity and the tension across and through the palate. Finishes as dry as it started. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Tantalus Pinot Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $29.90, WineAlign)

The vintage was not shy to gift dark, optimum-achievement in phenolic fruit and along with that ripeness comes even deeper tonal intent. Red hyperbole is elevated by striking acidity, setting this Pinot Noir up for really high expectations. The palate does not disappoint. Flavours range from black cherry to charred meat making for a highly gustatory experience. Chewy and enjoyable describes the time spent with this wine. It will offer great pleasure in the short term. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April and June 2016

Tantalus

Tantalus Riesling 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $23.00, WineAlign)

Two months later things have changed and yet not at all. There are more tricks and inducements (as compared to 2010) but don’t be fooled because with a difficult (sweltering) vintage the wine makes you think you can get close. But you can’t. You are further away than you think mostly due to incredible citrus and wild rhythms swimming through raging riesling waters. Change of plans. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted June 2016

Well with the arena of aridity, salinity and sheer marketability, here is a showy Tantalus with super searing lemon flavours emerging out of great atmosphere and aromatic intensity. Some Riesling taketh away and some are mouth watering, like this. The stone fruit goodness attacks and sticks to the tongue like sap, then glides effortlessly down. Tantalus might make me think of things that are out of reach, “standing in water, but dying of thirst, this is my thanks and this is my curse.” Yet this early to market 2015 Riesling offers an antithetical view, ready, willing and able to please. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Tantalus Riesling 2010, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $22.90, WineAlign)

I’m thinking that no other B.C. riesling tries, trips and tricks with intense tribulation like the Tantalus, especially with a look back at this 2010 ripper. Though just now emerging from out of its saline crusted shell, the liquid stone injection will always render this a tantalizing wine so while it seems to open a door a part of it will always remain just out of reach. This 2010 can retrospectively be looked at as a genre defining riesling at the hands of an engaging young winemaker to be.  Tasted June 2016

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2bench Red 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $29.99, WineAlign)

Naturally south Okanagan crunchy, chewy, spicy and taut red blend. From two benches, the Golden Mile (Tinhorn Creek Vineyard) and the Black Sage Bench (Diamondback Vineyard). This is quite a ripper in that magical $30 middle ground with power to impress as much as many peers two times the price. That said it certainly retains its tangy, two-step, red fruit freshness, with cool savour, like two mints in one. Kind of reminds me of Coonawarra, especially the Penfolds Bin 169, so perhaps when brought together there is a Bench similarity with the Terra Rosso soil. Or perhaps just a stab at clouds. Either way this 2012 takes over from the vital 2011 and runs with the baton. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June 2016  @TinhornCreek @Andrew_Tinhorn  @SandraOldfield

Zweigelt

Upper Bench Zweigelt 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

I’ve not had the opportunity to taste the go between 2013 but progression and evolution are found in the bright red fruit of this 2014 zweigelt from Upper Bench. The aromatics travel east and west, as if coast to coast and on a global trek. I get the foraged berries, baking scents and the felled evergreen mixed with fresh cocoa. I also sense garrigue, as well as jasmine in the early evening. Though the sugar is elevated (an insignificant 0.6 g/L up to 2.9) the wine was picked at lower brix (23.5 as opposed to 24.2) and so the acidity is given the chance to feign higher. The alcohol is hefty (14.4 per cent) but the overall balance is improved. Dialled back a bit but another notch or two would really do justice to the grape. Early consumption is still the order and fresher remains the promise. We’ll see what the warm 2015 vintage will bring. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @upperbench

Wild Goose

Wild Goose Pinot Blanc Mystic River 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $19.00, WineAlign)

A few clicks north of Oliver comes this maximum juice master of a pinot blanc, like a tart gooseberry cake with a warm, yeasty crust. It’s like autolytic sparkling wine without the bubble, foiled by a sauvignon blanc faux botrytis thing going on. The acidity is well suited to match the exuberant fruit. Roland Kruger points a finger to the vineyard (right along the south Okanagan River) to explain the aromatics. The addendum of 20 per cent barrel fermentation is the key that turns the textural screws. As far as pinot blanc goes, “it’s open mike, punk rock, (it’s natural), red, white and blue.” This Wild Goose. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @wildgoosewines

Wild Goose Gewürztraminer Mystic River 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $19.00, WineAlign)

Wild Goose is proving to be a gewürztraminer leader in the Okanagan Valley not just for its adherence to rose petal and lychee varietal correctness but also for aromatic elegance. Terrific texture marks the ’15’s territory (a trademark of Wild Goose whites) and here you get drying wax still pliable and malleable. The aura is distinct and the wine so very amenable. Really well made Mystic River output. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016

Good night and many thanks @tantaluswine #kelowna #nwac16

Good night and many thanks @tantaluswine #kelowna #nwac16

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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The democracy of Cool Chardonnay

Canadian Chardonnay

Canadian Chardonnay

In 2016 and for the first time in its brief yet facund tenure, Ontario’s International Cool Climate Celebration will include some other cool-climate varietal representation; pinot noir, gamay and cabernet franc. Yes it is true. Plus has joined the i4c, an ideogram of addendum, a character of diversity for the fluently persuasive and forceful congress. This gathering will open its arms for colour and to allow its constituents to regale with what they do best. For an event-driven pure as single-varietal snow and formerly known exclusively as chardonnay, is this really a shocker? This is the reality of democracy.

In August of 2015 I asked the question, can chardonnay get any cooler? My immediate answer to myself was this. “Five is a big number. Any annual convention that survives and thrives into a fifth caucus must be divined by some unseen force, a guiding hand perhaps, by avatar or prosopopoeia. And something other. The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration has priceless equity on its side. Three aces in the hole. Canadian climate and geology, adroit farmers and winemakers, simpatico of communities.” That answer was not exclusive to chardonnay. It held the door open for more.

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Related – Can chardonnay get any cooler?

Niagara’s Cool Chardonnay Conference will take place between July 22nd and July 24th. It begins on Friday with the annual School of Cool, Viticultural and Winemaking Sessions in the Grand Room at White Oaks Conference Resort & Spa. Ian D’Agata (Decanter, Vinous.com), John Szabo (MS) and twenty of the brightest talents in the world of Cool Climate viticulture and winemaking will explore three provocative topics. Two seminars from Wines of Chablis and Riedel Canada will follow.

Related – 50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more

Friday’s main event, “Flights of Chardonnay” will be hosted at Niagara District Airport. Sixty winemakers from nine countries and 75 wines will be poured at this “boots and blue-jeans” event. The new culinary marché will offer dishes from Niagara’s top chefs and the mainstage will feature live bands as the sun sets over the airstrip. On Saturday night the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner will return to Ridley College in St. Catharines, Ontario.

The school of Cool, White Oaks Resort, Spa and Conference Centre

Related – The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind

When I reflected back on i4c 2015 I wrote this. “Yes, we thought these things and then year number five blew our minds. We had been wrong. We found out that the bar had yet been breached. Further was still out there, not yet claimed, hovering in the realm of the possible and still, going forward, yet remains plausible.” And so in 2016 there will be reds. Oh, the blasphemy, the bastardization, the spurious board gone askew. Really? Can this multifarious variegation really cause such angst? Must we express ourselves with varietal racism just to be heard? Just take it easy man.

The internal red invasion comes at an appropriate time, by coincidence or not with “TanninAlert” a new Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) program that will track tannin levels in red wines which impact bitterness and astringency. The joint CCOVI and Ontario Grape and Wine Research Inc. (OGWRI) concept will provide Ontario grape growers and winemakers with information on the ripeness of these flavours to help consistently create rich and robust Ontario red wines. Red wines and cool chardonnay living together like cats and dogs. What a revelation.

Godello at i4c

At the end of this week I will prep my chardonnay palate in Chablis for six days. Last week I tasted, assessed and judged more than 40 Canadian chardonnays in Penticton at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. Now I count down the days (22 of them) and in anticipation I’ve drawn up more cool tasting notes as the great #i4C16 event nears. Many will become available through VINTAGES next week for the July 9th release. After Canada Day. Notes that include chardonnay, gamay, pinot noir and gasp, riesling. Imagine the horror of tasting such an intruder at a cool chardonnay conference sometime soon.

Tawse Gamay Noir 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (322545, $19.20, WineAlign)

Tawse repeats itself in 2014 with a gamay noir that breathes deeply and breeds consistency. From a vintage that few varietals could find great shine, gamay seems the outlier and Tawse does what was required. The firm, dark and tasty taut fruit is really all that matters, a result of a driven desire to celebrate the simplicity of the grape In Niagara when uncertainly lurks. Eight months in oak committed neither diversion nor crime. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

CdC

Château Des Charmes St. David’s Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (430991, $19.95, WineAlign)

Tasting the CdC SDB chardonnay a year after it may have been held up with halting reduction is the best thing I could have done and props are fisted forward to the folks at the winery for timing this perfectly. It’s so very mineral-driven and may have stung like a bee in 2015, now fluttering and dancing like a butterfly instead. The barrel presented texture is all marzipan and honey butter with a crunchy bite of rye toast under-spread. Dramatic for the vineyard and exceptional as a price with quality quotient from a polarizing chardonnay vintage. Exceptional timing is exemplary and day assessing uplifting. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June 2016  @MBosc

Oak Bay Pinot Noir 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (267146, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Oak Bay pinot noir by St. Hubertus has drifted into settled middle age at a time when whatever high tones may have once spoken loud have now faded away. This is light, truffled and whiffing of a vanilla cigar. Blackberries and currants too. Simply complex enough to offer up some value that exceeds decent and enters the realm of great. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted June 2016  @St_HubertusWine

Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (378489, $19.95, WineAlign)

Classic cool-climate please all camps Okanagan chardonnay. From here and there, with this and that; Black Sage and Golden Mile Bench fruit. New oak and stainless steel, wild and cultured yeasts. Herbs and spices, fruit and mineral, ying and yang. Lean, green verdancy and warm, textured liquor. Cool and boozy. All in for $20. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted June 2016  @TinhornCreek  @SandraOldfield

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

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

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2015, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (395921, $27.20, WineAlign)

In 2015 Ivan delivers the labour of ripe, concentrated fruit, by lower yield, alcohol and spine, concomitantly and conversely to elevated, amenable juicy potability. I can think of 100 reasons to drink this repeatedly over the next three years while the more structured ’13 and ’14 Ivans continue to mature. Three good reasons would be breakfast, lunch and dinner, from scones, through croques and into fresh, piquant and herbed shrimp rolls. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Bach

Bachelder Bourgogne Blanc Chardonnay 2013, Burgundy, France (416602, $28.95, WineAlign)

The winemaking gypsy Thomas Bachelder “flies from coast to coasts” and his 2013 French foray into basics and the essential tenets of white Burgundy is a trip replete with a sunbeam shining through your hair. A sweet Melissa of a chardonnay, an ode to what is pretty, simple and carefree about Bourgogne Blanc, but also the idea of chatting up and producing pure driven varietal wine from ideal terroir. Bachelder does this, albeit with romantic vision, here with phenolics, dry extract and mineral of organza sheathing. The vintage speaks clearly and the wine responds with thanks, in kind. “Crossroads, will you ever let him go?” Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (616466, $29.95, WineAlign)

The barrel toast is a gift of the highest order, dispensing a twinge neither wholly lucid nor abstruse, but somewhere on the demurred line in between. Exposes flint in mineral over fruit in its younger development, with elements of sunshine, forest glade and some herbal tones. Not to say it is balmy in any perceptible way, its lees layered body pops fresh in happily reductive design, in a real Ontario way. So representative of the regional, modern, cognoscenti connection. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted blind at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, June 2015  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

PM

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (303602, $38.20, WineAlign)

The greatest surprise is a skeptic’s dream, that is, no surprise. The vintage was a gift for chardonnay as we all know and so Francois Morissette does what a wise winemaker does. He lets the fruit from such conditioning speak on its own behalf. The less is more approach allows his fruit to do more than most, to condense into pure elixir of terroir, to inflate with airy, philosophical heir and to exhale a perfume so very, very Cuvée Dix-Neuvieme. Like marzipan but more umami and like stone fruit but crossed with the orchard. The palate and the texture speak of resolution after the revolution and the level of calm post chaos is quietly dramatic. Hypnotizing clarity is what it is. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted June 2016  @PearlMorissette

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Six Canadians in VINTAGES February 6th

I call it the Godello. Caesar @barquebbq with smoked chicken, brisket and pulled pork.

I call it the Godello. Caesar @barquebbq with smoked chicken, brisket and pulled pork.

Next Saturday the VINTAGES widget scrolls out the February 6th release with yet another consistently same as two weeks before element of interaction. The familiarity breeds calm and contentedness with the comforting thought of “you know what to expect and you know what you’re going to get.”

What you will be gifted are six right proper Canadian releases, two from British Columbia and four from here in Ontario. Here they be.

Cave

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $16.95, WineAlign)

A good vintage for the unwooded, floral Musqué with a bit more lit wax than previous incantations. Lots of lemon here and good texture. Always trust Cave Spring to make hay from the singular and singled out Musqué. Good, spicy finish. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted January 2016  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

Sue

Sue Ann Staff Loved By Lu Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (322636, $16.95, WineAlign)

Classic, genre verbalizing and focused Niagara Peninsula Riesling that, despite and with purposefully fun kitsch in nomenclature, will love you. Know this. You will love it too. Just the slightest spritz and moscato-like florality is nothing but fun and light, in tenuity of being and in temperament. It stands to say if this lover does not make you sing “hit me with your (Riesling) stick, hit me, hit me,” I’m not sure what would. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted January 2016  @SueAnnStaff

Mega

Megalomaniac Narcissist Riesling 2014, Edras Vineyard, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (67587, $17.95, WineAlign)

Past attempts out of Edra’s Vineyard have not struck a found balance between arid, tropical and bitter behaviour. In 2014 something changed. First, waves of delicacy and pierce. Second, aridity and copious, blessed, halcyon bitters. Third, a grant of grape tannin and gifts recalling the fruit of trees, their seeds and pits in full on ripe drupe. Would like to say “where did this come from,” what happened in 2014, but we know. Edra (Thompson’s) Vineyard and the finishing skills of new winemaker Sébastien Jacquey in his first blending work at Megalomaniac. The 2014 shows that this vineyard block at the back of the property is a haven, a bastion, a plot of regard to make such a complex Riesling specimen. Future releases may see it dropped from the label. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted January 2016  @MegalomaniacJHC

Tin

Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (904185, $18.95, WineAlign)

Repeat ripe Okanagan Gewürztraminer from the Tinhorn Creek gang but in 2014 with a dirigible spotlight of consciousness elevated to heights where the air grows thin. Blessed by its own unparalleled funk 49 reflexology, with a twang like a bend on a good old fashioned 59 Esquire. Turns weighty and beautifully pungent when reflected upon by taste. The solo plays in semibreve, as does the long, slow, fading peace out. Gewürztraminer “out all night, sleep all day…what you try’n to hand me?” Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted January 2016  @TinhornCreek  @SandraOldfield

Red

Fielding Red Conception 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (189183, $18.95, WineAlign)

Quite seamless for the amalgamation. A bid red machine if you will, not the shortstop alone but the whole squad. The varietal grand schematic is well integrated in ’12 and will be appreciated by those with wishes for equality between fruit, acidity and tannin. It’s that simple, isn’t it? Drink 2016-2018.   Tasted January 2016  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Owl

Burrowing Owl Merlot 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (585737, $39.95, WineAlign)

Though I can’t say for certain that this ’12 Merlot smells and exudes the Sonoran, northern, sage-brushed desert more than just about any B.C. wine to date, I’ll say it anyway and again, even if I have said it before. A dry heat and a whip-crack of pepper that just kills it for Merlot brings game and creates an air of excitement. There is fruit, copious fruit, glorious fruit. Some kind of dense sweetness permeates the palate and the finish goes all herbal on the backside. Full on west coast affair. A top B.C. Merlot. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted January 2016  @BurrowingOwlBC  @LeSommelierWine

Good to Go!

Local heroes

Henry of Pelham Estate 2013 amid a sea of April 4th, 2015 VINTAGES Chardonnay

Henry of Pelham Estate 2013 amid a sea of April 4th, 2015 VINTAGES Chardonnay

You can find them from coast to coast. This coming Saturday six VINTAGES Canadian releases, four from Ontario and two from British Columbia, are wines that speak on behalf of exceptional vineyards, out of important places. These are bottles made by winemakers entrenched in their territory and from grape varieties purposed to grow there.

Related – Tasting with Power

The Creekside Estates white blend known as Laura’s White has become a poster child for varietal blends on the Niagara Peninsula. Winemaker Rob Power has found a way to make a consistent expression in every vintage.

Shiny Apple Cider by Small Talk Vineyards

Shiny Apple Cider by Small Talk Vineyards

Angela Kasimos was the winemaker at Riverview Cellars and is now leading the charge at Small Talk Vineyards. The Small Talk Syrah is yet another example to speak on behalf of pushing for more plantings, especially down by the Niagara Lakeshore. But that’s not all. Kasimos is also making Cider at Small Talk. It’s called Shiny Apple Cider, made from Grey County apples and Niagara grapes. You heard me. The White Cider is augmented by 10 per cent Riesling, the Rosé with 15 per cent Pinot Noir. You should try it on tap at Barque Smokehouse.

Related – The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom

The Cuvée Black Ball Riesling by François Morissette failed on several occasions to pass through the VQA panel’s strict discretion. The atypical one has finally broken down the barrier and it’s now your turn to decide if it pleases or causes consternation.  My chance to opine is laid clear in the review below.

From B.C., Gehringer Brothers out of Oliver offers a unique, Golden Mile take on Pinot Gris. More than just coincidence to be here today as yesterday marked a new direction for British Columbia‘s wine industry. The #GoldenMileBench just became the province’s first sub-appellation.

Related – A biography of Ontario and B.C. wines

Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek called the day momentous. She wrote this on her blog. “Something as elemental as the brown given to vineyard stones by a passing universe.  In casual simplicity, I toast to you, the Golden Mile Bench, British Columbia’s first sub appellation.”

The five recognized wine regions in British Columbia are The Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. The new designation was announced by the provincial government on March 30 and will legally identify where grapes are grown. In this case, the escarpment southwest of Oliver which runs south from Fairview Road and near Highway 97.

Related – A day in WineAlign life: 15 new releases from Ontario and B.C.

So long as 95 per cent of the grapes were grown in the area, wineries will now legally be allowed to indicate the Golden Mile on their labels. The list includes CC Jentsche Cellars, Checkmate Artisanal Winery, Culmina Family Estate Winery, Fairview Cellars, Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery, Hester Creek Estate Winery, Inniskillin Okanagan Vineyards, Golden Mile Cellars, Rustico Farm and Cellars, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, and Willow Hill Vineyards.

In Jauary I wrote about Burrowing Owl Winery. I talked about the extreme nature of their location and what is does for their wines. “That the winery is situated on the most northern outpost of the Sonoran desert, an arid and agriculturally inhospitable stretch of terroir that originates in Mexico, is not exactly so well-known. That the Owl can produce such wines of extraction spinning on a compass of intensity is one of the wonders of the Okanagan Valley.”

Related – Big and bigger: Burrowing Owl

The 2011 Syrah reviewed below drives the stake even deeper into the searing heart of the Owl.

Sara d’Amato and I have compiled a list of recommended Canadian wines in the second of two WineAlign April 4th VINTAGES release reports.

Off the Beaten Path, from East to West and a Battle of the Corkscrews

Here are notes on six new local releases coming to stores this Saturday.

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura's White 2013, Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013, Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012, Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013 and Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura’s White 2013, Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013, Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012, Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013 and Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011

Creekside Estates Laura’s White 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (121764, $18.95, WineAlign)

When I tasted the 2012 Laura’s White again with winemaker Rob Power two weeks ago my last note said “this has the grab, tempered by the warmth of the vintage, so look for ’13 to nail it with a hook.” That it does, along with the most balm and herbs of the last five vintages. This blues traveller goes deeper into complexion and white varietal compilation. The fruit is very tropical in 2013, softer, easier, lighter in complexity, but it has that musical trigger, the jingle, the popper, the hook. If ’12 was the revivalist blend, then ’13 will try to be the proselytizer. “Because the hook brings you back, ain’t tellin’ you no lie. The hook brings you back, on that you can rely.” Everyone can drink this. While it may not stand up a decade or longer later, you will be able to look back on it fondly and remember it was a wine for the times. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @CreeksideWine

Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (347203, $18.95, WineAlign)

A concrete set of aridity rules are the modus operandi here in a reserved, stoic and aerified sort of Okanagan Pinot Gris. Paler and thus less oxidative then the last vintage to pass through these parts. Very much cut into pear, less so of white peach. The grape tannin is noticeable, even obdurate. Generous alcohol contributes to the mulish attitude though with the aridity and slight citrus push you’d be hard-pressed to really notice the call.  Tasted March 2015  @GB_Wines  @UncorktheSun

Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (268342, $19.95, WineAlign)

Sunlight is the key to this ripe Chardonnay, snatched from vines that grow on the most easterly of the Niagara Escarpment’s sub-appellation. Here Henry of Pelham calmly puts its hegemony over Short Hills Bench Chardonnay on display. The fruit layering is very impressive, compressed even, with just a spiced spirit injection from the barrel. The Estate Chardonnay is in a mid-range class of its own, this gatherer of heat days, hoarder in spring water retention, cleanser in sand and gravel drainage. The vintage just seems perfect for this niche bottling, balanced, primed to finespun texture, stretched for length and good to age at least five years.  Last tasted March 2015  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Small Talk Vineyards

Small Talk Vineyards

Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (415612, $24.95, WineAlign)

In the hands of new winemaker Angela Kasimos, Small Talk Vineyards should consider going with and increasing their plantings of Syrah. It’s clear that Kasimos has inherited good solid fruit and the Small Talk (formerly Stonechurch Wines) treatment in ’12 is a very good start towards what should become a great varietal relationship. Smokey, savoury and full of positive brine vibrations, this has body but no overripe or caramelizing denouement. Nor is it green, though it exhibits tonalities that whisper volatility and chews that say sinew. Yet it persists healthy and clean. This is Syrah of lovely curves, rounded shapes, bright peaks and gently sloping valleys. Who doesn’t like Syrah young and infectious like this?  Tasted March 2015  @SmallTalkWines  @AngelaKasimos

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (416073, $32.20, WineAlign)

Let’s get something immediately out of the way. The wines of François Morissette are not meant to please curmudgeons, skeptics, contrarians or members of the wine media. This Riesling has no desire to kiss ass. This will not appeal to late harvest lovers, from Kabinett to Auslese. Is it ripe? Not quite. Is it different? Absolutely. This compares to almost nothing. Like a Champagne ginger, lime and bronze filings cocktail, the Blackball ’13 is so very developed and despite the colour, is a hyperbole in primary existentialism. That it has essentially no residual sugar and an achieved 11.5 per cent alcohol is a complication only the clinical doyenne has the answers to. Riesling in between dreams, “never knowing shocking but we’re nothing.” The Blackball has struck, is not yet stricken and will offer remore pleasure for another six months. Then it will deconstruct, dissolve and devolve into darkness and funk. Five years later it may emerge like a phoenix, jack up like a Rangen Riesling, into the ethereal. Will it happen. I couldn’t possibly tell you. We may never know. But I can say that then, and only then, will it truly tell its story. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @PearlMorissette

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (73072, $39.95, WineAlign)

Just when it seems that Burrowing Owl could not coax beyond the perceived maximum in ripeness and richesse out of desert sage country Syrah, the envelope pushes higher in this ripping 2011. An absolute circum whirl of dark fruit, crushed peppercorns, Cassis and candied violets draw syrupy into bottle. Big, brawny and modern, styled like Syrah from peak perches overlooking the French Riviera with a small percentage of mitigating northern Rhône sensibility. Texture is pure silk. Acids are tame but very present.  Tasted March 2015  @BurrowingOwlBC  @winebcdotcom  @LeSommelierWine

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50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more

I arrived at Brock University for the Cool Chardonnay conference on Friday and we began tasting the first of 117 sometime around 11:00 am. On Friday night we convened under the stars st 13th Street Winery for the Barrels and Bonfires event. On Saturday I taxied up the Cave Spring Road runway for an afternoon in the Cave Spring vineyard with the Pennachettis and on Saturday bussed over to Vineland Research and Innovation Centre for the grand Cool Chardonnay dinner.

Related – The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind

On Sunday we wrapped up at Ravine Vineyard. In between events, we tasted Chardonnay in the Media Room at White Oaks Resort and Spa. All of this not would not have been possible without the efforts of Wine Country Ontario.  I posted 20 or so tasting notes in Monday’s column, scribbles apropos to the events associated with the presented wines.

Here are 50 more tasting notes in 5,000 Godello words, add or subtract a few hundred. If you follow doctor’s orders and take one Chardonnay every hour for 50 hours, this is the result.

I've fallen and I can't get up. @mikedicaro channelling his inner MacGyver to save #i4c14

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. @mikedicaro channelling his inner MacGyver to save #i4c14

Angels Gate Old Vines Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116350, $23.95, WineAlign)

The long hanging fruit left to develop sugar and richness, the new oak, the eight months rest on the lees. These are all winemaker favourite things, stylistic choices that contribute to a viscous mess of a Chardonnay. A full take has been liberally advantaged from the hot vintage. The alcohol is listed at 13.5 per cent but the wine sweats higher, in a sun-caramelized toast, leaning to oxidative, even bruised and battered orchard fruit territory. As a consequence and in retreat, the acidity dot does follow. The new wood has melded well and good so in terms of texture, the old vines feel right.  Tasted July 2014

Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116384, $15.25, WineAlign)

The Mountainview, despite being a value offering as compared to the Old Vines just seems to be in better temper. There is more mineral on the palate, too. Angles here are less extreme, fruit not as languid or encumbered. The persistence in length seems greater, thanks in most part to freshness, even if the fruit is not quite as fleshy as the OV.  Tasted July 2014

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 and Hidden Bench Felseck Chardonnay 2011

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 and Hidden Bench Felseck Chardonnay 2011

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

Has Wismer found a cruising altitude? Has this Grand Cru vineyard from a most perplexing 2011 vintage entered the telephone booth in civilian clothes, only to soon emerge as a super hero? Will it sing, “I am, I am Superman and I can do anything?” Wismer has rounded out a bit, at present in a grounded form, but we know it will fly to greater heights and at faster speeds. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice.” Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with it’s touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”  Last Tasted July 2014

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

Juicy and immediately perceived as existing in unwavering balance. The juxtaposition of the stainless steel and (three year-old oak for seven months) barrel aging intertwines fresh and reductive aromas to a common meld. More orchard fruit than I remember, more linear acidity, more expression. Raises the bar and the score. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Half barrel-aged, this Chardonnay has a silky mouth feel and as much nip as can be assimilated in a single mouthful. Green apple, blanched nuts and a metallic tickle give the sensation of chewing on crumbling stones. There is considerable girth and texture here, spicy folds and tangible tension. The alloy trumps the fruit so consider drinking up now and for another year or two.”  Last tasted July 2014

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

A thick, rich and medicated goo this ’11 Blue Mountain Chardonnay. “Mother Nature just brewed it and there’s nothing really to it I know.” A traffic of oak waves in not so much woody but more so simply tannic. The palate is clenched, those tannins angular and ever so slightly bitter, intense and want to be bigger than the fruit would be willing to allow. This is Chardonnay with personality and ability, if just a bit big for its own head. Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring wines

Cave Spring wines

Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (213983, $29.95, WineAlign)

Today a fine misty Blancs, looking very much the coppery, crisp slice of apple it need be. Slate stone tone directive, grapefruit very much in play. A slice of tart key lime pie. From my earlier May 2014 note: “The freshest style of the #ONfizz B de B flight. Fruit, escarpment bench stone layering, richesse, biscuits and toast are all in. Acidity meets complexity.” From my earlier, December 2012 note: “Sees no malolactic fermentation and sits at the top end of dry (12-14 dosage). Most of the fruit is 2008, despite the NV designation. A soda fountain of argon and nitrogen bunsens forth through clean lines and carries an entire cider house orchard of Spartan apple. This one certainly hints at Champagne-like characteristics, of brioche and toast. The apples never relent.” Last tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Dolomite Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (902610, $16.95)

The Dolomite is the eponymous CS Chardonnay via 86 per cent Beamsville Bench (Cave Spring Vineyard) and 14 per cent Lincoln Lakeshore . Driven to the licensee market, this is 25 years of winemaking in a nut (or limestone) shell. Made in a fresh, clean, juicy and oh so approachable style, the Dolomite finishes with a slight bitter pith, very obvious citrus zest slant. Remains clean and pure throughout, thanks in large part to the 26 percent more aromatic and very presentable portion of Chardonnay Musqué.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2011, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $15.95, WineAlign)

Musqué is slowly creeping into the Niagara consciousness and into the hearts of winemakers across the peninsula. The aptitude with which it accedes to perfumed heights and respectable complexity without needing excessive coercion makes it both necessary and inviting, especially when a vigneron like Cave Spring is attempting to produce so many levels of quality juice. Chardonnay made easy and without compromise, exemplified here, though the CS take heads straight to the mandarin-clementine stage. Dry, direct, linear, fine and knowing Musqué, not unlike basic yet effective Gruner Veltliner.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2012, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (256552, $18.95, WineAlign)

The vine age on the Estate runs between 18 and 35 years, a wisdom not to be ignored. Usage of older Hungarian oak lends spice to Chardonnay on-line and always climbing the right and proper varietal tower. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Terrific balance to the warm and inviting fruit, certainly orchard driven and kissed by the Spring’s obvious mineral slate. Clean, open-knit, ready, willing and able.”  Last tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Csv Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (529941, $29.95, WineAlign)

Though currently subtle and reserved, if the Csv were once in a wonky phase, the doors to a new perception are now open. Soaked orchard fruit, the underlay of stone and a surround sound of chalky tenderness leads to length, for time is what this Chardonnay has got. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Here is a vibrant and wild at heart expression of Bench Grand Cru terroir, the Cave Spring Vineyard. While the first impression may be a warm one it seems (for the vintage) that is because it’s big, boisterous and a bit clumsy in wood right now. The acidity seems buried at times and at others on top. It is also a touch reductive so this will need more years to settle and to play nice. The aromas indicate green apple meets metal pipe, the flavours orchard and salinity by way of limestone minerality. The length is more than admiral and admirable.” Last tasted July 2014

Clois du Bois Calcaire Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, California, USA (421941, $28, WineAlign)

Inserting the calcaire nomenclature into your RRV label is to announce that your Chardonnay is influenced by calcium carbonate and the ancient, long ago decomposed bones of coral and foraminifera. A heady designation for sure and Clos Du Bois backs it up with its sedimentary and chalky textured ’11. There is a fine stone-ground spice and floral lilt, not to mention a demurred wave, like an under water coral and vegetative scene in slow motion. Clean, pure, lively fruit, picked just in time and left to develop low and slow. I can see this Calcaire gaining complexity for 10 plus years and always living up to its name.   Tasted July 2014

Creation Chardonnay 2012, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (379297, $29, WineAlign)

A macadam drafts from the Creation drawn from what might provocatively be a pair of gravel pits at the base of the Hemel En Aarde Valley. A soul 2012 brother to the Sumaridge though grounded and layered by the lower slopes. That said it does the heavy lifting, offers up more green apple driven fruit and less tannic mineral activity. A bigger wine but by no means a serf to its wood liege. Another stellar ’12.  Tasted July 2014

Creation Chardonnay 2013, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (378554, $32, WineAlign)

Creation brightens in 2013, lifts up to more intense rose flower and potpourri aromas. The intensity follows on the very viscous palate, bringing an increased ocean breeze salinity and scraped rock sensibility. There is a granitic feel that reminds of Rangen Riesling in its own tannic way. In the end the elegance factor takes over and the wine perseveres for a spell.  Tasted July 2014

Decelle Villa Savigny Les Beaune Blanc 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (378208, $40.95, WineAlign)

From low-yielding (20 hL/l) vines, like all of Burgundy (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), as opposed to the 40-45 quotient that might be expected from much of ‘lighter’ Savigny Les Beaune, especially for Chardonnay. Aged for 12 months in two year-old, 500l barrels, there is an alluring and rich feel here, though the wine is fresh, inviting and immediately integrated. A more than approachable White Burgundy to relish now and for a quick tour of the village.  Tasted July 2014

Decelle Saint Aubin 2012

Decelle Saint Aubin 2012

Decelle Villa Saint Aubin 1er Cru Sur Gamay 2012, Saint Aubin, Burgundy, France (377713, $69, WineAlign)

From the partnership of Olivier Decelle, Pierre-Jean Villa and the confidence of winemaker Jean Lupatelli. The town is Gamay, the variety Chardonnay. Only five barrels (125 cases) were produced by a trio of men with zero interest in speculating over land, fruit or success. Barrel fermentation is key, natural yeast a must and a kinship with Puligny uncanny. Not surprising considering the famed locale is but three kilometres away. This cooler fruit spent 15 months in two year-old barrels and though only bottled five weeks prior to tasting there is nary a shocky note. Such a well-adjusted Gamay. Entrancing and engaging Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Domaine Dublère Savigny-Lès-Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1er Cru 2011, AC Burgundy, France (376095, $58.95, WineAlign)

Unusual nose that begins with white candy floss, transforms to gun powder and finishes into the toasty mystic. Unexpectedly warm, buttery and tingling on the tongue, though that is just a faint and fleeting notion. A taste brings out apple-butter terpenes, though once again, that’s just for an instant. While looking for richness their instead ticks intelligence but everything is in foreign tongue shorthand. Balance is key and that it has but ultimately there lacks a certain level of depth.  Tasted July 2014

Domaine Dublère Les Terres Blanches Nuits-St.-Georges 1er Cru 2011, AC Burgundy, France (376079, $105, WineAlign)

Big, boisterous and highly terpenic, so steroidal in apples. MdC  “Donut wines…a hole in the middle.” A tang as well that just doesn’t sit right, a dog that bites. Bitter, tight, bracing, non repentant for its sins.  Don’t really get it.   Tasted July 2014

Gérard Bertrand Domaine De L’Aigle Limoux Chardonnay 2012, AC Midi, France (377671, $33.00, WineAlign)

Rich, honeyed and seemingly sweet, not from sugar (3 g/L) but rather the pressing, squeezing and juicing of stones. That limestone tannin is a trick only grape must and its parent vines know, wondrous and inexplicable. Great body and mouthfeel come from this baby Aigle, a Chardonnay with locally incomparable structure, if not quite the elastic length and girth of the Bertrand Royal. Exceptional quality from the Midi.  Tasted July 2014

Gérard Bertrand Aigle Royal Chardonnay 2012, AP Limoux, Midi, France (377689, $75.00)

Anxiety in high caste mineral, in ingot and in southern French platinum rock. Full textured beauty of attitude and high-slope altitude, with formidable weight, smouldering, perfumed toast and exceptional texture. Full in every way, taking every liberty in the name of equality, and quality. A who knew such bounds could be leaped by the warmth of the place.  Tasted July 2014

Godello and Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Winery

Godello and Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Winery

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

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

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $38, WineAlign)

Bottled in March of 2014, the Felseck draws fruit from vines planted in 1988. Proprietor Harald Thiel notes a three-pronged picking regimen, early, mid and late, vinified separately and brought together to bring layering and tapestry out of this extraordinary vineyard and into the finished wine. The many folds and clay-silt soil provide a tannic structure dichotomously “champlant” in style, pastoral even, subdued and ethereal. The nerve in this Chardonnay comes by way of the active limestone, highest in Felseck as compared to any other HB block. This may be the most direct Chardonnay in all of Niagara, the house of permanent cards, the as of yet not witnessed balance achieved. This is the check that affirms a stand and a step towards a legacy.  Tasted twice, July 2014

Godello and Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines

Godello and Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines

Josef Chromy Chardonnay ‘Pepik’ 2012, Tasmania, Australia (378240, $22)

Chardonnay of stainless steel from Chromy’s estate vineyard at Relbia in northern Tasmania, cool, savoury green, spirited and grinding in tight, sharp angles. From what winemaker Jeremy Dineen describes as “a pungent must,” the Pepik is entry-level and anything but. There is a gentle, stable and clarified zesty personality in ‘er, fragrant, snappy and poignant. Versatile for a walkabout with many a pre-dinner flavour.  Tasted July 2014

Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2013, Tasmania, Australia (378232, $32, WineAlign)

In a world where 30+ degrees celsius is a veritable anomaly and the maritime winds spray salt to and fro, there can be little argument against the celebration of (winemaker) Jeremy Dineen’s Chardonnay at a cool climate conference. Sulphured early and housed in one-third new French oak, his lees were stirred often and always. Highly textured, he is succinctly clean, cutting and crunchy with an underlying chalky rationale and smokey, tonic toast. The Chromy ’13 is a demanding croon that must creep up to get a hold of you. Though you tell him “you treat me badly, I love you madly,” there is a miracle in his non-malolactic ways.   Tasted July 2014

Kistler Les Noisetiers 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (251223, $80, WineAlign)

Long distance runner built for endurance, a cool customer able to withstand the heat from a season’s relentless, though moderate, gentle sun, from start to finish. No shortage of ripe fruit and certainly not wanting for the micro-oxygenated slow release of a prized barrel. This might be the two-bit Kistler bottling but it offers up exemplary Sonoma fruit with the temperament and conceit of high caste Burgundy. The style is culled from two poles and pulls in two directions.  At once sharp and piquant, then golden and in mirth. All in all it’s exactly what should be wanted for the buyer who wants what it has to give.  Tasted three times, July 2014

Kistler Stone Flat Vineyard 2012, Carneros, California (agent, $80, WineAlign)

The Carneros vineyard of Tuscan clay is filled with giant river stones. It consequently offers up more of a stone groove, but also an everglade humidity, a lemony spray and a rub of savoury, evergreen. The palate brings a crisp, cool, mountain morning, a rushing stream of fresh water and the cool mountain air. There is a piercing bite on the mid-palate, a peppery spice that lingers than releases for a full wash, a cleanse in mineral. Amazing balance in tightrope tension and length to a horizon out of sight.  Great wine. Finds its elegance and its cool without any effort, like the power lift of a ballet dancer.  Tasted three times, July 2014

Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2011, Sonoma Coast, California (agent, $89.95, WineAlign)

This is from the vineyard in surround of Kistler’s home base and from soil anything but flattering to the host vines. Sandy, deficient in nutrients, “like beach sand,” says Geoff Labitzke, MW, that seemingly has no bottom. Irrigational tubing is employed and perhaps some nitrogen in mid-summer but as per the Kistler stratagem, the VH is dry-farmed. This has the most golden sunshine of the three Chardonnays tasted at #i4C14. It’s brighter, with linear acidity and a very toasty, nutty feel. Sitting with it a while is necessary to appreciate its charm and gathering power.  Tasted July 2014

Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyard at 13th Street Winery

Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyard at 13th Street Winery

Lailey Brickyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (2908, $30.20, WineAlign)

From a vineyard planted in 2004 on the east end of the Lailey property, right next to the river. The red clay soil, the cooler nights and the longer growing season produced just 70 cases of this highly singular and stupidly inexpensive Niagara Chardonnay. This is a vineyard transformed over 10 years from a brickyard and cherry tree farm, now rich yet elegant in simultaneous motion, not to mention seamless in transition, within and without. Brother Derek Barnett is generously giving this rare, small lot Chardonnay away, all the while “talking, about the space between us all…and life flows on,” along the Niagara River.  Tasted July 2014

Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay Old Vines 2012, VQA Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $40.20, WineAlign)

The old Vines were planted between 1974 and 1978, ancient by Niagara standards. Only gnarly old, gristle veteran dudes like these could handle the beastly burden of 16 months in 50 per cent new French oak, not to mention all the while sitting on top of the lees heap. It may ask you “am I hard enough, am I rough enough, am I rich enough?” You may tell it “you’re tropical, you’re subtle, you’re sweet yet cool in mouthfeel, you’re elegant and you’re “not too blind to see,” but you carry that oak with ease.  Tasted July 2014

Malivoire Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (573147, $19.95, WineAlign)

Essentially bone-dry, kissed by a minor peck of new oak and consistently established, here from fruit out of Estate, Moira and (10 per cent) Vinemount Ridge vineyards. The latter adds flinty complexity by way of an intangible, aeriform note, magnified by the warmth of the vintage. The humidity is very minor, thanks to prudent early (September 1 to 12) picking of Beamsville Bench grapes in ever-present rooted stability. Here is hospitable Chardonnay gaining traction and interest with each passing vintage, showcasing the work of winemaker Shiraz Mottiar and as a portal to the investigations of Small Lot, Moira, Mottiar and Cat on the Bench. Tasted July 2014

Malivoire and Riedel, Image (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Malivoire and Riedel, Image (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

In admiral control this summer, rich in stone-churned butter and in residence of a right honourable place. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Gamay may be winemaker Shiraz Mottiar’s decisive resource but Chardonnay is his thing. The Moira’s ranks as one of Niagara’s best, vintage in, vintage out and this Mottiar, from the winemaker’s home vineyard is the trump card. This Malivoire special agent is set in 2 – 5 year old 300 L French oak hogsheads and aged on the lees in barrel for 10 months. The result? Texture. With the use, or lack thereof in new oak, Mottiar’s Chardonnay becomes a study in compages, with strong abilities and the accents of green orchard fruit and a faint sensation of blanched nut. Nothing toasty mind you because it’s all about density and girth; a Shiraz thing. I find his Chardonnay is all about texture.”  Last tasted July 2014

Manciat-Poncet Crémant de Bourgogne Brut NV, Burgundy, France (378653, $28)

A tragically gingered peach, a candied rhinestone, a ready to bake hip cake for the easy oven. Safe bubbles here, “pale as a light bulb hanging on a wire, sucking up to someone just to stoke the fire,” from a distance, with simplicity and caution. Like getting caught in New Orleans with a sinking feeling.  Tasted July 2014

Marie-Pierre Manciat Les Morizottes Mâcon 2012, Burgundy, France (376137, $27, WineAlign)

There are some unhinged and unusual aromas in this Mâcon, of carbon copies, a stainless tank and Musa. Pears too, pinballing and ready for poaching. Faux or perhaps near-mineral texture, slightly saline, with flint and slate. The complexities are boundless and confounding. Highly expressive but the expressions are not all created equal.   Tasted July 2014

Marie-Pierre Manciat Les Petites Bruyères Pouilly-Fuissé 2012, Burgundy, France (376129, $39, WineAlign)

There is a deep rust, faded jeans vine wisdom in the Pouilly-Fuissé. It steps out with more richness and tension than the Mâcon. Balanced energy and stretched length.  Tasted July 2014

Marimar Estate La Masía Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, (331918, $49, WineAlign)

First notes are high in the hills of the tropics, in pineapple, mango and papaya. A veritable smoothie of very ripe, creamy fruit and though it carries a 14 per cent mark in alcohol there rests a jury of acceptable behaviour. Finesse has won the argument, leaving bits of white pepper, reduction and vineyard funk behind. There is a persistence that belies the price on this judiciously-oaked Chardonnay, complete with its avocation of high-powered notations in an expensive suit.  Tasted July 2014

THe Chardonnay of #i4c14

The Chardonnay of #i4c14

Maycas Del Limarì Sumaq Chardonnay 2013, Limari Valley, Chile (Agent, $15.00, WineAlign)

This unoaked Chilean is fresh yet herbal, though mildly so and lime-accented, but certainly not spiked in any Tequila or other southern hemisphere distilled spirit from a large seeping plant kind of way. Fine and subtle actually, so not overtly cool or lifted by altitude influenced climatic acidity. Peacefully, Pacifically tempered Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Maycas Del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2010, Limarí Valley, Chile (162040, $20.00, WineAlign)

This unoaked Chilean is fresh yet herbal, though mildly so and lime-accented, but certainly not spiked in any Tequila or other southern hemisphere distilled spirit from a large seeping plant kind of way. Fine and subtle actually, so not overtly cool or lifted by altitude influenced climatic acidity. Peacefully, Pacifically tempered Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Maycas Del Limarì Quebrada Seca Chardonnay 2011, Limari Valley, Chile

Known as the “dry cliff” this is from a southern parcel (Pinot Noir comes from the north), a calcium carbonate plot that leads to this stone-driven Chardonnay. Nearly 200 metres above sea level, the altitude brings more cool to this bottling, more ventilated salinity, an almost wet-air, asthmatic sense of breathing. Really defined by oyster shell, this has more fruit than the value-based offerings, increased density, more citrus, both dried and condensed. A lot going on here, quite unique and worth a good look.  Tasted July 2014

Niagara College Teaching Winery Balance Barrel Fermented Chardonnay Donald Ziraldo Vineyard 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.15, WineAlign)

From the St. David’s Bench, this avant-garde label saw 11 months in French and American barriques, along with regular lees stirring. Certainly hovering and circulating in wide-ranging textural graces. A whole lotta love and learning is in this bottle; it’s round and golden with a high-spirited tang. At once typical and contrived, it’s also reeking and soaking like a sponge. Many an orchard makes an aromatic class audit. A high-toned citrus exam demands attention and focus. The wood is obvious but it too will learn. All in all this is cool Chardonnay, well-made and ready for the world.  Tasted July 2014

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (173377, $24.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Martin Werner’s 2012 may just be the hardest working Chardonnay in showbiz and in Niagara. Winnowed from Estate (St. David’s Bench) and (Niagara) river fruit, there lurks within, a 20-30 percent perfumed compression of Chardonnay Musqué. The additive is a tonic fanned from the wine’s olfactic communicative nerve centre, adding tree fruit notes no more serious than should be gathered. Werner picked real early, like five weeks ahead (first of September) and the resulting noisome perfume makes for some funk. “It’s these little things, they can pull you under,” but they blow away and settle into a rich, viscous Chardonnay for the palate to collect, contain and command. “Oh, oh, but sweetness follows.” This Ravine works automatically, of the people, for the people.  Tasted July 2014

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (381905, $40.00, WineAlign)

From 100 per cent hillside Estate fruit, a limestone and slate parcel in St. David’s on the Niagara Escarpment. This is fruit from low yields that spent 24 months of unabashed pleasure in French oak. Though highly concentrated and bent in an oxygenated stratosphere, the reduction is in elevated citrus aromas and piercing mineral flavours. Bigger than many, than your head, than a yottabyte. The complex notations are elevated in so many ways. Strung tighter than a leer kite, the heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds are years away from settling so put this Ravine away. Come back next decade to see where it’s at.  Tasted July 2014

Rex Hill Dijon Clone Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon (378455, $46.00, WineAlign)

Palate cleansing Chardonnay, an attribute that can’t be stressed or praised enough when tasting 117 renditions in a span of 50 hours. The Rex Hill is lithe, crisp and pure, a wine with a sense of wisdom. He is a subtle act of wine generosity. He smells like clove-scented, fine-casted ingot and is full of health increasing salinity and minerality. A wine of direct discovery, simple professionalism, restraint and impeccable balance. There is a green apple flavour, gently pressed and juiced. There is a texture from quarry rocks, the creamed kind, slightly piquant, merely dusted. The Rex is a very fine, calm representative with a sure sense of place.  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! “Richness” Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

This special, specific and idiosyncratic batch by winemaker Ann Sperling is a whirlwind of terpene, wood and lees, all in a whorl. Though all three demanding notions make a play to bully the fruit, this is no ordinary fruit and touched by no passive hands. Complex and textured like angelic cake, there is a distinct aroma coming from the righteous barrel, a high octane, tropical nuance, in smouldering pineapple, creamy mango and mangosteen. This Chardonnay spits the vintage heat out through the gap in its front teeth, goes all tense and nervous, does not relax. There is chalk and stone, like slate, like Calcaire Riesling, all in at 14.3 per cent abv. An all out intense effort, a wow bit of Niagara, but what exactly is this monster? The amazing thing is that there is just a ton of fruit so you can let this settle down for 10 years or more. As BMS notes, “it’s raw and unleashed.”  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (366500, $50.00, WineAlign)

Has integrated nicely though certainly persists as a big, lush Chardonnay. If there were splinters or sinewy bits they have melted away.  From my earlier, May 2014 note: “The Poetica underwhelms at the present time, or perhaps hides in her youth. She’s a calm, buttery, mildly toasted, supportive softie and more accessible than her Sperling west coast sistren. Like a cool Chardonnay soffit hiding beneath a warm bench, the Poetica speaks not for the vintage but more for the current vineyard, a warm and hip spot in the Four Mile Creek appellation. The site remains (at least to me) understood but the unctuous aspect in texture and gathering sweetness with time in the glass will realize a richesse yet unseen. Poetica’s refrain is like “wind on the weathervane,” her tragically subdued fruit quiet, but able to travel long. Time will be the reveal, so be patient.”  Last tasted July 2014

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2012, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (378760, $35, WineAlign)

In direct antithesis to what was a more than commendable 2011, this follow-up takes the Sumaridge illustrious Cru torch and raises the Hemel En Arde bar to the most complex portion of the ridge. Proprietor Holly Bellingham notes the near perfect vintage, with rain falling gracefully and slowly throughout, unlike the heavy shelling just before the 2011 harvest. Here the seamless connections of ocean winds, granite give and beatific vines mean this ’12 is super bad. Sunshine intensity, cool godfather of soul moves and dancing nerve are all as one. This is like a mineral sponge, sopping up fresh fruit and the slightest notion of toasted nuts. “Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme. Heeeeey, (scream). Uh, come on!” How will Sumaridge top this?  Tasted July 2014

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2011, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (378760, $35, WineAlign)

Though it lacks the elegance of the astonishing 2012, there is a freshness and a vigor that still defines the Valley. The aromatics create an expectation despite the heavy rains at harvest, a deluge that had a thinning effect on the fruit. The kick or punch in the pith caused neither dilution nor disease and this ’11 rebounded to carry the fire. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Though it would be naïve to think every Chardonnay produced out of the Hemel En Aarde Valley is the stuff of grand cru, recent examples have done nothing but impress. Sumaridge joins Hamilton Russell and Creation on the Walker Bay dream team. Ocean breeze-cooled slopes and deprived soils of decomposed granite loam with quartzite manage rich fruit with cool ease. In this 2011 a most excellent trifecta of dryness (1.7 g/L), acidity (6.9 g/L) and PH (3.45) brings together texture and tannin. Though seemingly sweet it is anything but a cloying example. Buttery but mild in toast, quite piercing yet tempered by an herbal quality, not warm or balmy, but inexorably herbal. Schematically waxy, splashed by lemon and piqued by zest.”  Last tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA  (agent, $41.95, WineAlign)

Tasted with proprietor Brian Talley at Cave Spring Vineyard in a setting to do justice for a wine with an irrigated gully of heart. Barrel fermented, using wild yeasts and aged for 10 months in French oak, 20 per cent of it new. Pours thick, rich and viscous into the glass with a reality that is pure, light and elegant. This is so much cooler in direction than could be perceived or believed. “I want to make wine that tastes like our grapes and not someone else’s barrels,” insists Talley. That philosophy equates to a pansophy of orange citrus and the misty spray of its scored skin, so aromatic, so in blossom, so floral. Not sure there has been nosed such succulence in restraint from Arroyo, from California or from anywhere Chardonnay grows in warm climes.  Tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA  (winery, $61.95, WineAlign)

The Rincon Block was planted in 1984, the “home” vineyard next to the winery. Tight, bracing, savoury and bound by a tannic, mineral extraction. Only 17 barrels (just under 500 cases) were produced of this 100 per cent (14 months in 20 per cent new oak) barrel fermented Chardonnay marked by wow intensity. “Jump back, what’s that sound, here she comes, full blast and top down.” Wailin’ Halen Chardonnay trampled underfoot, what can you say, like chanting “Panama ah-oh-oh-oh-oh.” Talley’s Rincon ’12 never relents, stays on the throttle, puts the pedal to the metal and speeds the van towards a persistent, consistent finish. Bring on the Digby, Nova Scotia scallops, from coast to coast.  Tasted July 2014

Tantalus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (VINTAGES 378821, $42, BC VQA, 114884, $29.90, WineAlign)

The immediacy of this Chardonnay is felt, in perfumed poise, in palate roundness, in a velvet wrap of texture. A finely balanced and over-achieving elegance from out of a single vineyard, specifically “block 6,” which sits above a gravel bed, on an eastern aspect in South East Kelowna. A mild toast, a blanch of nuts and creamy citrus coagulate to create a transcendent B.C. Chardonnay experience, one that seems like it could be eaten with a spoon. “It peels off and ties that bind me,” and after tasting I saw the light. Chardonnay with an unconscious redirection of feelings, a transference unique and welcome.  Tasted July 2014

Thelema Mountain Blanc de Blancs 1994, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (376111, $28)

Méthode Cap Classique fine bubbles still motivated and in blender motion that if fading can be excused with a thousand pardons. With no more than 2 g/L of residual sugar it’s an Extra Brut style that has survived two decades. Far eastern spices and orange melon that remain cool, juicy and unfermented give it youthful aromas. One of those hard to believe 20 year-old success stories that will continue to give to 25. Wild yeast and grated wasabi square off the peg in this Stellenbosch ringer for vintage Champagne. Buy one now at VINTAGES Shop Online, bring it to a party, be the coolest Chardonnay cat around.  Tasted July 2014

A selection of international and Ontario sparkling wines on ice. Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

A selection of international and Ontario sparkling wines on ice. Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (20431, $23, WineAlign)

Fruit divides time and space from the (sandy, Black Sage) Diamondback Vineyard and the (sandy gravel, Golden Mile) Tinhorn Creek Vineyard. So what? So let’s dance to Andrew Moon and Sandra Oldfield’s fresh recognisance mission, to offer up a slight oak and stirred lees textural sui generis, but mostly the intent to keep things crisp and real. The sugar and PH are low, the acids medium to high. Overall there generates a cool orchard fruit blooming breeze and a south-west feeling of ease. Bring it on.  Tasted July 2014

Good to go!

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Crack open these Canadian-made apolitical wines

Opening a wine bottle

Head out to your local wine shop and purchase one of these eight apolitical Canadian (or Canadians making wine abroad) bottles for next weekend.
Photo: Rumkugel/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

This is a wine column folks. If you’ve arrived here looking for a human train wreck, colloquial references to sexual body parts or stories about illicit activity, keep on moving.

Perhaps the thing I find so refreshing about wine is its lack of political affiliation. Wine is apolitical, well, maybe not so in Ontario, but let’s not go there today. The science of making wine is apolitical. Grow grapes, nurture the vineyard, pick at optimum phenolic ripeness, use minimalist intervention in the winery and voila! Fine, honest wine ready and willing to please.

Imagine wine as a painting, depicting a ceremonial scene, as if there were visible hundreds of figures within, no two alike. This is what concentrating on the simple, the base, the lightness of being can do for your life. Choosing the wine high road as a distraction from political sideshow is a healthy lifestyle choice.

Even if you just can’t forget about the pathetic fallacy of local, provincial and federal government right now, consider moving onwards and upwards next week. Head out to your local wine shop and purchase one of these eight apolitical Canadian (or Canadians making wine abroad) bottles for next weekend. Crack one open and witness your dread and fear melt away.

From left: TINHORN CREEK GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2012, PALATINE HILLS MERITAGE NEUFELD VINEYARD 2010, DANIEL LENKO MERLOT OLD VINES 2010, and CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKENPRESS 2010

From left: TINHORN CREEK GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2012, PALATINE HILLS MERITAGE NEUFELD VINEYARD 2010, DANIEL LENKO MERLOT OLD VINES 2010, and CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKENPRESS 2010

TINHORN CREEK GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2012 (904185, $24.95, winery $18.49, BCLS 530675, $18.49)

From the sandy gravel soils of the estates Golden Mile Vineyard. Viticulturalist Andrew Moon and Winemaker Sandra Oldfield find exemplary natural sugars and classic Gewurz tendencies from mature, 16 year-old vines. Offers spice before pleasure and a funky beat ahead of the lychee and rose water/petal. Cool and dry specimen, somewhat Gris-esque, intuitive, integrated and consistent every step of the way. Nothing earth shattering but really fine, precise, on time and in time. Like a right proper Gin and Tonic, with a lime.   89  @Andrew_Tinhorn  @SandraOldfield

PALATINE HILLS MERITAGE NEUFELD VINEYARD 2010 (361378, $29.95)

Cuts a positively pretty shape in silhouette. The blend consists of 40 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 40 Merlot and 20 Cabernet Franc though the Cabernet Franc certainly stands out, which is a very good thing in this warm vintage, in spicy bites, currants, dried and braised meat. Also notable are licorice, cherries and plums. The savoury vineyard floor adds but does nothing to overpower so this is quite fine, if a bit tinged by a coffee and cherry chalk.  89  @palatinewinery

DANIEL LENKO MERLOT OLD VINES 2010 (75622, $34.95)

Pure, ripe red berries dusted by a dried and pungent mulling spice. Dried flowers round out this easy-going if not overly complex red fashioned from likely the oldest Beamsville Bench Merlot vines. Good balancing acidity and verdant in a Cab Franc-ish way. I could drink this any day of the week but wouldn’t hold out for more age. Despite murmurs of tobacco tight tannins, this is as good as it will ever be.  89  @daniel_lenko

CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010 (202127, $39.95)

Offers up gorgeous pine and pepper-laced correctness and so much juicy, fresh warmth from a terrific Syrah vintage in Ontario and even more parochial so on the St. David’s Bench. This Queenston Road Vineyard red is winemaker Rob Power’s secret weapon, absolutely freakin’ delicious stuff and the epitome of what Syrah should be like from Niagara. Verve, rigor and yet also flirtatious with expertly judged wood and tannin to re-fresh its spirit and lengthen its life. Love it.  91  @CreeksideWine

From left: STRATUS WHITE 2010, STRATUS RED 2010, VERSADO MALBEC RESERVA 2010, and BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2005

From left: STRATUS WHITE 2010, STRATUS RED 2010, VERSADO MALBEC RESERVA 2010, and BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2007

STRATUS WHITE 2010 (660704, $44.20)

Quite possibly the most textured yet. A casted mass, like ingot or sélection de grains nobles, where viscosity meets candied fruit, apricot, quince and acacia flowers. A white moon with a medicinal and peaty tang that shows so much verve, earth floor even. This cracker jack ’10 will continue to add heft and flesh to earn its white stripes. Could be a classic for 20 years plus.  92  Tasted October 2013. From my earlier note: “sends me immediately towards Bordeaux, in neo-marmalade, but also buoyed in perfume and body by 25 percent Viognier. “This variety worked so well in the vineyard in 2010,” notes Groux. Niagara honey and near-botrytis via Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc void of grass, full of vigor. A sharp note, neither metallic nor mineral, but a combination of the two is present in this so very concentrated ’10. Of a warm vintage (self-explanatory) fully picked by October 23. Though loaded with early Spring maple sap, foie gras and appley terpines, its sharp and framed by “tannic” tang and protracted length.  92  @Stratuswines

STRATUS RED 2010 (131037, $44.20)

Tasted again, I do declare this to be the reigning bomb of Ontario red blends. Showing even better than I judged it two weeks ago. Intense ruby meets claret in every facet of its make-up. Rouge tomate, fresh and racy at the same time, with just enough chalk to lengthen the chain. You can actually imagine the hum in the clang and rhythm of its magic. Fleet of foot, mac-nanimously rendered red blend. “Chain keep us together, running in the shadow.”  92  From my earlier note: is a study in restrained, gilt-edged use of only 15 per cent new oak during assemblage, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon in the lead and so prudent considering the extreme warmth of the vintage. Cabernet Franc imparts simple but intense spice.  Red talented, fresh finesse, the oak in support as a James Dean, cherry stained leather jacket. De facto fresh, with just enough trenchant acidity.  92

VERSADO MALBEC RESERVA 2010 (316984, $59.95)

This ultra-premium Mendozan from the Canadian winemaking team of Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling boasts fruit from “the finest barrels from the finest blocks.” Rare Malbec uniquely subsistent upon their own roots, that is, “ungrafted” as compared to the typically phylloxera-resistant rootstocks of native North American grapes. While certainly riding a splintered and jammy horse (what fully extracted Mendozan does not), this reserve Malbec has so much else happening, I owe it my time and focus. Dances to a triple jump height in oozing berry, compacted, brick wall infrastructure and overlapping delineation. Really like the consistency here, with no hollow middle, no umlaut, no pregnant pause. Very well made.  91  @VersadoWine

BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2007 (275396, $74.95, NSLC 1012526, $74.79)

Peter Gamble struck gold with this Gasperaux Valley, Nova Scotia Sparkling Wine project. This Bridge comes from ”radically and frighteningly low yields” (3/4 ton per acre, as opposed to the new 6 ton world of Champagne). The ’07 is spun so fine and endowed with a prominent and great leesy nose, along with baking biscuits and lemon purity. To taste there is zest, white pepper and ultimately this is streamlined and refined. A Gamble style that will integrate in ’08 the idea of emulating grower’s Champagne. One will find no holes and no holds barred, in tension and in ease. Like Iggy Pop, Paul Weller, Brandon Flowers and David Bowie rolled into one, a thin white duke with a lust for life in a killer town called malice. Eight some odd cases of the 2005 are still floating around in the monopoly’s system so keep an eye on the labels. You just might get lucky. Price tag, $75? Cost, “priceless.”  93  @Benjamin_Bridge

Good to go!

Free my Canadian grapes and other love songs

People are not just talking about wine law, they’re joining the band.
PHOTO: JARP/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

The discussion is no longer reserved for wine geeks and industry professionals. People are not just talking about wine law, they’re joining the band. The waves of interest may oscillate in the chatter of the public sector and the media, but the time gaps between are narrowing. Talk is no longer cheap. Canadians are speaking up. Restaurant owners are crying out. Farmers are the lead vocalists. Politicians are listening. The cause and the demand is agreed upon. The song remains the same. Free my grapes.

To the uninitiated, the ignorant and the critic, the love-in happening for Canadian wine right now seems slightly counter-culture. The songs may sound a bit Kumbaya-ish or like covers of Lennon and Harrison chants. Make no mistake about it, this is about the business of selling wine and Canadian wineries want a fair deal.

Grape growers and vintners in Canada have a really good thing going save for one small obstacle. Most provinces won’t allow wine lovers to have out of province wine shipped to them. Ontario is not only the largest producer and consumer of wine in Canada, their government is also the most powerful roadblock to free grapes. Will this ever change? I’ve touched on the subject before.

Related – Wine begins to flow across Canadian provinces and Free grapes of colour

The short answer is yes, if the current level of lobbying is any indication. Last night’s Ontario and B.C. Wine chats, the weekly Twitter/Internet discussion boards created and mediated by Shawn McCormick (Ont.) and Sandra Oldfield (B.C.) took the discourse to an entirely new level. There were many new voices on board. The debates centred on Bill 98, the movement of Free My Grapes and liquor review policy, from one government to the next. Bill 98 is a Private Members (MPP Rob Milligan) Bill that could this make it legal for Ontarians to order and have shipped out of province wines. The opposition members bill has PC support and the promising potential for the NDP to follow suit. Bill 98 entitled “An Act Respecting the Importation of Wine, Beer and Spirits from other Provinces” amends the Liquor Control Act to add a provision that permits individuals of legal age to import wine into Ontario from another province as long as it is for personal consumption only.” The bill has passed second reading, following on the heels of MP Dan Albas’ gains in British Columbia.

Last month Sandra Oldfield posted this essential list on her blog. Top 10 reasons to free my grapes. From a local perspective, allowing grapes to flow across the country increases support for farmers, promotes a Canadian wine culture and increases local tourism. Looking at it globally, changing liquor laws and knocking down pre-prohibition provincial walls would drag Canada out of the laughing-stock category in the world of wine-producing countries. There’s the rub. Critics agree that the deregulation of provincial monopolies and the addition of private liquor stores will not cause tax loss suffering. Oldfield goes so far as to suggest the idea of a flat tax should be investigated. She’s not wrong.

What is the truth of the matter? Does the Ontario government lack the courage to effect change over the LCBO? Is tax collection and the billions of dollars annually endowed from the LCBO to the Ontario government coffers the real issue? Are inflated, algorithmic wine and spirits mark-ups at the heart of the matter?

Regardless of the answer, ears are burning, e-mail is buzzing, letters to MPP’s are increasing and petitions are being signed. Kathleen Wynne is at the centre of the storm and her party can no longer avoid the rising tide of change. It’s simply time to get this done and move on to the matter of making and selling great wine. It’s time to focus on terroir, on soil, on somewhereness.

Just yesterday Ontario wine folks tasted through single vineyard blocks of Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir and celebrated the 25th anniversary of winemaking at Henry of Pelham. Why must Canadians continue to waste their time pleading for Canada’s provincial governments to free the grapes?

So, while everyone waits for the inevitable here at home, wine remains a global concern. The greatest redeeming quality of the all-powerful LCBO is in the VINTAGES releases. The coming weekend features some other love songs, six terrific buys highlighted here. There is one lonely, singular offer from British Columbia, the terrific Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2011. Try it and spread the word. Free my grapes.

From left: Fielding Estate Winery Riesling 2012, Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2011, Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot 2010, Caves Saint Desirat Saint Joseph 2010, Journey’s End Shiraz 2007, and Yabby Lake Vineyard Mornington Peninsula SV Pinot Noir 2010

Fielding Estate Winery Riesling 2012 (251439, $18.95) as per the warm vintage humidifies in increased tropical soupçon. There is a feeling of creamy pineapple and mangosteen, nearly sherbet like, with an expedient and harmonizing lemon/granite boost.  Frothy too and coconut feathery. Finishes pithy but not overly so. Complex Beamsville Riesling.  89  @FieldingWines  @RichieWine

Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2011 (13150, $19.95) is a carnival of red fruit, sans mask. Raspberry, plum and strawberry, pressed, flattened and rolled.  Blueberry too – it’s a freakin’ berry party. Plum and red licorice sneak in for good measure. That said, why wouldn’t you want your Niagara Peninsula Merlot to smell like this? Very approachable, friendly, with tart acidity to wrap it up in a winning package.  Do not look for anything serious here.  88  @featherstonewne

Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot 2010 (395855, $24.95) is dug in deep, in pedigree, track record and potential. Mysterious, haunting, cave dwelling fruit. Burrows even deeper, with obvious espresso timber assistance. Balanced, structured and long. A classic H of P CM in the making, throwing muses like the ’98, that will show well to 2022. It’s true, it told me. “It tastes like water, but I’m drunk.”  90  @HenryofPelham

Caves Saint Desirat Saint Joseph 2010 (342980, $23.95) in her elegance and grace from the Northern Rhône is the Syrah to quench even the most desperate anadispic thirst. So lithe, so pretty strawberry, so effortless, so drinkable, so food-friendly. Nothing dramatic or overly exceptional here save for a singer-songwriter, Adamsian, heartfelt angst, but this Syrah is crushed with old school desire without being rustic or misunderstood. “With no secrets, no obsession.” Metal felt but not metallic. Just sit back and enjoy.  90

Journey’s End Shiraz 2007 (337642, $19.95) initiates serious sanguine Stellenbosch intimacy with dusty black cherry and black pepper. Hard to break, like the Northern Rhône, or even Syrah-heavy Châteauneuf-du-Pape but swirl and she will open up. Meaty, gamey, anise, metal-mineral fruit. Hedonistic and certainly clothed in heavy coat but there is an underlying velvet dignity here, though it has not yet shed its bacon baby fat. I would follow this highly complex and intriguing South African for five to 10 years. Already a few years in and not nearly at its peak.  Has ancient experience in its blood.  92  @JourneysEndWine

Yabby Lake Vineyard Mornington Peninsula SV Pinot Noir 2010 (262402, $49.95) is imbued with alluring candied morning glory and ginger aromas. Tight, upright and above sweet suspicion. A front-runner for the genre, faintly painted in dawn pastels and flavoured by a puncheon of strawberry and rhubarb. “Tomorrow never knows what it doesn’t know too soon.” Statis Pinot Noir that is the oasis from the peninsula.  93  @YabbyLake

Good to go!