Twenty-one mind-blowing wines of 2021

The greatest wines are considered as the ones that talk to us, connect with that part of our being that elicits sensory and emotional responses, feelings of zeitgeist and great release. Throughout the course of a year I taste thousands in my glass, countless banal, innumerable competent, others correct and many exceptional. Then there are the rare and peerless capable of altering time and space, chosen ones that after listening we then speak directly to. The mind-blowing wines.

Related – Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

This is what I might say to such a splendid creature. “I look upon the flash of your sheen, you a wine of scientific strategies. Your aromatics sum up for me my educational studies in science and lifelong memories. Your flavours remind me of experiments in vinous physics, your textures of exercises in galactic mechanics. Your structure recalls infinite chemical reactions and architectural engineering. Your energy, though carefully controlled, threatens to ignite and destroy my laboratory and yet binds my existential life together. You blow my mind.

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

Last year’s 20 for 20 was a much different list than ever before. Only 25 days of travel and while I did finally make a return to global discovery that number was even less in 2021. Two trips to Italy and one to B.C. in October and November. Once again just 25 days in total. A yearly schedule usually adds up to 100-plus but fortune also shines on the critics of WineAlign. Through quarantine, isolation and safe-distancing we still managed to taste through thousands of wines. I recorded well and above 4,000 tasting notes in 2021 so it would appear that palate discovery is still alive and well. For the first time ever there are three dessert wines on the list because well, stickies just don’t get enough love. And never before have I included a Canadian wine because I pen a separate list for local but a Thomas Bachelder chardonnay is wholly deserving of going global. These are Godello’s 21 mind-blowing wines of 2021.

Berlucchi Riserva Familia Ziliana Franciacorta DOCG 2001, Lombardy

A blend of chardonnay and pinot nero matured on lees for 218 months and a further 31 months after disgorgement. Zero dosage, tirage in June 2002. Tasting from “the stolen bottle,” and one would swear there is some sweetness in this wine, offset by twenty year-old persistent and rising acidity. The state of grace and ability this 2001 finds itself sitting royally in is quite something to behold. Stands firm and can stride with most any 20 year-old sparkling wine. A simple fact tells us that Arturo Ziliani’s father Franco and Guido Berlucchi decided to create sparkling wines in Franciacorta. They are the pioneers. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Krug Vintage Brut Champagne 2002

The year 2002 dubbed as “ode to nature” marked the first Krug “vintage of the millennium” and was presented after Krug 2003, just as Krug 1988 left the cellars after Krug 1989. A clement year, relatively dry to make for a homogeneous harvest. The blend is 39 per cent pinot noir, (40) chardonnay and (21) pinot meunier. Disgorgement would have been in the autumn of 2015 after having spent at least 13 years in Krug’s cellars. All this tells us that the vintage is one treated to great respect with the acumen to age seemingly forever. This bottle shows some advancement but mostly in toasted and spiced notes while acting so expertly oxidative, in total control of its own and also our senses. Smells of orange skin, zesty and by citrus spray, then pickled ginger and wild fennel. Tasted blind it feels just exactly 20 years old but it’s not hard to be tricked into imagining even older. I admit to guessing 1995 with thanks to a presentation of at once wildly exotic and then exceptional bubbles. Just a matter of being hoked up with celebration. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Kabola Malvazija Amfora 2017, Istria, Croatia

Kabola’s is malvazija istarska raised in traditional clay amphorae in combination with oak barrels. Kabola is found in Buje, not far from the coast and south of Trieste. While the combination of clay and wood seem to confuse or blur the game there is something wholly credible and intriguing about this wonderful aromatic mess. You can not only smell and sense but more deeply intuit the phenolic qualities inherent in here. Skins, pips and even a bit of herbaceous stem. Peach and orange tisane, exotic spice and high, high quality lees. Great winemaking here in the context of leaving your grapes to do the work but both timing and execution are spot on. Raises the varietal bar and shows what’s possible. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted April 2021

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 1998, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

A wine in which the switch has been flicked at least five times, at least three past the family’s preference but let’s be frank. This is a fascinating Friuli-Venezia-Giulia wine to taste. Oxidative in the most beautiful way, sapid and laden with 23 year-old tang. Very much a young adult of confidence and swagger borne out of phenolic fruit maturation. A long-hanging vintage, a note of botrytis, a late harvest sensation but truly salty, mineral and showing the biodiversity in clones and vineyards that one would expect a white blend of this ilk to display. Just a terrific example of friulano, sauvignon and pinot bianco in their arena of characterful array. Drink 2021.  Tasted October 2021

Bachelder Grimsby Hillside “North Slope, Starry Skies” Chardonnay 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

New in the pantheon for Bachelder and Niagara wines as an entity is this from Grimsby Hillside, the new frontier, next level up and future for the industry. In fact the time is already upon these precocious vines and their fruit specially formulated for the most wound and cinched kind of chardonnay, so precipitously witnessed in Thomas Bachelder’s “North Slope, Starry Skies” 2019. The vineyard was planted to vitis labrusca and used for Kaddish wine through the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s and just less than 20 years ago re-purposed to vinifera. Just two decades later winemakers like Thomas and Ilya Senchuk have discovered the magic of possibility and greatness of probability. Tasted this first in July with Thomas though it had just gone to bottle. Now the textural level of this GH-N triple-S has hitherto arrived at the immaculate, sweetly viscous, gleefully gelid and just right there at the apex of sensory enjoyment. Tight and delicious is a good combination. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2021

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018, Stellenbosch, South Africa

A single vineyard chenin blanc and the first vintage to the Ontario market for a unique project celebrating the family farm called Eden. From their Stellenbosch ward of Polkadraai and high density plantings on dolomitic, granitic soils. Of a richness, an intensity of parts and a presence only a handful of South African blanc ever reach. A wine that achieves a level of status by its work underground (through root competition) and a clone called Montpellier that produces small berries and even smaller yields, not to mention the plot is just 0.6 hectares in size. Eden is the mothership and matriarch of this clone and for that variety in South Africa. All parts contribute to a wine of outrageous acidity that is never sharp, vivid or dominant. Fruit, mineral, focus, elements and precision. Wet stone is pure Polkadraai, vaporous, omnipresent, all over the wine. “The most successful winemakers (and wine projects) are ones that specialize,” says Bruwer Raats. This Eden follows the credo to a “T” and with a capital “E.” Really cerebral and also age-worthy chenin, in the upper echelon of the finest in the pantheon. If ever a chenin signified “Bringing it all Back Home,” the Raats Eden is it. “Discuss what’s real and what is not. It doesn’t matter inside the Gates of Eden.” Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted June 2021

With Sofia Ponzini and Vico

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso Vigna Vico Pre-Phylloxera 2018, DOC Etna

Just another immediately memorable Piano dei Daini Etna Rosso Vico, Sofia Ponzini’s Cru-Vigna nerello mascalese (with 10 per cent nerello cappuccio) at 700m from the northern side of Mount Etna. Grown as alberello on a volcanic, sandy matrix with some stones from 100-plus-plus pre-phylloxera vines located in the town of Passopisciaro, Contrada Santo Spirito, parcels “Belvedere,” “Seimigliaia” and “Calata degli Angeli.” A tempest of steel and a feeling that runs with waves of acidity throughout, in many parallel and horizontal lines, at all levels. Spice cupboard, rich waves of red fruit, viscous wisdom, confidential and confident elegance, finishing at precision without recall. True value, scattered patterning, significant and relevant. A vintage of force, restraint and powerful lightness of being. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted October 2021

Domaine De Bellene Nuits Saint Georges Premier Cru Aux Chaignots 2019, AOC Bourgogne

The limestone soil Climat of Chaignots lies in the northern part of Nuits-Saint-Georges, up the slope and edging in location but also feeling towards that of Vosne-Romanée. The affinity is much discussed, real and therefore puts the Premier Cru at the top of what is most desired out of Nuits-Saint-Georges. A tiny (0.14 hectare) plot and simply a coup for Nicolas Potel to be able to secure this fruit. Everything about the aromatic front speaks to the Bourgogne mind and Chaignots heart. Cola but from the root, a tuber underground rubbed, that and a cocoa nut crushed between fingers. An almost diesel waft but not gaseous, instead sapid, nut-based, a liqueur toasted and intoxicating. The fineness of structure is the sort of wiry winding by winch that could cut through limbs due to tension so taut. All that you know, love, don’t know and hope to experience is in this wine. Neither I nor Nicolas Potel will be around when it blows someone’s mind in 2074. Look forward to that day young Alphonse. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted May 2021

Angela Fronti, Istine

Istine Chianti Classico DOCG Vigna Istine 2019, Radda in Chianti, Tuscany

One must have to look at, walk this and stand in awe of of this vineyard, the steepness at 30-50 per cent grade with a terrace in the middle to break it up. Heavy in Alberese inclusive of massive yellow calcareous boulders and also Galestro. In fact the medium stones removed were transferred to create terraces for olive trees on the other side of the cantina (by Angela Fronti’s father no less). The vineyard faces north so the freshness is off the charts, while the ripeness is so matter of purposeful vintage fact. The label represents the position of the vines in coordinates, echoed in the machicolations of a Fronti sangiovese that drops all the Radda stones on unsuspecting palates through fruit openings between supporting acid corbels of a projecting tannic parapet. Vigna Istine is at the forefront of Chianti Classico’s battle to win over the world. Follow this example. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted October 2021

“Molto parfumato,” binds an aromatic agreement between myself and Paolo de Marchi upon sniffing this ’11 found on Locanda Pietracupa’s wine list. “Cepparello needs time,” says Paolo, understatement of the obvious for the evening, year, decade and history with respect to sangiovese grown in the Chianti Classico territory. Also truth succinctly spoken, roses and violets exhaling and a 100 per cent varietal (or so it seems) profile of succulence and one to fully draw you in. Mint to conifers, multiplicity by complexity value, not to mention vigorous acidity sent straight to a mouth with a full compliment of wisdoms able to think about the situation. A linear Cepparello seeing its wide open window at the 10 year mark. And now a Paolo de Marchi story. “One side of the vine’s grapes were burnt and so I called up (Consorzio Direttore Giuseppe) Liberatore and asked are we changing the name of the appellation? Liberatore said what? To Chianti Amarone replied de Marchi, or sangiovese Port? Joking aside, a stringent selection and a five per cent inclusion of trebbiano did for this ’11 Cepparello what viognier might do for syrah. Not a Chianti Classico so perfectly kosher. A secret until now but all above board. Totally cool. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1999

The 1999 was the last (original) Riserva produced until it was again resurrected in 2011 and what’s so cool about this vintage is how it was held to some early esteem, though paling in comparison to that “vintage of the century” that was 1997. Underestimated over the last 20 years, drinking so beautifully now, with frutta di bosca, tertiary tartufo and fungi. Just doesn’t strike as a fully mature adult reminiscing about the way things used to be but more like a wine with an outlook for more promise, good times and adventures still ahead. If you are still holding onto ‘99s from this part of Toscana you will be very pleased. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Filo di Seta is Filippo Chia’s intuitive “transavanguardia” sangiovese of place, over the ancient beach where he and his father Sandro once painted the Montalcino sea. Mostly early picked fruit, all in tonneaux, at first thinking “croccante” but that’s too simple a way to describe what texture and sensation is combed in this reserve wine. Bottled on the 29th of June so just arriving at the ready, to look at if not to consume. Here there is a fineness of liquid chalkiness, a “fluido” or “scorrevole” to drive the way this sangiovese plays and also sings, a Riserva to move with the wind and musical sway. Somewhat unknown, finely tannic and clearly what could and should be described as “mountain” Brunello. Coming in late is the spice, almost cinnamon and such. Hate to refer to any wine as the best from an estate but too bad. That this is, beyond the avant-garde such as it is. Drink 2025-2038.  Tasted November 2021

Biondi Santi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Tenuta Greppo 1985

The longevity of this vintage is almost not to be believed. Has been in bottle for as many years as it would have matured in casks. The next year (2022) will se the re-release of this vintage (in 2021 that vintage was 1983) and the year 1985 is the one I entered university. A Biondi-Santi of resolved tannin but remarkably youthful. A wine that saw Grandi Botti more than before, seen in the gentlest of spice notes and the back to the future return of balsamic and pomegranate. Followed a winter of major snowfall, long and cold winter, a regular spring and uneventful summer. The acidity is just incredible, also youthful and so sweet, those lengthened tannins in liquid powdery-chalky form. The connection with 2016 may seem to be an uncanny one but so help me if the chain is not there. The bottle was opened one hour and forty five minutes earlier so grazie to Federico Radi and Biondi-Sandi for perfecting the timing. We can all learn so much from this wine, to be patient, calm, well-adjusted, confident and gracious. Style and temperament to live by. Should continue this way for at least 10 more years. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted November 2021

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 1979, Tuscany

A cooler vintage, especially as compared to 1978 and truly a Piedmontese style because the cellar workers closed the tanks, went on strike and returned two months later. Resulted in some carbonic maceration and surely an increased amount of vim in freshness. That mixed with true porcini, fungi and fennochiona. The extended maceration makes this act 43 years forward like an older nebbiolo, rich and once demanding tannins now long since melted away, tar and roses still showing with earthly perfume. Fabulous mouthfeel, lingering and lively. Surely the mean steak astringency would have been in control during the first 10 to 15 years but the beast relents and gives way to charm. Patience breeds gentility and the story is now unfolding. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

With Stefano Cesari, Brigaldara

Brigaldara Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2016, Veneto

Stefano Cesari’s farm concerns itself with all things sustainable and while that may seem like a catch phrase, In Brigaldara’s case it most surely is not. The family supports its workers financially, culturally and in health. The young winemaking team is encouraged to study and stage abroad, to learn new oenological skills and languages. The other farm workers and their families are additionally supported by being given stake in the profits of the farm. How can this not reflect in the qualities of the wines, including this very special vintage 2016 Amarone. A magnificent wine and one you can easily drink beyond one glass. Not that it’s a light example but it speaks in soft tones, clearly and with a distinct, precise and honest weight, in vernacular and feeling. All things fruit lead to roads of sweet acidity and fine tannin. A rare Amarone of this ilk and one to savour. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted October 2021

Errázuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2012, Aconcagua Valley, Chile

Don Maximiano 2012 is a blend of 75 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (12) carmenère, (8) petit verdot and (5) malbec. No cabernet franc back in 2012 and aside from the obvious notions ushered in by age there is a distinct lack of herbal notes as a result. This is just in a great place nearly nine years forward from vintage, now settling, acids still in charge but tannins having done most of their melting and rendering. This wine is far from done, in fact the next level notions have just begun to have their say and from a vintage as great as this there should very well be nine years nigh before true earthiness, umami and truffle set in. Pour this blind at dinners with old world counterparts and watch with awe as to the results. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Château Pétrus 1993, Pomerol, AC Bordeaux

Never easy to live in the shadow of siblings clearly designated as mom and dad’s favourites but sometimes overlooked vintages left for dead show greatness later on in life. The 1993 Pétrus is definitely a late bloomer and from a year when only 200 cases were produced, where normally 4,000-plus is the standard. Softened to an almost Burgundian sense of calm but the richness and concentration multiplied by a Spring verdant freshness and sweetly herbal pesto can only indicate one thing and that is Right Bank Bordeaux. I tasted this blind and immediately thought of Pomerol and its close proximity at the eastern border with Saint-Émilion because of the “fromage à pâte molle” feeling gained, along with vestiges of once formidable black fruit supported by a push-pull posit tug of merlot-cabernet franc acidity. A good hunch indeed and a more than surprising set of excellent parameters come to this for a 1993 Bordeaux. All in all a really satisfying and come together wine to hush the naysayers and win in the end. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1990, AC Hermitage, Rhône

Jaboulet’s 1990 La Chapelle is a kind of an echo of the year in history, an Hermitage of impeccable harmony, much like balance restored in relative peace and prosperity. In 1990 the Soviet Union fell, ending the decades-long Cold War. Hard to find more shiny opaque purple in a 30 year-old syrah plus a splendid floral nose of stone roses, pencil shavings and graphite. The combinative effect of heft and freshness elicit pleasantries from a bad boy able to play soft ballads to mellow a crowd. La Chapelle is a communicative, entertaining and business-like syrah, a link between the northern Rhône and the taster, an internet Hermitage that changes the way we think and feel. Things will never be the same after tasting Jaboulet’s 1990 and for good reason. Has 10 years left without worry of decline. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted November 2021

 

Reynvaan In The Hills Syrah 2017, Walla Walla Valley, Washington

Reynvaan is a family production of Rhône-style wines from two vineyard properties in the Walla Walla Valley. “In The Rocks” is their first vineyard located in Milton-Freewater, Oregon and the second vineyard is called “In the Hills.” short for “Foothills in the Sun.” It is found at the base of the Blue Mountains on the Washington/Oregon border and is planted to syrah, viognier and a gaggle of cabernet sauvignon rows. As one of the highest elevation vineyards in Washington (at 1200ft) and in this syrah co-fermented with up to 10 per cent syrah you might get a rendering of a northern Rhône-ish picture. Sure enough the perfume is floral but more than anything a smoulder of pancetta and smoked meat. Reductive as well, different as such than any syrah, anywhere else on the planet but liquid peppery and tire on asphalt nonetheless. The credibility and accountability here is profound and while the sheer concentration and beauty of In the Rocks in captivating, this In the Hills is alternatively vivid, dramatic and powerfully restrained syrah. Which one is you? Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted January 2021

Sine Qua Non Syrah The Hated Hunter 2017, Santa Barbara County

The hated hunter is named after Austrian immigrant and Los Angeles restaurateur turned winemaker Manfred Krankl’s grandfather, depicted on the label in gear, with rifle and hound. The blend is led by 82.4 per cent syrah with (7.8) petite sirah, (5.2) mourvèdre, (2) grenache, (1.2) petit manseng and (1.4) viognier. Clocks in at 15.9 alcohol but in this regard hardly garners even one per cent of the discussion. All anyone can talk about is the infinite expanse of pretty, pretty floral capture and personally speaking it simply reeks of syrah. A game of meat juices and marbling, part smoked meat and part pancetta. The only question tasting blind is whether to imagine it as Hermitage or Central Coast California. Once the abv is disclosed the answer can only be the latter but a syrah of such reclusive exclusivity is hard to pin down. Derives from a group of prized vineyards; 32 per cent Eleven Confessions (Santa Rita Hills), (41) The Third Twin (Los Alamos), (25) Cumulus (Santa Barbara) and (2) Molly Aida (Tepusquet Canyon). Adds up to the most luxe, deluxe and ultra-fantastic instrumental of a syrah, no lyrics needed. Man, Manfred, take a bow. A hunting bow. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Fèlsina Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico DOCG 2018, Tuscany

An absolutely lovely vintage for Fèlsina’s Vin Santo and for Chianti Classico Vin Santo as a rule because extract, temperament and adaptability are all in collective balance. All that you want, need and expect from this traditional and loyal dessert wine are present and accounted for. Dried and glazed fruit, low and slow developed nuttiness and a freedom of territory spoken through airiness and layering. The upside cake of life turns over to reveal a generational wine of clear standards, perfect layering and endless conversation. Nonna and Nonno would be proud. Drink 2021-2035.  Tasted June 2021

Agriturismo Hibiscus Zhabib Passito 2020, C.Da Tramontana, Sicily

From the island of Ustica in the Tyrrhenian Sea, 70 kilometres (36 nautical miles) of the coast of Sicily’s capital Palermo and the work of Margherita Longo and Vito Barbera. The vineyards for this zibibbo (moscato d’Alessandria) are grown very close to the water on volcanic soil and Hibiscus is the only winery game in town. There are other farmers that contribute grapes to this tiny production; also grillo, cataratto, inzolia to go along with the zibibbo that makes this Passito. A place where tomato, grapes and peached co-exist, in the gardens and in the wine. This carries that uncanny sweet to savoury feeling in the most specific and ethereal dessert wine both mind can conjure and emotion shall receive. Of orange, grapefruit, peach and tomato. Balanced, harmonious, silky, woollen and with a super-tonal capacity to love. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted October 2021

Taylor Fladgate Very Old Tawny Port – Kingsman Edition, Douro, Portugal

A bottle of wine is rarely tied to a film, let alone a Douro Port but Taylor’s Very Old Tawny has been blended and bottled to coincide and be product placed in the second Kingsman film, in this case a prequel to the first, this time set in the 1920s. Head Winemaker David Guimaraens chose reserve Tawnys from 70-100 years of age, wines crafted and set aside by generational predecessors past, no stretch for the master blender because we are talking about a house with extensive stocks from which to reach back into. Guimaraens was looking for harmonic balance between concentration and elegance and just a whiff will tell you he and his team have achieved a crossing between a magical vortex and a vanishing point of complexity. Two manifest matters have developed; concentration of sweetness and in this case by association, a focus of acids as well. Together they inspissate and cling comfortably to the skeletal structure. It feels like you are nosing 100 unique aromas, with just seven of them being marzipan, red velvet hazelnut cake, candied ginger rose, rau răm, roasting banana leaf, calimyrna fig and grilled pineapple express. Step six feet away from the glass and the aromatics persist just as sharp as if the glass were in hand. As for a sip of this maraviglioso Tawny, warmth, comfort, delicadeza and forever length make just an ounce last forever. Timeless. Approximately 1000 bottles were produced and in Canada 100 will be made available next September. That is when theatre goers should likely make a return to the cinema to take in the Secret Service spy thriller and Tawny Port fantasy up on the silver screen. Drink 2021-2050.  Tasted February 2021

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Pumpkin pairings from beer to wine

Photograph by HappyAlex, Fotolia.com

Photograph by HappyAlex, Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Winter squash season is in full swing and with Halloween exactly two weeks away, it’s time to begin planning your wine and pumpkin pairings. Your neighbourhood friends will thank you for filling their travellers with the right stuff. Beer is much more commonly considered when it comes to Cucurbita and our local brew masters are running wild with it. Pumpkin Ales have proliferated province-wide. Here are four to look for.

Highballer Pumpkin Ale (132753, 500 mL, $3.95)

Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale (67710, 650 mL, $4.95)

St. Ambroise Pumpkin Ale (90738, 4x341mL, $9.95)

Mill Street Nightmare On Mill Street Harvest Sampler (313916, 6x 355 mL, $13.25)

My non-judgmental, personal mien will note that pumpkin beer should avoid most foods but rather match ceremoniously with decorative gourd season, also in full swing. When it comes to the edible ‘large melon’ and its savoury, sweet flesh my go to is wine, of course. Here are four smashing whites and three alt rock reds to pair with pumpkin seven ways.

The food match: Pumpkin Oatmeal, apples, flax seed, hemp hearts, maple syrup

Jean-Marc Brocard Kimmeridgian Chardonnay 2008 (290049, $17.95) has the tropical fruit quotient of ripe banana meets chalky plantain to match up against an earthy morning porridge. There are lemon and apples sliced over Kimmeridgian, oatmeal soil. Could eat this Kimmer for breakfast, “mummy dear, mummy dear.” This supertramp of a Chardonnay explores new territory for villages Burgundy thanks to the efforts of a top-notch Chablis producer.  89

The food match: Pumpkin Pad Thai

Preiss-Zimmer Vieilles Vignes Riesling 2008 (292193, $18.95) handles spice with atomic soda ease, refreshes with a squirt of lime and garnishes with south Asian herbs. The balanced palate is off-dry and the finish is long, tangy and racy. Sails “through the changing ocean tides.” The wine smiles demurely, like a Pumpkin’s rendition of Landslide, palpitating in an unspoken message of humility and thanks.  88

Bryan Birch/Barque Smokehouse

The food match: Pumpkin Soup, coffee foam

Seresin Chardonnay 2009 (19190, $24.95) goes golden capacious and brims with both marigold and malachite toast. Cashew butter, praline nectar and cantaloupe sweeten the pot. Acidity booms and if you like a Napa style, go Marlborough here at a fraction of the cost.  90

The food match: Pumpkin Ratatouille, zucchini, spicy tomato sauce

Domaine Eden Chardonnay 2009 (296145, $27.95) imparts saffron, mandarin orange, honey and Tiger Orchid in constant waves. The golden mineral hue prickles with feeling and the wine’s fat texture helps unlatch flavours. May not have the depth of Napa or Carneros but no other region does Chardonnay in such a casual elegance like the Santa Cruz Mountains.  91

The food match: Pumpkin and Roast Chicken Paella, manchego, jamón serrano

Senda 66 Tempranillo 2008 (296475, $13.95) of fragrant, smoked blueberry and vanilla bean martini is polished, rich and pure decadence for $14. A shaken, not stirred, bad boy bisexual Tempranillo, a skyfall of purple modernity that could sooth countryman and Bond villain Javier Bardem. Get your kicks on Senda 66.  87

The food match: Pumpkin and Pancetta Risotto, toasted pumpkin seed, reggiano parmesan, basil oil

Delas Frères Saint Esprit Côtes Du Rhône 2010 (729962, $15.95) shares enough black cherry and southern French garrigue to further cement its status as a perpetual good buy. So well made and boasting a puritanical litany of the terroir. Demands satisfaction in its origins of expectations.  88

The Splurge

The food match: Short-Rib and Pumpkin Braise, pearl onion, carrot

Melville Verna’s Estate Pinot Noir 2010 (291021, $34.95) speaks Santa Rita Hills vernacular, that is to say, its native tongue is that of red, very ripe fruit. The smell of baking spices (namely cinnamon and clove) stud a red plum bobbing in a spiked cola toddy. Exemplary Santa Barbara Pinot Noir.  90

Good to go!

Two dinners, 16 diners, 18 wines

The Gilead Café and Bistro’s Jamie Kennedy and Ken Steele (photograph courtesy of Jo Dickins)

as seen on canada.com

This memory goes back a bit in time. Here are two wine and food out-of-body experiences. Vine and dine encounters of the fortunate kind. The Gilead Café and Bistro’s Jamie Kennedy and Ken Steele worked an enticing concomitant seven-course tasting menu alongside 11 superstars, including a First Growth and two legends of Napa vinolore. Less than a week earlier Chef C and Sous E prepared the simplest, most extraordinary dishes to reign in seven stellar and all together unique bottles.

The Gilead Café and Bistro (photograph courtesy of Jo Dickins)

Le Mesnil Blancs de Blancs Brut Champagne (88) Sweet citrus nose, delicate and fine mousse, tart apples on a finessed palate. A NV to sip with food, though we downed the splash pour before any arrived.

WHITEFISH ROE & ORGANIC EGG TORTE, chervil, crisp toast

Flight One

Creekside Estates Viognier Reserve Queenston Road 2009 (89) Citrus slides straight from the bubbly into this limited production (80 cases) St. David’s Bench beauty. Pale yellow as if Clare Valley Riesling. The scent of Sevilla orange blossom. Organza of downy acidity. A unique local savoir-faire. Thin and tin, as in contrary viscosity and subtle minerality. Like petals falling from the flower almost before the touch of the hand.

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir Cuvee ‘L’ 2007 (86) The candied Sonoma nose and beguiling scents of spice islands made lift for heights great. A Prince Edward County celebrity so imagine the long faces when the fruit was absent at the first sip. Time is a recently opened wine’s friend so waited we did but never the twain did meet. More cogitation, then a vacuum of acidity in a flat finish. If closed down, reprieve on a round globe awaits. If lost, a flat Pinot pre-Columbus earth.

GRILLED ASPARAGUS, yam, white mushroom sauce

Flight Two

The general origins of these three wines were blindly determined but each not in the speculated glass. How is it that eight wine geeks can have their seasoning shattered by a single flight? “All the things I thought I’d figured out, I have to learn again.” The heart of the matter.

Oyosoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2003 (91) One of three in a variable flight to confound. Black cherry in clusters, a power forward fruit first step then backed by biting tannins and striking acidity. Could have sworn it was the Napa. Held its own against two serious contenders. Eye opening as to the power of BC.

Von Strasser Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain 2000 (90) The cigar box and mineral tone threw me in front of the train with the surety I was nosing a Cos ringer. Smoky, distinct graphite and fruit half hidden suggested a 2000 Left Bank not nearly in its prime. Wrong!

Château Pontet Canet, 5th Growth, Paulliac 2000 (93) Was the best wine of the three, even when I thought it was the Larose! Poise, balance, length, insert fourth cliché here. Still youthful, a beautiful teenager before the awkward years. Will be seamless at 20.

LAMB, new potatoes, herb paste

J.K. BEEF SHORT RIB, marrow sauce

Flight Three

Château Haut-Brion, 1st Growth, Péssac-Leognan 1990 (98) Are there words to describe a wine so sublime? The essence of fresh picked berries from the edge of a forest so silent. The embodiment of still life beauty, as a bowl of plums and cherries just picked from the tree. The vehemence of the Haut-Brion in prime will remain entrenched as memorabilia for as long as I can produce cognitive thought. Why do I wax sentimental? “How can love survive in such a graceless age?” I thank CL for the opportunity and no man who partook should forget.

Dominus 1990 (93) Incredulous thought. Could it be? Is that dank and dour odour the beast within? Patience, patience. Now five minutes in and the wet duff smell vanishes. The wafting emergence of a cracking covey of nose candy. Heavy sigh of relief. Without warning the fruit eddies out and it’s gone. What the Sam Hill is going on here? Then 15 minutes later it oscillates again, scrambles from the depths and treads water effortlessly for the duration. Exhausting. Thanks M for providing the skiff.

CHEESE, pied de vent, sieur de duplessis, goat taurine, cow’s creamery cheddar

One More Red

Opus One 1989 (95) Unbelievable. A lesson in Napa iconoclasm. What every great 22-year old New World wine should strive to become. In harmony with every part of itself; fruit, tannin, acidity. Beauty within and without. Dark, sultry, full of all things berry and oak. The full gamut of red and black fruit, vanilla, mocha and chocolate. Like walking into your childhood and being handed the keys to Charlie’s factory. Another M gem.

APRICOT BEIGNETS, dulce de leche ice cream

Inniskilin Riesling Icewine 1998

Hugel Riesling SGN 2000

CROSTINI, goat cheese, honeycomb, fleur de sel, olive oil

Charles Baker (Stratus) Picone Vineyard Riesling 2008 (89) “Whoo-ahhh” Mojito, green apple skin scent of a Riesling. Seductive to sip, a bodacious body of influence, then back-end bite. A wolf pack in sheep’s clothing.

FRESH TAGLIATELLE, morels

Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières 2008 (92) Restrained but tropical nose. So far from show time. In rehearsal the acidity is followed by fruit. By late decade opening night will display impeccable balance.

Closson Chase Iconoclast Chardonnay 2005 (90) Antithesis of the Leflaive; fruit first, acidity last. Bananas and I’m curious as George to behold PEC fruit yielding such a determined, complex specimen? Fortuitous choice to open now as I fear oxidization is around the bend. Still in a state of aggrandizement. Plaudits for Paskus.

Foxen Sea Smoke Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 (93)  Classic Santa Rita Hills candied red apple, sugaring pomegranate and fresh ground spices. A Michelin three-star complex dish with layers of fruit, spice and finished with a rosy-red rhubarb sauce. Full of life. Finishes long and true. Terrific example.

BRISKET AND FLAT IRON SLIDERS, american cheese, wonder buns, side of grilled raddicchio and belgian endive

Château Cos d’Estournel, 2nd Growth, St Estèphe 2003 (92-94) You could set your alarm clock, for tomorrow morning or after a cryogenic freeze, by the Cos ’03. A reasonable practicum suggests opening it, have a night’s rest, to wake six hours later and be told its story. Smokey, gripped by graphite and tannin, impossibly structured out of the 2003 heat. Showing no signs of age and despite warnings to drink up, the ’03 Cos will deliver for years to come.

Ca’ Bianca Barolo 1997 (91) Not the rose petals and violets of your zio‘s Barolo but bigger than your head cheese. Funky resin, more than raisins yes, raisins with a college education. A Pudd’Nhead Wilson moniker getting figgy with it. Barbaric and fantastic.

CHEESES, monforte dairy

Gaja Sito Moresco 2008 (89) A tale of two Cabs (Sauv and Franc) was my first thought but cut the Dickens out of my finger if that impression was way off the mark. The Langhe blend is Nebbiolo/Cab Sauv/Merlot and only Gaja would have first dared to trod such territory. Smooth, easy to consume and could have suffered as an admonished follower to the line-up previous. Stands tall, welcoming the tang of the formaggi.

MACERATED ONTARIO STRAWBERRIES, vanilla ice cream

Good to go!

The wine diaries: Labour Day long weekend edition

Kempenfeldt Sunset. Photo by Kiowaman

As seen on canada.com

As the sun sets over one of the most glorious summers in recent memory, there’s a resolute call to reflect on food and wine. The last vestiges of summer freedom fades in the rear-view mirror, the corn morphs to starch and the kids are back to school. Props to the season’s reds, whites, rosés and sparklers, to their makers and to the cooks who feed us. Our attention now focuses in anticipation of Ontario’s promising 2012 vintage.

Grilled Lamb, racks and chops, secret marinade. Photo by Kiowaman

Wine with Dinner

Pedroncelli Bushnell Vineyard Zinfandel 2009 (463026, $22.95) first tasted one month ago is a model of Zinsistency. A page right out of the Dry Creek Valley book and plants a seed for an iconic future. Brambles on through “the darkest depths of Mordor” with nary a cloying moment. No fruit bomb.  89

Foley Chardonnay Santa Rita Hills 2003 ($35) shines like Hindu dessert gold and shimmers of a Sauternes-like translucency. Begs proof is in the Meyer lemon curd pudding for nearly 10 years on Santa Barbara Chardonnay. Admittedly on the cusp of redox, the Foley is a brilliant canary yellow diamond low rider in the SRH rough. Low beam lit this late in life, on cruise control and “drives a little slower.” Why can’t we be friends?  90

Marchesi Antinori Castello della Sala Bramito del Cervo Chardonnay 2010 (176792, $21.95) plays significant other sibling to Piero’s Umbrian Grand Cru vino bianco, the exceptional Cevaro della Sala. In times like these a wise trade up of two Cevaro for five Bramito means the little one can repeatedly ring my bell with fresh, lively citrus zest and stone fruit tang. Sip while preferably grilling wild Halibut but settling for modest Tilapia and find “the night is young and full of possibilities.”  88

BBQ Dinner. Photo by Kiowaman

Wine with Dessert

Kourtaki Muscat of Samos (938407, $14.95) has officially challenged me to find a better IVR* dessert wine under $15. Honey and apricots in waves. Candied somewhere between hard-ball and soft-crack. Caramelized yet short of praline or brittle. Would love to match with All-Day Cake.  88

Jane’s All-Day Cake. Photo by Kiowaman

More September 1st Tasting Notes

Jean Perrier & Fils Abymes Cuvée Prestige 2010 (271981, $12.95) is built of Jacquère, a mountain varietal that mimics Chardonnay with soft soap, Savoie delicacy. Porcine jambons et saucissons along with Abondance both in mucilage and in its cry for companionship. Wild mountain Artemisia, Génépi and citrus notes in line with Altesse, Savoie’s queen of white grapes.  87

Gérard Bertrand St. Chinian Syrah/Mourvedre 2009 (281832, $16.95) espouses oak’s bittersweet chocolate and smouldering dry heat to the south of France’s schist limestone, lavender and garrigue. Alluring, facile French purity in this all-purpose Languedoc red.  88

Château Clément St-Jean 2009 (199208, $17.95) spoons calm, cool, collected as a Bordeaux Cru Bourgeois with fruit, acidity and tannin all in balance. Beauty grows vicariously out of the hebetic and muliebrous 2009 vintage by way of an immediate transference to the Medoc’s middle class. This château shines, “thinking clean clean thoughts” and demonstrates there is an ecclesiastical time for everything.  88

Hamburgers and Hot Dogs. Photo by Kiowaman

Quinta Do Portal Reserva 2008 (280578, $19.95) flashes a new Douro smile with teeth stained as if by Jacaranda Mimosifolia. Sybaritic blend of three typical Portuguese grapes, a Tinta and two Tourigas. Super berry, dynamic Douro but not overdone.  89

Castello Di Bossi C. Berardenga Chianti Classico 2009 (994608, $22.95) of distilled potpourri proboscis wastes no time amnestying itself from the barbed Sangiovese wire and lights up with life. A boon for modern Tuscany, the Bossi agglutinates to the glass, better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Backs up the red plum truck and shows off improbable clarity for such a young CC.  90

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2006 (928028, $41.95) abides as spokesperson for old school Sangiovese Grosso. A throwback to the classes of ’75, ’85 and ’95. Teasingly soft at the outset, the cherry, leathery grit and determination is found at its core and tastefully follows through to a hard-edged finish. I wouldn’t wait 20 years, but certainly five to 10.  91

IVR* – Vintage Direct intrigue-to-value ratio

Good to go!