All in the Primum Familiae Vini

Primum Familiae Vini tasting at Toronto's Four Seasons Hotel, April 23rd, 2015

Primum Familiae Vini tasting at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel, April 23rd, 2015

Can there be a more visceral wine experience than tasting some of the world’s greatest wine estates and all the while their principals just seem to only talk about history and family? Makes me think about parents, grandparents and children. About accomplishments, passing torches and smelling roses. Or something like that.

Perhaps it was the news of Etienne Hugel’s passing that was the impetus for me to relive this day, where giants gathered and mere mortals did their best to take in the magnitude of such a coterie of distinction. That afternoon gifted me and others their five minutes with Mr. Hugel, the epitome of Alsatian, a tireless ambassador for the Hugel brand, Alsace wines and the Primum Familiae Vini congregation of producers. Or maybe it was just the right time, a crossroads one year later where the confluence of circumstance and thought conjoined to let the notes come out.

Primum Fam

Tastes of PFV

As a stark contrast to the increasingly agitating globalization of wine, the Primum Familiae Vini members stand out as leading wine families whose aim it is “to defend and promote the traditions and values of family owned wine companies, and ensure that such ideals survive and prosper for future generations.” The PFV is an international association of some of the world’s finest wine producing families from France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Created in 1992, membership into the organization is by invitation only, with a maximum of 12 highly respected families contributing generations of expertise.
PFV

PFV

The PFV estate principals arrived in Toronto for an April 23rd, 2015 Press Lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel organized by wine ambassador Christophe Brunet. On hand were Hubert De Billy, Etienne Hugel, Laurent Drouhin, Egon Müller, Miguel Torres, Priscilla Incise della Rocchetta, Thomas Perrin, Allegra Antinori, Julien Beaumarchais de Rothschild, Pablo Alvarez and Rupert Symington. Each arrived to represent eleven of the world’s leading families that at the time of the tasting, made up the association: Marchesi Antinori, Château Mouton Rothschild, Joseph Drouhin, Egon Müller Scharzhof, Hugel & Fils, Champagne Pol Roger, Famille Perrin, Symington Family Estates, Tenuta San Guido, Miguel Torres and Vega Sicilia. Each family owns vineyard estates, is one of its country’s most prestigious producers, and enjoys an international reputation for its wines. Each year in turn, a member of the association is elected President. The 2014/2015 President was Alessia Antinori, while in 2015/2016 she was succeeded by Miguel Torres.

PFV wines

PFV wines

Primum Familiae Vini supports charitable causes, hosting gala dinners to raise funds for a local charity by auctioning a PFV Collection Case. The beneficiaries have primarily been focused on helping disadvantaged children, the handicapped and specialist hospitals including. Some of these beneficiaries have been Childhood Brazil, Brasil, San Patrignano Charity, Italy, Grapes for Humanity, USA, Somdetya Charity Fund, Thailand, Kidney Dialysis Foundation (KDF), Singapore, The Public Welfare of Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo and the The Toronto Foundation for Student Success. In total, over $325K has been raised.

Pablo Alvarez, Vega Sicilia with Godello and Larent Drouhin, Maison Joseph Drouhin

Pablo Alvarez, Vega-Sicilia with Godello and Larent Drouhin, Maison Joseph Drouin

As you well know it’s all about the wine and the tasting note for Godello. The art of composing snapshots of wines tasted is a cathartic experience and the only way to bring about closure. It is a necessary process, cannot and will not be abandoned. The scores attached can stay put or go away. Neither relevant nor essential, scores are merely road signs on the exegetical path through wine. Once you pass them by their use is no longer needed.

My notes for the wines tasted are long and prosaic, even longer than most that I write, which says something about the profundity of such a tasting. That it took me the better part of a year to finalize my thoughts is not surprising. Until now I found no way to serve proper justice to these wines.

Primum Familiae Vinum

Primum Familiae Vini

Famille Hugel Riesling Jubilee 2010, Aoc Alsace, France (731448, $55.00, WineAlign)

The Jubilee’s style mirrors a reflection, of name, its maker and in the ripples it will gently spread as it progresses through time. Riesling that will eventuate to luxe, calme et volupté, like coming home after 50 years, resolved of sin, “in this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property.” Hugel’s Jubilee is sourced from family-owned vines on the steep slopes of the Grand Cru Schoenenbourg above the village of Riquewihr. Terroir of great variegation; Keuper, marl, dolomite and gypsum, quaternary siliceous gravel, Vosges sandstone, Muschelkalk and periphery Lias marl limestones. The vintage is special, with no allowance for yields to climb and rife with sought after Riesling attributes. That of tannic intent, coursing coarseness of mineral condensation and repossessing acidity wrapped up in an enigma. Going forward it will gently give back but also remain rigid, slightly hidden, at times dormant, until such time when paraffin and honey take over. One of the finer Riesling cuvées of Alsace. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @FamilleHugel  @HalpernWine  @AlsaceWines  @VinsAlsace  @drinkAlsace

Super #champagne overture. I will always surrender. @Pol_Roger #sirwinstonchurchill 2002 #primumfamiliaevini

Super #champagne overture. I will always surrender. @Pol_Roger #sirwinstonchurchill 2002 #primumfamiliaevini

Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill Vintage Brut Champagne 2002, Champagne, France (SAQ, 12027016, $247.25,  WineAlign)

From one of the great Champagne vintages of the last 20 years, the 2002 ode to the British Bulldog is full of French vigor and supernatant rationalism. In 2015 its hue is golden gingered and the fine mousse causes sensory skips in the heart’s beats. These bubbles pay attention and tease the most sensitive olfactory nerve endings. The brioche baking and crumbs toasting are still just mere twinkles in the aromatic eye. The year 1996 is on many tasters’ minds and this wine has no qualms telling a direct lineage tale. Can there be more proof than what is spoken in the structure of this young wine? The bitters are forged from compression, without weight and void of oppression. A pleasure to taste, this Champagne is a deactivated refugee from an ancient European dominion. It’s hard to imagine it ever being anything but elegant and cool. Drink 2016-2027.  Tasted April 2015  @Pol_Roger  @Champagne  @HalpernWine

Scallop, kumquat, baby leek, caviar #fourseasonstoronto #julienlaffargue #primumfamiliaevini with #drouhin #chablis grand cru les clos 2012 and #egonmuller #riesling #scharzhofberger kabinett 1994

Scallop, kumquat, baby leek, caviar #fourseasonstoronto #julienlaffargue #primumfamiliaevini with #drouhin #chablis grand cru les clos 2012 and #egonmuller #riesling #scharzhofberger kabinett 1994

Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2012

Joseph Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2012

Joseph Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2012, Burgundy, France (SAQ, 10998708, $88.00, WineAlign)

Drouhin’s Les Clos is Chablis incarnate. It delivers the importance of form and structure, with the incantatory power of storytelling to foresee the eventuality of its Moirai. It possesses the staying power to reveal the truth and reward with the fullness of gratification. Imagine pears, some dried and some fresh, pulverized and turned into gold stone. That is Les Clos. Barrels used are one to four years old and since 2004 there is no stirring of the lees. This determination arranges to opt for longevity of structure over immediacy in elegance. The enclosure is lacy organza, the interior filled with ripe fruit. Time (60 minutes) induces a mine of mineral wealth emergence, of shifting plates and rising outcrops from the quarry underfoot. Patience is required to bring all the moving parts in line. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted April 2015  @JDrouhin   @BIVBChablis @BourgogneWines  @FWMCan  @Dandurandwines

Keep the car running. Magic 1994 #riesling from #egonmuller #primumfamiliaevini #scharzhofberger #rieslingkabinett

Keep the car running. Magic 1994 #riesling from #egonmuller #primumfamiliaevini #scharzhofberger #rieslingkabinett

Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Kabinett Riesling 1994, Mosel, Germany (SAQ, 12587945, $79.75, WineAlign)

It must first be said that after 90 minutes in the glass the orange blossoms open in the early morning to release their spring fragrance into the room. In a conference room at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel. Now I don’t really know if the Scharzhofberg vineyard was actually planted by the Romans or if it was occupied by eighth century Trier St Marien ad Martyres monks. If following the French Revolution it was in the possession of the Duchy of Luxembourg I couldn’t say. I can equivocate, with irrefutable conviction that tasting Egon Müller’s 1994 twenty one years after its release confirms the vineyard’s reputation for housing irreverent Riesling. The arcade fire of remarkable hue, life-affirming aromatic energy and sky-lift brilliance is palpable. At 20 plus years the ideology, eventuality and passionate progression of purely distilled Mosel fruit is realized. Currently suspended in jet-trail animation, the sugars over gas of this Kabinett are quantitatively resilient. The relationship has seen a symbiotic feeding for longevity. Riesling of stoicism, classic prevalence and perfect balance. The specific Scharzhofberg tang has been revised to elevate a new order derivative recorded in every pure note. “There’s a weight that’s pressing down, late at night you can hear the sound.” Time held will move forward ever so slowly. Keep the car running. Drink 2015-2034.  Tasted April 2015    @germanwineca

Miguel Torres Mas La Plana 2010

Miguel Torres Mas La Plana 2010

Miguel Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Penedès, Spain (129676, $59.00, WineAlign)

The Torres Mas La Plana explains to the world why Penedès is one of the most important Cabernet Sauvignon outposts on the planet. In deference to its moniker, flat is not the operative word. With such lifted exuberance, richness and depth of fruit, it must be dared said that Bordeaux wisdom speaks from its Spanish roots. If Mas La Plana can always be good, this vintage is great. The layering of wood over Penedès soil gives it spice and subterranean pungency; cinnamon, clove, truffle and morel. This wine is now an internationally-styled giant, an expatriate made French wine with Spanish flair. Layered, structured and so much special fruit. All about the fruit. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted April 2015  @TorresWines  @dopenedes

The reds of lunch. #vegasicilia #moutonrothschild #sassicaia #solaia #chateaudebeaucastel #maslaplana #primumfamiliaevini

The reds of lunch. #vegasicilia #moutonrothschild #sassicaia #solaia #chateaudebeaucastel #maslaplana #primumfamiliaevini

Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2005

Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2005

Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2005, Rhône, France (711317, $89.95, WineAlign)

Expectations are high for 2005 and the opening notes of warmth, amenity and avail confirm the dream. Soon thereafter the Beaucastel plays hard to get, walks away and closes down. At this 10 year juncture its evolution is only matched by its elegance, especially considering the initial arterial ardor in mimic of the vintage. Resurfacing to conjure up character in aromatics, mint, eucalyptus, garrigue, coal and tar evince this pure Châteauneuf Du Pape. A wine of global receptiveness, the 2005 rendition tames the conception. There is very little about its personality that is parochial but rather it represents what it means to be a star, everywhere, omnipresent, for everyone. After 60 minutes it actually closes down again. This will be one of the longest lived Beaucastels. Drink 2017-2045.  Tasted April 2015  @Beaucastel  @RhoneWine  @VINSRHONE  @ChartonHobbs

Antinori Solaia 2007

Antinori Solaia 2007

Antinori Solaia 2007, Igt Toscana, Italy (987586, $249.95, WineAlign)

Tasting the 2007 Solaia feels like looking directly skyward into the high noon sun with a semi-peeled orange in one hand, juices dripping, zest split and fragrant. Flowers bloom all around, cypress trees stand as sentries, sentient and giving off a savoury musk. The rosemary joins in, as do the lavender and the fennochio, because there is a breeze. Then there is only the pitchy darkness, the iron and the animale. This Solaia exudes sunshine, creme caramel and maturity. As per the style, especially in warmer vintages, Solaia always speaks of early evolved character though you know it will last for a very long time. This I have come to know, expect and believe. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @AntinoriFamily  @HalpernWine

Braised Bison Shortrib, spring carrot, pommes dauphines @FSToronto #solaia 2007 #moutonrothschild 2005 #vegasiciliaunico 2004 #primumfamiliaevini #julienlaffargue #fourseasonstoronto

Braised Bison Shortrib, spring carrot, pommes dauphines @FSToronto #solaia 2007 #moutonrothschild 2005 #vegasiciliaunico 2004 #primumfamiliaevini #julienlaffargue #fourseasonstoronto

Sassicaia 2009, Doc Bolgheri Sassicaia, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $199.95, WineAlign)

Now increasingly accessible, the ripe and ferric Sassicaia ’09 continues to roar but the gamy musk of the wild beast is on the subside. The tannins have begun to relent and yet no holes, empty spaces or time-outs are to be found. With 60 minutes of air time the fruit speaks of plum hyperbole and dried flowers fill the air. Ten more years lay comfortably ahead. Drink 2015-2025. Last tasted April 2015     @Smarent

Sassicaia 2009

Sassicaia 2009

From my earlier note of November 2012:
The raven brunette is anything but sappy or syrupy yet is impossibly viscous. Hints at ripe berries growing in the crags of maritime gravel and the most expected hits of sanguine, animal musk. A huge wine in the making, the adolescent hunter Sassicaia off-roads up a steep incline to go tell it on the mountain of tannin. Disappears into parts unknown and will only reappear as a mature adult. Look to 2025 and it may say “the perspective to say the very least, changes only with the journey.”

No cartoon. The real deal. Gehry lines. #chateaumoutonrothschild 2005 @PFvini #firstgrowth #paulliac #bordeaux #onceinalifetime #primumfamiliaevini

No cartoon. The real deal. Gehry lines. #chateaumoutonrothschild 2005 @PFvini #firstgrowth #paulliac #bordeaux #onceinalifetime #primumfamiliaevini

Château Mouton Rothschild 2005, Ac Pauillac, Bordeaux, France (SAQ 10654286, $965.00, BCLBDB, 649582, $1895.00, WineAlign)

Where to begin? That Cabernet Sauvignon can so facilely lay down the law, with deputy Merlot and deputized Cabernet Franc in support, that it can syncopate and elucidate the infinite, of soil information into warmth and depth, that is does so in such a wondrous way, well, that is the crux. Mouton of incredulous form, of a liqueur that is wholly unique, even to Bordeaux. An intoxicant and yes, funky, a distilled terroir, compressed, eschewing the fractional and essaying to integration. Reduced, layered and yet bereft of cheese, cloy or cake. Healthy as a community of organisms can be, wealthy in its archetypal discretion and drawn of an architectural line to ritualize structure. Precise, innate, insistent and balanced. The cleanest, purest and ripest fruit from 10 years ago had always and continues to cut an exegetical rug on one of the greatest dance floors of wine. An age exemplary Mouton in requiem of Italian sculptor Giuseppe Penone’s label design. After 60 minutes it neither closes nor shrinks away. Open for business. Drink 2015-2045.  Tasted April 2015  

Vega-Sicilia Único 2004

Vega-Sicilia Único 2004

Vega-Sicilia Único 2004, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (702852, $475.00, WineAlign)

In a room full of Primum Familiae Vini no iconic red stands out with more singular parlous deference than the 2004 Unico. Sitting next to Pablo Alvarez and seeing his immediate reaction speaks volumes about its place in time and how it is showing. Alvarez does not smile so much as he simply acknowledges the work put in. Unico is correct and it is priceless. Is Alvarez making a comparison in his mind? Is he thinking 1970 or perhaps 1994? It does not matter because this blend of Tempranillo (87 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (13) obviates derivative characteristics and so exhibits a kind of synoptic insatiability. Its persona is simply me, myself and I. The liqueur is not Bordeaux or IGT. The aromatics are exotic to the nth degree. The succulence and sucking inward grape tension is old and wise but the wine has 30-40 years of undetected evolution ahead. There is no need for a longevity prayer, just let it be. My ears hear “mais qu’est-ce que c’est bon!” perhaps from Alvarez, or maybe it came from Laurent Drouin to my left. The youthful Unico is like Les Enfantastiques, it has the “no se que” and we can call it terroir, from place, soil, climat and culture. Something that advances this early and yet has gone nowhere should be impossible. The precocious wisdom is beyond years, has reached a point at 10 that is palpable and yet so far from what it may become. It should be left alone for five more to find out. Drink 2020-2055.  Tasted April 2015  @Tvegasicilia  @DORibera

1977 @grahams_port...Oh to live to 111 and re-taste in 2077. @PFvini #symington #symingtonfamilyestates #rupertsymington #port #vintageport #primumfamiliaevini

1977 @grahams_port…Oh to live to 111 and re-taste in 2077. @PFvini #symington #symingtonfamilyestates #rupertsymington #port #vintageport #primumfamiliaevini

Graham’s Vintage Port 1977, Douro, Portugal (706663, $109.00, WineAlign)

The year 1977 was a huge one for the Douro and this Peter Symington vintage interpretation echoes the overemotionalism. The pitchy rim seems to be writhing, the aromatics roiling and my first thought is one of a houseguest that wishes he could escape an over vivid host. Vegetative freshness calms the savage beast; bouquet garni, garrigue and savoury herbiage from high yielding fruit. If cherries were roses and vice versa, they too would deter and distract. This VP has presence and distinction. It changes tempo, wades in the waters of age and treads with minimum effort. The toasted nut component is subtle, more than many and certainly in comparison to the modern era of Graham’s and others. The dry florals whiff as if the petals never dropped or ever will. The perfume drives upwards, to the ethereal. Nice little piece of Vintage Port history. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @grahams_port  @winesportugalCA

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Ten prodigal suspects

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2010

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2010

Expensive wine surrounds us all year-long but in the 30 plus days leading up to Christmas the concentration multiplies.  As the shopping days tick down, it seems as though we are inundated by an omnipresent $50-plus crowd. Do these wines have any effect on your life? Do you consider forking out half a yard or two, on yourself or for someone you (sort of) love? Are the jet-setting, usual suspects really worth considering?

In certain cases the answer is yes, but just because some wines are expensive, for a complex variety of reasons, does not make them either good or bad in a decidedly black or white sense. Many outrageously expensive wines are simply awesome bottles of fermented grapes while others are nothing special. High prices can be a reflection of designer labelling and marketing, while others are the summation of genius created by greatness and art. Sometimes it’s just a matter of economics.

I’m going to borrow a hypothesis from my WineAlign colleague John Szabo to illustrate the point. You go to a juice bar. The smoothie or vegan fruit and grass concoction cost not much more than a few dimes to produce. The expertise required came as a result of a half hour’s worth of learning and training. The machine costs a few hundred bucks. And you paid $8.95 for the beverage.

Wine grapes grow on vines that might be as old as 100 years, tended by a farmer far away who was paid a dollar or two for a kilo of his fruit. The vigneron spent perhaps the first 30 days slaving over the initial maceration and fermentation of that fruit and followed that up with at least a year (and in some cases five) to nurture the wine into becoming something special. The bottle and the cork cost another dollar or two and the shipping charges add at least another two again. Then there were the middle men involved; negociants, wholesalers, distributors, agents, retailers and monopolies. That wine might sell for anywhere from $9 to $20 in the Canadian market. And you don’t want to pay $20 for a decent bottle of wine?

Now imagine the fruit coming from some of the most expensive real estate on the planet and processed by the best equipment that money can buy for making wine. Then it is handled by experts in the transportation, selling and marketing fields. You can see how $20 quickly becomes $50 and so on. Don’t misunderstand me. Many wines are ridiculously overpriced. Many are the by-products of marketing juggernauts. It is important to understand, however, that many high-priced wines are deserving of their tags. The margins are not as inflated as you might want to believe.

Iconic wines are always a good buy for someone, but vintages determine when their purchase is the way to go for others. Varied and direct opinion of conceit is rarely witnessed with such certainty as there is found in the world of wine. “I speak therefore it is,” or “I think therefore I am” are two truisms that ring with pomp and circumstance in the world of winemakers, sommeliers and writers. Being sure about everything goes a long way towards determining careers and fortunes.

So, for the first time in this sketch of wine stuff I am offering up a list of high-priced wines that I may or may not be recommending. They are all household names in the world of iconic wine. Some are “best of” vintages while others are head scratches as to why anyone would spend such money on their wood or their contrivance. You are the one to judge. Here are 10 expensive releases from VINTAGES for November 28th, as usual, prodigal in their return in time for the holidays.

 

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2010

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2010, Brunello Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy (431718, $56.95, WineAlign)

The fruit in 2010 is jam-packed, sealed in freshness and blessed with the unmistakeable Colombini soil funk. I first tasted this ’10 alongside 2007 and 2008. The dew, bloom and vigor hangs on a line threaded through each vintage. The 2010 stands alone for its poetic perfume. The flowers of Montalcino, along with the burst buds of herbs on the hills. This vintage pours a generous cup of Montalcino mountain tea. Smoky, opaque and of a proprietary liqueur thick and distilled, the level of animale is right there too. With so much aromatic potpourri the wine’s trotters scramble and ascend with a juggernaut of complexity. Beautiful Brunello with so much tradition running through its fast forward veins. It must of course be laid aside for a few years to really get it. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April and November 2015  @news_donatella  @ConsBrunello  @LeSommelierWine

Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013

Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013, Ac Rhone, France (711317, $89.95, WineAlign)

Quite a mouthful of Beaucastel with more warm, figgy fruit than memory generally serves. The surfeited structure can’t be denied but the advanced, occupied territory reminds of 1988. This ’13 may be viewed as acting with similar haste when it will have reached the age of 25, in earth-crusted caramel and sweet fruit scooped from a forest floor. Up until five years before then it will always have ripe red berries, spice accents, anise and the veritable design of garrigue. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted November 2015  @Beaucastel  @VINSRHONE  @RhoneWine  @ChartonHobbs
Kistler Les Noisetiers Chardonnay 2013

Kistler Les Noisetiers Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (251223, $99.95, WineAlign)

A tremendous vintage for Les Noisetiers, cared for, tendered and placated by a clarity in hands-off winemaking. Deeply ingrained from juice maximized out of overloaded sensory sunshine and the choice to let sleeping fruit dogs lie. Possessive of an almond bitter bar not bitten into before and overlaid by lacy organza, a mild sheath overtop of purposed, wild fermented fruit, a lightly toasted barrel slumber and richness beyond the horizon. All in style of west coast Chardonnay, though simply prepared with the freshest local ingredients, with stony lactic lees texture and subtle spice. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted November 2015  @TheVine_RobGroh  @sonomavintners

Antinori Guado Al Tasso 2012

Antinori Guado Al Tasso 2012, Doc Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy (986380, $104.95, WineAlign)

Deep, dark, rich and handsome, a thick red duke of aggressive, conceited, unctuous behaviour. Such tannin and aggression is not so much rarely seen as not always a factor provided by expatriate Cabernet Sauvignon. The dense and massive ferric monster exercises in many, thorough magnanimous machinations. Such a beast. It’s big and it’s good. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted November 2015  @AntinoriFamily  @HalpernWine

Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2007

Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2007, Doc Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy (986117, $104.95, WineAlign)

Here Quintarelli takes it to a new level, away from rusticity and into modernity, though it remembers every step along the historical way. Liquid caramel and red fruit meld into such sweet earth it feels as though the vineyard is right here and now. Some tobacco but just a puff, so much impression, cure without aridity and natural feel without an orange juicing. Intensity and acidity to take it 30 years. Amongst the best ever? No question it must be considered. Impossible to know. Drink 2015-2047.  Tasted November 2015  @LiffordON

Luce Della Vite Luce 2012

Luce Della Vite Luce 2012, Igt Toscana, Italy (685263, $114.95, WineAlign)

There can be no denying the density and wealth of flavour. Equally so the solid foundation and unwavering structure is the result of a winemaker’s ability to construct such a formidable pillar of strength. It can be imagined that this Luce will go ten years before budging into evolution even a single iota. It is a beast of fruit, barrel and tannin but more than anything else, oak. As shaken as a creamy, milky, anglaise cappuccino as there ever was or will be. Lots of spice from that oak. A designer label wine made with the finest materials. It really doesn’t matter when it is opened, now or in 15 years. It will take that long before it will begin to change. That is because the sum of its parts happen to be over the top. Drink 2015-2030.  Tasted November 2015  @FrescobaldiVini  @AuthenticWineON  @AuthenticWine

Sassicaia 2012

Sassicaia 2012, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $199.95, WineAlign)

Every once in a while an iconic leader of Tuscan wine feudalism takes a step back from its military rule and offers to feed both the army and its people. In 2012 Sassicaia is restrained, giving, generous and empathetic. The fruit is certainly ripe, as are the tannins and structurally speaking this has the layers, the soft libido and the desire to please like never before. Sassicaia for the people, like it may have once been, a king of the classes and for the masses. Not in price mind you, but you can’t have everything. Drink 2018-2038.  Tasted November 2015  @Smarent

Ornellaia 2012

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 2012, Doc Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy (722470, $195.50, WineAlign)

Takes the purity of 2011, furthers the integration and mimics the precision, then pumps up the volume. Takes a breath and then, with soluble efficiency it refines the intricately woven lines a few steps furtrher, if that is even possible. I will say that the tannins are a bit tougher in ’12, with a tight string wound depressively around the fruit’s long and elegant tendrils. Fruit is the determinate factor, pure, blossoming and fragrant. It adds up to a consensus of one thought, that this vintage is yet another legend in the making, a fine and linear Ornellaia that should travel 30 plus years, perhaps longer. What liqueur, such botanicals and endless valleys passing through fertile hills. Drink 2019-2045.  Tasted November 2015  @Ornellaia  @AuthenticWineON  @AuthenticWine

Antinori Solaia 2011

Antinori Solaia 2011, Igt Toscana, Italy (987586, $249.95, WineAlign)

Shows off the typically cured and seemingly advanced notes that Solaia always seems to display, whether the vintage purposed days of heat or nights of cold. A wine that seems immune from vintage variation, with fresh and dried fruit shacking up together. In 2011 Solaia is extremely rich, aggressive with acidity and yet with moderate tannins for five years of development, but not much more. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted November 2015  @AntinoriFamily  @HalpernWine

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2012

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2012, Napa Valley, California (710400, $299.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Insignia had me at first whiff. At first sip I could not be reached. Massive aromatics blast from this formidable Insignia, clearly noted with immediate clarity as a proprietary blend for the ages. The current torrent is so plugged in and highly climatic, like a visibly sparking conduit, storm and fire all wrapped into one electric happening. The peaks, valleys, waves and intonations are bred of perfectly ripe fruit sets traveling as one in perfect syncopation. The ripe, chain-link tannins will take this very, very far. This is as fine a California wine as I have ever tasted. Drink 2018-2045.  Tasted November 2015  @josephphelps  @LiffordON  @NapaVintners

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Mind blowing wines of 2014

Bouteilles de la collection Méquillet de Kientzheim, Confrérie Saint-Etienne

Bouteilles de la collection Méquillet de Kientzheim, Confrérie Saint-Etienne

In January it began with A resolution to drink honest wine, “juice that conveys the salient facts of a grape’s life.” It continued with New year. Try new wines, where the goal was “the resolve to drink outside the comfort zone.” If the issue was Feeling under the weather? Drink wine, success was had. “Wine is your friend. When approached, integrated and embraced in the right way it can help to promote a healthy lifestyle. The defence rests.”

January was a busy month, complete with Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and ice wine, not to mention Super Bowl XLVIII wine odds. In February the opined focus zeroed inwards, to Ontario. What’s in a wine vintage? asked to reach out and touch Ontario’s 2012 whites, the best wines made to date. Harsh words were spoken against Rosé, but only because of the obviousness of it all when said, You can kiss my sweet pink wine, Valentine. Thomas Bachelder showed us Synchronicity in three terrors and he will do so again this coming Sunday when we break wine together down on the Peninsula. Calming influences saved days, having once more expounded on the music immersion, in and with wine, from Three-chord wines, hold the rants. The month concluded with more healthy advice and the question Are you getting your daily serving of wine?

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing? Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?
Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

In March the annual pilgrimage to Niagara produced more tasting notes and verbiage than was previously thought possible, in a three-part series. Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventureWhen experts break wine together and Wine experts Brock and roll, Brock on were also joined by a visit to Flat Rock Cellars in Bottles, barrels, tanks and a vertical. A two-year impassioned body of submissions to canada.com culminated with the final column, The death of wine scores?

Scores were subsequently dropped from godello.ca but continue to be sidled up to the notes at winealign.com. In April I found out what happens When Sangiovese comes to townBurgundy will always be royal and that it’s always Go Gamay go time. In the name of Somewhereness, The group of twelve was once again called to assembly. In May there was the omnipresent Kalon of MomPaul Pender’s Tawse and effect and a fascinating look at cooperage in Every barrel tells a story. Prince Edward County again proved its mettle in ’14 and consumers were encouraged to Take them home, County wines. VQA stood under scrutiny in The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom and another chapter was written in The Stratus-Momofuku continuum.

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,  Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,
Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Sparkling wine bubbled over in New fizz on the Brock, was Talkin’ ’bout my Generation Riesling and a trip to Alsace in June put me In a Grand Cru state of mind. I was Down on the Ornellaia and found out first hand, on a boat trolling across Lake Erie that The South Coast is clear. I offered up The froth on Crémant d’Alsace and in July told you that Chardonnay is cool. The eponymous conference yielded in excess of 10,000 words in August with 50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more and The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind. I branded Olivier Zind-Humbrecht The cru chief of Alsace and felt what it was like to be Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes.

Tide's Out, Big Cove, New Brunswick

Tide’s Out, Big Cove, New Brunswick

A 5500 km trek to the tip of Cape Breton and back yielding poetic and prophetic expression in The tides that bind: East Coast swing. “The tractive is a thing to and of itself. The pauses to gather at points along the process remember lobsters roasting over an open fire, a cottage visit with new-found friends, a hike into the cavern of a waterfall and a swim in a tidal river. Memories are made in rites of passage, though in the end, like the photographs, they too will be demurred by time. Indelible stamps they are, cemented in commitment to reaching and by necessity, descending summits. A  road trip to the eastern part of Canada realizes the bigger plan. The key is making it safely home, before the tide rolls in.”

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

In September I tasted history with Taylor made Port and insisted on Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due. I ignored a publishing embargo to announce how The LCBO and WineAlign go local and went Rocking out with the 2014 WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada by judging the best of the best. A recall to Consider the Gaspereau Valley brought me back to Benjamin Bridge, a visit with Peter Gamble and the declaration that “I have seen & tasted the future of vinifera in Nova Scotia and its name is Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards.” Gamble’s work with partner Ann Sperling in Argentina is simply and skillfully The artfully applied science of Versado Malbec.

My report, Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality was met with lukewarm avoidance then rebounded, thanks to the tunes, From VINTAGES for Thanksgiving, in wine and with songA hip of wine from Hidden Bench gave way to Fourteen wines that should be on your restaurant list, in which I insisted “if your job title includes choosing what wine is poured at your restaurant, you should never dial it in.” I enjoyed some Wine on company time and Americans take note when Sonoma peaks from out of the fog.  For the third consecutive year I gave Yet another 10 reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween.

Local wines, notably Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases and in direct contrast, I went Off the beaten Italian path to discover endemic varietals. The Bloody vivid 2011 Vintage Ports had me reeling. “The 2011 Vintage Ports have balance, well, the best do, but they are, and I speak in very general terms, collectively over the top. Though it may seem an oxymoron to put Vintage Port and elegance in the same sentence, what is a great wine without a sense of humility and restraint?”

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Two exposés on Alsatian wine, A Blanck slate in Alsace and It was Josmeyer’s imagination covered two distinct theories, of tabula rasa and wayfinding. On Sparkling wine I gave you Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence and Eleven 11th hour holiday bubbles. If value is your thing, I hope you read The final 14 bargains of 2014 and if great Canadian wine and cuisine float your gastronomic boat, my judging experience was captured at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014.

This is the third in the trilogy of best of reports for 2014. The first, 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014 was about “wines that are extensions of their maker’s personality, philosophy and temperament. Wines that are indicative of their terroir.” The second, Top 15 under-$25 wines of 2014 was meant to to “create the sociological, world of wine equivalent of splitting the atom. To celebrate the triumph of laic heterodoxy and the arrogance of modernity.  To seek purity from beneath the massacre caused by an avalanche of contrived wines.” The third instalment is meant purely to celebrate and to thank those who shared their bottles with me. Here are 16 wines tasted in 2014 that simply blew me away.

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Domaine Paul Blanck et Fils Muscat d’Alsace Réserve Spéciale 1983, Alsace, France (From A Blanck slate in Alsace, December 1, 2014)

From Altenbourg, a lieu-dit located at the base of the Furstentum vineyard. Here is Blanck’s “fairy tale,” a wine you would have always heard about but never had a chance to taste or likely ever seen. The terroir is limestone mixed with clay and you will have to excuse my Alsatian, but a single sniff and taste releases the expression, “are you fucking kidding me?” This 31-year old Muscat is an impossibility, a first time feeling, a never before nosed perfume. Speaks in a limestone vernacular, of grapes given every chance to survive long after their innocence had been lost. A forest herb, tree sap, evergreen resin, lemongrass and bitter orange coagulation rises from its viscous mist. The acidity has lost nothing on the fruit, acts in perfect foil and leaves you with a sense of loneliness that is just beautiful.  Tasted June 2014  @DomaineBlanck

Pearl Morissette Gamay Cuvée Mon Unique 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery) From The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom, May 26, 2014

In July 2013 Francois Morissette made this statement. “If we can’t make Gamay in a Cru Beaujolais Style, I’m not interested.” In May 2014 his ’13 Gamay causes Bill Zacharkiw to comment with blatant honesty, “just line up at the tank. Forget the bottle.” From 100 per cent whole clusters sent to cement fermenters. Once again the hue is just impossible. Sulphur-free, this walks a fine and perfect line of Cru banana Gamay. Pushes the Gamay envelope in that it’s gulpable but with a duress to remind you not to overdo it. A Gamay with a chamber of 32 doors. In it “I’d rather trust a man who doesn’t shout what he’s found.” François Morissette.   Tasted May 2014  @PearlMorissette  @3050imports

Laughing Stock Vineyards Amphora VRM 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (agent, $30.00, WineAlign) From A day in WineAlign life: 15 new releases from Ontario and B.C., August 8, 2014

Here blends one-third each Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne, a veritable Rhône orgy in wild fermentation, aged on the skins in terra-cotta and amphorae. While I would not go so far as to call it an “orange wine,” I will use the “N” word to describe its agrarian ways. As natural as anything you are likely to taste out of B.C., this is a most untamed experiment and should not be missed. It verges on oxidation but refuses to climb over the edge. It’s floral, spicy and crowded. The texture is chalky and so full of rusty, clay rubbed streaks. Everything about this is unkempt and exotic, including the never cease and desist fermenting lychee and longan feel. Hard not to be wowed by this blend’s presence.  Tasted August 2014  @lfngwine  @liffordretail

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2006, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula (241182, $35, WineAlign) From When experts break wine together, March 4, 2014

Only Charles can follow Charles, as only Jimi could follow Jimi. Just ask Peter Townshend. The combined forces of vintage, off-dry level of residual sugar (23.9 g/L) and age have ushered this Picone into a realm of adipose, butyraceous, chewy texture. The ’06 is emblematic of its time, stunning, psychedelic, experienced. It speaks clearly and with conceit. Tasting it eight years on you can hear Baker’s 2006 voice saying “if you can just get your mind together uh-then come on across to me.” We have and continue to follow Charles, and we are paying close attention to every vintage along the ride.  Tasted March 2014  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Sémillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (371484, $47.95, WineAlign) From Thirteen wines ‘ere Friday the 13th, June 12, 2014

A lifelong search for great Sémillon is fraught with peaks and valleys. Finding greatness is so rare it’s blue. The Hunter Valley in New South Wales beckons for a rush to strike gold. Many roads lead nowhere and others, like the dusty lane up to Brokenwood’s Maxwell Vineyard, lead to OZ. This young one has barely broken bread, or even a sweat. Sémillon of primary concern, like a tank sample. Varietal beauty as a cryogenically frozen specimen inundated by the table, the whole periodic table and nothing but the table. Guided by a laser beam of focus, great intent and expectations. Bob’s your uncle this David to the world’s white wine Goliaths. Son of racing studs and mares. Wow Sémillon. Not a faint moment about or in it.  Tasted May 2014  @Brokenwood

The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, California, USA (662015, $59.00, WineAlign) From The death of wine scores?, March 26, 2014

A seminal bottling from a game-changing year, for two all important reasons. One, it was a great vintage for Napa reds and two, the Mount Veeder sub-appellation was established. While only 24 years ago, a mere five wineries existed there at the time, including Mayacamas, Mt. Veeder and Hess. No hyperbole to say this is tasting a piece of history. Despite my “shouting all about love,” this splendidly aged Cabernet is not so much about resilience as it is persistence and infinite wisdom. All those years ago there were Napa reds made at a mere 12.5 per cent alcohol, with finesse and a sense of George-like calm. With little aeration there is fig, prune and toffee gently weeping but with air the aged fruit is swept away by a wave of gob stopping Cassis before its time. Preconceived notions of banausic, early days Cabernet are smothered by the magic dust of this Hess religion, a Dharma of licorice, ash and enlightenment. A wine to make you forget where you are. Depth, length and up to a half decade yet of reserved life lay ahead.  Tasted March 2014  @HessCollection   @liffordretail

Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($143.00, WineAlign) From Burgundy will always be royal, April 22, 2014

The Fèvre take on Les Clos is the cradle of all the domain’s wines, in every respect. Intensely concentrated, this is Chardonnay expressive in every facet of its surroundings. The impart from compressed white limestone, ancient fossils and Jurassic minerals in distillate may seem abstract in description but how else can the feeling of a mouth full of rocks be conveyed? The remarkably complex Les Clos and its structured palate that goes on forever has come out of its Chablis vineyard cradle and will live on as one of the best ever. “It’s not a place, it’s a yearning. It’s not a race, it’s a journey.” There is no rush to drink it up. It will offer immense pleasure for 20-25 years.  @WoodmanWS  @BourgogneWines

Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino 1997, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0961714 $145.00, WineAlign) From When Sangiovese comes to town, April 7, 2014

From a golden vintage, this ’97 is crazy good. A fixed, double-edged blade fighting knife dipped into a warm pool of developed liqueur-like sweetness. Seventeen years of languorous modulation and wood-fruit integration had resulted in a gracious Brunello, intrinsically delicious and living large in senescence. Life for the Col D’orcia ’97 is a bowl of cherries. Open one now and for the next three to five years and you’ll know exactly what you’re going to get. Me, “I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years. Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years.”  Tasted April 2014  @Coldorcia  @ConsBrunello

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 2001, Doc Bolgheri Superiore (Agent, $189.95, WineAlign) From Down on the Ornellaia, June 24, 2014

The blend of the 2001 Rosso Superiore is Cabernet Sauvignon (65 per cent), Merlot (30) and Cabernet Franc (5). Though strange to say and admittedly a retrospective comment, the minute quantity of Cabernet Franc and not yet inclusion of Petit Verdot result in a more straightforward and not as heavily layered Ornellaia. The structure is more linear and understandable, the fruit not as variegated. Complexity and Tuscan spiritualism are not compromised by the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominant line, in fact, assessing the evolution at 13 years on reveals the Bolgheri terroir in ways the magnanimous and opulent more recent vintages just don’t reach. There is a refreshing acidity in this young and developing ’01 in a streak that again, the baby Superiore do not seem to possess. This is a striking Ornellaia, a wine that would work with exceptional cuisine of varied cultures. It can be enjoyed now and will respond with grace and thanks for 30 plus years more.  Tasted June 2014  @Ornellaia  @AuthenticWineON  @sherry_naylor

Château Léoville Las Cases 1995, Ac St Julien, Bordeaux, Left Bank, France (402529, $599.00, WineAlign) From A Bordeaux family of wines, September 29, 2014

This 2nd Growth, Grand Vin is a product of nurturing and environment, a study in 12 superb soil subsets, from sand to clay to stone. From mature, edified vines split between Cabernet Sauvignon (70 per cent), Cabernet Franc (16) and Merlot (14). The LLC ’95 is grounded and centered on its highly confident axis while swirling within a centrifuge of inwardly concentrated, ripe but not ripest fruit. Merlot here is the anchor, Cabernet Sauvignon the mast. This is a relationship of pure linear fruit meets acidity. The full and fresh attack is refined with soft-pedaled tannins. It’s neither St. Julien nor Paulliac. It is Las Cases. No other Bordeaux is such an island, a distinctly personal expression, an event of its own. This is a window to the greatest vintages, a portal to extend to the benchmarks of 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2009, but also to step into the history of physiological cortex, to gain insight into previous legendary vintages, like 90, 89 and 82. The ’95 is silky, caressing, rapturous enveloping in a reverse osmosis of fruit and acidity, acidity and tannin. Another sip notices the layering, the grain left in tannin, the lingering richness of the fruit. The absolute sweet caress.  Tasted September 2014  @Noble_Estates

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977 at Splendido Restaurant, September 2014

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977 at Splendido Restaurant, September 2014

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy

Though the vintage was reported to be less than exceptional, the chance to taste this 37 years in/on and the longevity it displays combines for full, blow me away effect. The first vintage of Sassicaia was 1968 and this 10th try hits the mark of experience. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (85 per cent) and (15) Cabernet Franc, the fruit came from vines over top soils of clay and limestone. The wine spent 20 months in Yugoslavian oak barrels (half of it being new, and half used once or twice before), while for the remaining 60 per cent, French oak was used (2/3 new and 1/3 used once or twice before. Tasted blind, the swirling and searching thoughts of Genesis retrospection assimilate aromas of truffle and mushroom, but at first there is no reply at all. Landing on a plot of excellence somewhere between Bordeaux and Piedmont, Tuscany rises from its hills. A silent conversation ask the Sassicaia “I get the feelin’ you’re tryin’ to tell me;
Is there somethin’ that I should know?” Its condition is near perfect, its body full, its nature pristine and finally, so obviously in balance. After 30 minutes it begins to slide, to no surprise, but you can’t believe the expression it gives and the impression it leaves. And so, it is confirmed. 1977 was a fine vintage for Sassicaia.  Tasted September 2014  @Smarent  @Splendido_TO

Contino

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1974 at XocoCava, with Chef Chris McDonald and Rob Groh of the Vine Agency, October 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1974, Rioja, Spain (Agent)

An impossibly youthful 40 year-old Tempranillo, even surpassing the more evolved ’80 in that regard, with aniseed, coconut and beeswax in its current aromatic state. Less gamy and animal funky, yet persistent in earthy beats. The vegetal scents act as conduit to the light bulb shining brightly of circuitous flavours and resolved textures. Lingers in mouth feel, its layers of time slowly peeling back, revealing in length, a slide show of the wine’s life. With many year’s still ahead, this is a Tempranillo revelation and from one going back this far that gained no support from Graciano (because it was planted in 1979). Its apostle following instead comes by way of the white Viura. Pair with Chef Chris McDonald’s Foie Gras and Partridge Croquetas.  Tasted September 2014  @TheVine_RobGroh  @Cvne

Decanted Château Margaux 1989, The National Club, Toronto, May 1, 2014 PHOTO: Michael Godel

Decanted Château Margaux 1989, The National Club, Toronto, May 1, 2014
PHOTO: Michael Godel

Château Margaux 1989, Ac Bordeaux, France (176057, $1,645.00, WineAlign) From Château Margaux hits the road, May 5, 2014

The 1989 Château Margaux wears the response to a mondo Bordeaux axiom on its sleeve. Are First Growth wines made for people who want darts of instant pleasure?” Twenty years earlier and now like the 2009, here is a quintessential and exemplary vintage, from day one of bud break to the last day of harvest. Its appraisal as anything but incredible is to assassinate it as if it were the Franz Ferdinand of Bordeaux. The examination 25 years later sees a mellow funk meet a peerless and sublime perfume. A wine cast in utmost density, complexity and length. It noses strength, warmth verging on heat but only for a fleeting moment, to gain attention. The iconic wine has reached the first major peak, up a ways from base camp. In this second phase of young adulthood it looks with conceit to the top of the mountain, seeing 25 to 50 more years on the climb. Mr. Pontallier regrets he won’t be around to taste this wine at full maturity. Moi aussi. The fruit lingers in its full, original state, from the moment it passes lips and for minutes onward. Violets trump roses. Château Margaux 1989 is from a vintage that offers the blessing of ethereal balance. Hear her sing, “Ich heisse Superfantastisch!”  Tasted April 2014  @Noble_Estates

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009 (From The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht, August 5, 2014)

A south-facing, very steep slope of grey marls and gypsum. A vineyard that yielded a miniscule 10 hl/H. A stratospheric residual sugar quotient (in the realm of 500 g/L) and incredulous acidity to prevent the development of the yeasts. A fermentation that finally finished in the late winter of 2012. A wine aged in demi-guid. Selection of grapes of a botrytis so pure and dry. These are the specs of a wine I may never taste again. Olivier concedes he “really tries not to obtain the highest sugar concentration possible” but this 2009 is a “monster of a wine.” It will take forever to assimilate and digest the sugar. Unctuous, lush, rich and gorgeous does not do it justice. Pure distillation of fruit and stone, accented by spice, wild herbs and flowers. Like an injection of pure, Pinot Gris adrenaline. All this from dry extract, slowly rehydrated with magic pixie dust and the wonders of the natural world.  Will live for a century and then some.  Tasted June 2014  @olivier_dzh  @TrialtoON

Schlumberger

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945 (From In a Grand Cru state of mind, June 18, 2014)

From an area of sandstone soil that predates the appellation. “This is an old story,” says Sommelière Caroline Furstoss by way of introduction at a Millésime master class. “This is a wine of God,” in allusion to the success of a vintage immediately following the end of World War Two. So emotional to taste, of a Riesling with 20-25 g/L of residual sugar and a recondite, balancing level of acidity. Complete and clean, persistent in its power and vitality. There is orange peel and spice, cinnamon and spike. Must have been a warm yet somehow perfect vintage. Sixty-nine years on there is the slightest hint of toffee and nougat with a whispered promise to age for at least 30 more effortless and graceful years. The length lasts for minutes. The heart and the hearth. Just the thought of producing this wine at that time is unfathomable and mystifying. There are no superlatives to do it justice.  Tasted June 2014  @VinexxWine

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863, Douro, Portugal (Agent, $3,995.00, WineAlign) From Taylor made Port, September 2, 2014

The two casks of 1863 reached the Taylor family in pristine condition, from one of the last great pre-Phylloxera vintages of the 20th century. This wine came from the cool and damp Port lodges of Oporto, “the cathedrals of wine.” This was a once in a lifetime chance to taste a piece of history, a most natural and organic fluid encased for 151 years in its integument of time. The year 1863 was significant in many respects, including being the birth year of Henry Ford and Franz Ferdinand. This is Port that creates the future and yet dwells on the past. The hue is both progressive and fathomless in subterranean fantasy. Its many shades of warm, advancing colours resemble the faux brown rings of Mars. The aromas are built around toffee and with accents of many mints; spearmint, chocolate and pepper. You can smell the 1863 from rooms and world’s away. It conjures up many songs. “When you’re half way from a dream, is it hard to work out what is real?” That is its love illumination. It has the strange advance “of killing time and dreams.” The flavours are extreme and exotic, with South-Asian spices highlighting its deep, late night humidity. The finish is endless. Is this brilliance or a stroke of incredible luck? It is certainly pristine and wondrous. It has to be considered a perfect wine, for its niche and genre, by its makers, David Guimaraens and Adrian Bridge. Having let the days of 151 years go by, this is not a wine to compare with others, it is not the same as it ever was. In the end, “you may ask yourself, well…how did I get here?” Thanks to Stephen Marentette of Sylvestre Wines and Spirits.  Tasted August 2014  @TaylorsPortWine  @Smarent

Good to go!

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Let the gems begin

Wine review at VINTAGES of Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Unfiltered 2012 by Godello

Wine review at VINTAGES of Norman Hardie Chardonnay County Unfiltered 2012 by Godello

If the premature lashing of cold, snow and ice weren’t enough to get you thinking about holiday shopping, get thee to a Liquor Control Board Ontario store on the weekend. Same time, every year. The LCBO stocks the shelves, isles and pyramid displays with more booze than anyone should ever be faced with in one visitation.

Related – Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

The bi-weekly VINTAGES release calendar whirs, undulates and clutters in rataplan overload at just this very juncture in preparation of the Christmas rush. Shoppers will tear down the walls of wine, beer and spirits, only to hear the burloque fall silent when the clock strikes closing time on the evening of December 24th.

There are exactly 35 days left in 2014 to do the right wine thing for that father, cousin, colleague, mentor or loyal, long-time suffering employee. Please heed the warnings and do not buy crap for the one you love or think you should. No matter who you are picking up a bottle for, treat them well and with fermented grape respect.

There are three category of wines to look for, at least within the context of this buying guide. First there are the values under $20, wines made so properly they should cost double or triple what they do. Second are the expensive but honest wines. These are the true gems that make most $100 bottles look bad. Last are the $100 examples that are truly iconic, despite their cost. Though priced beyond the means of most, they are not a mistake to take a flyer and give as a gift. After the hand off is complete, the all-knowing, unspoken nod will follow.

Here are 22 picks from the VINTAGES November 22, 2014 release, in stores now.

From left to right: Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Louis Bouillot Perle D'aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, McWilliam's Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012

From left to right: Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Louis Bouillot Perle D’aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012

Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Pdo Nemea, Greece (295618, $17.95, WineAlign)

Nemea strikes again. Dark rust, earth juiced on and of the rocks. Like Sangiovese with attitude, made by Romans, like Syrah the way it was made in mythological times, by Greeks. A classical garden. This is actually quite modern and expressive for Agiorgitiko. Acts as if it were a touch clay (or amphora) baked but it’s really just a Peloponnese take on oak aging (18 months) and further bottle rest (12 months). This is right in its window and will be friendly for three to five years more. What a steal.  Tasted November 2014  @DrinkGreekWine

Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Doc Pomino Bianco, Tuscany, Italy (65086, $19.95, WineAlign)

With thanks to Chardonnay, the Castello di Pomino 2013 elevates Pinot Blanc to a level not really found anywhere, save perhaps for one or two examples out of B.C. This one really leaves a tannic impression, not unlike some impossibly off-dry Pinot Gris from Alsace. There is a really sophisticated level of ambiance and a semblance of a distinctly rocky intent. Like high quality Sancerre or Chenin from Silex soils, the grain and veins running through the palate and the texture are coarse and cursive. This one writes a new script for Frescobaldi’s Florentine, Apennine mountain estate. Fresh, ventilated and airy as if breathing from blue skies at high altitudes. I can’t recall tasting this level of excellence before and would look forward to no less than five years of enjoying what it brings to the Tuscan table.  Tasted November 2014  @FrescobaldiVini  @liffordretail

Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (992560, $19.95, WineAlign)

A primarily (90 per cent) Sangiovese with smatterings, though not inconsequential, of Merlot and Syrah. From (non-estate) vineyards in Poggio La Mozza (Grosseto). Morellino Di Scansano, to a wine and exemplified here, sports a firm jaw and an air of tragic nobility. The question is why should it only find occasional psychic prominence as a Sangiovese go to. Moris Farms makes the lesser-known accessible, with a (sees no oak) modern accent of dark fruit and spice atop simple, pleasurable Sangiovese. Pleasantries exchanged, the 2012 MdS will work dinner, inside a Tuscan vernacular and out.  Tasted October 2014  @Morisfarms  @oenophilia1

Louis Bouillot Perle D’aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, Ac Burgundy, France (48793, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Bouillot Rosé, for my $20 is the most impressive of their line-up, always tender and ripe as if just picked fruit, namely strawberry and raspberry. The Perle D’aurore is a faintly hued and lighthearted take but not light on effort. Elegance defined in Bourgogne bubbles with a savoury edge to give it strength.  Tasted November 2014  @JCB_Wines  @ChartonHobbs

McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (724492, $19.95, WineAlign)

The 2007 is another fascinating study in Hunter Valley Sémillon. Like the ’06, egressing secondary notes have emerged, in equatorial garrigue and fruit having already met its aurulent stenosis. A honey note persists though less so in ’07, as does the level of tempering acidity. This vintage brings out the calm and the clam, though the petrol and the mineral are omnipresent, perhaps elevated. Must keep in mind it’s only $20 but it does fall a bit short in texture and acidity. There is lemon drop and the essential atomic Sémillon stoicism from the Hunter Valley, but it’s a bit thin and hollow up the middle. All that acknowledged, not having a look or two would be a shame. Tasted November 2014  @MtPleasantWines  @PRAXISpr

Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012, Tasmania, Australia (162990, $22.95, WineAlign)

Pepik has elevated aromatic tones and though it appears lithe it reads like a weighty tome. Unique and of its Tasmanian self. Plums come to mind, as does red earth. The phenolic ripeness and varietal indications are ushered in with managed exceptions and are simply spot on. This does not strike as a Pinot Noir that will be long-lived because its black cherry and spice are riper than many contemporary editions in a similar price range, but it will offer great pleasure for two to three years.  Tasted November 2014  @JosefChromy  @bwwines

From left to right: Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Cvne Gran Reserva 2008

From left to right: Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Cvne Gran Reserva 2008

Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany (394155, $23.95, WineAlign)

Thoroughly interesting study in German Pinot Gris despite the timid and reserved tonal nature. Aridity in as much as the variety can muster and in the largest, atmospheric sense. Though the palate has some fine-grained texture and feigned sweetness, it’s as if Baden can only do Pinots this way, in Gris and in Noir. Acidity is tempered and a willing accomplice to the diminished components of sugar and pH. A well designed Pinot Gris.  Tasted November 2014  @TheLivingVine  @WinesofGermany

Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (390336, $28.95, WineAlign)

The Trad ’11 has a classic toast and yeast aromatic waft and so it goes that everything that follows is embraced with curiosity and an open mind. Ginger, citrus, bronze and the sweet scents of the inside of a candy machine, its candy long gone. Creekside’s winemaker Rob Power will never be accused of dialing this sparkler in. Tasting trials help determine the necessary, final blend. The single, Queenston Road Vineyard puts 56 per cent Pinot Noir and (44) Chardonnay, aged 2 years in bottle, together for a highly effective, expansive but not explosive fizz. At 8.7 g/L of residual its dry but not quite falling off the bone. The sweetness is tempered by elevated (9.98 g/L) acidity and tension. Spent 24 months on the lees and was bottled back in February. There is balance and pleasure and a good, stretchy finish. No band-aid. Clean, precise, fizz of the day.  Tasted October 2014  @CreeksideWine

Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (64329, $34.95, WineAlign)

Rubber dust, road macadam and strawberry jam. Fierce Bordeaux Blend home from a hot climate. This has gritty obduracy and doggedness. Like a red blend with a gun, walking the mean streets. Acidity shot through the roof. Bordeaux meets South Africa in every shared, resplendent and promising way. Rasping tannins contain bursting dark fruit, the grain running in multiple directions. Respect. Wait two more years on this and drink comfortably to 2020.  Tasted November 2014  @TrialtoON  @WOSACanada

Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Igt Toscana, Italy (727636, $34.95, WineAlign)

This is not the modern Crognolo as witnessed in the previous five vintages. In 2011 we have been granted the complex Crognolo. This has must and earth. It has grit and girth. Best Crognolo I have tasted. Tangy Sangiovese, with some chalk in tannin. Will live longer and offer unrequited love seven to 10 years down the road, to the patient and the faithful. Tasted November 2014  @TenSettePonti  @TrialtoON

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Doca Rioja, Spain (976662, $35.95, WineAlign)

It amazes me how kept wines from Rioja keep appearing as if they were just bottled yesterday but not this famous Gran Reserva. Syrupy and caramelized, bright and earthy. Mulled plum and clove with citrus accents. Bretty like a barn’s floor. Cedar and leather, big oak doors. Real mutton Rioja, still tannic, energetic and searing. Kicking it old school but wild and alive. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Were a full-term lecture taught on the pros and cons of the Brettanomyces brannigan, this Rioja might be exhibit A. Absolutely manifest fruit meets earth, meets game perfume compendium. Call it funky yeast if you must but here is a wine that can be approached by nose only and if the relationship were to end there, novels might be written. Lives on a fermented, catalytic and plucky edge but never submits to the bacterial spindrift. Leaden fruit, red and black, smooth and layered with a tension in tang that is paralyzing to the mouth. Thirteen years old and just hitting a secondary stride, with the oak slowly dissolving and not a hint of coffee or chocolate to be found. Sexy and down to earth at the same time.” Last tasted November 2014  @bodegasfaustino  @Select_Wines

Cune Gran Reserva 2008, Doca Rioja, Spain (393553, $38.95, WineAlign)

Old school. Smells like Rioja. Smells like Spanish spirit and weeds, sinew, gristle and braising pig, all parts in. Smells like cedar, like American oak and a soak in a tub of spa earth and mineral salts. Like “Spanish boots of Spanish leather.” This has already done the evolutionary dance so if you are looking for something to float your natural, honest boat, go here now. In a Rioja world where the times they are a changin‘, it will sail you back in time and away into a Mediterranean sunset.  Tasted November 2014  @Cvne  @vonterrabev

From left to right: Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

From left to right: Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (928028$49.95, WineAlign)

Firm and in a rustic vein, as per the Barbi dole, this one a bit funkier at the outset than many. Welcome to the classic firmness of 2008, antithesis of the flamboyant ’07’s but plan for 20 plus years of slow food elegance emission. Classic rose petal, tea leaves, dates and earth caked metal in this guy. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “As expected, this is a gritty effort from Barbi, in part the impart of a testosterone-laden vintage, along with the dryer and cooler climate from Barbi’s southeastern Montalcino vineyards. A low and slow ripening will surely translate to extended longevity, but the rusticity and leather/cherry continuum will never disappear. No doubt a classic example and very well-priced for such authenticity, still it can’t be helped to see Barbi’s ’08 as entrenched in an earlier period of time. The wine will need 10 years to soften its edges and reveal the refinement and elegance of a well-documented Brunello.”  Last tasted November 2014  @FATTORIABARBI  @Noble_Estates

Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (287854, $58.95, WineAlign)

A study in precision, exceptional quality and poise. Golden rays mixed with misty wisps, cool nights tempering warm days. Just a touch of wood spice pricks the finish. So much flavour.  Tasted November 2014  @DuttonGoldfield  @TheVine_RobGroh

Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Burgundy, France (390534, $59.95, WineAlign)

This Pinot Noir speaks for the two sides of every Burgundy argument, especially considering it comes from the gritty nook of Pommard. First impressions are floral and pretty, with spice and some sort of tropical flora whispering in cooing scents. The hill offers a buoyancy, a lifted spirit and a view of its own sweet regard. Travels through a mid-village weightless hover, then returns to terroir in prime time acidity and tannin to keep time. There is a sweet tart medicinal aspect ratio on the finish and overall this does things correctly. Does not finish with the same suave seduction that it teased at the start but it does continue to impress.  Tasted November 2014  @Select_Wines  @BourgogneWines

Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $60.95, WineAlign)

Aromatics are racing and rising from the glass. A red rain pouring in and out. Has yet to change course. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “The floral emergence is a lodestar as periscope just now peering up from the seamless cake layering in Versado’s most liberally applied oak-imbued Malbec. The 2010 adheres in sticky savour though it remains two to three years away from finding its true gliding form. From my earlier notes through tastings on Oct. 25 and Nov. 14, 2013. “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.” 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.” Last tasted November 2014  @VersadoWine

Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004, Champagne, France (983874, $84.95, WineAlign)

The reappraised vintage that was once considered good, now revealing itself as better than good uses examples like the Laurent Perrier Millésimé to drive the point. This is a classically symmetrical blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir possessive of much chaste class, incredible balance and held lotus posture. Through its waves of idiosyncratic brioche and linear citrus lines drawn in tactile angles this Champagne is unbent and unbroken. Its seamless transitions glide from delicate aromas, through a textured palate and groove forward in elastic length. Additionally graceful with an ever so slightly advanced and mature style from a mature world in vintage-dated Champagne.  Tasted November 2014  @ChampagneLPUSA  @Noble_Estates

From left to right: Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sassicaia 2011

From left to right: Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sassicaia 2011

Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Mclaren Vale, Australia (242732, $114.95, WineAlign)

While the price is just about as absurd as a “yoga class for cats” or Raine Maida’s voice, it seems logical to wonder aloud how one could question this Carnival as not being one of the biggest and baddest Shiraz you will ever encounter. It’s a veritable run on sentence of Shiraz adjectives, adverbs and hyperbole. If your hankering remains entrenched in elevated alcohol, enormity of fruit, condensed and compressed mineral, lest to be forgetting the viscous ooze of Mclaren Vale syrup, well, then this jester should fill your stocking along with those of the rest of your circle of fortifying friends. From the maw of the beast here – blood gore and fruit guts. Holy crap is this extracted, tannic, mired in impropriety, full conceit and in zero jealousy of other Shiraz. It doth joust. Certainly no lady of peace. Wow.  Tasted November 2014  @MollydookerWine  @bwwines

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, California (936039, $139.95, WineAlign)

Magnificent and munificent wine. Really special, magnanimous in every way, ultra-luxurious but not over the top. Alcohol, oak and extraction judged and held in check, equity and in balance. The fruit is pure and delicate, marked by plum, blackberry and hovering licorice, anise and spices. Long in chain and really sweet tannins. Like gazing into a pool of real nineties Napa and across the pond to an older school of reasoning. Tasted November 2014  @SilverOak  @HalpernWine

Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Ac Margaux, 3e Cru, Bordeaux, France (261552, $167.95, WineAlign)

A heightened sense of Margaux reality in 2010 comes from the château with the hybrid name; first from Simon Malescot, King’s Counsel to Louis XIV at the Parliament of Bordeaux. Second, from the post French Revolution château purchaser, Count Jean Baptiste St Exupéry, grandfather of the aviator and writer Antoine de St Exupéry. This has to be the most hedonism ever bottled in a Malescot, within reason of course. The house does not know from over the top, save perhaps for the cost of this 2010. Cassis is certainly here, as is a medicinal tension, firm acidity and the most formidable tannins known to Margaux. The grain, chalk and tincture combine for full effect. This will need 10 years to chill, then go 10 plus 10 more to much applause and the request for a final curtain call. Tasted November 2014  @VinsdeBordeaux

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, California (399592, $167.95, WineAlign)

Wow. Aromatics are off the charts. Pine forest, leather, chestnut and cedar, savoury in every wild and sauvage way, but also pure. Berries, tobacco leaf, classical logic, structures and axioms lead me to imagine mid-nineties Paulliac. Seamless texture, ripe but not overripe, rich but never overly grainy. This is super fine and dialed back (with exotic spices and wood spice filling in the holes) in the cooler 2011 vintage. A Cabernet Sauvignon of the most savour and the most class. A ten to twenty year Spottswoode.  Tasted November 2014   @Spottswoode  @Smallwinemakers

Sassicaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $199.95, WineAlign)

Certainly a Sassicaia borne of the earth and the vintage. Cooler, with increased sapidity and elevated aromatics. While not volatile there is certainly an intimation at acetic behaviour. Though supportive in only 15 per cent of the two Cabs blend, Cabernet Franc stands firm in its concentration of tobacco, peppercorns a-popping in the pan and a smoldering of currants over an open fire. This will age for decades and return to its beautiful natural state with time-weathered, rugged facial lines. A leathery Sassicaia this, with tight, drying tannins and in need of two decades to show off its birthright. The 2011 Sassicaia is a loyal, aristocratic example to the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s dream of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine where the ideal was Bordeaux.  Tasted November 2014  @Smarent

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

It’s Black Friday but wine gifts come at a price

<em>Photograph by volff, Fotolia.com</em>

Photograph by volff, Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

It’s an American thing. Black Friday shopping deals will attract major crowds south of the border but in Canada, not so much. Studies show that only one in 10 Canadians will get off the couch and leave their basements for this day of discount shopping. The reverse will apply to Boxing Day.

Related – More from the VINTAGES November 24th, 2012 Release

Ontarians are just as likely to hit their local LCBO in search of wine gems for the coming holiday season. The current VINTAGES release is front loaded with lavish, iconic, red and “black” wines. The spotlight is on the big boys, especially Cabernet Sauvignon nearing and often breaching the centurial dollar mark. Behold eight more wine gems for your gift list.

The grapes: Corvina e Corvinone, Rondinella and Barbera

The history: From north-east of Verona, on the hill that separates Montorio from Valle d’Illasi

The lowdown: More substantial, almost unwieldy than most other Valpolicella in the price range

The food match: Coffee Brined Chicken

Musella Vigne Nuove Valpolicella Superiore 2009 (205757, $15.95) races forward pell-mell, spewing tar, ash and black tea exhaust. The fruit component is dark, black plum seeping in its own reductive juices. Chewy, persistent and gathering speed. Top quality normale Valpo.  89

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Amounts to 88% Cab primarily sourced from vineyards located in the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Sonoma Valleys

The lowdown: Pseudo-supermarket brand gets it right in ’09. $20 Cab south of the 49th

The food match: Smoked Chorizo Sausage, brisket quinoa fritters

Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (990440, $22.95) is a solid deal, nothing overly serious, just the sum of all it should be from California and parts thereof. Currants, berries, mint, Cassis, roast beef and oak-driven milk chocolate fill this bottle. Packs enough stuffing for smoking.  88

The grape: Shiraz

The history: Oz outfit from the Great Dividing Range in the Grampians region of Victoria

The lowdown: Winemaker Dan Buckle fashions “cool climate” Shiraz from eastern granite slopes of Mount Langi Ghiran

The food match: Roast Duck, potato, orange, fennel, watercress salad

Mount Langi Cliff Edge Shiraz 2006 (287235, $28.95) rips off a ringing riff that teeters but never quite goes over the edge. Perhaps it still has not found what it’s looking for but it’s got Victoria’s ’06 funk. Spicy wood gets right into your nose then coffee, sodium, charcoal game and black currant all add notes. A very good price for a complex wine.  91

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: A legendary bottling returns to top form after a decade long falling out

The lowdown: Hyperbole like “epic,” “classic” and “best ever” surround this Napa Valley Cab

The food match: English Cut Braised Short Ribs, red wine reduction, red pearl onions

Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (193763, $99.95) is a flat out brilliant composition by the voice of one who once “traded love for glory.” This Cab reverts back to its singer-songwriter, Napa Valley pioneering form. The ’08 is a crooning balladeer intent to hold out its best in a graceful lucubration of layered, dark fruit, restrained restlessness and a vision of long life. Put the Dunn away and look to be rewarded 15+ years on with as good a California Cabernet as you will ever taste.  96

The grapes: Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Counoise

The history: The house that Jacques Perrin built is the most famous in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

The lowdown: Can’t say I’ve ever been this blown away by such a young Beaucastel

The food match: Braised Veal Brisket, smashed parisienne potato, brussels sprouts, truffle oil

Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (711317, $89.95) enters no confected, over-extracted or OTT danger zones. The most floral Beaucastel, a doffing of Stoechas Avignon and the omnipresent Rhône garrigue. Persimmon and lavender share time imparting the wine with fumes from les galets roulés of the argilo-calcaireous vineyard beds. Basic hedonism here from such an extraordinary, complex and balanced blend.  95

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc

The history: Arguably the most iconic Cab-based Super Tuscan from “the place of many stones”

The lowdown: Down $7 in price from vintages going back to ’05, this ’09 has scored as high as 98 (James Suckling)

The food match: Grilled Bisteca Fiorentine (Tuscan-style Porterhouse Steak)

Sassicaia 2009 (480533, $179.95) the raven brunette is anything but sappy or syrupy yet is impossibly viscous. Hints at ripe berries growing in the crags of maritime gravel and the most expected hits of sanguine, animal musk. A huge wine in the making, the adolescent hunter Sassicaia off-roads up a steep incline to go tell it on the mountain of tannin. Disappears into parts unknown and will only reappear as a mature adult. Look to 2025 and it may say “the perspective to say the very least, changes only with the journey.”  96

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot

The history: Tenuta dell’Ornellaia was founded in Bolgheri (1981) and only Massetto, “wink-wink, say no more,” is a more famous Super Tuscan

The food match: Grilled Bisteca Panzanese (Bolgheria-style Porterhouse Steak)

Ornellaia 2009 (722470, $189.95) is more approachable than the unparalleled 1998. A silky smooth and velvety texture puts super-ripe fruit at the forefront. While that ’98 rocked my world, this vintage offers immediate gratification, less dominating hard lines and edges. The balance is impeccable but the acidity is tempered, like the finest chocolate. The window is open now, though it may soon close, to drink beautifully for the next five years.  94

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: In a class of two (along with Shafer’s Hillside Select) of Napa Cabernet neither garagiste nor Barnett, Harlan Estate or Screaming Eagle

The lowdown: Certainly not an act in search of a circus, the ’08 Insignia demands a star’s salary

The food match: Bison Rib-Eye, king mushroom, juniper and thyme demi-glace

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2008 (710400, $224.95) teases with immediate gratification then turns inward upon itself to hide from a volcano bursting of hot lava. The stoic resistance keeps the Insignia safe from the fiendish, dark mark mountain of UFO tannin. “A real rock and roll molest.” Checking out the wine’s black hue in the raised glass is a sight to behold. The pitch conceals a deep well of pure raspberry distillation, roasted meat, yew and rosemary. The wine’s lines are like architectural strokes of genius, currently too hot to handle.  94

Good to go!