Thirteen ways to taste Cuvée

Less than 24 hours after touching down at Pearson following a trip to Germany for ProWein (plus excursions through the Rheinhessen and Ahr Valley) I find myself in comfortable surroundings. Knotting a tie with Niagara Falls tumbling as it is always wont to do while in other proximate places Niagara’s wine folks get cleaned up real good, all of us ready to gather for Cuvée 2017. A grand affair.

The 29th annual Cuvée was indeed held last Friday, March 24 with the Grand Tasting at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls. Organized by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), Cuvée presents an essential cross-section of Ontario VQA wines while also raising thousands of dollars to fund academic scholarships and research. A count of 750 guests were in attendance along with 48 participating local VQA wineries and celebrated regional chefs.

Chef Justin Lesso, Kitchen 76 at Two Sisters Winery, Roasted eggplant and zucchini caponata with sultanas, whipped ricotta, toasted pine nuts and sweet balsamic on crostini

Congratulations to the Cuvée award winners for 2017

Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award: Grower Gerald Klose, Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence: Wine journalist Ian D’Agata.

VQA Promoters Award for Lifetime Achievement:  Toronto restaurateur Roberto Martella, Grano.

VQA Promoters Award for Education: Barb Tatarnic, Brock University.

VQA Promoters Award in the LCBO: Melissa McFadden, Owen Sound.

VQA Promoters Award for Hospitality: Sommelier Mike Fish, Glassroots Restaurant in London.

VQA Promoters Award in Retail: Brian Hanna, sommelier at Huff Estates Winery in Prince Edward County.

VQA Promoters Award for Media: Angela Aiello, iYellowWineclub.

The Cuvée Scholarship winners are:

Cuvée Hosting Award for Academic Excellence: Jacob Johnsson-Werner

Cuvée Award for Academic Excellence: Stephanie Van Dyk

Cuvée Award for Academic Excellence in OEVC: Hannah Lee

Cuvée Graduate Scholarship: Jennifer Kelly

Scotiabank Centre chefs

New signage showed the way to 47 winery participants divided into a six-pack of of design, “hazarding all ones chances,” to seek and to find. Luckily I found my way, with ease, to divide, conquer and taste many wines. 

I’ve reviewed 13 from the Cuvée Grand Tasting. Here are the notes.

Megalomaniac Chardonnay My Way 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

A new order for chardonnay begins at Megalomaniac with winemaker Sébastien Jacquey now doing things his way. Lyrically speaking, a once buttery and brain freeze style of Megalomaniac chardonnay is now made My Way. The song reference is via Paul Anka (also interpreted through Frank Sinatra and Sid Vicious) but here turning with learned impression into Jacquey’s way. The bite into crunchy green apple and tart russet sting is more than cool, it’s downright intense. The pulsating, ebullient pop burst is techno chardonnay at its finest, melodic and built on sonic texture. My Way reminds more of Temptation, “heaven, a gateway, a hope, just like a feeling inside, it’s no joke.” There is great ripeness from warm St. David’s Bench fruit a bit less mineral so conversely eased away from oak. Also easy on the stirring of lees, to keep the purity, clarity and as Séb notes “we are always trying to listen to nature.” Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @MegalomaniacJHC

Tripping the #sauvignonblanc light fantastic @StratusWines @CreeksideWine “come and trip it as ye go / On the light fantastic toe.” #imaginative #cuvèe #cuvee2017 #skippedthelightfandango #whitershadeofpale #buthecrowdcalledoutformore

Creekside Estates Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Creekside Estate Vineyard 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (53371, $26.95, WineAlign)

Four months is an eternity in sauvignon blanc development and what was is not any more. Here again, “Ooo there I stand neath the Marquee Moon, hesitating.” Now some of the finest and most intelligently rendered spice you are ever likely to get from a bite anywhere in the SB diaspora is tasted. Effectively intense as it was not last fall, Creekside’s 50 per cent wood-aged ’13’s “life in the hive puckered up my night.” The risk is now rewarded. Last tasted at Cuvée with Yvonne Irving, March 2017  @CreeksideWine  @CellarMonkey  @PetiteOenophile  @AMH_hobbsandco

Of more worthy extraction and calculated tropical aromatics, the Reserve rendition of Creekside’s backyard vineyard play is deeply juicy and spiked with natural tonic. This wine makes full use of the slow, let it hang 2013 vintage and its dry, cloud covered temper. There are herbs and lime juice stirred into the cocktail and flavour does not pass by at a fleeting premium. This has richness and tangy appeal. The wish would be for more acidity but isn’t that always the case? Drink 2016-2019. Tasted November 2016

Stratus Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

Welcome to new adventures in hifi, J-L Groux-Stratus Vineyards-sauvignon blanc style. “Here it comes (and) I’m carried away” by the utter freshness and positively optimistic nature of the grape and its potential off of Niagara-on-the-Lake vineyards. Groux employed two Sancerre clones, 317 and 530, the former antiKiwithetical and the second more Loire obvious. Picked early straight out of REM sleep (for Stratus) though always loyal to aromatics, the crisp green apple bite is striking in a cool-climate designated white void of chive, grapefruit and green veg. The fitness, finesse and fineness really show on the palate, direct, fresh and very long. Speaks to the organoleptic language of taste. Could have very well been dubbed The Departure. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @StratusWines

Fielding Estate Sparkling Rosé, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Fielding takes flight into traditional method, blush sparkling territory with this decidedly off-dry, fruit-driven, round and drinkable Rosé. Primarily 2013 based from pinot noir (84 per cent) and chardonnay (16) that spent up to 24 months on the lees. It’s habitual strawberry evidence and faint black cherry subtlety meet at the interstices of (13 g/L) of residual sugar, inviting and jacketing acidity. This is rose spectral, chaste stylish fizz to initiate Fielding’s investigation that will only become more and more complex. You’ll have to make a trip to Fielding if you want one, that or a reservation at Treadwell or Backhouse. All good options. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  @Heidi_Fielding

Adamo Oaked Chardonnay Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Nine months later and without the blind tasting arrangement it is Adamo’s chardonnay that once again directs the discourse. This second vintage and first solo record from B.C. native and winemaker Shauna White is a risk-taking, tart, fruit major, reductive minor virtuoso effort. It’s fresh, crisp, crunchy, pure, cooled down, off and out chardonnay. It’s also a classic Wismer-Foxtrot rendering interpreted with troubadour-diva talent. Chardonnay to “bring you apples from the vine,” so “run the bath and pour the wine.” Makes me anything but down.  Last tasted at Cuvée 2017, March 2017  @AdamoEstateWine

Really effective actuality, from barrel for couverture and bite, through texture by lees and with inhalant because of the mineral play. This has it all going on. The middle palate is so beautifully filled in, the spice and smokiness just a mild, intoxicating smoulder. Lovely stuff and terrific length. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016

Thirty Bench Vineyards Small Lot Riesling Steel Post Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The pattern forming from riesling in 2014 out of Niagara is coming into clear, linear focus and with great hyperbole from this single-vineyard Thirty Bench. True to its vineyard nature nomenclature Steelpost is apropos of steel pulse beats and smoky to flinty intensity. It has been many vintages since this type of Steelpost showing and methinks it the kind of wine so misunderstood in its youth. Riesling that cuts like a knife, right through fruit and gets right to the mineral heart of the matter. It’s like walking on a tightrope, “just, just take a look and see, yeah. I’d wait two years before digging a little deeper. A future of flesh and bone awaits. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017

Adamo Oaked Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Adamo’s second vintage takes a small but important step forward with reasons threefold by way of explanation. The first is fruit one year older, still a toddler relatively speaking but beginning to express itself with opinion and determination. Second is the baton and torch transfer from PEC set up man Jonas Newman to incumbent winemaker Shauna White. Third is simply Howard and Wes Lowrey’s Vineyard. This hallowed ground for Adamo is an allotted St. David’s Bench section as a gift with one stipulation. Don’t mess it up. With abide to terroir and essential tenets followed, this ’14 drinks as it should, rich, unctuous and tenuously structured. The spice is quite up front, dancing cheek to cheek with the precocious fruit. The continuance moves through a central vortex and into the back halls, carrying noticeable tannin down its dry and savoury descent. Might want to wait one more year. How is it this vineyard is able to speak regardless the maker? Only the one who knows his or her rows can answer the question. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @AdamoEstateWine

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (421370, Was $35.00, Now $28.25, WineAlign)

This is one of those wines you need to revisit. The 70 per cent whole berry and 18 months in wood give it this posit tug between carbonic restlessness and organza texture. The flavours are now developing out of the tobacco road nose, into flanked borscht boullion distilled, like aqua vitae with cinnamon, Szechuan pepper and cardamom spice.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @2027cellars  @TheVine_RobGroh

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

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment Oliveira Vineyard 2014, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $36.20, WineAlign)

With fruit from the Niagara chardonnay mecca Oliveira Vineyard and the addendum of yet another stellar varietal vintage it is this Craig McDonald speciality that helps to steal the show. Striking out with near-raging acidity (pushing and possibly exceeding the 8 g/L mark) the Wild Ferment is one of the most formidable expressions of 2014, if not ever. All the moving parts work fervently and impressively as if the motor is running and the machine careening around the speedway. To keep composure it is texture that brings about grounding, balance and cadence, from obvious lees perfection and 30 per cent new wood plus the rest forged by two to five year old barrels. This is creamy, energetic and tannic chardonnay, all conspiring to express itself with both weight and poise. From a maker who’s been around the block a few times, the ’14 WF will go the distance. And you can start now. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @TriusWines  @PellerVQA

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

The designation is NOTL and the fruit is a fifty-fifty draw from Niagara River along with less sandy estate soils. The fruit came is nicely warm, in the geek-noted 22.5-23.5 brix level, now double fast-forwarded to the spring of 2017 after its initial nine months in barrel. The frame is classic cabernet sauvignon, no matter the origin, housing and because of beautiful peninsula fruit. Twenty-five percent of the wood is texture giving and spice lifting atop blueberry, blackberry and Cassis. This is ripe but in retention of its acids with the creamy vanilla anglaise consistency only really felt at the finish. Only then. Tidy little $35 red from Marty Werner and Ben Minaker. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner  @BMinaker23

Colaneri Estate Winery Insieme 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

Insieme is built around and upon a foundation of high quality vintage conditioned merlot (36 per cent) with (31) cabernet sauvignon, (19) cabernet franc and (14) syrah. The fruit is subjected to 100 per cent appassimento processing, turning smooth, ambient, atmospheric, “e petto a petto, noi respiriamo insieme.” This is Niagara’s cinema paradiso red blend, composed with Morricone classicism in ode to Amarone. Two years in second pass cigar barrels brings the smoke and the smoulder, syrah adds a peppery jolt and dusty merlot turns into raspberry purée because the appassimento makes it that way. With sugar and acidity equally running high there is a knowing balance in 2013, a silken palate and the structure to see it age. If nothing else, even at 15 per cent alcohol it achieves one thing. “Solamente amore.” Drink 2018-2022. Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @ColaneriWinery

Tripping the #sauvignonblanc light fantastic @StratusWines @CreeksideWine “come and trip it as ye go / On the light fantastic toe.” #imaginative #cuvèe #cuvee2017 #skippedthelightfandango #whitershadeofpale #buthecrowdcalledoutformore

Chef Andrew McLeod, Bolete Restaurant, Pork hock terrine with Jerusalem artichoke relish and black garlic

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Réserve Du Domaine 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (392886, $44.95, WineAlign)

Two pinot noir worlds collide in the Réserve du Domaine, one from Jordan and the other Beamsville, with fruit forged and fused via Neudorf Farm’s Le Petit and Mountainview Vineyard. The collaboration is never lost on the Thomas Bachelder-Kelly Mason winemaking cooperation. Le Petit firms up the plummy rich unctuousness of Mountainview like any good spouse should and the match is unpredictable, at times inflammatory but in the end, made in heaven. Whole berries do their carbonic foreplay thing, infusing energy and keeping things light with assistance from a vintage in echo of the sentiment. This is more flavourful and quite possibly, potentially more structured than 2013 though it may also compromise some classicism for ultra modernity. It’s too young frankly to make such bold statements so let’s just call it a draw. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @QueylusVin  @Bachelder_wines

Trius Showcase Cabernet Franc Red Shale Clark Farm Vineyard 2014, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $45.20, WineAlign)

Showcase is from the wealthiest of cabernet franc Niagara fruit aboard the Clark Farm rows and placed in the hands of Trius for full effect. The Red Shale is housed in 30-35 per cent new oak, travels fully and completely through malolactic fermentation and lots of lees are kept, stirred, shaken and promoted with extreme prejudice. This is rich and beautifully reductive, a smoky batter enriched by 18 months in selected, set aside for a rainy cabernet franc day barrels. Something exotic this way wafts as it always does, with green herbal phenols and sweet spice island Syzygium aromaticum. In the end its incredibly long despite its rebel youth so know that it will be a finer Niagara cabernet franc with time tucked in pocket. Another notch etched in Clark Farm lore. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @TriusWines  @PellerVQA

Executive Chef James Price, Scotiabank Convention Centre, Lady Agnes’s roast duck saves the nation. Sloe berry and lavender brined duck, cellared vegetables, watercress and parsnip

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

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Too late for May Two-Four

Morel

It reminds me of Richard Yates at his early career, Revolutionary Road best, in tense humour, as noted by James Woods, “a celebrated indictment of suburban surrender.” Here we are, in 21st century Ontario, preparing to head to our suburban respite sanctuaries with tools, sundries and supplies in hand, only lacking one essential piece. Good wine. We turn to the LCBO, to VINTAGES, to the ceaseless recurrence of release and we find limbo. Last week? Next week? Why not now?

We are willing to submit and surrender but the shelves are stocked with 2nd tier choices, the wines of first degree excitement already having disappeared with the previous week’s first wave. So if you need wine suggestions for the Victoria Day weekend I’ll have to send you on a retroactive search through the May 14th VINTAGES release. “It’s a beautifully typical story of these times and this place.”

Related – In VINTAGES May 14th

Why am I looking forward and into the eyes of May 28th? Well, I’ll tell you why. The finest collection of Canadian wines in some time gathered together at one communal table will become available, sadly just days after the May 24 three-day escape. These wines would have sold well, in droves actually, had VINTAGES made use of their excellence in advance. So, as a messenger for the stars, it is my duty to tell you about their upcoming presence in diplomatic conformity of early 21st century Ontario realism, on the LCBO stage. These be the 10 of them.

Jackson Triggs Okanagan Reserve Series Viognier 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (445700, $15.95, WineAlign)

This 2014 Okanagan take on Viognier is an all out rich, ripe and boozy affair. Sparks fired by a cold play take the lead, singing with spice, marked by galangal and ginger in control over the wishful act of balancing extract. “And I saw sparks, yeah I saw sparks,” enough so for such a Viognier to be on your way. Sharply struck, in smithereens and yet epic for the price. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2016  @JacksonTriggsBC  @CBrandsCareers  @winebcdotcom

Flat Rock Unplugged Chardonnay 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68015, $16.95, WineAlign)

Good unction for the un-oaked Jay Johnston procured Chardonnay, more green apple and early honey than before. This is the purity machine in motion, direct, spoken in a Bench vernacular and zagging like the rows of the vineyard. Still at $17 and not to be bypassed for anything that might think to stand in its way. Can you say petite Chablis? Drink 2016-2020. Tasted February 2016 and May 2016  @Winemakersboots  @brightlighter1  @UnfilteredEd

Megalomaniac Pink Slip Pinot Noir Rosé 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (85126, $19.95, WineAlign)

The bottle tells you about grapes handed the pink slip during post harvest deliberations, something not lost within its own ironic twist. When you have pink lemons you made pink lemonade, done here to great simulated effect. Tart is the operative, like a perfect square of gelid red citrus on a plate to foil briny sea morsel and verdant greens. With the right herbs and lettuces this pink grapefruit Rosé will handle itself with pairing irony and relative ease. Welcome aboard Sébastien Jacquey. Megalomaniac’s winemaking approach to Rosé never had it so good. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2016  @MegalomaniacJHC

13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (147512, $19.95, WineAlign)

Continues to throw its weight about and has now engaged a phase of typical J-P Colas redolence and pungency. Strict adherence to Creek Shores citrus minerality injects the June for future time-lapse release, an internal ooze that will take years to push its way upwards to the surface.

From my earlier note of December 2014: 2013 was a perfect follow-up for Niagara Riesling, after a vintage where so many exceptional wines were made. The ’12 June’s by Jean-Pierre Colas was his best and with this repeat performance in ’13, the consistency of June’s vineyard is further cemented. Once again, the citrus injection is a Creek Shores thing, a vehemence not matched by other sub appellations. Where ’13 differs is its weight. There is a textural density improved upon and at the same time dragging on the freshness of the fruit. The trade-off will mean less immediate gratification in lieu of more flesh and bone for a longer period of aging. Given at least five years rest, the 2013 June’s Riesling will discover a Ribeauvillé like future.

Last tasted May 2016

Fielding Pinot Gris 2014, Estate Bottled, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (251108, $21.95, WineAlign)

Such a ripe and extroverted Pinot Gris, in a style created and honed by winemaker Richie Roberts, here in 2014 near its apex. Singular without feeling the pressure to induce rapture or revelation. Fleshy ripe, of peaches, plums and nectarines. Typically and expectedly fresh, juicy, industrious, vehement and good, spicy length. Always well-made, hitting essential, doctrinal Pinot Gris notes and so very food versatile. May I suggest a whole grilled fish, lemon and fresh herbs. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted May 2015 and May 2016  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Joie Farm A Noble Blend 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (454793, $23.95, WineAlign)

The dial is turned up in the noble blend, an amalgamation of five grape varieties and nine vineyards. The inspiration and the intent is Alsace, the result lying somewhere in between. It is an inspired blend and it does resemble Alsace but in the end it’s all Joie Farm. Distinct from structure and connectivity, not to mention drinkability, with a shot of spice. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted May 2016  @JoieFarm

Thirty Bench Red 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (320986, $24.95, WineAlign)

At first the 2013 Red alights in high tones juxtaposed by a chew of sultana, an odd entry for the Thirty Bench, carrying on for the first few minutes in the glass. There are sulphide notes, of red onion and yet after a few minutes they begin to resolve, caramelizing to sweetness, mixed with tannin. The transformation continues, playing new notes, of red rooibos tea and seasoned seaweed. Grilled onions and charred poblanos come on the palate. Currants finish off the profile. The emotive cabernet franc really dominates this blend and though at first difficult to crack, the eventuality is an equation figured as a true positive. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2016  @ThirtyBench

Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130989, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is more than an interesting look back into the Tawse time machine to compare where the Grower’s Blend now sits as compared to what it was like in its youth. Now into liqueur, of cherry and earth, no longer just a hint of what they wish to be. This shows the excellence of the 2011 vintage for Pinot Noir and the master blending acumen of winemaker Paul Pender. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2016  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

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

That flesh, that Kabinett flesh, fills the CSV in every crevice. In 2013 the residual sugar number lies between 15 and 16 g/L, and though the crop was bigger, it was still picked later than in 2012. The result is formidable corporeal concentration, consistency of house style and perhaps the only ’13 Niagara Riesling to imitate, perpetuate and extrapolate on the vintage that came before. This Cave Spring concentrates fruit and Escarpment into a powerful Riesling, streaming like charged particles through changing expressions. A lingering ascension hovers as it rises, until it slowly fades into the welkin, like a balloon that languidly gets lost into the blinding blue of a midday sky. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted April 2015 and May 2016  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

Bachelder Nuits St Georges La Petite Charmotte 2013, Burgundy, France (357228, $58.95, WineAlign)

From the Nuits St Georges parcel that Thomas reaps, built on the premise of soil, structure and depth. The lithe beauty of this La Petite Charmotte block is lifted and held in the highest esteem in 2013, perhaps with even greater sensibility of character than out of what was an exceptional 2011. The Nuits iron power surge may have descended down a half level but the redolent Beaune balance is spot on. So very perfumed. That Bachelder perfume, expressed in Neaune craving and breadth. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2016  @Bachelder_wines

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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Six Canadians in VINTAGES February 6th

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

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

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

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

Cave

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

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

Sue

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

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

Mega

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

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

Tin

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

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

Red

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

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

Owl

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

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

Good to Go!

Can Chardonnay get any cooler?

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Five is a big number. Any annual convention that survives and thrives into a fifth caucus must be divined by some unseen force, a guiding hand perhaps, by avatar or prosopopoeia. And something other. The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration has priceless equity on its side. Three aces in the hole. Canadian climate and geology, adroit farmers and winemakers, simpatico of communities.

West coast writer Alder Yarrow spent three days in Ontario and referred to The Brilliance of Canadian Chardonnay. Wine Spectator contributing editor Matt Kramer said that Ontario is possessive of a “luminosity of flavour” and that its Chardonnay offers up “the element of surprise.” In Modern Wine Myths he tells the world about the measure of Canadian wine.

What is it that draws foreign winemakers and journalists to Canada? If people will come, their work meets vacation migration must want for a cause and effect to be a part of something special. South Africa’s Anthony Hamilton Russell said that “a layered, complex wine has to have completed its phenolic journey.” Despite what the world might think and think they know, peregrination by wine grapes, from bud break, through fruit set, véraison and into ripening, is a beautiful reality in Canada.

We walked away from the fourth Cool Chardonnay Conference last year wondering, asking that ubiquitous question, the same one we ask at the Expert’s Tasting every year.

And where do we go from here?
Which is the way that’s clear

Who among us had not believed that the pinnacle of hype had been compassed? Had four years of gatherings not fully realized a conspiracy to inject more than enough cool Chardonnay into thousands of minds and veins? Had anyone not wholly submitted to a seemingly seized reality in apogee of conversions, of maximum, critical mass?

Godello in the media room, White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa

Godello in the media room, White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa

Yes, we thought these things and then year number five blew our minds. We had been wrong. We found out that the bar had yet been breached. Further was still out there, not yet claimed, hovering in the realm of the possible and still, going forward, yet remains plausible. Looking back on the weekend of July 17-19, 2015, at locations blanketed across the Niagara Peninsula, Chardonnay got even cooler.

Related – Eleven Chardonnays to the coolest show on earth

Eleven days in advance of the fifth International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, known in hashtag locution as #i4c15, I tasted and wrote notes on eleven examples of Chardonnay and it was good. On a weekend built for beauty in Wine Country Ontario, at Jackson Triggs, White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa, 13th Street Winery, Westcott Vineyards, Ridley College and at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery, I tasted upwards of 50 more. I will admit that previous Cool Chardonnay weekends laid a beating on my palate. Not in 2015. On July 20th I wished for more Chardonnay.

Godello and Magdalena Kaiser of Wine Country Ontario at Barrels and Bonfires, 13th Street Winery (c) Elena Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca

Godello and Magdalena Kaiser of Wine Country Ontario at Barrels and Bonfires, 13th Street Winery
(c) Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca

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

With a cavalry in cavalcade of Chardonnay volunteers making it real and sealing the deal, the surfeited excellence of events crossed with happenings rolled on, from the School of Cool – Viticultural and Winemaking Sessions, through Barrels & Bonfires, past Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner and into The Moveable Feast. There were maestri to applaud – Master Sommelier Bruce Wallner, Angie Jewell and MJ Macdonald – trumpeters of Chardonnay. Did you seek out and thank Dorian Anderson, Trisha Molokach, Magdalena Kaiser and Joanna Muratori? – concierge and purveyors of cool climate heaven. Had you a word or two with Del Rollo, Suzanne Janke and the vintners of the i4C? – gatekeepers of the plans and secrets, where Ontario schemes, greets, welcomes and celebrates frore, global brilliance.

The school of Cool, White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa

The school of Cool, White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa

The School of Cool presented by Wine Country Ontario and the Grape Growers of Ontario moved to White Oaks Conference Resort & Spa for the first time in 2015. Panel partners included the passer of the torch Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University, VineTech Canada, Kerry Canada and Riedel Canada. Master Sommelier John Szabo once again moderated three sessions focused on international perspectives to viticulture and winemaking in cool climate regions, with a special feature on Sparkling Chardonnay. In 2011 Wine Spectator‘s Matt Kramer was the keynote speaker and he reprised that contribution in 2015.

Dr. Belinda Kemp, CCOVI Brock Univeristy and Godello at The School of Cool, White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa

Dr. Belinda Kemp, CCOVI Brock Univeristy and Godello at The School of Cool, White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa

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

The School of Cool 2015 sessions were controversial, heated and extremely effective. On them I will need to expand upon at another time, in another post. For now, the crux of the conversation concerned two intense Chardonnay algorithms. First, consequence versus cosmetics. Said Kramer, “Niagara has the ability and the opportunity to create Chardonnays of consequence.” Marlize Beyers of Hidden Bench allowed this. “I do believe Chardonnay needs a little bit of cosmetics. Mouthfeel is important.” Discuss.

The second and most managed thread of discussion concerned the idea of minerality. Is it real? Dr. Gary Pickering: “Who cares?” Dr Alex Maltman: “It’s a lovely idea, journalists love it, has marketing capability, but it doesn’t hold up.” Paul Pender: “It’s a great story. I’m not 100 per cent sure its true. It’s more complex than that.” Albrecht Seeger: “Minerality is part of the terroir.” Matt Kramer: “The scientists don’t know a goddamn thing about wine.” Discuss.

Barrels and Bonfires, 13th Street Winery

Barrels and Bonfires, 13th Street Winery

On Friday night at 13th Street the theme was “boots & blue jeans,” to compliment Chardonnay, with a smoke-inspired feast, live music and cozy bonfires set amongst the vines.

Jay Johnston of Flat Rock Vineyards and Godello at Barrels and Bonfires, 13th Street Winery

Jay Johnston of Flat Rock Vineyards and Godello at Barrels and Bonfires, 13th Street Winery

On Saturday Chardonistas blanketed the Niagara region.

Westcott Vineyards

Westcott Vineyards

I spent the afternoon with winemaker Arthur Harder, Grant, Carolyn and Victoria Westcott at their Vinemount Ridge Westcott Vineyards property.

Fresh Salmon hors d'oeuvre by Lorenzo Loseto of George Restaurant, at Westcott Vineyards

Fresh Salmon hors d’oeuvre by Lorenzo Loseto of George Restaurant, at Westcott Vineyards

George Restaurant Chef Lorenzo Loseto and Sommelier Christopher Sealy came to cook and pour. They went to town. Appetites were whetted, palates amused, bellies satiated, hearts skewered, minds hooked and time was lost to well spent.

Lunch at Westcott Vineyards

Lunch at Westcott Vineyards

The main event’s setting was St. Catharines’ Ridley College, at which Chef Paul Harber (Ravine Vineyard Restaurant) and Chef Craig Youdale (Canadian Food & Wine Institute) assembled a dream team of the region’s top Vineyard Chefs to present an Ontario-centric family-style feast. Beer and red wine, “oh my,” “gasp,” “what sacrilege,” followed dinner.

#ILiveChardonnay at the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting and Dinner at Ridley College

#ILiveChardonnay at the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting and Dinner at Ridley College

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

On Sunday morning the final convene took place, as it always does, at Ravine Vineyard. More stellar bites, oysters from Tide and Vine, Niagara cured gold Pingue prosciutto from Niagara Food Specialties and ping-pong in the vineyard. In the end, the love was felt, for the community that celebrates Ontario wine, for all the cool climate folks who came thousands of miles to participate and for Chardonnay.

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

The events provided opportunities to taste the Chardonnays on hand and with thanks to Wine Country Ontario, a media room was set up at White Oaks with full representation. Many of my tasting notes were formulated in that space. Here are twenty-five new Chardonnay reviews from the weekend at i4C15.

Cool Chardonnay in the media room at White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa

Cool Chardonnay in the media room at White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa

Calmel & Joseph Villa Blanche Chardonnay 2014, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (375071, $13.95, WineAlign)

Quite simple and surprisingly lush with more than ample acidity to keep vitality in the air. A balanced effort in a pretty plush Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted July 2015

Malivoire Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (573147, $17.95, WineAlign)

If you reside in Ontario or happen to be passing through before September 13, 2015, the perfect value storm of Chardonnay swirls in your corner. It may be the most excellent 2012 you will find on shelves but looking forward to this (2013) vintage you will encounter a varietal tempest, a house crafted dictionary entry and in retrospect, memories regarding that two dollar limited time offer price reduction that doled out 10 per cent more satisfaction. The essentia of fresh glade aroma, cream in your corn texture and a gaol of circulating acidity add up to one seriously fleshy ($20 and/or $18), cool-climate, hovering in and around the Beamsville Bench Chardonnay. The Malivoire base wine is one of no beginning and no end so in that sense it will always get inside you. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar

Toro De Piedra Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Maule Valley, Chile (417493, $17.95, WineAlign)

Rich, toasty and nutty Maule Chardonnay, full on, out and in favour of ambitious, lofty heights. Has massive creamy meets chalky mouthfeel and tropical fruit with spice by wood in spikes, not to mention high toned acidity and alcohol. It’s an aggressive if clumsy expression. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted twice, June and July 2015  @VinaRequingua  @DrinkChile

Hillebrand Trius Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2013, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (46595, $19.95, WineAlign)

Sur-lie barrel fermented Chardonnay all in for texture and fabric with a taste of soft French cream. Very ripe, especially in consideration of the vintage. The late flavours recall lemon curd and a touch of rind. In the end an elemental tonic push carries this skyward, as opposed to downward in earthy dredge, so imagine forward to a petrolish driven future, the engine leaving a trail of disposed energy. Quite complex and certainly fixed with boards to add nuts to the melting, oozing bolts. I would recommend leaving this for two years for the tension to subside. Then the creamy centre will spill out from beneath the pastry crust. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted July 2015  @TriusWines

13th Street June’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

The vineyard speaks louder and clearer with every passing vintage. In 2013 the level of atomic and aerified atmospheric pressure is unparalleled, from June and for any Chardonnay produced in the Creek Shores sub-appellation. At this early stage the ’13’s awkward, backward and racy character is uncomfortable but impossible to taste away from. This is Chardonnay on gym candy to be sure, rocking like a hurricane, dancing up a storm. The terpenes are titillating, the enzymes discharging. There is a bronze/patina/inside of a pipe metallic feel that adds to the texture improvisation. Nothing about this says drink now nor does it let you settle into a comfort zone. It’s just that all over the place. Will revisit in three years.  Tasted December 2014 and July 2015  @13thStreetWines  @Noble_Estates

Kirsten Searle, Matawhero Wines

Kirsten Searle, Matawhero Wines

Matawhero Chardonnay 2014, Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand (Agent, $21.95)

Unoaked but full malo crisp up this true blue, north island Chardonnay. A bob of fruit from the oldest (40 years) winery in the region and under current ownership for the past eight. You can tell after tasting with Kirsten Searle that the project has been a labour of love. Her words seem to say “heading out for the East Coast Lord knows I’ve paid some dues gettin’ through. Tangled up in blue.” Round and properly bitter, the world should not be demanded. East coast will do. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (377770, $21.95, WineAlign)

A strength in aromatic temper initializes the confrontation and the relationship. Once hooked, lemon and a waxy texture usher the palate through the middle reaches, then a swirl, tongue on a swivel, off to glide with sweetness into a gin and tonic backside ride. Goes fat and caressing for a spell, through a toasty phase and yet the wood is hidden or at least negligible. Could very well pass for unoaked in a way, especially considering the tang and the persistence. A very solid wine at a very workable price. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted twice, June and July 2015  @Quails_Gate  @hobbsandco

Josef Chromy Chardonnay ‘Pepik’ 2014, Tasmania, Australia (Agent, $22.95)

Combines beauty and bitters for a streak of natural selection through a field of texture. Heads for the cream risen to the top of rich, pulls over and steps aside to allow for a crunch of green apple. The bite is real, lit by match and cut with spice. Great length. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015  @JosefChromy  @bwwines

Domaine Laroche Chablis Saint Martin 2013, Burgundy, France (289124, $24.95, WineAlign)

Climbs more than a rung or two up the reverent Chablis ladder to mingle with the Cru boys. Something about 2013 strikes as more serious, punctilious and free. This is benchmark Saint Martin, chalky and textured from soup to nuts, of spirits high and sky-scraping tang. The acidity is frank, the structure unwavering and the fruit to mineral dichotomy of a pure, mature and essential hookup. From verve to intensity and back again. Up and down, primary and natural. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted July 2015  @DomaineLaroche  @Select_Wines  @BIVBChablis

Chamisal Stainless Chardonnay 2014, Central Coast, California (416065, $24.95, WineAlign)

Quite classically cooled and unplugged yet intensely sunshine tangy. Fun yet on a seesaw of play and a boat on a rough sea up and down in balance. That is not to say that acidity does not exist but the tang is like heavy salad dressing, emulsified and sultry. No malolactic equates to green apples and blanched nuts, or those hulled direct from the tree. Texture is the thing, a child of crisp, cool fermentation. Freshness could use just a bit more ventilation. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted twice, June and July 2015  @ChamisalVyd  @LiffordON

Chamisal Estate Chardonnay 2013, Edna Valley, California (Agent, $24.95)

French oak (45 per cent) and (25 per cent) of it new mixed with (50 per cent) malo has created an herbal cream piqued by spice. It’s kind of a chewy Chardonnay, well-judged, blended and crafted with both stainless steel and wood ramifications in meld together mind. A true dichotomy of pleasures, green and red, old and new, yes and no. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted July 2015  @ChamisalVyd  @LiffordON

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay ‘Tradition’ 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $24.95)

From vines planted by soil guru Alain Sutre, two km’s from the lake, close to Green Lane. If you make a comparison to Bench sites, this is an understated, hyper elegant version of a Chardonnay. It’s an underdog, plain and simple. Sixteen months of élevage has raised a beautiful, bitter green dignity, pith nicety and polite terpenes. A child in many ways who’s offspring will only serve to honour the family name. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted June and July 2015  @QueylusVin  @LiffordON

Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2013, Margaret River, Western Australia (Agent, $25)

At a third of the cost of the Heytsbury, expectations for the Filius need not exceed prediction. Screw cap has sealed in reduction, sulphur and acidity so that upon liberation the wave of anxiety is nearly overwhelming. The Filius transmits waves of complexity, layers of predilection and outright Margaret River coolness but decanting that character is not unthinkable. Smoulder, struck match and green apple fruit are massively intertwined. Bold Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2015  @vassefelix  @bwwines

Jean Bourdy Côtes De Jura White 2008, Ac Jura, France (Agent, $28.00, WineAlign)

Tasting his Jura whites with Jean Bourdy can’t help but funnel the exercise into a tunnel, a vacuum and a bilateral directive inward and centripetal. Tradition is everything and this ’09 is neither the exception nor the anti-establishment rebel to the rule. Herbal balm and oxidized character persist but nowhere in the world can so much implosive energy exist in wine such as a Bourdy Jura. This vintage does not reinvent the oueille but the four fermenting years in oak, as per the centuries-old Côtes du Jura method seems to improve with the cleanliness of the process. Another white to follow well into the third decade of this century. Drink 2015-2035. Tasted July 2015  @CAVESJEANBOURDY  @LiffordON

Westcott Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

The 2012 early picked Reserve Chardonnay was the raw player, the talented yet unproven one, all about foreplay. Here in ’13, from fruit picked on October 7th is a different rock ‘n roll animal, wiser to vintage, mature in acumen, confident, a Ziggy Stardust. This charismatic leader of the Vinemount Ridge Chardonnay band, “could lick ’em by smiling, he could leave ’em to hang, came on so loaded man, well hung and snow white tan.” Works opulence with prejudice and here acts, sings, dances and displays equipped with nothing short of immediate distinction. There is nothing held back, no remedial work in progress and wisdom oozes beyond its years, in and of learning. The right time and the right place for the winemaker, the accomplice, the peer and the confidence of the partners. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted July 2015  @WestcottWines  @VWestcott

Westcott Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

What should small Vinemount Ridge yields, collected solar units and wise, thinking ahead of the curve decision making combine to procure? Grace under pressure. This is what winemaker Arthur Harder, proprietors Grant and Carolyn Westcott and Chardonnay have conspired to achieve out of the warm and challenging 2012 vintage. They picked in very early September. They laid the fruit down for 12 months in (four) 1st, 2nd and 3rd fill barrels. They sat back and waited for amalgamation. If 2012 shows this level of restraint, respect and reserve, well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is deserving of meritorious accolades at a very reasonable price. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of February 2014:

From vineyards planted in 2005, this new kid on the Jordan block spent 12 months in oak, half of it new. To a taster, you would never know it. In clone cousin to Le Clos Jordanne’s Chardonnay, this special project is the nephew of a set aside, four-barrel selection. Winemaker Arthur Harder (Calamus) has fashioned a head-turning clean, pure and most mineral-driven Chardonnay from impossibly young Vinemount Ridge vines. A quartz chord runs through it and with just two or three more years of vine age the fruit and adjoining texture will catch up to the rock. That integrated, subtle oak impart is of a Granny Smith apple kind, crisp and taut. Such a memorable inauguration with so much promise that lays ahead.

Last tasted July 2015

Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (529941, $29.95, WineAlign)

The omnipresent Escarpment stone etched, nicked and saturated into ferment from out of the Cave Spring Vineyard may never have extolled virtue any more so than out of the 2012 vintage. A tropical CSV and its accompanying mild, understated toast combs the faces for balance and bobs its keel in well-structured, puff pastry layering. A bitter sachet of schist on the back end steps into a really fine linger. CSV of real presence even in the midst of a summer swelter. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted twice, June and July 2015  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGro

Lailey Brickyard Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (2908, $30.20, WineAlign)

There are many variations on the Lailey Chardonnay theme but none speaks as clear a Brother Derek Barnett vernacular as the Brickyard, a wine composed in clarity of Niagara River fruit. The former cherry tree and yes, brickyard site is blessed with a red clay soil and Niagara micro-climate that just circulates with enunciated vowels, consonants and graceful intonations. That this seminal vintage will be Barnett’s Lailey swan song is not lost on gist or preponderancy. The full intention, weight and breadth of fruit circles the wagons, prepares the last supper and the silence that follows knows this. This winemaker and this Chardonnay work harder than a great bulk of the competition and in the end, they together are a seamless, relentless and unflappable study in cool climate success. This wine must hold a rightful place in every wine country Ontario inamorato cellar. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted July 2015  @LaileyWinery

Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania

Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania

Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2014, Tasmania, Australia (416339, $30.95, WineAlign)

Jeremy Dineen’s 2014 takes over the conversation at the precise moment the previous vintage left off, grabs attention and travels further along. With baton firmly in grasp, the ’14’s acidity dances in a filly’s realm, jittery, agitated, ready to jump out ahead of the pack. The citrus flavours are implosive, concentrated, in demand, distinctly Tasmanian. Though our time was short, to this Texas Tazzy I say, “we were together, I was blown away, just like paper from a fan.” If the ’13 was a creeping crooner, this ’14 is more a smoky-voiced songstress, trotting a longer track. It would be hard not to imagine seeing this Chardonnay as nearly unchanging in its first decade of life. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted July 2015  @JosefChromy  @bwwines

Gérard Bertrand Domaine De L’aigle Chardonnay 2013, Limoux, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (Agent, $33.00, WineAlign)

A purposed effort from 2013 with even more direct precision, spice, freshness and linear strike flurry. A vital Limoux, of higher yield, lowered oak and acidity defined simply as the real deal. A tremendously exceptional and experiential vintage and one to help define the true identity of cool Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted July 2015  @GBvins  @FwmWine  @LanguedocWines

Megan Clubb of L'ecole 41 Wines

Megan Clubb of L’ecole 41 Wines

L’ecole 41 Chardonnay 2013, Columbia Valley, Washington (416370, $34.95, WineAlign)

A co-composed 60 per cent Yakima Valley (planted in the 1970’s) and 40 per cent Evergreen (mineral slope) Chardonnay extensive and extended of orchard fruit with a penchant for texture. The house style reached for uniformity, employing mostly older barrels and laying out bed linens for a brief five-months slumber. Hear this though, the 41 is the sum of its parts and may sport a fat lip but it’s no “victim of your conformity.” Texture is the thing, a result of a warm vintage, cool Evergreen nights in the fall and rampant malolactic fermentation (despite attempts to block it). A Chardonnay “strollin’ to the party like (his) name is El ninio.” Arabesque weave and flavours that go punk and pop. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015  @lecole41  @TrialtoON  @WineCommission

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment Oliveira Vineyard 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $36.20, WineAlign)

If the 2011 Wild Ferment spoke in treble clef, this ’12 pounds out a deeply resonating bass note, from instruments wooden and speaking on behalf of the vintage. Deeply smoky, layered and rich beyond yeasty belief, this is a massively structured wine for Niagara, specific to the Lincoln Lakeshore and its ability to ripen fruit of such density. The tang factor is set to 12, above and beyond what winemaker Craig McDonald has reached for before. This vintage, surmised with such yeast, takes ’10, layers it with ’11 and pops out the most plush to date. Missing is the exceptional acidity of 2011 though the overall anatomy and architecture can’t be denied. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted July 2015

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (381699, $38.00, WineAlign)

The 2012 Felseck is a wine dramatically and diametrically opposed to many other vintages from out of this fundamental Hidden Bench vineyard. Here oozes Chardonnay so very lees layered, emulsified, misty-eyed and far from reductive, having left the 44 per cent new, 14 months in barrel behind. From fruit culled off of east-west Felseck rows in a hot year that saw fundamental leaf plucking/canopy management. The wondrous emotion is condensed in taste and texture, with the bitters turned up a notch, though in their finale they use spice to conjure up ardor, for to melt into length. Unwavering Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2015  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay ‘Reserve’ 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Agent, $39.95)

Winemaker Thomas Bachelder combed the blocks of the lowland “villages” sites and in slow-forward cohorts with the most subtle barrels, came up with the cuvée for the Reserve ’13. The same percentage of new oak fed the fruit with love, time, juncture and encouragement. A creamy lustre careens into honey, giving retrospective cue to suckle and accumulating richness. What fortune to work with 2013 for the purpose of announcing a Queylus take on tiers of Chardonnay to the world. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June and July 2015

Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (215210, $64.95, WineAlign)

If 2013 is turning out to be the first truly great Chardonnay vintage of the century out of Sonoma, the Flowers SC is categorically up front and centre in that discussion. The epic’s lead paragraph initializes here in a wine that is severely accurate, a blinding and gorgeous expression that brings the flowers in its game. A wield of pulchritude and balance by acidity spot on. Pure flavour extract expands and the components zing on the finish. Could there lurk a Meursault notion in its lace? You know what, forget that. Strike comparisons from the record. The Flowers is extraordinary of Chardonnay, by Chardonnay and for Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted July 2015  @FlowersWinery  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners

Taittinger Comtes De Champagne Blanc De Blancs Vintage Brut Champagne 2005, Champagne, France (Agent, $225.00, WineAlign)

From a warm vintage out of the top Grand Cru terroir of the Comptes. Essential white flower essence, pure driven snow and liquid chalk. Even though at this 10 year mark this is essentially a gift to assess, the Comtes is entirely approachable in requiem for no further delay. Plenty of energy drives the flavours straight to the back of the buds and were they to linger longer than they prolong to do, the wine would be an utter stroke of genius. As it is, that bench is nearly marked. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted July 2015  @Taittinger_FR  @TaittingerUSA  @FwmWine

Twenty-five previously reviewed Chardonnays poured at the 2015 Cool Chardonnay weekend:

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

Angels Gate Archangel Chardonnay 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (227009, $23.95, WineAlign)

Bachelder La Grande Châtelaine Côte De Beaune 2011, Ac Burgundy, France (332536, $37.95, WineAlign)  @Bachelder_wines  @liffordwine

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (VINTAGES Essential 302083, $29.95, WineAlign)

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

Bachelder Chardonnay Oregon 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA (273334, $29.95, WineAlign)

Bachelder Chardonnay Johnson Vineyard 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA (416644, $44.95, WineAlign)

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

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (681247, $18.95, WineAlign)  @Winemakersboots

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (1552, $24.95, WineAlign)

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (383315, $24.25, WineAlign)

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at Ridley College

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at Ridley College

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2013, Wo Hemel En Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa (931006, $37.95, WineAlign)  @OliveHR

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

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

Lailey Barrel Select Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $26.00, WineAlign)  @LaileyWinery

Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)  @LeClosJordanne

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Unfiltered 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)  @normhardie

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (303602, $38.00, WineAlign)  @PearlMorissette

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (303602, $38.00, WineAlign)

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario  (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)  @StratusWines

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (111989, $35.95, WineAlign)  @Tawse_Winery

Two Sisters Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $24.00, WineAlign)  @2SistersVine

Two Sisters Chardonnay 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Westcott Vineyards Lillia’s Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)  @WestcottWines

Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $26.00, WineAlign)

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14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 silent auction guitar signed by Canadian musicians

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 silent auction guitar signed by Canadian musicians

In 2013 the number chosen to highlight excellence in Canadian wine was 13. Symmetry and permutations with repetition are one thing, quality in winemaking is yet another. The expectation is fully understood that next year there will be 15 wines on the list. And so on and so forth.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

What force has thus far driven and will continue to drive the wines of Canada? By sifting through leads in geography, in the orientation of escarpments, mountains, rivers and valleys, in the gestalt of the archaeology of tomorrow, in the vineyard landscape of today, we can perchance unlock the riddle of the what and the why for varietal planting. The end game is to unlock the mystery within the puzzle of terroir, to figure out what grapes will thrive and where they can be given the best shot at success. It is not just about what happens beneath the soil, but also what happens above, around, beyond and in the minds of women and men.

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

Winery visits were numerous in 2014. Thanks must be dispatched to all who opened their doors, to those with established roots and to risk takers who through their new planting, began burrowing their own. Like Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario. Like Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Tastings that go beyond the pale shed new élevage and barrel light. The light shed by such practices was no more in evidence than at Tawse with Paul Pender and Norman Hardie, but also at Flat Rock Cellars with Jay Johnston and Ed Madronich.

Memories of 2014 lead to thoughts of Cuvée, the Expert’s Tasting and the Sparkling Wine Symposium at Brock University. Taste OntarioSomewhereness, County in the City. July visits to Niagara and Nova Scotia gave up 10,000 words of free-flowing wine-speak about the Cool Chardonnay conference and with Peter Gamble in the Gaspereau Valley.

There were a few wines that should have, would have and could have made the cut were there time, space and a better headline to write. Gray Monk Riesling 2012, Okanagan Valley at ($15.00, WineAlign) is the best value for the niche in B.C. This is old-school, west coast Riesling with attributes to reflect and look back on generations of acumen. Tawse Carly’s Block Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($31.95, WineAlign) forms a bridge and meets the twain, from atomic to tropic and was a NWAC14 Platinum Medal Winner.

La Face Cachée de la Pomme 2011 Neige Première Ice Pink Cider, Quebec ($22.95, WineAlignspeaks to me in waves of demonstrative, Floydian verse. There is Icewine on the bright side and then there is Iced Cider on la face cachée. Leaning Post Lowrey Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench ($38.00, WineAlign) though just recently re-tasted, was actually first assessed in November of 2013.

This list certainly concentrates on new releases, save for a few exceptions where older wines left a modern impression. Wines that found a way to break new ground also factored into the decisions. Here are the 14 Canadian wines tasted in 2014 that simply did it for me. Wines that are extensions of their maker’s personality, philosophy and temperament. Wines that are indicative of their terroir.

From left to right: Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013 , Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Merlot 2002

From left to right: Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013 , Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Merlot 2002

 

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

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

Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (578625, $19.95, WineAlign) From The Group of twelve, April 28, 2014

Just add three months and witness a new evolution, a density, from a honeyed thing. Entering a pre-adolescence with a new bounce in its step. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “A champion cyclone of forces combined to elevate the already incumbent position of this Twenty Mile Bench Riesling. An ideal growing season magnified transmission upon a paradigmatic two and a half-acre block. This southern-most and highest altitude section of Flat Rock’s vineyard rests aboard a solid bed of limestone and wake me up if that rock was not drawn up into the vines in this stellar Riesling vintage. Sure its warm and nearly off-dry but such an effortless squeeze of lemon hydrates and elevates orchard fruit and honey out of the year of the lemon. After each sip its “every time you kiss me, lemon crush.” Love this prince of a Twenty Mile white in 2012, the dynamism smiling on the tart, succulent fruit. The length is one of outright bravado. This will develop for 20 years, of that I am convinced. There is just so much fruit. A Nadja for the ages.”  Tasted April 2014  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, B.C. $20.90, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014

The purity of fruit in Blue Mountain’s Gamay is without question in a distinct class of the few and far between. Older barrels (four year-old, fifth fill) were used and the impart should not be dismissed. While quintessentially Okanagan Gamay, the fruit is elevated, lifted, ripe like warmer Cabernet (dare it be said) with more berry and Cassis-like aromas. The palate tension and round acidity bring Morgon to mind. Just a bit gamy on the back end, which is nice. Planning to drink this through the end of the decade would not be a mistake.  Tasted October 2014  @BlueMtnWinery

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 Cabernet Franc comes of age out of a preternatural and ontological perfect storm. Casts odds into the river of ideal weather, procures phenolic grape ripeness out of the vineyard, avoids the green and embraces the brown stems. Ferments under the natural eye of indigenous yeasts and settles into its silky skin at a low, low 10.8 per cent (give or take a lab sample) alcohol. Cabernet Franc of impossible soul, its “burden is the weight of a feather.” Pepper and currants are noted, tobacco and tomato are not. Comes “bearing a sword” but seduces with primal proclamations. Radical County red.  Tasted April 2014  @normhardie

Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $26.00, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014

High altitude expression from a vineyard perched atop a gravel bed, a rocky pool of stone that seems to toss-up pebbles at Sperling’s window to see if she would like to sneak away for a midnight drive. A crisp, clean and linear style, full of night-air freshness, white flowers and white fruit. This is undeniably picked early and ahead of any possible oxidative or overripe window, yet there is a rich quality about it that rages against the machine, calm like a bomb, “its narrative fearless.” Very mineral in its direct back and to the side of the mouth attack, full of salinity and lemon-lime acidity. Long, long Okanagan that will flesh with five years time. The slate bass line will soften, allowing the white fruit to further shine.  Tasted twice, May and July 2014  @SperlingVyds

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign) From Got two Chardonnays, June, Ivan and Picone, July 15, 2014

A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  Last tasted June 2014  @cbriesling

Pilliteri Estates Merlot Family Reserve 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71753, $39.95, WineAlign) From Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine, January 17, 2014

Served from Jeroboam, one of 23 produced and a testament to the precocious, facile touch of then winemaker Sue-Ann Staff. The extreme five litre format has certainly been kind to the hermetic 11-year slumber of this Merlot, as has the above average red Niagara growing season. Charlie pulled out this rare behemoth “for the special occasion” and despite and with thanks to the perfect vintage meets size storm, it has held up with dramatic fortitude. Unmistakably predicated Pillitteri chocolate perfume, brushed violet, mulberry and oven-warmed baking spice. Holding in sustained concentration, the toffee, caramel and umami of wizened, oxidized fruit not yet a twinkle in its soapy sandalwood eye. How could Sun-Ann have known what time-cheating lengths her Merlot would see to?   Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

From left to right: Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008

From left to right: Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008

 

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign) From Chardonnay is cool, July 9, 2014

Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.  Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (20906, $45.00, WineAlign) From A hip of wine at Hidden Bench

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

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, VQA Beamsville Bench (winery, $50, WineAlign) From When experts break wine together, March 4, 2014

Mind bending to taste a piece of recent history, a Riesling rooted in the rocks, blues and pop of the limestone, sandstone and shale Bench, but a wine also futuristic, distorted and soulful. From 25 plus year-old vines, this foxy lady has entered into true, secondary territory. She’s softened and her perfume is cast in vanilla butterscotch so much so she might mess with tasters’ minds in a flight of oaked Chardonnay. She’s “a cute little heartbreaker.”  Tasted March 2014  @CaveSpring

Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign) From The Stratus-Momofuku continuum, May 30, 2014

The declared alcohol on this is 14.6 per cent but to all of me, that is really hard to believe. Really elegant, 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly unabridged in phenolic ripeness but in such fine rhythm and blues. Were it a score it would be euphonious without encumbrance and void of splinters. The most subtle and gentle J-L Groux crafted red wine I’ve yet to encounter, with a back palate combination of mushroom and citrus to follow pure red fruit. Resoundingly circular with curves, no hard edges and “perfect imperfections.” This Cabernet goes at it with Graves character and poise. It will be a Niagara legend.  @StratusWines

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (34561, $65.00, WineAlign) From Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases November 4, 2014

Certainly plays the most hard to get of the ’11 Chardonnays of fruit so fine and pure. Layered like Phyllo or Puff pastry, gathered and set back upon itself. Gains traction and intensity through developed flavours and overlays of texture, both solid like shale and lacy like organza. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “From sandy loam and limestone soils, here is a Chardonnay that winemaker Sébastien Jacquey is looking to fashion with low PH and elevated tannin. A most commendable effort in the enigmatic ’11 vintage, clean, anything but lean and un-gassed by a jet engine’s aerified stream. Chardonnay running instead on the vineyard’s biofuel, a chalky lees and lime texture that turns green in a savoury way towards the back end. Full, rich, gaining in stature as it breathes, thinks and feels. Atop the green there is an ambrosial aroma and a honeyed sense of flesh. A wine of great respect and biodynamic energy.”  Last tasted October 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (46470, $65.00, WineAlign) From Up on Creekside Estates, April 14, 2014

Just 60-80 cases are made from the tips of the best barrels through a process that takes 56 months to complete. The secret ingredient is Sangiovese and bless the band‘s soul if the ferric, iron and animal musk is not attributed to the addition. This is a different kind of wine, with lees in the bottle, not unlike some big, bad Spanish wines. It’s ’07 and still reductive which makes it seem peculiarly modern (note, Spanish) but it’s really not. Despite the monster tannins, it “just gave my heart a throb to the bottom of my feet and I swore as I took another pull,” the Lost Barrel can’t be beat. Up on Creekside Estates.  Tasted March 2014  @CreeksideWine

Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, WineAlign) From Consider the Gaspereau Valley, October 1, 2014

The 2008 Brut Reserve is composed of 61 per cent Chardonnay and 39 Pinot Noir. If any wine in the Benjamin Bridge continuum defines the legacy left behind by Raphaël Brisebois and passes the sparkling torch to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, this ’08 is it. Here is the vintage that begins to emulate the grower’s Champagne of the motherland, in deeper learning, understanding and connection to the estate’s vineyards. At present this is such an infant, reductive and with a blowzy palate that suggests a fidgety, elemental state. The attack is in burgeoning mousse. After spitting, the wine persists, as if there remains a mouthful, causing the cheeks to expand. The citrus is weighty in texture and this ’08 goes deeper than the previous Brut reserves. Three years will be required to allow for a settling and 20 years lay further ahead for secondary, tertiary and quaternary development.  Tasted at the winery, July 2014  @Benjamin_Bridge

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Seven November VINTAGES releases from the Niagara homefront

Mid-November comfort food @MeatMeFoods ossein release beef stew and @WaniganFoods organic butternut squash

Mid-November comfort food
@MeatMeFoods ossein release beef stew and @WaniganFoods organic butternut squash

The November 22, 2014 VINTAGES release is nothing short of a massive, endless, meandering and long-winding road through holiday wines, spirits and the uncorking of the LCBO’s finest purchases. We’ll get to that later in the week. Today it’s all about local talent.

The vinous scriptures being written along the shores and up the rugged escarpments in Wine Country Ontario‘s acreage continues to scroll through back pages of wine making history and into the modern vernacular of consumer want. This release rolls out excellence in Sparkling, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, stoked and urged on across three of the four categories in representation by Tawse.

The iconic June’s Vineyard in the Creek Shores appellation ushers Riesling into the varietal mix at the hands of 13th Street, along with most righteous accents in Chardonnay by Fielding Estate, Pondview and Le Clos Jordanne. Here are seven new (and redux) releases to seek out this coming weekend.

From left to right: Tawse Spark Brut Sparkling 2012, 13th Street June's Vineyard Riesling 2012, Fielding Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2013, Pondview Bella Terra Chardonnay 2011, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, Tawse Chardonnay ‘Lenko Vineyard’ 2011, Tawse Laidlaw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010

From left to right: Tawse Spark Brut Sparkling 2012, 13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Fielding Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2013, Pondview Bella Terra Chardonnay 2011, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, Tawse Chardonnay ‘Lenko Vineyard’ 2011, Tawse Laidlaw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010

Tawse Spark Brut Sparkling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (404558, 375mL, $14.95, WineAlign)

All the elements in this second Tawse Brut Sparkling ring in stereo. A blend of Chardonnay (59 per cent), Pinot Noir (28) and Pinot Gris (13). The base wine acts as if drawn from prepped concrete with lees amplified and serious. Really expressive from this smaller format, wild, invigorating, if nothing like Champagne. Has boundless energy and a gregarious personality, along with really good length.  Tasted November 2014  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Related – Tawse Spark Blend 2012 (Winery, $24.95, 750 mL, WineAlign)

13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (147512, $19.95, WineAlign)

June, that special vineyard, can seemingly do know wrong and Jean-Pierre Colas has the utmost respect for what she will give. The Creek Shores puts fortified citrus shots into Riesling like no other sub-app in Niagara; it’s a bleed from rocks entrenched in heavy soil permanent and a preservation of juicy flesh. A warm June, here from the ’12 vintage to be sure but with texture and coating that is most gracious and layered. If this falls through your cracks then you are missing the Riesling boat. At 11.5 per cent it comes from early picked, acidity preserving fruit and yet it has already gained much flesh on and off the bone.  Tasted November 2014  @13thStreetWines

Fielding Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (355842, $21.95, WineAlign)

The signs have all been pointing to this moment, this 2013 Chardonnay of focus and restraint. A cover of a classic composition, like Beck doing Dylan, once so innovative and forward thinking it blew people’s mind. A new age Beamsville Bench Chardonnay by a contemporary winemaker (Richie Roberts) that stretches the boundaries without letting go of the past. Has all the hallmarks of the warmth, the exceptionality of Bench terroir tucked under shelf, in nook to the Escarpment, with just a kiss of oak and a slightly distorted hook. “You know it balances on your head, just like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine.” Persists with great length and stays secure, held together and stretched on. This is just right and is really the best you will find in the tween price range, over 20 and under 30. This Leopard-Skin Pillbox-Hat of a Chardonnay.  Tasted November 2014

 @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Pondview Bella Terra Chardonnay 2011, Barrel Fermented, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario (347922, $24.95, WineAlign)

Fred DiProfio’s Chardonnay is all in, fermented and aged in French, American and Hungarian barrels for 11 months. The question needs asking, for starters, why would anyone make a Chardonnay in Niagara at 14.1 per cent alcohol? The second question is how, in the challenging, cool 2011 vintage did this manage such a triumph? The aromatic headiness, level of richness, candied texture and far-away tropical flavours have been maximized. Bella is certainly elevated on the malo-tannic scale and though she may be gangling, awkward and steamy soupy, she’s a tall drink of Chardonnay. A huge Four Mile exhibit, so atypical of the vintage and should find a band of loyal followers, especially at the price.  Tasted November 2014  @pondviewwinery

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (33936, $30.00, WineAlign)

Another look, another point of pleasure. Fruit of the vine shines first, with elegance realized, while wood just plays its proper part. Vineyards combine in seamless, selfless and unselfish ways. From my earlier, June 2014 note: “Winemaker Sébastien Jacquey’s “entry-level” Chardonnay currently resides in a bitten and certainly not shy mode. The 2011 is a Villages Reserve that is in a bit of a purgatorial place at the moment, closed down since its grand opening last summer. The rocks are speaking, as is the hubris of wood, but the fruit is up there, wafting in the proverbial wind. Let it blow and gather atmosphere, to return two or three years on, to reintegrate with the earthly elements and reform a convivial bond.”  Last tasted November 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Tawse Chardonnay ‘Lenko Vineyard’ 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (344796, $44.95, WineAlign)

Reeking and rolling today, scraping the chalk board and taking more risks than before. Would expect you can hang on to this magnanimous behaviorist in Chardonnay attitude for five years and still not crack its shell. Wild man, unlike any other in the world of Tawse. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “The speed and the steel have slowed to yellow caution and the now honey-toned flesh has added more weight. There’s just something about Daniel Lenko at this juncture. From my earlier (tasted three times) July 2013 note: “From wiser men who’ve been through it all” is the kind of one-off we should all wish to re-visit in 10 years time. The study: Daniel Lenko’s fruit in the hands of winemaker Paul Pender out of a most confounding vintage. That 2011 in terms of Ontario Chardonnay strikes and speaks to me in tongues is no secret, so the Tawse treatment fascinates in ways to make me giddy. Tension and elasticity are present here in super-hyper Beamsville Bench concentration. Apples pile upon apples, in magnetic purée and layered maceration. A full-on body attack and phenolic structure will see this Lenko to a future (five to seven years) in grace and gorgeous line. A Chardonnay to “scheme the schemes, face the face.” Tasted three times.   @Tawse_Winery

Tawse Laidlaw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula (264796, $44.95, WineAlign)

The Laidlaw Vineyard is a warm and developing Pinot Noir, the soupiest, that is, in layer building, from mirepoix, with a solid stock base, simmering ossein releasing protein and a compliment of herbs and spices. The Vinemount Ridge can’t help but give this a mineral injection. Coated with sharp tannin and fierce acidity, long and with an enveloping, formidable tension. A bit of a rough mix, there can be little argument this will need a few more years to settle. Drink after 2018, when this baby will give it away for free. There’ll be “no better way to beat the blues.”  Tasted November 2014  @Paul_Pender

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Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases

Ontario Everbearing Strawberries

Ontario Everbearing Strawberries

Like the strawberry, yet on countless further levels, Ontario wines have elevated in quality with exponential consistency in recent times. I can remember rushing out to Simcoe County to pick strawberries in late June at Visser and Barrie Hill farms, only to see the season end as abruptly as it began, after just a few weeks of plump, flame-red, succulence. Times have changed. Like the plant belonging to the family of Fragaria genus, Ontario wines, across the board, have evolved. The Everbearing Strawberry can be picked well into the Fall. Was it not so long ago the consumer chose Ontario wines with sporadic indifference? To Japan, exports of Canadian wine have doubled in the last five years. This is no small feat and with thanks to an all Canadian wine store owned by Jamie Paquin called Heavenly Vines. Domestically speaking, purchases of local wine are as strong in October as they are in July. Times has changed.

Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality. I would not make the call that 2013 was a vintage of the decade but very good wines were made. There are no bad vintages in Ontario. That concept is mired in the pessimistic rhetoric of the past. The winemaking camaraderie excogitates to mature as one big happy guild in pursuit of the common good. Vintners are focused and intense; on terroir, micro-climate, canopy management, picking times, pure and clean fruit, élevage and on honest wine.

The industry is currently fixated on making great product. Whatever beefs critics and consumers have with varietal choices, marketing failures or suffocating consumer systems, what is happening in bottle is nothing short of brilliance. Morale is at an all-time high. How else to explain the ability to weather the storm of a brutal winter in 2014? Enzo Barresi of Colio Estates told me yesterday that he does not bemoan the loss of vines. Less Merlot? So what? The ability to make polished wines from other grape varieties replaces fear, dread and loathing. The same goes for Rosewood Estates. No more Sémillon? “What can you do.”  says Krystina Roman. Concentrate on excellence elsewhere. Soldier on.

The November 8th VINTAGES release coming up this weekend is a prime example of the strawberry in the room that is Niagara wine. I count no fewer than eight examples of an eminence front in output. From Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc to Chardonnay and from Pinot Noir to a Bordeaux-styled blend, these eight wines are elephantine examples of what Ontario does best.

From left to right: Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2013, The Foreign Affair Sauvignon Blanc Enchanted 2013, Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling Sparkling Wine 2012, Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012

Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)

The vintage delves into older school territory, elemental and elevated skywards, to atmosphere the Sheep has not recently climbed to. This airy void allows the Vineland rocks beneath to grind their way into all aspects of this Riesling. “Three bags full.” The lime rind and overall citrus circumvention brings the typical back to earth. This is a lean but fine Featherstone. Exemplary of the vintage, with plenty of wool.  Tasted October 2014  @featherstonewne

The Foreign Affair Sauvignon Blanc Enchanted 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (389767, $19.95, WineAlign)

Appassimento-style Sauvignon Blanc is both curious and an open target for accusations of vivid excesses. The detractor will look for swift “walls of insincerity,” the complimenter will say “I was enchanted to meet you.” Foreign Affair’s take has been injected with a cocktail of intensity; steroidal, hormonal and from concentrate. All the juicy orchard fruits are there; plum, apple, pear, nectarine, lemon, lime and grapefruit. This passes the appassimento SB test, if only and commodiously because it spreads fruit like confiture on warm toast.  Tasted October 2014  @wineaffair

Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling Sparkling Wine 2012, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (370361, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Spark’s fermented in the bottle, cheesy, leesy warm ’12 turn, like melted Fontina on Formica, does dissipate following a moment or two and a bubble-bursting swirl. To taste there is much to delight in this inaugural release. Like the days leading up to ripe picked pears and a squeeze of striking, tart lemon. Good persistence is crackling, misty and even mysterious. Sparks squeezed from frenetic rhythm.  Tasted October 2014  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

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

Shows its finesse from the start. Though today I sense a slightly candied nose it’s wrapped in a warm and fuzzy coat, gifted by the vintage but without heat. This may be the prettiest of Marlize’s (Estate) Chardonnay; enchanting, honeyed, floral. Yet there is a pulsating note, portending the time needed to bring this to an intended fruition. Stretches for conscious movement length. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “Yet rigid in its youth, the wood is not yet settled. Bottled in September of 2012, the ’12 will need every day of its first year to be ready, willing and able to please upon release. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Always aromatically embossed and texturally creamy, the Estate Chardonnay finds a way to elevate its game with each passing vintage. The uplifting elegance factor acquiesces the poise needed to battle the effects of ultra-ripe fruit out of a warm vintage. In ’12 the middle ground exchanges more pleasantries though the finale speaks in terse, toasted nut and piquant daikon terms. Not harshly or witchy, mind you, but effectively and within reason of the season. When you look in the window at Harald (proprietor Thiel) and Marlize’s (winemaker Beyers) Chardonnay, “you’ve got to pick up every stitch.”   Last tasted October 2014  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

From left to right: Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011

From left to right: Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011

Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (1560, $29.95, WineAlign)

Seven months have softened and mothered Gravity’s adolescence in ways to now see it as the most feminine, certainly of the last four vintages. Pretty dabs, perfumes of natural conditioning, warm days and warm nights in the bottle. More accessible than previous takes and of a new modernity perceived. Sweet dreams and sweet fragrances, roses and cinnamon, nothing fancy here mind you, with no bite and no gathering moss. Cherries and vanilla, lavender and simple pleasures. Straight up Gravity, no pull down, no drag and no excess weight. At $30 and from the best barrels, this trumps $40-50 most locales not called Lowery, La Petite Vineyard, Central Otago, Hengst or Pfinstberg. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “In a vintage potentially muddled by warmth and a humidor of radio frequency, duplicating berry phenolics, Flat Rock’s Gravity remains a definitive, signature house Pinot Noir. In 2011, the head of the FR class from its most expressive barrels shared the limelight (and top juice) with the Pond, Bruce and Summit one-offs. In ’12, Gravity’s sandbox was its own. The style is surely dark, extracted, black cherry bent, as per the vintage. Yet only the Rock’s soil does earth in this variegate, borne and elevated by the barrel’s grain. There are no fake plastic trees in a Flat Rock Pinot. “Gravity always wins.”  Last tasted October 2014  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (33894, $30.00, WineAlign)

A refined ’11 Pinot Noir, of combined vineyard fruit or not, this shows attention to clean, precise winemaking detail. Punches suffered during fermentation mean a fully healed wine in bottle. Good structure and grain in tannin with just a minor fleeting paint is only a fleeting reminder of previous VR’s. Sweet plum fruit, just ripe, skin cracking, flesh oozing and dripping of pure juice. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Something’s missing, or rather something is happening here. The LCJ omnipresent warm Pinot coat of harm is conspicuous in its absence, or has it been reigned in? This 2011 is so much more friendly, more soft-spoken, expertly judged and picked ripe fruit richer than before. Plenty of tang and tannin but the pronouncement is in a savoury basil/chervil kind of way. Not just another high made by just another crazy guy. A most excellent, bright, roxy Village Reserve, full of atmosphere and ambient music.”  Last tasted October 2014  @LeClosJordanne

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

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

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (34561, $65.00, WineAlign)

Certainly plays the most hard to get of the ’11 Chardonnays of fruit so fine and pure. Layered like Phyllo or Puff pastry, gathered and set back upon itself. Gains traction and intensity through developed flavours and overlays of texture, both solid like shale and lacy like organza. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “From sandy loam and limestone soils, here is a Chardonnay that winemaker Sébastien Jacquey is looking to fashion with low PH and elevated tannin. A most commendable effort in the enigmatic ’11 vintage, clean, anything but lean and un-gassed by a jet engine’s aerified stream. Chardonnay running instead on the vineyard’s biofuel, a chalky lees and lime texture that turns green in a savoury way towards the back end. Full, rich, gaining in stature as it breathes, thinks and feels. Atop the green there is an ambrosial aroma and a honeyed sense of flesh. A wine of great respect and biodynamic energy.”  Last tasted October 2014

Good to go!

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