What comes next for the wines of South Africa?

A deep dive into the wine regions of the Western Cape, chenin blanc, and a Buyers’ Guide to South African wines

This feature was commissioned by Wines of South Africa, as seen on WineAlign

 

Several years back I commented that “the act of intense immersion into any important wine-producing nation and its diverse regional expressions can only leave a lasting impression if the follow-up takes a long, cool sip of its meaning.”

That was just the beginning of what I hoped to be a life-lasting fascination with South African wine and, seven years later, I can safely say the journey is going very well, if still only in the early stages of deep understanding. Just about exactly two months from today I will return to the Western Cape to rekindle, reconnect and extend my relationship with South African winemakers and their fascinating wines. Curiosity, anticipation and excitement have never been greater and so the questions is worth asking: What comes next for the wines of South Africa? At current the only answer forthcoming is how Cape Wine 2022 will be the most lekker experience of the year.

In all their combined iterations, the wines of South Africa are exciting communicators of heritage, history, emotions and declarative attacks. Collectively they spread with ripples like a large rock dropped into a pool of water. They are the beneficiary of effects created by two oceans and the great ancient, preeminent, decomposed and weathered soils found anywhere on this planet. Maturity is breathed into every phrase these wines are wont to play.

Growing regions of the Western Cape

South Africa is a medium-sized country that would fit into Canada eight times. It has a diverse population of 58 million people and is affectionately known as the ‘Rainbow Nation,’ a phrase aptly coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Wine growing is limited to the southwestern region of South Africa, in the Western Cape Province, which is an area roughly the size of Greece. South Africa has been making wine for more than 360 years. The first grapes were pressed in 1659. The wines reflect the best of the old and the new; they present fruit-forward styles with elegance and finesse. The South African wine industry is one of the most technically advanced in the world of wine. There is an extremely rigorous Wine of Origin Certification Scheme, introduced in 1973, which guarantees that the wine is what it is designated or described. Each bottle carries a certification seal to guarantee that the claims regarding vintage, variety and origin on the packaging are true. South Africa has more certified Fairtrade wines than any other country. That is to say their products “guarantee a minimum price to cover the costs of sustainable production, as well as a premium to invest in social and economic initiatives in their communities.”

There are five officially demarcated regions of production — they are delineated based on the massive variations in soil, climate and location. The regions are: Breede River Valley, Coastal, Klein Karoo, Olifants River and Boberg. There is a commitment to environmentally sustainable wine production and wines can be certified by Sustainable Wine South Africa, which is part of the Wine and Spirit Board. The designation refers to grapes which are produced in harmony with nature, which allows vineyards to flourish alongside their natural habitat. The Biodiversity and Wine Initiative is a unique partnership between conservation bodies and the wine industry.

Cape Floral Kingdom – A World Heritage Site

More than 95 percent of the wine is produced in the Cape Floral Kingdom, where there are more than 10,000 indigenous plant species, more than reside in the entire Northern Hemisphere. This Kingdom has been created by a diversity of soils, produced from granite, sandstone and shale; as well as a diversity of climates and geography. This, in turn, has created a treasure trove of winemaking possibilities. As a result, South African wines have a huge array of flavour and aroma profiles, which lead to wines with intriguing character and drinkability.

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc

While so many grape varieties take hold with utmost promise in the Western Cape, there is but one that persists, unwavering and timeless. Yes, it is true that grape varieties such as grenache, cinsault, syrah, pinotage, sémillon and many others are apt at aligning with covenant to their old vine sources but there can be little argument against chenin blanc residing at the top of that list, Chenin is the greatest beneficiary of age, fortitude and focus as provided by the old vine experience. The list of Western Cape chenin sites from Stellenbosch, Swartland, Citrusdal Mountains, Darling, Hemel & Aarde Ridge, Breedekloof, Bot Rivier, Walker Bay, Cederberg, Paarl and Robertson, reads like a biblical scroll; Bottelary Hills, Granite Hill, Helderberg, Kapteinskloof, Kasteelberg, Paardeberg, Perdeberg, Riebeek-Kasteel and Skurfberg. The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, and can perform well in warm and dry conditions. The signature grape variety is South Africa’s golden ticket to global recognition and success. No other varietal message speaks with as much clarity and consistency than that of chenin blanc.

Stellenbosch vines and heritage vines planted in the 1970s and before are now performing at their best. Johan Reyneke speaks of the illness that had been running through South African soils and how he sought to build immunity and disease resistance through a holistic farming approach. Things did not transform overnight, so fathers and neighbours may have doubted the long, arduous and yet understood process. But it is that organic and sustainable approach for which today’s health and prosperity can be thanked. When it comes to searching for chenin blanc plant material, vineyard sourcing can be quite broad, of multifarious soil types and elevations, 40 to 50 year blocks on average, sometimes also including old vine sémillon. The distance from the first to the last vineyard in a chenin blanc cuvée might be 200 kilometres or more but, when brought together well, magic often happens.

Windy places help in so many respects, allowing a larger canopy to remain in place and exaggerate the dappling effect which chenin blanc so dearly loves. Reyneke’s is South Africa’s oldest Demeter-certified biodynamic winery, with vineyards on the top of an ancient granite mound and on less weathered soils lower in the valley floors. The vine struggle is real, a positive one for the wines and ultimately for wine lovers. Granite soils further up the Stellenbosch hills are less colluvial, really old and weathered, predating microbial life. The vines produce lower yields and the weathered earth gives life to chenin blanc. For Mullineux Wines and a Cape chenin blanc assemblage, it gives meaning to the gathered idea, like an AOC Chablis made by a houses in names of Fèvre, Drouhin, Moreau or La Chablisienne. Mullineux’s twist is the back blending with some old barrel ferments to balance new and “other” fruit components. A chenin blanc may be bottled the same year it was picked though that’s easier to do so in the southern hemisphere, where harvest happens in the first quarter months. The reasons are simple. Intense investigations through schist, granite and old vines floats the boat and raises the bar for more professional and accessible chenin blanc cuvées. With older heritage vines involved, as is the case for Chris and Suzaan Alheit, the concentration and density of the vines is inherent. The use of heritage material is the South African version of Atticism; that is a return to classical methods and rhythms in making really old chenin, but also the likes of sémillon.

Chardonnay vineyards in Robertson

Cap Classique

One of the sparkling wine world’s most important and impressive categories in origin is no longer called Méthode Cap Classique (MCC), but now Cap Classique. This South African term indicates a sparkling wine made in the traditional method (the same way Champagne is made), by which a secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle. As it stands, Cap Classique must age on the lees for a minimum 12 months to be labelled as such, though this number will surely extend once the realization sets in that more is better. Cap Classique produces some of the finest, most complex and diverse sparkling wines in the world. In Champagne the annual production is somewhere in the vicinity of 350 million bottles so compare this to South Africa where a fraction of that amount is released to the tune of seven or eight million. Méthode Cap Classique bottles are made by 100-odd producers, 73 of which are listed on the website for the Cap Classique Producers Association (CCPA), an organization established in 1992. The name was derived from the fact that the classic art of winemaking was introduced to the Cape by the French Huguenots, and the first bottle-fermented sparkling wine produced at the Cape was called Kaapse Vonkel (Cape Sparkle).

It’s also very much a wine about terroir. In Stellenbosch the sparkling is often made from early picked, old vines chenin blanc grown on Duplex soils, colluvial decomposed granite overlapping gravelly clay. Ask Ken Forrester and he will tell you the gravels allow for good draining and the clays deliver a time release of water. All this helps during drought and the restriction of water creates texture on the palate. There are pioneers like Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira who are attacking with Brut Zero style “based on the philosophy of grower’s Champagne.” For others, like For Christa Von La Chevallerie, it’s a matter of “how far I can go with [the combination of] chenin and lees.”

“We’re making wines that develop too quickly,” insists Paul Gerber of Le Lude. Gerber believes the minimum time on lees should be raised to 15 months. As for sugar dosage, he’s like a cook in the kitchen. “Dosage is like seasoning. If you do it properly you don’t taste it.” Ferreira has put in the time and the research over 20-plus years to really understand the category but, more importantly, the potential. “You are always looking to express terroir,” he says. As for Gerber, he will say “sparkling wine is not a terroir wine? Please. This is completely untrue.” “For Brut we have to extend [the lees aging time] to 60 months,” explains Ferreira. “So there is no lipstick or eye shadow. ”For a deeper dive into Cap Classique please read my article post Cape Wine 2018.

Bot Rivier 

Bot Rivier lies southeast of Cape Town, sandwiched from south to north between Hermanus and Stellenbosch. “From the top of the Houw Hoek Pass, one gets the first glimpse of the vast, rolling hills and big sky of the Bot River area, where real people make real wine.” This is the credo of the family of wineries that farm and produce in the area. There are 12 members of the wine-growing association, all within a 10 kilometre radius of one another. Here chenin blanc might be crafted with just a hint of residual sugar (at just above 5 g/L), to balance the effects of a long, slow, ocean-proximate Bot Rivier growing season.

Paul Cluver with Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc

Elgin

There is so much diversity in the Capelands. There are rock n’ roll stars in the Swartland, R & B, soul & Motown in Stellenbosch, Jazz in Elgin, Classical music wherever you want to hear it. But what there is everywhere is flow. Reggae flow, soulful Stevie Wonder flow, hip-hop flow, Stan Getz, Ahmad Jamal, Dexter Gordon flow. Elgin also has layering, in riesling, pinot noir and chardonnay. The wines glide with cool climate ease of ability, with an unconscious penning of notes coming from a place that was always there from the beginning, with a creativity that comes out of effortless style.

Elgin’s Paul Cluver seems to be the first to label his chardonnay with the Bourgogne “Villages” idea. This tells us much about what we need to know — that Elgin vineyards are the fruit source if not site specific or singularly focused. But he also finds precision with his Seven Flags and Close Encounter wines. The wines of Thelema (and Sutherland) do the same, curating classic Elgin cool savour running linear like a beam through the joist of structure.

The Helderberg, Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch in undoubtedly South Africa’s most well-known region and home to the eponymous town that is the country’s second-oldest town. It sits a mere 50 kilometres southeast of Cape Town, capital of the Western Cape. Stellenbosch is the lushest of the Cape’s valleys, home to more than 200 wine producers and surrounded by the Drakenstein and Stellenbosch mountains. False Bay acts as the mitigator of this Mediterranean climate, creating ideal wine-growing conditions where just about any sort of grape variety can achieve ripeness. The reds of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz predominate on the granite-based soils farther west, while chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc thrive in the sandstone soils of the east.

Swartland Independents

Swartland

The Swartland is Afrikaans for “Black Land,” so named because of the dark grey endemic renosterbos (rhinoceros bush) that covers the landscape and turns black after the rains. The region of the Western Cape begins some 50 kms north of Cape Town and consists of the area between the towns of Malmesbury to the south, Darling in the west and Piketberg in the north. Home to the Cape’s greatest of wine revolutions, followed by a swinging era — and what comes next is anybody’s guess. What we do know is that the Swartland’s decomposed shales and granites provide some of the most existential and powerful growing sites in all of South Africa.

Bush vines, Groot Drakenstein Mountains, Franschhoek, South Africa

Buyers’ Guide to Wines of South Africa

Over the past two months there have been several opportunities to taste a wide range of wines from South Africa. Andrea Mullineux came through Toronto to give a seminar on chenin blanc, VINTAGES has seen releases with a dozen various examples and the WineAlign team recently tasted a box of stunning values. Just last week I taught a seminar on South Africa and poured five seminal wines. Here is a Buyers’ Guide that includes chenin blanc, Cap Classique, Bot Rivier, Elgin, Stellenbosch, Swartland and the Western Cape.

Western Cape

Boschendal The Pavillion Chenin Blanc 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$13.35, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – Hard to knock the consistency but even more so the varietal representation and transparency of this perennial steal of a chenin blanc. Fruit that sings, bones that stand upright and just textural enough to make you feel like chenin can do no wrong.

Spier Signature Chardonnay 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$13.35, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits
Michael Godel – Labeled as Western Cape though kind of essentially Stellenbsoch from Spier in a chardonnay of green apple, dried herbs and lime. A hint of reduction and then bitters and while not fleshy this is surely satisfying.

Franschhoek Cellar Statue De Femme Sauvignon Blanc 2020, W.O. Western Cape
$16.99, Perigon Beverage Group
Michael Godel – Franschhoek does sauvignon very well, not as cool as say Elgin but surely (on average) more complex than Stellenbosch. Note the elongated phenols and terpenes in this most stimulating and succulent sauvignon blanc. Steal of a deal.

Alheit Vineyards Cartology Bush Vines 2019, W.O. Western Cape
$59.95, Groupe Soleil
Michael Godel –  Soil excellency layers in oscillations, waves and variegation in one of South Africa’s most curious to crafty blends in which chenin blanc is the focus to the core. You feel the sémillon, indeed you do because it streaks through the chenin, but not as a sprinter or a shooting star. Cartology is a correlated, traced and tabulated white blend that stands up to be counted.

Fairview Goats Do Roam Red 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$14.00, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Rhône blend based on syrah and the stylistic departure from the past to be über rich and dark is now more a matter of bright and effusive. Black fruit is now red, tar and tension given way to open and generous. Loving the modern acids, clarity, purity and simplicity.

Bot Rivier 

Beaumont Wines Chenin Blanc 2021, W.O. Bot Rivier
$29.95, The Small Winemakers Collection
Michael Godel – Hard to conceive and thus receive more aridity on the aromatics, surely flinty, part gun and part struck granite stone. Stretches this chenin blanc like the pull of elastics or fior di latte. Also herbal, sweetly so, with a chanterelle apricot note in the freshest of fungi specimens. Acids take over, spit and shine over this wise and elongated wine.

Elgin

Paul Cluver Village Elgin Chardonnay 2020, W.O. Elgin
$25.00, Buyers + Cellars Wine Purveyors
Michael Godel – Taut and tight, nicely reductive, orchard fruit focused with some bite and then a little bit of barrel smoulder. Not a smoky or toasty chardonnay but a balanced one with plenty of local, savour, savoir faire and flavour.

Stellenbosch

Ken Forrester Sparklehorse Cap Classique 2018, W.O. Stellenbosch
$29.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel –  This may just be Ken’s most phenolic sparkling wine to date, emitting as a combination of blanched nuts and precious metals. Spent eight months in fermentation followed by 28 further on lees, in bottle. Creates orchard fruit flavours and textures while acidity retention keeps the groove and the balance.

Radford Dale Vinum Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – There is a feeling of warmth in Radford Dale’s 2020, not boozy per se yet the feeling is like cold sake going down. Then it’s all roundness and creamy fruit, ease and utter culpability.

Reyneke Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$29.95, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Johan Reyneke’s chenin blanc is his and his alone, of South Africa’s first biodynamic winery and a level of say it as it is passion that can’t be touched. More like do as I do and Reyneke’s takes no liberties, asks no favours, gives and gives again. Spices and textural meanderings are concentrated and greater. An exotic notion as well, like ripe longan fruit and then a compound flavour profile going on forever.

De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019, W.O. Stellenbosch
$49.00, Family Wine Merchants
Michael Godel – A barrel fermented style that shows in a flinty, caramel and pineapple way, part Burgundy plus California yet all South Africa. Heeds the Reserve moniker well with buttery brioche richness and full sun gathered consciousness. This one is all in with an effect to invite a wide ranging if specific consumer response.

Boschendal 1685 Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – Big, dark, brooding, as much about place as it is about grape variety.What’s special is the equally grippy and forceful fruit, exaggerated because the acidity is like a reduction of black currant syrup. Sharp and soil rich this is a serious mouthful of cabernet, firm, tannic and in charge. Roasted herbs and grilled vegetable notes, and a ferric-sanguine quality that brings the BBQ braai to mind.

Warwick Professor Black Pitch Black 2017, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, NAVBEV INC
Michael Godel – Six grapes get together in Pitch Black, mostly made with cabernets with (13 per cent) cinsault, (10) merlot and then bits of malbec and petit verdot. Inky in feel if not pitch, tarry by natural nature if not by hue and also more Rhône meatiness then Bordeaux savour. A big, ferric and hematic example with strong bones and flesh all over.

Jordan Jardin The Long Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, W.O. Stellenbosch
$30.00, Kolonaki Group
Michael Godel – Straight faced and matter of fact, all things being true in a cabernet sauvignon that reeks of variety and subtlety in spite of the violence required to excavate and plant a vineyard. Don’t sleep on the tension and the structure in a wine of meaning, profound as it gets for Stellenbosch.

Aslina By Ntskiki Biyela Umsasane 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$35.00, Gradwell Wine Agency
Michael Godel – Ntsiki Biyela is officially recognized as South Africa’s first black female winemaker and the meaning in her Bordeaux styled Umsasane blend is local vernacular for the umbrella acacia tree. The brand is called Aslina, tribute to Ntsiki’s grandmother and one can feel the love in this richly styled, boozy in relative balance blend.

Swartland

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Swartland
$19.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – Essentially chenin blanc and an example that pulls the full blessings and richness of the sun into a generous and gracious wine. Kloof Street is chenin blanc of feel, touch and “tekstuur.” The old vines concentration and density is inherent, the “frâiche, agréable and couvert de rosée” all over the palate with license and privilege.

A.A. Badenhorst Family White Blend 2018, W.O. Swartland
$57.99, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – The adage bears repeating as recited by Adi Badenhorst. “Fantastic grapes from old vineyards,” in a jazz mixtronic blend of chenin blanc, roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, viognier, verdehlo, grenache gris, clairette blanche, sémillon and palomino. Yet another paradigm shift in Cape white appellative white blends that seduces with its steely veneer, vine experience and turbulent soul to deliver in every way imaginable.

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Granite 2019, W.O. Swartland
$79.00, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – All barrel fermented in only neutral oak, full malo and with the intention to truly experience and taste chenin blanc grown on granite soils. A wine kickstarted by natural stabilization, equally expressive of tart acidity and freshness, fully reasoned by sunshine yet also seasoned with effortless and variegate ease.  Such an experienced and robust wine without solicitation, nor swagger neither. The ability, presence and precision are tops. There’s no question.

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2021, W.O. Swartland
$16.95, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Unmistakable syrah from the Boekenhoutskloof clan, always the meatiest and meat fats dripping example for the price. That and a profile more Swartland than what comes from say Stellenbosch syrah.

Good to go!

godello

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WineAlign

Twenty-one Canadian wines that rocked in 2021

Another year comes to a close, one filled with the dark moments and the light, the romantic entanglements and debacles, highs and lows. In life, love and wine, here with any reference to a gesture, gaze, smile or any other sensory reaction coming from an account of someone who witnessed it. In this particular case that would be Godello and much of what he saw and heard included odd little episodes that reveal how grapes really lived under the conditions of not only this vintage, but also the ones that came before. This ninth edition of 21 Canadian wines that rocked in 2021 comes out as a derivative, spin-off and postscript to all of this.

Godello in the Similkameen Valley

Related – Twenty Canadian wines that rocked in 2020

As a reminder, year-end lists are a matter of personal fascination and should be met with a certain level of judgement so that highly subjective descriptors such as “best” or “most” can be consumed with doubt, thoughts askance and even heated moments of disbelief. That which makes us feel moved, stirred, excited, ignited and set aflame could very well be someone else’s nothingness. Classification, indexing and charting is truly personal and as such opens up wide for criticism and hopefully, healthy debate. So keep it real but also civil, if you please.

Related – Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

If we thought the 12 months that made up the 2020 calendar took things deep into the arena of the unfathomable and the absurd, then 2021 left the stadium and flew into the stratosphere of the preposterous. One silly year led to another but this one just seems to be concluding with some sort of level best described as fraught with “Vonnegutian violence.” Thank goodness there is Canadian wine to fall back onto and though it has been said before, this was indeed the very best year for the local stuff. A 2021 from which the highest to date level of greatness was achieved. Though these holidays are bittersweet and conditioned with some great unknowns, take solace in Canadian wine and what can be learned from their progression, evolution and continued excellence. They never give in or up but always strive forward, getting better all the time. To quote and then paraphrase from Britt Daniel and his band Spoon, “when you think your thoughts be sure that they are sweet ones. Don’t you know, love, you’re alright…don’t you know your (glass) awaits and now it’s time for (tasting).”

Related – Godello’s 24-hour Nova Scotia revival

This latest rocking roster of Canadian made wine is now the ninth annual for an exercise that first began back in 2013. When 2022 comes to a close the 10th will come to fruition in print, with 22 of Canada’s best laid to order. In 2021 Canadian wines were made available at every turn, especially at the WineAlign tasting table. In July the WineAlign critics’ crü took in Niagara for a pseudo-i4C 2021 Cool Chardonnay weekend. Godello made his own way to Nova Scotia in September to meet with and taste alongside eight of that province’s great winemaking teams. In October the WineAlign judging cartel sat through more than 2,000 entries at the National Wine Awards of Canada in the Okanagan Valley. Events such as the VQA Oyster competition, Somewhereness and Terroir Symposium were still no shows, or gos, nor walk-around tastings neither. Once again sad to miss Tony Aspler’s Ontario Wine Awards and David Lawrason’s Great Canadian Kitchen Party, the artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates. Here’s to hoping 2022 will finally usher in a return to assessing and celebrating together.

Related – Niagara’s cool for chards

As per previous incarnations of this annual compendium, “the numbers chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine continue to march ahead, as promised by the annual billing. In 2019 the list counted 19. In 2018 there were 18 and in 2017, 17 noted. In 2016 that meant 16 and 15 for 2015, just as in 2014 the filtered list showed 14, after  13 for 2013. Last year? You would be correct if you guessed 20. “Whence comes the sense of wonder we perceive when we encounter certain bottles of art?” Note that a third of the 21 most exciting Canadian wines of 2021 are in sparkling form. Does that need to be qualified? Of course not. Godello gives you twenty-one Canadian wines that rocked in 2021.

13th Street Premier Cuvée Sparkling 2015, Traditional Method, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Racy sparkling wine of traditional ways, dry, toasty and of great vigour. Top notch autolysis, fine lees and guesses to the end would have to be in the 48-plus month arena. The real deal, richly rendered, acids in charge, instructive and carrying the fruit to the mountain’s peak. Hard to top this in Canada. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noir 2013, Nova Scotia

While Ben Swetnam had wanted to dabble in sparkling going back to 2009 he can thank everyone in the Nova Scotia industry for showing him the ropes. That includes Gina Haverstock at Gaspereau, Bruce Ewart at L’Acadie, Simon Rafuse at Blomidon, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers at Benjamin Bridge and others. The 2011 would have been the first vintage of pinot noir production with the intent of making sparkling wine, of hot to cool years and all others in between. Dijon clones and a warmer edge of a ’13 season, a riper style but brought in at classic sparkling numbers, acids 11-12.5 and brix 17-19, picking in the third week of October. An early vintage. Intensity meets richness halfway there, fruit flavours are exceptional, just shy of eight years on lees, disgorged three months ago. “For the pinot I always wanted to do a minimum five years and the acidity was always there,” tells Ben. “The tertiary qualities were not out yet so the pause every six months kept the decisions at bay.” Got this apricot chanterelle fungi character, mousse and bubble are really in tact, dosage is 7.5 g/L almost fully hidden by that Nova Scotia acidity. There is something about this sight that maintains higher acidity levels while sugars rise but as an example perhaps it’s the gypsum based soil underneath the whole vineyard, or the tidal rivers and the specific diurnal fluctuations, cooler at night and “it’s something we can always rely on, in every year, that backbone of acidity.” So very Nova Scotia. Usually 500 bottles produced per year. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut Rosé 2017, Nova Scotia

One of the first wines to come to the surface with Pascal Agrapart’s involvement with winemakers Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Alex Morozov. When tasted the sentiment was that this particular vintage of this very particular sparkling wine was not yet there yet in terms of readiness or rather publicizing but truth be told, never have texture and acids come together as one in a BB Rosé. Crunch and chew, riff and rise, bellow and beauty, all despite the spiralling zeitgeist that underscores its urgency. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Blomidon Estate Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noirs 2016, Nova Scotia

Give or take 76 per cent pinot noir and 24 meunier, a similar vintage to 2015 (though a touch warmer) and here picked on the 17th of November. Almost all from Woodside Vineyard and some meunier off of the Blomidon estate vines, no longer here. Disgorged today, yes today and my oh my the potential here elevates to a very high ceiling. Just under 6 g/L RS so exactly extra brut, really primary but with the dosage that will arrive before you know it. The pinot delivers more fruit than the chardonnay, perhaps a counterintuitive concept but that’s Nova Scotia. And every vintage will flip the head and make you think again. Small lot, 50 cases or so. Searing succulence, a structural richness and transformative beyond the complex, curious and interesting. Assiduous if conceited blanc de noirs, pejorative to chardonnay, entangled inside enigma, mystery and riddle. Literally. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Blue Mountain Blanc De Blancs R.D. 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

A varietal estate grown chardonnay that spent upwards of 78 months sur lie is nothing short of dramatic, if not unconscionable. Not that no one else, anywhere else does such a thing but to do so, change so little and deliver unquestionable excellence is what dreams, expression and delivery are all about. If the Brut Reserve is Fillmore East than this Blanc de Blancs is Montreux, electric, mind-bending and so very exotique. João Gilberto, Marvin Gaye and Lou Reed wrapped into one, a sparkling wine of influence that only incidentally expands into mainstream visibility. This has stage presence and breaks fresh ground with creative sensibility, not to mention a deliciousness of flavour and mousse. That and 2012 in pocket permanently affixed to to the album cover. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted March 2021

Henry Of Pelham Estate Winery Cuvée Catharine Centenary Estate Blanc De Blanc 2010, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario

As a reminder this top H of P traditional method sparkling wine is named after Catharine Smith, Henry of Pelham’s wife and this Centenary is the crème de la crème for the label. A rarity for the estate and for Canadian wine, partially (20 per cent) barrel fermented and aged for up to 100 months on the lees. All Short Hills Bench chardonnay, all in with a hyperbole of toasty development and the most brûlée of any bubble in the village. The sparkling stage presence and prescience of being so connected to grape and place make this true to itself. Not to be missed. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted December 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut Estate Méthode Traditionelle 2014, Nova Scotia

Was embargoed until September 9th after having just received the Lieutenant Governor Award. Has evolved into a seriously toasted arena, gone long with lees contact, looking for peaceful co-existence between yeast autolysis and the fruit of the wine. “You don’t want conflict, you want that harmony, tells Bruce Ewart.” Disgorged January 2021 and so spent more than the minimum five years on lees. An insignificant dosage (more than most of these wines). Bruce’s program goes at it in terms of two and five year aging and he believes that while Nova Scotia can do ten or more there is only a minor incremental increase in complexity by doing so. This at six-plus has hit such a sweet spot, still in retention of currant and white/red berry fruit but also low and slow golden, tanned and long as an August afternoon Gaspereau shadow. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Two Sisters Blanc De Franc 2018, VQA Niagara River, Ontario

Stellar work here in blanc de franc, understated and effusive, lifted of black currants and sweet pepperoncini yet grounded by serious grape tannin. A sparkling wine of grape extract so full of depth and breadth. Not a wine of high autolysis but rather tart, tight and in command of all it wants to be. Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021.

The third vintage of Adam Pearce’s ground-breaking Blanc de Franc is as you would imagine a white sparkling wine made from the red cabernet franc grape. The aromas are distinct and secure, squarely wrested from the red currant and sweet peppery varietal post, expressed in a uniquely Two Sisters bubble that may once again, or rather should continue to rock one’s world. More richness and also excitement than ever before, risk taken and reward achieved. No acquiescence, no adjacent meanders but head down, goal in sight and hurdles overcome. At the end of the day this is one of the most impressive and essential wines made in Ontario. Nova Scotia is on the franc idea and others locally are beginning to follow. Autolytic and delicious, on point and regal. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario

From vines planted by proprietor Martin Malivoire “close to home” in what is the eponymous vineyard. Moira is a Beamsville Bench icon and has been for quite some time now, without question, nothing to discuss here, case closed. There is a complex and layered developed notation that Vivant does not have, not fort better or worse but Moira requires more thought and consternation. You can no longer think on it in terms of salinity, sapidity and satisfaction. Something more and other must be considered. Style. Style is what separates Moira from most other Ontario Rosé and in 2020 it exudes with prejudice and finesse. When a sip of a wine in this category stays with you for as long as Moira does, well you just know greatness is in the glass. This can saunter with the very best of Southern France. That’s the truth. Kudos to winemaker Shiraz Mottiar for this. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted April 2021

Martin’s Lane Riesling Fritzi’s Vineyard 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Shane Munn’s riesling from the volcanic, clay and white quarts Fritzi’s Vineyard continues to get better, all the while with a wine he seems to do less and less to try and control. Must be the place and the fruit from this 21 year-old block (as of this 2018 vintage) seeking a 48 hour skin-contact for oxidatively handled juice. Pressed once, lightly and so softly treated, then transferred to German casks where it stays for up to eight months. Just bloody delicious, hard to not conjure a frothie for this freshest of phenolic rieslings, which incidentally was only sulphured once, four months into the trek. Walks about from grippy to lovely and back again, with silk stops along the way. Will shine brightest two years from now. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted twice, October and December 2021

A really creative sémillon, rich, creamy and fulsome which is classic Mt. Boucherie while never abandoning the grape’s pointed and intense linearity. Hard not to be impressed by the soil intendment and how it creates a backbone in the wine, beyond acidity and into something sarsen-like, upright, timeless, forever. Plenty of grip, essential elements, minerals and metallics. Keeps the sémillon sensibility alive of an unconquerable nature, varietal invictus, solid construct but with more than ample fruit. Convincing follow-up to 2019 and really quite on par in every respect. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2019, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario

Notable reduction marks South Clos’ youthful entry and with that first nose in the glass we are put on immediate notice that 2019 will be a structured year for winemaker Keith Tyers’ and Closson Chase’s chardonnay. This and the following vintage will trade blows for bragging rights, longevity and excellence, so pay attention to this pool of varietal estate wines. That is something CC so generously affords their customers. Here at the top level the fruit is glorious, pristine, pure and cut by diamond clarity. The reduction flies away and a nose of marzipan, lemon preserve and a fresh bitten Ida Red apple come away from the vineyard. Acids here are tight, crunchy, friable, felt from the tongue’s tip to the wisdoms. The liquidity is so finely chalky with all signs pointing to spirit and balance with that ’19 crop of South Clos fruit at the core. Does not get much better from PEC, Ontario or Canada. Anywhere. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. No stirring, “I don’t like bâtonnage,” tells winemaker Jay Johnston, “unless I’m trying to get a wine to dry.” Never mind the lees aeration or the emulsification because texture in this ’19 is extraordinary to behold, gliding across the palate with Bench orchard fruit cleverness, penetrating perspicacity and juices running through unblemished flesh. Tighter and taut than ’18, while seemingly improbable but here yet unwound, far from the pinnacle at which point full expression will surely ache to be. The ’18 may be a beautiful thing but the ’19 is structured, manifold in destiny and ideal for those who know, or at least think they do. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted July 2021

Lightfoot And Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2018, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia

Frost year for the valley but again an escape by the vines at Lightfoot & Wolfville with thanks to the tidal influence to keep the chardonnay vines happy, healthy and secure. So much fruit and warm summer sunshine, a glade bathed in light and a luminescence rarely found in chardonnay. Consistent L & W elévage, increasingly into puncheons and away from 225L barriques. You can never forget and not remember what chardonnay has done for L & W, while now the richness and restraint work in optimized tandem. Less reductive than previous incantations, with new and improved connotations, consistencies and harmonic sway. Also a matter of vintage and cooperage. Stability is the key to being great. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Westcott Reserve Chardonnay 2020, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario

Almost seems redundant to say anything about the Reserve from 2020 because what more is there that was not already expounded upon from the Estate chardonnay. Same soft entry, slow developing charm, fruit neither richest nor gregarious but yet in Reserve truly ideal, less variegated and hinting at opulence. That is the crux and the key, hints, in shadows, speculations, possibilities and in Reserve form most surely probabilities. Elevates the crisp crunch and gets real trenchant with the pulverulent and tactile sensations. Seriously credible, professional and still emotive work here from Westcott at the pinnacle of Vinemount Ridge, but also Bench and Escarpment chardonnay. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2021

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

Bachelder Bai Xu Gamay Noir Niagara Cru 2019, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario

Bai Xu is unique within the Bachelder gamay domain encompassing whole cluster ferments and cru investigations. It reminds us all that time and patience are a must, an academic approach is not enough and one must follow their intuition, instinct and heart to deliver appreciated wine. In Niagara the philosophy has merged with gamay in ways the monk could never have known were possible. Here 20 per cent whole cluster may be less than the 22 and 52 crus, but this is a broader matter and one that fruits beyond the Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard. In a sense, a villages-plus wine (think Côte d’Or) but as a conceptual one. The clarity and slow release of flavour in Bai Xu happens without power, grip or forceful intent. The acidity neither startles nor does it cry out, but instead acts as architect for the infrastructure and the mosaic. Bai (it is presumed) from a Chinese language, meaning “pure,” (depending on the dialect and vowel’s accent) and Xu, “slowly, calmly.” Thomas Bachelder is surely looking for the chaste gamay, unadulterated and one that rushes nowhere, takes the slow and winding path, feet securely on solid ground. More than anything else, this gamay cru won’t chase after what it thinks may make us happy or search for things that deliver one and done, immediate and short-lived excitement. As another one of nature’s mysterious constructs the captured poise and effect make cause for great delight. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted June 2021

Cloudsley Cellars Cuesta Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Cuesta as a vineyard has more history behind it than one might have assumed, having been planted back in 2002. Adam Lowy has made 65 cases from Cuesta’s deeply resonant and soulful fruit, so as a consequence given it more new oak (28 per cent) than any of his other three single-vineyard pinot noirs. Clearly the brightest, most tonally effusive and transparent of the quadrangle, as Burgundian as it gets when it comes to mapping or contemplating the connectivity with the mothership. Just a lovely, elegant and sweet-scented pinot noir, classically arranged, scientifically opined and romantically delivered by Lowy’s prudent if so very hopeful elévage. The Côtes de Nuits notation is clearly defined, intuited and understood. Not quite but resembling Marsannay, or perhaps even something just a plot or three further south. Cuesta conduits as the “Robbinsian” one for which “the scientist keeps the romantic honest and the romantic keeps the scientist human.” Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Checkmate Silent Bishop Merlot 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

One of four Checkmate merlots, regional expressions, here a blend of three benches, Osoyoos West, Oliver North and Golden Mile. A Silent Bishop and a merlot are more powerful than those who speak and their ordinations may also be called consecrations. Here the silent 2015 is one that is dedicated, coordinated, devoted and sacred to proprietors, winemaker and place. When a merlot is silent it moves in dynamic tactical effect and like the bishop moving on a position, does not capture or attack an enemy piece. Truth be told this is a stealth merlot, of fruit so dark and mysterious, of structure hidden, enigmatic and prepared to go the distance. Such an efficient wine and the kind to cause a ripple effect. Taste this and you too will want to pursue making profound Okanagan merlot, an endeavour as frustrating as it can be elusive. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted June 2021

La Stella Maestoso “Solo Merlot” 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The decision whether to listen to Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 or Handel’s Allegro Maestoso (Water Music Suite 2) while tasting and sipping through La Stella’s “Solo” merlot is a difficult one. Less obvious than it might seem and the question is which piece best exemplifies “the highest peak in the crescendo, that moment of realizing you are in the presence of majesty.” Both, to be fair and so I find myself in good ears, and taste by the triad grace of Chopin, Handel and La Stella hands. Let’s revise to encompass all three, in decadence, rolling rhythm and Okanagan Valley merlot-defining precociousness come crashing onto a shore of strings. This is where the maestroso moment happens, in cumulative fruit substance joined by fine acid intensity, wrapped up in structural soundness. All this after a great deal of strong tempo variations which are prominent features in this Severine Pinte interpretation. The instruments are Glacio Fluvial and Fluvial Fan; Clay and Gravel mix, Alluvial deposit and Clay, playing in the orchestra of Osoyoos Lake District and Golden Mile. Support from the Okanagan’s best, written as a top merlot composition and executed flawlessly by the winemaking team. Bravissimo. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted May 2021

Phantom Creek Phantom Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Two weeks later than the usual norm defined the 2017 spring but hot and dry summer weather confirmed the intensity of Phantom Creek Vineyard’s southern Okanagan growing season. The cabernet sauvignon grows on the lower terrace of the Black Sage Bench’s Osoyoos sandy loam and it has been approximately 15 years that these vines have been fostering these wines. Magnanimously ripe and conspicuously copious fruit sees the unabashed generosity of (75 per cent new) French wood in a bone dry, healthy acidity endowed and elevated pH cabernet. This is essential edging up and into quintessential Okanagan varietal chattel, a wine of substance, grip and winched binding, oozing with expensive taste, fine dark chocolate and a depth of fruit that aches to be heard. That will have to wait and so should you because the structural parsimony will need three years or more to release and allow for stretching and breathing room. A prouheze as they say. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted May 2021

Stag’s Hollow Syrah 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Roes floral, elegant, ethereal, really effusive and just lovely stuff. Nothing remotely over the top, no blow to the head nor a crashing upon the senses. Sweet acids and silky tannins are the finality in what is clearly generated to conclude upon the notion of a very great wine. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Wines in the Similkameen they are, sometimes they blow my mind

Ben in back, Goode standing tall

Last month the WineAlign judges spent an evening under the Similkameen Valley stars against a rugged mountain backdrop of glacial rock formation, the vineyards quiet, their fall foliage bright at dusk above stony, gravelly, and silty loam soil. The pizza oven was firing and the Similkameen growers hosted our motley crew with wines pouring all night long.

Similkameen Valley

Related – WineAlign Nationals meet the Iconic Wineries of B.C.

These are the facts. The Similkameen Valley lies west of Osoyoos with the majority of vineyards located around Cawston and Keremeos. Significant winds help naturally keep vineyards in this arid valley free of pests and disease, making this region well-suited for organic farming. Due to the steep surrounding mountains, and the reflectivity of the rock, heat remains in the valley long after the sun sets. Did I mention how beautiful a place this is?

WineAlign judges Janet Dorozynski, Michaela Morris and Michelle Bouffard

Our hosts were the owners of Crowsnest Vineyards, a Cawston property purchased by the Heinecke family in 1985 and named after the Crowsnest Highway #3. The family was an early contributor to the development of the Similkameen wine region, led by  second generation family siblings Sascha and Anna Heinecke. Here are 12 wines tasted that evening.

Clos Du Soleil Winemaker’s Series Pinot Blanc Middle Bench Vineyard 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Pointed and punchy pinot blanc, stone fruit with a verdant piquancy. Not exactly edgy but crisp, quite precise and yes, surely punchy. Early picked acids maintain freshness and this is nothing but bloody delicious. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Wines in the Similkameen they are, sometimes they blow my mind

Clos Du Soleil Capella 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

From the Upper Bench of the South Similkameen Valley and winemaker Michael Clarke’s signature Bordeaux-inspired white blend of sauvignon blanc and sémillon. Knowing the maker’s education and professional past one might look at this Capella as a branch of blancs that employs mathematical models and abstractions of physical objects and systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. In other words Capella a.k.a. the brightest star in the constellation of Auriga, presents a case of two complimentary grape varieties made profound by the abstractions of soil, gently inclined land and the reflectivity of mountain rock. These building blocks of terroir and warmth may be real but it is the philosophies and methodologies of growing and winemaking that allows us to vindicate the greatness in this 2020. A virtuoso deportment of fine salinity and truffled perfume speaks in subtle Similkameen tones and a light touch is noted by both délestage and elévage restraint. This pure citrus distillate is sharp and pointed but then come the poignant flavours. Like the assyrtiko of the Similkameen with Bordeaux structure. Theoretical and physical, void of experimental tools and yes, c’est bon. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Vines in the Similkameen

Corcelettes Micro Lot Series Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Fulsome, not bullish, cream centred and with exteriors all bite and wood spice. Almost too youthful still, previously misunderstood, not yet in full perfume bloom. Hinting at what’s coming, tree fruit part orchard and part tropical but no bloody pineapple. Chard of interest.  Last tasted October 2021

Part of the Micro Lot Series and a cool to gelid chardonnay well into the yogurt and lemon curd with finishing almond flavours. Texturally speaking there is flesh and fluidity in a Similkameen chardonnay that receives much barrel addendum. Silky and creamy, all about mouthfeel and development. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Brad Royale and Crowsnest Gourd

Crowsnest Family Reserve Chardonnay Stahltank 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Stahltank as in stainless steel fermentation for full retention of freshness, which this energetic 2020 shows, but also big and substantial fruit. Crowsnest Vineyards is located near Cawston in the Similkameen Valley and chardonnay is clearly a specialty. Soft, creamy and devoted, available and amenable. Subtle spice, crafty and just crisp enough to remind of the fresh intendment and lively persistence. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Hugging Tree Moonchild Merlot 2016, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Solid merlot in many respects, rich and caky, thick and chock full of ripe fruit. Edgy as needed, split by a streak of right proper greenness and out of a quality vintage. Steeping in acids and tannins running down grain for a result that has and will continue to please for a few years yet to come.  Drink 2021-2023. Tasted October 2021

Orofino Riesling Hendsbee Vineyard 2018, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Made from the other Alsatian Clone (as opposed to the oft employed 49) from the 2006 planted vineyard by Cheryl and Lee Hendsbee adjacent to and with great soil similarities to Orofino’s home block on the Cawston Bench. A place of rich caky soil atop gravel and river rock for 100 feet. Prudent to experience this with some but not too much age and the hope is to have an experiential moment, say one or two years forward to do so again. Just now moving into some development, a secondary dance step, trip of the tongue, coupling fruit and mineral salts. Quite dry with elevated but knowing and promising acidity. At present a true matter of delight mixed with complex notions in this time of emerging secondary emotions. The appendages work together, in rhythm and forward motion. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Orofino Gamay 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

So bloody primary, a fresh smack of Similkameen juice, a touch turbid and seemingly not quite at the curtain call of its final act towards being a finished wine. Still swimming in carbonic waters, openly fragrant and inviting. A squeeze of blood orange and tart edging while in full control to effect positively on the palate. You think it might turn botanical or volatile but it never does, instead staying a fruit persistent course. Can see this being underestimated when in fact it is simply a joy to drink. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Orofino Wild Ferment Syrah 2014, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

A well developed smoulder, purely be variety and place, not by wood. Still persistently and openly fragrant, earth, brush, flora and fruit intertwined as one in a syrah of end game integration. What was once folds, waves and shadows is now seamlessness, inertia and assimilation. Orofino’s WFS resides in a place of great comfort and equally important regard. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Robin Ridge Winery Gamay 2016, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Has advanced well into the denouement of its life with fruit persistently black of cherry and what tannins there ever were have melted into a glass darkly. Even the acids wane, effecting little to no meaning at this stage. Drinks quite well actually if showing signs of imminence. Nothing wrong about a glass with a good slice of pizza on a cool Similkameen night. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted October 2021

Seven Stones Speaking Rock Estate Chardonnay 2015, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Reductive even after all this time, spicy chardonnay chai and wasabi spiced though still some juicy fruit. Showing well for its age, far from oxidative, of clotted cream and some drying to desiccating flavours. Lemon namely and a dollop of that cream. Fully developed and soon to finish all the softening. A lovely drop at this moment. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted October 2021

Vanessa Vineyard Syrah 2018, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Quite a big syrah expression while balanced and showing an ease with which it carries itself this way. Maintains composure and control in the face of a deep and hematic meatiness, high-toned culture, level, pulse and pace of play. Clearly a wine of site, revealing in a meaningful style because it just seems to be the kind of weighty wine it needs to be. No two ways around it. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2018, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

A whopping 16 per cent alcohol but truth is you’d not really fully feel or know it. The level of fruit and the flesh it expounds hangs snugly, fitted and tied to the bone. The chalky and peppery liquidity want to be about juiciness and freshness, some way, somehow. The cigarillo smoulders still and the wine finds those realistic and honest moments. Suffers and survives, delivers the varietal goods. Well perhaps there is a moment of shock and awe but ultimately the wine is the wine, for its time and place. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Good to go!

godello

Ben in back, Goode standing tall

vvv

WineAlign Nationals meet the Iconic Wineries of B.C.

Judging Rosé at the 2021 WineAligjn National Wine Awards of Canada – Photo (c) WineAlign

Back in the first week of October a special anniversary took place in Penticton, British Columbia. Special because it was the 20th running of Canada’s greatest wine show on wheels, now and for the past 10 years known as the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. Remarkable because the week of judging Canada’s finest wines and ciders brought together a group of erudite and beautiful people for the first time in nearly 28 months. It was in June of 2019 the last time a 50-plus strong NWAC gaggle assembled, of back room volunteers, behind the scenes technical wizards, scoring junkies and FOH judging professionals. The 2021 results are beginning to roll out, including the first four categories last week; Sparkling, Gamay, Pinot Gris and Rosé. Today you can read up on chardonnay and pinot noir. I was entrusted the Rosé category write-up and you can view it here:

Related – A record medal haul for Canadian Rosé

A record-setting number of wines were entered from coast to coast. The two-decade journey has been worth every moment for this most respected and important Canadian wine competition. I have been at these judging tables since 2013, to capture this most essential snapshot of Canadian wine and by now have witnessed a great change and evolution, as have mentors Anthony Gismondi and David Lawrason over two decades. The inaugural competition in 2001 drew 528 wines from 71 wineries and in 2021, 26 judges tasted 2,075 entries from more than 260 wineries.

Backroom at NWAC2021, photo (c) WineAlign

I have now published more than 270 wines tasted at the competition that can be viewed on WineAlign. Most have only been tasted the one time, that being during blind varietal and stylistic flights in Penticton and those reviews have only been edited for spelling, grammar, syntax and in a few instances musical reference fact checking. No information, estate history, principals’ stories or winemaking data have been added to those notes. In cases where wines had been previously reviewed or tasted in Kelowna just prior to the awards then the blind notes are added in.

Day one judging @winealign #NWAC2021 ~ With the inimitable @trevering and @bryantmao ~ Only 2,000 more to go ~ #canadianwine #winejudging #thenationals #wineawards

Upon arrival in the Okanagan on the eve of day one at the awards we were privileged to be guests at a walk-around tasting hosted by Anthony Von Mandl’s Iconic Wineries of British Columbia at Checkmate Artisanal Winery in Oliver. All seven estates were present and pouring some of their top tier bottles; CedarCreek Estate Winery (Kelowna), Checkmate (Oliver), Liquidity Wines (Okanagan Falls), Martin’s Lane Winery (Kelowna), Mission Hill Family Estate Winery (West Kelowna), Red Barn Winery (Oliver) and Road 13 Vineyards (Oliver). The following 19 tasting notes are from the bottles poured by all seven members of the IWBC.

CedarCreek Platinum Block 3 Riesling 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

From the Kelowna home vineyard and the oldest block of riesling vines at 30 years of age. A wild ferment, kept on the skins for 12 hours and aged half in stainless, half in German oak (not to be confused with the 1970s prog. rock/psychedelic band). “It’s very easy to make lime juice from this block,” is a reminder from winemaker Taylor Whelan to take great care, find focus and another gear. “We’re aiming for GG (Grosses Gewächs) numbers,” here emerging at 8 g/L RS, but the intensity and grip make the wine seem much drier. No detention or detection of wood whatsoever in a currently bracing riesling but one set up for a readied future of full embrace. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Cedar Creek Platinum Jagged Rock Vineyard Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

A 100 per cent wild and in barrel though with truncated malolactic fermentation, “because we’re CedarCreek, not Checkmate,” quips winemaker Taylor Whelan. Some banana emits in this moment of estimable youth and we both admit the wine is “not yet quite ready.” From the vineyard down in the valley below Checkmate Winery, a contributor to the freshness in a chardonnay straddling the line between reduction and flesh, flintiness and splendored expression. Tropical fruit hints, nary a creamy plasticity and zero gratuity, but plenty of gravitas. To say they are on to something would be a gross understatement in this a vintage readying to unroll later on in 2022. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted October 2021

CedarCreek Winemaker Taylor Whelan

CedarCreek Platinum Simes Vineyard Natural Pinot Noir 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Dark as a syrah night, pressed, full on violet to balsamic, rich beyond the pinot pale and fully into a film noir genre. A bit Wagner north, with gritty tannins and hidden greens.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Approximately 55 per cent (Clone 115) whole bunch concrete fermentation. A crunchy red in the guise of Beaujolais and the reference point is not such a stretch. Recently planted gamay vines will do the same or take the torch when they come to their fruition. Some pretty serious pitch and tannin, a cru on steroids, wild man, far from reductive and big. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Looking out from Checkmate Winery

Checkmate Queen Taken Chardonnay 2018, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench

From the unknown 1975 planted clone, same one used by Mission Hill going back to 1994 with a musqué intonation. The Vineyard is called Dekleva, coolish spot on the Golden Mile Bench. Lower slope soils are patch sandy, with fragmented rocks aboard a fluvial fan. The 2018 is a preview of what the vintage can be for chardonnay or perhaps better described in prologue as to what it has already shown to be. Layers upon layers, alternating chew and crunch, great freshness matching the buttery croissant and if you drop your guard this chardonnay will crush you. It has the game. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Checkmate Opening Gambit Merlot 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

From the Osoyoos Bench with 100 per cent merlot, a wild ferment and 21 months in new wood. Truly, ostensibly varietal Okanagan realism. Could be nothing but and anything at all, a merlot so cured, verdantly specialized and toasty because the growth cycle and viticultural handling all lead down a path where grape and place walk cane and shoot. Bramble, fully loaded spice masala, a modicum of intensity fleshing out the layers of brush, underbrush and ultimately a silken merlot style. Structured but not overtly so, best in the mid term though it will linger well into the latter stages of the decade. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Liquidity Reserve Chardonnay 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Poured by winemaker Amy Paynter, a Reserve chardonnay so aptly named as it submits to the ease with which assets of fruit and structural security are converted into ready to drink pleasure, without affecting cost, value or age worthiness. No searching for richness, nor unction neither, not to mention mille-feuille layering. Chewy enough, fleshy for certain and textural throughout, but always this ease of transitions, conversions and fluidity. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Liquidity winemaker Amy Paynter

Liquidity Viognier 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Golden hue, ripeness at the top, surely only B.C. can effect. Not nearly as unctuous as expected yet there is some sweetness and spice to be sure. Spicy too, tart, tincture of tang and all the while circumstantially evident.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Part estate with fruit from Oliver and Osoyoos. Very apricot in a chanterelle way so it’s scents is like the idea of a mushroom that smells like the memory of a ripe apricot. What else does one need. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Liquidity Estate Pinot Noir 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Made with one hundred per cent Okanagan Falls fruit, picked in lots, each small batch fermented, 14-15 months in (25 per cent new) wood. The decision as to what qualifies as Reserve is made at the time of bottling. A true OK Falls Liquidity Reserve in such regard, much in the way sangiovese is dealt with in Chianti Classico or Montalcino. But this is pinot noir, an animal all to itself, fickle and choosy, hard to get and yet Liquidity has their fruit down with proof right in this glass. Smooth, supple, strong and sure, a confident if simply delicious pinot noir of balance, harmony and grace. Tasted with incumbent winemaker Amy Paynter who’s first full vintage will be 2021 and look for her work ethic (and measured risks) to take this wine to a whole new level. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Riesling Fritzi’s Vineyard 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Shane Munn’s riesling from the volcanic, clay and white quarts Fritzi’s Vineyard continues to get better, all the while with a wine he seems to do less and less to try and control. Must be the place and the fruit from this 21 year-old block (as of this 2018 vintage) seeks a 48 hour skin-contact for oxidatively handled juice. Pressed once, lightly and so softly treated, then transferred to German casks where it stays for up to eight months. Just bloody delicious, hard to not conjure a frothie for this freshest of phenolic rieslings, which incidentally was only sulphured once, four months into the trek. Walks about from grippy to lovely and back again, with silk stops along the way. Will shine brightest two years from now. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Riesling Fritzi’s Vineyard 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Fritzi’s Vineyard on Mission Hill Road is a volcanic block on dry yet rich clay, with white quartz below, planted in 1997. The winemaking is consistent from year to year and as time passes forward what’s done to this wine “is very little, less and less” tells Shane Munn. Such a phenolic riesling and irrefutably circulating in a floating balloon of immaculate freshness. Yes there is some creamy richness but it can’t hold a candle to the level of “frische und enger” in a riesling interfacing the land at the base of Boucherie. Fritzbox and very cool cat. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir Fritzi’s Vineyard Missing Ear 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Some changes in 2018, nothing earth shattering but alterations nonetheless. This time around a 70 per cent whole bunch natural ferment for 42 days (and nearly Piedmontese cappello sommerso as such). No punch-downs nor pump-overs neither, instead a “semi-délestage,” notes winemaker Shane Munn, a fanning over the cap two or three times a day, to polymerize the tannins. Call this the Munn manifesto, unique to pinot noir, Fritzi’s Vineyard and the Okanagan, an infusion rather than a maceration. Fanning acts out so very gently, allowing for an elegant transfer of fruit through structure all the while in retention of some of the noble elements found in the skins. Surely an old-school reference point, a consciousness at the very least and a way to make a big but not dense wine, fulsome yet far from heavy, with great finesse and emotive wakefulness. Munn’s pinot noir is alert and at the ready, as should we all be, from the get go and with the slow moving current that will see aging take place over a six to eight year period. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir Fritzi’s Vineyard Missing Ear 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Tasted with winemaker Shane Munn, a 50 per cent whole bunch natural fermentation in concrete for 32 days, in this vintage quicker to resolve (five to seven days earlier) than the average. Polymers culminated, “melted” and melded with the richness of tannic volcanic thrush. The optimum if classic Fritzi’s pinot noir fruit at first precipitously gliding down so easy but the stem inclusion thankfully graduates the incline and slows the consumption process down to a much necessitated trickle. Also keeps the wine from lunging or lurching into its immediate future, ahead of promise and proper compulsion for brilliance. No comeuppance or envy here, only pinot mercy and possibility. Log life ahead, breezes in sails, drifts and finally, sandy shores. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Mission Hill Perpetua 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Top of the flinty pops, super reductive and oh so tight, taut and implosive. The fruit rolls on through, states a territorial claim and give thanks for all the right reasons. The includes a high level of quality salt, pepper and wood seasoning, which it submits to and willfully accepts. Fine work in chardonnay all around. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Mission Hill Terroir Collection Vista’s Edge Cabernet Franc 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Tasted with Graham Nordin, General Manager for Iconic Wineries of B.C. and a man passionate for cabernet franc, especially this fifth vintage of Vista’s Edge for Mission Hill. A wine that began in 2015 after winemaker Darryl Brooker took over from John Simes and the first full vintage for Aussie Ben Bryant who in 2018 succeeded Brooker as chief winemaker. The vineyard can be seen looking out from Checkmate Winery and just past Phantom Creek. The 2019 cabernet franc was fermented in concrete and then aged in Bourgogne wood. My this packs a punch, of fruit so primary, succulent acids secondary and bones tertiary, the latter only because so much flesh and antioxidant donation hangs upon the very backbone of the wine. A cabernet construct like this is neither common nor fully understood in such youth. Will exude charm and captivate to the fullest in two to three years time. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Red Barn Jagged Rock Vineyard Lost Art Sémillon 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Red Barn is the newest Black Sage Bench project for Anthony Von Mandl’s Iconic Wineries of British Columbia (IWBC). The seventh member joins Mission Hill, Cedar Creek, CheckMate, Road 13, Liquidity and Martin’s Lane. The winery should be ready to open its doors in 2022. The sèmillon is raised in both stainless steel and concrete, coming across with esteemed richness of fruit so very tropical, nearing a stylistic that usually comes from Okanagan viognier. Viscous with a lovely salt line running through, keeping the varietal faith and boding well for future renditions of this wine. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Red Barn Jagged Rock Vineyard Silent Partner Cabernet Franc 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

The newest kid on the Black Sage Bench for the Iconic Wineries of B.C. is Red Barn and this cabernet franc from Jagged Rock Vineyard of 30 per cent whole bunch fermentation was aged in concrete. Only 165 cases were produced for an all in, full varietal monty of great transparency, wonderful red fruit and perfect simplicity. A terrific entry point for vineyard and new order outfit. “I know, you know, we believe in a land of love,” that being this institution of an Okanagan bench, a pleasure zone for fun, ripe fruit and the sun’s perfect kiss. All the distractions are kept at bay in a cabernet franc well on its way. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Road 13 Vineyards Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2017, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley

Lots of fun here, funk too, western richness, sunshine and fulsome palate flavours and texture. Lots of lees and layers.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

From some of the oldest chenin planting in the Okanagan (1968) and North America for that matter, used exclusively for the sparkling wine program. Vinous yet sleek, rich and intense. Mineral fascination in bubble form, loaded with character. Spent 36 months on the secondary lees. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Road 13 Winemaker Barclay Robinson

Road 13 Vineyards Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2012, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley

Spent eight years on the lees, still now vibrant and acting as a solemn totem to what distance and time can do for chenin blanc in sparkling significance. Now a wine of fully developed character at the peak of complexities possible. Will linger in this lovely suspended state for a few more years. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Road 13 5th Element Jackpot 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

The intensity of blue fruit is something to behold, with imminent proposal and one’s imagination trends towards a high percentage of petit verdot (when in fact the number is only in the three to five range). Winemaker Barclay Robinson smiles a wry smile because he knows he’s onto something great and perhaps he too imagines a jackpot at the end of this rainbow. The merlot and malbec offer up interwoven waves of red and black fruit, all the while bespoken to chocolate and goji berry. Then the perfume hits, violet and hibiscus, followed by a return of that beautiful blue fruit. Onto something indeed. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Good to go!

godello

Judging Rosé at the 2021 WineAligjn National Wine Awards of Canada

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Niagara’s cool for chards

 

Niagara chardonnay, cornerstone of an industry, another one of nature’s mysterious constants, long-time member of both local and globally recognized greatness. A pandemic be damned the time had finally come to glide on down the QEW, inch by inch, to arrive in Niagara’s wine-lands and taste recently bottled vineyard bounty, plus some older surprises. At the behest, felicitations and facilitations of WMAO we the crü at WineAlign abided by the invitation. The visits included Le Clos Jordanne, On Seven Estate Winery, Stratus Vineyards, Trius Winery and Restaurant, Hidden Bench Estate Winery, Tawse Winery, Redstone Winery and Restaurant and the Bat Caves at Bachelder Wines. The next trip will take in at least seven more and after that, no less than seven again. And so on. Niagara is not conquered in a day, or a weekend.

And everybody tells me that it’s cool to be a cat
Cool for cats (cool for cats)

Related – A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

The steamy and canicular July varietal sally coincided with the physical return, if only in part and to limited display, of the region’s annual i4c Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. Ontario’s most famous annual gathering inclusive of international winemaking stars is one that so many media, sommeliers, producers, importers, marketers and consumers have come to know, embrace and love. With a commitment for more arms to get jabbed and further progress towards community safety be made in these next 11 months, there should be every reason for optimism that i4c 2022 will return in full force next July.

Thomas Bachelder between Hanck East and West

Related – David Lawrason’s Canadian Wine Insider – Niagara’s Regeneration

In addition to chardonnay (that cool refreshing drink) there too were touring pours of sparkling wines, riesling, pinot gris, skin contact whites, rosé, pinot noir, cabernet franc and gamay. Those tasting notes are included in this report because quite frankly Niagara’s varietal diversity and inclusivity on full display should be duly noted. The festivities concluded on Sunday afternoon with not one but two Bat Cave barrel tastings with the stupefied, hyper-hypnotized and monkified winemaking tour de force himself, the other tall and thin white duke, Thomas Bachelder. No I did not make any formal notes on the dozens of chardonnay and gamay thieved from his barrels because frenetics and focus do not jive, not when Bachelder, barrels and argumentative discourse are involved. Bachelder began with some re-visits of finished “Villages” wines in the guise of Mineralité de Niagara and L’Ardoise, same same but for different markets (Ontario and Québec), both from the 2019 vintage. Then the surprise of the tasting emerged, two unmarked magnums, as of that very moment yet untasted and very special. “From the Heart Cuvée Number 1” is a project with fellow enlightened, philanthropic aiding and abetting abbot Steven Campbell. Their chardonnay crushes the concept with its dynamic and lush configuration. Why because of the very notion of being figuratively layered, blessed with a frictional vitality burnished into its collective heart and chardonnay soul. I had to stop after each sip to reassemble my nervous system and scrape my mind of the cosmos, not to mention the universe, galaxies and stars.

Crazy eyes in the throes of a four-hour Bachelder barrel tasting

The concept began as an annual Canadian Charity Wine Auction in support of the battle against climate change and then further developed into the Rescue the Grapes auction in NYC in partnership with Christie’s. Campbell and Bachelder convinced dozens of winemakers to donate small-ish lots of unfinished wines to be gathered and vinified as a single wine, an Ontario supergroup-cuvée if you will and finished by Thomas, acting as lead singer and songwriter. In Canada he and Steven are asking wineries to sponsor winemakers dinners in their home province and if they do host a dinner also support our auctions in the other two provinces. For the other province they donate a six pack of wine and will include  VIP “Passport” to the winery to promote interprovincial wine tourism. So far in Ontario Trail Estate, Malivoire, Southbrook, The Farm, Trius, Cave Spring, Pearl Morissette, Bachelder, Henry of Pehlam, Tawse and Rosehall run have all stepped up with a few more in the wings. In British Columbia Black Hills, Stag Hollow, Burrowing Owl, Okanagan Crush Pad, Tin Horn Creek, Tantalus, Quails Gate, Mission Hill and an Arterra winery are in with more to come.

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

The chardonnays were pulled from Willms Vineyard, Wismer-Wingfield est and ouest, Wismer-Foxcroft, Saunders Organic and Bio and Grimsby Hillside Escarpment Red Clay Barn Block. The gamay barrels tasted were Bator, Jackson-Bai “Bai Xu,” Wismer-Parke, Hanck est and ouest. Thomas did reveal the first ever bottle of Grimsby Hillside Chardonnay. The personal connection to that storied plot along the Lincoln Lakeshore in Winona will be investigated to the fullest extent of Godello law in a report coming soon.

Godello with Hidden Bench winemaker Jay Johnston

Has one really taken full advantage of a cool chardonnay weekend if one has not gone nose, palate, heart and mind deep into a seven year Hidden Bench Marlize Beyers to Jay Johnston Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay vertical? Methinks not. Not to mention a viticultural tour with J.J. and Joel Williams, Brut 2014, Rachis & Derma skin-contact and of course, Gamay. Thanks to proprietor Harald Thiel and congrats on being bestowed with the honour of “Champion Chardonnay of the year!” Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving and industry leading partner. 👏 👏 👏

Hidden Bench Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturist Joel Williams

New to the Niagara Peninsula scene is On Seven Estate Winery, headed up by Vittorio de Stefano and with the charge in the hands of Canada’s most accomplished consulting winemaker Peter Gamble. Just as he has made giant viticultural and vinicultural strides with the likes of Stratus, Benjamin Bridge and Lightfoot & Wolfville, in typical, ambitious and big picture defining fashion it is Gamble who sees unlimited qualitative potential in the mineral-rich soils of OSEW’s Niagara-on-the-Lake soils. 

The sit-down at Stratus Vineyards titled “To lees or not to lees? That is the tasting” explained from the word go about the new direction concerns all things lees. To see two winemakers, they being J.L. Groux and Dean Stoyka existing on the same mad scientist solids page is something all Ontario wine pursuers should choose to follow. The pursuit is being played out in chardonnays and multifarious sparkling wines, in Blanc de Blancs, Brut Nature Zero Dosage and “Field Blend” Ancestral. For Ontario this means serious sparkling wine business.

Panko-Crusted Pork Rilette, poached plum & charred fennel salad, toasted hazelnuts, honey dressing, pickled mustard seeds – Executive Chef Steve Sperling, Tide and Vine Oyster House

“Lunch and Launch in Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard” moved us in many ways, first through distant Upper and immediate Lower Jordan Bench views, of Le Clos, Talon Ridge and Claystone Terrace. Tide and Vine Oyster House was responsible for feeding us to the breaking point, by oysters, yellow fin tuna tartar, cold smoked salmon, vichyssoise, pork rillete, surf & turf and olive oil cake. The chardonnay flowed, with Village and Grand Clos examples by hosts LCJ, but also international stars; Tasmania, Australia’s Dalrymple, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa’s Hamilton Russell and Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California’s Gary Farrell. Here are my notes on those three wines.

Dalrymple Cave Block Chardonnay 2018, Tasmania, Australia ($70.95, Noble Estates)

A steely year with the vineyard’s hallmark acidity in a cracker Tazzy chardonnay with lip-smacking energy, intensity and drive. Soil, site and place in relentless pursuit of a focus at the head of body and game. Crunchy, crisp, indelibly fresh and piqued with the finest wisp of white peppery kicks. Nuts, complexity, bolts and length. All in. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa ($47.95, Noble Estates)

From the air-conditioned, cool breeze motivated vineyards (52 hectares) 100 miles from the ocean. Wet vintage, cool and long-hanging. Concentrated flavours in chardonnay that draws from all parcels which is more than just the Hamilton Russell way but in fact the only way. No fruit is wasted, all parts commit and contribute to the whole. A vintage like this is special, restrained, understated and one should not be misled by the shadowy depth and layering. Fruit is but a conduit for all else happening in this streamlined chardonnay. The alcohol and opulence are subtle, the pleasure calming, the capitulations promising. Methinks time will be long, slow and kind to HRV ’18. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Garry Farrell Chardonnay Olivet Lane 2018, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California ($69.00, Noble Estates)

Pellegrini’s 1975 planted Olivet Lane Vineyard sits on 65 acres of sloping benchland in the Santa Rosa Plain, in between the warmer Westside Road region and the cooler Green Valley. If taking a step up from Gary Farrell’s estate label is even a possibility then yes Olivet Lane is just such an animal. Threefold (or ten times) more expressive, from jump started to flying ahead, in freshness, vitality and tightly wound intensity. Flesh and opulence submit to energy, motion and emotion. Captivated and caught up in a bold embrace. Forget bracing but surely feel the fineness and the purpose towards effecting satisfaction. Top, right, fine. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tres Cool Chardonnay

We’ve called on many estates over the last 10 years but truth is the visits were epic this time around, with thanks to the talent involved; Thomas Bachelder, Elsa MacDonald MW, Eugene Mlynczyk MW and the Arterra Wines Canada crew; Tide and Vine’s Mike Langley, Chef Steve Sperling and team; On Seven Estate Winery’s Vittorio de Stefano and Consulting Winemaker Peter Gamble; Stratus Vineyards Assistant Winemaker Dean Stoyka and Estate Director Suzanne Janke; Trius Winery and Restaurant’s Executive Chef Frank Dodd and team; Hidden Bench Estate Winery’s Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturalist Joel Williams; Tawse Winery Winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting; The Restaurant at Redstone Executive Chef Dave Sider and team; Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney. These are the 40 finished wines tasted over a near 30-hour period on July 24th and 25th, 2021.

Felseck Vertical

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($42.20)

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. No stirring, “I don’t like bâtonnage,” tells winemaker Jay Johnston, “unless I’m trying to get a wine to dry.” Never mind the lees aeration or the emulsification because texture in this ’19 is extraordinary to behold, gliding across the palate with Bench orchard fruit cleverness, penetrating perspicacity and juices running through unblemished flesh. Tighter and taut than ’18, while seemingly improbable but here yet unwound, far from the pinnacle at which point full expression will surely ache to be. The ’18 may be a beautiful thing but the ’19 is structured, manifold in destiny and ideal for those who know, or at least think they do. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench

First a walk through the Felseck Vineyard and then a tasting with winemaker Jay Johnston and viticulturist Joel Williams as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical retrospective. Very warm season, much like 2016 though not quite as scorching and sun-filled. Would not call this stoic but would say that concentration, grace and all things stretched are in optimum balance this time around. Pretty quick turn around for Johnston to exact an ideal Felseck chardonnay just a year and a bit into his tenure at Hidden Bench. Just crunchy enough, more than ample and most importantly understated within the context of a great richness inherent in its varietal meets plantation DNA. There is no denying how enticing, invigorating and attractive this chardonnay is and will be to many who showed buyer’s foresight, but also those now lucky enough to come across its terroir-motivated beauty. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A vintage of survival, saved by a glorious September and into October. Looks like the richness made it with thanks to the fall weather and yet the elongation, length, elasticity and texture are all what matters to speak, walk, talk and tow the Felseck line. Solid, mid-weight, mid-acid and structure chardonnay that acts with perfectly middling emotion between the warm ’16 and ’18.  Last tasted July 2021

Felseck gifts what chardonnay needs with fruit equipped to start out subtle, gain traction and then commit to gliding into grace. That state of delicasse is now, with a natural orchard-stone-melon sweetness and an integration seamless, layered and eternal. Drinking this now makes great sense and the honey notes that may follow will only add to the mystique. The Ontario epitome of intelligent and refined chardonnay. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2020

Felseck Vineyard

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. Smoking hot season, much like 2018. No other vintage will impress and woo a more general if elevated palate than this ’16 (save perhaps the high award winning ’18) because both concentration and grace reside in the arena of the beautiful, together, side by side. Not the tightest grain in the vertical retrospective Felseck ship. Can’t say this will live as long as the ’13 and ’14 but there is plenty of life in this gorgeous and not so alone 2016. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year, “we got slammed,” says winemaker Jay Johnstone, “but a wine of definite concentration.” Showing evolution and age in tones, developed richesse and caramelization well beyond both that of ’13 and ’14. No corn however, despite what the initial nose might have indicated. A faux creamed presentation that ended up more peach to apricot in drupe, not niblet. Nutty too, again idiosyncratic and a unique Felseck as such.  Last tasted July 2021

Sometimes I’m “walking down the street, minding my own business” when a taste of a chardonnay makes my eyes go wide. Like this lovely thing of really compelling and nuanced aromatics, diverting, bright and effusive. Intoxicating really, “must have been the sun beating down on me.” A soulful chardonnay, Darondo luscious, strutting at you, with golden fruit, layers of slaty under-vein, a bit of ancient bivalve fossil shell, piqued and long. Gets its texture from a pinpointed cru for sure and is very cool-climate Canadian, almost certainly Bench Niagara, more than likely in Beamsville. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year but a solid year. Now expressive with croccante and cracker sensibility. Aromatically touched by croissant to brioche biscuit richness, with still pulsing acids and mouthfeel second to none. This is a next era Hidden Bench Felseck and the launch point from off of the work put in through the previous five or six vintages. Tasted blind four years previous to now was a completely different experience. Drink 2021-2026.  Last tasted July 2021

Unction and creaminess, lost in a chardonnay dream because to nose it’s a sweet, floral, demure thing. Lees apparent so you can smell the work in progress and feel the texture. But it’s wound loosely tight with just enough give to make it so readily available. Beautiful little wine though I can’t help but imagine there’s more single-focus structure than a blind taste wants to give. Hope to come across this hard to get beauty again someday soon.  Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted with incumbent winemaker Jay Johnston as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. The vintage may very well be considered much like 2021 is shaping up to be, wet and humid, culminating in a late season. A short crop year but surely one of the Bench’s best dating back to 2009. Persistently flinty and aromatic, holding the citrus and stone fruit line, still quite tight and yet to evolve with any considerable haste. Not one to think on as a specific Bourguignons terroir per se but definitely Hidden Bench, amphitheatric Beamsville of origin, expression and conclusion. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Jordan Village Chardonnay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($24.95)

The first attempt and rather obvious pronouncement towards creating a Bourguignons Villages wine is this over-delivering for the price chardonnay from Thomas Bachelder and the re-invented spirit of Le Clos Jordanne. Jordan Village as in grapes gathered from the lower and upper Jordan benches. When warmed in the glass and were it drawn from a warmer vintage there might be even more fleshy opulence but with 2019 and this collection of LCJ single vineyards there is fresh magnification and edgy dance moves, shimmer and glitter, not to mention of glimmer of what this commercially viable brand will ultimately bring to the collective entity that is cool climate Ontario chardonnay. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2018, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($44.95)

Le Grand Clos signals the return of the lower Jordan Bench and “I’m very happen it’s back in the (Escarpment) lexicon,” says winemaker Thomas Bachelder for a chardonnay of origins truly different than the upper benches in Beamsville, Vineland and Jordan. A svelte vintage, not lean by any stretch but surely tight and what some might say restrained. That may or may not include fine white caramel, liqueur glazed fennel and a mild sense of grilling. A chardonnay from vines in a season that needed not shut down to either hydric nor heat stress. Funny how both 2018 in Niagara and Hermanus produced similar results. The big “E,” fine-tuning, chiseled features and sneaky structure.  Last tasted July 2021

Thomas Bachelder’s second vintage since the reprise of Le Clos Jordanne’s chardonnay and pinot noir is perhaps the most nurtured (and nurturing) because he and team treated this varietal fruit through all the early stages; newborn, infant, toddler and child. The attention to detail, from choosing cooperage, forests, barrels and in elévage design is both mathematical and surgical. After 22 months the result is just so imperfectly perfect. Unequivocally noted as a high acid vintage and rather then fatten up this fruit the monk chose the direction of vintage seasoning and identity. Drills down into the Clos and where it fits within the Twenty Mile Bench. The exiguity and heretical transparency makes this a great ’18 Le Clos because ambiguity is the enemy of accountability and also progress. As a forward thinking chardonnay it represents itself, the maker and proffers a sense of place. Perfectly easy to drink right now and imperfectly set up for aging, but that’s just not the point. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2020

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Seven acres, thus the name, in the hands of Vittorio de Stefano, “and a project paramount to wanting something sustainable that can compete at the international level and standard.” The vineyard is five acres and the property now 15.5. Planted half each to chardonnay and pinot noir, all organic. Bourgogne is the impetus, Niagara the goal. The genesis of planting decisions dates back to 2009, high vigour rootball SO4 rootstocks and clones finally acquired in 2014. Now at seven years of age the vines are ready to rock. A place of science, with oenological consultant/winemaker Peter Gamble at the fore and wines of minimalist approach starting out in reductive tendency, then finishing with longevity defining acidity. Richness and intensity meet at a general Côte d’Or vortex but in the end Niagara lake-proximate flesh and tension are the true meeting point. There is a distinct flintiness (and unlike other flinty chardonnays) but also a caramelization of high delectability and flavour. Vim and vigour, vivid and 20 per cent new oak over three years to gain such favour. Exotic too, with wood contributing to the extract, but surely essential trace elements; manganese, iron and calcium of causation allowing the minerals to make themselves heard. Intriguing wine if only at the beginning of a long story yet to be told. Only 82 cases made. The goal as the vines mature will be 800. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Perhaps not the highest of knowable excellence yet clearly the most intriguing chardonnay that may never be emulated any time soon, certainly not out of 2019 or 2020. Singular stylistic wine, reductive and opulent, more Pouilly-Fuissé (with thanks to 2017) and a warmth that creates such a textural buzz. More fat in spite of that 8 g/L acidity, but such energy and considering the age at this point it almost seems the wine is going a bit backwards. That said the vanilla and caramel comes in wafts and waves, the flavours and textures in layers, long, lingering, forever. Only 108 cases made.  Last tasted July 2021

The newest Peter Gamble consulting joint is this from upstart The Pursuit of Seven. The chardonnay fruit is Niagara-on-the-Lake and the concentration suggest established vines (of at least 15 years-old it would seem) and no holds barred in terms of extraction and wood support. The density and fruit bang for buck are impressive and there is some volatility in distraction. Ambitious to be sure and the acumen employed true to form, not to mention distinctly clear. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted March 2020

Vittorio de Stefano of @onsevenwinery with consulting oenologist Peter Gamble

On Seven Estate Winery The Devotion On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($65.00)

Imagine the minerals from these Niagara-on-the-Lake soils (manganese, iron and calcium) and the highest intensity fruit getting together in a tiny lot chardonnay case load. Then consider going against the grain with harder (elevated) turbidity in the ferments for more skin feel and purposed pulp for upfront loaded flavour intensity. That’s the direction and hyperbole of pursuit in The Devotion on Seven, an (only) 31 cases made chardonnay. Doubles (or perhaps triples) down on reduction, fulsome flesh and yet the warner vintage has as much to say as the inherent processes involved. Also a tannic chardonnay, in dramatic sensory extract as compared to the Pursuit on Seven ’18, though it can’t help but express more of everything as compared to the Pursuit of Seven. The acidity number of 8 g/L might seem extraordinary when considering the warmth and the ripeness of the vintage, however, and this matters most, ultimately it is the terroir that drives both the texture and the acidity of this special, barrel selection wine. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Peller Estates Signature Series Chardonnay Sur Lie 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Yet another cracker 2019 chardonnay with the coolest of vintages meeting varietal bones and a karst of energy to drive the lees machine. Spent 10 months sur lie to be exact in a fully malolactic confirmed textural tang that benefits from a certain restraint only such a season can affirm. That being particularly cool and elongated for a chardonnay just crunchy enough to support the promise and extend enjoyment for a good, long and fruitful spree. Expect a future filled with a soft and creamy centre, eventuating in some creamed Niagara corn. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($49.20)

“It’s not that we’re trying to change something every year,” explains assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka, which means that the R and D projects are in constant motion and take four to five years to come to fruition. The October 18-26 stretch is the latest harvest in quite some time (since 2009), fermented in various clay vessels and French oak, 76 per cent in neutral barrels and (24) in stainless steel. Great naturally developed acidity and just enough ripeness to gain favour with the fully-completely accessed, utilized and kept in the bottle lees. So lemon, so balanced and very fine. There is a combinative effect of mad scientist acumen for a wine that needs to be explained to a consumer mixed with absolute pleasure and amenability. One of the finest chardonnay peaks conquered nut just in Ontario but anywhere cool varietal mountains are meant to be climbed.  Last tasted July 2021

Tight one this 2019 chardonnay, seductively reductive and unwilling to relent this early in life. Knowable richness is optimized by being associated with green orchard fruit bite. Though so youthful and shrink wrapped at this time there are some ways to pair with potential and eek out enough charm. Boy do you feel the lees but the freshness really shines. Prosciutto comes to mind, as does mortadella, especially if it’s from Faenza. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2020

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Warm and ripe vintage if only because of a gorgeous September into October, more lees than ever before, no new wood and an extended elévage nearing a year in length. Alcohol has risen, as has the pH though neither are what you might call vivid. The palate is actually tightly strung, the texture fulfilling and a cloudiness so perfect for what the winemaking team had long wanted to achieve. Hard not to see 2017 as the teaching wine where lees usage is concerned, the (after the fact) ah-hah moment whereby knowing what to do and how deep to go was learned by how 2017 turned out. In this case fulsome of stone fruit, opaque clarity, an oxymoronic ying-yang of positives in apposite attractions. A Monet vintage, modernized and so very J-L Groux. A Stratus, unlike any other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

The 2014 vintage was essentially the first year when barrel lees would be left in the bottle and my how conservative this ’15 really was as compared to an evolution that culminates (currently) with the full on lees filed chardonnay vintage. Quite the opulent vintage mixed with aromatics still morphing, developing lees, brash and blushing by 40 per cent new oak, complimented by generous acidity. Showing with controlled drama and though the yields were low (only 88 tonnes) there is something quite special about this emotionally charged, vivid, scarce and remarkable chardonnay.  Last tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Tasting with assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka as part of a vertical exercise in “to lees or not to lees.” Neither hue nor aromatics suggest much evolution though the low-ish acidity and tropical fruit tell an emerging secondary story. Creamy and centred, gregarious of flavour, nothing left unsaid, hidden or kept hidden away. Up front and talking vintage warmth, opulence and ripeness. Was housed in only 18 per cent new wood. For a good time, drink up.  Last tasted July 2021

As per the house promulgation, in chardonnay, “still an assemblage process,” insists Groux, “no matter what we do.” Some grapes grown for Sparkling were added back in, for acidity, complexity and ultimately balance. That and though notably barrel burdened (a good, hard burden to bare) leading to a bargain, “the best I ever had.” Major key of whose who of Niagara fruit, power acoustic chords and 12-string harmonics. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted June 2015

A change in direction is duly noted with J-L Groux’s 2012 chardonnay, from fruit picked six weeks earlier than in 2010. The program is scaled back and the wine is more “typical” of the region, in weight, in barrel effect and in alcohol. Still quite defined by natural yeasts that “sometimes go a bit wild, but I’m getting better at it,” concedes the clinician of vinous letters. Those feisty microbes are difficult to work with, like dealing with a wine that lacks natural clarity. “You have to shut down the bacteria, teach the yeast to stop stealing the lees. In 2013 I really got it.” The ’12’s altered course is welcome and encouraged and the world should wait with bated breath for what ’13 will bring. Here the complexity of aromatics is matched only by the intensity of tropical fruit. Has balance and a soft, round feel. Again, more texture and aromatics than natural acidity. Classic J-L style. “It’s not about trying to imitate anyone. It’s about making the most interesting and most complex chardonnay in Niagara.”  Tasted March 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road 2018, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($35.95)

Definitely a warm vintage, picked on the early side, bite still clamped down, a bit of pesto and far from reductive as noted in Quarry Roads of the recent past (i.e 2011 and 2013). Pine nut pronunciation, no malic residual transformations (there will never me) and just bloody good freshness. Last tasted July 2021

No shocker that Quarry Road always finds a way to morph and change gears, meaning every so often, a year and up to two years later there will be some significant movement in this wine. Something about the Vinemount Ridge and how its players are in constant flux, adjusting sentiments and character to keep things curious, interesting and alive. Still the unencumbered and free-flowing expression it set out to be, free to be Quarry Road and as for me, I am always enamoured by how it marries personality with age. Natural (not unlike the Natural version of itself), enigmatic and very personal. Let it be. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Tawse winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge

Fantastic ten years after flinty reduction from arguably the most cracking vintage of the previous decade. As it is said, “you’ve got to feed the beauty, it doth not come cheap.” And that is what Paul Pender went for in 2011. At 10 Quarry is light on its feet, fresh, spirited jumping rope and spinning in concentric chardonnay circles. It simply reeks of beautiful Vinemount Ridge stone.  Last tasted July 2021

The pinpoint accuracy and gemstone capture of the Quarry is exaggerated in ’11, amplified and fully plugged in. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Carries that classic Paul Pender perfume; rocks and stones, flaxen, refulgent toast and the verdure Vinemount terroir. A free flying, linear, atmospheric smear of thermal fortitude and backbone. A polemic Bowie Chardonnay to make you believe “the strangest things, loving the alien.”  Tasted May 2014

Resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terroir makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit.  Tasted March 2012 (barrel sample)

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($34.95)

Prick, punch and torque from the conceptual vintage get-go, a classic 2019 in the making, if by so many yet to be understood standards. A chardonnay so cool it causes a brain freeze while simultaneously moving the soul. In fact put on some vinyl Gaye, get in on, or even disco foreshadowing Temptations, echoing the chardonnay law of the land. Don’t sleep on the high level fruit, not quite fleshy but surely potent and dynamic to match the season’s verve in acidity. Fine lees, better texture and all-around vitality so essential to chardonnay. Will improve with six more months in bottle. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($36.75)

A single-vineyard chardonnay once labelled Oliveira and then watching Tree Vineyard but no longer, though the source remains the same. Embraces a cool 2019 vintage played out through rewards in the guise of reduction, toast, flint and drive. In cool climate varietal terms this ’19 reminds of 2011 though to be clear and certain there is more focus where by the quantity and quality of ripenesses meet at the essential points of acidity and tannin. Here is a vintage to end a decade in the most poised and poignant way. Spot on, striking and graceful chardonnay. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Remarkable finesse, flavours and design @triuswines and Restaurant by Chef Frank Dodd with @coolchardonnay accompaniments.

Beyond Chardonnay

Hidden Bench Blanc De Blanc Zero Dosage 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench ($48.00)

Second vintage from a tightly contested and smaller crop, initiated by then winemaker Marlize Beyers and subsequently disgorged by Jay Johnston, following five years on the lees. Moves from the practice of poetics to the anticipatory embracing of tomorrow’s science. Full disclosure this was tasted while walking the Hidden Bench chardonnay vineyards with a traditional method sparkling wine in hand first disgorged in the summer of 2019, when the yeasts were removed and the bottle was topped with the same wine. This tasting featured a January 2021 disgorgement and the term “Brut Nature Zero Dosage used when no sugar is added to the finished wine, which provides the most authentic expression of (the Hidden Bench) terroir.” Truth and synchronicity, grace, striking engagement, pure citrus and pleasure. Who could not anticipate and wait on subsequent vintages of this wine? The best is yet to come. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Brut Nature Zero Dosage 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($100.00)

Comes across a bit cloudy, at least as compared to the B de B with thanks to the natural, lees left intact style. The citrus component is so pronounced, as is the taut, direct, lean and intense manifold destiny of what is truly a singular Sparkling wine. That being a living, breathing, inhaling and exhaling wine, slowly releasing proteins, acids and realizing its B de B Nature dream. Just amazing what lees can do for sparkling wine.  Last tasted July 2021

Released side by each with the Stratus Blanc de Blanc 2013 and while vintage and grape are the same, the similarities almost seemingly, ostensibly and allegedly end there. Yes in fact this 100 per cent chardonnay is a child of the most excellent varietal vintage and like the B de B spent six years on the lees. Comparisons cast aside it is the very fact that because much of the lees were transferred to bottle by a minimalist’s disgorging that this cloudy bubble with a Canadian artist’s series set of labels can’t help but elicit another memory. The Lilies of Monet and their clouds represent neither the horizon, nor the top or the bottom. Nor does a bottle of this Zéro Dosage Brut. The elements of water, air, sky and earth become intertwined in a composition without perspective, or so it goes in this hazy, opaque and dry as the desert sparkling wine. So many layers of lemon can be peeled, juiced and scraped away. If a Stratus wine could be a a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma then here it is. The texture here is palpable and the intrigue factor surely high, so it should be imagined that longevity will be this wine’s calling card. It’s more austere than the Blanc de Blanc but I think in fact it will. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($75.00)

One gram of dosage, disgorged in January 2020. Nearly six years on the lees based on the first R & D trials done in 2006 and 2007. High level autolytic entity, a toasted affair and an idea long time coming for the Stratus team. Fine tonic and bitters. With 15 minutes of air the blooming happens, floral, expressive and complex. This wine has really developed more layers, emotions and complexity.  Last tasted July 2021

The first (commercial) J-L Groux foray into traditional method Sparkling wine has been six plus years in the making, or in this case, senescence as the lees fly and his Blanc de Blanc has finally arrived. A notable moment in the Stratus continuum as they too now own a program of development, time, investment, research and acumen. The nose on this bubble tells a pensive story, or as fantasy goes like dipping your face into a tale-spun pensieve as it takes you back in time. In 2013 chardonnay excelled on the Niagara Peninsula and still today in 2020 we are drinking vintage examples persistent in their freshness and durability of construct. That this reeks of varietal lore is a hallmark moment, that and a conscientious adherence to reverence for solids and the focus on rotational detail. Speaks a Blanc de Blanc vernacular as a chardonnay should, with a bite out of a sharp fall apple, a pesto of verdant aromatics and a crunch of texture before drifting saline, briny and fine. Pretty good work J-L. Kudos for getting from there to here with intelligence and humility. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Vineyards “Field Blend” Ancestral 2020, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($35.00)

The inaugural Stratus commercially labelled release is what winemaker Dean Stoyka refers to as “in the mindset of monks.” A field blend of sémillon, chardonnay, riesling and viognier. Pressed all together, fermented dry and then re-fermented in the bottle with no sugar added. Dry enough, or so it seems, non-disgorged, under crown cap and so very fruity. Floral, allspice and spiciness overtop apricot, pear and black walnuts conceptually turning into Vin de Noix or Nocino. A natural testament to assemblage and a great use of varieties without a home. 100 cases produced. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Spark Laundry Vineyard Blanc De Noirs 2013, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

Actually quite shocked I’ve never tasted this wine before, a Spark about which winemaker Paul Pender exults by saying “2013 is my favourite vintage for all our sparklings.” Traditional method, pinot noir from Heather Laundry’s double L vineyard and a fizz that fits and sparks. Gingered and toasty, crunchy, wave cresting and fulsome by six years on the lees. The dosage was five to six g/L, in that Pender sweet spot all around, just right, so well and good. A little romanticism goes a long way where science is concerned, especially in this medium and in Spark Blanc De Noirs 2013 one is simply good for the other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Estate Vineyard Spark 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Tasted side by side with the 2013 Blanc de Noirs, making for a striking if surprisingly antithetical contrasting contract with this Blanc de Blancs. Aged three years on the lees and finished with the same 5-6 g/L of dosage yet here so upfront, centred and personal. More immediate richness than what pinot seems to do from Laundry Vineyard and so even in sparkling it is David’s Block and chardonnay that gift quicker satisfaction. Likely vintage driven (again, even in sparkling), very pear and shortbread, a savoury dessert of a sparkling wine. Like olive oil cake, all about the simple pleasures. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Brut Nature NV Méthode Traditionelle, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($55.00)

The dry as the desert Brut nature initiates with a yeasty faradism of excitement from what strikes as a minimum four to five years spent sitting on those fascinating lees. While the wine does not exactly smoulder with a toasty salutation that is no matter because textural acidity and blooming aromatics also arrive to an applause of immediate gratification. There is an exceptional level of “croccante” satisfaction that parlays that “texture” into a lasting display of bits and bites. The make up is 50 per cent chardonnay and (45) pinot noir with (5) pinot meunier and 2014 being the primary vintage source, though there is some 2013 involved. Zero dosage, top tier, notch and drop. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Rosé Limestone Vineyard 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($27.95)

Tawse began crafting Rosé from (Vinemount Ridge) Quarry Road Vineyard fruit in 2017 and now here they come with Twenty Mile Bench pinot noir. From Limestone Vineyard this represents a heads and tails Rosé, meaning 40 per cent is used for Spark traditional method bubbles and the bookends is destined for this salty, straight-shooting and crisp-freckled single-vineyard blush. Double-redheaded wow! Grape, place and style all on side for so many good reasons. 1000 bottles made. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Gris Lawrie Vineyard 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($27.15)

Not to be confused with the Lowrey Vineyard on St. David’s Bench and a best varietal vintage for Paul Pender. Far from being a “Miller-Lite or Corona” pinot gris, instead creamy, fulsome, well-versed and elastic. The furthest away from metallic and/or turbid, low on phenols, no bitters, nor tonics neither.  Last tasted July 2021

Fresh and while this young is full of its original fruit, which is the biggest plus for pinot gris because dry varietal wines have a hard time after enough time has passed on by. Sulphur is not really an issue so this delivers the varietal and stylistic goods with fruit at the lead. Good acids, persistence and balance. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted October 2020

Tawse Winery Carly’s Block Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

A sleeper vintage, not necessarily exacting out of the blocks, not heavy cropped, middle of the road in so many respects. If I tasted this before memory fails to draw any retrospective conclusions) but Carly’s ’15 has already turned towards the petrol sun, “let the shadows fall behind you, don’t look back, just carry on.” This perhaps began more than a year or two ago and today acts Rihanna outspokenly so. Lime and almost cordial by now, warm and friendly as a riesling liqueur. Quite stable, animated, holding its patterning, likely to do so for an additional three or fours years. Drink before it returns home. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Limestone Ridge Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Unlike the Carly’s ’15 (tasted at the same time) this Limestone ’12 has not moved forward with any vehement haste. The lack of advancing towards petrol is curious but the softening is surely comforting. Still resplendent with a particular 2012 meets Twenty Mile Bench acidity, now oscillating while integrating with waning fruit. Drinking beautifully.  Last tasted July 2021

From the newest estate vineyard, the single-vineyard Limestone Ridge exteriorizes its name in a rubric of pressed rock, struck flint and chalky density. Paul Pender has coaxed a multiplicity oft linear character, with major notes of lime zest and juice, persistent from start to finish. A mid-pause of oozing, residual sinensis is the determinant towards the wine’s matrix of longevity. A longer, leaner, meaner and mightier Riesling charged by a different sort of power. Kinetic, frenetic and electric.  Tasted twice, April and May 2014

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Aromatiq! Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster sauvignon blanc, viognier and riesling, layered atop one another, full on hilt in spice, a hit of gingerbread, light in talc and salve. Good-natured and textured when well chilled, oxidative for sure, drinkable, pleasurable, done in one puncheon. Simple really. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Chardonnay Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster chardonnay, more spirited than the Aromatiq!, crunchy even, definitely with more spice and plenty of bite. More tannin too, structurally sound to allow more secondary character and time spent developing cooler, more energetic waves of spirit. Wild ride yet just sound and subtle enough to attract the right kind of attention. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Gamay Unfiltered 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($29.95)

The inaugural gamay release from Hidden Bench is eight years in the planning and making, from 2013 through planting in 2017 and with third leaf fruit for this game changing 2019. That is because the grape and the maker were made for each other so the question begs, what took so long to take the plunge? No matter because such an auspicious start can never come too late. A wine of native yeasts, a properly prolonged, 24-day maceration, an eighth of new wood and the Lincoln Lakeshore being the ideal appellation for what wants and surely needs. More than impressive for such young vine fruit, of a light smoulder lending an essence of jasmine and by argan to red, red fruit, tightly winding acids and such gamay crunch, the likes of which are attributed to expectation, hopes and dreams. When the vineyard grows up there will be further anticipations, exegeses further afield to include cru and reserve concepts. That is a countable fact based on current evidence and credible speculation.  Drink 2021-2023. Tasted April and July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Gamay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Naturally refined, welcoming, open-knit and my oh my, juicy as a basket of Niagara plums and peaches blended into rooibos kombucha. Rachis, “main axis or shaft, a stem of a plant, bearing flower stalks at short intervals.” Derma, or Dermis, “the inner layer of the two main layers of the skin.” In R & D the inner workings of gamay are accessed at the natural axis between light to fruity and joyful to dark, before sous serious and after vide structured. Middle ground, believable and exhibiting intrinsic purity. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Noir Tintern Vineyard 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($50.15)

This July 2021 tasting is my first for Pinot Noir Tintern 2013 in bottle but I did run through two different barrels with Paul Pender back in March of 2014. The vines were only three years old at the time, on a site (next door to John Howard) Pender likens to “reclaiming the swamps,” or “the Golan Heights project.” From the Vosges medium toast the wine was already showing colour, freshness and drive. From the Vosges, medium plus toast it was a bit reductive, with more tannin and more sappy wood. This look back reveals not a vintage of varietal exhilaration but a malic one with credit due the high levels of potassium in the soil. A cherry generosity a la Central Otago by way of the Vinemount Ridge. Almost a volcanic presence, but not and yes a pinot from young vines come about as a result of winemaking. Up front, in motion, drinking really well. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Redstone Restaurant

Tawse Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($49.15)

Another high-toned pinot noir from an inverted vintage, in cherry spirit, a hit of fennel and enough lingering energy while there is a meld and morph towards darker black fruit. Broad shouldered, now tannic, settling in as a pretty big wine.  Last tasted July 2021

As for Cherry Avenue the twain is met, somewhere between Tintern and Quarry, in the middle of vintage and classic Tawse styling. Both firm and bright, the fruit a cherry but a darkening black one and then the grip of place though well within vintage reason. Less structured than Quarry but not as hematic and brooding as Tintern. Solid pinot noir. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted June 2020

Tawse Cabernet Franc Growers Blend 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula

How remarkably fresh, inviting, enticing and that is just the aromatic front. Effusive, the greater good of burgeoning, smelling like Bourgeuil in uncanny resemblance. Nothing leafy here, just the smell of youth, post-adolescence and from a notably warm vintage. A freshness that just may be a foreshadowing of what’s to come from 2021. Heat and water, humidity and rain, yet no vine stress nor disease pressure neither. A product of great agriculture and an example of 2010’s longevity. “On the riper side but not overly ripe,” tells Paul Pender with a pragmatically raised brow. Indeed. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Whole-souled, benevolent and keyed up though that’s the vineyard, persistent and in perpetuity. Red to charcoal fruit, quite firm and tannic for the Tawse-varietal relationship and in that sense mostly related to vintage. Was not picked until November 15th and stayed in barrel for 18 months. Not showy really, not the ripest vintage after all but surely one to promote variegation, fruit/acid layers and particularities. Wait long enough (as in seven-plus years) and these things become complexities. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Good to go!

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WineAlign

A Canadian summer for South African wines

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Great heart and value from the Western Cape, alcohol bans, limited time offers and 15 reasons why you should support the wineries of South Africa 

by Michael Godel

 

as seen on WineAlign

There is an undeniable truth that South Africa is responsible for producing some of the finest wines in the world, at all price points and for every imaginable palate. A local perspective shows how fortunate Canadians are to have access to so many of the Cape’s essentials. Wines so very helpful as chaperones whilst Canada finds itself in the throes of a steamy and canicular July, still weeks ahead of the dog days when the star Sirius will first appear in the night sky. Essentials, as in chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, Cap Classique, Rosé, syrah and cabernet sauvignon. The Capelands are the proviso and if there were ever a time to spend Canadian dollars on South African wine, that time is now.

Winegrowing areas of South Africa

As Canadian vaccination rates rise to a global lead and the economy continues to trend in an open and forward direction, here at home many wine consumers finally find themselves in a charmed position. Yet the story is not the same around the world. In Ontario visits to local wineries can now increase in earnest while looking ahead in anticipation for six further weeks of summer filled with touring, tasting and relaxing. South Africa’s situation is less fortunate and it’s wine industry remains in static, suppressed and uncertain limbo. The government continues to enforce a total alcohol ban while ignoring sound proposals from its very own constituents, to dire consequences. There just seems to be no consideration for South Africans who face job losses and poverty as their employers struggle to meet even the base and necessary tenets of the bottom line.

South African wine producers will tell you that the current moratorium on selling locally is the stuff of crazy town. The collective contention will express the view that the government’s decision making is rash, ill-considered and reactionary in the most peculiar ways. The President’s claim states that the ban on selling or drinking alcohol “is to ease the pressure on hospitals which are under strain,” yet anyone worth their salt in common sense and trusting medical professionals will acknowledge that keeping booze away from alcohol dependants will only add to hospital visits. The shut downs (and other restrictive government decrees) are now leading to protests, violence and bootlegging tactics. Canadians have little power to effect political will abroad but consumers can make the choice to support their friends and colleagues in the wine industry.

New development: Following the publication of this article on WineAlign the government of South Africa has since lifted the alcohol ban.

Production areas of South Africa

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

The LCBO is now doing their part. To make things easier and wholly accessible to an Ontario consumer, a joint “Flexspace” program between Wines of South Africa Canada and the LCBO launches July 19 and runs through August 15 with eight General List products. These LTOs (limited time offers) offer four weeks of discounted prices as incentive during down time summer holidays for people to try South Africa, if indeed they haven’t before. The LTOs coincide with the VINTAGES July 24th release inclusive of a thematic promoting the idea of young Cape winemakers.

Cape Wine 2018

Cape Wine 2021(2)

In a pandemic-free world Cape Town’s Cape Wine would be taking place just two months from now but the difficult and necessary decision by Wines of South Africa has moved the trade show from September 2021 to October 2022. Intensive planning for one of the great triennial wine fairs on the planet begins 18 months out and so with vaccine promise and good hope the industry has shifted preparations for a Spring 2022 “Capelands” revival. Soon enough the hurdles, obstacles, impediments and hoops of pandemic lockdowns, sponsorship landing and export bans will be added to the growing list of “what has been overcome.”

Nature, farmers and winemakers continue their work. Grapes are still growing and wines are still being made. Cape Wine is one of the greats, a collection and gathering by an industry of more varied character and industriousness than you will ever find. Let’s hope a global correction and stabilization brings everyone back together. In the meantime we focus are attention here in Ontario to General List, VINTAGES Essentials and VINTAGES release wines to do our part in support of a heavily challenged, beleaguered and surely resilient community of WOSA estates, farms, winemakers, distributors, retailers, marketers and supporters.

Andrea Mullineux

The Cape’s Young Winemakers

In two visits to the Western Cape (in 2015 and 2018) I had the pleasure of meeting and tasting with some of the most impressive, erudite and promising young winemakers anywhere on the planet. The list is long and winding, the resumés noteworthy and the wines crafted nothing short of inspiring. They are the present and the future of South Africa’s wine scene; Andrea Mullineux, Duncan Rall, Nomonde Kubheka, Chris Alheit, Emul Ross, Duncan Savage, Marlise Niemann, Carmen Stevens, Sebastian Beaumont, David and Nadia Sadie, Ryan Mostert, Jacques de Klerk, Sheree Nothangel, Ntsiki Biyela, Christa Von La Chevallerie, Alex Milner, Callie Louw, Patrick Ngamane, Francois Haasbroek, Eben Sadie, Tariro Masayiti, Lukas van Loggerenberg, Mick and Jeanine Craven, Samatha O’Keefe, Ernst and Nina-Mari Bruwer. This is but a small sampling and my sincerest Canadian apologies to those I fail to mention and also to those I have not yet had the pleasure to meet.

In South African winemaking terms and schemes, as the boomers and now the next generation have grown older their collective winemaking continues to mature and become exceedingly wiser. There will and should not be any abandoning for the call to uprising, subversion and experimentation, but there is a contiguous and concerted effort to create wines that are simply pleasurable to drink. Isn’t that the point? By the time I looked at Cape wines in 2018 assessment it seems that everyone had it all figured out. Tasting through 2019, 2020 and half of 2021, albeit here in Canada causes a persistent thought pattern wherein South African wines are cleaner by ‘n landmyl, with as much precision, purity, transparency and honesty than ever before. Their recent decades long developing epiphany is now ours as together we synchronically enter this new world of next level, reinvented and deeper understanding.

Eben Sadie and Rosa Kruger

Heritage Vines

According to founder and viticulturist Rosa Kruger, “aged vines bring an intensity, a perceived freshness, a texture, and a sense of place. They show less fresh fruit and varietal character, and more terroir and soil.” No discussion of the South African landscape can be introduced without a nod to the biodiversity and heritage work associated with the Old Vine Project. With great kudos first and foremost to long time champion of the Cape’s oldest plantings and pioneer Rosa Kruger, but also winemakers Johan Reyneke, Eben Sadie and OVP Manager André Morgenthal. Kruger, along with a select few viticulturists, started scouting for South African old vines in and around 2002. Then, just beyond 2006 Sadie released his first wine under the Old Vineyard Series, a Stellenbosch wine made from the oldest chenin blanc in South Africa.

Today winemakers all over the Western Cape are seeking out these old sites of dry-farmed, (un)trained bush vine plots of gold. “Stories sell wine,” says winemaker Johan Kruger, “and what better story the tell than the old vine one.” The Old Vine Project is all about preserving vineyards 35 years and older, through trade initiatives and sustainable projects to protect South African heritage. Only South Africa offers the possibility for wine labels to ensure certification by the regulatory authority. “Members of the Old Vine Project (OVP) can put a Certified Heritage Vineyards seal on bottles of wine made from vineyards of 35 years or older, together with the planting date. This is a guarantee to the consumer of authentic wines grown according to the OVP viticultural and winemaking guidelines.”

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc

While grenache, cinsault, syrah, pinotage, sémillon and many others take great promise from their old vine sources there can be little argument against chenin blanc being the greatest beneficiary of age, fortitude, focus and acumen as provided by the old vine experience. The list of Western Cape chenin sites from Stellenbosch, Swartland, Citrusdal Mountains, Darling, Hemel & Aarde Ridge, Breedekloof, Bot Rivier, Walker Bay, Cederberg, Paarl and Robertson, reads like a biblical scroll; Bottelary Hills, Granite Hill, Helderberg, Kapteinskloof, Kasteelberg, Paardeberg, Perdeberg, Riebeek-Kasteel and Skurfberg. Just last month a chenin blanc day Zoom session with four Cape winemakers yielded this Polkadraai gem from Bruwer Raats.

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa ($80.00, Lifford Wine & Spirits)

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

Braai

The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, can withstand warm and dry conditions and perform really well. The signature grape variety is South Africa’s golden ticket to global recognition and success. No other varietal message speaks with as much clarity and consistency than that of chenin blanc. And is there a finer example that also happens to be stupidly affordable than this.

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (23128, $17.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Gets me every time. Not just one of the finest meets best value chenin blancs available out of South Africa but an example to hang all your hats on no matter where white wine comes from in this world. Still the knowing nod and incredulous head shake that $18 CDN can buy you fruit from six blocks that are mainly 38 years of age but could possibly include 1974 Helderberg planted vines in Stellenbosch. “Core of the business” and arrow through a chenin heart. Great ferment, like a (catherine) wheel. Layers of design, creamy with thanks to secondary lees aging but somehow still texturally chewy. Barrel notes make a point in a vanilla brûlée way and yet each sip is like taking a bite from a piece of firm, ripe fruit. “I need more texture. You need to give me more texture, texture, texture. You need to give me more texture.” Old Vine Reserve obliges every time. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted June 2020

Bruce Jack Chenin Blanc 2020

Sometimes you just need some fun, spirit and energy in a well-priced chenin blanc that speaks to everyone. This by Bruce Jack and former Hidden Bench winemaker Marlize Beyers is just the ticket.

Bruce Jack Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Western Cape ($13.95, LCBO 13356, VINTAGES May 29th, Lifford Wine & Spirits)

There’s a whack of chenin blanc personality in the 2020 by Bruce Jack, proprietor of The Drift, literary philosopher. The vineyards are located in the Breedekloof, in the west of the Breede River Valley, an arid rift of alluvial soils with a river running through. Here from the Western Cape’s newer wine route area chenin blanc is exulted as a most important varietal component. Older barrels, the alluvial soils and a warm location are involved, which are duly noted in the platinum hue, tropical fruit and developed ripeness. Sunshine chenin blanc Superman, especially considering the price. Sharp and in flight. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted June 2021

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

Buyers’ guide to South African wines from current LTOs and the July 24th VINTAGES release

Back in late June (and we will do so again next week) the WineAlign cru sits down to taste through the LCBO LTOs and July 24th VINTAGES South African releases. When asked for his four top picks my colleague and mentor David Lawrason exclaimed, “Here you go Michael!  Kinda tough to narrow down these good values.” That’s exactly what you will find from these collective picks. Great value, as well as great heart from South Africa.

Haute Cabrière Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose Brut Sparkling

Haute Cabrière Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose Brut Sparkling, Traditional Method, WO Western Cape ($19.95, LCBO 18569, VINTAGES July 24th, LUSOCAPE)

This sparkling wine is part pinot noir, part Franschhoek and part traditional method in Cap Classique form. Haute Cabrière is the work of the von Arnim family in bubbles comfortably under a Brut number by residual sugar in attack mode made wholesome and free with a great pulse of acidity. Gingery and frothy, of red apple skins and a hint of blood orange. Also tannic, like rooibos tisane while ultimately sharp dressed, soda cracker crunchy and so properly defined. Good wine. Drink 2021-2025. Tasted June 2021

Rustenberg Petit Verdot Rosé 2020

Rustenberg Petit Verdot Rosé 2020, WO Stellenbosch ($14.95, LCBO 451773, VINTAGES July 24th, Woodman Wines & Spirits)

Here is what you get when you combine Rosé (first made in the 1980s) and petit verdot (first planted in the early 2000s). The grape is no longer employed solely for the John X Merriman Bordeaux blend but it is the same varietal stuff grown on Stellenbosch decomposed granite. Not exactly dry and salty with the specs tilting more to sugar over acidity but it is certainly balanced and quenching. Tons of fruit and flavour at $15 with a lovely side-step into adult lemonade. And it tastes like petit verdot, for what it’s worth. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc 2020

Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Robertson Valley ($10.00, LCBO 495507, Univins)

Made by winemaker Rianco van Rooyen as part of the “cultivar” range, of moderate acidity and a slightly higher content of residual sugar. Soft and cuddly, fuzzy peach, pear and apple slices. Simple and effective, Expect lots of floral perfume and plan to make use of this tropical chenin at brunch. Drink 2021.  Tasted June 2021

Fleur Du Cap Essence Du Cap Chardonnay 2018

Fleur Du Cap Essence Du Cap Chardonnay 2018, WO Western Cape ($12.95, LCBO 358960, PMA Canada)

The grapes were sourced from Stellenbosch, Somerset West, Elgin and Robertson. The oldest vineyard located in Stellenbosch was planted in 1990 while the rest of the vineyards were planted between 2000 and 2006. For 20 per cent of the wine, fermentation started in tank and was completed in French (90) and American (10) oak barrels. The remaining 80 per cent fermented in tanks on French (55) and American (45) oak staves. Quite heady, spiced and developed chardonnay for the cost with a flinty smoulder and notable reduction. Lots of wood feels but well integrated and pretty well in balance. Crafted with specific intention and there is lots of wine here for $13. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Spier Seaward Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Spier Seaward Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Vegan, WO Cape Town ($15.95, VINTAGES July 24th, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits)

A coastal sauvignon blanc by winemaker Jacques Erasmus with plenty of marine influence. Healthy of alcohol and weight, with some sugar but even more so acidity to blow an ocean breeze through the wine. Notably pungent and exotically perfumed, all passion and grape fruit. More texture than many, crunchy, tin cup sweet and roasted cashew salty. Lots going on in here. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay 2019

Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay 2019, WO Coastal Region ($14.95, LTO, Select Wine Merchants)

Always worth noting Boschedal’s connection to the natural world with the estate situated in the Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest yet richest such plant biosphere on earth, with an astounding diversity of plant and animal life. Their lands are still in inhabited by indigenous creatures such as duiker, klipspringer, porcupine, mongoose, caracal and even leopard. Michael Langenhoven is Boschendal’s white winemaker, here with sources threefold; Stellenbosch, Elgin Valley and Boschendal Farm. Just lovely and amenable coastal-influenced chardonnay, easy, somewhat soft and no obstructions in the way. Neither reduction nor barrel do anything to distract and the wine’s touch of sweetness is well managed by herbs, elastic acidity and sapidity. Very well made. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Lomond Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Lomond Sauvignon Blanc 2021, WO Cape Agulhas ($19.95, United Stars Corporation Group)

This 100 per cent Cape Agulhas sauvignon blanc is crafted and delivers specs eerily similar to the SSV, from the same sites on the farm’s upper reaches perched over the sea. Same soils and as a varietal wine the elements from various blocks are employed “to ensure that the result is greater than the sum of the parts.” Perhaps on a lower tier of complexity but surely expressive and satisfying. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Lomond Ssv 2021

Lomond SSV 2021, WO Cape Agulhas ($19.95, United Stars Corporation Group)

Mainly sauvignon blanc (80 per cent) with sémillon (15) and viognier (5) from the Cape Agulhas growing area. High ranking acidity and near to bone dry attitude make for a wine that shares it’s true sense of place, in this case south facing blocks on the higher reaches of the farm, as well as within views of the sea. The soils are sandy, gravelly and highly weathered with a clay substructure. If you have yet to discover these saline, sapid and spirited whites of the Cape Agulhas then it’s high time and tide you did. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted June 2021

Big Bill Shiraz 2018

Big Bill Shiraz 2018, WO Western Cape ($13.95, LCBO 10418, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.)

William “Big Bill” Millar was a boxing champ, decorated war hero and most celebrated for so many South Africans as their Springbok rugby captain. Also the first General Manager of KWV. Like the larger than life man it is the largest of barrels that houses this shiraz, a 22,000L oak stuk vat. Pretty much classic (Western) Cape shiraz of heavy set red fruit, bone density and rippling musculature. A commercially viable drop of work ethic and muscle memory exuding attitude and confidence. The Michael Jordan of South Africa. Be like Bill. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2019

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvèdre-Viognier 2019, WO Western Cape ($14.00, LCBO 292557, Univins)

Generally speaking the Wolftrap by Boekenhoutskloof is two-thirds syrah and one-third mourvèdre with a few points splash of viognier. Malmesbury in the Swartland is the source where the dominant soil type is the aptly named Malmesbury shale. The 2019 brings out the sweetest and most proficiently perfumed Wolftrap yet, with less grip, spice and bite. There is a warmth that is especially noted on the back end, like a hematic seep of plasmatic liquid but felt quite subtly so. Fine if not exceptional acids keep the pulse and truth be told the mourvèdre really stands out. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Glenelly Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Glenelly The Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch ($17.95, LCBO 132992, VINTAGES July 24th, H.H.D. Imports)

Fruit is Simonsberg-Stellenbosch from a most arid vintage with all aspects of the growing season having occurred with haste. Less than normal winter rains, early bud break and harvest in the third week of February. This is 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon with thriving acidity and a minor pinch of sweetness, fully versed from Cassis to Kirsch for a truly gelid, glycol and glycerin cabernet sauvignon. While seemingly soft and fruity at first it gains speed, traction and vitality because of the well captured acidity. Still seems just a tad sweet but overall the balance is quite good. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted June 2021

Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2018

Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2018, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch ($24.95, LCBO 414151, VINTAGES July 24th, Woodman Wines & Spirits)

The artist formerly known as “Rustenberg Stellenbosch Syrah” is now the “Buzzard Kloof Syrah,” aptly named for the Jackal and Steppe Buzzards that circle the thermal currents rising above the kloof. The syrah vineyard sits in the Afrikaans ravine, a cool, sun-deprived location ideal for growing meaty, savoury and sapid syrah. This is in great Stelly hyperbole, like a grilled and sliced loin of lean, sweetly gamy and iron-rich Springbok. Optimum ripeness, cool acidity and finesse take this buzzard on swift currents through breezy skies. Bloody delicious. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2021

Kuier

Good to go!

godello

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Memories of South Africa in 60 notes

Water hole, South Africa

As this passage through weltschmerz marches on, the defining feeling of melancholy and world-weariness continues, no doubt magnified in the hearts and minds of the wanderlusts accustomed to consistent world travel. So the question begs, as it has for 12 months, how to summon thoughts that will keep a deep sadness about the inadequacy or imperfection of the world at bay? Speaking from a personal place, a simple and distracting way is to compose retroactive wine reviews, unearthing and editing nuggets of meaningful playfulness, tasting notes created in the past but never having found their way to the light of day. Recent thoughts about South Africa are the impetus for this story.

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

In a pandemic-free world Cape Town’s Cape Wine would be taking place six months from now but a difficult and necessary decision by Wines of South Africa has moved the trade show from September 2021 to October 2022. Intensive planning for one of the great triennial wine fairs on the planet begins 18 months out and so with vaccine promise and good hope the time has arrived for the industry to launch preparations for a Spring 2022 Capelands revival. Soon enough the hurdles, obstacles, impediments and hoops of pandemic, lockdowns, sponsorship landing and export bans will be added to the growing list of “what has been overcome.”

Fly me back to South Africa

Related – Spotlight on South Africa in VINTAGES August 6th

Wine trips afford tasting hundreds of wines in a week’s time and while all bottles poured by every producer are given full attention and solicit a hundred or so scribbled words on history, tradition, agriculture, winemaking, varietal and regional relativity, many remain in raw form, relegated to computer folders and on the pages of moleskin journals. Pulling them out months, if not years later can induce that elusive feeling of relief and in some extraordinary occasions, epiphany. This to the creator of course, not necessarily to the producer, wine prose seeker, consumer, regional administrator or marketer. Notwithstanding who may be watching or reading, the exercise is a satisfying one and stands on its own merit, if only to be soothed and take refuge in a safe prosaic haven, free from the savage talon grip of a world gone mad.

“What happens in Cape Town stays in Cape Town” carries a three year statute of limitation. With the inimitable Ken Forrester

Nature, farmers and winemakers continue their work. Grapes are still growing and wines are still being made. Cape Wine is one of the greats, a collection and gathering by an industry of more varied character and industriousness than you will ever find. Let’s hope a global correction and stabilization brings everyone back together. During the last edition in 2018 I published several articles and many notes but these are the fruits of unfinished business left unsaid, scattered and streaming bits of consciousness having patiently waited it out for this moment in the sun. With thanks to all these erudite producers who shared a few ounces, engaged in conversation and offered up their time. These are the 60 wines tasted 30 months ago, assessed, critiqued, enjoyed and until now, unpublished.

A.A. Badenhorst Family White Blend 2016, WO Swartland

Simply a case of “fantastic grapes from old vineyards,” small parcels from Adi Badenhorst’s Kalmoesfontein farm, around the Swartland and the greater Paardeberg Mountain. A tienvoudig veldversnit of chenin blanc, roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, viognier, verdehlo, grenache gris, clairette blanche, sémillon and palomino. Hard to imagine that ten grapes could be so tactful and get together for such a discreet nose, but they are and they do. Secretive and seductive, full of mystery and enigma, ferments in 3000L vessels and then concrete, of a co-existence executing balance and a dedicated focus on texture. A ten-fold paradigm shift as part of the pioneering, Western Cape appellative white blend parade. Those who know it get lost in the varietal party and just like the makers the soirée will go on forever. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

A.A. Badenhorst Pinot Noir Bokkeveld 2017, WO Swartland

Grown further afield of the great old white grape vineyards, higher into mountainous terrain on the famed Bokkeveld shales. Makes for transitory, lifted pinot noir, “rain-slick’d, rubbed-cool, ethereal,” a little pastiche in a glass. Provides a cool flush of red berries, a note of allspice and truth is the fruit is really quite naturally sweet. Clean, characterful and only an afterthought of subtle savour. More than anything this pinot noir drifts and rises, kind of like reciting poetry. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Hanneke Krüger, A.A. Badenhorst

A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Cinsault 2018, WO Swartland

Of the Badenhorst second tier of wines, a red blend though mainly cinsault (82 per cent) with (10) syrah and (8) grenache. Though this is technically a tank sample it will be bottled next week so essentially across the finish line. There will be 130,000 bottles of this unfiltered wine. Red fruit incarnate Cape style, sweet baking spices and from a band knowing what is needed for playing live in concert, lekker balance seekers capable of working with any instrumentation, including 4,500 and 7,200L blending tanks. Badass sound, fury and energy, dry rocket fuel, pure, raw emotion and precision. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2018

A.A. Badenhorst Grenache Raaigras 2017, WO Swartland

From the home farm at Kalmoesfontein, a scant 1268 vines by lowest of low yields and considered to be the oldest (1951) grenache vines in South Africa. The Raaigras (ryegrass) is a vineyard choker so without human intervention it would literally strangle a vineyard. One of those wonderful whole bunch ferments though a portion is de-stemmed and well if this is not the right stuff from the right place, transparent, curative, a gastronomy of ancient meatiness and spice. Tannic yet elastic and one of those wines ready to go from creation but won’t likely change anytime soon. For now, long and wide. Feel free to think “see you in 15 years on the other side.” Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

Springbock Burger anyone?

David And Nadia Sadie Wines Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

A chenin blanc blend of 35-65 year-old 1960s, 70s and early 80s, mainly Paardeberg dry-farmed bush vine vineyards in the Swartland. Some shale and clay soils mix in for a top end chenin meritage with a faint if feigned salty vanilla sweetness. High and dry extract and grape tannin conspire in their conscription and into a stretched intensity requiring some patience for the opening up. Lingers forever thereafter. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

David And Nadia Skaliekop 2017, WO Swartland

Skaliekop, “hill of shale,” a curious dale of fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock amongst the Paardeberg granite. For David and Nadia Sadie a chance to make a chenin blanc with both prescient soils lending their presence and tutelage. The people here speak of the Skaliekop, knowing well the wisdom and aridity, the windswept open space, exposed and warm. They recognize and tell of the difference it makes, how a wine such as this can act so implosive, salty, targeted and fervent. The vintage only serves to magnify a sentiment already assured, that fruitful and mineral will align, swell and expand as one from these first grapes to be harvested in the wider Paardeberg zone. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

David and Nadia Aristargos 2017, WO Swartland

In 2017 a Swartland appellative white blend of chenin blanc (58 per cent), viognier (14), clairette blanche (13), sémillon (7), roussanne (5) and marsanne (3). David and Nadia’s only white that sees enough skin-contact to inch it up to but not quite breaching the natural-orange-amber stereotype so moving along now. A free-form, stacked blanc of multifarious juxtaposition, a Cape sensation that does this thing better and more interesting than anywhere else on the planet. Complex because florals and salinity get together and express the Swartland without a care in the world. What really comes across the palate is texture, downy and coddling with a finishing pesto of sweetly herbal fynbos and renosterveld. A perfectly broad expression overall though please don’t typecast or compartmentalize the Sadies’ white blend. Let it be. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Elpidios 2016, WO Swartland

An ever evolving or rather moving target, Rhône motivated but at this point in South Africa’s modern tenure just better to say Cape inspired. Has had many lead singers in its time; syrah, carignan and based on David Sadie’s language, who knows, perhaps grenache will take a turn at the microphone. Here in ’16 carignan (39 per cent) is centre stage with syrah (31), pinotage (16), cinsault (9) and grenache (5) rounding out the players. Elpidios means hope, as in “Cape of Good” and like the place itself there are so many layers to peel away from this heady foreland of a red wine. The berry aspect is magnified by the pinotage and you should know that David and Nadia treat this grape with utmost respect. A mix of styles and inspirations make this both muddled and brilliant as it stretches into breadth and potential. A nexus of varietal and micro-terroirs caught up in a whirlwind of extracts, flavours, liqueurs and expression. Still fresh, spirited and alive so drink this well over a ten year span. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Kreatuur Die Synachin 2017, WO Coastal Region

“A collaboration between a bunch of young blokes, making of-the-moment wines from little-known vineyards around the Cape,” and under monikers that refer to “pushmi-pullyu animals.” Also with the winemaking help of Alexander Milner from Natte Valleij. Really quite the drinkable Rhône-ish blend of 56 per cent syrah, (26) grenache and (18) cinsault. Iron in multifarious soils (mainly granitic) make this hematic and deeply plum but still, not so difficult to knock back. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Kop Ou Treffer Cinsault 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Ou Treffer, as in the ‘old hit’ in Afrikaans, also the old workhorse, in reference to cinsault of the Western Cape. Or if you will, like a hit song as the grape just seems to be the it one in South Africa these days. Or perhaps Traffic, by the Stereophonics. Beautifully aromatic, rich fruit and a soild funk from the particularities in these Stellenbosch vineyards. Half the ferment is de-stemmed, meaning the other half is whole bunch and old vines surely concentrate the fruit, stem funk and spun feeling all-around. Besides, “is anyone going anywhere? Everyone’s gotta be somewhere.” Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Knapsekêrel 2016, WO Stellenbosch

The second cabernet franc release of the De Kleine Wijn Koöp boys’ Knapsekêrel (a.k.a the spiky little black Cape plant) comes from the Polkadraai Hills. Not just any vineyard mind you but one planted in 2000 and biodynamically farmed by Old Vines Project pioneer Rosa Kruger and current Stellenbosch guru Johan Reyneke. The winemaking hands of Lukas van Loggerenberg are to thank and while this shows the sultry smoky smoulder that often emits from Cape franc it is a challenge and work in project to find the varietal sweet spot. That’s because cool temps and long growing seasons are best but look out for this breadth of a team’s members to find what works. In the meantime the tobacco, dusty plum and pushed to the raisin precipice make up a tasty if humid treat in a glass. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Heimwee 2015, WO Stellenbosch

As with the Knapsekêrel cabernet franc, the Polkadraai west of Stellenbosch is the fruit source, a biodynamic vineyard farmed by Rosa Kruger and Johan Reyneke. The boys at the Koöp are back in varietal town and refer to this all-around floral spiced cabernet sauvignon as running “with tannins as smooth as your grandmother’s polished imbuia coffee table.” No doubt and you can almost hear them singing in Phil Lynott workingman’s poetry. That said, this cab is no thin Lizzy, more like thick as a brick. Hung long and well-developed, of a liqueur that oozes of red, red fruit. Or perhaps, “man when I tell you she was cool, she was red hot. I mean, she was steamin’…” Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Johannes de Wet in Robertson

De Wetshof Riesling 2017, WO Robertson

A known fact that riesling and limestone make a great couple so this look at de Wetshof’s Robertson ’17 is met with great mineral anticipation. Yes the finest calcareous blocks are dedicated to chardonnay because Bourgogne is the de Wet inspiration but anyone who has learned a thing about riesling around the world will know that limestone can work wonders. Alsace of course, as in Clos Windsbul but also The Niagara Escarpment’s dolomitic limestone and Germany’s Muschelkalk (especially in the Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Franconia). And so Robertson joins the list as witnessed by this linguistically aromatic example, working the glass with a pure lime distillate notion. A nod to Alsace more than anything else with acidity that doesn’t need to scream and shout but it’s truly there. The potential to pioneer the movement is here, along with Elgin as Cape riesling standard bearers. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

De Wetshof Chardonnay Limestone Hll 2018, WO Robertson

Youth and drought make for the most naked and transparent of the past few Limestone Hill chardonnays. Absolute cool Kelvin freshness and a 270 degree vineyard scope to gather de Wetshof’s Robertson fruit from an amphitheatre of slope and aspect so subtle yet so meaningful. A fulsome regional DNA creates varietal layers gathered to make this cuvée a true spokes-wine for the limestone-based estate. Set foot on these soils, spin around, take it in. Then feel and intuit the truth in chardonnay that speaks to a place. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

De Wetshof Chardonnay Bataleur 2016, WO Robertson

Bataleur, as in a battalion of chardonnay soldiers, fruit up front, reduction and wood falling in, acids taking up the flanks and structure in support by land, air and sea. Or so it seems because this just marches like a military exercise in chardonnay. Flinty, biting back, yet buttered and toasted on the mid-palate with Roberston’s unique limestone felt from start to finish. Vanilla then white caramel with soft French cream fill and then the snap of lime acidity. Biting and downy, one and then the other, all tied up in robes and pearls, equalling out in the end. Fine work from 2016. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2000, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay

By this time 2000 is the 15th vintage of Hamilton Russell’s pinot noir and tasting both the 1986 and 1997 ahead of this only serves to heighten anticipation knowing full well longevity is by now a solid guarantee. The vintage seems like it must have been a demanding one because there is more hard grip, aridity and austerity here but it really has aged gracefully and beautifully. The posit tug between fruit and earth notes is performed like a string instrument’s bow, bending and angling with dexterity in balanced, fluid motion. Brings in the herbs and spices, wholly and truly of Hemel-en-Aarde origin, on hillsides and between rows of sagacious pinot vines. This is a treat and opens a portal into the future, beginning with the 2012 vintage that will usher in a string of sequentially impressive HR pinot noir. Drink 2018.  Tasted September 2018

Huis Van Chevallerie Circa Rosecco NV, WO Swartland

From a 32 year-old pinotage vineyard, great old vines that received some TLC from Old Vines Project pioneer Rosa Kruger. Secondary bottle fermented with a little help from “a special blend of liqueur de triage,” so unlike Prosecco in that regard. Early picked which is a given considering the granitic soil and therefore a “Rosecco” of low pH and severely high acidity. ‘Twas just a slight dosage and therefore comes across arid like the Swartland desert. A well cultured sparkling Rosé, crushable and easy like Sunday morning. Drink it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Jan Harmsgat Chardonnay 2015, WO Robertson

True reduction yet to dissipate as noted by the smoky smoulder with a healthy compliment of wood still needing to melt in and away. Looking to settle over the next six months or so and allow the combination of vanilla extract and green apple purée to integrate, compliment and go forward in agreement. Though creamy there is a bite back at the finish so while this is good now it still shows promise for improvement down the road. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2009, WO Constantia

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside the 1987 labeled “Blanc de Blanc” and the 1994. The vines date back to 1979, with the first South African sauvignon blanc made in 1986. That ’87 was a B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. A 100 per cent varietal wine, built by the soil and so bloody mineral as a result. Oak texture but really that’s the end of wood talk, a salty streak, so direct and so personal. The kind of sauvignon blanc that invades your airspace and a vintage more Bordeaux than the rest. Or, if you will Sancerre but not so much this time around. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 1994, WO Constantia

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside the 1987 labeled “Blanc de Blanc” and the 2009. The vines date back to 1979, with the first South African sauvignon blanc made in 1986. That ’87 was a B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. The ’94 vintage was another story altogether, apposite, far away from developing noble rot. Not the baller and perhaps even a bit “weak” with less weight but a saltiness that is more than intriguing. Perhaps more Sancerre-esque as a result but certainly lends longevity credibility to those passed over cool vintages neither celebrated nor considered to carry much staying power. May not be fleshy but is surely a curious and electric surprise. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Leeu Passant Chardonnay 2016, WO Stellenbosch

Andrea Mullineux continues to foster the Leeu Passant line of heritage vines wines with work from Rosa KrMuger alongside. The “post (leaf-roll) virus vineyard,” of smuggled in clean material planted in Stellenbosch in the 1980s. The site is home to loam-rich soils of the Helderberg and the wine stylistically modelled after the oxidative approach to chardonnay. “Death and resurrection,” as Andrea puts it, meaning after the fermentation you allow the must to oxidize again, literally to the colour of cola. Risk reward actionable take and one that requires some shall we say, cojones. This chardonnay is not about luck and the methodology can’t help but connect you to the vineyard. You end up with this unctuous, astonishingly rich chardonnay that bears a resemblance to the vines and the place from whence it came. Unlike the Mullineux chenins or Swartland and so say hello to Meursault. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Leeu Passant Dry Red Wine 2016, WO Western Cape

The throwback, ode and homage to South African reds made in the 50s, 60s, 70s, rustic, tannic, structured and reeking of the ancient soils that gave them life. Three locales are in the mix; Wellington, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. The vineyards are the first pro-Phylloxera planted sites, a willy-nilly varietal scattering, blocks of two cinsault, a cabernet sauvignon and a cabernet franc. “It’s a deconstructed reconstruction,” says Andrea Mullineux, “where you break down what you love and build it back up again.” First thing is to show utmost submissive respect to 95 and 117 year-olds, the oldest registered red wine vineyards in South Africa. So you hand harvest their low yields and keep a minimum half of the bunches intact for to ferment these wise and experienced grapes. They spend 20 months in barrel then emerge structured and fit for 20 years of longevity. As with those post mid-20th century wines the profile is rich, tart, spicy, robust and layered with serious grounding. Revivalist red, keeper of faith and a lost style, uniquely South African. Today that translates to vogue. Boom. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Sauvignon Blanc 2016, WO Greyton

The Cape’s south coast work of Samantha O’Keefe, a (500L) barrel fermented sauvignon blanc made in an oxidative way, or rather a wine of early introductions made with oxygen. Flinty no doubt then rich and full on the palate, of throttling grape tannin who’s antidote is a sense of settled calm. Late spice, Bordeaux in temperament but cooler still, an almost northern Sancerre-ish dexterity and layering. Composed and so very genteel. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Chardonnay Estate 2016, WO Greyton

From the Cape’s south coast and Samantha O’Keefe’s original Greyton Farm, in re-build for a promising future. This ’16 is 90 per cent estate fruit, a natural ferment and all done up in neutral (300L) barrels, 11 months on lees. No malo except when a great vintage comes along. Simply an orchard and gingered and delight, a woven tapestry of backroads eccentricities and southern exposures, with a kick and twist of finishing spice. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted September 2018

Lismore The Age Of Grace 2017, WO Elgin

From rose-quartz soil in cool Elgin, a 100 per cent viognier, so apposite relative to the achromatic shades of Greyton sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. High demeanour and a sense of vivid colour in the aromatic wonder but more so in the levels of palate, front through middle to back. They come like a rainbow, rolling, over stones, in “colours in the air, oh, everywhere.” Orange, peach, nectarine and fine, fine Elgin acidity. They are wrapped in sour spice yet sit cross-legged, in complete control. An aristocratic flower child, surely full of and situated in an age of grace. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Pinot Noir 2017, WO Western Cape

Fruit from both Walker Bay and Elgin and 30 per cent whole bunch (the first vintage was 15). So very herbal, savoury, stemmy and honest. A beacon in pinot noir you want to drink that comes equipped with an edginess about it. Full purity on display, grip, intensity and packed with provisions for the picnic. Marks the early beginnings of a varietal journey with some naïveté and dreams but look out. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Alette de Boer, Lowerland

Lowerland Tolbos Tannat 2016, WO Prieksa, Noord Kap

From South Africa’s furthest northern wine-growing area, a joint effort between grower Bertie Coetzee and winemaker Lukas van Loggerenberg. Wow does this ever smell like tannat with its depth of earthy fruit and suspension of oxidative animation. High acidity reminds of the really cool climate, more Niagara per se than southwest France. There really is something special here, as with Lowerland’s stellar whites, something singular, yet undefined, in enigma and mystery. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Witgat Viognier 2017, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

The viognier may scent of exotic flowers and tropical fruits but as with most of Alette de Beer and Bertie Coetzee’s range this is surely a cool climate wine. Subtly so and yet of a tension and a demand that accrue a sense of northerly South African wine-growing sense. The wine was made by JD Pretorius at the Constantia property Steenberg and it comes about quite normal, varietally speaking but also beautiful. There is a liquid chalky feel, a product no doubt of quality dry extract mixed with Prieksa soil of desert sand and silty clay. Lean and structured, a lanky viognier that in the end delivers quite the delight. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Die Verlore Bokooi 2016, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

Literally “easy drinking blend,” spoken through an indigenous vernacular from “the place of the lost goat.” At the time a blend of merlot, shiraz and tannat but like the Herd Sire Reserve that too will change over time. A racy and ripe red, earthy and parochial though fruitful in its red, black and blue mixed berry basket. There really is nothing to compare this too, neither old world origin or varietal mash up so assess it on its own terms. Just knock it back. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Herd Sire Reserve 2015, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

A red blend that will evolve (varietally speaking) but in 2015 it is based on cabernet sauvignon with petit verdot and a small amount of merlot. Bordeaux being the message but that too will change because the north of South Africa may actually share more affinity with the southwestern French wine-growing than anywhere else. This unique Noord Kaap Wyn van Oorsprong’s cool climate makes for early drinking reds and the 13 year-old vines here follow the party line for a red blend ripe enough to do what needs. There is more liqueur and spice here than what is noted in the merlot/shirtaz/tannat and also increased acid intensity. Somewhat oxidative but holding well and doling pleasure. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

Nina Mari and Ernst Bruwer, Mont Blois

Mont Blois Estate Chardonnay Kweekkamp 2016, WO Robertson

After 28 of not bottling their own wines the husband and wife team of Ernst and Nina-Mari Bruwer began again in 2017. This is one of the first, a single vineyard chardonnay off of 12 year-old vines, barrel fermented and aged 11 months. Speaks of Robertson, not specifically by limestone but with that WO’s orchard fruit and realism, by passing spice that’s merely a thought. Lovely snap, crack and bite which is truly Robertson while in delivery of everyday texture and mellow disposition. The kind of chardonnay to stay quiet and simply sip. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Mont Blois Chardonnay Hoog en Laag 2016, WO Robertson

“High And low,” in reference to the vineyard being a terraced block on clay. Heavy clay that is, a Robertson specialty and the Hoog En Laag receives the same elévage as the Kweekkamp chardonnay. Certainly a richer and fruit fulsome expression, less snap and bite. No subtle spice either and yet the barrel notes are equally noted. What this has is full-fledged texture, creamy and smooth, all day long. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Mont Blois Chenin Blanc Groot Steen 2016, WO Robertson

The “big” chenin blanc because of the dense clay that gives nutrient life to the 32 year-old block of vines. Quite the steen intensity, ripping with fruit and a mineral streak for layer upon layer of Robertson quality. Naturally sweet pears, ripe and dripping, plus an unusual or unaccustomed to herbology. Perhaps it’s the famous local Rooibos talking. Really persistent chenin with loads of potential. Likely some flint and smoulder in its future. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Western Cape

A true Cape chenin blanc assemblage, in fact it gives meaning to the gathered idea, like an AOC Chablis made by a houses in names of Fèvre, Drouhin, Moreau or La Chablisienne. Mullineux’s twist is the back blending with some old barrel ferments to balance to new and “other” fruit components. A chenin blanc that is bottled the same year it was picked though that’s easier to do in the southern hemisphere where harvest happens in the first quarter months. Expectation always dictates value from the Kloof Street and 2018 does not disappoint with an attractive spiciness that speaks to the preservation of freshness in a chenin blanc possessive of no boundaries. One of the most versatile wines on the planet. Sheet pan sausages and fennel would be just ideal. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Quartz 2017, WO Swartland

Soil is the single matter, catalyst and difference maker to dictate the peculiarities, idiosyncrasies and unique sets of behaviours in the Mullineux single-terroir wines. The chenin develops “freckles” in the sun, tells winemaker Andrea Mullineux and the warmth of the high presence of quartz retains and returns warmth, translating to a conduit of concentrated ripeness passing through the vines. Not a direct heat, otherwise the berries would burn but a reflected back-beat of light and one that is slowly transmitted with naturally occurring temperature control for how and when the plants are in need. The greatest positive is in the maturation of phenolics in the skins and not by a hasty overload in developed sugars. From out of the silica oxide comes vegetative growth that promotes and preserves a physiological process in retention of acid freshness. The result? A phenolic journey unique to chenin blanc as here with a striking 2017, dry as drought yet fresh as a daisy. Though there is some creamy texture there too is hyper intense clarity, a variegate of dappled aromatics and brindled flavours, all bound up in animated acid bounces. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Granite 2017, WO Swartland

In chenin blanc the Mullineuxs engage in this single-terroir comparison, first by Quartz and now through Granite. The reference is to the predominant mineral presence in the soil and in how it influences the chameleon varietal. In 2017 Quartz is a major concern but switching to sandy, decomposed rocky soil and everything changes. Berries leave the world of mottled and piebald to one of demure and decor with thanks to the diffused light set upon them. That and a place where roots must burrow, digging deeper through hunks of rock into the sub-strata. This is where trace elements and minerals are to be found in the water table below and while limestone and silex is not the tablet there is some ideological affinity here with the Loire. As such it is this Granite that speaks in a leaner, thoroughly mineral, less spice and increased sharpness vernacular. Precision cut, flint struck, metallic, a song of science and silence. Body and flesh are ambient, less “creamy” than in Quartz, linear in travels, long and of an aging potential surely cast forward. Focused all the way through, unrelenting but always in layers of overlap and subtlety. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Kloof Street Red 2017, WO Swartland

Kloof Street is a “heritage blend,” says Andrea Mullineux, “it’s a wine about the love for making wine, but having preferences.” From vintage to vintage maybe check the bottle for varieties because there is no steadfast formula. Heritage, as opposed to Rhône means playfulness, choices and the inclusion of a structure fortifying grape like tinta barocca, truly integral to the Western Cape meritage experience. Here in 2017 there are some notable added layers of flesh, drying tannin and largesse. An early extracted wine in fast stages of maceration to coax out the fruit and deter astringency. Comes away rich and robust, rocking the free and new world. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

“I still consider it a blend,” insists Andrea Mullineux,”because it comes from seven vineyards on three soils.” Spends up to six weeks on skins, depending on how big the tannins are. Big equals patience. Burly early with spice and elongation but that heft and girth will slowly melt away. An invisible friend called acidity will usher the transformation, those gnomes of silent structure. The next stage will celebrate the leathery cherry fruit and cumulative Swartland savour.  Last tasted September 2018

The first drought vintage for the Swartland syrah and so the extract, concentration and density are all in compression mode. The change is felt with palpable impression, meatier, more char, even tar, and a little bit of dogma was necessary to bring in more granite-raised syrah to keep things swimmingly cool and savoury along. It’s a hematic one in 2016. To some this would be the bomb, the massive reason to believe and to others it might seem an impossible wall to scale. With a combination of love and patience the ’16 will please them all. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Mullineux Syrah Schist 2016, WO Swartland

As with the two chenin blanc Quartz and Granite introspections there too is a Mullineux terroir combing of Swartland soils through the lens of syrah, there by Iron and here through Schist. The style or rather the result is befitting the monikers because Schist is the tamer one of the two and it is interesting to note that the syrah “blend” as Andrea Mullineux calls it is more like Iron than this elegant one. A huge January heat wave could have led this into the raisin danger zone because ripening under the shotgun is no way to approach harvest. Cooler heads and temperatures prevailed to allow for an unfurling, a plumping and a perking up. Schist comes out regal, aromatically civil and demure, but also juicier than a nosing might indicate. Acid retention is strong, sweet and quite friendly to work in cohorts with the cane and Baleni based spice. Dark in complexion, yes brooding yet sneakily serene, salty and so comfortable in its own skin. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Syrah Iron 2016, WO Swartland

The second of two Mullineux soil investigations for syrah is this dramatic and hematic nonpareil exemplar. Cultivar meets terroir, raised off of a heavy, gravelly clay, rich in iron, impressive and hallowed as antediluvian viticultural ground. That may not be completely Cape uncommon but this is clearly a paradigm shifter for drilled down South African syrah in attack meets beast mode, cimmerian, ferric and intense. Modish though, while inexorable character oozes from every pore and a mid-palate wells of extraordinary fill. Sharpens its wits on bullish tannin and expresses Northwest of Malmesbury iron with raw emotion and power, though without rusticity. What it may lack in elegance is made up by sheer force in reckoning, at first engaging and then gripping the palate by all means necessary. The velvet glove future lies somewhere in the next decade, likely latter first half. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2013, WO Elgin

Just a hint of evolution is showing in this five year-old pinot noir which is something because you had to work to find any in the just tasted 2009. The sweetest fruit comes from 2013, on of the riper, purest and most pristine vintages to express what Elgin has to offer. Ethereal actually, not loosely but effortlessly structured with a seamless bond forged between fruit and acids. Tannins are already subsiding in this elegant, balanced and slightly spiced pinot. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2011, WO Elgin

Such a composed vintage, cool, calm and collected. A Beaune Villages feel here, perhaps Aloxe-Corton with darker pinot noir fruit, almost black cherry but less obvious, more complex, full of baking spice. A genial and genteel Seven Flags nonetheless, elastic, pliable, amenable but not without undeniable and underlying composure. That backbone may bend with curvature ease but will not break. Provides the basis to see this Cluver from Elgin live easily up to and likely beyond its 12th birthday. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2009, WO Elgin

Harkens back to a time when the 1987 planted 113 clone was no longer the sole provider for the Seven Flags family after 115 and 667 had been planted in 2001. From 2009 it seems quite obvious the vintage was one to create big, robust, ripe and warm pinot noir. Even as it approaches its ninth birthday the evolution equation remains in early steps computation, perhaps just now moving to the next stage. Secondary development is still around the bend or on the next page, noted by the persistence of a cool climate, liquid but still grainy chalk. Also acts just a bit reductive which seems almost impossible but stranger things have happened out of South African vineyards. Just imagine the futuristic possibilities when these vines soon achieve heritage age. Remind me to ask Paul Cluver for a look at vintages from 2022 onward at Cape Wine 2039. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Callie Louw, Porseleinberg

Porseleinberg Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

Poured by Callie Louw at Cape Wine 2018, this Riebeek Kasteel, Porcelain Mountain syrah somehow sits at a pantheon’s peak vintage after vintage, as if each one is a once in a lifetime effort. This must have been the epitome of such a consideration because Louw calls it “a fucking hard vintage, eh.” Strong talking words from the stoic and pragmatic BBQ smoker, winemaker and cricket master. Callie may have experienced a craftsman’s pain but the 70 per cent foudres and 30 concrete elévage not only tamed the savage beast, it helped to turn heads and remind of where greatness comes from. Tasted side by each with 2012 and 2013 only magnifies the massive structure in this ’16, a reductively bouncy, glycerin and impenetrable syrah in need of getting lost in the cellar. Will also need an epic song, “into the blue again, after the money’s gone.” Through the next decade and well into the following one this syrah will remain in light. “Same as it ever was.” Drink 2022-2040.  Tasted September 2018

Callie Louw’s smoker hard at work in Malmesbury

The Sadie Family Palladius 2014, WO Swartland

If you Google “South African white appellative blend” the number one result should surely be Eben Sadie’s Palladius and these are the 11 reasons why; chenin blanc, grenache blanc, marsanne, sémillon, sémillon gris, viognier, clairette blanche, roussanne, verdelho, colombard and palomino. Eleven blocks, all on granites, some from the Riebeek-Kasteel side. If looking forward to the brilliant ’16 and seeing it as a wine of mixed tenses, then this ’14 speaks in the imperfect because it strikes as the one to talk about the past and to say what used to happen. As in language, love, war and the past continuous, all is fair when it comes to assessing the verticals of wine, especially in descriptions. The 2014 Palladius is the back to the future vintage, of warmth and spice when things were picked overripe and new beginnings are constantly forged. But the citrus preserve and sheer electric lemon-lime energy looks ahead to the intensity of a youthful 2016, leaving a taster confounded, satisfied and awake all at the same time. This may go forward before it retreats once again. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Palladius 2009, WO Swartland

When talking about the 2009 vintage Eben Sadie talks of the decision to add sémillon, clairette blanche and palomino to his appellative white blend that already held chenin blanc, colmbard, grenache blanc and viognier. “To up the acidity,” aid and abet the tendencies of fleshy fruit to fatten in overripe behaviour. More than just acidity mind you, Sadie also looked to heighten the “acoustics” in a wine that was quickly becoming a major Swartland concern. Tasting this is September 2018 it can’t help but be noted how development and evolution have nearly caught up to 2005, a vintage cause and effect action no doubt. Here is the spiciest, sauciest and flat out nasty attitude Palladius, unabashed and already having done most of its living. That said the track record of these wines tells us to stay put, be patient and continue to relish the sapid, saline and ever-changing paths carved out. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Pofadder 2017, WO Swartland

Part of Eben Sadie and family’s “Die Ouwingerdreeks,” the old vine series and a reference to either or both puff adder snakes and the small “bushman’s land” town in the Northern Cape. Can be 100 per cent cinsault though the percentage is 85 in 2017, aged in old but not Jurassic wood. The ideal, epitome and exemplar bench-land varietal wine, not to mention a pioneer in the South African paradigm shift to conscious exultation of a plan in collective commitment for varietal, heritage vine and whole cluster ferments. From granite shales (not the decomposed kind) and yet another red fruit incarnate, freshest of the fresh precision wines. Pure Cape cinsault is this, with tannin but the kind that is sweet and stretched. No bullshit here. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Treinspoor 2017, WO Swartland

Afrikaans for “railroad,” perhaps a reference to the method of transportation that brought these European grapes to the Cape, depending on how far back tinta barocca arrived in the Swartland. In fact it was in the 1920’s and now just a bit more than 200 ha’s of this hardy, rustic, dark-skinned, early ripening and versatile red lay scattered about, accounting for two one hundredth’s of a per cent for vineyard area in South Africa. Sadie’s is a single-vineyard line running through the Darling side of Malmesbury, a cimmerian blackish red reeking of Renosterbos which is ironic because animal activists have always believed that the railroads threaten Rhino habitat. Digressions aside this is a prime example of why some might consider tinta barocca to be the future grape of Swartland. Sweetly floral and in 2017 both ways perfectly ripe. Botanicals abound, bosplante in bloom while flowers await the bees. Where this shares affinities with cinsault and grenache is in the curative and salumi aromas leading to sweet yet elastic tannins. The finish and length are expressly Swartland in nature. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Columella 2016, WO Swartland

Red counterpart to the Sadie white signature Palladius and residing in the upper echelon of Western Cape appellative blends. Ontario lays claim to the Stratus White and Red while the Cape knows these. Allowing for some levity there is a kinship to be considered between Eben Sadie and J-L Groulx, two of the more unlikely mad scientists able to capture the lit and woke disposition of mastered assemblage. Imagine Groulx also pouring varietal shots of many different farmed varieties from the back of his pick up truck during a lawn bowl in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The full name is Columella Liberatus in Castro Bonae Spei, Latin for “liberated in the Cape of Good Hope” and as a pillar of strength Columella’s syrah, grenache, mourvèdre, cinsault and tinta barroca ascend to dramatic expression. Variegated in every respect; hue, perfume, flavour and structure, at once layered and then stratified with doric strength, able to bear the most concentrated weight. Relative acidity, fluted or grooved, wider in youth to help support and lengthen. Intensely fortified with help from the barocca, naturally and of itself, intuitively wild yet controlled. Such a focused wine one rarely comes upon. Drink 2019-2030.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family ‘T Voetpad 2017, WO Swartland

The “footpath” from both the Dutch (het Voedpad) and Afrikaans, also the name of Dirk Brand’s rooibos and wheat farm next to this oldest vineyard in the Kapteinskloof near Piketberg. Some say the oldest in South Africa, planted between 1920 an 1928, but others will say the first vines went in around the 1890’s through to the early 1900’s. Takes the Sadie Family “Die Ouwingerdreeks” to the farthest, most extreme reaches of the old vineyards idea. “The vines have seen it all,” tells Eben Sadie, “don’t fuck with us” is their message. “Don’t mess this up.” And so Eben co-ferments in an as is format but more importantly works at the agriculture to a point of obsession. Newer inter-plantings will go in, of sémillon, sémillon gris and palomino from massal selected material. To deal with drought cover crops will also be added between rows, all of course through an organic approach. The blend is sémillon, sémillon gris, palomino, chenin blanc and muscat d’Alexandrie, all processed together, but this is not about extreme winemaking. More like extreme farming, finding ways to keep these twisted kurktrekker and cavatappi bending vines alive for to produce their magic. The wine that emerges is all about tendencies and multiplicities of texture. The dry extract here is off the charts making it seem forcefully and fiercely tannic. Fantasy and zeitgeist just happens and the results are right there in the bottle. A remarkable wine and vintage from an isolated vineyard where drought is always a factor. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted September 2018

Abrie Bruwer, Springfield Estate

Springfield Estate Chardonnay Méthode Ancienne 2016, WO Robertson

Burgundian ode, ancient method of making chardonnay, a rare approach these days, with wild yeasts and no fining or filtration. No surprise that Springfield Estate is willing to give it a go because that’s how they roll. The plan is for deep longevity by a method akin to anti-aging serum, though 15 to 20 years would be astonishing in any case. Ground control to major tang, circuits wired tohu vavohu and a lemon custard to curd constitution that is simply merveilleux. Yes it is true that a hint of orange could turn into Cointreau after a half decade or more and the mid-palate cloud cover will continue to deliver warmth and appeal. Curious methodology plus romantic acumen equates to one of a kind. We’ll see where this goes. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Break A Leg Blanc De Noirs 2017, WO Paarl

Often referred to as a pink wine but to choose this term to call Lukas van Loggerenberg’s 100 per cent cinsault grown on Helderberg granite would not tell the right story. Blanc de noirs is more apt but even then more detail is necessary to do it justice. Sees nine months of lees time, “to remove the tutti frutti,” snarks van Loggerenberg, without jest but can you really know when he’s being serious? Leaves the arena of the Rosé absurd and settles at a hue of proper B de N colour, as if that really matters. Saltiness is the thing, the granite kind, the sort to set your eyes ablaze and your heart to rest. Not really a wine about texture, though there is plenty, but that’s not the goal. Anything but sweet and a wresting away from norms into a matter of reckoning. And all about five knee surgeries, something the winemaker and the critic know all about. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Chenin Blanc Trust Your Gut 2017, WO Western Cape

While there are wines in Lukas van Loggerenberg’s world that travel down the kamikaze viaduct, Trust Your Gut is not one of them. In fact there is a normalcy, a recognizable structure and an older Euro soul to the way this chenin blanc acts and feels. Sees 10 months sur lie in old French oak but no bâttonage, nor malo neither. Three zones bring the fruit; 45 per cent each Stellenbosch and Swartland plus 10 from Paarl. Take chenin blanc and treat it like a Villages wine by imagining Loire aromatics merging with Chablis texture. This my friends is a classic example of amalgamated Western Cape chenin style. There is irony in the name and no shocker there. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Early springtime in Cape Town

Van Loggerenberg Wines Cinsault Geronimo 2017, WO Western Cape

Geronimo is 100 per cent cinsault, 60 per cent from Stellenbosch and 40 “Break a Leg” Paarl. The get together finds energy that one without the other would not find “because cinsault doesn’t have high natural acidity,” explains Lukas van Loggerenberg, “it is a very good indicator of vintage.” The 2017 is, wait for it, 80 per cent whole bunch and while that is a factor of the Western Cape’s ripen anything, anywhere, anytime great advantage, it’s still an impressive strategy no matter where you are making wine. Spends nine months in barrel and comes out smelling like roses, candied petals mainly but other florals, hibiscus and such. A handsome cinsault to be sure and one that will take precious time to unwind, great acidity or not. Like the red Cape equivalent of white friulano in Collio, sneaky long and structured. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Cabernet Franc Breton 2017, WO Stellenbosch

A more than obvious ode to the Loire Valley, 100 per cent cabernet franc bearing the old world varietal name. Fruit drawn from Stellenbosch’s decomposed granite soils gets the 60 per cent whole bunch treatment, followed by 11 months in barrel. Transparent as cabernet franc is the understatement, open wide, ease of alcohol at 12.8 per cent and in delivery for the rapture of being alive. Lots of verdant tones but nary a green tannic moment. Seems like the beginning of a beautiful friendship so the future too is wide open. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Sheree Nothnagel

Wildehurst Velo White 2016, WO Swartland

A testament to non-pareil, Cape appellative white blend equanimity, of colombard, grenache blanc and viognier, 33 of each, give or take one per cent. Only the viognier is barrel fermented though the equilibrium os never compromised. Intensely herbal, of a nose uncanny in its fynbos reek, lovely glycerin texture, again balanced and knowing the place it wants to be. Acid structure travels though in a pas trop travaillé, no trouble way. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

Barrel fermented and six months matured, 100 per cent chenin blanc, acting as if freshly spiced and in Cape terms, a really chewy white wine. Counterbalanced by a leanness in vintage while wound tight, just now perhaps beginning to unwind in repeat of its specific refrain. Acid structure makes up the lyrical couplets, sung again and again, as a reminder that fruit and wood will always align and submit to the citrus rhyme. Almost feels like still perlage and chenin blanc like this is very much a string of pearls, inclusive of tannins in long chains. Helps to explain the success of Wildehurst’s Méthode Cap Classique. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Red 2014, WO Swartland

A blend of shiraz, grenache, mourvèdre, viognier and cinsault, aged in old French barrels for 18 months. Like the solo cinsault but an even more held back and hard to crack the savoury and sweet candied shell. Both elements emerge with good agitation, first the sweet variegate of red fruit and then the brushy and dusty fynbos bushiness, here acting as an energizer for equal opportunity. Spills over with that Wildehurst acid-tannin continuum as all the wines take their time to ready, pivot in the glass and then speak of their age ability going forward. Big bursts are all power and no cake. Rich yet elastic and surely capable of going deep. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Cinsault 2017, WO Swartland

Just two barrels were found to be extraordinary and thus pulled by Sheree Nothnagel, away from the red blend and into this solo album. Quite the richly emulsified and ropey red fruit cinsault and while it follows along the varietal Swartland thread the differences are as great as they are to the party’s similarities. That is due in respect to the Wildehurst style, tighter and more acid-structure intense, higher-toned and less in the meaty-salumi-curative vein. Still possessive of that red as red can be fruit but here more akin to barbera or sangiovese from high altitudes and limestone soils. There must be something about Koringberg and the other Swartland sites that bring a special je ne sais quoi to Joanne Hurst’s wines. Maybe in thanks to Swartland shale, granite, silcrete and alluvium Renosterveld. Who does not love the smell of Renosterveld in the morning? Drink 2019-2027. Tasted September 2018

The Wine Thief Costa Del Swart Viura 2017, WO Voor Paardeberg

From the Western Cape’s chameleon of a region where anything goes and all things are considered. Case in point this viura of Spanish roots as part of the single barrel series. Surely Swartland specific (as opposed to Paarl), 100 per cent viura and only 180 bottles produced. Less alchemy and more herbology, but flinty, sharp and exciting. Direct, full of fun and even a bit waxy, with a riesling or sémillon feel that can only mean some petrol in its future. So much citrus gets ya in the end. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

There are times when you do it just for the continuity because time marches on, no matter the circumstances. There is no disputing how different 2020 was and frankly the flip to 2021 will not bring about significant change or any semblance of a return to what was, at least not in the first several months. Yet the compelling urge is there, to quantify and qualify this annual Godello list of wines that opened, expanded and blew a mind in 2020. The concept for a year-end summation was launched in 2012 though it was the publishing of 14 in 2014 that made it very official, if only in the mind of one Godello. Matters little whether this qualifies as the seventh or the ninth because in wine one should always eschew semantics for the liquid truth found inside the bottle, elixirs they are of most profound, ethereal and honest propriety.

Related – Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

This will be a much different list than ever before. While I did manage to squeeze in 25 days of travel in the first 56 of 2020 those were the last of this calendar year. That’s at least 75 short of my normal yearly schedule and so imagine that if an average of 30 wines are tasted each and every day on the road, well then that would tell us that at the very minimum 2,250 wines were missed this year. Not entirely true because at least half that many, if not 75 per cent more were made available to me and my WineAlign colleagues over these past nine month of quarantine, isolation and safe-distancing tastings. Still the make-up of what was tasted has been very different, the most notable being the lack of unrepresented or not found in market wines. Less discovery in 2020 to be sure.

Campo Spritz

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

According to my personal critic’s database on WineAlign I reviewed 4,450 wines in 2020, keeping in mind that many of those reviews were for wines tasted in 2019. Up until this year I was consistently behind or back-logged with hundreds if not more than a thousand tasting notes in the queue, unedited, unresolved, not yet reconciled, unfinished, not-posted. Since the global pandemic abruptly delivered me home in the dead of a late February night from Faenza to Firenze, through Frankfurt and to Pearson I have not been able to resume travel. These last 10 months have allowed for a massive catching up. There are now a thousand less wines to finesse and publish then there were this time last year, very few raw and rustic songs waiting for the editing process. All the choices on this 2020 list have been solidified and already been opined with confidence for the world to scrutinize. In 2020 there is nothing left on the table.

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

Slipped outta Dodge under the cover of darkness…

This year’s list is indeed different. The get togethers were few and far between. The travel non-existent. That is why you will recognize more producer names and also a more “archetypal” bent to the choices. The year dictates such a direction and as we all know, you have to listen to what the vintage tells you but also to remember and thank the true pioneers for getting all of us here. Perhaps the greatest influence on how this composition came to be was a conscious choice to omit the older vintages tasted in 2020. There were less to be sure but it just feels like keeping them kind of secretive is the way to go. Let’s hope a connection to that part of this exercise will make a return in 2021. As always, heartfelt thanks to everyone who poured a glass. The producers, winemakers, export managers, friends, colleagues and pirates, so please be encouraged and read on. Alas, Godello’s 20 mind-blowing wines of 2020.

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (23128, $17.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Gets me every time. Not just one of the finest meets best value chenin blancs available out of South Africa but an example to hang all your hats on no matter where white wine comes from in this world. Still the knowing nod and incredulous head shake that $18 CDN can buy you fruit from six blocks that are mainly 38 years of age but could possibly include 1974 Helderberg planted vines in Stellenbosch. “Core of the business” and arrow through a chenin heart. Great ferment, like a (catherine) wheel. Layers of design, creamy with thanks to secondary lees aging but somehow still texturally chewy. Barrel notes make a point in a vanilla brûlée way and yet each sip is like taking a bite from a piece of firm, ripe fruit. “I need more texture. You need to give me more texture, texture, texture. You need to give me more texture.” Old Vine Reserve obliges every time. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted June 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Selbach Oster Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2018, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany (17498, $45.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

The triad of producer, appellation and vineyard gets no more arch classic than this with a riesling in Spätlese form at the hands of Selbach-Oster. The pitch and sway in this Wehlener Sonnenuhr vinyeard is 2018 dance card perfect, tight and fluid. Succulent acids are burgeoning and urging the fruit forward, sideways and every which way but loose. This is a wine that gets what needs and gives what is wanted. Will only improve with a few years and then there will come a day when an air or vapour trail falls away. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted November 2020

Tyrrell’s Belford Sémillon 2017, Single Vineyard, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, South Australia (14322, $46.95, Select Wine Merchants)

Belford Vineyard (formerly Elliot Farm) is Hunter Valley leader Tyrrell’s single-vineyard leased sémillon with so much promise in its corner. A top varietal vintage for one thing and the well-draining sandy soils for another. Sémillon thrives in these conditions and so what comes from this awe-inspiring wine is exactly what you possibly wish for when selecting from Hunter Valley. This wine is swiftly, justly and perpetually lit, a smoky, paraffin waxy, über salty, elemental, aerified, verified mineral wine. So focused and precise. Mon dieu, Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted June 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Fresne Ducret La Grande Hermine Champagne Premier Cru 2008, AC Champagne, France ($78.00, Nicholas Pearce Wines)

Hard to believe the age because while this almost certainly achieved an immediately retro toasted and evolved stage in its youth and though 12 years have passed the present day imaginings are dreamed to persist within that very immediate stage. As creamy as it is toasty, the textural body politic in La Grande Hermine is one of great cerebral and figurative impression. You feel, intuit and embrace such honesty and possibility. Drink this vintage dated Champagne all winter long. Its calming presence will preserve you in a state of grace lower than a snowman’s blood pressure. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2020

El Esteco

El Esteco 1947 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (15082, $24.95, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.)

From Argentina’s northern desert where some of the country’s oldest vines perpetuate existence while thriving fiercely in a hot climate. So yes it is true that some fruit from 70-plus year old vines, well trees really, make their way into this special Salta wine. Dense and concentrated, Cassis times 10, savoury and truly expressive. Oak is well-managed, not shy mind you but these old vines deserve some added and fortifying structure. Do not miss this. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted August 2020

Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Maipo Valley, Chile (403980, $160.00, Escalade Wines & Spirits)

Though essentially a cabernet sauvignon at minimum 90 per cent, it would normally need saying to never discount the blending attributes of cabernet franc, merlot and in recent years, petit verdot. The nooks and crannies filled by the other grape varieties are some of the senses of wonder that have illuminated and elucidated the magic of Don Melchor. And yet years of such thought is turned on its head in 2017 with a 98 per cent pure cabernet sauvignon Don Melchor and only two bits of cabernet franc. Speaks to winemaker Enrique Tirado’s vision of the varietal and vintage relationship. After all, this is his baby, a passion project that spans 20 vintages, from which he looks to “harvest the beauty of the balance of the Puente Alto terroir.” From Viñedo Don Melchor, D.O. Puente Alto and Valle del Alto Maipo, old vines planted 1979 to 1992, new from 2004-2013. The vintage was above average in terms of warmth, cooler temperatures at harvest preserved acidities and sealed the (near) mono-varietal deal. At 30 years into its tenure Don Melchor hits a new stride and it would be hard to argue against the levels of subtle, demure, balanced and ethereal in this 2017. Perfect fruit? Pretty darn close and a bouquet of fresh picked flower-herb-fruit that merge, meld and grace together. One for this age and to age gracefully, slowly and predictably for 20-25 years. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted October 2020

Taub Family Vineyards Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Napa Valley, California (849434, $235.00, Dionysus Wines & Spirits Ltd.)

From proprietor Marc Taub who’s family has been prominently part of the Napa Valley wine fabric since prohibition and who in 2013 acquired Napa Valley producer Heritance, later evolving into Taub Family Vineyards. His winemaker is Tom Hinde, a Sonoma and Napa specialist who cut his teeth for seven years at Flowers, but also at Kendall-Jackson, Hartford, La Crema, Lakoya, Cardinale, Stonestreet and Verite. Add in a mere three acres within the historic 300-acre Beckstoffer Vineyard first purchased by Beaulieu founder Georges de Latour in 1928, called Beaulieu Vineyard Number 3 and made by winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. The 2017 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon are a very special lot. That much we know. Add in the pedigree, torch passing and respect for these necessary tenets of wine-producing business and well, hello. Utmost attention to detail, optimum extraction and concentration, sultry, supple and ultimately divine. There is this fine, fine, almost indescribable salty vein that cuts through the fruit and the fat like perfect umami seasoning in the most decadent dish. With meat or seafood, California or Japan, take your pick. Drink this either way. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2020

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2018, WO Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $59.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Even though the ’18 HR PN took my breath away nine months ago, the not yet understood nuance of this wine surely clouded first impressions. However small a sample size this may be is more than enough to prove time’s effect on wine, pinot noir and Hamilton Russell’s spiritual connection with the grape and how it personifies the Hemel En Aarde Valley. Fragrance, perfume, essential oils, Lilac, Lilly of the Valley and the sweetest tobacco smoulder. Captivating now and quite likely will be so into the mid 30s.  Last tasted August 2020

There have been many Hamilton Russell pinot noir poured in my anxiously awaiting glasses over the last five years. It’s hard to believe we are here at 2018 but time is a joy when you are having a noirmance. The fruit is exceptional in this vintage because it just feels like the warm day/cool night fix is in. The diurnal flux has locked in freshness and sweet tension like no recent memory can recall. Makes for a most grippy yet excitable pinot noir of concentration, presence and promise. Benchmark in every respect. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted November 2019

That Marco Cirese Sangiovese stare. His Noelia Ricci and Pandolfo are crucial, fundamental and illustrative of what is possible in Emilia-Romagna. #sangiovesediromagna #viniadarte #viniadarte2020

Noelia Ricci Pandolfa Romagna Sangiovese Predappio DOC Godenza 2018, Emilia Romagna, Italy (The Vine Agency)

Godenza was the name of the podere (house) on site at a one hectare vineyard at 340m, the highest section of Ricci’s land. The introduction of concrete tanks is surely responsible (in part) to the freshness and reduction but also poor, well-draining calcareous soils that complete a relationship with open-knit and fragrant red fruit. Adds up to complexities and beauty, not to mention the hands-off, unadulterated feel of this wine. At the top end of quality and elaborate expression for the appellation. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted twice at Vini Ad Arte, Casa Spadoni, Faenza February 2020

Because he’s Dario F-in Faccin, that’s why g-dammit! #carobbio #sangiovese #chianticlassico #panzano #galestro

Tenuta Carobbio Chianti Classico DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy ($33.60, Alta Wines)

Stop in here for a rest and exult in the near perfect grace, charm and collective soul in the heart of an Annata. To say that the Novarese family and Dario Faccin should feel the greatest sangiovese reward from this appellation would be a grand understatement. This version of Panzano and Chainti Classico DOCG is what it is, what it can and must be. Should be. Has to be. Richly glorious and confidently understated. The cleanest sangiovese and the one that speaks most succinctly of the land. These are the reasons why Carobbio is the most underrated, but for how long? This ’16 will see proof to that and so much more. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted February 2020

With the brothers Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli

Now to introduce you to the Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli brothers, Alessandro and Andrea, two men who covet, own and articulate their western wing of Castelnuovo terroir. As custodians of these classic southern Chianti Classico Alberese and Galestro vineyards they have come to understand their nuance and their specialities. So, Riserva from 2015 now comes to its beginning having needed every bit of the extra two years in bottle it has received. Yes this Geggiano ’15 Riserva still needs time and if you abide by the premise it will come alive, surmise and in turn, surprise. In fact it will make a lasting impression and stay with you forever. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2015, Tuscany, Italy (Stem Wine Group)

The acumen, wisdom and also the persistent reduction are formidable in this incredibly concentrated wine. So Monsanto, so in delivery of San Donato in Poggio, so Laura Bianchi. Seemingly equipped with the needed stuffing in the way that 1968 managed to accrue over 50 years of travels. Here in Gran Selezione form the tendencies and the abilities are multiplied tenfold. Magnificent and magnanimous, the concentration is foiled by focus and precision, from all that has come before, moving into the present and then going forward with everything that occupies, in hopes and dreams. Drink 2025-2037.  Tasted February 2020

Vineyard at Salicutti

Podere Salicutti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Sorgente 2015, Tuscany, Italy

Organic, biodynamic and unfiltered, from the then first in Montalcino, at the hands of Francesco Leanza, in 1995. Now (and since 2015) in the custodial hands of Felix and Sabine Eichbauer, halfway between Montalcino and Castelnuovo dell’Abate. The last of the cru, single-vineyards planted at Salicutti and not surprisingly the one with most red fruity juiciness that keeps a lineage with the Rosso. If a portal into knowing what it makes to taste the bright side of 2015 could be described then why not make use of this ethereal Sorgente to learn of such things. Voltage, tension and vibration. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Francesco Ripaccioli

Canalicchio Di Sopra Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Casaccia 2016, Tuscany, Italy (Le Sommelier Inc.)

Barrel Sample. Now this is something exceptional. This is what Casaccia is obviously capable of producing, The sweetest Canalicchio fruit of all, to date and with a rising low and slow angling of acidity (as opposed to straight verticality) that carries the fruit to great heights. This will be a triumph and in fact it is already tasting like a piece de Canalicchio resistance while it sings a long maestro song. A soloist that needs no accompaniment although food, company and peace would not hurt at all. Obviously this is more than just the northern side of Montalcino and more than Canalicchio. This is Casaccia. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted February 2020

Lorenzo Magnelli, Le Chiuse

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Diecianni 2013, Tuscany, Italy

The ’13 will be released on January 1st, 2023 and as the name Diecianni suggests it is a Riserva that 10 years minimum are needed before readiness begins to take shape. The selection is from the smallest grape clusters in estate vineyards and mainly the oldest vines, originally planted in 1987. The vintage of the great polyphonic-phenolic, elastic and stretched ripeness, by photosynthesis without heat, of muscles with energy and ones that will develop, remain and use their power to keep the fruit alive. That said it’s a wine of wood and the highest level of salinity, sapidity and a tang that is exhibited by no other Brunello di Montalcino. A concentration that is simply outstanding and in some minds, will even be eclipsed (or not) by 2016. The finesse and architecture of this wine are as good as it gets. Drink 2026-2042.  Tasted February 2020

Lucrezia Carrega Malabaila

Malabaila Di Canale 1362 Roero Riserva DOCG Castelletto 2015, Piedmont, Italy ($59.95)

From Canale vines 50 years old and the most historical vineyard for Malabaila, as documents show. Riserva here means two years in two, three and four year-old barrels. Yet another silky Roero and example of nebbiolo that could not have been born anywhere else. The “little castle” is a charming nebbiolo, fine of all its constructive parts with an ease of sensuality that just shows how confident, casual and natural life as it is just happens to be. Castelletto knows what it is. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted January 2020

Elena Sottimano

Sottimano Barbaresco DOCG Basarin 2016, Piedmont, Italy ($103.95, Le Maitre de Chai)

Basarin in the newest Cru for Sottimano, established in 2014 though the vines are already between 45-50 years old. Released just at the start of 2020 and already displaying a prominence in aromatics that speak to this exceptional nook just below Neive. From a vintage blessed for its place in history matched by a requiem for a dream. Crunchy for nebbiolo surely caused by the policy of classically long Piedmontese maceration, drawing fruit with gentle impunity and long-grained tannins in thrushes and intermingling chains. Pure dark fruit (almost raspberry) and a generous application of wood varnish. Architecture, length and character, all together. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted January 2020

With Francesca Vaira

G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Bricco Delle Viole 2016, Piedmont, Italy ($113.95, Groupe Soleil)

The thing of Bricco delle Viole that is beauty emits with gala fruit force into the canals of the layers. Bricco dell Viole the singular Barolo cru, from which fruit, texture and extension are consistently planned out, mapped and organized. So wound, so found and following a path that runs along a line along a circle. Slow unwind and unfolding coming, culminating in developed notes, to be far away, somewhere between then and then. Too soon to tell. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted January 2020

Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz 2017, South Australia, Australia (12016, $150.00, Mark Anthony Group)

Another old friend, St. Henri, once a wine for a special occasion, now one for all times. No, not a baby Grange but to me this is to Penfolds as Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus is to Maison Bouchard Père & Fils. Not that there is any resemblance to pinot noir save for the fact that in terms of shiraz, St. Henri is the elegant or if you will, the Burgundian one. Penfolds like to refer to Henri as “an intriguing counterpoint to Grange,” and that seems right in the sense that power and optimum concentration are never the point. It is a multi-regional blend, from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Eden Valley and Port Lincoln. There is no new wood exercised; it spends 12 months in 50-plus year old vats. Distinct style, unique pedigree and alternative execution. Adds up to intrigue, enigma and mystery, which is just what an iconic and signature counterpoint should do. Acidity and structure are tops, bar none. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2018, Douro Valley, Portugal (12076, $160.00, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits)

The third consecutively declared Vintage Port by Taylor is one of 18’s most powerfully restrained. Taylor describes their 2018 from a “year (that) seems to have given it an additional layer of density and weight.” Apropos it needs saying because texture this viscous is clearly vintage driven. After record aridity in 2017 it was a wet March that was welcomed with open arms and water tables but the rain kept up and so mildew became the challenge. Worse was damage from hailstorms in the Pinhão area, including Taylor Fladgate’s Quinta do Junco. But the heat came and on August 3rd at Quinta de Vargellas they recorded a temperature of just over 44°C. Ripening happened in a shorter and more concentrated window, a good thing in the world of VP, as witnessed by the no holes, all in, singular in vision and style Taylor 2018. Not the gangster power surge of some others mind you and the violets give little aromatic space to fruit nor perfume that tries to steal the spotlight. These are remarkable tannins and it could be periods of ages and epochs before this begins to move into complexities secondary and tertiary. If I were as young as I think you are I’d invest in this Taylor for the next 30-plus years of evolution. Drink 2027-2044.  Tasted November 2020

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

Love year-end lists? Stick around. Hate ’em? See ya. It is always a matter of great difficulty to contain the retrospective excitement in thinking about what happened over the previous 12 months with respect to Canadian wine. This while enjoying holiday down time, with December winding down. The exercise began on Godello in 2013 and this seventh instalment naturally not only includes six more than the first, it also happens to act as segue, transition and salvo to usher in a new decade.

Related – Eighteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2018

Unity opinions aside this nineteen as a number is but a fraction of what could, should or would be celebrated in this coast to coast entity we call Canadian wine.  Allow a quote to be used again, in unabashed redundancy of repetition. This curated list is “biased, exclusive and decisive but it is meant to celebrate a select few with a mandate to elevate and exult the rest. It’s also a proclamation read to many who remain ignorant to an ideal of great wine being made in Canada, to tell the insolent they are not welcome here anyway. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it.”

Fearless #ontariowineawards leaders @tony.aspler and Deborah Benoit running a tight #owa2919 ship @gbcchca ~ best quality work coming out of Ontario folks

Related – 17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

In 2019 the opportunities for tasting Canadian wine upped the ante and increased the possibilities hundreds fold. This despite doubling international travel over a year further afield and abroad which made it twice as difficult to keep up the Canadian pace of assessment. That said there were more than 1000 tasted once again. The WineAlign team never wavers in the relentless pursuit, often at the WineAlign headquarters and in 2019 in convene at the June WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada in Prince Edward County, Ontario.  Ontario wines were judged as well thanks to Tony Aspler and also with David Lawrason at The Great Canadian Kitchen Party, the artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates.

Aldé blending session day @ravinevineyard ~ Rosé 2018 looking stellar

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

Over the past 12 months the little négoce project known as Interloper Wines with Scott Zebarth, Marty Werner and Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery continued the pursuit of Niagara Lakeshore and Niagara-on-the-Lake excellence with Aldé Rosé 2018, a 100 per cent cabernet franc. The third vintage of Interloper Cabernet Franc appeared with the 2018 release, as did the second incarnation of the As Is Field Blend 2018.

Oh hey @nicholaspearce_ thanks for making us look so good!

In 2017 there were 17 and in 2016 there were 16 noted. In 2015 that meant 15 and 14 for 2014, just as in 2013 the filtered list showed 13 as the number chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine. Last year? You would be correct if you guessed 18. Roll out the 2019 red carpet. Whence comes the sense of wonder we perceive when we encounter certain bottles of art? Here are the 19 most exciting Canadian wines of 2019.

Avondale Sky Sparkling Rosé Méthode Traditionnelle 2017, Nova Scotia ($27.82)

Leon Millet like you’ve never experienced with red currants folded into tomatillo salsa from a traditional method upbringing and a recent disgorgement. Energy, excitement and then boom, black currants and a whoosh tidal wave of Fundy exhilaration. An entirely new look at bubbles and from a Nova Scotia class where the sky is the limit. Drink 2019-2020. Tasted September 2019

NWAC19 Gold Medal Winner

The 2014 vintage, labelled as Balance Blanc de Blanc Brut, marks the Teaching Winery’s first venture into the style of Sparkling made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. It also marks the first product made 100 per cent from grapes grown on the College’s Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus vineyards. “It celebrates the balance of knowledge, passion and creativity of the winemakers, professors and students who all pursue excellence in the field of winemaking.”

Niagara College Balance Blanc De Blanc Brut 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario ($26.95)

Gingered entry for blanc de blanc of stoic beauty, marbled bust focus. Lemon and a dustiness indicative first of low yields, but then, the obviousness of do not disturb winemaking. Toasty and preserved lemon richesse, elegant and cumulative. So good. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

From a crown cap versus cork closure tasting with Flat Rock’s owner Ed Madronich and current winemaker David Sheppard. The two wines count as one for the purpose of this list.

Flat Rock Sparkling (Crown Cap Closure) 2006, Traditional Method, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (383315, $34.95)

Wines were all under crown for 36 months, disgorged in January 2010, three quarters pinot noir plus chardonnay and then re-sealed under crown, Six cases were sealed under cork but otherwise both wines are exactly the same, same cellar conditions, same dosage, same everything. Less hue in this number two (crown), same but different, less oxidation, less caramelization and yet on par or near in terms of that ginger-miso tone. Lemon adds to the milder orange crème brûlee and the energy, spirit and lift is more pronounced. Greater vision in acidity and even some lingering reduction. Like the first it is in fact full of sensibility, reason, plenty of seasoning. Likewise and differently so much fun to behold and to drink. Certainly more heightened sensation created by mousse and carbonation that actually affect the mouthfeel and texture. Made by Marelise Beyers. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2019

Flat Rock Sparkling (Cork Closure) 2006, Traditional Method, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (383315, $34.95)

Wines were all under crown for 36 months, disgorged in January 2010, three quarters pinot noir plus chardonnay and then re-sealed under crown, “However,” explains Ed Madronich and the big raison d’etre for this tasting is that six cases were sealed under cork, complicit with or perhaps explicitly for Ed’s Mom. Both wines are exactly the same, same cellar conditions, same dosage, same everything. Just the seal on 72 bottles changes the nature of the game. The colour is deeper in this number one (cork), more oxidation, more caramelization and more deep ginger-miso tone. Quite orange crème brûlee as well. Acidity persists, wealthy, rising, more than intact. In fact it’s well-reasoned, seasoned and in tact. So much fun to behold and to drink. Made by Marelise Beyers. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted September 2019

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (241182, $37.20)

Baker’s ’16 is the child of a great vintage’s phenolics and so without needing to concern oneself in wondering about ripeness or fruit quality it allows for a beeline straight to the tannic structure. That’s the crux of 2016, built upon a core that may as well be centred in the very heart of Colmar. Sugar may as well be nowhere and nothing because balance induces dreams utterly grounded in aridity. So reminded of Bernard Schoffit and The Rangen, austere yet entangled, lean, direct, sure, focused and precise. In the zone and will be for 12 blessedly slow developing years. Drink 2021-2030.  Tasted October 2019

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (173377, $28.00)

Looking at this 2011 Chardonnay now and with learned imagination back through time this screams the vintage. Great Scott, cracker jack Chablis dressing up into Premier Cru status cloaked candidly in Ravine clothing. This eight year-old chardonnay shows off as one of then winemaker Shauna White’s great early moments, an achievement of planning through execution and clearly a success from a cool, austere and so very varietal vintage. Maybe even a legacy defining moment for what was and can continue to be. A purveyor of land, a youthful precociousness and all the local possibilities on offer. This is so pure and purposeful for the grape and for Ravine. Just great right now. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted September 2019

Le Clos Jordanne Winemaker Thomas Bachelder

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184549, $44.95)

Welcome back, to that grand vineyard place that we’ve talked about. Down on the farm near the water where chardonnay was purposed grown and put in the hands of a young Thomas Bachelder. The results were dramatic and now that unparalleled fruit is back in the monk’s world, he wiser and more experienced than ever. The transition is spooky seamless and the awe in hand providing breathtaking posits in moments more than fleeting. Behold the presence of orchards and their just ripened glow of fruit with sheen so fine. Let your glass allow the ease of the aromas and flavours to fall in and emit with conscious movement, without conscience or effort. That’s the 2017 Grand Clos. Chardonnay that is. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted November 2019

Closson Chase Churchside Chardonnay 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($44.95)

Platinum hue and reserved aromatics indicate a reductive tendency so give it some air. Comes out and away clean and more expressive, with periodic mineral notes, not exactly saline but certainly from the table. Lovely fruit in the melon to orchard way and elevated by acidity plus fine grape tannin. Lovely and composed wine right here.  Last tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Truth be submitted, discussed and told the 2017 Closson Chase Vineyard is a lovely, accessible, County for all chardonnay but this, this is something other. This Churchside ’17 from a block of vines at the prettiest little chapel around delivers the fullest fruit compliment of the times, in headline, lede and body of work. It does so with a posit tug of tension and spot on, pinpointed and precise attention to balance. States a case with best butter, better toast and even greater purpose. The ’17 Churchside undulates and circles, coming to rest in the moment where it all melts down, like a ball in place on the roulette wheel, always having known what number it would be.  Drink 2019-2026. Tasted June 2019

Meyer Micro Cuvée Chardonnay Old Main Rd Vineyard 2017, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($65.00)

The Old Main Road is a Naramata Bench growing site of silt over clay loams at 350m. The northerly aspect links fruit to indirect sun for higher acid-driven chardonnay. This specialized plot-block-pick-separation of origin intensifies the citrus and the savoury strike of scintillant. It’s reductive and not redacted in that it’s protected by a shell of tannin but bursts with rumbles and shakes. This is singular and unique in ways most Okanagan chardonnay does not begin to touch. Great potential and possibility exist so expect so much from this wine now and for a half decade minimum more. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted April 2019

Stratus White 2015, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.20)

The latest incarnation of Stratus White is a gem-like one, part reductive and part honeyed. The dual attack is duly noted and doubly paid great attention. Warmth and this remarkable phenolic multiplicity add up to the most strikingly reserved White in quite some time. It will develop more secondary personality and less fade into lean, smoky, shadowy and unfruitful feelings than many that have come before. By many stretches of imagination this is a deeply curious blend and ultimately a beautiful one. So bloody didactic and interesting. A ten years forward retrospective will regard White 2015 as a benchmark for the locomotive Ontario appellative white locution. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted February 2019

Congrats to Cliff and Colin @stannerswines for their The Narrow Rows Pinot Noir 2017 Gold Medal performance @judgement.of.kingston 2019. We the judges deliberated long and with great care to come to this well-deserved conclusion.

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir The Narrow Rows 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($45.00)

A super-saturated, honed and zeroed in upon place in a vineyard ripeness with a touch foxiness. Reality from limestone bled into fruit wavering on a spectrum where berry fruit sits on one end and earthy beetroot all the way over on the other. Touches both and then properly meets in the middle. Cherries are red, herbs are green and tension stretches a wire between two poles. Tomato water and tomato leaf with fresh basil. That’s just matter of fact and a good struck balance in combination. You almost feel it’s at once too ripe and then a bit green but those moments are fleeting and so the summation in accumulation is the thing; must, seeds, stems and the work of kind, nurturing and gentle hands add up to great delicacy. It’s local and it’s so bloody good. Delicious even. Unlike any pinot noir ever made previously in Ontario. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted blind at the Judgement of Kingston, November 2019

Hidden Bench Pinot Noir Locust Lane Vineyard 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($48.00)

Locust Lane is the one of greater tension and posit tug, holding court and keeping fruit on a short leash. The aromatics are not as sweetly floral but what you will note, if you wait for the fleshing is this glycerin texture and seamless weave of structure. This is the savoury, almost minty and surely cantilevering pinot noir, from the field and out over the length of the wine’s attention. Will linger, prosper and live long. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted March 2019

NWAC19 Platinum Medal Winner

Howling Bluff Pinot Noir Century Block 2016, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($35.00)

Wow. Now we’ve come into pinot of some curious, unusual and stand up to be noticed excitement. The aromatics are circling, rising, elemental, exaggerated and complex. There’s umami here that few others seem to find or are capable of seeking out. Fine if slightly tonic tannins and structure, texture, architecture and blessed complexity. This will morph into many things by way of many stages. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Thirty Bench Winemaker Emma Garner

Thirty Bench Small Lot Cabernet Franc 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($75.00)

In many respects this is the flagship of all the Thirty Bench wines, a varietal exploration like no other, of direction, microcosm and intention. It’s an extracted and concentrated cabernet franc but stays free of encumbrance, hinderance or adulteration. It’s dramatically plush and yet shows nary a note of green or gritty, nor astringency neither. It’s a showpiece to be sure and even of an ambition not typical of its maker but as for structure, well that’s as impressive as the concentration. We’ll be tasting this at an Expert’s Tasting in the mid 20s. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted August 2019

NWAC19 Platinum Medal Winner

Desert Hills Estate Winery Ursa Major Syrah Eagle’s Nest Vineyard 2016, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($40.00)

Inky, ferric, serious, structured, regaling and ripping syrah. Full throttle, absolute ripeness, carefully extracted and utterly purposed. The acidity, tannin and overall structure seal all the deals and put this in a category of its own. Drink 2021-2026. Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Big Head Raw Syrah 2017, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario ($65.00)

Never before have we encountered syrah this way in Ontario. A wild ferment and use of concrete vats is one thing but the Brettanomyces off the charts is intonate of something wholly other. The exclamation is emotion both Andrzej and Jakub Lipiniski acknowledge and embrace. The thought and the recognition lights up their faces. It expresses itself in peppery jolts, with sultry, hematic, ferric and magical notation. It’s like liquorice on steroids, melting into a feral liqueur. “Wow that syrah is crazy,” tasters are heard to exclaim and yet you can see how much they relish the experience. As I do, without knowing why, except for the fact that in its big headedness this is a very balanced wine. Some way, somehow. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted March and April 2019

Lawrason and Gismondi

NWAC19 Gold Medal Winner

Nk’mip Cellars, 51 percent owner by the Osoyoos Indian Band Cellars, part of the Arterra Wine Group, as per Anthony Gismondi is “ably guided by winemakers Randy Picton and Justin Hall. Nk’Mip Cellars took home one platinum, two gold, three silver and five bronze medals, adding to its legacy of consistent performances at the nationals. The unique, First Nations winery is well worth a visit, as is lunch on the patio.”

Nk’mip Cellars Winemakers Talon 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($23.99)

Really juicy shiraz based blend (44 per cent with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc and pinot noir) with rich, ropey, red berry and savoury tones. Big fruit and if oaked with generosity it’s a construct that seems more than capable of the handling. Big effort, personality and acidity to carry it high. Boozy to a degree and again capable of finding balance. Isn’t this what cool climate blends should strive to achieve? Forget the formulas. Look to great agriculture and a master blender to realize goals. This reaches a milestone and likely at a ridiculously affordable price. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Tawse winemaker Paul Pender

Tawse Meritage 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (581165, $67.95)

That aromatic combination of dark plummy fruit and tangy blood orange is a straight give away for many more impending complexities to come. A three-pronged Bordeaux varietal mix of merlot (45 percent), cabernet sauvignon (28) and cabernet franc (27) with so much going on you might not understand what it’s trying to say. It’s like Glossolalia, a “fluid vocalizing of speech-like syllables that lack any readily comprehended meaning,” a.k.a. in tongues. Never mind the distractions and the madness but instead head straight to the intersection of structure and balance because that’s what matters. The fruit is bold, the woodwork finely chiseled and precise and the end result is the work of masters; agriculturalists, oenologists and winemaking hands. This will live on through epochs of Canadian Meritage notability and infamy. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

With Phantom Creek’s Anne Vawter

Phantom Creek Phantom Creek Vineyard Cuvée 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($100.00)

Some of the estate’s finest cabernet sauvignon makes its way into the flagship red, also made up of the other four Bordeaux red grapes. There is a sweetness that comes through from layering so much quality fruit in a way that neither the Becker blend nor the varietal cabernet sauvignon seem capable to manage. There’s also a deep sense of tannin and an almost dark brooding character, but also a smoky, savouriness that adds to the mystery and the dimension. So stylish and composed, amalgamated of the finest fruit bred from great attention to agricultural detail. Incredible length too. One of the most professional wines in Canada. Drink 2021-2030.  Tasted February 2019

Southbrook winemaker Ann Sperling

Southbrook Organic Vidal Icewine 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (581165, 375ml, $49.95)

The most unusually brick red-orange hue makes this vidal Icewine a one-of-a-kind wonder and the best news of all is how complex the wine is to follow suit. Yes the curiosity factor runs high but so do the gamut of aromatics and flavours. Coffee, toffee, crème brûlée, apricot, guava and strangely enough the spongey filling of a Crunchie Bar. What a childhood memory that digs up. Acids are strong, relevant and still humming so the sugars are carried along with great companionship. Benchmark vidal usage and to no surprise. Ann Sperling’s work with varietal orange wine combined with her knowledge of Icewine make for a union divine. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Garage Wine Company redux

Derek Mossman Knapp – Garage Wine Co.

Sara d’Amato and I last caught up with and tasted the secrets of Chile’s deep interior with expatriate Etobican Derek Mossmnan Knapp three years ago yesterday, in September of 2016. I noted at the time that few have gone as deep and traced as far back “into the country’s heartland, oldest vines and ancestral traditions.” His wines from the Secano Interior are made by hand, naturally, in small lots parcel by parcel. Garage Wine Co. is still a matter of ploughs and manos en el suelo. Workers gain strength and energy from mugs of ulpo, toasted heirloom wheat flour with honey and water. This is a place where Derek tells us that one’s only real needs are “clippers, a hatchet, and a lifetime of experience to pass on.” Oxford commas sold separately.

Related – We take you now to garage wine in Chile

He continues to educate us. “Let’s make a mugrón” he says, a vine branch that is buried at the end so that a new plant is born. Like the Sicilian propaginare in Fabio Sereci’s Vrucara Vineyard. “This is regenerative agriculture. It’s not about finding a nice old man to support, but rather rolling your sleeves up and working elbow to elbow. The flavour is in the farming.” The work is relentless, essential, never-ending. “With seasonal cover-crops ploughed under no need for fertilizer,” he continues, “rastreando no es lo mismo y no incorpora nitrogeno de la misma manera.” Or, nitrogen will never incorporate as successfully by tracking. In Secano Interior there is only one way. The right way.

Contrary to common belief and heaps of marketing, the complexity of a wine most often comes from the farming.

Yes, the farming. A winemaker can aspire to creative angst and/or the never-ending and hopeless aspiration to attain the sublime but without the right, proper and tireless work ethic of agriculture there is no greatness. Tilling, hoeing, ploughing and straightening things out are the keys to the salvaes, the volleys, salutes, provisos and reservations for securing the possibility of making memorable wines.  Garage Wine Co. personnel are putting in the time.

País-Cariñena, Sémillon, Carignan Field Blend and Cabernet Franc. These are the four seminal bottles Derek brought along for Sara and I to taste at the WineAlign office. And it was good.

Garage Wine Co. País Cariñena Phoenix Ferment Single Ferment Series 2018, DO Secano Interior Cauquenes, Maule Valley, Chile (WineAlign)

“A wine that rose from the 2017 bush fires, quickly having ascended out of the ashes as something resurrected and reinvented.”We’ve gotta make a white from the reds,” tells Garage Wine Company founder Derek Mossman Knapp. A pressed whole with stems (like Champagne) field blend, or more succinctly a co-ferment of stacks, one on top of the other, país followed a few days later by cariñena. That said it was picked earlier, crisper and sharper in 2018. The acids are extraordinary and the melding of flowers, white and yellow are mimicked, extended and replayed by citrus and stone fruit flavours on repeat. Crazy smart and delicious, if never before tasted and understood. For interested parties, price would be 6.5 US ex-cellar. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted August 2019

Garage Wine Co. Sémillon Isidore Vineyard Lot # F1 2018, DO Maule Valley, Chile (WineAlign)

Single vineyard white off of lands shepherded by ancestral farming. Isidore is the patron saint of the worker and this is a wine not ordinarily made. Now the decades of urban legend, blue blood in the veins and perverso (perversity) replace bulk wine from places with no paved roads (and valid D.O. paperwork) left behind for such an exercise. It’s both rich for sémillon (thanks to skins) and its sessions but the acids keep it grounded, flint-struck, stone-driven. Certainly reminded of Chris Alheit a continent away. Old vines are meant to deliver a sting for sémillon and though just shy today of what it will bite with again, there is an intensity in feeling to make you wish for sea creatures of brine, fat, citrus and bitters. That’s the vernacular it speaks and seeks. Price would be 11 US ex-cellar. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted August 2019

Garage Wine Co. Lot #77 Carignan Field Blend Truquilemu Vineyard 2016, DO Maule Valley, Chile (WineAlign)

Here getting into the usage of lignified stems, first with a run through the de-stemmer, after which the brown and ripe ones are put back in. Avoids the candy floss of carbonic maceration while conversely encouraging more integration and camaraderie. Violet floral and expressly ripe with thanks to a few plants of malbec, país, mataro and tintara negro. So youthful and high-toned, plenty of fruit, more so intrigue and an old vines in old vineyards brushy herb savoury notation that permeates while hiding in the shadows. Why does this wine, not driven by anything in its plot, arouse in us such a powerful emotion, containing the entirety of what the wines is between a set of ineffable parentheses? It’s a unique structure, one that takes breaths and inhibitions away, as will others that do so, though not in any exclusive or elitist way. Seems right, big, structured, proper and just. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted August 2019

Garage Wine Co. Cabernet Franc La Higuera Vineyard Lot #62 2014, DO Maule Valley, Chile (WineAlign)

“Just wet it!” they say in how to make this cabernet franc, as in the dry Martini, Hawkeye Pearce way. Just a wave over the ferment, avoiding too much wood and keeping it real. The fruit is ostensibly dark as a cimmerian night, with minor keys played by iodine, soy and balsamic, though ultimately the settling over five plus years will reveal a more natural state. It’s chewy inside and crusted enough to make it crunchy on the outside, a perfectly textured red like a steak charred and cooked rare inside meeting a proper cookie but in cabernet franc clothing. As you nose and taste it continues to refine, come into balance and also elegance. Imagine what those five years in bottle will effect. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted August 2019

Good to go!

godello

Derek Mossman Knapp – Garage Wine Co.

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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