Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases

Ontario Everbearing Strawberries

Ontario Everbearing Strawberries

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

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

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

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

From left to right: Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

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A hip of wine from Hidden Bench

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

A visit to the Beamsville Bench on a warm September morning is a beautiful thing. Facilitated by their sagacious Ontario agent Bernard Stramwasser of Le Sommelier, the royal welcome was presented at Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery. Proprietor Harald Thiel and winemaker Marlize Beyers left no barrel, vine, wine or helping left to the imagination. What a terrific day.

Marlize Beyers is as close to artisanal perfectionism as it gets on the Niagara Peninsula. The texture and grace of the wines reflect their maker. Beyers showed off the underbelly of Hidden Bench, including the 600L concrete egg fermenter (which actually holds 700L of juice). The concrete must be primed with tartaric acid before use or the egg will de-acidify the wine. What will emerge from within the thick chitinous walls of that oospore is on my future tasting agenda.

Out in the vineyard, vigneron Harald Thiel tells the story of Fel-seck, the “corner of a cliff,” in the angled nook of the Niagara Escarpment. The soil is filled with glacial till left from ancient Lake Iroquois pulled up from four retreating glaciers. “The glacial till deposit IS the Bench,” says Thiel. His winery operates on more than a quarter of the Beamsville Bench, in high density plantings. All wines are made from estate fruit. The control centre manages that fruit 24/7. The crux of the operation. And leaves.

Harald Thiel in front of Pinot Noir vines in the Felseck Vineyard

Harald Thiel in front of Pinot Noir vines in the Felseck Vineyard

Leaves are a huge preoccupation at Hidden Bench. “Rule of thumb is you need 14 leaves to ripen one bunch,” confirms Harald. Canopy leaf management is a rigorous exercise, to compensate for wrong orientation. The inherited Felseck was planted east-west, but the south gets the sun, the north not so much. The spur pruning system (as opposed to double-Guyot) works to benefit in Felseck. To compensate for the winter of ’14 and to stop the “middle-age spread,” the leaves (shoots) are kept between wires. Other benefits include less disease stress and no fruit shadowing.

Sun on the fruit in the morning is key and to avoid sunburn, the leaf orientation is managed accordingly. “Manage the umbrella leaves,” notes Thiel. What about birds? “We use 32 km’s of nets,” and no bird bangers. “Pinot Noir is the favourite varietal of birds,” because they turn colour first. Anti-aviary veraison. Insects? “We use sexual confusion to ward off (insects).” There are 7500 pheremone ties (of the Paralobesia Viteana or female Grape Berry Moth) in the vineyards. Confuses the hell out the males. Translation: No insecticides.

Harald is proud to say this about Marlize. “Winemaking is an artfully applied science.” This was Beyers’ answer to the age-old question,”art or science?” So it goes without saying that grapes are picked on flavour, not sugar levels determined in the laboratory. You take what the vintage gives and make the appropriate, corresponding wine. Ideally Chardonnay is picked at 21-22 degrees brix, but regardless, at Hidden Bench it is always picked on flavour.

Pinot Noir comes from high density planting, with one cane and a single Guyot system. Yields are Grand Cru in quantity (1.6 – 1.9 tonnes per acre or 26-28 hL/L) but not at proportionate pricing. To many a consumer and outspoken wine trade professional they are exceedingly high. Spend some time with Harald and Marlize and you may just figure out why.

The two have developed a “Bistro” line bottled for the restaurant licensee industry. The Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Red Blend and Rosé are essentially the sum total of the collected and filtered run-off from the rich and select HB vineyard pool. The Riesling ’13 slings sugar and salinity in a push-pull, posit tug. It serves up typicity with bias and honesty. The Chardonnay ’13 is a perfectly round sipper, coagulating all of Marlize’s varietal plans; canopy management, earlier picking, gentle pressing, pumpover, the management of new wood barrels – all in the name of affordable structure. The Red ’11 is composed of Cabernet Franc (68 per cent), Malbec and Merlot. The CF smothers and smoulders above the M & M’s with all its currant, tobacco and black pepper power.

Here are notes on the 16 other wines tasted at Hidden Bench that day. Not to mention a sumptuous Coq au Vin.

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2011 and Select Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2013

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2011 and Select Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2013

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

The Estate Riesling is as vigneron-defining as any wine on the Niagara Escarpment. Hidden Bench is a 100 per cent estate-fruit operation so this Riesling is spokesperson, prolocutor, mouthpiece, champion, campaigner and advocate for the concept. The estate ’13 reaches deeper for nutrient pot sweetening, into shale and in conceit of its varied, positively cultivated terroirs. Compact and jelled, this is several steps up from most other entry-level Niagara Riesling and in fact, is really anything but. The transparency here is patent. This is Riesling that simply knows what it is; pure Bench, unequivocally real and forthright. Knows what it wants to be.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (28312, $28.00, WineAlign)

Felseck, “the corner of the cliff,” creates twisted Riesling, as per the directive in this angled, mineral nook of the Niagara Escarpment. Choose your planting politics if you will, left of centre Chardonnay or right of the compass Riesling, to determine which one speaks in the amphitheater’s clearest varietal vernacular. If sugar is a determinant or a catalyst in this ’13, it would take a zafrero to suss out that truth because sweetness succumbs to noble bitterness. The Felseck Riesling mixes ginger in tonic in a hyper-linear solution. It’s tightly wound, like a spooled reel rid of memory and twisting. A soldier marching in patriotic allegiance, to the soil and to the maker. There is no hurry to drink this ’13. Its pot will sweeten after the fighting’s done.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Roman’s Block Riesling 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Of the estate’s Rosomel Vineyard from vines exceeding 35 years in age. This is the belletristic Riesling in the Hidden Bench stable, handled with mathematical precision and utmost care; specific sun exposure, green harvesting, low yields (29.4 L/hL) and a free run juice cap at (500 L). The density and distinct crux of the Bench nook character circulates aromatics in through the out-door. Lime melds to lemon and returns. The wine is plentiful, nearly generous but not all is sweet and amenable. Roman is policed by wild sage in dusty herbal efficacy unleashed. Honey is a fleeting tease but the numeral knowledge indicates mellifluous viscosity down the road. This is Riesling of finesse to realize power and sting. “It’s murder by numbers, one, two, three. It’s as easy to learn as your ABC’s.” Wait five years and settle with Roman’s synchronicity for five years more.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (278812, $40.00, WineAlign)

Taking what the vintage gives, Rosomel’s Sauvignon Blanc was king in 2012, dominating at a 95 per cent share of the Bordeaux-styled blend with Sémillon. Barrels were stirred weekly during fermentation and the creamy texture thanks that regimen, as does the tannic fullness of the round back-end. It rocks out bracing, formidable and nobly bitter, in pear and its pith, in lemon, of rind and in curd. The SB lounges in tall grasses but avoids goose feathers and blanching veg. So very savoury, in gorse tension, thistle and nettle. These notes all cut through the roundness and are finally tied together by the flinty rock of Rosomel.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2007, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (278812, $40.00, WineAlign)

The varietal components of the 2007 NB were not blended until August 2008 and then filtered to bottle. That barrel time and prior weekly stirring provided the pelage texture and now developed, tepefying character. Rumour has it I’d tasted this ’07 once before when it fact it was the ’08 in March of 2012. Must be the “marzipan, musky and risky, on the edge of a roasted, toasted Nutella thing.” The Niagara white Bordeaux idiom and its use of prime vineyard space has yet to prove itself so to this Nuit Blanche I would say, “you made my heart melt, yet I’m cold to the core.” Perhaps by ‘21 that attitude will have changed.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Gewürztraminer Felseck Vineyard 2012, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $28.00)

The key to ripeness is sunlight, something both 2012 and the practice of leaf removal on the East sides of the canopy gave this Felseck stunner. Oh so full with a hint of that typical glycerin and bitter pith so necessary for definition. This reminds me of an off-dry Zind-Humbrecht take, with its late feel of residual sugar and planing finish. There is a wonderfully humid condensation of south Asian drupe and fruit moisture droplet, never in syrup, but rather on the glistening, post-rain skin. Top Bench example.  Tasted September 2014

East sides of the canopy to encourage fruit ripening

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

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

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

The richness has yet to melt away, nor will it likely do so any time soon. Must give credit where due; ’10 managed to seek out tempering acidity where it was not necessarily in sui generis mind, nor did it want to be found. From my earlier March 2013 note: “Akin to Russian River Valley, allowing the comparison, in platinum, edging to gold and in stony, mineral rigidity. Tends to the orchard in a fell swoop of swelling fruit. Nobody does it better on the Bench. The sec who loves me, “makes me feel sad for the rest.”  Last tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (20906, $45.00, WineAlign)

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

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (274753, $29.95, WineAlign)

Now into the mid-point of its six to seven year life, this essential Bench Pinot brings worlds together. A toffee, taffy, salted (not caramelized) caramel mulch comes from pinpoint smoke oak. Has a palpable sende of chew and density. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Five months more in bottle has come to this, a Bench perfumed state of mind. On a red raspberry road to absolution. The international coat has now begun to surrender to the maturity and wisdom of the local vine’s intellect, its maker and overseer acting as artificers in planned execution.” From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Deeper, earthier, decreased propriety and more pelage than the previous two vintages. I sense longer hang time, more redress and slower slumber. In Hidden Bench I thought I knew and would always associate with a specific Pinot Noir feel but this ’11 confounds. In a way, that is a large compliment. Fruit reminiscent of a top Central Otago in that it grips my Pinot interest if not my Ontario heart.”  Last tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2007, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (274753, $29.95, WineAlign)

The summer swelter of the 2007 vintage was not lost on this Pinot Noir and although the black fruit spectrum was picked clean from all available plum, fig and cherries, they and their tannins have evolved in clemency and snug harmony. That and a whipped beet shake of hide, vanilla and lavender.  This would be a diverting and polarizing ringer to toss into a blind tasting.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

Transplants Nuits-Saint-Georges into the coliseum of Felseck with frisky and fine-grained tannin. The aromatic aggregate of flowers, orange grove and red cherry is akin to Les Perrières. This is micro-managed, micro-plot Niagara at its very core, the diminutive, wee berries singing the nook’s furtive, foxy and salient song. The late bitter note is both beautiful and honed in on the vineyard’s frequency. Graphite trails with back-end nerve. This Felseck has entered the zone. Drink over the next three years.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

On benches all along the Niagara Escarpment, each single-vineyard grown, vinified and bottled Pinot Noir has an affinity for a particular vintage. The Locust Lane and 2010 share a commonality that exceeds the level of companionship seen in the more rigid, bookend vintages of ’09 and ’11. Here is the richest density, though still teasing and leaning against the black cherry tree. There is a limestone, Alsatian, Albert Mann thing going on, rolling like thunder, bobbing like drinking birds. Still formidable, the stuffing yet burst from its cloud. A sniff and a sip of the ’10 “and the locusts sang, yeah, it give me a chill. Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody.” The vineyard takes heat and gives Pinot Noir its energy. The ardor will slowly release over the next eight to 10 years.  Tasted September 2014

http://rd3.videos.sapo.pt/playhtml?file=http://rd3.videos.sapo.pt/2GntSr2rbWHU3Gg0DLdK/mov/1

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

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

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $75.00, WineAlign)

Welcome to the world ’11 LB, the flotilla leader in the Hidden Bench brigade. This fierce Bordeaux-styled blend of exemplary fruit out of the three Estate parcels is composed from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Not home from a hot climate, and not the most likely candidate to be made in the 2011 vintage, La Brunante is “like a mudship becalmed in a rusty bay cracking with an emboldened abandon.” Bottled in a strong compression but without aggression, it lies in wait, creaking, twitching, smoldering and aching with desire. When it should be released, somewhere up to 10 years down the road, it will sail, cutting through waves of tannin, with multiple berries, dust, diesel and into a show that never ends.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The benchmark for such a rare Niagara animal is of course Alsace and more specifically the iconic and consumer-recognizable brands such as Zind-Humbrecht and Domaine Weinbach from the Hengst and Furstentum Grand Crus. This HB is decidedly not that. Even the kings of Alsace late harvest only go to bofttle in the finest vintages, when a level upwards of 50 percent botrytis is achieved. After a few freeze/thaw cycles the fruit was picked on the 28th of November. The ’13 Vendanges Tardives has the subtlety and attributes to call itself VT, with residual sugar (119 g/L) and alcohol (10.5 per cent) numbers in line. Near-needed acidity, PH and exceptional phenolic character mix to balance and so the reduction in sweetness is nicely tempered. Pears meet apricots in hinted whispers. As per the Alsatian requiem, this never enters the arena of the cloyingly sweet and absurd. Utilitarian to a fundamental degree, in the end I would have liked more acidity in this very pretty wine.  Tasted September 2014

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Wine experts Brock and roll, Brock on

Wine tasting

The Expert’s Tasting is more than just a study on Niagara wine.
Photo: JEAN-PIERRE MULLER/AFP/Getty Images

as seen on canada.com

Part two: 25th anniversary of the Cuvée 2014 Expert’s Tasting at Brock University

Flights three, four and five: Pinot Noir, Red Blends and Wine Options.

Related – When experts break wine together

The Expert’s Tasting is more than just a study on Niagara wine. It eulogizes what came before, reflects back on what is lost and ultimately asks the questions, “Where do we go from here? Which is the way that’s clear?” Grow grapes, make wine. Rock on.

The Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute now lays claim to being the central hub of information and guidance for Niagara’s wine industry. In partnership and in sharing expertise with Wine Country Ontario, the Grape Growers of Ontario, the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, VQA Ontario and Niagara Culinary College, Brock’s CCOVI is the go to rock, central to Niagara’s world-class wine growing soil.

In 2015, the annual Cuvée gala weekend, one of the most prestigious celebrations of Ontario wine and food, will now be organized by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI). The theme will be a look forward to Ontario’s significant wine styles and emerging varieties. Props to that.

The #CCOVI event continued the task of celebrating the annual VQA Promoters awards, handed out to the individuals who supported and promoted the industry through media, the LCBO, at large and over the course of a lifetime.  The 2014 awards were handed out to William Mancini, Lloyd Schmidt, Erik Peacock, Shawn McCormick, David Lawrason and posthumously, care of his wife Rose Lamas-Churchill, to David Churchill.

#CCOVI Expert's Tasting Pinot Noir Flight

PHOTO: Michael Godel
#CCOVI Expert’s Tasting Pinot Noir Flight

At the Expert’s Tasting wines were poured blind. The third and fourth flights (Pinot Noir and Red blends respectively) showcased just how far Niagara has travelled in fashioning quality reds. The Pinot Flight was all about balance and elegance. Bench Pinot stands out like a beacon on the Escarpment’s shelves. Blends centred around Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are excelling with each passing vintage, in kind to the ever-increasing wine acumen of the growers and winemakers. That and the macro-intense studies of Niagara’s micro-terroirs.

This final flight of five wines (in order, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend) made for a less confounding competitive round, which was not the case in 2013. I clearly found vicarious fortune through the mates at my table. It’s not just who you know, but who’s palate you draft behind.

Here are my notes on the final 19 wines poured at the Expert’s Tasting 2014.

FLIGHT #3 – YOU’VE BEEN PINOT’D!!

From left: Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2012, Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Inniskillin Pinot Noir Reserve 2011, 13th Street Essence Pinot Noir 2010, and Fielding Estate Pinot Noir Jackrabbit Flats Vineyard 2010

From left: Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2012, Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Inniskillin Pinot Noir Reserve 2011, 13th Street Essence Pinot Noir 2010, and Fielding Estate Pinot Noir Jackrabbit Flats Vineyard 2010

Presented by Dr. Belinda Kemp, CCOVI Scientist, Oenology. “There is nothing funny about Pinot Noir,” she complains in deadpan humour, “it’s the unfunny grape. Fascinating, but nothing to laugh at. It’s not funny at all.”

Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2012, Tamar Ridge, Tasmania, Australia (317966, $23.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

A good fresh start to the flight. At first earthless, weightless, cran-raspberry scented. Feminine, warm, inviting and then turning temperamental, difficult, evolving. Ultimately maternal, clay-influenced, brought down to mother earth. Vanilla ringer.  87  Tasted March 2014  @BrownBrothers

Un bon nouveau départ à la (troisième de l’expert de dégustation) vol. Au début Earthless, en apesanteur, cran-framboise parfumée. Féminine, chaleureuse, accueillante et puis, se tournant capricieux, difficile, en constante évolution. En fin de compte maternelle, argile influencé, ramené à la terre mère. Vanille sonnerie.  Dégusté Mars 2014

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

In a vintage potentially muddled by warmth and a humidor of radio frequency, duplicating berry phenolics, Flat Rock’s Gravity remains a definitive, signature house Pinot Noir. In 2011, the head of the FR class from its most expressive barrels shared the limelight (and top juice) with the Pond, Bruce and Summit one-offs. In ’12, Gravity’s sandbox was its own. The style is surely dark, extracted, black cherry bent, as per the vintage. Yet only the Rock’s soil does earth in this variegate, borne and elevated by the barrel’s grain. There are no fake plastic trees in a Flat Rock Pinot. “Gravity always wins.”  90  Tasted March 2014  @Brighlighter1

Dans un millésime potentiellement confus par la chaleur et une cave de la fréquence de la radio, la duplication des composés phénoliques des baies, la gravité de Flat Rock reste un définitif, maison de signature Pinot Noir. En 2011, la tête de la classe FR de ses barils les plus expressifs partage la vedette (et le jus dessus) avec les mesures ponctuelles Pond, Bruce et Summit. En ’12, bac à sable de gravité était son propre. Le style est certainement foncé, extrait, pliée de cerise noire, selon le millésime. Pourtant, seulement le sol de la roche ne terre dans ce variegata, porté et élevé par le grain du baril. Il n’y a pas d’arbres en plastique faux dans un Flat Rock Pinot. “Gravity gagne toujours.”  Dégusté Mars 2014

Inniskillin Pinot Noir Reserve 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

A by-product of a rain-heat-rain, cold soak-warm ferment-16 month French barrel childhood. The ’11 Reserve Pinot is impressively floral while simultaneously brooding and serious. The middle palate binds citrus and savoury, gilded, dulcet rose, Langhe-like. Breakdown happens late, in syrupy alcohol and charred pulp. “In that case I’ll have a rum and coca-cola.” Complex Pinot for the common people88  Tasted March 2014  @InniskillinWine

Un sous-produit d’une pluie-chaleur-pluie, le froid tremper-chaud ferment-16 mois baril français enfance. Le ’11 Réserve Pinot est alors impressionnante floral simultanément couvaison et grave. Le milieu de bouche se lie d’agrumes et salé, doré, rose suave, Langhe-comme. Répartition arrive en retard, dans l’alcool sirupeux et pâte carbonisée. “Dans ce cas, je vais avoir un rhum et de coca-cola.” Pinot complexe pour les gens ordinaires.  Dégusté Mars 2014

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir ‘Le Grande Reserve’ 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (winery, $65, WineAlign)

The Thomas Bachelder mentored, two-vineyard assemblage Grande Reserve Pinot Noir grinds more cracked pepper than any predecessor. Every barrel from the Twenty Mile Bench (formerly Le Clos Jordanne’s, Neudorf Family La Petite Colline Vineyard) and Mountainview vineyard were scrutinized to determine the final blend. Bachelder sees black fruit in the early life yet despite the ebullient seasoning, the LGR’s genes are intrinsically feminine. Red cherry, tellus fertility and a mother’s strength hold the family of barrel children together. This is an ambitious and hard to read Pinot Noir. Judgement reserved for five years before the word classic will be used.  92  Tasted March 2014  @QueylusVin

Le Thomas Bachelder mentor, l’assemblage de deux vignoble Grande Réserve Pinot Noir broie poivre craqué plus que ses prédécesseurs. Chaque baril de Lincoln Lakeshore (anciennement Le Clos Jordanne de, Neudorf famille La Petite Colline Vineyard) et le Twenty Mile Bench (Mountainview) appellations ont été examinées attentivement afin de déterminer l’assemblage final. Bachelder voit fruits noirs dans le début de la vie et pourtant, malgré l’assaisonnement bouillante, les gènes de la LGR sont intrinsèquement féminin. Rouge cerise, tellus la fertilité et la force de la mère détiennent la famille des enfants de baril ensemble. Il s’agit d’un Pinot Noir ambitieux et difficile à lire. Jugement réservé pendant cinq ans avant le mot classique sera utilisé.  Dégusté Mars 2014

13th Street Essence Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (237222, $44.95, WineAlign)

Five months have aged the Essence with more bronzing minerality and core strength. Imagine the old-world chemistry it will enumerate after five more years. Previous note: “Only the second coming of The Essence. Lucid, willing and able Pinot Noir from an assemblage of fruit sourced across the region. Atypical in that sense, speaking to a broader range of terroir and to a wider audience. Breadth and depth much like a Côte de Beaune, earthy of serious dirt layered over top a cherry core. Attention now and for five plus years is needed because though to taste it’s currently confounding, time will see more complexity, development and emerging emotion. It will then solicit a cry of  ”baby, sweet baby, you’re my drug. Come on and let me taste your stuff.”  91  Tasted October 2013 and March 2014  @13thStreetWines

Cinq mois ont vieilli l’essence avec plus de minéralité de bronzage et la force de base. Imaginez la chimie du vieux monde, il va énumérer après cinq années de plus. Note précédente:… “Seule la seconde venue de l’Essence Lucid, désireux et capables Pinot Noir à partir d’un assemblage de fruits provenant de toute la région atypique en ce sens, parler à un plus large éventail de terroir et à un public plus large étendue et la profondeur un peu comme un Côte de Beaune, terreuse de terre grave posés sur le dessus une cerise noyau. attention maintenant et pour cinq ans et est nécessaire parce que le goûter est actuellement confondre, le temps voir plus de complexité, le développement et l’émotion émergents. Elle sera ensuite solliciter un cri de “bébé, bébé doux, tu es ma drogue. Venez et laissez-moi goûter vos trucs.”  Testé Octobre 2013 et Mars 2014

Fielding Estate Pinot Noir Jackrabbit Flats Vineyard 2010, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore (winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Though a recent phenomenon, a Bench area winemaker’s keen interest in the Lincoln Lakeshore as a unicorn Pinot growing locale has come out of the forest’s shadows. From dual-vineyard plots and specific barrel choosing, the JRF expressly microwaves its agminate gathering, that is, 14 months on lees in barrel, a warm vintage and virtually unfiltered ferment. Completely free of its closet, there is coffee, toffee and strong tea overtop rufescent fruit close to its earthly roots. An austere, tough and gritty Pinot Noir, from the Burgundy side of the pond, echoing the presenter’s choice of words. “It’s fascinating but nothing to laugh about.”  89  Tasted March 2014  @RichieWine

Bien que d’un phénomène récent, le vif intérêt d’un vigneron de la zone du Banc de la Lincoln Lakeshore comme un Pinot locale croissante licorne est sorti de l’ombre de la forêt. Des parcelles à double vignoble et choix de canon spécifique, la JRF tout micro-ondes expressément sa collecte de agminate, soit 14 mois sur lies en barriques, un millésime chaud et ferment pratiquement non filtré. Complètement libre de son placard, il ya du café, caramel et thé fort overtop Rufescent fruit proche de ses racines terrestres. Un austère, dur et graveleux Pinot Noir, du côté de l’étang de Bourgogne, en écho le choix du présentateur de mots. «C’est fascinant, mais pas de quoi rire.”  Dégusté Mars 2014

The Foreign Affair Pinot Noir 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula (winery, $43.95, WineAlign)

An ambitious and in retrospect streetwise project now in the golden age of its life. From fruit grown both on the estate’s Crispino Vineyard and at the Vineland Research Centre. Then winemaker Ilya Senchuk dried 40% of the grapes which subsequently spent 15 months in French and Hungarian oak. The modest 13.1 per cent alcohol has realized a resolved, gentle and effortless balance of figgy/raisin-driven fruit and clear spirit. The beaver is not so different from a Tawny meets Reserve Port, Pinot-style. Appassimento, you’ve been Pinot’d.  ‘Ciao’ for hello and goodbye because now is the time to drink.  88  Tasted March 2014  @wineaffair

Un projet ambitieux et débrouillard, rétrospectivement, maintenant dans l’âge d’or de sa vie. De fruits cultivés à la fois sur Crispino Vignoble de la succession et au Centre de recherche de Vineland. Puis vigneron Ilya Senchuk séché 40% des raisins qui a ensuite passé 15 mois en fûts de chêne français et hongrois. Le modeste alcool 13.1 pour cent a réalisé une résolu, équilibre doux et sans effort de figgy / fruités raisins secs et l’esprit clair. Le castor n’est pas si différent d’un Tawny Port répond Réserve Pinot style. Appassimento, vous avez été Pinot’d. «Ciao» pour bonjour et au revoir parce que c’est maintenant le temps de boire.  Dégusté Mars 2014

FLIGHT #4 – RED ROAD TEST – ARE WE ON THE RIGHT TRACK?

From left: Konzelmann Estate Winery Heritage Reserve 2012, Hillebrand Trius Red 2011, Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Merlot 2010, Trius Grand Red 2010, Stratus Red 2007, Creekside Estates Reserve Meritage 2004, and Henry Of Pelham Estate Cabernet/Merlot 2002

From left: Konzelmann Estate Winery Heritage Reserve 2012, Hillebrand Trius Red 2011, Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Merlot 2010, Trius Grand Red 2010, Stratus Red 2007, Creekside Estates Reserve Meritage 2004, and Henry Of Pelham Estate Cabernet/Merlot 2002

Presented by Trius Winery at Hillebrand winemaker Craig McDonald. McDonald makes one of Niagara’s now flagship red blends, the Trius Grand Red. He brings red blend experience to the table in spades and hearts, particularly from his work at Penfolds in the Barossa Valley, but McDonald is an ardent voice for the relationship between varietal and land. He wants you to decide for yourself, are red wines working and excelling in Niagara? In this flight, Craig’s advice is “I want you to think about the dominant varietal.” Not as easy as you might think.

Konzelmann Estate Winery Heritage Reserve 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula (149179, $30, WineAlign)

A Merlot-based blend with support from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The dominant varietal is the blend’s soft presence, lifting up an otherwise ground espresso, black pepper, currant and verdigris paste in its 14 per cent frame. Yet so young and unsettled, with Franz drive, chalky extract and hard bite. In this Heritage’s “edges and lines your engine’s alive,” so as a first red road-test, it sets a solid course.  88  Tasted March 2014  @KonzelmannWines

Un mélange à base de Merlot avec le soutien de Cabernet Sauvignon et Cabernet Franc. Le cépage dominant est la présence douce du mélange, soulevant un espresso moulu contraire, de poivre noir, de cassis et vert de gris coller dans son cadre de 14 pour cent. Pourtant, si jeune et instable, avec Franz entraînement, extrait calcaire et morsure dur. Dans ce patrimoine “des bords et des lignes en vie, de votre moteur” de manière un premier rouge route-test, il établit un plan solide.  Dégusté Mars 2014

Hillebrand Trius Red 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula  (303800, $22.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES ESSENTIAL

Most of the 47 per cent Merlot, 40 Cabernet Franc and 13 Cabernet Sauvignon fruit was sourced from the Clark and Carlton Vineyards in Four Mile Creek. From the outset age is the focus point. Is this already showing wear and tear or is the sinewy, cassis, toffee, sweet balsamic and emulous acidity congregation preparing a long road ahead for this Niagara exhibit? Crisis? What crisis? It’s just a normal day and this Meritage will say, “maybe I’ll find my way.”  87  Tasted March 2014  @TriusWines

La plupart des 47 pour cent Merlot, Cabernet Franc 40 et 13 Cabernet Sauvignon fruits provenait de les Clark et Carlton Vignobles à Four Mile Creek. Dès l’âge de départ est le point de mise au point. Est-ce montre déjà l’usure ou est le nerveux, de cassis, de caramel, balsamique doux et jaloux acidité congrégation prépare un long chemin à parcourir pour cette exposition Niagara? Crise? Quelle crise? C’est juste une journée normale et ce Meritage dira, «peut-être que je vais trouver mon chemin.”  Dégusté Mars 2014

Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Merlot 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula (winery, $35.20, WineAlign)

Does anybody really know what wine this is? Does anybody really care? The experts do, as do I. Chosen for back-to-back Expert’s Tastings by a panel of Niagara’s finest palates? AYFKM? What does that say? Today Richie Robert’s CF (42), Merlot (33) and CS (25) master stroke from Lincoln Lakeshore (warm), Beamsville Bench (warmer) and St. David’s (Lowrey Vineyard – warmest) is singing. Charred cherries, animale game and soft funk like top IGT. Raises its own bar. Previous note: “Alights in lithe tendrils before adding coffee, meritage mid-weight. Currants, nasturtium and red fruit compote buoy this cooler Niagara blend that combines fruit from the Lincoln Lakeshore, St. David’s and Beamsville Benches. A good dancer with “the kind of body that would shame Adonis.” Expertly balanced with the spine to age.”  90  Tasted March 2013 and 2014  @FieldingWinery

Quelqu’un sait-il vraiment ce vin ce que c’est? Est-ce que quelqu’un se soucie vraiment? Les experts font, comme moi Chosen pour Dégustations Expertises dos-à-dos par un panel des meilleurs palais du Niagara? AYFKM? Qu’est-ce que cela veut dire? Aujourd’hui Richie FC Robert (42), Merlot (33) et CS (25) coup de maître de Lincoln Lakeshore (chaud), Beamsville (plus chaud) et Saint-David (Lowrey Vineyard – le plus chaud) chante. Cerises carbonisés, jeu animale et funk doux comme haut IGT. Déclenche son propre bar. Note précédente: “. Descend en vrilles agiles avant d’ajouter le café, meritage mi-poids Groseilles, capucine et compote de fruits rouges bouée ce refroidisseur mélange Niagara qui combine les fruits de la Lincoln Lakeshore, Saint-David et Beamsville Bancs Un bon danseur.” L’ type de corps qui honte Adonis. “experte en balance avec la colonne vertébrale de l’âge.”  Dégusté Mars 2013 et 2014

Trius Grand Red 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula (winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

Roll out the best barrels from the same Four Mile Creek Clark and Carlton Vineyards. Gravity drip freshly-pressed juice directly into barrel, wait 18 months and voilà, the flagship red from winemaker Craig McDonald. The 45/33/22 Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon blend radiates of everything under the sun. It’s rich and lush, marked by huge extract and yet it’s also graced by sweet, limber tannins. The middle ground gives faint notes of soy and dill though it can be imagined they will be smothered as the chain lengthens and the flesh becomes more pliable. I’ve one put aside for a visit in 2018.  89  Tasted March 2014

Etaler les meilleurs fûts de les mêmes Four Mile Creek Clark et Carlton Vineyards. goutte à goutte par gravité jus de fruits fraîchement pressés directement dans le cylindre, attendre 18 mois et voilà, le rouge phare de vigneron Craig McDonald. Le 45/33/22 Merlot / Cabernet Franc / Cabernet Sauvignon mélange rayonne de tout sous le soleil. Il est riche et luxuriante, marqué par d’énormes extrait et encore il est également honoré par des tanins doux et souple. Le terrain d’entente donne des notes faibles de soja et aneth si on peut imaginer qu’ils seront étouffées comme la chaîne s’allonge et la chair devient plus souple. J’ai un mets de côté pour une visite en 2018.  Dégusté Mars 2014

Stratus Red 2007, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $44.20, WineAlign)

On a day like today, the 2007 Stratus Red’s long, long sleep (644 days in mostly new French Oak) seems particularly magnified. Today the moody tincture is a cocktail shaker filled with peat, clay, iodine, strawberry compote, sangria and divaricated tannin. No other red blend today is as complex, shows more road rage or tries to speed off the track. Previous note: “Puts a twinkle in Groux’s eye. “Still very enjoyable, agreeable and ageable,” he smiles and I note it’s not candied like it may have once been perceived.  A healthy and high 88 per cent dose of new oak but it’s not the encumbrance you might expect. Still quite tight, eking strawberry and plum, and indubitably a unique amalgamation. Will offer up five more years of pleasure.”  91  Tasted September 2013 and March 2014  @Stratuswines

En un jour comme aujourd’hui, long, long sommeil de 2007 Stratus Rouge (644 jours dans la plupart neufs de chêne français) semble particulièrement agrandie. Aujourd’hui, la teinture de mauvaise humeur est un shaker rempli de tourbe, de l’argile, de l’iode, compote de fraises, sangria et les tannins divaricated. Aucune autre mélange de rouge aujourd’hui est aussi complexe, montre plus de rage au volant ou tente d’accélérer la piste. Note précédente: “. Met une étincelle dans l’oeil de Groux” Toujours très agréable, agréable et gérable “, il sourit et je constate que ce n’est pas confits comme il peut avoir été une fois perçu une saine et haute 88 par dose cent de chêne neuf, mais il est. pas la charge que vous pourriez vous attendre. toujours très serré, eking fraise et de prune, et sans aucun doute une fusion unique. offrira jusqu’à cinq années de plaisir “.  Dégusté Septembre 2013 et Mars 2014

Creekside Estates Reserve Meritage 2004, VQA Niagara Peninsula (sold out, $45, WineAlign)

A straight up self-starter, 55/45 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Left Bank galvanized blend. Craig McDonald noted that he and Rob Power “had no idea what we were doing.” What they had was a four year-old vineyard on the Queenston Road, St. David’s Bench in Four Mile Creek. They made this Bordeaux in a challenging vintage when there might not have been a sound mind around (who was paying them any attention) for guidance or encouragement. Though it has crossed the threshold into resinous mannerisms and elements of an armamentarium, the two mad scientists found a way to take 12 per cent alcohol and real fruit on a 10-year journey to the museum. Shows what potential there has always been and where the distinction of the 2014 Niagara reds will be in 2024.  89  Tasted March 2014  @CreeksideWine

A vous auto-démarreur droite, 55/45 Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot, Rive Gauche galvanisé mélange. Craig McDonald admis que lui et Rob Power “n’avait aucune idée de ce que nous faisions.” Ce qu’ils ont trouvé un vignoble de quatre ans sur la route de Queenston, la Cour du Banc de Saint-David à Four Mile Creek. Ils ont fait ce Bordeaux dans un millésime difficile quand il pourrait ne pas avoir été un esprit sain autour (qui les paie aucune attention) pour obtenir des conseils ou des encouragements. Bien qu’il a franchi le seuil de tics et éléments d’un arsenal résineux, les deux savants fous ont trouvé un moyen de prendre 12 pour cent d’alcool et de vrais fruits sur un voyage de 10 ans pour le musée. Montre ce potentiel, il a toujours été et où la distinction de 2014 rouges Niagara sera en 2024.  Dégusté Mars 2014

Henry Of Pelham Estate Cabernet/Merlot 2002, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $34.95)

A Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot split with 12 per cent support from Cabernet Franc. Right up there with other classic H of P blends, in ’98, ’05 and ’07. All three levels, the basic Cab/Merlot, this Reserve and the Speck Family Reserve have stood the test of time, perhaps better than any other Bordeaux blends from the region. You can tell this was an enormous wine at one time. Has gently and slowly evolved into its comfortable skin yet the tannin and grit are still in working order. He’s a crooner this CM2, with a soulful Roy Orbison voice. There aren’t many like him. “That’s why I sigh and sip my lonely wine.” If anything has been learned and if anyone had been paying attention to Ron Giesbrecht while he made his wines, there should be many more to come.  91  Tasted March 2014  @HenryofPelham

FLIGHT #5 – WINE OPTIONS

From left: Stratus Chardonnay 2009, Rosewood Estates Pinot Noir 2011, North Shore Project Syrah 2012, and The Foreign Affair ‘The Conspiracy’ 2012

From left: Stratus Chardonnay 2009, Rosewood Estates Pinot Noir 2011, North Shore Project Syrah 2012, and The Foreign Affair ‘The Conspiracy’ 2012

Presented by Peter Bodnar Rod Sommelier and member of the Brock WSET Team. After four serious and wind-sapping flights, the ice was again broken by the jocose Bodnar Rod when he made comment to the hand coverings of a wine pourer. “Maybe Jamie and I can go out tonight with black latex gloves?” Not a word in response from Mr. Drummond but if I were a betting man I’d say he just might join in that fun.

Stratus Chardonnay 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula (winery, $55)

Comes off like a white blend, aka Stratus White but this is the outright, unchaste vintage talking. Winemaker J-L Groux crafted three wines with viticulturist Paul Hobbs. Here they split the project 50/50 with Hobbs including wild yeast fermentation and whole bunch pressing and J-L adding short skin contact, controlled yeasts and no whole bunch pressing. From extreme low yields, this one puts on a show after only 10 months in barrel. High on aroma, brazen in texture, ambient in flavour bites. Very Niagara if inexactly Chardonnay.  Tasted March 2014  91  Tasted March 2014

Se détache comme un mélange blanc, aka Stratus Blanc mais c’est la pure et simple, parler cru impudique. Oenologue JL Groux conçu trois vins viticulteur avec Paul Hobbs. Ici, ils partagent le projet 50/50 avec Hobbs y compris sauvage fermentation de la levure et le groupe entier urgent et JL ajoutant un bref contact de la peau, des levures contrôlées et pas toute la bande de pressage. De rendements extrêmement faibles, celui-ci met sur un spectacle après seulement 10 mois en barrique. Haute sur l’arôme, la texture d’airain, ambiant dans les piqûres de saveur. Très Niagara si inexacte Chardonnay.  Dégusté Mars 2014

Rosewood Estates Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench (112177, $21.95)

What an arid specimen, tasted blind so distinctly Bench Pinot though the earthy, cranberry and cherry dust had me leaning Short Hills. The Rosewood reveal reminds of “little lonely eyes open and radiant,” berries from acidity victorious Wismer blocks on the Twenty Mile Bench. Previous note: “…and her libidinous solid core of red fruit habituated by a fencing of skin-tight acidity will see prolonging returns. Will run on like a Dave Matthews jam, in wine years scads longer than the temperate Rosewood ’10. An Escarpment’s native flint rocky note whispers “hey little dreamer’s eyes open and staring up at me…wait until I come I’ll take your soul.” Halloween wine indeed.”  89  Tasted September 2013 and March 2014  @RosewoodWine

Quel spécimen aride, dégustés à l’aveugle Banc si distinctement Pinot bien terrestre, la canneberge et de cerise poussière m’avait appuyé Short Hills. Le Rosewood révéler rappelle “petits yeux solitaires ouverts et rayonnants,” baies de l’acidité victorieux blocs Wismer sur le banc Twenty Mile. Note précédente: “… et son noyau solide libidineux de fruits rouges habitués par une clôture de l’acidité de la peau étanche verront rendements prolongeant sera exécuté sur une confiture comme Dave Matthews, dans les années à vin scads plus long que le tempéré Rosewood ’10.. silex natif notes rocheux chuchotements d’un escarpement “hey les yeux du petit rêveur ouverte et les yeux fixés sur moi … attendre jusqu’à ce que je viens je vais prendre votre âme.” vin de Halloween en effet. ”  Dégusté Septembre 2013 et Mars 2014

North Shore Project Syrah 2012, VQA Lake Erie North Shore (sold out, $22)

A project part Will Predhomme (off the charts Sommelier), Hinterland Wine Company (head of the class Sparkling Wine producer) and Colio Estates (top of the heap Lake Erie North Shore red wine maker). More than impressive first outing with a burst of pretty flowers, varietal perspicuity and articulation. As Predomme notes, this is “pure, naked Syrah.” Farmed at Colio, crushed in LENS and fermented at Hinterland. There is a hint (what can best be described as) carbonic maceration in banana sweetness but it does not linger and the lightness of being meets intensity shows adventure and promise.  87  Tasted March 2014  @northshoreproj

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling ‘CSV’ Estate Bottled 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

Was not so easy to return to Riesling 25 wines and three hours later but thanks goodness it was this old (35 years give or take) vines CSV. From the east Bench where limestone rules and rocks, there are apples upon apples in this vintage in waves of luxurious fruit. While Bench Riesling can be so tragically austere, racy and piercing, often in a state of hip “melancholy wine-soaked tenderness,” this CSV ’10 is bathed in luxury and pure pleasure. It’s so much more Germanic in an off-dry way and never forgets its limestone roots. Not necessarily classic Beamsville but not to be missed.  90  Tasted March 2014  @CaveSpring

N’était pas si facile de revenir à 25 Riesling vins et trois heures plus tard, mais Dieu merci, c’était ce vieux (35 ans donner ou prendre) vignes CSV. De la magistrature est, où les règles et les roches calcaires, il ya des pommes sur les pommes dans ce millésime dans les vagues de fruits de luxe. Bien Banc Riesling peut être si tragiquement austère, racé et perçant, souvent dans un état de hanche “mélancolique tendresse de vin trempé,” ce CSV ’10 est baigné dans le luxe et le plaisir pur. C’est tellement plus germanique de manière demi-sec et n’oublie jamais ses racines de calcaire. Pas nécessairement classique Beamsville mais à ne pas manquer.  Dégusté Mars 2014

The Foreign Affair ‘The Conspiracy’ 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula (149237, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Young, huge, rich and oozing in oak soaked spice. Currants, pepper, whole grain, berries and chalk. All in for $20. Previous Note: Quickly reminiscent of its 2011 predecessor but also different, in a basking, vintage-related warmth and reductive currency. This could not have been an easy wine to temper in 2012 considering the ripasso methodology. Just softened plum is painted all over its sheen with the poaching aromas steaming away. Grilled, melting licorice, caramelizing and disapparating before your eyes. Not to mention a French vanilla creamy garagiste waft, like nuts and bolts ice cream. But I will admit the tang, acidity and tenacity increases with each sip and swirl. Such a unique bottling to Ontario. Is there anything else like it not from Lake Erie North Shore?  89  @wineaffair  Tasted February and March 2014

Jeune, grand, riche et suintant en chêne imbibé d’épices. Groseilles, poivre, grains entiers, fruits et craie. All-in pour 20 $. Note précédente:. “Vite rappelle de son prédécesseur 2011, mais également différente, dans un pèlerin, de la chaleur vintage liés et monnaie réductrice Cela n’aurait pas été un vin facile à tempérament en 2012 compte tenu de la méthodologie de ripasso prune juste ramolli est peint partout. son lustre avec les arômes de braconnage vapeur loin. grillé, fondant réglisse, caraméliser et disapparating devant vos yeux. Sans oublier une vanille française crémeuse garagiste bouffée, comme les écrous et boulons de la crème glacée. Mais je vais admettre la saveur, l’acidité et la ténacité augmente avec chaque gorgée et remous. telle une bouteille unique à l’Ontario. Y at-il quelque chose de semblable pas du lac Érié Côte-Nord? ”  Dégusté Février et Mars 2014

Good to go!

From Cinquante to wine with Canada-U.S. hockey

Canada\'s Marie-Philip Poulin (L) celebrates with Canada\'s Meghan Agosta-Marciano.

Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin (L) celebrates with Canada’s Meghan Agosta-Marciano.
Photo: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images

as seen on canada.com

I hope the Canadian men’s hockey team watched the women this afternoon. Lesson number one: Play to the last friggin’ millisecond. Canada versus the United States is hockey incarnate. The games are always exciting.

When we gathered for that first historic Salt Lake City Gold Medal game in 2002, we drank cinquante. Mario would have wanted it that way. For the 2010 Vancouver golden goal win we convened with Steam Whistle. That historic Sunday in February was my first time out of the house after a right AC (acromioclavicular) joint shoulder rebuild. Hockey injury, of course. Wine did not factor into those generation defining Olympic hockey games. Back in 2002 names like Lemieux, Sakic, Fleury, Brodeur, Hull, Leetch, Modano and Roenick were toasted with beer, though back then the brands were not so craft related. In 2010 it was all Sidney Crosby and had I been acquainted at the time with the wonders of Sparkling wine from Nova Scotia, Benjamin Bridge would surely have been flowing.

Meanwhile, Super Mario turned out to be a serious wine collector so I wonder what Le Magnifique will be opening this Friday at noon. Team Canada architect Steve Yzerman is also known to follow the way of the grape and though he won’t be sipping Napa Cabernet with the other brass during the game, I’ve a feeling there’s a ’97 waiting in his hotel room should Canada prevail over their arch rivals.

Hockey stick and wine bottles

Hockey stick and wine bottles

The great Rhône wine scribe George Heretier posed the all-important debate, ”who says wine and hockey don’t make a good match?” If you want to exercise the powers of superstition, pulling out those two winning vintages will call upon the hockey gods to carry our Canadian men to gold. That and a Loonie buried beneath the surface at centre ice.

Here are eight great Canadian 2002 and 2010 wines to crack open and sip along with another Canada-U.S. classic hockey meeting.

Clockwise from left: Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc ‘Watson Vineyard’ 2002, Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2002, Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2010, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Burrowing Owl Syrah 2010, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010, and Stratus White 2010

Clockwise from left: Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc ‘Watson Vineyard’ 2002, Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2002, Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2010, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Burrowing Owl Syrah 2010, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010, and Stratus White 2010

Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc ‘Watson Vineyard’ 2002 ($30, winery) From A long and ‘wine-ding’ tasting road

Shows amazing longevity and freshness. Proof of the Peninsula’s magic to state ”you will never never never know me.” Simply solid red.  91  Tasted March 2013  @SouthbrookWine

Stratus White 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)  From Select tasting through years of the Stratus Red and White

Performs a demi-sec act which is not such a stretch, considering the late harvest actualities of the Gewürztraminer and the Riesling within. Could pass for dessert-like, cool-climate French (Jura) though after the chimerical declension it’s still nothing but a Chardonnay-galvanized meritage. Like warm honeycomb buttering steamed crustaceous matter. That Stratus White medicine, in rose potpourri and honey completes the classic scene within the portal.  93  Tasted September 2013  @Stratuswines

Stratus White 2002

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Stratus White 2002

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2002 ($50, wineryWineAlign) From A long and ‘wine-ding’ tasting road

From the Niagara Peninsula shows toffee and concentrated, oxidized fruit. That said, it has aged well and still offers intellectual spirit in dried fruit and potpourri. Great old tune to Dance, Dance, Dance along to.  89  Tasted March 2013  @SpeckBros

Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2010 (177758, $17.95, WineAlign) From Showcase Showdown: Rosewood Sémillon

Shows little procrastination with a superfluity of lemon, lime and paraffin but like all great Sémillon, the wine needs time. A block of wax keeps the honey down but look for a mellifluous ooze three years on. Glittering sheen, diamond-like focus and crusted by an accent of lemon zest. Krystina Roman will lead this grape to stardom. “Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!” Top white. Shine on you crazy Sémillon.  90  Tasted October 2012 and May 2013  @RosewoodWine

Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (ON, VINTAGES Essential, 193573, $22.95, WineAlign) From: Good Look Ahead at Canadian Wines For Thanksgiving

Drifts effortlessly along in an extreme brightness and lightness of being. A perfumed exotic beauty that displays definitive Cabernet Sauvignon character. Tea, tobacco, Cassis, vanilla, dark berries, proper acidity, good grip and length. Dictionary entry for the vintage, the Niagara-on-the-Lake appellation and the genre. No other sub-$25 Ontario Cab does the warm vintages (’02. ’05, ’07 and ’10) with this kind of grace and power. From and kudos to winemaker Ann Sperling.  91  Tasted September 2013  @SouthbrookWine

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2010 (73072, $41.95, B.C. $39.99, Alberta $44.99, WineAlign) From: Nine big November best buy wines

This Syrah will cure so many ails. Vouchsafe for a pepper-laced, plasmic mouthfeel, a maroon liquid pewter party of rocks and stones in the mouth. Playful and childlike, digs a pony, playing and offering really good fun. Does its own Okanagan thing becuase “ev’rything has got to be just like you want it to.”  92  Tasted October 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC

Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010 ($29.95, winery only, WineAlign) From: You can lead a county to the city

100 per cent Pinot Noir grapes is a phenomenal, inaugural genesis effort. More sanguine in colour than one would imagine, this sparkler is wonderfully sweet but also ”turns sweat, turns sour.” Pinot Noir is always potentially so dramatic but who knew it could be like this, like blood swirling in the glass. “Bottled in a strong compression,” with black raspberry, noticeable yeast and impressive finesse.  Out of the cage.  91  Tasted May 2013  @HuffEstatesWine

Stratus White 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)  From Select tasting through years of the Stratus Red and White

sends me immediately towards Bordeaux, in neo-marmalade, but also buoyed in perfume and body by 25 percent Viognier. “This variety worked so well in the vineyard in 2010,” notes Groux. Niagara honey and near-botrytis via Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc void of grass, full of vigor. A sharp note, neither metallic nor mineral, but a combination of the two is present in this so very concentrated ’10. Of a warm vintage (self-explanatory) fully picked by October 23. Though loaded with early Spring maple sap, foie gras and appley terpines, its sharp and framed by “tannic” tang and protracted length.  92  Tasted September 2013

Good to go!