March grape madness

Andrew Wiggins, #22 of the Kansas Jayhawks

Andrew Wiggins, #22 of the Kansas Jayhawks, drives upcourt as Marcus Smart, #33 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, defends during the Big 12 Basketball Tournament quarterfinal game at Sprint Center on March 13, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri.Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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Choosing wines from a wall of brace and girder filled options presents as much a degree of difficulty as picking winners from an NCAA March Madness bracket. When it comes to teenage basketball, do you stay the favourite course and go with all number one seeds? Should you think underdog, like Coastal Carolina Chanticleers or the Albany Great Danes? Who will be this year’s 2013 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles? Or the other 2013 final-four sleepers from Wichita State? Or Virginia Commonwealth in 2011? Butler, Davidson, George Mason, Kent State, Indiana, Loyola Marymount, Villanova, this list goes on. Who can forget the Jimmy V. coached 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack?

Related – Five Canadians to watch for during 2014 March Madness tournament

When you consider what wines to open alongside the march to the Final Four, or what to drink in March, are you thinking Cinderella story or go to, can’t miss favourites? Being partial to the underdog, the lesser known, smaller lot, less marketing backed bottle is not only smart but worth the risk. Winning the pool because you chose the right lower seed and picking out a wine gem from a sea of same-old, same-old is a winning combination. Here are six unsung heroes, dark horse wines to seek out this March. Get a little madness in your life.

Clockwise from top left: Casa Do Valle Grande Escolha 2012, Maison Adrien Vacher Les Adrets Altesse Roussette De Savoie 2012, Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Reserve Red Assemblage 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Tawse Gamay Noir 2012, Prà Soave 2012, and Le Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

Clockwise from top left: Casa Do Valle Grande Escolha 2012, Maison Adrien Vacher Les Adrets Altesse Roussette De Savoie 2012, Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Reserve Red Assemblage 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Tawse Gamay Noir 2012, Prà Soave 2012, and Le Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

Casa Do Valle Grande Escolha 2012, Vinho Verde, Portugal (276220, $15.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Up a buck but for its nerve, ball fake, back-door cut and caution thrown to the wind, deserves to be so. Fast breaking mineral Vinho Verde without the hot spring, travertine effervescence. Rocks upon rocks, torched by the sun and set beneath a ripe apple orchard. A good bitterness, blanched nuts and lime in full-toasted flavour. Not your avô’s VV and that’s a good thing. Progress matters.   89  Tasted February 2014  @winesportugalCA

Maison Adrien Vacher Les Adrets Altesse Roussette De Savoie 2012, Savoie, France (365163, $16.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Expectations run high for this montane white to be light, ethereal and delicately floral. To the contrary, the Savoie Altesse/Roussette (sort of like saying Bourgogne Blanc/Chardonnay) is at first an offensive foul, a bit stinky, sweaty and humid, like the efflux of a runny, unwashed rind cheese. Auto emissions too, acquired aromas for sure, with more mineral to taste, along with funky apples on steroids. Thoroughly invigorating. Can you get on board?  89  Tasted February 2014  @ProfileWineGrp

Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Reserve Red Assemblage 2011, Niagara Peninsula (321893, $16.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

Backs up the 2010 with another vintage that offers talented local ”Meritage balance for under $20.” The blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is a Nik Stauskas-like pure shooter, a thing of BEEF: Balance, eyes, elbow, follow through. Solid extract winged by top-notch acidity and nicely packaged with waves of fruit. The extraction may not allow this modestly priced red to age without some deconstructing so enjoy the fresh and vibrant fruit now and for two or three more years. Will really work with game nights.  88  Tasted February 2014  @Rockway Vineyard

Tawse Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (322545, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

The Tawse 2012 Gamay is a roaming shark with a Hammerhead-butt of (the serious side of) varietal aromas; tar, char and cherry pie. Capable of scoring points in the paint, a double-double even, like the twin tower Brampton brothers at New Mexico State. A very humid ’12, as per the vintage, with full-on flavour and in avoidance of the floor’s splinters. Forsakes the shaken and reductive instability of some young Tawse (big reds in barrel) for easy buckets kissed off the glass. For now and with every meal, including breakfast. Tang, inhibition, ball-stripping, #GoGamayGo.  89  Tasted February 2014  @Tawse_Winery

Prà Soave 2012, Veneto, Italy  (74534, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Enter screw cap, exit the designation Classico. Pra Soave the man repossesses its self-respect and re-brands itself under the name “Otto.” This Garganega ventures into rangy, rambunctious, starburst territory. The tang pitches in many tones, there is texture to chew and it travels to lengths not typical for entry-level Soave. Bold Venetian. Madness even. “And I remember how we’d play simply waste the day away,” something the Otto will gladly encourage. The only Soave you might consider eating on a plate but Otto insists “couldn’t enjoy it any more, Mom. Mm, mm, mmm.” And one!  89  Tasted February 2014  @TheVine_RobGroh

Le Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench (33902, $45.00, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

Extremely good showing for this stalwart in what is becoming a classic Twenty Mile Bench vintage. Cran/Raspberry earthy-straw scents layered in a cake of overlapping, alternating flavours in raspberry (again) and quality chocolate. More intensity than the other ’11 LCJ’s at this early stage, simultaneously concentrated and light, like a ball-distributing point guard with 20-20 vision. Increased oak in dribble drive motion really ties the spiced flavours together, without sacrificing freshness. This will improve for five years, if not more. Winemaker Sébastien Jacquey must have called on his muse for this LCJ because “some kind of madness has started to evolve,” and from here on in this Pinot will solicit a “need to love.”  92  Tasted February 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Good to go!

Time to buy these great wines

PHOTO: DRAMARGAR/FOTOLIA.COM

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Smaller investments lead to bigger fortunes. This is the credo that works for me when it comes to wine. I practice what I preach and taste as many wines as possible, to determine the personality of my palate, to make informed, diagnostic and visceral decisions when it comes to purchasing for my cellar.

Related – More Current Release Wines

Admittedly, I am offered many opportunities to taste wine. They are out there for you too, whether you live in Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia or British Columbia. Wine events are happening almost daily, in event venues, in restaurants, in wine shops and at your local monopoly. Get out there and taste Canada. Put a little money and time into your wine future. Take a course. Taste often and always. Training and immersion is key. Taste!

In the meantime, one of my many jobs is to help with buying strategies. Some recent releases are out there for the taking. I have also discovered a remarkable (soon to arrive in Canada) New Zealand producer, thanks to the generosity of the Speck Family (Henry of Pelham, Ontario) and Family Wine Merchants.  Their Icons of Wine, The Inaugural Family Wine Merchants Portfolio Tasting in Toronto was held on April 15, 2013 at Arcadian Lofts. The Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir from the Marlborough winery called Te Pā are a revelation. In anticipation of a spring concert of Prince Edward County wine events and new tastings, here is a terrific Pinot from the man himself, Norman Hardie. All in all, here are five new wines to look for, right now and in the near future.

From left: Santi Vigneti Di Monteforte Soave Classico 2011, Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico 2009, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011, Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir ‘Speck Family Reserve’ 2009, and Te Pā Winery Pinot Gris 2012

The grapes: Garganega and Trebbiano

The history: Produced in the Veneto region of northern Italy and owned by Lamberti S.P.A., an Italian chemical company

The lowdown: Really remarkable Soave at an entry-level price speaks for itself, despite the odd marriage between winery and massive chemical overlord

The food match: Cauliflower Soup with Coconut, Turmeric and Lime

Santi Vigneti Di Monteforte Soave Classico 2011 (316067, $14.95) is spangled of a mineral green and gold like lichen and moss on rocks long dripped on by a spraying waterfall. Fettered elegance, waxy like aged Semillon and positively exclusive of balm, oil, cloy or bitter peat. Smooth, direct, agreeable white.  88 @pmacanada

The grape: Sangiovese

The history: Property in Panzano (Greve) in Chianti that dates back hundreds of years, when it was called “Cahago”, which means “enclosed, cultivated field”

The lowdown: Open the dictionary and search “Chianti Classico.” CC defined

The food match: Spaghetti, 2012 harvest Roma tomato, basil sprouts, Parmigiano-Reggiano

Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico 2009 (176776, $19.95, SAQ, 571539, $24.60) whispers come-hither, pour a glass of me. You will not be disappointed. Straddles the Chianti meridian, offering up the best of both worlds; a tough, tannic and gritty stalking wolf and an alluring, silky modern fox. Iron and saltpeter meets dark chocolate filled with raspberry liqueur. Blessed with a piacevole retrogusto. “There’s still time for the midnight wine. Life just as it happens going down the line.”  90  @VillaCafaggio  @VinexxCanada

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Long established Marlborough, New Zealand property with vineyards right by the waters of Cloudy Bay at the Wairau Bar, though they’ve only recently begun to bottle under their own label

The lowdown: If Te Pā can find a way to get their wines into VINTAGES stores, they could be priced as low as $18.95. If that happens I will buy them by the case and hand them out on Halloween as adult treats

The food match: Za’atar Spiced Rabbit Gözleme

Te Pā Winery Pinot Gris 2012 (coming soon, $31.95) from a single vineyard made up of three plots and only the best fruit is chosen for the final blend. Hurtles like a ballistic missile fueled by bombarding and bombastic pear fumes, not to mention pungent capsicum. Was “headed for the overload” when suddenly it spun around by way of a dramatic yet finessed, flinty mineral chord change, like a “D” dropped into a Keith Richards’ open “G”. Gets your rocks off. The Sauvignon Blanc popped my eyeballs straight from their sockets. This Pinot Gris is even finer.  92  @nzwine  @winemarlborough

The Splurges

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Norman Hardie needs little introduction. He is the reason Prince Edward County Pinot will secure a place on that grape’s world stage

The lowdown: The 2011 vintage will go down as a classic for PEC. The tens have mass appeal, the nines turned out to be stellar but it is the elevens that gather the best of both worlds; ripeness and acidity. Stock up

The food match: Capercaillie and coniferous forest from Fäviken

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011 (125310, $35.00) paints the County red in layered and structured brushstrokes. Ripe, bright cherry tonality in super-heightened, mesmeric sensuality. Accented by weeping rock, black earth and that cherry. Would not figure this to be Norm’s most rugged or gregarious and yet it holds more heft than it looks. Currently in a great place and will live longer than any other.  92  @normhardie  @TastetheCounty

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Established in 1988, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery is run by the late Paul Speck Sr.’s three sons, Matthew, Daniel and Paul. H of P amalgamates iconic Niagara pedigree with forward thinking and familial kinship

The lowdown: While there is little doubt that winemaker Ron Giesbrecht’s greatest success is and has been cemented in his Cabernet-Merlot, Chardonnay and Riesling, his soft spot has got to be for this Speck Family Reserve Pinot

The food match: Tomato Dijon Tart

Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir ‘Speck Family Reserve’ 2009 (657874, $40) has arrived in its happy place. The escarpment abutting, protected position and sheltered warmth away from the lake makes the Short Hills Bench a valued Pinot site. Crushed red berries, exaggerated florals and less earth/funk than many peers lead to the SFR’s singular sagacity. Fine-grained chalky tannins befitting the vintage will see this linger with pleasure for another five years. Yet another fine example of ’09 Niagara Pinot clarity forged by skilled and experienced hands.  91  @SpeckBros

Good to go!

Five wines under $15 to seek out on September 15th

Photograph by Delphimages, Fotolia.com

Photograph by Delphimages, Fotolia.com

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When it comes to wine advice, the $64,000 question is “can you recommend some value wines?” I’m always happy to abide but how much do you want to spend? The typical response goes something like “I’m hoping to keep it at under $15 a bottle, without sacrificing quality, for those in the know. Is this a pipe dream?”

Related – The 2012 wine harvest and six current Ontario releases

It is very possible. The search for affordable, quality wines found recent gold in the New World group of progressive wine-making nations. The A-list includes Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. It now seems the pendulum of frissonic retribution and excitement is switching back to the Old World. The wine-producing regions of Loire (France), Veneto (Italy), Sicily (Italy), Dão (Portugal) and Mencía (Spain) are certainly no Burgundy, Tuscany, Piedmont, Douro and Rioja. No matter. For my $15, these are the “new” lands I would look to first.

The grape: Sauvignon Blanc

The history: Sancerre of the Loire Valley, Marlborough of New Zealand and Bordeaux. The SB market oligopoly resides in these locales

The lowdown: Touraine rides inexplicably invisible on the global Sauvignon Blanc radar. Prices remain sneakily low as a result

The food match: Green, purple and yellow beans sautéed with garlic and good olive oil

Domaine Jacky Marteau Sauvignon Touraine 2011 (745349, $12.95) causes me to react with a start and murmur “this i have nosed before.” That therapeutic aroma would be Sancerre and this a tributary of an SB from a vineyard high above the offshoot Cher River. A Touraine to traverse switchback and likewise advise your visceral mind to drink without the least bit of hesitation. Purple moor scraggly grass, warm legumes, zippy solder. Strength in value.  87

The grape: Garganega

The history: Utilitarian and humble varietal from Italy’s Veneto region

The lowdown: Inexpensive Soave has improved in leaps and bounds. Case in point this excellent example under $15

The food match: Crispy-Skin Roast Turkey with cornbread stuffing

Adalia Singat Soave 2011 (289603, $13.95) offers more than a paucity of affirmative evidence for the discovery of quality Garganega under $15. Clean lemon, toasty wax and plaster aromas. Temerity of acidity for a common Soave. No umbrage but rather bud palate restorative on the smooth finish.  87

The grape: Nero D’avola

The history: Most planted red varietal of Sicily

The lowdown: The skins of pressed ND’a is deeply hued like Syrah and handled similarly in fashion.

The food match: Spaghetti with a Holy Trinity Meat Sauce of beef, pork and veal

Morgante Nero D’avola 2010 (40816, $14.95) burnishes purple to black in sheen, perfume and vim. Like incandescent charcoal.  Welling hematoma of Aussie licorice, baking spices and lingonberry. Maxes out Nero D’avola’s ability to defend itself against all food comers. Even pancakes and pigs in a blanket.  It should be noted that a second sample was corked.  90

The grapes: Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Pinheiro and Jaen

The history: The emergence of Portugal’s Dão is upon us. Philosophy intent on oak forsaken for vineyard driven, honest wine

The lowdown: Cooperative produced kitchen sink blend aged for 12 Months in Steel Vats and in Cement-Coated Epoxy

The food match: Osh Savo, a Bukharan braise of beef, potato, lentils and dried fruit

Encostas De Penalva 2009 (293423, $14.95) is downright Joycean in unusual intelligence, sensitivity and character for a blend from a Portuguese cooperative. Soft perhaps, but nary a bitter deterrent mars this cup of crushed raspberries. A young artist’s deep portrait of Dão colour, forged of surreal fleshy extraction, verbose and flamboyant.  90

The grape: Mencía

The history: Indigenous red variety of Northwestern Spain that was once thought to be a cousin of Cabernet Franc

The lowdown: Bodegas Peique is your value maker out of Bierzo. They’ll be making this by the 100, 000’s before you can say “dios mios

The food match: Smoked Beef Brisket, bbq beef gravy

Peique Tinto Mencía 2010 (219204, $14.95) vanquishes hardship for violet pleasure. Sublunary stones rolling through subterranean tar beds of caramelizing sugars. Roses and red berry fruit rise from the burn.  88

Good to go!

VINE DIRT – RECENT TASTINGS

A heterodoxical winter. No blanket of white stuff.  To that inclination I travel against the grain for an encounter with three smoking pearls off the list at Barque.

 

JEAN-LUC COLOMBO VIOGNIER ‘LA VIOLETTE’ 2010 ($18.25) shows great floral intensity for a Vin de Pays d’Oc.  Condrieu intuition coaxes spiced nuts and yerba apricot tea from grapes grown in Languedoc. I waver not from the joy in its necessity, even as it descends a wafer thin minty slope to peter out. Certainly prettier than a Flyer’s coach.  88

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIELDING ESTATE CHARDONNAY UNOAKED 2008 ($13.95) is squeaky clean and cheap so “my money flows like wine.” The band plays Dixie while I eat too much chicken, the food and wine marching saintly, effortlessly in. More Mutsu than Meyer, more alfalfa than clover.  A golden, herbal remedy.  87

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PIEROPAN SOAVE CLASSICO 2010 ($19.95) is spring in winter, perennial in its success, consistent and always sharp in attack. Garganega that is oddly mindful of lemon paraffin wax tubes from the Wiz having gone to college in the Loire and now living as a mature adult in the Veneto. Opiate anaesthetic on the finish renders teeth and gums numb and void.  89

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good to go!