All in the Primum Familiae Vini

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

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

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

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

Primum Fam

Tastes of PFV

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

PFV

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

PFV wines

PFV wines

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

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

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

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

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

Primum Familiae Vinum

Primum Familiae Vini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2012

Joseph Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miguel Torres Mas La Plana 2010

Miguel Torres Mas La Plana 2010

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

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

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

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

Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2005

Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2005

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

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

Antinori Solaia 2007

Antinori Solaia 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sassicaia 2009

Sassicaia 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Vega-Sicilia Único 2004

Vega-Sicilia Único 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ten prodigal suspects

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2010

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2010

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

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

Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013

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

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

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

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

Antinori Guado Al Tasso 2012

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

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

Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2007

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

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

Luce Della Vite Luce 2012

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

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

Sassicaia 2012

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

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

Ornellaia 2012

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

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

Antinori Solaia 2011

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

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

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2012

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

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

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Pirates on a picnic

Salmon Amuse Bouche

Chef Victor Barry’s Salmon Amuse

The privacy, intimacy and relaxed atmosphere of a subterranean hashery is something we should all experience at least once in a gustatory lifetime. We should also be afforded the opportunity of a salubrious 12-course tasting menu designed by a reluctant superstar. Why ought we not be handled with extreme Sommelier care by the caress of a total professional? Give me a reason to not spend three hours locked in a room with eight others, all of generous wine and spirit?

The location was Splendido‘s downstairs dining room. The chef was Victor Barry. The Sommelier was Ellen Jakobsmeier. The company a group of friends and friends of friends with a common goal. Eat, drink and be merry. Maybe trash talk a little. Trade a few thousand e-mails ahead of time to fire the vinous juices. Get down to business. Taste fourteen wines blind, poured from paper bags, discuss and be humbled by knowing everything and yet nothing at all.

Chef Barry’s selections and his staff’s execution were beyond flawless, culled from trial, error and perfection, bobbing up into the ethereal. Ms. Jakobsmeier had less than 20 minutes to receive, prepare and pour in order, with timely precision, the agglomerated and cumulative progression of the wines. Like Euro rail time. Not a hair out-of-place. Big props Ellen.

One dinner companion said this. “Thank you so much for inviting me to join your Pirate festivities! The food was incredible, thanks for hosting us Victor. The wines were exciting, generous and delicious! Thanks to all of you for sharing the gems from your cellars. And thank you Ellen for doing such a great job pairing all the wines. A feast worthy of Pirates!”

Victor added his own words. “Thanks everyone. I had a blast. I really enjoyed sitting down stairs it made it much more enjoyable for me. Looking forward to the next event. PS that Tokai was fucking delicious. And the Premier Cru from that “Niagara appellation.”

I wrote this to the group. “Laid in bed last night thinking about every course. Too many details to comprehend. And then it was morning and my kids wanted their lunches packed. Good thing there was this pumpkin in my wine sleeve…generosity in wine just amazing. All thoughtful and just fucking generous. Fortunate to have met new faces. Looking forward to this again, and again. Great work JB and Victor, stars all around.”

And to you JB, you sure do know how to throw a party.

Champagne begins the pirates on a picnic dinner in the downstairs private dining space at Splendido Toronto

Champagne begins the pirates on a picnic dinner in the downstairs private dining vineyard at Splendido Toronto

Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru NV, Champagne, France

Just a wee coppery this rusty blush, savoury to solecism and uprooted by a tremendous fault that forces metamorphic salinity, no check that, bleeds from rock into the bottle. If Champagne could commandeer the senses to stop and take note, this LB is the one. Stoic, purposed, frank and blushing like a winter Olympic athlete after a gruelling race. This Rosé is as confident and masculine as can be for the genre. It opens the eyes, pores and heart for a long haul ahead of pulls, in corks, sips and gulps.  @LarmandierB

Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru NV and Domaine Dauvissat Chablis Premier Cru "Séchet" 2009

Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru NV and Domaine Dauvissat Chablis Premier Cru “Séchet” 2009

Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Premier Cru “Séchet” 2009, Burgundy, France

To be blinded by rocks is to taste such a wine without knowing what it is, slicing like Silex, cutting with a jagged edge of mineral take, yet gripping of aridity that must come from singular Chablis. Something whips like paraffin but again, the missing wood, the fennel talc, the absolute purity just says Chardonnay. With levity requested, gotta borrow from Burghound on this one because he was spot on, “way beyond the shadow of a doubt, yeah.” After 30 minutes the Sechet left the quarry to enter a sweat lodge of smoke and toast with an eventual pause at the charred Shishito capsicum station. The coarse wail is the young Dauvissat crooning but with fear set aside, the wine will soften in time, like the fashion poet, the prince of thieves. This Séchet, mythological in name, is Chablis brightly lit and accepts another sung substitute for yes. “Oh it cuts like a knife , yeah but it feels so right.”  @BIVBChablis

Oysters, popcorn, scallop dust

Oysters, popcorn, scallop dust

Popcorn dusted with dehydrated scallop dust? Damn straight.

Trout roe, maple, ice cream cone

Trout roe, maple, ice cream cone

Salmon, skin, consommé

Salmon, skin, consommé

Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2007, Wachau, Austria (AgentWineAlign)

Something grand is brewing, of that there is no doubt, despite the skinny, indehiscent first moments. A petrol that comes with age, a suckling piggy with melifluous honeycomb in its mouth roasting away, tinned fruit cup of a jellied, agar-agar mandarin orange type; these are the bold scents of what must be Austria, possibly Riesling, certainly Wachau. Tannin and stone drip Alsace Grand Cru, of Riesling again, like Rangen, but the reveal of Grüner Veltliner makes so much sense. Crazy, mind-blowing example, as good as it gets, a bench and high-water mark from which a free fall off the high springboard makes a perfect splash into the glass. Ninety minutes later only a word is needed to stem the waves of petulant emotion. Unbelievable.  @TheLivingVine  @AustrianWine

Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2007 and Henry of Pelham Reserve Chardonnay 2007

Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2007 and Henry of Pelham Reserve Chardonnay 2007

Henry of Pelham Reserve Chardonnay 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula (2013 268342WineAlign)

French oak kicks at the door, feeling young, dirty and fine though synchronicity is absent in most respects. This is certainly not Chassagne, definitely not Meursault, not even St. Aubin. Yet it is delicate and delectable despite its unkempt ways, selfless and if left to be, might settle into a relationship. To discover it’s the hot vintage of 2007 version of today’s Estate Chardonnay is nothing short of astounding and at the same time, disappointing, at odds, disassembled. After 20 minutes it falls apart, “in little pieces on the floor, too wild to keep together.” The wine’s inclusion was necessary, gave perspective and bent to receive the Uni, “and now the end has come.” The 2012 and 2013 will offer much more pleasure.  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Sea urchin, toast, squid ink, lobster

Sea urchin, toast, squid ink, lobster

Domaine Valette Pouilly-Fuissé ‘Clos de Monsieur Noly’ 2002, Mâconnais, Burgundy, France

May as well be Josko Gravner Ribollo Gialla, or Ann Sperling’s Whimsy! Orange and yet in contempt of the oxidized and underripe cantaloupe be damned, Jura should be the call. But then there is the question of messing with the man acidity and a trippy delicacy as per the cook’s butcher. It is certainly not faulty, nor should it be faulted for developing au natural, on top of the sheets, on the bare side of the beach. OK, so really old Chenin Blanc and a very natural Outback white blend would make for good conversation, or not. Like mushrooms for toffee. Like mulled apples for cider done wrong. Dirty in the most righteous 12 year-old Sherry way. Love it with Lobster on a rock, octopus and some kind of sea cucumber.

Domaine Valette Pouilly-Fuissé 'Clos de Monsieur Noly' 2002 and Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2009

Domaine Valette Pouilly-Fuissé ‘Clos de Monsieur Noly’ 2002 and Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2009

Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2009, Côte de Beaune, France (AgentWineAlign)

Can anything really be known from a fleeting moment spent with this? Classic, viscous, rich Burgundy and nothing but, with more mineral than should be gained from just a pass. The maker had the unconscious intent of remembering generations. When told that hey, it’s a Latour, in Beaune, of Corton Charlemagne, by Grand Cru, it’s hard to gather your inner we’re not worthy but focus and intent need be the outward act. You can really taste the limestone, imagine walking the Corton hillside, feeling the maximum exposure of the sun. When you know what it is you know to take a slice of humble pie and remember the soil, the soil, the soil. In Burgundy since 1797.  @LouisLatour1797  @LouisLatourInc

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada 2011 nº 30 Capataz Rivas

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada 2011 nº 30 Capataz Rivas

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada 2011, nº 30 Capataz Rivas, D.O. Manzanilla Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain

Tasted blind this pours as a glass of briny capers, sea peas, vetches and liquid basalt. It speaks a language that contains the ancient loneliness of ruins. Thoughts easily lean Manzanilla or Old Fino. Great nuts, bitters, horseradish, dry tang, daikon and like a dirty martini. Not to mention orange rind and lime rind, zest and akin to a Vin Doux. It’s origins are at the hands of capataz master Rafael Rivas, from juice originally preserved to add kick to more commercial releases but the decision instead was made to “touch” the 15 solera butts with “testimonial sacas” of only four or five arrobas (roughly 5 x 16 = 80 litres), to make a wine such as this. This is old school Manzanilla, the third saca, with a reductive flor, uniquely oxidative and an average age of around 15 years.  @EquipoNavazos  @SherryWines  @JerezXrsSherry

Pop can seafood

Pop can seafood

Intermezzo of smoked oyster and foam…

Carrot

Splendido’s Five-hour carrot

“Friends – ridiculous dinner last night, in the best way. Great wines with great friends is my favourite way to spend a night. Already looking forward to the next one – at which I will bring more than one wine.”
Hamachi collar, black bean paste

Hamachi collar, black bean paste

Podere Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano 1997, Piedmont, Italy

Here the soprano sings, in bold, rich, deep tones, with a sense of entitlement and a swagger. It’s a royal, goodfella, masculine depth. The notes are sung, even danced in bourrée, crescendo, sostenuto and ritardando. The luscious bing cherry richesse gives it youth, intimating Sangiovese but true hematic Toscana can’t be this dark. The modernity of Nebbiolo it must be. Seamless, tireless and impossibly rose petal delicate with the omnipresent tar. Would be willing to go back to 1999 but for the black forest layering, though to find out it’s ’97 shatters myths, confidence and legend. Still dusty and tannic, with more years needed to shed the grains of sand chain. After 20 minutes it goes to candied flowers, oranges and Alba truffles. Bring on the soft scrambled eggs.

Podere Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano 1997 and Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa 1997

Podere Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano 1997 and Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa 1997

Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa 1997, Piedmont, Italy

Smells like spirited, youthful, though decidedly modern Nebbiolo. Rich, chalky, dense, viscous, unctuous and yet the opposite of the Manzoni grit. More feminine, of more voices, in fugue, at times in tarantella, then into arpeggio. The notes play from a radio in my head. “In the deepest ocean, the bottom of the sea, your eyes, they turn me.” That it’s my contribution, this weird fish of a Nebbiolo, makes me amazed at the complex world of Piemonte and the absurdity of knowledge. Sensory appreciation rocks, spoken through this Sarmassa, like a chant from an ancient tribe, sitting cross-legged upon the clays of Lugagnano. It seems there may be 20 years left on the Marchesi’s Nebbiolo. I can’t believe how well it showed.

 

Venison loin, heart, mushroom, beet, pig's blood chocolate sauce

Venison loin, heart, mushroom, beet, pig’s blood chocolate sauce

“Amazing night! Everything was spot on, from the food to the wines to the company. Thanks to all, looking forward to the next one.”
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (2011 480533, WineAlign)

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

 

Pumpkin in a pumpkin

Pumpkin in a pumpkin

Marchesi Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT 2003, Tuscany, Italy (2010 987586WineAlign)

The crowd leans modern, young, New World Cabernet Franc or Bordeaux blend. Can’t help but concur. Turns out to be a blend, of Cabernet Sauvignon (75 per cent), Sangiovese (20) and Cabernet Franc (5). First produced in 1978, the Sangiovese was only introduced to Solaia in 1980. In 2003, the weather could be described with a single word. Hot. Limited rainfall and a record total of 2400° in daytime heat summation has brought this Solaia to its full on gain, 12 years in evolution. The vintage caused a full draw from stony calcareous soil of marl and friable albarese rock. The collective soul can appreciate its charms but the heavy aspect ratio can’t be denied. We sipped and “the punches came fast and hard.” Warm smacks to the face, rushes of heat and an ensanguined rush of chocolate fruit through the system. For now there is no caramel, no brûlée, no denoument. In the present there are caverns of tannin, the ‘sunny one’ playing the crowd, on a sunset strip. Soon and in the end, times fades away.  @AntinoriFamily  @HalpernWine

Marchesi Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT 2003 and Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 1993

Marchesi Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT 2003 and Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 1993

Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 1993, Tokaj-Hegyalja, Hungary (2008 972836,, WineAlign)

Here the caramel unctuousness and apricot in chains of liquid gold is the work of a legendary purveyor, the Royal Tokaji company. With sweetness upwards of 150 g/L and acidity pushing the 10 g/L mark, this is no shrinking violet of a dessert wine. With 12 years of road under its belt, the blend of predominantly Furmint and Hárslevelú grape varieties (with a small percentage of Muscat) is firing on all cylinders. Racy and intense, this captures the essence of the 1st growth Nyulászó vineyard and brings it to the world. Bullies the desserts a bit, but all is forgiven considering the range of flavours within and complimented from without.  @Royal_Tokaji  @HHDImports_Wine

Then one more dessert course…”Milk and Cereal,” chamomile and maple tea gel, buttermilk quenelle, flaxseed granola.
Final treats

Final treats