Tasting Ontario Part Four: Gamay

g’day and welcome to #NWAC18 day four ~ #playoffs #playoffbeard #upthegame

#GoGamayGo is the cry, a hashtag extraordinaire created by the one, the only Janet Dorozynski, JDo to everyone at WineAlign. I could expound upon and extoll the virtues of Canada’s great bright red varietal light but what might I be able to say that hasn’t already been sung by Treve Ring? Head over to WineAlign for a look at Treve’s succinct and exacted Gamay dissertation and the results of the Gamay flights/Medal winners at this year’s National Wine Awards of Canada.

Related – Results of the 2018 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals): Gamay

In the spirit of the winners, competitors and Ontario growers who champion this most important and essential grape, here are 12 recently tasted local examples, including five tasted blind at NWAC18.

Adamo Gamay Noir Unoaked Huebel Grape Estates 2017, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $17.25, WineAlign)

A bit muted and sleepy-musty but opens up into a rich and tangy, deep-fruited wine with zip and zest on the palate. Would like to know the fruit source. Means so well… so perhaps in a few months time it will shed a layer of lift and become something approaching the gamay ethereal. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  adamoestatewinery  @AdamoEstateWine  @adamoestatewinery

Malivoire Gamay 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (591313, $17.95, WineAlign)

Straight up juicy gamay, of blessed red cherries, tart, crunchy and if nothing more, it really doesn’t matter. This is exactly what you want from the grape. Fresh and bright, so bloody drinkable. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  malivoire  noble_estates  @MalivoireWine  @Noble_Estates  Malivoire Wine  Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Malivoire Gamay 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (591313, $17.95, WineAlign)

In every ostensible way the rule of gamay goings are perpetuated on and on from Malivoire’s entry level effort in 2016. The fruit is full to welling over the pressed edge, the acidity sharp and contrastive and the sense of place firmly etched in your face. This is Niagara gamay though I find it possessing a position one rung down on the bright and lifted ladder. It’s nothing if not a parochially produced, exemplary pleasure to drink. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  malivoire  noble_estates  @MalivoireWine  @Noble_Estates  Malivoire Wine  Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Peller Estates Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

Savoury and reductive gamay, turns a varietal phrase as it should with fruit and brass in pocket. Juicy and Ontario intense. Delicious stuff, full of fruit in and out complexities, crunchy and beefy layering. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  pellerwines  @PellerVQA  @PellerEstates

Château Des Charmes Gamay Noir Droit St. David’s Bench Vineyard 2016, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (346742, $18.95, WineAlign)

Unusually reductive for the always charming CdC gamay a little bit of agitation will go along way to revealing that great gamay smile. Still it’s a game you need to play because this warm and layered 2016 is locked tight, ante-fresh and yet reeling from the air outside. The palate is deeply forged with ferric, hematic and Cru-Bojo meets nebbiolo tarry structure. The greatest of gamay tannins are sold into capture around this fruit like grains of chains surrounding un-popped plum and wild berry bubbles. While admittedly a bit heavy for gamay just wait for this to burst and give away what it’s got hidden away. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted December 2017  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Malivoire Gamay Small Lot 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Malivoire’s most important and benchmark Ontario Rosé is one of the first to the table from the 2017 vintage and why not because its quick soak and lightness of being takes no time at all to get ready. This is the antithetical beauty of Rosé and how it must be approached for best results. Malivoire does not take a step forward from the most perfect ’15 and ’16 wines but there is more fruit in this ’17. You can actually nose and taste strawberry plus a hint of tart raspberry. This will appeal to more of the general Rosé loving populace without any compromise for the provincial, provençal geeks everywhere else. It’s ostensibly a better wine in 2017 because it will attract that growing audience without having made any concessions or dis to authenticity. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  malivoire  noble_estates  @MalivoireWine  @Noble_Estates  Malivoire Wine  Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

13th Street Gamay Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

Here is what 13th Street does best in bring it with honesty style from their wide ranging stable of wines. The essence of Peninsula gamay is captured and with dusty, arid help from the dehydrated vintage. The fruit is ripe, dark and tangy, amalgamating blueberry, mulberry and black purple currants in just the right amount of sapid ways. This is the clean and clear gamay from 13th Street and winemaker J.P. Colas. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted October 2017 and February 2018  13thstreetwinery  @13thStreetWines  13th Street Winery

Southbrook Gamay Triomphe Laundry Vineyard 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $21.75, WineAlign)

Southbrook’s take on Escarpment gamay is more floral than savoury, heightened in timbre and lifted with a bit of awe, like flipping a coin,”heads for her, tails for me.” Not that such a sweetly scented and easily understood wine should invoke Dickens or any other literary distraction but life does seem to slow down with this in hand. It celebrates what gamay can be in Ontario; lithe, fresh, crystalline and balanced. For a brief respite from “the great crises of our laborious human lives,” try a glass of this effortless and inspiring gamay, to be “settled by the idle inspiration of a moment.” Alluring juice from Heather Laundry’s organic Vinemount Ridge vineyard. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted January 2018 southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @SouthbrookWine  @TheLivingVine  Southbrook Vineyards  The Living Vine inc.

13th Street Gamay Whitty Vineyard 2016, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $23.95, WineAlign)

Pressed, with roll-up dried and leathery deep cherry. Also savoury, indelibly caked by a clay funk and then at the finish just a bit of astringency. Cru-esque to be sure but right now a bit nervy and bitter. Let it settle, amalgamate, stretch its gamay legs and ultimately deliver some much solicited and due pleasure. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   13thstreetwinery  @13thStreetWines  13th Street Winery

Leaning Post Gamay Wismer Armbrust Vineyard 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $28.95, WineAlign)

Something has really changed. Call it wisdom, call it experience, call it Wismer but gamay by Leaning Post has morphed and moved into a new place. Just as cured salumi meaty as before and reeking, part fresh flower bouquet and part bouquet garni. Still firm, grippy even, but now with structure, at cru level so to know that probability’s best is yet to come. Impossibly easy to drink however, with a subdue in near absence of the Bretty attitude and then the kicker, a feeling you could very well be drinking pinot noir. Not because of density, extraction or pressing but from the bones and the delicate flesh inextricably woven through the corporeal body. That this juice spent approximately 25 days on its skins and came out this lithe, fine-grained and so very focused is a Wismer-Senchuk reality. “We like our gamay to taste like gamay but act like pinot and this wine definitely delivers” is truth self-spoken. To date this is one of Ontario’s greatest gamays. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Tawse Gamay Noir Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign)

Good gamay. Fruit and just a hint of cru tension. A bit of hue and hewed addendum. Real fruit. Proper fruit. Really tight. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Leaning Post Gamay The Natural Unfiltered 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

The Natural comes dancing in, with no obvious Ontario gamay precedence and in waves of WTF as part of the Leaning Post Antique Series. It’s neither Geek (riesling) nor Freak (pinot noir) but its exotic scents and wax-resist texture make me think of Javanese batik. In the habitual way of natural wines the cloudy demure and silky tannic salve are pretty much a given but it’s almost as if there is a shell or sour candied beet glaze that locks something in, a flavour profile undefined and in terms of texture, is quite waxy. Like patterned areas on a cloth protected so they won’t receive the colour that other parts will, this gamay hides away part of its charm and winemaker Ilya Senchuck’s self-professed idiom of “can’t quite put my finger on it” runs particularly true. Fresh and light gamay it is not, nor is it the deep cru suspect of Senchuk’s magnificent Wismer Armbrust Vineyard 2016. It’s an endangered animal, fascinating, almost prehistoric, vital to varietal knowledge and with respect to gamay, very crushable. Low in alcohol, high in acidity but thanks to the whole-cluster, incessant punchdown and gentle pressing/racking elévage it turned out smoky and dreamy instead of bright and volatile. It’s the new antediluvian gamay, confounding but true. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted March 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Good to Go!

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Tasting Ontario Part One: Riesling

Riesling at Vineland Estates, 161 days on skins

Riesling is again on the rise and the reasons why are as varied as the artistry it’s equipped to display. It has been 40 years since the Pennachetti family of Cave Spring Vineyard and German vintner Herman Weis planted riesling in St. Urban Vineyard on what is now Vineland Estates. My how things have changed. The trending line ascends as the general public comes around and warms to the versatile grape so popularity is not just in the hands of geeks, oenophiles and connoisseurs. Ask your favourite sommelier, product consultant or wine writer. Riesling’s neighbourhood is beginning to gentrify in a big way but it’s also expanding experimental and ancestral horizons. It will always be just riesling but today’s varietal vernacular goes beyond dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, Süssreserve, late harvest and Icewine to now include skin-contact, barrel fermented, unfiltered, wild ferment, Blackball and The Geek.

A few weeks back I attended my 7th Cuvée in Niagara Falls to celebrate the next chapter with and for our wine industry, fresh on the heels of the 2018 Tasted Untamed edition of Taste Ontario in Toronto. Just a month before I rambled through the Niagara Icewine Festival in Jordan and the Icewine Gala in Niagara Falls. It was at the Icewine Gala where we watched and listened in on a great tribute to Ontario’s iconic pioneer, Karl Kaiser. We owe so much to Mr. Kaiser with respect to everything Icewine but also to how far we have come in terms of riesling.

A lovely tribute to #karlkaiser tonight at #icewinefestival gala

Just two weeks ago in Toronto we tasted the current offering of Prince Edward County wines at Taste of the County. Today we will immerse ourselves into the culture of global food and local wine at the Terroir Symposium and on Tuesday the Wine Council of Ontario will hold its first annual Ontario Craft Wine Conference. It has been a very saturated and intensive start to 2018, something that must be attributed to the maturity, confidence, preparedness and excitement of and towards Ontario wine.

My personal opportunities to taste wines from the Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County, Lake Erie North Shore and Ontario’s South Coast have been many. Before too long there will be greater access to the wines of emerging regions like the Oak Ridges Moraine, Georgian Bay the Northumberland Hills. Prior to 2017 I used this wine processing platform of godello.ca as a vehicle to review and discuss Ontario wines with much greater frequency but circumstances have changed. My work with Italian and French wine regions, most notably Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Bourgogne have occupied a great deal of my time. So has tasting and reviewing many potential submissions for the WineAlign exchange and acting as a consistent contributor to the WineAlign Buyers’ Guides to the VINTAGES releases.  I 2017 I ceased publishing my bi-weekly tasting notes because it’s important that readers check them out on WineAlign. All this as added up to less constant coverage of Ontario wines on the site.

And a few of my favourite wine writers. Thx for coming to #cuvee2018 #vqawinesofontario

That is why I’ve decided to post a series of articles over the next few weeks solely dedicated to Ontario wine and I’m going to split them up by grape varieties, beginning today with Ontario’s great white hope, riesling. I’ve written about the grape many times before and my belief in its varietal power, finesse and omniscient existentialism for a signature and singular Ontario purpose is perpetual and unwavering. This work is possible because of the organizations and the people behind them who make it all possible. The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, The Wine Council of Ontario and VQA Ontario are a triple-edged force that keep our wines flowing. Thank you to Richard Linley, President of WCO, Magdalena Kaiser, Head of Marketing and Public Relations for WMAO, Brian Schmidt and Laurie Macdonald, President and Executive Director respectively of VQA. The Icewine Festival Gala and Cuvée are not possible without the work of Fallsview Casino, Scotiabank Convention Centre and of course Brock University. Gala and Experts’ Tasting coordination is possible because of The Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s Barb Tatarnic, Manager, Wine and Sprit Education Trust and Kaitlyn Little, Marketing and Communications Officer.

Inaugural Winemaker of Excellence Award winner and riesling maker extraordinaire, Angelo Pavan of Cave Spring Cellars, with Donald Ziraldo

At Cuvée, the inaugural Winemaker of Excellence Award winner was Angelo Pavanchosen in a unanimous decision for his major contributions to the industry, his commitment to excellence and his mentorship to winemakers across Canada. Pavan, Vice-President, Winemaker and Founding Partner at Cave Spring Cellars, is known for his encyclopedic understanding of viticulture in Niagara. He was among the first in the province to work with numerous grape varieties and was a pioneer in the quest to improve wine quality and sustainability in vinifera varieties.

“It is humbling to be the first recipient of this great award,” said Pavan. “It validates the passion, time, effort and commitment of over 30 years dedicated to this great wine growing region and having participated in its evolution to international recognition.”

Pavan is also a founding member and Chair of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) Standards Development Committee and has played a key role in determining the most suitable winemaking practices applicable in Ontario. As the founding Chair of the International Riesling Experience, held in conjunction with CCOVI, Pavan has also been instrumental in solidifying Niagara’s place as one of the world’s pre-eminent Riesling producing regions.

Related – Three Rieslings to believe

One of my first bold statements about Ontario riesling was this. “There are many reasons to believe in riesling, that versatile and brutally honest grape. Riesling holds no punches, speaks its mind, tells it like it is. Grown worldwide and vinified in so many varying styles, riesling is not so much a chameleon but rather a mutant. It takes root in every vineyard, marking its terroir, expressing itself singularly and without apology. Over the past two-four months I have exonerated and upheld with the highest riesling belief that (Ontario) does the variety justice above and beyond the pale, in the vineyard and in the glass. More reviews have been written, designed and pushed down your throats on (local) riesling than on any other grape. What’s up with that? Quality, that’s what.”

Related – 100 kilometre wine for spring

And this. “Riesling. Can there be a more versatile white grape? From natural, mineral spring, bone-dry to concentrated, candied sweet, this grape runs the diversity gamut like no other. ‘The Bench’ is home to a mineral wealth of local riesling, singular in composition not only by way of a global comparison, but also from plot to plot, soil to soil and vineyard to vineyard.”

Riesling Vine

Related – Are you wine experienced?

We held a symposium at Brock University a few years back and the technical, chemical side was addressed by Cornell University Sensory Researcher Terry Acree. For riesling, Acree focuses on chemicals that correspond to the strongest identified smells, the most important and prevalent of which is TDN (Trimethyldihydronaphthalene). TDN the chemical or diesel/petrol the sensation as an “odour strength (Damascenone) as related to by human subjects.” In order for the wine taster to “experience” these sensations, two things have to be there. “Memories of different kinds of features and features themselves.” That said, Acree believes you can only smell three things at once, a notion he borrows from M.F.K. Fisher.

Acree sees odour as “an evolutionary human response to history.” If you have never come into contact with a banana, you will never smell banana in Chardonnay. TDN is the dominant aroma and where riesling grows, more sunlight means more fruit and more TDN. TDN is a precursor but its prevalence does not necessarily increase as a wine ages. A very common theme when nosing an aged Riesling is to comment on the secondary aromatic emergence of a gas or petrol note. Acree believes that identifying increased petrol notes in aged Riesling is a bit of a misnomer. It had to already be there. “I’m just inventing a new, confusing way to discuss minerality,” he concludes.

At that time Toronto wine writer Mike Di Caro and I talked about Ontario riesling and we agreed that sugar levels are both arbitrary and unpredictable so Niagara’s best is and should be of the dry variety. I don’t think that way anymore. My friend and colleague Bill Zacharkiw of the Montreal Gazette wrote this last year.”Rieslings, especially from cool climates like the Mosel in Germany and Niagara tend to have residual sugar. Don’t be scared. You know what? I love them. The sugar makes the aromatics go “boom,” while the acidity keeps the wine tasting dry.” Bill is correct and it is also those sugars that allow the wine to stay alive, age and develop those aforementioned petrol notes.

Related – I shall be Riesling

Here is how VQA chooses to define typical Ontario riesling. “Classically exhibits refreshing citrus, peach or floral aromas with a light “petrol” element and racy acidity on the palate. Made in a range of dry, off-dry and sweet styles, including Icewine. Typically not oaked but good examples will age well with the petrol nose evolving.” Many would agree but there is so much more to think about. You don’t know anything about riesling and aging until you begin tasting them at five years only know then can you begin to understand. Some examples will stay the course of pure lemon, so taut and tight, perhaps shouldn’t even be released until they are ready. The acidity might be the most unwound, with pent-up aggression, a fighter in search of balance. Not typical perhaps but very much a part of the Ontario mix.

The curious thing about Ontario riesling is how it has pushed me to wax with unlimited hyperbole, as in “to purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling” and “one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes.” For Treve Ring’s take on the great grape, head over to WineAlign for what she had to say after the 2017 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals). Treve writes,  “as our palates progress, we often shy away from these simpler, fruity styles for more structured, savoury and minerally wines, which again, brings us full circle (close the ring) back to serious and ageworthy riesling.”

Related – Moved by Riesling

I have been moved by riesling many times. In Alsace it happens every day and it has happened in Ontario, most notably after having comes across (any one of four or five) Charles Baker Picones and Emma Garner Thirty Bench Small Lots. Or in particular, Jay Johnston’s Nadja’s from Flat Rock and most notably Brian Schmidt’s Vineland Estates St. Urban. With Cave Spring it happened after tastes of Cave Spring CSV. It has happened again and again. It will continue this way.

As I mentioned, this is merely the first part in a long series of articles to come, including exposées on sparkling wines, chardonnay, other white varieties and appellative blends, gamay, pinot noir, cabernet franc, plus other reds and red blends. To begin this Ontario varietal march through spring here are 26 recently tasted riesling, plus a handful visited in 2017 yet to make it to godello print, all to give a glimpse into the portal of how far Ontario has come and to where it may be heading.

Riesling at the Carriage House, Vineland Estates Winery – March 7, 2015

Redstone Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $14.95, WineAlign)

So much lime, in flesh and zest, all over the lime map. Really juicy riesling for the cost of a song. Cool climate stamp right here; glade, citrus, wax and air up above. The palate follows, albeit thin and tinny. Ideal for current consumption though not likely made with the stuffing to evolve. Regardless it’s good value. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted blind at NWAC July 2017 and October 2017  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Featherstone Riesling Black Sheep 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)

The Black Sheep strikes again, same price, same typicity and balance. This is the riesling we’ve come to expect and relish, with elevated sugar and acidity levels walking hand in hand. Plenty of lime spirit is more Bench styled than ubiquitous Niagara Peninsula so you can guess what fruit lurks to lead such a suspicion. Always high quality and quick to market, sip, rinse and repeat. You’ll see this wine in release cycles four or five times over, available at all times. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  #featherstonewinery  @featherstonewne  Featherstone Estate Winery

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (43281, $17.95, WineAlign)

There are two types of traditional riesling made up on the Escarpment’s benches, both equally accessible and correct but so very different. There is the other way; dry, stoic and intense. And there is the Flat Rock way, slightly further adrift off-dry, weightier and to be honest, less serious and happier. Not that one style is more important than the other but if I’m a consumer expecting sweet riesling but hoping to learn how the other half lives and breathes it would be this Flat Rock that would help educate and ultimately help me grow into the new riesling lover I’d want to be. The sugar (while nothing extraordinary here) is balanced by equal acidity and athletic chic. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

2027 Cellars Riesling Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block 2016, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (225490, $18.75, WineAlign)

The wind is so tight and the expressive fruit bound up in a ball of fire and acidity but aching to break free. The pent up energy here is palpably felt, like a needle in the side, leaving you seized up, protective and tense. There is so much juicy citrus and fineness of acidity it’s hard not to see this riesling taking five years to unwind and five more towards developing characterful secondary personality. This is perhaps Kevin Panagapka’s best. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted July 2017 and March 2018  2027cellars  @2027cellars  2027 Cellars

Konzelmann Estate Winery Riesling Reserve Old Vines 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

The by now classic house style of using late harvest fruit off of old vines on the estate’s lakefront property and barrel fermentation are the things that delve into the Konzelmann glück, density and complexity. Preserved lemon, grapefruit sorbet and mineral-mandarin cream define this riesling of zero trepidation, utmost confidence and old world charm. Who’s to say you aren’t sipping this in some Rhineland-Palatinate village instead of Niagara on the Lake. There will always be a place in hearts for riesling made this way. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2018  konzelmannwines  @Konzelmann  @konzelmannwines

Megalomaniac Riesling Narcissist 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (67587, $18.95, WineAlign)

Narcissist takes a turn to the flint with great citrus intent in 2017, simulating great German riesling that have been coming for generations and eons before. There is a youthful funky reductive yeastiness that tests the aromatics but in looking for balance we find tart fruit, fine acidity and a leanness that strikes like a laser through the microbial fog. Wow is this interesting and in a show of great potential. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted March 2018  megalomaniacjhc  sobmegalo  @MegalomaniacJHC  @seb_jacquey  Megalomaniac Wine

Fielding Estate Bottled Riesling 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (251439, $19.95, WineAlign)

Though neither single-vineyard nor block specific make no mistake. This estate riesling from Fielding is a carefully selected and curated one with not a single wasted note in the varietal tune it plays. The chords are pure citrus, the arpeggio rising from stone fruit skin meets flesh and the overall score ambient in its keyboard hold. It’s so bloody juicy, mouth watering and intense, riesling in which there’s a torrent that rises gently. There’s a wind, like a drug, in new material from a great year to make a new record. Worth listening to and drinking in, on repeat, with a deeper understanding. Should develop a layered feel, of honey and petrol, with time. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted October 2017 and March 2018  fielding winery  richiewine  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  Fielding Estate Winery  

Vineland Estates Riesling Elevation St. Urban Vineyard 2016, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign)

By now the St. Urban Vineyards vines are as old as 37 years, a fact in longevity and experience never lost on this archetypal Niagara Escarpment riesling. There is a certain kind of interest here, first from track record and then because of the deferential vintage for the flagship variety. The nose is quite waxy, lemon-scented and vaguely sweet-fruity. There is even a bit of Niagara Gold cheese mixed with fresh florals, of white roses and then persimmon. So now the mind travels to the tropics, for flavours imagined of mango, marquesa and mangosteen. Warm days and nights will do that to riesling and while this may not live into its twenties it will go complex and curiously fascinating into the petrol and honey with more early unction, like 2012 but even more, akin to 2010. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted December 2017  vinelandestates  benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy  Vineland Estates Winery  Brian Schmidt

Hidden Bench Riesling Bistro 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

If Ontario riesling can be referred to as classic it would be something as traditional and acumen-factored as this ’16 by Hidden Bench. This is due to the middle road meets the fine, direct and essential line taken, where along the way balance is struck with notable fruit, just shy of off-dry styling and a fashion of natural acidity. Correct is, as correct does. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted March 2018  hiddenbench  @HiddenBench  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  

Creekside Estates Riesling Marianne Hill 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

The next Marianne is a conundrum, low in alcohol and yet quite lean, avoiding both high strains of citrus and flesh. The nose is both inviting and very mineral but the palate is a bit staid, understated and seemingly dry. The skins of pears and peaches are touched but it’s just a bit too quiet right now. We’ll see what the future holds. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2018  creeksidewine  @CreeksideWine  Creekside Estate Winery

Southbrook Vineyards Riesling Triomphe 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

With all of her other varietal talents I wouldn’t normally pontificate winemaker Ann Sperling as exemplifying the riesling whisperer (at least in Niagara) though a pass at this warm and inviting 2016 may change that and with haste. At the risk of sounding a bit too establishment this is classic and typical Niagara but it accedes into such a category with impeccable sugar, acid and texture balance. Treating the fruit with respect, avoiding any unhinged decisions and delivering the three-pronged effects of sweet, tart and bitter with seamless intertwine is the work of a total pro. Gotta have the lime and the essential possibility of honey. Triomphe 2016 does just that. It’s what you want and need. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted January and March 2018  southbrookvineyards  @SouthbrookWine  Southbrook Vineyards

Mulled riesling anyone? Hidden Bench at Icewine Fest

Hidden Bench Riesling Estate 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

Just a lovely bit of spring sun and dew picks up the stimulus, pace and attitude right from go in the Hidden Bench ’16. This is not only definitive for riesling by house, for estate and to regional necessity but also to all varietal wines done up right in this pinpointed place. The orbiting acidity is twisted like ties around wires along a circle drawn to lock in freshness, by fruit more lemon and lime citrus than stone or up the stairs. It’s a near perfect vintage for the omniscient one and sets the table for Roman and Felseck Vineyard rieslings to come. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted April 2018  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Hidden Bench Riesling Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Agent, $23.95, WineAlign)

Felseck delivers a concentrated, compact and direct riesling, very focused along linear Locust Lane lines, truly Beamsville stony, precise and even a bit demanding. Few Ontario rieslings can distill lemon, lime, green apple and stone like this without jumping around. That Felseck can stand firm in one place with such stoic and unwavering calm is a testament to a winemaker’s attention to detail. It begins in the storied vineyard and finishes with the same fineness of finesse. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted October 2017  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Perfect match to riesling? Some might say

Cave Spring Riesling Adam’s Steps 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (901211, $24.95, WineAlign)

Adam’s Steps is Cave Spring’s riesling with a bit more of everything, more depth, body, sweetness and texture. It really is the outlier in their varietal bunching, closer to the Estate than the CSV in style and yet firmly positioned in its own category. There is a true sense of spirit and energy, especially on the lively palate, with a waxy, almost peach coulis and lemon-lime pastille note that lingers like sucking on a riesling candy. Clearly dolomite in origin but fleshy and full. Holds the age ability card for a five-plus year run. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted October 2017 and March 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Lundy Manor Riesling 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The fruit source is Wismer Vineyard for winemaker and Niagara College graduate Adam Kern’s ’16 riesling. Kern also makes the wines with Chris Fornasier and Bench Trial Wines. His straightforward varietal wine for Lundy’s Manor speaks of peach and tart citrus with a surprisingly tannic thrush. The equanimity between fruit and acidity keeps it in the airy space above the pull by extracted weight and will serve it well for two or three years time. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted March 2018  lundymanorwinecellars  @LundyManorWine  @lundymanorwinecellars

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The Stanners Riesling evolution is upon us, happening and ready to blow. In replay of 2014 this is Niagara meets PEC fruit, two days of skin contact, six months on the lees, dry is as dry does and yeasty funky. In my mind it’s pretty much a repeat of that just about leesy enough and pear textured 2014 without anything new added or realized. But, for Colin Stanners it must be the vintage that wakes him up to what he needs to do next so this ’15 is therefore the first next step towards and set up man for what’s to come in 2016. This is a must step to taste on that ladder of evolutionary understanding so make sure to take it. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  stannerswines  @StannersWines  Stanners Vineyard

Keint-He Riesling 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

It’s quite amazing how the texture, sugars and acidities all rise up as one, together for the common good, layered and in-synch. Labeled Niagara Peninsula but really noses and tastes like Twenty Mile Bench riesling. Lime sherbet and mandarin orange gelée. Nothing but pleasure from winemaker Lee Baker’s first start to finish wine at Keint-He. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  keinthewinery  @KeintheWinery  Keint-he Winery & Vineyards

@mackbrisbois brought the past, the present and the future @trailestatewine to taste. Thanks Mack! Indeed, to my pleasure and my education. Delete Comment

Trail Estate Wild Ferment Riesling 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

In 2016 the WFR is a blend of Foxcroft and BTL fruit, respectfully and respectively farmed by Craig Wismer and Greg Wertsch. This is tannic and textural, the sweetest of all the Trail rieslings, through some skin (or stem) whole cluster contact. The notes are not mind-blowing or expanding ones, of apple, pear and peach skin, again very textural and from a ferment stopped on taste. It’s loaded with 28 g/L of RS but good winemaking makes it seem drier than it is. “Everything else is dry so I guess when I go sweet, I go big” admits Mack Brisbois. So yes this is light, lean, not as fleshy and seemingly drier than it obviously is. Carries forward with a nice candied flower, citrus finish. It’s pretty middle of the road, perfectly correct and enjoyable, especially for a winemaker with an off the beaten track sensibility, antithetical modus vivendi and go beyond the pale ability. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

I find it curious that this Stanners Riesling is 95 per cent Lincoln Lakeshore fruit but now labeled as VQA Ontario, whereas previous vintages called VQA LL had less Niagara and more PEC fruit. No matter really because again this is Niagara meeting PEC with two days of skin contact, but elevated by 12 months on the lees. That time spent can’t be discounted, nor can the dry as a bone, mad as a hatter summer, not tom mention another year of understanding for Colin Stanners. In the end the acidity out of a chart topping pH and fruit accumulation (not in quantity but in phenolic brilliance) leads this riesling to great heights. Malolactic fermentation was allowed to occur naturally, helping to bring the acidity (and everything else) into balance. Lime, toast, flint and energy, boundless and invigorating. What a riesling, what a story. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted April 2018  stannerswines  @StannersWines  Stanners Vineyard

Cave Spring Riesling CSV 2016, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

The CSV from a warm 2016 really expresses the vintage on the nose with a heavy dose of wet stone and every part of a ripe peach. You have to get past the early sulphur but once you do you take a good bite into the flesh of this riesling and the juices will run with accents and angles fit by tonic, pith, tangy, nervy acidity and a hidden sweetness. The sugars are surely more elevated than realized or will ever be felt because the combination of acidity and pith are covers that will never peel back. Size matters and this CSV is built with great Escarpment architecture, stepping out of the paradigmatic 2015 shadow and into another age. This 2016 begins an epoch of structural expressionism and should easily carry its construct through to the next decade. That consequently, is when this CSV will really be ready to rock and roll for a full decade more. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted March 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Trail Estate Skin Contact Riesling Hughes Vineyard 2016, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Times changes, as do winemakers, their hunches, hopes and dreams. Mackenzie Brisbois takes a sidestepping approach to this trailblazing riesling from the vineyard tended by Ed Hughes. It’s now all wild ferment elongated to 19 days on skins. Takes its time this little big one, moving no less than 25 per cent slower than ’15, in part because of the vintage but also because its wild pressed. More a dry matter of when over how or why, still in its aromatic infancy, suffocated by its nature. Also a case of a young wine caught in the 9 g/L total acidity crossfire of a sci-fi battle scene. Will most certainly take another 18 months to change. It does exhale this curious note of garrigue, like Peloponnese mountain tea and Alto Adige sweet fennel frond in broth, with apple and onion skin doused by shots of lime juice. There is even a chewy feel in the leafy texture, quite herbal with a mild pique in a green tea finish. Trust me, this will become something both fascinating and delicious at some point in 2020. There are approximately 76 cases made. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Leaning Post Riesling The Geek 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

The second instalment of the Geek takes Ontario riesling experimentation not just to another level but to a specific methodology that no one else has really attempted thus far. The geeking out goes further and edgier into territory both new and misunderstood. If it seems unconvincing it’s a case of both searcher and searched not yet on the same page but that’s what research and development are all about. All the 2015 lees from Leaning Post’s classic riesling and chardonnay were added to the Geek. As if that wasn’t enough solid, texture-variegating matter, the 2014 riesling lees were also employed. Two years later the Solera ideal was put to bottle. The complex equation comes out to the most autolytic riesling ever made in Ontario, distinctive in that it’s like drinking traditional-method sparkling wine, 36 months on the lees but without any fizz. It’s unusual and fascinating, full of baking apples, biscuits and citrus. It does not meet the expected and the normal, not just because it’s dry as the desert but because it’s enzymatic behaviour is self-cannabalistic. It writes a riesling idiom, having a meaning not deducible from the individual parts. It’s a neo-impressionist idiosyncrasy, a reaction to the empirical realism of “typical,” VQA-cornered and pigeon-holed riesling, accomplished by relying on scientific theory to achieve predetermined textural effects. While The Geek undergoes an oxidative process it’s not exactly Solera-styled because young wine does not replace a percentage of removed older wine. It’s a positive accumulation of solids and therefore a strict and formalized composition. The argot R & D will go on and winemaker Ilya Senchuk asks, “how much lees is too much lees? Only The Geek knows.” Drink 2018-2021. Tasted March 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Trail Estate Skin Contact Riesling Hughes Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

At the time of making this wine and then putting a label on a bottle there was no Ontario defined category and in fact this pioneering effort is one of the unheralded forerunners. From fruit sourced out of Ed Hughes’ vineyard it’s a shaggy yet ambitious riesling made mellifluent by 14 days skin contact, inoculated to keep the lees strain constant with with other 15s, meaning the Lakeview and Foxcroft brethren. Now smells just like riesling, unlike in its early “orange” wine days. No longer demanding and tannic, the high acidity too has mellowed and a petrol note has emerged, plus a pepper flake meets peach skin aromatic sedge. Still with the liquid salve texture, coming into its destined balance, dry and persistent in pulse by acidity but calm enough and settled. A great flesh of lime and raining complexity, with a final note of orange skin too. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Trail Estate Barrel Ferment Riesling Foxcroft Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

In 2016 the next wrinkle is a wild ferment (as opposed to the inoculated ’15), unfined and unfiltered, because as time progressed “I liked it more and more,” says winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois. No coarse filtration means some minor sediment will settle in the bottle. Smashed layers of tote-filled grapes are brought to the crushpad, in lieu of the crusher, to extract from the skins and stems, making use of the punchdown tool, while waiting before pressing. Recently bottled in December 2017 the BFR is something completely other and if 2015 was considered not, this follow-up is markedly fruity now, because it always was, all the way through during just more than a year in really old barrels. It’s a blonde riesling as per M. Gustave, if you will. “Why blonde? Because they all were.” This is the wisest of Mack Brisbois’ rieslings, calm, confident, collected and shining brightly from the word go. You don’t have to wait on this one, it’s riper, it’s unfiltered, made with a lot less sulphur than the skin contacts and those “dirty” 15s. “I like to see how little (sulphur) I can get away with,” notes Brisbois. The most accomplished riesling that she has made to date, the 16’s balance is spot on now and you will not have to wait for it to come into its cinematic stage. Drink it now and keep it longer. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

Can it be helped if the first 30 seconds with Charles Baker’s 2014 riesling seem like the opening of a film noir classic. Hushed tones, chiaroscuro shadows, off-screen characters and dramatic foreshadowing all solicit the need or the necessity to make use of a wild imagination. There have been older Baker vintages that acted with similar, almost hard to crack quietude. Perhaps it’s with ’13 etched in persistent memory but as a vintage it was (moderately) cooler and in the end, quite average. This ’14 works the benefits and the notes here are quite omnisciently lemon; curd, preserve, citrus tablet and then smeared by a bees-waxy salve. It’s really quite atypical for Baker and for the windswept Vinemount Ridge but misunderstood youth is a bitch. I’d like to revisit in 2019 and beyond to unearth and relish in the hidden meanings. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted November 2017 and March 2018  cbriesling  stratuswines  cruwinemerchants  @cbriesling  @StratusWines  @CRUOntario  Stratus Vineyards  

Pearl Morissette Riesling Cuvée Black Ball 2015, Ontario (416073, $36.20, WineAlign)

The new age 2015 was tasted as part of a retrospective that included 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011. Anyone who is interested in gaining a deeper understanding of what might be construed as idiosyncratic or antithetical riesling should be so fortunate to be involved in such a demonstration. The Pearl Morissette riesling endeavour was pretty much bone dry from day one. The Mosel style really never spoke to François Morissette. “We have 220 hang time days so we started fermenting riesling chardonnay style, then in 2012 and 2013 in foudres, which tightened them too much. So in ’14 we moved into concrete egg for aromatics but it was too intense.” So here in ’15 the joint between foudres and cement marks the new beginning. The juice is then transferred to become clear while the lees are kept and recycled for future vintages. This had just been bottled days before with almost no free sulphur “because they can take it.” Such low pH (2.97ish) and the up front skin contact brings tannin and then this silk road texture is followed by more tannin on the back palate. It’s a vintage Blackball and a vintage-driven riesling. A phenolically ripe one. The exercise proves that we really don’t know a thing about riesling, Cuvée Blackball and aging until we begin tasting at five years on. In order, 2011 is “a confirmation that we are on the right road,” ’12 may never be ready, ’13 messes with the riesling paradigm and ’14 is more like riesling of expectation. So what does that make 2015? Nothing yet, really. Have you not been paying attention? Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Riesling at Vineland Estates, 161 days on skins

Good to Go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

A day in WineAlign life: 15 new releases from Ontario and B.C.

East Coast Lobsters Photo: Michael Godel

East Coast Lobsters
Photo: Michael Godel

Yesterday I settled in at the WineAlign offices with the critics crew (David Lawrason, John Szabo, Steve Thurlow and Sara D’Amato) to taste some new releases. I chose to focus on British Columbia because of all the wines that cross my path, those from out west seem to be the few and the far between. Some Ontario wines not yet investigated were open and available so I worked through a handful of them as well.

Here are my notes, posted to WineAlign, gathered together here, in one place.

Southbrook Connect White 2013, Rosehall Run Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2013, Blue Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Westcott Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2012

Southbrook Connect White 2013, Rosehall Run Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2013, Blue Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Westcott Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2012

Southbrook Connect White 2013, Ontario (249078, $14.95, WineAlign)

Gone from the blend in 2013 is the Reimer Vineyard Gewürztraminer, essentially replaced with an increase of Vidal. A solid dose of Riesling and a smidgen of Sauvignon Blanc round out the blend. The sum of the parts means a stoic and supine white wine, submissive and malleable, ready for anything it needs to be. That it’s organic is a matter of good choice though not necessarily a contributing factor to this simple drinker’s personality. This is not a wine from stressed vines nor will it ever be in any sort or state of distress. Quality yet round acidity keeps it buoyant and free from any excess oxidation, allowing the flavour of basic orchard fruit with a lemon squeeze to shine. Perfectly good juice.  Tasted August 2014

Rosehall Run Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

What is so striking about Dan Sullivan’s unaoked Chardonnay is the classic and unmistakeable County perfume that can only be his. No matter the grape, a Sullivan white is a cold play of pear and citrus, made most obvious when oak is not around to confuse. A Rosehall white is always the most glycerin-textured in the County and Sullivan’s light touch ensures this PEC Chard is made in the vineyard. There is a lightness in its being but it is one of the better unoaked wines made in the region.  Tasted August 2014

Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $17.90, WineAlign)

Incredibly youthful Pinot Blanc, still in possession of its infant’s smell. A combination of baby powder and unadulterated sweat, in other words, a recent sulphuring and bottle unsettling. Peering beyond it is nearly quintessential B.C. PB. Hints of green apple, tangy white candy, lemon basil and lime sherbet make for a savoury-sweet appetizer in a glass. Got verve this Blue Mountain and when it relaxes by early fall it will be as versatile a shot of pure white wine adrenaline as you could ever hope to find. Will bring simple cohabitation pleasure to a wide range of food, from raw to smoked, from marinated to reduced.  Tasted August 2014

Blue Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $18.90, WineAlign)

Upfront, come and get me, juicy expression of Sauvignon Blanc, free of encumbrances. Avoids grass and spice, reaching instead for tree fruits, both stone and orchard. A bit ambiguous for that reason, acting less varietal and more Okanagan, but that is a very good thing. Has terrific sapidity and more than admirable length. A touch of distracting, caustic herbal intensity on the finish.  Tasted August 2014

Westcott Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

You may ask who is Westcott and what is Lillias? They are Grant and Carolyn Westcott, a new player in the Chardonnay market and Lillias is a most unique expression from the Vinemount Ridge appellation. There is a grape spirit sensation, a limestone-influenced lemon-lime chord and a moscato-like medicinal glade component. Though it’s a bit scattered, unsure whether its softer or harder and running anyway, anyhow, anywhere, the personality is certainly on display. Though it “don’t follow the lines that been laid before,” there is always room for a new kind of Chardonnay, one that pushes boundaries and lays new tracks. Winemaker Arthur Harder has it all happening here; viscous fruit, citrus zest, limestone impart, milky texture, minute oxidation and rapturous acidity in a Chablis vein. The most serious unoaked Chardonnay, if not yet everyone’s cup of tannin. Auspicious beginning.  Tasted August 2014

Laughing Stock Pinot Gris 2013, Laughing Stock Blind Trust White 2013, Upper Bench Zweigelt 2012, Laughing Stock Viognier 2013, Upper Bench Pinot Noir 2012

Laughing Stock Pinot Gris 2013, Laughing Stock Blind Trust White 2013, Upper Bench Zweigelt 2012, Laughing Stock Viognier 2013, Upper Bench Pinot Noir 2012

Laughing Stock Pinot Gris 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (123604, $22.00, WineAlign)

This Pinot Gris will get you high and the question is will it leave you dry. Laughing Stock’s whites are not shy, elevated in alcohol (here 13.8 per cent) and full-out striking in texture and tannin. The wondering here is if there may be enough dry extract so to keep the wine fresh, lively and willing to bend. Or, will it dry out and leave you hanging, with a head full of radio fuzz and wanting more fruit. This is a surly and brazen attempt at slightly botrytized Pinot Gris, with enough grit and grind to set it apart from a cloud of every day juice. It’s just a bit tough and overdone in my opinion.  Tasted August 2014

Laughing Stock Blind Trust White 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (123604, $25.00, WineAlign)

Two Pinots (Blanc and Gris) and nearly a fifth of Viognier conjoin to conspire in cohorts for this well-defined B.C. white. Put your trust in winemaker David Enns as he leads you on this trip around the Okanagan through the eyes of co-existing white grapes. The first steps are those of spice and tree fruit pith, the second steps are those of good medicine. Dogged persistence brings near closure and a desire for another sip. Tasted August 2014

Upper Bench Zweigelt 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Of all the international varieties to plant and attempt to establish a cottage industry in B.C., Zweigelt should certainly be near the top of the list. The grape lends well to the cool climate and the altitude. It grows well in sandy and loam soils, especially with some gravel content. Penticton should become a haven for Zweigelt. Upper Bench’s take is overtly flavourful, sweet-smelling and easily approachable. It’s respectably dry (2.3 g/L residual) and appropriately balanced with good acidity. The flavours of black cherries come directly to mind. There’s the rub. Like many New World (and even some Austrian) Pinot Noir, the dark fruit flavours of ripe fruit, while they may taste delicious, lead the wine down a road of immediate gratification and a short stay. Personally I would like to see subsequent vintages picked earlier and at lower brix (here at 24.2) for a fresher and more vigorous take on Zweigelt. There is much promise in this program.  Tasted August 2014

Laughing Stock Viognier 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (B.C., $26.00, WineAlign)

Of all the big whites in the Laughing Stock range, this Viognier fits the style and ragged glory pursuant the course. This hits the mark with flying colours, a rich and juicy wine full of peach flavours punching along with orchard fruit and white flower aromas. This is really crunchy and vigorous Viognier, with a kick of pepper along with some highly tropical moments along the way. Long finish to what will be 10 years of evolution. Tasted August 2014

Upper Bench Pinot Noir 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

This is a lovely, fragrant and boisterous Pinot Noir with a warm heart and a balanced personality. Notes of orange and cherry blossom circle around the black cherry centre with just a hint of dusty chocolate. That is the 14 months in 30 per cent new French oak talking, adding a bit of sinew, but mostly dusty cocoa flavours and fine-grained tannin. A well made Pinot Noir with that wood adding a finishing touch of spice strung along the linear acidity.  Tasted August 2014

2027 Cellars Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2012, Laughing Stock Vineyards Amphora Vrm 2013, Laughing Stock Blind Trust Red 2012, 2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2011, 2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2012

2027 Cellars Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2012, Laughing Stock Vineyards Amphora Vrm 2013, Laughing Stock Blind Trust Red 2012, 2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2011, 2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2012

2027 Cellars Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

There are a scant 105 cases made of this Cherry, a site close to a similar national Pinot Noir made by Paul Pender at Tawse. The vineyard encourages a scrap of the vinous kind between earth and its manifest cherry-scented fruit. Cherry seems to hold back its charms and ask that patience be the virtue. “Loose lips sink ships,” so “can we show a little discipline” and leave it alone? The ripeness is certainly here but what is most promising is the lack of heat, the absence of volatility and the wall of pure fruit. Though a bit subdued this is a much more approachable, not quite as serious and all around friendly expression of Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir. The price is more than reasonable for the quality in the glass. Wait three years and watch it age easily to 2020.  Tasted August 2014

Laughing Stock Vineyards Amphora Vrm 2013, Okanagan , BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (agent, $30.00, WineAlign)

Here blends one-third each Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne, a veritable Rhône orgy in wild fermentation, aged on the skins in terra-cotta and amphorae. While I would not go so far as to call it an “orange wine,” I will use the “N” word to describe its agrarian ways. As natural as anything you are likely to taste out of B.C., this is a most untamed experiment and should not be missed. It verges on oxidation but refuses to climb over the edge. It’s floral, spicy and crowded. The texture is chalky and so full of rusty, clay rubbed streaks. Everything about this is unkempt and exotic, including the never cease and desist fermenting lychee and longan feel. Hard not to be wowed by this blend’s presence.  Tasted August 2014

Laughing Stock Blind Trust Red 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (B.C., $30.00, WineAlign)

“Past performance is not an indicator of future returns.” A statement on the bottle insists that full trust be afforded the winemaker, his whimsy and the blending choices made from vintage to vintage. Not unlike a similar program that Ann Sperling employs at Southbrook, albeit not nearly as brash or brazen in attitude. The ’12 BT has the swagger and the oomph. A powerhouse of a Cabernet-based blend, full of B.C.’s finest black fruits and teeth gnashing tannins. Is this wine too serious for its own good? I don’t think so but it is no shrinking violet (though it smells like some, in a very modern Maremma or even Nebbiolo way). Thick juice, ramped up and yet delicious if too much young syrup to work past one full glass. Time will sooth the savage beast but it will never be a pussycat.  Tasted August 2014

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2011, St. Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

There is definite gregarious character to this Pinot Noir and it finds a positive, altruistic methodology in its gathering of some obvious Niagara traits. Increased ripening from its Queenston Road Vineyard on the warm St. David’s Bench is its most obvious pronouncement. A shyness from out of what is an enigmatic Pinot vintage walks with the later harvest, dusty and earthy fruit. Most of all it can’t help but be Niagara Peninsula Pinot Noir, albeit in high caste and hyper-sensitive attention to detail. There is cola, rust, cherry, paint and extreme acidity. It’s hot, actually. Would like to see where this goes with anti-volatile time. Methinks a settling will happen. Tasted August 2014

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, St. Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

A highly perfumed Pinot Noir from winemaker Kevin Panagapka in 2012, complete with an exotic spice box of aromatics; potpourri, roses, cassia, clove and aamchur. The profile hydrates to a mulled simmer as the wine is once again warmed by the vineyard’s ability to ripen, exaggerated in ’12 but with more grace, bringing its personality in line with its modest (13 per cent) alcohol. The cherry flavour veers black with a paste of tar and charcoal, but again, the psyche is smooth and elongated. Long finish to this Queenston which should see it sing to 2018 and beyond. Tasted August 2014

Good to go!

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Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventure

Frozen Niagara Falls

As frozen Niagara Falls, so frozen Niagara Falls
Photo: yobab/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Doesn’t every local wine writer’s pilgrimage begin this way? There’s 130 kilometres to Niagara Falls, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes (not really – the only thing we smoke is BBQ), it’s blinding winter morning light out and we’re wearing sunglasses. Well, one of us is.

Related – When expert’s break wine together

With Jake riding shotgun to Elwood we hit the QEW, pause for bench land visits to Flat Rock, Zooma Zooma and Creekside Estates, then make the frozen Falls by dusk. Two slackers we are, Bill and Ted, ponces submissive to wine, travelling through Niagara assembling a library of tasting notes to condign for memory in lieu of history missed and as practice for futures to come.

Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Salmon and Scallops

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Salmon and Scallops

Niagara’s annual Cuvée rolls out the red carpet for a black-tie gala at Fallsview Casino’s Grand Ballroom. Touted as a celebration of excellence in Ontario winemaking, the event gathers more than 50 wineries and asks that they pour their winemakers’ favourite wines alongside a room full of esculent Niagara eats. Local chefs set lavish food stations and guests are treated to comestible ruminations composed by students from the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. The Sun Media Après Cuvée party features Icewine, sparkling wine and craft beer bars, not to mention a repeat performance by the impolitic, patent, I want you to be moved sound of Jonesy.

Zagat and Spotlight Toronto's Suresh Doss and Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena KaiserSmit

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Zagat and Spotlight Toronto’s Suresh Doss and Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena KaiserSmit

Proceeds from the Cuvée Weekend go to the Niagara Community Foundation. Created in 2000, the Niagara Community Foundation has raised more than $23 million in endowment funds and has granted in excess of $5.5 million to charities working in the arts, heritage, environment, social services, health, education and community development. In 2015, the event will leave the very capable hands of the NCF and fall into the most capable hands of Brock University.

The word cuvée can mean many things in the world of wine. The Champagne tradition carries the most recognizable weight, the practice dictating that the best grapes be used and gently pressed to ultimately produce a sparkling wine of superior quality. In the end any cuvée is a blend no matter how you slice, interpret or break it down. It really comes down to the question of quality. Did Cuvée 2014 put its best foot forward? Were the ace grapes on display?

Pulling candy from sugar, Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Pulling candy from sugar, Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College

The Cuvée gala, at one time an awards showcase ceremony, has welled to the point of a brimming kitchen sink, perhaps in danger of overflowing. Those who know and have been there agree the change in structure has been for the better. Growing pains are natural, inevitable side effects of growth. It’s more party than oenophile wine think tank, a cultural mosaic and for some, a melting pot. Speeches, awards, thank yous and acknowledgements are barely audible above the revelling din.

VQA Promoter Award At Large winner Shawn McCormick and Michael Godel

PHOTO: Dan Trcka/grapeselections.com
VQA Promoter Award At Large winner Shawn McCormick and Michael Godel

In 2013, to a wine, the pours were best of the best. My take was put into these words. Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary. In 2014 many vintners poured either their best (Domaine Queylus, Five Rows, Coyote’s Run, Rennie Estate, Stratus, Thirty Bench) or their most unique (Peninsula Ridge, Trius, Southbrook, Riverview, 13th Street, Malivoire). The event and the following morning’s Expert’s Tasting would not be diluted by a few more shots of Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore in the arm.

The real adventure lies in the attempt to taste everything in the room. Time and excessive schmoozing gets in the way so getting to more than half is a win, win. Here are notes on 10 wines tasted at Cuvée 2014 and the reasons for singling them out as separating themselves from their peers.

Riverview Gewurztraminer Angelina’s Reserve 2012, VQA Niagara River (368092, $18.95, WineAlign)

A creamy, corpulent expression with a stinging enzymatic yogurt texture. Would swear there was extended lees contact. Furthest thing from the truth says winemaker Angela Kasimos. That striking salve gives way to a vacuous aridity without conceding to nuts and residual sugar. Well-made and without interference. Thanks to Riverview, Gewürztraminer has found a home in the pliable, silty loam of Niagara River.  88  Tasted February 2014  @RiverviewWinery

Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Wismer 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Wismer 2013

Peninsula Ridge Wismer Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker Jamie Evans and Sauvignon Blanc share a kinesis. When kissed by the wise and wistful fruit that Wismer cedes, compounded by the vintage, this Peninsula Sauvignon Blanc inclines to aeaeae. All parts contribute to a stretched length, from fresh beginning to mouth-watering end. In between there is lees-stirred spice, dry and toasty points but the grass is never overgrown and the berries are golden. A kickstarter sour note propels the wine forward for an even longer taxi onward. What a vineyard, what a wine.  90  Tasted February 2014  @PeninsulaRidge

Westcott Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29, WineAlign)

From vineyards planted in 2005, this new kid on the Jordan block spent 12 months in oak, half of it new. To a taster, you would never know it. In clone cousin to Le Clos Jordanne’s Chardonnay, this special project is the nephew of a set aside, four-barrel selection. Winemaker Arthur Harder (Calamus) has fashioned a head-turning clean, pure and most mineral-driven Chardonnay from impossibly young Vinemount Ridge vines. A quartz chord runs through it and with just two or three more years of vine age the fruit and adjoining texture will catch up to the rock. That integrated, subtle oak impart is of a Granny Smith apple kind, crisp and taut. Such a memorable inauguration with so much promise that lays ahead.  90  Tasted February 2014

Trius Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Less than 300 cases were produced of this, you guessed it, natural grape skin, wild yeast fermented unique Sauvignon Blanc. Cold bunch pressed and 11 months on the lees lend a fruit/wood spice and gregarious character that is impossible to miss. Winemaker Craig MacDonald shows a savvy Savvy love in his carefully considered treatment of this wine. This ’12 WF steals the show at Cuvée in the category of most compelling and thought-provoking.  91  Tasted February 2014  @TriusWines

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (274753, $32.95, WineAlign)

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. Earlier 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.  91  Tasted October 2013 and February 2014  @HiddenBench

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker's White 2011

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker’s White 2011

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker’s White 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

While the triple W represents neither traditional alchemy nor screaming value it begs to be considered for sheer shock and awe. A co-fermented, low brix, who varietal blend of 58 per cent Chardonnay, 27 Semillon and 15 Muscat, winemaker Ann Sperling’s capricious fancy white and nerdy captures the vintage to alight and delight effect. Spice, texture, florality and acidity really work the room. Though the varieties seem to sing ”we don’t move in any ‘ticular direction and we don’t make no collections,” they somehow join together.  White wine of whimsy, not shallow, like a Wes Anderson film.  88  Tasted February 2014  @SouthbrookWine

Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, SAQ 12089591, $44.95, WineAlign)

Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice. Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with its a touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”  91  Tasted November 2013 and twice February 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Five Rows Craft Wine Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $50, WineAlign)

Gimme soft and sage treatment of a vineyard’s wondrous, pure fruit transcends most previous notions of Niagara Pinot Noir. That Lowrey vineyard in the hands of its first family drives spice into red fruit direct from soil and vine. Winemaker Wes Lowrey handles his family vineyard fruit like it were a baby and from this comes a promiscuous perfume. The ’10 is so youthful but coming into the springtime of his voodoo, having now been in bottle for a year. Though thoughts were that “he was going to show me spring,” the wine should clearly be left to flesh for a few more seasons.  92  Tasted February 2014

Thirty Bench Small Lot Benchmark Red 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $60)

Indoctrinated Right Bank agglomerate built on 62 per cent Merlot, supported by equal parts Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. Impressively warm and dusty, large, bursting berry dominated with a peppering dredge all around. So much flavour abounds, blanketed by a shaker full of vanilla spice, like “an endless ocean landing on an endless desert.” Still the Benchmark is modest, oaked (18 months) but not overly soaked, pure and in balance. The berry concentration renders it as a resident of the dark centre of the Niagara red blend universe.  92  Tasted February 2014  @ThirtyBench

Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve Du Domaine 2011

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve Du Domaine 2011

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

Good to go!

Are you getting your daily serving of wine?

Wine tasting

Here are 10 current releases to help keep the wolves of virus and disease at bay.
Photo: chiyacat/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

I know you are about to scream at your screen. Not another column about the health benefits of drinking wine. Delete. Wait, hear me out.

Related: A wine prescription for cold and flu and Feeling under the weather? Drink wine

In a recent joint study between the Health Sciences Department, Brock University and the Oncology Department, McMaster University, scientists set out to prove the Inhibition of human lung cancer cell proliferation and survival by wine. Published a month ago, here is the paper’s conclusion: “Red wine inhibits proliferation of lung cancer cells and blocks clonogenic survival at low concentrations.” Nice.

The study was prefaced through the idea that “compounds of plant origin and food components have attracted scientific attention for use as agents for cancer prevention and treatment. Wine contains polyphenols that were shown to have anti-cancer and other health benefits.” Put two and two together and voilà. The group investigated the “effect of wine on proliferation and survival of human non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells and its effects on signaling events.” The findings are nothing short of astonishing.

The operative observation here is that low doses (read: moderate consumption) of wine may have anti-cancer and chemo-preventive properties.” White wine’s cancer fighting properties exist (at two per cent concentration) though they are not in the same league as Red wine (five per cent). Or, you need to (very rough math) drink 250 per cent more white wine to reap similar benefits. Such a quagmire.

Evangelia Litsa Tsiani, associate professor of community health sciences at Brock University added “our next step is to use doses of wine that correspond to moderate wine consumption in humans – one to two glasses per day – and examine the effect on tumor growth in mice.”

We already know that the Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s lecture series (now in its seventh season) has had a major impact on the global grape industry. Dr. Belinda Kemp, CCOVI Scientist, Oenology noted that “they’re a great resource for the wine industry and wine researchers anywhere in the world.” I wonder if the department has plans for a wine and health benefits lecture during its eight season. Hint, hint.

The ancients, or late Bronze Age people’s such as the Egyptians, Arameans, Assyrians and Babylonians used the natural world to prevent sickness and disease. Archaeologists recently discovered wine in an Israeli wine cellar, dating back to 1700 BCE. Think the Greeks invented wine? This discovery is 1,262 years older than the Parthenon. That’s nearly as old as the Pyramids. Wine and health relations go back to a time when a woolly mammoth still walked the earth, a time when The Hammurabi code was written. The premise? A commitment to protection of the weak from being brutalized by the strong. Just like wine.

In an attempt to justify what may be construed as profligate connections, the fact of the matter remains. With each passing study conjured up and proven by internationally recognized educational institutions, the health benefits of wine continues to develop as a thing of undeniable valence. Take honest wine with food, take it regularly and live longer. Here are 10 current releases to help keep the wolves of virus and disease at bay.

From left: Dante Robino Bonarda 2011, Domaine Des Amadieu Cuvée Vieilles Vignes Cairanne Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011, Bodegas Olarra Anares Reserva 2006, Fantinel Sant’helena Pinot Grigio 2012, and Mike Weir Limited Edition Riesling 2012

From left: Dante Robino Bonarda 2011, Domaine Des Amadieu Cuvée Vieilles Vignes Cairanne Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011, Bodegas Olarra Anares Reserva 2006, Fantinel Sant’helena Pinot Grigio 2012, and Mike Weir Limited Edition Riesling 2012

Dante Robino Bonarda 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (277640, $14.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Sourced from the Santa Rosa sub region of Mendoza. From sandy soils and built upon a brooding, musty set of wood-influenced aromatics that put the lurking fruit to test. Painfully dry with pronounced flavours of red licorice, sour black cherry, spice and baked figs. Gains richness as it breathes and then the drying tannins take over. Quite an effort for $15. Worth a look for something different and in spite of the idiomatic value it speaks.  88  Tasted February 2014  @DanteRobino

Provenant de la sous-région de Santa Rosa de Mendoza. De sols sableux et construit sur un ensemble de moisi couvaison des composés aromatiques du bois d’influence qui mettent le fruit qui se cache à l’épreuve. Péniblement sec aux saveurs prononcées de réglisse rouge, griotte, d’épices et de figues cuites. Les gains richesse comme il respire, puis les tanins de séchage prendre le dessus. Tout un effort pour 15 $. Cela vaut le coup pour quelque chose de différent et en dépit de la valeur idiomatique elle parle.  88   Dégusté Février 2014

Domaine Des Amadieu Cuvée Vieilles Vignes Cairanne Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011, Rhone, France (354233, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Paying a bit of extra attention to lower-priced, high alcohol Rhônes can offer rewards. There is much metal and merit in this Cairanne. At the price it imitates the grandeur of more expensive villages, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and to a more realistic extent, Vacqueyras. Hued in drupe, holly berry pitch, saturated in berries, spiked by berry liqueur and seeping along with spices and extracts. Outwardly generous in flavour, knowing well that “while we’re on the way to there, why not share.” All in all he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother89  Tasted February 2014  @Amadieu_G

Payer un peu d’attention supplémentaire à bas prix, Rhônes forte teneur en alcool peut offrir des récompenses. Il ya beaucoup de métal et de mérite dans cette Cairanne. Au prix il imite la grandeur de villages plus chers, comme Châteauneuf-du-Pape et dans une mesure plus réaliste, Vacqueyras. Hued en drupe, houx hauteur de baie, saturé dans les baies, dopés par baie liqueur et infiltration avec des épices et des extraits. Extérieurement généreux en saveurs, sachant bien que “pendant que nous sommes sur le chemin de là, pourquoi ne pas partager.” Dans l’ensemble, il n’est pas lourd, il ya mon frère.  89   Dégusté Février 2014

Bodegas Olarra Anares Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain (244723, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Perhaps it’s just as a comparison to the rest of this Spanish armada fiasco I am in the throes of tasting but this Tempranillo with minor support from two G’s, Garnacha and Graciano, really has got a hold on me. I grant that it’s a bit faded and heading to melted toffee but at $20 and with the idea to enjoy it now, the wild raspberries, gariga and spicy wood notes are a treat. Savoury, licorice, roast tomato and grilling baby veal flavours will help with a slow braise of the animal’s tougher cut.  90  Tasted February 2014

Peut-être c’est juste que la comparaison avec le reste de cette armada fiasco espagnol je suis dans les affres de la dégustation mais ce Tempranillo avec le soutien mineur de deux G, Garnacha et Graciano, vraiment a obtenu une prise sur moi. Je reconnais que c’est un peu défraîchi et la position de caramel fondu mais à 20 $ et avec l’idée de profiter de ce moment, les framboises sauvages, gariga et des notes de bois épicés sont un régal. Salés, réglisse, rôti de tomate et griller saveurs bébé de veau aideront avec un lent braise de coupe plus difficile de l’animal.  90   Dégusté Février 2014

Fantinel Sant’helena Pinot Grigio 2012, Collio, Friuli, Italy (310144, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

High quality Pinot Grigio from Friuli, with an Alps to Adriatic micro-climate ideally suited to both warm and cool the needs of the variety. You might ask, what difference does that make? Plenty. So much more distinct than reputation would hold and anything but just a Northern Italian white. Lit candle waxy and spiced in Sandalwood, with a lemon peel feel, cool climate salinity and gravelly, silt-inflected Spring run-off. The world’s fleet of Pinot Grigio “have been through hell and high tide,” but thanks to Friuli, the grape keeps its respect. Full flavoured, with smithy verve, punchy, more than practical.  90  Tasted February 2014  @ProfileWineGrp

Mike Weir Limited Edition Riesling 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (229286, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

The off-dry nose is an anomaly and I’m very curious to see where this goes. Persists very sweet to taste, without enough acidity, unfortunately, though the tropical flavours are boisterous and plentiful. This is a more than admirable attempt at a Kabinett style done right by a Mosel intimacy and attitude, though it’s lacking in body and structure. Still, it will age longer and develop more secondary characteristics than many a Niagara Peninsula Riesling, especially for the price. Worth tracking a case of 12 for five to 10 years.  89  Tasted February 2014  @WeirWine

Le nez de demi-sec est une anomalie et je suis très curieux de voir où cela va. Persiste très doux au goût, sans suffisamment d’acidité, malheureusement, bien que les saveurs tropicales sont bruyants et copieux. Il s’agit d’une tentative plus admirable à un style Kabinett bien fait par une intimité Moselle et de l’attitude, si elle fait défaut dans le corps et la structure. Pourtant, il va vieillir plus longtemps et développer des caractéristiques plus secondaires que beaucoup de Niagara Peninsula Riesling, surtout pour le prix. Suivi d’un cas de 12 pour cinq à 10 ans la peine.  89  Dégusté Février 2014

From left: Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Marchand Tawse Meursault 2011, and Kistler Mccrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

From left: Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Marchand Tawse Meursault 2011, and Kistler Mccrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (193573, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Southbrook’s seminal Cabernet has become that kind of go to, reliably delicious and affordable red, not unlike Sterling’s Napa bottling that emerged in the late 1990’s. That this can happen in any vintage out of the Niagara Peninsula is really quite amazing. Even more incredible is that here in 2012, it’s almost too much of a good thing, too hot, too sweet. Still, only Triomphe smells like this and on that note I must give it my thumbs up. The Peninsula’s earth, the purity of that warm, rich ’12 fruit, a touch of disco, that Sperling perfume. The palate is explicitly sweet, on that I’m sure most would agree but the wood is an afterthought. Alcohol is in check, berries are ripe, tannins are refined, ready to resolve slowly, efficiently and with pleasure. Direct, solid and righteous, despite the sugar high.  89  Tasted February 2014  @SouthbrookWine  @TrialtoON

Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010, Alsace, France (995316, $27.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Such a dry and powerful Alsatian example. Tight, angular, typically piercing and even more citrus-driven than ever. Jacked up, better than your average Joe Riesling. As a textbook example from a place where the variety rules, it tells “me that this world is no place for the weak.” Still, I find the Reserve bottling a bit overpriced, not having as much personality such as the cost-equivalent Zind-Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim. Another Trimbach that’s just “gotta have no illusions” and look sharp90  Tasted February 2014  @trimbach  @WoodmanWines

Un tel exemple alsacien sec et puissant. Tight, angulaire, généralement perçant et même plus agrumes axée que jamais. Mis sur cric, mieux que votre moyenne Joe Riesling. Comme un exemple classique d’un endroit où les règles de la variété, il dit “moi que ce monde n’est pas un endroit pour les faibles.” Pourtant, je trouve la Réserve embouteillage un peu trop cher, ne pas avoir autant de personnalité tels que le coût équivalent Zind Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim. Un autre Trimbach qui est juste “Gotta Have pas d’illusions” et regardez pointu.  90   Dégusté Février 2014

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (33894, $30.00, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

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.  91  Tasted February 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Il manque quelque chose, ou plutôt quelque chose qui se passe ici. Le manteau chaud omniprésent LCJ de Pinot de préjudice brille par son absence, ou at-il été régné en? Ce 2011 est beaucoup plus convivial, plus à la voix douce, experte jugé et ramassé des fruits mûrs plus riche qu’avant. Beaucoup de saveur et de tanin mais la déclaration est dans un savoureux basilic / cerfeuil sorte de façon. Pas seulement un autre haut fait par juste un autre gars fou. Un excellent, clair, roxy Village Reserve, plein d’atmosphère et musique d’ambiance.  91  Dégusté Février 2014

Marchand Tawse Meursault 2011, Burgundy, France (285866, $66.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Winemaker Pascal Marchand possesses post-modern abilities to coax the most richesse from out of the basic of basic appellations in the Burgundian universe. This ’11 elevates an umbilical villages to exalted heights and it has really settled into its skin since I last tasted it in May of 2013.  The land is speaking and oozing in a primordial drenching. The tang and verve melts in the mouth, like foie gras cotton candy. What sets it apart is the end game mellow melding of pronounced flavours left to free fall effortlessly into a black hole of critical mass.  92  Tasted May 2013 and February 2014

Vigneron Pascal Marchand possède des capacités post-modernes pour amadouer le plus Richesse de l’extérieur de la base des appellations de base de l’univers bourguignon. Cette ’11 élève un villages ombilical à des hauteurs exaltées et il a vraiment installé dans sa peau depuis que j’ai goûté en mai 2013. La terre parle et suintant dans un trempage primordial. La soie et la verve fond dans la bouche, comme le foie gras de barbe à papa. Ce qui le distingue est la fin du jeu fusion douce de saveurs prononcées de gauche à la chute libre sans effort dans un trou noir de masse critique.  92  Dégusté mai 2013 et Février 2014

Kistler Mccrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma County, California (353706, $92.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

The vineyard speaks first, has the microphone, tells of its volcanic, limestone story going back to 1988. Talks in a Chablis whisper which may come across as narcissistic or somehow simple, but surely deserving to receive the benefit of the doubt. The kind of toast that has you reaching for the last jar of homemade berry jam. Lemon/lime reduction, as a gelée, consommé or demi-glace of fine Chardonnay whiffed by subtle smoke and non-discernible fat. The most subtle of all the Kistlers.  93  Tasted February 2014  @TheVine_RobGroh

Le vignoble parle d’abord, a le microphone, raconte sa volcanique, calcaire histoire remontant à 1988. Pourparlers dans un murmure Chablis qui peut apparaître comme narcissique ou en quelque sorte simple, mais sûrement digne de recevoir le bénéfice du doute. Le type de pain que vous a atteint pour la dernière pot de confiture de petits fruits maison. Citron / réduction de la chaux, comme une gelée, consommé ou demi-glace de fin Chardonnay whiffed par la fumée subtile et graisse indiscernable. Le plus subtil de tous les Kistlers.  93  Dégusté Février 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!

What’s in a wine vintage?

What\'s in a wine vintage?

The question is always being asked, what’s in a wine vintage?
Photo: Rostislav Glinsky/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

There was a time when Ontario wine held no candle to my thoughts, filled no glass in my tasting regimen and occupied no place in my cellar. My how time and five years of enlightenment have changed me. Rarely does a day go by when that holy trinity of wine attention does not focus on something from Ontario.

My current obsession lies in the white wines from the 2012 vintage. The two previous years were so different, 2010 at first seemingly hot and bothered, then having emerged from its shell it has since clearly spoken in a language of elegance. The 2011 that followed gave wines of piercing acidity, verve and even austerity. Chardonnay, Riesling and Semillon all grabbed my acidulated attention.

First encounters with 2012 provided great skepticism. I continue the journey of ’12 discovery and the doors of perception are beginning to open. As a white wine vintage in Ontario, 2012 is shaping up to be a classic. Candour and acidity are there, but it is the rich, fullness of the wines that have taken the industry’s prowess to a whole new level. Riesling is brilliant. Pinot Gris the best ever. Though conditions may have not produced the coolest Chardonnay, winemakers who exercised restraint made beautiful wines. White blends that made use of highly aromatic varieties made their best wines to date. Reach out and touch Ontario’s 2012 whites.

The question is always being asked, what’s in a wine vintage? Not long ago I was emphatic to state there are no longer bad vintages in Ontario. The wisdom, experience and winemaking acumen has rendered that notion obsolete. There are challenging years for sure and this harshest of 2014 winters will certainly test the mettle of winemakers. Vintage variation is real and yes, there are no bad vintages, only different ones.

The new Kew Vineyards in Beamsville is on to something and 2011 was a terrific vintage to sidle up to their unique production of red wines. While appassimento remains an Ontario enigma, not quite like growing and producing a southern Italian grape like Aglianico, but the method is still a bit of a side-show. Kew reigns in the practice and matches it to the parameters of the Ontario vineyard and the climate. Kew the new red in Ontario.

Here are six new releases, a new Kew, a Prince Edward County classic Sparkling and four definitive whites from the 2012 vintage in Niagara.

From left: FLAT ROCK TWISTED 2012, TAWSE SKETCHES OF NIAGARA RIESLING 2012, KEW VINEYARDS SOLDIER'S GRANT 2011, FLAT ROCK NADJA'S VINEYARD RIESLING 2012, SOUTHBROOK VINEYARDS TRIOMPHE CHARDONNAY 2012, and HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE PETER F. HUFF 2007

From left: FLAT ROCK TWISTED 2012, TAWSE SKETCHES OF NIAGARA RIESLING 2012, KEW VINEYARDS SOLDIER’S GRANT 2011, FLAT ROCK NADJA’S VINEYARD RIESLING 2012, SOUTHBROOK VINEYARDS TRIOMPHE CHARDONNAY 2012, and HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE PETER F. HUFF 2007

FLAT ROCK TWISTED 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula (1578, $16.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES ESSENTIAL

Though the warmth of the 2012 vintage could have suffocated a blend such as this Twisted, to the contrary, this harmonious white unfolds as a cold play. Cool, crisp, wonderfully tart and full of citrus zest. Plenty of sunshine but no burn. Waxy and rich like excellent Moscato along with the creamy confection of mango and the tang of what pale, trenchant pineapple used to be, before it went golden. The blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay magnetizes the opposing forces of residual sugar and modest alcohol. “And you are not wrong to ask who does this belong to? It belongs to all of us.” Best Twisted to date.  89  @brightlighter1  Tasted January 2014

TAWSE SKETCHES OF NIAGARA RIESLING 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89029, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 15th, 2014 Release

Frothing at the glass, full on soda aromatic entry, verging to off-dry white peach and yellow plum flavours. Full of tang and zest, enriching flavours that render the soda irrelevant. All in, vigorous ’12, most ever perhaps. From my earlier note: “s’got quite the tropical warmth for Bench Riesling. When considered in terms of the vintage, this is nearly a Riesling in the service of a Pinot Gris. Very juicy fruit, dry but bursting in fricative verve. Extreme quality, low-cost. Now on tap at Barque Smokehouse.  89  Tasted August 2013 and January 2014  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

KEW VINEYARDS SOLDIER’S GRANT 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula  (367318, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 1st, 2014 Release

Winemaker Philip Dowell draws upon his Aussie roots, delves into a northern Italian technique (appassimento) and along with Beamsville grower Graham Rennie, does the practice proud. Vineland Research Institute has been working towards developing a Niagara appassimento thing, already embraced by the likes of Foreign Affair, Pillitteri and Colaneri. Now Kew takes the torch but with an altered finesse and restraint. Raspberry and the wet warmth of spring sun, saturated earth give way to dusty, sour cherry with an accent of peppery, herbaceous Loire-style Cabernet Franc. The dust ultimately trumps the sharp and then submits towards a metallurgical length. Would work with eclectic flavours, like Buffalo Chicken Nachos. It’s true.  88  @kewvineyards  Tasted November 2013 and January 2014

FLAT ROCK NADJA’S VINEYARD RIESLING 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (578625, $19.95, WineAlign)  From the VINTAGES, February 1st, 2014 Release

A champion cyclone of forces combined to elevate the already incumbent position of this Twenty Mile Bench Riesling. An ideal growing season magnified transmission upon a paradigmatic two and a half-acre block. This southern-most and highest altitude section of Flat Rock’s vineyard rests aboard a solid bed of limestone and wake me up if that rock was not drawn up into the vines in this stellar Riesling vintage. Sure its warm and nearly off-dry but such an effortless squeeze of lemon hydrates and elevates orchard fruit and honey out of the year of the lemon. After each sip its “every time you kiss me, lemon crush.” Love this prince of a Twenty Mile white in 2012, the dynamism smiling on the tart, succulent fruit. The length is one of outright bravado. This will develop for 20 years, of that I am convinced. There is just so much fruit. A Nadja for the ages.  92  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  Tasted January 2014

SOUTHBROOK VINEYARDS TRIOMPHE CHARDONNAY 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake (172338, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 15th, 2014 Release

A sachet of fiendish raising agent and scotch kindled toast seem initially atypical for the vintage but are kept in check and work alongside one another to great effect. Halfway in there are notes of lemon butter, saltwater-marked wooden ship, pine forest on a warm morning and organic smells of the world outside. The glow and ardor of what Chardonnay can rightfully be in 2012 take the lead at the mid-point and carry Triomphe through to an eco-rich, full-bodied good glass. “On the water, very free, and easy.”  89  Tasted February 2014  @SouthbrookWine

HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE PETER F. HUFF 2007, Traditional Method, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (198754, $39.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 15th, 2014 Release

This is a glorious vintage for the classic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir flagship Huff bubbles. Lees affected in waves of chewy, fernetty, lime sherbet, ginger, coriander seed and apical almond butter. The humidity of the vintage plunges this complex sparkler into the brewing smells of a late fall apple orchard. Bronzing in attitude to middle age, a kind of medieval bubbles, hard on you, not letting go of its barbaric hold. The colour speaks of age but there is a huge amount of verve and life left yet. Your full attention is required to gather Huff’s traditional thoughts and this is quite possibly the most rambunctious PEC fizz I’ve ever encountered.  So different from the 2008 ”austere, dry, flinty wine of slate.”  92  Tasted February 2014  @HuffEstatesWine

Good to go!