Gripping wines from Spain and Italy

Europe

How can winemaking trump terroir?
Photo: 1xpert/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Winemakers in the most famous regions of Spain and Italy have gone pro in the practicum of wine that speaks loud and clear. If there is a downside it is the blurring of lines and overlapping of circles, where regions set far apart show similar, if near identical characteristics in their wines. How does this happen? How can winemaking trump terroir?

The simple answer is wood. Barrel usage is a global affair, with wineries scouring oak forests the world over to age their wine. French oak is most used and whether you make wine in central Italy or northern Spain, the oak you employ may result in more than just the commonality of wood. If your processes are tied by similar or even identical ties, your wines may taste eerily like one another, if not outright like kissing cousins.

Despite the oligopoly of technique and the lack of winemaking individuality gone viral in this generation, there are three things that continue to work in favour of regional character. The first is obvious. Soil. Or, more importantly, the components, the rocks and minerals that fleck the earth. Secondly, attitude. Call it conceit if you like but when a winemaker has the guts to make wines we like to call grippy, you can’t help but stand up and take notice. Third and so important to the consumer, is price. Spending $15-30 on wines from the most historic locales such as Burgundy and Bordeaux is almost always nonsensical and a waste. No where else in the world offers grip, pomp and pride like Spain and Italy and in that go to mid-price range.

A pentavalent and benevolent group fits this requiem for commercial gain. Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat from Spain. Chianti and Abruzzo in Italy. A Venn diagram of commonality can be agglomerated from their proclivities. It is in these fab five Old World wine regions where a twain of ancient and state of the art collide. Here are seven gripping wines from Spain and Italy.

From left: CEPA 21 HITO 2010, ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, and RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004

From left: CEPA 21 HITO 2010, ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, and RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004

Ribera Del Duero

The history: Located in north-central Spain, on a plateau, 90 minutes from Madrid. Ribera, or “river bank,” extends from both sides of the Duero. The Denominación de Origen (D.O.) of Ribera del Duero dates back to 1982.

The lowdown: Highest average elevation in Europe for growing red wine grapes. Summers are hot, winters are cold, rainfall is minimal. Lower vineyards are alluvial with sand and reddish clay. Higher ones built of limestone, marl and chalk. Tempranillo in the main grape. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.

CEPA 21 HITO 2010, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (360503, $17.95, WineAlign)

Oh the shaken, modern humanity. Nothing shocking here, this 100 per cent Tempranillo parfait of silky chocolate, mixed berries, vanilla and wood chips. Finds parity in biting red cherry flavour. Though it may as well be any ambiguous, heterogeneous or hermaphroditic $30 IGT, its price puts it at the front of the line. Fun to drink, high-toned, textured and structured, though its origins are not at once obvious. Will evolve felicitously for five to seven years.  89  Tasted December 2013  @DrinkRibera

ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (355099, $21.95, WineAlign)

Amid a sea of Spanish reds, this Ribera stands alone as the most modern on the table. Dusty, trenchant dark chocolate, mocha crema, thick, syrupy, rehydrated plum fruit. Accented by both white and black pepper, anise and a late lash of astringent tannin. Abrasive as a pleading Waits croon, this Crianza is “better than a cup of gold. See only a chocolate Jesus can satisfy my soul.” Another Ribera with qualities akin to present day, Sangiovese dominated Chianti Classico. Immaculate confection.  89  Tasted December 2013  @EuroVinatage

RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004, Ribera Del Duero, Spain  (355107, $31.95, WineAlign)

Typically modern version with just the right amount of age. Interesting to see nearly 10 year-old Ribera, with so much obvious oak and modernity retain its fruit lushness and presence after such a chunk of time could have stripped away its freshness. Candied violets and pansy, peppery nasturtium and marble slab, rocky road ice cream. Oak nearly integrated but persistent in chalky texture. Confounding bareback ride on a wild 100 per cent Tempranillo horse that bucks as if Bordeaux or Rhône varieties would seem to bolster the whole.  90  Tasted December 2013

From left: CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D'ABRUZZO 2012, CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, and ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004

From left: CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 2012, CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, and ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004

Abruzzo

The history: Central Italy, stretching from the heart of the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea.

The lowdown: Mostly mountainous and wild terrain. The four DOC produced in Abruzzo are the Contro Guerra, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. Montepulciano is the most planted red variety. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2009 and 2010.

CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 2012, Abruzzo, Italy (663939, $17.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker superstar to be Francesco Cirelli does what more should do. Age organic grapes of purity and pristine quality in clay Amphore. The natural empathy and wisdom of crop rotation (for more than just grapevines) drives the logic and proportion of Cirelli’s wines. This Md’A smirks and balks at thoughts of it as entry-level, though it concedes to the moniker ’poster child’. From 15 year-old vines set in sandy clay soils near Atri in the Colline Teramane zone. The fruit is like raspberry felt, lifted, spritely, gregarious and inviting. The wine never plunges into bitterness, nor does it depend on any crutch to remain upright and weightless.  90  Tasted September 2013 and January 2014  @TheLivingVine

Chianti

The history: In central Tuscany. The two Chianti zones, Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), produce the largest volume of DOC/G wines in Italy.

The lowdown: Chainti Classico must have a minimum 80 per cent Sangiovese, the main variety of the region. Other indigenous grapes include Canaiolo and Colorino, bur Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also used. Soils vary from marl of layered sandstone, to chalk and clay, blue-grey sandstone and clay-limestone. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2007 and 2011.

CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, Tuscany, Italy  (680496, $22.95, WineAlign)

Heather meadow Sangiovese, emotive of old school Chianti Classico aromas, notably tea, new leather and sour cherry. Texturally succulent and lush, like mini-modern Sangiovese Grosso. Nearly syrupy and 90′s-styled by a heavy-handed, wood-soaked guilty conscience. The kind of CC to “waste away the weekend with perfect regard for how cavalier we used to be.”  89  Tasted December 2013  @ChiantiClassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Priorat

The history: In Catalunya, northeast Spain. The most recent regulations of the DOQ were defined in 2006.

The lowdown: Dominated by hillside vineyards with poor soils, the dark slate called Licorella and low-fielding old vines. Garnacha and Carinena are the most planted, but also international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.

PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, Priorat, Spain, (314559, $24.95, WineAlign)

Clearly contemporary, voluptuous Garnacha blend, in symmetry with foil Carinena, In support are small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon (10 per cent), Merlot (five) and Syrah (five). Chalk, grain and chocolate intensity, scents of dusty mulberry, menthol tobacco, eucalyptus and licorice. Works its international styling to great effect, if a bit heavy, woody and hollow up the middle. Lags just behind the stellar 2008 and yet this ’09 will have many a follower. Just a bit more structure would make it a prize.  89  Tasted December 2013

Rioja

The history: In northern Spain, on both sides of the River Ebro. The oldest Designation of Origin in Spain (DOCA), established in 1926.

The lowdown: Confluence of Atlantic and Mediterranean climates, with soils ranging from chalky-clay, to ferrous-clay and alluvial. Tempranillo is the most planted (red) grape. Finest recent vintages include 2005, 2005, 2010 and 2011.

ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004, Rioja, Spain (725895, $25.95, WineAlign)

The animal that is an ’04 Rioja Reserva is a VINTAGES darling. Here is yet another example in a long line-up spread out over several months of releases. 2004 palate fatigue should certainly have set in but for this youthful yet learned Ontañón. The dichotomy is not lost with much wood to be nosed though it’s neither abstruse nor resinous. More like a smoking cedar plank beneath the rendering weight of a slow-roasting porcine slab. Tangy cherry, sour plum and really stretched length. Mineral finish. Brillo Tempranillo with a touch of Graciano.  91  Tasted December 2013  @TandemSelection

Good to go!

2013: It was the best of wines

Red wines

15 wine releases $30 and over
Photo: Steve Cukrov/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

The long and wine-ding road of 2013 began with a personal plea for it to be the year of drinking better wine. I wrote about iconic wines at affordable prices and a personal hermeneutic public service announcement, a wine prescription for cold and flu. January rounded out with good reds, twenty-somethings, Robbie Burns, weekday wines and a wine analogy Super Bowl prediction gone bad.

I played pond hockey, chatted about wine and said no to ambient, rich pinks because you gotta be cruel to be wine for Valentine’s.  Real wines, more hockey, Oscars, French grapes and a Somewhereness sea of grape-driven humanity occupied my winter thoughts, along with California, The Beamsville Bench, Cuvée 2013 and the zeitgeist of my virgin expert’s tasting with music as its guide. Cool grapes marched on with wines for the Ides, St. Patrick, Passover, Momofuku in Toronto and New York City.

Spring brought 100-km wine, value reds, sunshine, Masters’ colours, a Stanley Cup for house league hockey, Ontario wine events, Peter Franus, wild leeks and Mother’s Day. There was a ‘London Calling’ for Canadian wine, Go Gamay Go, an averted LCBO strike and the Elsie Awards. I delved into the schadenfreude matters of tasting notes, the humanity in real value wine and the Venn Diagrams in a paradox of accents.

The weather warmed, I cooked for 1,300 Ultimate Frisbee players, contemplated the Rolling Stones and struck Semillon in a showcase showdown. Father’s Day, Riesling and the Canada Day long weekend preceded excursions to Fenway Park and the eleemosynary earth in the North Fork of Long Island. This followed by a search for the wine pulse of the Finger Lakes and the indelible stamp of British Columbia‘s Okanagan Valley.

The International Cool Climate Chardonnay conference took Niagara by storm (literally), leading into the August long weekend. I wrote on Sauvignon Blanc, chill red wine, The Great Canadian Wine Challenge, Free My Grapes and the plea for wine to flow across Canadian provinces.

September came, as did Low alcohol wine for the High Holidays. Ontario wines shone on, especially those from Stratus, along with Spanish and Italian reds. I touted the vinous acumen of Canadian wines for Thanksgiving, the wines of Chile, the best from Ontario and presided as guest judge at the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2013. October ended with Champagne and reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween.

Napa Valley came to town, there were private tastings with Ontario winemakers and I made notes on Canadian made apolitical wines. There were gems, Friday bites, Beaujolais Nouveau and more from Italy. At the end of November I wondered if the wine sign of the apocalypse was upon us. Sparkling wines and the unavoidable Christmas picks have brought us to here.

Edward Steinberg once asked Angelo Gaja, “how do you make the best wine?” to which Gaja replied, “with the best grapes.” In tasting notes I extrapolate from that base and simple notion, with an intent to convey the salient facts of the grape’s life, to give life to the agriculture, even if the first two syllables are removed in the process.

Tasting notes can be clerihews, pithy poems that begin with a winemaker’s name, become the reviewer’s purport and more often than not, are penned in four lines. Word play leading the mind to consider wine as anagram, palindrome and lipogram. Writing a tasting note not as a vinous jape, but rather an artfully woven acrostic.

Reviews align like Burma Shave signs on North American highways, spaced one hundred feet apart, connected by their language. Phrases are turned on their heads, causing the notes to be peculiarly unsuccessful in making any decided impact upon the consumer college. So be it.

The musical and other (sometimes) obscure references bring about metaphasis to the tasting notes, an habitual transposition of sounds, connecting smell, flavour and structure to groove, pitch and aesthetic. The best wines produce the greatest emotion and excess of language. Here is a look back at the top 15-$30 and over releases tasted in 2013 and the tasting notes that brought them to light.

15 wine releases $30 and over

From left: RAINOLDI CRESPINO VALTELLINA SUPERIORE 2006, TAWSE CABERNET FRANC LAUNDRY VINEYARD 2010, CHARLES BAKER WINES RIESLING 'PICONE VINEYARD' 2011, PETER FRANUS RED WINE 2008, and FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO TAURASI 2007

From left: RAINOLDI CRESPINO VALTELLINA SUPERIORE 2006, TAWSE CABERNET FRANC LAUNDRY VINEYARD 2010, CHARLES BAKER WINES RIESLING ‘PICONE VINEYARD’ 2011, PETER FRANUS RED WINE 2008, and FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO TAURASI 2007

RAINOLDI CRESPINO VALTELLINA SUPERIORE 2006, Lombardy, Italy (316331, $31.95, WineAlign)

Composed of 100 per cent Chiavennasca (Nebbiolo) from Lombardy. Grace, flowing ruby robe, striking. Lit by cherries bathing in a silica and gravel mineral bath, tightly wound in a swirling pensieve of real vinous thought. Elevated by cool, altitudinous breezes and gothic, statuesque like a Mantegazza. Northern, alpine and proud.  93  Tasted April 2013  @VinumValtellina  From: Top ten wines for May Day

TAWSE CABERNET FRANC LAUNDRY VINEYARD 2010, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130997, $31.95, WineAlign)

Assures us of several things. First, 2010 was a gift for making idiot-proof Cab Franc in Niagara, Second, the Lincoln Lakeshore is one of three obvious and essential CF locales in Niagara. Third and most important, properly adjudicated new oak can elevate CF to the upper reaches of the cool-climate troposphere. While not as masculine or bovine like brother Van Bers, Laundry’s got black cherry, tar, coal, herbs and a peaceful, grilling feeling. Essential CF from winemaker Paul Pender.  92  Tasted July 2013  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender  From: Alternative wines for the August long weekend

CHARLES BAKER WINES RIESLING ‘PICONE VINEYARD’ 2011, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

Does not so much pick up where cracking ’09 left off (with no offence meant to the soothing and tuneful ’10) but rather re-writes the Baker book. From the almost famous windswept vineyard atop the Vinemount Ridge, this Picone, from older Riesling plantings is crazy lively. That ’10 is now imbued with rich, oily glück. The ’11 will realize such a future, but much further along and in combination with its inborn tension. Right up there with Baker’s “perfect vintage” 2006.  93  Tasted October 2013  @cbriesling  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

PETER FRANUS RED WINE 2008, Red Hills Lake County Red, California ($39.95)

Composed of Syrah (85 per cent), Grenache (10) and Mourvèdre (5) comes from Fore Family Vineyards fruit on the top of 3000 foot Cobb Mountain. A fiery paradox of climate met by altitude works a strange magic on the grapes. It’s no mistral but rather some sort of wine weather occult. This SGM is highly influenced by a very tempest of dramatic temperature changes, from solar radiation to cool, tempering Pacific breezes and at great heights. Exhibits the hills’ red earth, in colour, in fragrance and in rich berry flavour. I’m grateful for this SGM blend, cool and hot at the same time, “almost ablaze still you don’t feel the heat.”  93  Tasted April 2013  @ProfileWineGrp  From: The Wine Diaries: Peter Franus

FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO TAURASI 2007, Campania, Italy ($39.95)

Lush and gorgeous. The most immediately gratifying young Aglianico yet such an infant. Earthbound red berries, perfectly ripe plums, biting tannin and off the charts acidity. Epochal verve of Middle Pleistocene volcanic rocksSouthern Italian equivalent to Southern Rhône reds, offering tremendous value under $50 where Bordeaux and Tuscany pedantically fall short. Should join the ranks of recent great vintages, ’01 and ’04.  93  Tasted January 2013  @FeudiDSGregorio  @StemWineGroup  From: Iconic wines, affordable prices

From left: CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES EQUULEUS 2010, BACHELDER CHARDONNAY WISMER VINEYARD 2010, CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, GIROLAMO RUSSO SAN LORENZO 2008, and PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008

From left: CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES EQUULEUS 2010, BACHELDER CHARDONNAY WISMER VINEYARD 2010, CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, GIROLAMO RUSSO SAN LORENZO 2008, and PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008

CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES EQUULEUS 2010, St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (319525, $40, SAQ,  11156334, $41.25, WineAlign)

From the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard is a classically styled blend of 50 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 per cent Cabernet Franc and 25 per cent Merlot, only made in exceptional years. Apropos choice from 25-year old vines (in 2010) from the warmer St. David’s Bench for Cuvée’s 25th show.  Poised, balanced and regal yet this mare is temporarily a head-shy, sensitive equine red. Will trot out furlongs of tobacco and meaty aromas from now and through maturity in five plus years. A saddle of round, red fruit will age gracefully.  92  Tasted March 2013  @MBosc  From: Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary

BACHELDER CHARDONNAY WISMER VINEYARD 2010, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

So sumptuous, presumptuous and precocious. Ahead of the curve, effortless and full of 20 mile mineral length. The ripe green apple never quits. My earlier note from Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary from the Twenty Mile (Vineland) Bench is the most righteous, understated charred butterscotch remoulade sauce of dreams. Richly textured and built upon a sneaky, slow and stretched breath of wild yeasts. A creeper, gatherer and traveler of both knowledge and persistence. The journey with Thomas Bachelder as related by partner Mary Delaney, from out of Quebec, by way of Ponzi and Lemelson in Oregon and to Niagara is the stuff of dreams. Tasted twice same night and hypnotized both times.  94  Tasted July 2013  @Bachelder_wines  From: Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay

CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, Priorat, Spain (156398, $49.95, WineAlign)

Stupid gorgeous Priorat and though inaccessible to most of us mere mortals, if you were to shell out $50 in November for one wine, this has to be considered. A blend of 65 per cent Cariñena, 22 per cent Garnacha, with a smattering of Syrah and Merlot. Pure purple pitch, an early summer Catalonian garden in bloom, air warm, breeze light. Wow. Blows high priced Napa and over the top Châteauneuf-du-Pape out of the water. The oak is so beautifully integrated.  94  Tasted October 2013  From: Nine big November best buy wines

GIROLAMO RUSSO SAN LORENZO 2008, Sicily, Italy ($59.95)

From agronomist and oenologist Giuseppe Russo lives a Sicilian dream. Composed of Etna’s indigenous Nerello Mascalese with a small percentage of Nerello Cappuccio, this red is a veritable lava flow of molten magma, volcanic igneous solder and opulent Scoria. Pure, unchained fruit, no disguise, striking.  94  Tasted February 2013  @Oenophilia1  From: Real wines, whisky and boys night out

PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008, Piedmont, Italy (280412, $68.00, WineAlign)

This just has the look, the look of love. “A look that time can’t erase.” Nebbiolo you can see right through, this impossible light, this impossible life. Tea, tar and roses. A mineral spring, iron-earth field, where the game runs wild. You can relate to this Barolo, love it, relish it now but it will give pleasure for years. Not necessarily 25 but certainly 10-15. “Well, it takes my breath away.” Great vineyard.  94  Tasted October 2013  From: Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

From left: M. CHAPOUTIER LES BÉCASSES CÔTE-RÔTIE 2010, MOËT & CHANDON GRAND VINTAGE BRUT CHAMPAGNE 2004, DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010, and MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006

From left: M. CHAPOUTIER LES BÉCASSES CÔTE-RÔTIE 2010, MOËT & CHANDON GRAND VINTAGE BRUT CHAMPAGNE 2004, DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010, and MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006

M. CHAPOUTIER LES BÉCASSES CÔTE-RÔTIE 2010, Ac Northern Rhône, France (280420, $82.95, WineAlign)

Strictly beautiful Syrah. The offspring of the Côte Rôtie’s two necessary points of view. First, the schist, silt and shingle of the Brune. Second, the silica and limestone of the Blonde. In combination they produce an iron-rust wine of a ferruginous nature, in colour and in aroma. Seeping, exotic Rooibos tea, Provençal tapenade and smouldering flowers send smoke signals clear as day. Smells so rich though it’s full of grace and bathed in ultra-elegance.  94  Tasted October 25, 2013  From: Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

MOËT & CHANDON GRAND VINTAGE BRUT CHAMPAGNE 2004, Ac Champagne, France (69773, $83.95, WineAlign)

May not be the esteemed house and vintage of the century’s love-child but I can’t think of a single reason not to spend a pittance more on a vintage-dated Champagne like this Moët in lieu of a sea of NV alternatives. Granted it’s wound maddeningly tight, spewing still young venom, crazed by pear and citrus concentrate but…trust must be placed in its charms. This Moët is quite refined. Apples tempered in acidity, beloved for its building blocks, it’s really good Champagne.  94  Tasted November 2013  @MoetUSA  From: Ten sparkling wines to life

DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, Monopole, Ac, Burgundy, France (46706, $89.95, WineAlign)

From Mathieu Mangenot’s ”Grand Cru” plots, the Monopole holdings in the steep amphitheatre slope of Vaudésir and the gentle rise of Les Preuses. The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine. He spoons piles of flint and chunks of rock. He explains the tin pan elevation of Chablis and Chardonnay squeezed from the bedrock, capturing every last drop of geology, refuse of stars and fossils of the ancient animals. Stoic, metazoic, super Chablis, with tremendous length. How can this Chablis have so much fruit but no apple, no lemon, no pith. “You think things are straight but they’re not what they seem.” Candy for the soul. Novacaine in liquid form. Amazing.  94  Tasted November 2013  From: Twelve days of wine for Christmas

CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010, Ac Burgundy, France (344887, $101.95, Quebec $85.00, WineAlign)

A mild sylvan reductive stink is neither abstruse nor in fruit obstruction. What we have here is a brass tax in Chardonnay histrionics. Yellow and green tree fruit, wicked wild yeast game and just about as much ruminating, mineral tang as one might desire. Something wicked this way woos my wistful longing for quality white Burgundy. I could imagine drinking this well into my pension days.  95  Tasted November 2013  From: Twelve days of wine for Christmas

MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006, Doc, Veneto, Italy (215764, $99.95, WineAlign)

If a wine clocking in at 16 per cent alcohol by volume can be considered elegant and restrained and if that’s even possible, the Mazzano is the one. Though there is nothing outright prune, dried raisin or fig paste about it, this single-vineyard Amarone is enormously tannic. Any attempt at cracking its hard shell inside of 15-20 years should be thought of as counter-productive. Smells like the aforementioned fruit just picked at maximum ripeness so there is nothing cooked, roasted or overdone here. You simply have to wait for tertiary complexity to see what it will become. I sense great. Near-perfect vintage.  96  Tasted October 2013  From: Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

Good to go!

Ancient, state of the art Spanish wine

Barrels of wine are pictured in a cellar PHOTO: A.B.G./FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Argument suggests that the cradle of wine civilization, borne of Levant and of Mesopotamia should rightfully translate to talk of global influence and relevance as emanating from Greece and the Middle East. Not so much. The epicentre lies further west. A commonality shared by the modern romantic, European wine-producing nations is a mojo modus constructed of the most complex declensions. The language of the big three, France, Italy and Spain, inflects in case and number, the benchmark for fine and designed wine.

Spain’s vinous history stretches about as far back as that of its Western European neighbours and though it so often plays kissing cousin, Spanish winemakers do not pussyfoot in producing superannuated yet contemporary wine. My tastings over the previous two years of western (Latin) Europe’s 2009 and 2010 vintages have somewhat and hopefully only temporarily soured my palate for beloved southern Rhônes, especially from the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Up until a year ago I would have put CdP up against any global comparatives for quality and value in the $30-50 range. So many current examples, especially those 2010′s, are hot, over-extracted and completely out of balance. That feeling is also coming out of Piedmont (in particular from a virus of cheap, under $35, traipsing and awkwardly ambling Barolo), but also newly endemic in a hyperbolic convoy of flamboyant and trashy-sexy Tuscan IGT and Brunello. This, sniff, from my first wine love.

PHOTO: Michael Godel Bodegas Beronia, Patria Restaurant, July 18, 2013

Winemakers in Spain (and zooming in more specifically) from Ribera del DueroRioja and Montsant are more careful not to fall into modish vinification traps like sugar and spice wood splintering (France) or terroir-void, vinous compost (Italy). They are masters of their wine technique domains, in control of reductive aromas and in deft touch with acidification. Don’t misunderstand me. France and Italy are blessed with brilliant wines and winemakers. Conversely, there are plenty of examples out there these days in high-octane, alcohol elevated, barrel age-leveraging in ultra-modern Spanish wine. There are also wine making superstars. Red and white wine heroes. Matias Calleja, Juan Carlos Vizcarra, Maria Barúa, Luisa Freire and Alvaro Palacios all achieve Iberian nirvana by striking a balance between old and new world, antediluvian and 21st century, all the while making large quantities of commercially successful wine.

Bodegas Beronia talks of their “commitment to quality wine that expresses the personality of theterroir.” Their goal? “A philosophy based on respect for the environment and an ability to adapt to new market trends, maintaining the essence of Rioja.” Matías Calleja defines it: ”We combine art technology with traditional methods of production.”

According to their Ontario agent, Woodman Wines and Spirits, “if anyone embodies the promise and spirit of “The New Spain”, it is Alvaro Palacios.” It has not been much more than 20 years since he took control of the esteemed empire built by his father, Jose Palacios Remondo, but Alvaro Palacios has already become one of Spain’s most famous and well-respected winemakers.

Here are 10 perfect Spanish wines to pour, ponder and debate the popularity vs. quality discussion and to open the door to ancient, state of the art Spanish wine.

From left: Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat 2011, Lan Gran Reserva 2005, Bodegas Vizcarra JC Vizcarra 2010, Beronia Crianza 2009, and Beronia Gran Reserva 2006

Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat 2011 (216291, $22.95) is composed from 50 per cent Samsó (Carinena), 40 per cent Garnacha and a 10 per cent split between Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. A child of young vines, ready to roll Spanish charmer with a mingling floral nose, in barberry and bursting blueberry. Outlined by notes of pencil and charcoal. Timely acidity helps ease the heavy alcohol with some essential balancing grace. Stealth, arid ride through calcareous rock, deciduous oak and viburnum. There is something historical here, crafted yet serious.  91

Lan Gran Reserva 2005 (928622, $27.95) and its makers may now just be a cog in the Sogrape empire but it continues to do its own thing. Has that evolution I look for in Rioja. The slightest oxidative note, heaps of herbs and the umami of salty clashes with smokey Jamon. Rioja expressive of one love and one heart. Caught bobbing, dancing and wailing right in its wheelhouse, giving everything it’s made of, no holds barred and no questions asked. “Is there a place for the hopeless sinner?” Yes, in a glass of a weathered, leathery and just flat out real as it gets red Rioja.  92  @BodegasLan

Bodegas Vizcarra JC Vizcarra 2010 (214650, $28.95) while 100 per cent Tempranillo could understandably be confused for Bordeaux or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Wood driven to be sure, shrouded in tobacco, vanilla, coconut and the prevailing, hedonistic attributes of the Left Bank or the Rhône. Bounding in berries and liqueur with a hit of phite. JC works because it comes together by adhering to Tempranillo’s early ripening, Cabernet-like, savoury chain of command. Compliments all around to an under $30 powerful yet beauteous Ribera, all out contempo, flaunting and billowing gorgeous. Wow times ten for flavour, if a bit too much of a good thing.  91 @DrinkRibera

Bodegas Beronia, Patria Restaurant, July 18, 2013

presented by Woodman Wines and Spirits, (416) 767-5114, @WoodmanWines @BodegasBeronia

Beronia Viura 2012 (Coming to VINTAGES January 18th, 2014 – 190801, $14.95) exsufflates super ripe, fresh picked pear and emollient herbiage in pure, angled control. One hundred per cent, quick macerated and cold stabilized Viura of aromatics locked in tight. A pour that leads to a starburst of flavour. Complexity reaches the sea in an underlying tide of salinity.  89

Beronia Tempranillo 2010 (LCBO, 243055, $11.65) is a warm, tempered, six months in Sherry cask-driven “one-half Crianza” but not classified as such. Specifically crafted for the North American market, the oak is the protagonist, while the Tempranillo lies in macerated cherry state. At $12 it’s a no-brainer, crafted by a conscientious and forward-thinking vintner.  86

Beronia Crianza 2009 (Consignment, $16.95, Barque Smokehouse) offers more terroir and less barrel interference, in pursuit of a fruit/tension equilibrium. Redolent as if berries, cherries and plums were on the crush pad, with a touch of modernity as a result of both new and used barrels. Classic style (1970′s) Rioja, a five to seven-year wine.  89

Beronia Gran Reserva 1973 is both the dawn of a first vintage pathfinder and fountain of youth. Fast forward from the pre-disco vintage to ubiquitous 90′s soul-searching structure and know it was clearly there with untested confidence back in the beginning. Earth, Spanish bramble and aged expertly in barrel, you can ”tie a yellow ribbon ’round the ole oak tree” with this genesis of Rioja. Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo and five per cent Viura. Twenty minutes in the glass and still so alive. Old school with the proviso to entertain.  93

Beronia Gran Reserva 1982 is highly evolved, gone milky, breaking down as by proteolytic enzyme. A study in caramel, fruit removed, out of tension, past. A second bottle not tasted was purportedly sound, though not corroborated.  NR

Beronia Gran Reserva 1994 spent 34 months in new and used barrels. The bridge from past to future, definitive for Rioja in every pertinent way. Fragrant in licorice, iron and bigarreau cherry. American oak to see a 2020 future in shag, snuff, tea and forest compost.  94

Beronia Gran Reserva 2006 (VINTAGES, Release date TBD – 940965, $34.95) is so youthful it actually gives me bubble gum and dark black cherry from just a swirl. American vanillin oak and terrible tannins in a frightfully tough to assess wine Calleja says “will maintain this intensity for four to six years.” Oh, and then “will continue to evolve for 20-25 more,” slowly modulating as a result of its natural acidity. Judgment currently reserved though the future looks extremely promising.  92

Good to go!

‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ (but I like wine)

The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, centre, Keith Richards, right, Charlie Watts, back, and Ronnie Wood perform during a concert in Toronto as part of the band’s “50 & Counting Tour” on May 25, 2013. PHOTO: THE CANADIAN PRESS/FRANK GUNN

as seen on canada.com

It’s all about the rocks and stones, in music and wine. Witness songs of raw power, laid wide open, where the squeaks of chord changes, the twang of a plucked bass and the bee bop of a snare hang out exposed and naked. Seek relief in the soothing sound of a soulful ballad but nothing eases pain like a raunchy tune that “invites us to dance in the face of its own despair.” Rolling Stone Magazine rock critic Jon Landau‘s 1974 review of the Rolling Stones quintessential “we’re a rock ‘n roll band” album It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll hit the proverbial nail on the head, then and now. Like the title track, “it resonates like the sound of a shotgun.”

There was no It’s Only Rock and Roll Carrie Underwood duet with Mick Jagger last night at the The Rolling Stones 2nd ’50 and Counting’ tour Air Canada Centre show. I did not go. I had my fill of totemic super group, epic rock concerts in the 80′s and 90′s; Stones, Who, Kinks, Grateful Dead, Dire Straits, Genesis, Supertramp, Allman Brothers, Crazy Horse, E Street Band. Now give me shelter in the sounds of Spoon or Divine Fits. The best concerts then were the rock royalty derivative or solo shows; David Byrne, Peter Townshend, Mark Knopfler, Peter Gabriel and Keith Richards with arguably the greatest grape-related band name ever, the Expensive Winos.

The wine analogy qualifies as yet another hermeneutic. Minerals walk the walk and talk the talk. If the wines qualify as natural all the better, especially when the ferment is unafraid to expose its flaws and idiosyncrasies to be ogled and gazed upon. To smell rocks and stones in a swirled glass fulfills a base and necessary need. The fascination for geology can be quenched by so many international varieties and soils. Chenin Blanc in the Silex of the Loire, Nerello Mascalese atop volcanic Etna, Grenache amid the boulders of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Sangiovese from the ultramafic of Tuscany and Chardonnay out of the Kimmeridgian soil of Chablis. To each animates an ownership of terroir. The world’s quarries have accustomed wine geeks with centuries of fine drink but never has an obsession possessed a community with such pleasures ere unknown. Enter the studios of the Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County. Electric Lady, Motown and Muscle Shoals all rolled into one.

The collective geological consciousness embraced by the Ontario wine engineer is only rock and roll but everyone is digging it. If Let it Bleed signaled the Rolling Stones’ entry into an affair and infatuation with all things Americana, especially for vocals and guitar with a country music accent and twang, then It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll is the high swagger point. As a record it represents the culmination of a period where the room is eventually tied together by the rug of Some Girls. Ontario winemakers have entered the ‘open G’ tuning period in their careers, now with a few passionate, penetrating records under their belt. A ten year road lays ahead, destined to me mapped out by their greatest works, lithospheric wines to define their legacies, in toto as the supergroup history will remember them by.

Rocks and stones have for millenniums been used to construct homes, pathways, fences and places of worship. They have also been used to build wine. Here are ten current releases, forged from diverse mineral terrains and available now.

Clockwise from top left: Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2010, Valdeorras Tempestad Godello 2011, The Foreign Affair The Conspiracy 2011, Coyote’s Run Red Paw Chardonnay 2011, Malivoire Pinot Noir 2010, Laurent Miquel Bardou St.-Chinian 2007, Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, and Grgich Hills Chardonnay Estate Napa Valley 2010

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2010 (318303, $16.95 and at the winery) is the unoaked result of aromatic Clone 809 combed from the heavier clay-based soils from the St. David’s Bench Vineyard and the silty, mineral rich soils from Seven and Seven Vineyard. Tropical, strutting stunner with “a thousand lips I would love to taste.” Tell Ms. Musqué if you can’t rock me, nothing can.  90  @MBosc

Valdeorras Tempestad Godello 2011 (276071, $17.95) from Bodegas Abanico in Valdeorras whiffs the mineral temptation of a weathered, wet copper penny, secondary Riesling-like petrol, ripe peach and jamón wrapped around white date.  Delicious juicy fruit, nutty and just a touch of lees. Late seafood aftertaste, a crab drink to enjoy with a tempest of Spanish tapas. Ain’t Too Proud To Beg for this one.  89  @bodegasabanico

The Foreign Affair The Conspiracy 2011 (149237, $19.95), kissed, re-passed over and threatening to push boundaries as if it were singing “if I could stick a knife in my heart, suicide right on stage.” This Ilya Senchuk beauty may only be ripasso but I like it. Eases my pain and my brain. Excellent verve and honed of a rock star’s capacity to be loved, with tart, red and black fruit in waves, tar and charcoal. Svelte balance in fruit, alcohol, sweet and sour. This is THE vintage for this wine. Ten plus years lay ahead for a long affair and it will be rewarded with praise in future tastings.  92  @wineaffair

Coyote’s Run Red Paw Chardonnay 2011 (336115, $19.95) reminds of the lyric “and I don’t need no fancy food and I don’t need no fancy wine.” Many may not know it but David Sheppard’s Red Paw Chardonnay at $20 is fancy and serious. There is more toast than from memory and four miles of apple butter in the glass. Red Trafalgar clay loam and Queenston shale bedrock give it strength. Warm Chard for a cool climate with green herbs and a late mineral tinge. Apples in replay. Sadly, sister vineyard Black Paw was pulled due to a virus so we’ll savour this Red Paw Till The Next Goodbye.  88  @coyotesrun

Malivoire Pinot Noir 2010 (996777, $24.95) shows great warmth in rusty, bricking hue. High toned glossy fruit not to be mistaken for anything but Pinot. Tons of fruit character,  some tannin getting warmer in the glass. Time Waits For No One, least of all this very solid Pinot, verging on stunning. “Drink in your summer, gather your corn” for the Malivoire ’10′s time is now.  91 @MalivoireWine

Laurent Miquel Bardou St.-Chinian 2007 (328583, $24.95) the Syrah funk monster is heavy on mineral, chewy with currant flavours and a citrus hint. Like sucking on an iron lollipop that lasts and lasts. Luxury Languedoc.  90  @LanguedocWines

Raoul Gautherin Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons 2010 (159236, $28.95) has the rocks and stones, rolling in orchards, fields and dreams. Dancing Little Sister, bang on mineral, blessed length, wonderful. Full-on nervy and relevant Chablis. With her “we bacchanal, there ain’t no dawn.”   91  @purechablis

Domaine De L’aigle A Deux Tetes Cotes Du Jura Les Clou 2010 (323618, $39.00) is uncanny in apple cider character from ’08 planted Savagnin grapes and only 50 cases produced. Intense honey with just a touch of fromage, piercing mineral. The apples and honey are everywhere. A little Rosh Hashanah for you with tang, verve and length. “Give me the look of love,” says this Jura, If You Really Want To Be My Friend.  92  @JuraWine

Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (89284, $52.95) makes you gotta love the anti-napa concept, attitude and execution. The ’09′s nose is high in tone, accent and richesse but there is no syrup or gratuitous chocolate barrel aging or excessive berry extraction. Great finesse, balance and a sense of crushed rocks is a throwback to better times. Alcohol at a manageable 13.8 per cent so within reason, built on meter in metronome precision. Will be invited to dinner every night of the year. No Short And Curlies problem here.  94  @RidgeVineyards

Grgich Hills Chardonnay Estate Napa Valley 2010 (346304, $54.95) tasted previously continues to thrill in mineral char and length. From the Fingerprint File, my previous note, “glides in so much variety balance I can imagine showering with wine. You will not pigeon-hole this-worldly and structured white because its finesse reaches out across the great mineral vs tropical divide debate. Sure, there is timbered-driven, golden-fleshed apple, green melon and buttered, toasted bread, but there too is a sting of acidity. Stellar year for Napa Chardonnay. Great glass of sunshine93  @GrgichHills

Good to go!

Mother’s Day barbecue wines

Barque Smokehouse Dry-Rub Ribs PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

as seen on canada.com

One year ago to the day, I extolled the virtues of Chardonnay and why it was the wine of choice to drink with mom on Mother’s Day. I would be skirting the channeling of my inner, anti-ABC if that universal variety was left out this coming weekend so click here for an unoaked beauty in stores right now.

Related – more current releases

The sudden dramatic shift in the weather has had an immediate and necessary impact, with all points leading to barbecue. In order to please everyone involved, including mom, dad and carnivorous kin, a range of wines will be needed this coming Sunday afternoon. Being the wine consuming and recommending diplomat that I am, here are four white, rosé and red wines to share time in the proverbial sun and to assist with what comes from the kitchen, off the grill or out of the Mother’s Day smoker.

From left: Muga Rosé 2012, Colaneri Estate Riesling ”Stellucha” 2009, Balbas Reserva 2001, and Domaine Thomas & Fils Cuvée Grand Chaille Sancerre 2011

The grapes: Garnacha, Tempranillo and Viura

The history: Rioja winery so famous for its rich, red wine tradition

The lowdown: Perennial quality in Spanish rosé always priced to please

The food match: Barque Smokehouse Smoked Shrimp, Smoked Salmon, Bacon and Eggs Tapas

Muga Rosé 2012 (603795, $12.95) offers up honest to goodness, straightforward value. Pale pink grapefruit, gentle spice and dried roses marked by juicy acidity. “It can’t be too grand,” just as it shouldn’t be. No dinosaur here, no disguise, no bones, just simple, tasty and amenable. Afternoon sipper.  87  @bodegasmuga

Barque Smokehouse Smoked Shrimp, Smoked Salmon, Bacon and Eggs Tapas (Photo: Jill Chen/freestylefarm.ca)

The grape: Riesling

The history: Winemaker Andrzej Lipinski is a Niagara pioneer in Appassimento-styled wines, made by adding modified kiln-dried grapes to the ferment

The lowdown: Was worth the price of admission at $15.95 upon release. Now it’s a steal. This is quite full-bodied for Riesling but low in alcohol (11.3 per cent)

The food match: Scallop Ceviche, grapefruit, orange, pickled wild leek, basil, olive oil

Colaneri Estate Riesling ”Stellucha” 2009 (279778, $13.15) is built on 70% (John Howard) Beamsville Bench and 30% (estate) Niagara-on-the-Lake fruit. Exceeds expectations, acting as bridge from day to night. Works the midnight sky in a passion momento while a “shimmering crescent moon recedes into working dawn.” Faint apple, peach pit, high in citrus and a fulgor accent of lit kiln. Time has been and will continue to be a friend to this lily of the midnight sky.  89 @ColaneriWinery

Scallop Ceviche, grapefruit, orange, pickled wild leek, basil, olive oil (Photos: Michael Godel)

The grapes: Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Founded in 1777, this may be the oldest winery in Ribera Del Duero with the most modern approach to winemaking

The lowdown: A $20 bottle of wine in a $40 suit. This is without a doubt the best deal in Spanish wine since the December 7th, 2001 VINTAGES release of the Montecillo Gran Reserva 1991 at $18.95

The food match: Chicken Breast and Top Sirloin Shish Kebabs, cremini mushroom, wild leek pesto marinade

Balbas Reserva 2001 (85183, $20.95) while mature is so alive and grooved by a Beckian beat you would be hard pressed to blindly consider it 12-years old. Deep purple fruit with a hint of caramel, cedar and cigar. Qué onda Duero? I’ll tell you what’s happening. Aged Ribera, structured, in balance and very much alive for $21. Makes me want to “sing a banda macho chorus.” Screaming value.  91  @DrinkRibera

Chicken Breast and Top Sirloin Shish Kebabs, cremini mushroom, wild leek pesto marinade

The grape: Sauvignon Blanc

The history: True SB from the southern Loire Valley run by a ninth generation husband and wife team, Jean and Ginette Thomas

The lowdown: Limestone, clay and silica form a flint and sand mixture known as silex, making these Loire vineyards one of the premier growing soils in the world

The food match: Barque Smokehouse Dry-Rub Ribs

Domaine Thomas & Fils Cuvée Grand Chaille Sancerre 2011 (320242, $28.95) begs for significance and presents a ritual immersion by virtue of its base representation of ideal Sauvignon Blanc. Walks the flint and rocks of two Loire vineyards, marries them, then talks the caulk and chalk of those sites. If just a touch reserved at the moment, the Grand Chaille will grow out of its acidic twang five years forward to realize itself as excellent Sauvignon Blanc.  92 @LoireValleyWine

Good to go!

Part Two: A 30 march of value reds

PHOTO: MONKEY BUSINESS/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Today’s date may read April 5th, 2013 but as far as I’m concerned, it’s still March. Winter chill hovers like a suffocating raft over a simmering cauldron of consommé. We are the suds, the weather our nimbus and we can’t wait to rent our effervescent clothes, break free from the mackerel sky and walk into spring.

Related – More March wine reviews

The coming weeks worth of frosty nights and their refusal to hightail on out of here must then be quelled by belly warming, hearty meals shared in kind with big, bold red wines. Here is a 15-strong list available now and in a store near you.

From left: Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2010, Calmel + J Joseph Faugères 2009, Château Gadet Terrefort 2010, Herdade Penedo Gordo Vinho Tinto 2010, and Otazu Premium Cuvée 2007

The French

Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2010 (177584, $13.95) is a remarkable price for a Vin Pays d’Oc acting as a ringer for a Mark Kent (Boekenhoutskloof) Franschhoek meets the Northern Rhône. A dish of roasted pork belly, boar musk, lacquer, black olive and sun-baked earth would work. Good follow-up to the 2009 Septaguanarian of pork perambulations. Impossible balance for a pittance.  87

Château Agnel Cuvée Phillipe Minervois 2009 (309195, $15.95) is no pretender, this disciplined study in equilibrium. Blessed with a freestyle swimmer’s ability to master strokes in one varietal medley. More Grenache than Syrah, more Yannick than Michael. Exercises a learned rusticity, acts “old enough to face the dawn.” An angel of the morning bursting forth in floral scents and reaching out with a graceful length. Languedoc red as microcosmic study in an Olympian, southern French pool.  88  @FrontierWine

Calmel + J Joseph Faugères 2009 (310193, $16.95) conjures up full-on hedonism in roasted mutton, garrigue, black raspberry jus and a shot ‘o java. Full-bodied, mochafied richesse, juicy, easy to consume if  never to be seen again. All for $17.  89  @LanguedocWines

Château Gadet Terrefort 2010 (307231, $20.95) waltzes out in empeltre olive, plum sangria and creamy chocolate. Turns roast meaty in gritty tannin, struts great intensity for Médoc, like a “black-haired flamenco dancer,” de color rojo oscuro, not unlike modern Montsant. “Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones.”  90  @ProfileWineGrp 

Château Senejac 2009 (193037, $28.85, 11350145, SAQ, $26.85) walks a rustic, oxygenated Bordeaux tightrope threatening to fray but an earth, tar tincture and Mediterranean sense of longevity keeps this Haut-Médoc wound tightly together. Olive, licorice and Sambucan spice infuse in smokey tones.  91

The Portuguese

Herdade Penedo Gordo Vinho Tinto 2010 (218339, $13.95) from Alentejo, Portugal is very modern, full of lush, dusty berry fruit and void of hard lines. Licorice tang, suet roasted meat built on local grapes (Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional, Aragonez and Trincadeira). Refines the nature of its origins.  87  @winesportugalCA

Quinta Do Penedo 2009 (313676, $18.95) of Syrah-like sheen jonesing to purple sets out muted but after a swirl opens to black cherry bubble gum. Alfrocheiro and Touriga Nacional work effortlessly together to fashion a Dão whose “white clouds have turned it black.”  This one can come away with me anytime.  88  

The Spanish

Otazu Premium Cuvée 2007 (313809, $16.95, SAQ 11387298, $18.70) plays an intense, gritty Navarran riff full of earthy expletives. Addictive, salty, marinated olive, black cherry plethoric red that stops you in your tracks. Makes use of Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Reminds me of the Hecula or the Manga del Brujo but is so much edgier, crazed, frantic. Wild stuff.  88  @bodegaotazu

Beronia Gran Reserva 2005 (940965, $32.95) has smoothed its cigar smoked extremities with vanilla cream. The sour cherry tang is a necessary advocate for balance and structure. This classic and classy Riojan is ready and willing to sit at the dinner table along side Chorizo, Jabali and stuffed Piquillos.  89  @WoodmanWines

The Argentines

La Puerta Reserva Bonarda 2009 (67801, $18.95) is a serious, brooding, dark and mysterious gem from  Famatina Valley in the north-west of the Province of La Rioja. Red stone fruit, vanilla bean and an Andean rock face of tannin. Once you go cool-climate, altitudinous Argentinian Bonarda, you may never go back to Malbec.  88  @LaPuertaWines

Versado Malbec 2010 (317008, $24.95) takes on Argentina by way of Southbrook (Ontario) and Sperling Family Vineyards (British Columbia) in the estimable hands of winemaker Ann Sperling. Husband and oeno-guru Peter Gamble joins forces to beeline straight for Luján de Cuyo typicity in deep cherry, pitching to black, solder spice and herbs smoldering in oak.  Cool and minting in its alveolate void. Interesting to say the least.  88  @VersadoWine

Versado Reserva Malbec 2009 (316984, $59.95) seems to travel a Hobbsian path laid out like Cobos cobblestone. At nearly two and a half times the cost of the Versado normale you might expect a revelation and you get one or two, if you allow your senses to drift out-of-body, into a lead crystal, Malbec state of consciousness. Tons of charcoal clouding the infundibular annals of the wine. Emerges as a scherzo in velvety tones, texture and structure.  90  @ArgentinaWineCA

The Californians

Langtry Guenoc Petite Sirah 2011 (19935, $17.95) is a more than commendable example out of the less than glamorous Lake County. At only 13% abv, the Langtry is modest and shy by PS standards, heavenly scented by blueberry, white chocolate and eucalyptus. California PS can be formidable stuff but here “I got a California rainbow to come give them thunder clouds a rest.”  87  @LangtryGuenoc

Highway 12 Highwayman 2010 (319186, $27.95) is a proprietary blend of Cabernet Franc (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) and Merlot (20%) from Sonoman Michael Sebastiani. Present but not overbearing 14.3% alcohol, decadent despite its roots but tempered by good chocolate, olives and herbs. The kind of brambly, inky blend you might swear had some Zinfandel or Syrah in the mix but straight Bordeaux it is. A whack of wine for $28 originally released down south at $42.  90  @highway12winery

The Australian

Dandelion Vineyards Lion’s Tooth of McLaren Vale Shiraz/Riesling 2010 (311233, $19.95) is not a typo or a joke. Riesling does round out this McLaren Vale Shiraz, not Viognier. Only an Aussie would take this risk and help me Rhonda if it doesn’t work. “I can give you lots a reasons why” this works and number one is balance. The dash of white kicks the red into gear – it may be a strange sensation for which there is no prior frame of reference, but boy if it don’t put me on a beach.  88  @mrkcstr

Good to go!

A March of French grapes to dinner

Vineyard PHOTO: FILE/POSTMEDIA NEWS

as seen on canada.com

With just about a month to go before grapevines in temperate climates begin an annual cycle by entering bud break, the 1st of March signals those first thoughts of renewal. I for one wait with anticipation to see how a new growing season will treat unique plantings. Like Rosewood’s Sémillon on the Beamsville Bench or Margan’s in Australia’s Hunter Valley. Like Tempranillo in California or Bonarda in Argentina. Like Palmer Vineyard’s Albariño on the North Fork of Long Island or Cabernet Franc in Prince Edward County.

Related – More Current Release Wines

But let’s face it. Once in a while credit needs to be given where credit is due. Five French grapes have dominated the landscape. This great group of world traveler grape varietals is known as Vitis Vinifera, the common European grape, cultivated worldwide to produce wine everywhere. Deserved or not and disagree if you must but Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah continue to rule the world.

These most famous of the familiar entrenched their pedigreed roots in France. Their success is that of Burgundy, of Bordeaux and the south of France. My anti-‘somewhereness‘ post if you will. This is to remind us of how we came this far, why we are all here, incessantly tasting, discussing and forever posturing about all things wine. Here lies a disparate group, all fashioned from erudite French grapes and produced in five different countries. Fine wines to work with dinner. All are available to seek out right now.

From left to right: Tarima Monastrell 2010; Vintage Ink Mark of Passion Merlot/Cabernet 2010; Te Awa Chardonnay 2010; Devils’ Corner Pinot Noir 2011; and Château La Vieille Cure 2009

The grapes: Monastrell, a.k.a. Mourvèdre

The history: From Bodegas Volver in the Alicante zone of southeastern Spain, fermented and aged sur lie in stainless steel

The lowdown: Surprisingly full-bodied and rich for the price. Laugh while you can but why wouldn’t you buy this?

The food match: Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Fresh Figs

Tarima Monastrell 2010 (310151, $12.95) of intense purple like Bindweed’s eye or an Alicante barrel cactus flower. Not to mention the crazy label’s Passion Flower. Spring fragrance, modern in milk chocolate and berries in vanilla simple syrup. Citrus note adds breadth and food pairing asperity. Alluring and seductive, a vixen of modern Spanish wine fashion.  87  @CSWS_Inc 

The grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Virtual winery owned by Canadian giant Vincor

The lowdown: Aussie winemaker Keith Bown blends selected grapes from several Niagara Peninsula vineyards

The food match: Brisket Burnt Ends, smoked barley risotto

Brisket Burnt Ends, smoked barley risotto (Photo: Jill Chen/freestylefarm.ca)

Vintage Ink Mark of Passion Merlot/Cabernet 2010 (250209, $17.95) exudes NP passion with an exhibitionist’s amp stamp display. Clearly defined vinifera fruit, fine cedary lines. Alcohol is noticeable and is tempered by pencil lead, Zaida’s pipe tobacco and brier fruit that curls around the heat, landing on the button.  88

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Single estate vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels wine growing region in Hawkes Bay, North Island, New Zealand

The lowdown: One of my most favourite wine discoveries is an off the charts, zinging value white from the South Pacific

The food match: Grilled Herb & Citrus Marinated Chicken Breasts

Te Awa Chardonnay 2010 (301135, $18.95) gives off a good dose of char but in a Penderish way with knowledge that it will dissipate, integrate and elevate this stony ‘River of God’ into a fine, swirling eddy of hard bop goodness. Gorgeous green enamel Ngaruroro meandering to gold. Oleic, alluvial consistency, with a sense of creamed corn, barren straw and built of a gravel verve, taking risks like a Sonny Rollins riff.  91  @TeAwaWinery

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Second label of Tasmania’s Tamar Ridge from the Brown Brother’s in Victoria, Australia. The Devil’s Corner is a calm section beyond a treacherous stretch of the Tamar River

The lowdown: Three words for you. Fruit, freshness, drinkability.

The food match: Confit of Duck, roasted potato, sautéed corn, pea shoots, cherry compote

Devils’ Corner Pinot Noir 2011 (317966, $20.95, SAQ, 10947741, $24.80) is radiant in scenic, ruby tone full of red spice opposite a cloying tang. Bobbing red apples caught in a juicy hurricane of vibrant acidity. “Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night.” Builds off the sound and the fury and lasts. For hair-trigger gratification and will do up to three years time.  89  @BrownBrothers 

The Splurge

The grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: From Fronsac, in the Libourne area of the Right Bank of the Dordogne. Owned by an American team, The Old Parsonage Inc

The lowdown: Winemaking consultant Christan Veyrey (an associate to Michel Rolland) produces wines intended to peak between four and six years after bottling

The food match: Grilled NY Striploin, potato puree, asparagus, peppercorn butter

Château La Vieille Cure 2009 (191452, $36.85) has got the near-Brett funk I come to expect from a serious bottle of French red wine. Tobacco, swelling blackberries obfuscating with Châteauneuf-du-Pape- like heft and charm. Has got a leaden, lustrous chemical element, licorice and smoked meat. This is so good and not out of whack with Futures ($34) and current US ($34) pricing. To cure what ails you.  91  @EuropvinWines

Good to go!