Only a grower’s Champagne could reveal so much distinction from cuvée to cuvée ~ Behold the diversity of @williamsaintot ~ with thanks to @riverdalewines
Looking for Champagne for the holiday season? Wanting Grower’s Champagne with a négoce angle to the story? In today’s changing climate and through the multifarious meaning of that expression we are sensing and seeing a decline of former and rise of the latter. The landscape and scales are changing, mainly for reasons pertaining to logistics plus economics and so the blurred lines of growing, grape-accumulating and bottling are the rising trend, fashion and reality of the Champagne business. For a full, comprehensive and brilliant report on the subject, right-click, open a new tab and migrate over to read Treve Ring’s take at Jamie Goode’s Wine Anorak on the burgeoning subject.
Last April I had the immense pleasure to sit down with Riverdale Wines and taste the portfolio of William Saintot Champagne. These are the notes and yes I highly recommend making these wines your go to fizz for the upcoming last two weeks of 2019 revelry.
The parcel for this cuvée is 50-plus years of age, 100 per cent chardonnay on Bisseuil limestone. We don’t often describe Champagne straight out as fruity but this goes all out to deliver. Fresh fruit, sliced, sluiced and dripping; peach, yellow plum and lemon, humid and in the air. Great freshness though more than just acidity is the seducer here. Gets tropical, into lemongrass and more. Appealing in the highest end commercial way. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted April 2019
Fruit from 2014 (94 per cent) and 2015, in stainless steel tanks from the three pinot growing areas. Fresh and toasty and a seamless gathering of three pinpointed pinot noir terroirs. Avenay, Val d’Or and Muligny et Bisseuil get together for a three-layer, triad-pronged effect of fruit, acidity and exceptional Champagne tannin. Brilliant Blanc de Noirs (of 6.5 rS) and exceptional length. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted April 2019
From the same pinot noir triad of terroirs (as the 750 mL B de N) but here in a split of the Brut and fruit going back to 2011 and 2010. That’s really the only difference, a monumental one truthfully speaking and disgorged in 2017. The toasty tastiness is accentuated and if you like brioche, baked apple, salve of texture, greater tannin and enough freshness to bely the oxidative tendency of ginger feathery Champagne then you will find the brilliance in this wine. Finishes with a smirk of orange créme brûlée. Great fun, pomp and circumstance in a serious way. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted April 2019
Two growing areas contribute to this saignée Rosé, Muligny and Busseuil, with vines that average old, older and oldest, from the 60s – 80s, with some 100 year old plants. The blend is 72 per cent pinot plus (28) chardonnay, disgorged in 2018. The sugar level is raised just a touch to 6.5 rS and the alcohol a consistent 12 per cent. Berries and currants gain spirit from cranberry and pomegranate in a really energetic, tension-driven fruit affair. Truly stylish. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted April 2019
The Prestige is an 80 per cent pinot noir and (20) chardonnay get together, disgorged in 2018. It’s a retrospective, trend-setting style, based on the Solera ideal with fruit inclusion going back to 2010. It’s not nearly as oxidative as you might expect, in fact its freshness is a sustainable guarantee. There are layers and layers involved that will take as long to peel away as they took have taken to accumulate since 2010. So much citrus in so many ways and once again that amazing grower’s acidity. It really works. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted April 2019
From chardonnay at Avenay Val d’or planted in 1970 plus chardonnay in Bisseuil planted in 1964. Here the most spirit, citrus accentuation and for the next time (not the first) a real distinction from one wine to the next. This shows the grower individuality and from one Champagne to the next. There is fennel, garrigue and beautiful savoury aspects here but still mainstream enough to challenge every household name for what to drink. Drink 2019-2027. Tasted April 2019
Disgorged 2017, nature and 2.6 rS, 100 per cent pinot from Avenay Val d’Or, only 1250 bottles made. The first to challenge our notions of earthy, elemental and even funky in Champagne. Lemon, seville orange and ginger, fresh and dried herbs but also a wet concrete meets clay earthiness. Fruit is managed and anything hut relegated while acidity keeps all the mille-feuille parts integrated, in-synch and complimentary. Very special Grower’s Champagne. Drink 2019-2028. Tasted April 2019
Good to go!
Only a grower’s Champagne could reveal so much distinction from cuvée to cuvée ~ Behold the diversity of @williamsaintot ~ with thanks to @riverdalewines
Take Godello to a place that’s far away and it will fill him with words. With memories still thick as Bredasdorp pea soup, it is hard to believe it has already been four months since travelling to South Africa in September for Cape Wine 2015. I think it wise for the reader to be offered fair warning. The following wayfaring log is not brief and while it may be broken up with images of food, bottle shots and scenery, there are five thousand plus words to wade through. Feel free to skim at your wine tasting note leisure.
For a comprehensive look at South Africa’s Capelands, read my report at WineAlign.
Lemon butter poached crayfish tail, kale, parsnip puree and bisque, Open Door, Constantia
I tasted hundreds over three days at the bi-annual Cape Town event, along with dozens more in restaurants and at wineries in Stellenbosch, Swartland, Franschhoek and Constantia. One of the more memorable culinary experiences happened at Open Door Restaurant located at Uitsig Wine Estate in Constantia. The wine selection opened doors to new Cape perceptions and forward-thinking measures.
The act of intense immersion into any important wine-producing nation and its diverse regional expressions can only leave a lasting impression if the follow-up takes a long, cool sip of its meaning. Though just the beginning of what I hope to be a life-lasting fascination with South African wine, these 50 reviews prepare and pave the way.
Beaumont Family Wines Hope Marguerite 2013, Bot River-Walker Bay, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)
Named after winemaker Sebastian Beaumont’s grandmother, Hope Marguerite Beaumont. Thirty-five (400L) barrels of Chenin Blanc from 1975 and 1978 plantings anointed by natural fermentation and maturation. Reductive, malo-avoidant and lees stirred for 10 months to dess effect. Acidity swallows and trumps sugar while bitters, well, these bitters don’t even realize they are bitters. Possessive of that torched orange peel, lime skin and hinting at something faintly tropical. Many shades of Chenin Blanc within one tight-knit bottle. A benchmark of species. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted September 2015 @Beauwine
Paul Cluver Riesling Dry Encounter 2013, Elgin, South Africa (Winery, $23.99, WineAlign)
Riesling from South Africa’s largest and nascent varietal growers, one of three Cluver bears and wholly antithetical to the “Close Encounter’ simply and primarily because of its omnipresent aridity in the face of 9.0 g/L of residual sugar. Based on fruit from a variegated 27 year-old block of ferricrete (surficial sand and gravel masses) layered over decomposed Bokkeveld Shale and/or light clay. From a basin, a true amphitheatre between the mountains. The dry one shows off the cooler climate charity, offering up the opportunity to make Riesling the way it needs to be. Floats boats of blossoms piled in apples, honey and native fynbos. Elevated in nervousness, tension and anxiety through the conduit of acidity. This guy is the tip of the spear that pierces the palate. Though dry to that pointed end it is the primitive passion of grape tannin that churns the combine. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015 @paulcluverwines@PIWOSA@paulcluver
Paul Cluver Gewürztraminer 2015, Elgin, South Africa (Winery)
If Riesling is a South African anomaly, the nine hectares planted to Gewürztraminer on the Cluver estate is at least preternatural if not verging on antediluvian. The throwback approach to varietal expression takes on the do anything in South Africa mandate and runs with it. A tightly wound white, like Riesling driven by acidity, inconsequential in sugar (10.2 g/L) and rushing with rivers of grape tannin. Lime is again the thing in a world where sweetness finds it hard to live. Anything but soapy, less than sticky and so very clean. Purity out of Elgin in Gewürztraminer. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015
Cape of Good Hope Riebeeksrivier White 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
From the stable of Anthonij Rupert Wines, a blend based on Chenin Blanc (65 per cent) with Rhône assistance from Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. Similar in a way to the old vines Chenin in its purest form in a clean amalgamation of weighty varietal relations. Naturally driven acidity and an increase in creamy texture is accompanied by lactic notes and a greener, sharp apple bite. A wow reversal of impression with an anise under current and a toasty, nutty omnipresence. Quite fine. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted September 2015 @AnthonijRupert
Rall Wines Red Coastal Region 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
Superior Syrah spine (85 per cent) with a 2014 Grenache (15 per cent) addendum. Healthy and happy in alcohol (14 per cent) from Swartland schist to cure what troubles and saps. Liquorice, easy tannin and illimitable fruit (for a two to five-year run) from the gifts of a terrific vintage. Open-knit, expressly serviceable with a not overly piquant, peppery finish. Tobacco moment is just a pinch between the cheek and gums. Easy on the extraction and 50 per cent stainless housing for nothing but Swartland fruit with some added stems for the perception os sheer freshness. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015 @SwartlandRev
David and Nadia Paardebosch Chenin Blanc 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
A blend of 1960’s, 1970’s and early 1980’s, mainly dry-farmed bush vine Chenin Blanc vineyards throughout the Swartland. Sweet textured Chenin with endemic herbiage and territorial tang. Varietal identity is never an issue for South Africa’s signature white but how does definition out of disparate plots come together? For the Sadies “the meaning always lies somewhere that’s right between the lines.” Connotation and significance in what’s left behind. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted September 2015 @DavidandNadia@SwartlandRev
David and Nadia Aristargos 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
David and Nadia Wines
A bush vines dominant, 12 vineyard, five-varietal interface of Chenin Blanc (35 per cent), Roussanne (25), Clairette Blanche (20), Viognier (15) and Sémillon (5). The latter (not inconsequential) addition is from a 1950’s planted vineyard. Round and round aromatics integrate Swartland harmonies in transition to palate promptitude of spry lemon and lime. Emits that fleshing four to five-year pursuit to honeyed possibility, in which the Sémillon is not lost on that ideal. We should all be willing to wait that long though not be greedy for anything more. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted September 2015
David and Nadia Grenache 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
A riveting (85 per cent) Grenache honed from two vineyards planted in granite mountain soils, mixed and matched with (15 per cent) fruit off of organic vines grown in deep iron rich soils. A scintillant of reductive freshness gets busy with chalk ou of ferric soil in romantic and heavy breathing passion. Though nearly carbonic, atomic and more exhalant than inhalant, the freshness is always halted by a weight in denouement. The obdurate cessation is helped along by 10 to 11 months in oak. Very thoughtful, engaging and consummated Grenache from the Sadies. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2015
Godello and Billy Hughes at Cape Wine 2015
Hughes Family Wines Nativo White 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
Certified organic from the Kasteelsig Vineyards on the Hughes Family farm in Malmesbury. The blend is high in Viognier with Chenin Blanc, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. Picked at three separate intervals, the bifurcate prongs of sugar, acidity and alcohol are remarkably streamlined towards an upwards push skyward. A very base and elemental white wine that hovers in the lower reaches of the stratosphere, wanting to rise but held secure by the heartstrings of older oak filaments. This is fresh and yet filled out by a density defined in Swartland ways. An appellative white blend with my thoughts of Cape Town’s Chef’s Warehouse crudo in mind. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015 @NativoWines
Crudo and Kimchi #tuna #kingclip #chefswarehouse #cape town
Hughes Family Wines Nativo Red 2009, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
Certified organic from natural, dry-farmed estate Kasteelsig Vineyards on the Hughes Family farm in Malmesbury. The blend is Shiraz (56 per cent), Grenache (16), Merlot (13), Mourvedre (9) and Pinotage (6). Swartland’s local master of assemblage Billy Hughes (the J-L Groux of South Africa if you like) counselled separate and all natural fermentations, barrel malolactic, eight months in 225L barriques (none new) plus four more post blending. The core aroma to palate thematic is ingratiated by a grape in raisin initiation stage, habituating the right side of ripe. This is a soft-styled Swartland red having fully realized its progressive road to enrichment. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted September 2015
Hughes Family Wines Nativo Red 2010, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
As in 2009, certified organic from natural, dry-farmed estate Kasteelsig Vineyards on the Hughes Family farm in Malmesbury. The blend is Syrah (52 per cent), Mourvedre (22), Grenache (13) and Pinotage (13). Fresher, lighter even than 2009, floral, feathery, feminine. Through the pretty dab of perfume there is the presence of clay, iron and a feeling of warm Cassis. The red fruit while anything but dark has a presence, an attitude, an unfailing condition. Will live longer than the previous vintage. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015
Wildehurst Velo White 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
Juicy Colombard, Chenin Blanc and Viognier in cohorts simply, basically and ostensibly about town for texture. Beautiful freshness, grace and grape tannin. The juice and nothing but the juice. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted September 2015 @WildehurstW@ShereeNothnagel@SwartlandRev
Wildehurst Velo Rosé 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
A multi-cultivar and double-hued blush by way of Grenache, Viognier, Mourvèdre, Colombard and Chenin Blanc. Really widens the fresh fruit spectrum, in manifold customary shades of red. From a hot vintage where sugars ran higher than 2013 yet still just about as dry as a skeleton way past tissue. Despite all attempts, the brine and herbiage outplay the salinity and aridity. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted September 2015
Wildehurst Chenin Blanc 2012, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
The only straight up cultivar in Sheree Nothnagel’s portfolio from 30 year-old bush vines. Arranged low, natural and slow across a two month fermentation period in 3rd fill (225L) barrels towards a dry end. Matured on the lees for a further five months. Handy, prosaic and unostentatious Chenin Blanc of texture and mouthfeel. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015
Silwervis Cinsault 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
First introduced at the inaugural Swartland Revolution, winemaker Ryan Mostert is a key player in the South African Cinsault revival. His naturally exhibited (with only added sulphur) old-vine Swartland Cinsault was matured in one Nomblot concrete egg. His is the Allman Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Deerhunter rolled into one varietal ode “to the malleability and uniqueness of Swartland.”
One of hundreds of wines tasted over an eight-day period in requiem to exclaim, “I am saved, I am saved. And oh, would you believe it?” So fresh, salty, ultra-carbonic, russet roseate raspberry and orange peel. It really feels real, unlike anywhere else. The varietal and the reformation. “We’re in a revolution. Don’t you know we’re right. People can you feel it? Love is everywhere.” Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015 @Silwervis@SwartlandRev@PascalSchildt
Silwervis winemaker Ryan Mostert is behind the new Terra Cura label with Samantha Suddons. From just outside of Malmesbury in the Western Cape. This cracker of a bottle is one hundred per cent Syrah from rolling hills rocking down to the sea. Ferric, burrowing into depths, rooted and heavy. Structured, chunky savoury, of wild sauvage, from a fierce and filthy athletic vintage. Reeks of potpourri, ambition and is yet remarkably ready to drink. A messenger to herald a land of opportunity, a revolution, the future. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015 @Terra_Cura
Johan Simons, Dragonridge Wines
Dragonridge Wines Supernova Ancestral 2014, Paardeberg, South Africa (Winery)
Chenin Blanc works with Sangiovese and with Pinotage to lead this ancestral method sparkling blend. From Joubertskloof’s Fynbos Estate, this fizz is really nothing like Méthode Cap Classique in that it adds nothing to the fermentation in the bottle, relying only on its own sugars and wild yeasts. When it does not explode it goes this way, so, so natural, all in. Winemaker Johan Simons happily sees it persist through the problem. “We do it because we can, and we want to.” From two blocks planted in 1964 and 1990 with a section going back to 1920. Picked on the 19th of January and from a ferment that finished two months early. These very old, unirrigated bush vines offer up lemon funky, low pH fruit. Goes straight to the roof of the mouth with rising, unassertive flavours. The question begs, is this an oasis of South African fizz or a desert where ancient longings go to die. The answer lies “caught beneath the landslide in a champagne supernova.” We’ll see about that. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015 @FynbosEstate
Dragonridge Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Paardeberg, South Africa (Winery)
No wood. From five barrels of naturally thick, free-run only juiced, patchy, basket pressed elixir. This is simply brilliant, drink the hell out of it until it’s gone Cabernet Sauvignon. Forget the barrel. Bring it on. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted September 2015
Elementis Skin Contact Chenin Blanc 2014
Intellego Wines Chenin Blanc ‘Elementis’ 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
A private label by Lammershoek’s Jürgen Gouws, from two 40 year-old bush vines parcels. A direct, right at you, citrus and dry-farmed tang Chenin simultaneously pretty and bitter. Three weeks of skin contact detour to grapefruit and guava with a level of great elegance in its laundry soaking up dirty water. Cloudy and slightly dangerous, Basque cider like and built by the bare necessities of salinity and trim, briny orange elements. As snake-driven a purposed accumulation as found anywhere in South Africa. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted September 2015 @jurgengouws
Intellego Wines Syrah Kolbroek 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
Same natural fermentation as the Chenin in this single-vineyard, 100 per cent Syrah. Comes up firing after time spent on its skins, soaking up and in its own tannic juices. Fresh if tight for elegance in Syrah. Refined bitters adhere to the supreme purpose which is an expression of spritely, red energy. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015
Black Oystercatcher Triton 2013
Black Oystercatcher Triton 2013, Elim, South Africa (Winery)
From owner & winemaker Dirk Human at Cape Agulhas, this is highly modern and refined Shiraz major (86 per cent) with minor Cabernet Sauvignon (12) and Cabernet Franc (2). Stylish without a whack of new oak, with independent varietal fermentation, maturation and ageing for 12 months. In a multiple choice Shiraz world of spicy, piquant, snappy and sharp the fill is all of the above. The present day South African cliché encompassing fresh, tight and elegant reds comes ’round again though here you can add cool-climate (southernmost tip of Africa) feel to the mix. What comes from the wood is in the finish, over charcoal and brushed by tar. Should show best in 2018. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted September 2015 @BOC_Wines
Francois Haasbroek, Blackwater Wines
Blackwater Wines Underdog Chenin Blanc (MMXIV) 2014, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery)
A mere 5500 bottles from winemaker Francois Haasbroek, a balanced tannin, alcohol (13.3 per cent), acidity (5.8 TA) and sugar Chenin, culled from high slope, (46 year) old bush vineyards of Bottelary Hills. Concrete tank housed ferments and aged on the fine lees for six months. Texture drives the green apple machine, fuelled by salinity and faux candy bursts. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted September 2015 @Blackwaterwine@ZooBiscuitsWine
Blackwater Wines Blanc (MMXIV) 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery)
Chenin Blanc 80 (per cent), Sémillon (15) and Bourboulenc from vineyards in Durbanville and Ashton. The Chenin was skin fermented for 7 days and then blended with 2013 Sémillon (equipped with 12 months of texture gained on the lees) and what Haasbroek quips was a “smidge” of Bourboulenc. The 1200 bottle blend saw further time (16 months) in old (225L) barrels. Possessive of apples glazed in lemon polish, terrific, granitic grain in tannin and Deiss-esque Pinot d’Alsace surrealism. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted September 2015
Blackwater Wines Cultellus Syrah (MMXII) 2012, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
Schist Syrah in its entirety, mineral warm and tempered, moderately spiked by its alcohol (13.7 per cent) and five-plus year controlled acidity (5.6 TA). Blackwater’s steep block of Riebeek Kasteel vineyards offers up fruit begging to left alone. Haasbroek consented to four weeks of contact on the skins, followed by nothing more indulgent then a drain & whole-bunch press into eight to ten year-old (600L) barrels. Twenty-six months later, sans filter, nary a fining and voila. Syrah in fancy-free finesse, smoky elegance, Swartland schist, sour cherry and more schisty ferric earth. Dynamic though never in danger of inflammation, inflammatory or flaming behaviour. In the end, the sweetness is impossible. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted September 2015
Blackwater Wines Noir (MMXII) 2012, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
The largest output in the Blackwater portfolio with a whopping 6000 bottles. A multi-site Swartland Syrah (92 per cent), 10-15 per cent whole bunch fermented and then blended with Carignan and Grenache after a year of ageing. This follwed by an additional 12-14 months in old 500-600L barrels. Deep and meaty, but like modern Nebbiolo, of finesse in the clarity of its recesses. Marked by gnashing tannin and grippy structure. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted September 2015
Blackwater Wines Omerta (MMXIV) 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
It begins with a shush, this “code of silence,” although it has nothing to do with “criminal activity” and yet its aromatic sweetness should be illegal. Caring proposed in 100 per cent terms, off of 28 year-old Swartland bush vines, fully entrenched in the revolution and the revival, while in “refusal to give evidence to authorities.” The single vineyard, predominantly granite soils are the source of amazing purity and acidity as if by wrote. Healthy (30 per cent) whole bunch fermentation and a 25 day linger on the skins imparts more tannic by-product nectar. The older 500L barrels for 16 months makes for a dusty, carefully curated cure. When it comes to thinking about drinking this Omerta, “Old black water, keep on rollin’…I ain’t got no worries, ’cause I ain’t in no hurry at all.” Drink 2018-2022. Tasted September 2015
Savage Wines White 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery)
In which Sauvignon Blanc (70 per cent) and Sémillon (30) keep good vibes, smile and celebrate a pure purée of progressive white tannin. This is the last of the straightforward Bordeaux Savage Mohicans with subsequent vintages adding more varietal diversification. Duncan Savage sees the future replete with appellative blends as per a Western Cape necessity, free from the posit tug of French heartstrings. This last kick at the Left Bank can is bright, pure and composed to reflect sunshine and stone. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015 @ZooBiscuitsWine
Essentially Western Cape fruit with a dab of Darling in a blend that emits polished Syrah (67 per cent) with naturally supportive Cinsault (12), Grenache (9) and Touriga Nacional (9). Duncan Savage procured 3500 bottles to market of this ranger, a red thinking cool Rhône thoughts and rooted firmly on the median line between his single-vineyard Syrah and the precocious Follow the Line. Will increase in complexity when Syrah gives away some floor time to the other grapes. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015
Savage Wines Syrah 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery)
Perhaps the most personal of Duncan Savage’s wines, even more than the Farmhouse draw in his red blend Follow the Line. This SV Syrah is the home block, the place where he lives. His blends are a pure blur while this Syrah offers up a not too distant future filled with early life appreciation, graceful necessities and gifting niceties. It just hints at this now and subsequent wines will sing. Let this one and what’s left of the other 599 bottles produced sit for a year, to smooth out harsh bits and to integrate the Cape funk and Syrah cure. “Oh, it’s like an animal farm, but you’ll come to no harm in the country.” Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2015
Momento Wines Chenin Blanc-Verdelho 2014, Bot River, South Africa (Winery)
The Chenin Blanc (85 per cent) grows in old vineyards from Bot River and Darling and together with 11 year-old Bot River Verdelho (15) they reside in Bokkeveld shale, with portions of sand and clay. Five (400L old) French barrels carried natural Chenin ferments with some fine lees. Stainless tanks and older oak housed the riper Verdelho which joined the Chenin just before bottling. Winemaker Marelise Niemann was able to produce a healthy yet manageable quantity (200 cases) of a blend directed to deferential texture. This from a cloudy ferment once clarified turned to secondary, mineral flavours. The early pick and moderate (12.5 per cent) alcohol gained on bacteria and made for pure white fusion. The orchards are spoken for, from pit, through seed and back to pit. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015 @momentowines@ZooBiscuitsWine
Marelise Niemann, Momento Wines
Momento Wines Grenache 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
From porous, sandy soil, Grenache loving dryland (10 year-old) bush vines, for the time being at least, until the Bot River vines mature. A smaller (one half) production than the white raised in open fermenters, one-third punched down and only old barrels used. So opposite in feel to the Bokkeveld shale, regardless of the grape hue, bringing a foxy, natural cure to Grenache. Direct, tight and autotelic fresh, crunchy and popping. Unalloyed red fruit, hidden citrus and a racy finish. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015
Botanica Wines Chenin Blanc and Chenin Blanc Untitled #1 2014
Botanica Wines Chenin Blanc 2014, Citrusdal Mountain, South Africa (Winery)
Winemaker Ginny Povall draws fruit made on the Stellenbosch farm from 55 year-old vines set in a 1600m high dry-farmed vineyard. The location is the rugged Skurfberg slopes in the mountains of Clanwilliam, 40 kilometres from the sea. These vines are low yielding, producing a scant 2.5 tons per hectare and picked early. Half of the just on the lee side of ripe fruit is barrel fermented and matured in 400L French oak and spends nine months on the gross lees. Juicy, bright, full on citrus, striking and crackling Chenin. Wood adds some weight and oh, the Rooibos. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015 @ginnypovall
Botanica Wines Chenin Blanc Untitled #1 2014, Citrusdal Mountain, South Africa (Winery)
The approach is small batch, from lower Skurfberg altitude, chosen out of a specifically identified parcel and intentionally managed with 100 per cent (20 new) oak intervention. Lower alcohol, higher reduction and an ulterior, gemstone mineral manifestation. On one hand the Chardonnay like approach causes a perplexing feeling and on the other, a sense of wonder. The tropical abutment and real-time citrus symbiosis carries the weight and then the Rooibos, again. Occupies high ranks in the wooded Chenin outpost territory. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted September 2015
The Tea Leaf Chenin Blanc 2014, Piekenierskloof, South Africa (Winery)
Made by Donovan Rall for Boutinot in the anti-Western Cape unicorn region Piekenierskloof, from where Chenin Blanc seems to have risen to sudden and darling prominence. The 70 year-old vineyards are at 750m, which is not nothing and the fruit is cropped from 40 year-old vines. All natural fermentation is the modus in this fuller, deeper, mineral completed Chenin that runs the gamut from creamy to bitters. And unfermented redbush, Aspalathus linearis. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015 @BoutinotWines
If anything, Marc Kent’s decade and a year Sémillon has travelled down a long road to a very quiet place. That retirement home is filled with honey and dates, all gathered up nicely in tangy, gift wrapping acidity. The orchard fruits are gone and the truth no longer lies in the second half of the bottle. It speaks with early clarity. Time to drink up, sipping slowly, with the “sun going down, blood orange, behind the Simonsberg.” Drink 2015-2016. Tasted September 2015 @UNIVINS
Steenberg Nebbiolo 2013, Constantia, South Africa (Winery)
Another achievement in what can be cultivated, nurtured and brought to fruition with great success in South Africa. A ringer for Serralunga from Nebbiolo treated to 60 per cent second and 40 per cent third fill 225L French oak barrels for 14 months. Roses meet tar, tea, red citrus and bright, vital flavours. The life affirming and balanced qualities of Nebbiolo in the cooler, temperate and Mediterranean-mimicked Constantia climate will bring longevity to this wine. Should flesh out, settle and sing in three to five years. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted September 2015 @SteenbergWines@ConstantiaWines
Allesverloren Tinto Barocca 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
Dating back to 1704, Allesverloren is situated on the south-eastern slopes of the Kasteelberg near Riebeek West, is the oldest estate in the Swartland Wine of Origin district. “The Naked Winemaker” Danie Malan farms dryland, trellised vineyards, situated 140m above sea level and facing south-east, were planted between 1958 and 1996. Here exemplary bread basket viticulture with a perfectly habituated expatriate Portuguese grape, rich in warmth, tannin and texture after having been aged in second and third French oak for eight months. The hematic push is elevated, as per the Swartland soil give, so the brooding capitulation is both deep and vaulted. High pH mixed with upwards and capped acidity ensures brightness, to speak the correct dialect and fanciful expression. Finishes with style. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015 @AllesverlorenSA
Innemend teenage Cabernet @Uitkykwines
Uitkyk Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery)
From north-west facing vines planted in 1989 to 1993 in soils rich in decomposed granite at 300 meters above sea level. Aging was completed for 18 months in 300L French oak barrels of which 53 per cent were new, (35) second and (12) third fill. I begin with “Hello? Hello? Hello? Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone at home?” The answer is very much yes. At 15 years of age the Uitkyk is a treat in the latter stages of a comfortably numb dream. Deep pink, raspberry dusty, funky of triturated earth and ground stone. Still much aridity and acidity hanging on for dear life. Seems to drone on with mostly rising breaths and strings in oscillation. A remarkable older drop. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted September 2015 @uitkykwinemaker
Grangehurst Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1995, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery)
Quite the treat to see this pouring at the older wines, help yourself tasting session at Cape Wine 2015. It was from what is widely considered Stellenbosch’s vintage of that decade and 20 years is not nothing for Paulliac let alone Stellenbosch. Grangehurst has made this wine in every vintage save for one, since 1992. What a remarkable old drop from winemaker Jeremy Walker, alive and kicking, as if by any means necessary. This from a guy who was quoted as saying “the more you surf during the harvest season, the better the wines.” His 1995 is replete with notes of cedar, thyme, coercing currants and really grand minerality. Has survived with acidity and tannin intact, stretching, yet persistent and working with what had to have been a harvest of such perfect fruit. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted September 2015 @grangehurst
Tamboerskloof Viognier 2015 and Shiraz Rosé Katharien 2015
From Tukulu and Kroonstad, augmented with nine or 10 percent Roussanne. Some barrel aging (nothing new, mostly 4th fill French 300L) plus a final 30-60 days in concrete eggs. Beautifully restrained, classically styled and tempered Viognier. The respectable alcohol (12.9 per cent), piqueing acid (6.0 g/l), low pH (3.22) and necessary residual sugar (4.4 g/l) are the specs of attentive and pinpoint winemaking. The result is remarkable freshness and purity with a bit of stuffing. Picked on the model of “flavour faith,” the softness “just dropped in to see what condition” the grip’s “condition was in. It was with cool fleshy fruit against a backdrop of warm, tropical flowers. Chic, first edition Viognier. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015 @Tamboerskloof
The blocks are Tukulu/Kroonstad/Klapmuts/Witfontein and vines at 12 years of age. Five per cent Mourvèdre and a couple of points Viognier clean and lift the Shiraz while 10-12 days of skin contact roll out the red carpet of elixir vitae. Imagine the possibilities if Gunter Shultz had opted for 24-30. The engineering in l’élevage pays heed to 18-20 months in 300 and 500L French oak barrels, 15 per cent new, (20) second, (25) third, (20) fourth (20) fifth fill. A further 18 months in bottle delayed the patient and philosophic release. Shiraz rarely gains a compatibility like this. Big to elegant, brawn to finesse. The purity is only overshadowed by the youth. Five years are needed to reverse the ratios of cosanguinity. The Tamboersklook is a prime Stellenbosch example of thoughtful winemaking taking full advantage of technology and techniques firmly entrenched in the progressive and the forward thinking. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted September 2015
Big wines. Bigger, balanced finesse @Tamboerskloof @CapeWine2015 @WOSA_ZA #upperblaauwklippenvintners
It’s quite amazing to see a wine made in virtually the exact same way as the forbearing 2011 turn out to be so different. The only noticeable adjustment is the few points increase in Shiraz but the approachability and accessibility factor is manifest tenfold. Lush fruit, plush texture and tannins sweeter yet still firmly structured lead this down a much friendlier road. For winemaker Gunter Shultz this could be the result of exceptional planning or just dumb luck. Does it matter? The fact that this can be enjoyed in just two years time while the 2011 broods and sulks means that four years on you could switch back and forth for maximum mini-horizontal enjoyment. Drink 2017-2027. Tasted September 2015
Fundamentally bone-dry Rosé first picked at 20 brix and then at 24, so very lightly pressed and then finished at 13 per cent alcohol. Mostly stainless steel in ferment with some time in “odds and ends” of French oak barrels. A dry and dusty blush with Shiraz that goes straight to strawberry and candied fruits. The simple pleasures found. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted September 2015
Kleinood Farm Tamboerskloof Shiraz John Spicer 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)
Single-vineyard (Tukulu block), 100 per cent Shiraz from 20 months in 300L French oak, split between 25 per cent first, (20) second and the remainder third fill. As a comparison with the ’11 and ’12 (less than 100 per cent) Shiraz this is the one with the “devil’s grip, the iron fist.” Follow up to the maiden voyage, the motorhead 2010 broods under a moonless sky, a dark night and a wine with which you “walk in circle lose your track, can’t go on but you can’t go back.” Like the song, this is one of those wines you can actually lose weight while sipping. So hard to tame this ferric, oozing beast but the far eastern, temperate, somewhat fertile savour, from mint, eucalyptus and clove is nothing if not intriguing. Built from north facing, Clone SH470 Shiraz vines of cool acceptance, there also invades a Mediterranean brush of garrigue and délicasse. Enough finesse in its largesse causes pause for thought, that like any contemporary sound, smell or taste it often just takes getting used to. With time the immensity and reverberation settles and immunity sets in. A newer, larger expression will take centre stage and the old bark won’t seem so loud. John Spicer 2010 will seem like a ballad some day. Drink 2020-2030. Tasted September 2015
Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam Cinsault 2015, Darling, South Africa (Winery)
Coined the Boetie Van Reenan Darling Cinsualt from dry-farmed fruit in a tertiary-carbonic, whole bunch stomped, gassed and left t0 reach one-third of the total ferment state. A short stay in old, left for naught oak barrels. The result is a wine the world knows not from or how. The resolution is where South Africa is heading, into fine, pure, fresh berry tonic territory. The clarity of the language is downright biblical. The elements are base and instructional, of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, sulphur and a few other unnamed elements. Their accrued spirit is not one of sophistication but they succinctly prepare us for a path to civil and ceremonial wine consuming law. This my friends is a Monday to Friday breakfast wine. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015 @ChrisAlheit@ZooBiscuitsWine
Maps & Legends, from Cartology to Flotsam & Jetsam @ChrisAlheit @ZooBiscuitsWine #alheitvineyards #hermanus #capewine2015
Alheit Vineyards Cartology Chenin Blanc-Sémillon 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)
An exploratory cuvée of recherché to examine the diversity of mature dryland bushvines out of vineyards dotting the Western Cape. Eighty year-old Sémillon from Franschhoek is the catalyst to complement and ramble with heritage (30-40 year old) Chenin Blanc grown in Skurfberg, Perdeberg, Bottelary Hills and Kasteelberg. A natural fermentation is performed to imitate a cold night in the vineyard. The wine is a map with the compass to lead you back to the vineyards, to taste the grapes in their naked states. The South African version of atticism and rhythm in Cartology is utterly Western Cape and nothing else tastes just like this. It bleeds lime and stone with subterranean salinity trailing all the way. Criterion Chenin Blanc and paradigmatic Sémillon. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted September 2015
The wines of Diemersdal
Diemersdal Grüner Veltliner 2015, Durbanville, South Africa (Winery)
From a vineyard planted in 2009 of Scali and Hutton soil and South-West facing slopes. This third vintage of 12,000 bottles was 50 per cent fermented with “X5,” a Sauvignon Blanc-Riesling yeast and the balance with a traditional varietal strain from Austria, Oenoferm Veltliner. Sixmonths post fermentation lees are `stirred up to once a week. Classic mineral and fruit 50/50 GV style though equally and tangibly in poesy to regional Sauvignon Blanc; crisp with a touch of herbal spine. Vibrant, tightly wound acidity and a peppery bite on the back-end. The SB bent is written and exploited in the best possible way. Will be a great wine when the vineyard grows up just a bit. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted September 2015 @diemersdalwines
Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc Eight Rows 2015, Durbanville Hills, South Africa (Winery)
When sixth generation winemaker Thys Louw wanted to make a block specific Sauvignon Blanc his father Tienie’s offer fell short. “Why get out of bed for three rows?” Eight it was. From soils of decomposed granite with high clay content off of vines nearly 30 years of age. The locale, pinpoint picking from carefully chosen contours and the attention to detail have come to a cleaner, finessed and wisely distinct Sauvignon Blanc expression. The ride is calmer than the reserve and the finish still replete with freshness. The citrus preserves, locks in and bottles acidity. The obvious grape variety avoids cliché and the obscurity of “stand by me…nobody knows the way it’s gonna be.” Instead the eight rows oasis produces a Sauvignon Blanc that understands where it comes from and knows what it wants to be. Knows where it’s going. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015
The Foundry Grenache Blanc 2014, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa (Winery)
From Meerlust’s cellar master, Chris Williams, in partnership with his Kumala brand manager, the Scot James Reid. Fruit sourced from growers across the Cape. The wines are produced at Meerlust in Stellenbosch. The Grenache Blanc comes from the Malmesbury shale and decomposed granite soils of the Voor-Paardeberg. A mineral streak runs through and this bears little resemblance to the Rhône, nor does it reminisce about Catalonia. This is futuristic Grenache Blanc, the kind only found in dreams because of its high level of sumptuousness despite the elevated stone count. Tack on scents of lead and/or graphite and the revelry ascends. Perhaps it should be looked at as a block of chilled rock as holding vessel for selling fruit. Longevity from 100 per cent Grenache Blanc is a rare, cool and beautiful thing. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted September 2015 @ChrisTheFoundry
The Blacksmith Vin Noir 2014, W.O. Coastal Region, South Africa (Winery)
A personal project of 600 bottles for Tremayne Smith, assistant winemaker at Mullineux & Leeu. A blend of 59 per cent Cinsault from Paarl and (41) Carignan from the Swartland. Neither Irish Planxty nor traditional folk Steeleye Span, the Vin Noir’s power chords and mineral metal imagines “uncrushable shields, power belts and magic rings.” A Falconer in Cinsault-Carignan clothing, smoky sweet, savoury emulsified, vaporous, beautifully murky. The Carignan is devilishly Rhône, built with spice, liquorice and dried sassafras. A slow release of red citrus Cinsault and a final, flinty feign of sweetness. A far cry from the old days of drinking South African tassies. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted September 2015 @tvsmith85
From the Cape outpost of Outeniqua, of all deity forsaken places, in the mountains above George and named for the highest (1578m) peak. The montane fynbos terrain makes for Pinot Noir of wild depth, tannic breadth and a natural, unfined, unfiltered bush vine pressed sensation. Though so unknown, this southeast facing slope drives a point not just new but also important to the South Africa Pinot Noir discussion. This Cradock Peak is a pushy Pinot, plush and demanding. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted September 2015 @Nicholaspearce_@PublikWine
J H Meyer Cradock Peak Pinot Noir 2014, photo (c) Nicholas Pearce
The results are in. Closure has come. Category champions and Judge’s picks are now live.
The highly regarded WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada is categorized and justified as a “must enter” for winemakers and vintners who want to be a part of a genuine, above-board wine competition. For consumers in Canada it is a place to discover the best value wines available on the market today. Say what you will about the concours concept. The straightforward WineAlign offer implements an expertly designed bracket to ultimately crown a covey of thoroughly deserving champions. Wines are carefully scrutinized, judged with fair play and at times, brutal honesty. Each wine must impress the judges more than once. “Up to the task” is never in question. At “The Worlds,” the best minds are on the job.
Panorama of judging and wines at WWAC14 Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)
It was the week of August 18 to 22. Eighteen critics, two czars, a tech guy, a database custodian, a logistics steward, “her bitch” (sic) and a dedicated team of volunteers gathered to administer vinous justice for 1000 (give or take) hopeful wines. The tasting road was long yet filled with much success. Never have so many wines with the intention of offering value and simple pleasure shown so well and with so much grace.
Head judge Anthony Gismondi talks with Rhys Pender MW, Steve Thurlow, DJ Kearney and Godello Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)
In today’s WineAlign WWAC14 results dissertation, Anthony Gismondi tells us that “nothing has value unless you give it some.” The awards are about assessing daily drinkers, wines that the repeat consumer look for often, especially the bargains. They are for consumers first, of and for the common people. For the wineries, agents and writers, the competition is effectuated without bias. “The tastings are computerized from start to finish allowing wineries, agents or retailers to enter, pay, and eventually track their results online.”
In 2014 my position is this. Oak and cheap tricks are on the way out, at least when it comes to wines submitted to the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada. Sugar, wood chips, agar agar, artificial colour, manipulated flavour, reverse osmosis and added acidity are trade practices reserved for wines out there in the fast food stratosphere. The judges at the WWAC14 were fortunate to be granted immunity from having to taste and assess such a most unnatural lot. These awards represent and foster an altruistic commonality between vigneron and critic. Make an honest wine and it will be judged with honourable intent.
WWAC14 Judging Panel
The writers and judges that make up the panels evaluate wines under $50 that are sold somewhere in Canada in the year of the competition. Entries are judged in flights along with similar varietal wines in three price categories; under $15, $15 to $25 and over $25. Starting with the 2014 awards all wines entered will not only be posted on WineAlign with bottle images, but reviews will be included as well (many in both French and English). Again in 2014, orchestration was overseen by one of North America’s most respected wine critics, Vancouver Sun columnist and WineAlign Partner Anthony Gismondi, aka The Spitter.
Panel of judges DJ Kearney, Godello and Rhys Pender MW Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)
Some startling results came out of this year’s tastings. Who would have ever put money on Carménère under $15 not only showing well, but blowing the collective minds of no less than five critics? Should Malbec in the $15-25 range, half of which are made by large and recognizable houses, have impressed with so much structure and restraint? A group of eight red blends under $15 were all good, five of them garnering very good scores. That same concept group of $15-25 were nearly all exceptional. Southern Italy fared with top value results in the under $15 category. Syrah/Shiraz $15-25 really surprised, as did Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the same range. Not to mention a flight of five fruit wines, four of which scored between 85 and 88. Not bad. All this can be attributed to one basic premise. WineAlign does not attract more producers than other concours. It attracts better ones.
WWAC14 judges Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)
Each judge was asked to write reviews on a specific cross-section of wines they were a part of assessing during the competition. Here are my notes on 30 wines tasted blind, across a wide range of categories, in August of 2014 at #WWAC14 and the songs they inspired.
Category champion wines from left to right: Villa Wolf Riesling 2013, Castillo De Molina Reserva Carmenère 2012, Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Chardonnay 2012, Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012, Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012, Buena Vista Pinot Noir 2011
Cabernet Sauvignon $15-25
Wolf Blass Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coonawarra, South Australia, Australia (606939, $24.95, WineAlign)
Funny thing about Cabernet Sauvignon, “sometimes they rock and roll, sometimes they stay at home and it’s just fine,” Wolf Blass makes all kinds. This Coonawarra GL seems to do both. It’s ripe and presumptuous, rocks in the glass but also has good, homebody, varietal tendency. It has a heart that’s on fire, a wolf parade of iron, sanguine tension and tannin, but also hung walls of home woven tapestry texture. The core of fruit, earth and tar cries out for prey. The finish is long and returns, back to base Blass.
Icewine – Riesling-Gewurz-Apple
La Face Cachée de la Pomme 2011 Neige Première Ice Pink Cider, Quebec (39305, 375ml, $22.95, WineAlign)
“Breathe, breathe in the air” of intensity, in apples. One hundred squared apples on top of one another. Never mind the few bruised and oxidative ones because the fresh and concentrated mass smothers those minor notes. Pink and ambient, the major sweetness and top-notch acidity speak to me in waves of demonstrative, Floydian verse. Here you will find a Québécois response to “there is no dark side in the moon, really. As a matter of fact it’s all dark.” There is Icewine on the bright side and then there is Iced Cider on la face cachée, “balanced on the biggest wave.”
Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Riesling Icewine 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, 375ml, $59.95, WineAlign)
A vanimated astral week’s of emotion is met by an animal musk, both hard to define. There is a high quotient of lemon, in curd, zest and pith. The sweetness is tempered by nudging acidity though it lingers long. All Riesling Icewine has to do “is ring a bell and step right up” so despite the electric Kool-Aid sugar syrup moments, this one spins and twirls, as Riesling does, just like a ballerina.
Here sweetness, acerbity and a slightly advanced character are brought into balance by high grape sugar intensity and real linear acidity. Long and elastic, medicinally pretty and sacrosanct with seasoned complexity. Tasted this one and “felt a spark.” Tasted it twice and it tingled to the bone. What begun as a bob between evaluations ended with a simple twist of fate. WWAC 2014 Category Champion
Pinot Noir $15-25
Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2011, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (146548, $21.95, WineAlign)
Deep earth and black cherry combine for the most extraction in the $15-25 Pinot Noir flight. There’s dust in them hills as the wine acts as if it were borne of the mountains. Has attitude in altitude. All things considered, the fruit is clean and crisp, perhaps a hair over the overripe line. The cool temperament and temperature in the cold room aid in giving it some love. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “That Villa Maria can make 80,000 cases of Pinot Noir this proper is nothing short of remarkable. Aged in French oak for 8-10 months. As Pinot like as could be hoped for considering the case amount. Every drop must go through Malolactic fermentation. Winemaker Josh Hammond and crew insist upon it, though it’s nothing but painstaking cellar/lab work. The Pinot character initially shines, with loads of plum and black cherry, but there is a momentary lapse. But, “if you’re standing in the middle, ain’t no way you’re gonna stop.” So, the definitive Marlborough ectodermal line painted through the in door speaks quickly and leaves by the out door. From a smoking gun, rising like a Zeppelin. Large volume, big production, drinkable in the evening Pinot Noir.” Last tasted August 2014 WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Vancouver Island, British Columbia (winery, $$23.90, WineAlign)
Now here we’re talking about a Pinot Noir from a another mother. It heads generously into fragrances not yet nosed in this flight of $15-25 Pinot Noir. Exotic byrne of a perfume on high alert; jasmine, violets, roses and Summer ‘David’ Phlox. Exquisite, fresh and bright. There is tang and tannin. Vibrancy to raise eyebrows. Also wild sage, wild fruit, an animal on a walk in a virgin forest. So much Pinot Noir is hairy, this one is “living on nuts and berries.” WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (agent, $19.95, WineAlign)
This Golden Reserve Malbec by Trivento is a juicy, dusty, fruit tree addition to the #WWAC14 flight and arrives just in the nick of time. Despite the dark fruit, it has no Drake spoken word conceit. It sings in classic Drake lullaby, with beefy meet pine forest aromas and so “you find that darkness can give the brightest light.” Tender refrains soften chalky, stalky wood and corresponding bitter chocolate. Big tannins on this balladeer. Has impressive stuffing. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Red Blends over $25
Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2 Bench Red 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $29.95, WineAlign)
Wonderful, tangy red fruits define this well-structured Bordeaux blend. Cool and concise, it plays a tight riff and bangs a drum slowly. Comfortable on a big stage, it charges into a funky break and whips a crowd into a frenzy. So much energy from a band of five varietal friends, complimenting each other’s playing with mutual respect. Does the two Bench two-step and steals the show. “Celebrate we will because life is short but sweet for certain. We’re climbing two by two, to be sure these days continue.”
Vin Parfait Red 2012, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, Australia (350512, $29.95, WineAlign)
Circuitous mounds of round, stone ground aromas in coffee, Goji berry, red licorice and red ochre. A Jackson Pollock Expressionist splatter of notion and motion, flirtations and tension. Tempranillo, Shiraz and Grenache in does it, or will it come together beyond the abstract? Number 8 did. This one s’got to too.
A slightly cooked character is evident but within reason. Despite the heat it’s a bit of an arctic monkey, with tomato and cherry sprinkled over by Queso Fresco and followed up with a slice of blueberry pie. Simple yet effective, pleasant palate. There is some heat and tension from the tannins and “I’d like to poke them in their prying eyes,” but they do relent. The length is more than appropriate, given the tag. Only question is, “will the teasing of the fire be followed by the thud?” At $10, who really cares. Represents excellent value.
Garnacha from the old world west with incredible citrus bursts, like orange blossoms and the spirit of the zest. A spritz from a lemon too. A smoulder of burning charcoal with a spit-roasting goat adds to the roadside attraction. Palm branches help to create the smoke. This is exotic and creative stuff. Finishes with a dessert note of bitter plum. Velada, “you got yourself a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 star reaction.” Really unique red. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Caliterra Tributo Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Leyda Valley, Region de Aconcagua, Chile (283648, $14.95, WineAlign)
A step up from multi-site, southern hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc with direct intentions, all the right moves and in all the right places. So much going on in both its aromatic and textural world. Wax, lanolin and Bordeaux-like temperance and consistent with the growing SB trend, “the grass is getting greener each day.” Decent one republic attack on the palate though nothing fantastic. Has heart and Sauvignon Blanc soul. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
A red-veined Primitivo, with the savoury blood of Swiss Chard and hoisin and red bean paste coarsing through it. Smells like spicy and sweet Hunan dishes, sweet sweat and sour, but it is not a matter of oxidation. It’s a caramelized soy sensation but written in reverse. Spoon this over cereal, ice cream, charred beef, anything. It’s got Chinese five-spice powder and coriander. Like a bowl of most excellent Pho. Fantastic exotics. “We’re gettin’ you raw and it feels real good.” Rocking Primitivo. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Layer Cake Shiraz 2012, South Australia, Australia ($24.99, WineAlign)
Unquestionably warm but with restraint. That may be perceived as a bad, obvious and reprehensible dichotomous comment but in transparency it speaks truths. Shows good savour and sapidity. It’s an aurulent burnt orange and smoked pineapple offering, blanketed in dusty chocolate and syrupy to a certain extreme. It’s long, creamy, silken and covered further in darker chocolate. “True colors fly in blue and black, bruised silken sky and burning flag.” Warm but you too will indubitably see the pleasures in its layer cake. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
White Blends Under $15
Pelee Gewurztraminer Riesling 2012, Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (109991, $10.95, WineAlign)
A ray of golden sunshine. The glade and the classic Gewurz attributes are here and highly floral. Rose petals soaking in good medicine. This could be my beloved monster. Such a dry example. She wears “a raincoat that has four sleeves, gets us through all kinds of weather.” Match with BBQ’s eels. Not for everyone but it works. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Shiraz/Syrah Over $25
Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012, McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (390872, $29.95, WineAlign)
This is the most accomplished and wise drop of Shiraz tasted at the WineAlign #WWAC14. A hit of snowy sulphur shows just how much growing up it needs. Such a precocious and heady example. A thick, gluey mess of fruit, unsettled and in rapture within its tannic walls. The voilets and the rest of the garden rules really tie the room together. Shiraz entrenched, grown and raised, “where the nettle met the rose.” For five years later and on patrol for ten more after that. Wow. WWAC 2014 Category ChampionWWAC 2014 Best of Country
Here blows a fine, exuberant and expresive muzzle with ambrosial flavours. A garrigue and olive dirty martini with sweet drops pf berry syrup. Juniper and conifer verdure meet inklings of berries. There is a sense of mushroom and truffle which can go either way, but here it brings paradigmatic character. Like words added to an intense Billy Preston instrumental. This may “take your brain to another dimension. Pay close attention.” Dark, brooding and out of space. A prodigy and a real deal in cool climate Syrah. WWAC 2014 Judges’ ChoiceWWAC 2014 Best of Country
Cabernet Sauvignon $15-25
Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (135202, $19.95, WineAlign)
A genesis in clean fruit of high extract order is linear, direct, forceful and in Cab conceit. A narcissistic brooder with ripples of underbrush and underworld scents. Thinks highly of itself, demands attention, seeks followers, stares into a pool. “The face in the water looks up and she shakes her head as if to say, that it’s the last time you’ll look like today.” With a few more reflecting and reflective refrains this Cabernet will realize a softness, turn away from the mirror and settle into its skin. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Lake Sonoma Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa – Sonoma – Mendocino, California, United States (Agent, $26.99, WineAlign)
From the outset this engages the imbiber simple because it acts as though its one time tension has been massaged and released. The flat feeling is there, though not detracting, because of an inherent notion that there was and still can be beautiful fruit. It just needs “that spark to get psyched back up.” A rapping modern facade is the cover page for earth savoury meets candied M & M flavour, docile, downy glycerin Cabernet texture, with acidity and tannin waning. Was serious, now friendly and will be late leaving the party. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Kendall Jackson Avant Chardonnay 2013, Mendocino County, California, United States ($19.00, WineAlign)
This may be a winner. I love the immediacy of its fruit, the antebellum tension and just a kiss from the barrel. You know its there but in subtlety, class and as background noise. The aromas of citrus, beeswax and honey and all accents to clean orchard fruit. This has the most balance in a flight of eleven verry tidy Chardonnay in a consumer-driven $15-25 price bracket. Lady spirited and at times a bit anxious, or perhaps not yet entirely comfortable in its skin, this is nonetheless best in show. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Carmenère Under $15
Castillo De Molina Reserva Carmenère 2012, Valle del Maule, Region del Valle Central, Chile (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)
The first thought on this Carmenère is the scaling back of new oak, lifting it above the crowd in an under $15 flight. The freshness factor makes for a whole new animal, or botanical rather. This has candied jasmine, pansy, bergamot and nasturtium. It’s a veritable salad of candied edibles. The middle palate is marked by Mentholatum and the finale is persistent in acidulated action. What a warm, mazzy gift of a Carmenère, a star of a Chilean red that would be welcome, just like flowers in December. “Send me a flower of your December. Save me a drink of your candy wine.” WWAC 2014 Category Champion
Chardonnay Over $25
Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $26.90, WineAlign)
Quiet, muted, beautiful and reserved. This is the “iconoclastic and restlessly innovative” style of a wine that bravely explores other territories of pop Chardonnay. Anything but fashioned in an in your face style, this one is in it for the Hejira, the journey and the time. Ripe yellow apples and pears and then come the lees. Could pass for unoaked Chablis. The appreciation and gathering are a style that should be used more. “No regrets coyote,” you just come “from such different sets of circumstance.” WWAC 2014 Judges’ ChoiceWWAC 2014 Top Value Wines
Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley, California, United States (655381, $34.95, WineAlign)
Has hallmarks of essential fruit from a top notch vintage, the most complexity and schooling. The reduction is pure essence of grape must, with no fault to either the vine or the maker. Every wine’s “screwed up in their own special way.” A rmineral tannin gets on top early like a Ramones riff, stays for dinner and repeats in refrain. The crisp and mister punchy orchard fruit is kissed by wood. Sucks face. The texture is seamless and verve excellent, by acidity and forward to pronounced length. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Delouvin Bagnost N/V Brut, Champagne, France (agent, $42.75, WineAlign)
Tends to a trend in sweet aromatic beginnings which is nothing but endearing. A leesy pear and ris de veau nose split by a bowie and filled with pearls of sugary syrup. To taste there is the metallic gaminess of uncooked other white meat. Sweet meat, sweet thing. The gathering sensation is an elemental display of ethereal, aerified climatic conditions. Though made in an oxidized style, the complexity of character is not to be denied. “Runs to the center of things where the knowing one says, boys, boys, its a sweet thing.” In the end the burst of energy is invigorating and heart piercing. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Pinot Noir Over $25
Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012, Valle de San Antonio, Region de Aconcagua, Chile (agent, $19.99, WineAlign)
You can always pick out the wines made from unique, little feat sites, wherever in the world they may have been raised. Even when they stink up the joint, smell like a 16 year-old hockey change room or like candied paint poured over fresh cedar planks, they stand out like beacons of Pinot amon din. Lord of the Pinot rings here that’s “been kicked by the wind, robbed by the sleet…baked by the sun,” fire lit, rosemary branches and oxtail smoldering and simmering over fresh cut ash from a deciduous forest. Cool mint and pine. The most savoury things of fantasy imagined. Wild ride in and most willin’ Pinot Noir. WWAC 2014 Category Champion
Buena Vista Pinot Noir, Carneros 2011, Napa Valley, California, United States (304105, $24.95, WineAlign)
This is really quite impressive Pinot Noir. Fastidiously judged if bullish fruit having way too much fun, causing varietal envy amongst other price category peers. Clearly fashioned from stocks of quality fruit, providing an environment for the coming together of many red berries and the earth of contigious vines. All roads lead to a grand palate marked by exotic, spicy and righteous fleet of wood tones. I wonder if I’m in over my head and tell it “your mood is like a circus wheel, you’re changing all the time.” Quite something this MacPinot specimen and though I wonder if it’s a bit too much, it always seems to have an answer and it sure feels fine. WWAC 2013 Category ChampionWWAC 2013 Best of Variety $15 – $25WWAC 2014 Category ChampionWWAC 2014 Top Value Wines
Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Pinot Noir 2010, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $29.99, WineAlign)
The grace of time has ladled felicity upon this left coast Pinot Noir. What once were harsh and mephitic stuck in a cola can kind of smells have been released and are just a faint memory of their once formidable, terrible teeth gnashing remains. Twas root beer that fouled the air but now the saline sea and verdure of hills speaks in clear vernacular. The sailor has “sailed across weeks and through a year,” met with wild things, to now return home and offer up her Pinot Noir, to be enjoyed with supper that is still warm. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
This has a lovely, head of its class, nearly value-driven exquisite nature and aromatic richness. In consideration of the price bracket, the sulphur is trumped by that radio dialed in richesse. Exotic Riesling specific fruit. A crisp apple meets a ripe pineapple. A wolf at the door, “out pops the cracker, smacks you in the head.” Decent acidity, better length, good bitters. WWAC 2014 Category Champion
Red Blends Under $15
Miguel Torres Sangre de Toro 2012, Cataluña, Spain (6585, $12.95, WineAlign)
This Garnacha and Carignan blend works a stoned immaculate contrivance as well as any red blend under $15 you are ever likely to upend. “Soft driven slow and mad, like some new language.” The action is effective, properly conceived and opens the doors to value-based perception. Perhaps a bit thin but the lack of wood and sweetener is a breath of fresh air. What it lacks in girth it makes up for with complexity, in notes of graphite, fennel and sea air. Lovely little Mediterranean red. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
The physiological and emotional roller coaster heaped upon grapes and growers these past 55 days has been nothing short of exhilarating, frightening and exhausting. First this monster climatic Dementor known as the Polar Vortex. Along with the demonic weather came the devastation of an ice storm, followed by record low temperatures. More recently, thaw and re-freeze. Consequences and challenges have abounded. Also, a silver lining. Freezing temperatures can kill grape buds on vines unprepared and left to fend for themselves. Those little vine kinder can also just be unlucky enough to grow up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some Niagara growers are reporting heavy losses to Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay vines. Here are the numbers as reported by Wines In Niagara’s Rick VanSickle.
I spoke with winemaker Paul Pender of Tawse Winery in Vineland, Ontario yesterday. Paul is both unconcerned and not yet ready to make any sort of call on damage to his crops. “It’s still too early to tell,” he notes, “I won’t really head out to assess any potential damage until early March.” While Beamsville vineyards are reportedly hard hit, Pender is confident that his team’s strident and prudent vineyard management will see the vines through.
Balanced pruning means leaving a specific number of buds during the winter on a dormant cane for this year’s crop, the number based on the amount the vine grew the previous season. Tawse’s canes are cut back to two feet, the dead wood removed before winter’s freeze can hit. Buds this season were thinned from 12 to six, giving those tender bits a fighter’s chance to survive. And while Pender will not enter into an unequivocal conversation with respect to the heartiness of his vineyards as a consequence of 100 per cent organic and biodynamic farming, I can hear the surety in his voice and imagine the twinkle in his eye at the thought.
Other growers concern themselves with what may happen inside the many parts of the vine when there are freezes, thaws and re-freezes. Again, Pender is not concerned. Proper pruning should prepare a vine for a harsh winter, whether or not they are protected by a warm blanket of snow. In New York’s Finger Lakes region, Lenn Thompson is reporting “some minor bud damage to vinifera vines, but little to no vine death.” Steve Shaw of Shaw Vineyards on Seneca Lake had this to say. “Yes, this winter is definitely presenting itself in a rather volatile manner. As far as I can tell from checking a number of varieties and many buds, there does not seem to be any catastrophic primary bud kill. There is damage, but not too bad so far. I do not think that with things being this wacky that we can really rest easy until most of the winter has passed.” Brock University’s Cool Climate and Viticulture Institute in St. Catherines helps local growers with much needed information and infrastructure to deal with damaging weather. Their VineAlert program helps protect vineyards during frigid temperatures.
The news is not all bad. According to many icewine makers in Niagara, 2013 will shape up to be what many are forecasting the best ever vintage for the province. Temperatures dipped to the requiem in late December and most picked their shriveled, sugary berries before the new year. That is unprecedented, allowing this season’s icewine to remain high in necessary balancing acidity and well ahead of the fermentation arresting challenges from most years. Wine Country Ontario reported that “early icewine harvest in Wine Country Ontario starts the festival fever.” Look for the most balanced icewines out of 2013. Not to mention the Grape Grower’s of Ontario reporting the province’s grape growers gathered a record 79,756 tonnes of grapes in 2013 valued at nearly $100 million.
The Niagara Icewine Festival encompasses three weekends in January dedicated to the region’s beloved ambrosial elixir, wines that have become the calling card beyond the broader confines of Canadian borders. Icewine has been made since 1981 and in that short span of 33 years, Ontario and B.C. winemakers have challenged, and in many cases lapped their counterparts in Germany and Austria. Canadian icewine is globally renowned, even if it is not the most important wine resource bequeathed upon the rest of the world.
Icewine 101. Simply put, made from grapes that have been left to freeze naturally on the vine. Ontario’s stringent Bolshevik Initial Decrees-like laws insist that icewine must be made from approved grape varieties; the most popular are Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Some small lots include Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Grapes are left on the vine until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached and then picked from those vines encapsulated in nets to protect them from birds possessive of a sweet tooth.
A national icewine debate is ongoing, inflamed by a recent Macleans Magazine article discussing the ideological differences between the VQA law preventing vine and grape separation before pressing and the Quebec practice of letting the grapes freeze in nets. Quebec growers do this out of necessity for fear of their fruit being smothered by excessive snowfall. Ontario’s old guard vehemently oppose the practice. The irony of VQA Ontario’s website low volume statistic, “with average yields of 500 litres for each acre netted,” is not lost on the curious. Two questions arise. How many grapes in Ontario nets end up in bottles of VQA labelled icewine and how can a culture of Canadian icewine be brought together without some form of compromise and collaboration? Yet again, is togetherness integral to the success of Canadian icewine, or more specifically, Ontario’s industry?
According to Klaus W. Reif of Reif Estate, apparently there are 3,750 berries needed for one bottle of 375ml icewine. Just consider the concentration for a moment, the hand-picked (though not all) labour involved and the specificity of the practice. The sweetest wine known to Canadians can indeed be re-worked as a palindrome for Niagara Ice Wine Festival.
A wet vial is fine nice agar
PHOTO: Michael Godel Rick James Ice Sculpture, Niagara Icewine Festival
On Friday, January 10th, 2014 I was a most elated guest at the Xerox Icewine Gala: A Bacchus Evening of Icewine and Revelry. For a list of continuing events this weekend and next, here is a link to the festival site. More information here. With kind thanks to Magdalena KaiserSmit and Wine Country Ontario, I had the good fortune to taste a host of Niagara’s finest renditions, along with some very special bottles of sparkling and still wines. Here are notes on six wines sampled at the Fallsview Casino Grand Ballroom last Friday night.
From left: PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010, RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, and VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012
This is Peller’s most versatile fizz, a blend of traditional method Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sweetened by a dosage of Vidal icewine post disgorgement of its lees. The lees has been left to linger in the bottle, in spirit. Sapid, savoury bubbles tingle the senses to the bone and will offer the most comforting and proper pleasures to those discriminating and otherwise. Appealing to a large common denominator, this Peller Sparkling can really do no wrong. 90 Tasted January 2014 @PellerVQA
The floral lift from three to four percent Viognier gives notice to bend the brawny, savoury black olive and blistered Ancho fruit into balance. Syrah in a sunshine state but not from concentrate. Would accept a glass of this Brokenpress at any beck and call. “Grab your wine, take me where you been, with the violin time and the moon gettin’ thin.” From my earlier note: “Offers up gorgeous pine and pepper-laced correctness and so much juicy, fresh warmth from a terrific Syrah vintage in Ontario and even more parochial so on the St. David’s Bench. This Queenston Road Vineyard red is winemaker Rob Power’s secret weapon, absolutely freakin’ delicious stuff and the epitome of what Syrah should be like from Niagara. Verve, rigor and yet also flirtatious with expertly judged wood and tannin to re-fresh its spirit and lengthen its life. Love it.” 91 Tasted twice, October 2013 and January 2014 @CreeksideWine
Served from Jeroboam, one of 23 produced and a testament to the precocious, facile touch of then winemaker Sue-Ann Staff. The extreme five litre format has certainly been kind to the hermetic 11-year slumber of this Merlot, as has the above average red Niagara growing season. Charlie pulled out this rare behemoth “for the special occasion” and despite and with thanks to the perfect vintage meets size storm, it has held up with dramatic fortitude. Unmistakably predicated Pillitteri chocolate perfume, brushed violet, mulberry and oven-warmed baking spice. Holding in sustained concentration, the toffee, caramel and umami of wizened, oxidized fruit not yet a twinkle in its soapy sandalwood eye. How could Sun-Ann have known what time-cheating lengths her Merlot would see to? 93 Tasted January 2014 @Pillitteriwines
RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, St Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (20483, $55.00, WineAlign)
This Bordeaux style blend (40 per cent Merlot, 33.3 Cabernet Sauvignon and 26.7 Cabernet Franc) is clothed in a coat of arms all about texture. A drawn and raised relief of dried, candied bramble fruit and charcoal lines of savoury, earthy hickory and herbs. Hearty warmth from a cool vintage, meat on a stick in a glass, charred, roasted and smoking. A spit of gamey goodness. Holding strong but drink now. 90 Tasted January 2014 @RavineVineyard
PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, Niagara On The Lake (46557, 375 ml, $60.00, WineAlign)
A most unique and striking rendition, wearer of many hats, confounding and curious. There is a funk about him that stands apart from the rest. Like a really well-aged, superb piece of washed rind cheese, then turning unabashedly sweet, with verve and symphonic tone. An orange sky of an icewine, anti-bittersweet, accented by mace and anise, carob even. “Here is what I know now brother. Here is what I know now sister.” Cabernet Sauvignon, in a vintage equipped with striking acidity, can turn into something to look forward to. One of the more interesting icewines to date. 91 Tasted January 2014 @Pillitteriwines
This represents the icewine revolution, for the first time adding 15 percent Vidal juice into the Riesling mix. In 2012, the normally stand alone Riesling needed a shot in the arm, provided by the Vidal, a dose of icewine magic by winemaker Brian Schmidt. Lifted tree fruit blossom and added weight are the result, without hyper-sweet flavours. Riesling is the rock, Vidal the roll as this RV crashes into me. The pit orchard fruit is reduced and recognizable to taste, yet reserved and in phonic harmony. “Sweet like candy to my soul, sweet you rock and sweet you roll.” Brotherly love icewine, full of Schmidt wisdom. 93 Tasted January 2014 @benchwineguy
More wine predictions have been paraded out in the first week of 2014 than disgraced senators, mayors and potential Olympic men’s hockey team selections. What do they all mean? Will any of them really come true? Will support not continue to the largest brands, produced for the most middle of the road, common denominator consumer?
Tyler Colman polished his crystal ball to determine wine trends for the new year at wine-searcher.com. Jamie Goode insists “it’s going to be a good year for the Balkans and the ancient wine countries and it’s going to be a bad year for many wine writers.” Ron Washam, the Hosemaster of Wine said “I read Dr. Vino’s predictions for 2014, and they were exactly the same as his predictions for 2013.” So he walked on the wild side, noting “I’m pretty sure “Supernatural” wines will catch on.” Chris Losh followed up with his satirical Chris-tal Ball from Just Drinks.
The global community of wine writers, critics and commentators collectively seem to be saying no to the status quo. They are predicting sweeping changes to consumer tastes. They are not wrong, but neither are they right. The largest wine corporations and super-negociants will continue to push their brands built on four or five grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Pinot Grigio and Malbec) because bottles produced from those vineyards planted over the past 15 years with their huge excess of juice have to be sold. That can’t change. By all means, go ahead and march out a full-on pageant of obscure grapes my good-friend Zoltan; Kadarka, Fetească Neagră, Xinomavro, Blaufränkisch, Mavrud, Saperavi, Furmint, Harslevelu, Juhfark, Antao Vaz and Rktsiteli. Serve them at my table, please. It’s just that everyone else will look at you kind of funny.
Then there’s the hush, wink, say-no-more evil of the mega-purchaser model (read between those lines) of bullying the Brettanomyces out of your suppliers. You know who you are, you wine enabling vinous behemoths the equivalent of Sobeys and Walmart.
Today, at 2 p.m. ET the weekly PostMedia Wine Chat will resume. Gurvinder Bhatia, Rod Phillips, Janet Dorozynski and I will discuss the resolve to drink outside your comfort zone. We’re going to put aside what we know, leave the couch and venture forth to grapes, regions and hidden appellations either ignored or perhaps never visited. We’re going to recommend that you do the same. Here are five new releases to get you going in that risk-taking direction.
From left: REYES D’ARAGON BRUT RESERVA CAVA 2010, BODEGAS BERONIA VIURA 2012, CHATEAU JOLYS 2011, and BLUE MOUNTAIN BRUT METHODE TRADITIONELLE
Offers a rare opportunity for vintage-dated Spanish fizz and from somewhere other than Penedès. From Bodegas Langa and built upon a foundation of Chardonnay (along with Macabeo), this Cava takes a direct route through the village of white grapefruit, returns and replays there again and again. A high road dosage of sweetness lingers over licorice root and the rangy flavours include Manchego and green olive. Good, if not spectacular quality Cava. At $15 you have to appreciate the slightly oxidative bronze patina and refreshing copper minerality. 89 Tasted December 2013
Great tenacity for such entry-level Rioja vin blanco. What more could you want? Freshness, grape must, tang, just a hit of spice, pepper. From my earlier note: “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 Tasted July and December 2013 @WoodmanWines@BodegasBeronia
CHATEAU JOLYS 2011, Ac Jurançon Sec, Southwest, France (362046, $16.95, WineAlign)
Shake it up with this delicious if slightly unusual, tangy, edgy stuff. Out there and beyond your average French sipper, shaped by lemon curd and zest, tangy grapefruit and lengthened by rubber-legged dancing elasticity. May drive its car under the influence but it’s not warm and fat. Busts ” the move with the quirky jerk.” 88 Tasted December 2013
Once you go Xinomavro, especially with this stupidly good value, you never go back. An inoculate of bright cherry liqueur is beginning to brick but holding steady and strong. Years of seeping have led to this moment of slight prune-ish activity but the old school beauty and charm is nothing short of wonderful. Cherry wood resinous and still markedly tough tannins bring out the bitters but the wine glides smoothly forward into a soft, eloquent finish 90 Tasted December 2013 @boutari@KolonakiGroup
BLUE MOUNTAIN BRUT METHODE TRADITIONELLE, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (206326, $27.95, WineAlign)
Blue Mountain is the poster child for B.C. bubbles and this forth-righteous, tight to expansive, quintessential cool-climate Okanagan is the stalwart for the genre. The unabashed intensity in citrus acidity, zero dosage style is exactly what it should be. If you have never experienced west coast bubbles, this is the place to start. 90 Tasted December 2013 @BlueMtnWinery
Every once in while events come along in a confluence of conspicuous timing that just seem to indicate “a sign of the apocalypse.” Today is both the first day of the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. It’s also American Thanksgiving. The next time the twain (and the Maccabees) are scheduled to collide is in 79,811. By that time they will be making Barossa-style Shiraz in Vostok Station. Thanksgivukkah? Please say it ain’t so.
Yes, that's right, Hanukkah and American Thanksgiving today. Next time will be in 79811. http://t.co/llcyLrwc9S
Meanwhile, it’s the 28th of November and most of Canada has already experienced three straight days of true winter. While the winter of 2012 may have seen plenty of white stuff, who doesn’t remember the Spring conditions of November through March of 2011? Yesterday my neighbour pined for a return of global warming.
Now my thoughts turn to the Canadian wine harvest. Every Ontario grower has finished picking their grapes, with only Icewine left to go. Every grower? Even J-L Groux and team from Stratus Vineyards are done. In 2009 J-L picked Cabernet Franc on December 8th. What? Cabernet Sauvignon and last but not least, Sémillon came off the vines just a few days ago. This in a challenging vintage in which veraison did not exactly come early. Despite the trepidation heard all summer long, I have to believe that the wines from 2013 will be some of the most interesting and alt-exceptional we have ever seen. A collector’s vintage. Something is just in the air.
BC is already picking Icewine on Beaujolais Nouveau release day. Can Ontario be far behind?
So how do we explain this supernatural convergence of grapes having achieved phenolic ripeness and winter coming so early to complete the annual growth cycle of grapevines? Like Thanksgiviukkah I suppose, this kind of cosmic confluence only happens once every 77798 years. For that I am thankful. And for my family, my beautiful wife, my three perfect children, four healthy parents, and for my friends, new and old.
I am also amazed every day by the quality of food and wine we are growing in our backyards and just a hop, skip and a jump down the road. What a time it is to be a (cough) foodie or a wine geek in Ontario, in Canada and in the world. So, while the cosmos are in impossible exquisite chaos, I can think of no better time to put my wine recommendations on their head and offer up tasting notes on a winter six-pack of Canadian whites and bubbles.
From left: ROSEWOOD SÜSSRESERVE RIESLING 2012, FEATHERSTONE CANADIAN OAK CHARDONNAY 2011, and BLASTED CHURCH PINOT GRIS 2011
As per the (Süssreserve) practicum of adding in part, unfermented grape juice back into the main ferment, it could be argued that in a warm vintage such as this, the practice could be disadvantageous or even disastrous to the whole. Well, ambition differs from greed. “I’m going to show the way I feel unless I find you give a damn.” In Rosewood’s (and winemaker Luke Orwinski’s) honey-enlightened hands this Riesling is always “the start of something beautiful.” The 2012 is no house of cards, more like a porcupine tree, an unobtrusive, cohesive laser. The sweetness is of course stressed in honey, the pears nearing caramelization. There is lemon tang and she gives her for the pittance. 89 Tasted three times, October and November 2013 @Rosewoodwine
FEATHERSTONE CANADIAN OAK CHARDONNAY 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (149302, $21.95)
First things first. Creds for the use of Canadian Oak. Wines made using local oak will not improve unless vintners like Featherstone push the coopers to make better barrels. The butter, lemon and toasty char here is quite high-toned and approaching caramelization but all in the name of integration. The overall result is one of elegance and a long streak of flavours. Quite tropical, I must admit but a good, honest drink. 88 Tasted November 2013 @featherstonewne
BLASTED CHURCH PINOT GRIS 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley British Columbia, Canada (353128, $24.90)
I must admit I’m kinda fond-a this juicy, expressive and blasted rich Okanagan Pinot Gris. A “cool breeze blows through” carrying just the faintest note of fromage, even more pepper and the most sapid orchard fruit. Really goes out there to give the goods. Would I like to sample this Church again in a year or two? Roger Wilco on that. 89 Tasted November 2013 @BlastedChurch
From left: FLAT ROCK ESTATES RIDDLED SPARKLING WINE 2008, SPERLING VINEYARDS BRUT SPARKLING 2008, and 13TH STREET GRAND CUVÉE BLANC DE NOIRS 2006
FLAT ROCK ESTATES RIDDLED SPARKLING WINE 2008, With Crown Cap Opener, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, (187377, $24.95)
Shouts “hello!” with that crown cap opener but otherwise seems a bit quiet at this time. Prominent (pear) orchard ripe fruit, very, very dry and persistent. Wrapped up in lime zest and flint. From my earlier note: A completely different animal. “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key.” The key might be the yeast that brings animale to the wine. A bit fat and flat, with tropical notes of lychee and almond. Speeds up but is a bit of an acquired taste. 87 Tasted December 2012 and November 2013 @Winemakersboots
SPERLING VINEYARDS BRUT SPARKLING 2008, Traditional Method, VQA Okanagan Valley British Columbia, Canada (361436, $40.00, B.C. winery, $40.00)
Fasten the seatbelt for these Okanagan bubbles of tension nonpareil, acids beyond compare, fruit screaming to be heard. Estate-grown Pinot Blanc picked and aged at classic Champagne numbers, 18 brix, 2.95 PH and 36 months on the lees. Low in alcohol (11.3 per cent) and supportive in reverse balancing residual sugar (6 gr/l). Of note were green seeds, “so we’re not fighting green character,” says Sperling’s partner Peter Gamble. Non varietally-driven fizz that concentrates on mouthfeel, place and method. Does this Brut have the most tension ever from a B.C. Sparkling wine? Travels electrically from pole to pole, wired tight, inside a smart machine. A tale of a northern soul, “too busy staying alive.” 91 Tasted twice, November 2013 @SperlingVyds
13TH STREET GRAND CUVÉE BLANC DE NOIRS 2006, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (364299, $59.95)
In a place right now where the lees seem to be doing all the talking, in a self-professed goût Anglaise way. While this oxidative, white caramel, and cultured style will only increase with each tick of the odometer, that time will also be needed to skim and separate that cream from the bouillon. High active, wicked this way comes froth, resinous for sparkling, pompous (not a bad thing), self-assured, Niagara fizz. Wondrous but not in its optimum place. A couple to five years away. 91 Tasted November 2013 @13thStreetWines
I was wrong. Fall is the time for all things Italian, wine included. At no time of year is there more of a conscious, active pursuit of Italian produce and gastronomy; salumi, chestnut, porcini, truffle and especially wine.
For the better part of a month and a half I have been tasting Italian wine, from just about everywhere it is made around the boot. Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Emiglia Romagna, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardia, Marche, Molise, Piemonte, Sardegna, Sicilia, Toscana, Trentino-Alto Adige, Umbria and Veneto. Three essential events brought Italy to Canada, two being of the intimate and tutored kind. The third, a massive annual affair (though no VinItaly) tied the Italian federation of wine-producing regions together under one gorgeously acoustic roof.
The Dogliani family produce a wine range of wines in Piemonte and although love has not been lost for the “beni,” properties encasing the symbiotic relationship between farmhouses and vineyards, or tradition as a guiding force, Batasiolo is not out-of-place in the fast, forward thinking aesthetic of modern Italian winemaking. “Past and future co-exist” and wine speaks of the estate’s “Great Vineyards,” Briccolina, Boscareto, Cerequio and Bofani. Vineyards that persist in producing outstanding produce.
Gaja owns 250 acres of vineyards in Barbaresco and Barolo. In 1994 they acquired Pieve Santa Restituta in Montalcino, Tuscany and in 1996 they added Ca’Marcanda in Bolgheri, Tuscany on the coast. The significance of this acquisition lies in the Bordeaux varieties grown there; Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and especially Cabernet Franc. There will come a day, not so far away, when that Cabernet Franc will make some truly exceptional wine.
The Gaja brand, while nearly 155 years young, has recently climbed into a league of its own. To consider the wines, the estates and the aura that surrounds, you might think there was a marketing team of hundreds blanketing the earth. On the contrary. There is Gaia Gaja.
PHOTO: Michael Godel Gaia Gaja and Sperss Langhe 1999
Gaia Gaja brought her family’s wines to Toronto. She spoke for more than an hour. Non-stop. “I am a woman and I am Italian,” she confessed. No one complained. All were captivated by the presentation and the presenter.
It is quite something to have the opportunity to taste wines like the 2008 Rennina Brunello di Montalcino, 2009 Barbaresco, 2008 Conteisa Barolo and the ethereal 1999 Sperss Langhe. Angelo Gaja is the rogue master of Piemonte, the first to think outside the box and break down ancient restrictions and boundaries. Who would argue that success is owed, more than in part, to his determination to rid the region of pride and stubbornness.
The dichotomy in images and in wine is not something easily understood unless you have listened to someone like Gaia Gaja tell the story. Here, a small village in Piemonte, the photograph showing a rag-tag assembly of small homes packed tightly together. The story told that beneath every house there is a winery and the greatest Nebbiolo on the planet there being produced. The farmers growing grapes on slopes so famous, not because the terroir may be noted as terre bianche or terre brune, but because the wines, like Sori Tildin or Sori San Lorenzo transform the produce into magic and command never imagined prices.
Gaja, the brand, is as famous as any from Italy, but Gaia takes nothing for granted. She is the perfect spokesperson for her family’s business. She is outwardly nostalgic, plotting a course from the very origins of the family’s connection to the land. Her attention to the simple is what Edward Steinberg noted in his Gaja memoir, The Vines of San Lorenzo. “The growing of grapes on one plot of land and their subsequent transformation is the story of Everywine.”
On November 4, 2013 I attended the annual Taste Italy, a tasting of wines from Italy at Roy Thomson Hall. I was particularly impressed with the terrific value to be found in the wines of Ca’ Dei Mandorle and the excellence from Pietro Rinaldi. Rinaldi’s BARBERA SUPERIORE (90) elevates the genre while the BARBARESCO 2010 (93) exudes a sweet, floral perfume. Castellare di Castellina remains one of my favourite Tuscan houses. The CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011 (90) comes from a vintage of agglomeration; the brood and weight of ’06 combined with the beauty and hedonism of ’07. The ’11 CC is fresh, elegant and full of rich fruit.
Here are eight full tasting notes on a wide range of Italian wines, from the hills of Piemonte in the northwest to the tiny island of Sardegna in the south.
Ancient carsic cave dweller, inhabitant of underground hollows, Brett monster, heartbreaker saying “don’t you mess around with me.” A salt lick studded with crushed aniseed on a bed of Mediterranean flowering maquis and garrigue. Coal-fired, stonking stuff full of tannic tension. A bit offal-ish and not for the faint of stomach or heart. For others a dream maker. 89 Tasted October 2013 @FrontierWine
DI MAJO NORANTE CONTADO RISERVA AGLIANICO DEL MOLISE 2010, Molise, Italy (967208, $17.95, SAQ 11294817, $17.35)
Has travelled a well-worn path up on cripple creek. The band played a veritable fruit and vegetable smoothie, pulsed from prune, oxidative purple plum, chewy raisin, tomato leaf and pulp in concentrate. Really excellent tension and a tar/coal/charcoal tendency came late. “When that nag to win came around the track” sure enough this Aglianico had won. If it weren’t for so much tomato on the nose this would have been a very fine wine. 88 Tasted October 2013
PHOTO: Michael Godel Banfi Cuvée Aurora Rosé 2009
BANFI CUVÉE AURORA ROSÉ 2009, Alta Langa, Metodo Classico (355693, $24.95)
The fifth and surely seminal year in production of this French oak barrique aged, 100 per cent Pinot Noir fizz, composed from 90 per cent ”clear wine” and 10 per cent juice of the previous vintage. Follows classic, traditional skin contact cold maceration methodology and seems to emulate the style of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut. Dry and savoury, distinctly rhubarb-scented, showing amazing freshness and wild borealis waves. A conglomerate Tuscan outfit paying attention to the small details in Piedmont. 90 Tasted November 2013 @CastelloBanfi
A syrupy rich and aromatically confected Tuscan coastal blend of 55 per cent Merlot, 35 per cent Syrah and 10 per cent Sangiovese. Anchored by a mineral stranglehold and intense aniseed studded grit. Dried rose, black tea and a trattoria’s wooden walls put you sitting in the taverna, waiting for the boar ragu to arrive. Will see to a serious future if the blackberry and Cassis fruit can hold up. The Promis is in ode to the past made in a clean and concise manner. Negotiates a partnership between the ancient Piemontese world of Angelo Gaja and a new generation of Tuscany style. 91 Tasted on October 25th and November 19th, 2013 @StemWineGroup
A Nebbiolo produced from two old vineyards owned by the Gromis family, acquired by Gaja in 1995, one in Serralunga adjacent to the iconic Sperss and the other in La Morra adjacent to Conteisa. Clay and marl Tortonian-era soils are its fodder and this Barolo comes across like iron-rich earth, boled through stucco and warmed to a rosy madder. Cultures 14.5 per cent abv with the most unimaginable, delicate nature. Mirror of her maker. 94 Tasted October 2013
PHOTO: Michael Godel Batasiolo Line-Up at George Restaurant
Several local varieties (Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto) are sourced here from the hills of Langhe. Forward fruity, vinous and in turn, resinous, built solid and structured with juicy acidity. Plays all the right components to offer value. This Rosso is well-thought out, not heavy-handed nor overly composed. Excellent value. 89 Tasted October 2013
Spent a year in bottle following its 100 per cent new oak, two-year, early settling. Produced from a combination of nine disparate vineyards, ranging from valley low to hilltop high, it is ultimately a very fine value in approachable, qualified and legitimate Barolo as you are likely to come across. A farmer’s finesse loads up red berry fruit and ripe plum, bursting fresh and massaged by a healthy level of grainy tannin. A general list Barolo that acts quite serious, if perhaps out of a vintage leaning towards the austere. 89 Tasted October 2013
From a chord running through a vineyard across a ridge at the top of a hill. Full sun exposure boldly transmutes to modernity out of the highest extraction. An underlying funk pays homage to the single vineyard designation’s storied past and this Nebbiolo is to Batasiolo as Madonna del Piano is to Valdicava. Hard as nails, rapt mineral composure, linear and precise like the vineyard it comes from. So far from opening the door to conjugal visits. There will be chestnut Zabaglione when the times comes 10 years forward. At $75 this is Cru Piemontese for a song. 93 Tasted October 2013
It would seem that 99 per cent of the time wine columns are composed of a particular thematic that weaves facts, theories and tasting notes and into one tight, informative package. Most would consider it helpful and appropriate for wine stores shelves to be organized by varietal or style, as opposed to country or region. Why should a wine column be any different?
Sometimes you just need to grow your hair, let your freak flag fly and put out a random set of reviews. So, here are six unconnected wines, save for the fact they are all highly recommended and available right now, at a store nearby.
FEATHERSTONE BLACK SHEEP RIESLING 2012, left, and KUNDE ZINFANDEL 2008
FEATHERSTONE BLACK SHEEP RIESLING 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95)
Has steadily become one of Niagara’s most recognizable and copacetic Rieslings. The 2012 is shaped and defined by tight corners and sharp angles. Crisp fruit, sour lemon drop, lime zest, unmistakable in Niagara Peninsula manner but added to by the blessedly atypical warm vintage. Early picking preserved freshness towards realizing a salient, direct arrow into a pierced Riesling heart. Tasted November 19, 2013 88@featherstonewne
KUNDE ZINFANDEL 2008, Sonoma County, California (965921, $22.95, note that store inventory could be 2008 or 2010, Alta. 722895, $22.99, Sask. 16998, $25.87)
Has hit that age when brambly fruit begins to wane and alcohol takes over. Has not breached the tipping point but it’s coming soon. Dark berries and charred, smokey meat are still warm and inviting but a fig paste and effervescent hop, flanked by an astringent bite, take over at the midpoint. I am still a fan of this bottling, despite an adorned, arching swing of the fresh fruit pendulum. Though it does not venture over the top, it’s no shrinking violet. Certainly not squarely in whack but this Zinfandel uses its fins for maneuverability, buoyancy and a sharp attack. Tasted November 2013 89@KundeEstate
HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2011, left, and SPERLING VINEYARDS OLD VINES RIESLING 2011
Deeper, earthen, 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. Tasted October 2013 90 @HiddenBench
SPERLING VINEYARDS OLD VINES RIESLING 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (361204, $34.00, B.C. 2010 $32.00)
From a 1978 planting, this teases late harvest-like with a sweet-sliding aromatic entry that glides effortlessly on the changeover to the palate and then bam! A red-letter sharp and acidulated takeover. The roots dug deep for the wise and wizened vines overtop a full limestone overlay “naturally stretch the nutrients in the bunches,” notes Sperling’s partner Peter Gamble. Low, old and slow, “all about circulation and flow.” Finishes with pith and citrus intensity. Yikes Riesling. Tasted November 2013 91@SperlingVyds
ANTINORI PIAN DELLE VIGNE BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 2008, left, and BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2005
ANTINORI PIAN DELLE VIGNE BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 2008, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (651141, $59.95, Nova Scotia 1006431, $64.80)
Goes at it older, bolder, tried and truer than had recently been the case, especially in 2007. Leather, cherries, seeping tea and peppery, earthy, funky dates. Purity of fruit, obviousness in Sangiovese Grosso aromatics and it is only when you taste that you are dealt with the full effect of its power and girth. Quite viscous on the palate, tough, gritty chain of tannin and qualified, felicitous bitters on a very long finish. Best Pian delle Vigne in some time, at least back to 2001. Tasted November 2013 93@AntinoriFamily
BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2005, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (Note: carried in specific flagship stores and could either be 2005 or 2007, 275396, $74.95, Nova Scotia 1012526, $74.79)
Takes no time at all to “stimulate some action,” and “give an exhibition.” Tasting this piece of Canadian Sparkling history is a curated event, offering living, bubbling proof that Nova Scotia is THE place to make fizz. Flaunts more baking aromas than I can recall from first nosing it two weeks ago. Gravenstein apple skin, gingerbread and freshly grated horseradish layered over Malagash Thrumcap oysters. Expansive, sharp, piquant and hinting towards a verge of oxidative tendency but I must note that this bottle is a bit warm and fuzzy. Though the maturity, elegance and judging is in another league, on a side note, there is something here that reminds me of North Fork’s Sparkling Pointe Brut Seduction 2003. Kindred spirits. The Bridge is charged, demanding and I believe this ’05 would continue to benefit from a few more years relaxation before finding its true elegance. Before midnight or after midnight, it doesn’t matter. Get some and you’re “gonna find out what it is all about.” Tasted October 25th and November 19, 2013 93@Benjamin_Bridge
This is a wine column folks. If you’ve arrived here looking for a human train wreck, colloquial references to sexual body parts or stories about illicit activity, keep on moving.
Perhaps the thing I find so refreshing about wine is its lack of political affiliation. Wine is apolitical, well, maybe not so in Ontario, but let’s not go there today. The science of making wine is apolitical. Grow grapes, nurture the vineyard, pick at optimum phenolic ripeness, use minimalist intervention in the winery and voila! Fine, honest wine ready and willing to please.
Imagine wine as a painting, depicting a ceremonial scene, as if there were visible hundreds of figures within, no two alike. This is what concentrating on the simple, the base, the lightness of being can do for your life. Choosing the wine high road as a distraction from political sideshow is a healthy lifestyle choice.
Even if you just can’t forget about the pathetic fallacy of local, provincial and federal government right now, consider moving onwards and upwards next week. Head out to your local wine shop and purchase one of these eight apolitical Canadian (or Canadians making wine abroad) bottles for next weekend. Crack one open and witness your dread and fear melt away.
From left: TINHORN CREEK GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2012, PALATINE HILLS MERITAGE NEUFELD VINEYARD 2010, DANIEL LENKO MERLOT OLD VINES 2010, and CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKENPRESS 2010
From the sandy gravel soils of the estates Golden Mile Vineyard. Viticulturalist Andrew Moon and Winemaker Sandra Oldfield find exemplary natural sugars and classic Gewurz tendencies from mature, 16 year-old vines. Offers spice before pleasure and a funky beat ahead of the lychee and rose water/petal. Cool and dry specimen, somewhat Gris-esque, intuitive, integrated and consistent every step of the way. Nothing earth shattering but really fine, precise, on time and in time. Like a right proper Gin and Tonic, with a lime. 89 @Andrew_Tinhorn@SandraOldfield
Cuts a positively pretty shape in silhouette. The blend consists of 40 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 40 Merlot and 20 Cabernet Franc though the Cabernet Franc certainly stands out, which is a very good thing in this warm vintage, in spicy bites, currants, dried and braised meat. Also notable are licorice, cherries and plums. The savoury vineyard floor adds but does nothing to overpower so this is quite fine, if a bit tinged by a coffee and cherry chalk. 89@palatinewinery
DANIEL LENKO MERLOT OLD VINES 2010 (75622, $34.95)
Pure, ripe red berries dusted by a dried and pungent mulling spice. Dried flowers round out this easy-going if not overly complex red fashioned from likely the oldest Beamsville Bench Merlot vines. Good balancing acidity and verdant in a Cab Franc-ish way. I could drink this any day of the week but wouldn’t hold out for more age. Despite murmurs of tobacco tight tannins, this is as good as it will ever be. 89 @daniel_lenko
Offers up gorgeous pine and pepper-laced correctness and so much juicy, fresh warmth from a terrific Syrah vintage in Ontario and even more parochial so on the St. David’s Bench. This Queenston Road Vineyard red is winemaker Rob Power’s secret weapon, absolutely freakin’ delicious stuff and the epitome of what Syrah should be like from Niagara. Verve, rigor and yet also flirtatious with expertly judged wood and tannin to re-fresh its spirit and lengthen its life. Love it. 91@CreeksideWine
From left: STRATUS WHITE 2010, STRATUS RED 2010, VERSADO MALBEC RESERVA 2010, and BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2007
Quite possibly the most textured yet. A casted mass, like ingot or sélection de grains nobles, where viscosity meets candied fruit, apricot, quince and acacia flowers. A white moon with a medicinal and peaty tang that shows so much verve, earth floor even. This cracker jack ’10 will continue to add heft and flesh to earn its white stripes. Could be a classic for 20 years plus. 92 Tasted October 2013. From my earlier note: “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@Stratuswines
Tasted again, I do declare this to be the reigning bomb of Ontario red blends. Showing even better than I judged it two weeks ago. Intense ruby meets claret in every facet of its make-up. Rouge tomate, fresh and racy at the same time, with just enough chalk to lengthen the chain. You can actually imagine the hum in the clang and rhythm of its magic. Fleet of foot, mac-nanimously rendered red blend. “Chain keep us together, running in the shadow.” 92From my earlier note: is a study in restrained, gilt-edged use of only 15 per cent new oak during assemblage, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon in the lead and so prudent considering the extreme warmth of the vintage. Cabernet Franc imparts simple but intense spice. Red talented, fresh finesse, the oak in support as a James Dean, cherry stained leather jacket. De facto fresh, with just enough trenchant acidity. 92
This ultra-premium Mendozan from the Canadian winemaking team of Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling boasts fruit from “the finest barrels from the finest blocks.” Rare Malbec uniquely subsistent upon their own roots, that is, “ungrafted” as compared to the typically phylloxera-resistant rootstocks of native North American grapes. While certainly riding a splintered and jammy horse (what fully extracted Mendozan does not), this reserve Malbec has so much else happening, I owe it my time and focus. Dances to a triple jump height in oozing berry, compacted, brick wall infrastructure and overlapping delineation. Really like the consistency here, with no hollow middle, no umlaut, no pregnant pause. Very well made. 91@VersadoWine
Peter Gamble struck gold with this Gasperaux Valley, Nova Scotia Sparkling Wine project. This Bridge comes from ”radically and frighteningly low yields” (3/4 ton per acre, as opposed to the new 6 ton world of Champagne). The ’07 is spun so fine and endowed with a prominent and great leesy nose, along with baking biscuits and lemon purity. To taste there is zest, white pepper and ultimately this is streamlined and refined. A Gamble style that will integrate in ’08 the idea of emulating grower’s Champagne. One will find no holes and no holds barred, in tension and in ease. Like Iggy Pop, Paul Weller, Brandon Flowers and David Bowie rolled into one, a thin white duke with a lust for life in a killer town called malice. Eight some odd cases of the 2005 are still floating around in the monopoly’s system so keep an eye on the labels. You just might get lucky. Price tag, $75? Cost, “priceless.” 93@Benjamin_Bridge
After spending the last two days tasting through 150 plus wines as a deputy judge for WineAlign’s World Wine Awards of Canada 2013, a reprieve is in order. Today I shift gears, shut off the global wine valve, return home and focus local.
Fresh on the heels of the National Wine Awards of Canada 2013 results, the #WWAC13 threw a gauntlet of grapes my way; international red blends under $15, up to $25 and up to $50. Same for an amphitheater of white blends. According to fellow panelist David Lawrason, “there was no white grape variety not on this page.” We also tasted, took notes, scored and passed judgement on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro, Shiraz/Syrah and Riesling.
People. Passion. Community. Quality. Climate. Spend a little time in wine country and the first four points explain themselves. Then there is the weather. Mother nature has hurled everything at Ontario’s vines this growing season. Spring frosts, unseasonable cool and wet weather for most of Spring and Summer, tempests, wind damage, torrential rain and flooding. Then an early September spike of intense, humid heat. This will be followed by a twenty-five degree dip in temperature at the end of this week. Despite the mercurial, tsunami fluctuations, Ontario winemakers will make terrific whites and reds in 2013. This is because of the industry’s maturity. Global climate craziness no longer holds a candle to the ability, knowledge, innate understanding and confidence found in Ontario’s wine houses. Going forward, lesser and greater are the terms to consider. Bad vintages are a thing of the past.
For the next 30 days, Ontario’s grape growers and wineries will be receiving some tender, loving, marketing care. The LCBO has rolled out their Shine ON program, an eat and drink local, in-store promotion that runs from September 15 through October 12. A dozen food trucks, representing a wide range of food styles, will be visiting an LCBO location for a special outdoor wine and food sampling. The September 14th, 2013 VINTAGES release features 38 pages of print and photos in discussion with sommeliers, restaurateurs, chefs and international wine critics.
But wait, there’s more. Wine Country Ontario, always the most devout and righteous of Ontario’s wine promoters, is encouraging an experiential twitter colloquy:
Spotlight Toronto champions the campaign in a big way, by way of their extensive 30 Days of Ontario Wine coverage. Wine Country Ontario and VINTAGES will bring the fall celebration to a vinous crescendo when Taste Ontario comes to Ottawa and Toronto, October 7th and 10th. These events mark the largest assembly for sampling Ontario’s wines in one go around.
I have tasted more Ontario wines in the past year than I had combined in all my years previous. Here are six exemplary choices slated for release this coming weekend.
Clockwise from left: The Foreign Affair The Conspiracy 2011, Fielding Estate Pinot Gris 2012, Daniel Lenko Gewurztraminer 2009, Lighthall Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011, and Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc 2007
The Foreign Affair The Conspiracy 2011 (149237, $19.95) from ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’, (but I like wine), “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
Fielding Estate Pinot Gris 2012 (251108, $21.95) unlike, or as much as any Niagaran, intimates Alsace. Greasy, well, not greasy but jet propelled, viscous and rich in texture. Seems to indicate a sweet/nut/salt/stone fruit pit conundrum but never crosses into that dangerous zone where any of these notes might cause interference. Really solid Gris and says a lot about the vintage for this grape. “Will shine on, for everyone.” 89@FieldingWinery
Daniel Lenko Gewurztraminer 2009 (356832, $24.95) offers obvious, distinct and succinct lychee-induced pleasure. Off-dry with an embolden, mineral tang and good acidity. Early picked yet quite ripe and almost “tannic” for Gewurz. A diamond in the aromatic white wine rough, “blown on the steel breeze.” Sings a long, long song. 90 @daniel_lenko
Lighthall Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (278226, $25) from A Wine Pentathlon, “has that crazed look in its eye, as does vintner Glenn Symons when he talks about it, knowing full well this Prince Edward County juice is a bursting and rising, rocket launching supernova. Steely like Chablis, sharp and shimmering in defiance to the heat of the vintage, the LVC is a dartle to the collective consciousness of the County. Startling revelation. It’s all about the rocks.” 91@lighthallvyard
Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011 (302083, $29.95) burrows towards, reaches and fleeces limestone with amplified ramifications. This weather whipped Chardonnay is both Bachelder’s kookiest and most severe. That is succeeds in agminate partying of power and pop is a tribute to savvy winemaking. Though the fruit does not currently ride the breakers, the wine’s length oscillates in waves. Will wait for this one and make an appeal. “Won’t you shine, shine on?” 90@Bachelder_wines
Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc 2007 (315200, $44.95) currently resides on the leesy side of the Blanc tracks. Rich, nervy, stoked by putty, pith and tankhouse grit. In toast mode and a full on attack of chalk and limestone. Not the faint-hearted bubbles of yesteryear. Must always take it’s rightful place in discussion of top sparkling wines from Ontario. 90 From my earlier notes: Lock, Stock and Sparkling Wines, “turns the brioche quotient up several notches and is consistent with last month’s note: “combines the exceptional ’07 growing season’s rich fruit with early harvested acidity and extreme patience to result in one serious Ontario sparkling wine. A frothing tonic of citrus zest, baking apples, soda bread, cut grass and creamy grume. Long and true.” 90@HenryofPelham