Napa Valley: The next generation

The #napavalley mustard is something else @CalifWines_CA #napa #califwine

The #napavalley mustard is something else @CalifWines_CA #napa #califwine

In 2007 Chris Hall of Long Meadow Ranch and five other members launched Napa Valley’s Next Generation with the mission to unify a group of family wineries and vineyards through collaborative marketing, education and fun. Now 30-plus strong, the group takes to the road with trade and consumer events to spread the entrepreneurial wine gospel and to inspire success for the next generation in wine.

Last month The California Wine Institute and Napa Valley Vintners brought a Quebec-Ontario-Manitoba Canadian wine contingent to pay a visit to St. Helena. The group was received by Chris Hall, renaissance man, St. Helena shepherd, ranch hand, multi-purpose Napa wine country purveyor and Next Generation co-founder at his family’s Long Meadow Ranch farmstead. Lisa Peju, Ryan Hill and Steve Burgess joined us for a tasting of two wines from each of their estates, cumulatively embracing and pitching the raison d’être for the concept of Next Generation wines.

Early #napa morning

Early #napa morning

Related – Napa Valley two: A question of age

There is nothing overtly or philosophically profound in the sweet jeux d’esprit ideal but at the NG tasting there assuredly was a deep connection between the wines. Altitude, especially for Cabernet Sauvignon, is a common thread running through Long Meadow Ranch, Peju, Hill Family Estate and Burgess Cellars. They all farm Napa vineyards of elevation, typically colder in winter, hotter in summer and short on the abundance of water. Mayacamas Estate, Pope Valley Ranch (at 2,000 feet, higher than Napa Valley), Atlas Peak and Howell Mountain contribute slope and attitude to the Cabernet wines culled from their terraces. It is out of these craggy places where a broader flavor palate emerges in wines that embody a struggle. These four vintners fight the good fight, to use the best grapes.

Related – Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens

Long Meadow Ranch next gen. winemakers setting @LMRwine @HFEWine @PEJUWinery @BurgessCellars #califwine #napavalley #sainthelena

Long Meadow Ranch next gen. winemakers setting @LMRwine @HFEWine @PEJUWinery @BurgessCellars #califwine #napavalley #sainthelena

Long Meadow Ranch

First settled in the late 1800s and abandoned during Prohibition, Long Meadow Ranch was revitalized in 1989 by proprietors Ted, Laddie and Chris Hall, who produce Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon using sustainable and organic farming practices. LMR farms three estates; Rutherford, Mayacamas and in Sonoma they farm Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris on the Anderson Valley Estate. The farmstead in St. Helena hosts a plethora of permanent fixtures and private events. There is a café, restaurants, chef’s table/wine tasting room, events facility, farmer’s market, bluegrass-fed concerts, eco-fitness and live fire with guest chefs.

Long Meadow Ranch

Long Meadow Ranch Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $22 US)

The tenth vintage of this valley floor Sauvignon Blanc is grated with a proper pungency, graded with grape tannin and indexed by mineral. The feigned sweetness is attributed to vitality, the kind that pops in mouth, sings in spoon-fed bursts, like a “drop D metal band we called requiem” sister jack kind of SB. The lead in chords are early harvested fruit (first week of august), 100 per cent stainless steel ferment in tall skinny tanks and some surface area but not excessive lees contact. Finishes with salinity from proximity to the Napa River and a GCGC bar chord mineral tang. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016  @LMRwine

Long Meadow Ranch Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $52 US, WineAlign)

On a trip to Napa Valley with many opportunities to taste ripe and elongated Cabernet Sauvignon from a long, dry (albeit coolish) growing season, Ashley Heisey’s LMR is a standout in the name of balance. Currants and peppercorns are popping in a very savoury aromatic sting, calling out varietal obviousness in a wise and abiding red. The cool, savoury, linear, focused and unabashed fruit, not in concentration or pomp, but in certainty of enough litheness meets cure. The right kind of purple fruit. This is primarily Mayacamas Estate but also Rutherford (with warmer, riper, dusty) fruit, in elevage of 50 per cent new and 50 used barrels for 18 months.  The kind of Napa Valley Cabernet that from now to 2022 will taste almost exactly as it does today. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted February 2016

Peju

In 1982 Tony and Herta Peju purchased 30 Rutherford acres between Highway 29 and the Napa River in a neighbourhood that includes Robert Mondavi, Inglenook and Beaulieu. Daughters Lisa and Ariana work alongside their parents. The winery earned organic certification for its Rutherford Estate Vineyard in 2007 and Peju is moving towards organic farming practices in all three of its Napa Valley vineyards; H.B. Vineyard in Rutherford, Persephone Vineyard (sustainable) in Pope Valley and Wappo Vineyard (sustainable) in Dutch Henry Canyon. Peju works with a wide range of varietals, including Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Chardonnay.

Peju Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $54.95, Winery, WineAlign)

From fruit grown at the Persephone Ranch, central to the sub-appellation of Pope Valley (behind Howell Mountain) out of one of the driest seasons in Napa history. Done up in (60 per cent new) French barrels of half toast resulting in medium glade, buttered only on one side. Six months on the lees to seek mostly the orchard and some smoky reduction, reactive like a lick of gemstone and teasing brimstone. Either way, it’s struck one way or the other. Finds its exit out of the barrel and wants to talk about the soil, the soil, the soil. Supper’s ready with this variegated Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @PEJU_Winery  @LeSommelierWine

Peju Red Wine Blend Fifty/Fifty 2012, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $149.95, Winery, WineAlign)

A covenant betwixt Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and between French and American oak. Also from the Persephone Ranch vineyard, the harvest goddess, queen of the underworld. Good thing the varietal-wood (65 per cent new for 16 months) arrangement is bounded by Jesse Malin rhythms, with quite a bit of peppery warmth rising up the olfactory in a purposed floral lift, culminating in white light, snappy ardor. A direct red blend from some of the best blocks of Persephone that rarely sees the light of export day as it sells out every year from the winery. Big blends and bigger oak can be dangerous, “like an age old contradiction, with alcohol and lust.” When treated right by the hands of an experimental winemaker like Sara Fowler, danger turns to excitement. It will take you for “a ride on the tilt-a-whirl.” Enjoy it two years from now. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted February 2016

Hill Family Estate

After three decades of farming and selling Napa Valley grapes Doug Hill and family decided to enter the business of producing wine. Doug farms the grapes and helps craft the wine with winemaker Alison Doran while Ryan runs the sales at the Yountville winery. Production includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño and Rose’ of Pinot Noir.

Hill Family Estate Chardonnay Carly’s Cuvée 2012, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $30 US)

Quite reductive and conservative out of the glass, reluctant to allow a netting or getting of the fruit. Attributable because of the shellac and then patience is deserving of a soft, caressing interior, opined in preserved citrus and groping white pH of grip. Density is not a texture thing but it is weighted. Grippy work from winemaker Alison Doran from fruit gathered out of the southern end of American Canyon, the coldest, windiest part of the valley. If any Napa Valley Chardonnay could be considered cool-climate, this is it. Done up in 60 per cent new, 40 per cent used barrels for only 10 months. “We’re not fans of a cube of butter and a baseball bat in a glass,”  says Ryan Hill.  Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @HFEWine

Hill Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Red Door 2012, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $85 US)

A red door is a symbol of welcome, or for the Chinese, a center of positive energy, abundance, and opportunity. This portal parts a swath with extraction and from ripeness right there with the best of them. Silky, voluptuous, textured Cabernet crissed by a cool middle streak on the palate and crossed with caressing tannins. Clearly borne of an ideal vintage. The Red Door is the entrance door to the tasting room of reclaimed wood laminated onto a pine core and painted red. Yountville (10 per cent) Petit Verdot and Oak Knoll (10 percent) Malbec add firmness and ease to fill and fluff the Atlas peak Cabernet. Spent 16 months in 100 per cent French Oak. Bloody delicious stuff. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted February 2016

Burgess Cellars

Tom Burgess purchased the 1870’s era mountainside winery in 1972 with a plan to express terroir, from grapes, through wines, to reflect the vineyard’s soil, exposure and micro-climate. The home estate Burgess vineyard produces the flagship Cabernet Sauvignon. Haymaker vineyard is the spot for Syrah on the eastern side of Howell Mountain and Triere vineyard in the Oak Knoll District is the site for Merlot. In Ontario Burgess works directly with VINTAGES and the member’s based Opimian Society.

Burgess Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $48)

Deep, dark and brooding (92 per cent) Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot, from a vintage that supplied exceptional fruit though this strikes as hyper-ripe, not quite baked but at the frontier. Some caramel and light soy, along with a bit of rubbery reduction. I’m guessing the Syrah style will be very similar. Fruit is from between Howell Mountain and Atlas Peak lava so the borders were drawn with Burgess outside of the Howell Mountain box. The spot is at 1500m on the western side of the mountain and 1200m on the east side, above the fog and the frost. The altitude and attitude leads to the darkest of black fruit flavours.  Tufa soils are found at the winery, with the east side defined by volcanics and marine sediments. 6,000 cases were made. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016

Burgess Cellars Syrah 2012, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $36)

Brighter than the Cabernet with a very pretty floral and faint pepper scent. Don’t always get specific berries but here boysenberry and strawberry mix up the Syrah stylistic ideology to a Napa Valley end. Though sweetness pervades this has the chalky, grainy tannin to match the meaty suede of the fruit. From 100 per cent Syrah off of Steve’s brother’s vineyard on the east side of Howell Mountain. American oak vanilla and bourbon meld into the red and blue fruit. 500 cases were made. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016

Next Generation

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Red, white and orange at Southbrook Vineyards

Southbrook Whimsy! Reds, Whites and Orange

She says she’s making a similar wine in British Columbia, but Ann Sperling will tip no varietal hat, will offer up no hints, will not reveal the make-up in her new, all-natural Orange wine. That’s right. Orange wine.

To arrive at this (nothing rhymes with orange) juncture, a bit of background on the winemaker and her Ontario employer, Southbrook Vineyards. Sperling is from B.C., where she makes Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and piercing Sparkling Wines at Pioneer Ranch, the family heritage farm under her eponymous Sperling Vineyards label.

Related – A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries

Southbrook as a winery and a vineyard is a leader in Ontario’s increasingly developing biodynamic and organic direction. Ann Sperling introduced proprietors Marilyn and Bill Redelmeier to the sprawling property in Niagara-on-the-Lake and it is there that their commitment to farming organically and biodynamically is managed in the vineyard by Scott Jones and in the winery by Brian Hamilton and Regan Kapach.

The Redelmeiers are no strangers to the concepts and the agrarian way. Who does not remember making necessary stops at their farmstead and pumpkin patch on Major Mackenzie Rd. between Dufferin and Bathurst in Richmond Hill. Southbrook defined that concept in the 80’s and 90’s, by bringing a distinctly rural Ontario feel to the edge of Toronto civilization. People came from all four directions for their farm fresh produce. Chappell Farms, Chudleighs and Whittamore’s all owe a major level of their success to Southbrook’s pioneering concept.

The Redelmeier cattle farm on the 19th century property in Richmond Hill morphed into that roadside vegetable stand in the 1980s. Winemaking came next and then in 2005, Bill and Marilyn relocated to Niagara. Having chosen to pursue certifications for both the vineyard and the winery – including LEED, biodynamic and organic certification, the Redelmeiers have been instrumental in the revolution.

Ann Sperling is a natural fit for their manifesto, to produce high quality wine from estate fruit under the strict O & B directive. The upper echelon Southbrook wines are bottled under the labels of Triomphe, Whimsy! and Poetica. That she has now decided to make an orange wine is, well, natural. I think a great deal of Ontario wine drinkers, along with those beyond these borders don’t quite get Southbrook. Gaining insight as to why the Orange wine should be made is no less difficult than acquiring an understanding as to what the Southbrook portfolio is all about. You need to spend time with the wine and the winemaker. This point is essential.

Winemakers are intensely focused individuals. Their wines live and breath. As a parent to their children, winemakers feel their every step. Their hopes and dreams rise and fall with every breath they take. Sperling had thought about it for years but the 2014 vintage allowed her to take the experimental, all natural plunge.

She is not the first to do the orange wine thing. In his May, 2014 Macleans article, Orange is the new white (wine), John Szabo reported on his involvement with making such a beast in Ontario. Together with Norman Hardie and François Morissette, they have fashioned one from Riesling in Prince Edward County. Szabo wrote, “Ontario vintners are experimenting with an ancient Georgian technique and a 500-litre qvevri. “With an imported clay vessel their wine currently rests in a 500-litre qvevri in Hardie’s cellar. Szabo had also discovered that Richie Roberts of Fielding Estate was the first orangista in Canada. Roberts made 400 bottles of skin-fermented Viognier in 2012, though not in clay. Szabo had previously referred to Stanners Vineyard Pinot Gris Cuivré 2010 as “the first orange wine made in Ontario.”

Ann Sperling in the Oak Room at Southbrook Winery

Ann Sperling in the Oak Room at Southbrook Winery

The natural/orange wine debate is hot right now and not because of the reasons you might think. The smoke and mirrors of discussing the merits of making such wines or to question whether it’s rubbish is clouding the discussion. Or as Alexandra Gill reports in her most recent Globe and Mail article, “fault-indulgent hippie juice as a major scam,” or the smell of “stale, mouth-puckering morning breath.” The technique and the practice is ancient and has been kept alive. The only questions need asking are “is it good, is it well-made and would I like to drink it?”

Then along comes the Hosemaster of Wine, Ron Washam who insists “don’t publish anything about natural wine on your blog in 2015.” Washam is right when he comments on the hypocrisy of “natural wine shipped in an ocean-polluting tanker…loaded on an exhaust-belching truck…and you feel good about it because the guy who made it didn’t spray Roundup?” This N-word wine story, however, is allowed. Here we are discussing an Orange wine made with attention to ancient detail, in our Niagara backyard, the one I travelled to the source to taste and you know something, it’s pretty fucking good? You’re a funny man and a really good writer but let me ask you something. You got a problem with that Ron?

I sat down with Ann, Wines In Niagara writer Rick VanSickle and Paul DeCampo, Southbrook’s Director of Marketing & Sales on Sunday, December 28th to taste the new or yet released Triomphe ’13’s, Whimsy! ’12’s and Poetica ’12’s. A ’13 Cabernet Franc Icewine and the mysterious, ubiquitous and enigmatic Orange wine rounded out the tasting card. The experience went a long way towards adding Southbrook Vineyards to the loftier queue’s cerebral vinous database. Going forward, I’ll surely never look at these wines in the same light.

Southbrook Whimsy! Orange wine 2014

Southbrook Whimsy! Orange wine 2014

Whimsy! Orange Wine 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario

“We’ve been waiting to do small batch, stem fermentation,” Ann Sperling tells us as we have a good look at the lustrous, foggy glass of orange-yellow colour more micro-described as either croceate or gamboge. “Now we have the infrastructure to do so.” Stems add architecture (and a preservative effect), something that is otherwise compromised in a sulphite-free wine. This nameless natural wine was biodynamically-raised, indigenously-yeasted and freed from the constraints of temperature control. No wood was used, only stainless steel and glass carboys. The orange and natural classification comes by way of the complex ebullition (closest in style to the Collio hills wines of Josko Gravner), in colour, weight, elegance and the dichotomy of skin fermentation. Sperling used acumen derived from the concept at Argentina’s Versado, where skins are employed in a similar way when making Malbec with husband Peter Gamble. This young wine is filled with terpenes and is highly, desperately aromatic. Lemon curd is up front and centre. It’s got a tart tang and at (approximately) 11.8 per cent alcohol, the gravity is impossibly beautiful. Sperling’s take is “a fair reflection on the vintage” and it’s the mouthfeel that sets it apart. What’s the varietal make up, single or a blend? If the latter, was it co-fermented? Ann will only tell us that it was harvested over a two week period in October. The big question is will it receive VQA approval. Viognier and Pinot Gris should certainly be options but I’m not aware of Southbrook ever having employed their use. Sperling’s Whimsy! Winemaker’s White uses Muscat so perhaps we could go that direction but the aromatics don’t jive. Riesling is the simplest road to take and if the Southbrook Connect Organic White 2013 is any indication, the combined effect with Vidal could certainly steer this Orange ship. But If I were made to guess, to have some fun with concept, I would suggest that it’s a blend of white and red grapes, but Southbrook does not grow Pinot Noir so that should rule out Chardonnay as well. So I conjure up a song. “Well I had a dream I stood beneath an orange sky.” With a union of grape varieties standing by. Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc feed my Spidey senses, so under the auspices of that marriage, what we might have here is an offspring, a Cabernet Sauvignon. A very natural one. An orange one.  Tasted December 2014

Triomphe Merlot 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

From 100 per cent estate fruit (so it’s organic and biodynamic), the accesibility here is immediate and gratifying. So ever-very raspberry, like berries and savoury flower dust rehydrated into a sweet yet tart and viscous tisane baked into a pie. That does not articulate a cooked component, but rather a concentrated vehemence. As far as Peninsula Merlot goes, this really finds both its varietal and vintage capitalized way. It’s both cool and critical, exemplary and snappy. Early thought leads towards a five to seven-year run.  Tasted December 2014

Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

Still organic through and through, despite only a small portion of estate fruit contributing to the overall design of the Triomphe Cabernet Franc ’13. Contracted growers fuel and fulfill the Southbrook ideology, to seek purity in healthy berries. The red fruit here shines on with Daliesque impunity. Its agglomeration makes a juicy, gregarious offer to sip. The vanilla-lavender streak brings elegance, more so than in ’12, along with an elevated sense of savour and really compounded red, red fruit. A natural sweetness and long finish are easy on the gustatory senses. Will be available at VINTAGES in February 2015, when the ’12 runs dry.  Tasted December 2014

Southbrook Triomphe '13's

Southbrook Triomphe ’13’s

Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

The VINTAGES Essential is fashioned from mostly estate fruit (making it mostly biodynamic) save for a tonne or two grower’s supplementation. The 13’s are just beginning to hit shelves as ’12 stock depletes and in many ways the new vintage excels and exceeds the success of the split decision ’12. Where the ’13 lags is in showy complexity, though I’m not sure that is the Triomphe Cab Sauv’s most distinguishing or valuable asset. The new year brings a darker, pitchier, heavier brooder and as a second thought, a slower build to complexity. If ’12 was the rare marble, this is the braising cut. The triumph is now an impression as a sum of parts, not outwardly obvious and live. Not so easy to disseminate, the ’13 could likely have benefited from a less urgent rush to market. The drive to appease the sellers may inhibit a quick response understanding of its fruit intent so consumers should be aware of the need to exercise just a half-year or so of patience.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Sémillon 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($34.95)

A getable Sémillon of plenary indulgence, of deep-seated intent, already blessed and blissful of honey. From a two-barrel lot, fermented in stainless steel with lees contact. This is an Ann Sperling special, both biodynamic and unfined, so it serves public notice as a Southbrook affiche in promotion of naturalism. And then it really begins to rock. Sulphites are present and perceptible but so are the more panegyrizing notes of salinity, mineral and rocks with ideas. Single-varietal Sémillon is an amazing thing, possessive of a clarity few can match. It ages with ease and it knows it. “When you know that your time is close at hand, maybe then you’ll begin to understand.” The ’13 Whimsy! Sémillon is an iron maiden, luminescent metal intense with even more honey on the back-end. Sémillon, hallowed be thy name.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Chardonnay ‘Minerality’ 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Slated for release in January or February 2015, “Minerality” as sister to “Richness” is the wilder of the two, less weighty (though up there at 14 per cent alcohol), possessing nothing in any discernible or palpable, tropical void. This little sister is “shakin’ like a tree. rollin’ like a log, shakin’ and a rollin’ now, that ain’t all.” Minerality occupied (40 per cent new, 12 per cent one-year and 48 per cent older) French oak barrels for 12 months, then sat in bottle for 12 more. Until now. Ray of power here unleashed, like a rock ‘n roll genie, finger-picking god ranging all over the map of scales. Though her sulphur edges to watering eyes, the aqueous emulsion from barrel selections leading to tight, reductive early life tendency will one day be forgiven. In fact, Minerality was rejected by the VQA panel on her first go round, bad girl as she was, but she’s now settling into her band-aid skin. She’s now a release away from being almost famous. The rigidity in redux has stirred through, having trod beyond pyridine freshness, though you can still feel the ghosts. Acts seemingly evolved but it manifests as an aromatic nougat. “Reduction is an indication of aging potential, or verve,” says Sperling. A comparison might be made to a 2000 Mosel, which was untouchable early on, but is now a classic. Could Minerality stand the weather? It has a very particular profile, a tactile mouthfeel and great, sweet length, from soul to soul. So yes, this is 2012 Chardonnay on the Peninsula.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($34.95, WineAlign)

Slated for a January/February 2015 release, the 100 per cent estate (organic and biodynamic) ’12 Whimsy Cabernet Franc spent time in (41 per cent) new wood. The significance of the barrel imprint is not lost on territorial influence as related to texture, more than anything else. A warming trend is balanced by a layering of savoury savoir faire and citrus (or the thought of). A repetitive drumming tang drives this tome with trepidation in reserved activity and acidity. Lacking any discernible tobacco, currant or notes of piquancy, this will request consumer patience before it comes into its own and out to the party. Though quite elegant and possessive of better than good length, I prefer the freshness and personality of the (’12 and ’13) Triomphe, for the money. Here I am reminded of some Tuscan CCR’s. Like a time-clocked, sui generis oaked and stately Chianti, this Whimsy will offer more charm when it reaches middle age, at least five years down the road and it will display plenty of caramel, wood polish and charcuterie cure at that time.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($34.95, WineAlign)

In a warm year like 2012, the perfect Southbrook synoptic storm for Cabernet Sauvignon gives cause for thought. Awash in agriculture (organic and biodynamic), of fruit (100 per cent estate) and from barrels (nearly half new and just Four Mile Creek shy of two years), this winemaker’s vagary palavers on verve, torpid integration and inevitable aging. The rich berry and earth weave is a veritable, variegated loaf of aggie layering. But it’s more than that. The centre is filled with cool runnings; mint, eucalyptus and chains of pyromorphite. All tolled you can feel the showiness of the vintage in this Whimsy’s emphatic overall statement.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Petit Verdot 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95)

Welcome to the new world of single-varietal junkets and Four Mile Creek Petit Verdot. Cabernet Sauvignon (13.3 per cent) and Merlot (1.3) offer up contiguous Bordeaux support for this Southbrook first (under the full varietal name – this used to be called “Who You Calling Petit”), slated for an April or May 2015 release. Culled from the estate’s biodynamic and organic vineyard. Musty, dusty and undomesticated, Sperling’s take is a swirling mistral of wild berries, sauvage, herbs, garrigue and even mushroom. It has yet to recede from its barrel play, showing nary a sign of evolution. Big tannins, high concentration and abrupt ministrations are the crux of its personality. It seems that it will stride out in two years, score early and often, then retire to the bench. The late candied flavours indicate a successful, if short career. Less than 70 cases were produced.  Tasted December 2014

Southbrook Whimsy! and Poetica decanted

Southbrook Whimsy! and Poetica decanted

Poetica Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($54.95, WineAlign)

The Poetica Red ’12, slated for a Spring 2015 release, is amazing and intriguing on many levels. But for the fact that Petit Verdot (26.5 per cent) plays such a major varietal role, what must first be declared is the disseminated learning applied to this application. The dos and don’ts of previous (only produced in) warm vintage Poetica Reds will see a shedding of those don’ts in this 2012. Ann Sperling ushers in a new era for Niagara Bordeaux assemblage and if this wine is any harbinger, others will follow suit. Here celebrates a love for the land (environment), poetry and more specifically, Canadian poets. Chief Dan George, he of North Vancouver and the Hollywood screen, penned “Words to a Grandchild.” In it he wrote, “in the midst of a land without silence, you have to make a place for yourself.” Poetica Red ’12 will have done that when viewed retrospectively, 10-15 years from now. It will have grown old, but also wise. As for now it’s brooding, melancholy even. It’s all of that and this; endemic, entrenched, crenellated, ensconced and indoctrinated with Niagara knowledge. Has a dusty, earthy, even funky poetry. More depth than many, much realized acumen and will live long. Given 30 minutes of air it showed the ribbons of classic Niagara reds. All these concepts combine to see Poetica Red ’12 not so much as huge, but with depth and complexity.  Tasted December 2014.

Poetica Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($49.95, WineAlign)

Whole cluster pressed, all estate fruit spent 18 months in only 15 per cent new (100 per cent French, mainly 300L) barrels. Indigenous yeasts saw more rotation than stirring and classic Chardonnay fermentation, which is code for “they always stick.” As a result, there was no need to impress a finish on fermentation. As per the Poetica practicum, poetry sidles up to the Estate’s flagship white, joined in ’12 by Chief Dan George, the Burrard Inlet, B.C. Tsleil-Waututh Nation chief. The Little Big Man (Old Lodge Skins) academy-award winning actor and poet penned “Keep a Few Embers From the Fire.” The final line “for a new life in a changed world” alludes to the Poetica’s destiny, affirmed by the success of this vintage. When it is released in the Spring of 2015, it will strike an immediate accord with tasters and consumers alike because it is markedly more accessible than previous vintages. Rich and unctuous, it is neither as tropical nor as misunderstood as Poeticas that have come before. Focus is laser sharp, balance is key and integration realized. The level of osmosis in its parts is just awesome. Though reductive, power will propel this Poetica to parts native and familiar, with élan in evolution. Tannins are great but certainly yet spun by sunburst. In 20 years time, words will describe this Poetica as best ever. That much is certain.  Tasted December 2014

Southbrook Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013

Southbrook Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013

Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($69.95, WineAlign)

An all estate, indigenous and inoculated Icewine, even if it were not thought possible to do so. Spoons out pure raspberry and apricot distillate, this Cabernet Franc is a product of happily fermented yeast because of a clean, natural and healthy vineyard. Bacteria neither takes a prominent seat nor dominates in the fermentation. Plenty of nutrition (or just enough, depending on the angle) is available in the fermentative state and then again in barrel. No trouble will come running. No Brettanomyces nor acetic negativity can survive. There is orange, pomegranate molasses and cinnamon stick in here. Goes straight to the cavity, with sugars and acidity set on high, along with structure and length. Really as good as Cabernet Franc gets in the idiom and finishes alternatively, distinctly dry. Will not turn Bretty like some older vintages. A thinker of clean, clean Icewine thoughts, from a desert of fermentation to realize a dessert garden of eden. I took a sip and “I got taken away, by a heavenly host, to a heavenly place.”  Tasted December 2014

Good to go!

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The final 14 bargains of 2014

Today I tasted through the VINTAGES January 10, 2015 release. Thinking about that for a moment I find it hard to believe that yet another year has passed, with thousands of wines having passed my lips and into many levels of my consciousness. What a year it has been. More on that to come.

Related – Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence

For now the task at hand is to find some wine to get us through the weeks leading to Christmas and into the new year. Bargains and values come in many colours, shapes and sizes. Earlier this week I gave up a dozen Sparkling wines to look for. Today it’s all about the red and white table wines, from cocktail sippers to serious main course friends. Here are the last 14 recommended values coming to VINTAGES December 6th, which happens to be tomorrow.

From left to right: Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épice Syrah 2012, Tselepos Classic Moschofilero 2013, Kew Vineyards Old Vine Riesling 2012, Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Henri Ehrhart Gewürztraminer 2012, Mountadam Estate Chardonnay 2009, Red Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2013

From left to right: Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épice Syrah 2012, Tselepos Classic Moschofilero 2013, Kew Vineyards Old Vine Riesling 2012, Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Henri Ehrhart Gewürztraminer 2012, Mountadam Estate Chardonnay 2009, Red Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2013

Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2012, Midi, France (177584, $15.95, WineAlign)

That, at $16, a Midi Syrah can throw this much smoked meat, bacon and genuine roasted porcine goodness into a bottle, kudos must be thrown straight back. The braise is accented by allspice, winter savoury, black olives and licorice root. It’s a veritable pot au feu, filled to brimming with meat, mire poix and herbs de provence. Wow. All, in.   Tasted November 2014  @VinsPaysdOcIGP

Tselepos Classic Moschofilero 2013, Peloponnese, Greece (724583, $17.95, WineAlign)

A textured, minutely oxidative and bronzing Moschofilero with a confident sense of itself. The orchard has ripened and spilled into this bottle with peaches, apricots and citrus Portokalia Lakonias. Great metal tang, world turning acidity and length as long as the Nestani’s walk to Demeter’s Temple.  Tasted November 2014  @Tseleposwines

Kew Vineyards Old Vine Riesling 2012, VQA Niaagara Peninsula, Ontario (392126, $18.95, WineAlign)

Classic and I mean classic Bench Riesling entry. The richness of Bench soil, the elevation enriching the texture, the off-dry aromas impossible to avoid. There is a creamy, medicinal, tannic feel, so apropos and a scant, succulent scent of roses. The acidity at present is not quite in the groove and will be needed to travel the long, bright road ahead. If this ’12 is not the one, future vintages will surely one day realize the dream. Nevertheless this Kew is typical to ’12 and to the Bench and has begun a new chapter for the genre.  Tasted November 2014  @kewvineyards

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign)

Who has not waited for Elevation to hit out of the 2012 vintage? Straight up it must be noted that this will rank over and above the best from the St. Urban Vineyard. The ’12 Elevation will not only find long-term success among the great values in Bench Riesling, it will go down as one of the best ever, at any price. The vintage impart is a natural for this wine. At the moment it is the most primary of all because of the layers that texture bring. The Elevation will go thirty years and climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, gaining flesh and personality. The already seamless gathering of fruit and mineral is palpable. And still a reminder, the price is $20. This is a Schmidt gift to Ontario, for anyone and everyone to be one of the lucky ones. To purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling.  Tasted November 2014  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Henri Ehrhart Gewürztraminer 2012, Alsace, France (392118, $19.95, WineAlign)

A step up in the Alsace Gewurz take.  Some reserve in the nose, holding back the far east florals and the sugar. There’s an aerified feel to this, an ethereal complement, a savoury edge. Really interesting and surely more than versatile aromatic white.  Good texture with creamy mangosteen and vanilla pod and then tight, even spicy, bracing acidity. Great deal here. Will live for a decade.  Tasted November 2014  @drinkAlsace

Mountadam Estate Chardonnay 2009, South Australia, Australia (333211, $21.95, WineAlign)

There’s a sugary high to this Chardonnay and some sulphur though it blows away with ease. The texture is brilliant, flavours round and glazing. So much citrus to go around, with so little time to appreciate the varieties, levels and nuances. Oak, while anything but an after thought toasts in nuts and bolts. This will do no harm and ingratiate itself to all sorts of white palates for five years or more.   Tasted November 2014

Red Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia (58073, $21.95, WineAlign)

The Mornington perfume, distinct, ethereal, lifted, elevated, fresh with a bit sauvage, not of musk, but of a wild road less trodden. A step beyond fresh, into learned territory and also above crisp, into crunchy. Very interesting and complex Pinot Noir, so obvious as anything but, yet unique, tart, striking and long. This should have many consumer fans and expand horizons for broad appeal, but also be a friend to the discerning taster. Most impressive.  Tasted November 2014  @RedHillEstate  @Noble_Estates

From left to right: Clos De Los Siete 2011, Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva 2006, Château Cambon Le Pelouse 2010, 13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2011, Paitin Sori' Paitin Barbaresco 2010, Corte Pavone Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

From left to right: Clos De Los Siete 2011, Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva 2006, Château Cambon Le Pelouse 2010, 13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2011, Paitin Sori’ Paitin Barbaresco 2010, Corte Pavone Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Clos De Los Siete 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (622571, $23.95, WineAlign)

If the triumvirate of extraction, Argentine beefiness and intermingled layers of wood and cake are the thing you crave, come to Mendoza for all that and more. If that ternion comes in a package of $22 and is drawn from seven altitudinous agricultural entities, Clos de los Siete the perennial success story is a go to for the genre. From out of the Uco Valley, at the district of Vista Flores, Tunuyán. The ’11 misses no beats, brings chocolate, licorice and macerated plums to the barbecue. This Malbec blend (with Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon) intimates, attracts and culls a hunk of steak from off the coals and settles in for a long, healthy, belly fulling pairing.  Tasted November 2014  @closdelossiete  @closdelos7  @Dandurandwines

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva 2006, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (382945, $23.95, WineAlign)

An ’06 Chianti Classico Riserva you say, pre-aged, delivered to the Ontario market and presented here in 2014, all in for $24? You can’t fool us. We’ve been duped too many times before. This must fall into the “too good to be true” category. The answer depends on which style of Chianti you prefer. This walks all the halls, plies the trades and hits the marks of the CCR ancients. Comes from a remarkable vintage, holding on but in true advanced, oxidizing and fruit diminishing character. Mushrooms and truffles abound, as does game in the early roasting stage. A note of Brett is here too, not over the top but its presence can’t be denied. Acidity speaks, as does bitter chocolate. This is not for all but all should have a go.  Tasted November 2014  @Ilmolinodigrace  @chianticlassico

Château Cambon Le Pelouse 2010, Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux, France (256016, $29.95, WineAlign)

Always a solid, full-bodied for little compensation Bordeaux, this time in full cake and grain throttle. Though it lacks the fullness up the middle of more accomplished ’10 houses, the fruit is grounded, the acidity on top and the tannins daring, yet working to towards future gains.  Tasted November 2014  @CambonLaPelouse

13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130195, $29.95, WineAlign)

A return to the Sandstone 2011 sees the high-toned aromatics and blessedly funky earth coming together, if in ever so timorous tone, to form some kind of Gamay union. There is something lurking now, coming out, intimating roses and tea, eastern spices and potpourri. Something Nebbiolo like, or possibly, more specifically Pelaverga. This is Sandstone. Nothing else in Ontario smells like Gamay from this place. Nothing. The complexity of its aromatic life is now beginning, though due to the burdensome barrel the palate lags behind. Give it two more years to take a turn at expression.  Tasted November 2014  @13thStreetWines  @Noble_Estates

Paitin Sori’ Paitin Barbaresco 2010, Piedmont, Italy (106591, $41.95, WineAlign)

Classic, quintessential, “entry-level” Barbaresco, so much more than utilitarian Nebbiolo from as quality and consistent a producer as can be found. The 2010 has all the right attributes and hits all the correct marks. Regal, matronly, sharp, focused and so attached. Gorgeous perfume, marked by candied flowers, with noble, astringent tannins but there is more than good and plentiful fruit. This will age for 20 years, as long as any Paitin from recent times.  Tasted November 2014  @GroupeSoleilTO

Corte Pavone Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (237263, $49.95, WineAlign)

Rustic, stark, intense and tense from a vintage that separates the bold from those that can’t handle the climatic truth. Corte Pavone spoons it in stride, chews it up, spits it out. True blue Brunello feel here; bracing, aromatically buffed and bouffant, of sweet plum flavours, tobacco, smoky and make-up smeared all over its face. A wild herb and gritty tannic finish. This is trouble come running, magical, wild, exceptionally out there and with 5-10 years it should reel in the reigns, slow down, relax and smile with “clean, clean thoughts.” Tasted November 2014  @ConsBrunello

Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley, California (992438, $119.95, WineAlign)

Showing a smidgen of age at this eight year mark. The warm touch of caramel on plum flavours are wrapped up in an aromatic potpurri in  many flowers, dried and also blooming. Violets for sure, but also a rose and citrus blossom. Trailside is in a relaxed state of wine. Has moments of dark, dusty chocolate and a tonic to tie the flavours together. It’s expensive but it’s a classic Napa drop and worth every dollar.  Tasted November 2014  @liffordretail

Good to go!

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A Blanck slate in Alsace

Paul Blanck et fils Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/Domaine.Paul.Blanck

Paul Blanck et fils
Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/Domaine.Paul.Blanck

Philippe Blanck‘s wines are his tabula rasa; Riesling, Muscat d’Alsace, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Chasselas, Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir. They are like children, young and innocent in their infancy, uncomplicated canvases, unaware of what complexities may befall them. Blanck begins with quires like Aristotle’s “unscribed tablets” and transforms these epistemological blank slates through nurturing, experience and perception. His wines are those of expression, not impression.

Domaine Paul Blanck announces to the world they are “Vignerons d’Emotions depuis 1610 en Alsace.” They embody “family spirit” with the objective “to create wines of pure pleasure for wine-lovers throughout the world.” Thirty different wines are produced from the property, separated into three main types. First there are the fruit driven wines to “enable the wine-lover to discover the aromatic finesse of the Alsace grape varieties.” Second are the wines with mineral characteristics, “the single vineyards and grands crus which express the plenitude of limestone, the sweetness and firmness of clay, the harmony of manganese and the racy bouquet and power coming from silica.” Then there are “les nectars,”  the late harvest and “grains nobles” issued from overripe grapes “which are mysterious, opulent, complex and exuberant.”

The English philosopher John Locke brought forth the nature versus nature proposal of the blank slate as “a tacit theory of human nature, namely, that human behavior is caused by thoughts and feelings.” The application of the premise to wine is viable because of the naked stage at which a yet fermented grape exists.

During the grape’s life cycle, genealogy and climate shape its development. But even after it is plucked from the vine it still carries no true identity, in so far as what it will become as a wine. This is the point where nature gives way to nurture. Environment now acts as the catalyst to shape the wine’s life. Wine does not evolve because of natural selection. It evolves at the hands of the winemaker.

The tabula rasa theory works with respect to wine with the only exception being “when innate characteristics are considered because “innate ability and blank slate are two totally opposing ideas, so how can they coexist?” Wine is a blank slate before it is crushed and sent to ferment. Its en route ability to acquire knowledge is anything but innate. Domaine Blanck’s wine is different. It’s tactility defines how it develops and ages. The Blanck 1983 Muscat proves the point. It’s mien is almost impossible to comprehend. Experience imprints knowledge.

Blanck the Darwinian is the keeper of blank slates baring little resemblance to those of his contemporaries. Not because their development incorporates the concepts of heredity, genealogy and culture. It is here within that the Blancks share a commonality with other traditionalists. Where Philippe’s take differs is in the anti-Descartes approach to making wine. Alsace is certainly a wine region with a storied history. It’s a place where sixth and eight and tenth generation winemakers have been passed down the torch of practice and the tools to work with varietals and their idiosyncratic tendencies. For this learned reason and because he approaches l’élevage with feelingPhilippe Blanck’s wines need to be assessed with a combination of art and science.

While it may seem absurd to think about Philippe Blanck‘s wines, or any winemaker’s for that matter as evolved and developed in direct connectivity to musings and dissertations, spend three hours tasting with him. You too will walk away with a poet’s perception, a musician’s intuit and a writer’s reverie. Philippe Blanck makes full use of human intellect and empirical familiarity to help realize his wine’s potential.

The Gewürztraminer Bird of Alsace, Domaine Paul Blanck

The Gewürztraminer Bird of Alsace, Domaine Paul Blanck

Philippe makes the wines with his brother Frédéric, “the artist, the solitary one.” Philippe self-describes himself as the “people person.” The domain is not organic but “we are close. Plowing is the key to organics, and grass, and compost. It’s enough.” No chemical products are used, unless it’s entirely necessary, like in 2006 and 2012 when botrytis ran rampant. “If you want to have low yields, why have fertilizers?” Blanck notes the importance of building up resveratrol in the grapes, essential for disease resistance and vine health.

The Blanck portfolio includes Les Classiques, single, classic-varietals with less than five g/L of residual sugar. Then there are Les Cépages Oubliés, a category which defines a series of wines, but not what they are capable of becoming. They are in fact a set of outliers, a group of grape varieties having fallen from vogue, kept alive by vignerons like Paul Blanck et fils. The varietal eccentricity of Chasselas, Sylvaner and Auxerrois. Les Vins de Terroir come from lieux-dits, spend one year in vats and another one to two in bottle. Les Grands Crus need six to seven years to reach potential but as Blanck exclaims, “after two or three years of cellaring the wine is exploding.” Les Nectars include Les Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) and Les Sélections de Grains Nobles.

Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

In June of 2014 I sat down with Philippe Blanck at the winery in Kientzheim to taste 17 of his wines, along with Montreal’s Fred Fortin, Sommelier au Restaurant Laurea, New York’s Jonathan Ross, Sommelier at  and Chicago’s Doug Jeffirs, Director of Wine Sales for Binny’s Beverage Depot.  Philippe pulled out 10 bottles with at least 15 years of age on them, including an ’83, two ’85’s and an ’89, because “how often do you have the opportunity to open wines like this?” Philippe’s response? “When people come.”

Related – Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due

Here are notes on 14 wines tasted that day in June. The other three are Pinot Noir, published (as noted within the link), back in September.

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Pinot Blanc Classique 2013

Has an unoaked Chardonnay approach, from early-ripening fruit vinified in a clean, fresh style. The soils are gravel, sand and south-facing clay and limestone. The vintage is what Alsatians would call classic; consistently cool with low yields. Aromatic purity, of citrus and flowers move to a solid and slightly weighty bitter mid-palate, then give way to a sliding scale finish.

Auxerrois Vieilles Vignes 2010

This grape variety from Luxembourg came to Alsace in the 18th century. Blanck leaves it for one year on the lees, to add richness and to bring out aromas from gentle oxidization. The wine is then left in bottle for three more years before release. The oxygen-free environment couples with the earlier air transfer to complicate matters in beautiful didacticism. The aromatics are massively tropical and the wine is imperfectly clean. Full and fleshy, accessible but intensely cerebral. Auxerrois in awe of what must be.

Pinot Blanc 1989

This from granite soils, full of mineral and white tannin, yet never saw a moment in barrel. The location is the Grand Cru Furstentum, in a windy area, perfect for Pinot Blanc. Has that sense of Burgundian metallurgy, that texture and that buttery malo feel. “This is a paradox without being a paradox” says Blanck, because the tannins are in the vineyard. Even in hue you get a sense of the botrytis. “She’s a beautiful blonde,” quips Philippe, she’s “the sensuality of humanity,” adds Ross. Here Pinot Blanc lets it be, amazes with a pure, silky, textural feeling and a cleanse of the mouth. “All these years I’ve been wandering around, wondering how come nobody told me” there could be Pinot Blanc like this. Now I’ve got a feeling I’ll find more.

Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2010

This is what Philippe Blanck calls “a flagship wine.” From a cold vintage with excruciatingly low yields. The Schlossberg gives mineral and more mineral; Kaysersberg migmatite, granite of Thannenkirch, potassium, magnesium, fluorine and phosphorus. Blanck’s Riesling distills its rock heredity in classicism and minimalism. Matured on its lees in large oak barrels for 12 months, this is possessive of a roundness despite the vintage, with Sémillon like wax and back-end intensity. It should be considered a two to three-year Riesling, maxing out at the six to seven-year range.

Pinot Gris Grand Cru Schlossberg 1998

The bottle had been open 10 days so we were tasting this just for fun, for experience. Philippe did not see the purpose in a formal tasting note. With allegiance to the informal tasting note, the presented wine conjured up one word: Incroyable. So very alive in depths despite the heart worn on its sleeve. Flowers seemed to suddenly enter the room as its complexities were revealed. I could only ask how this could not work itself into my passive consciousness, this wine that had shed its skin and borne its naked ass to the world for so long. It had nothing to hide and nothing left to prove.

Philippe Blanck in the Schlossberg Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Philippe Blanck in the Schlossberg
Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2009

Tasted from a 375 mL bottle, under screwcap. A crystalline expression, touched by silky tannins, citrus angles and dry, chaste class. The vintage has bestowed it with a broad mid-palate, excellent structure and admiral length, all in admonition of its preparation. The ’09 Schlossberg will live long, in ways that a current look at the ’03 is showing, by gaining tropical flesh and a meringued texture as it ages.

Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2003

At nearly 11 years of age this archetypal Blanck confab to Alsace Grand Cru clambake sips swimmingly youthful and offers the first and most near-recent look at the house style. Restraint, beauty and intensity are summed up in citrus, mineral and granitic tannin. Quite a quenelle or three of creamy, sherbet-like texture fills the centre of the gelid exterior. Will develop to maturity with another 11 years and a retrospective look back at that time will reveal the glory of the Blanck Schlossberg narrative.

Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 1994

Popped from a 375 mL bottle, the ’94 is the first to be propelled by petrol. Twenty years ago it came from the Schlossberg’s crenelated granite summits with the simple thought of “gonna be a blank slate, gonna wear a white cape.” Two decades on it’s a national symbol of a father to son enfeoffment, a Riesling of handed down knowledge and analysis. Now in phase two of the atomic launch, it’s also quite sexy, skirting flesh, cut above the knee and showing magical, mineral flanks. A sweet bitterness prescribes its packed and protracted punch. This 1994 shows signs of a melting, leading it into the finest years of its life.

Riesling Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru Schlossberg 1991

From a tough vintage, especially considering the trilogy of exceptional wines made in 1988-1990. The yields were frighteningly low (less than 20 l/hL) but this, in Blanck’s estimation, “is a poetic wine.” The oeuvre here is all about tannin and acidity, from granite (of course), which is what gives it the intangible quotient of age. The ultramafic rock, igneous and nurturing in origin, intrusive by nature. Drink it any earlier, says Philippe and “you miss the culture and the experience.” There’s a mineral funk here, like a crust upon the granite, a slice of stinky wet rock, chiseled off and dissolved into the wine. This Schlossberg lacks the flesh and the naphtha of the 1994, nor will it suddenly discover it. Time to drink up.

Riesling Grand Cru Wineck-Schlossberg 1992

Wineck-Schlossberg gets its name from the ruined 13th-century Wineck Castle, between the villages of Ammerschwihr and Katzental, three km’s south of the Schlossberg. The soil is granite, like the Schlossberg, so it’s the same, but different. The advanced decomposition means more granitic fine material, a geological phenomenon that seems to make for a finer and more palpable mineral texture in this Riesling. Yet it seems more terpenic, with a level of orchard fruit in both aroma and flavour not present in the Schlossberg Rieslings. A calm and purposed ’92 from Blanck.

Domaine Paul Blanck st fils

Domaine Paul Blanck st fils

Riesling Grand Cru Furstentum 1993

Switching geological gears here, this is Riesling from limestone, obviously a different animal. Philippe Blanck does not offer his understanding of what calcaire does for Riesling as much as he muses on the poetic and the abstract. “This is a wine that gives an understanding that is just about being.” The existentialist take is curious, coming from a winemaker who speaks more like Donne or Baudelaire than Nietzsche or Dostoevsky. The investigation requires more precision and a foray into the gestalten, something that is made of many parts and yet is somehow more than or different from the combination of its parts. There is a feeling of miel in this ’93, the first in the line-up to give that sweet feeling. The Furstentum shows Philippe as a dreamer and a lover. He and this Riesling are a matter of election, not selection. This wine is the exception to the Blanck rule.

Muscat d’Alsace Réserve Spéciale 1983

From Altenbourg, a lieu-dit located at the base of the Furstentum vineyard. Here is Blanck’s “fairy tale,” a wine you would have always heard about but never had a chance to taste or likely ever seen. The terroir is limestone mixed with clay and you will have to excuse my Alsatian, but a single sniff and taste releases the expression, “are you fucking kidding me?” This 31-year old Muscat is an impossibility, a first time feeling, a never before nosed perfume. Speaks in a limestone vernacular, of grapes given every chance to survive long after their innocence had been lost. A forest herb, tree sap, evergreen resin, lemongrass and bitter orange coagulation rises from its viscous mist. The acidity has lost nothing on the fruit, acts in perfect foil and leaves you with a sense of loneliness that is just beautiful.

Paul Blanck Muscat d'Alsace Réserve Spéciale 1983 and Riesling Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru Schlossberg 1991

Paul Blanck Muscat d’Alsace Réserve Spéciale 1983 and
Riesling Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru Schlossberg 1991

Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum 1985

Elegant and refined but decelerated in the old ways, “my father’s and uncle’s way,” admits Blanck. Here a wine defined by aromatics and tangible consciousness. Spices abound, of the far east, tomato pulp, tarragon, sage, tangerine, mint and eucalyptus. It’s balmy with a streak of cool garrigue. It’s Gothic in its green grandiosity. So, it reflects pure Furstentum Alsace, back to the doyen, to the territory of the wise.

Gewürztraminer Altenbourg Vendanges Tardives 1985

Nearly 30 years have condensed and melded this late harvest wine together. This represents the Blanck intangible revenge. The series of sneaks. It’s a veritable, tropically creamy and alcoholic shake of coconut, pineapple, guava and mangosteen. Mixed in are herbs and spices. In their infancy, wines like this are a “big blank slate every day.
Big blank canvas staring at me every day.” With time they creep into my consciousness. The ’85 VT is silky, evolved and very much alive. It’s so deep and so pure it absorbs every colour of visible light expect what is to come, so it reflects back the purity of the past. Might require a spoon to enjoy to the fullest.

Good to go!

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Bloody vivid 2011 Vintage Ports

Vintage Port 2011 from left to right: Sandeman, Fonseca, Dow's, Graham's, Taylor Fladgate

Vintage Port 2011 from left to right: Sandeman, Fonseca, Dow’s, Graham’s, Taylor Fladgate

With the announcement of the Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 by Wine Spectator as the wine of the year for 2014, fortified is back on top of the extant pop heap. The number one ranking in the magazine’s annual Top 100 list of the most exciting wines is a big financial deal and another arranged feather in the Symington family’s cap. The region’s single biggest landowner just put on some extra weight.

The Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 was the highest-scoring wine of the vintage (by WS ) at 99 points, or “classic” on their 100-point scale. It was chosen because of its “fine value for the category at $82 a bottle and for being the best of the best of an amazing vintage.”

In wine, Vintage Port is about as specific as it gets primarily because for it to exist and prosper beyond the fossilized fringes of the genre, everyone in town must be on board. For the first time since 2007, the 2011 vintage was universally declared across the Douro. If the makers and pundits were polled, would it be proclaimed the greatest vintage of the century or, perhaps one of the best ever? The 95-plus scores from the top commercial critics, including more than a handful of 99’s and 100’s would lead us to believe that were the case.

An excited Jancis Robinson wrote “could 2011 be the vintage to put vintage port back on the fine wine map? I do hope so. I have never been as excited by the launch of a clutch of vintage ports.” Dow’s was not on Robinson’s “super-stunning list,” which included Fonseca, Graham, Quinta do Vesuvio, Capela Taylor and Vargellas Vinha Velha. Jamie Goode noted that “overall, the quality is very high indeed. I found the wines quite vinous and pretty, with very direct fruit and lovely purity.” When tasted from cask, Niepoort 2011 was Goode’s top scorer (98 points). Dow’s was well down the Goode line.

WineAlign‘s Julian Hitner, a.k.a. The Successful Collector declared 2011 a stunning and fabulous vintage, “one of spellbinding treats.” Hitner also awarded the Dow’s 99-points. Wine Enthusiast rated nine 2011 VP’s 95, nine at 96 (including the Dow’s) and eight more at 97 or better. Decanter took a lower road and was the scrooge of vintage point doling, having chosen Fonseca as their top rated Port, awarding it 19/20 or 96-points. Then there are the top ten reasons to buy 2011 Vintage Port according to the Fladgate Partnership.

Vintage Port does not always find itself at the top of the wine tasting note compendium replete with descriptors like graceful and elegant. “Just too goddamn vivid,” is more like it. Sometimes there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Massive fruit and tannin is all well and good if that’s your cup of bomb tea but without balance, all is lost. The 2011 Vintage Ports have balance, well, the best do, but they are, and I speak in very general terms, collectively over the top. Though it may seem an oxymoron to put Vintage Port and elegance in the same sentence, what is a great wine without a sense of humility and restraint?

Vintage Port 2011 at Summerhill LCBO, November 3, 2014

Vintage Port 2011 at Summerhill LCBO, November 3, 2014

There are some remarkable examples. The VP’s in ’11 that stress the aromatic notions of perfume and florality strike the finest balance, despite their high-octane levels of fruit and texture. Others’ heads are just too big for their bodies. I am not as high on 2011 as you might think I should be.

One of the fortunate pleasures of writing about wine and directing a wine list in Toronto is being invited to taste with Robin Sirutis and Julie Hauser of VINTAGES. On Monday, November 3rd they held a horizontal tasting of 2011 Vintage Port at the LCBO’s Summerhill location. The bloody vivid 2011 Vintage Ports. Here are the notes.

2011 Vintage Ports

2011 Vintage Ports

Sandeman Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362491, $70.00, WineAlign)

Acutely dry, highly aromatic and crushed to smithereens, potpourri dusty floral. As glutinous and viscous as Sandeman has ever been or Vintage Port can ever be. Also marked by roasting coffee beans, brewed house chain dark roast and drying tannins. This Sandeman ’11 has “big plans, big time, everything.” It will appeal to a consumer in search of a department store hook penned for immediate gratification and a quick fortune. In 25 years, after the camphor, campfire and the earthy musk of camel-hair have dissipated, will it still be on top of the pops?  Will it be replayed again and again in the category of one hit wonder? It will be remembered fondly for being one of solid gold.  Tasted November 2014  @SandemanPorto  @ChartonHobbs

Fonseca Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362244, $130.00, WineAlign)

With the most brilliant ’11 VP hue and an endless posit to plumb plump plum depths of fruit, the Fonseca dances with the moonlit knight. Its genesis begins with a raw must and animal musk, but beneath the skin lurk vessels pulsating with a sanguine rush and iron rich plasma. Smells of its fortifying spirit, not yet even close to integration, in high-toned aromatics so intensely perfumed. The wet winter and the moderating effects of a mild, verdant Spring have precipitated a controlled spice on the highly tannic, arid finish. When a sip is taken young, it pleases. When opened 40 years from now, it will fit with comfort and feel so secure. “Young man says you are what you eat – eat well. Old man says you are what you wear – wear well.” Will drink best from 2050 and for decades beyond.   Tasted November 2014  @FonsecaPort

Dow’s Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362376, $90.00, WineAlign)

Straight out I will say that the Dow’s 2011 is unique to the vintage, possessive of a natural sweetness of its own making. It’s built upon a ga, ga, ga, ga vintage port language that is fairly formal and sometimes flowery. In fact the aromatics are so very pretty; violets, Bougainvillea and exotic spice. Such a perfume leaves a lasting memory, like a ghost of fortified wine that lingers. Add the heady sense of graphite and a silky spooning of blackcurrant liqueur. An underlay of brittle mineral hangs on the tip of the tongue. A spicy tang and a meatiness barrels seamlessly through the driest length to hang your Douro hat on. “Oh, would you ease my mind” Dow’s ’11? “Yeah,” but not until 30-35 of oscillation and settling have passed, in a relationship built on patience and virtue.  Tasted November 2014  @Dowsportwine  @winesportugalCA

Graham’s Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362269, $95.00, WineAlign)

Quinta dos Malvedos leads the blend (35 per cent), as it has for more than a century. Quinta do Tua (16 per cent) lends firmness and structure while Quinta da Vila Velha (18 per cent) is the giver of violets and chocolate. Quinta das Lages (12 per cent) elevates concentration and density. Quinta do Vale de Malhadas (19 per cent) is responsible for the chains of grain in tannin. The final blend is Touriga Nacional (40 per cent), Touriga Franca (31 per cent), Vinha Velha (23 per cent, old mixed vineyards), and Sousão (6 per cent). From the Symington Family Group, Graham’s is the cleanest, purest, most fruit-forward and accessible expression of the five 2011’s tasted, thanks to that generous and gregarious Malvedos fruit. Plum and black cherry are accented by orange rind. A sweet, boisterous style, it slowly and purposely descends a ladder from full fruit flavours to drying tannins, more so than any of the others. A wine of great verve, with a cool northern soul, from lush to grain. Will drink well for a new decade and many more while “the radio plays the sounds we made and everything seems to feel just right.”  Tasted November 2014  @grahams_port

Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362293, $130.00, WineAlign)

A Fall of 2014 look at Taylor’s 2011, at this stupidly early point in trying to make sense of what he will become, shows him as the biggest, baddest and current king of the Porto hill. At this juncture he represents the penultimate combination of lush fruit, streaking acidity, drying, angry and crying tannins. The earthiest must oozes along with the silkiest juice which subsequently and willfully submit to those raging tannins. This is hydro-Port, a powerhouse of energy and tension. Black fruits, caked and rolled in stickum and solder, currently weighed down, are waiting to erupt. Once in a declared moon a Vintage Port takes a calculated yet unnecessary risk and thus channels its path into enlightenment. This is the Taylor 2011. Despite his tough exterior, “I can hear the sound of violins. I can hear the piper playin’.” When all is said and done, 40 plus years down the road, he will steal my heart away.  Tasted November 2014  @TaylorsPortWine  @Smarent

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Rocking out with the 2014 WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

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.

Related – He spits, he scores: 2013 World Wine Awards of Canada results

Panorama of judging and wines at WWAC14 Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

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)

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

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)

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)

WWAC14 judges
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

As in 2013, this year I was invited to join the other 17 judges in Mississauga, Ontario. Fortune is measured by the company one keeps. The 2014 judges were David LawrasonSteve Thurlow, Sara d’Amato, Bill Zacharkiw, Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Rémy Charest, Craig Pinhey, Rhys Pender, MWDJ Kearney, Treve Ring, Brad RoyaleJulian Hitner, Evan SaviolidisBruce Wallner, MSMichelle Bouffard, Emily Maclean, Adam Hijazi and Jake Lewis.

Released today, here are the results from #WWAC14, presented by WineAlign. Wines were awarded for the categories of Top Value WinesBest of CountryCategory Champions and Judges’ Choice. In addition to the work of the judges, the Worlds were really made possible by Head Wineaux Bryan McCaw, along with Earl Paxton, Jason Dziver (Photography), Carol Ann Jessiman, Sarah GoddardMiho Yamomoto and the volunteers.

2014 World Wine Awards of Canada Results

WWAC14

WWAC14

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

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.

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Riesling Icewine 2012, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (601021, 375ml, $69.95, WineAlign)

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

Malbec $15-25

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.

Number 8, 1949 by Jackson Pollock www.jackson-pollock.org

Number 8, 1949 by Jackson Pollock
http://www.jackson-pollock.org

Grenache $10-20

Castillo de Monseran Garnacha 2013, Cariñena, Aragon, Spain (73395, $9.95, WineAlign)

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.

Artadi Artazuri Garnacha 2013, Navarra and Basque Country, Spain ($19.50, WineAlign)

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

http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Roadside+Attraction/33YBUM?src=5

Sauvignon Blanc Under $15

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

Southern Italy Under $15

Grandi Muri Primitivo Promovi Salento 2013, Puglia, Italy (agent, $13.50, WineAlign)

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

Shiraz/Syrah $15-25

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 Champion  WWAC 2014 Best of Country

Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Delaine Syrah 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (86553, $32.95, WineAlign)

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’ Choice  WWAC 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

Chardonnay $15-25

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’ Choice  WWAC 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

Sparkling

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 Champion  WWAC 2013 Best of Variety $15 – $25  WWAC 2014 Category Champion  WWAC 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

Riesling Under $15

Villa Wolf Riesling 2013, Pfalz, Germany (agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

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

Good to go!

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50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more

I arrived at Brock University for the Cool Chardonnay conference on Friday and we began tasting the first of 117 sometime around 11:00 am. On Friday night we convened under the stars st 13th Street Winery for the Barrels and Bonfires event. On Saturday I taxied up the Cave Spring Road runway for an afternoon in the Cave Spring vineyard with the Pennachettis and on Saturday bussed over to Vineland Research and Innovation Centre for the grand Cool Chardonnay dinner.

Related – The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind

On Sunday we wrapped up at Ravine Vineyard. In between events, we tasted Chardonnay in the Media Room at White Oaks Resort and Spa. All of this not would not have been possible without the efforts of Wine Country Ontario.  I posted 20 or so tasting notes in Monday’s column, scribbles apropos to the events associated with the presented wines.

Here are 50 more tasting notes in 5,000 Godello words, add or subtract a few hundred. If you follow doctor’s orders and take one Chardonnay every hour for 50 hours, this is the result.

I've fallen and I can't get up. @mikedicaro channelling his inner MacGyver to save #i4c14

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. @mikedicaro channelling his inner MacGyver to save #i4c14

Angels Gate Old Vines Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116350, $23.95, WineAlign)

The long hanging fruit left to develop sugar and richness, the new oak, the eight months rest on the lees. These are all winemaker favourite things, stylistic choices that contribute to a viscous mess of a Chardonnay. A full take has been liberally advantaged from the hot vintage. The alcohol is listed at 13.5 per cent but the wine sweats higher, in a sun-caramelized toast, leaning to oxidative, even bruised and battered orchard fruit territory. As a consequence and in retreat, the acidity dot does follow. The new wood has melded well and good so in terms of texture, the old vines feel right.  Tasted July 2014

Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116384, $15.25, WineAlign)

The Mountainview, despite being a value offering as compared to the Old Vines just seems to be in better temper. There is more mineral on the palate, too. Angles here are less extreme, fruit not as languid or encumbered. The persistence in length seems greater, thanks in most part to freshness, even if the fruit is not quite as fleshy as the OV.  Tasted July 2014

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 and Hidden Bench Felseck Chardonnay 2011

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 and Hidden Bench Felseck Chardonnay 2011

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

Has Wismer found a cruising altitude? Has this Grand Cru vineyard from a most perplexing 2011 vintage entered the telephone booth in civilian clothes, only to soon emerge as a super hero? Will it sing, “I am, I am Superman and I can do anything?” Wismer has rounded out a bit, at present in a grounded form, but we know it will fly to greater heights and at faster speeds. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice.” Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with it’s touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”  Last Tasted July 2014

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

Juicy and immediately perceived as existing in unwavering balance. The juxtaposition of the stainless steel and (three year-old oak for seven months) barrel aging intertwines fresh and reductive aromas to a common meld. More orchard fruit than I remember, more linear acidity, more expression. Raises the bar and the score. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Half barrel-aged, this Chardonnay has a silky mouth feel and as much nip as can be assimilated in a single mouthful. Green apple, blanched nuts and a metallic tickle give the sensation of chewing on crumbling stones. There is considerable girth and texture here, spicy folds and tangible tension. The alloy trumps the fruit so consider drinking up now and for another year or two.”  Last tasted July 2014

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

A thick, rich and medicated goo this ’11 Blue Mountain Chardonnay. “Mother Nature just brewed it and there’s nothing really to it I know.” A traffic of oak waves in not so much woody but more so simply tannic. The palate is clenched, those tannins angular and ever so slightly bitter, intense and want to be bigger than the fruit would be willing to allow. This is Chardonnay with personality and ability, if just a bit big for its own head. Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring wines

Cave Spring wines

Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (213983, $29.95, WineAlign)

Today a fine misty Blancs, looking very much the coppery, crisp slice of apple it need be. Slate stone tone directive, grapefruit very much in play. A slice of tart key lime pie. From my earlier May 2014 note: “The freshest style of the #ONfizz B de B flight. Fruit, escarpment bench stone layering, richesse, biscuits and toast are all in. Acidity meets complexity.” From my earlier, December 2012 note: “Sees no malolactic fermentation and sits at the top end of dry (12-14 dosage). Most of the fruit is 2008, despite the NV designation. A soda fountain of argon and nitrogen bunsens forth through clean lines and carries an entire cider house orchard of Spartan apple. This one certainly hints at Champagne-like characteristics, of brioche and toast. The apples never relent.” Last tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Dolomite Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (902610, $16.95)

The Dolomite is the eponymous CS Chardonnay via 86 per cent Beamsville Bench (Cave Spring Vineyard) and 14 per cent Lincoln Lakeshore . Driven to the licensee market, this is 25 years of winemaking in a nut (or limestone) shell. Made in a fresh, clean, juicy and oh so approachable style, the Dolomite finishes with a slight bitter pith, very obvious citrus zest slant. Remains clean and pure throughout, thanks in large part to the 26 percent more aromatic and very presentable portion of Chardonnay Musqué.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2011, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $15.95, WineAlign)

Musqué is slowly creeping into the Niagara consciousness and into the hearts of winemakers across the peninsula. The aptitude with which it accedes to perfumed heights and respectable complexity without needing excessive coercion makes it both necessary and inviting, especially when a vigneron like Cave Spring is attempting to produce so many levels of quality juice. Chardonnay made easy and without compromise, exemplified here, though the CS take heads straight to the mandarin-clementine stage. Dry, direct, linear, fine and knowing Musqué, not unlike basic yet effective Gruner Veltliner.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2012, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (256552, $18.95, WineAlign)

The vine age on the Estate runs between 18 and 35 years, a wisdom not to be ignored. Usage of older Hungarian oak lends spice to Chardonnay on-line and always climbing the right and proper varietal tower. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Terrific balance to the warm and inviting fruit, certainly orchard driven and kissed by the Spring’s obvious mineral slate. Clean, open-knit, ready, willing and able.”  Last tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Csv Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (529941, $29.95, WineAlign)

Though currently subtle and reserved, if the Csv were once in a wonky phase, the doors to a new perception are now open. Soaked orchard fruit, the underlay of stone and a surround sound of chalky tenderness leads to length, for time is what this Chardonnay has got. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Here is a vibrant and wild at heart expression of Bench Grand Cru terroir, the Cave Spring Vineyard. While the first impression may be a warm one it seems (for the vintage) that is because it’s big, boisterous and a bit clumsy in wood right now. The acidity seems buried at times and at others on top. It is also a touch reductive so this will need more years to settle and to play nice. The aromas indicate green apple meets metal pipe, the flavours orchard and salinity by way of limestone minerality. The length is more than admiral and admirable.” Last tasted July 2014

Clois du Bois Calcaire Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, California, USA (421941, $28, WineAlign)

Inserting the calcaire nomenclature into your RRV label is to announce that your Chardonnay is influenced by calcium carbonate and the ancient, long ago decomposed bones of coral and foraminifera. A heady designation for sure and Clos Du Bois backs it up with its sedimentary and chalky textured ’11. There is a fine stone-ground spice and floral lilt, not to mention a demurred wave, like an under water coral and vegetative scene in slow motion. Clean, pure, lively fruit, picked just in time and left to develop low and slow. I can see this Calcaire gaining complexity for 10 plus years and always living up to its name.   Tasted July 2014

Creation Chardonnay 2012, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (379297, $29, WineAlign)

A macadam drafts from the Creation drawn from what might provocatively be a pair of gravel pits at the base of the Hemel En Aarde Valley. A soul 2012 brother to the Sumaridge though grounded and layered by the lower slopes. That said it does the heavy lifting, offers up more green apple driven fruit and less tannic mineral activity. A bigger wine but by no means a serf to its wood liege. Another stellar ’12.  Tasted July 2014

Creation Chardonnay 2013, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (378554, $32, WineAlign)

Creation brightens in 2013, lifts up to more intense rose flower and potpourri aromas. The intensity follows on the very viscous palate, bringing an increased ocean breeze salinity and scraped rock sensibility. There is a granitic feel that reminds of Rangen Riesling in its own tannic way. In the end the elegance factor takes over and the wine perseveres for a spell.  Tasted July 2014

Decelle Villa Savigny Les Beaune Blanc 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (378208, $40.95, WineAlign)

From low-yielding (20 hL/l) vines, like all of Burgundy (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), as opposed to the 40-45 quotient that might be expected from much of ‘lighter’ Savigny Les Beaune, especially for Chardonnay. Aged for 12 months in two year-old, 500l barrels, there is an alluring and rich feel here, though the wine is fresh, inviting and immediately integrated. A more than approachable White Burgundy to relish now and for a quick tour of the village.  Tasted July 2014

Decelle Saint Aubin 2012

Decelle Saint Aubin 2012

Decelle Villa Saint Aubin 1er Cru Sur Gamay 2012, Saint Aubin, Burgundy, France (377713, $69, WineAlign)

From the partnership of Olivier Decelle, Pierre-Jean Villa and the confidence of winemaker Jean Lupatelli. The town is Gamay, the variety Chardonnay. Only five barrels (125 cases) were produced by a trio of men with zero interest in speculating over land, fruit or success. Barrel fermentation is key, natural yeast a must and a kinship with Puligny uncanny. Not surprising considering the famed locale is but three kilometres away. This cooler fruit spent 15 months in two year-old barrels and though only bottled five weeks prior to tasting there is nary a shocky note. Such a well-adjusted Gamay. Entrancing and engaging Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Domaine Dublère Savigny-Lès-Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1er Cru 2011, AC Burgundy, France (376095, $58.95, WineAlign)

Unusual nose that begins with white candy floss, transforms to gun powder and finishes into the toasty mystic. Unexpectedly warm, buttery and tingling on the tongue, though that is just a faint and fleeting notion. A taste brings out apple-butter terpenes, though once again, that’s just for an instant. While looking for richness their instead ticks intelligence but everything is in foreign tongue shorthand. Balance is key and that it has but ultimately there lacks a certain level of depth.  Tasted July 2014

Domaine Dublère Les Terres Blanches Nuits-St.-Georges 1er Cru 2011, AC Burgundy, France (376079, $105, WineAlign)

Big, boisterous and highly terpenic, so steroidal in apples. MdC  “Donut wines…a hole in the middle.” A tang as well that just doesn’t sit right, a dog that bites. Bitter, tight, bracing, non repentant for its sins.  Don’t really get it.   Tasted July 2014

Gérard Bertrand Domaine De L’Aigle Limoux Chardonnay 2012, AC Midi, France (377671, $33.00, WineAlign)

Rich, honeyed and seemingly sweet, not from sugar (3 g/L) but rather the pressing, squeezing and juicing of stones. That limestone tannin is a trick only grape must and its parent vines know, wondrous and inexplicable. Great body and mouthfeel come from this baby Aigle, a Chardonnay with locally incomparable structure, if not quite the elastic length and girth of the Bertrand Royal. Exceptional quality from the Midi.  Tasted July 2014

Gérard Bertrand Aigle Royal Chardonnay 2012, AP Limoux, Midi, France (377689, $75.00)

Anxiety in high caste mineral, in ingot and in southern French platinum rock. Full textured beauty of attitude and high-slope altitude, with formidable weight, smouldering, perfumed toast and exceptional texture. Full in every way, taking every liberty in the name of equality, and quality. A who knew such bounds could be leaped by the warmth of the place.  Tasted July 2014

Godello and Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Winery

Godello and Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Winery

Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68817, $28.95, WineAlign)

Yet rigid in its youth, the wood is not yet settled. Bottled in September of 2012, the ’12 will need every day of its first year to be ready, willing and able to please upon release. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Always aromatically embossed and texturally creamy, the Estate Chardonnay finds a way to elevate its game with each passing vintage. The uplifting elegance factor acquiesces the poise needed to battle the effects of ultra-ripe fruit out of a warm vintage. In ’12 the middle ground exchanges more pleasantries though the finale speaks in terse, toasted nut and piquant daikon terms. Not harshly or witchy, mind you, but effectively and within reason of the season. When you look in the window at Harald (proprietor Thiel) and Marlize’s (winemaker Beyers) Chardonnay, “you’ve got to pick up every stitch.”  Last tasted July 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $38, WineAlign)

Bottled in March of 2014, the Felseck draws fruit from vines planted in 1988. Proprietor Harald Thiel notes a three-pronged picking regimen, early, mid and late, vinified separately and brought together to bring layering and tapestry out of this extraordinary vineyard and into the finished wine. The many folds and clay-silt soil provide a tannic structure dichotomously “champlant” in style, pastoral even, subdued and ethereal. The nerve in this Chardonnay comes by way of the active limestone, highest in Felseck as compared to any other HB block. This may be the most direct Chardonnay in all of Niagara, the house of permanent cards, the as of yet not witnessed balance achieved. This is the check that affirms a stand and a step towards a legacy.  Tasted twice, July 2014

Godello and Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines

Godello and Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines

Josef Chromy Chardonnay ‘Pepik’ 2012, Tasmania, Australia (378240, $22)

Chardonnay of stainless steel from Chromy’s estate vineyard at Relbia in northern Tasmania, cool, savoury green, spirited and grinding in tight, sharp angles. From what winemaker Jeremy Dineen describes as “a pungent must,” the Pepik is entry-level and anything but. There is a gentle, stable and clarified zesty personality in ‘er, fragrant, snappy and poignant. Versatile for a walkabout with many a pre-dinner flavour.  Tasted July 2014

Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2013, Tasmania, Australia (378232, $32, WineAlign)

In a world where 30+ degrees celsius is a veritable anomaly and the maritime winds spray salt to and fro, there can be little argument against the celebration of (winemaker) Jeremy Dineen’s Chardonnay at a cool climate conference. Sulphured early and housed in one-third new French oak, his lees were stirred often and always. Highly textured, he is succinctly clean, cutting and crunchy with an underlying chalky rationale and smokey, tonic toast. The Chromy ’13 is a demanding croon that must creep up to get a hold of you. Though you tell him “you treat me badly, I love you madly,” there is a miracle in his non-malolactic ways.   Tasted July 2014

Kistler Les Noisetiers 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (251223, $80, WineAlign)

Long distance runner built for endurance, a cool customer able to withstand the heat from a season’s relentless, though moderate, gentle sun, from start to finish. No shortage of ripe fruit and certainly not wanting for the micro-oxygenated slow release of a prized barrel. This might be the two-bit Kistler bottling but it offers up exemplary Sonoma fruit with the temperament and conceit of high caste Burgundy. The style is culled from two poles and pulls in two directions.  At once sharp and piquant, then golden and in mirth. All in all it’s exactly what should be wanted for the buyer who wants what it has to give.  Tasted three times, July 2014

Kistler Stone Flat Vineyard 2012, Carneros, California (agent, $80, WineAlign)

The Carneros vineyard of Tuscan clay is filled with giant river stones. It consequently offers up more of a stone groove, but also an everglade humidity, a lemony spray and a rub of savoury, evergreen. The palate brings a crisp, cool, mountain morning, a rushing stream of fresh water and the cool mountain air. There is a piercing bite on the mid-palate, a peppery spice that lingers than releases for a full wash, a cleanse in mineral. Amazing balance in tightrope tension and length to a horizon out of sight.  Great wine. Finds its elegance and its cool without any effort, like the power lift of a ballet dancer.  Tasted three times, July 2014

Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2011, Sonoma Coast, California (agent, $89.95, WineAlign)

This is from the vineyard in surround of Kistler’s home base and from soil anything but flattering to the host vines. Sandy, deficient in nutrients, “like beach sand,” says Geoff Labitzke, MW, that seemingly has no bottom. Irrigational tubing is employed and perhaps some nitrogen in mid-summer but as per the Kistler stratagem, the VH is dry-farmed. This has the most golden sunshine of the three Chardonnays tasted at #i4C14. It’s brighter, with linear acidity and a very toasty, nutty feel. Sitting with it a while is necessary to appreciate its charm and gathering power.  Tasted July 2014

Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyard at 13th Street Winery

Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyard at 13th Street Winery

Lailey Brickyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (2908, $30.20, WineAlign)

From a vineyard planted in 2004 on the east end of the Lailey property, right next to the river. The red clay soil, the cooler nights and the longer growing season produced just 70 cases of this highly singular and stupidly inexpensive Niagara Chardonnay. This is a vineyard transformed over 10 years from a brickyard and cherry tree farm, now rich yet elegant in simultaneous motion, not to mention seamless in transition, within and without. Brother Derek Barnett is generously giving this rare, small lot Chardonnay away, all the while “talking, about the space between us all…and life flows on,” along the Niagara River.  Tasted July 2014

Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay Old Vines 2012, VQA Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $40.20, WineAlign)

The old Vines were planted between 1974 and 1978, ancient by Niagara standards. Only gnarly old, gristle veteran dudes like these could handle the beastly burden of 16 months in 50 per cent new French oak, not to mention all the while sitting on top of the lees heap. It may ask you “am I hard enough, am I rough enough, am I rich enough?” You may tell it “you’re tropical, you’re subtle, you’re sweet yet cool in mouthfeel, you’re elegant and you’re “not too blind to see,” but you carry that oak with ease.  Tasted July 2014

Malivoire Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (573147, $19.95, WineAlign)

Essentially bone-dry, kissed by a minor peck of new oak and consistently established, here from fruit out of Estate, Moira and (10 per cent) Vinemount Ridge vineyards. The latter adds flinty complexity by way of an intangible, aeriform note, magnified by the warmth of the vintage. The humidity is very minor, thanks to prudent early (September 1 to 12) picking of Beamsville Bench grapes in ever-present rooted stability. Here is hospitable Chardonnay gaining traction and interest with each passing vintage, showcasing the work of winemaker Shiraz Mottiar and as a portal to the investigations of Small Lot, Moira, Mottiar and Cat on the Bench. Tasted July 2014

Malivoire and Riedel, Image (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Malivoire and Riedel, Image (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

In admiral control this summer, rich in stone-churned butter and in residence of a right honourable place. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Gamay may be winemaker Shiraz Mottiar’s decisive resource but Chardonnay is his thing. The Moira’s ranks as one of Niagara’s best, vintage in, vintage out and this Mottiar, from the winemaker’s home vineyard is the trump card. This Malivoire special agent is set in 2 – 5 year old 300 L French oak hogsheads and aged on the lees in barrel for 10 months. The result? Texture. With the use, or lack thereof in new oak, Mottiar’s Chardonnay becomes a study in compages, with strong abilities and the accents of green orchard fruit and a faint sensation of blanched nut. Nothing toasty mind you because it’s all about density and girth; a Shiraz thing. I find his Chardonnay is all about texture.”  Last tasted July 2014

Manciat-Poncet Crémant de Bourgogne Brut NV, Burgundy, France (378653, $28)

A tragically gingered peach, a candied rhinestone, a ready to bake hip cake for the easy oven. Safe bubbles here, “pale as a light bulb hanging on a wire, sucking up to someone just to stoke the fire,” from a distance, with simplicity and caution. Like getting caught in New Orleans with a sinking feeling.  Tasted July 2014

Marie-Pierre Manciat Les Morizottes Mâcon 2012, Burgundy, France (376137, $27, WineAlign)

There are some unhinged and unusual aromas in this Mâcon, of carbon copies, a stainless tank and Musa. Pears too, pinballing and ready for poaching. Faux or perhaps near-mineral texture, slightly saline, with flint and slate. The complexities are boundless and confounding. Highly expressive but the expressions are not all created equal.   Tasted July 2014

Marie-Pierre Manciat Les Petites Bruyères Pouilly-Fuissé 2012, Burgundy, France (376129, $39, WineAlign)

There is a deep rust, faded jeans vine wisdom in the Pouilly-Fuissé. It steps out with more richness and tension than the Mâcon. Balanced energy and stretched length.  Tasted July 2014

Marimar Estate La Masía Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, (331918, $49, WineAlign)

First notes are high in the hills of the tropics, in pineapple, mango and papaya. A veritable smoothie of very ripe, creamy fruit and though it carries a 14 per cent mark in alcohol there rests a jury of acceptable behaviour. Finesse has won the argument, leaving bits of white pepper, reduction and vineyard funk behind. There is a persistence that belies the price on this judiciously-oaked Chardonnay, complete with its avocation of high-powered notations in an expensive suit.  Tasted July 2014

THe Chardonnay of #i4c14

The Chardonnay of #i4c14

Maycas Del Limarì Sumaq Chardonnay 2013, Limari Valley, Chile (Agent, $15.00, WineAlign)

This unoaked Chilean is fresh yet herbal, though mildly so and lime-accented, but certainly not spiked in any Tequila or other southern hemisphere distilled spirit from a large seeping plant kind of way. Fine and subtle actually, so not overtly cool or lifted by altitude influenced climatic acidity. Peacefully, Pacifically tempered Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Maycas Del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2010, Limarí Valley, Chile (162040, $20.00, WineAlign)

This unoaked Chilean is fresh yet herbal, though mildly so and lime-accented, but certainly not spiked in any Tequila or other southern hemisphere distilled spirit from a large seeping plant kind of way. Fine and subtle actually, so not overtly cool or lifted by altitude influenced climatic acidity. Peacefully, Pacifically tempered Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Maycas Del Limarì Quebrada Seca Chardonnay 2011, Limari Valley, Chile

Known as the “dry cliff” this is from a southern parcel (Pinot Noir comes from the north), a calcium carbonate plot that leads to this stone-driven Chardonnay. Nearly 200 metres above sea level, the altitude brings more cool to this bottling, more ventilated salinity, an almost wet-air, asthmatic sense of breathing. Really defined by oyster shell, this has more fruit than the value-based offerings, increased density, more citrus, both dried and condensed. A lot going on here, quite unique and worth a good look.  Tasted July 2014

Niagara College Teaching Winery Balance Barrel Fermented Chardonnay Donald Ziraldo Vineyard 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.15, WineAlign)

From the St. David’s Bench, this avant-garde label saw 11 months in French and American barriques, along with regular lees stirring. Certainly hovering and circulating in wide-ranging textural graces. A whole lotta love and learning is in this bottle; it’s round and golden with a high-spirited tang. At once typical and contrived, it’s also reeking and soaking like a sponge. Many an orchard makes an aromatic class audit. A high-toned citrus exam demands attention and focus. The wood is obvious but it too will learn. All in all this is cool Chardonnay, well-made and ready for the world.  Tasted July 2014

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (173377, $24.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Martin Werner’s 2012 may just be the hardest working Chardonnay in showbiz and in Niagara. Winnowed from Estate (St. David’s Bench) and (Niagara) river fruit, there lurks within, a 20-30 percent perfumed compression of Chardonnay Musqué. The additive is a tonic fanned from the wine’s olfactic communicative nerve centre, adding tree fruit notes no more serious than should be gathered. Werner picked real early, like five weeks ahead (first of September) and the resulting noisome perfume makes for some funk. “It’s these little things, they can pull you under,” but they blow away and settle into a rich, viscous Chardonnay for the palate to collect, contain and command. “Oh, oh, but sweetness follows.” This Ravine works automatically, of the people, for the people.  Tasted July 2014

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (381905, $40.00, WineAlign)

From 100 per cent hillside Estate fruit, a limestone and slate parcel in St. David’s on the Niagara Escarpment. This is fruit from low yields that spent 24 months of unabashed pleasure in French oak. Though highly concentrated and bent in an oxygenated stratosphere, the reduction is in elevated citrus aromas and piercing mineral flavours. Bigger than many, than your head, than a yottabyte. The complex notations are elevated in so many ways. Strung tighter than a leer kite, the heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds are years away from settling so put this Ravine away. Come back next decade to see where it’s at.  Tasted July 2014

Rex Hill Dijon Clone Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon (378455, $46.00, WineAlign)

Palate cleansing Chardonnay, an attribute that can’t be stressed or praised enough when tasting 117 renditions in a span of 50 hours. The Rex Hill is lithe, crisp and pure, a wine with a sense of wisdom. He is a subtle act of wine generosity. He smells like clove-scented, fine-casted ingot and is full of health increasing salinity and minerality. A wine of direct discovery, simple professionalism, restraint and impeccable balance. There is a green apple flavour, gently pressed and juiced. There is a texture from quarry rocks, the creamed kind, slightly piquant, merely dusted. The Rex is a very fine, calm representative with a sure sense of place.  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! “Richness” Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

This special, specific and idiosyncratic batch by winemaker Ann Sperling is a whirlwind of terpene, wood and lees, all in a whorl. Though all three demanding notions make a play to bully the fruit, this is no ordinary fruit and touched by no passive hands. Complex and textured like angelic cake, there is a distinct aroma coming from the righteous barrel, a high octane, tropical nuance, in smouldering pineapple, creamy mango and mangosteen. This Chardonnay spits the vintage heat out through the gap in its front teeth, goes all tense and nervous, does not relax. There is chalk and stone, like slate, like Calcaire Riesling, all in at 14.3 per cent abv. An all out intense effort, a wow bit of Niagara, but what exactly is this monster? The amazing thing is that there is just a ton of fruit so you can let this settle down for 10 years or more. As BMS notes, “it’s raw and unleashed.”  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (366500, $50.00, WineAlign)

Has integrated nicely though certainly persists as a big, lush Chardonnay. If there were splinters or sinewy bits they have melted away.  From my earlier, May 2014 note: “The Poetica underwhelms at the present time, or perhaps hides in her youth. She’s a calm, buttery, mildly toasted, supportive softie and more accessible than her Sperling west coast sistren. Like a cool Chardonnay soffit hiding beneath a warm bench, the Poetica speaks not for the vintage but more for the current vineyard, a warm and hip spot in the Four Mile Creek appellation. The site remains (at least to me) understood but the unctuous aspect in texture and gathering sweetness with time in the glass will realize a richesse yet unseen. Poetica’s refrain is like “wind on the weathervane,” her tragically subdued fruit quiet, but able to travel long. Time will be the reveal, so be patient.”  Last tasted July 2014

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2012, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (378760, $35, WineAlign)

In direct antithesis to what was a more than commendable 2011, this follow-up takes the Sumaridge illustrious Cru torch and raises the Hemel En Arde bar to the most complex portion of the ridge. Proprietor Holly Bellingham notes the near perfect vintage, with rain falling gracefully and slowly throughout, unlike the heavy shelling just before the 2011 harvest. Here the seamless connections of ocean winds, granite give and beatific vines mean this ’12 is super bad. Sunshine intensity, cool godfather of soul moves and dancing nerve are all as one. This is like a mineral sponge, sopping up fresh fruit and the slightest notion of toasted nuts. “Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme. Heeeeey, (scream). Uh, come on!” How will Sumaridge top this?  Tasted July 2014

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2011, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (378760, $35, WineAlign)

Though it lacks the elegance of the astonishing 2012, there is a freshness and a vigor that still defines the Valley. The aromatics create an expectation despite the heavy rains at harvest, a deluge that had a thinning effect on the fruit. The kick or punch in the pith caused neither dilution nor disease and this ’11 rebounded to carry the fire. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Though it would be naïve to think every Chardonnay produced out of the Hemel En Aarde Valley is the stuff of grand cru, recent examples have done nothing but impress. Sumaridge joins Hamilton Russell and Creation on the Walker Bay dream team. Ocean breeze-cooled slopes and deprived soils of decomposed granite loam with quartzite manage rich fruit with cool ease. In this 2011 a most excellent trifecta of dryness (1.7 g/L), acidity (6.9 g/L) and PH (3.45) brings together texture and tannin. Though seemingly sweet it is anything but a cloying example. Buttery but mild in toast, quite piercing yet tempered by an herbal quality, not warm or balmy, but inexorably herbal. Schematically waxy, splashed by lemon and piqued by zest.”  Last tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA  (agent, $41.95, WineAlign)

Tasted with proprietor Brian Talley at Cave Spring Vineyard in a setting to do justice for a wine with an irrigated gully of heart. Barrel fermented, using wild yeasts and aged for 10 months in French oak, 20 per cent of it new. Pours thick, rich and viscous into the glass with a reality that is pure, light and elegant. This is so much cooler in direction than could be perceived or believed. “I want to make wine that tastes like our grapes and not someone else’s barrels,” insists Talley. That philosophy equates to a pansophy of orange citrus and the misty spray of its scored skin, so aromatic, so in blossom, so floral. Not sure there has been nosed such succulence in restraint from Arroyo, from California or from anywhere Chardonnay grows in warm climes.  Tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA  (winery, $61.95, WineAlign)

The Rincon Block was planted in 1984, the “home” vineyard next to the winery. Tight, bracing, savoury and bound by a tannic, mineral extraction. Only 17 barrels (just under 500 cases) were produced of this 100 per cent (14 months in 20 per cent new oak) barrel fermented Chardonnay marked by wow intensity. “Jump back, what’s that sound, here she comes, full blast and top down.” Wailin’ Halen Chardonnay trampled underfoot, what can you say, like chanting “Panama ah-oh-oh-oh-oh.” Talley’s Rincon ’12 never relents, stays on the throttle, puts the pedal to the metal and speeds the van towards a persistent, consistent finish. Bring on the Digby, Nova Scotia scallops, from coast to coast.  Tasted July 2014

Tantalus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (VINTAGES 378821, $42, BC VQA, 114884, $29.90, WineAlign)

The immediacy of this Chardonnay is felt, in perfumed poise, in palate roundness, in a velvet wrap of texture. A finely balanced and over-achieving elegance from out of a single vineyard, specifically “block 6,” which sits above a gravel bed, on an eastern aspect in South East Kelowna. A mild toast, a blanch of nuts and creamy citrus coagulate to create a transcendent B.C. Chardonnay experience, one that seems like it could be eaten with a spoon. “It peels off and ties that bind me,” and after tasting I saw the light. Chardonnay with an unconscious redirection of feelings, a transference unique and welcome.  Tasted July 2014

Thelema Mountain Blanc de Blancs 1994, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (376111, $28)

Méthode Cap Classique fine bubbles still motivated and in blender motion that if fading can be excused with a thousand pardons. With no more than 2 g/L of residual sugar it’s an Extra Brut style that has survived two decades. Far eastern spices and orange melon that remain cool, juicy and unfermented give it youthful aromas. One of those hard to believe 20 year-old success stories that will continue to give to 25. Wild yeast and grated wasabi square off the peg in this Stellenbosch ringer for vintage Champagne. Buy one now at VINTAGES Shop Online, bring it to a party, be the coolest Chardonnay cat around.  Tasted July 2014

A selection of international and Ontario sparkling wines on ice. Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

A selection of international and Ontario sparkling wines on ice. Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (20431, $23, WineAlign)

Fruit divides time and space from the (sandy, Black Sage) Diamondback Vineyard and the (sandy gravel, Golden Mile) Tinhorn Creek Vineyard. So what? So let’s dance to Andrew Moon and Sandra Oldfield’s fresh recognisance mission, to offer up a slight oak and stirred lees textural sui generis, but mostly the intent to keep things crisp and real. The sugar and PH are low, the acids medium to high. Overall there generates a cool orchard fruit blooming breeze and a south-west feeling of ease. Bring it on.  Tasted July 2014

Good to go!

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