Wine around the boot in 40 days

Fall is the time for all things Italian, wine included.
PHOTO: KLAUS EPPELE/FOTOLIA.COM

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It began in the middle of October, on a Tuesday, on the ides I believe. Two weeks earlier I had penned this column: Fall is the time for Tuscan wine.

I was wrong. Fall is the time for all things Italian, wine included. At no time of year is there more of a conscious, active pursuit of Italian produce and gastronomy; salumi, chestnut, porcini, truffle and especially wine.

For the better part of a month and a half I have been tasting Italian wine, from just about everywhere it is made around the boot. Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Emiglia Romagna, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardia, Marche, Molise, Piemonte, Sardegna, Sicilia, Toscana, Trentino-Alto Adige, Umbria and Veneto. Three essential events brought Italy to Canada, two being of the intimate and tutored kind. The third, a massive annual affair (though no VinItaly) tied the Italian federation of wine-producing regions together under one gorgeously acoustic roof.

Lunch with Fiorenzo Dogliani of Beni di Batasiolo and Charton Hobbs, October 25, 2013

George Restaurant, 111 Queen St E, Toronto, (416) 863-6006 @georgeonqueen

The Dogliani family produce a wine range of wines in Piemonte and although love has not been lost for the “beni,” properties encasing the symbiotic relationship between farmhouses and vineyards, or tradition as a guiding force, Batasiolo is not out-of-place in the fast, forward thinking aesthetic of modern Italian winemaking. “Past and future co-exist” and wine speaks of the estate’s “Great Vineyards,” Briccolina, Boscareto, Cerequio and Bofani. Vineyards that persist in producing outstanding produce.

Tutored tasting with Gaia Gaja of Gaja Wines and Stem Wine Group, October 31, 2013

Bosk – Shangri-La Hotel, 188 University Avenue, Toronto, (646) 788-8888  @BoskTO @wineguy2005

Gaja owns 250 acres of vineyards in Barbaresco and Barolo. In 1994 they acquired Pieve Santa Restituta in Montalcino, Tuscany and in 1996 they added Ca’Marcanda in Bolgheri, Tuscany on the coast. The significance of this acquisition lies in the Bordeaux varieties grown there; Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and especially Cabernet Franc. There will come a day, not so far away, when that Cabernet Franc will make some truly exceptional wine.

The Gaja brand, while nearly 155 years young, has recently climbed into a league of its own. To consider the wines, the estates and the aura that surrounds, you might think there was a marketing team of hundreds blanketing the earth.  On the contrary. There is Gaia Gaja.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Gaia Gaja and Sperss Langhe 1999

Gaia Gaja brought her family’s wines to Toronto. She spoke for more than an hour. Non-stop. “I am a woman and I am Italian,” she confessed. No one complained. All were captivated by the presentation and the presenter.

It is quite something to have the opportunity to taste wines like the 2008 Rennina Brunello di Montalcino, 2009 Barbaresco, 2008 Conteisa Barolo and the ethereal 1999 Sperss Langhe. Angelo Gaja is the rogue master of Piemonte, the first to think outside the box and break down ancient restrictions and boundaries. Who would argue that success is owed, more than in part, to his determination to rid the region of pride and stubbornness.

The dichotomy in images and in wine is not something easily understood unless you have listened to someone like Gaia Gaja tell the story. Here, a small village in Piemonte, the photograph showing a rag-tag assembly of small homes packed tightly together. The story told that beneath every house there is a winery and the greatest Nebbiolo on the planet there being produced. The farmers growing grapes on slopes so famous, not because the terroir may be noted as terre bianche or terre brune, but because the wines, like Sori Tildin or Sori San Lorenzo transform the produce into magic and command never imagined prices.

Gaja, the brand, is as famous as any from Italy, but Gaia takes nothing for granted. She is the perfect spokesperson for her family’s business. She is outwardly nostalgic, plotting a course from the very origins of the family’s connection to the land. Her attention to the simple is what Edward Steinberg noted in his Gaja memoir, The Vines of San Lorenzo. “The growing of grapes on one plot of land and their subsequent transformation is the story of Everywine.”

On November 4, 2013 I attended the annual Taste Italy, a tasting of wines from Italy at Roy Thomson Hall. I was particularly impressed with the terrific value to be found in the wines of Ca’ Dei Mandorle and the excellence from Pietro Rinaldi. Rinaldi’s BARBERA SUPERIORE (90) elevates the genre while the BARBARESCO 2010 (93) exudes a sweet, floral perfume. Castellare di Castellina remains one of my favourite Tuscan houses. The CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011 (90) comes from a vintage of agglomeration; the brood and weight of ’06 combined with the beauty and hedonism of ’07. The ’11 CC is fresh, elegant and full of rich fruit.

Here are eight full tasting notes on a wide range of Italian wines, from the hills of Piemonte in the northwest to the tiny island of Sardegna in the south.

JERZU CHUÈRRA RISERVA CANNONAU DI SARDEGNA 2008, Sardinia, Italy (270272, $16.95)

Ancient carsic cave dweller, inhabitant of underground hollows, Brett monster, heartbreaker saying “don’t you mess around with me.” A salt lick studded with crushed aniseed on a bed of Mediterranean flowering maquis and garrigue. Coal-fired, stonking stuff full of tannic tension.  A bit offal-ish and not for the faint of stomach or heart. For others a dream maker.  89  Tasted October 2013  @FrontierWine

DI MAJO NORANTE CONTADO RISERVA AGLIANICO DEL MOLISE 2010, Molise, Italy (967208, $17.95, SAQ 11294817, $17.35)

Has travelled a well-worn path up on cripple creek. The band played a veritable fruit and vegetable smoothie, pulsed from prune, oxidative purple plum, chewy raisin, tomato leaf and pulp in concentrate. Really excellent tension and a tar/coal/charcoal tendency came late. “When that nag to win came around the track” sure enough this Aglianico had won. If it weren’t for so much tomato on the nose this would have been a very fine wine.  88  Tasted October 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Banfi Cuvée Aurora Rosé 2009

BANFI CUVÉE AURORA ROSÉ 2009, Alta Langa, Metodo Classico (355693, $24.95)

The fifth and surely seminal year in production of this French oak barrique aged, 100 per cent Pinot Noir fizz, composed from 90 per cent ”clear wine” and 10 per cent juice of the previous vintage. Follows classic, traditional skin contact cold maceration methodology and seems to emulate the style of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut. Dry and savoury, distinctly rhubarb-scented, showing amazing freshness and wild borealis waves. A conglomerate Tuscan outfit paying attention to the small details in Piedmont.  90  Tasted November 2013  @CastelloBanfi

CA’MARCANDA PROMIS 2010, IGT Tuscany, Italy (745638, $47.95, NLL 7997, 2005, $46.11)

A syrupy rich and aromatically confected Tuscan coastal blend of 55 per cent Merlot, 35 per cent Syrah and 10 per cent Sangiovese. Anchored by a mineral stranglehold and intense aniseed studded grit. Dried rose, black tea and a trattoria’s wooden walls put you sitting in the taverna, waiting for the boar ragu to arrive. Will see to a serious future if the blackberry and Cassis fruit can hold up. The Promis is in ode to the past made in a clean and concise manner. Negotiates a partnership between the ancient Piemontese world of Angelo Gaja and a new generation of Tuscany style.  91  Tasted on October 25th and November 19th, 2013  @StemWineGroup

GAJA DAGROMIS BAROLO 2008, Piedmont, Italy (Stem Wine Group, $74.99, B.C. 161141, $69.99, NLL 7999, 2003, $84.99)

A Nebbiolo produced from two old vineyards owned by the Gromis family, acquired by Gaja in 1995, one in Serralunga adjacent to the iconic Sperss and the other in La Morra adjacent to Conteisa. Clay and marl Tortonian-era soils are its fodder and this Barolo comes across like iron-rich earth, boled through stucco and warmed to a rosy madder. Cultures 14.5 per cent abv with the most unimaginable, delicate nature. Mirror of her maker.  94  Tasted October 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Batasiolo Line-Up at George Restaurant

BATASIOLO LANGHE ROSSO 2011, Piedmont, Italy (981019, $16.95)

Several local varieties (Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto) are sourced here from the hills of Langhe. Forward fruity, vinous and in turn, resinous, built solid and structured with juicy acidity. Plays all the right components to offer value. This Rosso is well-thought out, not heavy-handed nor overly composed. Excellent value.  89  Tasted October 2013

BATASIOLO BAROLO 2009, Piedmont, Italy (178542, $29.00, SAQ 10856777, $29.40)

Spent a year in bottle following its 100 per cent new oak, two-year, early settling. Produced from a combination of nine disparate vineyards, ranging from valley low to hilltop high, it is ultimately a very fine value in approachable, qualified and legitimate Barolo as you are likely to come across. A farmer’s finesse loads up red berry fruit and ripe plum, bursting fresh and massaged by a healthy level of grainy tannin. A general list Barolo that acts quite serious, if perhaps out of a vintage leaning towards the austere.  89  Tasted October 2013

BATASIOLO VIGNETO CORDA DELLA BRICCOLINA BAROLO 2007, Piedmont, Italy (992271, $75.00, SAQ 10814631, 1.5L $108.25)

From a chord running through a vineyard across a ridge at the top of a hill. Full sun exposure boldly transmutes to modernity out of the highest extraction. An underlying funk pays homage to the single vineyard designation’s storied past and this Nebbiolo is to Batasiolo as Madonna del Piano is to Valdicava. Hard as nails, rapt mineral composure, linear and precise like the vineyard it comes from. So far from opening the door to conjugal visits. There will be chestnut Zabaglione when the times comes 10 years forward. At $75 this is Cru Piemontese for a song. 93  Tasted October 2013

Good to go!

Low alcohol wine for the High Holidays

Barque Smokehouse Smoked Chicken Thighs. Serve with Ca’Del Baio, Moscato D’Asti 2011
PHOTO: KEVIN HEWITT AND JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

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A quick bit of Jewish 101. Tomorrow night is a Jew’s big night. There will be a great feast. Apples and honey will grace every table. The big meal will be followed by much sweet indulgence. Rosh Hashanah is marked on the Jewish calendar by the first day of Tishrei, meaning the “head of the year.” This new calendar year beginning is referred to as Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, a time to make sincere resolutions for the future. Jews will say, L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem, “may you immediately be inscribed and sealed for a good year.” Rosh Hashanah is a time for renewal, where symbolic pleasantries are shared, exchanged and not surprisingly, Jews make use of food and drink to exercise the festivities.

When it comes to yayin (wine), Shekar, or “strong drink” is not necessarily the obvious, fermented choice. Last November I wrote a rant on the jumboism rampant in so many current wines on the market. “Biblical thought says there was a time when “wine” was simply the juice of pressed fruit, non-fermented, void of alcohol, the “pureblood of the grape.” The post-deluge patriarch (Noah) purportedly discovered that if you let natural yeasts run wild they would turn grape juice and sugar into mocker, “strong drink.” Researches say that ancient barm barely peaked at 12 per cent alcohol by volume.”

Like a pair of brothers in heated debate over ”integrity versus compromise,” choosing wine for the High Holidays is fraught and fought with philosophical and religious intensity. Kosher or conventional? Traditional or modern? Low alcohol or high-octane? Many Jewish tables will be set with Kosher (not Meshuval or, Kosher for Passover) wine. Many will not. For many modern Jews, on holidays not called Passover, Kosher is not a prerequisite when it come to choosing wine. Jews, in general, will daven to that 12 percent abv mark, give or take a percent. When talking wine, the Jew should never be labelled a Mundus Novian. Keep in mind that with all that food going down, heavy-handed winemaking has no place at the Rosh Hashanah banquet.

Related – More from the VINTAGES August 31st, 2013 Release

Then there is the etymology of the expression L’Chaim. At one point the condemned were given wine so that their execution would be less painful. The phrase “to life” was coined to express a sentiment to the contrary. Here are five excellent, low-alcohol wines to look for thisRosh Hashanah, to raise a glass to the new year, to exclaim L’Chaim!

Clockwise from left: Ca’Del Baio, Moscato D’Asti 2012, 13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2011, Jean-Marc Brocard Sainte Claire Vieilles Vignes Chablis 2011, Château Hyot 2010, and Domaine De La Garodière Morgon 2011

Ca’Del Baio, Moscato D’Asti 2012 (Stem Wine Group, $18.99) is so low in alcohol (five per cent) you might think you are drinking cider but fermented apples could never achieve such complexity with such incredibly economical syntactic structure. Slightly sweet and also sparkling, this Moscato makes itself readily accessible to new wine drinkers. I may not be one but how can I not be tempted by its forbidden stone fruits. I’ll drink it with the sups at the RH table. Moscato 101 indeed. On the card at Barque.  90

The food match: Halibut, pan roasted, charred sweet pepper jam, steamed broccoli & heirloom carrots

13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2011 (147512, $19.95) from Niagara’s Creek Shores and built of the classic Alsatian Clone 49 inordinately defines place and time in an agglomerated manner. Maximum floral intensity, zero petrol tolerance and an arid accumulation speak volumes about the appellation. To taste you will note it just barely believes it’s off-dry. Unique and unambiguous, plosive Riesling.  89

The food match: Quinoa Salad, summer corn, peas, cilantro, lime chili vinaigrette

Jean-Marc Brocard Sainte Claire Vieilles Vignes Chablis 2011 (329995, $24.95, SAQ, 2010,11589658, $24.95) marks a return to memories of old vines Brocard I’ve loved before. “The winds of change continue blowing,” so Chablis is sometimes not what it used to be.  This VV is not quite steely but is structured like a good old country ode, with all the correct components. Just a kiss of all things Chablis. Rock, flint, sapid ardor and a racy, new slang, tang thang. As good as it gets from something other than Grand or Premier Cru.  89

The food match: Salmon with tomato & preserved lemon salsa, sautéed baby kale, lemon zest, crushed almonds

Château Hyot 2010 (63537, $16.95) from 70 percent Merlot, 20 Cabernet Franc and 10 Cabernet Sauvignon goes properly and structurally sound into the Côtes de Castillon night. Forty year-old vines capitulate ripe red fruit, tangy accents, zest and just enough bite to keep it lengthy and fresh. A farmer’s Bordeaux, natural in feel, oxygenated low and slow, micro-managed. Solid if prosaic. Kudos to winemaker Amélie Aubert for reigning in the overripe and over extracted tendencies of consultant Michel Rolland.  88

The food match: Smoked Beef Brisket, bbq Jus, rice pilaf, wild and basmati rice, bok choy and ginger

Domaine De La Garodière Morgon 2011 (330126, $17.60, SAQ, 10368204, $18.60) is rich modern Beaujolais but also tight and bound by enough sour acidity to balance the ripe extraction. Hard to believe this clocks in at only 12.5 percent abv. Rock solid Gamay, ready for a fight. Vinous compost with some southern French style Medi-savoury, black olive garrigue. Complex and fortifying.  91

The food match: Duo of Beef: NY Striploin & Braised Beef Cheek, smoked kishka

Good to go!

The Wine Diaries: A generous year

PHOTO: STILLKOST/FOTOLIA.COM

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When it comes to wine, the year 2012 was extremely kind and in so many ways. There are some who cringe at the term “generous” when employed in a tasting note to describe a particular wine. To me, there may not be a better word to wax dreamily and demurely about the year that was. The grapes were in fact generous in 2012, bursting better than ever with ripe, rich fruit, their ferment having flowed and poured freely at the hands of so many great people. Wine helped to fill the voids and soothed in times of stress, as if there were not a care in the world.

Wine events continued to proliferate. VINTAGES ramped up tasting opportunities, the importers shared lavishly and with munificent grace. There were mass assemblies of producers who came to share their wares from California, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Italy, Austria, the list goes on. A Halpern portfolio tasting was stellar and Stem Wine Group’s gala brought me to my knees. A relentless trafficking of the grape persists, especially by the likes of Profile Wine Group’s Mark Coster who’s omnipotence seemed to find him pouring everywhere. Dinners with fellow geeks threw complementarity caution to the wind while the affair with my wine card at Barque Smokehouse continued its wanderlust.

Tasting through local portfolios and young juice in barrel with winemakers and vineyard representatives really highlighted the year. Norm Hardie and Dan Sullivan showed me what Prince Edward County is and will surely be. Paul Pender twice ran me through his promising casks at Tawse. Vintners in Long Island opened my eyes to the future of its two forks. I am looking forward to tasting around the world in 2013.

Never before have I been privy to a sound as buzzing as our local wine scene. Social media exploded in 2012, especially on the topic of Ontario wine. The elevated level of discourse and discussion became palpable and necessary. The Wine Council of Ontario opened MyWineShop, an initiative aimed at transforming the landscape of wine sold in Ontario. The current harvest looks to be of the ‘best ever” variety. VQA Ontario wrote “conditions were close to perfect going into harvest,” then followed up with “harvest reports on grape quality were excellent for all regions.”

I liken 2012 to 1998. This vintage will see Ontario to wines of stunning fruit quality, acidity, balance and finesse to match what we continue to experience from the exceptional ’98’s, including reds. The 1998 Henry of Pelham Cabernet/Merlot I tasted last winter can testify to this. “You’ve come a long way baby,” I will say to our local, vinous heroes. Ignore the naysayers and keep on the path of the Rockafellar Skank. Just as in 1998, the “funk soul brother” is on your side.

Of the most profound pleasure and fortuitous circumstance is the opportunity I am given to imbibe and to share of other’s treasures.

These are the best wines I tasted in 2012:

The Wine Diaries: 2012

Château Pichon Baron Longueville, Paulliac 1988 (March)This PBL is throwing rocks tonight. I am dazzled by its youth. Purity, clarity, vitality. Embodies Cclaret’s dictionary entry. Opened in the heart of its window. While ’89 and ’90 continue to hog that era’s spotlight, here lies reason number one to endorse ’88.  The turkey of the triple flight.  95  

Corimbo 1 2009 (April) is sweet thistle pie. A cracker jack Tempranillo and nothing but Tempranillo. Candy coated with red licorice and an inexplicable apple flower sensation as if molecular gastronomy of the Ferran Adrià or Heston Blumenthal kind. Exotic and spicy, seeing through me, it “knows my name but calls me ginger.”   95

Tawse Chardonnay David’s 2011 (March) coruscates like the glare of a Koon sculpture, lambient and luminous. Searing tang of citrus and green apple. A crime to show so well, Zen in its persistence and long finish. This vintage and this vineyard may unseat Robyn.  93-95 (barrel sample)

Valdicava Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva Madonna Del Piano 2006 (October) is sacred Sangiovese, an inviolable reliquary of immaculacy deep beneath Montalcino’s altar. A vamp of essential Tuscan fruit. If you were to stand on a hill in Montalcino in winter time and listen carefully, you would hear a low sipping sound. That is the sound of the entire town drinking of the Madonna Del Piano.  97

Château Fonroque St. Emilion Grand Cru 2000 (September) unseats Talbot as the non pareil Bordeaux coalescence of value and longevity from that vintage. Resolute to immaculate balance, black fruit steadfast against crumbling tannins and yet I can see this pushing on for 10 or more. “You like drinking ghosts,” says JM. Yes I do, yes I do.  93

Mas Doix Salanques 2006 (April) is a revelation. A Pegau-esque perfume aux gasseuse leans Rhône but an amazing (65%) Garnacha sweetness veers Priorat. Iodine (Syrah and Carignan) of black slate soil, tar, smoked meat and bacon. A Parker and Galloni thesaurus of descriptors must be bequeathed on this candied (Merlot) wine loaded with acidity in magnums.  CVR** WOTN.  93

Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape 1998 (April) would be my wine of choice walking a boulder strewn vineyard on a misty morning in the Southern Rhône. Expressions are hurled around the table, “candified Pinot nose” and “tutti frutti.” For Beaucastel? I can’t believe the tripartite fruit freshness, ambient funk immersion and pencil lead sharpness. This ’98 is ”light as a feather, heavy as lead.” The Beaucastel will brighten up your tomorrow. WOTN  96

Château Léoville-Las Cases Saint Julien 1996 (March)Utopian, foxy, rubicund health. Voluptuous tomato, classy and luxurious on every level. Unabashed, showing off unblemished, curvy fruit. Pellucid, transparent, honest. A player, even if the highest caste keeps the dark LLC down. The sixth major.  94

Domaine Henri Perrot-Minot Morey-St.-Denis En La Rue De Vergy 1996 (March) The dark knight of the three red Burgundies. Smells like merde at first, a pumpkin left to compost long after the hallow night is done. A few swirls and the funk blows away, leaving behind a smashing MSD. Oracular utterances are in the air now. ”Lazer beam of acidity” says AM, “Pinot on a frozen rope” says I.  93

Castellare Di Castellina I Sodi di San Niccolo 1997  (May) of Colli Della Toscana Centrale IGT origins and the fountain of youth. How can it be so fresh? 85% Sangioveto and 15% Malvasia. The Sangiovese clone, also known as Sangiovese Piccolo is here a sweet and beautiful elixir. Polished deep purple Amethyst dipped in smokey, black raspberry water. No hard lines, void of animale and free from Tuscan iron. “No matter what we get out of this, i know, i know we’ll never forget.” Better with the cheese course to come.  93

Good to go!

The wine diaries: Italian masters

Photograph by bartuchna, Fotolia.com

Importers Robert Tomé and Tony Macchione are serious about wine, especially of the Italian variety. Who wouldn’t be bound and determined to taste through a portfolio that includes Siro Pacenti, Valdicava, Collemattoni, Argiolas, Masciarelli and their most recent addition, Gaja.

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On Monday, October 1st I joined the throng of thrill seekers at the Shangri-La Hotel, Toronto, to engage in some grape stem cell therapy. Here are my notes on 20 wines from seven noble Italian producers at the Stem Wine Group 7th Annual Family of Wines Gala Tasting 2012.

Azienda Agricola Masciarelli, Abruzzo

Trebbiano D’Abruzzo 2011 ($14.99) resounds fruit forward and redolent as grape must, more treble than bass, a chiave di violino. The ‘G’ clef is music to my sense of smell, straightforward and honest to taste. A snapshot to winemaker Marina Cvetic on a Sunday afternoon, relaxed, on the terrace, with a view of the sea to the east.  87

Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2011 ($14.99, $14.80 in Quebec) of aromatics pointing to volcanic ash, smoke, tar and lead feels like ancient wine yet goes vanilla cool and silky down the hatch. Made in the shadow of the Apennines, “even when mountains crumble to the sea,” there would still be Marina and me. Thank you Abruzzo.  88

Montepulciano D’Abruzzo ‘Marina Cvetic’ 2007 ($28.99, $27.35 in Quebec) shows more evolution since my previous tasting note, “long, harmonious expression of a much maligned grape. Jumping aromas as if an opened jar of raspberry jam on a winter’s morning. Great value from this winemaker mother of three’s (22, 13 and 3) namesake bottling.” Now in peak form, some splinters, nearing the plank.  90

Montepulciano D’Abruzzo ‘Villa Gemma’ 2005 ($74.99) of grace and flawless visage is, as I mentioned previously built of “major league fruit and ferocious grip but in danger of creeping over the edge. Time may be the factor but why wait. The MC is $40 cheaper and offers everything you could ask for in an MD’A.  91

Argiolas, Sardegna

Vermentino ‘Costamolino’ 2011 ($16.99, $21.99 in British Columbia) lives by the sea which makes Sardegna a bit like  “a land called Honah Lee.” There is tangy, tropical fruit and a puff of mineral salts, unquestionably typical of the Argiolas style. Pure Mediterranean white magic.  88

Cannonau “Is Solinas” 2009 ($24.95) from vines on the beach is still so young so “those seagulls are still out of reach.” The crystal salinity of the sea clings to the grape leaves, says Export Manager Beppe Pinna, imparting a minerality to the grapes unlike anywhere else. Made from 95% tough Carignano, the hipster Solinas needs time before it’s ready to face the crowd.  Should be a star.  89

Boroli, Alba, Piedmont

Barbera D’Alba 2008 ($15.99) is, as Mr. C. notes, so underrated, especially at this entry-level. A ripe bowl of cherries dusted with dry, ground cherry powder. Delivers the dry and dusty goods.  88

Barolo 2006 ($49.99) advances with rancorous grit and coarse determination. Tart red fruits prickle with feeling and analeptic assistance from their perch high up on a mountain of tannin. Expect nothing less than time from this gutsy effort.  88

Barolo ‘Cerequio’ 2004 ($87.99) from the prestigious Grand Cru single vineyard seems wise beyond its years. Dried cherries, flowers, orange peel and licorice salmagundi with a weedy dill overtone. The herbaceousness is not off-putting, as can be the case in some austere Nebbiolo or Brunello. Stately effort and not shy.  92

Collemattoni, Montalcino, Tuscany

Rosso Di Montalcino 2009 ($24.99) the teenage princess dai capelli scuri of shoulder length and silky red fruit is irresistible. Full on ripeness and glowing with genetically imprinted joy.  88

Brunello Di Montalcino 2006 ($52.99) is likewise approachable and sets forth to perfume the room with Pelargonium Zonale. But the ‘Mattoni is also bent on perpetuating a dogged determination befitting the dogmatic Sangiovese Grosso. A queen to the Rosso’s princess, confident of red fruit, built of solid brick befitting the house of its ancestry.  90

Siro Pacenti, Montalcino, Tuscany

Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 ($89.99, $87.25 in Quebec) is a closed wall of doom, aroma wise, save for a malinger of merda. Nothing a good swirl can’t aerate. A tactical deployment and early blending of north and south Montalcino grapes will help to harmonize this Brunello within a reasonable amount of time. While difficult to assess so young, speculation as to its future is not so obtuse a concept. Ripe cherries and plums are just a few years away from crawling out of the hoi polloi of leather and game. The wine will shine in 2015.   93

Valdicava, Montalcino, Tuscany

Rosso Di Montalcino 2009 ($33.99, $44.99 in British Columbia) extolls the winery’s virtue that cleanliness is next to godliness, echoing Tony’s story about WErproprietor Vincenzo Abbruzzese’s obsession with a clean cellar. Despite Valdicava’s omnipresent perfume of sheep off the vineyard floor, this Rosso is clean, pure and indicative of great Brunello.  90

Brunello Di Montalcino 2004 ($119.99) is the most benevolent and democratic of Valdicava’s Brunelli. Balanced design of smoky, red fruit, earth, spice, licorice and that unmistakable Valdicava perfume. Expertly crafted, impossible not to like. Like I wrote before, “softer, loaded with licorice, pureed sweet peppers and ruby minerality. Seductive, sensuous and really put together. “If she asks me, do i look alright? I say yes, you look wonderful tonight.”  93

Brunello Di Montalcino 2005 ($104.99) obliges the vineyard’s tenet with great intention and of a congenial nature. The red fruit, spice, panna and terra cotta notes are all in check but the vigor is buried in invisible circumstance. Basic for Valdicava but only because the other vintages are so extraordinary.  88

Brunello di Montalcino 2006 ($104.99, $137 in British Columbia), again, from an earlier note. “Initially softer in the mouth begins rolling furiously then is found going down hard stone lines. Finishes with gritty, chalky tannins. Crack one in ten years and it’s “gonna open up the throttle…bust another bottle.”  94

Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 ($139.99) is a romance of cheese and animale with its dueling scents of Pecorino di Pienza and pecora nera. Damp earth, wool and unwashed rind combine for the most unique set of Sangiovese smells. Sniff on past and note tobacco, licorice, black cherry and the mineral core beneath the hills.  Complexity of complexities.  95

Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva Madonna Del Piano 2005 ($134.99) is intensely concentrated, a dreamy and creamy correlated affair between fruit and oak. The sheep’s redolence returns and combines with the meracious, subterranean earth. The ubiquitous Valdicava perfume can only be brined to this level from the historic single vineyard set in the valley north of Montalcino.  Score is consistent with last year’s note. “Monstrous, hunts down the taste buds and renders them comfortably numb. Feeling down? This Madonna will, years from now, “ease your pain, get you on your feet again.”  95

Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva Madonna Del Piano 2006 ($169.99) is sacred Sangiovese, an inviolable reliquary of immaculacy deep beneath Montalcino’s altar. A vamp of essential Tuscan fruit. If you were to stand on a hill in Montalcino in winter time and listen carefully, you would hear a low sipping sound. That is the sound of the entire town drinking of the Madonna Del Piano.  97

Gaja, Barbaresco, Piedmont

Barbaresco 2008 ($218.95, $199 in British Columbia, $199 in Quebec) has not yet unfurled from earthly slumber. Subtle yet discernible greatness as previously noted. “Whiffs smoked beef tongue from the great merchant delicatessen in the sky. A maze of flavours complex like a Venetian neighborhood with interlocking canals and bridges set to and fro. Not your queen’s Barbaresco, nor Bardolino neither. More Shylock than Antonio. Currently a villain with its tongue lashing tannin. Fast forward 15 years to to act four when the integration of fruit causes the wine to become a victim of happy imbibers.”  94

Good to go!

Toronto Life Names Top 10 New Restos

Friday March 9, 2012

 

http://blogs.canada.com/2012/03/09/toronto-life-names-top-10-new-restos/

 

Since opening in April 2011, the wine card at Barque Smokehouse has been in my charge. Weighed favourably towards VINTAGES releases, the list makes friends with and flatters the meats smoked ’round the clock. The wine program is unique to this city; affordable, accessible and stamped by a carbonic footprint in the sand. Wine outsells both beer and spirits and 15 choices are available by the glass at $10 or less. The same operose research afforded tasting and writing goes into picking wines from the LCBO and through some of our most assiduous and industrious agencies; Barrel Select, Halpern, Lifford, Liquid Art, Profile, Stem, 25Brix and Woodman.

The cover story for yesterday’s release of the April 2012 Issue is “Where to eat Now, Toronto’s Best New Retaurants.”  Toronto Life has published this cutting top ten list with Barque listed at number six. Good on you David, Jon and crew. These boys are in, and in for good, so it’s no surprise they are going the whole hog. Not bad to be gracing a list inhabited by Yours Truly, Acadia, Aria, Keriwa, Ortolan, F’amelia, Modus, Volos and Mideastro. Here three deep reds available in the here and now on Barque’s wine list.

H.M Borges Douro Lello 2010 the fortitudinous one was born with a complaint in its voice. Spicy po’boy BBQ feel crossed by electric kool-aid acid, black cherry jello. “New blood joins this earth” as the Unforgiven wooden wolf, opening a door to Portuguese perception. Prune and Aussie licorice concentrate. The Lello says “‘I’m sorry I kicked you in the ass, but I’m not sorry I’m an ass-kicker.” It’s cheap so please forgive.  87

 

Pietro Marini Malbec 2008 (269045, $13.95) of alpine altitude up Cafayate way searches low and high for that synaesthetic middle ground. A no nose start, awakens, naps and rises again. Notes of smoked allspice, juniper and blueberries come and go. Flavours are faint at first, develop with time, end abruptly, then return and linger. Intriguing and certainly not like your mother’s Mendozan Malbec. It’s “got values but I don’t know how or why.”  87

Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (944843, $34.95) alights with its prominent, perfumed proboscis. A Katherine Hepburn nose in fact, classy, confident, twitching, pretty. Swirl a second time and Texas tea laced cassis persists, with a hint of solder. A multi-coloured and peppered berry interchange tongue lashes the inner cheeks then settles in for a long haul chopper journey. A balanced attack both on ground and in air. Dreamt about under a bed of California Stars. Easy rider. 92

Kenwood JL Cab 2007

 

 

 

Good to go!