Tasting Ontario Part Two: Chardonnay

Chardonnay, Wismer Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench

Just over two months from now the world will reconvene in Niagara for the eighth i4c summit and that’s got me thinking again. Thinking about chardonnay. Contemplating the axiom of chardonnay continuing to make its own new set of rules, putting its best foot forward, not being influenced by fools. After the seventh installation of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration I wrote “there is no secret that Ontario winemakers have worked tirelessly to develop the ability and the acumen to make world-class white wines. There may be no better example of this then what was again on display at i4c.” Always reinventing itself and potential fulfilled, chardonnay, the slow train coming.

I’ve asked many questions and posed, ego notwithstanding by waxing some pretty bold transcribed statements on behalf of our beloved chardonnay. The phrasing has included Chardonnay is cool‘I4C’ a future filled with ChardonnayCan chardonnay get any cooler? and You’ve gotta be cool to be kind. It’s all purposed to give a glimpse into the portal of how far Ontario has come and to where it may be heading. As we continue to taste, assess and take note of wines poured out of the 2015, 2016 and now 2017 vintages we feel the progression dovetailing towards the cool and the ethereal. The deeper understanding walks among us.

Related – Tasting Ontario Part One: Riesling

The winter of 2018 brought us from Tastes Untamed in Toronto to Cuvée in Niagara Falls and back to Taste the (Prince Edward) County downtown. Spring dovetailing moved across the Terroir Symposium, the Wine Council of Ontario’s first annual Ontario Craft Wine Conference and most recently Somewhereness continued to show examples of Ontario chardonnay. The saturated and intensive start to 2018 is a pronouncement of the Ontario wine industry’s unwavering commitment to march forward, with swagger, collective identity and unabashed promotion. In just 67 days we’ll take in viticultural and winemaking sessions at the School of Cool, Kick the Dirt with local growers and taste through flights of chardonnay.

Meanwhile, later this week Ontario vintners and winemakers will be pouring at Canada House in London, England at the Trade and Media Table Top Tasting hosted by The High Commission of Canada to the UK in London and Janet Dorozynski, Trade Commissioner, Wine, Beer, Spirits and Tourism, Global Affairs Canada. The May 17th, 2018 Taste Canada UK event is an opportunity for Canadian producers to meet with trade, educators, and media contacts. The high-level London show will build on the success of the previous tastings in London including most recently the Taste Canada UK 2017. All interested producers from across Canada are invited to participate.

Related – How can i4c the future through cool chardonnay?

I’ve said it before. In Ontario, raising chardonnay is “about growing grapes and making wines in places we all previously discounted…few ideals or notions are hotter these days than those relating to cool climate viticulture and the selvage regions from where such wines are produced.” These were my words after the seventh i4c, Niagara’s International Cool Chardonnay Celebration. I’ll be back in July for number eight. Will you?

Chardonnay is the second exposée, following on the heels of riesling and ahead of sparkling wines, other white varieties and appellative blends, gamay, pinot noir, cabernet franc, plus other reds and red blends. This 21 chardonnay salute covers what I’ve recently tasted, plus a select few from 2017 I have not opened up godello.ca white space to fill. Today I give you Ontario chardonnay.

VQA Ontario wine selections at Farmhouse Tavern

Fielding Estate Unoaked Chardonnay 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (164491, $14.95, WineAlign)

Fielding’s unplugged 2016 is a richer affair than before, with fruit fully vintage realized and into the humid zone. The balm is a lemon herbal one and the fruit an apple in the Cortland variety. There is an underlying salty aromatic note and a sweet chardnonnay-ness that speaks to really ripe phenolics and some mid-palate texture. A reluctant spokesperson for what is definitely an unoaked vintage for Ontario. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted November 2017 and February 2018  fielding winery  richiewine  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  Fielding Estate Winery 

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2016, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (81653, $14.95, WineAlign)

When I wrote about the Château des Charmes ’15 I was amazed at the high-toned aromatics and sheer warmth of that wine. What strikes so very real is how reserved this follow up ’16 seems to be. It marks a subtle, focused return, less of a reintroduction than a reimmersion into CdC’s chardonnay Niagara. Much of the wine is tenuous, either faintly whispered or located just beyond our grasp but it puts us in mind into thinking about a place. It’s ambient, fuzzed out and mild. The nine months in older barrel with the vintage fruit brings about a sense of calm, mild vanilla and no overpowering of that fruit. All chardonnay aged in oak can cross the line. “There’s a darkness over there, but we ain’t going.” This ’16 stays right there. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted October 2017 and February 2018  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Rosewood Estates Locked & Loaded White 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (552570, $16.95, WineAlign)

Locked and Loaded the curious moniker is labled “white” though it is in fact 100 per cent chardonnay. It’s mild, creamy and just slightly affected by a splinter or two of wood. It’s a curious thing to tease appellative blend but fill a bottle with only chardonnay but all that stands to reason is drinkability and balance, two tenets of matter that this “white” surely has. Almost too easy in fact. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted March 2018  rosewoodwine  @Rosewoodwine  @rosewoodwine

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay Unplugged 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (68015, $17.95, WineAlign)

The Rock’s Twenty Mile Bench unoaked chardonnay is surprisingly aromatic, fleshy and creamy in 2016. It punches the proverbial with texture above its weight class and though just a click to the right on the oxidative line it offers up great context and chardonnay clarity at this exact stage of life. Don’t wait for any energy to wane and drink this happily for the rest of 2018. Drink 2018.  Tasted May 2018  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

The Tragically Hip Chardonnay Ahead By A Century 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (483875, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Hip chardonnay takes 2016 to heart in this very drinkable hit with a hint of smoky complexity. It does what it should and is needed for the sake of balance and finishes with a gin and tonic bitterness, a sigh and a sense of having been refreshed. Then it fades to side two. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2018  stoneyridgewinery  epic_wines_spirits  @stoneyridgewine  @EpicW_S  Stoney Ridge Estate Winery  Epic Wines & Spirits

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (286278, $19.95, WineAlign)

A Flat Rock chardonnay is more Mâconnais than Chablis in its Villages stylistic but truth be told it’s a vintage in and vintage out child of the single-corkscrew twist of this part of the Twenty Mile Bench. Here the sumptuous, creamy and generous Bench is provided by the winemakers who’s boots walk the vineyard and talk the talk. It’s dreamy to a degree and once again, as always on point. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted April 2018   flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

Meldville Wines Chardonnay 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

The 2016 chardonnay is quite reductive in its impossible youth, a flint struck, barrel-taut, implosive chardonnay that shows great potential while it teases with less than obvious fruit. This is so very Derek Barnett, resembling many Lailey-bred chardonnay that have come before but here with Lincoln Lakeshore fruit the probabilities are multifarious and complex. A thrown Beaune of texture confirms the suspicion of ambition and time must pass before any of you, us or them can really say what will be. Guesses as good as anyone’s should plan for balance and impression. The fruit will be revealed. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February 2018  meldvillewines  @meldvillewines  Meldville Wines

Erik Peacock’s Smoked Wild Boar Tourtière with parsnip purée, The Restaurant at Bench Brewery

13th Street Chardonnay June’s Vineyard 2016, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (236745, $21.95, WineAlign)

From 2016 this June is quite tight, lean, green apple bitten and so transparent as a cool-climate chardonnay. Perhaps the youthful reduction casts a curtain over the fruit and the charm so I’d suggest waiting a year for the true June character to emerge. It may not be the most affected or regaling June but it’s salty-gritty extract and tannin truly run the show. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2018  13thstreetwinery  @13thStreetWines  13th Street Winery

Southbrook Chardonnay Triomphe 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.75, WineAlign)

Fruit for Ann Sperling’s Triomphe is a Saunders (Beamsville Bench) and Laundry (Lincoln Lakeshore) joint, dealt a wild ferment and usually large format neutral oak. This is more reductive than previously noted in 2015, i.e. it has maintained its extreme freshness and youthful gaze. It’s also effusive and built with more flesh and caramel barrel addendum so it would seem that bigger and riper fruit meant the necessity of extra sheathing. Keep in mind that every Niagara vintage is ostensibly a chardonnay vintage so it’s not easy to separate, knock or elevate one above the others. It’s really early to decide how this driven chardonnay will turn, into purity like snow or pungent as the earth. I’d say a bit of both, in the name of complexity and variegation. After all, why should any two be exactly the same. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted January 2018  southbrookvineyards  @SouthbrookWine  Southbrook Vineyards

Lighthall Vineyards Chardonnay Ramirez Family Vineyard 2016, VQA Prince Edward County (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The Ramirez Family fruit is from Hillier and for it Glenn Symons chose a concrete ferment followed by barrel aging, separating it from others and it shows. This is one of the more nutty and halavah nougat creamy chardonnays in the County. It’s ripe and generous, squeezing out cool climate sparks and doling out length. A departure from previous Lighthall chardonnays and so smart for the sideshow. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted April 2018  lighthallvineyards  @lighthallvyard  Lighthall Vineyards

Pingue Prosciutto

Redstone Chardonnay Select Vineyard 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (511428, $25.70, WineAlign)

With an extra year or so of time in bottle the Redstone chardonnay has entered the zone. With its snappy orchard fruit and sizzling acidity working in cohorts it doles out a feeling of real compression. The layering is stratifying in alternating fruit and stone embedded into a clay impression. This is most pleasing and instructive chardonnay with lake effect attitude and acts the part of Mr. sheer and brilliant stroke of luck by way of effort. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted February 2018  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

The Foreign Affair Chardonnay 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (149211, $26.95, WineAlign)

Partial appassimento and oak barrel aging does to chardonnay what nothing else in the world can or will so expect an acquired taste in this Foreign Affair dream. Unique and alternative don’t begin to explain but the level of caramel, butterscotch and poppycock notations are nothing short of hedonistic. Forget that you get all these drawn butter, coconut and candy store flavours because they are what they are and it is texture that should be the focus. The texture is lovely. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted May 2018  foreignaffairwine  @wineaffair  The Foreign Affair Winery

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Estate 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (68817, $29.95, WineAlign)

If you’ve never had the pleasure of a moment alone with a Hidden Bench chardonnay it is here where you’ve come to the right place, vintage and bottle for which to begin the relationship. As full, flavourful and generous of cool-climate chardonnay spirit as it has ever shown, the 2016 Estate work is pure, unbridled and effortless genius. What it exudes in energy is only eclipsed by a hidden grace and it serves as the exacting launch point for more specific and eccentric Hidden Bench offerings. The triangle composed of points defined by creamy fruit, fine acidity and finer-spun texture are drawn as if on a circle. Spend $10 more on Bench chardonnay like this and you’ll be drinking properly every time out. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted February 2018  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Late July chardonnay, Wismer Vineyard

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)

There is something about this land, hard to really put a finger on it but the wines made by Shiraz from his namesake vineyard stand out, even in a line-up of Malivoire chardonnay. Here the balance and connection is forged with a couple of settling years accumulated to elasticize the once reductive composition. All has come together; cool-vintage, once cloudy and now clarified fruit. Generosity of wood, now eased and withdrawn. Acidity tempered, stretched and supportive. It’s like perfectly in season and expertly poached lobster in drawn with deft ability, clarified butter. Or just drink it with such a thing. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February 2018  malivoire  noble_estates  @MalivoireWine  @Noble_Estates  Malivoire Wine  Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Henry Of Pelham Chardonnay Speck Family Reserve 2016, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (616466, $29.95, WineAlign)

First I’m immediately struck by the open arms of this barrel hugging chardonnay and second, by the textured quality of the fruit. You can never discard the notion or forget the ideal of cool climate but the anti-reductive, clear and focused composition from 2016 is markedly fresh, inviting and creamy. This is an H of P SFR to enjoy earlier than most and quite frankly, the price announces the same. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2018  henryofpelham  @HenryofPelham  Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery

Cave Spring Chardonnay CSV 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (529941, $29.95, WineAlign)

There is little surprise that CSV and its 42 year-old vine baggage show off this early in life, in part thanks to a gregarious and generous vintage but also because few Ontario terroir cru can gift such a combination of ripeness and mineral virtue. What lays beneath the calcareous clay and what is drawn by mature, dug down deep roots comes into this orchard juice with layers of heaven and tang. Escarpment earth is a beautiful thing, even in chardonnay of such texture and feel. The acidity is a step down in 2016 but don’t let that detract from the pleasure this brings. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Karlo Estates Chardonnay Estate Grown Wild Ferment 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

The block planted in 2010 was destined to see its first in bottle fruition last year but because 2015 was the crop that never was, here is the debut of the wild ferment, estate grown chardonnay. Under the auspices of a Derek Barnett varietal creed the home vineyard fruit shows the mantic signs of what will come when these vines mature into Prince Edward County adults. Barrel fermented and aged for 10 months was a conservative and frugal approach to coax just enough precocious success from the awkward child of naive and excitable fruit. That and the coolest of fermentative temperatures in house to balance some heat from a season’s outdoor months. What really drives this tenderfoot chardonnay is the lovely combinative movements in funky and leesy aromatics and texture. Convivial beginnings often lead to later gregarious gatherings, something I can see this County chardonnay getting into just a couple of vintages looking forward. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  karloestateswinery  @KarloEstates  Karlo Estates

Leaning Post Chardonnay Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

It takes little motivation these days to find your groove in the mûrir of battened and cultivated chardonnay vines growing with confidence in Wismer’s cru vineyard. Leaning Post’s Ilya Senchuk continues to dig deep for mineral extraction provided by the maturity of the Foxcroft Block and if you’ve ever stood in one spot, turned 360 degrees and felt the connectivity of slant, angle, relief, position and exposure, then you’d understand. These lines in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation in Vineland are some of the most architectural in all of Niagara. You can imagine the intricate workings beneath the soil and then extrapolate what that means for the chardonnay grown above. Senchuk grabbed a late September pick at the apex of an autumn heat wave to maximize fruit speaking the language of three orchards; apple, peach and lime. His winemaking process stretches, elongates and elasticizes the savvy ’15 fruit, by multi-purposed fermentations both primary and malolactic, followed by a no-stir, three-tiered barrel cantilever. The stones put a reductive flint back in the word mineral and the non-lazy reliance on stirring up texture means the balance supplied through mouthfeel is by a naturally occurring accumulate whipped up in support by high acidity centrifuge. In the end it’s just great juice, to sip, sit back, sigh and smile. Drink 2018-2023. Tasted March 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Southbrook Chardonnay Estate Grown Small Lot Wild Ferment 2016, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

The organic and biodynamic small lot “Wild Ferment” chardonnay is unique to itself and seems to have garnered a great deal of Ann Speling’s 2016 chardonnay attention. Find more beautifully scented Four Mile Creek fruit than this and I’ll ask you to make the finest chardonnay ever produced down on the flats of the peninsula. A wee bit of sémillon blended in has done wonders for this wine, like the Niagara white appellative version of Côte-Rôtie. It is here where sémillon transforms texture and this amazing thematically-charged chemical reaction so that grape tannin and extract rise to an exceptional occasion. There is so much on the aromatic front and the prescribed “baby fat” is expressed by a delicious flinty note. Chewy is part of the palate opera and tart Niagara orchard fruit is juiced into the piqued and ambrosial flavours. Can you tell this wine excites? That will only increase as the fat renders into the salsa. Imagine the Poetica possibilities. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted January 2018  southbrookvineyards  @SouthbrookWine  Southbrook Vineyards

Closson Chase Chardonnay South Clos 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

South Clos from the archetypal estate vineyard block with vines up to 18 years-old on the south side of the Closson Road is one of Ontario’s premium chardonnays. Barrel fermented and aged for 16 months in French oak, 20 per cent new, “Le Clos” ’16 is perhaps the richest, creamiest and most mouth filling of all, from the hottest of seasons. It’s in a state of youthful bliss, finding a soft spot now, though a closed moment is coming, before it speaks of a true South Clos personality. Baking apples, preserved lemon and a whispered feeling of honey that is not quite there. I’d suggest enjoying one before the summer and then waiting on the rest to see what will be. Will be released during the Closson Chase 20th-anniversary party June 23rd. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted April 2018  clossonchasevineyards  @ClossonChase  @ClossonChase

Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard #2 “Foxcroft Block” 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (547299, $44.95, WineAlign)

Wismer-Foxcroft delivers a simpatico and workable growing season for Thomas Bachelder to craft a sensible, unpresumptuous, repeatable and perfectly balanced chardonnay in 2015. The togetherness of another classic Bachelder fresh glade and generous barrel note front is equally centred but I don’t envision much movement or morphisms any time soon. The palate is all about the liquefaction of the kept solids having settled into textural precipitate so that pleasure is derived more by sips than smells. That’s a fine thing from chardonnay, especially from one as much Beauned as it is Niagarafied. The happenstance of fine spicy bytes mark the last moments with the ad hoc and scrupulous WFN2. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted April 2018  bachelder_wines  @Bachelder_wines  Bachelder Wines

Good to go!

Godello

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WineAlign

Value the first wine of spring

Lake yet frozen, March 18, 2015

Lake not yet defrosted, March 18, 2015

The lake remains frozen though stepping foot upon its precarious ice flow would not be recommended. By this time next week the waves will concuss the gelid islands and slowly deliquesce them down into the frigid water. As of this Saturday spring will have officially come to southern Ontario and with it a whole new outlook on life.

If you ask my colleague Rick VanSickle, the spring of 2015 will mean the boot up to overhaul the future of wine and craft beer sales in Ontario. According to VanSickle, “there is a brave new world coming for the retailing beer and wine in Ontario. These are heady times. Behind closed doors a lot of discussion is happening, a lot of debate and planning is going on in advance of the day Wynne’s Liberal government utters those words many of us have  longed to hear for so long: An end to the LCBO and Beer Store monopolies on wine and beer in Ontario.”

For Rick’s full report on his site WinesInNiagara, please click here:

Brave New World: How the new model for beer and wine retailing in Ontario could look

I read Rick VanSickle’s work on a regular basis and I know him to be as pragmatic and as skeptical as they come. I doubt very much that Rick would get ahead of himself on an issue with so much on the line. Using his ins to gain sagacity from insiders who possess relevant information, VanSickle writes with confidence that Kathleen Wynne has given Ed Clark and his privatization panel carte blanche to effect real change. The consequences of what Rick is predicting are enormous. For consumers, for industry professionals and for writers. We would all have to reconsider and recalibrate the way we approach wine and beer in Ontario.

That is why I remain ever the conspiracy theorist. I remain unconvinced. I see the smoke and mirrors of the entire charade. Even when new licenses are granted, I imagine grocery retailers only selling the largest and most heavily marketed brands. I don’t see VQA wine stores and specialty shops tailored to the demographics of neighbourhoods. I see the LCBO and the Beer Store continuing to exercise their powers of monopoly and controlling how all the changes are implemented. I just do not see the revolution as being imminent and around the corner.

My apologies to you Rick. Your report is thorough and covers everything we need to know. Were these great advances to happen we would all be the beneficiaries but your words sound more like wishes than predictions. Ontario is not Alberta. It never has been and isn’t likely to happen any time soon. I hope I am dead wrong. I will owe you a sit down over a craft beer and a never before seen in Ontario stores bottle of wine if I am. If the revolution is upon us, I will happily count my blessings over one with you.

So, back to the business of reporting on the VINTAGES releases at the LCBO. With spring coming this Saturday so too does an entire new set of wines on shelves. Last week I talked up Riesling and iconic wines.

Related – I shall be Riesling

Related – March 21 big guns

20150317_151442

Almost spring out on the lake

The rest of the March 21st release is expressed in value, in wines that offer serious compensation for what you spend. Wines in generosity of backbone, psyche and enthusiasm. Wines that are simply good, regardless of their cost. Here are notes on nine.

Marqués De Cáceres Antea 2013

Marqués De Cáceres Antea 2013, Barrel Fermented, Doca Rioja, Spain (518985, $15.95, WineAlign)

Here barrel fermented Rioja brings a buffet of culinary impressions to the aromatic and gustatory table. Soft scrambled egg and cream in Tortilla Española, Serrano ham, buttery puff pastry, natillas. All would pair well with the hickory stick barrel spice and the slightly volatile tang. Accents of orange juice and rind work the angles, along with the calcified acidity. This Rioja is not shy but it represents good complexity and value for the price.  Tasted March 2015  @Marques_Caceres  @RiojaWine  @DionysusWines

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, Docg (375ml), Tuscany, Italy (403824, $16.95, WineAlign)

Kudos must be afforded Castello di Ama for putting CCR in half-bottles. It’s like listening to Green River on vinyl. The layers of texture, nuance, and groove are amplified. The expedited evolution and compact formula make cause for a bottled up compression, a concentration, not a reduction. More winemakers should bottle in the 375 mL container. There are so many reasons for it. Space, quality, half the cost and best of all, nothing left at the end of the night, just the empty bottle. This 2009 has seen its fair share of evolution, with notes of forest floor, truffle, mushroom and compost tea but in certain respects the aromas are old-school Brunello. The antiquity of the composition is nothing but endearing, a romantic comfort zone to give this Ama a sense of place. The wood, bite into sinew and gristle tannins add to the archaic mystique. Most modern imbibers would like more fruit but at this paltry price the complexity is more than enough reward. “Well, take me back down where cool water flow, yeh. Let me remember things I love.” Drink now.  Tasted March 2015  @CastellodiAma  @chianticlassico  @HalpernWine

 

Boutari Grande Reserve 2008

Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa 2008, Naoussa, Greece (140111, $17.95, WineAlign)

In this Xinomavro there is beauty and bog consistence, like wild calla palustris. Imagine a wine thick as consonants, dense and defined by solid rock bubbling like stew, from out of a marsh. Wood adds intricate layers and a mothering of leather hiding and protecting dried cherries. Game, spice, liquorice, funk and things that heal flavour the wine’s liqueur. Silky smooth with a run of grain and the salinity of ancient longing. Racy acidity intrudes, puts in a charge and takes care to see six to eight years more life will be a guarantee. Easily and possibly 10 will pass before it sheds the chalky loops. Terrific vintage with impressive depth and range of flavour.  Tasted February 2015  @boutari  @KolonakiGroup  @DrinkGreekWine  @winesofnaoussa

Wolfberger Signature Pinot Gris 2013

Wolfberger Signature Pinot Gris 2013, Ac Alsace, France (398172, $18.95, WineAlign)

The resident oenologist at Wolfberger is Bertrand Praz, in charge of the cooperative located in Eguisheim, south of Colmar. As far as a ‘basic’ union Pinot Gris is concerned, this one hits the right marks and preserves proper tradition. It’s both saline and full of pith, with lemon is scrapes and ladles, yet it could very well be thought of as Riesling were it tasted blind. Good ripeness, nothing serious and quite righteous with an intent to carry an Alsace torch of dry, finely crafted Pinot Gris. What’s most important is the statement it makes for what will follow out of the 2013 vintage.  Tasted March 2015  @wolfberger_fr  @Smarent

Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette De Limoux

Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Méthode Traditionnelle, Ac, France (180323, $18.95, WineAlign)

The pause of oxidation. The evidence concrete and stratified, the bite pure and hollow petrified, like into bone and the interval below the organic soil. Crisp cut above the normal. Mouth-filling and expansive. Perfectly bitter. Much lemon, ginger and further spice. Length too.

From my earlier note of April 2014: A southern French (Pyrenean foothills, just south of Carcassonne) blend dominated by the traditional grape variety of Limoux, Mauzac (90 per cent), with support from Chardonnay. The lees is very direct and in your face on this Limoux, the baking aromas strong and the texture quite dense. Citrus and white grapefruit crawl up the middle and aridity mixed with horseradish salt comes through on the finish. Claims territory in viridity of complexity, an acumen for dewiness and is blessed with a marked appeal to hipster fizzters.  @DneJLaurens  @LanguedocWines  @oenophilia1

Last tasted March 2015

The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Grand Reserve Red 2012

The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Grand Reserve Red 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (411595, $24.95, WineAlign)

Twenty three years ago this October the Hip’s third record changed the course of Canadian Pop and Rock music. While this Jeff Hundertmark, Kingston-bred band and Bordeaux blend will not have a similar effect on the Ontario wine industry, it’s certainly not a tragically vinified red. It’s looking for a place to happen, has the wherewithal to age with some grace and the courage to represent Stoney Ridge with power. The wall of sound, smell and taste is achieved through forest compost, bruised berries, melted liquorice, plum flavour and glycerin texture. Hung “long out in the sun,” the pencil graphite and hard acidity is a scratch and a flaw but also a calling card to see this age in the classic Niagara red style. “Either it’ll move me or it’ll move right through me; fully, completely.”  Tasted March 2015  @stoneyridgewine  @WeirRidgeYnmakr  @thehipdotcom  @ImportWineMAFWM

Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011

Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (392738, $29.95, WineAlign)

The passion from the Thomas Bachelder Niagara project has shifted into Domaine Queylus. With no disrespect to Thomas’ eponymous bottling from vineyards so nearby, the quality time has now been granted the Tradition. Here lies Mountainview and Le Petite Colline earth, here crushes Niagara cherries in hand, juice running down a clay caked forearm. Fresh and bright yet streaked by chalk and enveloping brushstroke. Sour? For a flash but in neither malic nor astringent form. This is a must buy.

From my earlier June 2014 note: Reverberates with the unmistakable calling card character of the storied Neudorf family La Petite vineyard with equal and opposite amounts of attraction and new life breathed in by the Lincoln Lakeshore fruit. Ethereally sifted earth of old meets cherries of new. Enriching Pinot Noir, a bit gangling like a primitive young giraffe but near to finding its legs. Hard working red, insistent, confident and having already paid some dirty fingernail dues. Excellent length.

Last tasted August 2014  @QueylusVin  @Bachelder_wines

Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (400051, $34.95, WineAlign)

An intimately affordable Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast fashioned by a family in its 157th year of production is a rarity. Even more so from a cool-climate region oft-marred by the misperception that its Chardonnay are fat, buttery, over-oaked fruit bombs. From fruit grown on the Rhinefarm Estate Vineyard on southwest slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, eight miles north of San Pablo Bay. Consider the antonymous solecism of zero per cent malolactic fermentation and you will see where this (20 per cent new) barrel fermented Chardonnay has come from and where it is going. Weekly battonage compresses and stirs up texture. Fog plays its part on the cool slopes of Huichica clay loam soils mixed in with gravel deposits. Acidity is preserved, hitting a classic number on top of healthy (14 plus per cent) alcohol. This is not a small Chardonnay. It stretches its legs and walks like a giant but not in 80’s or 90’s acid washed jeans or big hair ways. This is Chardonnay that leads in style and confidence of a most modern vernacular and fashion. It’s also a steal.  Tasted October 2014  @gunbunwine  @LeSommelierWine

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Why drink that?

Eat this, drink that

Eat this, drink that

We’re really just like moths, we seekers of wine, slaves to a fiery obsession, stopping occasionally to smell the adjectives, taking unnecessary financial risks and with any luck, happening into and finding enchantment. To remember generations. Is this why we drink wine?

We are looking for heroic entablature and architectural wonder in bottles of wine. We see them as DNA and in their liquids we can read their entire future. We sip them again and again until we taste them for the first time. We derive textures and flavours so solid, so tangible, it seems we can reach into the glass and grab handfuls of it. The glass itself has become the varietal, the engineering having expanded the notes and completed them, amplified and contained them. Is this why we drink that?

Not really. Sure we are looking for relevant encounters but what we really want is pleasure. Pleasure and escape. What we seek is value for our money. When we hit the stores and open or wallets we want honest juice at the lowest price. Bullshit aside, here are seven great values, in stores, by agents and down the road in our Niagara backyard.

From left to right: Stoney Ridge Pinot Noir 2011, Maipe Malbec 2013, Henry Of Pelham Family Tree Red 2012, Costa Mediana Valpolicella Ripasso 2011, Nai E Senora Albariño 2013, CedarCreek Merlot 2012, Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013

From left to right: Stoney Ridge Pinot Noir 2011, Maipe Malbec 2013, Henry Of Pelham Family Tree Red 2012, Costa Mediana Valpolicella Ripasso 2011, Nai E Senora Albariño 2013, CedarCreek Merlot 2012, Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013

Stoney Ridge Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (156125, $13.95, WineAlign)

Classic Niagara Peninsula aromas, of tart berries, pomegranate, cherries and wet clay exude and display. Stoney Ridge is simply giving this Pinot Noir away. Vinified bone dry (1.9 g/L residual sugar), pricked with acidity (7.2 g/L) and kissed by (eight months) of oak, this acuminates, as opposed to dials, in. The honing is crystalline, in bright and vibrant tones. There is a refined sugar aspect to its ratio but it’s really quite clean and nervy. The length impresses and sweeps to seal the $14 deal.  Tasted February 2015  @stoneyridgewine

Maipe Malbec 2013, Mendoza, Argentina (93823, $14.95, WineAlign)

Quite intense, juicy and peppery for a $15 Malbec. A mix of red and black berries is accented by liquorice. Some chalky overlay, which goes short on integration, would do well to play nicer were it an underlay. A bit musky with cool savoury reserve and a very effective use of high (3000m) altitude fruit.  Tasted February 2015  @chakanawines  @oenophilia1  @Chakana and Maipe: wines with an andean spirit​

Henry Of Pelham Family Tree Red 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (247882, $15.75, WineAlign)

Only 945 cases were made of this Shiraz (48 per cent), Cabernet Franc (23), Cabernet Sauvignon (20) and Merlot (9) blend. And that’s a shame. Some further bottle time has brought out the best in show. There is as much clear class and enjoyable drinking as a Niagara red blend is likely to earn by wing. The concept is quite OZ, the coalescence very Niagara and the sensibility so sly, Speck family. The brightness, oak influence and acidity linger as one to stretch and bound about in elastic joyeuse. Crosses Charlemagne-like stone swords of accessibility and put me aside confidence with vintage gain and restraint. Keen winemaking decisions by outgoing winemaker Ron Giesbrecht have produced great results. Made for everyday people, were the Family Tree Red pouring from keg it would fill my glass on a daily basis.”And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo.”  Tasted February 2015  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Costa Mediana Valpolicella Ripasso 2011, Veneto, Italy (377648, $16.95, WineAlign)

Re-taste. Beautiful red fruit, in density. clarity and showy Valpolicella dress. Thinks good clean fun and thoughts, open-knit and its tannins mingle with multiplying acidity. Would benefit from two to three years more time in bottle. It will then drink as it was intended and as it should. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “Solid if newfangled Veneto that swivels from sulphur to sweetness. Has a Niagara Peninsula varnished quality, not so typical for the homeland. Also presses from both vineyard earthy and barrel stinky notes. Somewhat this and insipid but the late influx of fresh cherry brings it back and stretches its length.”  Last tasted February 2015  @Select_Wines  @C_Valpolicella  @MGMMondodelVino​

Nai E Senora Albariño 2013, Rias Baixas, Spain (Agent, $16.95, WineAlign)

A very mineral driven Albariño with little fruit expression to ascertain. Though the grapes give way to fine-grained chalky salinity, is that not coequality from and for the quarry? Soil and stone lead a path to cool and collected acidity, not one so linear but more extrapolated, as if from lime in pith, not zest. A very composed Rias Baixas but not overly accessible. Rich broth with small bits of fresh fish would pair delectably and foil perfectly; keep it from doing the “rise up, rise up,” into aerified, out of this world, parachute club territory. A nip of this and “spirits time has come.”  Tasted February 2015  @LeSommelierWine  @RiasBaixasWines

CedarCreek Merlot 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (BCLDB and BCVQA 408666 $19.95, WineAlign)

Quite the glass of liqueur, with fully ripe, rich and dense fruit. Admittedly on the twiggy and good green side of the varietal, in the right ways, with Merlot bells of chalk, grain and tannin in whistling interplay. A correct correlation and in certain kinship with St. Emilion but with Okanagan footprints. Handles its 14.5 per cent alcohol quite easily and transfers its weight through a cool centre and into an even cooler finish. Along that route are notes of mint, eucalyptus and graphite, not unlike Coonawarra or Stellenbosch. Fun Merlot at an attractive price. Another gem from CedarCreek.  Tasted February 2015

Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013, Mosel Valley, Germany (Agent, Approx. $25.00, WineAlign)

Architecturally precise, of cleanly drawn lines, like the Mosel Vinothek acquired and restored by Molitor in 1984 and winner of the “Architekturpreis Wein 2013.” The Riesling mimics the juxtaposition of historical and modern, seemingly steeped in the past and transposed to the present by state-of-the-art winemaking. This has slate, steep steppes rising from subterreanean acquired salinity and ingrained aridity. There is no way to hide from the scree of the past, avoid the incline towards the future, nor can it exist without the run-off of mineral left behind. Brilliant hue, matched density, matchstick wisp and wild tang. Honeyed and suckling porcine in an early roasting stage, with terrific texture. The beautiful arid length is purposed and linear, with much oomph in its gait. Will linger for five to 10 years easy.  Tasted February 2015  @TrialtoON

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The LCBO and WineAlign go local

Grange of Prince Edward Trumpour's Mill Gamay Noir 2012, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, Stoney Ridge Estate Excellence Pinot Gris 2010

Grange of Prince Edward Trumpour’s Mill Gamay Noir 2012, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, Stoney Ridge Estate Excellence Pinot Gris 2010

If you ask  Heather MacGregor or Lisa Murray, the two responsible for leading the LCBO’s media relations and communications department, they will tell you this. “For the last 23 years LCBO has been a steadfast and proud supporter of locally produced Ontario VQA wine.”  That is certainly true.

Three things would add measurable weight to that statement. Private VQA wine stores, increased shelf space in current LCBO stores and a lifting of  the embargo for “typicity” qualifying standards of locally and exceptionally produced wine. Not to mention speaking out publicly on the necessity of developing a Canadian wine culture by allowing the importing of VQA wine into Ontario that is made in other Canadian provinces. Oh, but I seriously digress.

Sales performance and trends

In fiscal 2013-14, sales of Ontario wine at LCBO were $396 million, 4.1per cent higher than the year before. VQA sales ended the year at $123 million, growth of nearly 2.1 per cent over fiscal 2012-13. Year-to-date 2014-15, VQA wines are up an impressive 5.8 per cent and significantly outpacing imports. Give credit where it is due. With their backs to the proverbial sandbox wall, the LCBO is working feverishly to put Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore on the monopoly map. They can thank Wine Country Ontario for the support, the expertise and the professional lead.

Growing product selection

The LCBO WINES category offers 526 Ontario- produced wines, including 330 VQA wines. What makes up the other 196 might be questioned and that category could be improved were it to include, let us say, for the purposes of argumentation, a Pearl Morisstte Riesling. That said, 330 is a highly significant number. Good on you LCBO.

Our Wine Country Boutiques

Three stores in St.Catharines, Niagara Falls, and Windsor boast excellent local wine selections. The sommelier and restaurant community in Toronto has embraced Ontario wines. Their presence at events like Cool Chardonnay and the Ontario Technical Sparkling Wine Symposium are proof of the phenomenon. So are dozens of wine lists city-wide. The question is why does an Our Wine Country Boutique not exist in a flagship store such as Queen’s Quay or Bayview Village? The Toronto consumer requires chiding and the flock will submit if shown the righteous path. Bring OWCB’s to the city.

The LCBO is doing yeomans work to help small wineries in their own parochial scene and the bigger picture is taken care of through VINTAGES releases. The work has just begun. Change and progress are necessary. A good first step is an event such as was held on Thursday August 14th: Taste Local, Love Local. The match was to pie, kitschy yet effective. There were 21 wines on hand. These were the best three.

Grange of Prince Edward County Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (615062, $14.95, WineAlign)

As Gamay continues to gain traction, it is examples such as this ’12 from Grange that will help to solidify its position as a go to variety for versatile food matching and pure, simple quaffing pleasure. Though this ’12 and its warm vintage baggage render it beefy, spicy and veering to black cherry, it holds freshness and juicy acidity in retainer. The ripe tree fruit sensation never really relents so the style is heady but it shows the strength and excellent value to be found in Gamay.  Tasted August 2014  @grangewinery

Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (275958, $21.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Triomphe Cabernet Franc receives a meld of mellow, blending support from 12.4 per cent Merlot and the marriage is quietly non-contentious. That blending decision by winemaker Ann Sperling, along with the praiseworthy choice to forgo obtrusive oak is as good as a golpe on the Niagara Cab Franc oeuvre. The use of large format (80 hectolitre), no splinters allowed oak vats over wood spice and milkshake imparting barrels is an easy swallow for sore palates. The ’12 Triomphe is an elongated and elastic Cab Franc, with nary a foray into the tobacco, bell pepper and cloying currant currency of so many predecessors. The co-fermenting of disparate, north and south, estate blocks in those vats has done wonders on the preservation of a warm vintage’s, judiciously-picked (21.8 per cent brix at harvest) fresh fruit. Terrific decisions all in for a highly accessible, brand and varietal ambassador for Niagara.  Tasted August 2014  @SouthbrookWine

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (208702, $39.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2011 Pinot Noir comes out of deep clay, 20 Mile Bench soil, an impart not lost in the rich though dusty character of the wine. The flesh is both corporeal and marbled and a chalky grain runs through, with thanks to what feels like smithereens of limestone blasted through. “It was long ago, seems like yesterday,” that Norm’s Niagara Pinot carried an unwieldy level of anxiety but here the tannins have settled, the volatility has relented and there is a curious combination now, of blood and roses. Though meaty, the ’11 Pinot’s juices are concentrated, contained, not running out. The aromas are floral, heightened and intoxicating. Once again, classic comes by way of low alcohol and minimalist intervention.  Tasted August 2014  @normhardie

Meanwhile, back at the WineAlign ranch, yet another local standout is available for tasting. This Pinot Gris was a most excellent surprise.

Stoney Ridge Estate Excellence Pinot Gris 2010, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the deep soil of the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation, this is certainly made in a honeyed, Pinot Gris, noble bitter excellence style, conjuring up a Pierre Frick Pfaffenheim reminiscence. The golden hue and blanched nut aroma indicate a slight yet subtle advanced oxidation but the low (3.4) pH and necessary fortifying (5.8 g/L) acidity round-up and subdue the sugar (4.5 g/L) and alcohol (13.3 per cent), whose specs are nothing to cause any real concern in the first place. The intensity is only overshadowed by the natural sweetness which comes across the palate by way of texture and tannin. A mineral underlay is noted with props to a limestone and shale drip from the Bench down through soil towards the Niagara Lakeshore. This 2010 found symmetry in moving parts to reach its current peak and to propel the Excellence towards a 10 year future of graceful decline.  Tasted August 2014  @stoneyridgewine

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