Please reach out to California and a Mondavi retrospective at To Kalon

Give a view an arch and he’ll ask you to stay for dinner #tokalon2017

Update: As much as 900,000 further acres have been lost to fire since September 14th and because of the recent Glass Fire there have been many evacuation orders for parts of Sonoma and Napa counties. As of today nearly 66,000 acres have burned. Three fires had merged, resulting in one big fire initially threatening Napa Valley and Santa Rosa. Thank goodness the containment has now reached 30 per cent but there is still a long way to go. The road to recovery will be even longer so please consider donating to help all the families, businesses and first responders.

Related – California Update: Napa Valley

The Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund and Sonoma County Resilience Fund

Provides gift cards to evacuees and emergency relief services to those affected by the fire, including temporary shelter, meals, counselling and assistance in navigating insurance claims.

Wine Country Fire Relief Fundraiser

A gofundme campaign, launched by five wine industry marketing professionals, focuses on direct relief for farmworkers (a vital part of the wine industry’s fabric) affected by the Glass Fire Incident in Napa and Sonoma Counties.

California Wildfire Relief

Supports firefighters, low income families and animals that are suffering due to wildfires. It helps provide emergency supplies including food, water and medicine.

Latino Community Foundation

Distributes contributions to Latino-led organizations that are helping families displaced by wildfires across the state.

Women’s Foundation California Relief and Resilience Fund

Funding goes to every domestic violence shelter in the state to help care for survivors who are unhoused or feel unsafe.

Thank you to Karen MacNeil for her update and for sharing these words from Linda Reiff, President of Napa Valley Vintners:

“We are deeply grateful for the tremendous care from around the world, and for the hard work and dedication of fire fighters, first responders and volunteers who are here from near and far to help us.  At our core, we are a strong, agricultural community where grapes have been grown and wines made for more than 150 years. The Napa Valley is still here, our community spirit is fierce, we will get through and beyond this.”

We’re worried about all of you in northern California. Please stay safe.

Recalling simpler times

My last visit to To Kalon Vineyard was three and a half years ago, Oakville site of that consequential plottage, koan of sorts, most excellent agglomerate of soil, vine and canopy. To Kalon functions as an enigmatic invitation to rethink the meaning of wine, so speaking of The Robert Mondavi Winery and Arterra Wines Canada, enlightened educator Mark de Vere MW will soon be moderating a virtual tasting with Constellation Brands winemakers Thomas Rivers Brown and Carol Shrader. In a couple of weeks time, on Friday, October 9 at 1:00 pm (EST). I will be participating and tasting 2017 and 2018 Double Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon. The plan will be to explore the vast diversity and fine quality of the Oakville terroir and To Kalon Vineyard. Which brings me back to May of 2017 and a week spent in Napa Valley completing the Robert Mondavi Winery To Kalon Vineyard certification program.

There were cellar tastings, Chef Jeff Mosher prepared dinners, hot air balloon flights, vineyard cycling tours, UC Davis research investigations and most enriching seminars led by Director of Wine Education De Vere and winemaker Geneviève Janssens. Inside The CIA (Culinary Institute of America) at Copia, Napa classrooms the sessions taught included west coast, global and To Kalon examples of cabernet sauvignon. The Napa Valley panelist apprised cabernet sauvignon flights were filled with archetypes, icons and Mondavi retrospectives. Rarely does one get to go at so many learning tools and experiential gifts of history through such an array of high quality varietal wines. De Vere made a request by asking everyone to dig deep, do some soul searching and get to the bottom of the new versus old world paradigm. “Let’s get an unbiased impression of what the differences are and what might make them different. California has reliably dry summers but much more day/night diurnal temperature fluctuations. Bordeaux stays warm at night and thus differing ripening patters. Napa significantly more sunshine hours but not necessarily more total heat.”

Related – En route to Mondavi

#tokalon

Then the vineyard’s prodigy spoke. Graeme MacDonald’s experience and published work have by now made him THE historian of Napa Valley’s famed To Kalon Vineyard area near Oakville. MacDonald is a To Kalon farmer who has written a history of the famed grape growing area for the Historic American Landscapes Survey. His work is part of the Library of Congress. The vineyard was started in 1868 by Hamilton W. Crabb, an innovator in wine marketing and vineyard techniques while today the Robert Mondavi Winery, University of California Davis and Andy Beckstoffer control most of its land. For McDonald To Kalon is simply a place entwined with his family’s history. 

Start raising a child 100 years before they are born because that’s when you begin to prepare the environment they will be born into. #tokalon #graememacdonald #tokalon2017 #tokalonvineyard

“It was really for me a great way to document the history for our children. I want to leave something that explains why I am so passionate about it,” MacDonald said. “Start raising a child 100 years before their birth because that’s when you begin to prepare the environment they will be born into.” The Wappo people called it “Tu-ia-halusi, or ”beautiful land” to describe the upper Napa Valley. The name To Kalon is Greek for “highest beauty,” or the “highest good,” as per H.W. Crabb in 1889.   “I try to make it mean the boss vineyard,” says McDonald. Also a pivotal part in Aristotle and the most important (and first) wine poured in the time of Jesus. This from the most important winemaker in the history of Napa. It took 100 years after it was predicted by Crabb but that is when Graeme’s grandfather committed to Cabernet Sauvignon (circa 1978). The family wines were labeled under the name Detert Vineyards.

Flight #1

Global Styles

Château D’Issan 2013, AC Margaux, Bordeaux, France (511469, $114.00, WineAlign)

Tasted blind in Napa, the first impression is Chile due to the capsicum bite and wood that expresses as savour and piquancy. Herbal with currants and tobacco. Impressive smoky wood integration overtop gamey, Bretty, animale character which talks a Bordeaux vernacular. Fruit is subtle, restrained and waits for the finish. It’s Bordeaux, or course. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2017

#metaphysicalmonday #cliffmay #thenostalgiaoftheinfinite #dichirico #campanile #missionstyle

Concha Y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Terrunyo Las Terrazas Block, Andes Pirque Vineyard 2013, Maipo Valley, Chile (562918, $29.95, WineAlign, Escalade Wines)

Now a slight demure, dusty but cool, minty, creosote and graphite, like Coonawarra perhaps. Some granite soil funk so could also be South Africa and yet there is this very high acidity and eucalyptus. The aesthetic is more about fruit than tannic structure. Some carménère in here likely – the smoky edge would say so. It’s Chile because the herbs and black currants dominate so clearly from a warm part, i.e. Maipo. Last tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2016

Big floral vintage for the single-vineyard Terrunyo cabernet, rich, lush and hedonism defined. The varietal stands out in the vintage with the heavy lean to fresh flowers, along with the waves of alternating blackberry and Cassis. The alcohol and the weight are certainly formidable but the aromatics and fruit heavy tonality keeps up with the heat. Big boned and barrel conscious, this CyT is a big wine for a modest price. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted August 2016

Mark de Vere MW

Mollydooker Cabernet Sauvignon Gigglepot 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (SAQ 12449825, $54.00, Breakthru Bev Canada)

Ripe, high acidity, elevated tones and dark fruit. More like Argentina here and the palate also suggests Bordeaux but it’s too ripe. The high acid, metafictional mochafication and extreme ripeness puts my guess in McLaren Vale but also because of the richness and ripeness. Some dark red fruit is exceptional, part dried, with liquorice, both red and black. Really lovely wine, juicy, with a high level of fruit from some great vineyards. A genuine product of Sarah and Sparky Marquis from which 16 per cent alcohol is pulled off with remarkable ease, with thanks to tannic structure and extract. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

Me and Mondavi

Stark-Condé Cabernet Sauvignon Three Pines 2013, Jonkershoek Valley, WO Coastal Region, South Africa (288316, $28.85, Vonterra)

This seems the most Californian but Alexander Valley in its current of currant and savour. Tastes like Clos du Bois, but we’re now in South Africa. Quite anti-reductive, little to do with granite, funky soil and rubber tree plants, but it hints at all this from Stellenbosch. like juicing liquorice, bokser and umeboshi plum mixed into Ribena for a juicy cocktail. This may be closer to Cali than the rest because of the supple triumvirate of fruit-acid-tannin for structure. Terrific representation from the Jonkershoek Valley. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

Flight #2

West Coast California

Justin Vineyards Isosceles 2015, Paso Robles, California (684282, $136.95, The Vine Agency)

Quite the Cassis richness and genteel nature, ripe but of a humble extraction with a distinct garrigue note. Very Napa-ilke though there is a high love of acidity. Tasted blind you might think it could very well be a Mondavi but it’s too jammy and there is a plethora of red fruit purée,. That it turns out to be from Paso Robles is a perfect example to show that further south can translate to a warmer climate… but not always. Cool nights are adding their own extreme example of diurnal temperature swings so that 16.0 per cent alcohol, coulis and acidity can coexist. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2017

Chef Jeff Mosher’s Fresh Spring Pea Risotto at Mondavi

Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Vineyard 2013, Santa Cruz Mountains (89284, $86.95, Rogers and Company)

Quite savoury with Mediterranean accents, black olive and brine, cool and minty, seemingly accented with American oak. A cloudy moments suggests Alexander Valley, but clarity wins so better still Santa Cruz Mountains. So is this a Ridge? Elegant cabernet sauvignon, 75 per cent with merlot and bits of petit verdot and cabernet franc. Positioned to an ocean proximity overhanging Monterey Bay and above most of the fog so the growing climate is its own. Keeps sugar and alcohol down for a cool and elegant expression. Last tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

From the next arid vintage with more immunity always gifted by the Santa Cruz Mountains terroir so that Ridge can do what they want and what is needed. Three-quarters cabernet sauvignon, 20 per cent merlot and quick Pollockian slashes of petit verdot and cabernet franc meet in the studio to create and complete the piece. There is more acidity and tension on the nose than noted in 2012, with red currants and black fruit swirling in coulis centrifuge to distract from what wants to grip and tear you away. The purity and cool texture of a Ridge cabernet is unlike any other; it stretches this way and that, never breaking, tearing or shearing but not because is has been patched, quilted or restored. It was always this way and will stay so for 15 to 20 years. Tannins are fine and support what happens, in any way they are asked to do. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted April 2017

Tacos at Morimoto

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County ($80.00)

A bit of demure, lots of black fruit and a note or orange rind. Again terrific acidity, and tart, crisp, chocolate edging. Sensing a combination of oaks in that chemistry effect when merging into the fruit of Alexander Valley. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, (255513, $44.95)

The aridity of 2013 has now translated into some lovely development in bottle that trials and tribulates with its wealthy pool of rich, ripe and silky chocolate texture. Such a typically reasoned Napa Valley explanation with 47 years under its increscent belt. Serious tannins need five years to seek settlement and to carry structure for to build a home for the ripe fruit. At 14.8 per cent alcohol there is much to fuel and keep the abode bathed in warmth, along with American oak in pancetta ooze, augmented by smoke and spice. Chewy and huge. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted February and June 2016, May 2017

Bob Swanson of #napavalleyballoons is the man. Slice through butter flight over the Sacramento Valley to 1000 ft, #splashanddash in Putah Creek and a smooth, exacting landing on a dime on the back of a flatbed.

Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Walla Walla Valley, Washington

Drawn from Seven Hills’ founding blocks, planted by winemaker Casey McClellan and his father in the early 1980s. Very ripe, rich and unctuous aromatics, also floral, big tannic structure, candied complexion with mint chocolate candy cane and yet its aridity dominates the back side. Continental climate with maritime overtones in a Walla Walla cabernet under the influence of the rain shadow. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted May 2017

Flight #3

Napa Rocks

Inherit The Sheep Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coombsville AVA

Inherit The Sheep, a multi-play on words, launching point “the meek shall inherit the earth,” followed by “the farmers shall inherit the sheep” and prophesied as Clay and Tersilla Gregory may never inherit anything else in their lives. As for cabernet sauvignon, Coombsville just seems to be a natural extension from the concept of Napa Rocks. As Mondavi’s Mark de Vere made sure to point out, “the reputation of Napa comes form the quality of the wine made here, not the quantity.” About 150 million years ago a domino of events began to occur…ocean plate under the continental plate….volcanic influence and marine rock. A mish-mash, super geological group of alloy musicians. Coomsville gets it too, exemplified by this rich, highly perfumed aromatic cabernet, soil a major factor in the duality of tart meets tang, some dried herbs and dusty, chalky tannins. As a memory, Clay Gregory used to be a GM at Mondavi. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted May 2017

The meek shall? Focused alternative #napavalley AVA expression #tokalon2017 #coombsville

Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley (731810, $76.75, Mondia Alliance)

Deeper, higher tonality and lifted though it’s from liqueur and not acidity necessarily. So much chocolate, perhaps dominant by American oak but also a comestible layering and pressing that comes by ripe and concentrated fruit out of Stags Leap District. East side of the valley, volcanic and alluvial, so perhaps the place and its victuals speak loudest, dark chocolate and red cherry, quite chewy and with middle palate tannin, focused and lined. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon (West To Kalon Vineyard) 2013, Napa Valley

Very juicy, acidity driven, extraction and high level tonality. A fineness discerned with immediate notice, layer upon layer of distinction and elegance. Tasting blind it could be the Mondavi Reserve, acidity is very present balanced by plush fruit ripeness, blacker than red, slightly savoury and so Oakville. Turns out it is west To Kalon Vineyard though not labeled as such. For Graeme McDonald “it tastes like home.” Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2017

With Sara d’Amato

Tres Sabores Cabernet Sauvignon Perspective 2013, Rutherford

The jam is in, a bit to the right of ripeness and so a left leaning structure. Already noting some balsamic, soy and even a faint tick of truffle, not quite raisin but there is an indication it’s beginning is around the corner. Tthe palate brings more energy but this lacks balance because the fruit is overripe. Three flavours. Rutherford Bench fruit. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017

Cade Estate Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley (325027, $206.95, The Vine Agency)

Classic next level Napa Valley depth, structure and intendment. Full on welling sunken weight, oak very much apart of every moment but not overly spiced. Through that big oak bent there is something akin or at least draws memories to Atlas Mountain. Incredibly ripe with aggressive, thick, needing 10 years to devolve tannins. Could be Atlas but is in fact Howell Mountain, one of the eastern AVAs from which mountain fruit delivers more intensity of tannin. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted May 2017

Flight #4

Oakville

Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley
From Linda Neal, long-time vineyard manager who purchased the Oakville property in 1987. A distinctly perfumed-floral cabernet sauvignon, of violets, but also a dusty, silty-salty mineral aroma. Terrific acidity, just terrific, the type of tart intensity that causes anticipatory salivation. Reminds of cabs off of Terra Rossa soil, a.k.a. Coonawarra but also the Panzano terroir of Carobbio. Geologically it’s volcanic in origin, off of a hillside vineyard. Intense and offering a fully focused commitment straight through the finish. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2017

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($179.95, The Vine Agency)

Richness but reserved, demure, unhurried in a calm state. More of an exotic perfume, jasmine and bougainvillea, still some salty grit and certainly mineral but fuller, with an ooze of dark chocolate and body politic by firmness and tannin. Beneficial bitters on the finish. It’s way, way too young to fully appreciate. Special fruit is saved for this next level cabernet sauvignon from its very own patch of free-draining alluvial soil. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Geneviève Janssens and Mark De Vere MW

Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley (39388, $29.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

An annual parade of quality comes from Franciscan with this Napa Valley cabernet, a wine that is quietly commercial and respectfully true to its roots. It’s quite chalky and the tannic grain is truly in focus while the fruit speaks with premium ability, certainly sheathed by Americanized vanilla oak. Savoury to a point but still quite naked truthful about fruit in its ripe clothing. Always well made and at its best in 2014. Drink 2017-2021.  Last tasted October 2017

Even more reserve and also into reductive, with darkest fruit, Cassis, carob and graphite. So much chocolate, dark, bitter and high in cocoa. Coating tannin, present and demanding, a bit west. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Huh. A day after tasting these #tokalon wines #tokalon2017

Nickel & Nickel John C Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($179.99, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Dark cherry and Cassis oscillate in waves, punishing the shores of first prefacing perfume and then recursing acidity. A distinct profile that speaks so similarly to a Mondavi To Kalon but in Oakville…it’s hard to know, distinguish and be certain but so tempting to hedge guessing bets on origins. Such fineness, dramatic acidity and persistence, so not surprising it’s just across the road (Hwy 29). A very special tract of terroir in its own right this John C. Sullenger Vineyard. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley (29207, $59.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Oakville’s rich Cassis and mocha swirl welcomes wood and baking spice, then floral meets herbaceous Freesia. As a Mondavi cabernet, Oakville sits high up on the sapid meets tart scale and is expressly long. The palate really suggests older world Bordeaux but it’s almost too ripe, chalky, chocolate ganache rich, especially at the finish. A touch of Brett brings me back to structure and old world but there is an equal and opposing fruit-tannin seamlessness and smoothness. Its fineness of acidity means that it ends up balanced. Markedly correct, intense and proprietary for 2013. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2017 and February 2018

Flight #5

To Kalon

Narrowing it down to the vineyard, De Vere is insistent on what matters. “Elements of style and quality, not just, but a stylistic, a feel, difference, less broad in expression like Oakville or classic like the direct Napa Valley tier.” Rutherford’s alluvial fan vs. To Kalon’s alluvial fan complex vs the same, but different, from Oakville. The east side of the Oakville AVA receives more of the warm afternoon sun as compared to the sedimentary-gravelly alluvial loam on the west, with more volcanic but heavier soils on the east. There they are low to moderate fertility and fairly deep. All this adds up to more than 100 soil variations in Napa Valley, one half of what exists on earth. To Kalon receives shade a full hour earlier than the east side of the valley. It’s reserve fruit is more likely to be found where the large pebble, gravelly, well draining soils are found, further west, abutted up against the mountain range.

As an aside, talk about Napa Valley wines often leads to the fruit-jam complex. “Fruit bombs (you will know),” says De Vere, “are not just a factor of sun, ripeness, and brix. They are a result of less tannin and acidity, from vines stressed after veraison to develop ripeness but without the balancing factors. To kalon’s soils develop acidity earlier and maintain it. Acid-tannin-pyrazine, that’s the order of development.

Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley ($250.00 estimate, Halpern Enterprises)

Presented by Eduardo Dingler, Napa Sommelier. High toned, deep, deep dark fruit, gets right up the olfactory. Young, chalky, tart and with the dark fruit sitting serious and looming, like a cross-legged Buddha on the ledge of a 10-foot To Kalon wall. Sees 62 per cent new French oak after six to eight weeks cold soak pre-fermentation. In an environment without alcohol you get this layered juiciness and tart aromatics without astringency. That’s the crux and the key. Balance, density, true to the To Kalon spirit. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted May 2017

Alpha Omega Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($188.00 estimate)

Presented by Alpha Omega’s founding winemaker Jean Hoefliger. “Napa has a consistency of climate that is unmatched, anywhere.” On Andy Beckstoffer, “Andy was very receptive to my very expensive lap dances,” and about the vineyard, “in an era of globalization, To Kalon’s DNA is the most important in Napa Valley. The site in Napa easiest to find in a blind tasting because of acidity and tannin, backbone and skeleton.” Hoefliger’s ’13 cabernet sauvignon is a construct of granularly dense tannic structure and non-readjusted acidity. Darkness ascends or descends as the glass goes, brooding, seemingly from deeper clay soils within the alluvial variegation, a wine in which the tannins have been joined, linked, layered, polymerized. Having used a long maceration makes this dense, intense and ageable. To be exact, 45 days on skin, then in the end unfined and unfiltered. Wow does this remind me of modern Piedmontese nebbiolo but with so much more intense red fruit, notes of incense, wild fennel, cinnamon and candy hearts. Just tremendous structure. Drink 2020-2034.  Tasted May 2017

Provenance Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($220.00 estimate)

Bright but at the same time with a hint of dried fruit so good balance between the two, meaning the acidity is in control. John Hazak: “What To Kalon has that separates itself from our iconic Hewitt Vineyard is age ability and a dense core that opens up with age. It sets it apart from our top Rutherford sites.” A chewy To Kalon by tempered ganache, a child reared on plenty of barrel fermentations to capture individual parcels of beautiful fruit. Carries a cool minty savour at the finish and lingers across the top of the gums above the teeth, leaving that anaesthetizing feeling. Brilliant in that respect, not quite ready though will come into its own not too far from now. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Station 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($150.00 estimate)

Certainly more dusty notes, garrigue, savour and a hint of black olive, but all red fruit. From Oakville Station (labeled as such, from the UC Davis grown plots of vines). “The best way to understand To Kalon on the surface is to take a bike ride,” says Charles Thomas. “to understand why a gradation across a kilometre is so crucial. There is ample tannin in To Kalon but also a fineness of tannin. It is forgiving of many aspects of viticulture and especially winemaking. You always see the vineyard.” A transitional wine, ripeness but not super so, perfumed and the subtleties of the vineyard. Cherry blossom big time. An island surrounded by Mondavi on all sides, more fertility here in this block, a soft, delicious chocolate finish. A transitional era styled wine. Aromatic and not with the same density (with 10 merlot and 5 cabernet franc)but beautiful all the same. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley (670463, $149.00, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Mondavi’s 2013 Reserve from the iconic To Kalon Vineyard plays a different role when nosed side by five each with other similar terroir cabernets, in this case by Cliff Lede, Alpha Omega, Provenance and Cornerstone. The Mondavi would show as a muscular cabernet in a solo tasting irrespective of the flight but with relative reference points the Mediterranean savour stands apart, especially in this high-toned aromatic vintage. The wine is embossed and eschews syrup for chew and density, the chalky tannins already beginning to show some development and integration. After going through the basket press, the haute cultured barrels bring out this insieme-collective of sophisticated To Kalon sweet acidity and tannin, leaving extracted bitterness behind. This works in elevating the texture of silk and softness, insisting upon and stamping a guarantee of longevity. The excellence is rounded out with some fragrance from petit verdot and further finessed, grainy tannin by cabernet franc. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley (670463, $300.00, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Tasted during a To Kalon Vineyard retrospective in Napa. Though sinfully young the 2014 seems bright and focused, accessible, closer to ready than the 2013. The secret, special, double secret bottle, only 150 cases made, not really available for trade, pure To Kalon. Refined, here and only here as 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon, spice but melted and oozing into that liqueur, there is a seamlessly woven fabric of vineyard that just seems soft, supple and elastic. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted May 2017

And a few more Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon tasted that May

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010, Napa Valley

The 2010 Reserve is a sensory wine in the most attention grabbing way, as experiential and inspirational as can be when such an inhalant gets hold of the senses. Deepest dark fruit of impossibly zero evolution and everything in line with the classic Mondavi-To Kalon relationship. Blackberry, Cassis, black olive and silkened in texture as the Reserve can ever be. Pure weave, ethereal liquidity, fresh, finessed, focused and exacting. Tough on a winemaker? That’s why this is so good. A grand cru Oakville classic, great wine from a challenging vintage. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006, Napa Valley

Actually some development here, straight into secondary time framing from which balsam and spice are front and centre. The masala comes from cassia stick, bokser pod and liquifies in plum liqueur. Lots of chocolate ganache and in some ways the least indicative Mondavi Reserve vintage for a To Kalon cabernet sauvignon. Acidity is quiet and perhaps this is just a moment in time. Maybe in a year or two the acids will step out of the shadows and rear up once again but I wouldn’t wait nor hold my breath. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005, Napa Valley

Tasted in an auspicious group that included a Gros Clos Vougeot ’13, Grange ’11, Haut-Brion ’11 and Sassicaia ’11, all led by Mark de Vere MW and culminating at this Mondavi Napa Valley Reserve ’05. Or as what De Vere quips, “just another night in Napa Valley.” A cool vintage now showing some secondary notes though still presenting balsam, tempered chocolate ganache, pencil lead and graphite. Floral vintage of ethereal whispers and the trilogy promise of the EPF. Elegance, power and finesse. Dark To Kalon fruit and mouth-watering acidity with a vanishing point of mystery still on the horizon, like walking with someone we don’t fully know but feel comfortable in their presence. Still elicits more questions than answers so for a vintage like 2005, 12 years seems to be peak performance. The tannic finish supports Cassis, dried herbs and a briny Mediterranean black olive bite. Tannin begets fine bitters. “Using oak is the virtuoso way to express To Kalon fruit,” says Geneviève Janssens, “after fermentation, to preserve the personality of To Kalon.” Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard 1999, Napa Valley

This from a time when Mondavi labeled the reserve cabernet sauvignon as “To Kalon Vineyard,” a moniker of essential meaning that would return 14 years later on the 2013 bottle. If this were what Mark de Vere referred to as “a confusing moment in history” I could not say but “this strange bottling” provided an unequivocal and seminal turning point in this wine’s storied past, present and future. It was in fact a small, special cuvée, a little bit different than the ’99 Reserve. “The coolest vintage on record, until it wasn’t,” because of a warm period at the end of summer and early fall that ushered forth a certain, singular sort of ripeness. Regardless of memories, characterizations and twists of fate, this single-vineyard cabernet is as finessed, focused and precise as any Mondavi Reserve. It persists chalky, fine and gritty in tannin running amok, dragging the acidity forward and around. The workout is something to behold, a dispatch of late Napa fashion and never more successful than right here. The dépêche mode of To Kalon is by now famous but culminated with this ’99 for everything to follow, with consistency and a guarantee of modern quality. Listen to it croon “try walking in my shoes.” Many have and many continue to pay homage to this Napa Valley originator and pioneer. It’s a cabernet sauvignon of faith and devotion. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1988, Napa Valley

A vintage of reducing and concentrating liqueur, high-toned, distillate, California IGT. A bottling style of the time and the vintage must have procured such fruit meets tannic intensity that it has taken a long time to relent. Higher in acidity than savour, pulsating, energetic. Still a bit frenetic in its wildly animated state of perpetual suspension. A bit Bretty but 1988 carries such an old world sentimentality and the many ties that bind. Despite the great and gritty acidity it remains a balanced cabernet sauvignon, earthy and old school but I’d wager it will continue to drink this way for seven to 10 more years. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1976, Napa Valley

“What order to do pour a vertical tasting,” asks Mark de Vere MW. “When you have 1988, 1999 and 2000 in the mix? You have to think about how the wines were made, how the grapes were grown, without sophisticated equipment, with vineyard managers and winemakers who didn’t know then what they know now.” But, this house named Mondavi has seemingly always known, respected and responded collectively over these things. The terroir – To Kalon. Since tasting 1975 one year ago I can say this: 1976 is remarkably alive, sound and vital. From a very dry year. Ten days of “prolonged” skin-contact. Dill present along with preserved plum, of course mushroom, truffle and what separates this from ’75 is acidity, equal to over even performing above that of 1980. Spice! Tart and still intense. Amazing. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Oakville BDX Red Wine 2015, Oakville, Napa Valley (SAQ, $75.75)

As always the high quality To Kalon fruit as a base source puts the odd in high favour but the idea here is to use parcels that produce lushness and lower tannin so that the wine gifts quite a bit more instant gratification. Mostly cabernet sauvignon with cabernet franc and originally only sold on premise. Extension through barrel is 24 months in mixed (55/45) Allier French for a liquid chalky result, preserved top notch acidity and a sharpness that demands protein attention. Can’t miss the graphite/pencil lead and in this specific case, tongue tripping vowels which talk the talk of this specific red blend. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Oakville District, Napa Valley

When tasted side by side the genetic lineage and connection to 1999 at ten years apart is uncanny and so it is To Kalon that ties the two, threads the similarity and is the reason. Black olive as always, dusty garrigue and this medi-pedi (Mediterranean pedigree) that unites all cabernet sauvignon from Oakville sites. Same wisdom and freedom, same feeling felt. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley

Has aged with To Kalon grace and while texture is seemingly everything, still you are reminded to engage with the fully seasoned, exigent exhale from the spice box. Aromatically present in balsam and fig, the vineyard’s black olive and then acidity off the proverbial charts. We see how To Kalon mellows in Oakville form, integrates and acts out the marshmallow of time. Hinting now at the tertiary which comes quicker in this range and that is perfectly, allegedly understandably fine. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2013, Napa Valley

As with the sauvignon blanc the fruit source is Schweitzer Vineyard, here for the cabernet from three blocks all leading to a bigger, fleshier style. Treated similarly to the Oakville cabernet, long maceration in oak fermenters and 24 months barrel time, six more than the Oakville Reserve because these tannins need further taming. Deep red fruit in tones of strawberry, raspberry and plum with moments that are not unlike European reds in hot climate/seasons. Turns to spicy white toffee, vanilla and before too long the screeching breaks down the scree of tannin. Wait five years. Trust that idea. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted May 2017

A few basic bottles were on hand to greet us @RobertMondavi before the finest wines and cake were offered.

And the opening wines in Mondavi’s cellars

Château Haut Brion Premier Grand Cru Classé 2011, Ac Pessac Léognan (263251, $1,599.85)

A cabernet sauvignon dominant Pessac Léognan off of gravel soils in contrast to some other First Growths Haut Brion is keenly about Château, of reputation, history and acumen. A Bordeaux to cause revelry and from 2011 fresh like you could never expect or imagine. Lithe and mineral, dusty stone and focused. Of continental temper and elegance, black olive and quality chocolate, toasty espresso and late arriving spice. Taste, gather, repeat. Will surely develop next level time-honoured notes of forest floor, mushroom and delicately rendered baking spice. In 20 years and further long-lived expectations. My kind of longevity though the fineness says it will ready itself quite soon. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017

Domaine Gros Frère Et Soeur Clos De Vougeot Grand Cru “Musigni” 2013, AOC Bourgogne ($300.00)

From the top of the slope at Musigny in a distinct and compelling Clos de Vougeot of intensity and finesse. Deep rooted earth and black cherry fruit, so much fragrance and delicate. A just sharpened pencil, a brush with fennel and lavender, a gaze through a looking glass. At its most calm, a palate silky and accented by a complex mix of spice. A wine to ask “what makes a great wine.” So much more than the length and the finish, always circling back to the start and about the quality of the bitters in their refinement. Where in the process does this occur? When is the magic performed? All the way through and as a by-product of the paradigm of site. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017

Sassicaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $229.95)

Showing maximum warmth and spirit, high savour by liquorice, mint, fennel and so much spice. Marchese Niccolò Incisa della Rocchetta fixing Bolgheri just as his father did while Robert Mondavi was doing so in Oakville at To Kalon. Revolutions is different places and for Sassicaia, a clear varietal vernacular. Apposite Bordeaux like power and a supple wrist in using extra hands with cabernet franc. Still those chalky tannins. Drink 2020-2029.  Last tasted May 2017

Certainly a Sassicaia borne of the earth and the vintage. Cooler, with increased sapidity and elevated aromatics. While not volatile there is certainly an intimation at acetic behaviour. Though supportive in only 15 per cent of the two Cabs blend, cabernet franc stands firm in its concentration of tobacco, peppercorns a-popping in the pan and a smouldering of currants over an open fire. This will age for decades and return to its beautiful natural state with time-weathered, rugged facial lines. A leathery Sassicaia this, with tight, drying tannins and in need of two decades to show off its birthright. The 2011 Sassicaia is a loyal, aristocratic example to the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s dream of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine where the ideal was Bordeaux.  Tasted November 2014

Good to go!

godello

Give a view an arch and he’ll ask you to stay for dinner #tokalon2017

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California Update: Napa Valley

Speed date afternoon with some of @napavintners finest

We have all been thinking about California lately. As of September 15th a staggering 7,718 wildfires have burned 3,154,107 acres, damaged or destroyed 5,412 structures and killed 20 people. Devastating numbers and when you begin to read headlines like “Maps: Fires and Air Quality in California, Oregon and Washington,” “California wildfires leave behind trail of devastation and death” and “Smoke from the U.S. wildfires has reached six Canadian provinces,” well then you begin to worry about so many more people and places. Be thankful there is wine.

If intoxicating then well, wine is also nourishing, may even heal the ulcers through which we in the world are bleeding and the acreage where those on the west coast are burning. That is why yesterday’s communication from Napa Valley Vintners struck a chord. The press release began this way. “Wine has the power to bring people of all different backgrounds together. The vintners in Napa Valley believe our community and industry should be open and welcoming to people of colour, whether working in the industry, visiting Napa Valley or enjoying our wines anywhere. With that in mind, today we pledge over $1,000,000 in scholarship and mentorship programs to increase diversity, inclusivity and opportunity in all aspects of the wine industry.” Amazing. The world is burning all around and Napa Valley keeps working towards what’s better, planning for what’s essential and announcing the following:

We are proud to team up with the following organizations to achieve this goal:

  • Bâtonnage: Educating on the challenges and opportunities women and minorities face in the wine industry
  • UNCF (United Negro College Fund): Giving all Americans equal access to a college education
  • Wine Unify: Amplifying the diverse voices of wine professionals

This new support builds on NVV’s longtime commitment to youth mentorship programs in Napa County through Auction Napa Valley proceeds. This year alone, nearly $2 million was invested in nine local non-profits whose mission is to close the achievement gap and help at-risk youth succeed. We have asked our members and trade partners to join us in this effort. While there is still much work ahead, we look forward to welcoming an increasingly diverse chorus of voices to our valley and our industry. Learn more about the NVV efforts.

Invest $1 million in new scholarships

NVV will partner with UNCF to create a new scholarship program for people of color to pursue college degrees in subjects ranging from grape growing, winemaking, marketing, business and more. Each year over the next five years, NVV will invest $200,000 in scholarships and will encourage its members to bolster the scholarship program with donations to help even more students and to ensure the effort extends beyond five years. UNCF has been managing scholarships for minority students for 75+ years and is the largest and most successful minority organization of its kind.

Invest more than $100,000 in two new mentorship programs

  • Bâtonnage fosters solutions for a more positive, inclusive path forward for women and ethnic and racial minorities to achieve equal representation, equal opportunities and equal leadership positions within our industry. Over the next three years, NVV will help fund a mentorship program aimed at providing resources, guidance, recommendations, internships and training programs.
  • Wine Unify was founded by Napa locals Martin Reyes MW, DLynn Proctor, and Mary Margaret McCamic MW. Their mission is to welcome, elevate, and amplify the voices of underrepresented minorities through mentorship and education. NVV has committed to work with Wine Unify over the next three years to help fund their ongoing programs.

Which brings me back to an event in Toronto one year ago, hosted by Napa Valley Vintners and their Canadian partner Paula Oreskovich at Energy Plus Communications. Napa Valley “Celebration of Excellence” Speed Tasting and Trade Tasting was held on November 7th at the Royal Ontario Museum. More than 25 vintners from the Napa Valley were on hand. Trade were afforded three minutes with each producer/vintner to hear their story, taste their two wines per station and ask questions before moving on to the next vintner. It was a thrilling experience as a dating journey to Napa Valley from grape to glass. Wines from Napa, Spring Mountain, Oak Knoll, Oakville, Stags Leap, St. Helena, Yountville, Rutherford, Calistoga and other appellations were poured. Most impressive were the many varied back vintages shared by these producers and their Ontario agents. 

Donate here to California Wildlife Fire Funds and also here

So the question begs, why am I sharing my tasting notes with you now, almost one year later. First and foremost to remind us all that California needs to be front and centre in our minds and hearts. Second, many of these singular wines are still available in very limited quantities through VINTAGES. Third, because I feel like it. Here are my notes on 24 wines tasted.

Artesa Vineyards And Winery Estate Pinot Noir 2016, Carneros (12519, $60.00, Andrew Peller Import Agency)

From the Napa Valley side of Carneros but also with fruit grown up as far as the foothills of Mount Veeder. Very pure and clear pinot, red fruit juicy, candied in a terrifically stylish and delicious way. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2019

Blackbird Vineyards Arise 2016, Napa Valley ($79.00, Paradigm Fine Fine Agency)

From winemaker Aaron Pott, mainly Oak Knoll fruit off of 20-plus lots sourced in Napa Valley off mountain tops, from hillsides, on bench lands and off of valley floor vineyards. Nearly two years in half new, half seasoned French barrels. A blend of merlot (55 per cent), cabernet franc (25) and cabernet sauvignon 17) with a splash of petit verdot in a mere mortal’s affordable flagship red. Surely a nod to Pomerol with a wink at Napa Valley. Tart, intense tang and really good acidity but also woody and yes the name is Beatles related. “All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.” Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2019

Black Stallion Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Transcendent 2015, Napa Valley (439968, $200.00, Select Wine Merchants)

From the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley and surely Black Stallion’s head of the stable, signature triple-crown wine. A top tier cabernet sauvignon made from the best grapes grown on mountain sites above the fog line. Not just one hilltop vineyard with a view but several; Veeder, Spring, Diamond and Howell, with two per cent Oakville tossed in for good grounding and balancing measure. A four-part essential, Mountain Napa a cappella performance that simply demonstrates, in complex music written for four voices, what a layered wine cane be and in doing so, expresses wow factor times four. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted November 2019

Cain Vineyard And Winery Cain Five 2013, Napa Valley (727925, $199.95, Rogers and Company)

Bordeaux idea with fruit from Spring Mountain, five pronged and truth be told only Cain Five smells this. Earth and soil, elevation and intensity. Botanicals, tar, hillside tea, brush and weeds, natural yeasts and so bloody savoury. Sensorial experience in the fifth degree. Persistently doles out palate amercements with seamless consistency and the pain is all pleasure, each lashing accepted submissively like the one before. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted November 2019

Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2015, Napa Valley (12544, $100.00, The Vine Agency)

Fruit sources are both Stags Leap District and Yountville AVAs with smaller portion support by petit verdot, merlot and cabernet franc. It’s predominately SLD with one quarter coming from Yountville in a most classically dark-berried and unctuous Napa Valley style. The aridity of the vintage and at this point the age have conspired to accentuate the concentration and the spice. Correct to the nth degree. Drink 2019-20212.  Tasted November 2019

Clos Pegase Cabernet Sauvignon Hommage 2014, Napa Valley (739219, $156.00, Azureau Wines and Spirits)

A reserve cabernet sauvignon at 77 per cent with petit verdot in Calistoga. Bloody unctuous, deliciously lush and luxe cabernet. Though set into a price range with parameters of equivocation, for those who seek the tête de cuvée of a professional Napa Valley estate’s cabernet range with a true microcosmic sense of place, this Hommage signature from Clos Pegase will rise to that fore. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2019

Darioush Napa Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley ($150.00, Breakthru Beverage Canada Inc.)

The signature cabernet sauvignon from southern valley sites where cooler winds can prevail and off of estate vineyards in the Mount Veeder and Napa Valley AVA’s. This ’16 is possessive of it all with twang acidity tang surrounding the rich chalky liquidity of the southern valleys’ cabernet beauty. Highly composed wine, in total clarity, control and surprisingly fresh alacrity. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2019

Eleven Eleven Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Laki’s Vineyard 2016, Napa Valley

From winemaker Kirk Venge who practices the art of fashioning varietal wines “for more glasses”, and making a wish for all of us to stop everything you’re doing, to take stand and notice that “this is what we’ve made.” Not so much a contemplation, rumination or meditation as a recognition and an appreciation. In this case a 100 per cent estate Oak Knoll cabernet aged in 80 per cent new French Oak for silky smooth texture and dry as the desert styling. Quite finessed and harnessed for exemplary balance. Ready to rock. Drink 2  020-2024.  Tasted November 2019

Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley (96016, $25.00, Andrew Peller Import Agency)

Hand-brushed vineyards, which is winemaker Jenny Wagner’s way of crop thinning. Good acidity lean and sharp, really impressive and in a vein quantifiable as the most appreciable of all the Caymus stylings. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Gallica Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena (12521, $269.00, Lifford Wines and Spirits)

From the family property in St. Helena and cabernet sauvignon planted in 1990 on deep and low fertility Cortina soils. Mixes in one-quarter cabernet franc from Rosemary Cakebread’s vineyards in the Oakville range, 130m above the Silverado Trail. All organic, with the franc brining in components of florals and posit tugs of savour, sapidity and physicality. Not that the sauvignon needed any help because that fruit is rich, wise and complex as a stand alone but the franc surely elevates the entire collective into rareified air. Tasted with Gallica’s Sales Director Alex French. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted November 2019

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Oakville (606517, $120.00, The Vine Agency)

Suzanne Groth’s 2015 is the first vintage with new Director of Winegrowing Cameron Parry, hired in 2014 as only the third winemaker in Groth’s history since the family’s first vintage in 1982. The estate cabernet’s fruit comes from right in Oak Knoll and may just be the dictionary entry for parochial red fruit with its distinct savoury edginess. That said you feel or at least intuit the 14 per cent inclusion of merlot what with a subtle doubling down of brushy autumnal dried fruit and verdant notes. Overall tart and beautiful, an honest and true expression of Groth and Oak Knoll. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2019

Hall Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley (273391, $99.00, Noble Estates)

Hall is based in St. Helena and in a Napa Valley tasting of 24 diverse options of great and elevated quality it is unequivocally the most forward and naturally understood wine in the room. If perhaps it presents as simple on the outside it is confidently complex on the inside. In this regard you can imagine the sentiment provided by 50 per cent new oak but you feel it bigger, better and more so on the palate. Provides the context for texture, of a seamless blending in chocolate and chalk. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2019

Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Oakville (534800, $113.00, Wilson Group Wines & Spirits)

From the 1983 planted 10 acre estate vineyard in Oakville, very much considered the flagship wine. Only To Kalon shares a volcanic element affinity with the quarter portion at Hoopes, an important if not profound geological inclusion in the Oakville sub-appellation. Lindsay Hoopes is justifiably high on this 2014 from Spencer Hoopes and fruit found at the base of Yountville Hill. In addition to being basaltic it’s also the most geologically diverse on the valley floor; contains sand and clay in packed density and as determined by the legend David Howell, ’tis is magical place, here confirmed in what is truly a cabernet of magic. Now having arrived in its window, have a go and then repeat for the next 10 years. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted November 2019

Keenan Merlot 2015, Napa Valley ($50.00, Profile Wine Group)

Plum dusty, chalky and verdant. Showing some dried fruit. Spring Mountain portion is quantifiably structured, though also agreeable in ageable fruit. Thirty five is Carneros fruit so a merge of two cool climates. Quite charming in the end. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley ($84.95, Breakthru Beverage Canada Inc.)

Ashley Heisey’s 2014 is more than just a child of a most arid vintage in Napa Valley’s recent history, it was also early and with no frost during bud break, the strong, early fruit set in the vineyard organized the season on a collision course with all things warmth. High temperatures and no rain meant an early August harvest of cabernet fruit already deep into black cherry and blackberry. By 2019 this LMR signature red is speaking in Mayacamas Mountains tones, resonant, baritone and profound. The drying of fruit, spices and tannins are combining at a vanishing point from which perspective optimizes in the here and now. Drink this in perfect window opportunity over the next two years. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Luna Vineyards Sangiovese 2016, Napa Valley (La Céleste Levure)

From two elevations, floor and foothills, mainly planted in 1999. Game Farm Vineyard on the Silverado Trail below Rector Creek Dam is the most important source, of shallow, rocky soils that stress the deprivation out of need to struggle sangiovese. The cooler Napa Valley sites bring the savour and ulterior form of tension to the mix. Elévage is warm fermentation, malolactic encouraged, 30 per cent new French and Hungarian oak barrels for 20 months. The result is in a Chianti Classico Riserva vein, fruit highly concentrated with some dried desiccated notes and no shortage of local savour. That’s really what separates it into a Napa Valley thing, far away from the Tuscan homeland. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2010, Napa Valley ($140.00, Andrew Peller Import Agency)

Fabulous retrospective look back at a wine produced by the then 32 year-old winery from a selection of grapes from all four estate vineyards located in the home lands of the winery. A highly specific gander into Napa Valley’s smallest AVA, very influenced by marine essence for a guarantee of freshness that persists even today. Rich but compressed and dried herb sumptuous. Beautiful wine, so textured and having been purposed for structure now resides in a realm dominated by sweet spice. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Revana Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, St. Helena (12528, $265.00, Le Sommelier Inc.)

Revana Family Vineyards is owned by Dr. Madaiah Revana who currently is a practicing Cardiologist in Houston, Texas. Thomas Rivers Brown is now employed as winemaker and Jim Barbour as Vineyard Manager. Taken from eight acres, planted in 1998 with the first vintage being 2001, originally in the hands of Heidi Barrett and this was her last vintage. A geological site in St. Helena of alluvial flow off of the Mayacamas range. Intense black olive and very Mediterranean in complex scenting with great acidity. All in Cassis fills the flavour profile. Ten year-old cabernet sauvignon still going strong. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Rocca Family Vineyards Vespera 2016, Napa Valley ($84.00, Brand New Day Wines & Spirits)

“Vespera,” as in late-evening, gathering time. Estate grown and organically farmed red blend from Collinetta Vineyard in Coombsville and Grigsby Vineyard in Yountville. Varietal composition is 57 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (37) syrah and (6) merlot, aged 17 months in small French oak barrels, 65 per cent new. Floral and beautiful, silky, silken, lush and so elongated. Spiced and juicy peppery, warm to humid with generous alcohol though very fluid and forward. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2019

Signorello Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley (60152, $124.95, Profile Wine Group) 

A massively structured and concentrated wine with teeming and oozing fruit, heavy barrel accord in which texture and tannin weave a future likely to unwind over two decades time. Classic Signorello spice and red citrus. Very limited quantities (by mailing list only) and out of the hands of a new winemaking team. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Silenus Cabernet Sauvignon Tyros 2015, Napa Valley (16409, $49.95, Carpe Vinum International)

From Oak Knoll and fruit that used to be sold to Mondavi, very modern and with 22 per cent merlot. Verdant liqueur tones and real glycerin. Herbal and slick with a thinning in elasticity. “Mini” debauching here. As for the name, Tyros means apprentice, in reference to Silenus being mentor to charge or beginner Dionysus. Also an old Greek naval town in Arcadia, Peloponnese. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Taub Family Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges Iii Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley (12538, $225.00) 

From proprietor Marc Taub who’s family is part of the Napa Valley wine fabric since prohibition and who in 2013 acquired Napa Valley producer Heritance, later evolving into Taub Family Vineyards. His winemaker is Tom Hinde, a Sonoma and Napa specialist who cut his teeth for seven years at Flowers, but also at Kendall-Jackson, Hartford, La Crema, Lakoya, Cardinale, Stonestreet and Verite. Add in a mere three acres within the historic 300-acre Beckstoffer Vineyard first purchased by Beaulieu founder Georges de Latour in 1928, called Beaulieu Vineyard Number 3 and made by winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. The overall pedigree is at the top of the unparalleled game and so huge fruit expected, hedonistic result gained. So much fruit, spicy and massive structure with the future holding so much truffle and charcoal, figs so very Rutherford and could only be from the place. Massive chew of cabernet sauvignon fruit and also very seasoned into the Ribena. All that said there is something hidden, something potentially profound about the Chiaroscuro magic concealed within. Wouldn’t be in a such a hurry to find out what lurks inside this rare Napa Valley wine. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted November 2019

Trefethen Family Vineyards Merlot The Cowgirl And The Pilot 2016, Napa Valley ($125.00, Vinexx)

A tribute to Janet & John Trefethen, Cowgirl and Pilot respectively, from a vineyard planted in 2003. Merlot grows best on the clay-loam-silty soil valley floor and the site confirmed the potential from the very first vintage, so says Jon Ruel, CEO and viticulturalist. This truly is Napa merlot, from thinned clusters, trimmed of tips and shoulders like pinot, evenly ripened and it shows. Seamless merlot to be sure with a beautifully spicy finish. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2019

Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon BRV 2013, Napa Valley (514224, $120.00, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.)

Part of the third generation Heritage Collection line in the hands of Bob Torres nearly 70 years into the family’s work at Trinchero. Off of soils ranging from gravelly to loamy to alluvial, the BRV comes from the Atlas Peak AVA and my is it big and brawny. So much black olive, brood and badass attitude, inclusive of a 10 percent mix of malbec and petit verdot. They add structure in a wine of crazy high pH (3.95). Just wow. Still a bambino. Drink 20121-2031.  Tasted November 2019

Good to go!

godello

Speed date afternoon with some of @napavintners finest

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VINTAGES preview April 1st

When you see one grand cru you’ve seen another grand cru #nierstein #rheinhessen #rhein

Globe-trekking critics, be a fool for value, plug in to musical Ontario and align with new world pioneers

as seen on WineAlign

Last Thursday I flew home from Germany after attending Prowein 2017, a massive wine fair in Düsseldorf that has to be seen to be believed. Picture nine immense convention halls each the size, depth and breadth of a Canadian football field, connected to one another and circling a courtyard like hangars in surround of incoming and outgoing flights at a major airport. The sheer quantity of human power and logistical planning required to facilitate and execute such a congress is in fact not unlike what happens every day at Frankfurt International. There may not be 100,000 employed to run Prowein, but at least that many wine stems are engaged.

It’s also hard to believe that this time yesterday I was standing on the crest of the red sandstone Grand Cru Neirstein vineyards overlooking the Rhein River. In advance of my trip to Germany I had the chance to taste through next weekend’s VINTAGES April 1st release and you will be pleased to find no shortage of quality wines under $20, many of which will solve your in advance of Easter needs. A token pinot noir with an anything but token twist and two hopping chardonnays are included for classic holiday food and wine association but I dig deeper into soils, varietal diversification and terroir for holiday pairing perfection.

There is no secret that Spain and Portugal sit at or near the pinnacle of Ontario consumer go to picks in the genre occupied by bargain reds. While the two recommendations below will certainly pair well with a feast of festive proportions, they also resurrect some grape varieties you might not automatically consider. Alentejo in Portugal and Castilla Y Léon in Spain offer great opportunities to discover local, endemic, world-class red wines. This early spring Ontario cold snap will soon be a thing of 2017’s winter past so I would suggest to get that BBQ tune-up completed because these wines are perfect foils for anything you can throw on the grill.

Travelling brings us together with the leaders and pioneers of fast-tracking and emerging wine regions and it is the global nature of this industry that through their own travels, they are brought to us. In September of 2015 I had the great fortune to spend a night and better part of a day with South Africa’s Ken Forrester. You will have noticed that Western Cape chenin blanc has taken the world by value storm over the last three to four years. There are several reasons for the varietal explosion, two of which are geology and climate. The third worth mentioning is Ken Forrester himself. When I tasted with Ken in Stellenbosch we travelled through half a dozen or more blocks, plots, vineyards and stylistically framed steen. Each and every year his Old Vines Reserve passes through VINTAGES. It is perfectly consistent and sets the benchmark for inexpensive and excellent South African chenin blanc genius.

Nicolás Zapata Catena and his daughter Dr. Laura Catena have pioneered similar if even deeper industry-leading work in Mendoza, Argentina. The father-daughter dream team have crafted terroir-focused Malbec and other well suited to time and place varietal wines. Over the past few years the Catena brand has expanded their portfolio by narrowing their focus into micro-terroirs in highly specific spots all over Mendoza. It’s not just Catena that has taken this brilliant South American approach to branding and this April 1st VINTAGES release is chock full of such precise varietal wines. Though I of course would be thrilled to offer up credit to the power brokers and buyers that be I’m not sure I’d give in to the idea that the grouping was executed with any preconceived plan. The patterning, by coincidence or not is nevertheless highly welcomed and I’m pleased to share these wines with you.

The Ontario presence is strong, as it should be, on the heels of a terrific Taste Ontario that was as promising as it was not surprisingly expected. Stratus hits the riesling mark with Wildass abandon, Flat Rock plays its annual MTV chardonnay tune and Thirty Bench does a varietal two-step that may just blow your mind. We should all be thankful for our local talent and in constant awe of Ontario’s wine ability to step out of its comfort zone, consistently improve on what it already does best and find ways to re-invent the wheel.

With the incantevole @chianticlassico hills fading from view, thank you #toscana #anteprime2017 #anteprimeditoscana #chianticlassico #vinonobiledimontepulciano #brunellodimontalcino

Speaking of Ontario, David Lawrason and I are still reeling from three days spent with an impressive Canadian ambassadorship contingent stationed in Düsseldorf’s Messe Prowein centre, sent there to spread the cool climate wine gospel to the world. The enthusiastic demands on our collective time were great. We will expand on the success of Canada’s presence on this important world stage in the coming weeks. John and Sara have also been on the road, globetrotting to the far reaches of the wine diaspora. It’s getting hard to track who might be where at any given time but in the first three months of 2017 we’ve had at least California, Oregon, Uruguay, Chianti Classico, Montepulciano, Montalcino, Lazio, The Ahr Valley, The Rheinhessen and every corner of New Zealand covered.

Through the course of our travels we are granted the opportunity to meet producers and winemakers, taste their wines and we often come across exciting products not seen before in Ontario. These discoveries are becoming increasingly important because the agents in Ontario receive an assisted head start on finding new wines. With the WineAlign Exchange inching closer and closer to bringing the reality of expert curation to wine buying and purchasing in Ontario, the connections we forge to these values and gems may soon see to finding their way into your cellars and your glass.

Godello’s Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES April 1st:

Musical Ontario

Stratus Vineyards Riesling Wildass 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (129700, $16.95, WineAlign)

It’s really hard to say whether Stratus Vineyards’ J.L Groux is more adept as a varietal impresario or as a master of assemblage so we’ll just call it a tie. Here into the riesling game he goes in the mere mortal affordable Wildass range and in 2015 he plays a smart varietal tune. You’ve just got to get some Wildass.  @StratusWines

Flat Rock Chardonnay Unplugged 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68015, $16.95, WineAlign)

The record keeps playing in rotation and the string remains unbroken with yet another quality vintage for the unoaked from Flat Rock. The crunchy apple and righteous waves of pertinence make this perennial best buy a required spin without any wonder why.  @Winemakersboots  @brightlighter1  @UnfilteredEd  @wine_gems

Thirty Bench Winemaker’s Blend Double Noir 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (493973, $18.95, WineAlign)

The nomenclature is just so perfectly chosen and as you will find, this is a seamless joint between pinot and gamay noir. Double Noir performs the passe tout grains oeuvre from Ontario in combining two expatriate Burgundy grapes. I’ve long ago agreed these two make anything but strange bedfellows and the two grapes work seamlessly in Emma Garner’s new and idealistic red. Well done Thirty Bench. Pass the two grapes over, SVP.  @ThirtyBench

Align with new world pioneers

Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Old Vine Reserve 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (231282, $17.95, WineAlign)

Reserve is a funny term for wines like this because it speaks to the idea that it should be put aside fore further use. I don’t think that is Ken Forrester’s plan and here he once again raises his old vines game with the 2016 chenin blanc. Stellenbosch continues to dole out some of the planet’s most striking and finest whites with chenin blanc at the centre of it’s value universe. With major thanks to Ken Forrester.  @KFwines  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA  @Noble_Estates

In Situ Reserva Carmenère 2015, Aconcagua Valley, Chile (37952, $16.95, WineAlign)

In case you were wondering too, “In Situ is crafted from grapes that ripen on steep slopes alongside mysterious rock drawings from ages past.” The only expansion on that bit of ambiguity I can share is the purity and clarity levels of carmenère are fully explained in this Reserva. Another fine BBQ wine for April flowers and showers.  @InSituWine  @WinesOfChile_CA  @WinesofChile

Echeverria Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Edition 2011, Central Valley, Chile (389221, $24.95, WineAlign)

Though labeled as cabernet sauvignon the Limited Edition is generously supported by syrah and carmenère, resulting in a layered and grossly rich red blend. The individual varieties don’t really stake any obvious claim and while their integration is not exactly seamless, the layering back and forth over one another does work some Central Valley magic. Complexity wins points.  @VinaEcheverria  @LiffordON  @WinesOfChile_CA  @WinesofChile

Catena Malbec Appellation Paraje 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (492413, $22.95, WineAlign)

Last November Dr. Laura Catena told a small Ontario press audience “it’s a fact. Different soils give different flavours.” The WineAlign team had previously sat down with winemaker Ernesto Badja for a full-on, wide-scale investigation into a climat-precise and compendious look at the proselytism of Catena culture. Paraje Altamira was one of these such looks into single-vineyard terroir.  @CatenaMalbec  @LauraCatena  @Noble_Estates  @ArgentinaWineCA  @winesofarg

Trapiche Malbec Perfiles Calcareous 2015, Mendoza, Argentina (482083, $18.95, WineAlign)

The savvy marketed Trapiche foray into soil matters with malbec divines the intention that calcaire (calcareo) brings speciality to these Uco Valley vines. It’s not a huge stretch to sense some limestone in this malbec’s make-up and I am wholly impressed by its countenance, its continuity from nose to tail and yes, its mineral feeling. So glad Trapiche is onside. @TrapicheWines  @Dandurandwines  @ArgentinaWineCA  @winesofarg

The best of the rest

Paulo Laureano Reserve Tinto 2014, Vidigueira, DOC Alentejo, Portugal (488775, $19.95, WineAlign)

From the still somewhat unheralded and rising to stardom Alentejo the grape expectation here from vidigueira is no shrinking Reserve. This would make for a curious consumer side step into something different but at the same time so obvious and comfortable. At this price you can’t afford to do neither.    @winesportugalCA  @wines_portugal  @Nicholaspearce_

Senorio de la Antigua Mencía 2012, IGP Castilla y Léon, Spain (481549, $13.95, WineAlign)

Some solid and in some circles, very old estate vines (30-50 years) in Villafranca del Bierzo gift mencia for a pittance. Rarely does a $14 old world red give so much for so little. Great round acidity and length off the cuff of a vibrant tune. Simply great value. One of the best you will find all year.  @WinesofSpainSL  @Wines_fromSpain

Groth Chardonnay Hillview Vineyard 2014, Napa Valley, California (225672, $57.95, WineAlign)

From a 44-acre Yountville vineyard founded in 1982 and (mostly) re-planted in 1996. This is a perfect and prime example of all the right directions Napa Chardonnay has taken in the last 10 years, with kudos to Suzanne Groth for embracing the ideal, from restraint, for elegance and in balance.  @GrothWines  @suzgroth  @CalifWines_CA  @CalifWines_US  @NapaVintners  @TheVine_RobGroh

Dutschke Shiraz GHR Neigbours 2013, Lyndoch, Barossa Valley, South Australia (247296, $26.95, WineAlign)

You just have to let go and find the fun in this Gods Hill Road shiraz, a wine of deep-rooted flavour. The utter deliciousness and unctuousness of Barossa is capitulated and catapulted into Lyndoch space. To say that charred meats hot of the grill would work perfectly right now would be utterly correct. To see this age for up to 10 years and eke out more elegance is also true. I would suggest endeavouring in both.  @DutschkeWines  @Wine_Australia

Glaetzer Shiraz Bishop 2015, Barossa Valley, South Australia (627869, $39.95, WineAlign)

Ben Glaetzer’s incredible value Heartland cabernet sauvignon from this same release is not to be missed but I’ve chosen to focus on his flagship shiraz. From son Ben in ode to mother Judith, Bishop the maternal maiden name is the rock of the estate’s Barossa Valley reds. Bishop is a serious wine to be sure and this really leaves so much behind in the mouth long after it’s been sipped.  @GlaetzerWines  @Wine_Australia  @TheVine_RobGroh

Louis Moreau Chablis Domaine de Biéville 2015, Burgundy, France (106161, $27.95, WineAlign)

Just last week I stood in Moreau’s booth at Prowein and I talked with Frédérique Chamoy. She noted how excited buyers are about the 2015 Chablis. If you were ever to take the kimmeridgian plunge this quintessential Moreau and this vintage are the place to start, Pure, classic mineral Chablis with more fruit than I’ve ever seen.  @MoreauLouis1  @vinsdechablis  

Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva 2013, DOCG Tuscany, Italy (260802, $36.95, WineAlign)

Brancaia goes all in to exploit sangiovese and the for broke style solicits some patience to wait out in extra time. Though 16 months in barrel is nothing to call nothing it is not the wood that dominates these gregarious 2013 grapes. With time this swirls into a grosso sangiovese like liqueur with plums, cherries and spice. Really Riserva in style but not of the recent past, more like the older ways but translated to modern times.  @CasaBrancaia  @chianticlassico  @ChiantiClassUSA  @Noble_Estates

La Lecciaia Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2010, DOCG Tuscany, Italy (241307, $69.95, WineAlign)

From the giving 2010 vintage and so beautifully so gifted here with La Lecciaia’s 2010 Riserva. Sangiovese that rests in such an ethereal nether-land will evolve with decades long grace. Classic would be one way of looking at it, heart-warming another and it’s remarkably ready to drink.      

It’s been a whirlwind of a start to 2017 and I am personally glad to be home, for now, even if it’s only for a short time. After all, there are too many wine discoveries out there and if were to let them pass me by I would not be Godello. So before too long I will head back out on the road, join the fairs, searches, digs and bring some love back home. As for now it is the April 1st release that deserves our full attention. Sara will bring best buys and new finds next week. Looking forward to April 15th David and John will return with your first in line VINTAGES picks. Until then, good luck with the hunt, have a Happy Easter and an equally happy Passover.

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Quick link to Michael’s WineAlign Mix

16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

this-may-or-may-not-have-happened-raveneau-memory-monteedetonnerre

This may or may not have happened #raveneau #memory #monteedetonnerre

It has never been this difficult to narrow it down. This frenetic, fast and forward moving blur of a year has blistered the patterns of thought so much so that I seriously considered throwing the whole 16 in 16 down the drain and laying it all out there. “Here are the 42 mind-blowing wines of 2016…” and then this wave of clarity came over me like a cloudless afternoon in Chablis. I mean I tasted 50-plus Grand Cru Chablis this year. They could all be on this list.

I meant this just the way I wrote it. The simplicity of wine is a beautiful thing. A vine grows and produces grapes. That fruit is picked and ferments itself with help from yeast it just happens to carry in its luggage. Time passes and wine is made. No one had to invent it. The most basic example of shit happens.

Related – 15 Mind blowing wines of 2015

As if to presumptuously bookend 2016 before it even began, that first post was apropos. New year, 16 new VINTAGES releases were not mind-blowing by any stretch of the waxing rhapsodic imagination but white space was filled. Like growing grapes in warm climates where just about anything can complete a phenolic journey, the possibilities are endless. So that I may feel comfortable quoting Godello again and again, multeity is the name of the game.

Related – Around the Cape in 50 wines

South Africa continued to occupy Godello for the early part of 2016 and that will never cease and desist. Hosting Andrea Mullineux at Barque Butcher Bar was one of the true highlights of the year. The landscape of South African wine is demarcated by ancient geology and by the geographical diversity of its regions, sub-regions and micro-plots. Varietal placement is the key to success. As I mentioned in previous articles, South African winemakers can grow anything they want, to both their discretion and their whimsy. The choice of what grows best and where will determine the successes of the future.

A new riesling on my radar was released in February. Creekside Estate Riesling Marianne Hill Vineyard 2014, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (443572, $19.95, WineAlign) and it paired beautifully with more foreshadowing than I’d like to admit.

Such a showing of 12 from Langton's does @Wine_Australia proud. Formidable, exemplary #AussieWine #vintagewineconservatory

Such a showing of 12 from Langton’s does @Wine_Australia proud. Formidable, exemplary #AussieWine #vintagewineconservatory

The Langton’s Classification: Excellent, outstanding, exceptional could have, would have placed 16 wines on this best of list were the rest of the planet not so adept at making wine. Like Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release 2010, Coonawarra, South Australia (466748, $99.95, WineAlign). Such a gathering of Australian wine delivers the preponderance of form, with the incantatory capacity of narrative to bring truth to light and fulness out of pleasure. The mantra repeated with Savouring the new Australia.

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

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

California stars showed up in droves and like any high quality engrossing preoccupation, the trip to Napa and Sonoma this year changed everything. Whatever I thought I knew or felt about the California wine industry now needs to be rewritten. First, Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens, then Napa Valley two: A question of ageNapa Valley: The next generationChardonnay in the Napa luxurySonoma gaps and single vineyardsSeven Grothic tales and Old vines for the Zin.

Vintage to vintage nuance and the common thread of %22grothiness,%22 or, @GrothWines in essence @TheVine_RobGroh #suzannegroth #napavalley #oakville #cabernetsauvignon

Vintage to vintage nuance and the common thread of grothiness, or, @GrothWines in essence @TheVine_RobGroh #suzannegroth #napavalley #oakville #cabernetsauvignon

The most pertinent question now in my mind is this. Can European wine keep up with the fictionality of North American reality? Even these wines could not make this list, however great and exceptional they are. Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, California (181131, $158.95, WineAlign), Forman Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (143925, $160.00, WineAlign) and Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1997, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $179.95, WineAlign). Sometimes the answer still persists. All in the Primum Familiae Vini. And by the way, The LCBO keeps Kosher.

lunch-champagnelallier-azureau

Much of what I taste is in a lab with no windows. That is because VINTAGES is a mimetic project, which is a few projects too many. We wine trackers and writers are akin to Cricetinae, perpetually running in a wheel or like Sisyphus, forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down. We read the bi-weekly catalogue, pre-taste the newest offerings, make our lists and check them twice. In every batch there are 10-15 wines that stand out, as much about bell curve positioning as absence of singularity. That is why attending varietal-centric events like The dawning of the age of Austrian wine and travelling the world is so important. Not too mention in my dining room In the Campania of Vini Alois.

ca-la-bionda

To name a few excursions, I visited California in February, Vinho Verde in March, Chianti Classico in May, Chablis in July and Valpolicella in September. November in Paris I re-connected with Earth and sky. The take aways were extraordinary and flush with the relish of new discoveries and brand new days. Who can forget Ca’ La Bionda Vigneti Di Ravazzol Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 1997? Italy in the fall reminded me that Franciacorta is the best kept sparkling secret on the planet. November is a sublime time to visit the province of Brescia and the cellars of Franciacorta. Meraviglioso! Meanwhile, Champagne has to be on the list, right? Lallier Cuvée Millésime Grand Cru Brut Champagne 2008, Champagne, France (Agent, $95.00, WineAlign) should be but again, space restrictions and there was this old bubble from the New World. Decisions, decisions.

Related – March of the Canadians

Which brings me back to Canadian and more parochioally, Ontario wine. The Canadian wine renaissance is attributed to high-end, artisan winemakers like Norman Hardie and Thomas Bachelder. That’s the cool factor. The truth of the matter is that Canadian winemakers have realized and capitalized on the significance and exceptionality of their terroirs in regions such as Niagara, Prince Edward County and the Okanagan Valley. Journalists and buyers from around the globe know it and have begun to spread the Canadian gospel.

And now #cuvee2016 @CCOVIBrockU #vqa @winecountryont #scotiabankconventioncentre

And now #cuvee2016 @CCOVIBrockU #vqa @winecountryont #scotiabankconventioncentre

And so I asked Where does the taste of Ontario go from here? At Cuvée, where was the Cabernet Franc? Where was the rest of Ontario’s Go Gamay Go arsenal? Varietal lampoonery I tell ya. Over the highway and across the hills, No County for old wines and then, “a celebrated indictment of suburban surrender,” Too late for May Two-Four.

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

This 16-strong list has much to do with the beg, Drink now or save it for later? I have spent the last 30 years considering wine in some respect. The last 15 much more so. The tries, trials, errors, tricks, and tribulations have taught me one thing. I prefer and receive much more instant gratification from drinking wines young but nothing compares to the insight and the exhilaration of partaking in older wines.

You never forget your first hunk of #kimmeridgian love @BIVBChablis @vinsdebourgogne #chablis #cotedelechet

You never forget your first hunk of #kimmeridgian love @BIVBChablis @vinsdebourgogne #chablis #cotedelechet

The year’s greatest distraction came at the hands of Chablis and fair warning, twenty thousand words are coming soon. In 2016 I published three times, Chablis from Dauvissat to VocoretLooking for Chablis in Ontario?Enlightened Chablis of Château De Béru and Paradox in Chablis. Chablis as a varietal concept, as opposed to and unlike anywhere else in the world, seemingly unrelated to chardonnay. How could these extraordinary Chablis not make the list? Domaine Laroche Chablis Grand Cru Les Blanchots Réserve De L’obédience 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (AgentWineAlign) and Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru Bougros Côte Bouguerots 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (AgentWineAlign). Perhaps because I will soon publish Grand Cru hyperbole next month? That must be it.

Mirror to classicism, history and tradition. Purity from @valerialosi #querciavalle @chianticlassico #agricolalosi #sangiovese #granselezione #pontiganello

Mirror to classicism, history and tradition. Purity from @valerialosi #querciavalle @chianticlassico #agricolalosi #sangiovese #granselezione #pontiganello

For the first time, I think ever, I gave some love to Rosé in the Days of wine and Rosés. I also fell for new dessert wines and these two tried hard but came up just a wee bit short for the list. Domaine Cauhapé Jurançon Symphonie De Novembre 2012, Southwest, France (470344, $38.95, WineAlign), Losi Querciavalle Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico 2000, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $95.00, WineAlign).

grahams_port-insanity-via-abnermallity-onceinalifetime-piratesonapicnic-piratesv4point0-sharingiscaring-1948-finestreserve

@grahams_port insanity via @abnermallity #onceinalifetime #piratesonapicnic #piratesv4point0 #sharingiscaring #1948 #finestreserve

Graham’s Vintage Port Finest Reserve 1948 (with thanks to Peter Boyd) granted the year’s moment of providable history. Love in droves. Holiday season for the VINTAGES releases were split and categorized, from December 10th in VINTAGES: Canada through December 10th in VINTAGES: Old World and into December 10th in VINTAGES: New World.

Singolarità, qualità, diversità. Grazie di tutto @chianticlassico

Singolarità, qualità, diversità. Grazie di tutto @chianticlassico

In 2016, two words. Chianti Classico. The wines have embarked upon an ascension into their contemporary golden age. Image, perception and finalmente, reality, these are the truths all who feel the soul of Chianti Classico are in search of today. Today and moving forward, explaining to the world that Chianti Classico is not what you thought or think it to be. Colle Bereto Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2011, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $67.50, WineAlign) was a side-revelation, as were so many others in Three days, eight estates, Chianti Classico and Gran Selezione, The most important red wine from Italy. And in a year when CC is all that seems to matter, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 2012, Doc Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy (722470, $195.50, WineAlign) and Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2004, Tuscany, Italy (Agent$100.00WineAlign) are but mere mentions in addendum.

DavidPpelletier, 'Le Sommelier Fou' and friends in Vinho Verde

David Pelletier, ‘Le Sommelier Fou’ and friends in Vinho Verde

It may seem irrelevant now but Changes to VINTAGES release recommendations and notes on Godello will translate to a revolution at WineAlign in 2017. Wait for it. Most of all, 2016 will remind me that I will always raise my glass of Vinho Verde to Le Sommelier Fou. Here are Godello’s 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016.

200-yr-old-vines-1300m-above-sea-level-vignerietna-somesmartsomm-rosato-vinudilice-2008-tastethelava-volcanic

200 yr old vines. 1300m above sea level @vignerietna @somesmartsomm #rosato #vinudilice 2008 #tastethelava #volcanic

I Vigneri Di Salvo Foti Vinudilice 2008, Igt Sicilia Rosè, Sicily, Italy (WineAlign)

So much about this introduction to volcanic Rosato falls under the category and melts into the realm of the impossible. Begin with Vigna Bosco planted to 10,000, (up to) 200 year-old bush-trained (Etnean alberello) vines per hectare in Bronte, Northern Etna. Consider the party goers, endemic alicante, grecanico, minnella and other minor if wholly obscure native varietals. Locate the vineyard at 1,300m above sea level. Tell me it’s not the highest in all of Europe. Go on, tell me. Tended by hand with the help of Ciccio the mule. No refrigeration, yeasts or filtration. Decanting and bottling follow the phases of the moon. Blush has never acted like this, suspended as if put into bottle yesterday, beautifully minutia funky, every detail in laser calm focus. There really is no reference point, not in the south of France or anywhere in Italy to prepare for such an intellection. Vinudilice is nestled in a wood filled with holly oak (quercus ilex or in Sicily, ilice) but in respect for its singularity I would hesitate to categorize or compartmentalize. In fact I would not use the term Rosé, or Orange or natural to realize a need for reason. I would simply taste the lava. Thank you SomeSmartSomm. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @ivigneri  @somesmartsomm  @WinesOfSicily

not-members-of-blasted-mechanism-with-magnuspim-and-vasco-croft-aphroswines-vinhoverde

Not members Blasted Mechanism. With Chris Wilton and Vasco Croft, Aphros Wines, Vinho Verde

Aphros Phanus Pet-Nat 2015, Sub-Região Lima, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $34.95, WineAlign)

Loureiro of a fashion so rare for Portugal and this region, from a concrete pétillant-naturel style, vinified in stainless steel with wild yeasts and initially no additional sugar, then bottled with 20 grams of natural residual sugar, to alight the single fermentation conclusion. An 11 per cent contrariety of méthode ancestrale dialectic, like a lime-grapefruit cordial housing a dissolving lemon tablet. A bowie cut, boning and dressing of loureiro. This here the whole new way to take the grape, to send it sky-high and bring it down to the rustic roots of glam, sparkling funk. “Like to take a cement fix, be a standing cinema. Dress my friends up just for show, see them as they really are.” Vasco (Andy) Croft walking and his hunky dory pet-nat spinning an original tale of a time and a place, or perhaps a myth, like the rustic deity of the forest riding shotgun to Dionysus and his native war. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted March 2016    @LeSommelierWine

Oldest vines #barossavalley textures in #semillon and #grenache @cirillo1850wine @Wine_Australia #southaustralia #marcocirillo

Oldest vines #barossavalley textures in #semillon and #grenache @cirillo1850wine @Wine_Australia #southaustralia #marcocirillo

Cirillo 1850 Ancestor Sémillon 2011, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $36.00, WineAlign)

A sémillon revelation is found in this Barossa Valley ancient, a wine procured from vines dating back more than 150 years. To discount that prodigious bit of calculated fortuity would be wrong on so many levels. The Cirillo family are guardians of what may be the oldest continuously producing grenache and sémillon vineyards in Australia and by logical extension, the world. Here the combination of dry extract, mineral depth and straight-lined (unsalted) salinity is beyond special. While the Hunter Valley garners the most attention for aging immortal sémillon, this Barossan will likewise escape, somehow, to live another more complicated and mysterious life. I would wait three years for some extract meets tannic sweetness to begin its development and then take it slow for another six to 10. Incredible find here in Ontario from Marco Cirillo. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted May 2016  @Cirillo1850wine  @bokkewines  @BarossaDirt

Brash Higgins Nero D’avola Amphorae Project 2015, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

The renegade triumvirate of coagulation denotes the shock and awe of this outlier; McLaren Vale, Nero d’Avola and Amphora. Winemaker Brad Hickey and his nickname have taken the troika and created a beautiful monster. A non-oxidative, crunchy, spicy, toasty, chewy and tannic NdA in versicolour, mottled and florid in flavour. There is black and white pepper, cinnamon, zesty orange spritz and a clay influence (plus amphora) to waft one for the ages. The palate flaunts a tapenade of painfully brilliant chalky black olive. The swirl is chocolate and vanilla, mediterranean and meganesian. There should be zero attention paid to the unusual in its concept. This is both a pleasure to taste now and will evolve into something wholly other given enough time. At least 10 years to be sure. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted May 2016  @BrashHiggins  @mclaren_vale  @TheLivingVine

what-is-rockpile-time-in-and-time-out-the-fun-stuff-keith-moon-of-zinfandel-mauritsonwinery-sonomacounty-jameswood

Rockpile Zinfandel Cemetery Vineyard 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (Winery, US $47, WineAlign)

Look towards the other arm of Lake Sonoma and let your mind’s eye rest 250 feet higher than Jack’s Cabin Vineyard. The Cemetery plantation is a jagged, craggy outcropping with “a face uneven as a river jag and asperous as the mullein’s flannel.”  The Mauritsons are Los Campesinos of Cemetery Vineyard in Rockpile. The rocks below resemble giant headstones along the Rogers Creek fault and you just have to believe all this immensity of geology impacts the vines. It does but don’t ask how or why, just settle into the cimmerian depth of zinfandel touched by black fruit, spice and the akimbo savour of glutamate and amino acid. Three further months in barrel (85 French plus 15 American) accentuates the spice, smoulder and espresso con crema texture. Ripeness of fruit, tannin and acidity are simply stellar out of this dramatic place. “You know us by the way we crawl and you know us by our cemetery gaits.” Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted February 2016  @mauritsonwinery  @sonomavintners

weinbach

Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2013, Alsace, France (581975, $64.00, WineAlign)

Though it may long ago have been considered the quintessential one, there may be no other Alsatian gewürztraminer more important than Weinbach’s Cuvée Laurence. The reasons are manyfold but begin and end with memory and legacy. This was daughter and sister Laurence Faller’s prized wine, the wine she put her name to, that defined her gracious winemaking in echo of the estate she worked. Her family has carried the torch and yet her touch is all over this wine. Calm, composed, balanced and ethereal. Laurence is a clear expression of the marly limestone soil beneath the lieu-dit of Altenbourg, located at the base of the great Grand Cru Furstentum vineyard. Where else do you find gewürztraminer of such delicasse, from which classic aromas (rose petal, creamy to boozy-syrupy tropical fruit) and impossible unction combine without ukase? Nowhere. The acidity does not act with impulse. No, it rings, supports and lingers. The extract is intense but out of mind. Exceptional vintage. Drink 2018-2033.  Tasted October 2016    @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace  @ACT_Alsace  @VinsAlsace

alessandro-your-grandfather-was-a-very-good-winemaker-luiluiano-chianticlassico-fattoriadiluiano-chianticlassicoriserva-1979-sangiovese-alessandropalombo-antoniopalombo-luiano

Luiano Chianti Classico 1979, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Alessandro Palombo is skeptical at first, one eyebrow raised but with the look of possibility on his face. Takes me very little time to acknowledge that this ’79 is very much alive, fruit not predominant (and surely some prune) but neither cooked nor bruised. The brown nose (earth and spice) purports a full concentration of anthocyanins, acidity still full in, dried fraises de bois, black liquorice, dirty leather and worth repeating, still very good acidity. Truffle, forest floor and then black olive tapenade on the palate. This is 70-80 per cent sangiovese with colorino and canaiolo and for 1979 it’s quite incredible. It should not have lasted this long.  Antonio says that up to 10 per cent could have been malvasia blanca and trebbiano because at the time it was a field blend, co-planted with the sangiovese, which could explain some of the variegation in the colour. This is a Chianti Classico to lend credence to the idea of using multiple fruit, vegetal and animale descriptors when assessing an old wine. It’s also the reason why you put them away and open them with friends who’s eyes are wide open. Thank you Alessandro for the opportunity and for the connection to your grandfather Alberto. He was a very good winemaker. Drink 2016.  Tasted May 2016  @LuiLuiano  @chianticlassico

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Château De Béru Chablis Clos Béru Monopole 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (Agent, $87.95, WineAlign)

In 2012, less density and iodine matchstick is on display in performance for the historic, south facing vineyard beyond the Château’s walls. From this her eighth vintage in the resurrection of the family’s estate wines, Athénaïs de Béru has assembled fruit from Kimmeridgian limestone in rapport with a vintage of portent and intent towards elegance. The acidity is much more linear (than 2013) and the limestone sensations less metallic. Here the feeling is more of a liquid chalk and the balance is much improved. Also less evolved, bright and a much more amenable of a bitter pith, more citrus (lemon and lime) and not as earthy. Longer finish too. What 2013 lacks this ’12 gains and vice versa. The comparative literature and parenthetical study is duly noted as apples to oranges so the wines are exempt of one another. Neither answer all the questions asked and both express their terroir from their time spent on it. This ’12 story will become clearer in another year or two. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted July 2016       

remelluri

Granja Remelluri Rioja Gran Reserva 2009, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $89.99, WineAlign)

“What is Rioja?” asks Telmo Rodríguez. He notes that Lopez-Heredia still manages small vineyards, Grand Cru and Premier Cru plots, but most Rioja houses are industrial. Their wines age in barrels in 100-150 year old wineries but have no sense of place, of origins, of an amazing vineyard. “I want to be radical. I believe it (Rioja) can be one of the most beautiful places in the world but I told my brothers it needed to go in a very particular direction. My brothers agreed.” So costs went up 35 per cent. They bought no grapes. “If you want to work properly in Spain, you have to be a hero.” You have to work the most difficult vineyards, where production costs are five times that of Grand Vin Bordeaux but the price sells for 10 times less. And so Telmo Rodríguez produces this Gran Reserva, a wine that adheres to a Rioja systematic but does so from a blind-eye turned, high density field-blend planting of tempranillo, garnacha, graciano, muscatel, viura and malvasia. A field blend, unlike Bordeaux but a local village farmed gathering of the best fruit. The 2009 is showing no age but the difference between 2010 Reserva and 2009 Gran Reserva is night and day. This makes the ’10 seem fresh, alive, open, almost simple. Here the variegation is distilled down to laser focus, as if the varieties all become one and most people would simply say tempranillo, but who has ever tasted and been dealt such a tempranillo? This is oozing of a liqueur like no other, rich, viscous, natural and dry-extract sweet. An expression of the best microclimates and their vineyard kin. Wait another five years to allow it to remember and tell its tale. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted September 2016    @TelmoRodriguez_  @Noble_Estates

dominus

Dominus 1998, Napa Valley, California (212381, $176.95, WineAlign)

When I tasted the 1990 in 2012, hanging on to every thread of oscillation from death to life and back again was exhausting. The 2008 tasted that same year could not have been more life affirming. This ’98 is such a zoetic Dominus beast with an embarrassment of resplendent riches. It is everything 1990 wished it could have been and yet the light-hearted George Hrab geological funk reminds me of that wine. The 1998 trips on a trebuchet and I weep at its aromatic reverie. It is hypnopompic, a state immediately preceding waking up, whiffing the most beautiful Brett there ever was or could ever imagined to be. Volatility in a bubble, circumstantial, lost in a dream. Get lost in the butcher shop, the natural cure here, there, everywhere, curative and comforting. Porcine and rapturous, fruit perfect and entitled, structure supprting every note. If 1998 was both a curious and concerning vintage this wine lays those worries to rest. The fretting may have swayed feelings and been difficult to glide fingers across but the harmonics extend with ease. Finishes with staccato calm, a palpable exhale of breath and silence. Five more years will be like this and five more without threat. Drink 2016-2026.  Tasted October 2016     @rogcowines  

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Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 2013, Santa Cruz Mountains, California (405332, $191.95, WineAlign)

From a serious drought vintage, dry, warm and demanding, the 2013 Montebello’s Draper perfume is as heady as ever, to such effect that after one whiff this is where daydreaming takes over consciousness. Montebello gets inside the head, with allegory, radio frequency waves and platonic thought, as if inside a cave. An 80 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot (8), Cabernet Franc (7) and Merlot (5) classic, lithe and restrained blend of sheer, utter exceptionality. The balance in 2013 is impeccable but dont be fooled into thinking this is not a big wine. The acidity is dramatic, the tannins fine and demanding and the amount of pure extract whorled and revelling. All in dark red fruit and a coolness through the mid-palate that threads like silk through fine stainless steel fibre. “This goes beyond me, beyond you.” Drink 2018-2030.  Tasted May 2016  @RidgeVineyards  @rogcowines  @CalifWines_CA

Fino, Don P.X. '86 and '62 w: @sorgatoBTA @toroalbala @LeSommelierWine Magical, impossible, unchanging. Bucket list to revisit in 150 years #pedroximenez #bodegastoroalbala #montillamoriles #spain

Fino, Don P.X. ’86 and ’62 w: @sorgatoBTA @toroalbala @LeSommelierWine Magical, impossible, unchanging. Bucket list to revisit in 150 years #pedroximenez #bodegastoroalbala #montillamoriles #spain

Bodegas Toro Albalá Don P.X. Selección 1967, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (491647, $199.95, WineAlign)

You know it’s a good month when you are afforded the opportunity to taste two Montilla-Moriles Pedro Ximenez oldies, first the Alvear Solera 1927 in Paris and now this Selección 1967 bottled in November of 2016. The vintage-dated PX are produced from sun-dried grapes fermented for two months to eight or nine per cent alcohol, at which point a distillate made from the same PX pressings is added to bring the wine up to 17 per cent. First in concrete vats and then a transfer into 50-150 year old American oak barrels. Only 630 bottles were filled in a PX of awakening and hope that finished at an indiscernible 17 per cent alcohol. Some dessert wines can be cloying Popskull but Bodegas Toro Albalá delivers yet another impossible and crazy dessert wine of heavy fuel, impeccable balance in the face of Lugduname breaching sweetness and aromas sin fronteras. The gamut glides through roasted nuts and dried fruits, from almonds and Van Gogh Museum memories of their abundant flowers plus pomegranate, apricot, peach, nectarine, damson plum and pistachio. So much pistachio!! In between there is orange marmalade, quince jelly and prune preserve. Plenty of acidity extends and narrows into a sharp, pointed tang. No matter how many times you try to empty the glass there is always more wine. Always another sip. Is it viscosity, a truco del ojo or trampantojo? Is there some kind of wizardry at play? Then finally, well, actually never, a finish with no end, or a pause in a never-ending 49 year-old (and counting) story. So where is the beginning? 1967. Drink 2016-2040.  Tasted November 2016  @toroalbala  @sorgatoBTA  @MontillaMoriles  @LeSommelierWine

schram

Schramsberg Sparkling J. Schram 50th Anniversary Late disgorged 1999, Napa Valley, California (Winery $175 US, WineAlign)

In celebration of Schramsberg’s golden anniversary, 50 years after Jack and Jamie Davies revived the historic Schramsberg estate for the purpose of making the nation’s first chardonnay and pinot noir based, bottle-fermented sparkling wines. A North Coast (57 per cent Napa, 25 Mendocino, 15 Monterey and 13 Sonoma) blend of 74 per cent chardonnay and 26 pinot noir. Seventeen years have come to ginger, cumin, coriander and galangal in laminous, oxidative ingenuity, wholly arid in kicking up the aromatic dust. Flavours of pressed lemon, bitter brioche and then tannin, yes tannin. From a protracted year, picked as late as October 19th, disgorged in August of 2014 at a dosage of (very necessary) 11.5 g/L RS. Blessed with high natural acidity of 9.8 tA. How can I not concur with Hugh Davies. “What we’re really showing here is Napa Valley Chardonnay.” Drink 2016-2031.  Tasted February 2016  @Schramsberg  @TheVine_RobGroh

Down by the river with #raveneau #grandcru #blanchot #chablis @lafolieauxerre #2009 #francoisraveneau #thankful

Down by the river with #raveneau #grandcru #blanchot #chablis @lafolieauxerre #2009 #francoisraveneau #thankful

Domaine François Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Blanchot 2009, Burgundy, France (WineAlign)

It would be misleading to address Raveneau’s Blanchot as chardonnay even as we know it as such because Raveneau produces wines as unique as door keys. They are so inimitable and each will only open the gate to its own unique perception. Blanchot is the southernmost of the seven Chablis Grand Cru climats and blankets the southeastern side of Les Clos. The Raveneau narration does not convey the notion of manifest feeling but instead splits the axiomatic atom of the climat. A sip and you are inside the Blanchot, gliding and passing through rock as if you are the ethereal and the wine is the solid foundation of thought, pathos and avowal. There are aromas that combine citrus and umami with a sweetness that can’t be denied or defined. The wine is just a child, complex, shy and yet unable to express both its meaning and power. But you try to get inside its head, stumbling over kimmeridgian rock replete with the smithereen-crushed shells of ancient fossils. This is a calm young Blanchot and you melt away while under its spell. Three more years should render its hidden meaning. Drink 2019-2034.  Tasted July 2016

A great pleasure and exercize in humility to taste with #vincentdauvissat in his cellar @BIVBChablis #humanity #chablis

A great pleasure and exercize in humility to taste with #vincentdauvissat in his cellar @BIVBChablis #humanity #chablis

Domaine René et Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2001, Burgundy, France (WineAlign)

Tasted from a bottle opened five days prior which is nothing really for a wine that can age easily for 30 years. It resides in a perfect state. Vincent concedes “over 20 there is nothing to be gained” and yet the still terrifically raging acidity would suggest this 15 year-old specimen is only halfway there. The texture is nothing if not persuasive. In 1931 Vincent’s father began this journey. Here 70 years later is a wine so perfectly intact, the lemon-waxy aspect almost on the edge of the hive. But not quite because of the taut bracing and tight embracing. There is a chew to this and Dauvissat shrugs. “What’s to say?” Nothing but a great piece of his history and his father’s legacy. If this wine is a sentimental tribute to a childhood village, it is never uncomplicated. Drink 2016-2031.  Tasted July 2016

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Catena Adrianna Vineyard Mundus Bacillus Terrae Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $325.00, WineAlign)

In this extremely specific malbec from a diagnosed block of the Adrianna Vineyard we are graced with the micro-science of wine. And if you feel that using the name of an aerobic bacteria in the nomenclature is an odd choice, consider the mind of Dr. Laura Catena and her biological approach to viticulture. If we can understand and differentiate the microbes in the soil we can make better wine. It’s as simple as that. When wine is broken down to the biological level it becomes something entirely different and this is the road travelled by the Mundus Bacillus. Catena’s usage of 70 parcel pits per hectare has unearthed this single parcel within the vineyard, again completely different and the pinpointed microbial discussion initiates right here. The soil stakes a claim for this malbec only, certainly not in any way that tends to funk but surely as an impresario of soil. Talk about eugenics in the MBT because that science is compelling and can be related to in this wine. It can offer keys towards improving genetic quality of the vinous population. Here we are faced with rich and dusty, a mean streak of malbec intensity made elegant by earthly microbes. This section draws parallels to the (chardonnay) White Bones soil from which there transfers an excess of dry extract and tannin. Patience please for a malbec that will be long lived. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted November 2016

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Seven Grothic tales

Vintage to vintage nuance and the common thread of %22grothiness,%22 or, @GrothWines in essence @TheVine_RobGroh #suzannegroth #napavalley #oakville #cabernetsauvignon

Vintage to vintage nuance and the common thread of grothiness, or, @GrothWines in essence @TheVine_RobGroh #suzannegroth #napavalley #oakville #cabernetsauvignon

In February, at Cuvaison Estate in Carneros, Napa Valley, I tasted Groth’s 1987 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. “Definitely tastes like Cabernet from the 1980’s,” said Suzanne Groth with a shrug.  I’ve now tasted Cabernet by Groth from vintages spanning the last four decades. The ’97 tasted like Cabernet from the 1990’s, the 2005, 2006 and 2007 from that decade and the 2012, well, you get the picture. Grothiness, Groth in essence and a touch of Groth are all a thing. So are the notions of time specific and era representative. At any point in Napa Valley’s last 40-plus years of winemaking history, you could count on a Groth Cabernet to capture the moment in a time capsule. Grothic tales.

During that February tasting in Napa, a question of age was at the forefront of the discussion. Putting a finger on the Valley’s long-term capabilities is not yet imprinted as a foregone conclusion but increasingly wines from the 1970’s and 1980’s are laid bare in longevity reveal. Case in point Robert Mondavi. At Groth, despite all the changes and re-plants, age ability is still the goal despite not knowing how long the wines can actually age.

Related – Napa Valley two: A question of age

Groth Vineyards was founded in 1981 by Dennis and Judith in the heart of the Oakville appellation. First crush was in 1982, the winery was finished in 1990 and expansion of the fermentation and barrel cellar was completed in 2007. Michael Weis is Director of Winemaking and he was instrumental in the decision to re-plant Oakville blocks to Cabernet Sauvignon in 1999 ands 2000. Cameron Parry is the winemaker. The Oakville vineyard is planted to Cabernet (55 acres), Sauvignon Blanc (32) and Semillon (11). The Hillview Vineyard is planted to Merlot (12) and Chardonnay (26). Half of the acreage in Oakville is dedicated to the flagship Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Cameron Parry spoke to the 2012 vintage saying, “it was back to normal in 2012 and here in Oakville normal is awesome.’

The Vine Agency’s Robert Groh brought Suzanne and her family’s portfolio to the Chef’s House at Toronto’s George Brown College in May. Here is what we tasted.

My #napavalley education according to @GrothWines continues with @TheVine_RobGroh #suzannegroth #oakville #cabernetsauvignon #chardonnay #sauvignonblanc

My #napavalley education according to @GrothWines continues with @TheVine_RobGroh #suzannegroth #oakville #cabernetsauvignon #chardonnay #sauvignonblanc

Groth Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $41.95, WineAlign)

Groth’s Sauvignon Blanc comes from vines planted in black clay on the eastern block of a former dairy ranch. Winemaker Michael Weiss knew the terroir was not blessed to ripen red varietals and the SB plan (with the reins now taken over by Cameron Parry) shies away from vivid, pungent aromatic realities, i.e. no cat’s pee. With nine per cent Sémillon (highest to date) mixed in “we knew more would be better” notes Suzanne Groth. Weiss wanted to showcase warm climate Sauvignon Blanc, but in a crisp, clean and sur-lie (70-90 days) flavour-texture compendium. The blend is actually figured in the field, not post crush. It’s whole cluster pressed and spends four plus years in aged French barrels. It gets to stone fruit with Sem’s sharp accents, of acidity to line up the usual warm climate roundness of SB. It’s a real treat of extract meets tannin impression, with top notch length and impeccable balance from start to finish. This is warm Sauvignon Blanc to be sure but there is no mistaking the parity. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Groth Chardonnay Hillview Vineyard 2014, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $64.95, WineAlign)

From a 44-acre Yountville vineyard founded in 1982 and (mostly) re-planted in 1996. High caste Chardonnay thanks to whole cluster pressing, a long, cool fermentation, assistance from old and new barrels and time spent on the lees. The wildness is tamed, the aromas are brilliant and the flavours deep, creamy and spiced. This is a perfect and prime example of all the right directions Napa Chardonnay has taken in the last 10 years, with kudos to Suzanne Groth for embracing the ideal, from restraint, for elegance and in balance. Drink 2017-2026.  Tasted April 2016

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $64.95, WineAlign)

Suzanne Groth introduces her family’s tween Estate Cab as “being from the Cabernet ghetto that is Oakville,” a quip not lost on the concept of the sub-appellation’s fractional singularity. From the first of a string of cool vintages. Just a fleeting, secondary hint of what was noticed in the golden 1987, a savoury flirting with truflle and soy but of course, so very floral. Merlot (somewhere between 22-24 per cent) was blended in, then French oak for 22 months (50 per cent new). A “Grothiness” is guaranteed, as per the house style, valley floor indicative, making for travel down a silk road. This is antithetic to mountain wine and caressing when it comes to tannin. All three vintages tasted side by each (2005-2007) share an affinity in ability to balance out the young, brutish cabernet, with black pepper liquified in mouth-coating, satin sheathing. Will live another 11 years, almost, if not quite like that ’87. Drink 2016-2027.  Tasted April 2016

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $64.95, WineAlign)

Showing a bit more evolution than the ’05 and a cooler, deeper savour. Red fruit is a bit dried, like Korean red pepper, adhering to espresso dusted pomegranate seeds, plus cranberries and bitter chocolate. A bigger wine within the context of expressing and in duplicity of a cool factor. Still tannic, grippy and amazing. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted February 2016

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $64.95, WineAlign)

Not only the youngest but also easily the least evolved as compared to the 2005 and 2006, which makes sense, but so incredibly fresh and with the most exuberant red fruit and polarizing, corresponding rigid tannins. A wine to recognize the ties that bind from vintage to vintage, in nuance and by the common thread of “grothiness,” or, Groth Wines in essence. This expression is wider ranging and gregarious across the board and while it may not be the most beautiful of the three, it will age the longest. The length is testament to that contention. Drink 2016-2029.  Tasted February 2016

Another @GrothWines question of age with 1997 refusing to grow up @TheVine_RobGroh

Another @GrothWines question of age with 1997 refusing to grow up @TheVine_RobGroh

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1997, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $179.95, WineAlign)

It is so very special to be graced the avowal of opportunity to partake in the coming of age with this young Cabernet, the pre-Groth replant wine, from the vines that came with the purchase of the winery. Vines that finished their work in the 1999 vintage. In an oddly decreased, antediluvian aromatic character as compared to the 2005, the soy, truffle and earthy antiquity as it may be imagined is tangled in an intangible collective. Red berry fruit is remarkable in its freshness, from strawberry to raspberry picked just this morning. The palate shows more age but also vitality and energy. The warmth of 1997 has been held at bay, a kept intruder not allowed to smother what idealism the fruit held in confidence. Marks the watershed flow of the churte rock, a sedimentary conclusion that pushes its way through the vines into this reserve Cabernet. What a superlative piece of (what seems like only yesterday) Napa Valley history. Drink 2016-2028.  Tasted April 2016

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2012, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $179.95, WineAlign)

Tasted alongside the alluring 1987 with Suzanne Groth. Extremely primary and struck as if by cool fog and mineral mist. Unmelted and unshaken tempered chocolate to be sure, cracked and fissured into shards. The flavours welcome Cassis and graphite with quite the lightning on the tongue. Enervating Cabernet, pulsating and tingling. Should age long but not quite like the 1980’s. Contains 12 per cent Merlot and saw 22 months in 100 per cent oak, but notes Suzanne, “other than that everything is completely different.” Drink 2018-2032.  Tasted February 2016

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Eight is enough

Asparagus, chard, lemon and nutty cheese #chablis

Asparagus, chard, lemon and nutty cheese #chablis

I spent more than 20 years cooking. It was hard work and it was fulfilling work. When I was 19 a fellow McGill student asked my why I cooked so much. I said that when I was cooking I never thought I should be doing something else. I never felt guilty that I wasn’t studying or considered that I might be wasting time. I started writing about wine in 2005 and really had no plans to make a career out of it. I would have been content occupying my time working as hard as any wine professional, writing tasting notes and developing prose for eight or nine hours a day. I began the wine writing partly to avoid working on harder things but also for the pleasure of it.

Here I am 11 years later, working as a professional in wine. I feel like Dick van Patten, sitting at my desk in a house where kids come and go, typing away, solving life’s problems one wine at a time. Tom Bradford did not have VINTAGES bi-weekly releases to keep him busy but lucky me, I get to review 150-plus wines every month from the endless cycle of offerings.

For April 2nd and in the category of “expensive but affordable because they’re good” I think that eight is enough. Here are my notes.

Cunto

Alois Cunto Pallagrello Nero 2011, Igp Terre Del Volturno, Campania, Italy (440743, $24.95, WineAlign)

Possibly an ode to the 17th century fairytale “Lo cunto de li cunti,” the tale of tales, or story of stories, now called Pentamerone by seventeenth-century Italian poet and courtier Giambattista Basile. Maximum ripeness, almost into dried fruit but on the naturally cured and curated edge. Pallagrello Nero finds its way into ethereal while living dangerously close to that razor’s edge. Dry tannic finish, firm and ragged. If that collection of tales could influence the form of fairytales in Europe, perhaps the Alois Palagrello Nero can do the same for natural wine. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted March 2016  @vinialois  @Reg_Campania

Maison Chanzy En Rosey Rully 2013, Ac Burgundy, France (446153, $26.95, WineAlign)

Rusty and firm Pinot Noir from Rully with enough bright fruit and acidity to keep it from hiding in caves and stepping into shadows. Even brighter on the palate with Côte Chalonnaise’s own specific tangy red fruit flavour and really ripe tannins. Terrific Rully, better known for its Chardonnay but this is a stellar example of its Pinot Noir. A poor person’s Burgundy bargoon. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2016  @le_tastevin  @maisonchanzy  @BourgogneWines

Ruffino Modus 2012, Igt Toscana, Italy (912956, $29.95, WineAlign)

A VINTAGES re-release for the ostensible Tuscan, a perennially accessible Super food with as much mineral feel and ferric substance as it has ever shown. Not so much a showy vintage as it is a production made for best in show. Red stone fruit bounds fleshy and just a touch of properly bitter accents are provided by wood, much appreciated by the weight and pitch. A tight but lyrically measured Modus of restraint and moderation that would do well with a major decant and some char on an aged hunk of flesh on the bone. Walk before you run to find this ode. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2016 @RuffinoWines  @CBrandsCareers

Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A’frati Chianti Classico Riserva 2011, Docg Tuscany, Italy (23358, $29.95, WineAlign)

Chianti Classico Riserva rarely smells like this these days. It’s not as though this harkens back twenty years but it certainly recalls a time from the turn of the century when Sangiovese was Sangiovese and Tuscans were Tuscans. The musk, sour cherry, leather, pannetone, meat and gladiator brawn from honest fruit sent to spend time in big casks sitting like giant buddhas underground. Here CCR does what it once did best, preserving and freezing time, only to emerge unscathed, healed and ready to tell a life-time of stories. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted March 2016  @ProfileWineGrp  @chianticlassico

Sylvain Mosnier Côte De Lechet Chablis 1er Cru 2013, Ac Burgundy, France (318139, $35.95, WineAlign)

Classic Chablis from a very old vineyard (belonged to the Pontigny’s monk) with southeast exposure west of the town of Chablis and just above the small village of Milly. Mosnier’s parcel gifts delicate fruit, just so fortuitous in quantity and quality of lees overtures on stony lime-driven texture. Chardonnay in hands of terroir so flinty, lacy, organza fine. What more could be asked of for this next to nothing 1er Cru Chablis price? Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted March 2016  @BIVBChablis

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (73072, $40.95, WineAlign)

More Northern Rhone depth drives a beefy steak through the desert heart of Burrowing Owl’s 2013 Syrah, a wine of smelting liqueur and fierce ooze. The layers are so compressed, like tumbled earth and rock at the bottom of a steep slope. The flavours are covered in a rich ganache for the time being but a gravelly unearthing is already starting to begin excavations. This is a big Syrah with plenty of time on its side. “Let it ride. Let it ride easy down the road. Let it take away all of the darkness.” Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted March 2016  @BurrowingOwlBC  @LeSommelierWine  @winebcdotcom

Jean Luc Colombo Terres Brûlées Cornas Syrah 2012, Ac Rhone, France (448837, $72.95, WineAlign)

The darkest knight for Colombo full of every crush imaginable. Hematic and welling up with tension. Rich behind the pale and with acidity that scales it back, not elevates it out of reach. Wild berries and some vineyard funk. Quite the mouthful and spicy kick on the back. Wow Cornas, sumptuous Syrah. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted March 2016  @vinscolombo  @bwwines  @RhoneWine  @VINSRHONE

Groth

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (606517, $112.95, WineAlign)

Exactement. Exacting 2012 to explain the weather in Napa Valley from a vintage all were thankful for. High brix. Optimum ripeness. Rich and spicy. How does this Groth fall in line with the question to age? Ten years for sure. What about 25? Though it remains to be seen, today’s ripeness quotient in cool, dry, elongated years is not consistent with 1982, 1992 or 2002. This Groth ’12 finds itself poised in balance and answers no skewed questions of structure. It is more accessible than many peers and also as compared to itself, right now, or with the equivalent of a one year decant. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted March 2016  @GrothWines  @TheVine_RobGroh  @NapaVintners

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel

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Napa Valley two: A question of age

Cuvaison Estate Wines

Cuvaison Estate Wines, Carneros, Napa Valley

In February, Cuvaison Estate Wines in Carneros, The California Wine Institute and Napa Valley Vintners welcomed a group of curious Canadians for a walk in the fields and a comprehensive tasting. Some older and old-ish bottles were opened in the session with Cuvaison’s winemaker Steve Rogstad, Groth’s Suzanne Groth, Schramsberg’s Hugh Davies and Trefethen’s Loren Trefethen. Journalists and sommeliers are always pleased to see some (bottle) age in a tasting.

Youthful ingress into back pages of @GrothWines nearly three decades past @NapaVintners @CalifWines_CA #napavalley

Youthful ingress into back pages of @GrothWines nearly three decades past @NapaVintners @CalifWines_CA #napavalley

We drink wine to experience moments that do not occur in other situations, settings or with other beverages. When we taste older wines we look into the past and pause, for thought and for who might have had a hand in this glass, back then, for us to wonder about now. To dislike older wines is to arraign a censuring of the past and a refusal to let it testify on its own behalf. The dismissal of aged wine is an act of complacent idleness. It is spiteful, incurious and therefore inept. It may seem pedantic to harp on the anti-older wine curmudgeon but let’s face it. The act of self-moralizing without admitting to being a moralist is just not cool.

In 1981 Napa Valley became the first Califronia-designate American Viticultural Area to hold such a distinction. You have to pay a visit not only to comprehend its beauty but also its stature. In terms of size it is just 30 miles long and a few miles wide, is planted to a mere five per cent for viticulture and represents just four per cent of California’s wine grape harvest. And it’s a mammoth in the global wine industry.

Cuvaison, Carneros, Napa Valley

Cuvaison, Carneros, Napa Valley

Los Carneros is the largest AVA and the only appellation located at the crossroads of two major wine regions, the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The area is influenced by the maritime breezes and fog from its southern border with the extension of the San Francisco Bay. Cuvaison is a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay specialist taking full advantage to use that cool fog for its rolling hills perched above San Pablo Bay. Time spent in Carneros with winemaker Steve Rogstad and President Jay Schuppert leads to a coveting, of its undulating vineyards and its tasting room warmth. A room with a view and an uncanny ability to turn all into calm.

Manitoba

A great Manitoban tastes at Cuvaison

A motley Canadian crew of Quebeckers, Ontarians and one great Manitoban saunter through the winter mustard with Schuppert and Rogstad who explains that the plant material in Napa Valley then (twenty-five plus years ago) was not what it is today. There was so much virus so ripeness conversion was very different. Today with everything being so clean, ripeness is less of a challenge.

Related – Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens

Though this is one of the first stops on the compressed and consigned three-day Napa Valley tour, the thematic is already unfolding like the bedtime transformation inside a sustainable, high-tech, architecturally modish, 800 square foot, pre-fab home. Napa Valley’s chief concern, like the home’s comfort, efficiency, giving back to the grid and common sense, equates to ripeness. It’s what everyone is after. It’s what matters. If a grape completes its phenolic journey and achieves optimum ripeness, related to and specific to site, then the mission is complete. What follows is less important.

Though the quest for ripeness is easily assessed in 2016, especially because the last four Napa vintages have seen to produce perfect fruit, there is something to be said for what happened back in the day. Napa Valley garnered attention long before the vines were this clean of disease and virus. Ripeness was a virtue and still is, but today’s definition has little or nothing to do with what passed for fulfillment in the 8o’s and 90’s. Today’s wines are bigger, darker, deeper, higher in alcohol, hedonistic and lush. They are not this way because of stylistic divergence. They are this way because that’s what the weather and the vines are giving. My recent visit confirmed this sense of clarity.

We tasted eight comparative wines with Hugh, Steve, Suzanne and Loren. Here are my notes.

Tasting line-up at Cuvaison

Schramsberg Sparkling J. Schram 50th Anniversary Late disgorged 1999, Napa Valley, California (Winery $175 US, Agent)

In celebration of Schramsberg’s golden anniversary, 50 years after Jack and Jamie Davies revived the historic Schramsberg estate for the purpose of making the nation’s first Chardonnay and Pinot Noir based, bottle-fermented sparkling wines. A North Coast (57 per cent Napa, 25 Mendocino, 15 Monterey and 13 Sonoma) blend of 74 per cent Chardonnay and 26 Pinot Noir. Seventeen years have come to ginger, cumin, coriander and galangal in laminous, oxidative ingenuity, wholly arid in kicking up the aromatic dust. Flavours of pressed lemon, bitter brioche and then tannin, yes tannin. From a protracted year, picked as late as October 19th, disgorged in August of 2014 at a dosage of (very necessary) 11.5 g/L RS. Blessed with high natural acidity of 9.8 tA. How can I not concur with Hugh Davies. “What we’re really showing here is Napa Valley Chardonnay.” Drink 2016-2031.  Tasted February 2016  @Schramsberg  @TheVine_RobGroh

schram

Schramsberg Sparkling J. Schram 2007, Napa Valley, California (Winery $120 US, Agent)

A Blanc-domainted sparkling dedicated to Schramsberg’s founder Jacob Schram, gathered from the very best base wine lots of approximately 250 that simmer each year. North Coast (65 per cent Napa, 19 Sonoma, nine Mendocino and seven Marin) Chardonnay (84 per cent) and Pinot Noir (16) from significantly low pH, high habitual acidity and healthy dosage define the signature sparkler in the arsenal of winemakers Sean Thompson and Hugh Davies. Spent seven years on the lees and was disgorged less than a year ago. So similar to 1999 but obviously brighter, though the profile is a microcosmic version. With citrus more pronounced, by lime and grapefruit in addition to the lemon. I wonder if they might fully dissipate with time. Not as dense and pressed but again, thank/blame time and/or vintage relations, not to mention evolutionary stresses. Earlier dosage is certainly a factor. This 2007 is a more moderate bubble from a vintage finished by the end of September. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted February 2016

Steve Rogstad

Steve Rogstad

Cuvaison Pinot Noir Estate 2009, Los Carneros, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $42.95, WineAlign)

Very expressive Pinot Noir that within the context of tone I find the VA noticeably elevated, as are the aromas of fennel and a transition from balsamic to soy. Quite advanced while aerating brings out a floral foil, namely violet. A sweet and tart palate comes with a bite of what seems ironically like mustard seed, thoughtfully Japanese in origin and condiment. This would pair well with the eclectic flavours of teppanyaki. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016  @cuvaison  @LiffordON

Cuvaison Pinot Noir Spire 2013, Los Carneros, California (Agent, Winery, $52.00 US)

Part of winemaker (since 2002) Steve Rogstad’s Single Block Series, from a drought vintage’s fruit aged for 16 months in French oak puncheons. Fresh and bright, within and without, from a solid black cherry core to framed by the same. Cool from San Pablo Bay fog, savoury and dusty with cocoa to long espresso. Typical Carneros ripe and pure Pinot Noir to the nth degree. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted February 2016

Groths

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2012, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $179.95, WineAlign)

Tasted alongside the alluring 1987 with Suzanne Groth. Extremely primary and struck as if by cool fog and mineral mist. Unmelted and unshaken tempered chocolate to be sure, cracked and fissured into shards. The flavours welcome Cassis and graphite with quite the lightning on the tongue. Enervating Cabernet, pulsating and tingling. Should age long but not quite like the 1980’s. Contains 12 per cent Merlot and saw 22 months in 100 per cent oak, but notes Suzanne, “other than that everything is completely different.” Drink 2018-2032.  Tasted February 2016 @GrothWines  @TheVine_RobGroh

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1987, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (AgentWineAlign)

Not so much the look but it is the feel that is fuelled by dill weed and a touch of mushroom soy. Almost inconsequential older aromas are dissed by the positivity of flowers, some dried into potpourri while other’s drape sprung and stoic in the hanging pot’s balance. A slice of dried orange sits on the wrought iron porch table. Here is the wonder of 28 year-old Cabernet that persists as a pleasure to drink, not because it’s exciting but because its lovely and alive. Blessed with a truffled finish. Quite amazing actually. A child of a small crop and very healthy year, with 10 per cent Merlot, 22 months in 100 per cent French oak and the nerve to emerge like this in 2016, which is quite incredible. Made at a time when the fruit was protected from burn. “Definitely tastes like Cabernet from the 1980’s.” Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016

Trefethen

Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Oak Knoll District 2001, Napa Valley, California (Agent, Winery $60 US)

From one of Napa Valley’s lithesome and adroit plots, the gravelly soils in the northwestern quadrant of Trefethen’s estate vineyard. Fifteen year-old Cabernet in a demurred state of grace, pausing, reflecting its own incredible condition. Cool and stretchy, still so primary, kernel coated in chocolate and dark berries. Mineral too with a few plus a couple of years to go. A creature conditioned by a soil’s alluvial fan giving courage and strength. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @trefethenfamily  @Vinexxperts

Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Oak Knoll District 2012, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery $60 US)

Forceful, almost brooding, with a plethora combined of chocolate and savour, from mint and with a touch of eucalyptus. Wonderful fruit components are accented by spice. Here the accumulated knowledge of re-planted vineyards has come to this in which elegance meets power and with your next great meal in mind. Loren Trefethen notes the use of double T trellising so that the grapes are subjected to a dapple light effect with which they are neither tanning nor shaded. Certainly some levied tones that will need to settle. Fascinating wine of geology, vineyard management and a redux return to an older way of fashion. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted February 2016

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel

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