Next up for Leaning Post

Next level in tactile Chardonnay releases from @LeaningPostWine & @Witte_wine #niagarapeninsula #twentymilebench

Next level in tactile Chardonnay releases from @LeaningPostWine & @Witte_wine #niagarapeninsula #twentymilebench

It’s already been a very busy 2016 for Ilya and Nadia Senchuk. A whole lot of new has been accrued. New addition to the family, new machinery, new winemaking equipment, maturing (new-ish) vineyard fruit, new facade and interior additions to the 1850’s barn. Leaning Post Wines is no longer the new kid on the block.

Related – Angles of Leaning Post

Ilya and Nadia, along with the unconditional support of assistant winemaker Ryan de Witte may just be the poster children for the Ontario/Niagara dream. In twenty years they will look back, admire what they created and they will be very proud. We are already smiling. Last year I noted that hands-off winemaking and natural (sic) wines were not even on the Senchuk radar. It’s not that a flip-flop in technique has shaken the LP foundation but experimentation is part of the new process. Ilya and Ryan are geeking out. Big time.

I sat down with Butch and Sundance in early March to pass the time and try some new stuff. Here is what I found.

Ah, geek out, le geek, c'est chic @LeaningPostWine #pinotnoir & #riesling lees experiments #pushingboundaries

Ah, geek out, le geek, c’est chic @LeaningPostWine #pinotnoir & #riesling lees experiments #pushingboundaries

Leaning Post Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Crafted with appellative consistency from mostly Wismer Vineyards Foxcroft (70 per cent) plus (30) Featherstone Vineyard. Let’s call it proximity driven and of a ripeness pushing style, with some residual sugar in the 11-12 g/L range. Phenolic ripeness happens and matters, with similar ripe-ripping acidity, yet in ’14 there circles a rounder and weighty keen vibe. A particular Vineland oeuvre abides, of lemon condense chided by a benign vintage when it just had to be cool every day. “You shouldn’t worry about losing acidity,” says Senchuk, “just get to ripe. Wait, keep waiting, but don’t obsess.” And yet it maintains its acidity with obsession. You can’t do this with every Niagara locale and the crux requires taking a new route, a chance and a direction, as it always does. Fuller, richer Riesling with atomic bits of botrytis and VA, just a smidgen mind you, with purpose, for weight. 191 cases made. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted March 2016

Leaning Post Riesling “The Geek” 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Senchuk and swot-out cohort Ryan de Witte pulled 350 litres of riesling aside, accoutred with all readily available lees and shacked the whole gross mess in tank together, Vinification was completed at nine grams (RS) nearly-dry, in what can only be described as a reductive, cloudy, super-geeky riesling. Acquires an increased resonance from its designation stowed at a way station on what really is a longer, personal journey. The 2015 will be bone dry and like this ’14 will sit for 18 months in encouragement of a truly experimental, waiting for something to happen riesling. Time will act to fill in the gaps and increase its already developed texture. If you have ever had the pleasure you will see this as Jean-Pierre Frick-ish to be sure. When asked the question, he ‘The Geek’ will repeatedly reply, “I am not ready.” Drink 2018-2022.   Tasted March 2016

Leaning Post Chardonnay “The Fifty” 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Barrel fermented but no malolactic and housed in stainless steel tanks for 11 months sur lie. The Chablis embodiment of the anti-oaked chardonnay despite seeing the inside of a barrel for a “few to several weeks” during ferment. Here in early life the aromatic lees of trickery and textural barrel magic construct an architectural chardonnay with more wood on the palate than there really is. All about and in for that texture with a late pique and tight acidity. Finishes with sushi rice seasoning after a close shave. Kind of, perhaps and perchance a visit with backwards winemaking, practically speaking. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016

Leaning Post Chardonnay Wismer-Foxcroft 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Here chardonnay enters the lodge for a sit-in with fully assumed lees, neither shaken nor stirred and with no weird chemistry. Saw 12 months in barrel which is blessedly integrated and rich without ostentation. This Wismer is a wine travelled down a less worked word, speaking in subtleties and to great lengths. A wine that was allowed to do its thing. It’s not the fruit you think, it’s the fruit itself. The next goal will be to produce two single vineyard chardonnays, this and the home vineyard, along with the 50/50. 120 cases were made. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted March 2016

Leaning Post Gamay 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Time has constructed a completely different animal, meatier, grittier, younger version of the same style and so very vintage driven. More prick and spice. Cry baby cry, cru Gamay with hanks to more VA. A terrific, anterior way to go with Gamay, of substance and laser focus. “Make your mother sigh, she’s old enough to know better.” 360 cases made. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted March 2016.

From my earlier (tank sample) note of June 2015:

Increases the colline built of earth and endemic Gamay character. Keeps the funk grooving with a precise, focused beat. So very like pinot, with grains and tannin interwoven to length. Chewy, sanguine and gamy, a manducate of meaty sashimi or a mouthful of raw, marbled rib-eye, seconded on charcoal for a split second. On tap at Barque Butcher Bar.

Leaning Post Pinot Noir McNally Vineyard 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

The totality here is a paltry 220L or 25 cases, accomplished with the same McNally approach and concept, from a wild ferment and full malo (well, full as far as Ilya can tell). No sulphur is added in the first year and so he smells like Mcnally, weird, wonderful and clothed in musk. Tastes like Leaning Post pinot and as McNally, urged on by just pinot lees. This vineyard sheds more citrus and bitters with terrific elongated stretch. This 2013 is ready to go, never marginalized by its bitters nor its harmonic minor VA on the finish. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016

Leaning Post Merlot 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

Ilya Senchuk’s 2012 merlot is not vineyard labeled, though 85 per cent hails from a single-vineyard specific (Demoura) Niagara-on-the-Lake terroir plus (15 per cent) from Beal vineyard in Beamsville. It was massaged by three barrels in total of French and American oak and corresponds from the oak cellar markedly aromatic in vanilla and by lavender. It also posts up continentally orated in a booming black olive and briny voice, by spice, beck, cull and call. So rare to see a Bench or Peninsula winemaker go here, in this way, with dialled and filled in middle grip. Pause with this merlot and notice it tempered by a chocolate linger with more earth than 2010 (which was McNally fruit). In the end the disclosure carries that Italianate animale meets right bank-ish thing that ’10 just did not have. Drink 2017-2022.   Tasted March 2016

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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Once upon a time in the Western Cape

Cape Wine 2015

Cape Wine 2015

Independents, rebels, rogues, zoo biscuits, risk takers, revolution. Buzz words, gathered sects and constituents of rebellion. Clusters of assemblage ruminating, circulating and percolating at the latest edition of organized wine in South Africa.

Who among us might have foretold in dramatic foreshadowing the story of September’s Cape Wine 2015? Who could have known that the southern hemisphere’s largest gathering of producers, marketers, buyers, sellers, sommeliers and journalists would do more to quell preconceived notions and stereotypes for any wine producing country than any trade show that has come before? Total, utter energy.

PIWOSA

PIWOSA

Centuries ago, when the fishing and trading boats would return west to the Cape they would mistakenly enter the wrong basin. “There’s that confounded bay again,” they would curse. False Bay. During the week preceding and following Cape Wine we climbed aboard cars and vans headed out from Cape Town or Stellenbosch. En route to a farm, estate or winery, more often than not, out the window, there was False Bay, like a magnet, drawing attention, setting and re-setting the excursion compass. As we watched the bay ache into and fade out of view each jaunt-acquiesced day, it just seemed as though we were always heading north and gaining altitude. Not really.

Cape wine country meanderings exist in requiem well beyond points A to B. Directional challenges are inclusive of L-shapes, U-turns and rotations. Lines draw as much east, southeast and northeast as they do falsely north. Journeys always conclude in a valley, at the base of a mountain or in an amphitheatre bound by geological reality. The getting there is often hazy but the arrival always comfortable.

Maybe I’ve a reason to believe 
We all will be received 
In Graceland

South African wine is not what we thought it was. This mantra can’t be repeated often enough. Ventures into the wine lands compounded the about-face turn of mind. Tastings, tours and zealous immersion into Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Swartland and Hemel-En-Aarde saw to that. South Africa is not what you thought folks, but it just might be what you dare to dream. If you’ve not visited you can’t possibly know what revelations lurk.

The frontier is inhabited by cowboys and their multifarious varietal schemes. It’s surfeited by demi-century established Chenin Blanc bush vines, painted pell-mell with expatriate rootstock and cuttings outside the Bordeaux and Burgundy box; Nebbiolo, Barbera, Tinta Barocca, Albarino, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Tempranillo and Tannat. Nothing is sacred and everything is fair game. Rhône blends are the current rage and Cinsault is going it alone with nothing short of remarkable results.

The Zoo Biscuits

The Zoo Biscuits

Natural fermentation, skin contact and carbonic maceration have infiltrated the winemaker’s psyche. The eco-bio movement has challenged the fundamentalist incumbency and forced sweeping reforms. Fresh, natural, orange, caliginous and tenebrous have taken the Cape by storm. Praetorian makers are changing their ways. Pinotage has abandoned decades of Bordeaux wannabe style to once again don bell bottoms and retro suede. In 2015 South Africa, cats and dogs are living together.

Zoo Biscuits poster

Zoo Biscuits poster

Introduce me to a winemaker who is not in tune with his or her terroir and I’ll show you a winemaker who is either faking it or blindly towing a company line. That breed is few and far between. In South Africa I met exactly none of that ilk. So what? What’s so special about a nation of winemakers who work as one with their soil, their meso-climate and their geology? You’re supposed to intuit those abstracts to make great wine. “You’re supposed to take care of your kids!”

No, what separates South African vignerons from the rest of the world is the playground mentality and the execution in consummation of those ideals. The soils and the weather are nothing short of perfect in the vast growing region known as the Western Cape, or in the local vernacular, the Cape Winelands. Any varietal of choice can find its way to achieve perfect phenolic ripeness virtually anywhere the grapes are planted. The mitigating effect of Cape winds eradicates all disease. The place is a veritable garden of viticulture eden. Or, as in the case of the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley, a verdant, fertile valley known as “heaven on earth,” the adage takes on the paradisiacal guise of the sublime. South Africa is the wine collective equivalent of the wild west. In the Western Cape, anything goes.

Heap big trouble in the land of plenty
Tell me how we’re gonna do what’s best
You guess once upon a time in the west

I will expand, in due course, on all the wines tasted during the eight days I spent in South Africa. A list of top wines and a preponderant unfurling are sure to follow in the form of fifty odd tasting notes. For now I will concentrate, in the name of lede consistency, on the varietal and stylistic revolution taking place.

Swartland Independents

Swartland Independents

The following notes will unquestionably focus on three platoons, Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa (PIWOSA), the Swartland Independents and the Zoo Biscuits. The first is a collective of straight-shooting, accordant, premium, independent wine producers from across the diverse wine regions of South Africa’s Western Cape. The second comprises 25 (give or take) cricket playing, indigenous fermenting, Anglikaans-gabbing grape shepherds. The third may draw their name from beloved childhood memories of packaged iced silhouettes of animals on cookies when in actuality they are a gaggle of like-minded, boundary-pushing, fun-loving, serious winemakers.

Suzaan and Chris Alheit

Suzaan and Chris Alheit

Cape Wine 2015 may have seen 300 presenters toting thousands of South African bottles but the swagger of 40 young vignerons stole the proverbial show. They did it with passion, innocence, acumen beyond years and attention to history. They go it alone and with a pack mentality. They care about old vines, tradition and respect for the land but they also have chutzpah. They don’t really give a fuck what the establishment thinks about their winemaking.

Jamie Goode and Godello, CapeWine2015

Jamie Goode and Godello, CapeWine2015

Three days at the Cape Town International Convention Centre allowed for extensive coverage of the South African wine scene. It was a perfectly organized show. Credit begins with the vignerons. Their work is tireless, especially when all must be dropped to focus on all-in, three relentless days of pouring while offering elaborate dissertations about their wines and their place in the South African scene.

At the lead there is Wines of South Africa, headed by Michael Jordaan and Siobhan Thompson, chair and CEO, respectively. André Morgenthal and Laurel Keenan head up communications, marketing, events and PR for WOSA, in South Africa and in Canada. The show and the excursions around the Cape Winelands were made possible by their collective efforts. Their immense efforts and impeccable work can’t ever be overestimated

Chenin Blanc

No discourse on new versus old in South Africa can be addressed without first looking at the modish dialectal of Chenin Blanc. The combination of bush and old vines, coupled with indigenous ferments and skin contact addresses has elevated the stalwart, signature grape to its current reality.

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Chenin Blanc Skin Contact 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

It begins with viticulturist Rosa Kruger and the cleanest fruit this side of Matroosberg Mountain. Vigneron and winemaker Chris and Andrea Mullineux use egg inversion to press and skin contact lasts for three months. This plus old barrels hyper-intensify umami; part bread dough, some pine forest, all wild yeast and a hint of Matsutake mushroom. The meld into acidity is a wild carpeted Chenin ride. Exhibits layers of Greekdom, in spice and complexity. The long inosinate to guanylate finish arrives and lingers in thanks to the scraped skins of many citrus fruits. They strip, stripe and spank the mouth. The spirited lashing and accumulated bejewelling is a sign of spiritual and plentiful life. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted September 2015  @MullineuxWines @MullineuxChris  @SwartlandRev

A A Badenhorst Wines

A A Badenhorst Wines

A. A. Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2015, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, SAQ 12135092 $18.05, BC $23.00, WineAlign)

From Adi Badenhorst, old bushvines planted in the 1950’s and 1960’s and whole bunch handled with no crushing or de-stemming. Fruit is transferred to concrete and 500l old foudres. The simple, minimalist approach and lots of less stirring, leading to great texture, right up there with the most complex Chenin. Also possessive of the righteous level in bitters, intense citrus and bookworm herbology. Lucent, lambent, capable Chenin Blanc. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @AABadenhorst  @SwartlandRev

Riesling

Not exactly household or predominant by any stretch of the imagination, Riesling does play a bit part in the white idiomatic presentation of South African wine. With the emergence of Elgin as a cool climate growing area capable of expertly ripening both aromatic and aerified varieties, the future will crystallize with more Riesling, Gewürztraminer and offshoot concepts.

Paul Cluver Riesling Close Encounter 2013, Elgin, South Africa (Winery, LCBO 500396, $23.00  WineAlign)

A more serious effort than the sibling ‘Dry Encounter’ because this Riesling knows what it wants to be. On its left may be Alsace and on its right the Mosel but in truth this speaks to a Kabinett reasoning, with Elgin layering. At nine per cent alcohol, 36 g/L RS and 8.2 g/L TA it knows the difference and speaks the truth about off-dry Riesling, with elevated and yet balancing acidity. It pretends to be nothing but what is of and for itself. Flint and an attainable stratosphere (between 300-500m above sea level) accept the airy drifts of oceans and the gathering returns to earth with the weight of wax and glade. If you think South African Riesling is “a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land,” taste Elgin and think again. The skeptical Nowhere man is ignorant to the new frontier for Riesling and to him I say “please listen, you don’t know what you’re missing.” Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @paulcluverwines  @PIWOSA

White Blends

A category not to be taken lightly, what with so many varieties available to work together and with the idea of appellative blends not necessarily so far off or far-fetched. Chenin Blanc is most certainly the pillar and the rock with support ready, willing and applicable from Clairette Blanc, Verdelho, Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Semillon, Roussane, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Colombard.

Duncan Rall

Donovan Rall

Rall Wines White Coastal Region 2014 (Winery)

A contiguous king blend of Chenin Blanc with Verdelho, Chardonnay and Viognier from vineyards allowing for increased production year after year. Natural fermentations acquiesce varying degrees and species of spiced dipped flowers set upon expressions of lees. The Chenin is 41 year-old Swartland (Paardeberg) fruit with Stellenbosch (Bottelary and Helderberg) quartz soil Chardonnay and Verdelho. Anise, star anise and pure white stone groove me in a gather of complimentary and controvertible Chenin (and friends) complexity. “Uhh! Awww, sookie sookie now!”  @SwartlandRev

Other White

What obscure or less heralded white grape variety would you like to play with? Ask the Cape winemaker that question and he or she might keep you awhile. The rules again need not apply. Spin the wheel and work your magic. Odds are at even that a handful of least employed Châteauneuf and/or Gemischter Satz varietal wines show up at a CapeWine Fair sometime soon.

Cederberg Bukettraube 2014, Cederberg Mountains, South Africa (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

David Nieuwoudt’s Dwarsrivier rare take on the cultivar (less than 77 hectares of vines remain planted worldwide) is a wine with altitude and attitude. Cederberg is one of only three South African farms in kind of these vines in Glenrosa and sandstone soils on the escarpment atop the Cederberg Mountains. Natural sugar of 25 g/L from the arrested ferment is toothsome in a next to Spätlese way, though the citrus and herbal crasis separates this from Riesling. What brings it circling again is the formidable acidity, circulating and rounding up, culminating in a viscosity and a palate coating that ends with none word. Delicious. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @Cederseun  @imbibersreport  @PIWOSA

Cinsault

There was a time when all South African Rhône varietal wines needed to be compared to the mother land and many continue to encourage the adage “you can take the varieties out of the Rhône but you can’t take the Rhône out of the varieties.” The modern Cinsault maker has turned expatriate exploits on its axiomatic head. You’ve not likely had your way with these versions of Cinsault and like me, once you have, you may never go back.

Radford Dale 'Thirst' Cinsault and Gamay Noir

Radford Dale ‘Thirst’ Cinsault and Gamay Noir

The Winery of Good Hope Radford Dale Cinsault ‘Thirst’ 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery)

If the Thirst Gamay from vignerons Alex Dale and Jacques De Klerk is “a live rock concert rather than a manufactured, boyband studio album,” the carbonically macerated Cinsault is weekend long palooza replete with music, clowns, acrobats and roaming minstrels. The wonders of natural, nouveau Gamay are well known but the natural fermentation application on Cinsault goes funky, wild and complex in a whole other attitude. Chilled properly this Thirst adds a Mad max factor to the circus, tannins even and most certainly an explosive grit. If the Gamay is smashable, the Cinsault is obliterateable. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015  @Radforddale  @WineryGoodHope  @Noble_Estates  @PIWOSA

Syrah

The globe trekking grape has been backed into a corner, with blood primarily spilled at the hands of big box Australian producers but some blame has also circulated South Africa’s way. Heavy petting, elevated heat and alcohol, street tar and vulcanized rubber have combined in resolute, culprit fashion to maim the great variety. As with Cinsault, but in an entirely more mainstream way, the fortunes of Syrah are wafting in the winds of change. Natural fermentations, some carbonic maceration and especially prudent picking from essential Syrah sites are turning the jammy heavy into the genteel and dignified wine it needs to be.

Journey's End

Journey’s End

Journey’s End Syrah ‘The Griffin’ 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, AgentWineAlign)

The ’12 signifies a departure and a new style for the winery and for Syrah in the Cape. Some (three weeks) of carbonic maceration leads to a dichotomous passion play in which the middle romance is acted out in seven barrels for 18 months of (70 per cent American and 30 per cent French) oak. It’s as if the grapes are shocked into an awakening and then slowly brought down to calm. As if the fruit develops a protective shell, protected from and coerced by and with ushering along by slow motion micro-oxidation. This is Syrah void of cracked nut, pepper, veneer and big league chew. It’s a terribly beautiful experiment, the Syrah equivalent of similar function world’s away, done with Chardonnay, in Orange and all the while with natural yeast that sling the fruit to destinations previously unknown. At least around here. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted September 2015  @JourneysEndWine  @colyntruter  @vonterrabev  @PIWOSA

Callie Louw's smoker

Callie Louw’s smoker

Porseleinberg Syrah 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

They call Callie Louw a lekker ou. Having played on his side and under his tutelage for a bowl and a bat or two, I can concur. He is a nice guy. Having eaten his smoked pork shoulder, brisket and wings, I can tell you that he is a master smoker. Having tasted his ’13 Syrah twice, I can also say he is a great winemaker. Louw is proficient at many things, including cricket and smoking Swartland’s best BBQ. Making Syrah from the schist soils of Riebeek Kasteel is his true calling and with thanks to Marc Kent (of Boekenhoutskloof) he is able to work with some of South Africa’s best fruit out of one of its harshest climats. Picked fruit is left to its own devices, 40 per cent in concrete eggs and 60 in larger foudres. I’d hate to smack a natural sticker on this one because it resides outside the realm of labels, generalizations and uneventful stipulations. It has killer tannins and the legs to walk the earth. What else do you need to know? Drink 2017-2030.  Tasted September 2015  @SwartlandRev

Porseleinberg Syrah 2013

Porseleinberg Syrah 2013

Pinot Noir

The future for Pinot Noir is bright beyond the pale, with certain exceptional growing sites producing varietal fruit so pure and of ripe phenolics as profound as anywhere on the planet. A few producers have found their way. More will follow and when they do, South Africa will begin to tear away at the market share enjoyed by the likes of New Zealand and California.

Blackwater Wines

Blackwater Wines

Blackwater Wines Pinot Noir Cuvée Terra Lux MMXI 2013 (Winery)

Winemaker Francois Haasbroek is not merely on to something. He has it figured out. The elegance of his wines (sourced from vineyards across the Western Cape) share a strong affinity with one another. In a consistently distinguished line-up this Pinot Noir may not be his most accomplished but it is his most definitive bottle. From three Elgin Vineyards this spent 18 months in older 225L barrels and help me if this does not purely express the humanity of Pinot Noir. Oh, the natural funk of Elgin, where Pinot Noir need be embraced and fostered. Not unlike Haasbroek’s Syrah, the sweetness is impossible, the imagined imaging haunting and asomatous. With time the true luxe will emerge, in the form of mushroom, truffle and candied cherry. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted September 2015  @Blackwaterwine  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Pinotage

For so long we ignorant, pathetic and far away people knew not from Pinotage. We imagined its machinations through, by way of and expressed like espresso, forced and pressed with nothing but wood in mind. That the grape variety could have a personality bright and friendly was something we had no reference from which to begin. A visit to the Cape Winelands re-charts the compass and the rebirth is nothing short of born again oenophilia. The new Pinotage may be what it once was but it is also what it can never be again.

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Pardelbosch Pinotage 2014

David and Nadia Pardelbosch Pinotage 2014

David and Nadia Paardebosch Pinotage 2014, Swartland, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

From parcels of the highest possible elevation and black rock that imparts swarthy tannin on a frame of alcohol sharpened at 12.5 per cent. Nothing short of stunning aromatics. Whole bunch fermentation, three weeks of skin contact and minimal punch downs are directed with pinpoint precision to what Pinotage should and simply must be. Fresh, lithe and promising. Good-bye Pinotage being Pinotage. Hello Pinotage in pure, honest perfume. Older oak barrels (4th, 5th and 6th fill) round out the texture, amplify the arroyo seco and excellence washes through, with simple acidity and riverine length. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015 @DavidandNadia  @SwartlandRev

Red Blends

The sky is the limit for what can be attempted and achieved with the varietal kitchen sink of availability. In consideration that any red variety can scour the Cape Winelands in a journeyed search for phenolic ripeness, a prudent pick, ferment (or co-ferment) will certainly, invariably conjoin towards assemblage nirvana. Rhône styling is most often mimicked, from both north and south but OZ indicators and even California flower child prodigies are both seen and heard. There is no tried and true in this outpost of red democracy. In the case of Cape wine, anarchy rules and there is really nothing wrong with that.

Sheree Nothnagel, Wildenhurst Wines

Sheree Nothnagel, Wildenhurst Wines

Wildenhurst Red 2012, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Shiraz (62 per cent) co-fermented with Viognier (5) is joined in rank by Mourvèdre (33, though is some years it’s Cinsault) in an unembellished red that not only lies back but rises in free spirit. A red to express the personality of its maker, Sheree Nothnagel. Silk and lace, cure and mace, spice and so many things nice are the aspect ratios of a very natal wine, like a prevailing wind. A real stretch in tannin, sweet and smooth of grain leads to length, from Koringberg to the slopes of the Picketberg and Paardeberg mountains. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @WildehurstW  @ShereeNothnagel  @SwartlandRev

The wines of Duncan Savage

The wines of Duncan Savage

Savage Wines Follow the Line 2014 (Winery)

The Western Cape has likely never seen such polish and precocious affinity with its varied soils as it has or likely soon will when Duncan Savage is making wine. The blend of Cinsault (58 per cent), Grenache (21) and Syrah (21) is predominantly Darling grapes and shows a deeper, funkier understanding of Cape soil. Bright red cherry fruit supports life on this brooding planet and propagation is furthered with cinnamon-like spice and a purity for supplementary red fruit so direct and so very pure. The wine’s moniker comes from the farming expression “follow the line.” All rows lead to the farmhouse, eventually.  All winemaking roads in the Cape will lead to the name Duncan Savage or at least involve him in the conversation. He is the farmhouse. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam and Cartology

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam and Cartology

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam Days of Yore 2014 (Winery, WineAlign)

Chris Alheit’s brand might allude to a chapter in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers but Days of Yore must pay some homage to the 80’s thrash metal band and with great irony. This Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault blend is no Doomsday for the Receiver and certainly No Place for Disgrace. What it is instead is pure liquid brilliance. Old 1960 Cabernet Sauvignon bush vines are (even if unintentionally) farmed the way they used to be, back in the days of yore. Now cropped, tended and produced in pitch perfect cure, the resulting wine (when Cabernet is blended with Albeit’s dry-farmed, stomped and tonic-singular Cinsault) shows smoky depth and musicality. Sour-edged or tart can’t begin to describe the tang. It’s something other, unnameable, sapid, fluid and beautiful. It brings South Africa from out of the heart of its wayfinding darkness. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted September 2015  @ChrisAlheit  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Other Red

Momento Wines

Momento Wines

Momento Wines Tinta Barocca 2013, Bot River, South Africa (Winery)

From a south-facing, 40 year-old, one and a half hectare vineyard in Bot River that Marelise Niemann convinced the farmer not to rip out so that she may continue to produce some 2,000 bottles of a variety you can’t really find or are want to grow anywhere else. This has been a small love affair since 2007 with this block. “My child, my charity case,” she admits.  I am not sure I tasted any other wine in South Africa with such fresh, pure, unspoiled innocence as this Tinta Barocca. “You have to have a connection to the vineyard. To guide it.” The underlay of perspicuity is a streak provided by Bokkeveld shale. The clarity of red fruit and deferential tannin is too sacred to spit, too beautiful to spill and too genteel to waste. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Godello and Marelise Niemann, Momento Wines

Godello and Marelise Niemann, Momento Wines

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Eleven Chardonnays to the coolest show on earth

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,  Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,
Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

In eleven days, as the Chardonnay grows, the coolest wine conference will return to the Niagara region on Friday, July 17th. The School of Cool will call to assembly with the annual intendment to recalibrate a global palate at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

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

In anticipation of my third consecutive trip to taste and report on upwards of 100 variants in the name of ichneutic varietal centralism, 11 tasting notes are here laid out in preparation of the hunt. Too much Chardonnay you say? Bah. Allow me to paraphrase the lads from London.

“Wanna tell you about the Chardonnay I love, my she looks so fine. She’s the only Chardonnay that I been dreamin’ of, maybe someday she will be all mine.” Yes I do love Chardonnay, especially cool climate Chardonnay. Chardonnay with acidity, backbone, texture and aromatics. Chardonnay made by monks who know.

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

Here is a list of events happening at and links to buying tickets for the Cool Chardonnay Conference:

July 17: The School of Cool https://kiosk.eztix.co/kiosk-optimised-event/46859/49090

July 17: Barrels & Bonfires https://kiosk.eztix.co/kiosk-optimised-event/46859/49091

July 18: Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner https://kiosk.eztix.co/kiosk-optimised-event/46859/49092 

July 19: The Moveable Feast: Brunch on the Bench https://kiosk.eztix.co/kiosk-optimised-event/46859/49093

Photo © Stephen Elphick and Associates Cool to be Cool. Godello, Nicholas Pearce, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson, Zoltan Szabo and Tony Aspler at Barrels & Bonfires, 13th Street Winery, Cool Chardonnay 2014. From #VINTAGES Magazine

Cool to be Cool. Godello and friends at Barrels & Bonfires, 13th Street Winery, Cool Chardonnay 2014 From #VINTAGES Magazine Photo © Stephen Elphick and Associates

The Cool Chardonnay concierge notes that “It’s Cool to the Cool – it says so in the LCBO ‪#‎VINTAGES‬ circular for July 11. Six pages of Cool Chardonnay and i4C info, including a one-on-one with keynote speaker Matt Kramer, 10 great i4C Chardonnays” and a photo of Godello and friends at last year’s Barrels and Bonfres event at 13th Street winery.

Related – 50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more

These picks are from the VINTAGES July 11th release, as well as some Cool Chardonnay samples that arrived floating on a cool climate carpet into the WineAlign office. These combined 11 whites are cumulatively capable of Chardonnay foreplay. On the weekend of July 17-19 hundreds, perhaps even thousands will descend in a beeline down to the Peninsula at the valley foot and foothills of the Escarpment to gather, to do nothing but celebrate the intricacies and the base pleasure of the most planted white grape variety. For a full schedule of and essential sundry information on i4C15, click here. See you in Niagara.

From left to right: Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay 2013, Westcott Vineyards Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012, Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2012 and Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay 2013, Westcott Vineyards Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012, Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2012 and Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2012

From the VINTAGES July 11th Release

Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay 2013, Margaret River, New South Wales, Western Australia (350900, $18.95, WineAlign)

Flinty and cool, gathering up Margaret River righteous Chardonnay fruit and weathering an encouraging, blanketing and receptive barrel storm. Comes out a child of good climate, with green apple and gemstone crispness and simple, matching acidity. Not overly constructed to kneel down in the name of holy complexity but effective like a hand knit shawl in lieu of prayer. At $19 the River might have given a “girl with the parking lot eyes,” a Chardonnay in which “Margaret is the fragment of a name.” At $19 this over-achieves and makes a strong case for all that is produced from this cool regional place. Signature signed emphatically and with cool, downcast beauty, like Neko, if she were Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015  @RobertOatleyAUS  @EpicW_S  @WestAustralia  @MargaretRiverWi

Westcott Vineyards Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Arthur Harder makes no bones, excuses or sets the goals too lofty in this second Lillia’s unplugged. “What you get is what you get,” from seven year-old estate, pristine fruit in 2013. Infrequent but texture stirring lees has mottled the nose with glycerin and avoirdupois while bottling early in the spring in advance of warm days has locked in freshness. Expression arrives by way of herbiage and lime. Continues where ’12 left off, further akin of Chablis. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2015  @WestcottWines

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (1552, $24.95, WineAlign)

Accumulated cognizance exudes from the laid back Shed, here as relaxed and user-friendly as it has ever been. If the texture is not vintage induced and made of low yield than I’ll sell my LP’s and switch outright to Songza and Neil’s PonoMusic. The herbs are basil and chervil sweet, the verbena and lemon balm redolent, the flavours beaming, bolstered by preserved lemon and candied ginger. The stuffing must be questioned, but not the elegance. This Chardonnay is porous, blessed, void of rust and of an interior with plenty of space in the shed. Let it fill.

From my earlier note of February 2014:

There will be 660 cases of this barrel cherry-picked, now iconic Bench Chardonnay. The warm vintage called for a combo-malo approach, part batch all in, part arrested development. Gravity influenced top down blending also work to seek a svelte elegance and this ’12 really straddles the humid line. Thinks to be ribald but remains chaste, only allowing a kiss from the barrel and a caress from the rocks beneath the soil. Accept immediate but know that deferred gratification is the hallmark of this bottling.

Last tasted March 2015  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon (273334, $29.95, WineAlign)

When you taste an Oregon Chardonnay made by Thomas Bachelder you must first picture yourself somewhere. At lunch, with Lucy, on a promontory overlooking the sea, gazing up at a cloudless sky, in a dream. The warmth and kaleidoscopic layering of the 2012 might put you “in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies.” The sweet scents are like blossoms, with the air thick and palpably perceived in texture by way of an omnipresent Oregon salinity. This is the effect of the Bachelder diamond tannin, as pronounced and geologically-driven as any set of Chardonnays from out of the Willamette Valley. The personality of this villages is bright. The Single-Vineyard Johnson iridescent. This is a fine vintage for Oregon, more about ripe but early fruit and even more about soil. The algebraic cauldron that is the barrel simplifies the equation in ’12, to allow for a smooth climb out of a clean, pristine and rocky earth. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay Cuvée Dix Neuvieme 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (303602, $35.20, WineAlign)

The style has changed for this Chardonnay though it is now more in line with other Pearl Morissette varietal wines. The oxidative, natural bent has increased with anti-furor, succour and sublimity of a sordid sort. It remains to be seen what will happen because 10 years will be needed to fully denote the PM evolution, but what remains from the larder is true blue lemon that will turn, curdle and hold honey tight in five to six years time. Could be earlier considering the vintage. The flint and natural yeast are big on the nose while the palate is softer than most years. More like ’10, nothing like ’09 and yet full bodied to the maximum density it can be. So much flavour and yet at present the acidity plays anything but a vibrant tune. Story to unfold. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @PearlMorissette

From left to right: Bachelder La Grande Châtelaine Côte De Beaune 2011, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2013, Saintsbury Chardonnay 2012, Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013, Lailey Barrel Select Chardonnay 2013 and Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Bachelder La Grande Châtelaine Côte De Beaune 2011, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2013, Saintsbury Chardonnay 2012, Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013, Lailey Barrel Select Chardonnay 2013 and Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2012

Bachelder La Grande Châtelaine Côte De Beaune 2011, Ac Burgundy, France (332536, $37.95, WineAlign)

The last of the Beaune mohicans to grace the Ontario market is the least understood, the quiet type, the cool underground dweller. This has weight and dug presence. Quite an underground salinity. Chisels into rock and friable earth, burrows into wood and still has not emerged. A floral sense of confection caused by gelid solids popped from Chardonnay tannin, like marigold petals frozen in dry ice, is a sniff to behold. La Grande Châtelaine is a precise and slightly bitter Beaune with life yet lived. With this level of Beaune complexity Thomas and Mary have smartly priced La GC a mere cut above the basic Bourgogne, Niagara and Oregon bottles yet coyly beneath the single-vineyard and lieu-dit offers in the Bachelder diaspora. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2015  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2013, Wo Hemel En Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa (931006, $37.95, WineAlign)

Perpetuates the typically, stunningly effective flinty, deeply aggressive and layered Hamilton Russell style, here as warm and unctuous as its ever been. The candied flower and acacia aromas are early dusk intoxicating, the flavours of lime, honey and hard limestone candies reminders of life flashing before one’s eyes. The winemaking is so desperately clean, the diamond precision cut with perfect sight and the length driven by acidity and pure, essential grape tannin. Yet another chapter on the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Grand Cru site is written, with prodigy and legacy authored work by vigneron Anthony Hamilton Russell. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted June 2015  @OliveHR  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  @TrialtoON

Saintsbury Chardonnay 2012, Unfiltered, Carneros, California (359281, $39.95, WineAlign)

A dream from Carneros. Soft, buttery, creamy, demurred and slightly toasty, full on flavour nougat goodness of nuts and creamy tropical fruit. The pre-positioned, sequestered minimal age has come to this; texture, composition and length ready to please and willing to accompany an open-minded variety of summer fare. Take this west coast, well-structured Chardonnay to the east coast and seek out a Digby scallop, a Malpeque Bay oyster or a fleet of lobster along any maritime crag. Come to think of it, stop at all points in between and drink it alongside whatever comes to the table. Anything. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015  @saintsbury  @TandemSelection  @CarnerosWine

Tasted at WineAlign

Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $26.00, WineAlign)

The barrel fermented and aged Estate Chardonnay spent 12 months in two-thirds new and one-third second fill wood. Lees stirring is slightly increased as compared to the unplugged. Again, it’s about aromatic intensity leading the way to palate density. By the sounds of Westcott’s comments “we’re pleased with its remarkable irony — dry and sturdy, yet creamy and rather curvy,” you might think the team was stirring with impunity. Not so. The Estate Chard does the dance of mild spice and butter on toast to reach a texture that would appease savages. Unavoidable and typical low yields from the Vinemount Ridge picked at the right moment and handled with caring tabula rasa are the spirit in this wine. Delightful and charming. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015

Lailey Barrel Select Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $26.00, WineAlign)

Not only carved out of a careful selection of Lailey’s barrels but this ’13 is an eco-rich barrel expression. The toast mind you is mild and so both elegance and structure are avowed of glissade and glide. There is nary a heavy note here. The aromatics are compact, the flavours expansive and the finish lingering to effortless. If the vintage afforded more fruit the overall composition would champion with the best of them, but the understatements are laudable and stamped in approval. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2015  @laileywinemakr

Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $40.00, WineAlign)

In 2012 there is a weight in the aromatics that belies any recent recollections of the Claystone style. The vintage warmth is a major player here, a cement and a glue that adheres to the adage of vintage being the driver for making wine. Winemaker Sébastien Jacquey listens to the wind, putting aromatics, texture and structure at the fore while allowing the sun to say its peace. This glides dutifully and seamlessly to the palate which is just as fleshy as the nose. The honey continues from ’11, as does the candied flower. Wood remains as unobtrusive as before, allowing a fruit to mineral continuum to find harmony. Though acidity lays lower, there is plenty of push to see this evolve for up to five or more years. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted July 2015  @LeClosJordanne  @CBrandsCareers

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We the Icewine

Xerox

Xerox Icewine Gala, Fallsview Casino Resort

Something has shifted in me, somewhere closer to the realm of sweet nirvana. It could be empathy, a delayed reaction in sensitive thought to what the winemakers and hard-working Niagara wine country folks had to endure in the winter of 2014. Maybe it’s a premature anticipation of the greatness that will come from sweet wines crafted from out of that polar vortex attenuated vintage. Could it just be that Icewine has grown on me, that the elixirs of Peninsula life have violated and occupied my parochial psyche?

For two weeks in January, Niagara Wine Festivals and Wine Country Ontario lay out the nectarous red carpet and everything comes up Icewine. If fans of the Toronto basketball franchise can ignore all the basic tenets and principals of modern English grammar, who’s to say the followers of Ontario’s world-class elixirs can’t do the same. Thus I give you, “We the Icewine.”

Admittedly the phrase does not resonate with equal credibility in comparison with what works in the realm of base, shallow and primitive sport. It does not matter to me. I’m still going with it. Niagara is the epicentre of the Icewine world, in the (near, near) north and we own the market and its successes. We the Icewine.

20 Years

20 Years of Icewine

A recap of Icewine 101. Simply put, made from grapes that have been left to freeze naturally on the vine. Ontario’s production laws insist that Icewine must be made from approved grape varieties; the most popular are Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Some small lots include Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Grapes are left on the vine until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached and then picked from those vines encapsulated in nets to protect them from birds possessive of a sweet tooth.

Related – Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine 

The wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake are the backbone of the Icewine phenomenon in Ontario. Picking for the Icewine harvest in 2015 has stretched over a period exceeding 30 days, not necessarily out of the ordinary but it should make for a wide range of styles and quality in the vintage. Inniskillin Niagara Estate Winery began its thirty-first Icewine harvest on January 5th.

The Niagara Icewine Festival has wrapped up for another year but there are still many weekends left to get a taste of what took place throughout the month of January. There were street festivals in Twenty Valley‘s Jordan Village from January 9th – 11th, Niagara-on-the-Lake from January 16th – 18th and new this year, events in Niagara Falls. Winter continues along with the buzz across the Niagara Peninsula.

Visitors made use of the Discovery Pass, a passport to 35 wineries and culinary experiences along the Wine Route. Along with a variety of Icewines, visitors were offered the opportunity to taste sparkling and VQA red and white wines.

Gala

Icewine Gala decor

For all things Icewine here is a link to the festival site withy more information here. With kind thanks to Magdalena Kaiser and Wine Country Ontario on Friday, January 10th, 2014 I attended another Xerox Icewine Gala at the Fallsview Casino Resort. The following day I attended the Twenty Valley street festival in Jordan, Ontario.

With Icewine firmly on the brain I decided to make a go at as many samples that can safely be sampled in one night. Not to leave out the still and Sparkling in the room, I made sure to taste the generous and in some cases, pleasant surprises being poured by Niagara’s finest winemakers. Here are notes on twenty wines tasted over the weekend.

And don’t forget the anagram: A wet vial is fine nice agar.

Vineland Estates St. Urban Riesling 2008, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign)

If this Riesling could go through a glück stage, now would be the time. There is a plump and resinous feel about it in 2015, quite possibly signalling the end of its first seven years en route to a minimum 14 more in its life. At this juncture it’s like hot stones washed down with salt water. Look for it to cool again as the year passes. From my earlier, April 2013 note: “Poured as a youthful and “hello” pleasant surprise though it’s just beginning to display secondary character. Has shed its tingling ferment skin without compromising the inherent citrus zest. Nectar lit by just emerging perky propellant and the ubiquitous, underlying ullage of St. Urban’s stones all combine forces to a life of amarita. All this to make believe 2028 will be just another year in its evolution.  Last tasted January 2015  @benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates
Pinot QRV

Creekside Estates Pinot Noir QRV 2013

Creekside Estate Winery Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

The first made since the 2008 because of a new directional decision to hold onto and no longer forsake these exceptional Queenston Road Vineyard grapes. A wine that folds back the skyline skin of time and reveals a cloning from intimate belongings. Pinot blessed of a Dylan-esque drawl, from a comfortable and crooning time in its life. Penetrates into the QRV earth and draws out subtleties, slow food assuagement and makes no BS about its ease. Though posolutely whiffing and tasting of black cherry, it balances itself with an acerbic wit. This is what winemaker Rob Power refers to as a lay lady lay style. Partners in crime Yvonne Irving and Matt Loney concur. One sip and your partner may just lay across your “big brass bed.” You can always go back to Nashville.  Tasted January 2015  @CreeksideWine  @CellarMonkey  @Matt_Loney

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (306902, $24.00, WineAlign)

Spice notes are the current rage, from out of the barrel and now into a next level of amalgamation with tree orchard fruit. Has lengthened somewhat since last summer. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “Winemaker Martin Werner’s 2012 may just be the hardest working Chardonnay in showbiz and in Niagara. Winnowed from Estate (St. David’s Bench) and (Niagara) River fruit, there lurks within, a 20-30 percent perfumed compression of Chardonnay Musqué. The additive is a tonic fanned from the wine’s olfactic communicative nerve centre, adding tree fruit notes no more serious than should be gathered. Werner picked real early, like five weeks ahead (first of September) and the resulting noisome perfume makes for some funk. “It’s these little things, they can pull you under,” but they blow away and settle into a rich, viscous Chardonnay for the palate to collect, contain and command. “Oh, oh, but sweetness follows.” This Ravine works automatically, of the people, for the people.” Last tasted January 2015  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner

Inniskillin Winemaker’s Series Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (586347, $24.95, WineAlign)

The warm clay of Montague plugs in and along with the barrel, layers toast, buttered toast and more toast upon the body of the 2012 Chardonnay. In many ways this is a serious bottling for the Peninsula; it’s all in and wants it all. A strong-willed, big-boned wine with much ado about varietal expressiveness. Paired with a plate of many elements and anchored by rich protein drawn from a salty ocean, this forward and weighty Chardonnay can do no wrong. With all its upfront personality it may not do the same with more than a few years age but there’s really nothing wrong with that. Enjoy it now and to 2017.  Tasted January 2015  @InniskillinWine

Vieni Estate wines

Vieni Estate wines

Vieni Estate Sparkling Brut Rosé 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $29.95)

Made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Riesling, the Charmat method Rosé Sparkling is weighty at 13 per cent alcohol and so very savoury. Winemaker Mauro Salvador is finding new places for investigation in fizz-forming for Ontario. The ’12 Brut Rosé champions aridity and noble bitters. The aromas conjure up a botany and a herbalism that would make Pliny proud.  Think stinging nettles, rapini, arugula, strawberry leaf and the energy of carboniferous ponds. Though the acidity is mild as compared to Salvador’s Vidal/Pinot Gris ‘Momenti,’ it manages just enough balance in this blush sparkler.  Tasted January 2015  @VieniEstatesInc

Creekside Estate Winery Reserve Viognier 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Creekside’s small production Viognier (maximum 80 cases) from the warmer micro-climate of the Queenston Road Vineyard heads back to near-boozy and a bit hot in the sudorific vintage. Oh the viscous humanity of it all, especially when the (all French, two year-old, nine months time) ferment was performed on 100 per cent of the six barrel juice. While it may not flirt with the dangers of say, a dirty peach martini, there is plenty of seasoning, rich, spicy and opulent fruit to at least declare a cocktail of some shaken kind. The ’12 Viognier drips and sweats of a humidity as much as any cool climate rendition can (at least in the context of the Niagara Peninsula). It may not be the ideal vintage but it just may be the one with the most excess.  Tasted January 2015  @CreeksideWine

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Single Vineyard Series Montague Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (997353, $29.95, WineAlign)

A crescendo of sorts has been struck in 2012 with the Montague Pinot Noir perpetuity, giving credence to the vineyard as a resource to be exploited. What the site does for Pinot, particularly in warm vintages like 2012, reminds of the Pfersigberg in Alsace, a plot which provides fruit for the Sainte-Claires bottling by Domaine Albert Mann. A site where water-retention is less than average, where soil colour and low humidity attract the radiance of intense heat, which leads to early ripening of the grapes. The richness of Montague’s clay is amplified in the vintage, providing elevated heat units for this red cherry, beet, cinnamon and toasted red of equally exceptional flavours. Fine, linear acidity takes it to depths and will lead it down long, paved roads.  Tasted January 2015

Château Des Charmes Equuleus 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard, Ontario (319525, $30.00, WineAlign)

Not quite halfway to the five year prediction, the filly is showing the first sign of slowing down. While time certainly remains on her side, the obvious maturation and calming down is nosed in the onset of a slow caramelizing aroma. While the gait may be in trot mode, the five year mark (2018) remains the signpost to look towards on the long track of her life. At that point, with an hour decant, Equuleus ’10 will be good to go. From my earlier, May 2013 note: “From the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard is a classically styled blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot, only made in exceptional years. Apropos choice from 25-year old vines (in 2010) from the warmer St. David’s Bench for Cuvée’s 25th show. Poised, balanced and regal yet this mare is temporarily a head-shy, sensitive equine red. Will trot out furlongs of tobacco and meaty aromas from now and through maturity in five plus years. A saddle of round, red fruit will age gracefully.”  Last tasted January 2015  @MBosc

Colaneri Estates Coraggioso Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.95, WineAlign)

Crafted in the appassimento style, the 2012 Coraggioso is made from 80 per cent dried fruit. Intended to mimic its maker (Michele “Mike” Colaneri), the wine is a bullish, strong silent type, protector of the family, or in this case, the dried grape, passed over style of the Veneto. The specs are bold and impossible; alcohol fortified at 15.3 per cent, residual sugar duplicitous at 7.8 g/L and acidity nearly non-existent at 0.97 g/L. The composition yet works, with help from natural fermentation (no cultured yeasts), six months in new barrels and an additional 13 more in used ones. The happy and old school aspect ratio is turned up by its dried bulb, root and packed earth aromatics; fennel, liquorice and just set concrete. The balance is paradoxical, nearly apocryphal, certainly Coraggioso (courageous). The dried fruit sensations continue right to the end, in lieu of acidity and tannin so the ability to age is there, even in the absence of traditional agents. Really unique and dare it be said, elegant Bordeaux-esque appasimento.  Tasted January 2015  @ColaneriWinery

Southbrook

Southbrook Vineyards

Southbrook Whimsy! “Damy” Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

As a Whimsy sister to the XY Sirgue, XX Damy is a barrel blend that spent 10 months on lees in 100 percent French oak (25 new, 25 one year-old and 50 neutral). While undoutedly the more feminine of the two, she is also feistier and the Chardonnay possessive of a bigger personality. Damy exaggerates suppositions synthesized from both the 2011 micro-vintage and the macro-cool climate for Niagara Chardonnay. At present she seems stressed, with so much citrus anxiety, a sting in herbage and a medicinal lactic seeping. All need to come together, find the calm, common ground and spoon beside one another. This will happen, given a couple of years time and Damy will express herself more freely come then. Drink brother Sirgue first, the simpler and softer sibling.  Tasted January 2015  @SouthbrookWine

Creekside Reserve Queenston Road Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

A 21-month stay in an all French oak hotel has now reached integration in this Queenston Road Vineyard beauty. The fullness of its qualities are on display, running a circuitous aromatic and flavour gamut from dark chocolate to savoury black olive cake. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Impeccable correctness in terms of the variety from a year where the heat giveth and the heat taketh away. Works Cabernet properties properly, embracing and minimizing oak without pretending it’s not there. This red is expressly lush and oak driven, as it should be, it being Cabernet and all. Leaves its appendages out for a Mediterranean pedicure, a glaze of Cassis, black olive and black cherry dug in a chair entrenched in the warm confines of the St. David’s Bench.”  Last tasted January 2015  @CreeksideWine

Southbrook Poetica Cabernet Merlot 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $54.95, WineAlign)

The Poetica Red is very warm, extracted and quite stylish. She did not miss much from the heat day quotient of the 2007 vintage in Niagara. “She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane.” Anise and pencil graphite are shot straight from the wood-soaked barrel of a dark chocolate gun, leaving behind a pool of orange bitters with a slick of acidity. The (rounded up) one-half Cabernet Sauvignon, one-third Cabernet Franc and one-quarter Merlot, while bigger than its head, is so integral towards the future success of learning to reign in the power of this formidable Southbrook blend. Happiness is a warm Poetica.  Tasted January 2015  @SouthbrookWine

The Icewines

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Vidal Icewine 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (565861, 200 ml $25.95, WineAlign)

All the diamonds in this world seem to concentrate in fruit form within CdC’s Vidal ’13, “conjured up by wind and sunlight, sparkling on the sea.” The pang of smells opens with the prickly sting of memory, of childhood fruit cocktail, Turkish delight and the Big Turk. “Like a pearl in a sea of liquid jade.” The intensity of piercing acidity and hyper-cloying stone tree fruit is a searing and blinding crush on the eyes, teeth and mouth. So very tight and concentrated, this is a wow Vidal, an ‘o baby’ Icewine and all the while over the top. It may be a tad hard to handle but it offers crazy bang for the buck. Perhaps a few years will settle its crazies.  Tasted January 2015  @MBosc

Southbrook Vidal Icewine 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, 200 ml $26.95, WineAlign)

A naturally sweet monster from a vintage where ideal conditions allowed for early picking, especially for Vidal. That 150 g/L of sugar could be realized from a December baby is what strikes this condensed tropical fruit bomb into the lore of the genre. Indigenous fermentation using yeast lees from Southbrook’s 2010 Chardonnay barrels and some bacterial connectivity has resulted in early evolutionary notes, notably bitter burnt orange and oxidized mango. Highly complex for the Vidal sempiternity, the 2010 Vidal Icewine is no imminent retiring rose though its decline will hasten sooner rather than later.  Tasted January 2015  @SouthbrookWine

Inniskllin

Inniskllin

Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Icewine 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (560367, 375 ml $31.95, WineAlign)

The sweetness is highly elevated straight from the central core of this (200+ g/L RS) Charmat-method Sparkling Icewine. It’s more than interesting, I’ll grant it at least that and though the alcohol remains at or just below the (10 degrees) threshold, it acts quite hot. This is due to so much accenting spice, which seems to be a ropey-wooden-sappy injection, though the wine sees no barrel. Big, big tangy fruit flavours are smothered in the ubiquitous spice. Complexity is gained though elegance is lost. At least the ride is wild when in consideration of the price.  Tasted January 2015  @InniskillinWine

Peller Estates Signature Series Ice Cuvée, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (284547, $31.95, WineAlign)

From a base wine that is Chardonnay (70 per cent) and Pinot Noir (30), the aridity is markedly up front despite the sweet Vidal dosage style. Comes streaking across on the barking citrus palate. It’s broad, expansive, with a minute bit of oxidation. It builds upon itself and really develops the mouthfeel. A most excellent use of Vidal. So very long and solidifies the earlier anti-oppugning exceeds expectations declaration. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “This is Peller’s most versatile fizz, a blend of traditional method Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sweetened by a dosage of Vidal icewine post disgorgement of its lees. The lees has been left to linger in the bottle, in spirit. Sapid, savoury bubbles tingle the senses to the bone and will offer the most comforting and proper pleasures to those discriminating and otherwise. Appealing to a large common denominator, this Peller Sparkling can really do no wrong.” Last tasted January 2015  @PellerVQA

Ravine

Ravine Vineyards

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Icewine 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $50.00, WineAlign)

Less than 50 cases were produced of a wine sourced from fruit grown on the Lepp farm. Crafted from 100 per cent Cabernet Franc, the grapes were picked quite late (in January) in a vintage that saw thaw, freeze and thaw again before temperatures dropped to allow for the Icewine harvest. The fruit lost some freshness and the fluctuations also resulted in less syrupy viscosity. There are dried fruit notes, a calming mustiness and even some herbiage, in dill, anise and salinity crusted sea peas and vetches. The complexities continue into a palate that goes at it in more traditional ways, with apricot, orange peel and lemon rind. Add in liquorice and bokser. Acidity keeps it very much alive. The conclusion? Nature’s accords cannot be guessed at.  Tasted January 2015  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner

Trius Winery At Hillebrand Showcase Vidal Icewine 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (Winery, 375 ml $60.00, WineAlign)

What strikes most upfront about the Trius Vidal ’12 is the anomalous and dichotomous reserve on the nose. Its very concentration is chained to the aromatics but they lurk in the background. This is no floozy of an Icewine. There is spice and very rich fruit but it does not flirt or give itself up with abandonment. Apricot is most noticeable, along with accents that indicate the roots and barks of South Asian trees. Acidity is downright proper. A solid and gallant Vidal.  Tasted January 2015  @TriusWines

Reif Estate Grand Reserve Riesling Icewine 2011, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, 375 ml $74.90, WineAlign)

A slow ripening season with warm, never hot and at times quite cool temperatures made for one seriously gelid cat of a Riesling Icewine. This 2011 makes the mouth go ooohh with an array of frosty aromatics and flavours. A veritable study in wine’s sweet and sour science, there is mint, eucalyptus, citrus and a host of sweet fruits; yellow peach, clementine, juicy lime and crunchy apple. Spice notes pierce and prick in every hole. Though not as striking in its early stages, the coolness factor is refreshing and the understated style a harbinger for many years of slow development. It would be hard not to imagine the Grand Riesling ’11 as not being a 20-25 year wine.  Tasted January 2015  @Reifwinery

Reif Estate Grand Reserve Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, 375 ml $94.95, WineAlign)

A glaringly vivid icebox Icewine from Reif in 2013, throwing the grocery gamut all in. From the top shelf come layers of sweetness; gelées, juices, purées and coulis in (at least) raspberry, Cassis and strawberry. From the middle swaths in thick brushstrokes, of rhubarb and caramelized Kabocha squash. From the bottom rises roasted nightshades and alium confit, in capsicum and red onion marmalade. A moderate alcohol (10.5 per cent) out of solid brix (38.8) in ’13 has arrived at this sugary mess of produce yet without the zip and zest required to really tie the Grütze together. The overall composition is certainly graphic and in exaggeration of its parts. That said, this just may be the best pairing for good quality chocolate ever composed in the Icewine category.  Tasted January 2015  @Reifwinery

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Big and bigger: Burrowing Owl

Dusty the Burrowing Owl Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Dusty the Burrowing Owl
Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

The Burrowing Owl Vineyard portfolio is a big one, in varietal scope and in style. That the winery is situated on the most northern outpost of the Sonoran desert, an arid and agriculturally inhospitable stretch of terroir that originates in Mexico, is not exactly so well known. That the Owl can produce such wines of extraction spinning on a compass of intensity is one of the wonders of the Okanagan Valley.

A second point of interest centres on the winery being at the forefront of a captive breeding program to help the endangered Burrowing Owl in British Columbia. Fundraising at the winery has helped make possible a recovery program to reestablish them in the Okanagan. The natural grassland habitats available to the owls comprises less than one per cent of the province. It’s a matter of burrows. Agriculture and civilization are taking away their space. Why save the owl? Because they are different – they nest in underground burrows rather than in cavities or in the branches of trees and they are often active in broad daylight. The winery’s co-operation is an example of the landowner’s stewardship agreements needed to ensure the owl’s survival.

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Burrowing Owl was started by Jim Wyse and its location in one of North America’s most diverse ecosystems is the source of one of the wine world’s most constant preoccupations. Caring for wildlife and wine don’t also coincide but they do at BO. Jim’s son Chris is now at the head of the portfolio. Wyse brought the show to Toronto Fine Wine Reserve along with their Ontario agent, Le Sommelier.

The Burrowing Owl wines do not shrink away from tasters, are not shy and to a bottle show their strength in elicitation. They are wines that give a hoot and leave a zaftig impression. Their strengths travel from big to bigger but in the end, after tasting nine examples, palate fatigue is not an issue. Balance is struck across the portfolio, as is diversity and a shared private moment. Thanks to Bernard Stramwasser, Jan Didriksen and of course, Chris Wyse. Here are 12 Burrowing Owl wines tasted in November at the FWR and at the LCBO Media lab for VINTAGES releases.

Burrowing Owl Vineyard Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Burrowing Owl Vineyard
Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Calliope Figure 8 Red 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (324582, $17.95, WineAlign)

For all intents and purposes this is Okanagan Syrah, in content (75 per cent), protein (meat and smoke) and cool climate aromatics (mint, eucalyptus and graphite). The (25 per cent) Merlot component adds little to nothing, save for mellow softening. That, or the simple fact of what four years of age will elucidate fruit made to simply please from the get go. Elevation may have once made a terse statement but is now resolved with an easy-going temperament. At this time the Calliope is a slice of sweet, tart and savoury cherry pie, at once “revved up like a deuce,” but now just “another runner in the night.” Still, at $18, painted and abrasive, it can leave one blinded by the light. Still has the legs to make it through the night.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Malbec 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $30.00 – B.C.)

The fruit comes from the southern reaches, near Osoyoos Lake. The Malbec differs from the other reds; it’s both stoic and pleasant, easy on the olfactory and gustatory senses. So very red, in direct proportion for smell and taste, of berries, in plum, for tea and spices. In condition of being a Burrowing Owl red, it tightens late but takes longer to not play nice, to turn away from its easy-going ways. Extended leisure time prevents an early turn to reach deeper into the bed of intensity and so this Malbec finishes more abruptly with shorter length than the others.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (208694, $33.95, WineAlign)

Intimates warm sunshine but can’t hide from its cool nights. An element of periodic surprise wafts straight up and grabs the little nose hairs by the tips, tugs and then lets go. Hatchoo. Wisps green apple skin, daikon radish and a metal tang. Full on fruit-mineral-earthy expression. Big Chardonnay as ripe as its gets for the Okanagan but carries a hefty (though you might ponder an inordinate exorbitance of 14.5 per cent abv) with relative ease. Goes on at length, about what, I do not yet know, but I’m willing to hang in there for 5-7 years to find out.  Tasted September and November 2014

Burrowing Owl Merlot 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (585737, $40.95, WineAlign)

The softest and only downy wine in the Burrowing Owl lot, elegant, pure, ripe and yet intimately Merlot. Just a minor crack of the whip shudders on the back-end, indicating some minor tannic matters that are yet to be resolved. Three more years of attitude reducing time will fully complete this ’10’s adjunct necessity. Though it’s not the most dusty of Merlots, nor masculine neither, overall it’s bright and vibrant.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (556613, $40.95, WineAlign)

The hot climate, sandy soil and water-deprivation all combine to intensify Burrowing Owl’s Pinot Noir, like desert fruit in a Sonoran landscape. It exhibits extreme unction in high tones; of cherry extraction, blanketed warmth and west coast favour. Sun, ripeness and a full hand scooping through the olive tart. Has heft and flavours in abundance, of rich plum treacle, like Christmas cake in Pinot Noir form. The angles are all on the back end, in voluminous, hydrated granules of gravelly fruit. The Black Sage vineyard runs through, infiltrating every pore. Crazy, overblown and over the top.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Agent 73072, $41.95, WineAlign)

Here there lists a depth of intensity, from out of a vintage that gave cause for struggle and the necessity in fortitude. Richly layered, full on red fruit, smoky, smouldering and mired in solder. Iron wine, on a horse, from out of the sinking depths of deep, deep sand. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “This Syrah will cure so many ails. Vouchsafe for a pepper-laced, plasmic mouthfeel, a maroon liquid pewter party of rocks and stones in the mouth. Playful and childlike, digs a pony, playing and offering really good fun. Does its own Okanagan thing because “everything has got to be just like you want it to.”  Last tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (349019, $43.95, WineAlign)

The Owl’s ’12 Cabernet Franc is first real-time proof in magnified proportion of the true savour of the magnanimous red line up. This is the wine that proves the varietal transparency, the wise and sage terroir that all the wines can’t help but put on display for the world to engage. Cabernet Franc that is distinct, popping, bracing and very physical.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Athene 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (371336, $44.95, WineAlign)

A co-fermented, single tank Syrah (60 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (40) blend from vineyards in Oliver and Osoyoos. A generously oaked, eerily Barossan mimicked concoction that spent 18 months in 40 per cent new French and American barrels. The vanilla, chocolate, mocha, lavender and coconut shake texture and waft is uncompromising and concomitant. Burrowing Owl’s experimentations indicated that co-fermentation leaves a desired effect, much more so than separate vinification. While it’s a rich, hooting, wild-eyed and shivery red, this shows more elegance than the solo Syrah. It’s a different sort of intensity, of sage, Cassis and graphite, but also a sandy grit liquified. Shorter too and admissable as evidence of heavy blending, as a shrewd companion of heroes and a goddess of heroic endeavour.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Meritage 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (343038, $59.95, WineAlign)

The Meritage ’10 has integrated in niceties, settled into domesticated, symbiotic grips with its varietal relationships. Though it may have struggled earlier on, it has now entered its period of glory. The pitchy brood on the back palate persists, wrapped in strength to strength from texture and through structure. Epitomizes the attitude of a Burrowing Owl red. From my earlier, November 2013 note: “A National Wine Awards of Canada Platinum Medal winner. As massive a corporeal attack as can ever be ascertained from a B.C. Bordeaux blend, of the earth, or any other prodigiously structured Canadian red. Uproariously ripe fruit de rigueur and storming tannins. A boast of plum crushed by an intense, dry, rocky intent. To this Okanagan I say, “you’re the book that I have opened and now I’ve got to know much more.” Crazy stuff for sure, full of unfinished sympathy, with enough fruit to push it to 10 years and beyond. Priced at $45 (winery) and at a premium through VINTAGES.”  Last tasted November 2014

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Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014

Gold Medal Plate, Toronto 2014: Canoe's Chef John Horne Grandview Short Ribs Glazd with Tree Syrups (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal winning plate, Gold Medal Plates, Toronto 2014: Canoe’s Chef John Horne’s Grandview Short Ribs Glazed with Tree Syrups
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

When head judge David Lawrason asked me to join him and fellow WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato to preside over the wines at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, I paused for a brief moment. I knew right away the answer was an emphatic yes but I had to breathe in the possibilities. One: Sample 10 wondrous culinary creations by 10 sacrosanct chefs. Two: Spend an evening with Canadian Olympic medallists and recording artists. Three: Taste and judge the sagacious efforts by some of Ontario’s most venerated winemakers.

Gold Medal Plates was founded in 2003 and is so much more than an organization. It is a Canadian institution. The primary goal of the coast to coast galas are to “celebrate Canadian excellence in food, wine, athletic achievement and entertainment.” The tour makes stops in 11 Canadian cities and raises funds for the Canadian Olympic Foundation to support Olympic athletes. Net proceeds are donated to support high performance programs such as Own The Podium. To date over $8.2 million has been raised. (Update: Gold Medal Plates tweeted on December 10th that the number is now $9.5 million).

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 bronze, gold and silver medal winning chefs Damon Campbell, John Horne and Jason Bangerter<br />  (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 bronze, gold and silver medal winning chefs Damon Campbell, John Horne and Jason Bangerter
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

In each city the invited chefs prepare a regional dish and in Toronto, more than 700 people tasted through a complex variety of creations. The gold medal chef in each city goes on to compete at the Gold Medal Plates Finale at the Canadian Culinary Championships. In 2015 the host will be Kelowna, British Columbia on February 6 and 7. The term “career changer” is used to describe the chef who is crowned tops in Canada.

With unprecedented support from the event’s title sponsor Deloitte, the Toronto event was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Wednesday, November 12, 2014. The culinary judging was headed up by former Toronto Life Magazine food critic James Chatto. Joining Mr. Chatto were chef/author Sasha Chapman, chef/TV personality Christine Cushing, author/CBC radio host Anita Stewart, George Brown chef school’s John Higgins and the 2013 Canadian Culinary Champion Lorenzo Loseto of George Restaurant.

Candian musicians and atheletes sing O Canada at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Candian musicians and atheletes sing O Canada at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

At the Toronto event, emcee skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were joined by dozens of Olympic medallists and future hopefuls. The entertainment on stage was an all-star Canadian band led by Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy. Cuddy was joined by The Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Roberstson, Barney Bentall, 5440’s Neil OsborneDanny Michel, Anne Lindsay and the astoundingly soulful guitarist Colin Cripps.

Slient auction signed guitar

Slient auction signed guitar

The plates in Toronto were really quite incredible. Canoe’s Chef John Horne was the gold medal winner. His Grandview Farms Short Ribs glazed with tree syrups was a ground breaker, an original composition of intrigue, a wild sequestered spot of gastronomy. The other plates were exceptional, each in their own right, but chef Horne travelled to a zone alone. Congratulations Chef.

Gold Medal Plates wines (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal Plates wines
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

In David Lawrason’s recap to the audience, he noted how close the wine judging really was. “It was the highest quality level from bottle to bottle I have seen in the country this year, making the judging of the Best of Show Award rather tough. But when each judged ranked their top five, the same five wines showed up. It was then the ordering that became difficult, and only two points separated first and second place.” In the end we chose Norman Hardie‘s Niagara Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011 as the Gold Medal winning wine. Hardie’s take on Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir is pure, complex and made with a deft, hands-off approach.

The wines ware all impressive, each and every one. The Hidden Bench approach on a Bordeaux-styled white is as impressive as any that have come before it, which is why the Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012 finished a very close second, taking home the Silver Medal. Syrah in the hands of winemaker Rob Power is a beautiful thing indeed. Creekside Estate‘s Iconoclast Syrah 2012 was the Bronze Medal winner. Pinot Noir by Leaning Post and Cabernet Franc by Rosewood Estates were fractional points behind.

David, Sara and I tasted and judged 12 wines, 10 of which were paired to the 10 chef’s plates. Here are the tasting notes and pairings.

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 dishes and paired wines

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 dishes and paired wines

Peller Estates Baco Noir Private Reserve 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (Winery, $17.95)

High acidity, negligible tannin and no surprise, the black burn of charcoal crushed, tarry fruit. A wallop of pepper for accented measure stings as per the effect of a Rhône, so like Syrah this is a good example of Baco. An airplane taxiing down a tobacco road. “But it’s home, the only life (its) ever known.” Definitely Baco.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @PellerVQA

Peller Estates Chardonnay Private Reserve  2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

Like bottled pastry, sweet, soft apples baking. Warm wafting aromatics, mild toast and caramelizing butter, effectively creamy and palate coating. Evolved to the point of full integration and absolute oak resolution. Drink now.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @PellerVQA

Creekside Estates Syrah Iconoclast 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (Winery, $18.05) Paired with Canoe’s Chef John Horne’s Grandview Farms Short Ribs Glazed with Tree Syrups

Winemaker Rob Power is on the fast track (if he is not there already) at becoming the King of Syrah in Ontario. The Queenston Road vineyard helps. Years of acumen development is key. Passion for the Rhône and Niagara’s climatic and stylistic kinship wraps the package. A ton of effort goes into the production of this $19 wine. The methodology here differs greatly from the co-fermented two-clone meets Viognier (and twice the price) Brokenpress Syrah. Here the fruit from three vineyards (including the Queenston Road) were fermented separately in stainless steel tanks and 1 tonne fruit bins. Malolactic fermentation took place in barrel where the wine aged for 12 months. The (30 percent new) barrel mix is (53 per cent) American, (42) French and (five) Hungarian. The result? In Rob Power’s hands, you can take Syrah out of the Rhône and Australia but you can’t take the cool climate out of the Syrah. Meat, pepper and smoke pique, pinch and pop. Pow! A totem in proclivity for the variety. The water is at times dishy but the fruit swells and fills in every gap.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @CreeksideWine

13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign) Paired with Bestellen’s Chef Rob Rossi’s 60 Day Dry-Aged Beef Crudo, B.C. Pine Mushrooms, Concord Grape Mustard and Truffle Sauce

Spice and rich fruit head straight to Gamay welkin derived direct from the soil’s core, of Sandstone, Schwenker and the winery’s home vineyard at Fourth Avenue. Swirl away the gathered must and moss to reveal more Cru fruit than you can shake a stirring rod at. Such verve, said grit, such persistence. The thing about Gamay is, “if you want inside of her, well boy you better make her a raspberry swirl.” 13th Street has certainly made the raspberry sing in the ’12 Gamay so “raspberry swirl, mmm let’s go.”  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @13thStreetWines

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign) Paired with Splendido’s Chef Victor Barry’s Smoked Rocky Point Oyster, Yukon Gold Potato and Chive

Less than six weeks after my first introduction to the NB ’12 complexity shines anew. Such a delicate and elegant take on the Bordeaux white axiom. Void of all the gangly G’s; grasses, gooseberry and green vegetable. Leans to custards and curds with a savoury accent and a limestone tang. Willing to be paired with a multitude of gastronomy. Long finish. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “Taking what the vintage gives, Rosomel’s Sauvignon Blanc was king in 2012, dominating at a 95 per cent share of the Bordeaux-styled blend with Sémillon. Barrels were stirred weekly during fermentation and the creamy texture thanks that regimen, as does the tannic fullness of the round back-end. It rocks out bracing, formidable and nobly bitter, in pear and its pith, in lemon, of rind and in curd. The SB lounges in tall grasses but avoids goose feathers and blanching veg. So very savoury, in gorse tension, thistle and nettle. These notes all cut through the roundness and are finally tied together by the flinty rock of Rosomel.”  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto November 2014  @HiddenBench

Marben Restaurant's Chef Rob Bragagnolo's Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond (c) Michael Godel

Marben Restaurant’s Chef Rob Bragagnolo’s Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond
(c) Michael Godel

Rosewood Estates Cabernet Franc Origin Series 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $26.20, WineAlign) Paired with Marben Restaurant’s Chef Rob Bragagnolo’s Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond

From fruit grown on the Estate’s Beamsville Bench (Renaceau) vineyard. As per the house directive, this is not oak shy. So as the house finds collective varietal success from inside a barrel, the Origin Cabernet Franc 2012 falls into line. Fruit is bright and sour-edged, softened, filled in and tempered by wood. Lush berries and plums, herbs and did I mention oak? A roasted kind of sweetness comes wafting and pan-dripping in, with currants, mint and eucalyptus with a far away look. Intensely modish CF, with a swath of chocolate, springy and extensible length.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @Rosewoodwine

Rosewood Estates Chardonnay Origin Series 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $28.20) Paired with Buca’s Chef Rob Gentile’s Ravioli alla Tonnara, Tuna Blood Pasta, Tuna N’duja and Stracciatella Cheese

The Chardonnay formerly known as Renaceau Estate Vineyard, followed by Reserve and now Origin continues to hail from the Beamsville locale and persists as one of the most viscous and rich of its ilk. The glaring mismatch in sugar (20.8 g/L) and acidity (1.8 g/L) could spell disaster but to the contrary, this finds its tongue. Quite drawn, in a southern sort of lobster dipped in butter drawl. Unrequited malo fermentative linguistics suppress any tension that might distract from the bounty of warm vintage, perfectly ripe fruit smothered in a creamy lather of French oak (nine months in 50% new and 50% seasoned).  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @Rosewoodwine

The Farm Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery) Paired with Café Boulud’s Chef Tyler Shedden’s Haida Gwaii Pink Salmon, Preserved Porcini Mushroom, Nasturtium and Smoked Sabayon

Those familiar with the Neudorf farm fruit know it well because of the single vineyard Pinot Noir “La Petite Colline” made by then Le Clos Jordanne winemaker Thomas Bachelder and carried forth by Sébastien Jacquey. Most of the harvest was then scooped up by Bachelder’s newest Niagara venture with some Quebec buddies at Domaine Queylus. In 2012 the Neudorf family decided to allocate a small commercial gifting of their own minuscule production of Estate Pinot Noir. Eleven restaurants in Southern Ontario carry this luxurious and humid red. The aromatics are pure Neudorf; a blackberry-rapt silt and clay-earth mingle with a sideshow of coated limestone primer. Just a smidgen past ripe, this blood pedigree redaction has plenty of charm if less earnest finesse than the Bachelder siphoned bottles.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014

Langdon Hall's Chef Jason Bangerter's Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Langdon Hall’s Chef Jason Bangerter’s Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

Leaning Post Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.20, WineAlign) Paired with Langdon Hall’s Chef Jason Bangerter’s Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root

One year later and in conjunction with stopping to think about them (other vintages and other reds at #GMP2014), the most terroir and aromatic focus comes from Ilya Senchuk’s ’10. Cherry, pomegranate and earth. Only Lowrey goes deep like this. Such a palate refresher. From my earlier, November 2013 note: “Can’t say I’m all that surprised but this is so much more approachable, pretty and glamorous. From an unrelenting hot vintage (picked Sept. 11th), a full six weeks earlier than ’09 and from the same vineyard. This was necessary as a means to preserve freshness. More sunshine, less earth but still there’s a cure and metal tendency that really defines Lowrey. Could of course be considered more of a crowd pleaser but it’s not as simple as that. That I can taste these two mano a mano, in my life is a rubber soul stamp. “All these places have their moments.” 125 cases.”  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @LeaningPostWine

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (208702, $39.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Drake Hotel’s Chef Alexandra Feswick’s Beef Tongue, Plums and Almonds

The tension in the ’11 Niagara Pinot is palpable, ongoing and yet, as noted previously, not like it used to be. Expertly judged in a major key of complexity. Like candied nuts strung along a chain of tannin. Layers of depth and active ingredients. From my earlier, August 2014 note: “Hardie’s 2011 Pinot Noir comes out of deep clay, 20 Mile Bench soil, an impart not lost in the rich though dusty character of the wine. The flesh is both corporeal and marbled and a chalky grain runs through, with thanks to what feels like smithereens of limestone blasted through. “It was long ago, seems like yesterday,” that Norm’s Niagara Pinot carried an unwieldy level of anxiety but here the tannins have settled, the volatility has relented and there is a curious combination now, of blood and roses. Though meaty, the ’11 Pinot’s juices are concentrated, contained, not running out. The aromas are floral, heightened and intoxicating. Once again, classic comes by way of low alcohol and minimalist intervention. Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @normhardie

The Chase's Chef Michael Steh's Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce (c) Michael Godel

The Chase’s Chef Michael Steh’s Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce
(c) Michael Godel

Stratus White 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Chase’s Chef Michael Steh’s Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce

Tropical notes are currently blanketing the radar on the long flight to future decades. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Quite possibly the most textured yet. A casted mass, like ingot or sélection de grains nobles, where viscosity meets candied fruit, apricot, quince and acacia flowers. A white moon with a medicinal and peaty tang that shows so much verve, earth floor even. This cracker jack ’10 will continue to add heft and flesh to earn its white stripes. Could be a classic for 20 years plus.” From my earlier, September 2013 note: “Sends me immediately towards Bordeaux, in neo-marmalade, but also buoyed in perfume and body by 25 percent Viognier. “This variety worked so well in the vineyard in 2010,” notes Groux. Niagara honey and near-botrytis via Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc void of grass, full of vigor. A sharp note, neither metallic nor mineral, but a combination of the two is present in this so very concentrated ’10. Of a warm vintage (self-explanatory) fully picked by October 23. Though loaded with early Spring maple sap, foie gras and appley terpines, its sharp and framed by “tannic” tang and protracted length.” Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014

The Shangri-La Hotel's Damon Campbell Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion (c) Ronald Ng Photography

The Shangri-La Hotel’s Damon Campbell Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (366500, $50.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Shangri-La Hotel’s Chef Damon Campbell’s Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion

There is still a tough outer layer to crack. A poem of many stanzas has only just begun. Mute yet delicate, the stratified vineyard is the Poetica’s poetry; tight, yet forwardly futuristic towards the ephemeral and the aerified. From my earlier July 2014 note: “Has integrated nicely though certainly persists as a big, lush Chardonnay. If there were splinters or sinewy bits they have melted away.” From my earlier, May 2014 note: “The Poetica underwhelms at the present time, or perhaps hides in her youth. She’s a calm, buttery, mildly toasted, supportive softie and more accessible than her Sperling west coast sistren. Like a cool Chardonnay soffit hiding beneath a warm bench, the Poetica speaks not for the vintage but more for the current vineyard, a warm and hip spot in the Four Mile Creek appellation. The site remains (at least to me) understood but the unctuous aspect in texture and gathering sweetness with time in the glass will realize a richesse yet unseen. Poetica’s refrain is like “wind on the weathervane,” her tragically subdued fruit quiet, but able to travel long. Time will be the reveal, so be patient.”  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @SouthbrookWine  @thesirengroup

A Blanck slate in Alsace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gewürztraminer Bird of Alsace, Domaine Paul Blanck

The Gewürztraminer Bird of Alsace, Domaine Paul Blanck

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

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

Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

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

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

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

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Pinot Blanc Classique 2013

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

Auxerrois Vieilles Vignes 2010

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

Pinot Blanc 1989

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

Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2010

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

Pinot Gris Grand Cru Schlossberg 1998

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

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

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

Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2009

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

Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2003

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

Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 1994

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

Riesling Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru Schlossberg 1991

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

Riesling Grand Cru Wineck-Schlossberg 1992

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

Domaine Paul Blanck st fils

Domaine Paul Blanck st fils

Riesling Grand Cru Furstentum 1993

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

Muscat d’Alsace Réserve Spéciale 1983

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

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

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

Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum 1985

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

Gewürztraminer Altenbourg Vendanges Tardives 1985

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

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality

Ontario home cooking Photo: (www.godello.ca)

Ontario home cooking
Photo: (www.godello.ca)

Wine Country came to town last week betwixt what has seemed like the most expansive sectarian LCBO campaign in recent memory, or possibly ever. Hashed out, tagged and promoted by such catch slogans as #LCBOtastelocal, #LCBOGoLocal and #LoveLocal, Ontario’s wine superstars have been dancing on the monopoly’s main stage and in stores, since September 15th and through to October 11th. As part of the phrontifugic campaign, the LCBO has quaintly persisted in matching local wine with pie.

https://twitter.com/LCBO/status/519554566119899136

It has not just been a talking affair, this love for the wine regions of Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore. VINTAGES walked the walk by welcoming 55 Ontario wineries last Thursday, October 2, 2014 to Toronto’s Bronfman Hall at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Related – Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

Taste Ontario is a curated and correlated gathering and the sixth annual did something the first five failed to accomplish. The agglomeration left no book of wines behind on the varietal bus. This year the offering sought a cogent cross-section of everything Ontario works its vinicultural tail off at, from stalwart signatures Chardonnay and Riesling through to the global gamut of expatriate Vinifera. Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc continued their most righteous and requisite climb to prominence. The increasingly genuflected niches occupied by Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Red Meritage Blends upped the ante and their game. Finally and with much market grab ado, Sparkling, Gamay and Syrah crossed the bridge to be more than gratuitously represented.

This is what happens when Wine Country Ontario, the LCBO and the winemakers do whatever it takes to get on the same page. The miserable and disenfranchised put their gripes aside. There was no talk of private wine stores, organics, biodynamics and wishes to reformulate the VQA certification process. No, all of the important issues facing the Ontario wine industry were swept under the rug to focus on one thing. Current and recent releases.

Ontario’s expansion in diversity and prosperity has not climbed aboard the gravy train without challenges. Growing, nurturing and manufacturing (despicable term, I know) the varieties of the European shtetl is a labour of New World love. The results have polarized the region, dividing its critics into glass half full or empty rural planners, into partisans and dissidents. The wines themselves can be brutally honest takes, but also classic, arguably heroic examples of despair refusing to take itself seriously.

The critic will tell the Ontario winemaker who strays from the comfortable cool home confines for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Cabernet Franc that all else is a complete waste of viticultural time. They will insist that you can’t have doppeltes Glück, that your bread cannot be buttered on both sides. Cake is not to have and eat it too. The winemaker will respectfully disagree.

Never before, in the presence of so many Ontario wines at a single tasting, have the poles been blurred, bent and bemused. Martin Werner’s 2013 Riesling challenges the laws of typicity, even while it expands on the boundaries of what can be achieved. VQA found no fault. Francois Morissette did the same (and more) and yet his Cuvée met with the ball’s black curtain. Ravine’s Riesling barely caused a batting of the VQA lash. Gordon Robert’s Gamay 2013 has a sense of Cru with a tension that belies Beaujolais. Others found it thin and volatile, yet it breaks new ground and carries a #GoGamayGo torch. Marynissen Estates has re-invented itself (with Pinot Gris and Chardonnay in tow) and still the paradigmatic radar gun is silent, its registry empty and reading zero in the wrist slap department. Is everyone paying attention?

Taste Ontario has bore the ancient marvelous into the modern everyday. The gathering has developed as a show of VQA magic realism, a look at the mundane through a hyper-realistic lens. While there are many consumers who would still not drink these wines at a Leamington tomato auction, the number of converts increases exponentially with each passing congress. With yet another Taste Ontario in the books, the conversation has been furthered, the level of fitness elevated and the report card in. Ontario wine is worthy of cerebral ramparts. Discussion to ensue.

I tasted more than 50 wines through the course of the provincial day and with time, space and brevity as my leader, I have thus far reviewed but a lagniappe, beginning with those that spoke with the clearest voice and tender personality. Polarized or not, here are 10 new releases assessed, in a wide range of categories, tasted at Ontario’s signature event.

From left to right: Marynissen Estates Gamay Noir 2013

From left to right: Coyote’s Run Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc 2013, Rosewood Select Sémillon 2013, Di Profio Wines Limited Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2013, Marynissen Estates Gamay Noir 2013

Coyote’s Run Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc 2013, Niagara Peninsula (112144, $15.95, WineAlign)

A most pleasant symbiosis of Pinots in this rhyming wine. Juicy equal parts align and run together in fresh time. Extraction is bang on, with gentle lime pressings layered in line. Scents of orange rind and lemon thyme. Reminiscent of another land and another time, gathering up old knowledge and I me mine. “No one’s frightened of playing it, everyone’s saying it” and this white blend is “flowing more freely than wine.” Very functional, with just enough Loire meets Alsace, which is fine, working in unison to keep a welcoming consumer feel the sun shine.  Tasted October 2014  @coyotesrun

Rosewood Select Sémillon 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (winery, $18.00, WineAlign)

After tasting Rosewood’s ’12, I urged the region’s cultivation of the great white wolf variety. Then the winter of 2014 happened. Rosewood’s vines were wiped clean off the map, erased like a child of parents who never met. The ’13 Sem is the last Mohican and its 12.5 per cent alcohol (down two from ’12) is a fitting, subdued and graceful epitaph to an amazing Beamsville run. This final cut is lean, stark, raving mad. So very savoury, tannic and built to linger for longer than most. The Rosewood honey is in hiding,”far from flying high in clear blue skies,” but like all memorable vintages of this wine, it will emerge in time. This Sémillon asks, “and if I show you my dark side, will you still hold me tonight?” Yes is the answer, and not just because she is the last one. Terrific curtain call.  Tasted October 2014  @Rosewoodwine

Di Profio Wines Limited Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $18.00)

From estate fruit out of the Mia Cara Vineyard in Jordan Station. Not sure any Ontario SB has ever hit the nail on the proverbial head like Fred Di Prfio’s ’13. Subtle touches of wet hay, mowed grass, capsicum, juiced berries, goose feathers and passing through the rising steam of just about to be blanched green vegetables. Acidity brings the party to another level but it’s not an all night affair. The verve is quick, dancing on tongues, layered on the floor, spread on a raft of herbs, ready for smoking beneath the fish just out of the river. Great, late balm, like after the rain in an equatorial zone. Yes to this beauty.  Tasted October 2014  @diprofiowines

Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (172338, $22.95, WineAlign)

The immediate impression is the increased richness as compared to 2012, as if the “Richness” fruit were here in the Triomphe. What this will mean in terms of the Whimsy’s potential should be cause for anticipation. This is the most triumphant essential Southbrook Chardonnay to date and much thanks must be awarded the Saunders Vineyard for helping to bolster the mix. The gentle Beamsville Bench of old-vine Chardonnay impart is ephemeral, in mineral and lushness. The layered result atop Niagara flatland fruit in Triomphe ’13 is texture. This is the key and the king component. In that sense what you have here is a wine of social heredity. It is drinking well now and will do so for five plus years.  Tasted October 2014  @SouthbrookWine

Marynissen Estates Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario (winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Really clean Gamay, ripe but entangled nowhere in the vicinity of over extraction. Ambrosial entry, nectarous middle and sweet finish. Has a sense of Cru with a tension that belies Beaujolais. Cherries in fleshy drupe simulating veraison to black cherries, anise in legume gumming to licorice. What’s not to like? Its vapours, tranquilized and centred by meditation are the furthest thing from volatile. A new genesis of anesthetizing Gamay, like a “Freudian slumber empty of sound.” This does the #GoGamyGo train proud.  Tasted October 2014  @Marynissen

From left to right: Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012

From left to right: reekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, Tawse Meritage Grower’s Blend 2011, Ravine Vineyard Riesling 2013, Creekside Estates Broken Press Syrah Queenston Road Vineyard 2011, Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012

Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $28.95, WineAlign)

The Trad ’11 has a classic toast and yeast aromatic waft and so it goes that everything that follows is embraced with curiosity and an open mind. Ginger, citrus, bronze and the sweet scents of the inside of a candy machine, its candy long gone. Creekside’s winemaker Rob Power will never be accused of dialing this sparkler in. Tasting trials help determine the necessary, final blend. The single, Queenston Road Vineyard puts 56 per cent Pinot Noir and (44) Chardonnay, aged 2 years in bottle, together for a highly effective, expansive but not explosive fizz. At 8.7 g/L of residual its dry but not quite falling off the bone. The sweetness is tempered by elevated (9.98 g/L) acidity and tension. Spent 24 months on the lees and was bottled back in February. There is balance and pleasure and a good, stretchy finish. No band-aid. Clean, precise, fizz of the day.  Tasted October 2014

Tawse Meritage Grower’s Blend 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Having tasted through single-varietal Bordeaux barrels with Paul Pender last January, I was amazed to be informed at Taste Ontario that much of that juice was declassified into this inaugural Grower’s Blend. At that time the richness and poise of the varieties seemed destined for the winemaker’s top of the heap Meritage. That loss is this blend’s gain. Composed of Cabernet Sauvignon (42 per cent), Merlot (40) and Cabernet Franc (18), the GB brings together the hallways of always high quality David’s Block Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Redstone Cabernet Franc. So very juicy, the fruit is mastered by a tannic anxiety so in its current state, the wine is haunted by its own house. This Tawse 2011 is a haunting idle, “an instrumental that serves as a breath-catcher,” If the finish of minutes riding the quark is any indication, sometime between five and 10 years from now this union will speak with wonderful clarity.  Tasted October 2014  @Tawse_Winery

Ravine Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA St. Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Martin Werner’s botrytis-affected 2013 accesses virgin territory, embraces a unique if puzzling style and challenges Niagara Riesling scholarship. Something in this St. David’s Bench yield reminds me of Rolly Gassman’s (Alsace) Pflaenzerreben but also the eccentric and magnetic Benjamin Bridge (Gaspereau Valley) Sauvignon Blanc. The winemaker lineage from Werner, through Peter Gamble to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers is cause for fellowship-fraternity thought. The methodology here makes use of 40 per cent noble rot impaired (organically and biodynamically raised) grapes that were arrested in fermentation at a residual sugar number in the 35-40 g/L range. The intent may have been Germanic (or more specifically, a Mosel one) but the vernacular spoken in yogurty tones and the abrupt dry finish confound thoughts at seeking direct comparisons. Its hydrated puffballs of bacterial fuzz give intensity and yet this is a Riesling that defies known laws of atomic weight. So interesting, so unique. Requires a re-visit in five years time.  Tasted October 2014

Creekside Estates Broken Press Syrah Queenston Road Vineyard 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula (202127, $39.00, WineAlign)

Only Creekside Syrah smells like this, like bending down to smell black raspberries on the shores of a briny capsicum lake in the middle of a pine forest. The 2011 Syrah has fruit residing on the edge of impossibly ripe, factored inside a pipeline, while piping lavender and plum pastry cream float atop rare duck breasts. If Syrah were to ooze or drip without sticking to surfaces along the way, this would be it. If Syrah came forth from the maw of the beast it would speak in these demanding tones. Creekside’s BP talks the tense, nervous and twitching talk. It’s smeared with a coat of epoxy spread over fine grain in wood. It sweats an air of metallic cordiality. If given five years to come together it will vape and realize togetherness.  Tasted October 2014  @CreeksideWine

Bachelder Wines Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (361816, $44.95, WineAlign)

To those who wonder aloud about the annual love affair with this vineyard, suck it and see. This connectivity and this wine renew again. Same time, this year. Bursts of all that have come from it before, are here now and in temptation of what will be for years to come. Has “the type of kisses where teeth collide,” a Sam Cooke ages to Arctic Monkeys kind of reckless serenade. It’s also a balladeer, this scaled back Bachelder, if that can be said to be done. Here now soft, elegant, perfumed, demurred, sweet, downy, pretty, not yet fleshed, surprisingly void in tannin, anxiety and tension. Work with it for 10 minutes and it will then begin to bite back, show its teeth, pearly white as they are, grind it out. There will be 10 years of development in this Lowrey, if not less, but in ’12, that is more.  Tasted October 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Good to go!

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A common weal of September VINTAGES best buys

Innisfiil Sunflowers

Innisfiil Sunflowers

September has its share of excellence being revealed, particularly this coming weekend with the VINTAGES September 13, 2014 release. This is a perfect time to investigate the wares from this province. The weekend also marks the launch of the  initiative, in conjunction with Wine Country Ontario. Then on October 2nd, Wine Country is coming to the Royal Ontario Museum. There will be 255 wines poured by 55 producers at Taste Ontario.

Related – The LCBO and WineAlign go local

For years now the fine wine and premium spirits division of the LCBO, known benevolently to Wineontarians as VINTAGES, has been rolling out releases every two weeks. There are always somewhere between five and ten wines on each listing that, were I independently wealthy and helplessly wine obsessed in reckless abandon, would always buy. There are also upwards of 100 or more that I would not. Were I presented a glass half full, to most of them I would offer my thanks and sip away. There are also five to ten not worth the price of admission. As a member of the wine writer’s commonwealth of Ontario it is my trusted duty to help make sense of the bi-weekly barrage and to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Wine critics can be fussy people, tough mudders with palates sheathed by caparison. They can go from saying things like “not as good as the last shipment” to “I’m tired of tasting shit.” Even the most curmudgeonly of critics must play his part to promote the happiness, health, and wine safety of all of the people of a community. It is an honour to be trusted with a duty to taste, consider and then discard what is simply not right. The expectation and the responsibility is to find the most natural and honest wines made available, however fleeting and rare the opportunities may be.

Here are four from across the pond and 10 Ontario wines being unpacked onto LCBO shelves as we speak. Get out there and #LCBOGoLocal.

From left to right: Flat Rock Riesling 2013, Château Saint Estève Corbières 2011, Palazzo Maffei Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2011, Rosehall Run Cuvée County Chardonnay 2011, Peller Estates Private Reserve Cabernet Franc 2011, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, Thirty Bench Red 2012                                      Photos: Jason Dziver

From left to right: Flat Rock Riesling 2013, Château Saint Estève Corbières 2011, Palazzo Maffei Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2011, Rosehall Run Cuvée County Chardonnay 2011, Peller Estates Private Reserve Cabernet Franc 2011, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, Thirty Bench Red 2012 Photos: Jason Dziver, Photographer (http://www.jasondziver.com/)

Flat Rock Riesling 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (43281, $16.95, WineAlign)

The FR Riesling cover girl gets a swift kick in the backside by gas blanketed, dehydrated pear and a sprinkle of rock sugar. Citrus peel, candied again, with medicinal silt. Rocky Riesling spread liberally across a horizontal canvas. From my earlier April 2014 note: “Just bottled a few weeks ago so the note to self is to expect a subtraction of preoccupation. Anything but. Though not as frantic as the Nadja’s sampled from tank back in February, the preview to the ’13 Estate is in show of so much zest, premature acidity and an overly enthusiastic outpouring of juicy emotion. The scraped zest is present in every respect, along with green mango, Himalayan salt and a squeeze of lime. There is attitude and altitude from this precocious Riesling and there’s no doubt it and the ’13 Nadja will be better than anticipated out of tank. Forget the infancy, wow is it showing well.”  Last tasted August 2014  @Winemakersboots  @brightlighter1  @UnfilteredEd

Château Saint Estève Corbières 2011, Ap, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (377218, $17.95, WineAlign)

Corbieres excellence. Nothing funky going on here. A minor amount sees the inside of the fûts but how great it is to find such a clean, fruit forward, straight from the tank example. Made from (40 per cent) Grenache, (30) Syrah, (20) Carignan and (10) Mourvèdre. Certainly showing modern fruit but the low yield (35hl/ha) altruism and cleanliness is next to Midi-ness. A touch of chalk and milky chocolate with some vanilla and lavender too. Simple, effective (if a touch soapy) French red.  Tasted August 2014

Palazzo Maffei Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2011, Doc (338913, $17.95, WineAlign)

This is a massive Valpolicella, fully enriched by chocolate in countless ways, on many levels and in dry ice dreams. It’s a baby Amarone incarnate and if you are going that route, try this on instead for a mere pittance at $18. Huge wine, with exaggerated mannerisms in oak and high alcohol, though not volatile, even if the structure is value-driven pedestrian. Will work for a welcoming, big-hair crowd.  Tasted August 2014  @HHDImports_Wine

Rosehall Run Cuvée County Chardonnay 2011, VQA Prince Edward County (132928, $21.95, WineAlign)

Today Dan Sullivan’s Chardonnay concentrates on its excellence while compressing in reduction. Beyond the encapsulating abstraction there are the rocks beneath the earth and by extension, the vines of hard-working fruit. Fruit surrounded by the spice of barrel. Tasted extensively over a 24 hour period I found this walks the line, takes on all comers, hovers over and has the guts to merely sigh at the distractions. Give this Chardonnay years, more than most, perhaps even 10 plus. In 2011, Chablis trumps barrel.  Tasted August 2014  @Rosehall_Run  @sullywine

Peller Estates Private Reserve Cabernet Franc 2011, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario (598078, $21.95, WineAlign)

A touch of reduction but the thought goes straight to serious wine and attentive winemaking. The barrel is not king, the fruit big and boisterous. It’s a bit hyper-fruity, steroidal even but it is anything but thin and certainly not encumbered by process or wood. A hint of soap is a detractor admittedly, but the acumen and level of higher learning is evident and commendable. This will be a wine to look at for years to come.  Tasted August 2014  @PellerVQA

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

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

Thirty Bench Red 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (320986, $24.00, WineAlign)

Big red machine, really ahead of the class, especially in this price range, with this much stuffing. A full complement of fruit, bushy and falling just as it’s picked from the trees, not to mention quality, quality, sweet earth. This is jazzy, boozy and sparked, from ‘round midnight, smoky, exotic and global. Has the discipline of a monk to groove low and low, the stuffing and Thelonious tannin to boot. Wait for it, let the band play then give way. The solo will be fantastic.  Tasted August 2014  @ThirtyBench

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula

From left to right: Tawse Pinot Noir Growers Blend 2010, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Le Volte Dell’ornellaia 2012, Dominio De Tares Cepas Viejas Mencia 2009, Château Des Charmes Merlot St. David’s Bench Vineyard 2012, Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011, Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011 Photos: Jason Dziver, Photographer (http://www.jasondziver.com/)

Tawse Pinot Noir Growers Blend 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (284570, $26.95, WineAlign)

Where at one time the GB Pinot Noir fought among its moving parts it now sits in permanent cease-fire mode. A position that realizes warm fruit, settled wood spice and linear acidity. Needs no more scaling or ropy ascension. It has reached the planing platform and going forward will glide effortlessly back down to ground. Where it began. From my earlier October 2013, April and May 2014 notes. “Though it’s a blend of several sites, this Tawse Pinot stands alone and of itself as a grower; it grows on you after multiple tastings. The first go ’round seems simple, vintage warm and tight. Taste again and the sappy wood seeps mineral, the phenolic red cherry ripeness turns black and the tempering is led by a sweet earth kind. Earth that smoulders in a rising Zeppelin kept afloat by tobacco and the swirling spores of pungent mushroom. Pinot Noir truth and value from a Niagara house of the holy kind. “You know-whoa, that’s right.” The univocal Pender perfume permeates the Tawse stable of Pinot Noir and seems only magnified in the multiple site Grower‘s Blend. Vintage related warmth and inferable incrassation of fruit. Delves into a deep connection to disparate lands possessive of a common goal.  As if making wine is “your taste combined with all the years of wasting time.” Graceful Pinot Noir with moments touched by hot rocks, toasted red rice, a gentle smoulder and delicate grains of sand.”  Last Tasted August 2014  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Le Volte Dell’ornellaia 2012, Igt Toscana (964221, $26.95,WineAlign)

What can you say about Le Volte? Is she the most immediately rewarding, fruit forward and accessible Super Tuscan ever put on offer? Does this cuvée  of Merlot (50 per cent), Sangiovese (30) and Cabernet Sauvignon (20) offer a portal through which to peer into the future of the Ornellaia grande? From a warm but not excessively hot season, the fruit teases, like a kiss that leaves a lipstick stain on the cheek, a taste that makes you crazy and dreaming of more. Time spent in barrels once used by the matron first wine equates to a morning of chocolate, Nutella and cappuccino in the piazza. Full on, with much more texture than ever before. She is beautiful, but is her beauty fleeting? Drink over the next two to four years.  Tasted August 2014  @Ornellaia  @AuthenticWineON

Dominio De Tares Cepas Viejas Mencia 2009, Bierzo, Spain (379891, $26.95, WineAlign)

Fruit for this Bierzo is from old vines and is aged in a combination of French and American oak. An industrious rolling stone and two steps up example above and beyond for what usually passes as basic and simple Mencia. The Dominio de Tares is exactly the reason to ante up. Bierzo as a region produces exceptional quality wines at this price point but suffers a stenosis in the lower ranges. Here the intoxicating and delicious fumes are resonant of just caramelizing brown sugared fruits, formidable though sweet tannins and an enveloping that’s “all right now, in fact, it’s a gas” Displays and prances about with an incredible amount of energy and jumping jack flash. “It’s a gas, gas, gas.”  Tasted August 2014  @oenophilia1

Château Des Charmes Merlot St. David’s Bench Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (453431, $29.95, WineAlign)

The vintage does Merlot a wondrous gifting and coupled with what strikes as an unusual salinity, this is a most unique take on the Merlot perspective. In the middle vacuum what is expected takes a turn; shaken, crushed berries with chocolate shavings and brushstrokes made by a weighty utensil but in the end it returns to the vintage specific layering. Well made with caveat to and from Merlot.  Tasted August 2014  @MBosc

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

The passion from the Thomas Bachelder Niagara project has shifted into Domaine Queylus. With no disrespect to Thomas’ eponymous bottling from vineyards so nearby, the quality time has now been granted the Tradition. Here lies Mountainview and Le Petite Colline earth, here crushes Niagara cherries in hand, juice running down a clay caked forearm. Fresh and bright yet streaked by chalk and enveloping brush stroke. Sour? For a flash but in neither malic nor astringent form. This is a must buy. From my earlier June 2014 note: “Reverberates with the unmistakable calling card character of the storied Neudorf family La Petite vineyard with equal and opposite amounts of attraction and new life breathed in by the Lincoln Lakeshore fruit. Ethereally sifted earth of old meets cherries of new. Enriching Pinot Noir, a bit gangling like a primitive young giraffe but near to finding its legs. Hard working red, insistent, confident and having already paid some dirty fingernail dues. Excellent length.”  Last tasted August 2014  @QueylusVin

Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

You can take Riesling from out of the Vinemount Ridge but you can’t take Vinemount Ridge out from a Charles Baker Picone. The layers of tectonic shale and the slowly espressed fruit that swim within the waves of those layers make for the total oscillating package. Has moved nowhere, not sideways even, since last tasted, though today, from this bottle, there’s an awkward, shy adolescence. From my earlier May 2014 note: “Some sweetness now, but not in a flirting way. This will be a September VINTAGES release (with pink on the label as part of an LCBO/Princess Margaret fundraiser). Has not so much evolved but rather “come groovin’ up slowly,” since last tasted. Still got “joo joo eyeballs,” still tough in tension. Years left before it will come together, yeah.” From my earlier, October 2013 note: “does not so much pick up where cracking ’09 left off (with no offence meant to the soothing and tuneful ’10) but rather re-writes the Baker book. From the almost famous windswept vineyard atop the Vinemount Ridge, this Picone, from older Riesling plantings is crazy lively. That ’10 is now imbued with rich, oily glück. The ’11 will realize such a future, but much further along and in combination with its inborn tension. Right up there with Baker’s “perfect vintage” 2006.  Last tasted August 2014  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)

This County ’12 by Norman Hardie needs fresh air, County air and time. Leave the wine alone in bottle counted out in five years time. There is pure intensity in aerified flight. Shows length, persistence, purity, phenolic ripeness and in time will show its ability to wade across raging rivers. From my earlier April 2014 note: “Hardie’s 2012 County Pinot Noir is a beacon, a flashing light on the shore, an invitation to copycats because this is what making red wine from limestone foundations is all about. To taste this ’12 is to experience Hardie’s purest berry maceration and distillation to date. It’s as if there was no alcohol present and in fact, at 11.5 per cent it is a modest and transparent pronouncement. Longevity may not bless the ’12 as in other vintages but this is certainly the most groomed and coiffed County Pinot Noir.” From my earlier October 2013 note: “Cuts a rug with immense, stepping out juicy behaviour. It’s both turntable old-school, astatic in smooth groove rotation, but also digitally forward thinking towards a perdurable future. The nose is Norm’s most intense floral burst to date, with incredible brightness and sparkling acidity in the key of fresh plum. This brings to mind indelible Burgundy, enveloped in PEC’s warm ’12 blanket. Hardie’s measure of consistency abides in a Pinot of parity and undemanding polish.”  Last tasted August 2014  @normhardie

Good to go!

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Release the summer wine

A white wine for all seasons, Pinot Gris, by Maison Trimbach<br />

A white wine for all seasons, Pinot Gris, by Maison Trimbach
PHOTO: http://www.trimbach.fr/

These are the wines of summer.  Dry, saline Rosé made from classic varieties; Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. Crisp, flinty Riesling, turned to stone. All things Pinot. B.C. Cured Pinot Blanc struck by both juicy fruit and mouth-watering acidity. Pinot Gris from Alsace, impossibly dry. The same grape but from across the Rhine and under another name: Grauburgunder. Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County. Nothing else in the world smells like it. Smells like, teen spirit.

White wine that feigns bubbles and brings the wonder of Nova Scotia to the world. Chardonnay by a young winemaker in Ontario just coming into his own, ready to become a star. Classic varieties for summer grilling; Cabernet Sauvignon for a green day, Sangiovese to make your day, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and that melting pot of red wines, Châteauneuf Du Pape. All VINTAGES Ontario releases for July 19th. These are some of my summer wines. All 13 of them.

From left to right: Gassier Sables D'azur Rosé 2013, Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012, San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2012, Hedesheimer Hof Weingut Beck Grauer Burgunder Kabinett Trocken 2012, Trimbach Réserve Pinot Gris 2011, Keint He Portage Pinot Noir 2012

From left to right: Gassier Sables D’azur Rosé 2013, Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012, San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2012, Hedesheimer Hof Weingut Beck Grauer Burgunder Kabinett Trocken 2012, Trimbach Réserve Pinot Gris 2011, Keint He Portage Pinot Noir 2012

Gassier Sables D’azur Rosé 2013, Ac Côtes De Provence, France (33621, $14.95, WineAlign)

Always dry, dusty and salt lick oriented. A mineral bath of verdigris and rusty rainwater.  Light but all about minerals, salinity, beach and sun. What more should be requested and ascertained from value given Côtes De Provence Rosé?   Tasted June 2014  @MichelGassier

Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (372441, $18.95, WineAlign)

Noticeably dry but also earthy/funky. Struck match and plowed earth. As it settles into its skin and your consciousness it develops body, depth and acidity. Grows and expands, reaches heights you thought it would not. The vintage works wonders for the Twenty Mile Bench and this block has expansive stuffing to take it long, not to mention the earthy complexity to see it change and evolve. It may go through a disturbing, unusual phase but be patient and set one aside for 15 years from now. You will be amazed what honey and deep geology it discovers and uncovers.  Tasted June 2014  @RockwayVineyard

San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Maipo Valley, Chile (37911, $19.95, WineAlign)

When it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon, “well, I heard it all before.” This Maipo beauty begs to be different. Here is a $20 Cab with a $50 reductive funk. A heady, heavy red that needs more than just a swirl. The average Joe may smell a green day and not get it straight away. My advice would be to hang in there because with 10 minutes aeration the fresh currant, mint and rain-soaked flower aromatics will come around. And come around they do. Mocha and semi-chocolate driven, tannic like crazy and banging out a beat of crazy acidity. A ton of wine for $20.  Tasted June 2014  @Dandurandwines

Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia  (321612, $19.95, WineAlign)

Ah, terrific cool climate Pinot Blanc, with juicy acidity from a bite into a nectarine just falling from the tree. On a night like this “it goes deep, it goes deeper still,” in neo-tropical fruit (from seemingly slightly elevated alcohol). A most cured white wine, with a tannic quality that gives it texture and structure. Strike another Lloyd Braun mark on the British Columbia-Pinot Blanc free competition continuum to develop this variety with prejudice.  Seamless, with excellent length.   Tasted June 2014  @GrayMonkWinery

Hedesheimer Hof Weingut Beck Grauer Burgunder Kabinett Trocken 2012, Prädikatswein, Germany (378349, $20.95, WineAlign)

This rare Pinot Gris VINTAGES sighting is a jet-gassy funky, disparate complex mess of penciled, earthy, grassy and off-dry stone fruit aromas. It’s also viscous, distracting, and propelled by thriving acidity. While the Grauburgunder hails from the other side of the Rhine, it shares a tannic, saline and mineral affinity with the Vosges PG’s of Alsace. Lives up to its Trocken designation through a rocky impart yet seems just slightly sweet in a very Kabinett way. Herbal and long. Contemporary Prädikatswein worth a look and a more than temporary place in the cellar.  Tasted June 2014  @TandemSelection

Trimbach Réserve Pinot Gris 2011, Ac Alsace, France (971762, $23.95, WineAlign)

For Trimbach this is a top quality vintage to make an example for one of the domain’s signature value wines. This firm and straight shooting Pinot Gris comes from limestone-dominant parcels not so different from the PG taken out of the winery’s Osterberg Grand Cru, just above Ribeauvillé. That a Pinot Gris can bring a nearly (8 g/L) elevated level of residual sugar to the table and come across bone dry, like a walkabout in the outback, remains one of life’s great mysteries. Picked prudently early, or as Alsatians like to say, “right on time,” this Trimbach is eloquent, reeks of wet, cold stone and lies over an ocean tasting of salty minerals. Pour it with the freshest, uncooked fish and a light vegetable pickle. Tasted June 2014  @trimbach

Keint He Portage Pinot Noir 2012, Prince Edward County, Ontario (373415, $25.00, WineAlign)

The most juicy, fruit forward and gregarious of the estate’s Pinots. Only Keint He Pinot smells like this, in Ontario, or elsewhere for that matter. Smells like teen spirit. It really is that unique but at the same time, undeniably Pinot. Just picked and torn cherry blossom petals and bitter chocolate dust strewn overtop fresh macerated cherries. Further coated with iron fillings. “And I forget just why I taste, oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile.” Prince Edward County Pinot Noir on the road to nirvana.  Tasted June 2014  @KeintheWinery

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $25.95, WineAlign)

From a bumper crop, there came to market 11,000 cases of this Nova Scotian feel good, faux-sparkling story. Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers’ Nova 7 dissimulation in bubbles is a true trick of the trade and though this white wine strikes as if it were a child of a warm vintage, there is a classic lightness of Rosé fizz being in its ever so slight effervescence. A singular wine in many hybrid incarnations, in Muscat ways, of pink Perle de Csaba, segmented and pressed for a sweet burst of grapefruit. It’s low (7 per cent) in alcohol, excellent in acidity, sweet and sour, citrus zesty, juicy and dry at the same time. Batch delineated and loyal to continence, though if the quantity creeps much higher that may come in to question. Grown up pink lemonade and so easy to consume.  Tasted June and July 2014  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

From left to right: Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2010, Cave Spring Riesling Csv 2011, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, Château Les Gravières 2010, Paul Autard Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010

From left to right: Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2010, Cave Spring Riesling Csv 2011, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, Château Les Gravières 2010, Paul Autard Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010

Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2010, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (285510, $27.95, WineAlign)

The entry of Dei’s balanced Vino Nobile was very juicy but at the same time serious and brooding. At first rhythmic, tight and anxious, you couldn’t but help but feel the strong mocker of this Sangiovese. Iron, hard rocks, knocks and a day in medieval life. If it should be opened any time in the next five years it will require a rare fleshy partner and plenty of air time. Though there was nothing faint about it, with time it found a path to a crescendo and then changed chords. It sang like a bird for a verse or two, softened enough to open a window to its future and when it spoke “I went into a dream.” Finished with a piano bass note that droned on for nearly a minute.  Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Cave Spring Riesling Csv 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario  (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

The 2011 issue is the driest, slate-driven, flinty Cave Spring Csv as it can ever be. Don’t be looking at its heart for richness and body but there is a wall of texture forged in stone. The Csv speaks “of everything that is alive in my blue world.” One taste and all goes electric, lights up and the orchestra begins to play. Turn the stone of this statuesque Riesling to drink in the long and true loyalty to ever fibre and fissure of its rocky being. Excellent. What more could you expect, or want?  Tasted June 2014  @CaveSpring

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (33936, $30.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Sébastien Jacquey’s “entry-level” Chardonnay currently resides in a bitten and certainly not shy mode. The 2011 is a Villages Reserve that is in a bit of a purgatorial place at the moment, closed down since its grand opening last summer. The rocks are speaking, as is the hubris of wood, but the fruit is up there, wafting in the proverbial wind. Let it blow and gather atmosphere, to return two or three years on, to reintegrate with the earthly elements and reform a convivial bond.  Tasted June 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Château Les Gravières 2010, Ac Saint-Émilion, Right Bank, Bordeau, France (257733, $36.85, WineAlign)

Highly concentrated, big berry crushed Saint-Émilion. Floral too and the fruits are exquisitely ripe and red. There is great tension and acidity. Crazy tannins. Exceptional wine but will need 15 years time to settle, integrate and play nice. Qualifies as the finest 14 per cent Bordeaux I’ve tasted in quite some time. A wild sense of mineral and animale climb on top. Highly ferric. Really fine.  Tasted June 2014

Paul Autard Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010, Ac, Rhône, France (380667, $49.95, WineAlign)

A refreshingly lithe and graceful 14.5 percent Châteauneuf Du Pape with every bit of richness necessary to fulfill its contract to typicity. Just a hint of both earth and animal musk, demanding tannin and more than its share of rocks and mineral give. A real winner for the vintage and in fresh air contrast to the gaining ridiculousness of extract and over-bearing alcohol-driven Rhônes. This might just be the bottle to reaffirm my waning faith in the region.  Tasted June 2014

Good to go!

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