Why we’re always tasting Australia

Why is godello so pleased? #grenache @Wine_Australia @vintageMD and @Caplansky that’s why.

Mark Davidson, that’s why. We taste Australian wines with thanks to the intrepid Wine Australia ambassador, traveller and purveyor of everything you could ever want to know about that country’s wine scene. Davidson passes through our Toronto parts on manifold missions each calendar year and graces our collective wine writer-meets sommelier soul with non bottle-o Aussie bounty, not oft tasted before. In mutual abide our local agents are always willing to throw some gems into Mark’s mix and our finest restos lay out the food-matching compliments to accede the most excellent of wine tasting gatherings.

The last three sessions took place in June 2018, February 2018 and September 2017. For that September get together we convened at Caplansky’s Deli for a Smoked Meat and Grenache Lunch. “Pastrami to me smells like grenache,” says Davidson in candid equation. “Drink some and eat some meat.” In 2015 there were 1500 hectares of the varietal under vine, this compared to 44,000 of shiraz. On its agriculture in Australia he added “if you leave it untended it will go blowsy and slutty.” What about wood? “I don’t think new oak works with grenache. It dominates it.” These are my notes on the eight wines.

Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2015, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

There is nothing here to raise an eyebrow’s moment of a suspicious mind. What you taste is what you get. Pure grenache. Tangy and spicy, fresh and walking with an easy stride. The youngest vineyard is from 1972 so that explains the confidence and yes, you can call this old vine, said with a wry smile. Really smart and teachable wine. When it comes to grenache, “we can’t build our dreams, on suspicious minds.” Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2017  @yalumbawine  breakthrubevcanada  @yalumba  @BreakthruBev  yalumbawine  @BreakthruBeverageCanada

Alpha Box & Dice Grenache Tarot 2016, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $24.99, WineAlign)

Lighter style by way of a McLaren Vale mentality. Perhaps like somebody that I used to know the “death card” is a resurrective grenache to “chuck in the fridge and drink it,” as per the suggestion of Dylan Fairweather. But it’s really something else, comforting, helpful. Like Gotye, “a friendly face will bring you around and you’ll feel better.” This is a solidly pressed grenache with some cured, curative meaty notes, just where the varietal tendency should lead. “Better than before.” Drink 2017-2019. Tasted September 2017  alphaboxdice  awsmwest  @AlphaBoxDice  @AuthenticWineON  @alphaboxdice  @awsmon

d’Arenberg The Custodian Grenache 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia (713040, $19.95, WineAlign)

This grenache may straight out remind “but what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game.” Place, name and grape all combine for notoriety, perhaps controversy but certainly greatness. The iconic house of d’Arenberg is the grenache custodian for McLaren Vale, the keeper of nearly one third of the region’s varietal vines. The process includes foot-treading, which does not make it old school as much as it presses the idea that human intervention is very much a part of the wine. The basket press adds to the beggar’s banquet gentility of the Custodian’s mystery, a deeply satisfying grenache of wealth and place. This is the juiciest of juicy grenache vintages, perfectly tart and sweet like candy for the soul. At four years of age the balance is struck and the evolution just right for current enjoyment. A rolling stone that will stand the test of time, one plus one bottle at a time. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted August and September 2017   darenbergwine  churchillcellars  @darenbergwine  @imbibersreport  @darenbergwine  @imbibersreport

Chapel Hill Bush Vine Grenache 2014, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $35.95, WineAlign)

Showing more than a major amount of fruit than most in a flight of eight grenache. Creamy, full of textured elements, tart and graced by a ying-yang of tenebrous-generous tannins. The ripeness is run through raised and chalky, like a mineral feel, searing at moments but mostly in a just so it happens or it happened way. Plenty of joy, curiosity and obfuscation. Give it a year or more to continue finding its course. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2017  chapelhillwine  chartonhobbs  @chapelhillwine  @ChartonHobbs  @ChapelHillWine

Kilikanoon Prodigal Grenache 2013, Clare Valley, South Australia (482547, $20.95, WineAlign)

From 80-90 hectares in the Clare. Kevin Mitchell’s bigger style is evident but not compared to 10 years earlier. Now in control of tangy grace and tempered volume. Needed six months to continue its settling and will only continue to improve.  Last tasted September 2017   kilikanoonwines  chartonhobbs  @kilikanoonwines  @ChartonHobbs  @KilikanoonWines

The fruit works well with the soil, sharing equal time in the sandbox and the acidity takes time to unfold but when it does, it comes smiling candid and sweet. A fine grenache and typically Clare Valley, perhaps more than what it offers in terms of varietal representation. Otherwise unexciting meaning easy to like and consume. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted February 2017

Oldest #grenache vines in Australia is one thing, über religiously delicious @cirillo1850wine juice another #barossavalley #ancestorvines

Cirillo 1850s Grenache 2011, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $69.00, WineAlign)

Australia’s oldest grenache vines provide the setting, architecture and unfathomable bestowal for a singular standard of grenache. So what does it all mean? First there is the lighter, cooler vintage setting the stage for this queued up, cued slice of Barossa history. In most respects this is grenache prone to and prepared for drought vintages, preserving a guarantee of tannic structure. Sure, it may be seen as well beyond perhaps but six years forward offers more than enough information and explanation. This is simply beautiful, just and enlightening. Flowing, plum ripe, melting, liquorice, smack piquant, mellowing and so bloody cool. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted September  2017 cirilloestatewines  bokkewines  @Cirillo1850wine  @bokkewines  Cirillo 1850 Estate  Marco Cirillo  @BokkeInc

Jauma Grenache Gramp Ant 2015, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $54.95, WineAlign)

This one’s for their kids’ grandfather, Grandpa Antony, a grenache sourced from the best corners of their McLaren Vale Foreman block and Blewitt Springs Genovese Vineyard. The James Erskine and Fiona Wood “keep me satisfied, please keep me calm, keep me pacified” grenache. Renders sulphur and volatility into must with magic and preservation. Old plantings (to the 1970s) offer the prospect of a whole cluster, 40 days on skins raising. It smells and tastes like the scrapings and peelings of plums, peaches, apples, cherry and cranberry. The concentration factor is spiked by anise and tonic bitters, working out the kinks and comfortably leaving an aftertaste of pure finessed liqueur. There is no question in my mind that of the two, Gramp Ant is not merely superior to Like Raindrops but is so much more fun to drink. From thirst to appetite. “Sitting by the riverside.” Drink 2019-2025. Tasted September 2017  jaumawines  thelivingvine  @JaumaWines  @TheLivingVine  James Danby Erskine  The Living Vine inc.

Ochota Barrels The Fugazi Vineyard Grenache 2014, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Agent, $57.95, WineAlign)

A different look for Australian reds and connective with Tool’s James Maynard Keenan but if Post-Punk, Prog-Rock grenache is what you’re after than this Tolken Silmarillion Fugazi is the one for you. Its fruit spent 80 days on skins and the resulting whole bunch umami resides in an MDMA-Ecstasy-Fugazi realm. Clean, pure and of a transparency that speaks to the realism of the dream. It’s bloody juicy and anything but messed up beyond recognition. In fact it speaks to the opposite of the nomenclature. “Do you realize, this world is totally fugazi?” Great wines like these are the head, the voice and the heart. Maybe even the prophet, the visionary, the poet and the sentimental mercenary. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted September 2017  ochotabarrels  thelivingvine    @TheLivingVine @Ochota Barrels  The Living Vine inc.

In February 2018 Mark hosted a tasting of 12 (mostly) alternative varietals at George Brown College. It began with the Clare Valley, once a massive mountain range, now an extension of the loft mountain ranges and just shy of a great outback. It’s an amazing micro-climate with huge diurnal temperature changes, It can be 40 degrees during the day in peak growing season and five at night. “There is dew and there is this revival process that happens with riesling.” Here are the notes.

There are seminars and there are elucidative @vintageMD seminars. The oracle of @wine_australia has been illuminated

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2017, Clare Valley, South Australia (SAQ 10956022, $50.00, WineAlign)

Grosset’s riesling at Polish Hill Vineyard was planted in 1981, young for Australia, on limestone, shale and clay, underneath of which is 10,000,000 year-old blue slate. Austere when young, usually, it’s fleshier and more floral than limey but as always, it acquiesces the crisp, clear and cut brilliance Jeffrey Grosset expects and suspects Clare Valley riesling just is, or at least must be. So the choice is yours, enjoy it now because it can be, wait on its sneaky persistence or wait 20 years after you’ve tired of imagining the possibilities. Wait at least five for the screwcap to loosen and the riesling to abide as if. It’s pretty clear this is a forbearer clarified by a crystalline vintage. Drink 2021-2036.  Tasted February 2018  grossetwines  @GrossetWines  @GrossetWines

Pewsey Vale The Contours Old Vine Riesling 2012, Eden Valley, South Australia (Agent, $42.00, WineAlign)

Originally planted in 1847, passed through challenges, purchased by the Hill-Smith family and re-planted in 1961. This includes fruit from that original block, the “contoured site,” hence the name. Here five years on with some first developed character, with the airy, gassy (or Rose’s lime marmalade to an Australian ambassador), lemon-lime citrus spray ringing the inside of the glass. It’s a salty gas-powered riesling with innate Barossa ability to move forward with deceptive speed. This fin-slicing vapour trail of tonic and fine bitters is a personality I would gladly draught in for a bottle or more. One of the finest acidities of any wine on the planet. This is still the current release and that’s just perfect. Drink 2018-2027.  Last tasted February 2018

From vines originally planted in 1847, here is Riesling worthy of the longest run on sentence. Riesling of conventional wisdom from a cold, windy, chilly place, pricked with holes, atomized infiltrations, queued with basic intent, wise, driven, young, gaseous, of concentrated rage, bone dry and no, it does not feign sweetness, even if the texture makes nefarious attempts at confusing the palate. A decade on this will blow your mind, if you let it. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted at the Langton’s Classification Seminar, February 2016  pewseyvalevineyard  breakthrubevcanada  @PewseyVale  @BreakthruBev  @pewseyvalevineyard  @pewseyvalevineyard  @BreakthruBeverageCanada

Ochota Barrels Chardonnay The Stint Vineyard 2016, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Agent, $57.95, WineAlign)

Chardonnay out of the Stint Vineyard is from Lenswood in the hills in surround of Adelaide, up to elevations of almost 600 metres. It’s really about site exposure, and undulations, but to be honest it does little at first to tell me that is noses as chardonnay because there is a layer of impregnable wax and forest wall. Impenetrable because it’s so verdant, equally distributable and obscured by clouds. Picked on acid, as in profile, not elevation, cloudy because of no filtration. Likely 20 year-old fruit and if you consider this as funk you’ve not quite been listening to the right beats. The funk will only get better. Ochota Barrels repping the Basket Range Collective with a side of Rolling Stones. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted February 2018  ochotabarrels  thelivingvine    @TheLivingVine  @Ochota Barrels  The Living Vine inc.

Murdoch Hill Artisan Sulky Blanc 2016, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Winery, $62.95, WineAlign)

From winemaker Michael Downer the blend is riesling (50 per cent), sauvignon blanc (30) and pinot gris (20), left on skins, sent to barrel and also to tank. For an ambitious white it’s got remarkable entry-level gulpability. It’s an appellative blend built on acidity and so into the combinative texture. What you feel in the end is the alcohol, in a boozy warmth that hovers, broods and compresses climate like a rainforest village above the clouds. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018   murdochhill_wines  @Murdoch_Hill  @murdochhillwine

Angove Family Vineyards Shiraz-Grenache Warboys Vineyard 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia (537209, $46.00, WineAlign)

No matter where you are in the throes of this blend there is a maritime influence and in a way, a Mediterranean-like feeling, with plum, black olive and brine. It’s saltier and more ferric than a Rhône syrah-grenache (plus likely one with mourvèdre) and it feels more like shiraz than grenache because of the grip, vintage-driven or not. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted February 2018   angovewine  churchillcellars  @AngoveWine  @imbibersreport  @AngoveWine  @imbibersreport

Henschke Henry’s Seven 2015, Barossa Valley, South Australia (685578, $42.95, WineAlign)

Shiraz is co-fermented with viognier, deciding the direction with holes and angles filled then lined by the grenache and the mataro. It’s floral, by flowers but also the leafiness that comes from raspberry and strawberry plants. Smells like fruit compost, sweet and savoury, Great acids and fine tannins. Really composed and grippy to delicious pile to be happy having consumed. Will be ideal in 18 months, give or take no time at all. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted February 2018   henschke  breakthrubevcanada  @henschkewine  @BreakthruBev  @HenschkeWine  @BreakthruBeverageCanada

D’arenberg The Derelict Vineyard Grenache 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

If there is a juicier, riper or more gregarious nose on a grenache anywhere I’d like to know. Which is all the more surprising considering the level of grippy tannin that comes around to knock you upside the cerebral cortex. Fascinating wine, always and with perpetual craziness. The old derelict vineyard strikes again. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted February 2018   darenbergwine  churchillcellars  @darenbergwine  @imbibersreport  @darenbergwine  @imbibersreport

John Duval Wines Grenache Annexus 2016, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $85.00, WineAlign)

There is certainly less immediacy and perhaps generosity but in its taut aromatic quietude there is this dusty, savoury fennel feeling going on. It is very much a grenache expressed in a vein like pinot noir, then again not really, but there is a skin-rubbed, umami quality about how it develops in the glass. It’s both forceful and virile. Duval does grenache in Barossa like Pommard in the Beaune. Warm climate and litheness get together at a grenache crossroads for firm if wonderful balance. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted February 2018   johnduvalwines  breakthrubevcanada  @JohnDuvalWines  @BreakthruBev  @johnduvalwinesbarossa  @BreakthruBeverageCanada

Delinquente Wine Company Vermentino Screaming Betty 2017, Riverland, South Australia (Agent, $20.00, WineAlign)

It’s by now safe to call vermentino an “emerging variety” for South Australia, here from Riverland off some of the 120 total hectares planted. You just know it’s vermentino but you also know it’s not grown along the Ligurian coast. It’s so bloody big, aromatically fruity and full of dry extract, wants to be savoury, but it’s more of a light charcoal sensation. That and an essential oil distilled through cookie dough, with white chocolate and peach. It’s tannic without being grippy and in the end, dry as the desert. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018   delinquentewineco  bespokewineandspirits  @BespokeWines  @delinquentewineco  Matt Wolman

Paxton Graciano 2016, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $26.99, WineAlign)

Rarely does an Australian red climb up to the tonal heights of this McLaren Vale graciano but there it is in the rare, aerified air, with red berries and their leaves. Steps into the Riverland, light, gives away this gulpable Kombucha in a flat out tart and quenching drink. Lovely at 11 per cent alcohol, high acidity and a pinch of residual sugar. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018   paxtonwines  noble_estates  @paxtonwines  @Noble_Estates  @PaxtonWines  @NobleEstates

Brash Higgins Nero D’avola Amphora Project 2016, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $51.95, WineAlign)

Part of the amphoric project of Brad Hickey, raised in 200L amphorae, the volatility is but a whisper, way more calculated than careless. A full come about turn away from the previous Riverland Graciano this digs deep into the soil for a funky nero d’avola, far away from the caky Sicilian style and now under the auspices of perspiring glands. It’s not nearly as dense and intense you’d think it might be, nor is it so very varietally obvious, but it’s level of intrigue meeting with the need to get in my mouth is the stuff of lyrical innocence inspiration. Nero, nero on the wall, who’s the coolest Vale of all? Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted February 2018   brashhiggins  thelivingvine  @BrashHiggins  @TheLivingVine  @BrashHigginsWine  The Living Vine inc.

Alpha Box & Dice Dolcetto Dead Winemaker’s Society 2016, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

The name refers to an industry drinking session where you bring a wine made by a winemaker no longer alive and who was influential on you. From two vineyards (Paddock and Christmas Hill), southeast facing, 50-50 pick, fermented separately, all in old oak (as opposed to the 50 per cent in stainless from 2015). A much fresher vintage so thus the decision making. Such a ripe and joyful dolcetto should be every winemaker’s dream and it shows where the area first settled by Italians this variety and others like it would have been in the ground from the get go. Sour cherry and pomegranate, currants and all things citrus, red and ripping gather for great light possibilities. Surprisingly dry and tannic at the finish. Really just a joy. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018   alphaboxdice  awsmwest  @AlphaBoxDice  @AuthenticWineON  @alphaboxdice  @awsmon

Vintage MD time ~ #pinotandporchetta @archive909 ~ welcome back Mark

In June of 2018 we connected with Mark once again, this time at Archive Wine Bar for pinot noir and porchetta. We travelled through eight from the 2015 and 2016 vintages.

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2016, Yarra Valley, South Australia (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)

A steeped black meets rooibos tea enters and opens before black cherry, orange and marmalade deliver the message of a three-fold schist-clay-volcanic earthiness. It’s a full combing in 2016, valley floor, lower and upper slope all contributing to character, structure and acidity. Bigger vintage than 2015 with a wealth of fruit and it will improve in a year. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted June 2018   #coldstreamhills  markanthonyon    @MarkAnthonyWine  @coldstreamhillswinery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Montalto Pinot Noir Pennon Hill 2016, Mornington Peninsula, Australia (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Lifted, higher and higher, sitting on a plateau built upon an acid structure squeezed from red currants and bled from stone. Also a slight cured salumi note mixed with wet concrete. Great palate presence and persistence, repeatable, replaying phenolics purely currant and with more electric current from leafy savour. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted June 2018  montaltovineyardandolivegrove  @montaltowine  @montaltovineyard

Dalrymple Pinot Noir 2015, Tasmania, Australia (Agent, $49.95, WineAlign)

Tougher nut to crack with a bit of a muted nose. Dalrymple is a Yalumba property in cool Tasmania and when this airs it brings spice first and foremost. Add to that some garrigue, fresh tea leaf and salumi savour. Sweeter fruit to taste, of watermelon and red apple plus cherry fruit and a slight pith. Pretty intense, inward and impressionistic pinot noir. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted June 2018  dalrymplevineyards  breakthrubevcanada  @DalrympleWine @BreakthruBev  @DalrympleVineyards  @BreakthruBeverageCanada

Bindi Pinot Noir Dixon 2015, Macedon Ranges, Australia (Winery, $85.00, WineAlign)

The Bindi Dixon Pinot Noir is based upon declassified grapes from the Original Vineyard planted in 1988 and grapes from the new Block K, planted in 2001. Crazy horse nose in the way that other varieties of the world will do, or at least try and simulate when they want to be pinot noir. Especially Italian varieties, like nerello mascalese, dolcetto, perricone and montepulciano. This is a natural leader for grape wishes like those of the lesser known. Very wise from the start, from birth, from creation with more savour and salumi then so many wannabe realists. There is a beautiful raw pasta dough note and then an exotica by fruit that isn’t really nameable. If this is the de-class from Michael Dhillon I’d like to meet the classified. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted June 2018  bindiwines  @Bindiwines  Michael Dhillon

Makers’ cool pinot noir warmth from regional @wineaustralia as explained by the man, @vintagemarkdavo

Wicks Estate Pinot Noir 2017, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Agent, $25.95, WineAlign)

Lovely balance from the word yes by Wicks in a straightforward pinot noir expression with no agenda and no ulterior motive. It’s very forward, outwardly fruity and if basic, so be it because it really works. Some elevation (450-500m) makes a difference, bringing lift and cool tones to the ripe, sweeter and weighty warmth of magnanimous fruit. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted June 2018 wicksestate  azureau    @azureau  @wicksestate  @azureauwinesandspirits

Yering Station Village Pinot Noir 2015, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia (552166, $24.95, WineAlign)

Lifted into appropriate levels of volatility and ripe acidity the balance is struck by wide-ranging Yarra Valley fruit layering away and tempering the tonic coming from the tannin. Big bones and spirit for so little is quite the combination.  Last tasted May 2018

The Yarra Valley is pinot noir, for so many great reasons and Yering Station knows a thing or two about the connection. The brightness of acidity and tart cherry fruit meet with a sour edginess and sweet textural coverings to bring some sunshine to a dreary day. This is Victoria, cool and edgy in the grand scheme of Aussie reds but in the end, very true and correct for varietal and place. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted June 2018  yeringstation  noble_estates  @yeringstn  @Noble_Estates  @YeringStation  @NobleEstates

Woodside Park Pinot Noir 2016, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (47828, $20.95, WineAlign)

A rush of the juiciest Adelaide Hills pinot noir red fruit plays from the Woodside Park, a wine of breeze and potentially, so many memories. There is an early note of understanding, like a riff that reminds of childhood and in a way how wine knows how it will come to eventually be, even when its still so young. It’s this rustic, old world sensibility, with dried fruit, leathery to cedar forest feelings and a rustic cure. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted August 2017 and June 2018   #woodsidepark  nicholaspearcewines  @Nicholaspearce_   Nicholas Pearce

Ochota Barrels Pinot Noir Impeccable Disorder 2016, Piccadilly, South Australia (Agent, $99.95, WineAlign)

Impeccable disorder or as I like to call it conventional dysfunction. It’s a late picked pinot noir from one of winemaker Taras’ cooler sights, not so much a regional Piccadilly snapshot as much as realistic dystopian universality. Lifted volatility, pure orange juice and whole bunch pressing add up to wild rides through a flat earth. It’s like seeing things in 3D without glasses or drugs. It’s filmmaking in a glass and it tastes like pinot noir should, not as it does. Wrapped so tight, chewy, chalky and its own tonic-twisted, shaken and stirred cocktail in a glass. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted June 2018   ochotabarrels  thelivingvine    @TheLivingVine  The Living Vine inc.

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Sonoma peaks from out of the fog

Sonoma Coast Photo (c): http://www.sonomawine.com/

Sonoma Coast
Photo (c): http://www.sonomawine.com/

Sonoma County is so massive a wine region it’s really quite futile to take account of a singular, defining personality. Diversity of wine styles and viticultural approaches are what elucidate Sounty County and its 16 AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas). That much is true but the sheer geographical scope of California’s coastline, inward valleys and mountain vineyards make it all but impossible to distill the entire region into one simplified and understood junction of compounding synchronisms.

Imagine Sonoma in terms of soils and geology the way the Clare Valley and Barossa are making plans to split their vineyards into new sub-regions. “Rather than create a hierarchical system, proponents say the plans are part of a cultural shift in Australia’s wine industry that seeks to make technology in the cellar subservient to geological understanding and vineyard management.” Though erroneously, people talk about Sonoma wines as being the same, as sharing a commonality that allows for overused generalizations.

Sonoman varietals need to be characterized by an interpretation of sundry realities. Pinot Noir loses focus when simply labeled “Sonoma County.” Its actuality is much more specific than that. Dutton Goldfield’s Pinot Noir is a prime example; not exactly Russian River Valley nor Sonoma Coast. If its vineyard and those of countless hundreds of others were pinned down into a more micro-specific locale of soil and geology, justice might be served. Yet through all the talk of fining sub-appellations there is one constant in Sonoma. There is one manifest vital spark that runs through all of its fiords and chords, spuming with an irrepressible puissance. Fog.

Growing grapes in Sonoma is all about the fog cycle prone zone, warm by day, cool by night. Grapes above the fog line on the mountain ranges and upper reaches have the highest chance of ripening. Wind screams in between the mountains and through the valleys to dry out the vines and protect them from disease. The region lies at the western edge of a hyperbolic, tectonic geology, causing not only earthquakes but also dramatically different soil structures. From out of this super active geology, this volcanic action and this movement of tectonic plates, is a cool climate viticulture along 100 km’s of Pacific Coast frontage.

The cool nights and days that rarely get oppressively hot (above 26-28 degrees celsius) contribute to layers of oceanic fog that creep into Sonoma’s interior valleys through numerous spots like the Petaluma Gap. The Russian River, meandering through a lush valley of vineyards, provides a conduit pulling fog through Healdsburg and into the Alexander Valley, as well as forming its own appellation.

Sonoma native Elizabeth Linhart Veneman, author of Moon Travel Guides, sums up Sonoma’s fog in one fell swoop statement: “Perhaps no aspect of the weather here is more important.” Then there is the most amazing time lapse video shot by Nicole Tostevin of Tostevin Design. Tostevin (not to be and to be confused with Tastevin, which means a taste of a wine and a small, shallow cup or saucer with a reflective surface, traditionally used by winemakers and sommeliers when judging the maturity of wine) was born in San Francisco. She is a 5th Generation Californian living in West Marin; she’s an independent freelance artist, interactive art director and motion graphics animator. The video titled, “Sonoma Morning Fog Dance” was shot using time lapse footage of The Anvil Ranch in the Annapolis Valley in Sonoma County, California.

This time last year, in November 2013, San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné wrote, “today, the state of the art for Pinot Noir – along with Chardonnay and, to some extent, Syrah and even Cabernet – has shifted into the coastal fog lands.” Green Valley is defined by fog. Fog discourse and computerized, animated maps are front and centre on the AVA’s website. “Green Valley is the first place where the fog comes in and the last place where it burns off, making it the coolest, foggiest part of the Russian River Valley.”

Walmart's Sonoma Fog Area Rug

Walmart’s Sonoma Fog Area Rug

Sonoma fog can even be defined as a colour, like Siena brick red, or at the very least as a style. At Walmart you can buy a “Sonoma Fog Area Rug.” The mist of California’s coast has even had a couple of cocktails conceived in its name. The Sonoma Fog and Sonoma Fog Vinotini are sweet and sour variations on the Kamikaze or the Cosmopolitan, using Grapefruit and Icewine.

Sonoma’s fog is a stern exertion of soda and salt and when its atomic dipoles get together to dance with ripe grapes and the puffy gaieties of yeast, the syntagmatic rearrangement in the region’s wines are all the merrier and made most remarkably interesting. Fog complicates and makes complex the ferments from Sonoma’s hills and valleys. The second fiddle status to Napa Valley’s hugeness is both ridiculous and absurd. Sonoma Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is already known for its kinetic inquisitiveness but other varieties are also gaining major traction. Cabernet Sauvignon, when ripened upwards of that fog and yet inextricably linked to the miasma, gains a level of synergistically precipitated elaboration that blows Napa out of the water.

WineAlign's John Szabo MS says Sonoma County "is this big."

WineAlign’s John Szabo MS says Sonoma County “is this big.”

Sonoma Vintners came to Toronto’s ROM for a trade tasting on October 9, 2014. With the ever resourceful moderator John Szabo MS of WineAlign at the microphone and nine winery representatives on hand to speak of their land, Sonoma was defended, savoured and celebrated. Here are notes on the 10 wines presented.

Sonoma County at the ROM

Sonoma County at the ROM

Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée 2006, Carneros (Agent, $37.00 – winery)

The brand was developed for the 1987 visit of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain. Seventeen base wines were blended to create the final (66 per cent Pinot Noir and 34 Chardonnay) cuvée. The Chardonnay is planted on lower sloped with deeper soil and the Pinot nicked from locales higher up where it’s rocky and volcanic. “Oh they’re ready for a tussle.” The immediate query is how can it act so fresh? Aged 7 years, the incongruous to electric power is mind altering, though the reaction in the seminar room is muted and should instead be filled with oohs and ahhs…am I wrong? Intense wine, highly lactic and dancing on tongues. Citrus, ginger, pear and Pinot length from the rockpile. And so it goes.   @GloriaFerrer

Quivira Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County (Agent, $15 – winery)

Quivira’s expressive Sauvignon Blanc sells for a song what with its high level of minerality from gravelly soils, typical of Dry Creek Valley. Low acidity, and a quietude of heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds comes aided by a musky, Musqué SB clone. The terroir and the grapes speak for themselves, mostly out of stainless steel, with a bit of neutral oak, plus Acacia barrels, for texture. All in all, there is an elevated pattern of harmony. Biodynamic since 2006, Marketing Director Andrew Figelman notes, “going through biodynamic is like going through an IRS audit.” And worth it in the end.   @quivirawinery  @KylixWines

La Crema Chardonnay Saralee’s Vineyard 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma (Agent, $39 if it were available – winery)

So notable from the get go is this SV Chardonnay’s possessiveness of a muscular rhythm, where oak meets butter. High quality fruit comes from Saralee’s Block 89, a gravelly loam, with less vigorous vines and of course, much fog. Nine months in one third new French oak and a generous, if in check, 13.9 per cent alcohol.  A mere 500 cases are produced of this new and titillating brand. Much orchard fruit on the nose, mineral on the palate and a wrapping of lemon curd. Has chalk and grain. La Crema’s (Ontario-born) winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas has teased us. “You can taste it but you can’t buy it,” Just don’t call it creamy.  @LaCremaWines  @bwwines

Patz & Hall Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County  (Agent, $56, WineAlign)

The Dutton’s have owned the farm for more than a hundred years and have been serious about viticulture for the last 40 or so. The fluffy, porous soils are composed of Goldridge loams, in which moisture runs right through. There is very little if any precipitation making this a sort of “dust bowl” Chardonnay, from five different sites. Distinctive, exotic, old vines give a Muscat-like character, plus mineral and structure. It reminds of a mildly spiced Gingerbread cookie on a dry, cold winter day. The Dutton receives the same elevage treatment as their other 13 Chardonnays; it’s the land that’s different. “We’re allowing these wines to be different by virtue of the terroir,” notes Donald Patz. This is mildly restrained in many ways. A very balanced wine, full of class.  @PatzHall  @TrialtoON

Dutton Goldfield Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley (Winery, $72)

From the Estate’s 1996 planted Freestone Hill Vineyard, from the middle reach (far southwest corner) of the Russian River Valley, a full-on sunshine of fruit spent 17 recondite months in 55 per cent new oak. The resulting door affronting 13.8 per cent alcohol is a so very, if anoetic welcome mat. The Dutton family were the local pioneers. Says Warren Dutton, “if I can ripen apples, surely I can ripen Chardonnay or Pinot Noir,” Ripe red apples and a savoury candy shell have turned to grapes with aid in influence from the Petaluma Wind Gap, in an accruing of elegance and finesse from high acids and low sugars. If the common feeling is that it’s difficult to ripen fruit in this region, the bar must have been set to beanstalk heights. The Freestone Vineyard (which is almost in the Sonoma Coast appellation) is colder even than Green Valley, with an elevation just above the fog, for even ripening margins. The Duttons thought the vineyard not too cold for Pinot Noir, a thought even more astute than the idea of ripening coconuts in Fiji. This really is unadulterated Pinot, from a process that included (20 per cent) whole berry fermentation. The simple elevage turned into a simple yet complex result, with high toned fruit character, tangy black cherry, really fine grain tannin and acidity. Length is ascending and enveloping, from the hill.  @DuttonGoldfield

Buena Vista Pinot Noir 2011, Carneros (304105, $24.95, WineAlign)

Buena Vista was California’s first commercial winery, dating back to 1857. Winemaker and Sonoma native Brian Maloney, formerly of De Loach Vineyards crafted this tight and bracing Pinot Noir from the cooler vintage. The vintage may have been a result of global chaos but the wine is an unmitigated success.  From my earlier, August 2014 note: “This is really quite impressive Pinot Noir. Fastidiously judged if bullish fruit having way too much fun, causing varietal envy amongst other price category peers. Clearly fashioned from stocks of quality fruit, providing an environment for the coming together of many red berries and the earth of contiguous vines. All roads lead to a grand palate marked by exotic, spicy and righteous fleet of wood tones. I wonder if I’m in over my head and tell it “your mood is like a circus wheel, you’re changing all the time.” Quite something this MacPinot specimen and though I wonder if it’s a bit too much, it always seems to have an answer and it sure feels fine.” Tasted blind at World Wine Awards of Canada.  Last tasted October 2014  @BuenaVistaWines  @TandemSelection

Seghesio Zinfandel Rockpile 2011, Sonoma County (Winery, $38)

From three ridgetop vineyards 1,200 feet above Dry Creek Valley; Westphall Ranch, Porcini Hill and Mauritson. Rockpile comes from the late 1880’s, founded by the local Sherrif Tennessee Bishop. Prisoners broke up rocks to make roads and they called it the rock pile. Near extreme elevation matters deeply in this wine, as do three clones, all in the name of layers of flavour. There is a massive waft of florality in Rockpile and a Zinessence that can only be Seghesio. A large yet somehow fog-tempered cool wine, the result of a unique marriage between an altitudinous though indispensable Sonoma climate. Fresh ground spices join the flowers at the hands of winemaker Ted Seghesio. To the palate and texture the wine turns a boisterous phrase, with natural acidity and that structure is defined by tannin and personality. There is heat, a bit of a heavy grain and lifted alcohol though it carries it well. “Veraison thinning is key,” notes Pete Seghesio. Narrowing the harvest window by removing berries from the double sorting table is practiced, along with halting the brix from rising at the hands of hydrating raisins releasing sugars during fermentation. The must is weighed down a touch, even if the practice in fear is just one of splitting hairs, as obviously this has everything Zin needs to be fresh and elastic. “If you miss Zinfandel by five days you have Port,” admits Seghesio. The 2011 got it right.  @seghesio

Kunde Family Estate Zinfandel 2012, Sonoma Valley (965921, $24.95, WineAlign)

Rich and utilitarian to a fundamental degree. Nothing but plum delicious, instilled with structure, tannin and early acidity. More spice and less florals by way of red volcanic rock soil, interspersed with a bit of sand and clay. Winemaker Zach Long is very specific about “that harvest moment” so Kunde’s Zinfandel can never be accused of hanging too long or cheating on the wrong side of ripeness. Cold soaks for five days with a low and slow, geek’s native yeast add layers of complexity to the ferment. With a peppering of Petit Sirah in the mix this has more tar, char and less brightness. It actually leans to black cherry, in Pinot-like dulcet tones which, in that particular direction, is a good thing. The only deterrent in the SV ’12 is a waning of finishing acidity at the end.  @KundeEstate  @imbibersreport

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County (943472, $89.95, WineAlign)

International Sales Manager Vivien Gay introduces the Silver Oak by talking about the Alexander Valley as being the most fully planted AVA in Sonoma. This ’10 is warm and intense, hot to nose, potentially volatile, like a bouquet of hacksaws. Dusty, full-on mulberry fruit is indicative of Merlot but there is none – it’s 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon. That teasing and varietal perplexity is an indication of complexity and also American oak, the usage of which began in 1972. Vanilla, coconut, then spiced, round and soft tannins come by way of 50 per cent new and 50 per cent one-year Missouri white barrels. The fruit quivers, like blackberry bushes in sweltering conditions, trying to shake themselves of the heat. Two years in oak plus one in bottle is a loyal and sentient journey, nearly devout and religious. A highly polarizing wine.  @SilverOak  @HalpernWine

Rodney Strong Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Brothers Ridge 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County (Winery, $75)

This is the flagship Cabernet bottling from the winery that bears the ballet dancer’s name. Has layers of sweet Cassis, black cherry and blackberry fruit. Serrated with heat from a warm vineyard, picked at a generous (27.3 brix) and vinified (15.5 per cent alcohol) in a very big style. The Brothers Ridge fruit spent 21 months in 100 per cent French (43 per cent new) oak. The heat transmits through all the layers. So much java is espressed in this big boned Cabernet. Looking, sniffing and tasting the Brothers Ridge gives the impression of “a great big tall fella, about six foot tall. I shivered and I shook, couldn’t do any more.” Despite it’s heavy kinks, the BR is flat out delicious, hedonistic and as decidedly rich as any Cabernet from the Alexander Valley. Perhaps it is a lover, not a fighter.  @rsvineyards  @ImportWineMAFWM

Good to go!

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Academy Awards Wines

 

Oscar Night

February 26, 2012

 

The Oscars. Ritual television rivaled only by the Super Bowl. The AA’s speak to a wine crowd while the SB leans Wings and Beer fest. Here some recent tastings from VINTAGES to help transition from cliché opening number through three hours of pomp and pride.

 

 

ALOIS LAGEDER BENEFIZIUM PORER PINOT GRIGIO 2008 (231274, $16.75) dumbs down in a most descendant,  positive way and explains why one wine is an open book and another a deep well. PG so often a Limp Biscuit, insipid, pale, lifeless. This more of an every day Sexsmith crooning Costello, writing the book. From Alto Adige and punched up, acting more like Gris, or even Kabinett from a closer neighbour across the Alps. Watercolour of pomade and propellant. Wheat grassy, honey nut, marzipan cheery. Some evolution on it, as if almost oxidized Chardonnay but fresh still. On the card at Barque  88

ALOIS LAGEDER BENEFIZIUM PORER PINOT GRIGIO 2008
  

TOMASSI RIPASSO VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO SUPERIORE 2009 (9014304, $19.95) is Tony Calabria’s tipple of choice for Oscar night. Sibilated sweet, reductive treacle and red licorice Lola in a bottle. Kinky, tangy and tasty like cherry cola, “C.O.L.A. Cola.” Will flatter the best available Pizza on Award’s night, like the one at Mama’s at Yorkdale, circa 1978. “This is this.”  87

TOMASSI RIPASSO VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO SUPERIORE 2009

NOTTOLA VINO NOBILE DI MONTEPULCIANO 2006 (184960, $15.95) seeps searing Sangiovese, Earl Grey Tea at the seams so drink up. A whiff of Brett huffs and puffs but the artist‘s house is all Siena brick and no straw. A sophisticated palate tears the roof of the sucker so this VNM Gives Up The Funk. Calcium Carbonate, cherry, licorice and umbrella pine dominate the wafts from this actualized, mellow member of the noble Tuscan wine parliament89

 NOTTOLA VINO NOBILE DI MONTEPULCIANO 2006

 

 

 

Good to go!