Why you don’t know jack about B.C. wine

Culmina Family Estate Winery, Oliver, B.C.

Culmina Family Estate Winery, Oliver, B.C.

Some folks in Ontario know quite a lot about the B.C. wine industry but they are few and far between. Wine professionals with decades of experience and those who have travelled extensively to the Okanagan Valley and Vancouver Island have their fingers pointed in the right western direction. But most of us living and imbibing here in Ontario are clueless as to the breadth of B.C.’s wine culture. It’s not our fault. Our government is keeping us in the dark.

Ontario still refuses to agree that it should not be illegal to carry or ship wine for personal use across provincial borders. That issue is at the forefront of what keeps Canada’s wine regions isolated from one another. The Canadian Vintners Association (CVA) recently met for their annual AGM in Kelowna, B.C. The CVA is the industry’s governing board that deals with national regulatory issues, standards and policies. The idea of direct to consumer interprovincial shipping was again tabled and discussed with five MP’s from Ontario and B.C. in attendance. WineAlign’s David Lawrason was there.

“The politicians and CVA members were most vocal about getting Canadian wine moving freely and directly across all provincial boundaries in Canada. Alas, there was no breakthrough to announce in terms of more provinces dropping their opposition, but I was surprised by how loud, frequent and public the CVA and its members, as well as the politicians, have become – insisting that action be taken sooner rather than later. There was a mood in the room.” Still Ontario consumers continue to be ignorant about the wines of British Columbia. It remains to be seen if the recent CVA meeting will help constitute a step forward.

Related – B.C. wine: From Vancouver to your table

Back in June we took the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada on the road and hunkered down in Penticton, British Columbia to assess and pick winners from over 1,500 Canadian produced wines. And we did so much more. First we paid a visit with The Wines of British Columbia for the Judgement of B.C. The second annual cage match was hosted by the B.C. Wine Institute and took place on Tuesday, June 21, pitting 12 B.C. Wines against 12 acknowledged global benchmarks. Riesling and Pinot Noir squared off, curated by DJ Kearney and judged by a who’s who of Canadian wine writers, critics and educators, along with international WineAlign Awards judges Dr. Jamie Goode and Elaine Chukan Brown.

Showtime! #judgementBC @WineBCdotcom @djwines #BCWine @WineAlign #nwac16 #bcwineinstitute #bcvqa #bcdna

Showtime! #judgementBC @WineBCdotcom @djwines #BCWine @WineAlign #nwac16 #bcwineinstitute #bcvqa #bcdna

Max Ferd. Richter Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 2013 from the Mosel Valley, Germany placed first in the Riesling category, followed by two B.C. entries, CedarCreek Platinum Block 3 Riesling 2014 BC VQA, Okanagan Valley, B.C. and Wild Goose Stoney Slope Riesling 2013 BC VQA, Okanagan Falls, B.C. Three international Pinot Noirs medalled, Bouchard Père Premier Cru Beaune Clos de la Mousse Monopole 2012, Burgundy, France, Bachelder Oregon Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley AVA Oregon, USA and Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2014, Central Otago, New Zealand. B.C. Pinot Noir took the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and (tied for) eighth spots. “What was really interesting when I tasted through those 12 wines blind, I couldn’t pick out the BC Wines which tells me they belong in their peer group which is a ringing endorsement for BC Wine that we’re on the right track,” noted Dr. Jamie Goode.

Faultless evening @OKCrushPad above reproach and the wines beyond #nwac16

Faultless evening @OKCrushPad above reproach and the wines beyond #nwac16

As the week progressed, the WineAlign judges paid visits to Okanagan Crush Pad Winery in Summerland, Culmina Family Estate Winery in Oliver, Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna, Rustic Roots Winery with the Similkameen Wineries Association and Deep Roots Winery on the Naramata Bench. I tasted more than 100 wines over the course of the five days from the appellations of Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Falls, Oliver-Osoyoos, Golden Mile, Similkameen Valley and Naramata Bench. Whatever I thought I knew and understood about wines coming from B.C.’s diverse and variegated landscapes has been tossed out the window and diapason replaced with an entirely renewed subset of thought. It is even clearer to me now, from an Ontario perspective with limited access to B.C. wines and an even smaller vocabulary that here in this province we really don’t know shit about B.C. wines.

Exceptional eats @CulminaWinery in adroit by @Quintoquorto and @hooydonk_van

Exceptional eats @CulminaWinery in adroit by @Quintoquorto and @hooydonk_van

In talking and reflecting recently with Elaine Brown she told me how “Canada’s Provincial restrictions around wine have created what are essentially isolated sovereignties of wine. There is a lot of good wine made throughout Canada but speaking with wine lovers across the country I am impressed with how little access they have to wines from other provinces.” Brown hits the proverbial screwcap right on the head. In a country where distance makes community so difficult, the only way to seek unity is to tear down trade barriers and that is something our provincial government has outright refused to docket. As a result, the consumer in Ontario has little access to the diversity that the B.C. wine industry has to offer.

So much @WineBCdotcom amour in the @tantaluswine cellar last night #nwac16

So much @WineBCdotcom amour in the @tantaluswine cellar last night #nwac16

One of the great B.C. revelations on the June trip was all about riesling. In his recent WineAlign column, Rhys Pender wrote the following. “It feels to me that the last few years have seen a really strong focus towards quality in BC. Not that good wines weren’t made, but most of the riesling seemed to be aimed at being a low price, broad crowd pleaser. More and more wines are a little pricier but a lot more intense and quality focused. This was evident in the recent judging of the National Wine Awards of Canada. To be honest, Ontario riesling has pretty much always been superior to BC in these competitions and while there were still many great Ontario wines, this year things were different and many of the best rieslings I personally tasted in my flights were from BC. Less simple, fruity wines and more serious, intense and concentrated examples. Seven of the top ten riesling overall were from BC this year including the Gray Monk 2013 Riesling which won a Platinum medal. An impressive showing.”

Related – From coast to coast: Top 40 wines from the 2016 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada

Another adumbrate scoop came outlined in out-of-the-box white varietals, with very interesting results by albariño, grüner veltliner, muscat ottonel and trebbiano. The same quality of wines made from these grape varieties can’t be found in Ontario, nor can the success of red blends from the Similkameen Valley and from single varietal reds in the Okanagan Valley as a whole. When B.C. winemakers begin to dial back the oak and take full advantage of ripe, fresh fruit, the world won’t know what hit them. In his National Wine Awards of Canada report, David Lawrason noted that “two B.C. wineries, Moon Cursor and Stag’s Hollow, are worth watching for their medal winning experiments with grapes like tempranillo, grenache and petit verdot.” Another nod to experimentation.

I liken the Okanagan to South Africa, a varietal playground where just about anything can achieve phenolic ripeness in almost any given vintage. B.C. has one distinct advantage and that is a cooler climate. It should be exploited to the fullest, in the name of balance and quality. Though I tasted many more, in the name of 5,000 words or (slightly more) brevity, here are notes on 40 wines tasted and reviewed in June.

Sincerity @CulminaWinery from Elaine & Don Triggs and a superfluity of @WineBCdotcom pours #ohwhatanight #hospitality #nwac16

Bartier Bros. Cabernet Franc Cerqueira Vineyard 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

A rich, savoury mess of red fruits comes clean if surreptitiously divided by barrel on the nose on this gently intended cabernet franc from the gentle Cerqueira slope. More than a modicum of concentration of dusty raspberry and some new leather jacket. Silky smooth mouthfeel and the condensed tangy extraction really pops up on the finish. Another crunchy, chewy, smoky, serious cabernet franc turning bitter and tough with alcohol and bramble on the finish. More freshness would be ideal so let it rest for two years instead. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted June 2016  @bartierbros

Semillom

Bench 1775 Semillon 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $19.90, WineAlign)

A virtually bone-dry, stainless steel raised semillon that is quintessentially fresh and varietally correct though even more attentive to the Okanagan Valley. There is an abundance of fruit in the green mango/citrus realm and a je ne sais quoi spirit. All in all quite amenable and no reason to seek a future dripping with honey. The sense of anti-austerity, fruit over mineral reaction means drink it young. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @bench1775

Black Hills Viognier 2014, BC VQA, British Columbia (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

A very impressive viognier from a mother nature conspired vintage to make it shine. This is so very viognier as much as it is B.C. which is a great thing. White floral, viscous and split between honey suckle and white pepper-edged, green apple bite. Against all odds in a way and certainly a top example for the region. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @BlackHillsWine

Nota Bene

Black Hills Nota Bene 2014, BC VQA, British Columbia (Winery, $52.09, WineAlign)

This Nota Bene can be espied as of the Okanagan Valley’s most ambitious reds filled with good notes, in winemaking conditioned real tones, as opposed to pure, simple acoustic ones. The Black Sage Bench blend of cabernet sauvignon (52 per cent), merlot (33) and cabernet franc (15) is pulled from two vineyards, Double Black and Sharp Rock. The proprietary junction is criss-crossed where rich chocolate takes up address at a certain genre of Napa ideology. Black Hills’ premium wine is big and full of brawn, backbone and guts. The three real tones played together express pronounced dissonances between many of their harmonics. Dissonance is related to (barrel developed) spice so I would think that a minimum of five years will be needed to connect and make seamless the overlapping harmonics. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted June 2016

Bordertown

Bordertown Living Desert Red 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The first vintage of Mohan Gill’s 600 case merlot and cabernet franc blend is one of the more curious and engaging Osoyoos reds that is really worth some study. The 18 months spent in all new French wood should ring the alarms but instead it seems a combination of vaguely engaged and greatly spectatorial. Reduction and volatility strike an accord with the wood and the result is a rich, meaty, full on expression from which fruit emerges virtually unscathed. “It’s the first vintage,” shrugs Gill, “what else could I do?” More of the same Mohan. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @BordertownWine

CedarCreek Amphora Wine Project Desert Ridge Meritage 2014, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $60.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Alexis Moore inherited the (Chianti sourced) clay amphora from former winemaker Daryl Brooker and this (second vintage) meritage is her first kick at the urn. The co-fermented, all natural, don’t even think about peeking and sneaking a taste blend is cabernet sauvignon (54 per cent), cabernet franc (35) and malbec (11). The hallmark desert notes of rich, caky and dusty are necessarily present but it is the preservation of red earth savour that gives this formidable flagon of magic juice its inimitable personality. Mature rows of fruit are to blame and thank for the just desert reward. Transferred to amphora the fruit is preserved in such a way no B.C. reds have ever really seen and the new territory is not so simple for making quick, on the spot judgements. I have thought about this wine for quite some time and the conclusion is positive for two important reasons. Spice and tannin. Together they combine for an infinite finish. Here is the crux of the vessel’s power, to preserve fruit and slowly release its charms within the structure provided. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted June 2016  @CedarCreekWine

CedarCreek

CedarCreek Platinum Series “The Last Word” 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $77.99, WineAlign)

The “Last Word” is at the pinnacle of CedarCreek’s Platinum Series, single-vineyard wines and only made in “nature conspired,” exceptional vintages. The biggest and baddest red is a “wine that leaves nothing left to say,” thus the moniker. The blend is cabernet sauvignon (34 per cent), merlot (32), cabernet franc (24) and malbec (10) in true Meritage style. Talk about big reds, talk about the passion. Plan on getting extra hours of REM sleep after a glass, after the punch, the ripest fruit, tempered chocolate, grip and after the heavy hitting acidity. Every crevice is filled in with a jangle of notes and few winemakers can find balance with such a wealth of material. There is simply no way not to make a bold, tannic statement. “Not everyone can carry the weight of the world” but CedarCreek has managed to grin and bear it. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted June 2016

Church

Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

Reductive, dark, stormy raging and off the charts spicy syrah but there is terrific ripe fruit and cool, cool savour. Edgy but tannic within range. After the violets come sweet purple palate fruit but it’s a feigning sweetness. Long drifts of acidity and tannin but again, like so many Okanagan peers the finish dusts with espresso and not the mocha. The spice lingers well after all else has resolved. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @ChurchStateWine

Clos du Soleil

Clos Du Soleil Estate Reserve Red 2012, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $58.90, WineAlign)

The apropos named winery, the “Vineyard of the Sun,” describes British Columbia-Okanagan-Similkameen so well. That and what can happen when Bordeaux varietals are the recipients of proper sun-worshipping phenolic journeys is the crux to understanding and enjoying such a proper and righteous red. Tasting this Michael Clark characteristic fruit handling facture with Spencer Massie sheds enlightened light on the Clos du Soleil passion project and the red ability of the Similkameen Valley. Taken from the Estate Vineyard on the Upper Bench of the Similkameen Valley, the prettiest and most inviting nose pops up here, led by cabernet sauvignon and in usage of all five Bordeaux varietals. The best red fruit, the hint of mineral and sage, the aridity of the land, the restraint from wood. It’s all correct and truth be told. Solid red blend. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2016  @ClosduSoleil  @spencemassie

Corcelletes

Corcelettes Menhir 2014, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.90, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

It’s hard not be endeared into the red blend culture of the Similkemeen Valley and the variegation various positions occupy on the slopes of its benches. This ode in OZ style of cabernet Sauvignon (62 per cent) and syrah (38) is pulled from vines set on the rocky soils of the Corcelletes Middle Bench Vineyard. Though the herbal, savoury, currant and tobacco laced cabernet should dominate it does not with witness thanks to a more than peppery edge and black fruit ooze of the syrah. Only the Similkameen can bring such shared duality and find common ground like this in the overall B.C. genre. Like Beamsville in Ontario and with grace in wood usage, here the two varieties co-exist with copacetic simpatico. The ancient monolith believed to date back 2741-2488 BC on the Baessler family farm off the shores of Lac de Neuchatel, Switzerland gives this blend its name. This wine is no monolith, nor does it strike as ancient or antediluvian, but it does stand out as singular for the Similkameen and for B.C. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June 2016  @corcelettes

Culmina Dilemma 2014, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $35.65, WineAlign)

The road taken for this chardonnay should have led to rich, buttery and fat because the approach mimics a throwback west coast style. Alcohol, pH, new barrel usage are all generous but so is acidity. So this could have emerged huge but it’s impossibly restrained. The cool-climate metal factor sings with austerity and the gemstone crunch folds with richness. The Margaret’s Bench land speaks and gives so all tolled Culmina’s signature chardonnay is a study in heutagogical learning because it teaches knowledge sharing. This is chardonnay and in many ways, this is Burgundy. Chances taken have landed reward, if a bit unexpected, but certainly appreciated. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @CulminaWinery  @CulminaSara

Culmina Merlot 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.00, WineAlign)

Red over green merlot to substantiate a vintage called better on the Golden Mile (Arise) Bench. Here is bone-dry, full malolactic, high acidity merlot, so very vacuous, inward, implosive and wild. The wood blankets with purpose in lieu of reckless abandon and because the fruit is just ripe enough to defend itself the return is an effusive one. Would love to taste this merlot in a best vintage with 20-25 per cent less new oak and a number close to this healthy 6.4 g/L of acidity. Now we’re talking, in tones red over green. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted June 2016

Unicus

Culmina Unicus 2014, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.05, WineAlign)

B.C. is a playground for experimentation, a place not unlike South Africa where phenolic ripeness is almost always accomplished yet it has a distinct advantage. Cooler sites and the availability, if embraced, of equally ripe acidity. So grüner veltliner, along with trebbiano, muscat ottonel, auxerrois, sylvaner and others should be investigated. Culmina’s work with grüner is fought properly, in a combination of concrete amphora, egg and steel, allowing varietal to share equal ground with terroir. A sense of some white-ish rhubarb here is noted in the most complimentary vegetal sense, along with white flowers and a dash or two of white pepper. This is a gustatory and gastronomic grüner with intensity and vitality that good slope Marlborough sauvignon blanc will similarly give. The difference here is the absence of searing citrus which is a good thing, all things considered. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016

Deep Roots Syrah

Deep Roots Syrah 2014, Naramata, British Columbia (Winery, $34.00, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

Tasted twice, first blind at #NWAC16 and then at the winery, this is syrah with a dual northern intent, more Naramata than Rhone though the bent is a soulful repent in the church of St. Joseph. Beautifully savoury and smoky, like a big meat and smoulder sandwich with great fruit and a silken texture. The peppery bite is a sure tell sign of well-made syrah. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @DeepRootsWine

Gehringer Auxerrois 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $13.29, WineAlign)

Despite the off-dry (11 g/L RS) directive because that is what auxerrois always wants to do and though the vintage brings much warmth, this persists as a delicate and fresh wine. Auxerrois as a grape variety is set in an imprecise past, shaded by myth, carried forward and planted decades ago in B.C. These old vines could tell stories but today its fruit expresses itself simply, with richness and with plenitude. I wouldn’t tie a cellophane bag around one and leave it in the cellar to revisit in 30 years. I’d rather hook some trout, pan roast it and work in some acidity. The auxerrois will compliment such a move just fine. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @GB_Wines

Haywire Chardonnay Canyonview Vineyard 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $22.90, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

From the Summerland vineyard, raised in concrete and emerged with a semi-unoaked feel. There is a certain sort of sweet condense as if a tank and a barrel had merged. Clearly managed in the slow, micro-oxygenated way, with notes of curd, cream and whey. A chardonnay smoothie with many beneficial enzymes running wild, the yeasts working and munching away. Still retains a cool-climate feel regardless of the vat influence with top notch acidity and tannin to lengthen the chain. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @Haywirewine  @OKCrushPad  @brixandmortar

Haywire Pinot Noir 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

From the steep limestone and granite Waters & Banks Vineyard, this is a limber, lissome and rusty pinot noir, gently pressed, caressed and left to find its own singular way. Reminds me of the salinity graced Willamette Valley, set upright and alert on the bright side of life. Their is a musky lime aroma and a lithe tartness that belies its mineral gifting. Well done. Don’t envision this losing its charm any time soon. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016

Trebbiano

Hester Creek Trebbiano Old Vines Block 16 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

From vines planted in 1968 which in itself is a wild and mind-blowing proposition. Trebbiano has well-adapted to the Okanagan Valley, or at least these two acres have and only fools would not try to get their hands on one of the 1100 cases produced. No it’s not Emidio Pepe nor is it your nonno’s trebbiano but it is a singular expression for B.C. Terrific acidity layers over rich and viscous stone-orchard fruit. Something creamy evolves, not like similar styled Okanagan viognier but in another realm. It’s a derivative sensation, like the way children look like their mothers, so the connection to Abruzzo is really there. This is a special proprietary moment and good on Hester Creek for brokering the proviso. I will agree to abide. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @HesterCreek

Hillside

Hillside Muscat Ottonel 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $24.99, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

Floral, as expected, but in contrast to the globally spoken style, this does orange blossom and mineral mining with equal and opposing ease. Acidity rings round, not overtly meaningful but nonetheless wild. From 30-plus year-old vines (circa 1982), to not find fun, joy and pleasure would be to miss every pertinent point. Hillside presents a provincial comic flick of a muscat phrase and does so with lighthearted resourcefulness and ingenuity. Drink 2016-2018.   Tasted June 2016  @hillsidewines

Fortissimo

La Stella Fortissimo 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

In 2014 Fortissimo is mostly merlot with sangiovese playing a vital role along with a splash of cabernet sauvignon. This is found to be softer, more amenable and structured with bungalow sprawl. Bright, maximum juiced red berry fruit resemblance is anti-savoury, friendly, and ready to roll but still with some smoky spice. The 21 per cent sangiovese is significant (up seven points from 2013) so the Classico factor runs high. This is the alternative world case of Fortissimo where in some years you make Chianti Classico and in others, Gran Selezione. Though she may not consider 2014 to be her most accomplished Fortissimo, winemaker Severine Pinte will have to accept that she has procured a very elegant red blend. A Classico. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @LaStellaWinery

LFNG

Laughing Stock Portfolio 2007, Naramata Bench, British Columbia (Winery, $52.95, WineAlign)

Poured from Magnum the LSV ’07 has resolved from cool vintage and micro-oxidation into cool-climate meets right bank stylistic personality. Soy, Chinese five-spice, cassia, balsamic, fig and a caramelization that lists to part vegetal and part demerara sugar. The palate is expressly vital still, carrying a torch that for a cabernet-merlot Okanagan blend is fun to reason with. Magnum is obviously a major plus for this nine-year advancement. Sweet with no noticeable heat finish. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @lfngwine

Maverick

Maverick Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Bertus Albertyn bottled a meagre 200 cases of this Golden Mile Bench sourced syrah after 18 months in three to four year-old French Oak. If you are a fan of fresh, well-spoken, confident and blessedly transparent syrah then look for the next vintage of this sold out beauty. So gauzy gossamer textured, peppery but of scant bite and driven by a northern, smoky beat. The cure and depth in its make-up nearly adds up to beefy but its form of athleticism is built upon the quiet politesse of its maker’s execution. The comparison must be made to septentrional Rhône and the lack of new oak is so appreciated. This is a wine to watch for. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @MaverickWinery

Moraine Gewürztraminer 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $17.90, WineAlign)

Classic Okanagan Valley gewürztraminer with a touch of mute reserve relative to more forward peers. The aromatics pause at traditional exoticism then veer to pear and apricot. The palate concentrates the off-dry varietal tendency with a furthered spin out of the seed orchard and into the pit. Not necessarily a gewürztraminer with extended play acidity but highly pleasurable nonetheless. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @MoraineWinery

Moraine

Moraine Riesling 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $19.90, WineAlign)

Slightly airy and hyper-opiated riesling up to here, of burgeoning talent, suggesting what is yet to come from Moraine with respect to the great varietal Okanagan potential. On the off-dry scale this falls somewhere in the middle, going at it with heavy Mosel fuel. Quite intense with acidity to match. Hip riesling, “addicted to approval, addicted to the air. It was see if you like it or see you up there.” Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016

Moraine Pinot Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.95, WineAlign)

Moraine’s Okanagan Falls pinot noir is lambent with great rust and conversely vapid in desert dust. The entire red fruit spectrum is seemingly sung and stung with range and breadth; cranberry-cherry-pomegranate-strawberry-raspberry, from tart all the way to sweet. Taut, tight and bracing. This will work with pairing pride for short to mid-term enjoyment. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016

Quails’ Gate Chenin Blanc 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

The fruit hails from both Quails’ Gate Estate and Osoyoos vineyards. Tasted just three months after bottling, the sweet (whole bunch pressed) serenity of chenin blanc has already settled in with equal and opposing acidity in tact. An angle of bitters works the lush fruit (thickened by a small percentage of older wood) and weaves the two as one in this eager and enthusiastic young (albeit early sulphur persistent) white. A splash or two of sauvignon blanc helps in the ushering. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @Quails_Gate  @  @hobbsandco

Quails' Gate

Quails’ Gate Connemara 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (Winery, $64.00, WineAlign)

The inaugural vintage and first ever Quails’ Gate Bordeaux-style blend is winemaker Nikki Callaway’s ode to her stage/cellar hand/winemaking time spent in Bordeaux. The cumulative of merlot (55 per cent), cabernet sauvignon (30) and cabernet franc (15) is formidable in its perplexing youth, taut, rigid and so very tannic. The minor’s current approach is virtually unapproachable but look for something to grab for, like perfectly ripe fruit or structure. The beatitude is easily found in these two essential components. You’ll then think “if you were another pretender, oh I’d pass you by,” but in the case of the Connemara, put in the effort and the time. The reward will come later. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted August 2016

Quails’ Gate The Boswell Syrah 2014, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $61.05, WineAlign)

Named in ode to grandparents, The Boswell is a deep, brooding and extreme-bodied syrah that is actually quite floral. Smoky, meaty, chewy fruit mixes with tar and roses in a heightened, variegated state. Rich and piqued by peppery spice and then the chocolate warmth settles in on the finish. Sip again and note that every pass circles back to the beginning. Though it nods to the northern Rhône and wells up like Barossa, you can’t take the Okanagan out of the Boswell. It wins every time. Would prefer to see this again in three years. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted June 2016

Stoneboat

Stoneboat Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (429332, $29.95, WineAlign)

I tasted this blind at #NWAC16 and with Larry Martiniuk that same week and both times was struck by the electric pinosity, density and beneficial volatility. The pre-integration period is apparent so I’d hazard a guess that 18 months more are needed to assimilate the 18 months spent in (20 per cent new) French oak. To whiff it’s like peat moss mixed with a cassia-cassis cocktail. Black cherry sweetish on the palate and quite spicy. This neon pinot is quite volatile and yet closed, but it carries a downy pilosity texture. Very west coast. Though I return to thinking it out of whack, still feeling the alcohol and wondering why it has to be so loud, the texture and the complexity always bring me back. The raindrops are alive. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted June 2016  @stoneboat  @Noble_Estates

Synchromesh Riesling Storm Haven Vineyard 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.90, WineAlign)

If this riesling is sweet I couldn’t say. That is the first thought that comes to mind. From Alan Dickinson’s home property, this is his baby, an Okanagan Falls derived riesling that lives an entirely holistic existence. No spraying, none, nada, niente. Not ever. The wine could not get any cleaner. Purity is its cognomen. The vineyard is subject to the highest diurnal temperature swing than just about anywhere in the valley. That might explain the risk-reward probability factor. The technical specs are a triumvirate of implausibility; 46 g/L RS, 11.5 g/L TA and pH below three. What? This is the most impossible wine made in B.C. In its concentrated velocity it wheezes like something ancient. We could almost be drinking Greek debina or 20 year-old Alsatian auxerrois. Dickinson makes three passes over each of the two blocks so even if the hands are off, the meticulous picking breeds asepsis. Citrus such as found in the Storm Haven fruit does not happen very often, if rarely. It’s like citrus soma. Citrus unknowable out of determination unthinkable. Direct misunderstanding by indirect whimsy. And so the vintage offers good fun but not greatness. Imagine the possibilities. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted June 2015  @SynchromeshWine

Synchromesh

Synchromesh Riesling For Shadows Vineyard 2015, BC VQA Naramata Bench , British Columbia (Winery, $23.00, WineAlign)

Like its brethren Storm Haven Vineyard, this Synchromesh draws blood from stone in holistic ways that few Canadian riesling seem to do. The Four Shadows is different in that it chooses wisdom over risk. A clear, clean and precise nose reveals lemon drop and a honey drip. Though the sugar is more noticeable than the SHV, the older world (Germanic) impression is filled with a sense of tradition. The vineyard is in fact of very high elevation on an extremely steep slope (think Mosel) of gravel and clay layered over fractured bedrock and granite. The sugar is also elevated (50.93 g/L) and the acidity lower (8.4 g/L) so what you get may seem to lower the impossibility factor. Don’t be fooled into thinking this a riesling of privilege and lassitude. It does not drip with sleep but rather rages with life. The stones seem to speak. And the riesling listens. Drink 2016-2022. Like its brethren Storm Haven Vineyard, this Synchromesh draws blood from stone in holistic ways that few Canadian riesling seem to do. The Four Shadows is different in that it chooses wisdom over risk. A clear, clean and precise nose reveals lemon drop and a honey drip. Though the sugar is more noticeable than the SHV, the older world (Germanic) impression is filled with a sense of tradition. The vineyard is in fact of very high elevation on an extremely steep slope (think Mosel) of gravel and clay layered over fractured bedrock and granite. The sugar is also elevated (50.93 g/L) and the acidity lower (8.4 g/L) so what you get may seem to lower the impossibility factor. Don’t be fooled into thinking this a riesling of privilege and lassitude. It does not drip with sleep but rather rages with life. The stones seem to speak. And the riesling listens. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted June 2016.Tasted June 2016

Tantalus Brut

Tantalus Blanc De Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.90, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

Winemaker David Paterson “squeezes it like Champagne” and lets it rest for six months in chardonnay barrels. Two years of triage and boom! Freaking elegant Blanc de Noir. Rusty, rosy, the absolute spot on ripe vernacular spoken, the right tart exposed. It’s curious and foreshadowed thinking to know that 100 cases have been set aside for a five to seven year disgorgement. D’ya think Paterson is high on the vintage? Tasted June 2016  @tantaluswine

A single block of Clone 93 pinot noir planted in 1985 is responsible for this breath of fresh Okanagan Valley Blanc de Noir. Fashioned with the omnipresent Tantalus acidity, this rages out with aridity, salinity and palpable tension. Only pinot noir can act like this, with layers of sous bois and fraises du bois. The age of the vines, the early-picked necessity and the allowance for needful and natural expression has resulted in a wine simply stressed as terroir and boîte. Carries the acidity and the tension across and through the palate. Finishes as dry as it started. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Tantalus Pinot Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $29.90, WineAlign)

The vintage was not shy to gift dark, optimum-achievement in phenolic fruit and along with that ripeness comes even deeper tonal intent. Red hyperbole is elevated by striking acidity, setting this Pinot Noir up for really high expectations. The palate does not disappoint. Flavours range from black cherry to charred meat making for a highly gustatory experience. Chewy and enjoyable describes the time spent with this wine. It will offer great pleasure in the short term. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April and June 2016

Tantalus

Tantalus Riesling 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $23.00, WineAlign)

Two months later things have changed and yet not at all. There are more tricks and inducements (as compared to 2010) but don’t be fooled because with a difficult (sweltering) vintage the wine makes you think you can get close. But you can’t. You are further away than you think mostly due to incredible citrus and wild rhythms swimming through raging riesling waters. Change of plans. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted June 2016

Well with the arena of aridity, salinity and sheer marketability, here is a showy Tantalus with super searing lemon flavours emerging out of great atmosphere and aromatic intensity. Some Riesling taketh away and some are mouth watering, like this. The stone fruit goodness attacks and sticks to the tongue like sap, then glides effortlessly down. Tantalus might make me think of things that are out of reach, “standing in water, but dying of thirst, this is my thanks and this is my curse.” Yet this early to market 2015 Riesling offers an antithetical view, ready, willing and able to please. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Tantalus Riesling 2010, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $22.90, WineAlign)

I’m thinking that no other B.C. riesling tries, trips and tricks with intense tribulation like the Tantalus, especially with a look back at this 2010 ripper. Though just now emerging from out of its saline crusted shell, the liquid stone injection will always render this a tantalizing wine so while it seems to open a door a part of it will always remain just out of reach. This 2010 can retrospectively be looked at as a genre defining riesling at the hands of an engaging young winemaker to be.  Tasted June 2016

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2bench Red 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $29.99, WineAlign)

Naturally south Okanagan crunchy, chewy, spicy and taut red blend. From two benches, the Golden Mile (Tinhorn Creek Vineyard) and the Black Sage Bench (Diamondback Vineyard). This is quite a ripper in that magical $30 middle ground with power to impress as much as many peers two times the price. That said it certainly retains its tangy, two-step, red fruit freshness, with cool savour, like two mints in one. Kind of reminds me of Coonawarra, especially the Penfolds Bin 169, so perhaps when brought together there is a Bench similarity with the Terra Rosso soil. Or perhaps just a stab at clouds. Either way this 2012 takes over from the vital 2011 and runs with the baton. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June 2016  @TinhornCreek @Andrew_Tinhorn  @SandraOldfield

Zweigelt

Upper Bench Zweigelt 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

I’ve not had the opportunity to taste the go between 2013 but progression and evolution are found in the bright red fruit of this 2014 zweigelt from Upper Bench. The aromatics travel east and west, as if coast to coast and on a global trek. I get the foraged berries, baking scents and the felled evergreen mixed with fresh cocoa. I also sense garrigue, as well as jasmine in the early evening. Though the sugar is elevated (an insignificant 0.6 g/L up to 2.9) the wine was picked at lower brix (23.5 as opposed to 24.2) and so the acidity is given the chance to feign higher. The alcohol is hefty (14.4 per cent) but the overall balance is improved. Dialled back a bit but another notch or two would really do justice to the grape. Early consumption is still the order and fresher remains the promise. We’ll see what the warm 2015 vintage will bring. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @upperbench

Wild Goose

Wild Goose Pinot Blanc Mystic River 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $19.00, WineAlign)

A few clicks north of Oliver comes this maximum juice master of a pinot blanc, like a tart gooseberry cake with a warm, yeasty crust. It’s like autolytic sparkling wine without the bubble, foiled by a sauvignon blanc faux botrytis thing going on. The acidity is well suited to match the exuberant fruit. Roland Kruger points a finger to the vineyard (right along the south Okanagan River) to explain the aromatics. The addendum of 20 per cent barrel fermentation is the key that turns the textural screws. As far as pinot blanc goes, “it’s open mike, punk rock, (it’s natural), red, white and blue.” This Wild Goose. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @wildgoosewines

Wild Goose Gewürztraminer Mystic River 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $19.00, WineAlign)

Wild Goose is proving to be a gewürztraminer leader in the Okanagan Valley not just for its adherence to rose petal and lychee varietal correctness but also for aromatic elegance. Terrific texture marks the ’15’s territory (a trademark of Wild Goose whites) and here you get drying wax still pliable and malleable. The aura is distinct and the wine so very amenable. Really well made Mystic River output. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016

Good night and many thanks @tantaluswine #kelowna #nwac16

Good night and many thanks @tantaluswine #kelowna #nwac16

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

To Trius, by air

Niagara Falls from aboard Niagara Helicopters

Niagara Falls from aboard Niagara Helicopters

After the final day of preliminary round judging was wrapped and tied with a computer algorithm’s bow at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada it was time to take to the skies. The judges and WineAlign cognoscenti embussed into autogiro cabins at Niagara Helicopters. With a quick and nearly non-discernible thrust we rose like knives through butter up into the Niagara sky. A zig over the cartoon city adjacent the horseshoe and American cascades and then a zag across the Whirlpool Golf Course later, the choppers headed for the Falls.

Flying to Trius with fellow #NWAC15 judges Nadia Fournier and John Szabo

Flying to Trius with fellow #NWAC15 judges Nadia Fournier and John Szabo

Viewing the tumbling wonders from this vantage point is a thing of extraordinary exhilaration. The two-dimensional flatness of the river careening towards a three-dimensional, 90-degree downward fall into the gorge below is a trompe l’oeil for the eyes. With nothing but a thin glass veil acting in separation, I would have thought that a Dolly Zoom effect might occur. On the contrary, from within there would be no semblance of Hitchcock technique in recession to simulate vertigo. The weightlessness and effortless glide is a situation akin to being a kid in a candy store. I highly recommend the experience.

Niagara Helicopter

Niagara Helicopter

Minutes later the helicopter did soar, headed east and descended upon the agricultural and viticultural wonder of Niagara-on-the-Lake. From high above, the acreage of vines looked like tiny peas all in a row. As the land crept up into view the dots came into focus and to see the canes and their early summer foliage as such a magnanimous maze from above is a perspective all should experience.

Niagara Falls, Ontario

Niagara Falls, Ontario

The elapsed time between landing at Trius and diving head first into a glass of Marco Piccoli‘s Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Méthode Traditionnelle, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (234161, $24.95, WineAlign) happened in the blink of a transmogrifying eye. A Sparkler or four, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir or six and some quick tasting note scribbles later we were seated at a ridiculously long harvest table beneath the arbour and ready for dinner.

The vines of Trius Estates at Hillebrand

The vines of Trius Estates at Hillebrand

Winemakers and from several Niagara wineries were on hand to join us at Trius. J-L Groux (Stratus), Arthur Harder (Westcott), Adam Pearce (Two Sisters), Ann Sperling (Southbrook), Kent Macdonald (Henry of Pelham) and Marco Piccoli (Jackson Triggs) extrapolated on the passion of their work, in their wines and for Niagara as a community. Four courses and fourteen wines were touched, nosed, tasted and assessed. But for the Trius and by extension Peller staff, ushered by the grace of uncompromising and unparalleled generosity at the hands of Magdalena Kaiser and Joanna Muratori from Wine Country Ontario, this was an event to commit to heart and to memory. On a very personal note that night now belongs and rests in reminiscence within this log.

WineAlign team at Trius

WineAlign team at Trius

Peller Estates

Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (405043, $24.95, WineAlign)

The 2013 Signature Sauvignon Blanc carries forth from the ripe, mature, oxidative and intensely flavourful 2012. This next vintage cements the full-on style, even while it candies the fruit, seemingly in reaction to temperatures and precipitation that came and went with inconsistent extremes. There is a kid in a candy store, multi-coloured ribbon of taffy sensation, curiously antithetical to the rusty, yeasty, platinum scenting elixir. The effects of barrel fermentation (80 per cent) and concrete egg fermenter (20) dispatch has this Sauvignon stretching, pulling and elastically boomeranging about the glass. Magnetic to be sure, not always a success, but encouraged. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted June 2015  @PellerVQA

Soubrook Whimsy! Orange 2014 and Westcott Vineyards Violette Sparkling

Soubrook Whimsy! Orange 2014 and Westcott Vineyards Violette Sparkling

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

Sparkling Wine ‘Violette’, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95)

Like the aviatrix muse Violette, the inaugural Westcott sparkler is pioneering and flies out of the glass. Made in the Charmat method at Vieni Estate where bubbles are quickly becoming a thing, this is from the 2012 vintage, though it is not noted on the bottle. Come down from the high horse and embrace the nascent, lambent breezes of Violette. After all, texture is rarely negotiated in Charmat as it is in this lemon concentrated fizz. It finishes with a dash of good bitters. In these respects the Violette has earned her wings. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted June 2015

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

Estate Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $30.00)

Once again, from the challenging and commercially impaired soils of the Vinemount Ridge, a wine of richness, layering, intellect and intrigue. Riesling and Cabernet Franc are the axiomatic varieties to speak of the Ridge’s terroir but this Westcott reinforces the Pinot habitation, defined by Tawse (Quarry Road, Lauritzen and Laidlaw), now complimented by Big Head, Le Clos Jordanne, Vieni and Westcott. Natural soil given tendencies to ferric aridity, spice and limestone silk fill this Harder composition, softened by the warmth of the vintage. Concentration talks, a touch of VA walks and expected tannic grip secures the lustrous, dark cherry fruit. This is a stygian version of a VR Pinot Noir with tones that go for big and structure that supports the hyperbole. It should not be ignored. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2015

Ontario asparagus and hot smoked salmon

Ontario asparagus and hot smoked salmon

Stratus Vineyards

Tempranillo 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

In 2012 the J-L Groux take on the expatriate Spaniard is warm, rich, cake-driven and yet balanced in ways the 2010 was unable to exhort. This vintage appeases Groux’s ends of the earth search for aromatics, picking on them, executing vinification to encourage them and barrel-aging for the purpose of cementing them. The 2012 is an aromatic success. It exudes red fruit, flowers, baker’s kitchens and wet Niagara on the Lake earth. This is a clean and jerk Tempranillo, a bouquet to success. The palate, mouthfeel and mellow finish return the favour of 2010 when it was noted that the variety in this place is a stretch, overweening perhaps, certainly self-effacing if admittedly short of contumelious behaviour. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted June 2015  @StratusWines

Cabernet Franc 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

A Cabernet Franc of settled, harmonious tones, of oak that sets sights and heights to heah, now integrated at such an early age. The grape succeeds and bleeds an exemplary, stalwart varietal suspension within the Stratus pantheon, a sanctuary where fiddles are yet played by other outfits across the region. Cabernet Franc will increase in the Stratus red, for good measure and reason. This ’12 is simply smothered in an embarrasment of red fruit, smoky from raspy reds to plugged in currants. It is of a favour in flavour that reminds of Swedish berries, in modulated hög, though not in sweetness. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted June 2015

Beef Rib-eye and Pastrami beef shortrib

Beef Rib-eye and Pastrami beef shortrib

Two Sisters

Merlot 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

“The river man runs, the river man runs.” With this turn a phrase and changing of a guard Merlot, winemaker Adam Pearce ushers in the new Two Sisters oeuvre, for the betterment of all. No longer over-produced yet still ambient, the ’12 sets the turntable for less oaky Sisters’ reds to come. With new barrels on the way out and older and ductile wood coming in, Bordeaux varieties in Pearce’s hands echo and play notes within notes, strum electric in mature chords, then finish with strings and saxophone brass. The 2012 is a true Niagara Riverman, adhering to intrinsic warmth and carrying with it the deep clay rich earth and a wild raspberry luxuriance. It will take seven to ten years to peel back the layers of uberty in this Noel cake Merlot from Niagara River. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @2SistersVine  @KVH_Wine

Southbrook Vineyards

Whimsy! Orange Wine 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

The post blind-tasted discovery that Ann Sperling’s Orange was in fact a 100 per cent Vidal made perfect regional sense, something expertly opined at the time by Rick Van Sickle. Having poured the natural saffronage on tap at Barque Smokehouse for two months I was curious to view it through another lens, to see it tipped from bottle. It has settled now, the acidity squeegeed and rolled out a TA point or two. What was grapefruit in demand is now grape in fruit cup. Still viably fresh, it is now pretty, accessible, settled comfortably into its skin. The verve will yet persist through this temperate time in the temporal lobe. Drink 2015-2016.

From my earlier note of December 2014:

“We’ve been waiting to do small batch, stem fermentation,” Ann Sperling tells us as we have a good look at the lustrous, foggy glass of orange-yellow colour more micro-described as either croceate or gamboge. “Now we have the infrastructure to do so.” Stems add architecture (and a preservative effect), something that is otherwise compromised in a sulphite-free wine. This nameless natural wine was biodynamically-raised, indigenously-yeasted and freed from the constraints of temperature control. No wood was used, only stainless steel and glass carboys. The orange and natural classification comes by way of the complex ebullition (closest in style to the Collio hills wines of Josko Gravner), in colour, weight, elegance and the dichotomy of skin fermentation. Sperling used acumen derived from the concept at Argentina’s Versado, where skins are employed in a similar way when making Malbec with husband Peter Gamble. This young wine is filled with terpenes and is highly, desperately aromatic. Lemon curd is up front and centre. It’s got a tart tang and at (approximately) 11.8 per cent alcohol, the gravity is impossibly beautiful. Sperling’s take is “a fair reflection on the vintage” and it’s the mouthfeel that sets it apart. What’s the varietal make up, single or a blend? If the latter, was it co-fermented? Ann will only tell us that it was harvested over a two week period in October. The big question is will it receive VQA approval. Viognier and Pinot Gris should certainly be options but I’m not aware of Southbrook ever having employed their use. Sperling’s Whimsy! Winemaker’s White uses Muscat so perhaps we could go that direction but the aromatics don’t jive. Riesling is the simplest road to take and if the Southbrook Connect Organic White 2013 is any indication, the combined effect with Vidal could certainly steer this Orange ship. But If I were made to guess, to have some fun with concept, I would suggest that it’s a blend of white and red grapes, but Southbrook does not grow Pinot Noir so that should rule out Chardonnay as well. So I conjure up a song. “Well I had a dream I stood beneath an orange sky.” With a union of grape varieties standing by. Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc feed my Spidey senses, so under the auspices of that marriage, what we might have here is an offspring, a Cabernet Sauvignon. A very natural one. An orange one.

Last tasted June 2015

Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $49.95, WineAlign)

The 2011 has entered an uncommunicative phase though the soft tones and whispering harmony offer faint prefaces to honey and burgeoning viscocity. The next flip of the calendar will tell a story. Drink 2016-2021.

From my earlier note at Gold Medal Plates, Toronto, November 2014:

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 note of 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 note of May 2014:

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 June 2015

Poetica Red 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $54.95, WineAlign)

At the young adult age of five the Poetica ’10 has retreated and redacted from the heat of that scorching vintage, centred itself and found balance. Gravity no longer shackles the gathering, shaped from Cabernet Sauvignon (51 per cent), Cabernet Franc (31), Merlot (15) and Petit Verdot (3). The next Poetica (2012) used PV as an adjuvant, something the 2010 would now be singing along with were they to have known then what they know now. The ’10 now heli-glides, as if hovering in kind to a set of blades on high whirl, up to where energy is effortless and tension keeps the craft afloat. More of that intensity will continue for 18 months to two years, after which the blades will loiter and wind down for a five to seven years further finale. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling

Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Red 2010 and 2012

Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Red 2010 and 2012

Poetica Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $54.95, WineAlign)

Now that the Poetica ’12 has seen release, it of course ironically submerges into slumber. The natural palate funk, chalk, talc and clay condensed grain are the gravity while pepper-savoury aromatics catalyze the supply. Credit time with future comings out. Drink 2020-2027.

From my earlier more of December 2014:

The Poetica Red ’12, slated for a Spring 2015 release, is amazing and intriguing on many levels. But for the fact that Petit Verdot (26.5 per cent) plays such a major varietal role, what must first be declared is the disseminated learning applied to this application. The dos and don’ts of previous (only produced in) warm vintage Poetica Reds will see a shedding of those don’ts in this 2012. Ann Sperling ushers in a new era for Niagara Bordeaux assemblage and if this wine is any harbinger, others will follow suit. Here celebrates a love for the land (environment), poetry and more specifically, Canadian poets. Chief Dan George, he of North Vancouver and the Hollywood screen, penned “Words to a Grandchild.” In it he wrote, “in the midst of a land without silence, you have to make a place for yourself.” Poetica Red ’12 will have done that when viewed retrospectively, 10-15 years from now. It will have grown old, but also wise. As for now it’s brooding, melancholy even. It’s all of that and this; endemic, entrenched, crenellated, ensconced and indoctrinated with Niagara knowledge. Has a dusty, earthy, even funky poetry. More depth than many, much realized acumen and will live long. Given 30 minutes of air it showed the ribbons of classic Niagara reds. All these concepts combine to see Poetica Red ’12 not so much as huge, but with depth and complexity.

Last tasted June 2015

Thirty Bench

Small Lot Benchmark Red 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $60)

The landmark red from grit inducing Bench soils has added a splenetic pitch to its already peppery temper. Like “dry and wet ice, they both melt,” the modest Merlot plus two Cabs mix is in a frenetic, edgy place. Allow for three more years before having a new listen and taste. Drink 2018-2023.

From my earlier note of February 2014:

Indoctrinated Right Bank agglomerate built on 62 per cent Merlot, supported by equal parts Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. Impressively warm and dusty, large, bursting berry dominated with a peppering dredge all around. So much flavour abounds, blanketed by a shaker full of vanilla spice, like “an endless ocean landing on an endless desert.” Still the Benchmark is modest, oaked (18 months) but not overly soaked, pure and in balance. The berry concentration renders it as a resident of the dark centre of the Niagara red blend universe.  Last tasted June 2015  @ThirtyBench

Trius Winery at Hillebrand

Trius Showcase 5 Blanc De Noirs 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (420521, $55.00, WineAlign)

Auspicious opening for the top end, new Trius Sparkling wine, based on Pinot Noir (70 per cent) from Four-Mile Creek (Lawrie Vineyard), with support from Pinot Meunier (30). Five is the number of years slumbering on lees, a voyage into triage to transport this singular Niagaran into the stratosphere of the region’s pantheon. Arid, toasty and slightly oxidative as per the wild ferment, Craig McDonald style. The toast is spread with a tapenade of (more) lightly toasted nuts, tarragon, morel and earth. There is a feeling of berries, void of pigment, slightly tart and very fragrant. Also the not so pungent but forest emergence of basidiomycete fungus. Delicate, complex, creamy and simultaneously, so very dry. A wine to sip at a large gathering around an antique harvest table or deep into the next decade. Drink 2015-2028. Tasted May and June 2015  @TriusWines

Dinner menu at Trius

Dinner menu at Trius

Good to go!

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Why hate wine?

Three vintages and producers of Brunello di Montalcino

Three vintages and producers of Brunello di Montalcino

Though it may sound absurd, it’s true. There are some who hate wine. It may seem impossible to imagine, but not everyone cares for the stuff, in fact, they say they hate it. Pretty harsh, no?

They have their reasons. Either it’s pretentious, it pales in comparison to beer, causes headaches or simply tastes like shit. The haters also hate wine drinkers and they really can’t stand people who blabber on about what they smell and taste, especially wine writers. The vile, worthless, waste of the air they breathe kind of human. The virus with shoes.

They are out there but they are not the real problem. The bigger issue is the wine geek who hates certain wines. The wine aficionado who picks on specific bottles, bullies them to the point of hatred. Slags them beyond reproach. Rants to the world about the injustice of their existence.

I will tell you why I have to say what I have to say. When I entered the LCBO tasting lab last Friday I saw three bottles sitting on the sterile counter, three Pinot Noir that made hairs all over my body stand up in horrified attention. Three Chuck Wagner Pinots. Les Belle Glos. So I tweeted this.

That was a mistake and I apologize for having written that. My message is this. You may find flaws in wine. You may suss out mistakes in the way a wine is made, sniff out bacteria or mould. You may point out imbalance and general impropriety. But you should not hate.

After all, wine is made from grapes and has fermented into itself. No matter the manipulations, the heavy-handed preparations and the dismissal of varietal or territorial propriety, at the end of the day it is just a bottle of wine. It is still a card-carrying member of the heritage, the extraction and the house. The fact is that when you hate one wine, you hate all wine. Do you see, the instant that you hate a wine, then you hate the world of wine.

There is more. Every wine has a connection to the land it came from. Soft mutinies in the senescence of nature all contribute to the scarring of a wine, of an indelible truth that indicts the world it harmonizes in, like a tract of a forest long ago scorched by a fire. A vineyard shares a history, which each vine remembers, even after it has failed to survive, even after others have not survived, or have been felled or re-planted. All wine has a background, regardless of what it may have suffered during growth and fermentation.

Related – WineAlign guide to VINTAGES April 4th and Easter recipes

And so, please try to be nice. Not every bottle will thrill and most will even disappoint. But do not hate. These seven examples, coming to a VINTAGES kiosk on April 4th do nothing less than restore the faith. They are all classic returns, of familiar and favourite varieties. They are wines to love.

From left to right: Muriel Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2008, Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Isole E Olena Chianti Classico 2011, Domaine Long Depaquit Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaillons 2012, Hess Allomi Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Fuligni Brunello Di Montalcino 2008 and Vitanza Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino 2007

From left to right: Muriel Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2008, Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Isole E Olena Chianti Classico 2011, Domaine Long Depaquit Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaillons 2012, Hess Allomi Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Fuligni Brunello Di Montalcino 2008 and Vitanza Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino 2007

Muriel Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2008, Doca Rioja, Spain (276030, $18.95, WineAlign)

Carries with it the efforts and old barrel trials of generations in its classic aromas. Cedar, dried plum, bitumen, dried anise, wood soaking in natural sugar syrup. Really seamless, flourless and austere in a running wild kind of way. Possessive of length and deserving of that oddest of wine descriptions; supple. This will age for 10-12 years with ease. A great wine for the money, right up there with the Montecillo 1991, but cleaner, juicier and with more sex appeal. A red-head, a ginger, Rita Hayworth, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone.  Tasted March 2015  @bodegasmuriel  @RiojaWine

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Napa Valley, California (221887, $22.95, WineAlign)

The Mondavi course of intention stays on track once again in 2013 though the vintage for Sauvignon Blanc seems at its warmest and ripest in quite some time. This walks a highline of aromatics yet refrains from tragically creamy barrel notes or excessively hop toast. Fruit is the driver, “rushing by the machine revving tension.” That drupe is part fresh and part dried, whiffing citrus and potpourri. Zest is buzzing but not overbearing. Were I locked in the trunk of a car, this bottle of Fumé Blanc would keep good company. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @RobertMondavi  @CBrandsCareers

Isole E Olena Chianti Classico 2011, Docg Tuscany, Italy (704346, $31.95, WineAlign)

The hue and distinguished generational character pay hommage and unconditional loyalties to the noble Sangiovese. Chianti Classico in which patience is a commendable virtue and extreme necessity. The wood and tonic inflate the near nose in screaming interface but five minutes works to soften the early edginess. Now the perfume is intoxicating, so typically IEO, from a beautiful parcel of Chanti Classico out of a very giving vintage. An alluring wine that draws you in with a flirtatious smile of depth and meaning, seamless in personality, never too rich, affected or grandiose. There is no resin and no slice of cake decadence. Though it retains some old-school properties, this CC keeps right in stride with the winemaking times. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @chianticlassico  @HalpernWine

Domaine Long Depaquit Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaillons 2012, Burgundy, France (19364, $31.95, WineAlign)

Bring on the 2012 Chablis. Here, an early, exciting and intense look. Has a combination of spot on salinity and limestone flint from the central Vaillons Cru. Given time this eventually turns to honey, indicating great early promise. This Bichot Estate Chardonnay is ripe and extroverted. Though it won’t be the longest lived, the back-end stony merrymaking and overall exuberance is a great show. If ’12 Chablis is always this much fun, I’ll be buying front row seats. Tasted 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @Bichotwine  @BIVBChablis  @DionysusWines

Hess Allomi Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (906420, $39.95, WineAlign)

Here scrambles forth a high-toned yet exuberant Hess. Dark fruit, old growth bark, fresh tar in summer and natural charcoal on the BBQ. These are the perceptions on a cimmerian, Patwin-coined, single-vineyard red wine from the eastern base of Howell Mountain. This micro-climate (relative to really cold places) experieneces freezing cold winters and later bud break than most of Napa. That difference comes across in the tension of this wine, the dichotomy of hot and cold and manifests by tongue-coating tannin-crusted fruit. Tannin that may take 10 years to integrate. Good concentration of fruit, acidity and that fierce tannin menas lots of energy and stereotypically speaking, even more structure. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @HessCollection  @liffordwine

Fuligni Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Docg Tuscany, Italy (245225, $49.95, WineAlign)

Though the bark and bite of the vintage will try to test even the purest fruit, this Fuligni is immune, the Brunello to absorb difficulty and energe unscathed. Earth. forest, clean mushroom, plum, carob and fresh cherry band together as an admirable aromatic lot. Though the vintage worked against many Montalcino producers, those who picked, vinified and allowed the fruit to do its thing, to be its own talking head, to express itself, made good wine. Enter the house of Eredi Fuligni. This ’08 is like Heaven, talking heady, saying nothing at all. The tune is clear as a whistling from the depths of a canyon. The spice is fragrant, never biting. The oak is like an old favourite song.   The Brunello “in Heaven plays my favorite song. They play it once again, they play it all night long.” Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted March 2015  @ConsBrunello  @HalpernWine

Vitanza Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino 2007, Docg Tuscany, Italy (236232, $89.95, WineAlign)

Here sidlles up to the counter a huge, come home and lay with me now Brunello. Displays all the flirtaious and flamboyant hallmarks of the get me vintage. Gorgeous, juicy red fruit. This wine will make you want to head straight for the bar, load up and go home with wrong woman or man. A full on seducer, asking you, are you ready for love? It’s not so much that this Grosso is bad company, it’s just that it’s so bloody dangerous. It has layered fruit, earth and lace. It has the structure to age. The issue is how could you resist it now? “I’m ready for love. Oh for your love.” Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @TenutaV  @ConsBrunello

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Value the first wine of spring

Lake yet frozen, March 18, 2015

Lake not yet defrosted, March 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related – I shall be Riesling

Related – March 21 big guns

20150317_151442

Almost spring out on the lake

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

Marqués De Cáceres Antea 2013

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

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

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

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

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

 

Boutari Grande Reserve 2008

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

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

Wolfberger Signature Pinot Gris 2013

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

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

Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette De Limoux

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

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

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

Last tasted March 2015

The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Grand Reserve Red 2012

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

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

Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011

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

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

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

Last tasted August 2014  @QueylusVin  @Bachelder_wines

Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

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

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

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Du bon Bachelder: Burgundy, Oregon, Niagara

Bachelder Wines tasting. December 28, 2014 Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Bachelder Wines tasting: December 28, 2014
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Québec native and Niagara Peninsula resident Thomas Bachelder makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in three countries. He may not be the only gypsy winemaker on this planet but he certainly ranks as the most focused. Over the past few years I have had many opportunities to taste and be privy to the diversity, overlapping and incrassation of his portfolio. By now I know so much and understand so little.

There is one thing I do know for sure. Bachelder and partner Mary Delaney form a formidable wine-producing juggernaut. Together they are the vine and the fence. The question is which one is the vine and which one is the fence. If asked they and their guests would likely all produce different answers.

Thomas Bachelder Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Thomas Bachelder
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Thomas and Mary invited a group of us to taste through the Bachelder 2012’s just after Christmas. Ever the great hosts, Thomas and Mary not only poured 16 wines, they also offered up a most excellent feast and left us (Rick VanSickle, Michael Pinkus, Evan Saviolidis and Elena Galey-Pride) amazed and satiated.  Rick’s take on the tasting should be read here: Poetry in motion: Thomas Bachelder unveils his 2012 Pinots and Chardonnays from Niagara, Burgundy and Oregon.

Bachelder Wines Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Bachelder Wines
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

In Oregon Bachelder made wines at Ponzi and Lemelson Vineyards. In Niagara he was best known for creating a world-renowned portfolio of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay through an artfully applied science at Le Clos Jordanne. Beyond Bachelder there is now the Thomas effect at Domaine Queylus. He’s like the Chicken Man, “he’s everywhere, he’s everywhere.”

In Ontario his Pinot Noir fruit mainly comes from the St. David’s Bench vineyard owned by the Lowrey family. The Chardonnays are drawn from the Wismer Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench and the Saunders Vineyard closer to Lake Ontario. In Oregon, the sturdy contrariness of the vines show a marked preference for the sandstone and volcanic (Basaltic) strata, in Yamhill-Carlton and the Willamette, rhymes with dammit – thanks Mary … ;), Valley. In Burgundy the terroir in micro-plots diversify the stratagem even while some are considered lesser locales for growing great Burgundy. But one thing is clear. The lieu-dits that give of their fruit all qualify as appellative wonders of the Bachelder diaspora.

Thomas Bachelder loves his map of Bourgogne. He would crawl inside it if he could.

Thomas Bachelder loves his map of Bourgogne. He would crawl inside it if he could.

For a brief history on the Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara terroirist, check out my two previous posts on the Bachelder project.

Related –  Vineyards, winemakers and their sense of place: Bachelder and Leaning Post

Related –  Synchronicity in three terroirs

Wine writers hard at work. Clockwise from bottom left. Godello, Rick VanSickle, Evan Saviolidis and Michael Pinkus Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Wine writers hard at work. Clockwise from bottom left. Godello, Rick VanSickle, Evan Saviolidis and Michael Pinkus
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Order is an extreme obsession for Thomas Bachelder, in an organized, chaotic way. For this reason, the wines were tasted in the following progression, to make sense of the complexity and variegation in each country from the three distinct yet wholly antithetic bon (Burgundy-Oregon-Niagara) terroirs.

Bachelder 2012 Whites

Bachelder 2012 Whites

Bourgogne Aligoté Champs Pernot 2013, Burgundy, France (SAQ 12089559, $24.00, WineAlign)

From old vines in the commune of Puligny-Montrachet, Bachelder’s Aligoté is a flinty, indiscreetly pinching and itinerant example. More complex than it needs to be, it can be accused of being a risk taker. If Chardonnay is considered in terms of finding excellence out of cool climates, this Aligoté is downright gelid. The wine doth go both ways, at once reductive and then terpenic. Lime citrus concentrates aromas and flavours within a very platinum, mineral frame. Speaks several languages that can be related to but only if you can pry through the cracks in the hard protective shell. Confounding really, yet a fascinating study. Bachelder could do for varietal Burgundy Aligoté in ways similar to Sylvaner in Alsace.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Oregon 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA  (333278, $34.95, WineAlign)

Primarily constructed from the fruit of Yamhill-Carlton vines, a third of which is Lazy River, an apropos moniker because by harvest time it hardly moves. The warm vintage adds a calm dimension to a Pinot Noir more Burgundian than the Bachelder’s Niagara and also more table friendly. Pure perfume and like life in layered, rosy hues, a vie en rose, from the land and the river’s subtle flows. The terra mobilis. The underlying dream in Thomas Bachelder’s Oregon movement is mineral, like salinity, not limestone but something ambiguous from the river’s pull and under the river. Elegance lived and relived. Here is a wine from a very available warm vintage, with a mess of fleshy fruit, yet Thomas does not obfuscate the terroir. In 2012 and needfully so, it is served from a light hand. Currently available at the SAQ in Quebec and coming to VINTAGES in Ontario, Spring 2015.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Niagara 2012 and Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2012

Pinot Noir Niagara 2012 and Pinot Noir Niagara Lowrey Vineyard 2012

 

Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($29.95, WineAlign)

The fruit for Bachelder’s local environ comes from Wismer Parke within the essential Niagara vineyard. By way of setting bearings straight, the Park is contiguous to the Foxcroft and Wingfield sections of the Lowrey Vineyard. A precocious and most positive net gain Pinot Noir most of which, as Thomas so adroitly points out, will be consumed before being allowed to hit its prime. Despite the generic labelling, this is not a mass-produced bottling by any stretch and was swallowed up by licences. It’s a hallmark expression of warmth, texture, vintage and the capability of Pinot Noir in this specific place. What Thomas has achieved, with effective persuasion, is a cloning from intimate belongings; earth, fruit, Lowrey.  Tasted December 2014

Côtes De Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2012, Burgundy, France ($45, WineAlign)

Named for La Montagne, to recognize it for place because local rules forbid calling it what it really is, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. So what was ‘La’ is now ‘Aux’ and with the change, in this vintage, comes something formidable, eliciting a response of aux la la. Let’s talk about this, with no mocking tone, just real thoughts. Anything but regional, this Bachelder is so very Villages, specifically lieu-dit, with its depth of earth and release of perfume. A piercing sort of Pinot Noir from a which a sauce could be fashioned out of its sheer intensity, to bathe meats. The concentration has a citrus feign, bright, in the back, along with a giving and Burgundy forgiving mineral funk. In this Burgundy, the mountain lurks, in spirit torque. Will unwind for up to 10 years. Available at the SAQ in Quebec.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Johnson Vineyard Oregon 2012 and Côtes De Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2012

Pinot Noir Johnson Vineyard Oregon 2012 and Côtes De Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2012

Pinot Noir Johnson Vineyard Oregon 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon (SAQ 12065338, $44.50, WineAlign)

A hard-working wine that reaches for fibres not available for weave in the Bachelder ‘basic’ Oregon Pinot, the Johnson digs into the salty waters beneath the earth. Draws up its hydration, the astonishing fidelity of minerals magnetized and then redacts the smokey, splintering spokes of wood. The juice in 2012 flows and follows the inconsistencies of the skin and the barrel like the river travels along the irregularities of the land. Rich, dusty, brooding and intuitive. The Johnson is bent on serious intent, like a sculptor’s dentil relief, with increased shadow, less mannerist in 2012, deeper, darker and of more solemnity. When the ’11 was at first hard to figure then soon after revealed its charms, this ’12 will take much longer to unravel. The brightness of Oregon Pinot Noir is perhaps its greatest attribute so here that light is not yet known. Wait three to five years to find out its truth.  Tasted December 2014

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

A balanced and thoughtful wine, from five rows of mostly mysterious, and unknown clones. There simply is no other locale in Ontario that you can grow Pinot Noir any further away from lake and river and still unearth such depth. Though terroir-driven, this shares little with other geographical perimeter outliers, like Ravine and Coyote’s Run. Can only be Lowrey; folkish, demotic, St. David’s Bench vernacular. From my earlier, October 2014 note: “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.”  Last tasted December 2014

Nuits St Georges La Petite Charmotte 2012, Burgundy, France (357228, $49.95, WineAlign)

Here grinds a wine that could want for some decant, a pause for thought while the imbibers assess their ways through Oregon, Niagara, Johnson and Lowrey. A pent-up perfume, when allowed to breath in and then out, results in a concentration of aromatic certainty. Tight and bracing, with cedar and bitumen, cherry and rose, this single-vineyard NSG hugged up on a northern slope is both adamantine Nuits and the pretty dame of Beaune. Straddles the arrondissement’s Burgundian twain, the Neaune, from iron to sublime. The imprint of yearning and distance.  Tasted December 2014

Les Bas Liards Savigny Lès Beaune 2012, Burgundy, France (SAQ 12089567, $38.25, WineAlign)

Only two barrels (one and two year-old, zero per cent new oak) were procured of this 100 per cent Pinot Blanc. “I’m a barrel fermenting maniac,” admits Bachelder. He might also say “I’ve got a job, I explore, I follow every little whiff and I want my life to smell like this.” Stone fruit is in resolution and integration, fully, completely. This quenches thirst, like chewing on raw fish. Why Pinot Blanc in Savigny Lès Beaune is the $64K question with an answer tragically not really known. Its taste is not just Pinot Blanc, it is the flavour of Savigny Lès Beaune. It is PB looking for a place to happen. The argument is logomachy, the reality is Savigny. What it delivers is a clean, hip Burgundian message and at the same time asks, “do you taste Chardonnay?” Yes? No, I taste Savigny Lès Beaune.  Tasted December 2014

Bachelder Chardonnay Johnson Vineyard 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA ($44.95, WineAlign)

From the best four of twenty barrels (and 15 – 18 per cent new oak). The salinity drawn is deeper still, like a bone from the skin of the sea. Rich tones, components, tannic texture, filibuster Chardonnay. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “More specifically a product of its ocean meets sous terre soil than Bachelder’s basic (term used loosely) Chardonnay, the Johnson nicks more richesse, around and around fullness. Not to mention the cerebral wisdom of two Scots and a Charlemagne. Johnson’s progressive and forward thinking maker works with inconspicuous wood and the science of introducing oxygen into wine in a controlled manner.  He might say “for it is wisdom that we have for sale.” Like a white-winged dove, the 2012 will trod lightly towards a long walk to a very long life. It can be imagined aging to the edge of seventeen. The earthy feel, the salinity, not from tannin but from soil, “the music there, well, it was hauntingly familiar.” This is iridescent Oregon in a Bachelder voice. No doubt.”  Last tasted December 2014

Niagara Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (VINTAGES Essential 302083, $29.95, WineAlign)

Primarily fruit sourced from Wismer-Foxcroft and Wismer-Wingfield plots, the oak treatment is 15 per cent new. Shows so much more warmth than Oregon. More honey and tropical notes than many peers as well. And still limestone crusted apple is the major finishing key in a Chardonnay that sings a familiar Niagara hymn. From my earlier May 2014 note: “Bottled just one month ago, contrary to the monk’s assertion, there is nothing shocky about her. Her fruit is downy soft, round without being fat because as Bachelder maintains, real as always, you “can’t have the minerality of that perfect 2011, I’m not going to bullshit you.” The 2012 is a wine unconscious in its own obviousness, ready for anything. Gregarious, golden, fresh fruit that was ready to roll out of its barrel and into the waiting glass long before its maker was prepared to open the valve. And of course there is a mineral finish. It can’t help but be.” Last tasted December 2014

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay 2012

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay 2012

Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign)

From a site 2.5 km’s from the lake, right on the highway at 30 Bench. Derives its plushness from mere proximity so “serve it first,” pleads Thomas. So much lush, more richesse and yet today, Saunders is a bit closed, primary even. Will yet need some time to find its way. Coming to VINTAGES, Spring 2015. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.”  Last tasted December 2014

Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012

Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012

Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

An appraisal of Wismer, much further up on the Bench as compared to Saunders, is always fraught with side by each guilt. The two coax and dissuade each other in every respect, from vintage to vintage and in flip-book oscillation. Once again, the reversal is complete in 2012. Wismer gives not just power and warmth, but layering. Its voice is an astonishing fidelity of native rock magnetized. Wismer finds a way to make grace necessary and to make necessity graceful. While Saunders made yeoman’s work of 11’s crazies with precision and poise, Wismer takes the glow of ’12 and turns it into cool sunshine. This Chardonnay of wealthy fruit, controlled oak, olivine and feldspar tannin will slowly wash up like driftwood on the gravelly beach of life. Give it a year or two to assimilate the components and drink it for 10 more.  Tasted December 2014

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012, Burgundy, France (272005, $35.95, WineAlign)

From lower Puligny, this is rich, forward and expressive Chardonnay. While it may gangle out with a fierce, pierce of the tang, a change fills the air after much discussion about a barrel, how it is used and to what effect, both for its current and predictable future. Has that honeyed, lemon toasty unctuousness, a weave that is weighty and glazed. Some wood spice and a colourable, creamy curd of citrus. Oak compounds the sweetness and layering. Puligny runs through its wooden veins and pumps micro-oxygenated nutrients to the important, internal organs. The eventuality here is the alleviation of pressure and a retrofit of fruit to elegance. Strike another notch up and step forward for the Bachelder Burgundy sojourn. There is still so much to learn and even this will seem pedestrian compared to what will come but for now it’s just fine, thank you very much.  Tasted December 2014

Savigny Lès Beaune Les Bas Liards 2012 and Marsannay Clos du Roy 2012 

Savigny Lès Beaune Les Bas Liards 2012 and Marsannay Clos du Roy 2012

Marsannay Clos du Roy 2012, Burgundy, France ($39.25, WineAlign)

The ‘King’s Hill’ which is just half of the misnomer because how can a plot of such ability be considered so low on the Cru pole. Half of a new barrel went into the minuscule (two barrel) blend. Chardonnay like lace, from nothing less than an appellation prepared to offer up fine drink, in pastry and in textile. Tropical tree fruits hang in rows, connected by cream and the contending forces of smoke and bite. Always the end game of rock envelops the whole, like gabbroid nodules, permeating every fissure.  And so, because a Bachelder Chardonnay must comply, as the earth invisibly prepares its vines for successes and failures, so history is the creeping intent.  Tasted December 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

50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more

I arrived at Brock University for the Cool Chardonnay conference on Friday and we began tasting the first of 117 sometime around 11:00 am. On Friday night we convened under the stars st 13th Street Winery for the Barrels and Bonfires event. On Saturday I taxied up the Cave Spring Road runway for an afternoon in the Cave Spring vineyard with the Pennachettis and on Saturday bussed over to Vineland Research and Innovation Centre for the grand Cool Chardonnay dinner.

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

On Sunday we wrapped up at Ravine Vineyard. In between events, we tasted Chardonnay in the Media Room at White Oaks Resort and Spa. All of this not would not have been possible without the efforts of Wine Country Ontario.  I posted 20 or so tasting notes in Monday’s column, scribbles apropos to the events associated with the presented wines.

Here are 50 more tasting notes in 5,000 Godello words, add or subtract a few hundred. If you follow doctor’s orders and take one Chardonnay every hour for 50 hours, this is the result.

I've fallen and I can't get up. @mikedicaro channelling his inner MacGyver to save #i4c14

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. @mikedicaro channelling his inner MacGyver to save #i4c14

Angels Gate Old Vines Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116350, $23.95, WineAlign)

The long hanging fruit left to develop sugar and richness, the new oak, the eight months rest on the lees. These are all winemaker favourite things, stylistic choices that contribute to a viscous mess of a Chardonnay. A full take has been liberally advantaged from the hot vintage. The alcohol is listed at 13.5 per cent but the wine sweats higher, in a sun-caramelized toast, leaning to oxidative, even bruised and battered orchard fruit territory. As a consequence and in retreat, the acidity dot does follow. The new wood has melded well and good so in terms of texture, the old vines feel right.  Tasted July 2014

Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116384, $15.25, WineAlign)

The Mountainview, despite being a value offering as compared to the Old Vines just seems to be in better temper. There is more mineral on the palate, too. Angles here are less extreme, fruit not as languid or encumbered. The persistence in length seems greater, thanks in most part to freshness, even if the fruit is not quite as fleshy as the OV.  Tasted July 2014

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 and Hidden Bench Felseck Chardonnay 2011

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 and Hidden Bench Felseck Chardonnay 2011

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

Has Wismer found a cruising altitude? Has this Grand Cru vineyard from a most perplexing 2011 vintage entered the telephone booth in civilian clothes, only to soon emerge as a super hero? Will it sing, “I am, I am Superman and I can do anything?” Wismer has rounded out a bit, at present in a grounded form, but we know it will fly to greater heights and at faster speeds. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice.” Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with it’s touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”  Last Tasted July 2014

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

Juicy and immediately perceived as existing in unwavering balance. The juxtaposition of the stainless steel and (three year-old oak for seven months) barrel aging intertwines fresh and reductive aromas to a common meld. More orchard fruit than I remember, more linear acidity, more expression. Raises the bar and the score. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Half barrel-aged, this Chardonnay has a silky mouth feel and as much nip as can be assimilated in a single mouthful. Green apple, blanched nuts and a metallic tickle give the sensation of chewing on crumbling stones. There is considerable girth and texture here, spicy folds and tangible tension. The alloy trumps the fruit so consider drinking up now and for another year or two.”  Last tasted July 2014

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

A thick, rich and medicated goo this ’11 Blue Mountain Chardonnay. “Mother Nature just brewed it and there’s nothing really to it I know.” A traffic of oak waves in not so much woody but more so simply tannic. The palate is clenched, those tannins angular and ever so slightly bitter, intense and want to be bigger than the fruit would be willing to allow. This is Chardonnay with personality and ability, if just a bit big for its own head. Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring wines

Cave Spring wines

Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (213983, $29.95, WineAlign)

Today a fine misty Blancs, looking very much the coppery, crisp slice of apple it need be. Slate stone tone directive, grapefruit very much in play. A slice of tart key lime pie. From my earlier May 2014 note: “The freshest style of the #ONfizz B de B flight. Fruit, escarpment bench stone layering, richesse, biscuits and toast are all in. Acidity meets complexity.” From my earlier, December 2012 note: “Sees no malolactic fermentation and sits at the top end of dry (12-14 dosage). Most of the fruit is 2008, despite the NV designation. A soda fountain of argon and nitrogen bunsens forth through clean lines and carries an entire cider house orchard of Spartan apple. This one certainly hints at Champagne-like characteristics, of brioche and toast. The apples never relent.” Last tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Dolomite Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (902610, $16.95)

The Dolomite is the eponymous CS Chardonnay via 86 per cent Beamsville Bench (Cave Spring Vineyard) and 14 per cent Lincoln Lakeshore . Driven to the licensee market, this is 25 years of winemaking in a nut (or limestone) shell. Made in a fresh, clean, juicy and oh so approachable style, the Dolomite finishes with a slight bitter pith, very obvious citrus zest slant. Remains clean and pure throughout, thanks in large part to the 26 percent more aromatic and very presentable portion of Chardonnay Musqué.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2011, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $15.95, WineAlign)

Musqué is slowly creeping into the Niagara consciousness and into the hearts of winemakers across the peninsula. The aptitude with which it accedes to perfumed heights and respectable complexity without needing excessive coercion makes it both necessary and inviting, especially when a vigneron like Cave Spring is attempting to produce so many levels of quality juice. Chardonnay made easy and without compromise, exemplified here, though the CS take heads straight to the mandarin-clementine stage. Dry, direct, linear, fine and knowing Musqué, not unlike basic yet effective Gruner Veltliner.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2012, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (256552, $18.95, WineAlign)

The vine age on the Estate runs between 18 and 35 years, a wisdom not to be ignored. Usage of older Hungarian oak lends spice to Chardonnay on-line and always climbing the right and proper varietal tower. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Terrific balance to the warm and inviting fruit, certainly orchard driven and kissed by the Spring’s obvious mineral slate. Clean, open-knit, ready, willing and able.”  Last tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Csv Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (529941, $29.95, WineAlign)

Though currently subtle and reserved, if the Csv were once in a wonky phase, the doors to a new perception are now open. Soaked orchard fruit, the underlay of stone and a surround sound of chalky tenderness leads to length, for time is what this Chardonnay has got. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Here is a vibrant and wild at heart expression of Bench Grand Cru terroir, the Cave Spring Vineyard. While the first impression may be a warm one it seems (for the vintage) that is because it’s big, boisterous and a bit clumsy in wood right now. The acidity seems buried at times and at others on top. It is also a touch reductive so this will need more years to settle and to play nice. The aromas indicate green apple meets metal pipe, the flavours orchard and salinity by way of limestone minerality. The length is more than admiral and admirable.” Last tasted July 2014

Clois du Bois Calcaire Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, California, USA (421941, $28, WineAlign)

Inserting the calcaire nomenclature into your RRV label is to announce that your Chardonnay is influenced by calcium carbonate and the ancient, long ago decomposed bones of coral and foraminifera. A heady designation for sure and Clos Du Bois backs it up with its sedimentary and chalky textured ’11. There is a fine stone-ground spice and floral lilt, not to mention a demurred wave, like an under water coral and vegetative scene in slow motion. Clean, pure, lively fruit, picked just in time and left to develop low and slow. I can see this Calcaire gaining complexity for 10 plus years and always living up to its name.   Tasted July 2014

Creation Chardonnay 2012, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (379297, $29, WineAlign)

A macadam drafts from the Creation drawn from what might provocatively be a pair of gravel pits at the base of the Hemel En Aarde Valley. A soul 2012 brother to the Sumaridge though grounded and layered by the lower slopes. That said it does the heavy lifting, offers up more green apple driven fruit and less tannic mineral activity. A bigger wine but by no means a serf to its wood liege. Another stellar ’12.  Tasted July 2014

Creation Chardonnay 2013, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (378554, $32, WineAlign)

Creation brightens in 2013, lifts up to more intense rose flower and potpourri aromas. The intensity follows on the very viscous palate, bringing an increased ocean breeze salinity and scraped rock sensibility. There is a granitic feel that reminds of Rangen Riesling in its own tannic way. In the end the elegance factor takes over and the wine perseveres for a spell.  Tasted July 2014

Decelle Villa Savigny Les Beaune Blanc 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (378208, $40.95, WineAlign)

From low-yielding (20 hL/l) vines, like all of Burgundy (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), as opposed to the 40-45 quotient that might be expected from much of ‘lighter’ Savigny Les Beaune, especially for Chardonnay. Aged for 12 months in two year-old, 500l barrels, there is an alluring and rich feel here, though the wine is fresh, inviting and immediately integrated. A more than approachable White Burgundy to relish now and for a quick tour of the village.  Tasted July 2014

Decelle Saint Aubin 2012

Decelle Saint Aubin 2012

Decelle Villa Saint Aubin 1er Cru Sur Gamay 2012, Saint Aubin, Burgundy, France (377713, $69, WineAlign)

From the partnership of Olivier Decelle, Pierre-Jean Villa and the confidence of winemaker Jean Lupatelli. The town is Gamay, the variety Chardonnay. Only five barrels (125 cases) were produced by a trio of men with zero interest in speculating over land, fruit or success. Barrel fermentation is key, natural yeast a must and a kinship with Puligny uncanny. Not surprising considering the famed locale is but three kilometres away. This cooler fruit spent 15 months in two year-old barrels and though only bottled five weeks prior to tasting there is nary a shocky note. Such a well-adjusted Gamay. Entrancing and engaging Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Domaine Dublère Savigny-Lès-Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1er Cru 2011, AC Burgundy, France (376095, $58.95, WineAlign)

Unusual nose that begins with white candy floss, transforms to gun powder and finishes into the toasty mystic. Unexpectedly warm, buttery and tingling on the tongue, though that is just a faint and fleeting notion. A taste brings out apple-butter terpenes, though once again, that’s just for an instant. While looking for richness their instead ticks intelligence but everything is in foreign tongue shorthand. Balance is key and that it has but ultimately there lacks a certain level of depth.  Tasted July 2014

Domaine Dublère Les Terres Blanches Nuits-St.-Georges 1er Cru 2011, AC Burgundy, France (376079, $105, WineAlign)

Big, boisterous and highly terpenic, so steroidal in apples. MdC  “Donut wines…a hole in the middle.” A tang as well that just doesn’t sit right, a dog that bites. Bitter, tight, bracing, non repentant for its sins.  Don’t really get it.   Tasted July 2014

Gérard Bertrand Domaine De L’Aigle Limoux Chardonnay 2012, AC Midi, France (377671, $33.00, WineAlign)

Rich, honeyed and seemingly sweet, not from sugar (3 g/L) but rather the pressing, squeezing and juicing of stones. That limestone tannin is a trick only grape must and its parent vines know, wondrous and inexplicable. Great body and mouthfeel come from this baby Aigle, a Chardonnay with locally incomparable structure, if not quite the elastic length and girth of the Bertrand Royal. Exceptional quality from the Midi.  Tasted July 2014

Gérard Bertrand Aigle Royal Chardonnay 2012, AP Limoux, Midi, France (377689, $75.00)

Anxiety in high caste mineral, in ingot and in southern French platinum rock. Full textured beauty of attitude and high-slope altitude, with formidable weight, smouldering, perfumed toast and exceptional texture. Full in every way, taking every liberty in the name of equality, and quality. A who knew such bounds could be leaped by the warmth of the place.  Tasted July 2014

Godello and Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Winery

Godello and Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Winery

Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68817, $28.95, WineAlign)

Yet rigid in its youth, the wood is not yet settled. Bottled in September of 2012, the ’12 will need every day of its first year to be ready, willing and able to please upon release. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Always aromatically embossed and texturally creamy, the Estate Chardonnay finds a way to elevate its game with each passing vintage. The uplifting elegance factor acquiesces the poise needed to battle the effects of ultra-ripe fruit out of a warm vintage. In ’12 the middle ground exchanges more pleasantries though the finale speaks in terse, toasted nut and piquant daikon terms. Not harshly or witchy, mind you, but effectively and within reason of the season. When you look in the window at Harald (proprietor Thiel) and Marlize’s (winemaker Beyers) Chardonnay, “you’ve got to pick up every stitch.”  Last tasted July 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $38, WineAlign)

Bottled in March of 2014, the Felseck draws fruit from vines planted in 1988. Proprietor Harald Thiel notes a three-pronged picking regimen, early, mid and late, vinified separately and brought together to bring layering and tapestry out of this extraordinary vineyard and into the finished wine. The many folds and clay-silt soil provide a tannic structure dichotomously “champlant” in style, pastoral even, subdued and ethereal. The nerve in this Chardonnay comes by way of the active limestone, highest in Felseck as compared to any other HB block. This may be the most direct Chardonnay in all of Niagara, the house of permanent cards, the as of yet not witnessed balance achieved. This is the check that affirms a stand and a step towards a legacy.  Tasted twice, July 2014

Godello and Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines

Godello and Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines

Josef Chromy Chardonnay ‘Pepik’ 2012, Tasmania, Australia (378240, $22)

Chardonnay of stainless steel from Chromy’s estate vineyard at Relbia in northern Tasmania, cool, savoury green, spirited and grinding in tight, sharp angles. From what winemaker Jeremy Dineen describes as “a pungent must,” the Pepik is entry-level and anything but. There is a gentle, stable and clarified zesty personality in ‘er, fragrant, snappy and poignant. Versatile for a walkabout with many a pre-dinner flavour.  Tasted July 2014

Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2013, Tasmania, Australia (378232, $32, WineAlign)

In a world where 30+ degrees celsius is a veritable anomaly and the maritime winds spray salt to and fro, there can be little argument against the celebration of (winemaker) Jeremy Dineen’s Chardonnay at a cool climate conference. Sulphured early and housed in one-third new French oak, his lees were stirred often and always. Highly textured, he is succinctly clean, cutting and crunchy with an underlying chalky rationale and smokey, tonic toast. The Chromy ’13 is a demanding croon that must creep up to get a hold of you. Though you tell him “you treat me badly, I love you madly,” there is a miracle in his non-malolactic ways.   Tasted July 2014

Kistler Les Noisetiers 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (251223, $80, WineAlign)

Long distance runner built for endurance, a cool customer able to withstand the heat from a season’s relentless, though moderate, gentle sun, from start to finish. No shortage of ripe fruit and certainly not wanting for the micro-oxygenated slow release of a prized barrel. This might be the two-bit Kistler bottling but it offers up exemplary Sonoma fruit with the temperament and conceit of high caste Burgundy. The style is culled from two poles and pulls in two directions.  At once sharp and piquant, then golden and in mirth. All in all it’s exactly what should be wanted for the buyer who wants what it has to give.  Tasted three times, July 2014

Kistler Stone Flat Vineyard 2012, Carneros, California (agent, $80, WineAlign)

The Carneros vineyard of Tuscan clay is filled with giant river stones. It consequently offers up more of a stone groove, but also an everglade humidity, a lemony spray and a rub of savoury, evergreen. The palate brings a crisp, cool, mountain morning, a rushing stream of fresh water and the cool mountain air. There is a piercing bite on the mid-palate, a peppery spice that lingers than releases for a full wash, a cleanse in mineral. Amazing balance in tightrope tension and length to a horizon out of sight.  Great wine. Finds its elegance and its cool without any effort, like the power lift of a ballet dancer.  Tasted three times, July 2014

Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2011, Sonoma Coast, California (agent, $89.95, WineAlign)

This is from the vineyard in surround of Kistler’s home base and from soil anything but flattering to the host vines. Sandy, deficient in nutrients, “like beach sand,” says Geoff Labitzke, MW, that seemingly has no bottom. Irrigational tubing is employed and perhaps some nitrogen in mid-summer but as per the Kistler stratagem, the VH is dry-farmed. This has the most golden sunshine of the three Chardonnays tasted at #i4C14. It’s brighter, with linear acidity and a very toasty, nutty feel. Sitting with it a while is necessary to appreciate its charm and gathering power.  Tasted July 2014

Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyard at 13th Street Winery

Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyard at 13th Street Winery

Lailey Brickyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (2908, $30.20, WineAlign)

From a vineyard planted in 2004 on the east end of the Lailey property, right next to the river. The red clay soil, the cooler nights and the longer growing season produced just 70 cases of this highly singular and stupidly inexpensive Niagara Chardonnay. This is a vineyard transformed over 10 years from a brickyard and cherry tree farm, now rich yet elegant in simultaneous motion, not to mention seamless in transition, within and without. Brother Derek Barnett is generously giving this rare, small lot Chardonnay away, all the while “talking, about the space between us all…and life flows on,” along the Niagara River.  Tasted July 2014

Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay Old Vines 2012, VQA Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $40.20, WineAlign)

The old Vines were planted between 1974 and 1978, ancient by Niagara standards. Only gnarly old, gristle veteran dudes like these could handle the beastly burden of 16 months in 50 per cent new French oak, not to mention all the while sitting on top of the lees heap. It may ask you “am I hard enough, am I rough enough, am I rich enough?” You may tell it “you’re tropical, you’re subtle, you’re sweet yet cool in mouthfeel, you’re elegant and you’re “not too blind to see,” but you carry that oak with ease.  Tasted July 2014

Malivoire Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (573147, $19.95, WineAlign)

Essentially bone-dry, kissed by a minor peck of new oak and consistently established, here from fruit out of Estate, Moira and (10 per cent) Vinemount Ridge vineyards. The latter adds flinty complexity by way of an intangible, aeriform note, magnified by the warmth of the vintage. The humidity is very minor, thanks to prudent early (September 1 to 12) picking of Beamsville Bench grapes in ever-present rooted stability. Here is hospitable Chardonnay gaining traction and interest with each passing vintage, showcasing the work of winemaker Shiraz Mottiar and as a portal to the investigations of Small Lot, Moira, Mottiar and Cat on the Bench. Tasted July 2014

Malivoire and Riedel, Image (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Malivoire and Riedel, Image (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

In admiral control this summer, rich in stone-churned butter and in residence of a right honourable place. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Gamay may be winemaker Shiraz Mottiar’s decisive resource but Chardonnay is his thing. The Moira’s ranks as one of Niagara’s best, vintage in, vintage out and this Mottiar, from the winemaker’s home vineyard is the trump card. This Malivoire special agent is set in 2 – 5 year old 300 L French oak hogsheads and aged on the lees in barrel for 10 months. The result? Texture. With the use, or lack thereof in new oak, Mottiar’s Chardonnay becomes a study in compages, with strong abilities and the accents of green orchard fruit and a faint sensation of blanched nut. Nothing toasty mind you because it’s all about density and girth; a Shiraz thing. I find his Chardonnay is all about texture.”  Last tasted July 2014

Manciat-Poncet Crémant de Bourgogne Brut NV, Burgundy, France (378653, $28)

A tragically gingered peach, a candied rhinestone, a ready to bake hip cake for the easy oven. Safe bubbles here, “pale as a light bulb hanging on a wire, sucking up to someone just to stoke the fire,” from a distance, with simplicity and caution. Like getting caught in New Orleans with a sinking feeling.  Tasted July 2014

Marie-Pierre Manciat Les Morizottes Mâcon 2012, Burgundy, France (376137, $27, WineAlign)

There are some unhinged and unusual aromas in this Mâcon, of carbon copies, a stainless tank and Musa. Pears too, pinballing and ready for poaching. Faux or perhaps near-mineral texture, slightly saline, with flint and slate. The complexities are boundless and confounding. Highly expressive but the expressions are not all created equal.   Tasted July 2014

Marie-Pierre Manciat Les Petites Bruyères Pouilly-Fuissé 2012, Burgundy, France (376129, $39, WineAlign)

There is a deep rust, faded jeans vine wisdom in the Pouilly-Fuissé. It steps out with more richness and tension than the Mâcon. Balanced energy and stretched length.  Tasted July 2014

Marimar Estate La Masía Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, (331918, $49, WineAlign)

First notes are high in the hills of the tropics, in pineapple, mango and papaya. A veritable smoothie of very ripe, creamy fruit and though it carries a 14 per cent mark in alcohol there rests a jury of acceptable behaviour. Finesse has won the argument, leaving bits of white pepper, reduction and vineyard funk behind. There is a persistence that belies the price on this judiciously-oaked Chardonnay, complete with its avocation of high-powered notations in an expensive suit.  Tasted July 2014

THe Chardonnay of #i4c14

The Chardonnay of #i4c14

Maycas Del Limarì Sumaq Chardonnay 2013, Limari Valley, Chile (Agent, $15.00, WineAlign)

This unoaked Chilean is fresh yet herbal, though mildly so and lime-accented, but certainly not spiked in any Tequila or other southern hemisphere distilled spirit from a large seeping plant kind of way. Fine and subtle actually, so not overtly cool or lifted by altitude influenced climatic acidity. Peacefully, Pacifically tempered Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Maycas Del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2010, Limarí Valley, Chile (162040, $20.00, WineAlign)

This unoaked Chilean is fresh yet herbal, though mildly so and lime-accented, but certainly not spiked in any Tequila or other southern hemisphere distilled spirit from a large seeping plant kind of way. Fine and subtle actually, so not overtly cool or lifted by altitude influenced climatic acidity. Peacefully, Pacifically tempered Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Maycas Del Limarì Quebrada Seca Chardonnay 2011, Limari Valley, Chile

Known as the “dry cliff” this is from a southern parcel (Pinot Noir comes from the north), a calcium carbonate plot that leads to this stone-driven Chardonnay. Nearly 200 metres above sea level, the altitude brings more cool to this bottling, more ventilated salinity, an almost wet-air, asthmatic sense of breathing. Really defined by oyster shell, this has more fruit than the value-based offerings, increased density, more citrus, both dried and condensed. A lot going on here, quite unique and worth a good look.  Tasted July 2014

Niagara College Teaching Winery Balance Barrel Fermented Chardonnay Donald Ziraldo Vineyard 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.15, WineAlign)

From the St. David’s Bench, this avant-garde label saw 11 months in French and American barriques, along with regular lees stirring. Certainly hovering and circulating in wide-ranging textural graces. A whole lotta love and learning is in this bottle; it’s round and golden with a high-spirited tang. At once typical and contrived, it’s also reeking and soaking like a sponge. Many an orchard makes an aromatic class audit. A high-toned citrus exam demands attention and focus. The wood is obvious but it too will learn. All in all this is cool Chardonnay, well-made and ready for the world.  Tasted July 2014

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (173377, $24.00, WineAlign)

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.  Tasted July 2014

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (381905, $40.00, WineAlign)

From 100 per cent hillside Estate fruit, a limestone and slate parcel in St. David’s on the Niagara Escarpment. This is fruit from low yields that spent 24 months of unabashed pleasure in French oak. Though highly concentrated and bent in an oxygenated stratosphere, the reduction is in elevated citrus aromas and piercing mineral flavours. Bigger than many, than your head, than a yottabyte. The complex notations are elevated in so many ways. Strung tighter than a leer kite, the heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds are years away from settling so put this Ravine away. Come back next decade to see where it’s at.  Tasted July 2014

Rex Hill Dijon Clone Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon (378455, $46.00, WineAlign)

Palate cleansing Chardonnay, an attribute that can’t be stressed or praised enough when tasting 117 renditions in a span of 50 hours. The Rex Hill is lithe, crisp and pure, a wine with a sense of wisdom. He is a subtle act of wine generosity. He smells like clove-scented, fine-casted ingot and is full of health increasing salinity and minerality. A wine of direct discovery, simple professionalism, restraint and impeccable balance. There is a green apple flavour, gently pressed and juiced. There is a texture from quarry rocks, the creamed kind, slightly piquant, merely dusted. The Rex is a very fine, calm representative with a sure sense of place.  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! “Richness” Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

This special, specific and idiosyncratic batch by winemaker Ann Sperling is a whirlwind of terpene, wood and lees, all in a whorl. Though all three demanding notions make a play to bully the fruit, this is no ordinary fruit and touched by no passive hands. Complex and textured like angelic cake, there is a distinct aroma coming from the righteous barrel, a high octane, tropical nuance, in smouldering pineapple, creamy mango and mangosteen. This Chardonnay spits the vintage heat out through the gap in its front teeth, goes all tense and nervous, does not relax. There is chalk and stone, like slate, like Calcaire Riesling, all in at 14.3 per cent abv. An all out intense effort, a wow bit of Niagara, but what exactly is this monster? The amazing thing is that there is just a ton of fruit so you can let this settle down for 10 years or more. As BMS notes, “it’s raw and unleashed.”  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (366500, $50.00, WineAlign)

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 July 2014

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2012, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (378760, $35, WineAlign)

In direct antithesis to what was a more than commendable 2011, this follow-up takes the Sumaridge illustrious Cru torch and raises the Hemel En Arde bar to the most complex portion of the ridge. Proprietor Holly Bellingham notes the near perfect vintage, with rain falling gracefully and slowly throughout, unlike the heavy shelling just before the 2011 harvest. Here the seamless connections of ocean winds, granite give and beatific vines mean this ’12 is super bad. Sunshine intensity, cool godfather of soul moves and dancing nerve are all as one. This is like a mineral sponge, sopping up fresh fruit and the slightest notion of toasted nuts. “Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme. Heeeeey, (scream). Uh, come on!” How will Sumaridge top this?  Tasted July 2014

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2011, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (378760, $35, WineAlign)

Though it lacks the elegance of the astonishing 2012, there is a freshness and a vigor that still defines the Valley. The aromatics create an expectation despite the heavy rains at harvest, a deluge that had a thinning effect on the fruit. The kick or punch in the pith caused neither dilution nor disease and this ’11 rebounded to carry the fire. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Though it would be naïve to think every Chardonnay produced out of the Hemel En Aarde Valley is the stuff of grand cru, recent examples have done nothing but impress. Sumaridge joins Hamilton Russell and Creation on the Walker Bay dream team. Ocean breeze-cooled slopes and deprived soils of decomposed granite loam with quartzite manage rich fruit with cool ease. In this 2011 a most excellent trifecta of dryness (1.7 g/L), acidity (6.9 g/L) and PH (3.45) brings together texture and tannin. Though seemingly sweet it is anything but a cloying example. Buttery but mild in toast, quite piercing yet tempered by an herbal quality, not warm or balmy, but inexorably herbal. Schematically waxy, splashed by lemon and piqued by zest.”  Last tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA  (agent, $41.95, WineAlign)

Tasted with proprietor Brian Talley at Cave Spring Vineyard in a setting to do justice for a wine with an irrigated gully of heart. Barrel fermented, using wild yeasts and aged for 10 months in French oak, 20 per cent of it new. Pours thick, rich and viscous into the glass with a reality that is pure, light and elegant. This is so much cooler in direction than could be perceived or believed. “I want to make wine that tastes like our grapes and not someone else’s barrels,” insists Talley. That philosophy equates to a pansophy of orange citrus and the misty spray of its scored skin, so aromatic, so in blossom, so floral. Not sure there has been nosed such succulence in restraint from Arroyo, from California or from anywhere Chardonnay grows in warm climes.  Tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA  (winery, $61.95, WineAlign)

The Rincon Block was planted in 1984, the “home” vineyard next to the winery. Tight, bracing, savoury and bound by a tannic, mineral extraction. Only 17 barrels (just under 500 cases) were produced of this 100 per cent (14 months in 20 per cent new oak) barrel fermented Chardonnay marked by wow intensity. “Jump back, what’s that sound, here she comes, full blast and top down.” Wailin’ Halen Chardonnay trampled underfoot, what can you say, like chanting “Panama ah-oh-oh-oh-oh.” Talley’s Rincon ’12 never relents, stays on the throttle, puts the pedal to the metal and speeds the van towards a persistent, consistent finish. Bring on the Digby, Nova Scotia scallops, from coast to coast.  Tasted July 2014

Tantalus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (VINTAGES 378821, $42, BC VQA, 114884, $29.90, WineAlign)

The immediacy of this Chardonnay is felt, in perfumed poise, in palate roundness, in a velvet wrap of texture. A finely balanced and over-achieving elegance from out of a single vineyard, specifically “block 6,” which sits above a gravel bed, on an eastern aspect in South East Kelowna. A mild toast, a blanch of nuts and creamy citrus coagulate to create a transcendent B.C. Chardonnay experience, one that seems like it could be eaten with a spoon. “It peels off and ties that bind me,” and after tasting I saw the light. Chardonnay with an unconscious redirection of feelings, a transference unique and welcome.  Tasted July 2014

Thelema Mountain Blanc de Blancs 1994, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (376111, $28)

Méthode Cap Classique fine bubbles still motivated and in blender motion that if fading can be excused with a thousand pardons. With no more than 2 g/L of residual sugar it’s an Extra Brut style that has survived two decades. Far eastern spices and orange melon that remain cool, juicy and unfermented give it youthful aromas. One of those hard to believe 20 year-old success stories that will continue to give to 25. Wild yeast and grated wasabi square off the peg in this Stellenbosch ringer for vintage Champagne. Buy one now at VINTAGES Shop Online, bring it to a party, be the coolest Chardonnay cat around.  Tasted July 2014

A selection of international and Ontario sparkling wines on ice. Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

A selection of international and Ontario sparkling wines on ice. Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (20431, $23, WineAlign)

Fruit divides time and space from the (sandy, Black Sage) Diamondback Vineyard and the (sandy gravel, Golden Mile) Tinhorn Creek Vineyard. So what? So let’s dance to Andrew Moon and Sandra Oldfield’s fresh recognisance mission, to offer up a slight oak and stirred lees textural sui generis, but mostly the intent to keep things crisp and real. The sugar and PH are low, the acids medium to high. Overall there generates a cool orchard fruit blooming breeze and a south-west feeling of ease. Bring it on.  Tasted July 2014

Good to go!

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