Single white varietals: No roommates required

Godello

as seen on WineAlignRiesling, Other Single Red and Single White Varieties – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

It may or not need clarifying but the single white varietal category does not include chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris/grigio and sauvignon blanc. In terms of medal winners it does include albariño, arneis, bacchus, chenin blanc, coronet, gewüztraminer, grüner veltliner, marsanne, muscat, obrigado, pinot blanc, roussanne, sémillon, sauvignette, siegerrebe, sovereign opal, trebbiano, unicus, viognier and white pinot noir. The total medal count for single white varietal wines in 2019 was 70, an unprecedented number awarded for this competition covering 20 grape varieties. Can you guess which was the most celebrated? If you said gewüztraminer you would be correct at 21 total medals, with viognier a close second at 17.

There is little surprise that these French vinifera grapes make up more than half of the awarded wines because their acreage, vine age and their winemaker’s acumen in crafting quality goes back a generation or two, or even three. That 10 percent are pinot blanc is truly encouraging, as are the multiple medals doled out to grapes with great potential on Canadian soils, including grüner veltliner, albariño and chenin blanc. This will encourage more plantings and pioneering work backed up by post-modern viticultural theory, while also ensuring biologically genetic and varietal diversity. Most surprising is that two of the top wines made from marsanne and roussanne represent two of only three medals awarded to wines from these classic and exceptional Rhône Valley grapes. If two can be great, why not others and why not grow more?

Congratulations to the Road 13 Marsanne 2017 out of the exceedingly promising Similkameen Valley. There can be no denying the effect of ripe fruit and the richness of developed sugar into proportionally knowing phenols in this beautifully integrated wine. Black Hills Roussanne 2017, Blasted Church Small Blessings Sémillon 2017, Thirty Bench Small Lot Gewürztraminer 2017 and Road 13 Viognier 2017 round out the judges top picks from the competition.

Littlejohn Farm‘s Smoked Trout, soubise, french onion rings, pickled shallots – at Closson Chase Vineyard, Prince Edward County

The question truly begging to be answered is with 20-plus different grape varieties represented and being assessed side by side how do the judges separate the apples and oranges to figure out which wines stand apart as being more impressive than the rest. It may sound cliché and redundant to hear but balance is the key to our single white varietal hearts. If acidity matches, supports and elevates sugar than all will fall into place and if the wine is a dry example it will likely be flesh, mouthfeel and texture that work to elevate its status. Proportion, seamlessness and length are all essential tenets of quality single whites, as are energy, drive and spirit.

Plain and simple, single white varietal wines are able to succeed because of their inherent ability to express their varietal selves, provided they are planted in the right location and their handlers allow them to speak on their own behalf. Quality single white varietals display attributes of confidence and are anything but insecure. No roommates required.

I’ve also tasted some more single white varietal wines as of late and all would certainly qualify for medal consideration in this category. These are the three.

Mission Hill Family Estate Viognier Reserve 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($19.99, WineAlign)

Perfectly lovely, archetypal, required varietal sipping viognier here from Mission Hill. Yet another notch on the Okanagan Valley pioneer’s impressive climb to forging wines moving from strength to strength. There is nothing over the top about the the florals, the texture or the flavours. Fruit east to west, from the B.C. orchards to the south Asian trees is graced by a dreamy and creamy marzipan texture and finished with low and slow rendered spice. Just what viognier can be for one and for all. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted July 2019

Harwood Estate Gewürztraminer 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario $20.00, WineAlign)

The 2016 was made from Niagara (Four Mile Creek) grapes and vinified in Prince Edward County but the estate 2007 plantings have now matured so this 2017 marks a new era for gewürztraminer grown in the disapora. It’s one of extreme aridity, lightning quick reflexes, focused and intense. Quite the singular style of expression for Ontario. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

CedarCreek Platinum Block 9 Ehrenfelser 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($29.99, WineAlign)

Ehrenfelser is the German crossing of riesling and sylvaner, kept alive on slopes like CedarCreek’s lakeshore vineyard in semi-mimic of those cresting on great angles above the river Rhine. There’s a notable juicy sweetness to this from 13-16 year-old, low yielding vines in a very concentrated mandarin orange way. That sweetness yields to many other pronounced attributes like tropical fruit skins as well as creamy orchard fruit under a squeeze of lime. The acidity is ripping and there’s some potential for a bit of flinty, lit paraffin smoulder to emerge in a year’s time. The fun quotient runs high in this unique white wine and it offers up moments of both crushable and cerebral. Good on CedarCreek to keep the dream alive. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted July 2019

Good to go!

godello

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Stoked for Cool Chardonnay

This time next week I’ll be parked front and centre at White Oaks Resort in Niagara for the i4C 2018 School of Cool, presented by VQA Wines of Ontario, The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, the Grape Growers of Ontario and Wines of Chablis.  You can to if you manage to grab one of the few remaining tickets.

Related – International Cool Climate Celebration

Session One, The Perception of Chardonnay will be moderated by Dr. Jamie Goode, Session Two, Desert Island Combo – Chardonnay and Cheese by Peter Rod and Session Three, Raising Chardonnay by John Szabo, MS. I’ll continue on to join in the cool festivities all weekend long. Friday evening’s Flights of Chardonnay event will be held once again at the Niagara District Airport and the Saturday night Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner will take place at Ridley College, St. Catharines, Ontario. On Sunday morning Ravine Vineyard will play host to the Moveable Feast Brunch.

Related – Tasting Ontario Part Two: Chardonnay

This year, 63 winemakers from ten countries will be pouring 165 wines in Niagara from Friday, July 20th to Sunday July 22nd. Let’s get into the spirit and check out 11 of my most recently tasted chardonnays.

Westcott Chardonnay Lillias Unoaked 2017, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (425322, $12.25, WineAlign)

Lillias is petit chardonnay, unoaked, made in a decidedly Petit Chablis style, slightly lactic and fresh as picked calla lilies without too much scent. The texture and palate feel on Westcott’s 2017 is richer than it was before, with thanks to a hot September and so weight meets alcohol are up there with some barrel-aged cousins. Minus the vanilla and butterscotch of course. Easy drinking to be sure and just might lead to a good time. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted July 2018  westcottvineyards  @WestcottWines  @westcottwines

Cave Spring Chardonnay Musqué Estate Bottled 2016, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $17.95, WineAlign)

Very floral, of course, a potpourri that includes roses, orange peel, geranium and south asian fruit. It’s almost tropical like viognier or even gewürztraminer so you could wonder if this is 100 per cent musqué but really it’s just a matter of a warm year making for soft chardonnay. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted July 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Malivoire Chardonnay 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (573147, $17.95, WineAlign)

It almost seems a guilty pleasure or even a shame to be this taken by Malivoire’s entry-level chardonnay because it seems as though it will steal the lime, spot and ultra-violet light away from the serious and essential Mottiar and Moira chardonnays. Winemaker Shiraz Mottiar has really taken the varietal by the horns but the thanks has to begin and be granted the excellence of viticulture in these Beamsville Bench vineyards. How at this price you can strike such a mutually beneficial accord between fruit and wood is beyond me, first with so many thoughts of apples, pears, peaches and nectarines, then the verdant sweetness of lime-caramel and spiced vanilla. It;s all very subtle but also generous. Regional level chardonnay in Ontario at its finest. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted July 2018  malivoire  noble_estates  @MalivoireWine  @Noble_Estates  Malivoire Wine  Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Cave Spring Chardonnay Estate Bottled 2016, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (256552, $18.95, WineAlign)

High quality fruit with the creaminess of apple purée keeps its bite with thanks to proper barrel use though I can’t help but think this almost feels unoaked, relatively speaking. This might also be a result of the floral perfume, perhaps by musqué but also a vintage feel. The wood comes through late with a white peppery pique of spice. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Thirty Bench Winemaker’s Blend Chardonnay 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (547877, $19.95, WineAlign)

In many ways there is more richness and warmth from the Winemaker’s Blend, a multi-vineyard broad expression that could also be called “Signature,” as in typical of the estate style but not necessarily something that defines the winemaker. It’s a boozy chardonnay by regional standards, with full advantage taken from sun and wood. Notes of caramel, vanilla and spice form a malleable shell around creamy orchard fruit. Calls for whole grilled fish, sweet herbs and citrus. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted May 2018  thirtybench  pellerwines  @ThirtyBench  @PellerVQA  @ThirtyBench  Andrew Peller(Andrew Peller Import)  Emma Garner

3XP Chardonnay 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $20.95, WineAlign)

 3XP is the triumvirate styling of Tawse winemaker Paul Pender, Ontario wine importer Nicholas Pearce and Sommelier Will Predhomme. It’s the latest song release in the epic Pearce-Predhomme négoce journey, a progressive-art-album rock venture replete with eleven-minute opus material, but this one is the hit with a recognizable and catchy hook. It’s Hungry Heart, I Will Get by and Lucky Man wrapped up into one three-minute chardonnay play. The sip-swirl-swallow trilogy is like verse-chorus-verse and repeat. It’s straightforward sharp, tart and flavourful chardonnay that only Paul Pender could make and it’s consume-ability factor is one of threefold manifest destiny. The number three is a very important number in biblical and mythological study. It “is the first number to which the meaning “all” was given. It is The Triad, being the number of the whole as it contains the beginning, a middle and an end. The power of three is universal and is the tripartide nature of the world as heaven, earth, and waters. It is human as body, soul and spirit.” As for this PPP chardonnay, just drink it up and enjoy. For the next three years. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted July 2018  pearcepredhomme  nicholaspearcewines  tawsewinery  @PearcePredhomme  @Nicholaspearce  @Tawse_Winery  Nicholas Pearce  @tawsewines

Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.95, WineAlign)

A classic Marco Piccoli composition, optimum ripeness of orchard phenolics-developed fruit and plenty of generosity from aging in barrels. Yes chardonnay is different to everyone and Piccoli takes full advantage of the chameleon, even simplifying with that unblemished fruit and lots of wood. It’s like perfect apples in the top-end market from which you may not get that organic fuzzy feeling but you will get the perfectly modern and scientifically successful bite of life. Then take the fruit and make it richer, brown buttery and soft. All good if only there was less wishful thinking for more synchronicity and length. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted twice, first blind at NWAC18, June 2018 and then July 2018  jacksontriggsniagara  #ArterraWines  @Jackson_Triggs   @JacksonTriggs

Tawse Chardonnay Sketches 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89037, $21.95, WineAlign)

At this point in time Sketches represents terrific value in Ontario-bred chardonnay because with an extra year or two in the rear-view mirror it has settled into a lovely place where nuts, caramel and baked goods are all beginning to show. It was a lean chardonnay to begin with so don’t expect any overtly creamy textural notes, least of which might be creamed corn. Bigger oaked versions in vintages like 2014 might go to such a comfort zone but this Sketches stays the green apple and piqued spice course. There are some lingering notes of melon and flowers at dusk so just enough freshness persists to carry this through another year or so of open window drinking. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted June 2018  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay The Rusty Shed 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (1552, $26.95, WineAlign)

The 2016 is less a matter of chardonnay spirit and more falling along rich, buttery and vanilla-caramel lines. Might be the most zaftig Rusty Shed tasted in quite some time. Go after this FRC chardonnay with immediate and desperate intentions. It will really satisfy for a year or two. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted July 2018  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

Rosehall Run Chardonnay JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

First and foremost there is so much charm here, from great fruit, mostly orchards of apple and citrus, then just a hint towards tropical. All impressive from a pottery vineyard coming of age into its later teens and capable of retaining soluble nutrients during stressed times. An elemental and kissed wet stone design runs through like veins carrying white blood cells to the fruit’s organs and extremities and so the drought vintage was no worthy adversary to the JCR. Dan Sullivan’s top chardonnay comes replete with high level, quality and pointed fineness of acidity. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted twice, blind at NWAC18 and July 2018  rosehall_run  @Rosehall_Run  Rosehall Run Vineyards

Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (148866, $29.95, WineAlign)

A terrific vintage for the Closson Chase fruit, easily ripened and developed of phenolics all in and more glycerin than might ever be expected. It’s punchy and reductive chardonnay with a savoury candy shell protecting real, honest to goodness PEC fruit. There is a decided level of vanilla and caramel folded into fruit like great batter at the rippled stage just before its poured into the pan. Makes for wonderful expectation to see how it might taste once the baking is done. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted July 2018  clossonchasevineyards  @ClossonChase  @ClossonChase

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventure

Frozen Niagara Falls

As frozen Niagara Falls, so frozen Niagara Falls
Photo: yobab/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Doesn’t every local wine writer’s pilgrimage begin this way? There’s 130 kilometres to Niagara Falls, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes (not really – the only thing we smoke is BBQ), it’s blinding winter morning light out and we’re wearing sunglasses. Well, one of us is.

Related – When expert’s break wine together

With Jake riding shotgun to Elwood we hit the QEW, pause for bench land visits to Flat Rock, Zooma Zooma and Creekside Estates, then make the frozen Falls by dusk. Two slackers we are, Bill and Ted, ponces submissive to wine, travelling through Niagara assembling a library of tasting notes to condign for memory in lieu of history missed and as practice for futures to come.

Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Salmon and Scallops

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Salmon and Scallops

Niagara’s annual Cuvée rolls out the red carpet for a black-tie gala at Fallsview Casino’s Grand Ballroom. Touted as a celebration of excellence in Ontario winemaking, the event gathers more than 50 wineries and asks that they pour their winemakers’ favourite wines alongside a room full of esculent Niagara eats. Local chefs set lavish food stations and guests are treated to comestible ruminations composed by students from the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. The Sun Media Après Cuvée party features Icewine, sparkling wine and craft beer bars, not to mention a repeat performance by the impolitic, patent, I want you to be moved sound of Jonesy.

Zagat and Spotlight Toronto's Suresh Doss and Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena KaiserSmit

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Zagat and Spotlight Toronto’s Suresh Doss and Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena KaiserSmit

Proceeds from the Cuvée Weekend go to the Niagara Community Foundation. Created in 2000, the Niagara Community Foundation has raised more than $23 million in endowment funds and has granted in excess of $5.5 million to charities working in the arts, heritage, environment, social services, health, education and community development. In 2015, the event will leave the very capable hands of the NCF and fall into the most capable hands of Brock University.

The word cuvée can mean many things in the world of wine. The Champagne tradition carries the most recognizable weight, the practice dictating that the best grapes be used and gently pressed to ultimately produce a sparkling wine of superior quality. In the end any cuvée is a blend no matter how you slice, interpret or break it down. It really comes down to the question of quality. Did Cuvée 2014 put its best foot forward? Were the ace grapes on display?

Pulling candy from sugar, Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Pulling candy from sugar, Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College

The Cuvée gala, at one time an awards showcase ceremony, has welled to the point of a brimming kitchen sink, perhaps in danger of overflowing. Those who know and have been there agree the change in structure has been for the better. Growing pains are natural, inevitable side effects of growth. It’s more party than oenophile wine think tank, a cultural mosaic and for some, a melting pot. Speeches, awards, thank yous and acknowledgements are barely audible above the revelling din.

VQA Promoter Award At Large winner Shawn McCormick and Michael Godel

PHOTO: Dan Trcka/grapeselections.com
VQA Promoter Award At Large winner Shawn McCormick and Michael Godel

In 2013, to a wine, the pours were best of the best. My take was put into these words. Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary. In 2014 many vintners poured either their best (Domaine Queylus, Five Rows, Coyote’s Run, Rennie Estate, Stratus, Thirty Bench) or their most unique (Peninsula Ridge, Trius, Southbrook, Riverview, 13th Street, Malivoire). The event and the following morning’s Expert’s Tasting would not be diluted by a few more shots of Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore in the arm.

The real adventure lies in the attempt to taste everything in the room. Time and excessive schmoozing gets in the way so getting to more than half is a win, win. Here are notes on 10 wines tasted at Cuvée 2014 and the reasons for singling them out as separating themselves from their peers.

Riverview Gewurztraminer Angelina’s Reserve 2012, VQA Niagara River (368092, $18.95, WineAlign)

A creamy, corpulent expression with a stinging enzymatic yogurt texture. Would swear there was extended lees contact. Furthest thing from the truth says winemaker Angela Kasimos. That striking salve gives way to a vacuous aridity without conceding to nuts and residual sugar. Well-made and without interference. Thanks to Riverview, Gewürztraminer has found a home in the pliable, silty loam of Niagara River.  88  Tasted February 2014  @RiverviewWinery

Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Wismer 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Wismer 2013

Peninsula Ridge Wismer Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker Jamie Evans and Sauvignon Blanc share a kinesis. When kissed by the wise and wistful fruit that Wismer cedes, compounded by the vintage, this Peninsula Sauvignon Blanc inclines to aeaeae. All parts contribute to a stretched length, from fresh beginning to mouth-watering end. In between there is lees-stirred spice, dry and toasty points but the grass is never overgrown and the berries are golden. A kickstarter sour note propels the wine forward for an even longer taxi onward. What a vineyard, what a wine.  90  Tasted February 2014  @PeninsulaRidge

Westcott Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29, WineAlign)

From vineyards planted in 2005, this new kid on the Jordan block spent 12 months in oak, half of it new. To a taster, you would never know it. In clone cousin to Le Clos Jordanne’s Chardonnay, this special project is the nephew of a set aside, four-barrel selection. Winemaker Arthur Harder (Calamus) has fashioned a head-turning clean, pure and most mineral-driven Chardonnay from impossibly young Vinemount Ridge vines. A quartz chord runs through it and with just two or three more years of vine age the fruit and adjoining texture will catch up to the rock. That integrated, subtle oak impart is of a Granny Smith apple kind, crisp and taut. Such a memorable inauguration with so much promise that lays ahead.  90  Tasted February 2014

Trius Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Less than 300 cases were produced of this, you guessed it, natural grape skin, wild yeast fermented unique Sauvignon Blanc. Cold bunch pressed and 11 months on the lees lend a fruit/wood spice and gregarious character that is impossible to miss. Winemaker Craig MacDonald shows a savvy Savvy love in his carefully considered treatment of this wine. This ’12 WF steals the show at Cuvée in the category of most compelling and thought-provoking.  91  Tasted February 2014  @TriusWines

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (274753, $32.95, WineAlign)

Five months more in bottle has come to this, a Bench perfumed state of mind. On a red raspberry road to absolution. The international coat has now begun to surrender to the maturity and wisdom of the local vine’s intellect, its maker and overseer acting as artificers in planned execution. Earlier note: Deeper, earthier, decreased propriety and more pelage than the previous two vintages. I sense longer hang time, more redress and slower slumber. In Hidden Bench I thought I knew and would always associate with a specific Pinot Noir feel but this ’11 confounds. In a way, that is a large compliment. Fruit reminiscent of a top Central Otago in that it grips my Pinot interest if not my Ontario heart.  91  Tasted October 2013 and February 2014  @HiddenBench

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker's White 2011

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker’s White 2011

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker’s White 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

While the triple W represents neither traditional alchemy nor screaming value it begs to be considered for sheer shock and awe. A co-fermented, low brix, who varietal blend of 58 per cent Chardonnay, 27 Semillon and 15 Muscat, winemaker Ann Sperling’s capricious fancy white and nerdy captures the vintage to alight and delight effect. Spice, texture, florality and acidity really work the room. Though the varieties seem to sing ”we don’t move in any ‘ticular direction and we don’t make no collections,” they somehow join together.  White wine of whimsy, not shallow, like a Wes Anderson film.  88  Tasted February 2014  @SouthbrookWine

Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, SAQ 12089591, $44.95, WineAlign)

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 its a 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?”  91  Tasted November 2013 and twice February 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Five Rows Craft Wine Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $50, WineAlign)

Gimme soft and sage treatment of a vineyard’s wondrous, pure fruit transcends most previous notions of Niagara Pinot Noir. That Lowrey vineyard in the hands of its first family drives spice into red fruit direct from soil and vine. Winemaker Wes Lowrey handles his family vineyard fruit like it were a baby and from this comes a promiscuous perfume. The ’10 is so youthful but coming into the springtime of his voodoo, having now been in bottle for a year. Though thoughts were that “he was going to show me spring,” the wine should clearly be left to flesh for a few more seasons.  92  Tasted February 2014

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

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.  92  Tasted February 2014  @ThirtyBench

Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve Du Domaine 2011

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve Du Domaine 2011

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir ‘Le Grande Reserve’ 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (winery, $65, WineAlign)

The Thomas Bachelder mentored, two-vineyard assemblage Grande Reserve Pinot Noir grinds more cracked pepper than any predecessor. Every barrel from the Twenty Mile Bench (formerly Le Clos Jordanne’s, Neudorf Family La Petite Colline Vineyard) and Mountainview vineyard were scrutinized to determine the final blend.Bachelder sees black fruit in the early life yet despite the ebullient seasoning, the LGR’s genes are intrinsically feminine. Red cherry, tellus fertility and a mother’s strength hold the family of barrel children together. This is an ambitious and hard to read Pinot Noir. Judgement reserved for five years before the word classic will be used.  92  Tasted March 2014  @QueylusVin

Good to go!

A long and “wine-ding” tasting road

Wine tasting PHOTO: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES

as seen on canada.com

It was right in my wheelhouse and on so many levels. Thirty-three wines, all but two from the Niagara region, spanning vintages from 2001-2010. Poured blind, each of five flights introduced analogous to pop music culture; Aretha Franklin, Frank Zappa, The Sister Sledge, The Who and Simply Red. It could only be zeitgeist for my virgin Experts Tasting experience at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

It happened at Pond Inlet, a cozy, light-filled space, surrounded by a wine local’s who’s who. Vignerons, proprietors, journalists, sommeliers, marketing gurus and Brock U. luminaries. Seated next to Niagara’s über taster and 2013 VQA Promoters Award winner Rick VanSickle, but also in the ameliorated company of Mr. Wine DiscoveryThe Grape Guy and the Wine Sisters.

CCOVI Experts Tasting 2013 (Photo: Michael Godel/canada.com)

More than 140 samples were submitted by wineries to this year’s tasting panel, assessed blind and chosen for excellence, complexity but also adjunct in relative merit to their peers. The 2013 Experts tasting was akin to a structured wine in itself, seamless in flow thanks to Barbara Tatarnic of Brock University. The mostly in vain attempt at assessing vintage, origin and producer was a humbling and submissive gesture. This Storify board captures the social media buzz around the event.

A panel of four winemakers each gave their own unique in flight preamble perspective, followed by a tutored tasting and a reveal of the flight’s wines. The final coterie was a group test, in teams table by table, led in cheeky and mischievous form by a soon to be head-shaven sommelier.

The VQA Promoters Awards were presented at intervals during the event by wine educator Dr. Linda Bramble. Here were this year’s four recipients:

LCBO: Waterloo’s Charley Ronzio of Store 115.

Hospitality: CN Tower’s James Muir, the proprietor of Toronto’s highest cellar.

Promoter-at-Large: Harald Thiel, Vigneron and Proprietor, Hidden Bench Winery.

Media: Rick VanSickle, Wine Journalist, Wines in Niagara.

The wine tasting was then introduced by April Kilpatrick, Sommelier at Windows by Jamie Kennedy.

From left to right: Pillitteri Estates Winery Merlot Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010; Peller Estates Cabernet Franc ‘Signature Series’ 2010; Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2010; The Foreign Affair Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010; and Stratus Malbec 2010.

Flight #1: R.E.S.P.E.C.T

Presented by Rob Power, Winemaker, Creekside Estate, employing Aretha Franklin’s signature because Miles dissed the grape when he said, “I’m not drinking any fucking Merlot!” This assemblage brought Merlot some respect, difficult as they were to pin down and Power later summed it up best. “Mission accomplished. We’ve messed with all your heads.”

Malivoire Wine Company Merlot ‘Stouck Vineyard’ 2010 ($29.95, winery only) of high-toned raspberry fruit is the Dr. Feelgood track. From mendicant, heavy red clay soil on the Lincoln Lakeshore making for concentrated small berries and dense, richly textured Merlot. Tarry, warming, accented by late baking spice and anise. Merlot is a serious business and “taking care of business is really this man’s gain.”  90-91  @MalivoireWine

Trius Winery at Hillebrand Merlot ‘RHS’ Clark Farm Vineyard 2010 ($40, winery only) is a rock steady, Four-Mile Creek, single vineyard effort full of mulberry fruit and dusty, chalky tannin. Let’s call this Merlot what it is, “a funky and lowdown feeling.”  89-90  @TriusWines

Creekside Estates Winery Merlot Reserve, Queenston Road Vineyard 2006 ($34.95, limited availability) spent 32 months in oak and now bricks its age in weathered, splintering cedar with a note of funky prune.  Illustrates the importance of site to Bordeaux varietals in Niagara. A Merlot to make you think, consider the past, “let your mind go, let yourself be free.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Creekside Estates Winery Merlot Reserve 2008  ($34.95, winery only) on the St. David’s Bench is “the smoked meat sandwich” says Power, and “a bit of a funkmeister.” Perhaps the flight’s chain of fools, like a blender looking for a Cabernet or two to join the party. Its slumber was 29 months in barrel. “For five long years I thought you were my man.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Twomey Merlot 2007 ($61.95, 14043) is the ringer out of Silver Oak in Napa Valley. Whiffs the most funky fromage but also a woman’s perfume. Racy, roaming, with umami, earth and a sweet/savoury line. Goes both ways, a Do Right Woman, Do Right Man kind of Merlot.  “And as long as we’re together, baby.”  89-90  @Twomey

Pillitteri Estates Winery Merlot Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 ($25, winery only) tends Right Bank to me, certainly not Niagara. Big berry, citrus, bright fruit perfume. Heavy tannin, guns a’ blazing and an obvious strong use of American Oak. This one demands respect. “Oh, sock it to me, sock it to me.”  90-91  @PillitteriWines

Cornerstone Estates Winery Merlot 2010 ($23, winery only) appears to show some age though it’s really just a pup. Displays aggressive high-toned tannin with a patience towards potential. I say a little prayer for this Wismer Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench on the Niagara Peninsula Merlot because if it falls apart, it “would only be heartbreak.”  87-88

Flight #2: The Mothers of Invention

Presented by Emma Garner, Winemaker, Thirty Bench, using Frank Zappa’s band as analogy to denote Cabernet Franc as the matriarch to all Bordeaux varietals. Could have sworn #4 was a ringer but no! There were none in the group.

Stratus Cabernet Franc 2008 ($38, 665034) from fruit picked on December 8th (what???) in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Young at heart, full of smokey, tangy, currant baking aromas. Maternal but blessed with firm, plush tannin. “Some people like cupcakes,” I prefer a muffin man.  89-90  @Stratuswines

Stoney Ridge Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2010 ($18.95, winery only) is a Niagara Peninsula, red pepper jelly and citrus-spiked currant concoction made from Fox and Edwards Vineyards, 100% Bench fruit. Thought it was ’08 but wrong! Coffee and herbal balm make the water turn black and this Franc screams for food. 87-88  @stoneyridgewine

Riverview Cellars Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Salvatore’s’ 2010 ($49.95, winery only) leans a lighter, elegant Loire style. Built upon clay/loam soils out of Niagara-on-the-Lake, aged in both French and American oak. Cool, cherry fruit, mint, herbaceous and full of personality. A fine girl this Riverview, “she do yer laundry, she change a tire, chop a little wood for de fire.”  89-90  @RiverviewWinery

Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 ($35, winery only) from family vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake ventures into voluptuous, black forest, fruitcake territory. A 24-month soak in French oak imparts espresso and leather and it’s as if this CF was raised in Napa or designated IGT. But this is NOTL were talking here. Improbable and believable. Modified Note: Big Leg Emma. “Sock it to me!” Tasted twice.  91  @Pillitteriwines

Peller Estates Cabernet Franc ‘Signature Series’ 2010 ($40.20, winery only) has got the funk in dark and dank waves. Top-tier barrel selection out of Four Mile Creek, this one is tight, tense and ready to jam with “a Stratocaster with a whammy bar” in Joe’s garage. Saw through to 100% Malolactic fermentation after 20 months in barrel. If you are jonesing for Cab Franc, don’t miss this player.  91-92 @PellerVQA

Trius at Hillebrand Cabernet Franc ‘Red Shale’ Clark Vineyard 2010 ($40, winery only) at 25.6 Brix is a huge wine from Four Mile Creek. Black beauty, with lots of chocolatey oak and dark fruit. Chalky, grainy thread indicates time is needed to settle it down. No valley girl, this one, nor shrinking violet. “It’s like so BITCHEN!”  89-90  @TriusWines

Pondview Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2010 ($29.95, winery only) again out of Four Mile Creek has the red pepper, currant jelly notes but it’s less ripe and not nearly as big as some siblings in this flight. May have “no cars no diamond rings,” but it shows passion in a Zappacosta, spandex kind of way.  87-88  @pondviewwinery

CCOVI Tasting

Flight #3: We Are Family

Presented by Ron Giesbrecht, Winemaker, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery, discussing “vinified” incest, i.e. Bordeaux grapes which have essentially married their kin. His dissertation, impossibly deadpan, was a cross between Stuart McLean and Ron MacLean. His take on attending to wines of Bordeaux genealogy? “How do you know which side of the church to sit on when you’re related to so many on both sides?”

Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Merlot 2010 ($34.95, winery only) alights in lithe tendrils before adding coffee, meritage mid-weight. Currants, nasturtium and red fruit compote buoy this cooler Niagara blend that combines fruit from the the Lincoln Lakeshore, St. David’s and Beamsville Benches. A good dancer with “the kind of body that would shame Adonis.” Expertly balanced with the spine to age.  88-89  @FieldingWinery

Malivoire Wine Company Cabernet Merlot ‘Stouck’ ($29.95, winery only) from down on the Lincoln Lakeshore is a pitchy rendition with a pronounced roasted espresso note. Seems to me the motherly, Cabernet Franc’s genes have imparted their wisdom into this (63%) Cabernet Sauvignon dominant beauty with big Cassis fruit. Chic, juicy, with a filled in mid-palate and stiff structure. Grab a glass, “leave your cares behind, these are the good times.”  90-91  @MalivoireWine

Stratus Red 2010 ($44, winery only) seemed older but that just might be the 617 days it spent in barrel. Cab Franc dominant with the help of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the late bloomer, Petit Verdot. Got to love somebody so it may as well be this red, because “I won’t let my life pass me by.” The four grapes help to explain Giesbrecht’s “relative merits of relative meritage.”  89-90  @Stratuswines

Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2010 ($35, winery only) has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine.  91-92  @HiddenBench

Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2007 ($45, winery only) emits the varnish of the ’07 Niagara vintage. Soy, meat protein and caramel give way to a sweeter, plum accented palate. This ’07 is Le Freak, with more Cabernet Sauvignon, indicative of what we did not know then. So much to learn from wines like this, “like the days of stopping at the Savoy.”  87-88  @HiddenBench

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2002 ($50, not available) from the Niagara Peninsula shows toffee and concentrated, oxidized fruit. That said, it has aged well and still offers intellectual spirit in dried fruit and potpourri. Great old tune to Dance, Dance, Dance along to. 88-89  @SpeckBros

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2010 ($50, 616433) from the sunnier and warmer sponge that is the Short Hills Bench is built of a learned structure that only a select few Niagara wines can boast. Fresh, juicy fruit and blitzing acidity for a 38/35/29 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc family sledge blend. “I’d like to see you reach your peak” SFR but I’ll have to heed Giesbrecht’s warning of oeno-infanticide and wait five to ten years. Tasted twice over the weekend.  92  @SpeckBros

Flight #4: Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy

Presented by Ilya Senchuk, Winemaker, Foreign Affair Winery, relating (mostly) Cabernet Sauvignon wines to the idiomatic album by The Who. “We want wines with bounciness,” says Senchuk, “with a knife edge balance of weight and complexity.”

Creekside Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006 ($34.95, limited availability) shows age, wood finish, plums and berries. I had this pegged as an ’06 (scouts honour). Not a classic Bordeaux vintage in the Queenston Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench but well-structured and really, there is no substitute. “I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Malivoire Wine Company Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Stouck’ 2010 ($29.95, winery only) from down on the Lincoln Lakeshore is a big, blowy, brawny wine of massive concentration. Designed for my generation, with jammy flavours from clay soils on good slopes. “People try to put us d-down, just because we get around.”  89-90  @MalivoireWine

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Lot I’ 2010 ($34.95, winery only) from the Niagara Peninsula is a chameleon, ever evolving in the glass, perplexing, fascinating to study. Possessed of dried fruit and decidedly earthy flavours, complexity and balance. Can “go anywhere, for something new,” anyway, anyhow.  89-90  @SouthbrookWine

Thirty Bench Winemakers Cabernet Franc ‘Small Lot’ 2010 ($40, winery only) lopes out in lacquer than lifts towards sweet red pepper, dusty mulberry and cracked black pepper. All the while a current of Beamsville Bench, black currant acidity runs through it. This one’s a seeker, “its got values but I don’t know how or why.” At least not yet. Give it time.  87-88  @ThirtyBench

Stratus Petit Verdot 2010 ($38, winery only) with its bounce is the Happy Jack of the flight. Thick in weight and texture, a steak sandwich in a glass. Remarkable effort for stand alone Petit Verdot in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Has a certain Spanish modernity and is certainly neither “petite” nor “little.” Say what you want about this PV but never “prevent Jack from feeling happy.”  90-91  @Stratuswines

Fielding Estate ‘Option C’ Red 2010 ($34.95, winery only) begins with an off-putting, scorched earth funk and I wonder if it will blow off. Makes me “dizzy in the head and I’m feeling blue” so I can’t explain but it does indeed dissipate. Cabernet Sauvignon leads the way out of the Lowry Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench with 15% each Merlot and Cabernet Franc rounding out this strong, rhythmic and beaty Bordeaux blend.  89-90  @FieldingWinery

The Foreign Affair Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($37.95, winery only) is very pretty, forward and inviting. Juicy fruit from south facing vines on top of the Niagara Escarpment. Made in the Appassimento style, with 25% of the fruit dried then added back to the wine and 23 months spent in barrel. Puts this Cab in a seat on the Magic Bus. Rogue process, tame result. “I want it.”  91-92  @wineaffair

Flight #5: If You Don’t Know Me By Now

Presented by Peter Bodnar Rod, 13th Street Winery, like a comic book villain, leading the crowd into the uncomfortable nooks and crannies of guessing wines blind. This was a thrilling flight, crushing wine libidos and crowning champions of the game. Notes here are a bit more brief.

Stratus Malbec 2010 ($48, winery only) is made with the help of consulting oenologist Paul Hobbs in an “Alta Vista,” high-altitude style. Cool-climate rendition, a window to the future for the grape in Ontario. Hits a blue note, kind of like Philly soul. Unheard of 10 years ago, this one’s saying “just trust in me like I trust in you.”  90-91  @Stratuswines

Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc ‘Watson Vineyard’ 2002 ($30, not available) shows amazing longevity and freshness. Proof of the Peninsula’s magic to state “you will never never never know me.” Simply solid red.  90-91  @SouthbrookWine

Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien 2001 ($109, 9852) is the first red herring and stupefies in origin and vintage. I actually found it drying and disappointing. Bordeaux? Whatever.  88-89

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Merlot Unfiltered 2002 ($29.95, winery only) was harvested in October on the Niagara Peninsula. Showing the soy sauce, umami and oxidation of its sistren. Yet another anything but simply red wine from H of P to show us “all the things that we’ve been through.”  87-88  @SpeckBros

The Foreign Affair Winery ‘Temptress’ 2010 ($44.95, winery only) is shepherded by Merlot with bits of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot thrown in for good 15.3% abv measure. Sugary, concentrated and full-bodied. Not for the simply red faint of heart. Embrace this big appassimento style  or “what good is a love affair when you can’t see eye to eye.”  90-91  @wineaffair

Good to go!

Your man wants these wines for Valentine’s

Valentine’s Day wines PHOTO: ANNA/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Cupid’s got a dilemma. He knows his arrow will pierce the man in the relationship’s heart, hypnotize him to hunt and gather the finest chocolate and sweet-smelling roses that money can buy. But what about the other, more feminine half? They just might not feel the same V-Day pressure. Besides, beyond the cliché, what exactly or specifically is the appropriate gift for Valentine’s Day?

Related – Current release wine recommendations

Even divas fuss over the pink holiday. Nicki Minaj has told us that Cupid’s Got a Gun. Carrie Underwood’s version is a shotgun. Yikes. If you ask me, all I really want this Thursday, like any other day of the year, is a decent bottle of wine. Is that not what every man wants? Matches the profile of the ones I hang out with. Your man probably likes Italian wine. Maybe he imagines himself Romeo to your Juliet?

While it would certainly put a smile on my face, I’m not holding my breath for a ripe, rare and bleeding Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (24190, $74.95, 91), though I wouldn’t kick one out of bed for cacophonous quacking.  Nor would I run away from a classic, opaque and rustic cherry Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (994095, $57.95, 91).  Here are six current and affordable releases sure to please the love of your life.

The grapes: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot

The history: Classic varietals and small lots from winemaker Emma Garner on the Beamsville Bench

The lowdown: TB’s Rieslings have long been blowing my mind but this Bordeaux-styled blend trips new light

The food match: Dry-Rubbed Grilled Chicken Breast Tacos, aged whited cheddar, tomato

Thirty Bench Red 2010 (320986, $24.00) shows off the ripeness of the vintage at an indubitably balanced 13.6% ABV. Exhibits red licorice, funk of the earth and currants in a demi-glace kind of way. Beamsville sand and gravel meet savoury herbs, lashed together by dusty tannin. Quite serious, more IGT than Bordeaux or Loire.  88  @ThirtyBench

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot

The history: Left Bank, Haut-Médoc Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Bordeaux blend

The lowdown: So unclassified you’ve likely never heard of it but so what?

The food match: Grilled Beef and Veal Baseballs, roasted garlic, parsley, artichoke aioli

Château Fort-Lignac 2009 (307264, $17.95) gives plum pudding heaped with baking spice and even a note of fine cigar. Judicious wood adds espresso, chew and chalk to this unassuming red. Lots of Bordeaux for $18.  89

The grape: Syrah

The history: Delas Frères is one of the smaller Rhone négociants but their recent run is nothing less than remarkable

The lowdown: Crozes-Hermitage at this price is so often thin and metallic but this ultra-modern ’10 is a hit

The food match: Lamb- and Rose-Stuffed Quails

Delas Frères Les Launes Crozes-Hermitage 2010 (701359, $20.95, B.C., 174664, $24.99, 2009) like hipster coffee dislikes authority and marches to the beat of a different drummer. Understated Syrah black pitch and no smoked meat or confit here. Instead there is purple, floral heliotrope gorgeousness and plum fruit. Big mineral component too. This one’s for the masculine gifter and the feminine giftee.  90  @HHDImports_Wine

The grape: Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile)

The history: From Montepulciano in Tuscany’s south

The lowdown: Bar none the best and most consistent value in Vino Nobile

The food match: Roast Beef Tenderloin, fried Tuscan potatoes

Poliziano Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2009 (988055, $25.95, SAQ, 11194832, $26.20) is blessed with such a lush texture and post-modern attraction that a couple of sips could lead to some serious heavy petting. Retains just enough Italianate, gamey, iron mineral qualities to keep it real but this is berry, chocolate, acqua vitae equipped to reach many, many folk. Best VNM for the buck, year in and year out.  90  @Noble_Estates

The grape: Nebbiolo

The history: From Diano d’Alba and Rodello in Piedmont’s Lower Langhe, characterized by vines and cereals

The lowdown: From third generation proprietor Mario Giribaldi, farmer at heart, lover of all things Langhe

The food match: Frico (cheese crisp) with Potato, Onion and Sausage Filling

Giribaldi Barbaresco 2006 (101147, $31.95) the dichotomous Nebbiolo of live rust looks old, as though it has lived hard when it’s actually quite young at heart. Classic Barbaresco bouquet of rose, tar, peeled orange and pepper berries. Banging acidity, coffee vapor and a powder finger of tannin. Don’t worry, there’s no real fear that this one “would fade away so young.”  91

The grapes: Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malvasia Nero

The history: Dates back to 1972, from Gaiole in Chianti, in the province of Siena

The lowdown: Self-described as “a place of cultic importance in the wine world.” Works for me

The food match: Bucatini with Pancetta, Tomato and Onion

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 (39768, $34.95, SAQ, 11315403, $33.75) is always top quality CCR. So sweet and savoury at the same time, licorice whipped, tightly wound, with a foot marching to the future, yet still traditional. A righteous, sinless song of Sangiovese fruit, with a backing band of varietals, written for everyone. Proof that while some in Chianti have forgotten their past, many have not. “Somebody said it’s different now, look, it’s just the same.”  91  @CastellodiAma

Good to go!

Essential wine for Father’s Day

Father’s Day Wine. Photo Credit: ehow.com

What to get dad this year for Father’s Day. Perhaps not the gifting conundrum that is Mother’s Day but no walk in the park either. The obvious gadgets present themselves; Iphone, Ipad, Kindle, Nook or Golf Course GPS, because no real man wants one for the car.

Forget the camera, video recorder and BBQ. Those things just tell dad he has to work harder. Give him something he can use. Better yet, choose something you can share with him.

VINTAGES Essentials are the Fine Wine and Spirits Division’s collection of always available products. Imagine it’s Sunday afternoon. You are a mere hours away from Father’s Day dinner. You have been tasked with bringing the wine. You need to pick promising bottles to match hors d’oeuvres, appetizer, main course, dessert and one special bottle for Dad to take home to his cellar. In between Soccer finals and gymnastics pick-up there is only time to stop in at the nearest LCBO. The VINTAGES kiosk at the store’s rear only carries certain release products and is sold out of everything you came looking for. That is where Essentials answers the bell. These products can be counted on to be found in most (decent-sized) Ontario stores.

I tasted through 90 VINTAGES Essentials two weeks ago. Here are six to bring to dad; five to share with him and one as a special parting gift for his singular day.

Thirty Bench Riseling 2010 (24133, $18.95) with it’s Huet of the Loire, Chenin Blanc-like citrus, pear and honey blast begs for some BBQ starters. Like good wurst and spicy mustard. Like Chinese BBQ glazed ribs. Incredibly youthful, living in a wild west end of the Beamsville Bench. “Greasy hair easy smile..this is the seventh heaven street to me.” A benchmark Riesling to put Niagara on the popular map.  90

Louis Jadot Chardonnay Bourgogne 2010 (933077, $18.95, LTO until June 24, 2012 at $16.95) keeps on caramelizing but less so in ’10. The oak barrel toast level quotient is down close to 200 for those of you counting at home. This allows a searing acidity to zap the mellow white cherry, rose and raspberry fruit into life.  Best Jadot White Burgundy normale in quite a spell. Would serve well alongside soft taco or slider appetizers. Of fish, pork or chicken. Some cracklings would be nice.  88

Esporao Reserva Red 2009 (606590, $25.95) made from parochial Aragonés, the Tempranillo of Portugal. This particular vintage brings Spanish Montsant to mind, especially the wines of Celler Capçanes. A thread of ripe cherries, cocoa dust, milk chocolate and spice link it to a style also not unlike Napa. Stillwater runs deep for this deeply-hued, Portuguese raven and methinks it almost famous.  Rubbed ribs and chicken await.  88

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (255513, $34.95, LTO until June 24, 2012 at $29.95) signals reform and a serious return to form. Dictionary Napa entry, a reigned and refined milkshake of California berries and dark chocolate. Solid mineral bones full of might, fight and planar, ferric-iron leucos-phosphite. This is the tetrameric rub that notches new found response and respect for the can be found everywhere, once Philistine Mondavi.  Top cut, seared on high heat and rare of course. 89

Cave Spring Indian Summer Select Late Harvest Riesling 2010 (415901, $24.95) wins the race to accompany dessert for its Spätlese sensibility melded to a Niagara Crèvecoeur smoke and mildness mentality. The Peninsula’s typical lime, slate and chalk it shares with Germany’s Mosel are front and centre, cojoined by Icewine’s candied, orange marmalade. At half the tag, the Late Harvest is the leading Essentials sticky deal.  88

Tignanello 2008 (986786, $99.95) gets the nod for dad’s big gift because the singing Tig is flat out esculent. A smoked, Blueberry Margarita, Porcini Risotto with Tartufo di San Giovanni d’Asso and long espresso all rolled into one Super Tuscan. The Cabernet components don’t just get lucky, but are hugely supportive of the vernacular Sangiovese. The Tig might march you up a Florentine hill and get you singing “if you got a truffle dog, you can go truffling.”  90

Good to go!