Niagara’s cool for chards

 

Niagara chardonnay, cornerstone of an industry, another one of nature’s mysterious constants, long-time member of both local and globally recognized greatness. A pandemic be damned the time had finally come to glide on down the QEW, inch by inch, to arrive in Niagara’s wine-lands and taste recently bottled vineyard bounty, plus some older surprises. At the behest, felicitations and facilitations of WMAO we the crü at WineAlign abided by the invitation. The visits included Le Clos Jordanne, On Seven Estate Winery, Stratus Vineyards, Trius Winery and Restaurant, Hidden Bench Estate Winery, Tawse Winery, Redstone Winery and Restaurant and the Bat Caves at Bachelder Wines. The next trip will take in at least seven more and after that, no less than seven again. And so on. Niagara is not conquered in a day, or a weekend.

And everybody tells me that it’s cool to be a cat
Cool for cats (cool for cats)

Related – A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

The steamy and canicular July varietal sally coincided with the physical return, if only in part and to limited display, of the region’s annual i4c Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. Ontario’s most famous annual gathering inclusive of international winemaking stars is one that so many media, sommeliers, producers, importers, marketers and consumers have come to know, embrace and love. With a commitment for more arms to get jabbed and further progress towards community safety be made in these next 11 months, there should be every reason for optimism that i4c 2022 will return in full force next July.

Thomas Bachelder between Hanck East and West

Related – David Lawrason’s Canadian Wine Insider – Niagara’s Regeneration

In addition to chardonnay (that cool refreshing drink) there too were touring pours of sparkling wines, riesling, pinot gris, skin contact whites, rosé, pinot noir, cabernet franc and gamay. Those tasting notes are included in this report because quite frankly Niagara’s varietal diversity and inclusivity on full display should be duly noted. The festivities concluded on Sunday afternoon with not one but two Bat Cave barrel tastings with the stupefied, hyper-hypnotized and monkified winemaking tour de force himself, the other tall and thin white duke, Thomas Bachelder. No I did not make any formal notes on the dozens of chardonnay and gamay thieved from his barrels because frenetics and focus do not jive, not when Bachelder, barrels and argumentative discourse are involved. Bachelder began with some re-visits of finished “Villages” wines in the guise of Mineralité de Niagara and L’Ardoise, same same but for different markets (Ontario and Québec), both from the 2019 vintage. Then the surprise of the tasting emerged, two unmarked magnums, as of that very moment yet untasted and very special. “From the Heart Cuvée Number 1” is a project with fellow enlightened, philanthropic aiding and abetting abbot Steven Campbell. Their chardonnay crushes the concept with its dynamic and lush configuration. Why because of the very notion of being figuratively layered, blessed with a frictional vitality burnished into its collective heart and chardonnay soul. I had to stop after each sip to reassemble my nervous system and scrape my mind of the cosmos, not to mention the universe, galaxies and stars.

Crazy eyes in the throes of a four-hour Bachelder barrel tasting

The concept began as an annual Canadian Charity Wine Auction in support of the battle against climate change and then further developed into the Rescue the Grapes auction in NYC in partnership with Christie’s. Campbell and Bachelder convinced dozens of winemakers to donate small-ish lots of unfinished wines to be gathered and vinified as a single wine, an Ontario supergroup-cuvée if you will and finished by Thomas, acting as lead singer and songwriter. In Canada he and Steven are asking wineries to sponsor winemakers dinners in their home province and if they do host a dinner also support our auctions in the other two provinces. For the other province they donate a six pack of wine and will include  VIP “Passport” to the winery to promote interprovincial wine tourism. So far in Ontario Trail Estate, Malivoire, Southbrook, The Farm, Trius, Cave Spring, Pearl Morissette, Bachelder, Henry of Pehlam, Tawse and Rosehall run have all stepped up with a few more in the wings. In British Columbia Black Hills, Stag Hollow, Burrowing Owl, Okanagan Crush Pad, Tin Horn Creek, Tantalus, Quails Gate, Mission Hill and an Arterra winery are in with more to come.

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

The chardonnays were pulled from Willms Vineyard, Wismer-Wingfield est and ouest, Wismer-Foxcroft, Saunders Organic and Bio and Grimsby Hillside Escarpment Red Clay Barn Block. The gamay barrels tasted were Bator, Jackson-Bai “Bai Xu,” Wismer-Parke, Hanck est and ouest. Thomas did reveal the first ever bottle of Grimsby Hillside Chardonnay. The personal connection to that storied plot along the Lincoln Lakeshore in Winona will be investigated to the fullest extent of Godello law in a report coming soon.

Godello with Hidden Bench winemaker Jay Johnston

Has one really taken full advantage of a cool chardonnay weekend if one has not gone nose, palate, heart and mind deep into a seven year Hidden Bench Marlize Beyers to Jay Johnston Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay vertical? Methinks not. Not to mention a viticultural tour with J.J. and Joel Williams, Brut 2014, Rachis & Derma skin-contact and of course, Gamay. Thanks to proprietor Harald Thiel and congrats on being bestowed with the honour of “Champion Chardonnay of the year!” Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving and industry leading partner. 👏 👏 👏

Hidden Bench Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturist Joel Williams

New to the Niagara Peninsula scene is On Seven Estate Winery, headed up by Vittorio de Stefano and with the charge in the hands of Canada’s most accomplished consulting winemaker Peter Gamble. Just as he has made giant viticultural and vinicultural strides with the likes of Stratus, Benjamin Bridge and Lightfoot & Wolfville, in typical, ambitious and big picture defining fashion it is Gamble who sees unlimited qualitative potential in the mineral-rich soils of OSEW’s Niagara-on-the-Lake soils. 

The sit-down at Stratus Vineyards titled “To lees or not to lees? That is the tasting” explained from the word go about the new direction concerns all things lees. To see two winemakers, they being J.L. Groux and Dean Stoyka existing on the same mad scientist solids page is something all Ontario wine pursuers should choose to follow. The pursuit is being played out in chardonnays and multifarious sparkling wines, in Blanc de Blancs, Brut Nature Zero Dosage and “Field Blend” Ancestral. For Ontario this means serious sparkling wine business.

Panko-Crusted Pork Rilette, poached plum & charred fennel salad, toasted hazelnuts, honey dressing, pickled mustard seeds – Executive Chef Steve Sperling, Tide and Vine Oyster House

“Lunch and Launch in Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard” moved us in many ways, first through distant Upper and immediate Lower Jordan Bench views, of Le Clos, Talon Ridge and Claystone Terrace. Tide and Vine Oyster House was responsible for feeding us to the breaking point, by oysters, yellow fin tuna tartar, cold smoked salmon, vichyssoise, pork rillete, surf & turf and olive oil cake. The chardonnay flowed, with Village and Grand Clos examples by hosts LCJ, but also international stars; Tasmania, Australia’s Dalrymple, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa’s Hamilton Russell and Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California’s Gary Farrell. Here are my notes on those three wines.

Dalrymple Cave Block Chardonnay 2018, Tasmania, Australia ($70.95, Noble Estates)

A steely year with the vineyard’s hallmark acidity in a cracker Tazzy chardonnay with lip-smacking energy, intensity and drive. Soil, site and place in relentless pursuit of a focus at the head of body and game. Crunchy, crisp, indelibly fresh and piqued with the finest wisp of white peppery kicks. Nuts, complexity, bolts and length. All in. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa ($47.95, Noble Estates)

From the air-conditioned, cool breeze motivated vineyards (52 hectares) 100 miles from the ocean. Wet vintage, cool and long-hanging. Concentrated flavours in chardonnay that draws from all parcels which is more than just the Hamilton Russell way but in fact the only way. No fruit is wasted, all parts commit and contribute to the whole. A vintage like this is special, restrained, understated and one should not be misled by the shadowy depth and layering. Fruit is but a conduit for all else happening in this streamlined chardonnay. The alcohol and opulence are subtle, the pleasure calming, the capitulations promising. Methinks time will be long, slow and kind to HRV ’18. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Garry Farrell Chardonnay Olivet Lane 2018, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California ($69.00, Noble Estates)

Pellegrini’s 1975 planted Olivet Lane Vineyard sits on 65 acres of sloping benchland in the Santa Rosa Plain, in between the warmer Westside Road region and the cooler Green Valley. If taking a step up from Gary Farrell’s estate label is even a possibility then yes Olivet Lane is just such an animal. Threefold (or ten times) more expressive, from jump started to flying ahead, in freshness, vitality and tightly wound intensity. Flesh and opulence submit to energy, motion and emotion. Captivated and caught up in a bold embrace. Forget bracing but surely feel the fineness and the purpose towards effecting satisfaction. Top, right, fine. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tres Cool Chardonnay

We’ve called on many estates over the last 10 years but truth is the visits were epic this time around, with thanks to the talent involved; Thomas Bachelder, Elsa MacDonald MW, Eugene Mlynczyk MW and the Arterra Wines Canada crew; Tide and Vine’s Mike Langley, Chef Steve Sperling and team; On Seven Estate Winery’s Vittorio de Stefano and Consulting Winemaker Peter Gamble; Stratus Vineyards Assistant Winemaker Dean Stoyka and Estate Director Suzanne Janke; Trius Winery and Restaurant’s Executive Chef Frank Dodd and team; Hidden Bench Estate Winery’s Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturalist Joel Williams; Tawse Winery Winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting; The Restaurant at Redstone Executive Chef Dave Sider and team; Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney. These are the 40 finished wines tasted over a near 30-hour period on July 24th and 25th, 2021.

Felseck Vertical

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($42.20)

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. No stirring, “I don’t like bâtonnage,” tells winemaker Jay Johnston, “unless I’m trying to get a wine to dry.” Never mind the lees aeration or the emulsification because texture in this ’19 is extraordinary to behold, gliding across the palate with Bench orchard fruit cleverness, penetrating perspicacity and juices running through unblemished flesh. Tighter and taut than ’18, while seemingly improbable but here yet unwound, far from the pinnacle at which point full expression will surely ache to be. The ’18 may be a beautiful thing but the ’19 is structured, manifold in destiny and ideal for those who know, or at least think they do. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench

First a walk through the Felseck Vineyard and then a tasting with winemaker Jay Johnston and viticulturist Joel Williams as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical retrospective. Very warm season, much like 2016 though not quite as scorching and sun-filled. Would not call this stoic but would say that concentration, grace and all things stretched are in optimum balance this time around. Pretty quick turn around for Johnston to exact an ideal Felseck chardonnay just a year and a bit into his tenure at Hidden Bench. Just crunchy enough, more than ample and most importantly understated within the context of a great richness inherent in its varietal meets plantation DNA. There is no denying how enticing, invigorating and attractive this chardonnay is and will be to many who showed buyer’s foresight, but also those now lucky enough to come across its terroir-motivated beauty. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A vintage of survival, saved by a glorious September and into October. Looks like the richness made it with thanks to the fall weather and yet the elongation, length, elasticity and texture are all what matters to speak, walk, talk and tow the Felseck line. Solid, mid-weight, mid-acid and structure chardonnay that acts with perfectly middling emotion between the warm ’16 and ’18.  Last tasted July 2021

Felseck gifts what chardonnay needs with fruit equipped to start out subtle, gain traction and then commit to gliding into grace. That state of delicasse is now, with a natural orchard-stone-melon sweetness and an integration seamless, layered and eternal. Drinking this now makes great sense and the honey notes that may follow will only add to the mystique. The Ontario epitome of intelligent and refined chardonnay. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2020

Felseck Vineyard

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. Smoking hot season, much like 2018. No other vintage will impress and woo a more general if elevated palate than this ’16 (save perhaps the high award winning ’18) because both concentration and grace reside in the arena of the beautiful, together, side by side. Not the tightest grain in the vertical retrospective Felseck ship. Can’t say this will live as long as the ’13 and ’14 but there is plenty of life in this gorgeous and not so alone 2016. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year, “we got slammed,” says winemaker Jay Johnstone, “but a wine of definite concentration.” Showing evolution and age in tones, developed richesse and caramelization well beyond both that of ’13 and ’14. No corn however, despite what the initial nose might have indicated. A faux creamed presentation that ended up more peach to apricot in drupe, not niblet. Nutty too, again idiosyncratic and a unique Felseck as such.  Last tasted July 2021

Sometimes I’m “walking down the street, minding my own business” when a taste of a chardonnay makes my eyes go wide. Like this lovely thing of really compelling and nuanced aromatics, diverting, bright and effusive. Intoxicating really, “must have been the sun beating down on me.” A soulful chardonnay, Darondo luscious, strutting at you, with golden fruit, layers of slaty under-vein, a bit of ancient bivalve fossil shell, piqued and long. Gets its texture from a pinpointed cru for sure and is very cool-climate Canadian, almost certainly Bench Niagara, more than likely in Beamsville. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year but a solid year. Now expressive with croccante and cracker sensibility. Aromatically touched by croissant to brioche biscuit richness, with still pulsing acids and mouthfeel second to none. This is a next era Hidden Bench Felseck and the launch point from off of the work put in through the previous five or six vintages. Tasted blind four years previous to now was a completely different experience. Drink 2021-2026.  Last tasted July 2021

Unction and creaminess, lost in a chardonnay dream because to nose it’s a sweet, floral, demure thing. Lees apparent so you can smell the work in progress and feel the texture. But it’s wound loosely tight with just enough give to make it so readily available. Beautiful little wine though I can’t help but imagine there’s more single-focus structure than a blind taste wants to give. Hope to come across this hard to get beauty again someday soon.  Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted with incumbent winemaker Jay Johnston as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. The vintage may very well be considered much like 2021 is shaping up to be, wet and humid, culminating in a late season. A short crop year but surely one of the Bench’s best dating back to 2009. Persistently flinty and aromatic, holding the citrus and stone fruit line, still quite tight and yet to evolve with any considerable haste. Not one to think on as a specific Bourguignons terroir per se but definitely Hidden Bench, amphitheatric Beamsville of origin, expression and conclusion. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Jordan Village Chardonnay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($24.95)

The first attempt and rather obvious pronouncement towards creating a Bourguignons Villages wine is this over-delivering for the price chardonnay from Thomas Bachelder and the re-invented spirit of Le Clos Jordanne. Jordan Village as in grapes gathered from the lower and upper Jordan benches. When warmed in the glass and were it drawn from a warmer vintage there might be even more fleshy opulence but with 2019 and this collection of LCJ single vineyards there is fresh magnification and edgy dance moves, shimmer and glitter, not to mention of glimmer of what this commercially viable brand will ultimately bring to the collective entity that is cool climate Ontario chardonnay. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2018, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($44.95)

Le Grand Clos signals the return of the lower Jordan Bench and “I’m very happen it’s back in the (Escarpment) lexicon,” says winemaker Thomas Bachelder for a chardonnay of origins truly different than the upper benches in Beamsville, Vineland and Jordan. A svelte vintage, not lean by any stretch but surely tight and what some might say restrained. That may or may not include fine white caramel, liqueur glazed fennel and a mild sense of grilling. A chardonnay from vines in a season that needed not shut down to either hydric nor heat stress. Funny how both 2018 in Niagara and Hermanus produced similar results. The big “E,” fine-tuning, chiseled features and sneaky structure.  Last tasted July 2021

Thomas Bachelder’s second vintage since the reprise of Le Clos Jordanne’s chardonnay and pinot noir is perhaps the most nurtured (and nurturing) because he and team treated this varietal fruit through all the early stages; newborn, infant, toddler and child. The attention to detail, from choosing cooperage, forests, barrels and in elévage design is both mathematical and surgical. After 22 months the result is just so imperfectly perfect. Unequivocally noted as a high acid vintage and rather then fatten up this fruit the monk chose the direction of vintage seasoning and identity. Drills down into the Clos and where it fits within the Twenty Mile Bench. The exiguity and heretical transparency makes this a great ’18 Le Clos because ambiguity is the enemy of accountability and also progress. As a forward thinking chardonnay it represents itself, the maker and proffers a sense of place. Perfectly easy to drink right now and imperfectly set up for aging, but that’s just not the point. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2020

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Seven acres, thus the name, in the hands of Vittorio de Stefano, “and a project paramount to wanting something sustainable that can compete at the international level and standard.” The vineyard is five acres and the property now 15.5. Planted half each to chardonnay and pinot noir, all organic. Bourgogne is the impetus, Niagara the goal. The genesis of planting decisions dates back to 2009, high vigour rootball SO4 rootstocks and clones finally acquired in 2014. Now at seven years of age the vines are ready to rock. A place of science, with oenological consultant/winemaker Peter Gamble at the fore and wines of minimalist approach starting out in reductive tendency, then finishing with longevity defining acidity. Richness and intensity meet at a general Côte d’Or vortex but in the end Niagara lake-proximate flesh and tension are the true meeting point. There is a distinct flintiness (and unlike other flinty chardonnays) but also a caramelization of high delectability and flavour. Vim and vigour, vivid and 20 per cent new oak over three years to gain such favour. Exotic too, with wood contributing to the extract, but surely essential trace elements; manganese, iron and calcium of causation allowing the minerals to make themselves heard. Intriguing wine if only at the beginning of a long story yet to be told. Only 82 cases made. The goal as the vines mature will be 800. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Perhaps not the highest of knowable excellence yet clearly the most intriguing chardonnay that may never be emulated any time soon, certainly not out of 2019 or 2020. Singular stylistic wine, reductive and opulent, more Pouilly-Fuissé (with thanks to 2017) and a warmth that creates such a textural buzz. More fat in spite of that 8 g/L acidity, but such energy and considering the age at this point it almost seems the wine is going a bit backwards. That said the vanilla and caramel comes in wafts and waves, the flavours and textures in layers, long, lingering, forever. Only 108 cases made.  Last tasted July 2021

The newest Peter Gamble consulting joint is this from upstart The Pursuit of Seven. The chardonnay fruit is Niagara-on-the-Lake and the concentration suggest established vines (of at least 15 years-old it would seem) and no holds barred in terms of extraction and wood support. The density and fruit bang for buck are impressive and there is some volatility in distraction. Ambitious to be sure and the acumen employed true to form, not to mention distinctly clear. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted March 2020

Vittorio de Stefano of @onsevenwinery with consulting oenologist Peter Gamble

On Seven Estate Winery The Devotion On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($65.00)

Imagine the minerals from these Niagara-on-the-Lake soils (manganese, iron and calcium) and the highest intensity fruit getting together in a tiny lot chardonnay case load. Then consider going against the grain with harder (elevated) turbidity in the ferments for more skin feel and purposed pulp for upfront loaded flavour intensity. That’s the direction and hyperbole of pursuit in The Devotion on Seven, an (only) 31 cases made chardonnay. Doubles (or perhaps triples) down on reduction, fulsome flesh and yet the warner vintage has as much to say as the inherent processes involved. Also a tannic chardonnay, in dramatic sensory extract as compared to the Pursuit on Seven ’18, though it can’t help but express more of everything as compared to the Pursuit of Seven. The acidity number of 8 g/L might seem extraordinary when considering the warmth and the ripeness of the vintage, however, and this matters most, ultimately it is the terroir that drives both the texture and the acidity of this special, barrel selection wine. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Peller Estates Signature Series Chardonnay Sur Lie 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Yet another cracker 2019 chardonnay with the coolest of vintages meeting varietal bones and a karst of energy to drive the lees machine. Spent 10 months sur lie to be exact in a fully malolactic confirmed textural tang that benefits from a certain restraint only such a season can affirm. That being particularly cool and elongated for a chardonnay just crunchy enough to support the promise and extend enjoyment for a good, long and fruitful spree. Expect a future filled with a soft and creamy centre, eventuating in some creamed Niagara corn. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($49.20)

“It’s not that we’re trying to change something every year,” explains assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka, which means that the R and D projects are in constant motion and take four to five years to come to fruition. The October 18-26 stretch is the latest harvest in quite some time (since 2009), fermented in various clay vessels and French oak, 76 per cent in neutral barrels and (24) in stainless steel. Great naturally developed acidity and just enough ripeness to gain favour with the fully-completely accessed, utilized and kept in the bottle lees. So lemon, so balanced and very fine. There is a combinative effect of mad scientist acumen for a wine that needs to be explained to a consumer mixed with absolute pleasure and amenability. One of the finest chardonnay peaks conquered nut just in Ontario but anywhere cool varietal mountains are meant to be climbed.  Last tasted July 2021

Tight one this 2019 chardonnay, seductively reductive and unwilling to relent this early in life. Knowable richness is optimized by being associated with green orchard fruit bite. Though so youthful and shrink wrapped at this time there are some ways to pair with potential and eek out enough charm. Boy do you feel the lees but the freshness really shines. Prosciutto comes to mind, as does mortadella, especially if it’s from Faenza. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2020

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Warm and ripe vintage if only because of a gorgeous September into October, more lees than ever before, no new wood and an extended elévage nearing a year in length. Alcohol has risen, as has the pH though neither are what you might call vivid. The palate is actually tightly strung, the texture fulfilling and a cloudiness so perfect for what the winemaking team had long wanted to achieve. Hard not to see 2017 as the teaching wine where lees usage is concerned, the (after the fact) ah-hah moment whereby knowing what to do and how deep to go was learned by how 2017 turned out. In this case fulsome of stone fruit, opaque clarity, an oxymoronic ying-yang of positives in apposite attractions. A Monet vintage, modernized and so very J-L Groux. A Stratus, unlike any other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

The 2014 vintage was essentially the first year when barrel lees would be left in the bottle and my how conservative this ’15 really was as compared to an evolution that culminates (currently) with the full on lees filed chardonnay vintage. Quite the opulent vintage mixed with aromatics still morphing, developing lees, brash and blushing by 40 per cent new oak, complimented by generous acidity. Showing with controlled drama and though the yields were low (only 88 tonnes) there is something quite special about this emotionally charged, vivid, scarce and remarkable chardonnay.  Last tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Tasting with assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka as part of a vertical exercise in “to lees or not to lees.” Neither hue nor aromatics suggest much evolution though the low-ish acidity and tropical fruit tell an emerging secondary story. Creamy and centred, gregarious of flavour, nothing left unsaid, hidden or kept hidden away. Up front and talking vintage warmth, opulence and ripeness. Was housed in only 18 per cent new wood. For a good time, drink up.  Last tasted July 2021

As per the house promulgation, in chardonnay, “still an assemblage process,” insists Groux, “no matter what we do.” Some grapes grown for Sparkling were added back in, for acidity, complexity and ultimately balance. That and though notably barrel burdened (a good, hard burden to bare) leading to a bargain, “the best I ever had.” Major key of whose who of Niagara fruit, power acoustic chords and 12-string harmonics. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted June 2015

A change in direction is duly noted with J-L Groux’s 2012 chardonnay, from fruit picked six weeks earlier than in 2010. The program is scaled back and the wine is more “typical” of the region, in weight, in barrel effect and in alcohol. Still quite defined by natural yeasts that “sometimes go a bit wild, but I’m getting better at it,” concedes the clinician of vinous letters. Those feisty microbes are difficult to work with, like dealing with a wine that lacks natural clarity. “You have to shut down the bacteria, teach the yeast to stop stealing the lees. In 2013 I really got it.” The ’12’s altered course is welcome and encouraged and the world should wait with bated breath for what ’13 will bring. Here the complexity of aromatics is matched only by the intensity of tropical fruit. Has balance and a soft, round feel. Again, more texture and aromatics than natural acidity. Classic J-L style. “It’s not about trying to imitate anyone. It’s about making the most interesting and most complex chardonnay in Niagara.”  Tasted March 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road 2018, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($35.95)

Definitely a warm vintage, picked on the early side, bite still clamped down, a bit of pesto and far from reductive as noted in Quarry Roads of the recent past (i.e 2011 and 2013). Pine nut pronunciation, no malic residual transformations (there will never me) and just bloody good freshness. Last tasted July 2021

No shocker that Quarry Road always finds a way to morph and change gears, meaning every so often, a year and up to two years later there will be some significant movement in this wine. Something about the Vinemount Ridge and how its players are in constant flux, adjusting sentiments and character to keep things curious, interesting and alive. Still the unencumbered and free-flowing expression it set out to be, free to be Quarry Road and as for me, I am always enamoured by how it marries personality with age. Natural (not unlike the Natural version of itself), enigmatic and very personal. Let it be. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Tawse winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge

Fantastic ten years after flinty reduction from arguably the most cracking vintage of the previous decade. As it is said, “you’ve got to feed the beauty, it doth not come cheap.” And that is what Paul Pender went for in 2011. At 10 Quarry is light on its feet, fresh, spirited jumping rope and spinning in concentric chardonnay circles. It simply reeks of beautiful Vinemount Ridge stone.  Last tasted July 2021

The pinpoint accuracy and gemstone capture of the Quarry is exaggerated in ’11, amplified and fully plugged in. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Carries that classic Paul Pender perfume; rocks and stones, flaxen, refulgent toast and the verdure Vinemount terroir. A free flying, linear, atmospheric smear of thermal fortitude and backbone. A polemic Bowie Chardonnay to make you believe “the strangest things, loving the alien.”  Tasted May 2014

Resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terroir makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit.  Tasted March 2012 (barrel sample)

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($34.95)

Prick, punch and torque from the conceptual vintage get-go, a classic 2019 in the making, if by so many yet to be understood standards. A chardonnay so cool it causes a brain freeze while simultaneously moving the soul. In fact put on some vinyl Gaye, get in on, or even disco foreshadowing Temptations, echoing the chardonnay law of the land. Don’t sleep on the high level fruit, not quite fleshy but surely potent and dynamic to match the season’s verve in acidity. Fine lees, better texture and all-around vitality so essential to chardonnay. Will improve with six more months in bottle. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($36.75)

A single-vineyard chardonnay once labelled Oliveira and then watching Tree Vineyard but no longer, though the source remains the same. Embraces a cool 2019 vintage played out through rewards in the guise of reduction, toast, flint and drive. In cool climate varietal terms this ’19 reminds of 2011 though to be clear and certain there is more focus where by the quantity and quality of ripenesses meet at the essential points of acidity and tannin. Here is a vintage to end a decade in the most poised and poignant way. Spot on, striking and graceful chardonnay. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Remarkable finesse, flavours and design @triuswines and Restaurant by Chef Frank Dodd with @coolchardonnay accompaniments.

Beyond Chardonnay

Hidden Bench Blanc De Blanc Zero Dosage 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench ($48.00)

Second vintage from a tightly contested and smaller crop, initiated by then winemaker Marlize Beyers and subsequently disgorged by Jay Johnston, following five years on the lees. Moves from the practice of poetics to the anticipatory embracing of tomorrow’s science. Full disclosure this was tasted while walking the Hidden Bench chardonnay vineyards with a traditional method sparkling wine in hand first disgorged in the summer of 2019, when the yeasts were removed and the bottle was topped with the same wine. This tasting featured a January 2021 disgorgement and the term “Brut Nature Zero Dosage used when no sugar is added to the finished wine, which provides the most authentic expression of (the Hidden Bench) terroir.” Truth and synchronicity, grace, striking engagement, pure citrus and pleasure. Who could not anticipate and wait on subsequent vintages of this wine? The best is yet to come. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Brut Nature Zero Dosage 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($100.00)

Comes across a bit cloudy, at least as compared to the B de B with thanks to the natural, lees left intact style. The citrus component is so pronounced, as is the taut, direct, lean and intense manifold destiny of what is truly a singular Sparkling wine. That being a living, breathing, inhaling and exhaling wine, slowly releasing proteins, acids and realizing its B de B Nature dream. Just amazing what lees can do for sparkling wine.  Last tasted July 2021

Released side by each with the Stratus Blanc de Blanc 2013 and while vintage and grape are the same, the similarities almost seemingly, ostensibly and allegedly end there. Yes in fact this 100 per cent chardonnay is a child of the most excellent varietal vintage and like the B de B spent six years on the lees. Comparisons cast aside it is the very fact that because much of the lees were transferred to bottle by a minimalist’s disgorging that this cloudy bubble with a Canadian artist’s series set of labels can’t help but elicit another memory. The Lilies of Monet and their clouds represent neither the horizon, nor the top or the bottom. Nor does a bottle of this Zéro Dosage Brut. The elements of water, air, sky and earth become intertwined in a composition without perspective, or so it goes in this hazy, opaque and dry as the desert sparkling wine. So many layers of lemon can be peeled, juiced and scraped away. If a Stratus wine could be a a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma then here it is. The texture here is palpable and the intrigue factor surely high, so it should be imagined that longevity will be this wine’s calling card. It’s more austere than the Blanc de Blanc but I think in fact it will. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($75.00)

One gram of dosage, disgorged in January 2020. Nearly six years on the lees based on the first R & D trials done in 2006 and 2007. High level autolytic entity, a toasted affair and an idea long time coming for the Stratus team. Fine tonic and bitters. With 15 minutes of air the blooming happens, floral, expressive and complex. This wine has really developed more layers, emotions and complexity.  Last tasted July 2021

The first (commercial) J-L Groux foray into traditional method Sparkling wine has been six plus years in the making, or in this case, senescence as the lees fly and his Blanc de Blanc has finally arrived. A notable moment in the Stratus continuum as they too now own a program of development, time, investment, research and acumen. The nose on this bubble tells a pensive story, or as fantasy goes like dipping your face into a tale-spun pensieve as it takes you back in time. In 2013 chardonnay excelled on the Niagara Peninsula and still today in 2020 we are drinking vintage examples persistent in their freshness and durability of construct. That this reeks of varietal lore is a hallmark moment, that and a conscientious adherence to reverence for solids and the focus on rotational detail. Speaks a Blanc de Blanc vernacular as a chardonnay should, with a bite out of a sharp fall apple, a pesto of verdant aromatics and a crunch of texture before drifting saline, briny and fine. Pretty good work J-L. Kudos for getting from there to here with intelligence and humility. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Vineyards “Field Blend” Ancestral 2020, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($35.00)

The inaugural Stratus commercially labelled release is what winemaker Dean Stoyka refers to as “in the mindset of monks.” A field blend of sémillon, chardonnay, riesling and viognier. Pressed all together, fermented dry and then re-fermented in the bottle with no sugar added. Dry enough, or so it seems, non-disgorged, under crown cap and so very fruity. Floral, allspice and spiciness overtop apricot, pear and black walnuts conceptually turning into Vin de Noix or Nocino. A natural testament to assemblage and a great use of varieties without a home. 100 cases produced. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Spark Laundry Vineyard Blanc De Noirs 2013, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

Actually quite shocked I’ve never tasted this wine before, a Spark about which winemaker Paul Pender exults by saying “2013 is my favourite vintage for all our sparklings.” Traditional method, pinot noir from Heather Laundry’s double L vineyard and a fizz that fits and sparks. Gingered and toasty, crunchy, wave cresting and fulsome by six years on the lees. The dosage was five to six g/L, in that Pender sweet spot all around, just right, so well and good. A little romanticism goes a long way where science is concerned, especially in this medium and in Spark Blanc De Noirs 2013 one is simply good for the other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Estate Vineyard Spark 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Tasted side by side with the 2013 Blanc de Noirs, making for a striking if surprisingly antithetical contrasting contract with this Blanc de Blancs. Aged three years on the lees and finished with the same 5-6 g/L of dosage yet here so upfront, centred and personal. More immediate richness than what pinot seems to do from Laundry Vineyard and so even in sparkling it is David’s Block and chardonnay that gift quicker satisfaction. Likely vintage driven (again, even in sparkling), very pear and shortbread, a savoury dessert of a sparkling wine. Like olive oil cake, all about the simple pleasures. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Brut Nature NV Méthode Traditionelle, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($55.00)

The dry as the desert Brut nature initiates with a yeasty faradism of excitement from what strikes as a minimum four to five years spent sitting on those fascinating lees. While the wine does not exactly smoulder with a toasty salutation that is no matter because textural acidity and blooming aromatics also arrive to an applause of immediate gratification. There is an exceptional level of “croccante” satisfaction that parlays that “texture” into a lasting display of bits and bites. The make up is 50 per cent chardonnay and (45) pinot noir with (5) pinot meunier and 2014 being the primary vintage source, though there is some 2013 involved. Zero dosage, top tier, notch and drop. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Rosé Limestone Vineyard 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($27.95)

Tawse began crafting Rosé from (Vinemount Ridge) Quarry Road Vineyard fruit in 2017 and now here they come with Twenty Mile Bench pinot noir. From Limestone Vineyard this represents a heads and tails Rosé, meaning 40 per cent is used for Spark traditional method bubbles and the bookends is destined for this salty, straight-shooting and crisp-freckled single-vineyard blush. Double-redheaded wow! Grape, place and style all on side for so many good reasons. 1000 bottles made. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Gris Lawrie Vineyard 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($27.15)

Not to be confused with the Lowrey Vineyard on St. David’s Bench and a best varietal vintage for Paul Pender. Far from being a “Miller-Lite or Corona” pinot gris, instead creamy, fulsome, well-versed and elastic. The furthest away from metallic and/or turbid, low on phenols, no bitters, nor tonics neither.  Last tasted July 2021

Fresh and while this young is full of its original fruit, which is the biggest plus for pinot gris because dry varietal wines have a hard time after enough time has passed on by. Sulphur is not really an issue so this delivers the varietal and stylistic goods with fruit at the lead. Good acids, persistence and balance. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted October 2020

Tawse Winery Carly’s Block Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

A sleeper vintage, not necessarily exacting out of the blocks, not heavy cropped, middle of the road in so many respects. If I tasted this before memory fails to draw any retrospective conclusions) but Carly’s ’15 has already turned towards the petrol sun, “let the shadows fall behind you, don’t look back, just carry on.” This perhaps began more than a year or two ago and today acts Rihanna outspokenly so. Lime and almost cordial by now, warm and friendly as a riesling liqueur. Quite stable, animated, holding its patterning, likely to do so for an additional three or fours years. Drink before it returns home. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Limestone Ridge Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Unlike the Carly’s ’15 (tasted at the same time) this Limestone ’12 has not moved forward with any vehement haste. The lack of advancing towards petrol is curious but the softening is surely comforting. Still resplendent with a particular 2012 meets Twenty Mile Bench acidity, now oscillating while integrating with waning fruit. Drinking beautifully.  Last tasted July 2021

From the newest estate vineyard, the single-vineyard Limestone Ridge exteriorizes its name in a rubric of pressed rock, struck flint and chalky density. Paul Pender has coaxed a multiplicity oft linear character, with major notes of lime zest and juice, persistent from start to finish. A mid-pause of oozing, residual sinensis is the determinant towards the wine’s matrix of longevity. A longer, leaner, meaner and mightier Riesling charged by a different sort of power. Kinetic, frenetic and electric.  Tasted twice, April and May 2014

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Aromatiq! Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster sauvignon blanc, viognier and riesling, layered atop one another, full on hilt in spice, a hit of gingerbread, light in talc and salve. Good-natured and textured when well chilled, oxidative for sure, drinkable, pleasurable, done in one puncheon. Simple really. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Chardonnay Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster chardonnay, more spirited than the Aromatiq!, crunchy even, definitely with more spice and plenty of bite. More tannin too, structurally sound to allow more secondary character and time spent developing cooler, more energetic waves of spirit. Wild ride yet just sound and subtle enough to attract the right kind of attention. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Gamay Unfiltered 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($29.95)

The inaugural gamay release from Hidden Bench is eight years in the planning and making, from 2013 through planting in 2017 and with third leaf fruit for this game changing 2019. That is because the grape and the maker were made for each other so the question begs, what took so long to take the plunge? No matter because such an auspicious start can never come too late. A wine of native yeasts, a properly prolonged, 24-day maceration, an eighth of new wood and the Lincoln Lakeshore being the ideal appellation for what wants and surely needs. More than impressive for such young vine fruit, of a light smoulder lending an essence of jasmine and by argan to red, red fruit, tightly winding acids and such gamay crunch, the likes of which are attributed to expectation, hopes and dreams. When the vineyard grows up there will be further anticipations, exegeses further afield to include cru and reserve concepts. That is a countable fact based on current evidence and credible speculation.  Drink 2021-2023. Tasted April and July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Gamay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Naturally refined, welcoming, open-knit and my oh my, juicy as a basket of Niagara plums and peaches blended into rooibos kombucha. Rachis, “main axis or shaft, a stem of a plant, bearing flower stalks at short intervals.” Derma, or Dermis, “the inner layer of the two main layers of the skin.” In R & D the inner workings of gamay are accessed at the natural axis between light to fruity and joyful to dark, before sous serious and after vide structured. Middle ground, believable and exhibiting intrinsic purity. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Noir Tintern Vineyard 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($50.15)

This July 2021 tasting is my first for Pinot Noir Tintern 2013 in bottle but I did run through two different barrels with Paul Pender back in March of 2014. The vines were only three years old at the time, on a site (next door to John Howard) Pender likens to “reclaiming the swamps,” or “the Golan Heights project.” From the Vosges medium toast the wine was already showing colour, freshness and drive. From the Vosges, medium plus toast it was a bit reductive, with more tannin and more sappy wood. This look back reveals not a vintage of varietal exhilaration but a malic one with credit due the high levels of potassium in the soil. A cherry generosity a la Central Otago by way of the Vinemount Ridge. Almost a volcanic presence, but not and yes a pinot from young vines come about as a result of winemaking. Up front, in motion, drinking really well. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Redstone Restaurant

Tawse Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($49.15)

Another high-toned pinot noir from an inverted vintage, in cherry spirit, a hit of fennel and enough lingering energy while there is a meld and morph towards darker black fruit. Broad shouldered, now tannic, settling in as a pretty big wine.  Last tasted July 2021

As for Cherry Avenue the twain is met, somewhere between Tintern and Quarry, in the middle of vintage and classic Tawse styling. Both firm and bright, the fruit a cherry but a darkening black one and then the grip of place though well within vintage reason. Less structured than Quarry but not as hematic and brooding as Tintern. Solid pinot noir. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted June 2020

Tawse Cabernet Franc Growers Blend 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula

How remarkably fresh, inviting, enticing and that is just the aromatic front. Effusive, the greater good of burgeoning, smelling like Bourgeuil in uncanny resemblance. Nothing leafy here, just the smell of youth, post-adolescence and from a notably warm vintage. A freshness that just may be a foreshadowing of what’s to come from 2021. Heat and water, humidity and rain, yet no vine stress nor disease pressure neither. A product of great agriculture and an example of 2010’s longevity. “On the riper side but not overly ripe,” tells Paul Pender with a pragmatically raised brow. Indeed. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Whole-souled, benevolent and keyed up though that’s the vineyard, persistent and in perpetuity. Red to charcoal fruit, quite firm and tannic for the Tawse-varietal relationship and in that sense mostly related to vintage. Was not picked until November 15th and stayed in barrel for 18 months. Not showy really, not the ripest vintage after all but surely one to promote variegation, fruit/acid layers and particularities. Wait long enough (as in seven-plus years) and these things become complexities. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Good to go!

godello

 

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

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

WineAlign

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

WineAlign

Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventure

Frozen Niagara Falls

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

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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

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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!