Searching for great heart in South Africa

A view of the Simosnberg from Amazink Live in Kalmandi Township

Heritage and diversity in South Africa

as seen on WineAlign

Takeaways from Cape Wine 2018: Bot Rivier, new generation pinotage, regional spotlight on Robertson, Méthode Cap Classique, heritage vines, post revolution Swartland, wot varietal? and kuier

The last time I travelled across the Atlantic and down to the southern tip of Africa was in the warm days of September when I took in the three days of Cape Wine 2015. Beyond the Cape Town commotion of the triennial wine fair there was the added bonus of an expansive, wayfaring wine-lands itinerary. A deep understanding of the Western Cape’s wine landscape came to light, though at the time it seemed like being caught up in some kind of cultural and constitutional revolution. A return engagement with South Africa this past September changes but also cements the notions considered and the lessons learned. South Africa’s scene has now found itself comfortably cast in a post-revolution, full on republic state of wine. Allow me to expand.

I’m searching for the spirit of the great heart
Under African sky

A deeper understanding

After my return three years ago I suggested that “what separates South African vignerons from the rest of the world is a playground mentality and their confident executions in consummation of those ideals. The soils and the weather are nothing short of perfect…the place is a veritable garden of viticulture eden…a certain kind of comparison presents South Africa as the wine equivalent of the wild west. In the Western Cape, anything goes. The landscape of South African wine is demarcated by ancient geology and by the geographical diversity of its regions, sub-regions and micro-plots. Varietal placement is the key to success. As I mentioned, South African winemakers can grow anything they want, to both their discretion and their whimsy. The choice of what grows best and where will determine the successes of the future.”

It’s satisfying to note that three years later the adages, analytics and perspectives remain constant with that initial intuition and yet the changes in mentality meeting execution are far greater than such a short passage of time could normally afford. Winemakers in South Africa are learning everything there is to know about making wine and from every corner of the world. Some are travelling to the sources for the knowledge while others are simply experimenting at home every day to get there. There is no style of wine that isn’t being attempted. I’ll say it again. “Natural fermentation, skin contact and carbonic maceration have infiltrated the winemaker’s psyche. Fresh, natural, orange, amber, caliginous and tenebrous have established Cape footholds with enzymatic force.”

The year 2018 will be remembered for many things but at the top of that list are resilience and tradition. After months and months on end of near catastrophic drought the country and in turn the wine producers have found a way to survive and to thrive. Thanks must be afforded the pioneers and those with the most experience, in other words, the people who have been through and seen it all. As a result it is the icons and archetypes of South African wine that stole much of this year’s spotlight. Though they are the antithesis of the young and free-spirited, the lines have begun to blur, or at least overlap in terms of who is who in the winemaking mise en scene. Three years ago these pirates with pirate eyes and pirate smiles made some good wines but a good deal of them were dirty, funky and flawed. Wine geeks gushed because of the cool, natural and revolutionary factor. It was a time of protest and free spirit. Once upon a time in the wild Western Cape. As the boomers have grown older their winemaking has matured and become wiser. There is no abandoning the call for uprising, subversion and experimentation but there is a concerted effort to fashion wines that are a pleasure to drink. Isn’t that the point? In 2018 it seems that everyone has it figured out. South African wines are cleaner by ‘n landmyl, with more purity, transparency and honesty than ever before. Their epiphany is now ours as together we synchronically enter this new world of deeper understanding.

No one does a media package like @wosa_za for @wosacanada peeps. thank you for getting me very ready to tackle @capewine2018

So much to think about

It began at the Spier Hotel in Stellenbosch, home to Spier Wine Farm and Vineyards. It was unseasonably cold with the kind of crisp night air that just makes you think about acidity. The vines were infants at this time in the southern hemisphere vineyards but I could not help but imagine the 2019 harvest possibilities as having forged their beginnings with these early spring conditions. Next stop was Bot Rivier, first with a farm to table experience at Wildekrans Wine Estate. A quick stop to hang with the baboons at Sir Lowry’s Pass and a move to Kalmandi Township.

Performers at Amazink Live

This was a truly South African experience of ‘Ubunti’ at Amazink Live‘s township braai with the local entertainment troupe and a big bottle format of Smiley, Silvervis and Terracura with Ryan Mostert and Samantha Suddons. The fifth season of performance took place in what is called “a place of unity,” a safe space for all guests and groups. Amazink’s manager Zinthle explained that this club offers “a change in the perception of townships, the name alone means “it’s a nice home.” Kunandi Umalaba indeed. “It’s nice to be here.”

On to Roberston for three quick visits with Graham Beck Wines, Springfield Estate and De Wetshof Estate Wines. Then a night under the African sky, a 24-hour out-of-body experience at Sanbona Game Reserve and over to L’Avenir Farm for Pino Pistols – the next generation of pinotage young guns. The next morning at the Cape Town International Convention Centre for the start of three jam-packed days of Cape Wine 2018. An evening that can never be forgotten covered the classics – a regional four-decade vertical tasting with eight iconic producers. The trip culminated with lawn bowls in Malmesbury with the Swartland Swingers, artists formerly known as The Swartland Revolution.

Sundowners, Sanbona Game Reserve

Three years after that 2015 Cape Wine experience it’s duly noted how both flow and focus mean that the game is changing. The notion of planting whatever you feel like wherever you feel it just because it will ripen is evolving. Specialization, especially with respect to varietals like chenin blanc, cinsault, grenache and pinotage is the wave of the future and with this furthered isolation of micro-plots and terroir for these very specific grape varieties. Narrowing the focus, figuring out what works best and why. It’s the Burgundian way and indeed the way all great wine regions make their mark. The heritage seekers and protectors know what’s what. Old vines, especially dry, bush-farmed vineyards are the backbone of South Africa’s diversity and possibility.

Were South Africa not so far away from the rest of the wine-consuming world I truly believe it would blow every other wine region out of the proverbial water of supply and demand. South Africa’s wines represent the finest quality to price ratios in the world and there is plenty of product to go around. Lying a continent (and an ocean) away from both Europe and North America is an obstacle that will always be too distant to overcome but the global economy’s ability to coalesce and encourage trading of goods from the furthest of poles is only going to increase. If this upwards and positive trend is to continue the current wave of nationalist political tendencies must be curtailed, if only so that we as consumers can continue to enjoy the wealth of extraordinary wines that need to be exported out of South Africa.

Chef Gregory Henderson, Wildekrans Wilde Forage, Bot Rivier

New age of diversity: Bot Rivier

Bot Rivier is south-east from Cape Town, sandwiched from south to north between Hermanus and Stellenbosch. “From the top of the Houw Hoek Pass, one gets the first glimpse of the vast, rolling hills and big sky of the Bot River area, where real people make real wine.” This is the credo of the family of wineries that farm and produce in the area. There are 12 members of the wine-growing association, all within a 10km radius of one another. At Wildekrans we participated in a ground foraging experience alongside Chef Gregory Henderson. Beaumont Wines, Gabriëlskloof, Paardenkloof, Villion and Luddite Wines led us through a blending process to make a wine from samples supplied by all six. Four groups attempted the exercise to mixed reviews. Said Luddite’s Niels Verburg. “We gave you six beautiful wines and you gave us four bad ones back.” Their wines were significantly better.

Beaumont Family Wines Hope Marguerite 2017, WO Bot Rivier-Walker Bay, South Africa (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

The vintage clarity speaks to an unbelievable old vines imperative and in this case a stage presence imperative to scrape, zest and juice all the lemons, tangerines and peaches in the world. The fruit quality and integrity conjures a continuum where distant memory fast forwards to present day reality. ‘Tis an extraordinary time to taste chenin blanc in its modern vernacular, of so many styles with Sebastian Beaumont’s so high on the pyramid. The The 2017 accomplishment includes further complex compliments, dried pineapple, lemon peel and an herbal wonder powder. This is the sauce. “This is the day, your life will surely change. This is the day, when things fall into place.” Soul mining for chenin blanc. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Villion Family Wines Syrah 2017, WO Western Cape, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

A moment’s pause to consider the aromatics is unavoidable because the mid-palate complex notions swirl dramatically out of glass, through the mouth and straight into the mind. This with thanks in kind to more than half of the juice having matured for eight months in (36 per cent new) 300 and 400L French barrels. The fruit was not lost in fact it’s uncanny how mandarin orange it is, plus this old vine (30 years and older) mineral-flint strike to round out the third and most expected aspect of the total oeuvre. Rich, unctuous and structured is a great way for chenin blanc to go through life. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  villionwines  @VillionWines  @VillionWines

Wildekrans Wine Estate Chenin Blanc Barrel Select Reserve 2017, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

From winemaker Braam Gerricke his chenin blanc layers and variegates richness and spice. There is nothing simple about the designation or the result, very much in the vein of old vines and barrel licked chenin with great expectation. The ceiling climbs high for this type of execution and with some age for this, followed by some adjustments for the rest the future looks very bright. These are wines poised to climb into another Cape echelon. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018  wildekrans  @WildekransWines  @Wildekrans

Gabriëlskloof Syrah The Landscape Series on Shale 2016, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

On Shale is forged of a single-vineyard, Bokkeveld site on the Gabriëlskloof property that makes for a stand apart syrah without comparison. A wild ferment encourages idiosyncratic, ferric and hematic tendencies of what can happen on this section of Western Cape geology. The theoretical possibilities from such shale do for syrah what Cape granite and Malmesbury shale won’t, making abstract connections liquid chalk bled through mudstone in the form of herbal amaro syrup. You notice it in the consistency too, so pure, so sappy oozing and in its very intuitive way, extroverted fine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  gabrielskloof_  @Gabrielskloof  @donniewine  @Gabrielskloof

Luddite Shiraz 2014, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

Just a few years offers up so many more clues as to what is going on in Niels Verburg’s shiraz world. First of all the 24 months in barrel and the 24 months in bottle are structure building and basically tell us to stay away for an equally further amount of time. Not that you wouldn’t want to taste one or two along the way but time is the necessity. This is shiraz held back to “gain a balanced potential.” Meanwhile, no other Cape shiraz smells like this. Niels talks about the mattress of curry the khoi bushmen used to lie upon to raise them up above the ground and away from the insects. The plants known as “kerrie” have a very particular herbal-savoury scent, certainly present in Luddite’s shiraz and even more pronounced with a few years of time gone by. It’s exotic, an herbal-spice line trod with floral undertone and in part certainly a cause to that vineyard presence of the curry bush. Texture is fine spun silk, integrated and then comes exquisite acidity to complete the picture. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018  luddite_wines  @LudditeWines  @ludditewines

Paardenkloof Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

Planted in 2002, it was 2006 that proprietor Mohseen Moosa first produced this cabernet sauvignon on the mountain that separates Bot Rivier from the Hemel-en-Aarde, three to four kms from the sea, as the crow flies. The cooling breezes help to coax, coddle and accentuate the varietal tendencies, “to promote the primary fruit of the vineyard,” tells Moosa. Beneficial balance and restrained intensity define this wine, from pockets of spice through ultra-violet floral rays. Pleasing fruit meets designate structure for the most solid of South African cabernets. Fine chalky tannins and all in all, really accomplished. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted September 2018  paardenkloof  @PaardenKloof  @PaardenKloofEstate

Chardonnay vineyard in Robertson

Regional spotlight: Robertson

The Robertson Valley is a singular and vast South African landscape, a place of wide open spaces and skies. It’s the ideal location for many things, including growing chardonnay and pinot noir for Méthode Cap Classique sparkling wines. It’s also possessive of the finest limestone soils in the Capelands which means chardonnay thrives and the ceiling for pinot noir can only raise higher. Pockets of sand and clay are also ideal for Bordeaux varietals; cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. The history, meticulousness and confidence of Robertson’s winemakers is more than evident. Springfield’s Abrie Bruwer was quick to remind us all “we’ve revolutionized (winemaking) three times over already and nobody’s noticed.” Robertson remains under the radar but know this. Old world defines the collective oeuvre.

Springfield Estate Sauvignon Blanc Life From Stone 2018, WO Robertson, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

What a jolt in how there’s a quick flash of Sancerre and then bam, straight back into a Robertson reality from the rockiest of parcels. The juice is kept at negative three degrees celsius to preserve the sheer freshness of the fruit. It’s not so radical but it’s also not done. What is does is prevent the flavours from disappearing into the enzymatic wind. They’ve been at this process for 11-12 years, seven of them with the entire crop. It’s about keeping the entirety of the lees suspended to buoy and ready the fruit for fermentation, at 13-16 degrees. The fruit is so variegated, at first mostly stone and the towards tropical tendencies, on the back of acidity wise and mature.  Drink 2018-2023. Tasted September 2018  springfieldestate  @springfieldwine  @springfieldestate

De Wetshof Estate Unwooded Chardonnay Bon Vallon 2018, WO Robertson, South Africa (403675, $22.95, WineAlign)

The unwooded chardonnay from de Wetshof is a fascinating wine because it’s one of the very few in the style that needs some time to settle down and in. From the good valley at the lowest point between slopes there is more searing orchard and citrus fruit meeting pure, unaffected by wood nuttiness than a list that includes all of Robertson and perhaps the entire Western Cape. What is pulled from this limestone terroir and without any barrel time is almost impossible but wholly remarkable. It’s also consistently constructed vintage after vintage by the commitment to craft by the family de Wet. Drink 20189-2022.  Tasted September 2018  dewetshofwines  @DeWetshofWines  @dewetshofwines

Graham Beck Prestige Collection Cuvée Clive 2012, Méthode Cap Classique, Robertson, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

Clive is Graham Beck’s most prestigious and important cuvée, what méthode cap classique cellarmaster Pieter Ferreira calls “a respect to Champagne. While previous incarnations were wines of “best selection” the 2012 chardonnay and pinot noir are drawn from a single-vineyard for the first time. Stand in the tasting room and there it spreads out below, on soil riddled with limestone to equip this crisp and arid sparkling wine with all the necessary attributes. Bronze-parched apple and dried quince are noted. Sentiment and data from a 10 year study project of varietal, lees and aging are collected and come to this; a toast demure, a love divine, a wild control. Brilliant sparkling wine and undoubtedly a South African gem. Drink 20189-2027.  Tasted September 2018  grahambeckbubbly  vinexxperts  @GrahamBeckSA  @Vinexxpert  @grahambeckmcc  @Vinexx

L’Avenir Wine Estate and Country Lodge

Pino Pistols – The next generation of Pinotage young guns

Heritage in South Africa is not just reserved for chenin blanc. “You know what old vines can give you,” says L’Avenir’s winemaker Dirk Coetzee. “We’re here to discuss a pinotage revolution. We’re here to discuss the next generation of pinotage.” Stellenbosch is host to the greatest concentration of Western Cape plantings and over the last ten years it has grown by 52 per cent. “Once we start making authentic product people will start thinking and the product will speak for itself.” In fact it has moved from being the sixth to the third most planted grape varieties. Beyerskloof winemaker Ani Truter adds, “what I tasted in the 80s was not pinotage, it was sabotage. It took 2,000 years for Burgundy to be successful. Don’t worry, it won’t take that long in South Africa.” Only a Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe winemaker could pay a compliment with such direct proposition.

David Sadie continued the analysis with his take on soil and cellar as being the reasons for making good and bad pinotage. “If you look at a bad pinotage today you can look at the cellar and not at the cultivar.” This in explanation for how pinotage has improved and is moving on from rubbery, toasted and burnt flavour profiles. “It’s about site selection, planting in the right areas.” It’s also about pH levels. “Your attention to hygiene is really important, it’s pH driven.” And finally, Jacques de Klerk of Radford Dale.” They used to be made at high alcohol levels and the margin for error was very precarious. It comes down to over extraction and over use of oak.” The times they are a-changin’.

Beaumont Family Wines Pinotage Sixty Barrels 2015, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

So interesting to taste this seminal pinotage by Sebastian Beaumont side by each with his 2009 “normale.” The same 1970s planted vineyard is employed, here from two blocks, one 44 years of age and the other being a spritely 21. The salty note on the aromatic top is faint, hidden beneath massive fruit ability, but it depends (of course it depends), on vintage. This one is full of wealthy possibilities and stealth opportunity, especially when the salt rises to the surface in thew clay. That clay effect is a fulsome one, really notable from 2015 to claim fruit, stash it away in reserve and wait for structure to build, crest and relent. Many years will pass as a result of this pinotage process. This is how you build varietal wealth and worth. One of South Africa’s finest. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018  beaumontwines  @Beauwine  @Smallwinemakers  @beaumontfamilywine  @smallwinemakerscollection

L’Avenir Pinotage 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

When it comes to pinotage there are few producers capable of delivering the triumvirate of quality, honesty and ignoring of sickly trends. There is no mocha in L’Avenir’s take on the mistaken identity grape. In this case it’s like you’d expect pinotage to be but also completely unexpected because it takes classic relief, alters the perspective and turns the architectural rendering on its head. Pinotage needs to keep you on your toes, confuse with trompe l’oeuil drawn trickery and offer up great surprise. That’s what makes it special. Here richness is met head on by tannin, dusty fruit by bold acidity and spice mix at the gate of intensity. Just imagine the possibilities in the estate’s single block. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2018  lavenir_wine_estate  selectwinemoments  @LAvenirWines  @SelectWinesTO  @LAvenirEstate  @SelectWinesCanada

Beyerskloof Pinotage Diesel 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The bush vines are in the 20 year range on gravelly Oakleaf and Klapmuts soil for this highly credible example of what is possible with pinotage, especially in Stellenbosch. This is nothing but a structured red, housed in 100 per cent new French oak barrels for 20 months. After maturation, only 20 barrels were selected out of a possible 300. The fruit is richer, the texture denser and the extraction at the top end of the ideal. There is more of everything here, including savour and it’s anything but reductive or ball bouncy. Big, roasting, boasting and blasting with an exceptional level of quality. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018  beyerskloof  churchillcellars  @Beyerskloof_  @imbibersreport  @Beyerskloof  @imbibersreport

B. Vintners Pinotage Liberté 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $41.99, WineAlign)

Two oceans facing granitic soils at 250m are the impetus to raise this Cape dialectical, Atlantic meets Indian pinotage. It’s also a whole bunch matter, something that in increasingly important in the varietal lexicon. The plantings are east-west in orientation to avoid overbearing sun exposure, which is really a thing in pinotage and often the culprit for its unwanted “thickening.” Baking spice is all over the notes and fruit purity is duly counted. A very characterful red, spicy, smoky and just plain pleasurable, if on the confident side of all things being equal. Nice work between cousins Gavin Bruwer and Bruwer Raats. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018  raatsfamilywines  liffordgram  @RaatsWines  @LiffordON  Raats Family Wines  @liffordwineandspirits

Radford Dale Pinotage Frankenstein 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (AgentWineAlign)

It took a few decades for someone to give Shelleyan props to Dr. Abraham Penold of Stellenbosch University,1925 grafter of cinsault and pinot noir to create pinotage. It’s a literary sidestep of a stretch to compare the science to Mary Shelley’s creature created by mismatched donors, but more than that it’s a cheeky shout out for a varietal often mistaken for a monster. Winemaker Jacques de Klerk grabs fruit from the white marl at the foot of the Helderberg Mountain for a pinotage troika of intention, ability and expectation. Three properties born of terroir, house and winemaker. All are on the same page written by an unspoken agreement to not abuse or confuse this grape. Frankenstein is smoky, curative, red raspberry ripe, right proper and built to last. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted September 2018  radford_dale  reveriechenin  noble_estates  @Radforddale  @deklerkjacques  @Noble_Estates  @RadfordDaleWine  @NobleEstates

Pinotage winemakers at L’Avenir

Kanonkop Pinotage 2015, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

Vines are between 30 and 60 years of age for this prototypical ode to how things were and going forward can almost certainly be in the world of pinotage. Wrinkled, gnarled, grizzled old veteran vines, the Gordie Howe of the genre, Mr. pinotage if you will. Trees of a vinous sort, able to shake of draughts and new wave mochafied drafts, with a hat trick of checks, balances and grit. These vines are the past but more importantly are the future, typified and exemplified in this kind of pinotage, a modern classic made from a place by a maker who knows what’s what. Smoky red fruit with this uncanny variegation of hue, cloudy transparency and complexity of character. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018  kanonkopwineestate  noble_estates  @KanonkopEstate  @Noble_Estates  @Kanonkop  @NobleEstates

David And Nadia Pinotage 2017, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

David and Nadia Sadie’s pinotage is quite possibly and purposefully the lightest there is, clocking in at an impossibly low 12 per cent. It is both the next and other tier for the varietal reconnaissance with vanguard clarity and an honesty to speak of wine made under serious drought conditions. Bright red fruit and that low alcohol make it at once crushable but then sneaky structured. A maturity of vine, maker and grape conspire for such a dichotomy of bemusement though to be fair you could blindly be convinced that you were tasting lithe and ethereal northern Rhône syrah. The mixed magical condition certainly makes you take a step back and a seat to think. It’s a good conundrum and an excellent way to be drinking pinotage. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018  davidandnadia  @DavidandNadia  @DavidandNadia

Wildekrans Wine Estate

Wildekrans Wine Estate Pinotage 2017, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

A cooler, herbal and uniquely floral pinotage from Braam Gerricke. Bush vines grow on a shady site of small acreage and at altitude for the valley. Pinotage of chalky liquidity from you which you feel the oak and a real sour-sorrel tang. Was in barrel for 15 months and it will need a year or two to fully integrate, than drink well for four or five more years after that. Terrific persistence and length.  Drink 2019-2023. Tasted September 2018  wildekrans  @WildekransWines  @Wildekrans

Graham Beck Winery, Robertson

Méthode Cap Classique

Plain and simple, Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) is a South African term indicating a sparkling wine made in the traditional method (the same way Champagne is made), by which a secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle. That said, there is nothing simple about MCC and who would argue that as a category it produces some of the finest, most complex and diverse sparkling wines in the world. It’s also very much a wine about terroir. As it stands, MCC has to age on the lees for a minimum nine months to be labelled as such. “We’re making wines that develop too quickly,” insists Paul Gerber of Le Lude. Gerber believes the minimum should be raised to 15. “Sparkling wine is not a terroir wine? Please. This is completely untrue.” As for sugar dosage he’s like a cook in the kitchen. “Dosage is like seasoning. If you do it properly you don’t taste it.” It is Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira that has put in the time and the research over 20-plus years to really understand the category but more importantly the potential. “You are always looking to express terroir,” he says. “For Brut we have to extend (the less aging time) to 60 months. So there is no lipstick or eye shadow.”

Le Lude Vintage Cuvée Méthode Cap Classique 2012, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Le Lude’s winemaker Paul Gerber assembles two non-vintage Bruts, blended each vintage for a house style. The fruit is primarily Robertson with some addendum out of Franschhoek. The first vintage was indeed 2012 and this chardonnay (80 per cent) plus pinot noir comes sweet herbal straight out of the riddle with a sultry, piqued spiciness. Already showing a hint of secondary notation by way of a honeyed nougat melted into the soft and delicate mousse. Still plenty of intensity and drive with citrus in whole represent by lime, fresh and juicy. Less red fruit (much, much less) and more white flower with the idea of yellow and green fruit. Stylish, persevering and precise. At 2.6 g/L it’s perfectly albeit sparsely seasoned and mature with Champagne confidence. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018  leludemcc  @LeLudeMCC  @LeLudeMCC

L’Avenir Brut Méthode Cap Classique 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

L’Avenir Estate’s Méthode Cap Classique is mainly pinotage with some chardonnay and arrives in the glass as a light and nearly delicate bubble. It’s a succulent, sweet rusty, lively enzymatic sparkling wine with an opinion and a plan of action. Pleasurable to sip from a definite MCC teachable moment. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  lavenir_wine_estate  selectwinemoments  @LAvenirWines  @SelectWinesTO  @LAvenirEstate  @SelectWinesCanada 

Genevieve Brut Blanc De Blancs Méthode Cap Classique 2014, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

Genevieve is Cap Classique made by Melissa Nelsen and was first made in 2008, released in 2010. Now with 2014 the lees aging time is 48 months with total output in the 12,00-13,000 bottle range, up from the 5,000 of that first vintage. The goal is 20,000 in the very near future. It’s essentially blanc de blancs, 100 per cent chardonnay as a wise, calm, mature and elegant traditional method sparkling. Just lovely. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  #melissagenevievenelsen  @Genevieve_mcc  

Graham Beck Brut Zero 2012, Méthode Cap Classique,Robertson, South Africa (435453, $23.95, WineAlign)

Slanghoek pinot noir (77 per cent) meets limestone-Robertson chardonnay for a driest of the dry sparkling wine that spent 60 months on the lees. Beck’s attack for the Brut Zero “is based on the philosophy of grower’s Champagne,” notes Pieter Ferreira and as such it surely ranks as one of the more mineral-toasty bubbles in the entire Cap Classique category. No sugar added during dosage allows the land to speak. There is a deeper intuition beyond flint-struck, something categorically chalky while delicate and flavour wise it’s simply limon-delicieux. The fineness is noted and the vintage too, from which the team saw enough to make use of the highest quality juice for a tête de cuvée wine. High ceiling for aging here. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Méthode Cap Classique NV, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Sheree Nothangel’s sparkling Cap Classique is composed of chenin blanc and chardonnay (56/44), at 4 g/L dosage after 24 months on the lees. This is the third year of the program and the first stage speaks to a style that acts in delicasse incarnate. Just lovely and creamy in which lemon billows with elastic solids as curd and there is a real feel of fine lees. Though downy it too is lifted but not explosive by acidity. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  wildehurst  @WildehurstW  @wildehurst

Avondale Wines Armilla Blanc De Blanc 2011, Méthode Cap Classique, WO Paarl, South Africa (451930, $34.95, WineAlign)

The first vintage was 2003 for the Armilla blanc de blanc, now out of 2011 and having spent six years lees post whole bunch pressing. It’s a naturally fermented chardonnay of which two per cent saw some older barrel. After two years of coarse lees aging there began this formidable bringing of citrus and sharp apple bite. The following four on fine lees delivered the integration of acidity ahead of the gainful accumulation of toasted brioche. Richness at its best for this Méthode Cap Classique, of preserved lemon, fine aridity (under 5 g/L RS) and high acidulation (over 9 TA). Terrific MCC. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018   avondalewinesa  @Avondalewine  @RareEarth_Wines  @AvondaleWines  Rare Earth Wines & Spirits

Godello with André “The Giant” Morgenthal, Old Vines Project and Scott Zebarth in Stellenbosch

Heritage vines

It may be argued that South Africa’s most important work is being done through the Old Vines Project. “Old vines make wines with a unique character. Wines that reflect the vastness of our South African landscape – our harsh climate, our old and sometimes fragile soils, and our complex culture. They reflect the decades of growing in one place, in the unyielding sun, the cold winter rain, the storms and winds, on a mountain, on a plain somewhere and then producing these delicate but powerful wines.

The Old Vine Project wants to preserve vines older than 35 years by creating an awareness of the heritage of old vines. Winemakers can certify their wines as ‘Old Vine’ and the public will knowingly buy wines that are made from the many ancient and sometimes forgotten patches of vineyards. Through membership the wine drinker will be able to follow the history of these wines and see where they come from – the exact slope or site, the winemaker, the soils and the stories of each.”

It begins with Rosa Kruger, viticulturalist and long time champion of the Cape’s oldest plantings. Using funding from businessman and winery proprietor Johann Rupert, Kruger founded the project in 2016, cementing formal something that had been in the works since 2002. In 2018, the OVP launched its plaques, held tastings and developed certification seals. Kruger has tirelessly promoted the qualities of the Cape’s 2618 hA of old vines. Today the larger than life André Morgenthal instructs, educates and directs on behalf of the Old Vines Project.

Chris Alheit makes an archetypal wine from the poster child vineyard for this intense old block by block pre-occupation, called La Colline in Franschhoek. So what do heritage vines mean to the makers of wines that carry this luggage? “For a clear South African identity you must use old vineyards to call it Cape heritage wine,” insists Alheit. He and more than 40 producers are making wines from a dozen regions housing further dozens of heritage blocks. These are the history and lifeline of South African varietals. It’s not just about keeping old things alive. The Western (and Northern) Cape is one of the few places in the world where old vines continue to produce extraordinary fruit to make beautiful wines. It’s not just about where you come from, it’s also about where you are going. These are just a few of these examples.

Alheit Vineyards Sémillon La Colline Vineyard 2017, Franschhoek, Western Cape, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” From a vineyard housing both light and dark-skinned sémillon and if there are others in this world I am not privy to the information. The resulting wine is 85-90 per cent blanc and 10-15 gris. La Colline was planted in 1936 on the southern slope of Dassenberg and is now farmed by grandson Anton Roux, a direct descendant of the Huguenot refugee Paul Roux who arrived in Franschhoek in 1688. The vines stretch up the hill from 310-350m and it is the fruit from the middle slope that is best to leave for picking long after the chenin blanc. This is the indispensable fruit used in Alheit’s Cartology. Thick skins elevate the natural talking tendencies, from a super healthy pH for drupe of apposite attack and confusing like great whites you would not or should not compare it to. Chris Alheit’s invades your head’s consciousness with this amazing depth for sémillon, with no definable context, pretence or precedent. The impossibility is totally unique in the world and yet utterly South African. It’s both tense and nervous but somehow I can still relax. Psycho Killer sémillon.  Drink 2020-2028. Tasted September 2018  chrisalheit  gsoleil123  @ChrisAlheit  @GroupeSoleilTO  Chris Alheit  Groupe Soleil Fine Wines

Chris and Suzaan Alheit

gentle humans, givers, terroiristes, magical wine purveyors ~ suzaan and @chrisalheit ~ thank you for the enlightenment ~ #capewine2018 #zoocrew

Alheit Vineyards Chenin Blanc Magnetic North 2017, WO Citrusdal Mountains, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

Also from the Citrusdal Mountains SAVA, a.k.a the viticultural area also known as the Skurfberg, a 10 minute drive away at 550m, again red sand and clay. The vines are ungrafted chenin blanc on its own roots but the soil here is an even deeper red, more so than Huilkrans and so now that white hematic thing is happening. Like red blood cells carrying elements, nutrients, ferrous unction and a pulse of power as opposed to the calm in the white of Huilkrans. This is the tenor to the baritone, rich in its crazy depth of fruit and always seared, marked and injected with trace elements. Does it all on its own. There is no winemaking going on here, only a moving target, of intensity and mystery. The vineyard lies a few degrees off true north from the Alheit cellar, poetically licensed as their “Magnetic North.” Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2018

 

Mullineux Old Vines White 2017, Unfiltered & Unfined, WO Swartland, South Africa (556597, $37.95, WineAlign)

Predominately chenin blanc with grenache blanc, sémillon gris, clairette and viognier, ushered by natural yeasts and encouraged through malolactic fermentation. The new age textured acidity is accessed without a stir and a highly textured affair it is. The composure rests in seamless mille-feuille layering while vested in slow-developed, all you could dream about in a cape effect white wine. Welcome to the cumulative in Andrea Mullineux’s Old Vines bottling. While Granite and Quartz make pinpointed investigations this is the one to educate us all on what Western Cape and more specifically Swartland chenin blanc blends are capable of discerning. The weight is powerful and weightless, the effort strong and effortless. Amazing really. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018 and January 2019  mullineuxwines  nicholaspearcewines  @MullineuxWines  @Nicholaspearce_  @MullineuxWines  Andrea Mullineux  Chris Mullineux  Nicholas Pearce

Huis Van Chevallerie Filia Brut Nature Kap Klaissque NV, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Filia is the daughter of the Paardeberg, a self-described and cheeky Swartland Kap Klassique chenin blanc made by Christa Von La Chevallerie, dogter to Juergen and the Nuwedam Farm just off the R45 outside Malmesbury. Not just any sparkling wine mind you. Although the early stages of this old vines project from the (mainly) 2015 vintage only gives 18 months on the lees it also provides 1974 planted chenin blanc, for shits, giggles and shut the front door attitude. For Christa it’s a matter of “how far I can go with (the combination of) chenin and lees.” Clearly just the entry point here, with an announced mix of richness and tension, not yet knowing what can and will happen. The coast is clear, the chenin blanc is ready, willing, able and the winemaker will stop at nothing to make this bubble in her own image and way. Look out sparkling world. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted September 2018  christalachevallerie  @HuisChevallerie  @ChevallerieZA  Christa Von La Chevallerie

Natte Valleij Cinsault 2017, WO Darling, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Malmesbury formation is the ground beneath the feet of these 1978ish planted bush vines. Milner calls them “the most isolated block in our collective…on a lonely hill surrounded by wheat fields and too many gates to remember.” The élevage is back into concrete egg here because the Darling fruit asks or even demands it. Alex is wanting the florality of violets to be celebrated and “put into a time capsule,” from one amazing environment to another. The egg is asked to capture that. It also brings texture and salve in the form of orange pastille, warmed and lingering. Of the four single investigative cinsault this is the most accomplished, with tannin and structure. Die koppie. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2018  nattevalleij  @nattevalleij  @nattevalleij

Savage Wines Red 2015, WO Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $54.99, WineAlign)

The kitchen sink is nearly full with syrah, grenache, cinsault and touriga nacional in a back to the farthing future beginning that was the first and now reminds of the regional ideal. While all of Duncan Savage’s other wines will already have evolved, in ’17 this will become a 100 per cent varietal syrah, in the name of fine tuning and a furthering of regional identity. The Red is the most perfumed, also elegant and delicate with a sneaky beauty in its phantom power. Really clocks in and knocks you upside like powerful. Like modern nebbiolo though you’d never really know it unless you were unafraid to ask. Who are you? Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018  #savagewines    #savagewines

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

Post revolution Swartland

They are no longer the Swartland Revolution but now the Swartland Swingers, a free and easy collective of South African winemakers who have this winemaking thing figured out. There is a swagger about these women and men who make wine from dry-farmed bush vines set into some of this planet’s craziest antediluvian soils. Their wines collectively have a very purposed focus but what they have more than anything else is flow.

Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $23.00, WineAlign)

While Adi Badenhorst also produces some über fascinating and ultra-expensive chenin blanc (Klip Klop, Golden Slopes and Piet Bok se) the Secateurs, also known as pruning shears or “snoeiskêr” is the glue and the rock in his entire portfolio. It’s one of the original upscale chenin blanc to crack the North American market and open the portal to the rest of South Africa’s bush vine world. Some great old vines help usher this into its echelon and while it strikes with leaner and more direct lines than (especially) the textured Golden Slopes, it still exhibits its own palate wealth. A little bit of this, a little bit of vat, skin-contact, stainless and concrete ushers along the variegation so that feeling balances the fresh spirit of this steen. Salty rock and sweet basil come through at the finish. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018  aabadenhorst  hannekebotha  wynbefok  noble_estates  @AABadenhorst  @Noble_Estates  Adi Badenhorst  @aabadenhorst  @NobleEstates

David And Nadia Grenache 2017, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

For grenache the focus David and Nadia exert is on the red-brown schistous soils of the Kasteelberg, masculine terroir if you like (or will) as a brother to the Paardeberg where they make chenin blanc the order. About half the ferment is whole bunch, plenty enough for grenache and also six amazing weeks on skins. I can only imagine what the room began to smell like with this triumvirate of soil, varietal and execution happening. No other grenache anywhere in the world shows this type of terroir purity, or at least with such unequivocal and parochial relevance. The raspberry notes are uncanny and the transparency of transference is both light and in total control. Who knew so much character and structure could be coaxed from something desperately delicate. It’s like a spider’s web with bonds unbroken, capable of snaring the physical and the emotional while always remaining inherently meta. Aragon nor Rhône this is not, ethereal it is. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted September 2018  davidandnadia  @DavidandNadia  @DavidandNadia

Porseleinberg Syrah 2012, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

If you would like to explore the pinnacle of richest restraint where South African syrah goes out to concrete then look to this off of Porcelain Mountain made by the phantom himself Callie Louw. A Riebeek Kasteel phenomenon was born out of a Boekenhoutskloof drive and it is the magical glycerin texture that behooves us to think, feel and linger with this top quality example. It’s also reticent, of great humility, needing no attention or introduction. It may be syrah of a certain aloof quality and yet the intensity unparalleled deserves all the accolades it may and will receive. Remembered, remarkable, stoic, unchanged and unchained. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted September 2018  #porseleinberg #callielouw  #porseleinberg

Terracura Wines Red 2016, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Contributions are solicited, paid for and received from five different vineyards on three different terroirs in the Swartland; two on Riebeek schist, two on Paardeberg granite and one on Malmesbury ferrous clay. What does is all mean or add least add up to? It’s not Jamet dammit though it may be the most Cornas like because of the deep liqueur in this fruit. Also due in part to the Rhônish funk which gets into the mind of assessment in ahead of Western Cape terroir. It’s a combination of absolute perfection and downright absurdity. The olive brine and meaty cure are there, as is the tannin, like deep, dark sunken eyes. Ryan and Samantha don gothic costumes and zombie make-up, “with white lipstick and one thing on their minds.” Full moon syrah fever. Make a wine like this and you are no longer innocent winemakers. Nothing petty about that. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018  terracura  ryanthewinegeek  vinevenom  @RyanTheWineGeek  @Sammelier  Samantha Suddons  Ryan Mostert  @terracurawines

Mullineux Syrah Granite 2016, WO Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $152.95, WineAlign)

Moving in a muy from the seven vineyard syrah and into a Swartland side site committed to granite this is one of three Mullineux syrah specificities, the other being Schist and Iron. Granite is drawn of a single parcel of 19 year-old dry land, bush vines grown in the decomposed granite of the Paardeberg. Andrea Mullineux makes use of a 100 per cent whole cluster ferment and moves into larger (500L) barrels, all aimed at freshness and aromatics. Granite provides a flavour profile that is juicier, fuller, spicier and more provocative than the others but oh to be smitten by tannins so exceptional. There is a taste of blackberry incarnate, a fluidity of seamless transitions and length for Paardeberg days. Brilliant vintage for one of South Africa’s most important red wines. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted September 2018  mullineuxwines  nicholaspearcewines  wosa_ca  @MullineuxWines  @Nicholaspearce_  @MullineuxWines  @WOSACanada  Andrea Mullineux  Chris Mullineux  Nicholas Pearce  @WOSACA

Donovan Rall

Rall Wines AVA 2017, Swartland, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

The red blend carrying his daughter’s name is Donovan Rall’s 2.5 hectares sourcing from the schistose section of 18 year-old planted vines. This is consistent with many of the vineyards he works with, from dry land conditions, cause he’s the Schist Man. It’s varietal syrah of 1000 bottles, a true cimmerian beast, from struggling vines, between 50-60 whole bunch (as opposed to 100 in the RED). Pure ferric initiative, real hematic following. The glycerin, candied flower and aged balsamico is almost IGT, of Cortona but really more so in a mind’s eye memory of Cornas. Freshness is preserved and structure is infinite. Great, great acidity. One of the Cape’s greatest achievements in syrah. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Verticals

Anyone who chose not to attend Cape Wine’s eight wineries, four decades retrospective missed out on a tasting of a lifetime. Time was tight and so the ability to taste all eight and take proper notes in a walk-around format was challenging so here are five of the eight represented. Regrets to Vilafonté, Kanonkop and Warwick for the miss and here’s to hoping another opportunity will be afforded again someday.

How to have an epiphany. Taste 25-30 year-old #southafrican white wines. Case in point @kleinconstantia sauvignon blanc

Klein Constantia Blanc De Blanc 1987, Constantia, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside 1994 and 2009. Planted in 1979, the inaugural vintage and the first South African sauvignon blanc was 1986. The 1987 was not labelled as sauvignon blanc but rather as B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. Honeyed but not in the way you might expect, not pushed by a petrol-fuelled sweetness but instead as the action of an old world inspired mash-up. Like Loire Jolivet Sancerre meeting Huet Demi-Sec chenin blanc head on. The collision explodes into a smoky smoulder with textural consequences. It’s a bees-waxy ethereal treading of chaotic spaces between worlds. The astral travel must have twisted through three decades of nether to arrive at this place, with the low pH vineyard soils to thank. And the magic, despite or perhaps in ode to the ’87 botrytis. In the end aridity wins and the wine drinks so proper, perfect and fine. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  kleinconstantia  halpernwine  wosa_za  @KleinConstantia  @HalpernWine  @hansverbier  @WOSA_ZA  @KleinConstantia  @halpernwine

Hamilton Russell Vineyard Pinot Noir 1986, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (999516, AgentWineAlign)

Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell went above and beyond in their interpretation of what is means to pour at a varietal tasting by including not only this first HR vintage but also sharing one of only three remaining bottles left in this world. Were the 1997 and 2000 perhaps better structured wines? Likely and even probably yes, but there’s something magical about a first effort. The innocence, hopes and dreams are all in there, along with the honesty and the sincerity. Believe it or not the acidity is still in full flight even if the fruit has vacated the premises and turned to duff. If you’ve ever reached your hands into the Hermanus earth, inhaled in the sense of place and perhaps a lick of stone then you might imagine what this ’86 is like. A combination of plant oils, geosmin and petrichor preserved just long enough before it’s too late. Anthony and Olive timed the opening of the bottles produced to last just long enough. Drink 2018.  Tasted September 2018  olive_hamilton_russell  noble_estates  @OliveHR  @Noble_Estates  Olive Hamilton Russell  @NobleEstates

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2008, WO Elgin, South Africa (AgentWineAlign)

In a word meraviglioso, or as they say in Afrikaans, wonderlike. Paul Cluver’s 10 year-old Elgin whispering pinot noir is one to prove something very important. The get together of place, varietal and producer reaches a tri-point of agreement, all vintages being equal, at the 10 year mark. Here from this 2008 we intuit the apex, of tessellate beat and three points where two lines meet. We’ll allow for a give or take of one to two years, duly noted in this vertical that includes 2009, 2013 and 2015 but for 2008 the number 10 finds itself at a pinnacle of evolution. If you appreciate aged reds, developed pinot noir and wise South African wine than here you are. A glass of plum pudding elastic, textured and exemplary in entanglement; notable fruit, fine acidity and tannin of “streel.” An earthy intensity sprinkles over the finale. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted September 2018  paulcluver  paulcluverwines  @paulcluver  @paulcluverwines  Paul Cluver

Meerlust Rubicon 1991, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, 64329, WineAlign)

Some vintage are surely more special than others and while Meerlust has blessed many of them with a speciality of Bordeaux inspired wine dissertation it is this 1991 that stands erect in a critical test of time. This was tasted during the second of two estate verticals afforded in one calendar year, the first having being drawn from 2010-2003, 1996 and 1984, with this second string consisting of 2015, 2009, 2001, 1991 and 1984. The fruit is both in original form and yet also dehydrated; rusty raspberry, bokser and orange peel. Still a tightness and a faint ramification of tannin but plenty of staying power. A top quality vintage no doubt. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018  meerlustwine  liffordgram    @LiffordON  MEERLUST ESTATE  @liffordwineandspirits

Sadie Family Palladius 2011, WO Swartland, South Africa (SAQ 13098449, $88.00, WineAlign)

Though the upstart 2016 may well go on to become the best of the lot in a vertical that includes 2005, 2009 and 2014 there is no denying the way this 2011 draws you into its lair of fineness. “An incredible year,” says Eben Sadie and one during which the move was made to aging in foudres. Made for an instant alteration into the new texture and what Sadie notes as “starting to dial in.” This is by now one of the Western Cape’s most accomplished and paradigmatic appellative white blends and while certainly dogmatic it has earned the right to be so. A blend of 33 per cent chenin blanc, (16) roussanne, (11 each) grenache blanc and sémillon blanc plus sémillion gris and palomino, (6 each) viognier, clairette blanche and verdellho. What’s it all add up to? Layers and layers of stratified South African geology, history and potential. The ’05 and the ’09 show what was possible and this 2011 shows what is. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted September 2018  sadiefamilywines  @SadieFamilyWine  The Sadie Family Wines

The 1980s called. They want their culture back.

Wot varietal?

“We’re no longer trying to make chenin taste like sauvignon blanc or chardonnay, or Huet for that matter,” noted Chris Mullineux. “The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, since the 1650s and it can withstand warm and dry conditions and perform really well.” No discourse on new versus old in South Africa can be addressed without first looking at the modish dialectal of chenin blanc. The combination of bush and old vines, coupled with indigenous ferments and skin contact addresses has elevated the stalwart, signature grape to its current reality. That said the wines now being made in South Africa do not solely rely on the current chenin fashion and instead offers up a diverse lot of varietal, region and style.

Alheit Vineyards Cartology Bush Vines 2017, WO Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $49.95, WineAlign)

Cartology exists in a vacuum without peers, in part because it charted and mapped a course ahead of the curve. The 2017 refuses to rest on laurels and pushes the destination even further away so that the journey still remains the thing. Chris and Suzaan Alheit employ 11 dryland bush (30-80) year-old parcels and the whole addition proposes an adage of place and not idea. This is Cartology, a snapshot of time and place. The smaller amount of eighty year-old sémillon is from La Colline in Franschhoek, while the 30+ year old chenin blanc is grown in Skurfberg, Perdeberg, Bottelary Hills and Kasteelberg. If Cartology was this rich before I cannot say and only Chris, Suzaan and the Cape can make this wine. Only them and in these places. Best to date. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018  chrisalheit  gsoleil123  @ChrisAlheit  @GroupeSoleilTO  Chris Alheit  Groupe Soleil Fine Wines

Rall Wines Cinsault Blanc 2017, Wellington, Western Cape, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

The fruit comes from a 32 year-old, tiny 0.2 hectares of certified vines and the only remaining vineyard planted to the varietal. Like red cinsault this thing drops acid as fast as anything else. What you will taste is only the grape, on the skins three days for phenolic pulling and then straight into the clay. Seven months only, not too far and so freshness is preserved. Not just spirit but mouthfeel with the lightest frame and 10.5 per cent alcohol, with nice dry tannins. It’s like a shout out louds very loud matter of “nothing is hard cause something always comes out.” Lemon like you’ve never experienced before, leaning lime, like clairette and grenache blanc, but then again no. It’s just this. Donovan Rall managed 1005 bottles. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018  #Rallwines    @RallWines

Smiley Chenin Blanc NV, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Poured from magnum as one does with a non-vintage, Swartland chenin blanc inspired by the white Rioja of Tondonia and the idiosyncratic whites of the Jura. Although these originals are most obvious as Ryan Mostert’s first loves of oxidative sensitivity and specificity his Smiley stylistic has surely changed him so that the point in space is in constant flux. And so his is now the precedent because the revolutionary pioneering (along with several of his peers) has established South Africa, which includes Smiley at the forefront as the new reference point. We qualify this by saying that its own way Smiley is a fixed point that stays still and does not move. Drawing on four or five vintages the chenin blanc is blended on the flor, of skin-contact and it’s really all about layers of texture, not to mention “no holds barred.” It’s not nearly as far out there as you’d expect in fact it used to be and is now so much closer to centre. Some might argue against such a compromise but it’s not one at all. It’s made clean, with focus and determination to vinify something bloody great to drink. It’s a Champagne supernova cuvée. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018  ryanthewinegeek  vinevenom  @Silwervis  @RyanTheWineGeek  @Sammelier  Samantha Suddons  Ryan Mostert

Blackwater Wines Palomino Pleasure Garden 2017, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Francois Haasbroek goes retro with his first try at varietal palomino, turning it out ambient and atmospheric, tasted here like listening to the Big Thing exactly thirty years on. The Duran Duran of chenin blanc for Swartland is also known as fransdruif or vaalblaar, meaning “White French.” Haasbroek sources his fruit by way of vines grown on shale with Table Mountain sandstone. Clocks in at a light radio’s just over 12 per cent alcohol and there was no fining. It’s a micro-terroir 0.85 hectare block and this 2016 as mentioned is the first kick at the can. Textured, natural, talc silky, with notes of orange zest, kelp, algae and sea spray. Gets creamy with lovely lemon preserve. Palomino is not chenin blanc but it can be coaxed into charm and “if there’s secrets, she has to be party, to every one of them.” We too are listening in. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018  shot_of_time  @Blackwaterwine   @BlackwaterWine

Lowerland Colombard Vaalkameel 2017, WO Prieska Noord Kaap, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Lowerland is the small northern exposure from Alette de Beer and Bertie Coetzee. Forget just about everything you think you know about wines from South Africa and settle in for something completely other. Drive 1000 kms north to a place 1000m above sea level, where the summers are hot and winters see temperatures of -10 celsius. Vaalkameel, the “pale camel” is not a reference to the wine’s hue but a note to mimic the local flora. Comes through in the most unique herbal way and so the thickets of horny bushes must have their garrigue say. Some natural grasses (no cover crops) line the rows of this arid and wild viticultural frontier where late summer rainfall and the Orange River supply all that is required. Lime citrus and moments of pith are coaxed into the cool, almost gelid but certainly textured fruit by whole bunch master winemaker Lukas van Loggerenberg. Only 1,000 bottles were made of this trés cool white. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  bioboertie  vanloggerenbergwines  alette.waterboer  lowerland_wines  @CoetzeeBertie  @AletteWaterboer  Bertie Coetzee  @LowerlandFarm  Alette De Beer

Avondale Wines Cyclus 2014, WO Paarl, South Africa (295220, $29.95, WineAlign)

The blend is one-third roussanne with smaller parts of chenin blanc, chardonnay, viognier and sémillon. Barrel fermented in bigger barrels plus 20 per cent in amphora with the whole bunch component. Toasty, first from the roussanne and then what the sémillon brings. Texture is quite silky and the acidity primps, prompts then lifts the richness of fruit. Such a smart mastering of the South African art of Cape assemblage. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018  avondalewinesa  @Avondalewine  @RareEarth_Wines  @AvondaleWines  Rare Earth Wines & Spirits

De Wetshof Estate Pinot Noir Nature in Concert 2017, WO Robertson, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

For a chardonnay focused estate the question posed to Johannes de Wet is why pinot noir? “Because my father loves pinot,” is the straight answer. The brothers grow it on the rockiest soils up the slope seven kms from the winery above and beyond the limestone blocks where the whites thrive. It’s truly uncharted territory, away from the clay and into the hard Robertson granite. “Quite ideal for a variety that is so hard to get right,” muses de Wet. This is beautiful purity of fruit taken from vines that really only see the morning sun. A direct wind and afternoon shadows supply the acidity from what may be the coolest spot and also the steepest. “It’s one of the best/worst decisions we’ve ever made,” continues de Wet. “We don’t make any money but we love doing it.” Clean, linear, striking and in the end, just because. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018  dewetshofwines  @DeWetshofWines  @dewetshofwines

Momento Wines Tinta Barocca 2017, WO Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

In 2017 there are three equal sources for Momento’s tinto barocca; one-third each Swartland, Stellenbosch and Bot Rivier, all old, dry-farmed bush vineyards. The vintage saw 26 barrels made with 20 per cent whole bunch in the mix. “A tribute to old vines in South Africa explains Marelise Niemann.” Surely not the only one, but certainly the unique gatherer of the grape variety off of three distinct soils. Like making an estate Brunello or highest quality Bourgogne AOC, drawing from three apposite yet complimentary micro-terroirs to provide fruit, acidity and structure. The tannin accumulation submits to the possibilities of that structure and in turn, age ability. Brilliant. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2018  momento_wines  @momentowines  Marelise Niemann

Savage Wines Cinsault Follow The Line 2017, WO Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $50.99, WineAlign)

Follow the Line investigates, celebrates and extrapolates the unbridled intensity of cinsualt defined, vital, incarnate. A small, seven points of Darling syrah is blended in for pure, spicy and red ropey fruit forward freedom. The full on fruit front is a pulsing current of currants and dried herbs but it’s also sneaky tannic. A creeping, seemingly idle ne’er-do-well this one but do not be fooled. Picked early and ready to explode. Wait for it, follow the line to the blood red shoes, “dancing with the lights on.” Wait for the fire like this cinsault of total excitement. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted September 2018  #savagewines    #savagewines

Craven Wines Syrah The Faure Vineyard 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Like the sister Firs this Faure Vineyard site is also 21 years of age, east facing towards the Heldeberg, with rocks in the soils. The name is more than familiar to Jeanine Craven, who was a Faure before she merged with Mick. What really separates this place is the marine air, three kilometres from the sea, as far as the African Black Oystercatcher flies. Again the planning involves whole cluster pressing and on skins seven days, to make pure syrah. Separated by 15 kms the Faure is antithetical to the Firs, salted by the sea and of a furthered intensity in a different form. It’s near searing, linear, grippy and with acidity lifting everything. Really juicy, pushed by a wow factor, clean, no funk and so much spice. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018   cravenwines  @cravenwines  Jeanine Craven  Mick Craven

Lismore Syrah Estate Reserve 2017, WO Greyton, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Samatha O’Keefe’s excellent work with sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, viognier and pinot noir using Elgin, Walker Bay and 2003 planted estate fruit is one thing but this first go it alone syrah from the home vineyard takes a breath, blows a mind and melts a heart away. The Cape’s south coast at Greyton is the new frontier and as O’Keefe admits, “I drove down a dusty road and the rest is history.” While the ’16 syrah made use of half Elgin fruit it is this next wonder of cool-climate South Africa where you need to simply open your eyes and do the math. Steep slopes, prevalent shale and diurnal temperature fluctuations egress to varietal necessity and bring the proverbial Hermitage house down. A wine where together winemaker and taster share a moment of epiphany, for her one of many, for me my first. “All I did was learned to let the terroir speak for itself and to stop making South African shiraz.” Purity, transparency, honesty and paradigm shift all wrapped into one enigmatic yet emblematic syrah. Pay great attention to Greyton. This is South African syrah. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018  lismorewine  greytontourism  @lismorewine  @LoveGreyton  @LismoreWine  Samantha O’Keefe  @GreytonTourism

Van Loggerenberg Wines Graft 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Lukas van Loggerenberg remembers his oupa with this tongue in cheek reference for a red blend of cinsault and syrah (55/45) sourced from granitic soils on in the Polkadraai Hills. Grafting, whether it be vines or winemakers is what keeps tradition, hard work ethic and biological diversity alive. Lukas is a larger than life pragmatist methinks and he’s all about putting things together, in place, with the best fit possible. Not so much a master of assemblage as much as one of oversized zen. The two varietal vineyards are 800m apart and separated by 200m of elevation. They are Lenny and George, two parcels joined at the whole bunch hip and for 11 months in French oak. They only add up to 660 bottles. The Mediterranean styling is evident, in black olive, garrigue (or fynbos), pepperoncino and cimmerian darkness. Richness is met by an earthbound ropiness though it’s ripeness is belied by pique, punch and peppery klip. A big and wow tannic finish, but it’s a sweet one. Drink 2019-2027. Tasted September 2018  vanloggerenbergwines  @LukasvLogg  Lukas van Loggerenberg  

Ken Forrester Grenache-Syrah 1999, WO Stellelenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

There ain’t a whole helluva lot of precedence from which to go on in deciding what’s going on here save for sitting next to Ken himself and taking in that devilish smile. What an honour to have him pour a spot of this 19 year-old tea into your glass. I suppose it could be considered the older sibling to the Gypsy and elder to Renegade but really it’s just a Rhône blend from another era and mother. Smoke, pepper, spice and mild meanderings remind us of innocent but also difficult times for making wine in the Western Cape. This just feels like sundown in Stellenbosch, of a demurred and soft glowing light, a breeze that picks up and falls away, a stillness in the air. No man made light, at night very bright. A good feeling this wine doth give. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018  kenforrestervineyards  fmcwine noble_estates  @KFwines  @Noble_Estates  @KFwines  @NobleEstates

Kuier

Good to go!

godello

A view of the Simosnberg from Amazink in

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

As we taste through the #NWAC17 finals we thank @ZWILLING_CA for the rocking great glassware. Canadian wines are better for these vessels.

I first published this year-end summary of Canadian wine excellence in 2013 and four years on that original list of 13 has expanded with four more. It’s a good thing too because four years later 17 wines is but a fraction of what could or should be included. This exercise is more than difficult. It’s biased, exclusive and decisive but it is meant to celebrate a select few with a mandate to elevate and exult the rest. It’s also a proclamation read to many who remain ignorant to an ideal of great wine being made in Canada, to tell the insolent they are not welcome here anyway. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it. Roll out the red carpet. Here they come.

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

My writing about wine is a display that spills everything but subtraction, reduction and minimalism. It is an occupation whose reality is examined to points of madness, of long, run-on sentences, often at odds with grammatical winemaking realism. My tireless, tiring sentences and phrasing can at times offer a feeling that is potentially endless. So thanks for reading and putting up with me.

As I have noted before, I try to visit wines more than once before reviewing them, preferably from more than one bottle but even more importantly, with a good chunk of time having passed between assessments. The most complete picture is drawn from such a course of critical action but it’s not always possible. Not a single one of these 17 wines were decided upon at a single VINTAGES release, sterile and windowless LCBO laboratory tasting. The nearly 2000 wines (of which approximately were 20 percent Canadian) that I tasted in the LCBO lab in 2017 are kept, compartmentalized, reviewed and stored over at WineAlign. They are forged from and formed by a very specific, of the fleeting moment style. They are the results of root days and fruit days, often plagued by other writers present levels of distraction and time constraints. These 17 wines are children of repeated concentration and stand out because the makers went out of their way to bring them to me.

Please allow me to quote Wes Anderson. “It is an extremely common mistake, people think the writer’s imagination is always at work, that he’s constantly inventing an endless supply of incidents and episodes, that he simply dreams up his stories out of thin air. In point of fact, the opposite is true. Once the public knows you’re a writer, they bring the characters and events to you and as long as you maintain your ability to look and to carefully listen, these stories will continue to…,” continue to provide what you need to entertain your readers. Thank you to the winemakers for sharing their stories time and time again.

Related – 15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

Heartbreaker

If 2016 was a most difficult year, what does that say about 2017? It was a most dippy, derisory, barmy and yet chimerical one. Once again too many special people were taken from us and in Ontario, no one more important to everyone who works in wine than Karl Kaiser. It can and should be argued that the industry we all call home is at its 2017 state because of Mr. Kaiser and what he pioneered more than 40 years ago. Karl Kaiser was eulogized by Brock University’s Dan Dakin. Please take the time to read it.

Related – Karl Kaiser left indelible mark on Brock University

Once again we all lost someone close to us in 2017. Celebrity deaths, especially the ones of loved musicians seem to hit us the hardest because we relive moments of our lives when their songs are played. I’ll ask the social media trolls to walk on past and to once again, please respect our reminiscences.

Gregg Allman. Richard Anderson. Harvey Atkin. Walter Becker. Chester Bennington. Johnny Bower. Chuck Berry. Glen Campbell. David Cassidy. Chris Cornell. Jonathan Demme. Fats Domino. Dick Enberg. Stephen Furst. J. Geils. Robert Guillaume. Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay. Connie Hawkins. John Hurt. Al Jarreau. Martin Landau. Jerry Lewis. Erin Moran. Sir Roger Moore. Bryan Murray. Charlie Murphy. Bill Paxton. Tom Petty. Della Reese. Don Rickles. Sam Shepard. Joni Sledge. Keely Smith. Harry Dean Stanton. Y. A. Tittle. Mary Tyler Moore. Adam West. Malcom Young. Joanne Godel.

Don’t forget the pouring rain

There was more than enough good news out of 2017, especially from Ontario. After one of the wettest summers on record and this looming harvest of disaster everything changed. The temperatures hit 30 degrees and remained there for much of September. October obliged with warm and slowly declining temperatures with very little precipitation. Not only was the 2017 vintage saved but it became one of the great phenolic ripeness stories in wine country history. Quality high. Check. Quantity high. Check. Win win for wine.

The year continued to throw thousands of wines my way. I did travel more and so the international count ran higher at the expense of the local. I plan to fix that in 2018. Things have a way of balancing out anyway. Still I’m sure I tasted close to 1000 Canadian wines once again. We continued to pay great attention to Canadian wines at the WineAlign office. I once again joined the judging with Tony Aspler at the Ontario Wine Awards, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and with David Lawrason at Gold Medal Plates.

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

My wine on tap program at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar welcomed a third child to the family when we opened Barque Smokehouse Burlington in August. With that opening we were proud to partner with Rosewood Estates to join the family that over the years has included Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus, Leaning Post, Between the Lines, Coyote’s Run, Vineland Estates and Creekside Estates.

It began, as it always does with Niagara’s Icewine Festival in January and in February there were Thirteen ways to taste Cuvée. In March I found Fifty ways to Taste Ontario and then travelled to Germany for Godello’s March through Prowein, The Ahr Valley and The Rheinhessen. As a Canadian and a representative of Wine Country Ontario I hung around the Canadian pavilion, talked with our coast to coast winemakers, vintners and marketing representatives, took in the seminars on cool climate wines led by David and Dr. Janet Dorozynski and of course, tasted some wines.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

In the company of #family so thank you judges, friends and badasses #NWAC17 #killedit

Any major dude will tell you

At the Terroir Hospitality Symposium in May we debated the highly controversial new category of Skin-Contact wines in Ontario. Orange is the new smack should have been my title but instead I chose to talk through hushed tones in Pop goes VQA, a story in three parts, each one more misunderstood than the others. It would take months to come to better and more improved conclusions to that haughty complex story.

In June we convened the WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards in the Annapolis Valley. It was the first time that Nova Scotia hosted our motley crew and what a smashing success it was. Great thanks must go out to all our tremendous hosts including Wines of Nova Scotia, Domiane de Grand Pré, Benjamin Bridge Vineyards, Blomidon Estate, Annapolis Cider Company and Obladee Wine Bar in Halifax.

In July I once again made the pilgrimage to i4c, the International Chardonnay Cool Climate Conference, “the local mecca attracting thousands, arriving to praise chardonnay in all its glory. It’s chanted with incantatory connotation by patrons cantilevered like alluvial fans across the Niagara Peninsula. It teaches us about more than chardonnay because the rapidity of climate change is real and the desire for fresh is yet unquenched. This transcends chardonnay. It’s about growing grapes and making wines in places we all previously discounted. Recently scoffed at. It concerns farming higher, further and edgier. This conference and this grape together let us know that we must change.”

At i4c we welcomed California’s Karen MacNeil, Dr, Jamie Goode, Bill Zacharkiw, Treve Ring, Kurtis Kolt and Rhys Pender MW and then I penned 69 chardonnay reviews. What did Godello learn from Cool Chardonnay in 2017? After a visit to Pearl Morissette I learned from François Morissette, vigneron about oxidation.“Whatever we press, we oxidize. We do not oxidize wine, we oxidize must.” There’s a big difference. The stabilization of these wines are attributed to this idea of getting rid of all oxidizable compounds before they enter into the next stages of the winemaking process. Pleasing aromas, flavours, textures and ultimately the sum of the above elevates the cool chardonnay game and speaks to the future. But I did not learn enough. I needed to move beyond the ubiquity of cool climate. I wanted to understand more about cold soaking and whole berry fermentation. Just last week Pearl Morissette’s savant winemaker Brent Rowland sent me these words of enlightenment.

“This is the main reason I am such an advocate to whole bunch fermentation. The best tannin and worst tannin are seed tannin, depending on how you extract them…heat and alcohol rip out aggressive angular tannins. By keeping the berry attached to the rachis for as long as possible you are creating a little microenvironment for fermentation that is low heat and low alcohol, enabling you to slowly extract long polymerized tannins. This and perfume is the reason I do everything whole bunch. To me whole bunch has nothing to do with the stems, tannins from stems or flavour of stems.” He continues. “I absolutely think that skin contact wines can have elevated structure and texture. I also do not subscribe to the idea that some arbitrary number like “10 days” defines the genre. I did say that Orange wine is not an in-between wine but its own genre and I believe that. For the record I feel the less rigid the criteria for the category the better. As you state the broader the category the more opportunity for discovery of a valued category.” Thank you mate.

Be part of the Greatest Wine Revolution since Prohibition.

Where are we one year later?

I’ve two words for you. WineAlign Exchange. The WineAlign Exchange taps into the world of wines beyond the LCBO and delivers a curated, mixed case of top quality wines directly to your door. All the wines have been carefully chosen by our panel of critics for their quality and value. David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Steve Thurlow and Godello. The first case delivered to hundreds of members was an all Platinum Award winners pack from the National Wine Awards of Canada. In terms of free trade we await a decision but don’t expect a miracle in 2018, Christmas or otherwise. As for the VQA panel in Ontario? Well, read my article referenced above and you’ll get my drift.

One of my favorite wines I tasted in 2017. All killer no filler. Beautifully ripe #cabernetfranc nice layers of cocoa, red, and black fruit. Tannin is liquid silk. Can_t wait for next

Let’s be Franc

Cabernet Franc is getting better all the time. In British Columbia the coolest sites are increasingly raising fresh, spirited and ultimately crushable wines with unmistakable west coast accents; savour, garrigue and mountain tea. With thanks to venn diagram circles drawn in and out of Niagara’s Lincoln Lakeshore, but also magically deep into the Prince Edward County limestone, the great Ontario hope is developing into what we thought it might be. Getable and structured red wine.

New World cabernet franc growing sites produce less delineation as compared to the various lieux-dites in the varietal homeland, France’s Loire Valley. Niagara is beginning to enter into an Old World state of mind, so now winemakers and by extension wine geeks, are posturing over micro-terroirs; Niagara-on-the-Lake, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, St. David’s Bench, Lincoln Lakeshore, Four Mile Creek. The same is happening in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley although the cumulative stylistic is worlds (four provinces to be exact) apart. In Nova Scotia Benjamin Bridge Vineyards’ viticultural and vinifying braintrust of Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Scott Savoy are allocating serious resources to cabernet franc in the Gaspereau Valley. But how is it that decisions are made as to where to plant this crisp, juicy and crunchy grape? While many will disagree, if you consider growing sites as circles within the aforementioned venn diagram, in Canadian soils the shared subtleties can easily get buried or muddled within the common areas. The lines may be drawn but the web is tangled. That said, the story of franc terroir is getting clearer and clearer. Interloper carries the torch.

Tonight brought to you by #interloper and the inner beauty of #cabernetfranc @RavineVineyard #vqaniagaraonthelake

At this most recent NWAC17 judging experience the results from cabernet franc paints a more palatable picture than those brushed by both merlot and cabernet sauvignon. We are collectively impressed with and solidly behind the direction growers and winemakers are taking with this noble varietal. The 546 acres planted in B.C. are rising steadily and if I were merlot I’d be looking in the rear-view mirror. In Ontario more than 4,000 tonnes were harvested in 2015, third to only chardonnay and riesling. Four of five Gold Medals were Ontario in origin, 10 of 16 were awarded Silver and 10 of 17, Bronze. While only four in Ontario are labled “LL,” no less than 10 of the 24 winners were made with at least some significant amount of fruit grown in the Lincoln Lakeshore/Beamsville Bench circle of commonality. The sites we want to call “cru” are no longer a mystery.

Taskmasters not pictured #punchdowns #interloper

I can’t say this list is full of surprises, save for the first of 17. You see this particular wine is close to my heart because I had a hand in its concept and design. My partner Scott Zebarth and I teamed up with winemakers Marty Werner and Ben Minaker at Ravine Vineyards to produce what we all feel is the most exciting fresh breath of cabernet franc air to arrive in Ontario in quite some time. It’s obviously self-serving to put it on a best of the year list but we are very proud of this project and its inaugural effort. If you’ve tried it you know. If you haven’t, give me a ring. We’ll break Interloper bread together. To the other 16, welcome to the list.

Scott, Marty, Ben and I are proud to present the now SOLD OUT #interloper Cabernet Franc 2016. We’ll be back next year #vqa #niagaraonthelake #ravinevineyard

Interloper 2016, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario ($19.95)

Produced at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery with the winemaking team of Martin Werner and Ben Minaker

Variety: 100 per cent cabernet franc

Fruit source: 55 per cent Estate (St. David’s Bench), 40 Creek Road, five Tanbark (Four Mile Creek)

Harvest Dates: October 26th and November 5th, 2017

Time on skins: Estate 26 days, Creek 21 days

Length and type of fermentation: Three weeks, ambient/wild for both

Élévage: Eight months in old 225 L French barrels

Case Production: 22

mgodello  scottzebarth  marty_werner  benminaker23  ravinevineyard

Charles Baker Riesling B-Side 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Vinyl records sound different because they are designed with grooves carved in that mirrors the original sound’s wave form. Their analog recording delivers a sensory feeling of warmth, an aural of texture, nuance and soul. There was a time when the hits spun over and over were also pressed onto the A-Side of 45 rpm singles. The discovery of a never before heard B-Side was a revelation because is was extra material from a favourite band and it was a great song. It meant the record was already too strong for that song to make the final cut and to choose it for a B-Side meant it would elevate the quality of the album. A well-chosen B was not an afterthought. This is the accomplishment of the first Charles Baker’s B-Side, for itself and for the vineyards of Iaen and Picone. Baker digs about in the Niagara Peninsula’s escarpment dirt for young vine, not ready for prime time riesling fruit. If perchance it seems like cheating on his per se Vinemount Ridge Picone and Ivan bottles so be it but one look at him and he’ll say “Hey, hey, what can I do?” His 2016 B-Side delivers a spray bottle Zeppelin expressing heady aromas, high in the stratosphere and raining down upon the earth. The notes are an all in, breath of classic Baker riesling air, blanketing from up above and with a landscape that reeks of lime and quivers with classic agitation. The fruit is wild and full, the salty grit infiltrating and gripping the bloody omniscience of this package. What is this B-Side and where will it be lead? To the top of the ridge, from earlier harvests, younger fruit and higher yields. Scratch the single vineyard elitism, just listen to the song and raise one up, to getting ‘er done before the conceptual singular side one and side two, Ivan and Picone. The Beatles? Forget it. Led’s flip side to the ‘Immigrant Song’ A is the one. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted November 2017  Charles Baker Wines  stratuswines  @cbriesling  @StratusWines  Stratus Vineyards

Tawse Riesling Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (198853, $24.50, WineAlign)

There is no substitute for seasonal Vinemount Ridge warmth when you are (or even if you’re not) trying to emulate a Mosel like, fleshy Kabinett tension. The Tawse Quarry Road riesling has shown signs of such mimicry in the past but here in 2016 the coincidence is uncanny. Riesling amounts to just 10 per cent of the 2007 planted vineyard, a Fly Road in Lincoln block where chardonnay (planted in 1998) and pinot noir (2007) are queen and king of the hill. But it is riesling that mines for limestone and uses it to distill, filter and enervate the outright fruity purposes of orange zest, lime juice and sweet grapefruit flesh. This ’16 has it all; adipose drupe, salty elements and stasis preserve. It will add some petrol and honey after a few years time and drink well for a few to a bevy more. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted November 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (AgentWinery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Hard to believe what I see, a hue not blush nor pink, but gris. That “if my eyes don’t deceive me there’s something going wrong around here.” Forget about Provençe, don’t think too hard about Vin Gris but concentrate only on what Shiraz Mottiar has acceded with Rosé for Moira in ’16. Light and lithe do not begin to explain the rub. Rocks and stones are what come through the good earth on the nose. Is this the blush equivalent of mineralité, away from chardonnay and into pinot noir? “Is she really going out with him?” But the pinot noir component is almost non-existent so what is the phenolic advantage here? Has this gone too far or not far enough? Don’t mistake the things I say. This is delicious, understated and fully underestimated Rosé. It will have great appeal to a specific cognoscenti population and who could not think to drink it any day of the week? Commercially considered however, it may not speak a universal language. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  malivoire  shirazmottiar  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @MalivoireWine

Flat Rock Riesling Nadja’s Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (578625, $24.95, WineAlign)

Nadja, like the Bréton novel begins with the question, “Who am I?” A surrealistic trigger is incited by the first taste, with excitement running in many directions but like the book, Nadja’s non-linear structure is grounded in Twenty Mile Bench riesling reality. She is an elite varietal wine in 2016, excitable girl, gregarious, punchy and so bloody juicy. I don’t recall the last Nadja with so much up front zest fervency and writhing aromatic gait, “exploding international, the scenes, the sounds, and famously the feeling that you can’t squeeze ground.” The lime flesh and cordial infusion brings the flavours into a once tropical, twice bitten realm. The vintage delivers the electric version, the new pornographer for the vineyard and the song sung loud swan song for departing winemaker Jay Johnstone. Was it all for swinging you around? Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted October 2017  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

First Fruit: Field Day Pet Nat, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

An escarpment Pet-Nat is born, thanks to the healthy and precocious idealism of winemaker Ryan de Witte and his Winona-based host Ilya Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines. The name “First Fruit: Field Day” carries three connotations; a reference to De Witte’s first commercial wine, the first crop off this particular block and the fact that it’s a field blend of two grapes. The erudite hat is thrown into the micro-cuvée, sparkling wine ring with interchangeable tracks of arts and science from near-equal parts muscat (60 per cent) and gewürztraminer. The style is pétillant-naturel, or as they say in Italy, Vino Rifermentato In Bottiglia, under crown cap with what Ryan notes “as much of the lees as I could get in.” The tightrope induces a two-fold increase, of reduction and for texture, from the nutrients fed the fermentation. De Witte’s math was sound because the effervescence is strong enough to blow the reduction off after a few seconds in the glass. One point for science. After tasting two samples I can safely say that the yeast deposit can’t be missed but it is those crafty and leaningpostwineconsolidated cells that drive the salvus meets salus machine. This lithe, re-fermented and crackling sparkler is both safe and healthy. You can feel its enzymes usher liquid happiness through your body and it makes you pause, leave the warrior behind and become at one with the experimental fizz. It’s raw and you want it to be so. The aromatic varieties collogue preserved lemon, ginger and aseptic vegetal scents in an almost funk-less Pet-Nat. It’s an impossible one actually, that is until you get a load of that slag at the bottom of the bottle. But the lack of danceable, rhythmic funk may deny you a Cissy Strut so think on it like Foam meets Talking Heads as in minimal, industrial, synth-pop. Or, in sparkling wine terms, one Pet-Nat’s riflessioni naturalische is another one’s clarity. One point for art. The intrigue here sets the bar high and looking ahead, when acidity can further provide boundless rhythm section support we’ll really have something to talk about. Inaugurals are never easy, nor is progress but the sophomore release will most certainly play on repeat. Let’s hope someone finds a category to place it for three-letter approval. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted Twice, February 2017  leaningpostwine  @LeaningPostWine  @Witte_Wine  Leaning Post Wines  Ryan de Witte

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2015, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

In a word, balance. Well two, balance and brilliance. CSV in 2015 takes the reigns from itself and stands firm. The fruit is in charge, the mineral a support system unparalleled and the minor celebratory sweetness a mere afterthought when it comes to rounding out the complexity. CSV is pretty darn back in ancient dolomite time travel and escarpments high great in 2015, uplifting, serious but yet not so. The numbers trip the light fantastic, fooling like gold and bones dry are seemingly preserved in karst but impossibly not. The sensoria apprised reel from the finest acidity it can possibly carry in its veritable truth. Deep lemon intent and a new wax vernacular speak the clarity of a wine that listens to its own expert advice. Might as well have made itself. CSV 2015 is one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted March 2017  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine – Robert Groh Agency

Sneak peak in the @TriusWines Meunier with Craig McDonald and a true Niagara Grand Cru @coolchardonnay site #lincolnlakeshore #oliveiravineyards #vqa #wildferment

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment Oliveira Vineyard 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $36.75, WineAlign)

When you consider the level of quality provided by the Wild Ferment 2014 it would be hard to imagine raising the bar any further but this is what winemaker Craig McDonald has managed with his exceptional 2015. The accomplishment is purely based on one year older, wiser and complexities developed Oliveira Farm vineyard fruit, the holy chardonnay grail, Lincoln Lakeshore playground. The site sits along the QEW below the escarpment’s Twenty Mile and Beamsville benches, a recipient of glacial till and rocks left behind by an ancient river running from a lake. It’s a chardonnay wonderland. Intensity of fruit purity, fleshy and real, remarkably juicy and notably crunchy has increased, upping the pleasure game and turning the impression knob up to 11. The windmill generates more power while always maintaining a classic Trius level of finesse. Then you think on the wood integration, equally impressionable because acidity is sweet and refined. Dry extract is also impressive, not to mention a fineness of grape tannin. The site’s unofficial designation as a Niagara Grand Cru should be upgraded with status. There is no better time than the present and the Wild Ferment’s 2015 ability is proof enough. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted July 2017   triuswines  @TriusWines  @triuswines

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Madeline Cabernet Franc 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

From the 19th Street Vineyard and wow, there is simply no cabernet franc like this cabernet franc. It pops and flies from the glass, in and out of your mouth, playful, buoyant, joyful, unbridled. A silky and spicy ripeness that’s also shed by its tannin, like shavings of a chocolate only a master knows to render, then currants electric and alive. Excels by its chewy mouthfeel and texture and you must ruminate on this cabernet franc. This is the it vintage, with all the enzymes in control, wrapped up in the enigma membrane and this low, classical Beethoven orchestral strings rumble, on a Verona stage, surrounded by the ancient rocks, acoustics perfect. You can get lost in franc like this. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (639641, $43.95, WineAlign)

Some of the Okanagan Valley’s great chardonnay fruit is found on its eastern shore and makes its way into this Quail’s Gate Reserve. The story and place go back 60 plus years and wait if you can’t nose it in this top North American chardonnay. Forget comparisons, competitions and blind judgements but pull anything you want from Sonoma and watch this raise eyebrows and turn heads. The variegations are numerous and in replay. Richness, bite, energy, spirit and firm conceit. The barrel is everywhere and nowhere. What is a great chardonnay? It’s completely invisible, yet always in sight. It remembers what people hate. It anticipates the consumer’s needs before the needs are needed. A great chardonnay is, above all, discreet to a fault. Such is the Stewart Family Reserve. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted October 2017   quails gate  hobbsandcompany  @Quails_Gate  @AMH_hobbsandco  Quails’ Gate  Hobbs & Co.

Sparkling wine you need to know @lwwines Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut 2013, from the shores of the #minasbasin #annapolisvalley #novascotia

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blanc Extra Brut 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot presented an early, less leesy glimpse of their 100 per cent estate chardonnay at i4c in July of 2016. It was a different animal than this recently disgorged (late February/early March) sparkling wine. The Extra Brut lives up to its designation, from fruit grown on the shores of the Minas Basin under the auspices of a markedly warm year with exceptional phenolic ripeness and 25 per cent malolactic gain. The time relative to texture lees accumulation is approximately 40 months and it’s an accurate representation of Nova Scotia low and slow. The flavours are wisely developed ripe and spicy, leaning into a moment or two of oxygenation, but seemingly richer than the amount of lees time that was given. Now emerging from the shell of not just a warm but a great chardonnay year (as previously proven by the Ancienne released two years ago). The notion here is of a sparkling wine that has been brought home, a B de B that you need to get to know. There are layers and layers of character that fold and unfold. The precision, focus and rendering is citrus tamed, mouthfeel in perpetual expansion and contraction, length linear and elastic. And it’s just the beginning. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted June 2017  lwwines  @lwwines  Lightfoot & Wolfville

Blomidon Late Pick Sparkling Chardonnay 2011, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

The 2011 late-picked chardonnay, the “Hurricane” is a hyperbole of itself. Normally picked in later October, the frost-free weather allowed further time and development. Picked from seaside vineyards just ahead of another hurricane (in a season that included Irene), this is sparkling wine you just have to try. Though lean, taut and as intense as you are likely to taste, the developed character and complexity is visionary for Nova Scotia and Canadian sparkling wine. Three years on the lees brings the texture and fills the gaps, holes and voids created by such a tightly wound cool climate chardonnay. The dry factor is exaggerated in 2011 (a one-off says winemaker Simon Rafuse) but the wine takes full advantage of the Extra-Brut intent. Did it require the anxiety of a recent and an impending cyclone? Can it be duplicated? “That’s the story of the Hurricane.” Visionary for Nova Scotia and Canadian sparkling wine. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017  blomidonestate  @BlomidonEstate  Blomidon Estate Winery

Southbrook Poetica Red 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (355859, $69.95, WineAlign)

It seems at first that Poetica 2013 was chosen by winemaker Ann Sperling to be the deferential one. The blend is dominated by 74 per cent cabernet sauvignon, the highest number ever for the wine. Conversely the cabernet franc component is set to 23 per cent and far less petit verdot (3 per cent) rounds out the blend. That number had been 29 per cent in 2012 because the varietal elegance shown at that time necessitated the relationship. In 2013 it is the cabernet sauvignon that displayed with elegance and an uncanny ability to sow of its own accord and yes, it is an exceptional vintage so look for 2013 to age on a 15 year curve. The Witness Block CS-CF follows suit and the SV-PV is better off for the allocations. Every wine wins as a result. There is this deep-impressed sous-terre tang in here, a wisdom certainly, and when it is released later in the year the heads will turn. Poetica is often but here not overly tannic, but it is endowed with bones, spine and structure. The flavours, spice and magnetism give cause to salivate. Only Ann Sperling makes Niagara reds like this, wines that can develop such architecture without an excess of tannin, astringency and chalky chocolate from over-wrought wood exchange. Poetica 2013 will drink well young and comfortably into the end of the next decade. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted January 2017  southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @TheLivingVine  @SouthbrookWine   @SouthbrookWine  The Living Vine inc.

A finer man, winemaker and host you will not find. Thank you @normanhardie @keeponshucking @clarsenault @cuveeletittia @Mknow21 @mclauriault and all.

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Cuvée Des Amis 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $150.00, 1500ml, WineAlign)

As exceptional as chardonnay may have seemed from out of the 2013 Ontario vintage you haven’t lived or loved until you get a taste of (only in magnum format) Norm Hardie’s 2014 Cuvées des Amis. This chardonnay attacks and ascends, recalibrating the inner workings of the brain and how it develops conceptualization. It is a state of the art and all-knowing elixir to remind that ’13 was a vintage with profitable yields and a generously stretched canvas on which to practice on, for when things begin to get real. The CdeA spent 18 months in barrel, the first 12 (in 35 per cent new), the next six in neutral and the last six in stainless steel on the fine lees. The spin class in the mouth manages agility, dextrous, furtive movement and completes many pirouettes. The dance is pure joy but the intensity is equally to disturbingly intrusive, suggesting more settling time is necessary. The flavour pearls are delicate and come straight from the oyster so they carry salinity, power and brine. Pure lemon essence is received by intravenous injection. Sumptuous is translated from Hardie-speak as a four-letter, Prince Edward County word. It doesn’t get more real than right here, with the best fruit, the tripping of the light fantastic, previously unheard and unseen unconscionable concentration. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted twice, June and July 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  Norman Hardie

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Syrah 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $80.00, WineAlign)

Èquinoxe is announced without equivocation as the Bricco of B.C. syrah and an absolutely lovely Bench expression from winemaker Severine Pinte. What came from these three-quarters Osoyoos Lake District and one-quarter Black Sage vineyards in 2013 was floral and peppery, with a fineness that belies a dessert climate but in 2014, well this is something more and other. You just have to think about texture here and a quality of acidity that is peerless in B.C. syrah. So juicy, beautifully tannic and rendered with culture and class. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2017  levieuxpin  @LeVieuxPin  Le Vieux Pin Winery

My eyes do not deceive me. It’s Decant @StratusWines #cabernetfranc bottled with lees #vqa #niagaraonthelake #karimrashid

Stratus Cabernet Franc “Decant” 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $95.00, WineAlign)

“A designer’s hands are tied. They are only as good as their opportunities.” The words of the brilliant bottle designer Karim Rashid fully apply to the mirrored universe in which winemaker J-L Groux works, here with a deferential and ulterior cabernet franc, bottled with its lees. When I first tasted it in February (in advance of this auspicious release), its unfiltered state spoke of a hyperbole of perfume, marked by exoticism. The aromatics gave far east five-spice, star anise, cardamom, miso and incense, all natural by-products of its purposed ferment. More grain spoke out but also a roundness of tannin and a smoothness both coating and comforting. There was chocolate accentuated by the treatment, with thanks to those lees left in the bottle. The chopped up and constructed bottle catches the lees while the volume flows out and the function out of form mimics the thought of lees delivering structure and yet they are invisible, caught in a hidden net or nook, out of sight, out of mind. But it’s not about pouring. It’s about the hand, or the slight thereof. Then there is the copycat idealism of strata in the vineyard, of geology transferred to the bottle and kept there, like a ship perfectly preserved inside. This cabernet franc will age better, as is the plan, with thanks to the lees that you’ll never have to deal with. There were 110 cases made. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted twice, February and May 2017  stratuswines  @StratusWines  Stratus Vineyards

Supper at Benjamin Bridge

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Estate Blanc De Blancs 2013, Nova Scotia (Winery, $119.50, WineAlign)

Tasted from a bottle disgorged in May 2017, there alights a plugged-in, three-pronged, dazed, charged and enchanted energy about the Bridge’s ’13 Blanc de Blancs. The history of go it alone pure chardonnay is a relatively short one for the estate so this quickly makes up for lost time or rather with haste sets the timer and heads out at first light. “Like sittin’ on pins and needles, things fall apart, it’s scientific.” Wild, of talking heads temper and yeasts, done up in demi-muids, with a wilder secondary fermentative push riding on the coattails of the primary fermentation. Everything in this wine is a productive child of the vineyard, of no third party sugars or consultations. “How do you do that without making a Pétillant Naturel,” I wonder aloud. It’s a second ferment, non-contiguous is the reason, even if the former is both influencer and mentor to the latter. It certainly falls under the category of “micro-cuvée. Like its cousin and predecessor (Blanc de Noirs 2011), this ’13 BdeB is mired intensely inward within its own specificity and is not so much a sparkling wine with competitive soul. It is a pure representative of chardonnay grown in Nova Scotia for one purpose. So let’s talk about true stories and wild, wild life. “You get on board anytime you like.” Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted July 2017  benjaminbridge  caveman__jones   winesofn  @Benjamin_Bridge  @benjaminbridgevineyards  @WinesofNS @benjaminbridgevineyards  @winesofns

As we taste through the #NWAC17 finals we thank @ZWILLING_CA for the rocking great glassware. Canadian wines are better for these vessels.

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Got two Chardonnays, June, Ivan and Picone

Mixed Grill

Mixed Grill

Niagara’s Cool Chardonnay Conference is but three days away so in anticipation I’ve drawn up more tasting notes for three that will be on hand at the great #i4C14 event. The wines made by Thomas Bachelder, 13th Street and Sumaridge are all extremely different, stalked from disparate soils and assembled in ways to render them disconnected by their very specific varietal vicissitudes. This is what you get when you seek Chardonnay.

Charles Baker does not make Chardonnay, but no other winemaker in Niagara does Riesling in such a focused, micro-specific way. Baker’s Ivan and Picone Vineyards are to Riesling as Wismer, Saunders, Quarry, Robyn, Mottiar and LCJ are to Chardonnay. Like Johnson in Oregon. Like the granite and quartzite ridges of South Africa’s Hemel En Aarde Valley. I’ve tasted Baker’s Rieslings going back to 2006 over the past year or so. Their evolution shows conceit extracted from limestone and a tempering from hot to cool. Riesling too is très cool.

Here we actually have three Chardonnays with one hailing from the exceptional June’s Vineyard. Yet another example of nuanced Niagara, a plot of land in the 13th Street empire that will one day be recognized for its soil and receive Cru status. The grand breakdown needs to happen, not yet, but in another 10 years time when the obvious can no longer be denied nor held down. A time when VQA, winemakers and their terroir decide to come together to celebrate individuality and progress.

Charles Baker Rieslings

Charles Baker Rieslings

13th Street June’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (236745, $21.95, WineAlign)

Chardonnay should always be a product of the vineyard and this ’12 June is just that. Everything it is and more comes amplified by the vintage; the sweetness of the fruit, the peat earthy, camphoraceous terpene aroma from clay and sand loam, and the leesy, chalky texture out of yellow limestone. Depending on preference, this June may be construed as over the top or layered with all the goodness of the great 15 year-old, Fifth Avenue vineyard. Though she may exaggerate her terroir, in a toothsome, tart citrus and earthy tone,” and I know that June is true. She can be yorn too if you open up to her ways.  Tasted May 2014  @13thstreetwines

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2013, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

Welcome to the cult of Charles Baker Riesling. Baker’s vehement search for new Riesling territory materialized in the (Bob) Misek vineyard, a plot of rich limestone and sandstone that sits below clay, named after the grower’s dad. The 1.1 acres of Riesling within a 12-acre mixed planting just south and up the ledge from Highway 8 is just north of Tawse and just down the hill on the eastern side of Cherry Avenue. For this 2013 vintage the vines were 16 years of age, now into that sweet spot of adolescent maturity. Baker is hell-bent on delivering solid blue material from important fruit. “This is the driest Riesling I’ve ever made,” he points out with shy conceit. At 10 percent alcohol by volume you might want to imagine practical, nearing off-dry Germany but the comparison can’t be made. This is oyster wine, from a wonky weather, under cloud cover, great Riesling vintage. When it comes to the noble variety, “seasons don’t fear the reaper, nor do the wind, the sun or the rain.” Picked on average aggregate, in early October and with so much fruit in contrast to stone-grooved Picone, this Ivan is a friend to farmers, Romeo and Juliet. A Riesling that lives above ground. There are 198 cases made. Tasted May 2014  @cbriesling

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2011, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (agent, $29.50, WineAlign)

Though it would be naïve to think every Chardonnay produced out of the Hemel En Aarde Valley is the stuff of grand cru, recent examples have done nothing but impress. Sumaridge joins Hamilton Russell and Creation on the Walker Bay dream team. Ocean breeze-cooled slopes and deprived soils of decomposed granite loam with quartzite manage rich fruit with cool ease. In this 2011 a most excellent trifecta of dryness (1.7 g/L), acidity (6.9 g/L) and PH (3.45) brings together texture and tannin. Though seemingly sweet it is anything but a cloying example. Buttery but mild in toast, quite piercing yet tempered by an herbal quality, not warm or balmy, but inexorably herbal. Schematically waxy, splashed by lemon and piqued by zest.  Tasted May 2014  @Sumaridge

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign)

A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  Last tasted June 2014

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2007, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign)

If Charles Baker got lucky, babe, or in my estimation, experienced with the outcome of his striking 2006, this follow-up suffers a sophomoric stenosis, if only because it was the hardest Niagara (hot) vintage to deal with and understand. The vintage tricked with a false front, teasing winemakers to push envelopes and many over did their wines. Had his fruit only spoken up and said “you better watch what you do to me, don’t get carried away,” the wine would show better seven years later. Yet Baker was savvy enough to manage the residual sugar by keeping it dry with tannin by way of acidity and PH. I agree this is one of the finer takes on Niagara Riesling in 2007. When stacked against other Bakers it pales because it’s evolving rapidly and it can’t be helped. The petrol quotient is sky-high, like a rumbling volcano, like bicarbonate. True to the Baker oeuvre it cuts with laser focus and linear drive.  Tasted May 2014

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

More specifically a product of its ocean meets sous terre soil than Bachelder’s basic (term used loosely) Chardonnay, the Johnson nicks more richesse, around and around fullness. Not to mention the cerebral wisdom of two Scots and a Charlemagne. Johnson’s progressive and forward thinking maker works with inconspicuous wood and the science of introducing oxygen into wine in a controlled manner.  He might say “for it is wisdom that we have for sale.” Like a white-winged dove, the 2012 will trod lightly towards a long walk to a very long life. It can be imagined aging to the edge of seventeen. The earthy feel, the salinity, not from tannin but from soil, “the music there, well, it was hauntingly familiar.” This is iridescent Oregon in a Bachelder voice. No doubt.  @Bachelder_wines

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Showcase Showdown: Rosewood Sémillon

White wine grapes PHOTO: ROSEWOOD ESTATES

as seen on canada.com

Humbled once again. After tasting through five vintages of Rosewood Sémillon, there are two things I now know for certain. It’s impossible to guess the exact value of prizes in the showcase showdown and even harder to predict the tasting future of a Rosewood Sémillon. If only the Price is Right finale included these great prizes. Bright-eyed winemaker (Luke Orwinski) chomping at the bit to share his grape, game show host plans with the world. Queen social bee (Krystina Roman) directing the drones with striking and graceful precision. Lunch courses as dreamy art-rock chord progressions by chef Ren Mercer of Toronto’s Spoke Club.

Rosewood Semillon (Photos: Michael Godel)

#SemillonShowcase

The club’s private dining room offered an intimate and focused setting for a Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon five vintage retrospective spanning the vintages 2008-2012. Sémillon the amenable white variety is most often employed in combination with Sauvignon Blanc to forge the dry white wines of Bordeaux and more famously, the dessert wines from Sauternes and Barsac. Winemakers on the west coast have used the grape for some grand Late Harvest Botrytis dessert wines. As a stand alone varietal, Mt. Boucherie out of B.C. makes terrific Sémillon and the grape has flourished in Australia’s Hunter Valley but as a dry white it has gained little attention virtually anywhere else. Mark Kent has made some stellar single bottlings at Boekenhoutskloof in South Africa but look elsewhere and its rare solo usage is both confounding and disturbing.

Enter Rosewood Estates. Their Sémillon is magical. Granted, in leaner years it strikes a more than spooky close resemblance to Bench Riesling but in glorious vintages it takes on a level of complexity no other Niagara white can match. I feel compelled to lead the charge. #StandSémillonStand.

Rosewood Estates is located on the Beamsville Bench astride the Niagara Escarpment. Family run, community-centric and driven by people, place and passion. Most of all there are the bees. The Roman family has been in the beekeeping business going back more than 50 years. “With over 40 acres under vine (across two vineyards) and over 350 hives as of 2012, the team is excited to be one of the premium mead producers in Canada.”

Rosewood Wines and Tasting Menu

Sémillon 2012 ($18, part of the Select Series, brand new label, to be released Fall 2013) is their most intense ever. An exceptional growing season amps the honey sounds to 11, speeds up the sugars to 33 and while there is obviously no sign of chapitalization, added acid stabilizes the high tropical nuance. Huge style for Sémillon, mulched in miele, fruit flavours amplified and lengthened by 14.6 per cent alcohol. Une cousine to J.L. Groux’s Stratus SV, if less grapefruit and increased value.  90

Tasting Plate #1 – Crab Salad + Braised Pork Belly with spring onion and sea buckthorn

The Spoke Club Crab Salad and Pork Belly

Sémillon 2011 ($18, June 22nd VINTAGES Release, at the winery) is frighteningly honeyed and its blatant acidity brings out all the right zest notes in the seafood. Major (three times) cropping from a “disease control vintage” by Orwinski who “knows the vineyard. It really is his home.” He’s still chanting “drop the crop!” in his sleep. The citrus and soda are glaring, exciting and invigorating in ’11, as is the aforementioned honey, the trump card keeping the Sémillon from being confused for Riesling.  Fascinating study.  91

Sémillon 2010 ($18, Rosewood Estates Library and @barquebbq) is stoic, the most delicate and understated at the tasting. If ever there was a dumb phase, this would be it. The sea-earthy buckthorn gelée adds prurient and prosaic matter to the clement, crisp and almandine tisane. Unique to ’10, a marigold floral note hovers.  90  Previous note, Oct. 2, 2012: “shows little procrastination with a superfluity of lemon, lime and paraffin but like all great Sémillon, the wine needs time. A block of wax keeps the honey down but look for a mellifluous ooze three years on. Glittering sheen, diamond-like focus and crusted by an accent of lemon zest. Krystina Roman will lead this grape to stardom. “Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!” Top white. Shine on you crazy Sémillon.”  90

Tasting Plate #2 – Raw Ahi Tuna and asparagus with Thai basil + Caramelized Sweetbreads with chamomile

Sémillon 2009 ($18, Rosewood Estates Library) has changed course since last October by way of a portal-scooching entry into secondary life. Digs deep in the vineyard’s dirt, stretches, grasps and reaches limestone. A product of the most natural vintage, picked late (October 16th), bleating and stonking high in spontaneous, innate acidity. Highlight of the tasting, full of the Clint (citrus and flint).  92  Previous note, Oct. 24, 2012: “may understate its pineapple, Bosc pear and white pepper bequeathal due to the rains of the vintage yet still retains its Viognier like viscosity and floral tide. All quality Semillon needs three to five years to gain weight and Rosewood’s track record tows that line. A mysterious herbal note lies beneath the tropical nuances and Spytkowsky can’t place her nose on it. It’s Rhône-esque garrigue in bloom, not unlike thyme, rosemary or oregano.”  90

Sémillon 2008 ($18, Rosewood Estates Library) is well into collateral, ancillary development. Retains a verve in acidity and twang, similar in style to ’09 and ’11 but the petrol has begun. Another sticky Rosewood, a Pooh-magnet, but also with tropical flavours. Unchained Renaceau rocker, with a funky high leg kick, a wild cat’s wail and if you wait for it, lemon citrus blossom comes out in the last refrain. The gift that keeps on giving. ”Yeah ya hit the ground running.”  92

Tasting Plate #3 – Braised oxtail ravioli with brown butter

The Spoke Club Braised Oxtail Ravioli

Lock, Stock & Barrel 2011 ($34, at the winery) offers distinct vocal performances from Cabernet Sauvignon (44 per cent), Merlot (37) and Cabernet Franc (16) while Petit Verdot gives buoyant girth. Clean, juicy fruit, timed to be picked just ahead of the rains. Repeated battonage and cold soaking make for a remarkably velvety and stylish Meritage. Savoury and piquant, seamless and integrated, the tannins are created by the fruit itself. “In 2011 we got brown stems,” notes Orwinski. Translation? Ripe grapes.  91

Tasting Plate #4 – Poached rhubarb

Harvest Gold Mead 2011 ($15, 500 mL, VINTAGES July 20) is dated by the honey’s bi-annual harvest. Tends dry, gingery, dusty and with a candlenut sweetness, like Gewurz. William Roman Senior dreamt to make mead but was denied the license. Well Krystina, you’ve brought home the cup. ”His dream is my life.” Previous note: is so simple it’s the zen koan of the wine world. Hue as if Riesling or Semillon. Perfume is significant and verdant. Made from a lighter honey as per the vintage, this is “an ode to traditional mead, with a savoury component and cool balance,” notes winemaker Natalie Spytkowsky. Fermented and aged in 100 per cent stainless steel it buzzes out with a tang like late harvest Riesling but finishes remarkably dry. Honey, water, yeast. The whole aviary. Nothing petty about it.  “Peace in the valley with my honey bee.” 88

Mead Noir 2012 ($25, VINTAGES June 15th Online Release, 350835) is oh so Rosé. Made in every other vintage, the Noir interchanges with the Blanc (Gewurz). A shout out to Malivoire fro the clear, Burgundy bottle under screwcap to house this singular Beamsville sweety. This is Pyment Mead, from Pinot Noir, 20 per cent Merlot and a touch of Sussreserve Riesling to bring sweet and tang into equilibrium. Aperitif, tonic, refresher, drink to chill. Works in so many ways. 90

Good to go!

Big wines from California and the Bench

Photo: olly/Fotolia.com

Photo: olly/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

If you can’t make it big in California selling Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, you can’t make it anywhere. Merlot once played a starring role in that ensemble but it currently suffers from a serious lack of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Dreaming outside the box, I would like to see a 1,000 per cent increase in Rhône varietal wines coming out of California but for every Syrah, Grenache and Viognier vine planted, it seems two are ripped out. I would add Tempranillo, Monastrell, Carignan and Sangiovese to the wish list. Some varietal diversity would be nice.

Meanwhile, back at the monopoly, the big four continue to bask in the spotlight. Don’t misunderstand me. I love all wine. A new world Bordeaux, Burgundy and (indigenous Adriatic varietal) recommendations list speaks of the universality of my affection. But I turn your attention to Ontario. The great writer, Grapes of Humanity facilitator and all-around wine sage Tony Aspler recently gave a speech. It’s title, The Ontario Wine Industry: Doing it right and doing it wrong – How to engage consumers at home and abroad. Mr. Aspler emphasized the need to celebrate our land, our terroir. He thinks we are overly diverse and wants us to make terroir-driven wines. “Wines that speak to the soil in which they were grown.” Know this. Aspler would have thought long and hard about this poignant dissertation. He has more than 37 years of reverential and local wine experience. He also noted, “Wine always tastes better in the presence of the winemaker.”

I had the fortunate pleasure last week to put this experiential notion into practice at Hidden Bench Winery up on the Niagara Peninsula’s Beamsville Bench. Harald Thiel, who is and not coincidentally I would add, the recent Promoter-at-Large winner at the VQA Promoters Awards, tutored me through 13 bottles. Would I have been duly impressed in a sterile room without D’yer Maker by my side? Likely not, but the visit left me with the distinct impression that Hidden Bench is one of the local houses of the holy.

Here are five famous Californians and a posse of local Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Bordeaux blends to seek out this week and before they disappear.

From left: Decoy Chardonnay 2011; Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010; Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery 'Terroir Caché' Meritage 2008; Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2010; and Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2010.

Big Californians

Decoy Chardonnay 2011 (341555, $24.95) is a melting pot of Sonoma County site agglomeration. A lemon and pear creamsicle, cool(er) climate piping into a barrel-charred cone with a sprinkling of key-lime, chalky soil dust. Cyclotron of gold patina, with a green apple and mineral dees to enrich the big character of this Duckhorn project. Await a time softening of its bitters and everyone will be doing the disco duck.  89  @decoywine

Belle Glos Las Alturas Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 (212076, $44.95) and her retroussé nose of sweet, candied currants and a McLaren Vale-like blue jam is striking, if ubiquitous Pinot from everywhere and anywhere. It’s certainly delicious and sports the trademark Belle Glos, SLH smoke, tar and shellac, so in that sense it reminds us of itself.  89  @BelleGlosMeiomi

Ravenswood Big River Single Vineyard Zinfandel 2008 (327205, $44.95) is stylish and sacred juice out of Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. Starlet songstress pretty, a bit shy and reserved, not yet giving it all away. Very raspberry and red flower colour/scent and oak already well-integrated. Would not accuse this Zin of any sin nor saying it “sold your dreams for a pocket of change.”  91  @RavenswoodWine

Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (222877, $75.95) animates a supply chain management ideal like few other Napicons within the framework of an efficient push-pull package. Marketed for the lover of plush, virile California Cabernet and this ’10 delivers with black raspberry and chocolate balance. There is a sweetness/bitterness interplay that never tugs.  91  @FrankLovesWine

Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (296707, $99.95) is a truly iconic and wow example of Napa incumbency. When Cabernet Sauvignon is framed by this level of mineral and French funk and still the layers of dark fruit shine, nothing can be said but “this is a special wine.” The currant sideways grain of chalky chocolate tannin notes that time has yet to define this Howell Mountain gem. More excellence from Dunn, hedonism without petulance.  95  @Smallwinemakers

Hidden Bench Winery, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula

Harald Thiel, Proprietor, @BenchVigneron  @HiddenBench

Estate Chardonnay 2010 ($32, winery only) tends near-Tropicana, integrated nirvana from an 11-month barrel ferment. The wood sidles rather than climbs on top and the fruit shines like a diamond mine. Enthralling Beamsville Bench Chardonnay and “like a drunken fool I never know when to leave.”  90 

Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (276261, $38) is akin to Russian River Valley, allowing the comparison, in platinum, edging to gold and in stony, mineral rigidity. Tends to the orchard in a fell swoop of swelling fruit. Nobody does it better on the Bench. The sec who loves me, “makes me feel sad for the rest.”   91

Tête de Cuvée Chardonnay 2009 ($45, winery only) from HB’s oldest, most highly regarded and meticulously maintained vines shows ravishing and refined restraint in elegance. Warm pineapple and mango coagulation jarred by the vintage’s piercing acidity and immense length. Head of the class, rings the bell, nails the lecture.  93

Bistro Chardonnay 2011 ($20-21, winery only) is the sum total of the collected and filtered run-off from the rich and select HB vineyard pool. The nut brown toast is certainly noticeable but handled with care, accented by a tease of melon, mango and stone fruit.  88

Riesling Estate 2011 ($17-18, winery only) will launch likewise as a “Bistro” offering in May 2013 for a pittance. Laser direct as a citrus, flint and mineral injected Bench iconoclastic white. Gulpable by the spittoon-full.  88

Estate Pinot Noir 2009 (275753, $38), unfined, unfiltered and leavened by indigenous yeasts speaks all estate vineyard vernacular, of night pitch, cherry and smoke but in a liberated, feminine voice. Clarity in my favourite NP Pinot year.  90

Felseck Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 ($48) is the man, or so he thinks, in the HB relationship. Increased earth and graphite presence, evolved, integrated, social. Tough exterior, teddy bear interior. “Think of me what you will, I got a little space to fill.” You don’t know how it feels. No petty fool, no tom foolery. From low density planted vines.  92

Locust Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 ($48, winery only) may be the best food companion of the three ’09’s. Whiffing musk and medieval protein powder testosterone. Stretched on the rack, grunts, cries out in pain, then submits. Finds peace within that last century thing its got going on.  91

Estate Pinot Noir 2010 ($38, winery only) is a vintage relative release, a quaffable, generous fruit sui generis. Alights to invite and tempt like an ’05 Burgundy or an ’07 Brunello. Irresistible, if fleeting in beauty.  89

Bistro Pinot Noir 2011 ($22-23, winery only) is as a result of meticulously sorted clean fruit with no varnish or hard edges. Good length.  88

Estate Pinot Noir 2005 was open two days and still fresh as a daisy. Still difficult to assess. NR

‘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.  92  @HiddenBench

‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2008 (505610, $32.95) from a cool and wet vintage defies logic with a beastly corpulence built upon tar, mineral and spice. An off-beat note of cardamom-scented Arabica kaffee. No, really. Tough mudder.  88

Good to go!

Lobster rolls and a Long Island dream

Paddle Boarding in Sag Pond, Accabonac Harbor

From Riverhead to Montauk, Jamesport to Southampton, the eastern edge of Long Island is a land of reverie. Imagine the fertile plateau of the Niagara Peninsula, the rugged beauty of Muskoka and the serenity of Prince Edward Island rolled into one magnificent package. A burgeoning wine route complimented by rolling farmland full of summer crops. Abounding tide pools, ponds, lakes, bays and rivers dominating the landscape, swarming with life. Secluded coves, inlets, marshes of scraggly grass and rushes around every turn at the end of long and winding country roads. “Don’t it feel like something from a dream.” I really like this place.

Georgica Pond Blue Crab

As a foil to the frenetic pace of Manhattan, the eastern island presents as a modal, perfect, progressive and passive area of unlimited exploration. An effortless paddle by long board or kayak through Sag Pond. Baiting, netting and steaming the fresh catch of Blue Crabs out of Georgica Pond. Filling oneself with the ocean’s bounty and tasting through North Fork’s future stars wines.

Clam Bar

Lobster maintains its status at the gastronomic epicentre of the east coast. Clams are everywhere, crabs too. The quintessential lunch snack is the Lobster Roll. Made from the simplest preparation, the fresh pulled meat is crammed to overflowing in its whitest of soft bread, hot dog like roll. A deliquescent treat without parallel.

Lobster Roll and Fried Clams

Long Island Lobster Roll

Ingredients:

1 and 1/2 lb lobster
2 soft, white “lobster” rolls (hot dog rolls will work)

Homemade Mayonnaise:
1 tsp Dijon mustard
juice of one lemon
1/2 cup vegetable oil

4 ribs of celery, finely diced
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Method:

Add 6 cups of water to a large stock pot, fit with a colander. Bring to a boil, than lower to simmer.

Put in lobster and steam for eight minutes. Remove and cool.

Make the mayo. Mix Dijon with lemon juice. Slowly drizzle oil while whisking until fully emulsified. Chop celery into fine dice and mix in to mayo. Add parsley. Season with salt & pepper.

Crack and remove all lobster meat. Roughly chop the large pieces and stir into mayo.

Scoop lobster mixture into two buttery, soft, white rolls.

Raphael North Fork Riesling 2010 ($18) makes yeoman’s work is its second vintage, more dry than off-dry, less grapefruit than one would expect and certainly high on the citrus zest scale. Works lobster, crab and shrimp   in blue-collar fashion and speaks in a gravelly, Peconic voice.  87

Galliuccio Family Wineries Meritage 2001 when bottled may have simply been working on a dream but this “library” wine was a near revelatory, posthumous Surprise, Surprise. Now owned by Macari Vineyards, the ’01 Galluccio Merlot with supporting cast let it’s unguarded love shine down with elegant, blueberry fruit and resolved red peppercorn spice. A historical look at what ’04, ’07, ’10 would become and what will surely be in North Fork’s future.  90

Peconic Bay Merlot 2005 ($21) pencils liquorice in a shade of candied, Sonoma Pinot-like matte against a salty Atlantic backdrop. Light, airy, breezy and pleasing Merlot. Void of resin, currant and bell pepper. Strawberries in cream actually. Nothing earth shattering here, just good and plenty.  87

Good to go!

The Wine Diaries: Your weekend wines

ilumus photography, Fotolia.com

Read this at canada.com

Another stellar weekend is heading this way. My goal each week is to provide the wine equivalent of an operatic recasting, a retooling, a restocking, whether it be for deck, yard or on the water. A few good reds are here for BBQ compliment but let’s face it. This is the summer of whites baby!

Related: Recent release notes

The grape: Vermentino

The history: From grapes grown in Gallura on the northern coast, the producer Sella & Mosca is to Sardinia as Antinori is to Tuscany

The lowdown: Versatile and food-friendly,Vermentino combines dry, salty sea air with rocks, minerals and acidity. Gotta love southern Italian whites

The food match: Seared Sea Scallops with lime zest, lemon juice and orange segments

Sella & Mosca Monteoro Vermentino Di Gallura Superiore 2011 (203422, $15.95) is fresh as a crustacean pulled from salty, Mediterranean waters. Vermentino of Sardinia is to white as Tavel of Provence is to Rose. Scented by sweet citrus, marzipan, Gin and Tonic.  88

The grape: Riesling

The history: Originates in Germany’s Rhine and thanks to the Duke of Lorraine, came to Alsace in 1477

The lowdown: Recent thought has pegged Alsatian Rieslings as “sweetened up” but as a rule I find the entry-level ones to be some of the the driest. They certainly lack the petrolic character akin to their German brethren

The food match: Pan-fried Whitefish with citrus beurre blanc and toasted almonds

Domaine Ehrhart-Pfohl Riesling 2010 (282186, $13.95) summons chalky virility from the Saxon stone mason’s hands and yet stages tropical sweatshop scents of guava, apricot and quince. The confusion is quieted by a near, neo-cabbalistic call to baking Mittelwihr, mandelbroit order. Wants to be Viognier but knows its place. Underappreciated if a bit rakish Alsatian.  87

The grape: Friulano

The history: From Friuli-Venezia Giulia in northeast Italy. The project of restauranteur Joe Bastianich and Mother Lidia, the Food Network cooking star

The lowdown: A varietal of unctuous, orchard fruit behaviour, saline like southern whites but of fuller mind and body

The Food Match: Frico Morbido, grated cheese and swiss chard fritters

Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2010 (277467, $18.95) brings Friuli by the Adriatic to the world. Like Lidia and son Joe, a pastiche and piece of work. Peach, pear and apricot marmellata. Tiger Lilly length, stalky and saftig 88

The grape: Tempranillo

The history: The great and totemic wine of Spain, most famous for Rioja and Ribera del Duero

The lowdown: A small case production (1,200 bottles) by a tidy northern Spanish producer. First tasting was from an oxidized bottle. This second specimen shone

The food match: Jamon, Chorizo and Manchego

Fernández De Piérola Reserva 2004 (270579, $25.95) lenses purity of Tempranillo colour, looking through a glass lightly. Svelte to knock back with cold-pressed and dressed virgin tapas. Early evening blossom fragrance meets beet, mushroom and cinnamon. Woodsmoke mingling with sugar near-caramelized in the black kettle.  88

Niagara

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling (241182, $35.20) from the unique terroir of the Vinemount Ridge of Niagara is an outrageous and gregarious flirt.  Strewn notes of citrus, nuts, apples and magnesium. All out there right now. Like lemon in a wound. Go big or go home. Drink up.  89

Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2009 (184291, $34.95) seems anti-Beamsville because of a gooseberry-marmalade character.  Rather unlike any of the other CC SV’s. Sun-swelled apricot and pineapple, candied, baked.  87

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (173377, $24.00) while sourced from down on the peninsula’s floor maintains the throaty Louis fruit this Niagara producer has developed a reputation for. Gravelly, deep and soft, like a pelt carpet. The strong-armed apple of your eye. “So I said to myself,” what a wonderful Chardonnay.  88

Australia

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Riesling 2010 (528216, $17.95) is a first love, a same time next year type of wine. “Thelonious my old friend” built from tree fruit and their blossoms. Cruising, cool, misty acidity to welcome a midnight, seafood supper.  88

New Zealand

Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2008 (640383, $34.95) extends the North Island vineyard’s reputation as top niche producer. Smell and taste replay of match lit, smouldering herb. Tuff gong with terrific persistence. High toned, polished and on the Zion Train.  89

Italy

Tramin Pinot Grigio 2011 (627059, $15.95) venerable and virtuous gives Alto Adige PG its due. Walks tenuously and carries a stainless steel stick. Bang on entry into the niche, inoffensive and whitefish driven of a simple preparation.   86

Attems Pinot Grigio 2011 (707950, $19.95) does the Friuli with less floral Viognier/Muscatel, more vibrant citrus and Amaretto than the Tramin. Costs more too.  87

California

Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2010 (215210, $59.95) I’m hoping will not find me “in my ragged company” because I’d love to “kill off the hours” with this impeccably groomed and pretty white.  With steamed lobsters at a table among the wildflowers. Just don’t bring me dead ones.  90

Mazzocco Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2009 (287193, $24.95) shows no shortage or ripe, red licorice and fortified, port fruit. Smells like a fruit basket in the sun. Brief acquiescence and then a recrudence of brambles and berries. Sassy and jazzy. CVR**, DCV Zin.  89

IVR* – Vintage Direct Intrigue-to-value ratio

CVR**– Vintage Direct Curiosity-to-value ratio

Good to go!