Feb. 21 wine and song salute

Godello's Tamales

Godello’s Tamales

Fear not good reader, this is only a list of seven, a set lucky wines and songs to play as you sip. On February 21st VINTAGES will roll a mid-winter classic release and though my recommendations will think globally next week, here the choices come out of Ontario, from parts Niagara and Lake Erie North Shore.

My picks are varied and the wines of a coagulated character best described as sui generis. Grapes come from old vines, are dried in kilns, fashioned in the Venetian Ripasso method and left on the vine to be stricken by the noble rot known as botrytis.

The brilliant leap of modern winemaking science allows the ancient to be realized in the present. Wines that pour themselves. Just as the earth has invisibly predisposed the vines, from cataclysms and through its evolution, so history is the unhurried intent. Winemakers are the messenger.

All this from Wine Country Ontario. Get to know it.

Speaking of WCO, if you happen to be heading to Ottawa for Winterlude this coming weekend, the VQA Wine Truck will be there, in Confederation Park.

Meanwhile back in Toronto, my seven wine and song salute begins here.

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2012, Ridgepoint Merlot 2010, Bricklayer's Reward Block 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2012, Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2012, Ridgepoint Merlot 2010, Bricklayer’s Reward Block 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2012, Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $16.95, WineAlign)

Showy and yet so balanced and pristine. The cleanest fruit representing classic Niagara Peninsula Riesling from the ’12 vintage yet with an open mind to be walking far from home. Though void of agitation, there is plenty of verve and life. It comes by way of a mineral meets saline intensity, of iron and life, in wine. Like “sour building high as heaven,” and the components all kiss each other clean. Full of fine pastry layering, glycerine textured but not oily fruit, full and yet somehow so lacy. A really special Riesling from down by the lake.  Tasted January 2015  @MBosc

Ridgepoint Merlot 2010, Ripasso Style, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (270488, $19.95, WineAlign)

Ridgepoint’s Ripasso style Merlot takes the varietal, stands it on its head and shakes the rust from out of its bones. It wears “a coat of feelings and they are loud,” with drying and painted flavours over top porcine, cocoa, wild and tight aromas. Merlot in a purple bottle, an animal collective, peppery, interesting, very Niagara, very Ripasso. Good length.  Tasted January 2015  @Ridgepointwines

Bricklayer’s Reward Block 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (406124, $19.95, WineAlign)

In Colio’s Cabernet Sauvignon there is dark chocolate everywhere, at every turn, in every crevice. Black pepper, fleur de del, currants and tobacco accent that chocolate ubiquity, with warmth and oak spice. Cherries seeped in astringent tannin offer a silky sweet sadness and “under this skin, there lies a heart of stone.” Counting for value, the Bricklayer’s reward is mercy, by way of character, texture and that wholesome chocolate. It may not be everyone’s cup of cocoa but it will age as long as the crow flies, into the next decade.  Tasted January 2015  @ColioWinery

Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, VQA Ontario (367144, $24.95, WineAlign)

Burning Kiln’s latest rendition of Vin de Curé, the “Parish Priest’s,” and the Jura’s Vin de Paille (Straw Wine) is that much more exceptional than what came before. The peaceful, heavy yet easy feeling continues, in alcohol weight and aromatic lift, ’cause it’s “already standin’ on the ground.” Like an eagle soaring, the Savagnin is a wild creature and yet solid, of a gamey, textural density. Imagine dried grasses and fruits, baked bricks, steamed crabs and honey. A wine so unique, mouth filling, viscous and tangy, from a wine region (province) with a maximum 10 planted acres. A white elixir in search of roast pork, braised belly and cured bacon. Not to be missed.  Tasted January 2015  @BurningKilnWine

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (203703, $30.00, WineAlign)

Thirty Bench’s vintage-affected Chardonnay is rounded, full of warm, ripe fruit and noticeable oak. No darts are tossed, neither by woodsmoke nor spice and it ventures quite outward bound. This adventurous, appealing wine takes some chances, looks beyond its borders, reaching for notes both gravelly and scented; like cumin, coriander and a beautifully bittersweet Tom Collins. The rocks are certainly in, as are the sticks and stones, though they do not break bones. The price is another matter, affordable to some, prohibitive to “the little boys who never comb their hair.” For a Chardonnay such as this, of layers and riches, “they’re lined up all around the block, on the nickel over there.” It time waits for this, value will increase and it will become a wine for tomorrow.  Tasted January 2015  @ThirtyBench

Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (405043, $30.20, WineAlign)

Here Sauvignon Blanc is wild and free, bares then sells its soul and is runnin’ with the devil. The expression is a free dance of varietal character, flinty and extremely juicy in simultaneous movements. Though the SO2 level is high (it cleans the passages), the compote is peachy, at times canned and soaking in syrup, but the accents are laden with capsicum, lactic white plums and wet grasses. Slightly bruised and/or oxidative, the mineral tang is pushy and formative. This is serious Niagara-on-the-Lake SB, crazy and compressed stuff. It lives its “life like there’s no tomorrow, finding “the simple life ain’t so simple.” Like vintage Van Halen.  Tasted January 2015  @PellerVQA

Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula (375ml), Ontario (405027, $39.95, WineAlign)

Inscribed into the Inniskillin ‘Discovery Series” for good reason, the BA Viognier is a product of luck and circumstance, a small parcel of grapes blessed with the not oft success of climate leading to ripening and noble rot. Grapes left to hang into late harvest (as opposed to freezing on the vine for the production of Icewine) is not a common Viognier practice. While the frank and masculine aromatic presence may be compromised here (the nose is quite reserved), the overall ubiquity is omnipresent and enveloping. Such a clean and young botrytis offers soft chords and a lifting voice. You can smell the fruits east and west; green and yellow plantain, peaches and plums. Flavours of lemon curd and pineapple arrive at a point where the tannin finds a way to “fuse it in the sun.” It can be imagined this Vendanges Tardives simulation will go long so “dream up, dream up, let me fill your cup, with the promise of a man.”  Tasted January 2015  @InniskillinWine

Good to go!

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From VINTAGES for Thanksgiving, in wine and with song

Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Photo: (www.leclosjordanne.com)

Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard
Photo: (www.leclosjordanne.com)

Whatever your plans are for Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, I highly recommend they include wine and music. Last year my picks to meet the bird emanated from a Loire state of mind. A new Sancerre makes this year’s shortlist because “you can always use a good Sancerre.”

Related – A Sancerre Thanksgiving

The consistency with which wine picks jive from one year to the next is self-consciously and self-prophecy predicting, to be sure, with Chile and California making repeat appearances. New and bold in choice for 2014 is the idea that “now you say Morocco and that makes me smile. I haven’t seen Morocco in a long, long while.” A promising wine region lurks in the North African dessert and for $15, find out for yourself.

Two years ago I also offered up a brief history lesson on the origins of Thanksgiving when I said “Canada, let me pour your Thanksgiving wines.” At the time I was not suggesting we all go out and fill a curved goat’s horn with fruit, grain and Pinot Noir.

There are better ways to get your cornucopia or horn of plenty on.

In 2013 the message was simple.  Thanksgiving is a weekend to celebrate the harvest, all that was once and will again be good. When I took a good look ahead at Canadian wines for Thanksgiving I meant what I said and I said what I meant. Canadian wine will impress you, 100 per cent.

Related – Good look ahead at Canadian wines for Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving the great indulgence that should grace your meditative and purposed consciousness is a local one. When should it not be? At a time when Thomas Bachelder was making wine at Le Clos Jordanne out of the vineyards on the Jordan Escarpment, greatness emanated and worship followed. Though it may have seemed so at the time, the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at LCJ were not the ideal terroir for Bachelder. His work there, albeit progressive, standard setting and earth shattering, was only a precursor for his true calling; to Wismer, Saunders, Willamette and Beaune. Granted his total touches seek and mine gold but the LCJ soils were meant for a different pair of mits.

Those hands belong to winemaker Sébastien Jacquey, Burgundian, naturist, environmentalist, terroirist.  Jacquey’s résumé reads like a laureate’s; university diploma in Technology and Biology in 2002. National Diploma in Oenology and Professional Agricultural Aptitude certificate in 2004 and Master of Earth and Environment studies, specializing in Vine Management and Terroir in 2005 at l’Institut Jules Guyot. Engineer of Oenology and Viticulture in 2007 at l’Institut Supérieur d’Agriculture, Rhones-Alpes.

It has taken Sébastien Jacquey a few vintages under belt (three as assistant and now two as chief winemaker) to feel the groove of his vineyards. To me, 2011 marks the turning point and the launch pad for the exceptional career that will define the winemaker. To a wine, every 2011 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir I have tasted has the finesse, restrained richness and markedly pure clarity of great Burgundy. More important is that the wines are clearly Niagara and even more so, distinctly Le Clos Jordanne. One step further even. All Sébastien Jacquey.

All of Ontario must rejoice, applaud and give credit to the effortless grace with which he is bringing evolution to the LCJ continuum. I urge you to try his wines. On this October 11th, 2014 VINTAGES release and in stores this coming Thanksgiving weekend the two eponymous vineyard bottlings hit the shelves. Try a Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard with friends and family. Then put another two away for future consideration. You will be glad you did. Here are 10 wines to seek out for the October long weekend and some tunes to spin alongside.

From left to right: San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Carmenère 2011

From left to right: Solar Das Bouças Loureiro 2013, Domaine De Sahari 2012, Argyros Assyrtiko 2013, Katogi & Strofilia Averoff Xinomavro 2008, San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Carmenère 2011

Solar Das Bouças Loureiro 2013, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (221036, $13.95, WineAlign)

Initially this opens slower than snail’s snot so “mute it to a whisper and spin your solar sister.” Petillance hidden, this is rich, greasy, fat and sumptuous Vinho Verde, not your avô’s take, that’s for certain. Can’t say I’ve yet nosed these kind of tropical aromas in VV before, so in that sense it’s a Posies breath of alternative, equatorial air. Comes back to pears and herbs, citrus on the palate and wraps up with wild acidity. Like frosting on the beater. Quite a bang for $14 bucks. Good, long finish. The minor spritz comes after the buzzer.  Tasted October 2014  @VinhoVerdeCA

Domaine De Sahari 2012, Guerrouane A.O.G., Morocco (92825, $14.95, WineAlign)

Considering the geography and the utter aridity of the climate, more than just latitude should be afforded this Vin Rouge de Maroc. That’s because it’s a well-made, properly judged, toothsome Bordeaux-styled blend. Think Australian claret, say from Margaret River or even Coonawarra. If “that’s much too old a story to believe,” have a taste and note the fine balance betwixt Cabernet and Merlot, between earth and sky. Slightly rustic and funky, there is real, leathery fruit and a wood-chalky texture. The acidity is wound tight and the residual sugar slightly elevated but if “you say Morocco and that makes me smile,” I’ll know I’ve just had a taste of something fine.  Tasted August 2014  @TandemSelection

Argyros Assyrtiko 2013, Santorini, Greece (387365, $19.95, WineAlign)

This Assyrtiko has a small bass note, down below, beneath the snare and the jump back. It causes quite a Rufus rumpus. Its got sax notes that drive a wild personality. While not blessed with the usual fruit to meet its acid intensity, the consistency persists. Santorini’s sun-drenched rocks break it down and the indigenous sapidity of Greek garrigue can’t help but stamp the authenticity. This needs to develop a year or two to get beyond its awkward, acetic adolescence. “If one should bite before I wake, jump back baby jump back.” It will serve purposed grilled meats when it does.  Tasted October 2014  @Santoriniwines  @KolonakiGroup

Katogi & Strofilia Averoff Xinomavro 2008, Pdo Naoussa, Greece (249615, $19.95, WineAlign)

It’s not that every Xinomavro is infallible but every Xinomavro is worth exploring. The Averoff is classic; smoky, rich plum meets cherry intensity, tannic and textured, layered, like old school Pinot Noir. Liqueur of Naoussa terra firma, rocks and sweet beets. Balance of earth, wind and fire, fun funky and moving. Shares the spice of life so “let this groove, light up your fuse, alright. Let this groove, set in your shoes.” Parts unknown gather to subvert the uninitiated and make them move to Greece.  Tasted October 2014  @katogistrofilia

San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Carmenère 2011, Maule Valley, Chile (249201, $19.95, WineAlign)

Nose of notable Carmenère character checked and in restraint. Certainly modern, somewhat fortified, but acceptably precipitous, delectable and fun. The whiffer is sweet pepper, currants and rings of defined tobacco. The give way goes to flavours silky in roasted pepper and a shot of espresso. If, “in the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive,” this Carmenère would have kept us warm. No cake, no jam, no overwrought excessive behaviour. Though like any good band, it does drive Dixie down. Well made.  Tasted October 2014  @Dandurandwines

From left to right: Jean Max Roger Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre 2012, Le Clos Jordanne Chardonnay Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard 2011,  Le Clos Jordanne Pinot Noir Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard 2011, Siduri Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012, Pommery Brut Silver Champagne

From left to right: Jean Max Roger Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre 2012, Le Clos Jordanne Chardonnay Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard 2011, Le Clos Jordanne Pinot Noir Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard 2011, Siduri Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012, Pommery Brut Silver Champagne

Jean Max Roger Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre 2012, Ac, Loire, France (65573, $26.95, WineAlign)

The most chalky, medicinal and intensely forward of the Jean Max Roger stable. Also the most floral and aromatic, like Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Muscat even. It is anything but, of course, and one taste quells thoughts of Rhône-ish or Alsatian aromatic whites and allows Sauvignon Blanc to give of its green grass and wet hay. There is a coarse, hoarse voice in Les Caillottes, the small pebble, stony, flinty Sancerre. It’s a striking, swashbuckling, swordplay but “clear the thistles and brambles” because time waits for Sancerre. Not years mind you, so drink this Cuvée out of the clay-limestone soils in the village of Bué and in the hamlet of Amigny between 2015 and 2017 for maximum pleasure.  Tasted October 2014  @oenophilia1

Le Clos Jordanne Chardonnay Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (33910, $40.00, WineAlign)

A 2011 assessment of the winery’s Chardonnay quartet shows this vineyard from the eastern section of the Le Clos Jordanne estate as divulging the most amplified soundgarden of floral proclivity. The cool vintage made demands for a choate winemaking process, all in the name of freshness. Vosges forests provided the bulk of the wood (15 per cent or less new oak), barrel ageing was ceased at 13 months and limited stirring in older barrels were all performed in the name of carrying the freshness name. Leaving them to age in bottle for up to six months prior to release confirmed the commitment to completing a prime time wine. The LCJ vineyard also expressed itself by way of candied marigold and nasturtium. This is Chardonnay with a full sunshine aspect, southerly and rich in ways not previously observed. It also shares an affinity with other 2011 Niagara whites, in citrus and fresh tendrils of burgeoning acidity, like simliar takes in Semillon and Riesling, in honeyed, stony layers. Balance is brought together by tannic texture, giving the wine grip and glide through a glade carpeted in ground cover, like lemon thyme and creeping sweet moss. For winemaker Sébastien Jacquey, this level of excellence may have been a “long time coming,” but it’s just the beginning.  Tasted October 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Le Clos Jordanne Pinot Noir Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench (33902, $45.00, WineAlign)

The most cherry meets earth LCJ to date, in the vein of a Cherry Road Pinot Noir, regardless the vintner. So much attention to clean fruit detail, this has lines and streaks of rock, chalk and variegated soil, piercings, tattoos and fine art running through its veins. Sébastien has coaxed maximum freshness and given it supporting balance. From my earlier February 2014 note: “Extremely good showing for this stalwart in what is becoming a classic Twenty Mile Bench vintage. Cran/Raspberry earthy-straw scents layered in a cake of overlapping, alternating flavours in raspberry (again) and quality chocolate. More intensity than the other ’11 LCJ’s at this early stage, simultaneously concentrated and light, like a ball-distributing point guard with 20-20 vision. Increased oak in dribble drive motion really ties the spiced flavours together, without sacrificing freshness. This will improve for five years, if not more. Winemaker Sébastien Jacquey must have called on his muse for this LCJ because “some kind of madness has started to evolve,” and from here on in this Pinot will solicit a “need to love.”  Last tasted October 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Siduri Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, California, USA (253369, $49.95, WineAlign)

The nonexclusive Sonoma Coast from Siduri comes by way of an even keeled vintage. It marries plush with lissomeness. Aptly concentrated while simultaneously acting out of pure Coast decorum, this is exemplary of place, mind and space. Pinot Noir that is “always looking for the sun to shine.” Raspberries romp through its fibers, reel, allow a minor savoury slant, then return, replay and remain the dominant fruit characteristic. Heading to the finish it’s momentarily ripping but the ripe and supple character ride on gentle waves, then bring it back to class. Can’t imagine it falling from grace anytime soon so enjoy to the end of the decade.  Tasted August 2014  @SiduriWines

Pommery Brut Silver Champagne, Ac, France (385161, $58.95, WineAlign)

The Silver is a gorgeous, grand green patina, stoic and manifest dry, classic glass of Champagne. Aromas are in exaction, in compliance and in direct connectivity to a grower’s condition. Just a sliver of earthy, sweet oxidative sumptuousness streaks up the middle palate, lingers, turns away from the sun and lets the mist fall in late. Fine, linear acidity takes over and tangs the tame beginning, which proceeds to relinquish submissively, relegating it as just a faint memory. “What a swell party this is! What Pommery!” Exceptional class, chaste and chasmic-bridging Champagne. Well, did you evah?  Tasted October 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Good to go!

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Gripping wines from Spain and Italy

Europe

How can winemaking trump terroir?
Photo: 1xpert/Fotolia.com

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Winemakers in the most famous regions of Spain and Italy have gone pro in the practicum of wine that speaks loud and clear. If there is a downside it is the blurring of lines and overlapping of circles, where regions set far apart show similar, if near identical characteristics in their wines. How does this happen? How can winemaking trump terroir?

The simple answer is wood. Barrel usage is a global affair, with wineries scouring oak forests the world over to age their wine. French oak is most used and whether you make wine in central Italy or northern Spain, the oak you employ may result in more than just the commonality of wood. If your processes are tied by similar or even identical ties, your wines may taste eerily like one another, if not outright like kissing cousins.

Despite the oligopoly of technique and the lack of winemaking individuality gone viral in this generation, there are three things that continue to work in favour of regional character. The first is obvious. Soil. Or, more importantly, the components, the rocks and minerals that fleck the earth. Secondly, attitude. Call it conceit if you like but when a winemaker has the guts to make wines we like to call grippy, you can’t help but stand up and take notice. Third and so important to the consumer, is price. Spending $15-30 on wines from the most historic locales such as Burgundy and Bordeaux is almost always nonsensical and a waste. No where else in the world offers grip, pomp and pride like Spain and Italy and in that go to mid-price range.

A pentavalent and benevolent group fits this requiem for commercial gain. Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat from Spain. Chianti and Abruzzo in Italy. A Venn diagram of commonality can be agglomerated from their proclivities. It is in these fab five Old World wine regions where a twain of ancient and state of the art collide. Here are seven gripping wines from Spain and Italy.

From left: CEPA 21 HITO 2010, ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, and RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004

From left: CEPA 21 HITO 2010, ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, and RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004

Ribera Del Duero

The history: Located in north-central Spain, on a plateau, 90 minutes from Madrid. Ribera, or “river bank,” extends from both sides of the Duero. The Denominación de Origen (D.O.) of Ribera del Duero dates back to 1982.

The lowdown: Highest average elevation in Europe for growing red wine grapes. Summers are hot, winters are cold, rainfall is minimal. Lower vineyards are alluvial with sand and reddish clay. Higher ones built of limestone, marl and chalk. Tempranillo in the main grape. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.

CEPA 21 HITO 2010, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (360503, $17.95, WineAlign)

Oh the shaken, modern humanity. Nothing shocking here, this 100 per cent Tempranillo parfait of silky chocolate, mixed berries, vanilla and wood chips. Finds parity in biting red cherry flavour. Though it may as well be any ambiguous, heterogeneous or hermaphroditic $30 IGT, its price puts it at the front of the line. Fun to drink, high-toned, textured and structured, though its origins are not at once obvious. Will evolve felicitously for five to seven years.  89  Tasted December 2013  @DrinkRibera

ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (355099, $21.95, WineAlign)

Amid a sea of Spanish reds, this Ribera stands alone as the most modern on the table. Dusty, trenchant dark chocolate, mocha crema, thick, syrupy, rehydrated plum fruit. Accented by both white and black pepper, anise and a late lash of astringent tannin. Abrasive as a pleading Waits croon, this Crianza is “better than a cup of gold. See only a chocolate Jesus can satisfy my soul.” Another Ribera with qualities akin to present day, Sangiovese dominated Chianti Classico. Immaculate confection.  89  Tasted December 2013  @EuroVinatage

RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004, Ribera Del Duero, Spain  (355107, $31.95, WineAlign)

Typically modern version with just the right amount of age. Interesting to see nearly 10 year-old Ribera, with so much obvious oak and modernity retain its fruit lushness and presence after such a chunk of time could have stripped away its freshness. Candied violets and pansy, peppery nasturtium and marble slab, rocky road ice cream. Oak nearly integrated but persistent in chalky texture. Confounding bareback ride on a wild 100 per cent Tempranillo horse that bucks as if Bordeaux or Rhône varieties would seem to bolster the whole.  90  Tasted December 2013

From left: CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D'ABRUZZO 2012, CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, and ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004

From left: CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 2012, CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, and ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004

Abruzzo

The history: Central Italy, stretching from the heart of the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea.

The lowdown: Mostly mountainous and wild terrain. The four DOC produced in Abruzzo are the Contro Guerra, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. Montepulciano is the most planted red variety. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2009 and 2010.

CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 2012, Abruzzo, Italy (663939, $17.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker superstar to be Francesco Cirelli does what more should do. Age organic grapes of purity and pristine quality in clay Amphore. The natural empathy and wisdom of crop rotation (for more than just grapevines) drives the logic and proportion of Cirelli’s wines. This Md’A smirks and balks at thoughts of it as entry-level, though it concedes to the moniker ’poster child’. From 15 year-old vines set in sandy clay soils near Atri in the Colline Teramane zone. The fruit is like raspberry felt, lifted, spritely, gregarious and inviting. The wine never plunges into bitterness, nor does it depend on any crutch to remain upright and weightless.  90  Tasted September 2013 and January 2014  @TheLivingVine

Chianti

The history: In central Tuscany. The two Chianti zones, Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), produce the largest volume of DOC/G wines in Italy.

The lowdown: Chainti Classico must have a minimum 80 per cent Sangiovese, the main variety of the region. Other indigenous grapes include Canaiolo and Colorino, bur Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also used. Soils vary from marl of layered sandstone, to chalk and clay, blue-grey sandstone and clay-limestone. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2007 and 2011.

CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, Tuscany, Italy  (680496, $22.95, WineAlign)

Heather meadow Sangiovese, emotive of old school Chianti Classico aromas, notably tea, new leather and sour cherry. Texturally succulent and lush, like mini-modern Sangiovese Grosso. Nearly syrupy and 90′s-styled by a heavy-handed, wood-soaked guilty conscience. The kind of CC to “waste away the weekend with perfect regard for how cavalier we used to be.”  89  Tasted December 2013  @ChiantiClassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Priorat

The history: In Catalunya, northeast Spain. The most recent regulations of the DOQ were defined in 2006.

The lowdown: Dominated by hillside vineyards with poor soils, the dark slate called Licorella and low-fielding old vines. Garnacha and Carinena are the most planted, but also international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.

PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, Priorat, Spain, (314559, $24.95, WineAlign)

Clearly contemporary, voluptuous Garnacha blend, in symmetry with foil Carinena, In support are small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon (10 per cent), Merlot (five) and Syrah (five). Chalk, grain and chocolate intensity, scents of dusty mulberry, menthol tobacco, eucalyptus and licorice. Works its international styling to great effect, if a bit heavy, woody and hollow up the middle. Lags just behind the stellar 2008 and yet this ’09 will have many a follower. Just a bit more structure would make it a prize.  89  Tasted December 2013

Rioja

The history: In northern Spain, on both sides of the River Ebro. The oldest Designation of Origin in Spain (DOCA), established in 1926.

The lowdown: Confluence of Atlantic and Mediterranean climates, with soils ranging from chalky-clay, to ferrous-clay and alluvial. Tempranillo is the most planted (red) grape. Finest recent vintages include 2005, 2005, 2010 and 2011.

ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004, Rioja, Spain (725895, $25.95, WineAlign)

The animal that is an ’04 Rioja Reserva is a VINTAGES darling. Here is yet another example in a long line-up spread out over several months of releases. 2004 palate fatigue should certainly have set in but for this youthful yet learned Ontañón. The dichotomy is not lost with much wood to be nosed though it’s neither abstruse nor resinous. More like a smoking cedar plank beneath the rendering weight of a slow-roasting porcine slab. Tangy cherry, sour plum and really stretched length. Mineral finish. Brillo Tempranillo with a touch of Graciano.  91  Tasted December 2013  @TandemSelection

Good to go!

You can lead a county to the city

South Bay Winery vineyard in Prince Edward County PHOTO: POSTMEDIA NEWS

as seen on canada.com

It’s time to discover the wines of bucolic Prince Edward County in south-central Ontario, a place possessed and structured of a learned and cultured essence. If you were born in PEC you likely never left and if you did, probably returned. Then there are those who migrated in search of an anti-metropolitan lifestyle. The landscape is encompassed by water, dotted with folkloric towns, farms and cottages. Wine destination comparisons might be made; to Niagara, to Muskoka, the Finger Lakes, the North Fork of Long Island, to parts of California. No definitive connection is obvious. After tasting through the formidable pours at County in the City last Thursday at the Berkeley Church in Toronto, it became abundantly clear that the wines are unique in and amongst themselves and also bound together as one. The refrain holds true. It must be the rocks.

The grape growers, winemakers and 30 some odd wineries in PEC are no longer a gaggle of obscure, off the beaten path, parochial folk. Their serious VQA wines are establishing footholds in our metropolitan markets. The County’s adage may well be, “you can lead a farmer to grapevines,” a sure statement of the obvious. This event proved you can also lead them to the city.

Photo: Wine Align

Photo: Wine Align

“The County” as it is affectionately known is Ontario’s newest and suddenly dynamic wine appellation. It’s climate and geological make-up has been compared to Burgundy, the world’s benchmark region for growing and producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Chardonnay is clearly the County’s signature variety, its staff of life, but the excitement extends well beyond that comfort zone. Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris, Vidal and especially sparkling wines are making inroads along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But what about Gamay? Casa Dea’s Paul Battilana crafts a Sparkling Rosé from estate grapes. Chadsey’s Cairns and Troumpour’s Mill both make solid Gamay Noir. Battilana makes a still Gamay, as does Hillier Creek Estates. Time for others to join the #GoGamayGo party.

Prince Edward County wineries are increasing their collective engagement in many ways. The PEC chapter of the Ontario Wine Society held their inaugural event April 27th, 2013, County Character at Hillier Town Hall. PEC winemakers have joined the progressive wine on tap program too, like Rosehall Run, Norman Hardie and sparkling wine specialist Hinterland Wine Company, who is kegging Charmat, Prosecco-style bubbles for Barque Smokehouse.  The coming months offer many opportunities to taste the County. The Terroir festival in late May is an annual showcase of the area’s rocks, soil and new release wines, put on by the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association. Wassail takes place in late fall/early winter, celebrates the harvest and the laying of the vines to rest. The summer of 2013 will be a great time to visit PEC and follow its wine trail.

Here are nine wines of note tasted at Wine Align‘s County in the City at The Berkeley Church.

From left: Sandbanks Rosé 2012, Casa Dea Estates Winery Cabernet Franc 2009, Lighthall Gewürztraminer 2011, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010, Exultet Chardonnay ‘The Blessed’ 2011, and Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2010

Sandbanks Rosé 2012 (244616, $12.95) whispers summer by the lake in the face of a fading pastel, pink sunset. A magical and inexpensive combination of subtle strawberry, cream and bright acidity. Who would ask for more?  87  @SandbanksWinery

Keint-He Vineyards Voyageur Vidal 2012 ($17, winery only) is a warm and aromatic expression having taken full advantage of the vintage. Yellow and orange flesh melon abounds in sweetness tempered by just enough limestone influenced acidity. Incredibly easy to drink. Breathes new life into white wine.  88  @KeintheWinery

Casa Dea Estates Winery Cabernet Franc 2009 (241612, $18.95, winery) coaxed maximum density from the vintage in fleshy, black cherry and yet is anhydrous from chocolate dust. Chalk up another redacted red from Casa Dea, in the same vein as the plush, ruby ’09 Pinot Noir. All of Paul Battilana’s wines are priced and offered like an open door. Mi Casa Dea et su Casa Dea.  88  @PECWinemaker

Norman Hardie Pinot Gris 2012 ($25, winery only) bottled one week ago, is not as you might think, in shock. A cleanse of pure pear purée with an open invitation for immediate gratification. Mellifluous and with no discernible A16 whatsoever. This one’s good to go. Who comes by chance will be the more easily let go. “Lay down my darling,” this PG ain’t for keeping.  91  @normhardie

Lighthall Gewürztraminer 2011 ($25, winery only) succeeds because less is more. Less lychee, more lightness of being. This is Glenn Symons’ 2nd vintage from the famed Wismer Vineyards in Niagara (Jordan). Refuses to club you over the head with “correctness.” Despite the lack of oily, nutty and tropical girth it’s suffused with crisp pleasure.  90  @lighthallvyard

Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010 ($29.95, winery only) from 100% Pinot Noir grapes is a phenomenal, inaugural genesis effort. More sanguine in colour than one would imagine, this sparkler is wonderfully sweet but also “turns sweat, turns sour.” Pinot Noir is always potentially so dramatic but who knew it could be like this, like blood swirling in the glass. “Bottled in a strong compression,” with black raspberry, noticeable yeast and impressive finesse.  Out of the cage.  91  @HuffEstatesWine

Rosehall Run Wines Photo: Michael Godel

Rosehall Run Wines
Photo: Michael Godel

Rosehall Run ‘The Swinger’ Syrah 2011 ($34.95, winery only) gets my attention not just because it’s the only commercially planted and bottled Syrah in PEC but because it stands in front of the orchestra. I gotta believe winemaker Dan Sullivan cares deeply about this wine from fruit sourced on Dick Singer’s Fieldstone Vineyard. Nothing fatuous about its smoky, tart cranberry, Sangioveseness kissed by the salty waves of an unseen ocean. The Swinger “ain’t no cherry bomb,” waits for no one, with its tobacco voice, gravel, rocks and sand. Like a sweet little bullet from a pretty blue gun.  90  @Rosehall_Run

Exultet Chardonnay ‘The Blessed’ 2011 ($35, winery only) is exemplary even if it may not be proprietor Gerard Spinosa’s favourite vintage. Commands an ineffable presence in gold sheen and parses meaning through balance and poise. The new oak is very noticeable but the ’11 acidity is grand. Their integration is seamless, the wine shines and a few years time will only increase its lustre.  92  @ExultetEstates

Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2010 (310474, $39.95, winery) has improved dramatically over the course of a year, now red verging to black fruit, if only for a fleeting moment of temporary insanity, in a Sonoma state of mind. Silky smooth, “the textures coat my skin.” Though I have seen “the best (Pinot Noir) minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” this CCV uses a cured bresaola flavour and a vivid flower scent to invigorate, ground the humidity and the “earthy beet.” Musical, earthy beat, as in All Cats are Grey meets Howl.  92  @ClossonChase

Good to go!

Lock, stock and sparkling wines

PHOTO: MICHAEL GODEL, FOR CANADA.COM

as seen on canada.com

 

Some invitations are just better than others. On the rarest of occasions the thrill is easily won, such as my recent inclusion at an epic wine and food tasting. On Tuesday I sampled nine delectable dishes prepared by Chefs Todd Clarmo and David Chow at Stock Restaurant in the Trump Hotel Toronto.

The invite came by way of Wine Country Ontario and PR Director Magdalena Kaiser-Smit. The purpose? To sample 18 Ontario sparkling wines, presented alongside Chefs’ cuisine, by house Sommelier Zoltan Szabo. The food and wine pairings were sublimely orchestrated, elevated by the assistance of and in turn, kudos is to be fired out Master Sommelier John Szabo‘s way.

Be immersed in the emerging industry that is Ontario Sparkling wine and you will find yourself amazed. Angelo Pavan of Cave Spring Winery spoke to the group and was emphatic in saying “Niagara is not trying to make Champagne,” but, he added, ” I think we in Niagara can do Sparkling wine better than anywhere in the world, with the exception of Champagne.”

Lead by the pioneers Château des Charmes, Trius and later, Henry of Pelham, production of Ontario bubbles began to take off after 2000. Pavan didn’t want to try at first because, “it was too much work.” At some point he realized that our climate is more than ideal, most notably because acidity does not drop off in Niagara, due to an extended harvest time. Warm climate producers (like California, South Africa and Australia) may have a two to three-day harvest window and they have to pick at night, or else the grapes begin to oxidize. Pavan sees warm climate, New World fizz as very drinkable, if soft, lacking in acidity and balance.

The production of vintage-dated fizz in Ontario is certainly fashionable, as witnessed by more than 60% of the wines present, but for the purposes of consistency, local weather conditions should see the future trending a non-vintage path.

Sparkling Wine Tasting

Stock Restaurant at the Trump Hotel

December 11th, 2012

First Group of Nine

Casa-Dea Estates Winery, Dea’s Rosé 2011 ($19.95) charms like Strawberry seltzer with a sappy tang and the chalky, calcareous limestone schist of Prince Edward County.  87

Château des Charmes, Rosé Sparkling Wine, Estate Bottled 2009 ($28.95) elevates pink bubbles from a good, acidified vintage with red pear, pink grapefruit aromas. A bit unpronounced, though that works for balance, keeping the A16 and confiture in check.  87

Angels Gate, Archangel Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs 2010 ($21.95) bursts forth in a big, barm way. I hope that I don’t fall in love with this B de B. Inflection the colour of lime and duly scented, but also pithy lemon. Parochial attitude, cutting to tonic at closing time and “the music’s fading out.” Didn’t happen.  86

Mike Weir Wine, Sparkling Brut 2009 ($24.95) shows off a premium mousse with the finest mist yet. Minor atomic note, with pear, mild toast and a touch of residual sweetness. Honeycomb gives way to the slightest charred, cabbage accent. Not unlike Loire Vouvray in that sense.  88

Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate, Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2009 ($22.95) is a sweet-smelling misty mousse waterfall where white grapefruit replays from vapor to flavour. Dryest fizz yet playing the Angostura angle. Good length.  88

Cave Spring Cellars, Blanc de Blancs Brut NV ($29.95) sees no malolactic fermentation and sits at the top end of dry (12-14 dosage). Most of the fruit is 2008, despite the NV designation. A soda fountain of argon and nitrogen bunsens forth through clean lines and carries an entire cider house orchard of Spartan apple. This one certainly hints at Champagne-like characteristics, of brioche and toast. The apples never relent.  89

Flat Rock Cellars, 2008 Riddled ($24.95) is a completely different animal. “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key.” The key might be the yeast that brings animale to the wine. A bit fat and flat, with tropical notes of lychee and almond. Speeds up but is a bit of an acquired taste.  87

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery, Cuvée Catharine NV ($29.95) is a classic bottling, quite refined, offers the most yeast yet and is obviously the most Champagne-like of the eight so far sampled to this point. A go to Pinot and Chardonnay blend, essential bubbles for holiday cheer.  89

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery, Cuvée Catharine Estate Blanc De Blancs ‘Carte Blanche’ 2007 ($44.95) turns the brioche quotient up several notches and is consistent with last month’s note: “combines the exceptional ’07 growing season’s rich fruit with early harvested acidity and extreme patience to result in one serious Ontario sparkling wine. A frothing tonic of citrus zest, baking apples, soda bread, cut grass and creamy grume. Long and true.” 90

Ontario Sparkling & Culinary Tastes

Begin

Baby Kale & Heirloom Carrot Salad

russet apple, québec goat cheese

Cold Poached Lobster Salad

organic greek yogurt & bergamot dressing

Hamachi, Fennel & Citrus Crudo

chilli and tarragon

The Grange of Prince Edward, Sparkling Riesling 2010 ($24.95) seems more late harvest, Spätlese than Sparkling. Nectarous juice with a squeeze of suspended honey and a light citrus spritz. Waited for the sear but it didn’t arrive. Good Riesling though.  85

Trius Winery, Trius Brut NV ($24.95) emerges as elegance defined for dry, Niagara effervescence. Pear, poivre and candlenut do battle then the wine turns and walks silently away. Had its moment in the sun but is perhaps not so refined.  87

Tawse Winery, David’s Block Chardonnay “Spark” 2009 ($39.95) has thankfully shed its baby fat, the cheesy whey that sat atop all else last time I tasted. Today the epoisses is now mild Niagara Gold, or a creamy, Triple-Cream Brie. Still a wine of lees and leisure, with tangy green apple and sharp, piquant flavour.  88

Continue

Braised Veal Shank

yukon potato gnocchi, picholine olives

Roasted Magret of Duck a L’Orange

buttered savoy cabbage

Maple Broiled Black Cod

edamame puree

Huff Estates, Cuvée Peter F. Huff 2008 ($39.95) works expertly alongside the veal. Austere, dry, flinty wine of slate, like Chablis. Green apple, lemon, lime and almond. A bit tough but well-built.  90

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery, Cuvée Catharine Rosé NV ($29.95) and its fine, strawberry mousse is at the head of its Ontario class. Vanilla, Ida Red apple and bitter nut combine like a smooth, creamy, Mediterranean spread to dip the warmest, fresh-baked bread.  91

13th Street Winery, Premier Cuvée 2008 ($34.95) perpetuates the apple theme but here it is subdued, sweet and with blossoms too. There is honeycomb, citrus and an herbal, grassy component no other wine has shown. Lean, perhaps but that’s the minerals talking. Very pretty.  91

Finish

Coffee Crusted Pecorino Romano

clementine gratin

White Chocolate Ganache

greek yogurt, carrot, yuzu

Pain Perdu

tangerine, lychee, marcona almond

Cave Spring Cellars, Blanc de Noirs Brut 2006 ($34.95) is age apparent, tanning ever so slightly. Dry, amber toast, nutty notes, really well-balanced. Fun to see this development, even if it’s fading gracefully.  90

Inniskilin Wines, Sparkling Vidal Icewine 2011 ($79.95) is delicious, don’t think it isn’t, but the high proportion of ice wine makes it just that. Not convinced the bubbles add any depth. This is Icewine first and Sparkling wine second.  Novelty.  88

Hinterland, Ancestral 2012 ($25.00) is not the best wine but it steals the show. The dayglo colour should lead to a cloying sweetness but no, it’s remarkably off-dry. Cherries, not strawberries are here and yes, in a Kool-Aid kind of aromatic way. The taste is very savoury and the sweetness is brought out by the Pecorino.  90

Good to go!

20 August, four plates, seven wines

Wine and food are always on the brain. Twenty-four seven. Produce picked from an Ontario backyard will seek out, then effortlessly accrete with Niagara and Prince Edward County grapes. Meats off the barbecue or out of the smoker are rapt to deeply cut, sub-tropical reds, voices possessive of a pantheistic tenor. Here are seven wines and four food ideas to wend pleasure your way for the last two weeks of summer.

Related – Going Rhône for the dog days of August

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Fielding Estate’s top tier, Rock Pile Pinot Gris is a benchmark for Ontario

The lowdown: Winemaker Richie Roberts’ second vintage for his estate bottling of the varietal. Seems to be his Alsatian baby

The food match: Butter Greens, homegrown tomatoes, edible flowers and mustard vinaigrette

Fielding Pinot Gris 2011 (251108, $21.95) casts a copper penny penumbra where sweet lime and simple, prickly pear syrup buffets shake and bake. The catalyst tang of pit fruit would see this developing to honey, spice and Madeira, not unlike last night’s Trimbach 2008. My preference is for fresh PG so drink up, with eggs and sausage. Time waits for no one. “Drink in your summer, gather your corn.”  88

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: First planted vineyard in the Edna Valley of California’s Central Coast

The lowdown: A host of under $20 quality Chablis on the market is proof that unoaked Chardonnay is not only viable, but sustainable. California needs to follow suit

The food match: Pan-Roasted Herb, Lemon and Garlic Marinated Chicken, green beans, piri-piri sauce

Chamisal Unoaked Stainless Chardonnay 2011 (289223, $25.95) is an affidavit of California’s agrestal fruit quality and complexity so why more vineyards can’t lay off the manipulations and bottle this style is beyond me. Animated green apple, lime and orange zest are the spark for clean, resolute Chardonnay. Yum.  90

The grape: Riesling

The history: From Germany’s venerable Mosel Saar Ruwer region

The lowdown: Designated Prädikatswein, the highest level of German quality category

The food match: Blue Plate Special: Veal, pork and beef meatloaf with spicy bbq glaze

Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett 2011 (160846, $19.95) noses sweet, red apple, wet granite and Dr. My Eyes see a blue hue, like the shadowy, filtered light on mid-winter ice and snow. Meritorious fruit grown out of Devonian seabeds saturates juice before using. Tight grip of acidity and WASP terroir shows there is nothing loose about the good doctor’s Riesling.  89

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Dorothée, we’re not in Burgundy anymore

The lowdown: Calera has been lauded for some serious, single-vineyard Pinots. This one is sourced  from seven vineyards in San Luis Obispo, San Benito, Santa Clara and Monterey counties

The food match: Grilled Wild B.C. Salmon

Calera Pinot Noir 2009 (933044, $31.95) of wet Pacific clay colour is light and retains a wisp of Central Coast smoke and tar in its profile. No candy factory here, which is a good thing. I’m hopeful the restrained style will help to usher is a new Cal-era for Pinot. Earth shattering bottle? No. Greatest Pinot value? Not so much. Good juice? Absolutely.  89

The grape: Montepulciano

The history: From the Abruzzo region of east-central Italy, not to be confused with the southern Tuscany village of  Montepulciano

The lowdown: Two years ago these wines were not even on the radar. Now some of the best <$15> values on the planet

The food match: Barque’s Smoked Beef Brisket

Caldora Colle Dei Venti Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2009 (289629, $15.95) does not hide the rendering new oak influence to resemble an extra-large cup of Starbucks bold. MD’A of a dichotomous nature, Dominican and birch elegant, arboreal, fruity. Very vanilla.  88

The grape: Aglianico

The history: At its best in Campania but also flourishing in Basilicata and here, in Molise

The lowdown: Arguably the best producer in the newest region in Italy, located on the big toe of Italy’s foot

The food match: Grilled Flank Steak with warm tomato jam

Di Majo Norante Contado Riserva Aglianico Del Molise 2009 (967208, $15.95) is stark, raving modern. A wash of Rothko Black on Maroon colour of “oppressive, almost frightening, grandeur.” Heavily pedimented Aglianico, tasting of black licorice in fiery, Sambuca form.  88

The splurge

The grape: Sangiovese Grosso

The history: Sangiovese of irreverent ilk, from Montalcino in southern Tuscany

The lowdown: Not a sneeze of a price but still of the mortal world. An example for near-immediate enjoyment

The food match: Grilled Lamb Kebabs

Verbena Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (165126, $37.95) seems at first bewitched by iron and animale but magically gives way to a twinkling, lulu Tabitha nose. A fleeting spell is cast to induce an impulse buy. If you want to experience Brunello, start here, find reverence for its narcissistic beauty and watch it be “turned to a flower.” Supper’s ready and waiting for the Verbena .  90

Good to go!