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

16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

he-always-distracted-me-so-that-i-thought-of-nothing-else-while-listening-to-the-words-and-the-sound-of-his-voice

He has always distracted me so that I thought of nothing else while listening to the words. And the sound of his voice.

Compiling a best of wine list is never easy. Not when the subject matter is the most fleeting of consumables, a drink ever-changing, almost never tasting the same twice and destined for eventual failure. We know by instinct that wines cast the shadow of their own destruction before them and are designed from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins. Wine critics can only regard what is in the glass by what sensory enjoyment or displeasure is activated at that exact time. In most cases there are no second chances.

I do my best to taste wines twice before passing judgement. Too often I can’t fulfill this prophecy, especially when plodding through 100-plus on a VINTAGES release. In 2016 I made a great effort to visit these 16 wines three times before penning a review. It was not always possible but I tried. When it comes to Canadian wines and even more so with wines from Ontario, there are often second and third chances. And so I feel very confident in sharing this definitive list with you.

Hallelujah

It must be said that 2016 was a most difficult year. Too many special people were taken from us far too early. I lost two friends this fall as I’m sure some of you did as well. Many of us dwell on favourite celebrity deaths and especially the loss of musicians, some of us more than others. If you are one who takes to social media to mock the romantic who shares grief with others at the loss of a musical icon, well just skip past this and go straight to the wines. Or please refrain from comment and respectfully remain quiet.

David Bowie. Prince. Leonard Cohen. Sir George Martin. Glenn Frey. Paul Kantner. Leon Russell. Keith Emerson. Greg Lake. Alan Vega. Mose Allison. Bernie Worrell. Muhammad Ali. Gene Wilder. Arnold Palmer. Craig Sager. David Huddleston. Ken Howard. George Kennedy. Abe Vigoda. Ron Glass. Florence Henderson. Fuck 2016. And this tree fell on my house.

hows-your-sunday-going-so-far

How’s your Sunday going so far?

On a much brighter note 2016 was a banner year for tasting Canadian wines. It also provided a vintage of quantity meets quality and one that was desperately needed, especially here in Ontario. My tasting regimen saw no quit or slow down in 2016. I’m not sure how many Canadian wines I tasted but if it was less than a thousand I’d be shocked. I tasted more at home, assessed a greater number in the LCBO’s sensory lab, delved deeper at the WineAlign office and spread the web wider at events in Ontario. I judged with Tony Aspler at the Ontario Wine Awards, in Penticton at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and with David Lawrason at Gold Medal Plates.

Related – 15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

In 2015 I counted 15 on the filtered list. In 2014 the highlights numbered 14, just as in 2013 the number chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine was 13. And so forth will lead to 17 in 2017.

welcome-muller_brent-to-team-red-with-nazlanmak-captain-treve_ring-nwac16-winealign

Welcome @muller_brent to team RED! with nazlanmak captain @treve_ring #nwac16 @winealign

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

And again, I quote. “Picking a top anything list is both a chore and a labour of loyalty. The opportunities to learn more about Canadian-made wine, especially the processes and the efforts, were numerous in 2014. Canadian winemakers opened their doors and when people came, they taught. They walked the vineyards, showed off their prized barrels and walked through the processes of making wine. Tasting and barrel rooms make for the greatest classrooms. Get out there in 2015. The experience is priceless.” In 2017, trust in Canadian wine.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

return-syrah-engagement-creeksidewine-pouring-on-tap-barquebbq-and-barquebutchers-freshtap-wineontap

Return Syrah engagement @CreeksideWine pouring on tap @barquebbq and @barquebutchers #freshtap #wineontap

My wine on tap program at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar added some new wines in 2016 to follow those poured from Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus and Leaning Post. Between the Lines, Coyote’s Run, Vineland Estates and new offerings from Creekside continue to fill your glasses.

The year began with great excitement at Niagara’s Icewine Festival in January. In February I returned for Cuvée Weekend. In June we convened the WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards in the Okanagan Valley and a confession I need to make is that I wanted to publish with the title “Why you don’t know shit about B.C. wine” but chickened out at the last second and instead came out with Why you don’t know jack about B.C. wine. Before judging we paid a visit with The Wines of British Columbia for the Judgement of B.C. The second annual cage match was hosted by the B.C. Wine Institute and took place on Tuesday, June 21, pitting 12 B.C. Wines against 12 acknowledged global benchmarks. Riesling and Pinot Noir squared off, curated by DJ Kearney and judged by a who’s who of Canadian wine writers, critics and educators, along with international WineAlign Awards judges Dr. Jamie Goode and Elaine Chukan Brown.

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How lucky we all were to have her back in the captain’s chair. Happy Canada Day @djwines #nwac16

As the week progressed, the WineAlign judges paid visits to Okanagan Crush Pad Winery in Summerland, Culmina Family Estate Winery in Oliver, Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna, Rustic Roots Winery with the Similkameen Wineries Association and Deep Roots Winery on the Naramata Bench. I tasted more than 100 wines over the course of the five days from the appellations of Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Falls, Oliver-Osoyoos, Golden Mile, Similkameen Valley and Naramata Bench. At the awards I tasted more than 500 Canadian wines.

Of greatest importance was my return to the International Chardonnay Cool Climate conference that took place between July 22nd and July 24th in Niagara. Before attending for a fourth straight year I penned The democracy of Cool Chardonnay. It was there I wrote that “plus has joined the i4c, an ideogram of addendum, a character of diversity for the fluently persuasive and forceful congress. This gathering will open its arms for colour and to allow its constituents to regale with what they do best. For an event-driven pure as single-varietal snow and formerly known exclusively as chardonnay, is this really a shocker? This is the reality of democracy.”

#cool

People bitched and moaned. How can a chardonnay conference include other grape varieties? Sacrilege and foul play they (secretly and not so secretly) complained. In the end the inclusion of red varietals confused nothing and no one. Chardonnay remained the focus and the star. No chardonnay were harmed.

We broke cool climate bread and spread chardonnay gospel with Ian D’Agata (Decanter, Vinous.com), John Szabo M.S. (Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power), Jean-François Bordet and Françoise Roure from Wines of Chablis. We tasted with sixty winemakers at the School of Cool, “Flights of Chardonnay” at Niagara District Airport and the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner at Ridley College in St. Catharines, Ontario. Red wines were poured after dinner!

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Only American presidential candidates carry babies at #i4c @coolchardonnay

We welcomed writer Kurtis Kolt from Vancouver, sommeliers Carl Villeneuve-Lepage and Elyse Lambert from Quebec. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Tex-Somm Director James Tidwell made the long trip north and a second Canadian courting immersion in as many months was performed by visionary wine raconteur Elaine Brown.

So what did Godello learn from Cool Chardonnay in 2016? Well, he found out that we have to look at organoleptics and ask a very important question. Is your expectation of a Chablis going to be the same as chardonnay made from anywhere else? More important, who are we putting this wine in front of? Ian D’agata’s take struck a Canadian chord.  He talked of “a welcome astringency characterized by piercing flavours. These are cool-climate wines.  Cool climate chardonnay is not about a long litany of fruit descriptors. If you have a cool-climate viticultural area it behooves you to give the people what they are looking for.”

potential-is-the-past-somewhereness

Potential is the past @Somewhereness

After i4c16 I took part in an Impromptu tasting at Ravine. Four months later the intrepid sophist Scott Zebarth and I tasted with winemaker Marty Werner for a second time. That same day we visited with J-L Groux at Stratus and with Paul Pender at Tawse. Our focus was cabernet franc. That report is coming soon and I can promise this. The 17 in 2017 and 18 in 2018 will be graced by cabernet franc. Fall events were led by the constitutive Somewhereness, as fundamental and essential as any agminate Ontario tasting can and will ever be. Then there was the Great Canadian Oysters and Wine Experience at Rodney’s Oyster House. The event was hosted by Wine Country Ontario and paired a curated who’s who of Ontario VQA wines with the local iconic fare. Exceptional all around.

%22ill-do-what-i-can-so-you-can-be-what-you-do-%22-rodneystoronto-coasttocoast-oysters-winecountryontario-dukes-peioysters-bcoysters-elliotsmith-greatcanadianoystersandwineexperience

“I’ll do what I can so you can be what you do.” @rodneystoronto #coasttocoast #oysters #winecountryontario #dukes #peioysters #bcoysters #elliotsmith #greatcanadianoystersandwineexperience

Where are we now?

Despite all the talk of rules, regulations and governing boards that restrict movement, labelling and profits, the Canadian landscape is evolving in a beneficent direction. Though the move to loosen monopoly control and increase competition has backfired in the short term, corrections to British Columbia’s wine trade will happen, sort itself out and right the ship. Decades of bureaucracy don’t dismantle and do right by the consumer overnight. Things always get worse before they get better. The move to supermarkets in Ontario is indeed one of smoke and mirrors but it opens the door to gaining advantage through loopholes and creative minds kickstarting new business ventures. The wave to privatization can no longer be averted or snuffed out. Momentum will gain traction and open the flood gates to wine trade nirvana.

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The man, the chardonnay @normhardie #princeedwardcounty ’14 #vqa #winecountryontario “As sure as fire will burn There’s one thing you will learn Is things you have cherished Are things that you have earned.” #tomwaits #littleman

Canadian wines run more or less of their own accord, not so much thanks to the winemakers or the condition of the current culture, as in spite of them. And certainly not by virtue of any particular ethos through customs and traditions going back over many generations of wines. No, success and cumulative proficiency exists by dint of these wines without any forced supervision. They are governed by themselves and indeed across the entire industry. Done are the blanketing days of spare and often powerful Canadian wines that were often too spare, so that the ribs of tannin showed through in painful obviousness. The embracing of cool climate idiosyncrasy and unique-somewhereness make Canada the envy of the developing wine world.

Controversy

Now this. VQA is expected to pass regulatory approval and introduce a new category of wines called “skin contact whites.” While Orange wines are the most notable example of skin contact whites, who’s to say the ambiguity of the designation could not impel the inclusion of other cabalistic and achromatic specimens? Let’s look at Riesling as a perfect example.

skin-contact-riesling-from-mackbrisbois-trailestatewine-invisibly-stitched-and-tart-pan-curl-burgunder-less-than-50-cases-hughes-lakeview-foxcroft

Skin contact #Riesling from @MackBrisbois @TrailEstateWine Invisibly stitched and tart-pan curl. #burgunder less than 50 cases #hughes #lakeview #foxcroft

Leaning Post’s The Geek, Trail Estate’s Skin Contact Foxcroft and Pearl Morissette’s Blackball are all atypical, mad scientist outtakes. Will the new category allow these wines to pass easily through the borders of VQA? Will the wall regarding place of origin on labelling be the next to crumble? Let’s hope reason in the name of progress born out of trust for altruistic and dedicated producers will carry through to a new frontier. Right Bruno and Jens?

New Kid in Town

You might notice that all 16 wines I have chosen are from very established producers. The next wave of young winemakers and wineries is taking shape in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and especially in Nova Scotia. I would expect new kids on the list in the coming years. I want you all to know that I traveled through great pains, algorithmic calculations and much unavoidable emotion to arrive at this rocking list. For every wine that made the grade there were three more that narrowly missed. They are all important but these 16 combine lyricism with melody. They write the songs.

Flat Rock Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara PeninsulaPhoto: Brian Barton - Guelph, Ontario

Flat Rock Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula
Photo: Brian Barton – Guelph, Ontario

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (1552, $24.95, WineAlign)

It’s as if this label had bided all this time to be the benefactor of 2013 fruit. This Rusty Shed, this 20 miler with the track record to age, a wine that sheds baby fat over a 10 year mineral through echelon stratum, in ways few other peninsula to bench chardonnay can do. This Jay Johnston handled surfer of a wine, buoyant and balanced, centred and able to withstand turbulence, oscillation and tidal sway. Here with sumptuous and spiralled fruit gaged in lode intervals and a tartness held in lope and line by a membrane of extract and tannin. Best ever. Showing well, repeatedly and to forecasted repute. Impressing critics and consumers alike. Bravo. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted June 2016  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

sometimes-there-comes-a-wine-of-the-impossible-at-the-frontier-this-by-synchromeshwine-riesling-stormhavenvineyard-okanaganfalls-8-9

Sometimes there comes a wine, of the impossible, at the frontier. This by @SynchromeshWine #riesling #stormhavenvineyard #okanaganfalls #8.9%

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

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

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Ah, geek out, le geek, c’est chic @LeaningPostWine #pinotnoir & #riesling lees experiments #pushingboundaries

Leaning Post Riesling “The Geek” 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Senchuk and swot-out cohort Ryan de Witte pulled 350 litres of riesling aside, accoutred with all readily available lees and shacked the whole gross mess in tank together, Vinification was completed at nine grams (RS) nearly-dry, in what can only be described as a reductive, cloudy, super-geeky riesling. Acquires an increased resonance from its designation stowed at a way station on what really is a longer, personal journey. The 2015 will be bone dry and like this ’14 will sit for 18 months in encouragement of a truly experimental, waiting for something to happen riesling. Time will act to fill in the gaps and increase its already developed texture. If you have ever had the pleasure you will see this as Jean-Pierre Frick-ish to be sure. When asked the question, he ‘The Geek’ will repeatedly reply, “I am not ready.” Drink 2018-2022.   Tasted March 2016  @LeaningPostWine  @Witte_Wine

if-the-establishment-wants-what-you-got-give-it-to-them-blackball-14-riesling-by-pearlmorissette

If the establishment wants what you got give it to them. Blackball ’14 #riesling by @PearlMorissette

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2014, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (416073, $32.20, WineAlign)

One whiff and you are hep to what can only be Pearl Morissette, but with a neoteric twist. Riesling that flaunts full-frontal, of furthered acidity, vitality and multi-tined nuance. Farther too of age advanced but without any quirky or funky naturalist intrusion. Already chill, relaxed and with thanks to the vintage, almost round. The precise weave is tapestry fine and deceptively simple, what François Morissette likes to call a “crystallized cream of texture.” The oversized 2012 still digests itself, ’13 is organoleptically structured, long and cool. But ’14? A ‘no foudres’ vintage, from 100 per cent concrete fermentation, wild through malolactic and with zero grams of residual sugar. Bone dry. Concrete was chosen for must intricacy, palate texture, flavour and necessary balance. Riesling borne of crunchy, concrete desire, bright, with preserved lemon across the palate, gentle, feminine and beautiful. This is the focused consistency in loyalty to ’12 and ’13. Try and stereotype this Black Ball to Vin Nature funk. I dare you. Pour it in an expansive Ontario riesling flight and it will stand out like a solar flare in a fulmination of fireworks. There will be no mid-life, black hole of disappearance crisis. It will always be fine and pristine, drink well, like an impossibly dry version of a Coulée de Serrant. Only 186 cases were made so yes, the Blackball is a wine of very small production. Establishes yet another reference point and just wait for ’15. That vintage will deliver the greatest of bones. The new age will really launch then. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted November 2016  @PearlMorissette  @lassvet

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

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

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

Charles Baker Rieslings

Charles Baker Rieslings

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

There was this intuitive moment with Picone 2013 as if it was waiting on me. Not doting or soliciting, but waiting. I will admit to have been wondering, reeling and speculating. To peer or peek into what Mark Picone’s Vinemount Ridge vineyard would adjudge and then bestow Charles Baker’s riesling in 2013? Would it be a case of weight, hyperbole, a hang in the balance out of misjudged necessity? Nah. Picone is no longer a mature 20 year-old vineyard but now a wise old thirty year-old one. Picone 2013 is in fact a fun park mirrored image of itself, with haughty, aerified aromas and variegated, leaning to tropical fruit flavours, taut like a flock in line with the vintage. The riesling berries just seem to have imploded and the results that have followed are nothing if not intense. Imagine a Yogyakarta market and a two-wheeled, glass-cased push cart stacked with a pyramid of tart mangoes. The fruit had been picked just as the sugars had begun to run like sap and bleed sticky on the cracking skin. A mango is sliced and doused with the intensity of Java lime juice and then sprinkled with Laut Jawa salt. The flavours are searing, sweetly saline and quenching. Only this tart is this, where tart and acidity meet, intertwine and connect on an emotional level. Picone 2013. The first non-inoculated riesling at first and then touched up near the end. “The best vintage you could ask for in riesling,” notes Baker, “cloud-covered, a meeting of the minds, vibrant.” The arid, cranky one will live without fret for 15 years. Drink 2018-2028.  First tasted in March of 2015, then twice, October 2016  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Csv Blanc De Blancs Brut 2008, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

As expected the Cave Spring 2008 Chardonnay Sparkling solicits thoughts and ideas centred around age. It elicits a complexity response and one taste means a succumbing to the contagion of its vitality. With its autolytic character shining bright, Cave Spring’s BdeB acts out a fantasy up on a silver screen. Another seven year itch is realized in guaranteed Ontario age ability. Has acted way past simple citrus and yet remains a little closed, just now entering the window of showmanship. Another year or two and this will vie for an Oscar. The bubble program production is unparalleled at Cave Spring, perhaps more than any studio in Ontario.  Tasted February 2016  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

Nuit Blanche is one of Canada’s most unique commodities, a White Meritage (of sauvignon blanc and sémillon) blended from exceptional and aromatically delicate Rosomel Vineyard fruit. As part of Hidden Bench’s “Terroir Series” it righteously expresses white Bordeaux varietal purity from the southern blocks of the Beamsville Bench vineyard. Expectation runs high because 2014 seems a perfect Fumé Blanc vintage if ever there will be one for (40 year-old) vineyards tucked snugly in abutment to the Niagara Escarpment. A struck flint nosing entry is followed by taut strung acidity and palate tension eased by a fictionalized adult cotton candy, wisps of smoke, honey and lanolin. The grace of it all is hidden beneath a filigree of molecular green apple caviar gastronomy. In 2014 Nuit Blanche reflects propriety, elegance and genteel balance, caressed from the hands of winemaker Marlize Beyers. It is as if Beyers let this ferment slip away as a parent would encourage a child who is ready to leave the home. After tasting it at Gold Medal Plates in Toronto I spent a sleepless night, not from restlessness or over-indulgent behaviour but because I wished to pull an all-nighter with the best ever sauvignon blanc bled and led Ontario white. I would suggest leaving this be for two years for the subtle though generous barrel to melt into fruit but time will gather for up to two decades before the sun sets on the 2014 Nuit Blanche. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted November 2016  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron  @ImportWineMAFWM  @MarkAnthonyWine

Mini #lonnasblock @RavineVineyard Cabernet Franc vertical. Loaded with the S-word...structure @marty_werner #i4c16

Mini #lonnasblock @RavineVineyard Cabernet Franc vertical. Loaded with the S-word…structure @marty_werner #i4c16

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Lonna’s Block 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

Lonna’a Block alights straight out from the retail shop to the west side of the driveway (and is named for Ravine owner Norma Jean Harber’s sister). The site was planted in 2004 and here, 10 years on, its warm St. Davids’ Bench fruit is simply welling, hermetically sealed and antithetically intense. The block has come to this, in production of cabernet franc with side-splitting, tongue tripping acidity to work lightning crack geometry into the wood-derived chocolate and the ferric-tannic tension. The fissures are filled but there is the right kind of cabernet franc fragmentation. The liquid metal mineral and deep blackberry ooze is smooth and polished. The fruit was “picked early,” or if you will, in Grouxian, Gambleized and risk, Werner reward exercised terms, mid-November. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted July 2016  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

Creekside Broken Press Syrah Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $42.95, WineAlign)

Creekside’s website waxes about the vintage, noting “the 2012 growing season felt like it had been imported up from California.” This is a type of pragmatic truth (as opposed to correspondent or coherent) because it is useful in applying winemaker Rob Powers’ gathering of phenolic ripeness in lieu of extraneous matter to make this Broken Press. When perfect provisos give you perfect fruit you listen to the winds of the vintage and just go with it. Viognier conditions the mess of richness with more pragmatism in 2012, lifting the aromatics and hooking the rug, up and away from drought conditioning. This BP dips into the earth of the northern Rhône to recover its fearless tactility. And so you feel the autumn’s moderate, crucial rainfall in this wine, its warm days and cool nights. The harvest on October 2nd from the St. David’s Bench Queenston Road Vineyard amounted to nine barrels, eight older French and one new Hungarian, leading to 210 cases. This is the best Syrah from QRV made to date. It will live long because of that aforementioned pragmatic truth. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted March 2016  @CreeksideWine  @AMH_hobbsandco  @hobbsandco

J.L. Groux, Winemaker, Stratus Vineyards Photo: Michael Godel

J.L. Groux, Winemaker, Stratus Vineyards
Photo: Michael Godel

Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (131037, $44.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus Red 2012 resides both in a virtuoso’s hollow and in a pantheon inhabited by some of Niagara’s great reds. The fact that such ripe phenology can anticipate and foretell to balance and freedom in the byplace of the blending process is nothing short of amazing. Sinuous and exact, of berries so indefatigable, layering raspberry over blackberry atop strawberry. Cedar and red citrus compound, without jamming the fluidity, but certainly accentuating the Fragaria vesca. Confident and fluid in movement, the ’12 neither shakes nor stirs and its acidity is flat out terrific. At this early point in its evolution it is showing as well as could be expected, or hoped for. Its core of fraises du bois will always be there. Time will be kind, gentle and patient. Drink 2015-2024.   Tasted April and June 2015  @StratusWines

bachelder

Bachelder Pinot Noir Wismer Parke Vineyard 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

Thomas Bachelder has never had a problem with timing. His first pinot noir from the specific Wismer Parke Vineyard (labeled as such) comes from a veritable cracking jackpot of a great varietal vintage. If you need some geographical placement here, The Parke is contiguous to the Foxcroft and Wingfield sections of Wismer in the eight farm-strong holdings on and around the Twenty Mile Bench. It is here that Bachelder concentrates the microscope on a sectional-cordoned off Wismer micro-terroir and its precision-apportioned mineralogy mined for sidetracked and step out of the box focus. What The Parke delivers in 2014 is a sweeter extract than Wismer proper and one that is stationary, static and accessible. The overall grasp is a mouthful easy on the spice or rather subtle in attack after it has climbed in and out of its barrels. Most polls would place Lowrey at the pinnacle of Ontario’s pinot noir vineyards but Thomas Bachelder’s 2014 work with Wismer Parke establishes a new player on the shortlist. This is an exciting entry point and the future will be bright. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted October 2016  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $45.20, WineAlign)

A second taste four months later confirms the impossibility from Hardie in 2014, a vintage that just begs for Norm’s magic handling, from exemplary, slow-developed fruit off of a vintage’s hyperbole of low-yielding vines. The low alcohol continuum persists, the freshness and richness of County berries magnifies and the development of flavour is beyond and above. The tart is a membrane and the sweetness a virtue, feigned and delicate. Tremendous work made easy by Norm and a pinot noir that will live longer than any he has produced before. Drink 2017-2027.  Last tasted August 2016

In Prince Edward County and for pinot noir there is no substitute and no comparison. Quixotically sweet pinot noir fruit, from the lowest of the low yields, scrupulously heeded and handled with care and yet also, somehow without a care to the world. As self-effacingly pretty and impossible as ever though in 2014 the tensity is lower, the anxiety bereft and not so crucially or dearly developed. There is almost no crisis from out of this first of the near-crisis vintages. This is an early to love Norm pinot noir, brought to life and with red citrus that only a Hardie low alcohol pinot can bring. Humility only exceeded by impossibility. Ready to enjoy younger than most.  Tasted April 2016  @normhardie

a-back-pages-cabernetfranc-moment-with-paul-pender-tawse_winery-wismervineyards-everythingfranc-2007-vanbers

A back pages #cabernetfranc moment with Paul Pender @Tawse_Winery @wismervineyards #everythingfranc #2007 #vanbers

Tawse Cabernet Franc Van Bers Vineyard 2007, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $49.95, WineAlign)

The state of freshness is static, a sameness that is mostly impossible but the perfume is settled and obvious, of violets and blackberries, closer to ’12 than ’10. Hot and dry but still, balanced. Tasted blind there would be no way of knowing where or from when this was. Sure Bordeaux could be imagined but Niagara, Beamsville Bench, Lincoln Lakeshore, Creek Shoes, or the confluence of the three? How could you know. Two years ago this opening began and now the invitation reads with utter clarity, the door widely agape. There seemingly is not a single moment of aromatic evolution and the acidity rages with great vibrancy. The longevity factor is in my friends. Paul Pender knew then what he knows now, at least with respect to cabernet franc. It’s like this. Just like this. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted October 2016  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

Benjamin Bridge Wines from left to right:

Benjamin Bridge Wines

Benjamin Bridge Brut 2011, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (381533, $49.00, WineAlign)

First sips were blind at #i4c16 with ripeness and yeasty lees so apparent early and smouldering, flinty and then turned to citrus, freshness and acidity. Burgundian-Champagne dichotomous directional pull, certainly, though with eyes shut tight imagination travels and falls on a far east Canadian clime, though likely from an early ripening site. As in October. The reveal presents the first Blanc de Blancs in Benjamin Bridge Brut form, taking the cue from an exemplary vintage for chardonnay to go it alone, leaving seyval blanc and l’acadie behind as Nova Scotian relics of a bygone era. Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers cants with insightful eloquence. “It’s in our collective consciousness to say that white wines will rely on acidity while reds are determined by phenolics. (The science of) pH will help to locate electrons between reduction and oxidation. It’s a very eccentric proposition, being on the edge of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. Lodi harvested pinot noir yesterday. We are harvesting in November. The beauty of moderation is that it’s a step away from the model of extremes. Our ability to ripen fruit and preserve the Titratable Acidity at unspoiled levels is going to translate into tension and ageability.” This Brut 2011 is far too young, extremely bright and blessed with so much citrus. The level of lemon is extraordinary. Just as recent past tastes of the Brut Reserve 2004 spoke of its remarkable youth, this ’11 is full of orchard fruit but it’s hard to fathom the extreme level of tightly wound strength that yet persists. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2016  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

CedarCreek

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

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

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Twitter: @mgodello

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Impromptu tasting at Ravine

In the cellar at Ravine Vineyard

In the cellar at Ravine Vineyard

The winemaking at Ravine Vineyard is not so much deferential as much as it is a stylistic best described as post modern proletariat. Marty Werner’s modern enrichment often acts like subtraction, as opposed to traditional winemaking which effects the obvious, just and because less is more. His work reflects what once was (in turn of the century Niagara Peninsula) and upon what function emerged out of form, but also what could have been, from successes squeezed out of warm (2005, 2007, 2010) and from mistakes in challenging (2006, 2008, 2009) vintages. The current releases of 2014 and 2015 are wines of augmentation in the form of intensification in the structure rather than for weight or texture. Werner’s plebeian, blue-collar post-modernism is setting a new standard in Niagara. If his work (along with assistant winemaker Ben Minaker) can be viewed as sycophantic than all the better for the copycats and the apostles to hang on and around.

After a wild and multi-faceted chardonnay (plus) weekend down on the farms of Niagara’s flats, shores and across its escarpment benches, it is always the pleasure of pleasures to convene at Ravine Vineyard for a few oysters, a plate of great grub and more chardonnay. It is a time to breath and say another goodbye to the greatest collective consciousness of wine folk on the planet. Then Peter Gamble approaches. “We’re having a little impromptu tasting down in the cellar.” Marty and Ben lead a small group through these wines. We are captivated and motivated by their new work and their mini-vertical presentation. Ian D’Agata, John Szabo M.S., Michael Vaughan, Tony Aspler, Stephen Campbell, Magdalena Kaiser and I. Here are my notes.

John Szabo M.S., Stephen Campbell (Lifford), Ian D'Agata and Peter Gamble

John Szabo M.S., Stephen Campbell (Lifford), Ian D’Agata and Peter Gamble

Ravine Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

In 2015 winemaker Marty Werner offers up 100 per cent barrel fermented sauvignon blanc aged in 10 per cent new (or just one barrel). The fruit comes from Concession Road 2 between lines 8 and 9, on heavy clay and only four year-old vines. The recovering vineyard is a microcosm for the overall Niagara recovery and the vintage allotted 250 cases when it normally produces upwards of 350. The 2015 ripeness stylistic is up front fruit from young vines. “A pick when you want to, not when you have to vintage” notes assistant winemaker Ben Minaker. Metallic peach and fennel pollen emit and you must appreciate a wine of such tartness on the back end, as opposed to sour patch up front. Stylish is the yeast (one third wild) understatement of the day. Says Werner, “we leave the fruit a bit dirtier coming out of the press,” so it gains some funky complexity, but no malo though. The acidity counteracts in the mid to high sevens. Lush antiquarianism is the end result. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted July 2016.

Some cheesy pungency notes the entry. Some edge of ripeness too. Tropical notes, full, fleshy, enervating and dangerously, precariously close to seed, oxidative even. But it teases and walks a blade’s edge. Lacks grassy middle ground (and again, that is a strength) but varietally speaking it may just be the most sauvignon blanc of any in the flight. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016

Marty and Ben establish a new verity for #PinotGris @RavineVineyard ... There will be followers. #i4c16 #niagaralakeshore

Marty and Ben establish a new verity for #PinotGris @RavineVineyard … There will be followers. #i4c16 #niagaralakeshore

Ravine Vineyard Pinot Gris 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

From a vintage of purportless rainfall, this is expressly (24 hour) skin-soaked pinot gris in candid desire of flavour more than and in second thought to hue. Subsequently sent to barrel for a wild ferment. Picked ripe (so 13.5 per cent alcohol), perhaps a result of, if not necessary from a vintage where mid-october pinot gris fruit was the exception and a last minute decision to bring in this fruit led to an earned foray for such a wine. Seven year-old fruit from (Marty’s parents farm on White Road) really floats a divergent varietal boat with six months of barrel time (25 per cent new). Frankly speaking, it carries such an air of benevolence so you would never know how alternative it really is. If there is a precursor or a reference point I stand at attention to be enlightened. Marty (winemaker Werner) and Ben (assistant winemaker Minaker) establish a new verity for pinot gris. There will be followers. This 2015 needed air, splashing and sloshing and it responded in kind. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted July 2016

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Rosé 2015, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Ravine’s Rosé spent the most minimal time on skins, from a posterior fruit position left out in the elements long and aided by leaf removal to break down the pyrazine. These were the second last grapes to pick (because the acidity is high in slightly overcropped fruit), on Slingerland Farm between lines five and six halfway up from Ravine to Highway 55. Though seemingly dry, the 6.0 g/L of RS is used “to bring it into balance for the consumer,” notes Marty Werner. This has some strawberry funk, as if it were macerated in a clay-calcaire bath, like balm as if steeped, cooled and poured over ice. It may be imagined as a saline, faintly honeyed berry granita with just the right amount of gelid texture alongside cool and savoury charcuterie. Simply put, what cabernet franc must be in warm niagara country. Drink 2016-2019. Ravine’s Rosé spent the most minimal time on skins, from a posterior fruit position left out in the elements long and aided by leaf removal to break down the pyrazine. These were the second last grapes to pick (because the acidity is high in slightly overcropped fruit), on Slingerland Farm between lines five and six halfway up from Ravine to Highway 55. Though seemingly dry, the 6.0 g/L of RS is used “to bring it into balance for the consumer,” notes Marty Werner. This has some strawberry funk, as if it were macerated in a clay-calcaire bath, like balm as if steeped, cooled and poured over ice. It may be imagined as a saline, faintly honeyed berry granita with just the right amount of gelid texture alongside cool and savoury charcuterie. Simply put, what cabernet franc must be in warm niagara country. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted July 2016

Mini #lonnasblock @RavineVineyard Cabernet Franc vertical. Loaded with the S-word...structure @marty_werner #i4c16

Mini #lonnasblock @RavineVineyard Cabernet Franc vertical. Loaded with the S-word…structure @marty_werner #i4c16

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Lonna’s Block 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

Lonna’a Block alights straight out from the retail shop to the west side of the driveway (and is named for Ravine owner Norma Jean Harber’s sister). The site was planted in 2004 and here, 10 years on, its warm St. Davids’ Bench fruit is simply welling, hermetically sealed and antithetically intense. The block has come to this, in production of cabernet franc with side-splitting, tongue tripping acidity to work lightning crack geometry into the wood-derived chocolate and the ferric-tannic tension. The fissures are filled but there is the right kind of cabernet franc fragmentation. The liquid metal mineral and deep blackberry ooze is smooth and polished. The fruit was “picked early,” or if you will, in Grouxian, Gambleized and risk, Werner reward exercised terms, mid-November. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted July 2016

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Lonna’s Block 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

From the same (2004 planted) rows and stylistic as 2014 here cabernet franc desired the requiem of an extra year in bottle to solicit understanding, with a 2013 dried fruit component here and now. The resolve already inherent is indicative from a challenging growing season, in a year from which Peter Gamble chided “I guess you guys (Marty and Ben) really earned your stripes.” Some of these grapes were left on the vine until December 15th. That is not a stretch. This will live into the next decade and though it will surely walk into the barn with the balsamic, the soy and the nibs, it will carry its acidity and its 180-day, growing season development. A cabernet franc of most excellent desiccation, with thanks to thick skins and then variety’s variegated character. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted July 2016

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Lonna’s Block 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

From the block dedicated to Ravine owner Norma Jean Harber’s sister, planted in 2004. Though hailing from a recent, post-2010 reach for the sugar stars vintage, there is freshness and vitality mixed with a Napa cabernet from elevation sensibility (think Laurel Glen and Korbin Kameron). This has presence. Real stage presence, gracing the battleground encompassing an intensification of the things that people normally associate with the varietal – fruit, acidity and extract. A cabernet franc granted and given early promise that has crossed a certain varietally correct threshold to travel weightlessly into its current accomplished state. It knows who it is and where it’s going. It will live long. Five to seven, perhaps even 10 more years easy. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted July 2016

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Twitter: @mgodello

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Where does the taste of Ontario go from here?

"Sun come up it was blue and gold." #cuvee2016 #pictureinaframe #niagarafalls

“Sun come up it was blue and gold.” #cuvee2016 #pictureinaframe #niagarafalls

The Ontario wine industry has powered through many big weeks during the tenure of its young but wise, short howbeit concentrated  history. None seemed larger than the first week of March, beginning with Taste Ontario at the Royal Ontario Museum and ending with the 28th edition of Cuvée at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls.

And now #cuvee2016 @CCOVIBrockU #vqa @winecountryont #scotiabankconventioncentre

And now #cuvee2016 @CCOVIBrockU #vqa @winecountryont #scotiabankconventioncentre

In between and as a preamble to Ontario’s annual gala celebration there was the presentation of the Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence, presented by Mr. Aspler to viticulturist Lloyd Schmidt, for advancing viticulture in Ontario by accessing the best vinifera varietals from nurseries around the world and fighting bureaucracy to do it.

Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence winner for 2016 viticulturist Lloyd Schmidt and Tony Aslper (c) Brock University

Father and son grape growers Howard and Wes Lowrey from St. David’s were honoured with the Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award sponsored by BASF Canada Inc. The 2016 category was best red vinifera and the Lowrey’s were recognized for their Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. The winner is chosen by an expert panel that makes field visits throughout the growing season to monitor quality.

Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award winners Wes and Howard Lowery are flanked by grower Matthias Oppenlaender and Julia Harnal, BASF Canada Inc.

Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award winners Wes and Howard Lowery are flanked by grower Matthias Oppenlaender and Julia Harnal, BASF Canada Inc. (c) Brock University

The VQA Promoter’s Awards are designed to recognize exceptional contributors to Ontario’s wine industry. The honours were endowed as follows. For Education, Peter Blakeman of The Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. The Promoter-at-Large, Norm Hardie of Norman Hardie Wines. In the LCBO category, Nina Hofer, Product Consultant.  In Hospitality, Peter Elmhirst of Elmhirst Resort. For Lifetime Achievement, Peter Gamble, formerly of Hillebrand, VQA, Stratus and Ravine, now consulting winemaker at Benjamin Bridge, Lightfoot & Wolfville and Versado Wines.

Cuvee desserts

Proceeds from the Cuvée Grand Tasting go to support the Cuvée Legacy Fund established after the 2015 event. The fund has already awarded $15,000 in academic scholarships and contributed $13,000 toward industry-driven research projects. At the awards ceremony, the 2015 scholarships were also handed out.

Cuvée 2016 was orchestrated by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute who will also play host to the Expert’s Tasting of Ontario wines in April. At this year’s reception 52 VQA wineries each poured one carefully selected wine for the Grand Tasting and were joined by 13 culinary partners. Earlier that week, Taste Ontario was hosted by VQA Wines of Ontario and Wine Country Ontario. Upwards of thirty producers contributed more than 125 wines to the media and trade event.

Taste Ontario reds

Taste Ontario reds

The food establishments on hand were granted the space and signage to show off and showcase their talents. Having their names projected onto the walls around the perimeter of the room made it very easy to locate who was placed where. The wineries received no such similar sort of spotlight signage so happenstance played a significant role on what got tasted. Still it was nice to see a Toronto neighbourhood friendly face in Ossington joint Actinolite Restaurant with chef Justin Cournoyer acting out his special brand of an Ontario forest passion play.

Forest flavours of Actinolite

Forest flavours of Actinolite

The pork belly ‘Lollipops’ from Vintage Inn – Escabeche by Chef Chris Smythe, Korean fried chicken by Garrison House Chef David Watt and Duck Mu-shu from Golden Lotus Restaurant’s Chef Sing How were exceptional. Also on hand was omnipresent Niagara events food contributor Artisan Ontario presented by Chef Mark Hand and Mario Pingue. I somehow missed out on Backhouse Chef Ryan Crawford’s burrata and braised beef short rib ravioli tasting plates. No chef had a longer line-up all night long.

pork belly 'Lollipops' from Vintage Inn – Escabeche Chef Chris SmythP

Pork belly ‘Lollipops’ from Vintage Inn – Escabeche Chef Chris Smythe

Insofar as an assessment of Ontario wines is concerned, from a varietal point of view, Riesling and Chardonnay have not relinquished any stronghold on their domination, nor should they any time soon. I can’t help but feel and notice that winemakers continue to reach for the big red machine and wish upon an intangible Bordeaux star when they should be concentrating on fresh, gulpable Cabernet Franc and Gamay. They should also take some chances with these necessary, best Ontario option red varieties. Press less, reveal freshness and let natural ferments find low-alcohol impressions of impossible, ethereal beauty.

Pingue Prosciutto

Pingue Prosciutto

At Cuvée there was no shortage of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and big red blends. Where was the Cabernet Franc? Kudos to Brian Schmidt of Vineland Estates for his varietal choice, albeit in a perfect little tidy $15 package. It was the only one. That is a travesty. Kacaba’s 2013 Cabernet Franc was a Platinum Award winner at the 2015 WineAlign Awards of Canada. They can’t be blasted for pouring their 2012 Syrah and you can only pick on but others should have seized the opportunity.  J-L Groux of Stratus Vineyards offered up his 2013 Gamay from magnum. Brilliant! Where was the rest of Ontario’s Go Gamay Go arsenal? Varietal lampoonery I tell ya.

Perhaps I can be accused of filtering my view of the evening through the oculus of an infundibuliforms installation. Just maybe I’m a wee bit harsh in my assessment of choices made but there were several wines poured at Cuvée that we’ve seen many times before. While the inevitable will influence choices because of inventories and the bottom line, the event is not about finding buyers. The purpose and long-term vision should focus on teaching, on educating and ultimately on celebrating what Ontario does best. Not just what, but where. Choosing what to pour must come out of a disseminated varietal necessity so that sub-appellations can be further defined and understood.

My top ten wines tasted at the two bookending events were these.

Cattail Creek

Cattail Creek Small Lot Series Old Vines Riesling 2014

Cattail Creek Small Lot Series Old Vines Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

A Cattail Creek joint starring Roselyn Dyck and consulting winemaker Steve Byfield, from a block of Clone 21 (Weiss) Riesling planted in 1976, one of the oldest in Ontario. This OV loitered in subdued maturation because of a brutal winter, a cold spring and a cool summer. A beautiful fall abrogated what came before and brightened the possibilities. Dyck and Byfield took full advantage, channeled their inner Mosel science of the mind, dialled back the sugar and submitted to the vintage’s desires. The result is a scintillant of Riesling with texture and acidity getting together to”grab a piece of something that you think is gonna last,” reelin’ in the year and shining like new. Steely Riesling at its Niagara flats finest, short of bracing and far from cloying. Though a long ways from the Bench, put this ’14 in the vineyard cru discussion with Picone, St. Urbain, Carly’s Block, Triangle, Steelpost and CSV. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @CattailWinery  @TerroirLover

Fielding Estate Viognier 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (142323, $25.95, WineAlign)

If the 2013 from Fielding Estate helped decipher the code of the how, where and why of Peninsula Viognier, this follow up 2014 speaks at the symposium. Sourced from the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation, a locale fast becoming the consensus ground zero for the option, this single-vineyard is farmed by grower Rick Smith. Low-cropped and hand-picked, this is the cleanest Viognier in town.The spice kick starts au fait late, sneaks up the backside and boom. Gotcha! Winemaker Richie Roberts has a vested investigated interest in this white variety amongst Niagara choices deeply pondered and painstakingly explained. Some off-roading chances taken going forward will elevate this wine into territory occupied by the excellent and the outstanding. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2014, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Vintage in and out this is the manifestation of an unequivocal Niagara icon for Chardonnay. An unwavering, stylistically consistent, best fruit first cuvée from Pelham’s oldest (1988) estate vineyards in the Short Hills Bench. Quite reductive and dramatic Chardonnay in 2014 with multi-macerated flavours. Needs some time for the barrel and the malo to get together with tangy, soil-driven fruit. A bit clunky at the present time. Should be fascinating to watch it develop, oscillate, flip-flop and ultimately settle into something fine over five years time. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Tenacity

16 Mile Cellar ‘Tenacity’ Chardonnay Unfiltered 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Call this an experiment if you will and while winemaker Regan Kapach was blessed with a perfect ferment (and one that would not, could not be repeated in 2014 and 2015), don’t believe for a moment that divine skill was not integral to making this wine happen. Like an early 1990’s MTV production of Neil Young, David Bowie and Nirvana all wrapped up into one unplugged special, here is what happens when unfined, unfiltered and unsulphured jam as one. One major “un” omission, or inclusion in this case is French oak, the catalyst and the glue to keeping this freak of Chardonnay nature together. True, this is the one grape that can handle such a hands off winemaking process, but in Ontario? Not so simple. From the Little Vineyard up on The Bench, the Tenacity is not so much. It’s dreamy, creamy, lightly toasty and full of gelato texture and flavour. It glides and slides, lifts and cleanses. It’s a beautiful impossibility. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016  @16milecellar

Rosehall Run Ceremony Blanc De Blanc Brut, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

A little ceremonial joy in the division here with Dan Sullivan taking some fizz chances to create a new PEC sparkling order. A multiple vintage cuvée from estate grown fruit of weight, substance, tang, drive, a shot put of citrus, servitude to PEC Chardonnay, certitude to B de B style and structure. Just enough pierce to go through and come out clean, even in the face of oxidative time, on the other side. Dips into the well of Champagne to recover its fearless tactility. These are bubbles that “travel first and lean towards this time.” Timing is everything. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @Rosehall_Run  @sullywine

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)

Oh, the accessibility of Quarry Road in 2012. Still totes the emerald shine, the gemstone tannic scrape and yet the flesh is rendered rich, ripe, ratcheted and riled up. This has tonality like never before, layered and strudel buttery. At this point the vines for Quarry are 17 years of age, sophic and erudite, compounded by the organic, biodynamic and prudent pruning practices that have cemented its vigour. The clay-limestone, fresh-mineral, push-pull is a veritable careening of expression. Though its longevity may not pile towards a compressed future like that of ’09 or ’11, the earlier and often response will act both as Chardonnay charming and Quarry Road magnetizing. For the next five years it will be very hard to turn away. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse

Cave Spring CSV Blanc De Blancs Brut 2008, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (237198, $39.95, WineAlign)

As expected the Cave Spring 2008 Chardonnay Sparkling solicits thoughts and ideas centred around age. It elicits a complexity response and one taste means a succumbing to the contagion of its vitality. With its autolytic character shining bright, Cave Spring’s BdeB acts out a fantasy up on a silver screen. Another seven year itch is realized in guaranteed Ontario age ability. Has acted way past simple citrus and yet remains a little closed, just now entering the window of showmanship. Another year or two and this will vie for an Oscar. The bubble program production is unparalleled at Cave Spring, perhaps more than any studio in Ontario.  Tasted February 2016  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

Creekside Broken Press Syrah Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (202127, $42.95, WineAlign)

Creekside’s website waxes about the vintage, noting “the 2012 growing season felt like it had been imported up from California.” This is a type of pragmatic truth (as opposed to correspondent or coherent) because it is useful in applying winemaker Rob Powers’ gathering of phenolic ripeness in lieu of extraneous matter to make this Broken Press. When perfect provisos give you perfect fruit you listen to the winds of the vintage and just go with it. Viognier conditions the mess of richness with more pragmatism in 2012, lifting the aromatics and hooking the rug, up and away from drought conditioning. This BP dips into the earth of the northern Rhône to recover its fearless tactility. And so you feel the autumn’s moderate, crucial rainfall in this wine, its warm days and cool nights. The harvest on October 2nd from the St. David’s Bench Queenston Road Vineyard amounted to nine barrels, eight older French and one new Hungarian, leading to 210 cases. This is the best Syrah from QRV made to date. It will live long because of that aforementioned pragmatic truth. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted March 2016   @CreeksideWine  @hobbsandco  @AMH_hobbsandco

Domaine Queylus Réserve Du Domaine Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

Oh yes the vineyard speaks, like previous vintages but with clenched teeth and a hyperbole of natural yeast and soil funk. The most charcuterie salts and dehydrates from the middle sibling in 2013, with wisdom and a tale of future memories created in the here and now. Then you will return, to this time that will be its past, when things were so different and the assessment a figment of later imagination. At least three years (and possibly five) will pass before things are set straight for this past to be revealed. The level of smarts and savvy riches are amplified in the Réserve 2013. It is the strongest reminder that reconciliation takes time. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @QueylusVin

Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (361816, $44.95, WineAlign)

Beautifully floral Lowrey from Thomas Bachelder, squeezed with restraint and pressed for pitch perfect Niagara Pinot fashion. Lowrey at its elegant best, ripe red though on the edge of anxious, eyes rolling and persuasions lolling though just shy of any sentimentality. Another layer of lovely infiltrates a taster’s psyche, grabbing hold of the heartstrings and then relents, lets go, stays on the righteous path of peurility. The ’13 Lowrey Vineyard gifts such texture and tannins that flirt with danger. It is a wine of life-affirming footnotes. I ask of it, “oh ye teasing beautiful Pinot Noir. When can I drink of thee?” Soon, but not yet. There is no greed from this vineyard and in these hands. As always, Thomas does the right thing. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2016  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Good to go!

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

In Ontario wine folks are constantly and consistently in debate as to what grape varieties should be farmed and on which tracts of land.
PHOTO: ELENATHEWISE/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Winemakers are very much like architects, in fact they are the architects of the agricultural world. They survey every square metre and scrutinize each handful of dirt to decide where to plant and cultivate their vines. No other farmed produce requires such specificity as grapes and where they are grown.The winemaker postulates with deep consternation the notion of terroir, the attributes that enable a plot of land as a conducive and necessary place to grow grapes. They consider the soil, the rocks within and beneath, the slope, the proximity to water, the air temperatures and the prevailing winds.

In Ontario wine folks are constantly and consistently in debate as to what grape varieties should be farmed and on which tracts of land. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are often at the centre of the discussion, as are Riesling, Chardonnay and more recently, Syrah. The most controversy concerns Pinot Noir. Passionate Pinotphiles can get outright irate at the thought of the difficult grape being cultivated in the wrong place. In Niagara, no variety receives more attention, causes growers and producers to lose more sleep and requires so many years of trial and error to gain headway into it’s mysteries.

Two local winemakers have made career decisions, to educate themselves and to discover what makes Pinot Noir tick. Thomas Bachelder produces wines in three countries, each imbued with its own unique sense of terroir. Ilya Senchuk of Leaning Post Wines is just a few years shy of launching a project that is both new and unique to Niagara. Three distinct Pinot Noirs produced out of three disparate and specific locales.

The common ground here, both figuratively and literally is the land. Micro-block Pinot Noir. Bachelder and Senchuk both make wines from a St. David’s Bench vineyard owned by the Lowrey family. Wilma Lowrey came to Thomas 10 years ago and said, “I think we’re going to grow a single vineyard, and call it Five Rows.” Thomas followed it from the start. It turns out that Wes Lowrey, their son, “is a great winemaker in his own right, and boom, he makes a brilliant Pinot at $50 a bottle,” says Thomas. “They define small grower.”

Small grower. Senchuk and Bachelder want to define what a négociant is, as opposed to a small grower. When it comes to Burgundy, the general idea says that the Beaune négociant is bad while small growers are good. Not necessarily. Notes Bachelder, “Jadot has, at most times been beyond reproach. Has Drouhin ever faltered? Their wines may sometimes be light, but they last, and are elegant.” The large négociant control all (44) 1er cru vineyards so there are not a lot of small growers working with Beaune fruit. Here Bachelder shows the other side of the conglomerate tracks. “At any big domain, how often is the winemaker in the vineyard? You can’t do it all. You have to be in contact with and trust your vineyard managers and growers.  You have to let them farm.” This is where a farmer such as Lowrey creates and defines the niche in Ontario. Grand Cru terroir and a small grower paying loyal, careful attention to their fruit.

Over the past two weeks I had the opportunity to taste wines with these forward thinking men of wine acumen. They both share a desire to seek out essential soil and to manufacture exemplary wines that speak of the land from which they have come. Here are my notes on a group of crazy, gifted Pinot Noirs, along with a fascicle of consummate Chardonnay and one truly exceptional Merlot.

Thomas Bachelder Wines

“My origins are Quebecoise, in Burgundy and coming to Ontario.” So says Thomas Bachelder, flying winemaker, architect of the Bachelder Project, of trois terroirs, in Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy.  Missing from that statement is a stopover in Oregon, making memorable wines at Lemelson Vineyards. Not to mention the more than significant detail of establishing a world-renowned set of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay while running the wine show at Jordan’s Le Clos Jordanne.

Thanks to the generous wine enabler Tony AsplerBachelder and partner Mary Delaney procured last week’s comprehensive tasting– literally a one-off only chance to taste the wines comparatively, in one room, side by each.  The LCBO missed the boat on the Bachelder Burgundian reds, all scooped up by the SAQ. The single-vineyard Pinots from Oregon and Niagara are already library bound. Bachelder quips, in quite serious tone, “I’d like you guys to have an influence on the tasting but we can only go one way.” Terroir over pedigree.When talking about Ontario wine, he’s adamant that technique should reveal Niagara terroir, the caveat being that he uses French oak.  ”If we had a superb Cooper in Ontario, we could put all the wines on the same stage.” On Oregon, “if you don’t like their wines, it’s because they are being made by an American palate.” Burgundy vs Niagara? “If you know it’s my favourite, I’m not pushing Niagara out of chauvinism.” Thomas is all about “bringing up your children the same way, but letting them express themselves in their own way.” Most importantly, he begs the question “how do you define an elegant, refined Pinot that has staying power.” Let the wines answer the question.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Bachelder Wines

Oregon

PINOT NOIR 2011 (333278, $34.95)

In its first year is mostly Johnston Vineyard fruit. Warm plum, cool femininity, linear acidity. A base and primal building block as foundation for future excellence. Licorice, a mother earth’s perfume, and I must disagree with the group. This can be nothing but Oregon. Reminds me of Lemelson Thea’s 2001.  89  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

PINOT NOIR JOHNSON VINEYARD 2011 (SAQ, 12065338, $44.25)

Here there wafts an increased “blister in the sun,” more terroir from a tight vintage full of pumped over tannins. An accented aromatic membrane envelops this Johnson, of orange zest and studded rind, in violet tendency, with more flesh. Even if she speaks in Frainc-Comtou dialect when she walks through the door, she walks out distinctly Oregonian singing as a Violent Femme. Pure and clean up front, she builds, then leaves a trail of tangy fruit behind. Tangled web of Pinot.  91  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

Ontario

PINOT NOIR LOWREY VINEYARD 2011 (361816, $44.95)

Defies logic in laying out the welcome mat. Fleshy St. David’s fruit, relentless aromatics, a glue of tannins pushing on the pedal. From my earlier note in Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013 “springs eternal from an ocean of cranberry and an island of spice. The somewhereness of this St. David’s vineyard can’t be denied, and in the hands of Thomas Bachelder the extraordinary happens. I am simply blinded by the light, by the weight and the weightless gravity. By a sweetness that just isn’t sweet, like exotic red fruit that knocks you sideways upside the cerebral cortex. Not to mention an iron madness that “plays that song with the funky break.”  94  Tasted Oct. 10 and Nov. 6, 2013

Beaune

PERNAND VERGELESSES 1er CRU ‘LA CREUX DA LA NET’ 2011 ($39.95)

Has the sense to be subtle, effortless and akin to Chambolle. Not so much openly ripe fruit but more the flowers that come before. Cherries dabbed by a citrus fragrance, or the spritz of squeezed zest and an unusually smoky musk. Insinuates new world (think Oregon) though it tells a rubble tale of its limestone slope climat.  90  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

BEAUNE 1er CRU ‘LES RÉVERSÉES’ 2011 ($44.95)

Concentrated with cocked flowers in aperture and libanophorous floral lift. Juicier cherries still, with emerging, higher grained tannin. Chewy throughout, with increased anatomy but also clean and pure. Leans to Pommard, noted by an austerity on the finish in demand for patience towards realizing a settled future.  91  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

Cotes du Nuits

CÔTE-DE-NUITS-VILLAGES AUX MONTAGNES 2011 ($37.95)

A yeomans work performs on the nose, though there is a fullness lacking on the palate. Still there is tension to tie the drone together. He’s a mason, hard-working, full of sauvage. Anti-plush,agréable mince, noted by Mr. Aspler, “a blue-collar Burgundy.”  88  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

NUITS-ST.-GEORGES LA PETITE CHARMOTTES 2011 ($58.95)

Is so floral, mineral, intense and hypnotic it might be dubbed the Serpent Charmer. Iron and wine indeed, the iron of Nuits, the perfume of Beaune. This provocative bottling represents the third year of production, is conspicuous in Anis de Flavigny and an underlying gate. Ifmontagnes is the harming one, this is the charming one. These are all from the same barrels, so what really affects the wines the most? Land and hand.  93  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Bachelder Line-Up

Oregon

CHARDONNAY 2011 (273334, $29.95,  SAQ, 11845359, $29.95)

While Burgundian in hopes and dreams, this is very much a $29 Oregon white.  No mask, no hidden altruism, simply the right Chardonnay for the right price. Bone dry, orchard driven, high acid, void of harmful terpenes. There is a salinity and piquancy not influenced by PH, perhaps by the ocean, by sandstone, but regardless it’s unique to place, unlike Niagara, Prince Edward County, or for that matter Burgundy.  88  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

CHARDONNAY ‘JOHNSON VINEYARD’ 2011 (SAQ 12065338, $44.25)

Increased in perpetual density, butter, tine and philosophy. The barrel ferment has moreagréable onctuosité  (verbal sic), like Meursault or Côte de Nuits Villages. Renders thenormale (classique) pedestrian by comparison, but only in relative, neo-tropical terms. Bachelder’s barrel ferments concentrate on micro-oxygenation, on air passage. That’s what matters. These Chardonnay may be the least favourite for Thomas, but he is amazed at how well they mature when treated properly.  91  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

Niagara

Bachelder: “When you are absolutely sure you that you can’t put all of a single vineyard into one bottle, that you only need some of the barrels, you move the ones that smell too much of specific things (butter, popcorn, lanolin) and send them to the blend, the classique. The ones that speak of the vineyard, the terroir, they become Saunders and Wismer.”

CHARDONNAY CLASSIQUE 2011 (302083, $29.95, SAQ 11873721, $29.95)

Lean and mean Niagaran, in a hue and a style that brings Burgundy to mind. Comblanchienlayers of limestone salinity, like a villages from Côte de Beaune. Tang, pine forest, Warheads sour candy and just a hint of the barrel but you know it’s there. A simple, Chuck Berry three chord arrangement. “I was anxious to tell her the way I feel,” even if I had no particular place to go.  90  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

CHARDONNAY ‘SAUNDERS VINEYARD 2011 (324103, $44.95)

From Beamsville, right beside 30 bench, has a texture, a depth and a mouth feel  in ’11 that bounds and leaps towards the ethereal. A dancing stag, displaying, performing a mating ritual dance.  Melons, ripe and fleshy are in this Saunders. “What’s carrying this wine is site, site and site.” A great clay slice of the Beamsville Bench. From my earlier note: ”Takes the baton from Wismer ’10 in a transfer of power, tension and excitement. Clarity of textural fruit is driven by Beamsville Bench clay-silt soil. Highly dependent on yeast chains, sticking, spreading and expanding. Savoury, buttered stones show negligible encumbrance due to vines that will not carry an excess of new oak.”  93  Tasted July 20 and Nov. 6, 2013

CHARDONNAY ‘WISMER VINEYARD 2011 (345819, $44.95, SAQ 12089591, $44.95)

From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?  91  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

Burgundy

BOURGOGNE CHARDONNAY 2011 (SAQ, 11856040, $26.95)

Mines mineral in a funky key and electrolyzes the slightest bruise of a crisp apple upon a swirl. Goosed by a boisterous and tickling palate, a masticate of buttered toast, crunch of popcorn and a mercurial temperature as if St. Aubin. Brings in the inner cheeks with held suction.  89  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

BEAUNE ‘LES LONGES’ 2010 ($44.95)

This Chardonnay is forged sarcophagus tight and concurrently plush. Rocks for cubes in the glass, this a fantastic elastic Beaune, full of stretched and wound tension. Pulls on the palate and snaps it sharply back. Sometimes you taste the Beaune, sometimes it tastes you.  93  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

PULIGNY- MONTRACHET EN CORVÉE DE VIGNES 2011 ($63.00)

Is an enigma, its parts ensnared in current astriction. Fruit just scratching the surface, trying so hard to come up for air, “so far you have nothing to say.” I dare to say there is a hint of tropical fruit or a decoy posing as such (because it’s so tight). Classic stony salinity runs a direct line across its marbled façade. Very difficult to assess but in five years the saga will begin to unfold. 92  Tasted Nov. 6, 2013

Leaning Post Wines

Ilya Senchuk may as well be Niagara’s fresh face poster boy for the young and brilliant but he already holds a wealth of Niagara winemaking experience. He worked for Daniel Lenko going back to 2002 and has made the wines at Foreign Affair Winery since 2008. In February 2011 Senchuk and his wife laid it all on the line and bought property in Winona, defined as Hamilton/Grimsby by geography, Lincoln Lakeshore by appellation.

Senchuk began making (virtual) wines under his private label in 2009 on premise at Foreign Affair. He made a 2009 Pinot Noir from the Lowrey Vineyard and a Riesling from the Foxcroft block of the Wismer Vineyard. In 201o there came another Lowrey Pinot and also a Merlot, from the McCleary block on the Wismer property. In 2011 there was only the Lowrey Pinot and 2012 was the first vintage he made on site in Winona, “in a barn” he notes. Just this past month he opened the tasting room. Virtual no more.

To the uninitiated, Senchuk’s chosen Winona locale may seem unconventional, curious and even peculiar to make wine in Niagara. Make no mistake about it. Ilya Senchuk is obsessed with Niagara soil and terroir. Set right off 50 road and straddling drawn circles within a Hamilton/Lincoln lakeshore Venn diagram, five of the 11 acres (10 plantable) were planted the past spring. Senchuk used clone 777 (reliable) along with 115, 667 for Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay are from clones 96 and 548.

Leaning Post has added Pinot Noir from the Mcnally Vineyard (Beamsville). By the time the 2015 harvest has come and gone, Senchuk will have made Pinot Noir from three Niagara terroirs. How many other Niagara winemakers will have that claim to make? There will also be Syrah from Keczan, from the east side of Beamsville and adjacent Tawse Winer’s David’s Block (formerly Thomas & Vaughan Estate). This unique spot is a clay bowl of climatic specificity, with a natural slope and dubious, vigorous vines.

I sat down with Ilya and tasted through four wines from his Leaning Post line-up. I was struck by the concentrated flavours but even more so by the language of the land clearly spoken in the vernacular of each sample. I have no doubt that Senchuk’s experience and deft hand will make the most from his soon to be realized young vines.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Leaning Post Wines

CHARDONNAY FOXCROFT 2011 ($34, winery)

Sourced from fruit split 50% each north and south blocks and picked a bit (September 26th) later than Bachelder, towards the end of a very warm vintage. Sharp, piquant and kissed ever so tenderly by older (100 per cent) oak. Full malolactic gauging, this 14 per cent ’12 comes across ripe, without pushing the envelope. A minute trace of tropical fruit draughts in a mineral wake. Quite an astonishing first solo Chardonnay effort, in constitution and viscidity where the solder is king. 170 cases.  91  Tasted Nov. 7, 2013

PINOT NOIR ST. DAVID’S BENCH ‘LOWREY VINEYARD’ 2009 ($38, winery)

From a tight, late-picked vintage (Oct. 25th), this Lowrey pushes chance’s unpredictable climatic envelope and scores a crouched, subjacent, slowly gained ripeness. Grapes come from the most sloped part of the farm, rows that are actually a hybrid of St. David’s Bench and flats of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Perfumed of the earth, where soil and beet meet raspberry. Wears its vigor on the palate’s sleeve, in spiking spice, as if new world Burgundy. “If central Otago and Pommard had a child,” this ripe but earthy Pinot were it. Tannins are still in effect so four plus years of downtime need be part of the package. 160 cases.  92  Tasted Nov. 7, 2013

PINOT NOIR ST. DAVID’S BENCH ‘LOWREY VINEYARD’ 2010 ($38, winery)

Can’t say I’m all that surprised but this is so much more approachable, pretty and glamorous. From an unrelenting hot vintage (picked Sept. 11th), a full six weeks earlier than ’09 and from the same vineyard. This was necessary as a means to preserve freshness. More sunshine, less earth but still there’s a cure and metal tendency that really defines Lowrey. Could of course be considered more of a crowd pleaser but it’s not as simple as that. That I can taste these twomano a mano, in my life is a rubber soul stamp. ”All these places have their moments.” 125 cases.  92  Tasted Nov. 7, 2013

MERLOT ’MCCLEARY VINEYARD’ 2010 ($38, winery)

Uniquely cultivated and fashioned at the top of the Escarpment, this “Niagara Peninsula” designated Merlot is lush, dusty, full of phite and barn door tannins. It’s cool, minty, cast by an iron, sanguine tendency and chalky, metal funk. No simple song this McCleary, whacking away at the shins. Were it listening, you might say to him, “I know that things can really get rough when you go it alone, don’t go thinking you gotta be tough, and play like a stone.” Never mind. Senchuk gets it right: “Merlot has to be in the right spot, treated the right way.” 115 cases.  91 Tasted Nov. 7, 2013

Good to go!

‘London Calling’ for Canadian wine

PHOTO: NASKO/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Just in case you were under the impression that Canadian wine is made solely for and consumed only by Canadians, think again. The world is hungry for our prized grapes and unbeknownst to 99 per cent of the 35 million inhabitants of this vast country, the A-Team is out there in the field.

As I write this, Canada is re-introducing itself to the world by way of an essential and comprehensive tasting hosted today by The Canadian High Commission at Canada House, Trafalgar Square, London. A group of wine luminaries and emissaries are pouring sparkling wines, red wines produced from Pinot Noir, Bordeaux blends or varietals, Syrah or Gamay, white wines produced from Chardonnay or Riesling and Icewine. REDISCOVER Canadian Wine is an unprecedented event, working in conjunction with London’s Westbury Communications to remind and renew a European media and trade contingent of the quality and international viability of the wines from Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia.

Canada House, London (Photos: Janet Dorozynski)

The dream team is led by Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Global Practice Lead, Canadian Wine, Beer and Spirits, Global Business Opportunities Bureau, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. Dr. Dorozynski’s deputies along to help promote the Canadian wines in London are the Wine Council of Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser-Smit, Director of PR and Linda Watts, Project Manager, Canadian wine expert ambassador Tony Aspler and Barb Tatarnic of Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute.

Winemakers, owners, vignerons, wine consultants, international sales directors, export directors and marketing consultants have made the trek after wineries from across Canada were invited to submit their wines in a blind tasting judged by a panel of Canadian judges. The panel previewed over 250 Canadian wines and selected 89 wines from 37 wineries to qualify for the London, England tasting.

With help in partnership with Foreign Affair and International Trade Canada, Wine Country Ontario, support from The Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University and from The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the Canada House event is fully and completely positioned to raise the profile of the Canadian wine industry abroad.

London Calling: REDISCOVER Canadian wine

British wine scribe Stephen Brook notes, “Canada has long been out of the ‘promising newcomer’ category. These are wines we all need to discover.” Gerard Basset OBE MW MS adds, “I have discovered some superb wineries and producers with both flair and talent.”

For more information on the event click here.

In celebration of the calling to London, here are tasting notes on eight wines being poured today in London.

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2010 ($30, 1560winery) from A wine pentathlon reels in Twenty Mile Bench fruit in a warm vintage as well if not better than any of its peers. Founder Ed Madronich is clearly slope and soil obsessed and this Pinot Noir is a study in topography and geology. To paraphrase Madronich, it’s  ”more Pommard than Volnay, in a deeper and more masculine way than the Estate bottling.” Pinot barrels most representative of the Gravity style were chosen for the final blend, in this case noted by woodsy black cherry and spiced root vegetable. “Get a little savagery in your life.” 90   @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling ‘CSV’ Estate Bottled 2009 ($29.95, winery only) from Come together, over wine comes from the oldest, lowest-yielding vines at the estate grown on the limestone, Beamsville Bench terrace. A three month rest on its lees imparts honey on the nose though the palate is dryer than off-dry. Mineral, pop-driven even. A hoovering, wizened Riesling, puckering, turning inward, yet to hydrate. Unique for Escarpment ’09 and will realize a quenching later than most. I for one will put this aside and revisit at the end of the decade, when “golden slumbers fill your eyes.” 89  @CaveSpring

Charles Baker Riesling ‘Picone’ 2011 ($35, winery only) from Come together, over wine trembles with nervous energy and will need some bottle time to shed its shocking, A16 soda popping feeling. Right now “he got joo joo eyeballs.” Give it a year, or even two for the Vinemount Ridge clint (citrus and flint) to come together in a fit of focused, piercing acidity. This is Baker’s sharpest, knife-edge Riesling in the block and while I never thought it possible, this one is sure to outshine 2009. For Charles Baker ”one and one and one is three.”  93  @cbriesling

Exultet Chardonnay ‘The Blessed’ 2011 ($35, winery only) from You can lead a county to the city 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

Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 (Alex Kolundzic, $35, winery only) from Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary from family vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake ventures into voluptuous, black forest, fruitcake territory. A 24-month soak in French oak imparts espresso and leather and it’s as if this CF was raised in Napa or designated IGT. But this is NOTL were talking here. Improbable and believable. Tasted twice.  91  @Pillitteriwines

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2010 ($38, winery only) from A wine pentathlon takes my previous impressions to a higher plane. Standing correct by calling it a “a vintage relative release” but it’s so much more than “a quaffable, generous fruit sui generis.” Beets turn into plums. Opaque hue reminds of graceful Nebbiolo with a dancer’s legs in aperture. Wins in judicious use of French wood. Tannins persist in the rear-view mirror. Big ’10 that speaks of another level in Beamsville Pinot Noir. “Think about it, there must be higher love.” 91  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

Château Des Charmes Equuleus 2010 (Paul Bosc, $40, ONT, winery only, SAQ,  11156334, $41.25) from Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary from the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard is a classically styled blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot, only made in exceptional years. Apropos choice from 25-year old vines (in 2010) from the warmer St. David’s Bench for Cuvée’s 25th show.  Poised, balanced and regal yet this mare is temporarily a head-shy, sensitive equine red. Will trot out furlongs of tobacco and meaty aromas from now and through maturity in five plus years. A saddle of round, red fruit will age gracefully.  92  @MBosc

Stratus Syrah 2010 ($48) from Stratus and Momofuku: Modernity incarnate is picked early as compared to other well-known varieties like the Cabernets and this vintage saw a 25% yield decrease/concentration increase. Pretty, focused and indicative of candied flowers in replay with a note of citrus blossom. A Syrah that clearly speaks of Groux’s infatuation with aromatics. “What I do know, my Syrah is improving overall.”  90  @twineswines  @Stratuswines

Good to go!

The Wine Diaries: Grapes and Peaches

Má Pêche, Momofuku – Duck Two Ways PHOTO: GABRIELE STABILE

as seen on canada.com

If I had my little way

I’d eat peaches every day

Eat a peach. Listen to the music. Taste wine. Feel like a president. My wine codex is in full, binary cross-cultural mode. These days I can’t help myself singing (in a quiet whisper) Dave Grohl songs – I’m not even such a big fan of his music! Maybe it’s because he seems to be everywhere; in tweets about the SXSW Festival, on the cover of Delta’s in-flight magazine, on satellite radio in the rental car. Recent wine events and food experiences have left me with the distinct impression that “it’s times like these you learn to live again.”

Passionate chefs, exceptional “100km” wines, and a good cause are a triumvirate for success. Also, a city that never sleeps, a superstar chef’s empirical outpost, and sublime food are a second triad for victory. And what do these two scenarios have in common? Grapes and peaches.

BAAH! The Great Lamby Cook-Off, Thursday, March 21st, 2013, Imperial Ballroom, Fairmont Royal York Hotel

BAAHTony Aspler knows more about wine than just about anyone I know. That he has taken his knowledge, his craft and his contacts in the food and wine world to champion a noble cause, well that is something to be admired. The organization he gives time to is called Grapes for Humanity, globally providing much needed relief to those less fortunate. Mr. Aspler organized yet another memorable GFH event, to benefit a child’s education by constructing a needed school in Guatemala. Twelve chefs, 12 lamb dishes, 12 wine pairings. You couldn’t spit without hitting a sommelier or a local oenologist. Chef Michael Pataran took home the top prize for his Goan Lamb Shoulder with a coconut, chili, lime chutney and paddle skewer. The best wine pairing went to the Henry of Pelham Baco Noir Reserve 2010, poured alongside Pataran’s “curry”; a double win. Stock Sommelier Zoltan Szabo directed the room with tireless energy.

Here, my favourite three wines at “BAAH”, plus a gorgeous Gigondas tasted in NYC on Saturday night.

From left: Rosewood Estates Merlot 2010, Tawse Merlot ‘David’s Block’ 2010, Norman Hardie ‘County Unfiltered’ Cabernet Franc 2011, and Domaine du Gour de Chaulé Gigondas 2007

Rosewood Estates Merlot 2010 (211896, $22.00) on this night walked a Niagara Wallendian tightrope of balance between heft and deft, sidling effortlessly up to Barque Smokehouse chefs David Neinstein and Tony Starratt’s ‘Mici‘ and travelling further on up the evolutionary road past “enjoyable if unremarkable.” From my earlier note: “Continues to show a reductive note in the form of vanilla and maple syrup, no honey actually, but all signs point to further excellence. High quality chocolate spiked by cherry, orange and a peppery, nasal tickle open up beautifully and expressively towards the dusty, berry main event. Knock your baby’s socks off with this double-stuffed Oreo and let the night unfold.  89 @Rosewoodwine

Tawse Merlot ‘David’s Block’ 2010 ($49.95) from certified organic and biodynamic estate fruit puts the double ‘L’ back in lush. Endowed of a caressing cashmere. Could act as spokesperson for Niagara Merlot announcing, “there are 10 kinds of people in the world, those who like Merlot, and those who don’t.” Calm, confident and marked by an insouciant nature. Earlier note: “Suffers no stenosis and instead flows as a sanguine and savoury riverine expression. Olives and the smokey whiff of yeasty bread on the grill. Not surprising considering the quality of Pender’s lees so often collected and added back to the next generation’s barrels.”  91  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Norman Hardie ‘County Unfiltered’ Cabernet Franc 2011 ($25) rolls the barrel out from a velvet underground into the Prince Edward County sun, pours singular Foster Vineyard fruit over crushed limestone then infuses the juice with ripe cherries. The warmth of 2010 lingers on in the ’11 CF’s pale blue eyes. Makes “the world as pure and strange as what I see.” Persists as the definitive expression of this grape in The County.  91  @normhardie

Dinner at Momofuku, Má Pêche, 15 w. 56th street, New York City, @momofuku

Má Pêche knows how to treat a lady, the President of the United States, and me. David Chang’s midtown eatery located in the Chambers Hotel opened in April, 2010. The Executive Chef is Paul Carmichael, a Barbados native who transmits Chef’s vision through elegant, restrained and poetic flavours. Carmichael and Chef de Cuisine Johnny Leach compose dishes as colourful canvasses but they are never over-painted nor monochromatic abstractions. Food of distinction and singularly distinct from plate to plate. Vegetables, many of the root kind, are succulent, glossy, al dente, and clearly defined. Service offers no pretense, no hovering, no massaging. Casual and professional. No hipster attitude neither.

Má Pêche AppetizersPhoto: Michael Godel

Má Pêche Oysters
Photo: Michael Godel

Oysters, especially New Brunswick Hurricane and Salt Pond Rhode Island are fresh makers, like spirits moving through the ocean. Washed those suckers down with 21st Amendment “Bitter American” Extra Pale Ale. Spanish Mackerel is a smokey, charred wave of umami with crisp, crunchy romaine and a silken tofu sauce, like citrus-spiked tahini. Barnegat Light Scallops are buttery, whispering, ethereal.

Appetizers

Má Pêche Appetizers

Chatham, MA Cod is foam cloud-enveloped, braised fish and brussel sprout ‘chips’ attenuated by malt vinegar. Jurgielewicz Farm, PA Duck two ways is perfect pink breast accented by candied orange rind and also piquant mici-like sausage, bucked by peppery spice. Provitello Fams, NJ Veal is fall apart, rosy neo-osso bucco, soft, supple and flat out delicious. The only non-wow moment comes from Barnegat Light, NJ Monkfish which shows indifference and a dry, dusty mole that barely mingles with needs to be further-rendered skin.

The wine list is more than thoughtful, embracing many needed food companion varieties, like Sylvaner, Trebbiano, Scheuerebe, Cabernet Franc, Nerello Mascalese and Teroldego. I opted for a southern Rhône Grenache blend imbued with just the perfect amount of age.

Domaine du Gour de Chaulé Gigondas 2007 ($31, Menu: 375 mL $32) of black/crimson mephitic and inky berry blush and lush, full-on sun-drenched fruit has reached full resolve. Licorice, kirsch and stony, meta-anthracite show off in the wine’s perfect window.  Decadent Gigondas.  92

Good to go!