Thirteen ways to taste Cuvée

Less than 24 hours after touching down at Pearson following a trip to Germany for ProWein (plus excursions through the Rheinhessen and Ahr Valley) I find myself in comfortable surroundings. Knotting a tie with Niagara Falls tumbling as it is always wont to do while in other proximate places Niagara’s wine folks get cleaned up real good, all of us ready to gather for Cuvée 2017. A grand affair.

The 29th annual Cuvée was indeed held last Friday, March 24 with the Grand Tasting at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls. Organized by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), Cuvée presents an essential cross-section of Ontario VQA wines while also raising thousands of dollars to fund academic scholarships and research. A count of 750 guests were in attendance along with 48 participating local VQA wineries and celebrated regional chefs.

Chef Justin Lesso, Kitchen 76 at Two Sisters Winery, Roasted eggplant and zucchini caponata with sultanas, whipped ricotta, toasted pine nuts and sweet balsamic on crostini

Congratulations to the Cuvée award winners for 2017

Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award: Grower Gerald Klose, Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence: Wine journalist Ian D’Agata.

VQA Promoters Award for Lifetime Achievement:  Toronto restaurateur Roberto Martella, Grano.

VQA Promoters Award for Education: Barb Tatarnic, Brock University.

VQA Promoters Award in the LCBO: Melissa McFadden, Owen Sound.

VQA Promoters Award for Hospitality: Sommelier Mike Fish, Glassroots Restaurant in London.

VQA Promoters Award in Retail: Brian Hanna, sommelier at Huff Estates Winery in Prince Edward County.

VQA Promoters Award for Media: Angela Aiello, iYellowWineclub.

The Cuvée Scholarship winners are:

Cuvée Hosting Award for Academic Excellence: Jacob Johnsson-Werner

Cuvée Award for Academic Excellence: Stephanie Van Dyk

Cuvée Award for Academic Excellence in OEVC: Hannah Lee

Cuvée Graduate Scholarship: Jennifer Kelly

Scotiabank Centre chefs

New signage showed the way to 47 winery participants divided into a six-pack of of design, “hazarding all ones chances,” to seek and to find. Luckily I found my way, with ease, to divide, conquer and taste many wines. 

I’ve reviewed 13 from the Cuvée Grand Tasting. Here are the notes.

Megalomaniac Chardonnay My Way 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

A new order for chardonnay begins at Megalomaniac with winemaker Sébastien Jacquey now doing things his way. Lyrically speaking, a once buttery and brain freeze style of Megalomaniac chardonnay is now made My Way. The song reference is via Paul Anka (also interpreted through Frank Sinatra and Sid Vicious) but here turning with learned impression into Jacquey’s way. The bite into crunchy green apple and tart russet sting is more than cool, it’s downright intense. The pulsating, ebullient pop burst is techno chardonnay at its finest, melodic and built on sonic texture. My Way reminds more of Temptation, “heaven, a gateway, a hope, just like a feeling inside, it’s no joke.” There is great ripeness from warm St. David’s Bench fruit a bit less mineral so conversely eased away from oak. Also easy on the stirring of lees, to keep the purity, clarity and as Séb notes “we are always trying to listen to nature.” Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @MegalomaniacJHC

Tripping the #sauvignonblanc light fantastic @StratusWines @CreeksideWine “come and trip it as ye go / On the light fantastic toe.” #imaginative #cuvèe #cuvee2017 #skippedthelightfandango #whitershadeofpale #buthecrowdcalledoutformore

Creekside Estates Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Creekside Estate Vineyard 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (53371, $26.95, WineAlign)

Four months is an eternity in sauvignon blanc development and what was is not any more. Here again, “Ooo there I stand neath the Marquee Moon, hesitating.” Now some of the finest and most intelligently rendered spice you are ever likely to get from a bite anywhere in the SB diaspora is tasted. Effectively intense as it was not last fall, Creekside’s 50 per cent wood-aged ’13’s “life in the hive puckered up my night.” The risk is now rewarded. Last tasted at Cuvée with Yvonne Irving, March 2017  @CreeksideWine  @CellarMonkey  @PetiteOenophile  @AMH_hobbsandco

Of more worthy extraction and calculated tropical aromatics, the Reserve rendition of Creekside’s backyard vineyard play is deeply juicy and spiked with natural tonic. This wine makes full use of the slow, let it hang 2013 vintage and its dry, cloud covered temper. There are herbs and lime juice stirred into the cocktail and flavour does not pass by at a fleeting premium. This has richness and tangy appeal. The wish would be for more acidity but isn’t that always the case? Drink 2016-2019. Tasted November 2016

Stratus Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

Welcome to new adventures in hifi, J-L Groux-Stratus Vineyards-sauvignon blanc style. “Here it comes (and) I’m carried away” by the utter freshness and positively optimistic nature of the grape and its potential off of Niagara-on-the-Lake vineyards. Groux employed two Sancerre clones, 317 and 530, the former antiKiwithetical and the second more Loire obvious. Picked early straight out of REM sleep (for Stratus) though always loyal to aromatics, the crisp green apple bite is striking in a cool-climate designated white void of chive, grapefruit and green veg. The fitness, finesse and fineness really show on the palate, direct, fresh and very long. Speaks to the organoleptic language of taste. Could have very well been dubbed The Departure. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @StratusWines

Fielding Estate Sparkling Rosé, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Fielding takes flight into traditional method, blush sparkling territory with this decidedly off-dry, fruit-driven, round and drinkable Rosé. Primarily 2013 based from pinot noir (84 per cent) and chardonnay (16) that spent up to 24 months on the lees. It’s habitual strawberry evidence and faint black cherry subtlety meet at the interstices of (13 g/L) of residual sugar, inviting and jacketing acidity. This is rose spectral, chaste stylish fizz to initiate Fielding’s investigation that will only become more and more complex. You’ll have to make a trip to Fielding if you want one, that or a reservation at Treadwell or Backhouse. All good options. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  @Heidi_Fielding

Adamo Oaked Chardonnay Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Nine months later and without the blind tasting arrangement it is Adamo’s chardonnay that once again directs the discourse. This second vintage and first solo record from B.C. native and winemaker Shauna White is a risk-taking, tart, fruit major, reductive minor virtuoso effort. It’s fresh, crisp, crunchy, pure, cooled down, off and out chardonnay. It’s also a classic Wismer-Foxtrot rendering interpreted with troubadour-diva talent. Chardonnay to “bring you apples from the vine,” so “run the bath and pour the wine.” Makes me anything but down.  Last tasted at Cuvée 2017, March 2017  @AdamoEstateWine

Really effective actuality, from barrel for couverture and bite, through texture by lees and with inhalant because of the mineral play. This has it all going on. The middle palate is so beautifully filled in, the spice and smokiness just a mild, intoxicating smoulder. Lovely stuff and terrific length. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016

Thirty Bench Vineyards Small Lot Riesling Steel Post Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The pattern forming from riesling in 2014 out of Niagara is coming into clear, linear focus and with great hyperbole from this single-vineyard Thirty Bench. True to its vineyard nature nomenclature Steelpost is apropos of steel pulse beats and smoky to flinty intensity. It has been many vintages since this type of Steelpost showing and methinks it the kind of wine so misunderstood in its youth. Riesling that cuts like a knife, right through fruit and gets right to the mineral heart of the matter. It’s like walking on a tightrope, “just, just take a look and see, yeah. I’d wait two years before digging a little deeper. A future of flesh and bone awaits. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017

Adamo Oaked Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Adamo’s second vintage takes a small but important step forward with reasons threefold by way of explanation. The first is fruit one year older, still a toddler relatively speaking but beginning to express itself with opinion and determination. Second is the baton and torch transfer from PEC set up man Jonas Newman to incumbent winemaker Shauna White. Third is simply Howard and Wes Lowrey’s Vineyard. This hallowed ground for Adamo is an allotted St. David’s Bench section as a gift with one stipulation. Don’t mess it up. With abide to terroir and essential tenets followed, this ’14 drinks as it should, rich, unctuous and tenuously structured. The spice is quite up front, dancing cheek to cheek with the precocious fruit. The continuance moves through a central vortex and into the back halls, carrying noticeable tannin down its dry and savoury descent. Might want to wait one more year. How is it this vineyard is able to speak regardless the maker? Only the one who knows his or her rows can answer the question. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @AdamoEstateWine

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (421370, Was $35.00, Now $28.25, WineAlign)

This is one of those wines you need to revisit. The 70 per cent whole berry and 18 months in wood give it this posit tug between carbonic restlessness and organza texture. The flavours are now developing out of the tobacco road nose, into flanked borscht boullion distilled, like aqua vitae with cinnamon, Szechuan pepper and cardamom spice.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @2027cellars  @TheVine_RobGroh

Bright, high-toned Pinot Noir with rambling warm, St. David’s Bench red fruit aromas, out of the raspberry patch (thorns and thistles in) and off of the ripening pomegranate tree. Some rusticity and quarried character refracts within a mild tannic frame. Very floral and high on acidity. Blissfully and blessedly not over pressed and in fact rather well made. Yet another success employed by winemaker Kevin Panagapka with stylistic firm talon grip from out of the Queenston Road Vineyard. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted February 2016 and March 2017

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment Oliveira Vineyard 2014, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $36.20, WineAlign)

With fruit from the Niagara chardonnay mecca Oliveira Vineyard and the addendum of yet another stellar varietal vintage it is this Craig McDonald speciality that helps to steal the show. Striking out with near-raging acidity (pushing and possibly exceeding the 8 g/L mark) the Wild Ferment is one of the most formidable expressions of 2014, if not ever. All the moving parts work fervently and impressively as if the motor is running and the machine careening around the speedway. To keep composure it is texture that brings about grounding, balance and cadence, from obvious lees perfection and 30 per cent new wood plus the rest forged by two to five year old barrels. This is creamy, energetic and tannic chardonnay, all conspiring to express itself with both weight and poise. From a maker who’s been around the block a few times, the ’14 WF will go the distance. And you can start now. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @TriusWines  @PellerVQA

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

The designation is NOTL and the fruit is a fifty-fifty draw from Niagara River along with less sandy estate soils. The fruit came is nicely warm, in the geek-noted 22.5-23.5 brix level, now double fast-forwarded to the spring of 2017 after its initial nine months in barrel. The frame is classic cabernet sauvignon, no matter the origin, housing and because of beautiful peninsula fruit. Twenty-five percent of the wood is texture giving and spice lifting atop blueberry, blackberry and Cassis. This is ripe but in retention of its acids with the creamy vanilla anglaise consistency only really felt at the finish. Only then. Tidy little $35 red from Marty Werner and Ben Minaker. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner  @BMinaker23

Colaneri Estate Winery Insieme 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

Insieme is built around and upon a foundation of high quality vintage conditioned merlot (36 per cent) with (31) cabernet sauvignon, (19) cabernet franc and (14) syrah. The fruit is subjected to 100 per cent appassimento processing, turning smooth, ambient, atmospheric, “e petto a petto, noi respiriamo insieme.” This is Niagara’s cinema paradiso red blend, composed with Morricone classicism in ode to Amarone. Two years in second pass cigar barrels brings the smoke and the smoulder, syrah adds a peppery jolt and dusty merlot turns into raspberry purée because the appassimento makes it that way. With sugar and acidity equally running high there is a knowing balance in 2013, a silken palate and the structure to see it age. If nothing else, even at 15 per cent alcohol it achieves one thing. “Solamente amore.” Drink 2018-2022. Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @ColaneriWinery

Tripping the #sauvignonblanc light fantastic @StratusWines @CreeksideWine “come and trip it as ye go / On the light fantastic toe.” #imaginative #cuvèe #cuvee2017 #skippedthelightfandango #whitershadeofpale #buthecrowdcalledoutformore

Chef Andrew McLeod, Bolete Restaurant, Pork hock terrine with Jerusalem artichoke relish and black garlic

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Réserve Du Domaine 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (392886, $44.95, WineAlign)

Two pinot noir worlds collide in the Réserve du Domaine, one from Jordan and the other Beamsville, with fruit forged and fused via Neudorf Farm’s Le Petit and Mountainview Vineyard. The collaboration is never lost on the Thomas Bachelder-Kelly Mason winemaking cooperation. Le Petit firms up the plummy rich unctuousness of Mountainview like any good spouse should and the match is unpredictable, at times inflammatory but in the end, made in heaven. Whole berries do their carbonic foreplay thing, infusing energy and keeping things light with assistance from a vintage in echo of the sentiment. This is more flavourful and quite possibly, potentially more structured than 2013 though it may also compromise some classicism for ultra modernity. It’s too young frankly to make such bold statements so let’s just call it a draw. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @QueylusVin  @Bachelder_wines

Trius Showcase Cabernet Franc Red Shale Clark Farm Vineyard 2014, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $45.20, WineAlign)

Showcase is from the wealthiest of cabernet franc Niagara fruit aboard the Clark Farm rows and placed in the hands of Trius for full effect. The Red Shale is housed in 30-35 per cent new oak, travels fully and completely through malolactic fermentation and lots of lees are kept, stirred, shaken and promoted with extreme prejudice. This is rich and beautifully reductive, a smoky batter enriched by 18 months in selected, set aside for a rainy cabernet franc day barrels. Something exotic this way wafts as it always does, with green herbal phenols and sweet spice island Syzygium aromaticum. In the end its incredibly long despite its rebel youth so know that it will be a finer Niagara cabernet franc with time tucked in pocket. Another notch etched in Clark Farm lore. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017  @TriusWines  @PellerVQA

Executive Chef James Price, Scotiabank Convention Centre, Lady Agnes’s roast duck saves the nation. Sloe berry and lavender brined duck, cellared vegetables, watercress and parsnip

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

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Top 10 May 16th VINTAGES releases

Oyster, Fiddlehead, Morel

Oyster, Fiddlehead, Morel

Long weekend ahead. Must find wine. VINTAGES concentrates on Australia and I am happy to report that the choices are more than impressive, especially in shades of Chardonnay, Sémillon and Marsanne. Three Ontario whites are released with two offering perfect sipping opportunities, from the hands of Rob Power and Richie Roberts. The third, from Craig McDonald, will blow you away in the realm of wild and crazy cool Chardonnay.

Get out there folks, said in refrain, put on some music, pour a glass and seize the day.

From left to right: Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Tahbilk Marsanne 2013, Kuhlmann Platz Rosé Crémant D'alsace, Méthode Traditionnelle, Fielding Pinot Gris 2014 and Howard Park Flint Rock Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Tahbilk Marsanne 2013, Kuhlmann Platz Rosé Crémant D’alsace, Méthode Traditionnelle, Fielding Pinot Gris 2014 and Howard Park Flint Rock Chardonnay 2012

Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (341792, $17.95, WineAlign)

The Backyard Block returns for another go around with as much Loire typicity as Niagara does in Sauvignon Blanc. Cements the Creek Shores varietal viability, in ripeness, greens and acidity.

From my earlier note of February 2014: A Creek Shores SB that bridges the gap between spring and summer fruit. From a year in which the choice was made to not blend off into the estate bottling. Recognizable Creekside aromatics stand out in a more than obvious mineral deposit and grapefruit zest way. Here the band plays across The Great Divide so “just grab your hat, and take that ride.”  Tasted again in August 2014 and last tasted May 2015  @CreeksideWine  @rich_hobbsandco

Tahbilk Marsanne 2013, Nagambie Lakes, Central Victoria, Australia (117945, $17.95, WineAlign)

In this Marsanne music from the big flint can be heard, with more than a wisp of woodsmoke and an aridity that hollows out the theatrical sound. Has that lean, stoic feeling, like Hunter Valley Sémillon, with a mouthful of mineral and stone. Since you asked, yes it does get to the Rhône point and lingers efficiently for longer than a band’s last waltz organ line. Though so dry it dips into the Nagambie Lakes well and seeks epic Evangeline poetic longevity. Marsanne from out of the blue that will gain weight and will age into a Riesling like future, with petrol and honey. Then it will play in refrain, its theme repeated for a good, long, lingering time. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted May 2015  @TahbilkWinery  @GrapeExpects  @winevic

Kuhlmann Platz Rosé Crémant D’alsace, Méthode Traditionnelle, Alsace, France (400788, $18.95, WineAlign)

Crémant cut from cloth neither chary nor coy, prompted with prejudice though in the archaic, piercing, ultra arid K-P style. Elemental my dear Rosé and cherries, struck by lightning and melting into the silky, sultry and lactic palate. Anything but oxidative with thunderous, Pinot Noir appeal. Pour this everywhere, off of fountains and into large vessels. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted May 2015    @VinsAlsace  @drinkAlsace  

Fielding Pinot Gris 2014, Estate Bottled, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (251108, $21.95, WineAlign)

Such a ripe and extroverted Pinot Gris, in a style created and honed by winemaker Richie Roberts, here in 2014 near its apex. Singular without feeling the pressure to induce rapture or revelation. Fleshy ripe, of peaches, plums and nectarines. Typically and expectedly fresh, juicy, industrious, vehement and good, spicy length. Always well-made, hitting essential, doctrinal Pinot Gris notes and so very food versatile. May I suggest a whole grilled fish, lemon and fresh herbs. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted May 2015  @RichieWine  @FieldingWinery

Howard Park Flint Rock Chardonnay 2012, Great Southern, Western Australia, Australia (410027, $22.95, WineAlign)

Flint or sulphur, pick your poison and in the case of this Howard Park Chardonnay, it must be called good medicine. Such a lively, struck match seethe, intimating and participating in the act of cool climate performance. A Sandman, an algid atmospheric cover band to the real Metallica, with mineral, toasty notes and driving anxiety. If only there was more than this, more fruit and flesh, this would be a stunner. As it is, the value it represents can’t be denied. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2015  @HowardParkWines  @imbibersreport  @WestAustralia

From left to right: Tyrrell's Brookdale Sémillon 2013, D'arenberg The Love Grass Shiraz 2011, Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011, Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2011 and Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008

From left to right: Tyrrell’s Brookdale Sémillon 2013, D’arenberg The Love Grass Shiraz 2011, Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011, Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2011 and Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008

Tyrrell’s Brookdale Sémillon 2013, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (269316, $24.95, WineAlign)

Hunter Valley Sémillon should never, ever be underestimated. The starved, crazed and raving mad personality is delirium incarnate. This Tyrrell’s ‘basic’ Brookdale is like orchard fruit on a focused and intense diet, thirsty from drought and hungry from deprivation. And it’s simply gorgeous. Wiry, angular and lean, it’s also careening and funky, actually, like a tincture made from dried roots, fruit skins and grasses, ground between two schisty stones. Like lemons left out in the sun to dry, pulverized and inculcated to a professor’s fine elemental powder. For now it knows “all I have is baking and going simple slowly.” Close your eyes and feel past the young tension, to where the body of the wine indicates expansion, to five years on where honey and sweet cold collation will lead this to a special place. Put aside the indifference engine and suck it up buttercup. This is exemplary Hunter Valley Sémillon for a pittance. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2015  @TyrrellsWines  @Wine_Australia  @HunterValleyAUS

D’arenberg The Love Grass Shiraz 2011, Mclaren Vale, Australia (48785, $25.95, WineAlign)

This Love Grass is the kind of Shiraz with the right stimulants, high-toned but with a kind of resinous, dried fruit that hydrates with an intoxicating perfume. The vineyard’s weed infiltrates and adds savour, stimulating the senses with cool Mediterranean aromas mixed with the flavour of beautifully bitter chocolate. Sticky and able to attach itself across the taste buds, the wolf steps on every nerve, then attacks the teeth and the back palate. All the while you are left with a calm yet enervating feeling. Chester Osborn, “you know the dealer, the dealer is a man, with the love grass in his hand.” This D’arenberg is worth every penny of its $26, especially when the pusher is considered against many peers $20-$30 more costly. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted May 2015  @darenbergwine  @mclaren_vale  @imbibersreport

Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (199273, $36.20, WineAlign)

The ambiguity of site is of little consequence in this texturally striking Niagara Chardonnay. The bookend vintages of 2010 and 2012 list the Oliveira Vineyard on the label and not surprisingly display character akin to Norm Hardie’s Niagara Chardonnay. From Duarte Oliveira’s farm between Victoria and Ontario Street, Hardie calls it Beamsville Bench, Craig McDonald deems it Lincoln Lakeshore. Regardless, those wines of fruit with a “golden tan, ready to go” are undomesticated and wild. This Trius 2011 is different. The fruit’s source is unspecified and the bursting personality takes Peninsula Chardonnay architecture past and well right of the centre line. Rich, ripe and buttressed, from pivot to gyrate, with acidity circling the life affirming yeasts. Pear trees in spring bloom and ready to pick fruit in a dream of tenses, with personality like a Hengst Grand Cru Pinot Gris. The style and varietal take are highly unique, expertly configured, judged and primed to age. Speaks the treble language of the vintage, predicated on bold ideas looking forward towards a bright future. Ultimately it is yeast and vintage, non partisan to site, that elaborate the Wild Ferment 2011. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted May 2015  @TriusWines

Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2011 and Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011

Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2011 and Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011

Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon (410753, $41.95, WineAlign)

Both estate and purchased fruit sources from several sites make up the Old Stones, a Willamette Chardonnay in which those stones can be imagined travelling a subterranean river, along with salt and volcanic bombs. Balance defined for Oregon, with soft and subtle fruit melded into stiff vintage-driven acidity. This is a not a heavyweight by any stretch, but rather an elegant, confident, demurred Chardonnay with lots of class. It has its popping moments, not quite eruptive but the activity can be sensed. It will evolve and slowly dissipate with time. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted May 2015  @Bergstromwines  @HalpernWine  @wvwines

D'arenberg The Love Grass Shiraz 2011 and Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008

D’arenberg The Love Grass Shiraz 2011 and Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008

Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County, California (220517, $150.00, WineAlign)

A tremendously ripe, rich and layered Syrah that has few equals or rivals in California so in that sense the price is benevolently justified. Winemaker Matt Dees is no flash in the pan. His wines are cerebrated and cogitated with no stone left unturned. They are showy, chiselled wrestlers, boxers and ultimate fighters but they are the real deal. This ’08 is a veritable protein potpourri, of wafts from the finest boucherie, all hung limbs and wrapped sheep’s cheeses, in caves, on counters and under glass. The expression is also very Côte Rôtie meets côte de bœuf rôtie, with added luxe perfume, chalk and lacy grain. The fruit boundaries are endless, the chew meaty, cured and smoky. Ultra Syrah of never wavering red fruit in a packed vessel with alcohol declared at a meagre 14.9 per cent. Even if it is really more like 15.5, the wealth of fruit, acidity, tannin and structure can handle the heat. With so much happening, this wine will age like the prized hind quarters and mother’s milk solids it smells of. Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008 says something and I’d love to hear what that is 15 years down the road. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted May 2015  @WoodmanWS  @CalifWines_CA

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‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

Golden globes, Trius Winery at Hillebrand
PHOTO: ESTHER VAN GEEST OF STEVEN ELPHICK & ASSOCIATES

as seen on canada.com

In July of 2011, the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Association held their inaugural event, the celebration, the fourth “C.” On the weekend of July 19-21, 2013 the third Cool Climate Chardonnay conference occupied the greater good of the Niagara Peninsula, cementing a legacy begun two years previous.

Backtrack a few years, when in 2009 Ontario’s Le Clos Jordanne’s ‘Claystone Terrace’ Chardonnay 2005 made by winemaker Thomas Bachelder trumped international competitors in a Montreal grand tasting. A light bulb went on. Fast forward to April 2010 and a group of romantics from 28 Ontario wineries get together to defend a grape. Were they singing “that’s what I like about Chardonnay?” No, but the grape had been down on the rock for so long and the panel felt compelled to come to its defense. To suffer an indignity like “Anything But Chardonnay” was an aggression that could no longer be tolerated. Thus an idea was born, a manifesto drafted and i4C was soon to become a reality.

For such a gathering to succeed there necessitates grand effort, partnership, passion, star power and serious thematic examples. Germination began with those first cool thoughts back in 2010 and the journey has since laid song lines by way of a barmy march of vignerons with rootstock firmly dug in Niagara (Harald ThielAngelo Pavan) and those with a second foot tracking terroirsbeyond and abroad (Thomas BachelderFrancois Morissette). Mix in some of this generation’s best wine-producing and marketing minds; Ron Giesbrecht formerly of Henry of Pelham, now Niagara College, Stephen Gash (Malivoire), Peter Bodnar Rod (13th Street), Del Rollo (Inniskilin, Jackson Triggs, Le Clos Jordanne), Suzanne Janke (Stratus) and Jeff Aubry (Coyote’s Run). The yeoman’s load has been in the multi-tasking hands of those who will work ’till their fingers bleed. Give it up for the cool concierge team; Dorian Andrewes, Trisha Molokach, Elena Galey-Pride, Britnie Bazylewski, Magdalena Kaiser-Smit and an army of volunteers.

Partnered in kind with Wine Country Ontario, the Grape Growers of Ontario and the LCBO, Cool Chardonnay has gone forth and prospered. Success can be directly attributed to community and a profound connection to the fruit of the land. Famous wine folk have come; Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator, Stephen Brook of Decanter, winemakers and vintners wherever cool Chardonnay is grown. Pours have been the best of the best.

For three straight days in 2013 they walked, talked, sung praises in favour of and flat-out got dizzy with Chardonnay. White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa became vinifera central for the visiting cognoscenti, including 1976 Judgment in Paris and Decanter Magazine’s Steven Spurrier,U.K. wine writer Jamie Goode (The Wine Anorak), Master of Wine Christy Canterbury and traveling winemakers from all over; Louis Jadot’s Jacques Lardière, South Africa’s Anthony Hamilton Russell, New Zealand’s Ruud Maasdam and Spain/California’s Marimar Torres.

The Cool Chardonnay weekend-long event is the stuff of dreams. The level of local and global wine excellence on display is sweeping and staggering. The congress acts both as social function and unprecedented academic experience. Most of all, i4c fosters and develops relationships for people within the wine industry and with its fans.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Brock University CCOVI

 Dizzying was the operative word of the weekend. Each time I had only just digested, assimilated, internalized and committed a group of wines to memory, another gala event and tasting was upon me. Friday morning began with “Global Perspectives on Chardonnay,” a winemaker’s panel discussion at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, moderated in minimalist, less is more fashion by Mr. Spurrier. The colloquium was augmented by a tasting of seven wines attributed to panel members. “The base for all wines should be harmony,” began Spurrier, followed by ”simplicity and clarity are the key points in wine.” Four matter-of-course questions were put to the panel and the dissertations ambled in many directions. Could the room of several hundred not question, “why is this symposium different from all other symposiums?” There was plenty of talk on barrels, clones, rootstock, soil and climate but what about the heart of the matter. How and where does Ontario Chardonnay go forth and prosper? How will exceptional quality translate to financial success? The answer lay buried in the polite, respectful and viniculture responses of the panelists, all of whom chose not to ruffle any wine making philosophy feathers nor to breach the moderator’s benign agenda. There were highlights:

Grape grower Albrecht Seeger:

Thomas Bachelder on behalf of and in support of the eloquent and verbose Jacques Lardière:

The outspoken and candid Francois Morissette:

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Chardonnay at Brock University CCOVI

Friday night at Trius (Hillebrand) in Niagara-on-the-Lake set off under blazing sun only to be swept away in tempest. What began with the promise of seemingly limitless and linear structured wine and food stations turned into weather induced, scrambled chaos. I may never see a group of cooks, servers, winemakers and volunteers work harder to save an event and satiate a crowd as I saw at Trius that night. Their efforts were nothing short of brilliant. It was difficult to focus on tasting but the scene afforded some priceless time spent with Niagara winemakers and Brit Jamie Goode as the event wound down and on the shuttle back to the hotel. Wine tastings rarely afford such personal moments, to talk about something other than phenolics and malolactic fermentation.

PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates
Marlize Beyers at of Hidden Bench, Mikael Falkman of Champagne Taittinger and Michael Godel at Trius Wines

Lunch events and tastings on Saturday were held at StratusPillitteriHidden Bench and at Southbrook, which I attended. While the first three conducted more formal, seated, panel discussion style luncheons, the scene at Southbrook was more of a walk about, casual nature. Once again this allowed for one-on-one time with some of Niagara’s wine minds. Great time was spent with Shiraz Mottiar of Mailvoire (Moira’s Chardonnay 2010) and Sébastien Jacquey of Le Clos Jordanne (LCJ Chardonnay Claystone Terrace 2010). Special thanks to Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier for their hospitality.

PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates
Mother Nature announces a change of plans – at Trius Wines

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre was host to the Saturday gala event. The gamut of Chardonnay flowed freely, including fizz by Cave Spring, Angel’s Gate and Taittinger alongside Tide and Vine oysters. Food stations adorned the lawn and the army of volunteers poured all available Chardonnay well into the night. My ABC moment came early Sunday thanks to Mike Di Caro and a very much alive bottle of ’98 Henry of Pelham Riesling. Sunday concluded with more, you guessed it, Chardonnay at Ravine Vineyard and some terrific eats. Pizza from the outdoor oven, prosciutto by Mario Pingue and great rib-eye hamburgers hot off the grill.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Chef Vikram Vij at Vineland Research Centre

In excess of 100 unique expressions of Chardonnay were available to taste throughout the weekend. More than half were presented in an experiential way, with a present winemaker or a carefully crafted food pairing. I sampled 72 to be exact. Much as I have thus far avoided the questions, and they have been asked more than once, I am willing to address the demand for ”what were the highlights and what were your favourites?” Apologies in advance to those I either missed or could not properly assess due to the sheer enormity of the weekend. Also to the little ones, the hard-plodding, day-to-day pleasing value Chardonnay. With so many top-tier, global examples from Burgundy, California, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, British Columbia and Ontario on offer, the under $25 set may not have felt the love. Here are notes on 13, guilt-free, bring ‘em on Chardonnay poured at #i4c2013.

Wines were tasted at the following venues:

Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI)

Trius Winery at Hillebrand (TWH)

Southbrook Vineyards (SV)

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (VRIC)

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre Rittenhouse Media Room  (RMR)

Ravine Vineyard (RV)

Southbrook Chardonnay Whimsy! ‘Sirgue’ 2011 (344531, $34.95) may come from the ‘masculine barrels’ but the integration is already seamless, in soft French cream spooned over a grove of ripe lemon dessert. Sister ‘Damy’ (sampled at 5-Star Casa Loma) is certainly ultra-feminine but together they speak of the symbiotic relationship between winemaker (Ann Sperling) and cooperage. Stone-free Chardonnay, “free to ride the breeze.”  90  (TH, SV) @SouthbrookWine

Poplar Grove Reserve Chardonnay 2011 (335760, $34.00) is not so much a more concentrated version of the estate’s normale as a hotter sister. Like her sibling, the reserve does not rely on any one feature but she is classically styled, quaffed, a marble bust made up as maenad. Sappy white and savoury, meloniuos winter fruit, spiced apple butter and cool, steely goodness alights. “Felonious my old friend, So glad that you’re here again.”  90  (TWH, VRIC) @poplargrovewine

Staete Land Chardonnay ‘Josephine’ 2010 (332494, $57.00) is built upon a Marlborough hendiadys, a complex conjunction of rocks and earth. Sharp, focused and broad across the palate. Ruddy specimen this Josephine and simply gorgeous.  90  (VRIC)  @liffordwine

Miguel Torres Chardonnay ‘Cordillera De Los Andes’ 2011 (296624, $18.95) out of the cooler Limari Valley impresses in structure from mountain top to valley floor. Candied lemon peel, spicy bite and a crisp, cool centre make a case for value Chilean Chardonnay of the year. I might go so far as to say the highest quality ever from Chile.  91  (RMR)  @MarimarTorres

Tawse Chardonnay ‘Lenko Vineyard’ 2011 (344796, $44.95) ”from wiser men who’ve been through it all” is the kind of one-off we should all wish to re-visit in 10 years time. The study: Daniel Lenko’s fruit in the hands of winemaker Paul Pender out of a most confounding vintage. That 2011 in terms of Ontario Chardonnay strikes and speaks to me in tongues is no secret, so the Tawse treatment fascinates in ways to make me giddy. Tension and elasticity are present here in super-hyper Beamsville Bench concentration. Apples pile upon apples, in magnetic purée and layered maceration. A full-on body attack and phenolic structure will see this Lenko to a future (five to seven years) in grace and gorgeous line. A Chardonnay to “scheme the schemes, face the face.” Tasted three times.  91  (TH, VRIR, SV)  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011 (931006, $32.95) may just be the most fascinating wine of the weekend. Aromatically it’s so understated and semi-breve spoken the oak-driven note is of the quasihemidemisemiquaver kind. Taste and find it ”is bathed every veyne in swich licour.” Chaucer-esque form, texture and meaning.  91  (VRIC, RV)  @WOSACanada

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2009 (303644, $40), tragically singular in expression, regardless and in spite of the terroir, mixes metaphors and pulls it off. “Takes arms against a sea of troubles,” by convincing ADHD fruit of an uncertain vintage to settle, play nice and “by opposing, end them.” Now entering the load out zone, this Hamlet cuvée is “the first to come and the last to leave, working for that minimum wage.” A sentimental ballad here to stay, be remembered and to set the stage for all dix-neuvième to come.  92  (TH)  @Pearl Morissette

Domaine Genot-Boulanger Meursault Clos du Cromin 2010 (331660, $59.00) intimates a sunshine daydream future carrying on wistfully in lustful fruit. Longevity will be supported by tight citrus and the wine, long on life, is long on deliverance.  92  (VRIC, VRI)

Bachelder Chardonnay ’Saunders Vineyard’ 2011 (324103, $44.95) 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. Sapid, savoury, buttered stones show negligible encumbrance due to vines that will not carry an excess of new oak.  92  (CCOVI)  @Bachelder_wines

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011 (346049, $35.00) toasted low and slow enervates and implodes to its very core. Then it sparks, revs the engine and climbs to 140 fearlessly and without peer. For those who can withstand the atomic launch, what follows is a reward of the highest quality Berkshire porcine whip, melting in the mouth like adult cotton candy.  Slow simmered apple paste, spiced and cooling reaps moisture and vacuums in the cheeks. Madness in Prince Edward County Chardonnay.  92  (RMR)  @normhardie

Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2010 (120311, $90) is a study in Russian River Valley emotional depth, structured belief, reserved compassion and stoic understanding. Yes John Milton, there is intensity of the California sun present yet expertly judged in ripeness, concentration and restraint. Smooth, glabrous, luxuriant and prurient Chardonnay. Sip it, “look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth.”  93  (RMR)

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2011 ($40) is a child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or NOL in 2011?  93  (CCOVI)

Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche 2010 (332270, $129.00) is sinfully young to assess, enjoy and evaluate. Stinging nettle, metal and silken, concentrated wildflower honey think mellifluous thoughts. “Him that yon soars on golden wings” sings in gold ingot yellow, in sweet harmony. Milton meets Costello, not quite in its Utopian place but will one day achieve peace, love and understanding.  94  (RMR)

Good to go!

A long and “wine-ding” tasting road

Wine tasting PHOTO: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES

as seen on canada.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

LCBO: Waterloo’s Charley Ronzio of Store 115.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flight #2: The Mothers of Invention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCOVI Tasting

Flight #3: We Are Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flight #4: Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

The Wine Diaries: Hockey and tasting notes

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I’ve been for a walk. On a winter’s day.

Just in case you were not privy to the wisdom, I’m here to put you in the know. Some phenomenal wine is made here in Ontario. A rather large and excited group at #ONWineChat talks about this very fact every Wednesday night. You can chime in or just eavesdrop. We also have some dedicated, propitious traffickers of the red, white and sparkling stuff, including Wines in Niagara, the Wine Council of Ontario, the Ontario Wine SocietySpotlight Toronto and Wine Align Cru.

If you are looking for an event that brings Ontario’s greatest wines, wineries and winemakers together, don’t miss CUVÉE WEEKEND 2013, taking place March 1 to March 3, 2013 in Niagara Falls and throughout the Niagara region.

Attending a wine festival is one way to spend three days away from the dolor and calamity of the city. Another way is to head north and leave the noisome and constant freezing/unfreezing behind. The freedom to seek peace and quiet is in itself a gift of something very special. It’s called time. Time to spend with family. Time to transcribe thoughts and notes, to watch a movie. Time to enjoy a glass of wine.

Three wines, hockey stick and puck

The kids clamber down through parapets of snow to the natural boathouse rink, a glassine envelope, like a reef’s teeming tide pool left behind by retreating waters. Inside is a sheltered 12′ x 40′ basin frozen in time with the lake laid out beyond the gate as far as the eye can see. Others bring the wine. Here are three calming selections to enjoy on such a winter’s day.

From left to right: Trius Pinot Grigio 2011, Kunde Zinfandel 2007, Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2010

Trius Pinot Grigio 2011 (316414, $15.95) continues to throw smoke and amaze with its hue, this time reminiscent of crocus sativus linnaeus meets malachite green with an added fogging of rime. Herbal and balmy sweet, like pistachio halvah. Consistent with my previous note. “Out of the shell Ontario white.”  88  @TriusWines

Kunde Zinfandel 2007 (965921, $16.95) remains faithful in quiescence while we await the next incredibly valued vintage. The ’07’s bramble and brier are now more subtle, the sanguine notes now stanched. A Zinfandel in its later years, comfortable, content, grandfatherly. Enter retirement zin-city.  89  @KundeEstate  @imbibersreport

Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2010 ($37.95) like its half-sister Quarry Road, stands firm and smacks stubbornly up to the heat of the vintage. Opaque green of agate stone. Combines the apples and citrus from Quarry with Robyn’s musk and pear, but also the searing, mineral tang of Hillside. The assemblage is the most fleshy and forthcoming Chardonnay of the lot. Promises the best of all Tawse’s worlds, without stealing the spotlight from its single vineyard sistren.  90  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Boathouse wines

Winter tasting notes:

Related – VINTAGES February 16th, 2013 Release

Boutari Grande Reserve 2007 (140111, $16.95) from the family @boutari is rusty and evinced of a slight, smokey corrosion though not yet nearly ancient, especially by Macedonian standards. Tough red, granting notes of smoked gyros, Kalamata olive and acetic, Bebecou apricot. Unique and worth a try.  88  @KolonakiGroup

Fielding Estate Cabernet/Syrah 2010 (258657, $24.95) from @RichieWine is a veritable smoked porcine charcuterie board sprinkled with potpourri. Black currant and fig, expertly extracted fruit in a ripe and round package.  88  @FieldingWinery

Creekside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (662247, $34.95) from @CreeksideWine offers up 31 months of sweet oak scents and flavours yet resists over-mochafication. Rarely does a Niagara Cab bask in such a rich and full-bodied bath like this robin red, Queenston Road Vineyard beauty. Currants, citrus and herbs make appearances.  89 

Mocali Vigna Raunate Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (162552, $46.95) is a pin-up babe indicative of the vintage, of crimson visage, flaunting a tanned and curvy figure. Brunello as a sexy twitter pic. Red cherry, smoky tobacco, mouth-puckering dried fruit. Spicy, sassy, ready to party.  90  @liffordwine

Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (994095, $57.95) is not, contrary to the LCBO information page, a VQA wine. Offers instant permeate gratification with a stunning translucence studded by a faint, rustic and sweet cherry resonance. Fine, downy texture and corporeal substance for near wild heaven indulgence, followed by R.E.M. sleep. “My heart thrown open wide.”  91  @rogcowines

Château de Pez 2009 (202697, $58.95) is no kidding Johnny, this pirate in Saint-Estèphe clothing. Firm, cedar, mocha saveur and shakin’ all over. “Sends quivers down my backbone” and while it may be unapproachable today, this will aim to please when it settles down in ten years time.  90

And the fort still stands.

Winter Fort

Good to go!

The year of drinking better wine

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“I don’t mind the red wine or the pick-up line as long as it’s cheap.”

Only two days into the New Year and already the familiar refrain replays. So much talking up the wrong vine. That heinous recurrent smoke and mirror theme blurring the path to righteous wine.

VINTAGES January 5th, 2013 Release

In December caution gyrates in tossed abandon, swirling figure eights in the wind. Industry folk bear witness to a wild meritage month of over-spending and reckless wine activity. Then New Year’s is followed by a hangover that causes a confused, annual parade of resolutions. So many swear away indulgence and when it comes to wine, personal restocking gets stymied by rigid, penny-wise action. Know this ‘smart buys’ buyers and beware. You should never drink bad wine. Life really is too short.

Try drinking outside the box. Look to varietals and regions never before considered. Return to old favourites dissed for years. Broaden your wine mind. Take chances. Live a little. Your goal for 2013 must be to drink better wine. Here are five current releases under $20 to re-shuffle and reconsider in the New Year.

The grapes: Chardonnay and Viognier

The history: A South African twist on traditional Burgundy made unusual with the 5+% addition of a Northern Rhône white grape

The lowdown: Remarkably rich and robust for the price and at 14% abv it defies logic. And seriously, what’s in a name anyway?

The food match: Chinese-Style Steamed Tilapia

Bellingham Chardonnay With A Splash Of Viognier 2010 (295345, $13.95) is a chewy white, at first like bubble gum, with juicy fruit flavours that don’t quit. Melds butter into batter, slowly caramelizes and pops out toasty, seeking roast turkey. No Tom foolery here, this plugged in Wellington bruiser, Skinny Legs and All, sports a Jet Airstream design equipped with a battery that lasts and lasts.  87

The grapes: Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Stainless Steel fermented juice grown out of La Viña Cooperative in Valencia, at a range of altitudes from 300 to nearly 900 meters above sea level

The lowdown: 10% Cab elevates the Molet to mini, Super-Tempranillo status

The food match: Potato, Bacon and Gruyère Soup

El  Molet Tinto 2009 (305904, $14.95) goes optimum in freshness, ripeness and balance. A full complement of fruit; purple to red to black to blue. Vibrant, piquant, chalky and contused. Presses all the right Tempranillo buttons.  89

The grape: Pinot Grigio

The history: Euro trash wine often so hard to distinguish one from another

The lowdown: Hillebrand’s winemaker Craig MacDonald has come out and rolled a natural

The food match: BBQ Shrimp Grits, preserved lemon rouille

Trius Pinot Grigio 2011 (316414, $15.95) burnishes patina copper and works an unprecedented, osphretic angle for the Niagara Peninsula. Diced pear, lemon pepper, herbs and honey roll prodigally from the glass, pausing to allow for analysis and lingering longer than would be thought. Wholly unique and satisfying. Out of the shell Ontario white.  88

The grape: St. Laurent

The history: Varietal from Alsace, having made a stop in Germany before settling comfortably in Austria

The lowdown: Like Pinot Noir, this varietal sheens best by the light of day

The food match: Loaded Sweet Potatoes, roasted garlic

Rabl St-Laurent 2009 (301960, $15.95) is flat-out delicious, peppy, peppery and buoyed by bright flavours . The kind of wine that makes you wonder if it’s red or white, makes you “not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.” A rebel, pretty in a volcanic way, in full make-up, fresh yet firm. “Hot tramp, I love you so!”  88

The grapes: Sangiovese, Sagrantino and Merlot

The history: Sagrantino of Montefalco produces Umbria’s most iconic red. When blended (typically with Sangiovese), the result is the Rosso di Montefalco

The lowdown: Though Sangiovese leads with 70% in the blend, the Sagrantino’s blackberry and deep earth character cannot be held down

The food match: Smoked Paprika Braised Beef

Arnaldo Caprai Rosso Montefalco 2009 (303065, $19.95) simply has the ‘it’ factor. I’d walk over the hills and far away for this super-Umbrian. A high-flying Zeppelin of pencil lead and animale perfume balanced by ultra-ripe red berries, verging to rapturous black. “Hey lady you got the love I need.”  90

Good to go!

Lock, stock and sparkling wines

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as seen on canada.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

Sparkling Wine Tasting

Stock Restaurant at the Trump Hotel

December 11th, 2012

First Group of Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ontario Sparkling & Culinary Tastes

Begin

Baby Kale & Heirloom Carrot Salad

russet apple, québec goat cheese

Cold Poached Lobster Salad

organic greek yogurt & bergamot dressing

Hamachi, Fennel & Citrus Crudo

chilli and tarragon

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

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

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

Continue

Braised Veal Shank

yukon potato gnocchi, picholine olives

Roasted Magret of Duck a L’Orange

buttered savoy cabbage

Maple Broiled Black Cod

edamame puree

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

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

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

Finish

Coffee Crusted Pecorino Romano

clementine gratin

White Chocolate Ganache

greek yogurt, carrot, yuzu

Pain Perdu

tangerine, lychee, marcona almond

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

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

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

Good to go!