Ruché with you?

The morning of July 14th began with a round table discussion in the Costigliole d’Asti Castle for an hour’s reckoning and reflection on Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Astia Nizza Monferrato. Our triumvirate educatori rispettatiProgetto Vino panel of Michele Longo, Michaela Morris and Monty Waldin were looking for answers and for truth. Not just comments on the quality of the wines but resolutions so as to move forward, to progress, to offer a better Piemontese experience and to bring better barbera to the world.

Jinglin Zhang, The boys from Crivelli and Godello

Related – Barbera d’Asti Del Monferrato E Nizza Monferrato

Barbera d’Asti had concluded the previous evening with dinner at Locanda del Boscogrande in Montegrosso d’Asti and in advance of travelling to Barolo for the Collisioni Festival came the arrival in Castagnole Monferrato. We were welcomed by Luca Ferraris, President of the association of Ruchè producers. First there was a walk in the vineyard and then lunch at Cantina Bersano with ruchè, grigolino, freisa and the vintners. An afternoon speed dating session at Mercantile Hall in Castagnole Monferrato would change my mind’s experience about ruché’s varietal place in Piemonte and the world. A study in Ruchè is an unavoidable headfirst dive into phenolics, climate change and choices. Tasting these wines provides for one of the most transparent and palpable presentations in the understanding of ripeness, much like Garnacha in Campo de Borja, Cariñena and Calatayud. 

Michele Longo, Luca Ferraris and Gurvinder Bhatia

Ruchè develops its sugars and alcohol quite early, often reaching a potential of 14-15 degrees by late August, early September. The temptation is to pick early and in many cases it is both justified and necessary, especially in vintages with little precipitation and heat through summer. Like garnacha and as they found out this past summer with sangiovese in Toscana, picking small, desiccated berries too early might yield sugar and alcohol but the question is whether or not there will be sufficient support by phenolic ripeness. Waiting on the trust that some rain will come and also extended season warmth is often the key to such development, but Ruché is different and in some vintages the development happens lightning fast. Picking times are crucial in every agricultural region but hyper-sensitive here. Growers might pick early and find ideal ripeness and yet others might produce jammy wines with bitter, green and astringent tannins.  It’s a fine line everywhere but in Ruché the vintage really, really matters. 

Seven times more beautiful than I could have ever known #castagnolemonferrato #ruché #progrettovini #collisionimonferrato

The Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status for Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato was granted in 2010 out of the region Asti-Piemonte. The general terroir is apprised by silt, clay, sand and limestone soils at elevations between 120-400 masl. Plantings on northern slopes from 2010 onwards may not be used in DOCG wines. The maximum yield allowance is nine tons per hectare, minimum alcohol 12.5 and there are no ageing requirements, nor are there any for vigna-designated wines though all must be composed from at least 90 per cent ruché, with barbera and brachetto often used to blend.

Castagnole Monferrato

The producers of Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato as a rule have figured out their picking schedules to coax the most out of their fruit. Slope position is the key to knowledge here and the higher up you farm the more likely you’re going to need to wait before pulling off those grapes. The surprisingly refreshing relative absence of barrel use is another reason that this tiny appellation is on the road to glory so early in its DOCG existence. The grape is fortuitous for its ability to create structure without needing the over-stimulated couverture of new French oak. Some stainless steel and concrete-rasied examples display the ability to age on their own. Time and experience will allow more additions of wood élevage but for now the wines show purity, clarity and honesty just the way they are. I tasted 21 wines from 15 producers that day in July. Here are the notes.

Bava Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato 2016, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Bava’s ruché combines the freshness of grignolino with the brooding of barbera though in a decreased state of acidity. The fruit is strawberry-raspberry, fresh-picked and a bit leafy-savoury in contrast, marking this middle of the road-toned red and its ripe phenolics. Thoughtfully and thankfully round for early and clear comprehensible drinking in complete control of the vital energy it’s capable of harnessing. No astringency here and a very correct to ambassadorial example of ruché. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted July 2017  bavawinery  @bavawinery  @bava.winery

La Fiammenga Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato 2016, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Privilegi is much more floral than many of its ilk but also riper, concentrated and deeply pressed. It’s clearly designed for international/marketing appeal with an expressed coffee calculation and a drift into the seriousness of Piemontese territory. It tries quite hard to impress and in the end you can take the ruché out of Castagnole Monferrato but you can’t take Castagnole Monferrato out of ruché. The variety can’t help but act like itself so trying to press its round character into a square hole leads to disconnect. The end result is more tannin and therefore astringency in a wine that started out with tremendous fruit potential. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  tenutalafiammenga  #lafiammenga  La fiammenga

Massimo Marengo Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato 2016, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Tasted with Marco and Alessandria Marengo, here ruché is bred in argiloso soils (mainly clay) and from a more than intense vintage. A year in which rising alcohol levels went reaching for a crescendo but the variety will last longer in its hold out for phenolic ripeness as compared to those in sandy soils. So here we have the powerful and structured ruché, picked by September 20th, which is now these days the average. Brings dark red fruit and intensity, violets and plums, lots of pepper, with a vintage full on with dry extract. This is regal and chewy, with fortuitous fortitude, absence of oak and it will certainly be a longer lived example. The tannic structure will not handle new French barriques so its stainless steel only to do the job and the trick. And it’s 15 per cent alcohol. Brilliant. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted July 2017  #massimomarengo  Massimo Marengo

Gratitude to @BERSANO1907 for hosting and opening the portal into #ruché #castagnolemonferrato

Bersano Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato San Pietro Realto 2016, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

San Pietro Realto Ruché is completed with a one pick harvest at the end of September, at the same time as barbera. Sees only stainless steel and the current vintage production is 100,000 bottles. The liquor-liquorice-syrupy ruché was released in late March, early April, from calcareous soil at the top of the hill and argil at the bottom. Very fluid and silky ruché, refined and of a density by layering and tart compression. It’s clean and modern, with liquid smoke and pepper. It is aided by anteprime temperature control (48 hours), to preserve florals, the perfume and the acidity before fermentation. Very grown up and 21st century. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  bersano1907  profilewinegroup  valentinacasetta  @BERSANO1907  @ProfileWineGrp  @Bersanowine  Profile Wine Group

Valentina Casetta with a pioneering bottle of Bersano Ruché

Bersano Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato San Pietro Realto 2004, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

San Pietro is the name of the estate where the rolling stone ruché is farmed and this look back takes us into what I believe was the 17th year as a recognized DOCG. There is an abundant wealth of wild, wild horses secondary and tertiary character here, more into dried fruit and much less, though still intact acidity, naturally and in evolution as compared to the more recent ’13 and ’16 examples. It’s a pretty country and western sort of rock ‘n roll ballad that could indeed drag me away. You can feel the alcohol and the earthy, ante demi-glacé, liquid gritty and distinct. A heartfelt thanks goes out to enologo Roberto Morosinotto for the generosity and opportunity in curiosity. “Childhood living is easy to do.” Drink 2017.  Tasted July 2017

Bersano Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato San Pietro Realto 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

San Pietro 2013 is possessive of more spice, florality, cooler and savour direct injection. The liquid velvet transparency and clean lines are the same as you see fast forwarded to 2016. I see more ageability in this 2013s, but also perhaps a bit more rusticity. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted July 2017

Gatto Pierfrancesco Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato Caresana 2016, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

From Francesco and Marco, Caresana is the cru, in front of Castagnole, loosely translated as “dearest,” I would think. Vines aged two to 30 years old and fruit picked early, September 4th and 5th, before dolcetto. Mostly calcareous and some sandy soil, very perfumed, the deep smell of fresh plums, just picked from the tree, sliced, juicy, running ripe and warm. Again here is the liquid purity of the ruché liqueur, classic, somewhat traditional but easily slid into the current climate and decade. Carries more acidity than some in the sides of the mouth climbing in a back and forth way. Really plummy and so bloody varietal but no iron, just white limestone in this soil. Very drinkable, that mineral liquified and rendered, ready to go, best to drink young. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  #gattopierfrancesco  Pierfrancesco Gatto

A tryptich of Clàsic #ruché from #LucaFerraris di #castagnolemonferrato to drink, with new friends.

Ferraris Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato Bric d’Bianc 2016, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

From Luca Ferraris this varietal ruché is lower in alcohol than many peers because this is not a top exposure but the varietal obviousness is so bloody so. Ruché stripped down, laid bare, naked to the world, From both white and red soil, with elegance and some grip. It does not get much fresher or direct than in this bottle. Unlock the simplest secrets of Castagnole Monferrato and read the dictionary entry through the lens of this example. Drink 2017-2018. Tasted July 2017  lucaferraris1979  @ferrarisagricol  Luca Ferraris  

Ferraris Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato Clàsic 2016, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

The Clàsic ruché draws inspiration from 54 hL botti after a slow (20 day) maceration and stays in the big casks until bottle. There is some racking (now using some open top fermenters), no punch downs but some pump overs, all in the name of breathing. Ruchè ripens as early as any red in Piemonte and in Castagnole Monferrato it’s likely in the first ten days of September. Sugars accumulate quickly, acidity is often low but it manages to maintain a healthy level of malic acid. And so as per the varietal expectation this is richly aromatic, textural, crisp and possessive of a strong concentration of polyphenols. Solid structure with an eight to 10 year potential results. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted July 2017

Ferraris Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato Opera Prima per Il Fondatore 2015, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Opera Prima per il fondatore comes from a single-vineyard at the top of the hill. It is Riserva level ruché in honour of Luca Ferraris’ grandfather Martino. The vineyard is steep, with loose calcareous soil that is poor in nutrients and so it carries a history of yield reduction. The vigour control combines with late ripening so structure is first developed in the vineyard. Luca is looking for longevity and ages Opera Prime for 30 months in tonneaux so such a young ruché is not surprisingly reserved, of course, not quite giving, immature yet primed for aging, like Barolo but also Rioja Gran Reserva. This because it comes across as really spicy, smoky and savoury. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted July 2017

Vigna Del Parroco Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato 2016, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Vigna del Parroco is the driest in town and was planted by the first local agronomist. The property is now owed by Ferraris, with this being the first vintage. Élevage is 20 per cent in tonneaux and the rest in big botti plus stainless steel (depending on what’s available). This is the original, massale selection vine/plant, young and intense with some of the area’s highest acidity. Only 1000 bottles were produced. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted July 2017  #vignadelparroco    La Vigna del Parroco

Alberto and Eliza, Tenuta Montemagno

Tenuta Montemagno Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato 2016, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Tenuta Montemagno is the ruché child of Alberto and Eliza, raised on a plateau of calcareous clay with white argilo, rich in seabed fossils and minerals. The ’16 was picked mid-September, went to soft crush-press, fermented on native yeasts and dropped into stainless. The effort is as natural as possible, all hand worked, with no filtration and pumpovers. There is some tannin, more than others in the form of a liquid grainy texture, firm but also that ruché juiciness and the first to offer some late beneficial bitters. Organically styled though certification is not their thing. Alberto notes that 2013 was a great vintage, after ’11 and now ’16, Seems to say with fair warning “here’s to your thin red line I’m stepping over.” It’s serious Italian fat city address styled ruché. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted July 2017  tenuta_montemagno  @Tenutammagno  @Tenutammagno

Vini Caldera Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato 2016, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Here is very traditional, classic ruché, from no blending, the varietal is just purely expressed. Located in Portamaro Stazione, just outside southeast of the area, though the vineyards are within the area. Liquid ruby, more tart edges but soft ones, typical, balanced and perfectly charming. Really lingers with a light grainy calcaire chalkiness to it, from the grey limestone-argilo soil. So much like other once sweet wines that a producer decided to let go dry. Like mavrodaphne or even more, mavro kalavryta. Picked at the end of September, a decision that is later than most, almost into overripe character though there is no wood. This will turn to dried fruit and oxidative quite quickly. So old school. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted July 2017  @CalderaVini  @ViniCaldera

Cantine Sant’Agata Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato ‘Na Vota’ 2016, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Cantine Sant’Agata was conceived in 1992 by brothers Claudio and Franco Cavallero on 1.5 hectares of Castagnole Monferrato land, now seven hectares in total. ‘Na Vota (the vote) is achieved without oak, all stainless, from four vineyards and just in bottle now. Shines with the highest acidity there can be from ruché, with the sandy layer bringing a dried rose note and the calcaire violets. It’s rich, dense, thick, of the most extract, so tart and juicy. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  #cantinesantagata    Cantine Sant’Agata

Cantine Sant’Agata Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato ‘Pro Nobis’ 2016, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

It was the excellence of the 2000 vintage that convinced Franco Cavallero to up the game and put he and his brother’s money down on a premium cuvée and the result was the first Pro Nobis, “for us,” meaning them, and us. Now an altered and evolved ruché the 2014 shows that some wood is here in support of a selection of grapes from old vines. The process opts for plenty of délestage on a late September pick, for structure and a dark cherry, leathery juiciness. This also carries the unique Agata acidity, so tart, like aged Rioja or even more, like a child of Chianti Classico Riserva sangiovese and Nizza barbera. The offspring is nothing if not a wow factor Piemontese outlier that is also so very traditional. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017

Garrone Evasio & Figlio Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato 2016, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Founded in 1926 by Evasio’s grandfather, ruché may not be Garrone’s centre of varietal or appellative attention but these 1991 planted vines are surely in one of the area’s sweet spots. As it happens they were the first in the village of Grana, on white clay with some gypsym (geso) chalk. The soil impart leads and leans towards a really red liquid ruby, fresh, bright, lithe and beautifully fresh ruché. Third week of September picking but it’s not overripe and actually just there. A fineness of ruché like a naive melody so this must be the place. Fruit saw a 7-10 day maceration, oxygen controlled and here with a bit of a spicy note, but so very tempered, relaxed, not exceptionally elevated in acidity, A true terroir-driven, textural wine. Yields are crazy low (3,500 bottles produced from one hectare) and so there is no surprise to find talking heads fruit speaking in tongues. It’s clearly a labour of love to make such a pure, honest and beautifully balanced ruché. Really tells a story, “never for money, always for love.” The export price would be 5.5 euro. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  #garroneevasioefiglio    @vinigarrone

Tenuta De Re Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato 2015, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Tenuta Dei Re is Paolo and Filippo on an estate from the 1870s but started with grignolino. Their votes grow in surround of the cantina, all estate fruit, no export, all cellar door. The tanks are all cement and stainless steel, with 10 months of aging, for stability and freshness, from three hectares of ruché, plus grignolino and barbera (also vermentino). The sandy hills are not overly variegated though by clay so the poor, fine soils don’t gift as much structure. This means the aromatics need to be kept, by slow, low-temperature controlled fermentation; tops at 24 degrees. After 14 days on the skins this doles out quite an old school red but the clarity and varietal character is more than preserved. The pick is really early, late August to early September, partially a climate change reaction, especially at the top (250m) and 150 at the bottom. No machine work so “molto dificile,” working like billy goats. this just has that deep acid liqueur, savour, verdancy, A bit smoky and stinging. There are 5000 bottles at an export price of 5.5 euro. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  tenuta_dei_re  #tenutadeire   Tenuta dei Re

Amelio Livio Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato Primordio 2015, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

From Livio e Daniela, (Amelio is the surname), Primordio is a perfect moniker for this darker and richer ruché, one km away from Grana. The vines are at the base of a hill on argilosa, bianca calcaria and some darker sandy and clay. This is the definition of osso intenso! Dense and liquid cherry-leather liqueur, from a warm vintage so it all adds up to lots of character and layers. Picked around the 15th of September, but this is very early for them and 6,000 bottles are made, sold only in Italia., Such a small production, traditional and spicy, some structure, from only one hectare so good yields in 2016, which is 70 per cent more than some others. A seven day fermentation as with everything in this wine it’s quite middle of the road. Primordio, in the begginning, for the girls, Daniela and her sister. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  #livioamelio  Daniela Amelio  @ameliolivio

Poggio Ridente Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato San Marziano 2015, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Poggio Ridente’s San Marziano is one of the few 2015s in the speed tasting and stands alone for its temperament and style. This is Cecilia’s baby, the only one labeled biologico (organic), from red clay soil, 14 per cent alcohol and noted because you can really sense the heat on the nose. The wild ferment is a very aromatic, high toned, no wood, deep red sensation. The vines were planted in 2001 and this is the first to act quite bretty and volatile, the natural one which will have some serious fans but I would imagine this is a local outlier. Picked in the first week of September I really believe this could be great but the warmth of the day and serving temperature does not do it justice and and so the alcohol really stands out. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  poggioridente.bio  Poggio Ridente Az.Agricola Biologica

Poggio Ridente Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato San Marziano 2014, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Cecilia Zucca’s 2014 carries the benefit of an extra year in bottle but from a vintage with much less heat and more cool savour it really shines at this time. Still an outlier for the Ruché di Castagnole ideal, this ’14 is so much more fragrant, honest, pure, precise, transparent and you can really tell that attention was paid to this vintage. Very true to 2014 not just as a ruché but for greater Asti as a whole. This particular moment in natural winemaking time is so well-adjusted, spicy, floral, fine and good. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017

Crivelli Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato 2016, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Crivelli Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato is the remarkable work of Marco Crivelli. His grapes were harvested during the last week of September and bottled in February. Done up in inox vats, under temperature control (25-27 degrees) with a combination of yeasts. Two weeks of maceration and here the suggested wait time is one year in bottle. Moving on from technical geekdom this starts with flowers and spice but you are to imagine that a year will bring some secondary character. This seems to be in the middle, at the crossroads of all the wines, a combination of everything or perhaps outside of it all. Rich liqueur, red velvet leather, syrup but not sticky, freshness leading to matrurity. It’s quite mature, not evolved, but the acumen is obvious. The plot is five hectares yielding 7,000 bottles per. It’s a good yield. More made here than most, this is the pioneer and the leader, with Crivelli and his more than 28 years of experience. His first commercial vintage was 1988. When he gets there the final planting ratio will be sixty per cent ruché, thirty barbera and 10 grigolino on one third each soils of sand, white clay and limestone. If I’m an Ontario agent and buying one Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato it would be this from Marco Crivelli. There will be younger, risk-taking, natural and experimental producers who will usurp his crown but for now Marco is the man. His price is eight euro ex-cellar. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017   #marcocrivelli  @RucheCrivelli    Marco Maria Crivelli

Good to go!

Godello

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Feb. 21 wine and song salute

Godello's Tamales

Godello’s Tamales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

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50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more

I arrived at Brock University for the Cool Chardonnay conference on Friday and we began tasting the first of 117 sometime around 11:00 am. On Friday night we convened under the stars st 13th Street Winery for the Barrels and Bonfires event. On Saturday I taxied up the Cave Spring Road runway for an afternoon in the Cave Spring vineyard with the Pennachettis and on Saturday bussed over to Vineland Research and Innovation Centre for the grand Cool Chardonnay dinner.

Related – The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind

On Sunday we wrapped up at Ravine Vineyard. In between events, we tasted Chardonnay in the Media Room at White Oaks Resort and Spa. All of this not would not have been possible without the efforts of Wine Country Ontario.  I posted 20 or so tasting notes in Monday’s column, scribbles apropos to the events associated with the presented wines.

Here are 50 more tasting notes in 5,000 Godello words, add or subtract a few hundred. If you follow doctor’s orders and take one Chardonnay every hour for 50 hours, this is the result.

I've fallen and I can't get up. @mikedicaro channelling his inner MacGyver to save #i4c14

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. @mikedicaro channelling his inner MacGyver to save #i4c14

Angels Gate Old Vines Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116350, $23.95, WineAlign)

The long hanging fruit left to develop sugar and richness, the new oak, the eight months rest on the lees. These are all winemaker favourite things, stylistic choices that contribute to a viscous mess of a Chardonnay. A full take has been liberally advantaged from the hot vintage. The alcohol is listed at 13.5 per cent but the wine sweats higher, in a sun-caramelized toast, leaning to oxidative, even bruised and battered orchard fruit territory. As a consequence and in retreat, the acidity dot does follow. The new wood has melded well and good so in terms of texture, the old vines feel right.  Tasted July 2014

Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116384, $15.25, WineAlign)

The Mountainview, despite being a value offering as compared to the Old Vines just seems to be in better temper. There is more mineral on the palate, too. Angles here are less extreme, fruit not as languid or encumbered. The persistence in length seems greater, thanks in most part to freshness, even if the fruit is not quite as fleshy as the OV.  Tasted July 2014

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 and Hidden Bench Felseck Chardonnay 2011

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 and Hidden Bench Felseck Chardonnay 2011

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

Has Wismer found a cruising altitude? Has this Grand Cru vineyard from a most perplexing 2011 vintage entered the telephone booth in civilian clothes, only to soon emerge as a super hero? Will it sing, “I am, I am Superman and I can do anything?” Wismer has rounded out a bit, at present in a grounded form, but we know it will fly to greater heights and at faster speeds. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice.” Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with it’s touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”  Last Tasted July 2014

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

Juicy and immediately perceived as existing in unwavering balance. The juxtaposition of the stainless steel and (three year-old oak for seven months) barrel aging intertwines fresh and reductive aromas to a common meld. More orchard fruit than I remember, more linear acidity, more expression. Raises the bar and the score. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Half barrel-aged, this Chardonnay has a silky mouth feel and as much nip as can be assimilated in a single mouthful. Green apple, blanched nuts and a metallic tickle give the sensation of chewing on crumbling stones. There is considerable girth and texture here, spicy folds and tangible tension. The alloy trumps the fruit so consider drinking up now and for another year or two.”  Last tasted July 2014

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

A thick, rich and medicated goo this ’11 Blue Mountain Chardonnay. “Mother Nature just brewed it and there’s nothing really to it I know.” A traffic of oak waves in not so much woody but more so simply tannic. The palate is clenched, those tannins angular and ever so slightly bitter, intense and want to be bigger than the fruit would be willing to allow. This is Chardonnay with personality and ability, if just a bit big for its own head. Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring wines

Cave Spring wines

Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (213983, $29.95, WineAlign)

Today a fine misty Blancs, looking very much the coppery, crisp slice of apple it need be. Slate stone tone directive, grapefruit very much in play. A slice of tart key lime pie. From my earlier May 2014 note: “The freshest style of the #ONfizz B de B flight. Fruit, escarpment bench stone layering, richesse, biscuits and toast are all in. Acidity meets complexity.” From my earlier, December 2012 note: “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.” Last tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Dolomite Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (902610, $16.95)

The Dolomite is the eponymous CS Chardonnay via 86 per cent Beamsville Bench (Cave Spring Vineyard) and 14 per cent Lincoln Lakeshore . Driven to the licensee market, this is 25 years of winemaking in a nut (or limestone) shell. Made in a fresh, clean, juicy and oh so approachable style, the Dolomite finishes with a slight bitter pith, very obvious citrus zest slant. Remains clean and pure throughout, thanks in large part to the 26 percent more aromatic and very presentable portion of Chardonnay Musqué.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2011, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $15.95, WineAlign)

Musqué is slowly creeping into the Niagara consciousness and into the hearts of winemakers across the peninsula. The aptitude with which it accedes to perfumed heights and respectable complexity without needing excessive coercion makes it both necessary and inviting, especially when a vigneron like Cave Spring is attempting to produce so many levels of quality juice. Chardonnay made easy and without compromise, exemplified here, though the CS take heads straight to the mandarin-clementine stage. Dry, direct, linear, fine and knowing Musqué, not unlike basic yet effective Gruner Veltliner.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2012, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (256552, $18.95, WineAlign)

The vine age on the Estate runs between 18 and 35 years, a wisdom not to be ignored. Usage of older Hungarian oak lends spice to Chardonnay on-line and always climbing the right and proper varietal tower. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Terrific balance to the warm and inviting fruit, certainly orchard driven and kissed by the Spring’s obvious mineral slate. Clean, open-knit, ready, willing and able.”  Last tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Csv Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (529941, $29.95, WineAlign)

Though currently subtle and reserved, if the Csv were once in a wonky phase, the doors to a new perception are now open. Soaked orchard fruit, the underlay of stone and a surround sound of chalky tenderness leads to length, for time is what this Chardonnay has got. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Here is a vibrant and wild at heart expression of Bench Grand Cru terroir, the Cave Spring Vineyard. While the first impression may be a warm one it seems (for the vintage) that is because it’s big, boisterous and a bit clumsy in wood right now. The acidity seems buried at times and at others on top. It is also a touch reductive so this will need more years to settle and to play nice. The aromas indicate green apple meets metal pipe, the flavours orchard and salinity by way of limestone minerality. The length is more than admiral and admirable.” Last tasted July 2014

Clois du Bois Calcaire Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, California, USA (421941, $28, WineAlign)

Inserting the calcaire nomenclature into your RRV label is to announce that your Chardonnay is influenced by calcium carbonate and the ancient, long ago decomposed bones of coral and foraminifera. A heady designation for sure and Clos Du Bois backs it up with its sedimentary and chalky textured ’11. There is a fine stone-ground spice and floral lilt, not to mention a demurred wave, like an under water coral and vegetative scene in slow motion. Clean, pure, lively fruit, picked just in time and left to develop low and slow. I can see this Calcaire gaining complexity for 10 plus years and always living up to its name.   Tasted July 2014

Creation Chardonnay 2012, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (379297, $29, WineAlign)

A macadam drafts from the Creation drawn from what might provocatively be a pair of gravel pits at the base of the Hemel En Aarde Valley. A soul 2012 brother to the Sumaridge though grounded and layered by the lower slopes. That said it does the heavy lifting, offers up more green apple driven fruit and less tannic mineral activity. A bigger wine but by no means a serf to its wood liege. Another stellar ’12.  Tasted July 2014

Creation Chardonnay 2013, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (378554, $32, WineAlign)

Creation brightens in 2013, lifts up to more intense rose flower and potpourri aromas. The intensity follows on the very viscous palate, bringing an increased ocean breeze salinity and scraped rock sensibility. There is a granitic feel that reminds of Rangen Riesling in its own tannic way. In the end the elegance factor takes over and the wine perseveres for a spell.  Tasted July 2014

Decelle Villa Savigny Les Beaune Blanc 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (378208, $40.95, WineAlign)

From low-yielding (20 hL/l) vines, like all of Burgundy (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), as opposed to the 40-45 quotient that might be expected from much of ‘lighter’ Savigny Les Beaune, especially for Chardonnay. Aged for 12 months in two year-old, 500l barrels, there is an alluring and rich feel here, though the wine is fresh, inviting and immediately integrated. A more than approachable White Burgundy to relish now and for a quick tour of the village.  Tasted July 2014

Decelle Saint Aubin 2012

Decelle Saint Aubin 2012

Decelle Villa Saint Aubin 1er Cru Sur Gamay 2012, Saint Aubin, Burgundy, France (377713, $69, WineAlign)

From the partnership of Olivier Decelle, Pierre-Jean Villa and the confidence of winemaker Jean Lupatelli. The town is Gamay, the variety Chardonnay. Only five barrels (125 cases) were produced by a trio of men with zero interest in speculating over land, fruit or success. Barrel fermentation is key, natural yeast a must and a kinship with Puligny uncanny. Not surprising considering the famed locale is but three kilometres away. This cooler fruit spent 15 months in two year-old barrels and though only bottled five weeks prior to tasting there is nary a shocky note. Such a well-adjusted Gamay. Entrancing and engaging Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Domaine Dublère Savigny-Lès-Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1er Cru 2011, AC Burgundy, France (376095, $58.95, WineAlign)

Unusual nose that begins with white candy floss, transforms to gun powder and finishes into the toasty mystic. Unexpectedly warm, buttery and tingling on the tongue, though that is just a faint and fleeting notion. A taste brings out apple-butter terpenes, though once again, that’s just for an instant. While looking for richness their instead ticks intelligence but everything is in foreign tongue shorthand. Balance is key and that it has but ultimately there lacks a certain level of depth.  Tasted July 2014

Domaine Dublère Les Terres Blanches Nuits-St.-Georges 1er Cru 2011, AC Burgundy, France (376079, $105, WineAlign)

Big, boisterous and highly terpenic, so steroidal in apples. MdC  “Donut wines…a hole in the middle.” A tang as well that just doesn’t sit right, a dog that bites. Bitter, tight, bracing, non repentant for its sins.  Don’t really get it.   Tasted July 2014

Gérard Bertrand Domaine De L’Aigle Limoux Chardonnay 2012, AC Midi, France (377671, $33.00, WineAlign)

Rich, honeyed and seemingly sweet, not from sugar (3 g/L) but rather the pressing, squeezing and juicing of stones. That limestone tannin is a trick only grape must and its parent vines know, wondrous and inexplicable. Great body and mouthfeel come from this baby Aigle, a Chardonnay with locally incomparable structure, if not quite the elastic length and girth of the Bertrand Royal. Exceptional quality from the Midi.  Tasted July 2014

Gérard Bertrand Aigle Royal Chardonnay 2012, AP Limoux, Midi, France (377689, $75.00)

Anxiety in high caste mineral, in ingot and in southern French platinum rock. Full textured beauty of attitude and high-slope altitude, with formidable weight, smouldering, perfumed toast and exceptional texture. Full in every way, taking every liberty in the name of equality, and quality. A who knew such bounds could be leaped by the warmth of the place.  Tasted July 2014

Godello and Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Winery

Godello and Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Winery

Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68817, $28.95, WineAlign)

Yet rigid in its youth, the wood is not yet settled. Bottled in September of 2012, the ’12 will need every day of its first year to be ready, willing and able to please upon release. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Always aromatically embossed and texturally creamy, the Estate Chardonnay finds a way to elevate its game with each passing vintage. The uplifting elegance factor acquiesces the poise needed to battle the effects of ultra-ripe fruit out of a warm vintage. In ’12 the middle ground exchanges more pleasantries though the finale speaks in terse, toasted nut and piquant daikon terms. Not harshly or witchy, mind you, but effectively and within reason of the season. When you look in the window at Harald (proprietor Thiel) and Marlize’s (winemaker Beyers) Chardonnay, “you’ve got to pick up every stitch.”  Last tasted July 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $38, WineAlign)

Bottled in March of 2014, the Felseck draws fruit from vines planted in 1988. Proprietor Harald Thiel notes a three-pronged picking regimen, early, mid and late, vinified separately and brought together to bring layering and tapestry out of this extraordinary vineyard and into the finished wine. The many folds and clay-silt soil provide a tannic structure dichotomously “champlant” in style, pastoral even, subdued and ethereal. The nerve in this Chardonnay comes by way of the active limestone, highest in Felseck as compared to any other HB block. This may be the most direct Chardonnay in all of Niagara, the house of permanent cards, the as of yet not witnessed balance achieved. This is the check that affirms a stand and a step towards a legacy.  Tasted twice, July 2014

Godello and Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines

Godello and Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines

Josef Chromy Chardonnay ‘Pepik’ 2012, Tasmania, Australia (378240, $22)

Chardonnay of stainless steel from Chromy’s estate vineyard at Relbia in northern Tasmania, cool, savoury green, spirited and grinding in tight, sharp angles. From what winemaker Jeremy Dineen describes as “a pungent must,” the Pepik is entry-level and anything but. There is a gentle, stable and clarified zesty personality in ‘er, fragrant, snappy and poignant. Versatile for a walkabout with many a pre-dinner flavour.  Tasted July 2014

Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2013, Tasmania, Australia (378232, $32, WineAlign)

In a world where 30+ degrees celsius is a veritable anomaly and the maritime winds spray salt to and fro, there can be little argument against the celebration of (winemaker) Jeremy Dineen’s Chardonnay at a cool climate conference. Sulphured early and housed in one-third new French oak, his lees were stirred often and always. Highly textured, he is succinctly clean, cutting and crunchy with an underlying chalky rationale and smokey, tonic toast. The Chromy ’13 is a demanding croon that must creep up to get a hold of you. Though you tell him “you treat me badly, I love you madly,” there is a miracle in his non-malolactic ways.   Tasted July 2014

Kistler Les Noisetiers 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (251223, $80, WineAlign)

Long distance runner built for endurance, a cool customer able to withstand the heat from a season’s relentless, though moderate, gentle sun, from start to finish. No shortage of ripe fruit and certainly not wanting for the micro-oxygenated slow release of a prized barrel. This might be the two-bit Kistler bottling but it offers up exemplary Sonoma fruit with the temperament and conceit of high caste Burgundy. The style is culled from two poles and pulls in two directions.  At once sharp and piquant, then golden and in mirth. All in all it’s exactly what should be wanted for the buyer who wants what it has to give.  Tasted three times, July 2014

Kistler Stone Flat Vineyard 2012, Carneros, California (agent, $80, WineAlign)

The Carneros vineyard of Tuscan clay is filled with giant river stones. It consequently offers up more of a stone groove, but also an everglade humidity, a lemony spray and a rub of savoury, evergreen. The palate brings a crisp, cool, mountain morning, a rushing stream of fresh water and the cool mountain air. There is a piercing bite on the mid-palate, a peppery spice that lingers than releases for a full wash, a cleanse in mineral. Amazing balance in tightrope tension and length to a horizon out of sight.  Great wine. Finds its elegance and its cool without any effort, like the power lift of a ballet dancer.  Tasted three times, July 2014

Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2011, Sonoma Coast, California (agent, $89.95, WineAlign)

This is from the vineyard in surround of Kistler’s home base and from soil anything but flattering to the host vines. Sandy, deficient in nutrients, “like beach sand,” says Geoff Labitzke, MW, that seemingly has no bottom. Irrigational tubing is employed and perhaps some nitrogen in mid-summer but as per the Kistler stratagem, the VH is dry-farmed. This has the most golden sunshine of the three Chardonnays tasted at #i4C14. It’s brighter, with linear acidity and a very toasty, nutty feel. Sitting with it a while is necessary to appreciate its charm and gathering power.  Tasted July 2014

Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyard at 13th Street Winery

Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyard at 13th Street Winery

Lailey Brickyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (2908, $30.20, WineAlign)

From a vineyard planted in 2004 on the east end of the Lailey property, right next to the river. The red clay soil, the cooler nights and the longer growing season produced just 70 cases of this highly singular and stupidly inexpensive Niagara Chardonnay. This is a vineyard transformed over 10 years from a brickyard and cherry tree farm, now rich yet elegant in simultaneous motion, not to mention seamless in transition, within and without. Brother Derek Barnett is generously giving this rare, small lot Chardonnay away, all the while “talking, about the space between us all…and life flows on,” along the Niagara River.  Tasted July 2014

Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay Old Vines 2012, VQA Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $40.20, WineAlign)

The old Vines were planted between 1974 and 1978, ancient by Niagara standards. Only gnarly old, gristle veteran dudes like these could handle the beastly burden of 16 months in 50 per cent new French oak, not to mention all the while sitting on top of the lees heap. It may ask you “am I hard enough, am I rough enough, am I rich enough?” You may tell it “you’re tropical, you’re subtle, you’re sweet yet cool in mouthfeel, you’re elegant and you’re “not too blind to see,” but you carry that oak with ease.  Tasted July 2014

Malivoire Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (573147, $19.95, WineAlign)

Essentially bone-dry, kissed by a minor peck of new oak and consistently established, here from fruit out of Estate, Moira and (10 per cent) Vinemount Ridge vineyards. The latter adds flinty complexity by way of an intangible, aeriform note, magnified by the warmth of the vintage. The humidity is very minor, thanks to prudent early (September 1 to 12) picking of Beamsville Bench grapes in ever-present rooted stability. Here is hospitable Chardonnay gaining traction and interest with each passing vintage, showcasing the work of winemaker Shiraz Mottiar and as a portal to the investigations of Small Lot, Moira, Mottiar and Cat on the Bench. Tasted July 2014

Malivoire and Riedel, Image (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Malivoire and Riedel, Image (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

In admiral control this summer, rich in stone-churned butter and in residence of a right honourable place. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Gamay may be winemaker Shiraz Mottiar’s decisive resource but Chardonnay is his thing. The Moira’s ranks as one of Niagara’s best, vintage in, vintage out and this Mottiar, from the winemaker’s home vineyard is the trump card. This Malivoire special agent is set in 2 – 5 year old 300 L French oak hogsheads and aged on the lees in barrel for 10 months. The result? Texture. With the use, or lack thereof in new oak, Mottiar’s Chardonnay becomes a study in compages, with strong abilities and the accents of green orchard fruit and a faint sensation of blanched nut. Nothing toasty mind you because it’s all about density and girth; a Shiraz thing. I find his Chardonnay is all about texture.”  Last tasted July 2014

Manciat-Poncet Crémant de Bourgogne Brut NV, Burgundy, France (378653, $28)

A tragically gingered peach, a candied rhinestone, a ready to bake hip cake for the easy oven. Safe bubbles here, “pale as a light bulb hanging on a wire, sucking up to someone just to stoke the fire,” from a distance, with simplicity and caution. Like getting caught in New Orleans with a sinking feeling.  Tasted July 2014

Marie-Pierre Manciat Les Morizottes Mâcon 2012, Burgundy, France (376137, $27, WineAlign)

There are some unhinged and unusual aromas in this Mâcon, of carbon copies, a stainless tank and Musa. Pears too, pinballing and ready for poaching. Faux or perhaps near-mineral texture, slightly saline, with flint and slate. The complexities are boundless and confounding. Highly expressive but the expressions are not all created equal.   Tasted July 2014

Marie-Pierre Manciat Les Petites Bruyères Pouilly-Fuissé 2012, Burgundy, France (376129, $39, WineAlign)

There is a deep rust, faded jeans vine wisdom in the Pouilly-Fuissé. It steps out with more richness and tension than the Mâcon. Balanced energy and stretched length.  Tasted July 2014

Marimar Estate La Masía Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, (331918, $49, WineAlign)

First notes are high in the hills of the tropics, in pineapple, mango and papaya. A veritable smoothie of very ripe, creamy fruit and though it carries a 14 per cent mark in alcohol there rests a jury of acceptable behaviour. Finesse has won the argument, leaving bits of white pepper, reduction and vineyard funk behind. There is a persistence that belies the price on this judiciously-oaked Chardonnay, complete with its avocation of high-powered notations in an expensive suit.  Tasted July 2014

THe Chardonnay of #i4c14

The Chardonnay of #i4c14

Maycas Del Limarì Sumaq Chardonnay 2013, Limari Valley, Chile (Agent, $15.00, WineAlign)

This unoaked Chilean is fresh yet herbal, though mildly so and lime-accented, but certainly not spiked in any Tequila or other southern hemisphere distilled spirit from a large seeping plant kind of way. Fine and subtle actually, so not overtly cool or lifted by altitude influenced climatic acidity. Peacefully, Pacifically tempered Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Maycas Del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2010, Limarí Valley, Chile (162040, $20.00, WineAlign)

This unoaked Chilean is fresh yet herbal, though mildly so and lime-accented, but certainly not spiked in any Tequila or other southern hemisphere distilled spirit from a large seeping plant kind of way. Fine and subtle actually, so not overtly cool or lifted by altitude influenced climatic acidity. Peacefully, Pacifically tempered Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Maycas Del Limarì Quebrada Seca Chardonnay 2011, Limari Valley, Chile

Known as the “dry cliff” this is from a southern parcel (Pinot Noir comes from the north), a calcium carbonate plot that leads to this stone-driven Chardonnay. Nearly 200 metres above sea level, the altitude brings more cool to this bottling, more ventilated salinity, an almost wet-air, asthmatic sense of breathing. Really defined by oyster shell, this has more fruit than the value-based offerings, increased density, more citrus, both dried and condensed. A lot going on here, quite unique and worth a good look.  Tasted July 2014

Niagara College Teaching Winery Balance Barrel Fermented Chardonnay Donald Ziraldo Vineyard 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.15, WineAlign)

From the St. David’s Bench, this avant-garde label saw 11 months in French and American barriques, along with regular lees stirring. Certainly hovering and circulating in wide-ranging textural graces. A whole lotta love and learning is in this bottle; it’s round and golden with a high-spirited tang. At once typical and contrived, it’s also reeking and soaking like a sponge. Many an orchard makes an aromatic class audit. A high-toned citrus exam demands attention and focus. The wood is obvious but it too will learn. All in all this is cool Chardonnay, well-made and ready for the world.  Tasted July 2014

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (173377, $24.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Martin Werner’s 2012 may just be the hardest working Chardonnay in showbiz and in Niagara. Winnowed from Estate (St. David’s Bench) and (Niagara) river fruit, there lurks within, a 20-30 percent perfumed compression of Chardonnay Musqué. The additive is a tonic fanned from the wine’s olfactic communicative nerve centre, adding tree fruit notes no more serious than should be gathered. Werner picked real early, like five weeks ahead (first of September) and the resulting noisome perfume makes for some funk. “It’s these little things, they can pull you under,” but they blow away and settle into a rich, viscous Chardonnay for the palate to collect, contain and command. “Oh, oh, but sweetness follows.” This Ravine works automatically, of the people, for the people.  Tasted July 2014

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (381905, $40.00, WineAlign)

From 100 per cent hillside Estate fruit, a limestone and slate parcel in St. David’s on the Niagara Escarpment. This is fruit from low yields that spent 24 months of unabashed pleasure in French oak. Though highly concentrated and bent in an oxygenated stratosphere, the reduction is in elevated citrus aromas and piercing mineral flavours. Bigger than many, than your head, than a yottabyte. The complex notations are elevated in so many ways. Strung tighter than a leer kite, the heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds are years away from settling so put this Ravine away. Come back next decade to see where it’s at.  Tasted July 2014

Rex Hill Dijon Clone Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon (378455, $46.00, WineAlign)

Palate cleansing Chardonnay, an attribute that can’t be stressed or praised enough when tasting 117 renditions in a span of 50 hours. The Rex Hill is lithe, crisp and pure, a wine with a sense of wisdom. He is a subtle act of wine generosity. He smells like clove-scented, fine-casted ingot and is full of health increasing salinity and minerality. A wine of direct discovery, simple professionalism, restraint and impeccable balance. There is a green apple flavour, gently pressed and juiced. There is a texture from quarry rocks, the creamed kind, slightly piquant, merely dusted. The Rex is a very fine, calm representative with a sure sense of place.  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! “Richness” Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

This special, specific and idiosyncratic batch by winemaker Ann Sperling is a whirlwind of terpene, wood and lees, all in a whorl. Though all three demanding notions make a play to bully the fruit, this is no ordinary fruit and touched by no passive hands. Complex and textured like angelic cake, there is a distinct aroma coming from the righteous barrel, a high octane, tropical nuance, in smouldering pineapple, creamy mango and mangosteen. This Chardonnay spits the vintage heat out through the gap in its front teeth, goes all tense and nervous, does not relax. There is chalk and stone, like slate, like Calcaire Riesling, all in at 14.3 per cent abv. An all out intense effort, a wow bit of Niagara, but what exactly is this monster? The amazing thing is that there is just a ton of fruit so you can let this settle down for 10 years or more. As BMS notes, “it’s raw and unleashed.”  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (366500, $50.00, WineAlign)

Has integrated nicely though certainly persists as a big, lush Chardonnay. If there were splinters or sinewy bits they have melted away.  From my earlier, May 2014 note: “The Poetica underwhelms at the present time, or perhaps hides in her youth. She’s a calm, buttery, mildly toasted, supportive softie and more accessible than her Sperling west coast sistren. Like a cool Chardonnay soffit hiding beneath a warm bench, the Poetica speaks not for the vintage but more for the current vineyard, a warm and hip spot in the Four Mile Creek appellation. The site remains (at least to me) understood but the unctuous aspect in texture and gathering sweetness with time in the glass will realize a richesse yet unseen. Poetica’s refrain is like “wind on the weathervane,” her tragically subdued fruit quiet, but able to travel long. Time will be the reveal, so be patient.”  Last tasted July 2014

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2012, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (378760, $35, WineAlign)

In direct antithesis to what was a more than commendable 2011, this follow-up takes the Sumaridge illustrious Cru torch and raises the Hemel En Arde bar to the most complex portion of the ridge. Proprietor Holly Bellingham notes the near perfect vintage, with rain falling gracefully and slowly throughout, unlike the heavy shelling just before the 2011 harvest. Here the seamless connections of ocean winds, granite give and beatific vines mean this ’12 is super bad. Sunshine intensity, cool godfather of soul moves and dancing nerve are all as one. This is like a mineral sponge, sopping up fresh fruit and the slightest notion of toasted nuts. “Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme. Heeeeey, (scream). Uh, come on!” How will Sumaridge top this?  Tasted July 2014

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2011, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (378760, $35, WineAlign)

Though it lacks the elegance of the astonishing 2012, there is a freshness and a vigor that still defines the Valley. The aromatics create an expectation despite the heavy rains at harvest, a deluge that had a thinning effect on the fruit. The kick or punch in the pith caused neither dilution nor disease and this ’11 rebounded to carry the fire. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Though it would be naïve to think every Chardonnay produced out of the Hemel En Aarde Valley is the stuff of grand cru, recent examples have done nothing but impress. Sumaridge joins Hamilton Russell and Creation on the Walker Bay dream team. Ocean breeze-cooled slopes and deprived soils of decomposed granite loam with quartzite manage rich fruit with cool ease. In this 2011 a most excellent trifecta of dryness (1.7 g/L), acidity (6.9 g/L) and PH (3.45) brings together texture and tannin. Though seemingly sweet it is anything but a cloying example. Buttery but mild in toast, quite piercing yet tempered by an herbal quality, not warm or balmy, but inexorably herbal. Schematically waxy, splashed by lemon and piqued by zest.”  Last tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA  (agent, $41.95, WineAlign)

Tasted with proprietor Brian Talley at Cave Spring Vineyard in a setting to do justice for a wine with an irrigated gully of heart. Barrel fermented, using wild yeasts and aged for 10 months in French oak, 20 per cent of it new. Pours thick, rich and viscous into the glass with a reality that is pure, light and elegant. This is so much cooler in direction than could be perceived or believed. “I want to make wine that tastes like our grapes and not someone else’s barrels,” insists Talley. That philosophy equates to a pansophy of orange citrus and the misty spray of its scored skin, so aromatic, so in blossom, so floral. Not sure there has been nosed such succulence in restraint from Arroyo, from California or from anywhere Chardonnay grows in warm climes.  Tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA  (winery, $61.95, WineAlign)

The Rincon Block was planted in 1984, the “home” vineyard next to the winery. Tight, bracing, savoury and bound by a tannic, mineral extraction. Only 17 barrels (just under 500 cases) were produced of this 100 per cent (14 months in 20 per cent new oak) barrel fermented Chardonnay marked by wow intensity. “Jump back, what’s that sound, here she comes, full blast and top down.” Wailin’ Halen Chardonnay trampled underfoot, what can you say, like chanting “Panama ah-oh-oh-oh-oh.” Talley’s Rincon ’12 never relents, stays on the throttle, puts the pedal to the metal and speeds the van towards a persistent, consistent finish. Bring on the Digby, Nova Scotia scallops, from coast to coast.  Tasted July 2014

Tantalus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (VINTAGES 378821, $42, BC VQA, 114884, $29.90, WineAlign)

The immediacy of this Chardonnay is felt, in perfumed poise, in palate roundness, in a velvet wrap of texture. A finely balanced and over-achieving elegance from out of a single vineyard, specifically “block 6,” which sits above a gravel bed, on an eastern aspect in South East Kelowna. A mild toast, a blanch of nuts and creamy citrus coagulate to create a transcendent B.C. Chardonnay experience, one that seems like it could be eaten with a spoon. “It peels off and ties that bind me,” and after tasting I saw the light. Chardonnay with an unconscious redirection of feelings, a transference unique and welcome.  Tasted July 2014

Thelema Mountain Blanc de Blancs 1994, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (376111, $28)

Méthode Cap Classique fine bubbles still motivated and in blender motion that if fading can be excused with a thousand pardons. With no more than 2 g/L of residual sugar it’s an Extra Brut style that has survived two decades. Far eastern spices and orange melon that remain cool, juicy and unfermented give it youthful aromas. One of those hard to believe 20 year-old success stories that will continue to give to 25. Wild yeast and grated wasabi square off the peg in this Stellenbosch ringer for vintage Champagne. Buy one now at VINTAGES Shop Online, bring it to a party, be the coolest Chardonnay cat around.  Tasted July 2014

A selection of international and Ontario sparkling wines on ice. Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

A selection of international and Ontario sparkling wines on ice. Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (20431, $23, WineAlign)

Fruit divides time and space from the (sandy, Black Sage) Diamondback Vineyard and the (sandy gravel, Golden Mile) Tinhorn Creek Vineyard. So what? So let’s dance to Andrew Moon and Sandra Oldfield’s fresh recognisance mission, to offer up a slight oak and stirred lees textural sui generis, but mostly the intent to keep things crisp and real. The sugar and PH are low, the acids medium to high. Overall there generates a cool orchard fruit blooming breeze and a south-west feeling of ease. Bring it on.  Tasted July 2014

Good to go!

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Showcase Showdown: Rosewood Sémillon

White wine grapes PHOTO: ROSEWOOD ESTATES

as seen on canada.com

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

Rosewood Semillon (Photos: Michael Godel)

#SemillonShowcase

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

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

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

Rosewood Wines and Tasting Menu

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

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

The Spoke Club Crab Salad and Pork Belly

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

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

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

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

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

Tasting Plate #3 – Braised oxtail ravioli with brown butter

The Spoke Club Braised Oxtail Ravioli

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

Tasting Plate #4 – Poached rhubarb

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

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

Good to go!

New wave under $20 wines go kosher for Passover

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Kosher wine for Passover
PHOTO: SISIDESIGN/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

There is life beyond Manischewitz. Not all kosher wines are made from cloying, insipid and super-sweet Concord grapes. Conversely, a Jew’s worst,  ’11th plague’ wine nightmare, the nights of suffering through cooked and stewed dry table wines, is (mostly) a thing of the past. I’m not suggesting that the golden age is upon us, but you may want to don the shades. The future is bright for Passover kosher wine.

“Wine does not become kosher by being blessed. It is kosher (Hebrew: pure, proper) when complying with strict rabbinic criteria that render it acceptable for Orthodox Jews.” This statement from the NY Times is unifying and true for Jews worldwide who choose to abide by the traditions of the Passover Seder table ritual. I would highly recommend reading the articles of Eric Azimov to really get a grip on the kosher for Passover wine thing. Also check into Kosher Wine Musings Blog. For a comprehensive guide to Israeli wine, look to the work of the late, great critic, Daniel Rogov. The production of kosher wine is a costly endeavor and not surprisingly, the best products are those in the (upwards of $25) premium category. Two currently available examples are Shiloh Shor Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (182947, $32.95) from the Judean Hills, Israel and Bravado Chardonnay 2011 (305102, $31.95) by Karmei Yosef Winery, Israel.  We ran a story about premium wines last week.

From left: Banero Extra Dry Prosecco KPM, Borgo Reale Sangiovese KPM 2011, Five Stones Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon KPM 2010, and Galil Mountain Shiraz KPM 2010.

All wines labelled “Kosher for Passover” are kosher, but not all kosher wines are kosher for Passover.

All wines labelled “Kosher for Passover” are kosher, but not all kosher wines are kosher for Passover. Kosher for Passover wine must be handled by Sabbath-observant Orthodox Jews and the wine can never come into contact with any leavening (grain, dough, bread) products, including yeast. Chemical additives like Potassium Sorbate and Citric Acid are also no-no’s. Clarifying agents such as Isinglass (gelatin) is forbidden as it comes from non-kosher (no scales) fish. For the most part, Jews purchase only Mevushal wines for PassoverThe Mevushal (cooked or, flash pasteurized) practice is used so that opened kosher wine can be handled by non-Orthodox and non-Jews and then poured to the observant. Many Jews in the diaspora have chosen to abandon the concept. The destructive consequences of “cooking” grape juice somehow continues to remain up for debate. Most Jews who appreciate a glass of good wine with dinner, and especially those who double as wine geeks avoid Mevushal wine at all costs, thought being, consuming heat-damaged wine is no way to go through life. That said, a good deal of the Kosher for Passover wines in our market are Mevushal (KPM) and some are really quite agreeable.

The most interesting practice is that of established vineyards allowing kosher winemakers to use their grapes to make kosher wine. Several Bordeaux châteaux allow for this, including Château Malartic-Lagravière and Château Pontet-Canet and the wine is labelled under the name of the participating Château. Next Monday, Jews around the world will gather at their respective Seder tables. Here are five under $20 current Kosher for Passover releases.

Banero Extra Dry Prosecco KPM (298489, $13.95) hits classic Venetian fizz notes, of peach, orange rind, nougat and baked apple. Quite juicy despite the ED designation. Like a Tora, Tora instrumental, “played with a wind sound effect fading in, followed by a dive bomb on the open E string.” I would consider foregoing the Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay and go two, maybe three cups with this one.  86  @azureau

Borgo Reale Sangiovese KPM 2011 (637793, $13.95) may come off boxy, as if housed in cheap wood but for $14 this is really about the best you will ever hope to find. Seems to be in a bit of a rush, in the spirit of radio, built upon a synthesizer, Sangiovese sound. Still, “all this machinery making modern music can still be open-hearted.” Red, raspberry fruit is not so Sangio but leather and smoke is. A bit contrived but trendy and copacetic.  87  @ALLIEDIMPORTERS

Five Stones Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon KPM 2010 (108001, $19.95) from Margaret River, Western Australia like many Kosher efforts starts out one way then diverts another. Aromas of dry grass, yellow skin and white fleshed apple give way to a sweet and refreshing zip. A racy, Benzedrine touch of char gets on top of the pastry in “a shirt of violent green.” Strange frequency Kenneth.  87

Galil Mountain Shiraz KP 2010 (141580, $17.95) wears an oak monster’s mask and is Malbec-esque in blueberry pie and vanilla ice cream. Depeche Mode kosher red crying “Tora, Tora, Tora.” I ask the question, “is this a love in disguise or just a form of modern art.” Simple, juicy, slightly confected fruit.
More than acceptable for Seder table brisket and roast lamb.  87

Segal’s Fusion Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon KPM 2011 (157206, $18.95) though muted is quite pleasant, aromatically speaking. Baking spice, woodsmoke, cherry and plum, like satellite St. Emilion. Scarlet colour, as if derived from Tola’At Shani. Dusty and down-grain, no cooked sensation, well-structured.  88

Good to go!

See the wine for the money

<em>Photograph by NLo, Fotolia.com</em>

Photograph by NLo, Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

So much detail goes into crafting quality wines. Dedicated vineyard management, precise and timely picking of fruit, crushing, pressing, racking and fermenting. Not to mention blending, fining, filtering, aging and choosing closure. The winemaker has more decisions to scrutinize over than a Blue Jay’s general manager.

Related – more from the VINTAGES November 24th, 2012 Release

As a consumer you may find yourself caught like a deer in the headlights, bound by brands you blindly return to again and again. Or you might be lost in the details, challenged and unable to see the forest for the trees. When it comes to seeking value it can be difficult to sift through the lees and the slag. The key is to let the makers deal with the ABC’s, sidestep minutiae and focus on the big picture. Step out of your comfort zone. See the wine for the grapes, for the money. Here are five current release whites that demonstrate more than just the sum of their parts.

White wines for the money

The grape: Moschofilero

The history: From a Greek winery located in the heart of Arcadia, in the ‘Polyampelos Mantinia’

The lowdown: Organically grown and produced in a state-of-the-art facility

The food match: Greek Chicken Kebabs, red onion, oregano, tzatziki

Domaine Spiropoulos Mantinia 2011 (710970, $14.95) takes a salt bath in crystalline, Aegean waters. Honey, manna, aconite blossom and marmalade scents give way to a stoney, tangy soupçon sprinkled with feta. Crisp and pure Moscho.  89

The grape: Sauvignon Blanc

The history: Two years ago Richard Kershaw took over vinification from legendary Western Cape winemaker Mike Dobrovic

The lowdown: We’re definitely not in the Loire anymore

The food match: Poached Chicken Breast in Dark Chicken Demi-Glace

Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (933424, $18.95) defines the saying plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose for South African SB. Unchained, unique, woody, herbal and welling with gregarious acidity. Brilliant SB actually. “Non-stop talker, what a rocker!”   89

The grape: Riesling

The history: Made by the Eden Valley terroir master, Louisa Rose

The lowdown: Find me a better Aussie Riesling under $20 and I will buy a boatload

The food match: Pork Fried Rice, sambal oelek, kecap manis

Pewsey Vale Riesling 2011 (686600, $19.95) shimmers an iridescent emerald-green on gold patina. Cracks like a whip straight in your face with lemon, lime and slate than lowers a sledgehammer of petrified wood. Snake-like Sasak fruit tang and acidity “goes dancin’ in,”  “builds that power” and lingers long after its skin has been shed.  91

The grape: Riesling

The history: The Berres family is recorded to have resided and worked in the vineyards of Ürzig since the year 1510

The lowdown: Ürzig and Erden are famous for their red slate soils and singular rock outcroppings that retain heat and concentrate the typical herb-spice of the wines. These are the only villages in the Mosel allowed to replant without grafting, as phylloxera was never able to penetrate the rock barriers.

The food match: Hu Tieu My Tho Noodles, shrimp, pork, baby bok choy

C.H. Berres Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett 2009 (207274, $19.95) certainly represents its number 16 spot on the periodic table and bursts from the Bunsen Burner with wafts of coconut, lime and pear. Chemistry in an Erlenmeyer, puffing carbon smoke, petrol fumes and giving way to a lively palate of apple and glucose. Goes smoking, dry ice at the finish. Love this.   90

The splurge

The grapes: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier and Gewurztraminer

The history: The most famous Ontario white blend

The lowdown: Low yields, late picking, a winemaker’s (J-L Groux) tour-de-force

The food match: Roasted chicken with Jerusalem artichoke & lemon

Stratus White 2009 (660704, $44.20) is a vision of glittering gold, an atomic L’Européenne white blend that reminds me of the Loire. The 31% Sauvignon Blanc stands out with green peas and pepper berries. Waxy yellow apple (Semillon), peach blossoms (Viognier), elemental viscosity (Gewurz) and buttery caramel (Chardonnay) all come into play. Tough acidity and autoroute length look to extend the life of this iconic Niagara-on-the-Lake white.  91

Good to go!

The Wine Diaries: new world reds

Photo: REX

http://blogs.canada.com/2012/06/27/the-wine-diaries-new-world-reds/

The term “new world wine” refers to wine produced in countries that have transplanted European vinifera to establish an industry where one did not originally exist. The United States, led by California comes to mind as the leader in this category. Australia sits alone within a second tier while New Zealand, South Africa, Washington and Oregon are the major players close behind. Ever-improving Canada is on the move.

Many wines that are currently unavailable in Canada will one day knock at the door. Voices of discontent are out there and I hear them. Change is inevitable, and optimistically speaking, will come sooner rather than later. In the meantime, like the dutiful children and newcomers we are, we submit to and embrace what is on offer. An imperturbable level of varietal diversity and quality will unearth something out there for everyone.

U.S.A. – California

J. Lohr South Ridge Syrah 2010 (948240, $19.95) from Paso Robles along California’s Central Coast is shiny, happy Syrah. Attenuated body accented by citrus and trace pepper.  “Gold and silver shine.”  87

Laird Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (50096, $57.95) out of Napa Valley pours like syrup of supersized black and boysenberry concentrate. Massive fruit here, making for a big wine in search of red flesh on closing night.  89

Mahle Wind Gap Syrah 2007 (242776, $59.00) defines the grape for Russian River Valley. The tar, roses and smoked meat from this coulée in Sonoma County tutor California in Northern Rhône speak. Darker than a power outage with a gamey and sanguine finish.  90

Outpost Howell Mountain Zinfandel 2009 (253377, $69.00) is top-tier Napa Valley Zinfandel. The dark flesh of fowl comes to mind, especially Duck with a chocolate mint Nahuatl mōlli. A foxy, violet voice is to be expected out of  the likes of Barolo or Barbaresco, but here Zinfandel tramples me flat.  92

Redemption Zin Zinfandel 2007 (224147, $22.95) might seem magnetic but a plum, raisin, sweet and sour profile is not what Dry Creek Valley normally produces. Fruit too long on the vines?  85

Rutherford Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (73817, $19.95) offers grateful Napa Valley pleasures so power to its large scale fruit gathering and consumer friendly production. “Walking in the tall trees, going where the wind goes, blooming like a red rose.” Grandiflora not dead. A sunshine daydream.  87

Simi Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (25221, $24.95) does Alexander Valley like it should. A spiced, caramel coffee cake with a soft, oozing core. Nothing offensive here, just solid Sonoma juice.  87

Sonoma-Cutrer Grower-Vintner Pinot Noir 2008 (140723, $29.95) crawls Russian River Valley Pinot to a varietal P but smoke masks the fruit “like a forest fighting for sunlight.” Can’t blame it on the carpet fires of 2007.  86

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (708982, $46.95) has Napa Valley pedigree but high steps the oak steeplechase brimming with nearly burnt coffee and 76% orange, dark chocolate. Over the top and unrelenting but history will offer some assistance for future enjoyment.  88

U.S.A. – Oregon

Maysara Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir 2008 (65680, $39.95) from McMinnville (who, what, where?) claims biodynamic status and “s’got such a supple wrist.” A quiet wizard, void of scents and smell, save for a pinball of earth bouncing off leather.  May speak up in time.  87

Argentina

Alta Vista Premium Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (129957, $14.95) ordinarily regards Mendoza by a male-dominated genome. Sausage fest as South American Cabernet, hidebound and specific to grilled meat.  85

Santa Julia Magna 2009 (93799, $14.95) is more ambitious Mendoza in its blend of half Cab and Malbec with a smattering of Syrah. A bit wild and uncorked, like a dog driving a car.  86

Chile

Concha Y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Carmenère 2010 (169862, $17.00) drinks chalky like green tea ice cream, not so unusual for Carmenère out of the Rapel Valley. A bit confused, murky as Lake Rapel, “light like a feather, heavy as lead.” Fruit of the marl.  87

Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (322586, $19.95) does Bordeaux and the world’s most popular red grape proud on a consistent basis. This one is the funky by-product of a chocolate chunk cookie baked by the sun. The argilaceous Colchagua Valley earth scorches the grapes and the wine is forever warm.  87

Santa Ema Reserve Merlot 2009 (642538, $16.95) is a bold effort out of Maipo. A Plug tobacco block effected by the humidity of a smoke shack, spicy clove heat and abrasive atmospheric pressure.  Massive Merlot but out of whack.  85

Australia

Chapel Hill Shiraz 2009 (743989, $25.95) takes South Australia’s McLaren Vale to an extreme wedding. Irrigous, cave aromas where melting minerals co-mingle with very ripe berries in your Dixie Cup. A tannic beast too. Walking through that cave while the eerie sound of “going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married” plays somewhere in the distance.   86

Hope The Ripper Shiraz 2008 (686865, $21.95) springs eternal with dreamboat berry and flower scents despite the ambiguous ‘Western Australia’ designation. Perhaps not the “best thing that I’ve ever found” but hope floats so I foresee the sweet smell of success for the Ripper.  87

Kaesler Stonehorse Shiraz/Grenache/Mourvèdre 2008 (6551, $20.95) out of Barossa comes down in price by $2 from the ’07. This SGM is always a Rhône on ‘roids but the minty kick and analgesic mouth clout win points.  88

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz 2008 (309625, $39.95) bears the omnipresent Penfolds perfume. Soupy syrup from South Australia, Refined but so concentrated. You will have to wait 10+ years for this to settle and be nice.  89

Tattiarra Culled Barrel Shiraz 2009 (271379, $39.95) shows off Heathcote within Victoria’s scant cooler take on the unchained, grievous grape down under. An otherwise repeat performance. “Change, ain’t nothin’ stays the same.”  87

Zonte’s Footsteps Baron Von Nemesis 2008 (212936, $17.95) is the Barossa vineyard’s inaugural vintage. Its nemesis is an instant bitter note from these vines, olive heavy footed, steps heard coming from a mile away. Will walk along with fatty meats.   86

New Zealand

Greystone Pinot Noir 2009 (271312, $37.95) owns the title of the South Island’s strongest smelling Pinot. Huge Waipara nose followed by a residual, Sherry sweetness, acidity and tannin to boot. “Oi, oi, oi!”  90

Trinity Hill The Gimblett 2009 (280263, $35.95) exudes the North Island’s youthful exuberance. Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Snug and chunky with a juniper stringency melded into lime, sugar syrup. A red wine Gimlet out of Hawkes Bay.  87

South Africa

Ernie Els Big Easy 2010 (220038, $19.95) from the generic tagged Western Cape is round, charming and swings with an effortless grace. The kitchen sink of grapes seem to cancel each other out and the wine finishes flat, hooking one into the drink. I love Ernie but really?  85

More notes from the VINTAGES June 23, 2012 release:

Five red wines to buy now for the coming long weekend

The Wine Diaries: Around the world in 20 whites

The Wine Diaries: Chardonnay close to the edge

Euro wine Rihanna need remember by name

The Wine Diaries: MMVA’s sparkling wine showers

IVR* – Vintage Direct Intrigue-to-Value Ratio

CVR** – Vintage Direct Curiosity-to-Value Ratio

Good to go!