Caro Carobbio

Peaceful afternoon in February light at #carrobio #chianticlassico #panzano

Few wanderlust statements sound better than “I returned to Tuscany” and with the greatest of fortune smiling upon me I am able to utter the phrase again. Not just Toscana mind you, but Chianti Classico, in and out of February Anteprime tastings, to a pin on the map south from Firenze along the Chiantigiana, sidestepping for the Florentine view from Impruneta, then through Greve and into Panzano. The reason for my return begins as it always does, to adduce a lifelong pursuit deep into the meaning of sangiovese. It also fosters a fixation dug into the variegated soils of Chianti Classico and even further still, to the nurturing, sub-appellative specificity of sangiovese’s intaglio secrets. With each return it also ingrains a feeling of coming home.

Related – Grace in Chianti Classico

The most recent visit brought me back to Panzano, first to Il Molino di Grace and then to Tenuta Carobbio. Panzano in Chianti lies at the heart of Chianti Classico and below the hilltop town sits the “golden basin” of the Conca d’Oro, once a prized wheat producing area interspersed with grape vineyards and olive groves. Carobbio is not so easy to find. The tight twisting road from Panzano climbs and descends before turning off-road for the descent into the valley where tucked away and recondite Carobbio lies. It is no stretch to call Carobbio a hidden gem.

Conca d’Oro

Forza e Passione

E la sua passione describes the vision of Carlo Novarese’s decision to create Tenuta Carobbio. The Como silk king was born into a family from Monferrato and the childhood memories of wine production at Sannazaro Castle conspired to transfer passion into the estate’s Panzano ways. At 60, Novarese handed over the family textile company to his son and returned to Tuscany. “A spontaneous return, perhaps atavistic, which marked a new beginning.” With a “desire was to return to his roots and begin living close to the soil.” During a magical evening in June 1986, in a moment frozen in time, Carlo Novarese felt the certainty of having found “un angolo di paradiso in Toscana, “a little corner of paradise.”

Capiteto

A little slice of Eden in Tuscany

The southern facing Carobbio set between 350 and 400 metres of elevation stretches over 50 hectares, mostly forested, 10 of which are specialized vineyards and two are dedicated to olive cultivation. The Panzano hill and its houses protect the southern Conca d’Oro valley from the cold Apennine winds. The peaks of Monte Domini, Poggio Convento, Monte San Michele and Monte Querciabella in the east shelter the vineyards of Carobbio from the winds and damp air from the Arno.

The soils are characterized by a significant proportion of deep clay, sandstone, siltstone strata, marl and Alberese, the latter two most typical of Chianti Classico. The land is simply and emphatically “un territorio che vive graze alla forza e passione delle persone,” a land that lives through the strength and passion of its people. The 150 year-old farmhouse, ‘Capiteto’ is a great symbol of the estate’s history, a home at the edge of the Conca d’Oro, with views stretching from Rignana in San Donato to Tavarnelle.

Silvia Fiorentini and Dario Faccin

After walking the estate I sat down with Carobbio’s Director of Winemaking Dario Faccin and the Consorzio di Vino Chianti Classico’s Silvia Fiorentini for a tasting of current vintages and indelible memory etching bottles from the past. Dear Carobbio, thank you for taking me in, for sustaining me and for introducing me to the mysteries of the Conca d’Oro. Here are my notes on the nine wines tasted, with thanks to Dario, including selections from 1997, 1995 and 1991.

Single-vineyard, 100 per cent sangiovese, so mineral-spiced you would think it came from barrel #notachance #carrobio #toscana #panzano #terrarossa #rosato #rosé

Tenuta Carobbio Rosato Terrarossa 2015, Igt Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $32.95, WineAlign)

Carobbio’s is different, a rosato of its own accord from a hasty (24-28 hours) fermentation descried of 100 per cent sangiovese. After four to five months in stainless steel it asks to show the world what it has to offer from a specific, steep-terraced red clay soil vineyard, thus the moniker and only used for this wine. A mineral-saline aroma sears ahead of the fruit which is bright of light cherry and convincingly of an intent to celebrate sangiovese in a form not so often noted. Like a cross between Coonawarra of terra rossa for cabernet sauvignon and Swartland of schist for syrah but here with sangioivese, for Rosé. Much more fruit on the palate but still the light and lithe cherry. There is more colour from sangiovese, naturally, but not from pressing. A very distinguished and elegant Rosato. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted February 2017  @Tenuta_Carobbio  @apparitionwines  @chianticlassico  @ChiantiClassUSA

Tenuta Carobbio Chianti Classico 2014, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $37.95, WineAlign)

Chianti Classico 2014 is a Panzano in Chianti, Conca d’Oro sangiovese with five per cent merlot that takes just one whiff to gain an understanding of what’s going on with wine director Dario Faccin, Carobbio and where these wines are heading. From the start I would ask to leave vintage concern or controversy out of the equation and simply concentrate on the purity from a variegated sangiovese that is entirely specific to the vineyards here. The red to purple sangiovese, transversing a line from a classic to ultra modern without ever veering from what sangiovese must have been and quintessentially is, off of vines tendered into Carobbio’s soils. The only comparison thus far is the Radda in Chianti Colle Bereto from Bernardo Bianchi, here of course so different, but with perfect hue, avoidance of massive structure and bullish tannin, in a word or two, “molto elegante.” Precise. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted February 2017

Tenuta Carobbio Chianti Classico Riserva 2013, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $58.95, WineAlign)

For Chianti Classico Riserva the solo performance is 100 per cent sangiovese and just as 2013 must be this grabs you by the olfactory senses with elegant inhalant immediacy. You are immersed straight away into a wine without reserve in the way that the only the purest of Riserva can be. Philanthropic, generous and kind. Even more so and because it is Carobbio, there is no fence to jump over, hoop to hurl through or great wall to climb. Not in aroma and then what follows is palate texture and finally fine-grained tannin. Not even acidity will lash out but rather support, with more kindness. Everything is presented from the start with a wisdom that doesn’t rely on oxidative or cured character. Just elegance. Rich and affirming, for sangiovese and life. Humour this CCR ’13 and wait just one more year, per il rispetto. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted February 2017.

Tenuta Carobbio Leone 2013, IGT Toscana, Italy (Agent, $119.95, WineAlign)

Leone is Chianti Classico incarnate, a single-vineyard sangiovese and perhaps the artist of the future known as Gran Selezione. The aromatics are a force from fruit raised in front of the river (Pesa) on the border between Florence and Siena, a high-density (5,000-5,500 plants per hectare) vineyard. In the first week of June Dario says “I take all the leaves off of the stems,” executed with risk-reward abandon but on second thought, as a factual matter of personal volition and intuition. Then two weeks later the smaller leaves begin to grow. This allows the early phenolic process to work on the young skins and increase the early offerings of photosynthesis. The skins carry a natural protection against the sun (in June) but not in August. Voila, wine begins in the vineyard. Leone is incredibly young and perfumed with so much restraint. It gets neither more precise, elegant or wise, or even more important, as a vineyard representative or as such a mindful and consistently right expression as this. The tannins are the finest of any you are likely to taste in sangiovese. The fruit is so perfect, red and purple, living and loving together, and you don’t need to name them. Dario insists on the simple and the obvious. That you taste the grapes every day at harvest and when the bottom of the skins do not attack you with aggressive tannin and the brown seeds crunch, you are ready to pick. “If you want to produce a great wine, you have to walk in the vineyard every day.” Leone’s got soul and only 4,000 bottles are produced. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted February 2017

Tenuta Carobbio Pietraforte 2013, IGT Toscana, Italy (Agent, $119.95, WineAlign)

Pietraforte is the Carobbio diversion into 95 per cent cabernet sauvignon (plus five cabernet franc) out of a 30 year-old vineyard that generally yields 3,500 kg per hectare or what Dario Faccin deems “niente.” Only 2,000 bottles are produced and 2013 is still a bambino, with wood more apparent on the nose than the sangiovese, quite spiced and then even spicier on the palate. Nothing vegetal takes any place at this international varietal table but the franc lends its must give current, of currants and even a little espresso. This has cool red soil savour that the cabs will inherit from the wind and the earth. But I have to say and say it with conviction, this is more varietally correct and obvious than most. More cabernet than Toscana. Needs five years, minimum. 2022-2030.  Tasted February 2017

What are you tasting right now? #carrobio @chianticlassico #1991 #1997

Tenuta Carobbio Chianti Classico 1997, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Chianti Classico 1997 was made by then oenologist Gabriella Tani, the first pupil of Vittorio Fiore. With 20 beautiful years of slow development now in the past this has drifted into the smoky, opaque and cloudy future, elegant and elongated though its best days have only recently receded out of view. Plums mingle with raisins while the original cherries are now dehydrating sweet and turning to leather. There is this delicate acidity and silky mouthfeel that reminds you of what Chianti Classico once was (and for some continue to make), that curative, always knew what it was going to be in disposition for two years even before it has taken its first steps. In glass 15 minutes it now changes and becomes even more like its original self, minus the tannin. The old funk is in, quietly slipping into the room, lingering and taking a seat at the table. It is most welcome. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted February 2017

Tenuta Carobbio Chianti Classico Riserva 1991, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Ranging back further to 1991, now this is something else, 26 year-old Chianti Classico (Riserva), but surely so like the normale, alive, singing and oh I bet it can tell some stories. From a Carobbio golden age, at a time when the wines were at one with grandfather’s pipe, when I and so many other children would sit on his lap and as the pipe-cleaner came out, we would take in a deep breath and this was the smell. He wasn’t Tuscan, never walked the Conca d’Oro, knew nothing of Panzano, but does it matter? Chianti Classico of no guru, no method, no teacher. Now the wine morphs into delicate, fine-spice, a moment’s travel on a magic carpet to somewhere exotic. Than back to sangiovese reality, with lavender, rosemary and wild cherry. The acidity in 1991 is kept, preserved alive so there will easily be five years left to repeatedly find this in a sound and gifting place. “We’ve got to go back. For the healing. Go on with the dreamers.” Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted February 2017

Tenuta Carobbio Leone 1995, IGT Toscana, Italy (Agent, $119.95, WineAlign)

Leone 1995 was made under the auspices of the Vittorio Fiore-Gabriella Tani oenology stylistic for Carlo Novarese. To say that this single-vineyard sangiovese is youthful would be the biggest IGT understatement of the century. From vines that at the time were 25 years-old, Leone is not just a survivor of a universally-declared incredible vintage, it is a singular expression from 1990’s Tuscany, in Chianti Classico and for Panzano. The violets, dried espresso and plum-amaretti semifreddo (savoury, not sweet) mixes with fennel frond, fresh rosemary and the 20-plus years lingering Carobbio tobacco. The acidity is fully intact, still travelling up and down the sides of the tongue, repeatedly and soliciting so much savour, sapidity, a desire for a mouthful of hematic, rare sear of Claudia’s beef filet and then more and more sipping. After 20 minutes the aromatics deliver a raspberry purée and even a black olive and mineral-saline, short of briny caper into the fray by stroke of some aromatic brush and bush in the light afternoon wind. That’s enough. I’m not sure my heart can take any more. Time for Vin Santo. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted February 2017

A great honour to taste this 1995 #carobbio #leone and in memory of #carlonovarese Thank you Dario and Silvia. Would like the chance to do it again in 22 years #toscana #sangiovese

Tenuta Carobbio Vin Santo del Chianti Classico Occhio di Pernice 2010, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $49.95, WineAlign)

Vin Santo del Chianti Classico Occhio di Pernice, “The eyes of the partridge,” called as such because it adheres to the credo of Vin Santo, made from at least 80 per cent sangiovese. Here the number is 90, with (five) trebbiano and (five) malvasia bianca, a completely different take, with so much more fruit, red fruit, away from the stone-peach/apricot vein and grounded, back down to the earth. Long, created by time in barrel spice, with the accent in cinnamon and there is this lemon peel and ripe crabapple aroma too. The palate is all cherry blossom liqueur, soft, creamy, downy, silky and nearly gelid. But it’s warm and comfortable. The gentlest and most ethereal Vin Santo in which acidity tempers sweetness, connecting with each other and neither bleeding ego or control. Drink 2017-2035.  Tasted February 2017

#vinsantophilia #carobbio #pannacotta

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Fifteen in VINTAGES July 23rd

#toast

#toast

While life is a blur there is always wine. In the past month the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, Chablis and three VINTAGES releases have seen me taste through more than 800 glasses of wine. This is something I do often in a four-week stretch but this, this was something other. It was intense.

During the same stretch I completed my tasting notes on 50 Chianti Classico (including 18 Gran Selezione) and those ruminating thoughts will be published in the coming weeks. Tomorrow I head down to Niagara for the sixth annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, or as it is affectionately hash-tagged, #i4c16. Just in case I didn’t have enough tasting notes to transcribe, edify, pop-culture aggrandize, indoctrinate and embellish, well, get ready for 100 more.

For now there is the upcoming July 23rd VINTAGES release and 15 wines I recommend with Godello certainty. Now if I could just get off this grid.

Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Wo Elgin, South Africa (203877, $14.95, WineAlign)

A pungent, insistently perfumed cooler clime sauvignon blanc from a big, need to be picked quick crop. Spice, grapefruit, agave and yellow flowers and with more texture than its Thelema ’14 cousin. Fleshy, tropical, juicy, ripe and spirited. Classic Elgin cool savour running linear like a beam through the joist of structure. High quality fruit ready for all comers. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2015 and July 2016  @ThelemaWines  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada

almansa

Castillo De Almansa Old Vines Selection 2010, Almansa, Spain (586719, $16.95, WineAlign)

Rich and concentrated, nicely balanced between roping fruit and ripping acidity. Has real firepower but enough sense to remain calm at the right moments. Plenty of verve, concentration and development from old vines and the stuffing to stand up to blessed char off the grill. Terrific summer BBQ red. Will also work for winter stew. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2016  @BodegasPiqueras  @almansaturismo  @DionysusWines

Vinedos Y Bodegas Pablo Menguante Garnacha Selección 2012, Cariñena, Spain (313833, $16.95, WineAlign)

Two years on and with more oak this is a very different animal than the subdued ’14, integrated but on the other side of the aromosphere. The oak is dominant, vanilla and cocoa are the great waft in what is ostensibly pitch perfect fruit, in bottle on the dark side of the moon. Coconut, vanilla extract and cinnamon. The wood brings layered and sheathed character. Very plush and notes Jorge, “if you come to Cariñena to experience Garnacha, this wine will allow you to discover the wonders of American oak.” The deep fruit and earth melded into and by the barrel makes for a very pleasurable drop. The ’08 released into the Ontario market in November 2014 lends credence to the ageability of this Garnacha. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015 and July 2016  @GranViu  @VinosCarinena  @DoCarinena  @Vinexxperts

Quails’ Gate Gewürztraminer 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (354480, $17.95, WineAlign)

The ripest Quail’s Gate gewürztraminer ever may be some kind of anomic desert hyperbole but wow is this fleshy, extracted and beautiful. Spicy too, with a minor citrus pith and almost into slight effervescence. Fun with gewürztraminer. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted July 2016  @Quails_Gate  @hobbsandco  @AMH_hobbsandco

santa rita

Santa Rita Medalla Real Syrah 2012, Limarí Valley, Chile (443523, $17.95, WineAlign)

From the northerly clime of the Limari this is seductively floral syrah with an edge of peppery spice. It just feels balanced on the nose and silky sweet in mouthfeel. Pushes characterization towards incomplex tautology. Linger with it long enough and the fine tannins will rear and bring everything back to earth. Cue the value jingle. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2016  @SantaRitaEst  @WinesofChile  @DrinkChile  @ImportWineMAFWM  @MarkAnthonyWine

redstone

Redstone Limestone Vineyard South Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (381251, $19.20, WineAlign)

The lower bowl of this Tawse-Redstone plot is the shiny one, as in happy scintillant of riesling proportions. A year on the attitude persists, in lime and honey, acacia and beeswax. Terrific tartness and direct enjoyable deposit. Enough mineral to satisfy a calcaire lover’s soul.  @RedstoneWines  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse

From my earlier note of May 2015:

So much lime and liquid chalk make for desired and dreamy texture. The lime slides like a slick of oil into the full flavours, spiked by peach and white plum liqueur. Terrific 20 Mile value. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of May 2014:

This inaugural Riesling foray from atop the Twenty Mile Bench out of the Limestone Vineyard is a sister to the Tawse exploration from same. The comparisons end right there. Paul Pender’s take is kinetic, frenetic and electric. Redstone winemaker Rene Van Ede tends to and lends from a reconnaissance that heralds Mosel. His first, fixed take is off-dry (in obvious ubiquity) with circular acidity. The co-agitation is early picked at low brix, with realized high residual sugar (36.4 g/L) and low alcohol (10 per cent). Toothsome, with a ying/yang, lemon/lime, push/pull. The case load is formidable for a first go ’round (1000 plus) yet paddled through limestone acreage with effortless strokes.

Last tasted July 2016

allegrini

Corte Giara Ripasso Valpolicella 2013, Doc Veneto, Italy  (83964, $19.95, WineAlign)

Lovely Ripasso liqueur with pretty red fruit and compressed earthy accents. Resides on the correct side of tart and the exemplary aspect of sweet, fine-grained tannin. Accomplishes Ripasso intimacy by doing so at a mimetic remove. Lingers like a perfect pastille. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted July 2016  @AllegriniWine  @C_Valpolicella  @RegioneVeneto

William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (461640, $24.95, WineAlign)

The Champs Royaux is Chablis drawn from a selection of Fèvre’s better grower contracts and five to 10 per cent is aged in old oak, the rest in stainless steel. It is a generalized but oh too important expression from kimmeridgian soil, hedged and qualified from all over Chablis. Takes all the hills, valleys, les clos and slope/aspect dimensions into account. It is textbook Chablis, a guarantee of quality, especially out of the cracker 2014 vintage. The fruit is ripe and the acidity a study in Chablis exactitude. The balance may be the best this cuvée has ever shown. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2016      @BIVBChablis  @purechablis

sancerre

Roger & Didier Raimbault Sancerre 2014, Ac Loire Valley, France (82255, $26.95, WineAlign)

This white scintillant by Raimbault from Sancerre is laid out with clear instruction, like Rimbaud through Van Morrison, in precisely what sauvignon blanc needs to impress from the Loire. The beseeching immanent, insulated implosion of fruit, searing mineral and tannin multiplying within a bubble. This is tres fort fricative stuff, tart without any excess tang, notes all important and leading to a grand result. Pungency does not enter the vocabulary but the mouthful of stones is palpable and sonant. Raimbault’s 2014 offered up a sense of wonder, “showed me ways and means and motions. showed me what it’s like to be. Gave me days of deep devotions, showed me things I cannot see.” Essential sauvignon blanc with poise, precision and mandatory feel. Sincere Sancerre tore down a la Rimbaud. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted July 2016

charmes

Château Des Charmes St. David’s Bench Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (453415, $27.95, WineAlign)

I’d put my money down on a French woman to work magic from cabernet franc grown on the warm, generous and giving St. David’s Bench. Lo and behold here is Amélie Boury with such fruit of spot on varietal countenance, magnified by the exhort of 2012. The gifts of that vintage could have been clouded with oak smothers but that case is not presented nor was it predicted. Boury certainly makes use of the barrel but its presence is textural, with mellow spice and for la longeur. This will develop efficiently and with grace, from this current anglaise stage into something modern Loire Valley en croute. It will accrue its culture and its character over seven to 10 years. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2016  @MBosc

bachelder

Bachelder Hautes Côtes De Beaune 2013, Ac Burgundy, France (445247, $27.95, WineAlign)

My sweet Beaune from Thomas Bachelder, as in sweet on the spontaneous haute ideal, not the cloying of residual imbalance. From a winemaker who lets his wines narrate themselves. Exemplary by George (well, Thomas) of a Beaune perfume with an underlay of acidity and tannin. No bitters here, nor astringent behaviour, nor harassment, which is nice. My sweet Beaune. Hm, my Beaune. Hm, my Beaune. Though a touch firm at present, a year ahead will see it come closer to hallelujah harmony. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2016  @Bachelder_wines  @BourgogneWines @vinsdebourgogne  @LiffordON

 

querciabella

Querciabella Chianti Classico 2013, Docg Tuscany, Italy (728816, $37.95, WineAlign)

Remarkable sangiovese so fleshy and forthright, modern and of an extreme brightness of being. There is an underlying Greve truth be told in moderation, tradition and historical meets varietal significance but it’s a new oration. This means that the structure is both sound and hermetically sealed. The lightness of volatility is a reminder of the past but it treads so delicately you just know this is a shining star pointing the way to the future. A brilliant “normale” without the the new slang of Gran Selezione but in many respects it may as well be. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted July 2016  @Querciabella  @chianticlassico  @rogcowines

Fisticuffs Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (457507, $49.95, WineAlign)

From Pavi Wines comes this study in hedonistic Napa Valley balance from out of a top-notch vintage. Ripe fruit and oak spice dance a simple cabernet sauvignon language with rope-a-dope drupe, right-handed acidity and a solid tannic left. A peremptory wine but its message is an assertion rather than a persuasion. Not a heavyweight by any means but behold the high-strung, svelte and agile middleweight. Possessive of the stuffing and the stamina to go a full fifteen rounds. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2016

flowers

Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, California (215210, $68.95, WineAlign)

A near perfect vintage after a mild winter was presented to shape this ripe gathering of increased extraction. Though the previous years pale in comparison, there can be no mistaking the load of impression. The causation supplied by extreme coastal vineyards with dramatic altitude stretches and elongates the fruit and so it is hard to get to know the oak. The bite is toothsome into great green apple, perfectly ripened grapefruit and a far eastern note of Indonesian sasak (snake) fruit. The materials and the handling are as one, from purchased coastal fruit to winemaker Dave Keatley’s acquiescent dispensation. Delicate fortitude from Sonoma. Where else before but here can chardonnay sire and develop such a family? Drink 2016-2022. Tasted July 2016  @FlowersWinery  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners

Two Hands Samantha’s Garden Shiraz 2013, Clare Valley, South Australia, Australia (67355, $71.95, WineAlign)

This is simply gorgeous shiraz from the Clare Valley. A wine of balance, precision and focus. It seems the wood regimen has been relaxed in welcoming retreat. On a rare occasion when a garden of flowers can bloom through despite so much fruit and an equal tempering by wood, well that is a joyous thing. The texture is woven from pure silk and the quality of the ganache painted with the finest brush. This never over soaks, runs roughshod or lays down the hammer. It is a fine-tuned shiraz of the highest esteem. Drink 2018-2030.  Tasted July 2016  @twohandswine  @bwwines  @Wine_Australia

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Why it matters to taste wines again

Dumplings

Dumplings

It would be foolish to think that a single taste or a brief assessment can ascertain everything that a wine will bring to the table. So many factors play into that moment in time; how that bottle came to arrive at this place, how long it had been open, its current temperature and certainly the temperament and mood of the taster.

The only true and valid important bits of information that we can cull from a fleeting meeting with a bottle of wine is whether or not it is marred by a fault, or faults. Is the wine tainted with TCA (trichloroanisole)? Does it contain high levels of Brettanomyces? Is it raging with volatile acidity? It is oxidized or reductive? Has lady bug taint found its way into the bottle? And so on and so forth. Quality can be guessed at with high probability but time is so essential to knowledge. This is why tasting for a second and third time matters.

Wines should always be afforded the opportunity to be reconsidered, especially after some bottle settling time. The fascination with seeing evolution from organic ferments is real. Wine changes, often for the better, that much we know. Wines deserve second chances, re-dos and re-tastes.

Writing updated notes is the essential by-product of re-tasting and the catalyst that acts as the chaperone to get to know a particular bottle and by extension, a winemaker’s portfolio. Here are seven new releases, coming into VINTAGES on March 7th. They are actually re-releases, having been previously made public by the winery or through the LCBO. I tried them all once again and can say with confidence, by way of the tasting note, that all seven have confirmed their quality and improved with time. These are the seven new notes for seven March 7th VINTAGES re-releases.

From left to right: Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013, 13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Bachelder Wismer Vineyard-Wingfield Block Chardonnay 2011 and Bachelder Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru Creux De La Net 2011

From left to right: Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013, 13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Bachelder Wismer Vineyard-Wingfield Block Chardonnay 2011 and Bachelder Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru Creux De La Net 2011

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89029, $17.95, WineAlign)

Juicy, spirited and eminently approachable. Citrus and peach fruit beg to be gulped by the key keg load.

From my earlier, June 2014 note: “The gateway of the Tawse Riesling portfolio and first to be released is an omnipresent beacon for what is to come from the single-vineyard sistren. Built fruit forward from an orange zest, stone rose and lemon glade guide, this is the Sketches most juicy sensation yet. Incredible vacuum of citrus acidity waterfalling into a great white hole. Though surrounded by so many a Riesling with site specific personality, “she’ll carry on through it all.” Intensity in dry Riesling.”

Last tasted March 2015  @Tawse_Winery

Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (373407, $18.00, WineAlign)

Carries the weight of the Peninsula within the bright frame of clarity that is the PEC oeuvre. In ’12 the warmth and the weight can’t help but break down to burrow into earth. Fine, grainy tannins and an increased structure will give this three more years of development but do not hesitate to enjoy it now.

From my earlier April 2014 note: “Tasted a second time, the floral lift is clearer than before, as is the understated earthiness. Also showing more body and verve so it appears the Voyageur is starting to come into its own. From my earlier February 2014 note: “Fruit here comes from two Niagara vineyards, Queenston and Malivoire. An earthy Pinot that positions itself in isolation away from its suave and handsome Portage and Benway brethren with a waft of merde. Taste brightens as a sweet cranberry, chalky, root beer float. Kudos deserved as it’s clearly recognizable as Pinot with a medium finish and a pinch of horseradish salt on a lithe 12.5 per cent frame.”

Last tasted March 2015  @KeintheWinery

Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (118638, $19.95, WineAlign)

Brilliant hue, like a ceiling fresco of gold-scrolled tiers. Has that feel of lemon peel shrivelling to scent. Was a Category Champion at the 2014 World Wine Awards of Canada.

From my earlier September 2014 note: “Pinot Gris with pears and more pears. A no hold barred, straight up, bring it with orchard fruit example. A spoonful of sweet lemon curd indicates a just post ripe picking and now oxidation, if not necessarily the intention. Off-dry with acidity that joins but does not round the shining fruit into absolute form.”

Last Tasted March 2015  @GrayMonkWinery

13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

This is spot on, both as 13th Street and as Niagara Peninsula Gamay. Very ripe, to the edge of extracted distraction and less funky than previous vintages. Really defines the genre, acts the act, walks the walk, executes the execution. Drives the point, carves the cliché, go Gamay go.

From my earlier note when tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014: “Spice and rich fruit head straight to Gamay welkin derived direct from the soil’s core, of Sandstone, Schwenker and the winery’s home vineyard at Fourth Avenue. Swirl away the gathered must and moss to reveal more Cru fruit than you can shake a stirring rod at. Such verve, said grit, such persistence. The thing about Gamay is, “if you want inside of her, well boy you better make her a raspberry swirl.” 13th Street has certainly made the raspberry sing in the ’12 Gamay so “raspberry swirl, mmm let’s go.”

Last tasted March 2015  @13thStreetWines

Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Napa Valley, California (396150, $29.95, WineAlign)

There are so many reasons not to find a thrill in this regional blend of Pinot Noir fruit but none of them stick. Sweetness, simple syrup silky fruit, brown sugar, every red and purple berry in all varieties of fields (plus ripe plums) and warm to temperate alcohol (14.5 per cent declared) all combine for full California sunshine effect. All this and I just can’t turn away. With all the excess fruit, texture and multiplicity in good times, how can I? I ask this Pinot, “how come you, how come you dance so good?” The answer lies in the feel and the ability to turn a Noir trick or two. Not to mention a rolling of barrels and Napa Valley stones through its very core. Well done.  Tasted January 2015  @sterlingwines  @Diageo_News

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

A new release, mindful of micro-plot. From out of a Bachelder barrel, the great mystery of wood is not that it smoulders, but that it rests on water, or in this case, on grape juice. To label this Wismer as Wingfield is to give this Chardonnay a scientific specificity, a concentration of fruit so capable of inducing the ethereal, to hover as if in suspension. This is Wismer-Wingfield. The Chardonnay that floats, like hope.

From my earlier July 2014 note: ‘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 March 2015  @Bachelder_wines

Bachelder Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru ‘La Creux De La Net’ 2011, Burgundy, France (LCBO 403485, $47.95, SAQ 12089524, $38.50, WineAlign)

Purity abounds, florals leap and the heart fills with an arrow of red fruit. So linear, so direct. Wears the crux of Bachelder integrity on its sleeve. The pinpoint accuracy of plot, the ubiquity of gypsy soul, the bandwidth of frequency. Yet another Bachelder “ere the bonnie boat was won, as we sailed into the mystic.” Acidity rears and rails right through. Tannin trails like a burning star. Ten more years will see this to a moondance of quietude.

From my earlier February 2014 note: A metallurgical slant this time around and iodine, though sweet, like a geologist’s preferred cocktail. The palette is Rothko maroon and in cohorts with what is ascertained by the palate, scheme fruits and hearts both red and black.

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

Last tasted March 2015

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Have wine forget winter

Plantain, strawberry and blueberry

Plantain, strawberry and blueberry

Now for a few argumentative words on logomachy, interpretive synergies and general rambling. Lets talk about wine and how it can make us forget about being chilled to the bone. Lets discuss the ways in which wine can bring forth a future being remembered with each passing sip.

Like stones as heavy, some winters are so stinging only silence helps you portage them, or soldier on through them. That and wine. When winter pisses and moans with a cold, cold heart, the purity and silence of wine can ease the pain. Fruit of the vine that remembers the eskers of the earth, minerals that have not forgotten magma, wine that gives an ancient, suspenseful feeling. Cold forgotten.

In July of 2012 the suggestion was to chill red wines for another hot weekend to ease the suffering in the throes of a sweltering, Ontario summer. A year on the thematic was pursued once again.

Related – A midsummer night’s chill red wine

“Just a slight frost mind you, like clipped diction, for warm, not hot weather.” Here we find ourselves in the opposite chasm, the anti-Hades, a seemingly endless void of polar hell. Perpetually stuck inside a frozen hadron collider. So history is the gradual intent. What to do? Drink wine.

February can be displaced with wine because the ferment has no beginning and no end. No sense of horizontal progression of time. Wine is set in a fractal globe, in which no facet of its character has a life of its own. Scale succumbs to intention.

Related – Feb. 21 wine and song salute

Tomorrow brings another VINTAGES release, a February 21st agglomeration with wines I suggest have discovered a remarkable balance achieved. Open them in a room and their blood will posit a similar temperature, one of warmth, so that soon, you will neither notice the alcohol or the heat, nor the deep freeze of winter. Here are eight more values to kick winter upside its proverbial ass.

From left to right: Gayda Viognier 2013, Esser Chardonnay 2012, Fowles Stone Dwellers Shiraz 2012, Domaine Des Huards Romo Cour Cheverny 2010, Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Dry Riesling 2012, Leasingham Winemakers Selection Bin 61 Shiraz 2012, Hedges Family Estate Three Vineyards Red 2011 and Domaine Du Grapillon D'or Gigondas 2012

From left to right: Gayda Viognier 2013, Esser Chardonnay 2012, Fowles Stone Dwellers Shiraz 2012, Domaine Des Huards Romo Cour Cheverny 2010, Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Dry Riesling 2012, Leasingham Winemakers Selection Bin 61 Shiraz 2012, Hedges Family Estate Three Vineyards Red 2011 and Domaine Du Grapillon D’or Gigondas 2012

Gayda Viognier 2013, Igp Pays D’oc, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (395129, $13.95, WineAlign)

Simple, proper, sturdy and in certain respects, essential Viognier. Three sites each purpose a layer; chalk from limestone La Livinière, grain by clay-limestone Côteaux du Languedoc and metal tang through slate Roussillon. Florals are southern French Viognier obvious and spice adds a global touch. Quite versatile, well-made and complex beyond its simple roots. A nutty note rounds out the lean with a touch of fat. Good length takes it beneath the surface.  Tasted February 2015  @DomaineGayda  @TandemSelection

Esser Chardonnay 2012, Monterey County, California (675017, $18.95, WineAlign)

The musky and musty aromas in this off-chance gem from cooler Monterey draws fruit from the Riverview and Viento Vineyards in the north of Salinas Valley. The bottled up compression is relieved shortly after the cap is unscrewed, melting into a creamy textured Chardonnay and into the wind gaps of tall redwoods and pines. Round, sweet unctuous, easy to consume sips are both tropical and anything but buttery, heavy mouthfuls. Quite cool-classic actually, persistent, whiffing Monterey cone and framed by mineral adjunct meaning. More than impressive for the cost involved.  Tasted February 2015  @EsserVineyards  @DionysusWines

Fowles Stone Dwellers Shiraz 2012, Strathbogie Ranges, Victoria, Australia (265967, $19.95, WineAlign)

In Victoria’s Strathbogie Ranges cooler temperatures and heads prevail in this savoury, meaty, cured, grounded and earthy Shiraz. Dried flowers, caper berry and a bitterish angst are the Mediterranean accents from a low-yielding vine proviso. Though the wine is quite concentrated as a result of the peanut produce, the fruit is anything but baked. It may be a dweller on the threshold but it has lift, a natural acidity that emphasizes the freshness. The stone turned, this has “the music of the spheres,” a gaining in gathering momentum, beautiful vision and a background of accompanying voices.  Tasted February 2015  @FowlesWine  @vonterrabev

Domaine Des Huards Romo Cour Cheverny 2010, Ac, Loire, France (401257, $21.95, WineAlign)

A wildly original, not quite Loire white made from 100 per cent Romorantin, of a brilliant golden yellow colour and great metallic expression. Like sweating rocks, all sorts of soft and precious metals, a cool medallion around the neck. A tang that gets beneath the surface, though oxidative, remains fixed, in suspended animation. The length cements the fixation, with white flowers, their petals strewn about. A most uncomfortable pungency might frighten some olfaction, though the reek is just a by-product of calcareous clay with a lime reaction, not necessarily chalky but more like a lick of Blaisois loam on metal. Nutty, drying out on the finish but with acids stringing along in ability and pride.  Tasted February 2015  @MarkCuff    @TheLivingVine

Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Dry Riesling 2012, Clare Valley, South Australia, Australia (262469, $25.95, WineAlign)

Clare Valley Riesling is one of those caché varietal in locale entities revered by so many. Fact is not all CVRs are sensational but when one is made like the 2012 Lodge Hill, the grape in place is nothing short of spectacular. A rather flinty meets petrol continuum vintage is massively forward and upward, getting right down to back of the skull business. Herbal yet stony, so arid, so much citrus and a tang of salinity bled from metal. Highly complex and blessedly dangerous length. But flack is cut because despite the anxiety the Lodge Hill “sang as if he knew me…singing clear and strong.” Riesling that soothes and delights, killing me softly with Riesling kindness and his song.  Tasted February 2015  @Jimbarrywines  @MikeAikins1  @ChartonHobbs  @Wine_Australia

Leasingham Winemakers Selection Bin 61 Shiraz 2012, Clare Valley, South Australia, Australia (448241, $25.95, WineAlign)

The history of the Bin 61 is a long, storied and reliable one to hang a perennial Shiraz hat on. In the late nineties and early 2000’s the fruit was darker, more extracted, the wines tannic and needing a dozen years to reach nirvana. Times have gradually shifted the fruit paradigm to red, fresh and vibrant. In 2012, immediate gratification increases, though the tempering vintage has not advanced the progression like in the most recent years. Here the stretched, busy and cake Leasingham persists, so five to seven years of justified evolution should be expected. Tightness grips with further sips so despite the current requiem for red fruit and acidity, this will need a brief taming. Not a Bin 61 for the ages but another winner to be sure.  Tasted February 2015  #Clarevalley

Hedges Family Estate Three Vineyards Red 2011, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Washington (1594, $32.95, WineAlign)

A year later this Yakima Valley red has concentrated further, like sweet cherry tree gum resin and sap. Desert climate and high pH loess in coarse flood debris, once entirely gritty in the blend, are now beginning to integrate. Acidity remains on high amid diplomatic balance. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “A most interesting Washington blend out of a vintage worth seeking out. Abstruse fruit package in five varieties, conjoined like a semi-sweet chocolate dessert of flourless proportions and marked by a grain and an exceptional, altitudinous presence that can’t be denied. Berries of all colours and levels of sweet/tart, evergreen verdigris, velvety texture, richesse, luxury magic mountain air. “Walk in the sun, up on Magic Mountain, Red mountain wine, everybody laughs.” This Hedges has that effect. A more than sensible price for all that’s going on and anything but a burden.  Last tasted February 2015  @hedgeswine

Domaine Du Grapillon D’or Gigondas 2012, Southern Rhône, France (981787, $32.95, WineAlign)

Grenache dominant Rhône such as this from the Chauvet family goes deep into the ripest territory, with gorgeous aromatics that burst of red fruit incarnate. The large ancient barrels bring a subtle oak spice and a funk du cave unique and necessary to the Gigondas application. Alcohol is checked at the mid-palate, stepping aside for the vermillion fruit layering while so many spice accents, so Rhône, old and new, spike the zesty orange skin. The leathery hide will see to a decade of age, at the very least.  Tasted February 2015  @grapillondor

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Top 15 under-$25 wines of 2014

Barque Smokehouse Miami Ribs PHOTO: Kevin Hewitt and Jill Chen (http://www.freestylefarm.ca/)

Barque Smokehouse Miami Ribs
PHOTO: Kevin Hewitt and Jill Chen (http://www.freestylefarm.ca/)

The year-end list. Why? To “free the individual from the collective.” To ponder, speculate and formulate a narrative. To create the sociological, world of wine equivalent of splitting the atom. To celebrate the triumph of laic heterodoxy and the arrogance of modernity.  To seek purity from beneath the massacre caused by an avalanche of contrived wines. In anthropological terms, “to make a housecleaning of belief.”

For the great majority, $25 is the threshold rarely exceeded when shopping for a bottle of wine. If a solid, honest to good bottle can’t be had for less, grape dismissal rears its ugly head and the switch turns to beer, or worse, rail booze mixed with sugar and/or chemical bitters. Oh, the drab humanity of it all.

But a great wine can be had for less than $25 and once found should be exalted and purchased by the case. The category of reds and in less instances whites, need company. This is where Sparkling, Sherry and even Dessert wines seek the embrace of an open mind and a willing palate. Spread the wealth, into glasses filled, from methods and styles unknown.

You will note that this list is filled with such rare animals and not just from the calculations in ferment, but from places unexpected, far off, of gestalt, historical significance and of the ancients. Places like Naoussa and Santorini in Greece, Montilla Moriles from Spain and Alsace, France.

These 15 wines are (almost all) culled from VINTAGES releases. I tasted countless other terrific under-$25 examples in 2014; local, parochial, from beyond Ontario’s borders and abroad. For the purposes of what the Ontario consumer needs to know and for what serves them best, restricting the bulk of the list to what is available in LCBO stores (or in many cases, what was and will again, as a newer vintage, be released), these 15 wines are not hard to find.

So yes, this is an ode, a nod, shout out and props to our faithful and loyal provider, the LCBO and truer to the point, VINTAGES, the fine wine and spirits division of the Ontario monopoly. The supply chain for great wine is alive and well, despite the efforts required to sift through the chaff, to separate it from the proverbial wheat. The gems, though oft-times hidden, can be unearthed. The diamonds will time and again be scooped from the rough and the cream will also rise to the top. Cliché is a by-product of wine life in Ontario.

What stands out and above is the contribution made and presented by the winemakers and vintners in this province. Six out of my 15 choices are from Ontario. The attitude that Ontario wines are too expensive and do not offer good value as compared to similar wines from Chile, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, Germany, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand is rubbish. My decision to include six such beasts drives the point. Many excellent wines are available at the u-$25 price point.

Here are my wines of the year that came in under $25. Some are sold out, many are not. Find them before the year is out.

Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (Agent, $14.95, 500ml, WineAlign) From Recently tasted here, there and everywhere, November 24, 2014

The winery was founded in 1844 and in 1970 Toro Albalá became the first commercial Montilla producer in the classic Solera method, from (estate-grown) Pedro Ximénez vines. This is unfortified Fino, at a naturally achieved alcohol of 15 per cent, from an average age of 10 years. It’s so dry, like a desert you could walk for astral weeks, as if it should be measured in negative residual sugar. Like pure almond extract paste, bones in the sand and the essence of pulverized, powdered nuts, void of moisture. The chalky-white Albariza soils of the Moriles Alto subzone are hardwired into its Akashic, astral Electrico plane. This Fino ventures in the slipstream, between viaducts of dreams, “where immobile steel rims crack.” Impossibly long finish.  Tasted November 2014  @toroalbala  @MontillaMoriles  @LeSommelierWine

Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa (231282, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 Release

Always a diamond cut above its like-minded and similarly priced peers. Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc has the most wonderful smell of bleeding, oozing metal and the bitten into stones of many tree fruits, in bittering nobility. Not to mention the pith of citrus and the pits of tree nuts. Though currently in a sulphurous, reductive state, with age this will seek and find an earthen, honey bronzed gorgeousness, in say five to seven years and live in sweet CB infamy until 2025. For a wine that crosses oceans to arrive in your tasting glass, at $18 it represents the finest value in Chenin just about anywhere on the planet. Terrific length. Chenin meets Montrachet.  Tasted May 2014  @KFwines  @WOSACanada

Artichoke and Fiddleheads PHOTO: Michael Godel

Artichoke and Fiddleheads
PHOTO: Michael Godel

Boeckel Brandluft Riesling 2012, Alsace, France (392928, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES November 8, 2014 Release, Big release, bigger wines, November 7, 2014

From a northern part of Alsace, southwest of Strasbourg comes this epitome of Dry Alsace Riesling, stone cold stoic and bereft. The impossibility of this style is what Alsace does with impunity and propriety; gaseous and aerified without petrol or vitriol. But it will condense and go there after five years time. The quality is excellent for the price, from a limestone and silica lieu-dit just this side short of Grand Cru. Citrus would be the wrong descriptor but it does act like an exuding of citric acid. So stark and beautiful. Such a mineral expression in every fighting sense of the argument. Like chewing on rock salts and dehydrated limestone, the second tablet then dropped into the glass. A famous wine merchant in London sells this for $25 CAN. In Ontario, this is a must purchase by the case.  Tasted October 2014  @HHDImports_Wine  @drinkAlsace

Dirty Ramps

Dirty Ramps

Rosewood Select Sémillon 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (winery, $18.00,WineAlign) From Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality, October 8, 2014

After tasting Rosewood’s ’12, I urged the region’s cultivation of the great white wolf variety. Then the winter of 2014 happened. Rosewood’s vines were wiped clean off the map, erased like a child of parents who never met. The ’13 Sem is the last Mohican and its 12.5 per cent alcohol (down two from ’12) is a fitting, subdued and graceful epitaph to an amazing Beamsville run. This final cut is lean, stark, raving mad. So very savoury, tannic and built to linger for longer than most. The Rosewood honey is in hiding,”far from flying high in clear blue skies,” but like all memorable vintages of this wine, it will emerge in time. This Sémillon asks, “and if I show you my dark side, will you still hold me tonight?” Yes is the answer, and not just because she is the last one. Terrific curtain call.  Tasted October 2014  @Rosewoodwine

Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (372441, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES July 19, 2014 Release, Release the summer wine, July 17, 2014

Noticeably dry but also earthy/funky. Struck match and plowed earth. As it settles into its skin and your consciousness it develops body, depth and acidity. Grows and expands, reaches heights you thought it would not. The vintage works wonders for the Twenty Mile Bench and this block has expansive stuffing to take it long, not to mention the earthy complexity to see it change and evolve. It may go through a disturbing, unusual phase but be patient and set one aside for 15 years from now. You will be amazed what honey and deep geology it discovers and uncovers.  Tasted June 2014  @RockwayVineyard

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES December 6, 2014 Release, The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014

Who has not waited for Elevation to hit out of the 2012 vintage? Straight up it must be noted that this will rank over and above the best from the St. Urban Vineyard. The ’12 Elevation will not only find long-term success among the great values in Bench Riesling, it will go down as one of the best ever, at any price. The vintage impart is a natural for this wine. At the moment it is the most primary of all because of the layers that texture bring. The Elevation will go thirty years and climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, gaining flesh and personality. The already seamless gathering of fruit and mineral is palpable. And still a reminder, the price is $20. This is a Schmidt gift to Ontario, for anyone and everyone to be one of the lucky ones. To purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling.  Tasted November 2014  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Maine Lobsters

Maine Lobsters

Nugan King Valley Frasca’s Lane Chardonnay 2012, King Valley, Victoria, Australia (288191, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 7, 2014 Release, Australian rules VINTAGES, June 4, 2014

The toast in this Victorian charmer comes across in a mild-mannered, spoken word way with a simmering, buttery bass line. The fruit is high but the rhythms are delicate and even-keeled. More white flowers than your average Australian Chardonnay, brighter, with more grace and more beauty. She’s a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket eating angel cake. Still firm towards the back-end with citrus zest and mouth-watering acidity, she’s “fast and thorough and sharp as a tack.” Finishes with a long and persistent held trumpeting line. “Na,na,na,na,na,na.”  Tasted May 2014  @PMA_int

Katogi & Strofilia Averoff Xinomavro 2008, Pdo Naoussa, Greece (249615, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release, From VINTAGES for Thanksgiving, in wine and with song, October 10, 2014

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

Thymiopoulos Vineyards Yn Kai Oupavós Xinomavro 2010, Unfiltered, Naoussa, Greece (360750, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES January 20, 2014 Release, From Super Bowl XLVIII wine odds, January 30, 2014

Magnificent Macedonian, built upon the unheralded yet stalwart variety Xinomavro. Pure, sweet-smelling gardenia and the refuse of ancient rolling stones express every bit of sun and wind-swept, low bush vines goodness. Purposefully and thankfully unfiltered, so that all the delicious sweet and sour cherry and great biting but sweet tannin are left in. Purity, good sugar/alcohol heights without oak corruption. Earth possessive of mythic undercurrent, sage, wealth of  knowledge, sweet anise and hyssop. Scents of game on the grill. Amazing complexity and length. While tasting this Xinomavro it made me “feel so hypnotized, can’t describe the scene.” Get your rocks off to the Greek Tasted January 2014  @thymiopoulosvin

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign) From Take them home, County wines, May 20, 2014

The Huff Chardonnay bent has seen a shift as strong as South Bay’s prevailing winds, away from the weight of barrel ferment to a clean, Chablis-like style. The ’10 might just have been the turning point and though they now make two versions, this ’12 is the cementing of the attitude. What is most amazing is that the texture, aromas and feel remain those of an oak-influenced wine. Huff manages the linear consistency without the need to encumber, toast or char the purity of its glade, glycerin and citrus fruit. Only Prince Edward County’s limestone soil can effect this kind of nine inch nails drive into Chardonnay without oak and only Huff can do it with this kind of elegance. A wine “less concerned about fitting into the world.” Do not miss this singular effort. @HuffEstatesWine

Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2011, Santorini, Greece (366450, $22.95, SAQ 11901091, $24.50, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release, On a wine and a prayer, March 24, 2014

A 100 per cent Assyrtiko from a 150 year-old, Cycladic Phylloxera sanctuary vineyard. Separates itself from other Santorini adelphoi by ageing 20 per cent of the inoxydable, ancient-minded grapes in French barrels. An Assyrtiko that can’t help be anything but stony, atomic driven goodness. Volcano flow and spew, with more texture than most, its elevated price a necessary reflection of a tertiary expertise. Elevated aromatics, locked in tight by the barrel and matched by extreme flavours, so primary, raw, powerful, relentless and grippy. A remarkable white wine that impresses with a sensation of mouth rope burn full of complex, seafaring knots, this Assytiko will age for 15 years in the cellar and develop into something ethereal. Will melt away in dreamy waves when it settles together. Myth will beget legend, legend will beget truth.  Tasted March 2014 @KolonakiGroup

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard Photo: Michael Godel

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard
Photo: Michael Godel

Bordón Gran Reserva 2005, Doca Rioja, Spain (114454, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 25, 2014 Release, Wine on company time, October 23, 2014

If it were so because of cryogenic preserved must or an accidental tipping and topping up into an unused barrel by recent vintage juice I would not be left hanging with mouth fully agape. Considering the amount of time this flat out delicious Gran Reserva saw in barrel, the mystery must somehow be explained, how it came to be so surprisingly modern and bright (for its age), especially at $23. But it has been seen many times before, with no greater example than the Montecillo 1991 GR that drank fortuitously well into the last years of the previous decade. This is the magic of Rioja. That said, there is some sinew and some raw character here as well – that’s the old school treatment and style talking. Red cherry fruit. Ripe fruit roasted, rested and now sliced, showing its perfectly cooked rare cut. Juicy and with sanguine notes still running through its grain. Wonderful old school yet bright Rioja. Riotous red wine with a calming aura of quietude.  Tasted October 2014  @RiojaBordon  @Eurovintage  @RiojaWine

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva 2006, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (382945, $23.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES December 6, 2014 Release, The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014

An ’06 Chianti Classico Riserva you say, pre-aged, delivered to the Ontario market and presented here in 2014, all in for $24? You can’t fool us. We’ve been duped too many times before. This must fall into the “too good to be true” category. The answer depends on which style of Chianti you prefer. This walks all the halls, plies the trades and hits the marks of the CCR ancients. Comes from a remarkable vintage, holding on but in true advanced, oxidizing and fruit diminishing character. Mushrooms and truffles abound, as does game in the early roasting stage. A note of Brett is here too, not over the top but its presence can’t be denied. Acidity speaks, as does bitter chocolate. This is not for all but all should have a go.  Tasted November 2014  @Ilmolinodigrace  @chianticlassico

Riesling and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Riesling and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Pearl Morissette Riesling Cuvée Blackball Barrique 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($25, WineAlign) From The pearls of Morisstte’s wisdom, May 26, 2014

When tasted in July of 2013 the ’12 Barrique had only been in bottle for three days so the musk was quite front and centre. Aged in foudres (neutral, old wood casks) it held much latitude at such a young age with notes of herbiage (mint, tarragon), nary a drop of residual sugar and a wholly unique type of dry acidity. “It will not always show this way,” commented Morissette. Tasted 10 months later I can say this. The ’12 Riesling Barrique avoids excessive malic and tartaric acid, not to mention any amount of volatile acidity. It is viable, vital and technically sound. “This is a wine that will take time,” pleads François . “I care about texture, not about varietal character.” Though perplexing and untamed, the wine has undeniable body and that noble bitterness in its unsung tang. It is the anti-Riesling hero, full of experiential conceit and needs to be revisited often, to see where it will go.  Tasted July 2013 and May 2014  @PearlMorissette

Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25,00, WineAlign) From Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence

Just released today, the anterior sniff and first sip procure a sense of immediacy in declaration: This is Jonas Newman’s finest Ancestral to date. Amethyst methustos bled from Prince Edward County Gamay. If a continuing study on such sparkling wine were to be conducted in the méthode ancestrale diaspora, the anthropologist would lose time in the County. Say what you must about the method and the New World place, this elevates an old game, in fact it creates a new one. Strawberry is again at the helm with the sugar number high and balanced by three necessary portents of chemistry; low alcohol, savor and acidity. The finish is conspicuously dry, conditioning the palate to activate the phenotypic sensors. Hits all the right bells, traits, whistles and behaviour. Careful, it will make you want to go out and make babies.  Tasted November 2014  @hinterlandwine  on the card at @barquebbq

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Recently tasted here, there and everywhere

Wihr au Val, Alsace (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Wihr au Val, Alsace
(c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

During my week-long visit to Alsace in June I tasted more than 300 different wines. Over the course of the four months that followed that most amazing journey to the heart of a great wine region, I published more than 50 tasting notes. I also told stories about the winemakers, the Grand Crus and lieu-dits. I will continue to write and publish equal or more amounts about Alsace.

Related – Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due

The British wine writer Jamie Goode recently published two articles on the subject of wine criticism versus wine journalism. His first, Whatever happened to wine journalism, appeared on the website run by Tim Atkin MW. The second, Wine critics and wine writers on his own blog, Wine Anorak. Goode is a man on the pulse of what it real and what needs to be said. He is correct in telling us that the most engaging wine writing comes from scribes who visit vineyards and tell their stories. There can be no disputing this to be true.

Jamie hopes that the future of wine writing is not fraught with short reviews and inflated scores. He sees the Utopian model in experiential travel, in meeting hard-working people, wandering over variegated soils and terroir, tasting at the source. Jamie fears that his wine writer self will go the way of the wine critic, tapping away on a computer while tasting wine in an air-conditioned office. His version of wine hell. Riesling specialist Stuart Martin Piggot agrees.

But Jamie is not entirely right either. At least in the context of the Ontario model (and those of other Canadian provinces), along with I would imagine, many wine markets in other countries. Much of what wine writers taste on globetrotting journeys is not to be found on shelves back home. While that may be pathetic and certainly a pity worthy of some kind of wine crime, it is the brass tacks of the global wine industry. I agree with Goode that we should do everything in our power to change it and we should publish stories, not just tasting notes and scores.

The problem for the reader is that most, if not 95-plus percent of the wines that are reviewed from a region like Alsace are not available for purchase in Ontario. While that is just a crying shame, it is a reality. If you purchase wine in Ontario and look for critical voices to help you separate the wheat from the chaff, you require notes on available wines. That is why writers must spend so much time tasting samples in the sterile LCBO laboratory, at our dining room tables, in restaurants and with the hard-working for not enough reward Ontario wine agents. And we must write-up the tasting notes and publish them on websites like WineAlign. This is the fact of Ontario wine importing, purchasing and consumer life. Would it be any different if there was no provincial monopoly? Yes, but it wouldn’t help in the telling of better vineyard stories.

I taste wines here, there and everywhere. Here are 16 recent samples that gave me cause to raise an eyebrow, pause, ruminate and formulate a response to the spoken sentiments of the ferment. All 16 are available for purchase in Ontario.

From left to right: Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012

From left to right: Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012

Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Vins De Pays Côtes De Gascogne, France (Agent 223222, $13.95, WineAlign)

This is a Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc that whistles boldly like a howling wind. While the nose is high-toned and full of herbal complexities, it’s also indiscreetly alarming. The aromas are quite massive; pine needles decomposing on a wet forest floor. Kefir, cloudy and enzymatic, curdling and churning into itself. Petrol spills on asphalt, baking in the midday sun. To taste it is tangy and juicy, but also very mineral, intensified by the outcroppings of retzine in the vineyard’s limestone. The overall composition punches way above its weight but the heightened sense of reality is also a bit hard to take. Terrific effort but comes with a warning sign.  Tasted November 2014  @CotesdeGascogne  @TrialtoON

Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (Agent, $14.95, 500ml, WineAlign)

The winery was founded in 1844 and in 1970 Toro Albalá became the first commercial Montilla producer in the classic Solera method, from (estate-grown) Pedro Ximénez vines. This is unfortified Fino, at a naturally achieved alcohol of 15 per cent, from an average age of 10 years. It’s so dry, like a desert you could walk for astral weeks, as if it should be measured in negative residual sugar. Like pure almond extract paste, bones in the sand and the essence of pulverized, powdered nuts, void of moisture. The chalky-white Albariza soils of the Moriles Alto subzone are hardwired into its Akashic, astral Electrico plane. This Fino ventures in the slipstream, between viaducts of dreams, “where immobile steel rims crack.” Impossibly long finish.  Tasted November 2014  @toroalbala  @MontillaMoriles  @LeSommelierWine

Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (391300, $14.95, WineAlign)

Sets a (St. David’s) benchmark for how to reign in and then release the charmes of Sauvignon Blanc from the Niagara Peninsula. Done in a decidedly fresh and lively style, this gathers up a bunches and conservative yield-managed vineyard’s warmest, ripe fruit for the purpose of bonhomie potation. Smells of vitality, of fresh herbs and citrus just cut, of a salt spring, of things zoetic. Cream elevates the texture, albeit pellucid and unobtrusive. The triad coming together of Sauvignon Blanc, St. David’s Bench and 2013 is the new CdC yardstick. The price only cements the offer.  Tasted November 2014  @MBosc

Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Rhône, France (535849, $15.95, WineAlign)

The Ogier self-professed traits of patience, savoir-faire, observation and intuition are on tidy display in this piquant, spiced-note, olive branch and indigo traditional Rhône blend. So very Mediterranean, warm and herbal by day, cool and minty by night. One stage short of lush, one notch comfortably above thin, this slots into all right moves; pleasant, value-driven and so effective for so many purposes. Stand alone or with classically prepared fare, this is all you need. Bring on the roast chicken.  Tasted November 2014  @MaisonOgier  @Select_Wines

Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012, Bierzo, Spain (Agent, $16.95)

Mencia as it once must have demanded of itself, iron clad, funky and gamey. This Bierzo is no antiseptic perfumed bottle of modern, manufactured violet Febreeze, though it’s so very vanilla and rich as a Porchetta sandwich with the porcine cure and fat driven right in to every nook and cranny. Or a taste sensation like bacon wrapped cherries. High toned with formidable tannins. A chew of sinew both in faux-wood and as the conceptual result of a roasted animal’s tension. Value gained vicariously through complexity.  Tasted April 2014  @TheLivingVine

Fita Preta 2013

Fita Preta 2013

Fita Preta White Reserve Alentejano 2013, Alentejo, Portugal (Agent, $16.95)

An endemic blend of Antão Vaz (40 per cent), Roupeiro (40) and Arinto (20) from infertile rocky schist soils in southern Portugal’s Alentejo region. Ostensibly a field blend, like the Alsace cépage a terroir of Marcel Deiss, the Fita Preta or “black tape” comes from an extreme and arid land. Portuguese winemaker António Maçanita and resident English viticulturist consultant David Booth usher out flint and mineral to capture a host of synapses from a wine region that had failed to fire in years. The landscape described  as “Portugal’s Australia” gives a white like a cross between simple, flinty Chablis and aged Hunter Valley Sémillon. The acidity is in abject anti-congruence to the region’s usual heavy-leaded output, mimicking cool-climate Chardonnay in tight and bracing stonker fashion.  Tasted November 2014  @fitapretavinhos    @LeSommelierWine

From left to right: E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014

From left to right: E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014

E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Southern Rhône, France 2011 (259721, $18.95, WineAlign)

In a world where anything is possible, the Guigal Côtes Du Rhône effect is predictable, trenchant and essential. The vintage specific focus in alacrity drives the savoury, rich black fruit to domesticated compliance, easy on the eyes, nose and palate. This just smells like a good meal; as if a game bird were roasting in the oven, surrounded by a rough and large kerf of mirepoix, of caramelizing root vegetables baptized by dried herbs and spices. Do not be fooled. This is a warm CdR with generous alcohol (14 per cent disclosed) and an even warmer, though not uncomfortably tannic or acidity riddled finish. It is a whack of Rhône grapes within grasp of a mere mortal’s budget. Drink now and for two years forward.  Tasted November 2014  @DOMAINEGUIGAL  @VinexxWine

Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (68858, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES November 8, 2014 release

A modern take on Sangiovese to be certain with a penchant for the authenticity extracted from the best parts of history. Siena red dirt dredged, cherry macerated, fined, filtered and spiked with a crush of Brandy soaked Amaretti cookies. Clean and with Spring plum blossom in the air. Il Palio dirt for appetizer, Fiore di Zucca pie for dinner and sweet, nutty Panforte for dessert. So modern but so proper. Makes no bones about its made-up face but has plenty of solid ossein in its body. Good piquancy and a rush of verve on the back palate. Oaky but not creamy, bitter yes, but not woody.  Tasted November 2014  @oenophilia1

Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $19.99, WineAlign)

The savoury aspect of this Cabernet Franc steals the show out of what is just an ideal vintage. The fruit was sourced from the Dim Vineyard in the Creek Shores appellation, a piece of the Peninsula ideally suited to the sharp and earthy aspects of Cabernet Franc. Despite 20 months of seasoning in barrel, the Tractor has maintained its red fruit character, accented by currants, spice and a deep-rooted sense of licorice. There is enough grain in its texture to carry it for three or four more years but it will never be bigger than it is now, nor will its length grow any longer.  Tasted November 2014  @SideroadTwenty

Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Kremstal, Austria (453281, $21.95, WineAlign)

The ever-present, front loaded, laser sharp attack may feign spritz amid hushed whispers of CO2, but not from any chemical alteration. It’s actually a post fermentation, double negative breath of residual covalent bonding. The fast action bottling captures pressure to act as catalyst for freshness, especially in such a lean, high acidity vintage. A sway of tall grasses and that gas smothers whatever residual sugar might try to weigh down this low (11.5 per cent) alcohol stunner. Very much alive though the depth is challenged by all that forward thinking expression. Still a very good showing for this classic Grüner.  Tasted November 2014  @AustrianWine  @LeSommelierWine

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (677450, $21.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 25, 2014 release

The prototypical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc hitting all the classic numbers is right here in the Dog Point 2014. Low pH, high acidity, minuscule residual sugar and elevated aromatics. It’s ripe but ripped by citrus juice and zest. Like cubes of honeydew, bitter winter melon and dried lemongrass soaking in and flavouring a dish of briny scallop carpaccio with coarse sea salt and capers. The sapidity is palpable, the excesses vivid. I would avoid too much variegated gastronomy when sipping this wine. Opt for simpler fare because its talents would otherwise be mimicked and suppressed.  Tasted November 2014  @DogPointWines  @TrialtoON

From left to right: Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Marcel Deiss Pinot d'Alsace 2012, Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

From left to right: Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2012, Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Wo Coastal Region, Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $23.95, WineAlign)

Iconic Bordeaux partners with South Africa for a red that is a surprising saunter into fair Cabernet-Merlot territory. Ripeness, extraction and alcohol are all exercised with restraint. The South African gauze is wound but of a thin wrapping, thanks to the allowance for fruit to shine in bright, red cherry tones. Western Cape is a terrific place to express Bordeaux-styled reds, especially when done with such hands off ability. A bit sapid and even sour edged, this would be a fine example to share when partaking in a little R & R. Wait a year and drink up to 2018.  Tasted November 2014  @Dandurandwines  @WOSACanada

Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Ac Côtes De Roussillon Villages Latour De France (643239, $24.95, WineAlign)

From vineyards composed of Devonian Period gneiss and schist soils and Kimmeridgian period limestone. A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The heft of this craggy, cultured terroir in a Côtes De Roussillon’s bottle is never in question, nor is the puritanical excellence of its harvested fruit. Some years just heat up to a point of no return, like this 2012. Chapoutier is fully cognizant of the warmth and savagery from the soils and the climate. Finding even temperament and balance is the challenge. This vintage comes across as over the scabrous edge, cooked by the sun and dredged in the particulate. Classic Mediterranean notes of brine, brush and lavender keep it grounded, not to mention graphite and grilled meat, but for the sappy and life-sapping heat, this would be a candidate for 10 years in the cellar. As it is, drink this with quality warm-blooded protein over the next year or two.  Tasted November 2014  @M_Chapoutier  @Dandurandwines

Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2012, Alsace, France (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

This Pinot d’Alsace is what Jean-Michel Deiss refers to as “du cépage a terroir” or “tous les cépages.” Though there can be as many as 13 grape varieties in the field blend, most of the content comes from the Pinot family. Though likely in Blanc, Gris and Auxerrois predominance, this is a co-planted field blend so if Jean-Michel were to change his tune from talking terroir to varietal percentages, even he would not know the true make-up. Regardless, this is a (vintage) rich and balanced white blend, an avatar for the Alsace idiom. A wanderer in angles, an adventurer into corners and a wearer of many aromatic costumes; sweet, sour, citrus, flint and spice. Indicates orange, lemon and grapefruit but it’s never that straightforward. More like Jincheng, Lemongrass and Pomello. An exemplary introduction to Deiss, Alsace and the dry summation of many white parts. Tasted twice, June and November 2014  @marceldeiss  @AlsaceWines

Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00)

Carries and buffets an unmistakable aromatic conveyance that comes from a grouping to include Le Clos Jordanne, Bachelder, Queylus and The Farm. Where the cherry tree digs its roots into the earth, where the fruit rolls in the clay dust, where the tension in fruit meets tannin, intersecting at acidity. Just a touch of funk in a non-reductive, vineyard sense and the fruit does flirt with right of centre cherry, inching towards the black side. Chalk and tangy dust, and finally, tannin that holds court. This is quite big for Niagara Pinot Noir and it will age righteously for three to five years. Though it is not yet ready to lay claim to greatness, Westcott is a vineyard to keep a wide and watchful eye.  Tasted October 2014  @WestcottWines

Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

The real deal in Bench gain from out of the most enigmatic and occult vintage, the primitive vineyard giving life and lesson to Chardonnay. Austerity in second and third fill barrels sends butter in search of toast, imagined through pendular churning. A reckoning follows, connecting round fruit to linear acidity in character, oomph and excellence. Aromas indicate spirited confiture choices at the breakfast table to garnish flaky pastry. Biting and demanding yet sweet as a cool summer’s night.  Tasted October 2014  @ClossonChase

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Bloody vivid 2011 Vintage Ports

Vintage Port 2011 from left to right: Sandeman, Fonseca, Dow's, Graham's, Taylor Fladgate

Vintage Port 2011 from left to right: Sandeman, Fonseca, Dow’s, Graham’s, Taylor Fladgate

With the announcement of the Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 by Wine Spectator as the wine of the year for 2014, fortified is back on top of the extant pop heap. The number one ranking in the magazine’s annual Top 100 list of the most exciting wines is a big financial deal and another arranged feather in the Symington family’s cap. The region’s single biggest landowner just put on some extra weight.

The Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 was the highest-scoring wine of the vintage (by WS ) at 99 points, or “classic” on their 100-point scale. It was chosen because of its “fine value for the category at $82 a bottle and for being the best of the best of an amazing vintage.”

In wine, Vintage Port is about as specific as it gets primarily because for it to exist and prosper beyond the fossilized fringes of the genre, everyone in town must be on board. For the first time since 2007, the 2011 vintage was universally declared across the Douro. If the makers and pundits were polled, would it be proclaimed the greatest vintage of the century or, perhaps one of the best ever? The 95-plus scores from the top commercial critics, including more than a handful of 99’s and 100’s would lead us to believe that were the case.

An excited Jancis Robinson wrote “could 2011 be the vintage to put vintage port back on the fine wine map? I do hope so. I have never been as excited by the launch of a clutch of vintage ports.” Dow’s was not on Robinson’s “super-stunning list,” which included Fonseca, Graham, Quinta do Vesuvio, Capela Taylor and Vargellas Vinha Velha. Jamie Goode noted that “overall, the quality is very high indeed. I found the wines quite vinous and pretty, with very direct fruit and lovely purity.” When tasted from cask, Niepoort 2011 was Goode’s top scorer (98 points). Dow’s was well down the Goode line.

WineAlign‘s Julian Hitner, a.k.a. The Successful Collector declared 2011 a stunning and fabulous vintage, “one of spellbinding treats.” Hitner also awarded the Dow’s 99-points. Wine Enthusiast rated nine 2011 VP’s 95, nine at 96 (including the Dow’s) and eight more at 97 or better. Decanter took a lower road and was the scrooge of vintage point doling, having chosen Fonseca as their top rated Port, awarding it 19/20 or 96-points. Then there are the top ten reasons to buy 2011 Vintage Port according to the Fladgate Partnership.

Vintage Port does not always find itself at the top of the wine tasting note compendium replete with descriptors like graceful and elegant. “Just too goddamn vivid,” is more like it. Sometimes there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Massive fruit and tannin is all well and good if that’s your cup of bomb tea but without balance, all is lost. The 2011 Vintage Ports have balance, well, the best do, but they are, and I speak in very general terms, collectively over the top. Though it may seem an oxymoron to put Vintage Port and elegance in the same sentence, what is a great wine without a sense of humility and restraint?

Vintage Port 2011 at Summerhill LCBO, November 3, 2014

Vintage Port 2011 at Summerhill LCBO, November 3, 2014

There are some remarkable examples. The VP’s in ’11 that stress the aromatic notions of perfume and florality strike the finest balance, despite their high-octane levels of fruit and texture. Others’ heads are just too big for their bodies. I am not as high on 2011 as you might think I should be.

One of the fortunate pleasures of writing about wine and directing a wine list in Toronto is being invited to taste with Robin Sirutis and Julie Hauser of VINTAGES. On Monday, November 3rd they held a horizontal tasting of 2011 Vintage Port at the LCBO’s Summerhill location. The bloody vivid 2011 Vintage Ports. Here are the notes.

2011 Vintage Ports

2011 Vintage Ports

Sandeman Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362491, $70.00, WineAlign)

Acutely dry, highly aromatic and crushed to smithereens, potpourri dusty floral. As glutinous and viscous as Sandeman has ever been or Vintage Port can ever be. Also marked by roasting coffee beans, brewed house chain dark roast and drying tannins. This Sandeman ’11 has “big plans, big time, everything.” It will appeal to a consumer in search of a department store hook penned for immediate gratification and a quick fortune. In 25 years, after the camphor, campfire and the earthy musk of camel-hair have dissipated, will it still be on top of the pops?  Will it be replayed again and again in the category of one hit wonder? It will be remembered fondly for being one of solid gold.  Tasted November 2014  @SandemanPorto  @ChartonHobbs

Fonseca Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362244, $130.00, WineAlign)

With the most brilliant ’11 VP hue and an endless posit to plumb plump plum depths of fruit, the Fonseca dances with the moonlit knight. Its genesis begins with a raw must and animal musk, but beneath the skin lurk vessels pulsating with a sanguine rush and iron rich plasma. Smells of its fortifying spirit, not yet even close to integration, in high-toned aromatics so intensely perfumed. The wet winter and the moderating effects of a mild, verdant Spring have precipitated a controlled spice on the highly tannic, arid finish. When a sip is taken young, it pleases. When opened 40 years from now, it will fit with comfort and feel so secure. “Young man says you are what you eat – eat well. Old man says you are what you wear – wear well.” Will drink best from 2050 and for decades beyond.   Tasted November 2014  @FonsecaPort

Dow’s Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362376, $90.00, WineAlign)

Straight out I will say that the Dow’s 2011 is unique to the vintage, possessive of a natural sweetness of its own making. It’s built upon a ga, ga, ga, ga vintage port language that is fairly formal and sometimes flowery. In fact the aromatics are so very pretty; violets, Bougainvillea and exotic spice. Such a perfume leaves a lasting memory, like a ghost of fortified wine that lingers. Add the heady sense of graphite and a silky spooning of blackcurrant liqueur. An underlay of brittle mineral hangs on the tip of the tongue. A spicy tang and a meatiness barrels seamlessly through the driest length to hang your Douro hat on. “Oh, would you ease my mind” Dow’s ’11? “Yeah,” but not until 30-35 of oscillation and settling have passed, in a relationship built on patience and virtue.  Tasted November 2014  @Dowsportwine  @winesportugalCA

Graham’s Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362269, $95.00, WineAlign)

Quinta dos Malvedos leads the blend (35 per cent), as it has for more than a century. Quinta do Tua (16 per cent) lends firmness and structure while Quinta da Vila Velha (18 per cent) is the giver of violets and chocolate. Quinta das Lages (12 per cent) elevates concentration and density. Quinta do Vale de Malhadas (19 per cent) is responsible for the chains of grain in tannin. The final blend is Touriga Nacional (40 per cent), Touriga Franca (31 per cent), Vinha Velha (23 per cent, old mixed vineyards), and Sousão (6 per cent). From the Symington Family Group, Graham’s is the cleanest, purest, most fruit-forward and accessible expression of the five 2011’s tasted, thanks to that generous and gregarious Malvedos fruit. Plum and black cherry are accented by orange rind. A sweet, boisterous style, it slowly and purposely descends a ladder from full fruit flavours to drying tannins, more so than any of the others. A wine of great verve, with a cool northern soul, from lush to grain. Will drink well for a new decade and many more while “the radio plays the sounds we made and everything seems to feel just right.”  Tasted November 2014  @grahams_port

Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362293, $130.00, WineAlign)

A Fall of 2014 look at Taylor’s 2011, at this stupidly early point in trying to make sense of what he will become, shows him as the biggest, baddest and current king of the Porto hill. At this juncture he represents the penultimate combination of lush fruit, streaking acidity, drying, angry and crying tannins. The earthiest must oozes along with the silkiest juice which subsequently and willfully submit to those raging tannins. This is hydro-Port, a powerhouse of energy and tension. Black fruits, caked and rolled in stickum and solder, currently weighed down, are waiting to erupt. Once in a declared moon a Vintage Port takes a calculated yet unnecessary risk and thus channels its path into enlightenment. This is the Taylor 2011. Despite his tough exterior, “I can hear the sound of violins. I can hear the piper playin’.” When all is said and done, 40 plus years down the road, he will steal my heart away.  Tasted November 2014  @TaylorsPortWine  @Smarent

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