What comes next for the wines of South Africa?

A deep dive into the wine regions of the Western Cape, chenin blanc, and a Buyers’ Guide to South African wines

This feature was commissioned by Wines of South Africa, as seen on WineAlign

 

Several years back I commented that “the act of intense immersion into any important wine-producing nation and its diverse regional expressions can only leave a lasting impression if the follow-up takes a long, cool sip of its meaning.”

That was just the beginning of what I hoped to be a life-lasting fascination with South African wine and, seven years later, I can safely say the journey is going very well, if still only in the early stages of deep understanding. Just about exactly two months from today I will return to the Western Cape to rekindle, reconnect and extend my relationship with South African winemakers and their fascinating wines. Curiosity, anticipation and excitement have never been greater and so the questions is worth asking: What comes next for the wines of South Africa? At current the only answer forthcoming is how Cape Wine 2022 will be the most lekker experience of the year.

In all their combined iterations, the wines of South Africa are exciting communicators of heritage, history, emotions and declarative attacks. Collectively they spread with ripples like a large rock dropped into a pool of water. They are the beneficiary of effects created by two oceans and the great ancient, preeminent, decomposed and weathered soils found anywhere on this planet. Maturity is breathed into every phrase these wines are wont to play.

Growing regions of the Western Cape

South Africa is a medium-sized country that would fit into Canada eight times. It has a diverse population of 58 million people and is affectionately known as the ‘Rainbow Nation,’ a phrase aptly coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Wine growing is limited to the southwestern region of South Africa, in the Western Cape Province, which is an area roughly the size of Greece. South Africa has been making wine for more than 360 years. The first grapes were pressed in 1659. The wines reflect the best of the old and the new; they present fruit-forward styles with elegance and finesse. The South African wine industry is one of the most technically advanced in the world of wine. There is an extremely rigorous Wine of Origin Certification Scheme, introduced in 1973, which guarantees that the wine is what it is designated or described. Each bottle carries a certification seal to guarantee that the claims regarding vintage, variety and origin on the packaging are true. South Africa has more certified Fairtrade wines than any other country. That is to say their products “guarantee a minimum price to cover the costs of sustainable production, as well as a premium to invest in social and economic initiatives in their communities.”

There are five officially demarcated regions of production — they are delineated based on the massive variations in soil, climate and location. The regions are: Breede River Valley, Coastal, Klein Karoo, Olifants River and Boberg. There is a commitment to environmentally sustainable wine production and wines can be certified by Sustainable Wine South Africa, which is part of the Wine and Spirit Board. The designation refers to grapes which are produced in harmony with nature, which allows vineyards to flourish alongside their natural habitat. The Biodiversity and Wine Initiative is a unique partnership between conservation bodies and the wine industry.

Cape Floral Kingdom – A World Heritage Site

More than 95 percent of the wine is produced in the Cape Floral Kingdom, where there are more than 10,000 indigenous plant species, more than reside in the entire Northern Hemisphere. This Kingdom has been created by a diversity of soils, produced from granite, sandstone and shale; as well as a diversity of climates and geography. This, in turn, has created a treasure trove of winemaking possibilities. As a result, South African wines have a huge array of flavour and aroma profiles, which lead to wines with intriguing character and drinkability.

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc

While so many grape varieties take hold with utmost promise in the Western Cape, there is but one that persists, unwavering and timeless. Yes, it is true that grape varieties such as grenache, cinsault, syrah, pinotage, sémillon and many others are apt at aligning with covenant to their old vine sources but there can be little argument against chenin blanc residing at the top of that list, Chenin is the greatest beneficiary of age, fortitude and focus as provided by the old vine experience. The list of Western Cape chenin sites from Stellenbosch, Swartland, Citrusdal Mountains, Darling, Hemel & Aarde Ridge, Breedekloof, Bot Rivier, Walker Bay, Cederberg, Paarl and Robertson, reads like a biblical scroll; Bottelary Hills, Granite Hill, Helderberg, Kapteinskloof, Kasteelberg, Paardeberg, Perdeberg, Riebeek-Kasteel and Skurfberg. The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, and can perform well in warm and dry conditions. The signature grape variety is South Africa’s golden ticket to global recognition and success. No other varietal message speaks with as much clarity and consistency than that of chenin blanc.

Stellenbosch vines and heritage vines planted in the 1970s and before are now performing at their best. Johan Reyneke speaks of the illness that had been running through South African soils and how he sought to build immunity and disease resistance through a holistic farming approach. Things did not transform overnight, so fathers and neighbours may have doubted the long, arduous and yet understood process. But it is that organic and sustainable approach for which today’s health and prosperity can be thanked. When it comes to searching for chenin blanc plant material, vineyard sourcing can be quite broad, of multifarious soil types and elevations, 40 to 50 year blocks on average, sometimes also including old vine sémillon. The distance from the first to the last vineyard in a chenin blanc cuvée might be 200 kilometres or more but, when brought together well, magic often happens.

Windy places help in so many respects, allowing a larger canopy to remain in place and exaggerate the dappling effect which chenin blanc so dearly loves. Reyneke’s is South Africa’s oldest Demeter-certified biodynamic winery, with vineyards on the top of an ancient granite mound and on less weathered soils lower in the valley floors. The vine struggle is real, a positive one for the wines and ultimately for wine lovers. Granite soils further up the Stellenbosch hills are less colluvial, really old and weathered, predating microbial life. The vines produce lower yields and the weathered earth gives life to chenin blanc. For Mullineux Wines and a Cape chenin blanc assemblage, it gives meaning to the gathered idea, like an AOC Chablis made by a houses in names of Fèvre, Drouhin, Moreau or La Chablisienne. Mullineux’s twist is the back blending with some old barrel ferments to balance new and “other” fruit components. A chenin blanc may be bottled the same year it was picked though that’s easier to do so in the southern hemisphere, where harvest happens in the first quarter months. The reasons are simple. Intense investigations through schist, granite and old vines floats the boat and raises the bar for more professional and accessible chenin blanc cuvées. With older heritage vines involved, as is the case for Chris and Suzaan Alheit, the concentration and density of the vines is inherent. The use of heritage material is the South African version of Atticism; that is a return to classical methods and rhythms in making really old chenin, but also the likes of sémillon.

Chardonnay vineyards in Robertson

Cap Classique

One of the sparkling wine world’s most important and impressive categories in origin is no longer called Méthode Cap Classique (MCC), but now Cap Classique. This South African term indicates a sparkling wine made in the traditional method (the same way Champagne is made), by which a secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle. As it stands, Cap Classique must age on the lees for a minimum 12 months to be labelled as such, though this number will surely extend once the realization sets in that more is better. Cap Classique produces some of the finest, most complex and diverse sparkling wines in the world. In Champagne the annual production is somewhere in the vicinity of 350 million bottles so compare this to South Africa where a fraction of that amount is released to the tune of seven or eight million. Méthode Cap Classique bottles are made by 100-odd producers, 73 of which are listed on the website for the Cap Classique Producers Association (CCPA), an organization established in 1992. The name was derived from the fact that the classic art of winemaking was introduced to the Cape by the French Huguenots, and the first bottle-fermented sparkling wine produced at the Cape was called Kaapse Vonkel (Cape Sparkle).

It’s also very much a wine about terroir. In Stellenbosch the sparkling is often made from early picked, old vines chenin blanc grown on Duplex soils, colluvial decomposed granite overlapping gravelly clay. Ask Ken Forrester and he will tell you the gravels allow for good draining and the clays deliver a time release of water. All this helps during drought and the restriction of water creates texture on the palate. There are pioneers like Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira who are attacking with Brut Zero style “based on the philosophy of grower’s Champagne.” For others, like For Christa Von La Chevallerie, it’s a matter of “how far I can go with [the combination of] chenin and lees.”

“We’re making wines that develop too quickly,” insists Paul Gerber of Le Lude. Gerber believes the minimum time on lees should be raised to 15 months. As for sugar dosage, he’s like a cook in the kitchen. “Dosage is like seasoning. If you do it properly you don’t taste it.” Ferreira has put in the time and the research over 20-plus years to really understand the category but, more importantly, the potential. “You are always looking to express terroir,” he says. As for Gerber, he will say “sparkling wine is not a terroir wine? Please. This is completely untrue.” “For Brut we have to extend [the lees aging time] to 60 months,” explains Ferreira. “So there is no lipstick or eye shadow. ”For a deeper dive into Cap Classique please read my article post Cape Wine 2018.

Bot Rivier 

Bot Rivier lies southeast of Cape Town, sandwiched from south to north between Hermanus and Stellenbosch. “From the top of the Houw Hoek Pass, one gets the first glimpse of the vast, rolling hills and big sky of the Bot River area, where real people make real wine.” This is the credo of the family of wineries that farm and produce in the area. There are 12 members of the wine-growing association, all within a 10 kilometre radius of one another. Here chenin blanc might be crafted with just a hint of residual sugar (at just above 5 g/L), to balance the effects of a long, slow, ocean-proximate Bot Rivier growing season.

Paul Cluver with Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc

Elgin

There is so much diversity in the Capelands. There are rock n’ roll stars in the Swartland, R & B, soul & Motown in Stellenbosch, Jazz in Elgin, Classical music wherever you want to hear it. But what there is everywhere is flow. Reggae flow, soulful Stevie Wonder flow, hip-hop flow, Stan Getz, Ahmad Jamal, Dexter Gordon flow. Elgin also has layering, in riesling, pinot noir and chardonnay. The wines glide with cool climate ease of ability, with an unconscious penning of notes coming from a place that was always there from the beginning, with a creativity that comes out of effortless style.

Elgin’s Paul Cluver seems to be the first to label his chardonnay with the Bourgogne “Villages” idea. This tells us much about what we need to know — that Elgin vineyards are the fruit source if not site specific or singularly focused. But he also finds precision with his Seven Flags and Close Encounter wines. The wines of Thelema (and Sutherland) do the same, curating classic Elgin cool savour running linear like a beam through the joist of structure.

The Helderberg, Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch in undoubtedly South Africa’s most well-known region and home to the eponymous town that is the country’s second-oldest town. It sits a mere 50 kilometres southeast of Cape Town, capital of the Western Cape. Stellenbosch is the lushest of the Cape’s valleys, home to more than 200 wine producers and surrounded by the Drakenstein and Stellenbosch mountains. False Bay acts as the mitigator of this Mediterranean climate, creating ideal wine-growing conditions where just about any sort of grape variety can achieve ripeness. The reds of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz predominate on the granite-based soils farther west, while chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc thrive in the sandstone soils of the east.

Swartland Independents

Swartland

The Swartland is Afrikaans for “Black Land,” so named because of the dark grey endemic renosterbos (rhinoceros bush) that covers the landscape and turns black after the rains. The region of the Western Cape begins some 50 kms north of Cape Town and consists of the area between the towns of Malmesbury to the south, Darling in the west and Piketberg in the north. Home to the Cape’s greatest of wine revolutions, followed by a swinging era — and what comes next is anybody’s guess. What we do know is that the Swartland’s decomposed shales and granites provide some of the most existential and powerful growing sites in all of South Africa.

Bush vines, Groot Drakenstein Mountains, Franschhoek, South Africa

Buyers’ Guide to Wines of South Africa

Over the past two months there have been several opportunities to taste a wide range of wines from South Africa. Andrea Mullineux came through Toronto to give a seminar on chenin blanc, VINTAGES has seen releases with a dozen various examples and the WineAlign team recently tasted a box of stunning values. Just last week I taught a seminar on South Africa and poured five seminal wines. Here is a Buyers’ Guide that includes chenin blanc, Cap Classique, Bot Rivier, Elgin, Stellenbosch, Swartland and the Western Cape.

Western Cape

Boschendal The Pavillion Chenin Blanc 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$13.35, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – Hard to knock the consistency but even more so the varietal representation and transparency of this perennial steal of a chenin blanc. Fruit that sings, bones that stand upright and just textural enough to make you feel like chenin can do no wrong.

Spier Signature Chardonnay 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$13.35, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits
Michael Godel – Labeled as Western Cape though kind of essentially Stellenbsoch from Spier in a chardonnay of green apple, dried herbs and lime. A hint of reduction and then bitters and while not fleshy this is surely satisfying.

Franschhoek Cellar Statue De Femme Sauvignon Blanc 2020, W.O. Western Cape
$16.99, Perigon Beverage Group
Michael Godel – Franschhoek does sauvignon very well, not as cool as say Elgin but surely (on average) more complex than Stellenbosch. Note the elongated phenols and terpenes in this most stimulating and succulent sauvignon blanc. Steal of a deal.

Alheit Vineyards Cartology Bush Vines 2019, W.O. Western Cape
$59.95, Groupe Soleil
Michael Godel –  Soil excellency layers in oscillations, waves and variegation in one of South Africa’s most curious to crafty blends in which chenin blanc is the focus to the core. You feel the sémillon, indeed you do because it streaks through the chenin, but not as a sprinter or a shooting star. Cartology is a correlated, traced and tabulated white blend that stands up to be counted.

Fairview Goats Do Roam Red 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$14.00, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Rhône blend based on syrah and the stylistic departure from the past to be über rich and dark is now more a matter of bright and effusive. Black fruit is now red, tar and tension given way to open and generous. Loving the modern acids, clarity, purity and simplicity.

Bot Rivier 

Beaumont Wines Chenin Blanc 2021, W.O. Bot Rivier
$29.95, The Small Winemakers Collection
Michael Godel – Hard to conceive and thus receive more aridity on the aromatics, surely flinty, part gun and part struck granite stone. Stretches this chenin blanc like the pull of elastics or fior di latte. Also herbal, sweetly so, with a chanterelle apricot note in the freshest of fungi specimens. Acids take over, spit and shine over this wise and elongated wine.

Elgin

Paul Cluver Village Elgin Chardonnay 2020, W.O. Elgin
$25.00, Buyers + Cellars Wine Purveyors
Michael Godel – Taut and tight, nicely reductive, orchard fruit focused with some bite and then a little bit of barrel smoulder. Not a smoky or toasty chardonnay but a balanced one with plenty of local, savour, savoir faire and flavour.

Stellenbosch

Ken Forrester Sparklehorse Cap Classique 2018, W.O. Stellenbosch
$29.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel –  This may just be Ken’s most phenolic sparkling wine to date, emitting as a combination of blanched nuts and precious metals. Spent eight months in fermentation followed by 28 further on lees, in bottle. Creates orchard fruit flavours and textures while acidity retention keeps the groove and the balance.

Radford Dale Vinum Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – There is a feeling of warmth in Radford Dale’s 2020, not boozy per se yet the feeling is like cold sake going down. Then it’s all roundness and creamy fruit, ease and utter culpability.

Reyneke Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$29.95, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Johan Reyneke’s chenin blanc is his and his alone, of South Africa’s first biodynamic winery and a level of say it as it is passion that can’t be touched. More like do as I do and Reyneke’s takes no liberties, asks no favours, gives and gives again. Spices and textural meanderings are concentrated and greater. An exotic notion as well, like ripe longan fruit and then a compound flavour profile going on forever.

De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019, W.O. Stellenbosch
$49.00, Family Wine Merchants
Michael Godel – A barrel fermented style that shows in a flinty, caramel and pineapple way, part Burgundy plus California yet all South Africa. Heeds the Reserve moniker well with buttery brioche richness and full sun gathered consciousness. This one is all in with an effect to invite a wide ranging if specific consumer response.

Boschendal 1685 Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – Big, dark, brooding, as much about place as it is about grape variety.What’s special is the equally grippy and forceful fruit, exaggerated because the acidity is like a reduction of black currant syrup. Sharp and soil rich this is a serious mouthful of cabernet, firm, tannic and in charge. Roasted herbs and grilled vegetable notes, and a ferric-sanguine quality that brings the BBQ braai to mind.

Warwick Professor Black Pitch Black 2017, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, NAVBEV INC
Michael Godel – Six grapes get together in Pitch Black, mostly made with cabernets with (13 per cent) cinsault, (10) merlot and then bits of malbec and petit verdot. Inky in feel if not pitch, tarry by natural nature if not by hue and also more Rhône meatiness then Bordeaux savour. A big, ferric and hematic example with strong bones and flesh all over.

Jordan Jardin The Long Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, W.O. Stellenbosch
$30.00, Kolonaki Group
Michael Godel – Straight faced and matter of fact, all things being true in a cabernet sauvignon that reeks of variety and subtlety in spite of the violence required to excavate and plant a vineyard. Don’t sleep on the tension and the structure in a wine of meaning, profound as it gets for Stellenbosch.

Aslina By Ntskiki Biyela Umsasane 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$35.00, Gradwell Wine Agency
Michael Godel – Ntsiki Biyela is officially recognized as South Africa’s first black female winemaker and the meaning in her Bordeaux styled Umsasane blend is local vernacular for the umbrella acacia tree. The brand is called Aslina, tribute to Ntsiki’s grandmother and one can feel the love in this richly styled, boozy in relative balance blend.

Swartland

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Swartland
$19.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – Essentially chenin blanc and an example that pulls the full blessings and richness of the sun into a generous and gracious wine. Kloof Street is chenin blanc of feel, touch and “tekstuur.” The old vines concentration and density is inherent, the “frâiche, agréable and couvert de rosée” all over the palate with license and privilege.

A.A. Badenhorst Family White Blend 2018, W.O. Swartland
$57.99, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – The adage bears repeating as recited by Adi Badenhorst. “Fantastic grapes from old vineyards,” in a jazz mixtronic blend of chenin blanc, roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, viognier, verdehlo, grenache gris, clairette blanche, sémillon and palomino. Yet another paradigm shift in Cape white appellative white blends that seduces with its steely veneer, vine experience and turbulent soul to deliver in every way imaginable.

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Granite 2019, W.O. Swartland
$79.00, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – All barrel fermented in only neutral oak, full malo and with the intention to truly experience and taste chenin blanc grown on granite soils. A wine kickstarted by natural stabilization, equally expressive of tart acidity and freshness, fully reasoned by sunshine yet also seasoned with effortless and variegate ease.  Such an experienced and robust wine without solicitation, nor swagger neither. The ability, presence and precision are tops. There’s no question.

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2021, W.O. Swartland
$16.95, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Unmistakable syrah from the Boekenhoutskloof clan, always the meatiest and meat fats dripping example for the price. That and a profile more Swartland than what comes from say Stellenbosch syrah.

Good to go!

godello

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WineAlign

The five estates of Planeta earth

Welcome to Planeta Earth

The question often asked, if you could go back in time and meet just one person, who would it be? Shakespeare, Golda Meir, Beethoven, Anne Frank, Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou, Galileo, Marie Curie, Einstein, or maybe Gandhi? In the winemaking world there would be many great men and women to consider but this current fascination with Sicilia leads to the name Diego Planeta. Pioneer, visionary and a man who considered the entire island an agricultural playground where anything was possible. The Planeta family has Spanish origins and roots dating back five hundred years. Diego Planeta was the former president of the Settesoli Cooperative and founder of Planeta winery. His passing in 2020 left an irreplaceable hole but 15 cousins, including Alessio, Francesca and Santi Planeta are the beneficiaries of their uncle’s plans and legacy. Five family members run the day-to day operation and more than 200 vinicultural, viticultural, administrative and marketing artisans share in the collective vision. Today they work, farm sustainably and reap the benefits of five distinct estates but more than that they bring the fruits of these locations to the world. No other producer in Sicilia does this, not with the scope and breadth they do. This is the story of the five Sicilian estates of Planeta earth.

Godello, L’Etna

Related – Planeta’s Sicily

Un percorso non casuale, fortemente legato alla diversità dei paesaggi, dei venti, del carattere degli uomini e quindi dei loro vini. Not an accidental journey but one inextricably linked to the diversity of five landscapes, in soil, wind, climate and the relationship between the custodians and the wines they shepherd. Menfi, Vittoria, Noto, L’Etna and Capo Milazzo. No two are the same and all five contribute to the fabric of Planeta’s extant association and alliance with Sicilia. The Planeta family and head winemaker Patricia Tóth abide by their surroundings, as do the agriculturalists, guardians and caretakers, of olive groves, orchards, hinterlands and plantations. The pentamerous grouping of estates in all its micro and collective diversity is at once staggering to consider and then a thing of sensory overload. Taking in one at a time and appreciating the profundity of each place is the key to understanding. In March of 2022 I had the honour and pleasure to visit two properties and were it not for Covid-19 and later in June travel misteps I would have seen a third, quite possibly a fourth and perhaps even all five. As it is my personal and professional life have become enriched in ways that could never have been imagined.

Menfi Coast

Only came outside to watch the nightfall with the rain. I heard you making patterns rhyme

Not to be overlooked is above all else, Planeta’s production of IGP olive oil. Their’s is a painstaking process to achieve uncompromising quality borne of the trees in a landscape destined to deliver greatness. The fields of hospitality and cultural ventures integrate into their viticultural activities, all purposed to enliven the Sicilian experience. Sustainability without exception,  respect for the land and wineries completely integrated within the landscape are the values which guide the company’s activities. Winemaker Patricia Tóth was born in Hungary and received a degree in 2004 at the University of Corvinus in Budapest in Food Science specializing in wine, beer and spirits. Tóth worked at Le Vigne di Zamò Friuli, Bava in Piemonte and Vylyan in Hungary. She began her 17 year Planeta run in 2005 at Noto, then in Vittoria, later managing the setup of the estate in Capo Milazzo and on L’Etna. She now splits her time at 900m above sea level on the volcano’s north face and also nearest the beating heart control centre of operations in Menfi.

Related – All the wines of Sicily

Baglio di Ulmo

In Menfi the variety of terroir is infinite and to walk the phrygana is to stop time. The fauna ignites in the olive oil and the wines from Ulmo in a variety of styles and varietal personalities as sundry as the numbers of women and men who create them. They can be fast or slow, rich or discreet, loud or soft, hard or tender, loving or intense. They can be so packed full of notes it may feel like life speeded up. They can also be calming and interpretive. They can be anything at all.

L’Etna eruption, 1981

On L’Etna space and melody, in particular aboard the volcano’s north face (versante nord) there is a use of space so artful it enables the melodies of the original lines in the wines. Though Planeta (and so many others) use improvisations and embellishments, they do so in order to integrate the leading voice to grow together with the supporting cast. The main declarations of nerello mascalese and carricante are joined by nerello cappuccio, catarratto and grecanico, all evolving together organically, swelling and retreating as the complete pulse of the wines, the inner pulse guiding the creativity itself, as it is dictated.

The inimitable human and paradigmatic winemaker Patricia Tóth

In Vittoria, Noto and Capo Milazzo the path indicated is that of quiet intensity, of melodies so phrased that the rhythm and the space together build wines of strong driving forces. Their collective agency is power achieved without volume, tension without distortion. Some wines grab you and drive everything else from your mind. They seduce, softly engage your whole attention and lure you into the grooves they are travelling. All this without you being aware, of what is happening until it has already happened.

This is planet earth you’re looking at planet earth
Bop bop bop bop bop bop bop bop this is planet earth

Alessio Planeta

Related – Sicily in review

Paraphrasing from something Alessio Planeta said back in 2018, Planeta looks to connect the island by the phrase stato stazione delle una perfetta, meaning the union is currently situated in a perfect state, working together for the common good. Alessio and his family’s rich set of wine-producing circumstances, whether it be the individual refrains of each estate or the collaborative effect of the group, is a constantly growing and changing undertaking but never with the kind of urgency implied in some other producers’ body of work. Planeta’s is more than methodical, it is meditative, contemplative and organic. Calculated? Of course but with the future in mind and the greater good always considered. Leadership incarnate, always hospitable and most importantly positive. When I fell ill with Covid whilst visiting with Alessio and Patricia I felt safe and set up for recovery. I can never thank them enough, for their humanity and support.

Meet next gen Planeta custodian and burgeoning chef, Costante Planeta

Here are the 45 Planeta wines tasted in late March and early April in a cross-section of a portfolio interconnected and jointly illustrative of five estates. Their quality is what makes it so satisfying to taste, assess, compose, edit and finally publish the results. Working through these wines, like listening to the albums of a band’s tenure, or sitting in a club while they play their songs, well this makes for a great trip through an intensely diverse and ever-evolving viticultural terrain.

Menfi phrygana

Menfi-Ulmo

The Menfi situation is really one of Ulmo, or rather Ulmo is Menfi. Here on the island’s southwest coast beneath Palermo is where Planeta’s first winery opened in 1995 near the village of Sambuca di Sicilia, Built near an ancient 16th-century baglio, or stone farmhouse, situated above Lake Arancio and blessed with chalky limestone soils. In the middle of the 1980’s Planeta planted their first vines around the baglio which the family has always owned. The Iter Vitis museum, surrounded by a “collection meadow’” of different Sicilian and Georgian vines, “inspired by the idea of enhancing the rich Sicilian winemaking tradition.” The nature footpath called La Segreta runs from the winery, connects with those that intersect the Menfi hills and also 250 cultivated hectares of vineyard. The name adorns the quadripartite set of wine labels that are arguably Sicily’s most well-known. The crux, core and heart is Dispensa where production, administration and planning all happen.

Beach at Menfi

The Infernotto, inside the small winery, is the family caveau, one of the most calming placing to read, rest and taste through Planeta’s portfolio of wines. Ulmo, Maroccoli, Cirami, Baglio di Ulmo and the 6th century B.C. Palmento di Bosco della Resinata; places of affinity, integration and varietal kinship. Of grillo, fiano, chardonnay, grecanico, sauvignon blanc, viognier, nero d’Avola, syrah, merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. The chardonnay stands out as the iconic label, a super chardonnay to be sure because no other varietal example delivers the two pillars of quality and quality like this Planeta label.

Planeta Serra Ferdinandea Rosato 2021, Sicilia DOC

A joint venture between Planeta and the family Oddo from the south of France. Rosato, Bianco and Rosso made high in the hills above the sea near Menfi, closer to Sambuca. Here nero d’avola and syrah made in the airiest, salty and light tart way, quenching and satisfying. The name refers to the story of a volcanic island that suddenly rose from the sea in 1831, fought over for claim by the Italians, French and British, before disappearing back in to the water many months later. There it sits 30 to 40 metres below the surface. You can drink the town dry out of this Rosato, any day, any time. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Ulmo Chardonnay

Planeta Chardonnay 2020, Sicilia DOC

Chardonnay comes from two vineyards, Storico which is the large white rock at 270m above the Menfi lake and Marrocoli, where red grapes (cabernet franc, merlot and syrah) really thrive. Here chardonnay is given roundness to mix with the stoic-stony and intense directness of what it could have been. A place of vibrations and nerves and so Marrocoli is needed to tame and soften Storico’s blunt edginess. That it does, injecting peach fleshy sunshine into the linearity of the wine. Keep in mind that 200,000 bottles a year are made and that doesn’t even keep up with the demand. Arch classic Planeta bread and butter wine, also in style. One of the planet’s great chardonnays of double Q effect. Quantity and quality. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Chardonnay 2019, Sicilia DOC

The two vineyards are Storico at 270m above the Menfi lake and Marrocoli where really white calcari predominates. While there is the plump presence of chardonnay giving “morbido” roundness in apposite to the mineral Storico fruit, there is also this persistent buzz and and nervy character. For a wine for which upwards of 200,000 bottles a year are produced it really is quite incredible how vintage dictates the personality of the wine. Fresh quality bread and churned butter in the glass. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Cometa 2020, Sicilia Menfi DOC

As a reminder Cometa comes from two vineyards, the important one being Dispensa right by the winery and Paso di Gura, 10 kms away. Fiano, not off of volcanics but clay soils close to the sea, well-ripened, in a place where it likes the sun, suffers and gets a bit bronzing and golden. A fiano of white and yellow flowers, chamomile and the like. While the universe busy was sending more than enough chaos to humanity, in this vintage there were only good conditions and therefore excellent to raise a proper Cometa. Feels plump and salty, full and herbal, bitters so minor and subtleties available to those who wait for it. The upward trend continues, towards greatness. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Cometa 2019, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Cometa is fiano “di Ulmo” in Menfi out of two vineyards, Dispensa and Paso di Gura. Clay soils over calcium carbonate and a place for full ripeness within the context of fulfilling the promise for golden grapes. The florals sing from 2019, more white than yellow and the vintage delivers a credibly balanced affair. In this last vintage before the world went mad Cometa seems at ease, confident and secure. Not as round and plump as the following 2020 yet equally saline, herbal if sweetly so and the crunchiest Cometa ever encountered. Not a shock because “every vintage of fiano is unpredictable” explains Alessio Planeta. More vertical, linear and direct. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Cometa 2018, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Experimental grape introduction of fiano to Menfi in 1994 with the first vintage being 2000. “They (Avellino) grow fiano on volcanic soil in the mountains and we grow it in clay soils by the sea,” tells Alessio Planeta. “With low yields and small bunches.” Here it can be tropical but it’s always herbal and breezy. Can’t help but be salty, after all the air is filled with marine life.  Last tasted March 2022

Cometa has changed or rather in its youthful state of ultimate reductive freshness is so straight-laced, linear, tightrope walking along a razor sharp edge. There’s a tonic injection that helps to propel it forward and the envisioning projects two years ahead to see it develop some sweeter fruit notes, straight from the orchard’s hip. Watch for this special vintage of fiano, the ancient noble variety from Campania that Planeta’s braintrust took a well-advised flyer on in the 1990s. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Didacus 2019, Sicilia Menfi DOC

The name Didacus is Diego, from the Latin, a chardonnay dedicated to Alessio Planeta’s visionary uncle, the late Diego Planeta. These Storico Vineyard Menfi vines were planted in 1985 on the hillside up to 270m of elevation and below the white rock on calcareous-clay soils above the lake. As a vintage 2019 was dryer and warmer than 2018, especially in summer. Results in a richly concentrated chardonnay but one picked earlier with acids in tact and phenols well developed. Plenty of water stocks in the soil after a wet 2018 allowed the plants to ease through ’19 and take full advantage of the dry season. Full malo feel, good mineral backbone and a long sensation swept across the palate puts this in a place of Menfi specificity while also leaving an impression that next level notes will emerge over a good period of time. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Didacus 2018, Sicilia Menfi DOC

The chardonnay dedicated to Diego Planeta, from the oldest Menfi vines, planted in 1985. The name Didacus is indeed Diego in Latin and the inherent plus inferred further meaning is as thought, a didactic one, which says something about many things. It speaks to the pioneer Mr. Planeta’s two-toned, ahead of its time work and to the way chardonnay takes Sicily into another realm and brings reductive freshness into buttery bites that ties two voices together. And they will speak as one. Soon. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted May 2019 and March 2022

Planeta Ulmo tasting

Planeta Didacus Cabernet Franc 2017, Sicilia Menfi DOC

The Didacus red is a varietal cabernet franc from a very specific Ulmo block, also named for Diego Planeta, visionary and pioneer for wines in Sicily. The Piano del Sommacco (sumac) is the source, treated to whole bunch fermentation and aged in tonneaux because of the fruit’s great potential. The heat did not come until just before harvest (after a cooler season early). This is good for franc when the heat comes late for more concentration though also one picked later as it should be. The uncanny smell of carob and even bokser pod fruit, properly herbal, just the right amount of pyrazine, balsamic and spice. Long, blue and true. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Didacus is Diego, from the Latin and like the chardonnay this cabernet franc is dedicated in kinship to Alessio Planeta’s uncle, pioneer and visionary, the late Diego Planeta. Storico Vineyard in Menfi was planted in 1985 on white rock-calcareous-clay soils above the lake. There is little surprise that 2016 was a serious franc vintage, long and drawn out, perfect to bring the ripeness of necessary phenols that the grape so clearly needs and dearly deserves. Shows off cabernet franc’s dreamy complexion with a side of pyrazine though depth of fruit and dearth of (including American) oak are really the pair in charge. There is something Rioja Gran Reserva about Didacus but even more so there is Sicilian depth, Moorish density and Planeta gravity. Or gravitas it should be conceded from and for a wine of many splendored seasoning and structure. Perfume flies in the air and dreams will someday come true. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted March 2022

Fishes by Costante Planeta

Planeta Alastro 2021, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Alsatro the yellow flower that appears all over Menfi in Spring. Mainly grecanico with some sauvignon blanc, the former essentially the same grape as garganega. Similar to a Soave ideal, to add some aromatic swagger in a friendship to work with a local grape. Lean and light, like garganega in wet concrete, straight ahead citrus, neutral and refreshing with just a hint of petrol. Cool white. Drink 2022-2025. Tasted March 2022

Planeta Grillo Terebinto 2021, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Terebinto the red flower all over the hills of Menfi in spring, especially as you approach the sea. A cross between the aromatics and intensity of cataratto and the gregarious flavours of zibbibo. Made as a pure variety but only since 2016 because Alessio Planeta realized it was a beautiful beast. While the sunshine and richness are very much accumulated there is also the sea in this gently rolling and saline white. A great vintage of this wine and just what grillo should be. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Plumbago Nero d’Avola 2019, Sicilia DOC

Plumbago or “Ploom-baggo” grows in Menfi and around Ulmo, coming out in Spring though not right away. In nero d’avola it is a red that manifests Menfi missives though Planeta chooses to label it not in menzione geographica terms but rather Sicilia DOC. This is because a new vineyard’s fruit is involved and so it was not requested to be Menfi, but again in 2021 will be. Always rolling deep and seasoned, a black cherry and seasoned meaty depth yet ’19 seems to have more stones, air and lightness, a relative thing but it makes a difference. This Plumbago really gets it, or maybe we get it and how it translates transparently. Less rustic than usual, a wood adjustment made and so here with a bit more sympathy and less dealing with the devil. Or more perhaps? It may say, “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name. But what’s puzzling you, is the nature of my game.” Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Maroccoli Syrah 2017, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Syrah, from a conca facing the lake in Ulmo, more calcareous than where the chardonnay grows, a sea of sediment that is more alluvial going down to the shore. This syrah grows on the white calcium carbonate which surely gives vivid florals to mitigate a hematic meatiness created by the clay, sun and varietal tendency. Not a syrah of bacon or smoked meat and also not overtly concentrated but instead quite pretty and elegant. It should be expected this direction will continue with subsequent vintages. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Vineyards in Ulmo

Planeta Maroccoli Syrah 2016, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Syrah is grown above the lake in Ulmo on a “conca“ of alluvial and calcareous clay soils notably white and the purple flower aromas are surely there in this vintage. So are the meaty ones but also those that imagine roasted melanzane and other toasty vegetative scents. While there used to be so much concentration in this wine it seems that 2016 marks a turn towards restraint and that thing we like to call elegance. Still the dripping meat juices fragrance and flavour rear up in this ’16, as they have always been known to do. Ready to go now with the first hints of balsamic and flint coming through. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Sito Dell’Ulmo Planeta Merlot 2016, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Pure merlot made since 1995, one of the first for Planeta and one that used to be called simply “merlot.” A style of spice and even balsamic but once again the florals, lighter activity and respect for vineyard in their sense of place is what really matters today. These were the first vineyards planted in 1985, along with chardonnay, nero d’avola and grecanico. The experimental early days. At 31 years-old these merlot vines are highly experienced, the varietal give is exactly of itself and the wine is almost OCD stringent. That is to say it knows what it is and wants to be. Not overtly rich but surely capable of aging and again a vintage of freshness meets long, cool and slow ripening. “A bit too fresh for me,” says Alessio Planeta and then “nordic style,” adds Patrica Tóth.” Beautifully chalky and like a Sicilian I will fight to the death to argue that soil has much to do with the mouthfeel of this merlot. Still needs one more year. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Burdese 2016, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Burdese (Boor-dee-say) from a Sicilian dialect, as in Bordelais, looking back in time at Bordeaux, using the two cabernets from Ulmo, sauvignon and franc, 70-30 in every vintage except ’97-99, when it was only sauvignon. There is an acidity that can only be described as “Burdese,” even when the sauvignon dries out a bit, by the calcareous raised franc and most importantly the freshest of Menfi vintages. Here a fragrant and bright Bordeaux (or perhaps Ulmese?) joint, a blend that sings and raises the bar for such wines in Sicily. Tart and chalky, structured and really long. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Burdese 2015, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Burdese, the Sicilian Bordeaux blend, a word brought back and employed here in Menfi as the French dispatch for cabernet sauvignon (70 per cent) and franc grown in Ulmo. Now settled into its Bordelais by way of Sicilian skin, tannins softened and acids too. Feels like a warm season created the resolve in this wine but then again it also seems like there are parts unknown and things yet revealed. After all “all great beauties withhold their deepest secrets.” Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Sicilia DOC

Planeta La Segreta Grillo 2021, Sicilia DOC

An extension from the original Bianco bottle, added a few years back (2016) when grillo and nero d’avola were recognized as protected varieties under the Sicilia DOC. While made in greater quantity and with less complexity than the Terebinto grillo the idea and the ideal are one in the same. Citrus and herbs, some fleshiness and sunshine though quiet and calm. Spot on balance and amenability. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta La Segreta Il Bianco 2021, Sicilia DOC

Il Bianco is the original La Segreta, a blend of (50 per cent) grecanico with viognier, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Remarkably the aromatics do tell of viognier but that changes across a palate that  s expressly grecanico with shades of the other grapes. Broader and more rounded than grillo, perhaps antithetically so but less specificity Makes Il Bianco the one to work for all. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta La Segreta Nero d’Avola 2021, Sicilia DOC

An extension from the original Rosso bottle, added a few years back (2016) when nero d’avola and grillo were recognized and added as protected varieties under the Sicilia DOC. Essentially Planeta’s varietal “lite,” a lithe and honest, pure and transparent entry into the Ulmo world for nero d’avola, with just a small portion from Noto. The key is all estate grapes, an entry into and sort of second set of wines for Planeta. The selection comes within the availability of 370 hectares of production. Safe, straightforward, varietally correct, tart and also too easy to knock back. Drink 2022-2024. T asted March 2022

Planeta La Segreta Il Rosso 2021, Sicilia DOC

As with Il Bianco, Il Rosso is the original red under the La Segreta label, a blend of (50 per cent) nero d’avola with merlot, syrah and splashes of cabernet franc. Deeper if not darker but certainly meatier and more ferric than the varietal nero. Herbal as well, a note of Amaro and dark chocolate shavings. As with the other three La Segreta wines the Rosso is a matter of different vineyard management as compared with the other Planeta wines, with the intendment to be less concentrated, less tannic and to drink right here and right now. That it does, especially with pasta in a sauce of eggplant and tomatoes from Vittoria. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Lava flow, Feudo di Mezzo

L’Etna

The year was 2008 when Planeta settled on the north side of Etna, among the lava flows and the woods which surround the village of Passopisciaro. Vines of planted nerello and carricante were planted and then in 2012 the winery was also established. The hospitality is housed to the north at Montelaguardia, in the middle of the Sciaranuova vineyard at more than 800m above sea level. Here the Etna cru are produced, in pinot nero, nerello mascalese, riesling and carricante. To the south the Feudo di Mezzo winery and vineyard (for Etna Rosso) are right in the centre of a 15th century lava flow. Nearby at Torreguarino and Rampante the vines are also best suited to red wines. At Sciaranuova the old terraces were transformed into a “Theatre in the Vineyard,” home to the Sciaranuova Festival.

Sciaranuova, Etna

To get a true sense of geography and location there are four passeggiate that will unlock the door to Etna enlightenment. The first is through the 15th century lava flow at Feudo di Mezzo and the vineyards with their gnarly bush vines. The second is the lava flow of “L’Etna 1981,” an eruption between the 17th and 23rd of March, at which time the village of Randazzo below came this close to being swallowed whole. The third is through Parco Statella to gain a sense of how Etna’s north face integrates Alberello vineyards, woods and homes. The fourth is ambling over volcanic boulder flows, admiring all the layers of lava rock, exploring the ancient, gnarly and propitious aboard L’Etna, as seen in Passopisciaro.

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Carricante 2019, Terre Siciliane IGT

Eruzione is always picked later than the carricante for the Etna Bianco (from Monetalguardia), at least a week later, finished on the 20th of October, really early. You smell and taste the Bianco from 2019 and think it’s tight but then you do the same with the Eruzione and then realize just what tight is. In this amazingly compact ’19 there is the feeling of salts dissolving into the fine grain of the wine, volcanics in carricante disappearing with immediacy though their presence never leaves your palate. A vintage that so precisely and clearly defines what it means to grow this grape on the northern slope of the mountain between 810-900m, even though at this elevation it can’t qualify for DOC Etna. The higher you go, the tighter are the wines and the longer they live. That is a fact. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Parco Statella, Etna

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Carricante 2014, Terre Siciliane IGT

This is just perfect. To re-taste Eruzione carricante five years later, almost to the day and just past the halfway point in this 1614’s expected tenure. In fact it barely feels like any time has passed save for a fumé moment of character that Tóth admits “I don’t know where it comes from,” meaning it’s not technologically possible. Which means it comes from the vineyard. Or, the original sapid part of the wine transforming into smoulder. The texture is not organza but sheer, you can feel through it. The salt has fully melted to now extend the flavour but the wine remains tight. And so the longevity abides. And the score also rises, as the sun. Drink through 2027.   Last tasted March 2022

“Not everyone can carry the weight of the world,” save perhaps Planeta’s Patricia Tóth, a winemaker who celebrates the past, the endemic varietal and in the present, the glaring truth. The name Eruzione is evocative of the estate’s Cru dell’Etna and in a mind’s eye transports history through the narrative of carricante (with 10 per cent riesling). It brings the legendary 1614 Mount Etna eruption to life, a longest ever recorded catastrophe that lasted ten years, halting just on the border of the vineyards of Sciaranuova. This is veritable mountain altitude wine, from high (790-890m) terraced, volcanic black soils delivering fresh conifer savour, saltiness and palpable mineral style. It is sharp and composed on the nose, with citrus distillate and elevated acidity. It does not matter whether you are wide awake or deep in R.E.M sleep. At all times it is a revelation for carricante. This is what it can be! There was no need for crop thinning, it was picked four to five weeks after the sparkling and it spent five months on the lees. The texture and the potential longevity are thankful for this. “Combien, combien, combien du temps?” At least seven years. Talk about the passion. Drink 2018-2025.   Tasted March 2017

Quarantine passegiata, Versante Nord, Etna

Planeta Riesling 2018, Terre Siciliane IGT

What do you compare Etna riesling to? Nothing save perhaps Eden Valley but what’s the point? Texturally this from Planeta is quite soft but no matter the texture every sip goes salty. Volcanics, or more to the lava flow point, living, breathing and current (within the last 400 years) volcanics will do that, for real. Not like other “volcanic” soils, those from mountains that erupted maybe one million years ago. But that’s only half of the matter. The other and equally important matter is elevation, at 900m, less fancy, attractive and sexy. But this is real and this is what riesling wants and needs. Not Mosel, not Trentino, not Argentina but L’Etna heights. She is present and she presents. “Elevation is not as sexy as volcanics, “ said no one ever but this is the thing. Riesling was never that or like this but it has arrived. Say hello to my little friend TS-IGT. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted March 2022

Sciaranuova Vineyard

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Pinot Nero 2018, Terre Siciliane IGT

Super fine pinot noir from Patricia Tóth on Etna’s north slope at 820m, like well-prepared sea urchin, straccato di manzo mantecato and fegato d’oca. If not the best Etna Rosso vineyard it may as well be in the conversation because this kind of pinot noir depth is usually reserved for nerello mascalese. Something cool this way comes every morning and dry, no matter the settling of precipitation the night before. Here the fineness of varietal and block share a feeling, a commonality of place within to the third degree, mimicking gastronomy and asking for the right set of partners. There is fennel and there are dried spices, cumin perhaps in how the delicate yet forceful south asianer’s carpet really ties the wine together. Sweet meanderings in dried rags really bring the rustica and the autentica. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Making friends in Parco Statella, Etna

Planeta Etna Bianco DOC 2020

Widest and most inviting smile yet from Planeta and winemaker Patricia Tóth’s 2020 Etna Bianco, generous gift of the volcano and the sun, elemental salts and even ripeness, controlled eruption and fleshy intensity. A relaxed bianco as an extension of the vineyard, 100 per cent carricante from Contrada Taccione in the village of Monetalguardia. The soil is deeply organic, nourishing, dark for Etna at 690-720m. Hard to find more direct accommodation and physical beauty than what this Bianco wants to share, without demands, strings or expecting anything in return. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Etna hospitality, Planeta

Planeta Etna Bianco DOC 2019

Though the next vintage of Etna Bianco DOC will be the perfect one, for everyone and all, this from 2019 is no difficult one, it’s just more linear, laser focused and intense. There are times when 100 per cent carricante can act this way, not because of any varietally finicky reason but just because the vintage makes it so. More central, linear, severe and seeking ways to branch out but that still may not be possible at this time. Super compact and it looks as though 2021 could also be this way. The grapes came early, seemingly counterintuitive to how things turned out and the winemaker looked around, not believing the harvest was done. But forget about it Patricia. It’s Etna. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Shalalingualossa

Planeta Etna Rosso DOC 2020

A 100 per cent nerello mascalese from Pietramarina and Feudo di Mezzo (where the cellar is located), two vineyards 5km between them at 600m of elevation. The nose is almost clay even though there is none on Etna making for a very clean aromatic profile. Made in the Piedmontese cappelo sommerso method, 35-40 days on skins, because nerello mascalese doesn’t like and doesn’t need oxygen, regardless of its tannic structure. The vintage is a round and gifting one for all, bianco and rosso alike, less compact than some and fleshy as a ripe plum, especially with reds. A 2020 in which recent volcanics are a matter of wringing out a basalt sponge with the resulting juices running with charismatic invitation. That said a Planeta Etna Rosso clearly needs some time, not forever mind you and in this case a depth of developed fruit and mineral swath keeps things wrapped and taut. Notable for the red citrus bite, pique and pith across the back end. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Feudo di Mezzo, Etna

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Nerello Mascalese 2018, Terre Siciliane IGT

Varietal nerello mascalese grown above the DOC line is a matter of great, compact and vertical concern from out of the 2018 vintage. Was a rainy and “fragile” vintage, a matter of nature putting more stress on bunches that can result in variegate meaning. The concept of rigorous table sorting and the use of a basket press are essential tools to getting pristine fruit and then juice. Etna’s conditions are so unique to Sicily and so here in Sciaranuova it is the last of Planeta’s estates to figure out the what, why and how for making quality wine. On the whites it was in and around ’16 and for the reds probably right here with this sharp, spiced and meaningful red. While it is quite compressed there is also an expansiveness that presses to the full extent in how the palate is swarmed and covered. My goodness. Drink 2025-2032.  Tasted March 2022

Parco Statella, Versante Nord, Etna

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Nerello Mascalese 2017, Terre Siciliane IGT

Sciaranuova is the place closest to the village of Passopisciaro for nerello mascalese of a very specific style. From a warm vintage and one when there was nine per cent cappuccio mixed in with the mascalese. More of a salumi, curative and dried skins vintage, not just with an extra year affecting the wine but also because of the cappuccio influence with an increase in oxidative feel. Feels quite ready to rock and roll, more of the latter perhaps and with the right moment there will be a scorrevole of mascalese sensation running and then sliding across the palate. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted March 2022

Capo Milazzo, Sicily

Capo Milazzo

Sicilia’s most extreme and dramatic northeast corner is home to some of Planeta’s most extreme and dramatic wines. Capo Milazzo’s soils are alluvial, deep soils, friables, born out of rivers that came from the northern mountains. The peninsula’s proximity to the sea leads to wines that are salty, with algae, black cherry and cypress. The four hectare vineyard is called La Baronia, used for the Sicilia DOCs in Nocera and Mamertino but also experimentally and for research in three ancient varieties known as varietà reliquie; vitraruolo, lucignola and catanese nera.

Planeta Nocera 2018, Nocero Sicilia DOC

Specific to Milazzo in the northeast of Sicily, in two appellations, Faro and Mamertino. Noce is “nuts,” growing in big bunches and blue-hued (much more so than cabernet sauvignon). Grows on volcanics, in a place with an active volcano (Stromboli) which is significant and in 2018 the vintage didn’t turn out the same beast of a bruiser in terms of the grape’s intensity of tannins. Forget the comparisons to sangiovese, barbera and tannat because this ’18 is a wonderfully harmonious and balanced varietal wine. Still the presence and obviousness of black cherry, peppery nocellara olive and just a kiss of orange. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Mamertino 2017, Mamertino Sicilia DOC

From the dramatic land and seascape that is Capo Milazzo and a wine surely as close to winemaker Patricia Tóth’s heart as any in her Planeta dreams. Blends 60 per cent nero d’Avola, with (40) nocera while paying homage to the Mamertini who produced a version of this wine at Milazzo, described by Pliny and beloved by Julius Caesar. First vintage was 2013 and so only the fifth by this warm vintage example. Can be a bruiser and a brooder but ’17 exhibits a surprising antithetical brightness and invitation for pleasure. Even when this young, now moving, not evolving but relenting, in structure and for spirit. The two grapes work in seamless if also delicious tandem, pushing and giving a little, extending an olive branch through clear Mediterranean scents, flavours and style. Like morning dew, soulfully guitar driven, modern jazzy in pure stone groove. Unexpected and warranted at the very same time. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted April 2022

Noto

Noto is the birthplace of nero d’Avola, graced with calcareous soils like Jerez and Champagne, not really comparable to anywhere else. Noto is close to Vittoria in how the wines come to be but it’s a mobile texture, silken and with velvety tannins. The soft hills of Buonivini are blessed by soft breezes arising from the meeting of two seas, ideal for nero d’Avola and moscato, but also almonds, carobs and olives, symbolic plants of the Mediterranean location. The three vineyards are agliastro, buonvini and zuppardo on 45 hectares, acquired piece by piece, today producing the DOC wines Santa Cecilia, Moscato di Noto and Passito di Noto.

Planeta Allemanda 2021, Sicilia Noto DOC

Allemanda, opening baroque dance, 100 per cent moscato bianco, fully, completely Noto. The concept is before the meal, a winder upper, ahead of several courses and pairings, in lieu of that wine killing sundowner, Sicilian style. Quite a tart and powerfully stinging revivalist, to wake one up and keep the spirit alive well into the night. A palate refresher, making use of the indigenous and the parochial. Crisp, clean, tightly wound, acidity high, difficulty low. Revive your energy with a glass of Allemanda, dancer in the mouth. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Moscato Di Noto Dry 2021, Sicilia Noto DOC

Sister to Allemanda, 100 per cent moscato (di Noto) yet here dry as the southern Sicilian desert (proverbially speaking) and acids running jet propelled high. In the vein of riesling or say Hunter Valley sémillon, austere, intense, at present unknowable but tenable as time will surely race on by. Lime and the dream of petrol, sharp herbs and even sharper citrus, though not straightforward as such. Most curious and intense white wine, best with sea creatures now but with time, who knows, the sky just may be the limit. Age some and see what transpires. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Planeta Controdanza 2018, Sicilia Noto DOC

Not quite a year has passed and while a settling seems noticeable there still pulses and vibrates a dance of sorts. The white soils have yet to leave the floor and the wines continues to slide over the sleek surface. The nero needs more time, the austerity must chill out and the integration is still somewhat far away. Keep to the program.  Last tasted April 2022

Noto’s bianci soils on the Buonivini estate are the Controdanza source at of Sicily’s furthest southeastern point. Planeta’s relationship here dates back to 1998. The hoedown,”quadrille” or square dance is 85 per cent nero d’Avola plus (15) merlot, super Sicilian by way of Noto and no matter how many vintages pass on by there is still this irony between barn dancing and post-modern blending. It takes tasting this 2018 to realize how dominant the nero d’Avola really is and while merlot is supposed to soften and add a cream centre, in 2018 that’s a big request. Now 2017 makes even more sense and is a cream puff compared to this tannic and grippy 2018. A bigger wine of greater fortitude and one that needs some time to soften. Hold off on the Controdanza for now, the wine and the dance. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted June 2021

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2016, DOC Noto

That idea behind tertiary fungi and umami is still a dream and should be shelved for at least four to five years. That said there is some movement now into the secondary, just hints mind you but there are the plums baked into the minced meat of a sciachiatta pie. Even a note of red pepper flake, parsley and dandelion to accent the sausage. Drinking with most excellent gastronomy right now.  Last tasted April 2022

The flagship 100 per cent nero d’avola must be poured last because of the power and the fact that it’s not something so easily understood. If you were to try and taste other wines after this it would be like Eric Clapton going on after Jimi Hendrix. There’s a deep olive, blood orange, tar and ribena profile that you just know will seek out truffle, porcini, tar and roses. Welcome to the world of aging Sicilian wines and in this very specific world, nero d’avola from Noto. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2011, DOC Noto

Santa Cecilia from 2011 is a special nero d’avola, balanced in silent but sweetly deadly acquiescence of Noto’s white chalky soils. Her tannins are abundant and smooth, running in one direction and so it’s a wonder how un-evolved and yet so involved this nero d’avola is equipped to believe about and with great kindred spirit with itself. That it presents this youthful and yet to advance is a thing magical and sincere. Inner strength is one thing but outward beauty is the real deal. Or is it the other way around? Either way they combine for one of Cecilia’s greatest acuity and remainder of structure. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted May 2018 and April 2022

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2008, DOC Noto

Having now tasted several vintages, including a few older examples of Santa Cecilia the idea of taking nothing for granted is now engrained. Something happens to this nero d’avola after several years in bottle, part chemistry and part magic. When 10 years get behind this wine it begins to dig, deep and purposefully into the Noto soil, finding minerals and elements that never seemed to before be present in this wine. Well past the fruit stage here in this 2008, now underlying, primitive and fundamental. And yet it reeks of nero, wood a thing of the past, a perfume cast with spellbound, gripping and intriguing fascination. No shortage of earth and cocoa derivations but mostly the curiosity of place. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2005, DOC Noto

Finding oneself in a state of utter disbelief upon nosing an older Santa Cecilia has just happened with thanks to this 2005 and the unthinkable aromatics it possesses. There have been some older examples like 2007, 2008 and 2011 which all showed morphological magic but this, this is something other. The state of perfumed preservation is impossible, the floral emanations and fruit continuance implausible and in suspension of belief. The 2005 is almost perfect, dark berries and red citrus alive, acids in perfect condition, wood dissolved, resolved and walked straight out the door. The life and vitality reside in the arena of the flawless, faultless and achievable. This is what nero d’avola, Santa Cecilia, Noto and Planeta can be, at its collective finest. Will drink this way (and also that) for five more years and with ease. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Planeta Passito Di Noto 2019, Sicilia Noto DOC

Planeta’s Passito di Noto is a rare and singular dessert wine, now in its 17th year of production, made with moscato (di Noto) and from vines so old it may not be known just how old they are. The grapes are dried using the appassimento method and then turned into this concentrated and naturally sweet dessert wine. This is a very particular viscosity and profile with resins and vapours as tenable as are the sugars, with herbs and plants nearby mixing with their vinous qualities for a sticky of superior savour and character. Imagine pineapple soaked in rosemary and vermouth, apricots bathing in fennel and golden Amaro, hazelnuts toasted with long pepper and green vines. Not unusual but particular, spoken personality and in the end, so very fine. Drink 2024-2035. Planeta’s Passito di Noto is a rare and singular dessert wine, now in its 17th year of production, made with moscato (di Noto) and from vines so old it may not be known just how old they are. The grapes are dried using the appassimento method and then turned into this concentrated and naturally sweet dessert wine. This is a very particular viscosity and profile with resins and vapours as tenable as are the sugars, with herbs and plants nearby mixing with their vinous qualities for a sticky of superior savour and character. Imagine pineapple soaked in rosemary and vermouth, apricots bathing in fennel and golden Amaro, hazelnuts toasted with long pepper and green vines. Not unusual but particular, spoken personality and in the end, so very fine. Drink 2024-2035. Tasted April 2022.Tasted April 2022

Vittoria

Southeastern Vittoria is home to the only Sicilian DOCG called Cerasuola di Vittoria, a blend of nero d’Avola and frappato grown on red sandy soils. As winemaker Patricia Tóth likes to say, “the main actor in all these wines is the beloved nero’d’Avola,” most important variety on the island, planted across 60 per cent of vinicultural surface area. Nero is the adaptable one, like pinot noir in France, nebbiolo in Piemonte and sangiovese in Tuscany. Vittoria’s are fresher and ignite more passion as compared to what comes from Noto and parts further east on Sicilia.

Diesel

Planeta Frappato Sicilia Vittoria DOC 2020

First vintage of Planeta’s frappato was 2013 so by count this eighth is a Vittoria DOC of experiential significance, rare, low output yielding and as always, never showy. The grape and the amazing singularity it possesses makes for comparisons that are desperate but ultimately useless. That frappato in Planeta’s way can deliver this fresh strawberry and reductively earthy combination is testament to soil and sea. Think of the ripest fruit cut clear and clean by wet stoniness and sharp imagery. Crystalline vintage here for Planeta, potent, vehement and heartfelt. There is no hiding from such clarity and tempered ethos. The 2020 shows a little of that Etna Rosso feeling and from a location so far away. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Planeta Frappato Sicilia Vittoria DOC 2019

An extra year effects a significant amount of change and difference, especially when that vintage was so warm and generous. In the realm of rare and dignified frappato there are moods, as if sounds, environment, beats and emotion have become involved, as if music saved my life. The strawberries are wilder and deeper, the herbals ground by pestle and the sea just a bit dark, turned up and stormy. The mid-palate on 2019 is completely filled in, the acids circulative, the finish weighty and defiant. Not the light and bright frappato of some years and yet always sharp, direct, pointed. It can’t help but be. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Winemaker or dog whisperer? Both

Planeta Cerasuolo Di Vittoria DOCG 2020

From the red soils of the Dorilli estate and Sicily’s only DOCG in capture of a seriously striking vintage. The southerly location lands between the sea and the Iblean mountains, the name coming from cerasa, cherry in Sicilian dialect. Typical for Planeta’s take, blend of 60 per cent nero d’Avola with (40) frappato, coming together like Hall and Oates, a little bit 80s, funky and pretty. Cerasuola as method of modern love, in which “dreams are made of a different stuff.” Cerasuola pitting strawberry and cherry against a red citrus backdrop, remarkably well constructed and produced. Two grapes in harmony, with strong hooks and overlaying melodies. Adheres to traditional soul traditions while turning out the pop. Thus the DOCG. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted April 2022

Dorilli Sicilia Cerasuola Di Vittoria Classico DOCG 2017

Dorilli represents the pinnacle of the eponymous estate sound and vision in a Cerasuolo more Bowie and Lennon than any duo aligned for hits. The 2017 is Planeta’s Fame, higher in nero d’Avola (70 per cent) and lesser (30) in frappato as compared to the normale. Named for the nearby river Dirillo, “landing place of brave Aeneas,” and a red blend that aches with both maturity and confidence. “Could it be the best, could it be? Really be really babe. Could it be my babe could it babe?” The answer is yes, in spite of a warm vintage with some dustiness and dried fruit. Fame can be and is had with bowie knife sharpness and young Sicilian intensity. Yes this 2017 is too youthful to call but time will be kind and this wine will be timeless. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted April 2022

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Twenty-one mind-blowing wines of 2021

The greatest wines are considered as the ones that talk to us, connect with that part of our being that elicits sensory and emotional responses, feelings of zeitgeist and great release. Throughout the course of a year I taste thousands in my glass, countless banal, innumerable competent, others correct and many exceptional. Then there are the rare and peerless capable of altering time and space, chosen ones that after listening we then speak directly to. The mind-blowing wines.

Related – Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

This is what I might say to such a splendid creature. “I look upon the flash of your sheen, you a wine of scientific strategies. Your aromatics sum up for me my educational studies in science and lifelong memories. Your flavours remind me of experiments in vinous physics, your textures of exercises in galactic mechanics. Your structure recalls infinite chemical reactions and architectural engineering. Your energy, though carefully controlled, threatens to ignite and destroy my laboratory and yet binds my existential life together. You blow my mind.

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

Last year’s 20 for 20 was a much different list than ever before. Only 25 days of travel and while I did finally make a return to global discovery that number was even less in 2021. Two trips to Italy and one to B.C. in October and November. Once again just 25 days in total. A yearly schedule usually adds up to 100-plus but fortune also shines on the critics of WineAlign. Through quarantine, isolation and safe-distancing we still managed to taste through thousands of wines. I recorded well and above 4,000 tasting notes in 2021 so it would appear that palate discovery is still alive and well. For the first time ever there are three dessert wines on the list because well, stickies just don’t get enough love. And never before have I included a Canadian wine because I pen a separate list for local but a Thomas Bachelder chardonnay is wholly deserving of going global. These are Godello’s 21 mind-blowing wines of 2021.

Berlucchi Riserva Familia Ziliana Franciacorta DOCG 2001, Lombardy

A blend of chardonnay and pinot nero matured on lees for 218 months and a further 31 months after disgorgement. Zero dosage, tirage in June 2002. Tasting from “the stolen bottle,” and one would swear there is some sweetness in this wine, offset by twenty year-old persistent and rising acidity. The state of grace and ability this 2001 finds itself sitting royally in is quite something to behold. Stands firm and can stride with most any 20 year-old sparkling wine. A simple fact tells us that Arturo Ziliani’s father Franco and Guido Berlucchi decided to create sparkling wines in Franciacorta. They are the pioneers. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Krug Vintage Brut Champagne 2002

The year 2002 dubbed as “ode to nature” marked the first Krug “vintage of the millennium” and was presented after Krug 2003, just as Krug 1988 left the cellars after Krug 1989. A clement year, relatively dry to make for a homogeneous harvest. The blend is 39 per cent pinot noir, (40) chardonnay and (21) pinot meunier. Disgorgement would have been in the autumn of 2015 after having spent at least 13 years in Krug’s cellars. All this tells us that the vintage is one treated to great respect with the acumen to age seemingly forever. This bottle shows some advancement but mostly in toasted and spiced notes while acting so expertly oxidative, in total control of its own and also our senses. Smells of orange skin, zesty and by citrus spray, then pickled ginger and wild fennel. Tasted blind it feels just exactly 20 years old but it’s not hard to be tricked into imagining even older. I admit to guessing 1995 with thanks to a presentation of at once wildly exotic and then exceptional bubbles. Just a matter of being hoked up with celebration. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Kabola Malvazija Amfora 2017, Istria, Croatia

Kabola’s is malvazija istarska raised in traditional clay amphorae in combination with oak barrels. Kabola is found in Buje, not far from the coast and south of Trieste. While the combination of clay and wood seem to confuse or blur the game there is something wholly credible and intriguing about this wonderful aromatic mess. You can not only smell and sense but more deeply intuit the phenolic qualities inherent in here. Skins, pips and even a bit of herbaceous stem. Peach and orange tisane, exotic spice and high, high quality lees. Great winemaking here in the context of leaving your grapes to do the work but both timing and execution are spot on. Raises the varietal bar and shows what’s possible. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted April 2021

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 1998, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

A wine in which the switch has been flicked at least five times, at least three past the family’s preference but let’s be frank. This is a fascinating Friuli-Venezia-Giulia wine to taste. Oxidative in the most beautiful way, sapid and laden with 23 year-old tang. Very much a young adult of confidence and swagger borne out of phenolic fruit maturation. A long-hanging vintage, a note of botrytis, a late harvest sensation but truly salty, mineral and showing the biodiversity in clones and vineyards that one would expect a white blend of this ilk to display. Just a terrific example of friulano, sauvignon and pinot bianco in their arena of characterful array. Drink 2021.  Tasted October 2021

Bachelder Grimsby Hillside “North Slope, Starry Skies” Chardonnay 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

New in the pantheon for Bachelder and Niagara wines as an entity is this from Grimsby Hillside, the new frontier, next level up and future for the industry. In fact the time is already upon these precocious vines and their fruit specially formulated for the most wound and cinched kind of chardonnay, so precipitously witnessed in Thomas Bachelder’s “North Slope, Starry Skies” 2019. The vineyard was planted to vitis labrusca and used for Kaddish wine through the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s and just less than 20 years ago re-purposed to vinifera. Just two decades later winemakers like Thomas and Ilya Senchuk have discovered the magic of possibility and greatness of probability. Tasted this first in July with Thomas though it had just gone to bottle. Now the textural level of this GH-N triple-S has hitherto arrived at the immaculate, sweetly viscous, gleefully gelid and just right there at the apex of sensory enjoyment. Tight and delicious is a good combination. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2021

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018, Stellenbosch, South Africa

A single vineyard chenin blanc and the first vintage to the Ontario market for a unique project celebrating the family farm called Eden. From their Stellenbosch ward of Polkadraai and high density plantings on dolomitic, granitic soils. Of a richness, an intensity of parts and a presence only a handful of South African blanc ever reach. A wine that achieves a level of status by its work underground (through root competition) and a clone called Montpellier that produces small berries and even smaller yields, not to mention the plot is just 0.6 hectares in size. Eden is the mothership and matriarch of this clone and for that variety in South Africa. All parts contribute to a wine of outrageous acidity that is never sharp, vivid or dominant. Fruit, mineral, focus, elements and precision. Wet stone is pure Polkadraai, vaporous, omnipresent, all over the wine. “The most successful winemakers (and wine projects) are ones that specialize,” says Bruwer Raats. This Eden follows the credo to a “T” and with a capital “E.” Really cerebral and also age-worthy chenin, in the upper echelon of the finest in the pantheon. If ever a chenin signified “Bringing it all Back Home,” the Raats Eden is it. “Discuss what’s real and what is not. It doesn’t matter inside the Gates of Eden.” Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted June 2021

With Sofia Ponzini and Vico

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso Vigna Vico Pre-Phylloxera 2018, DOC Etna

Just another immediately memorable Piano dei Daini Etna Rosso Vico, Sofia Ponzini’s Cru-Vigna nerello mascalese (with 10 per cent nerello cappuccio) at 700m from the northern side of Mount Etna. Grown as alberello on a volcanic, sandy matrix with some stones from 100-plus-plus pre-phylloxera vines located in the town of Passopisciaro, Contrada Santo Spirito, parcels “Belvedere,” “Seimigliaia” and “Calata degli Angeli.” A tempest of steel and a feeling that runs with waves of acidity throughout, in many parallel and horizontal lines, at all levels. Spice cupboard, rich waves of red fruit, viscous wisdom, confidential and confident elegance, finishing at precision without recall. True value, scattered patterning, significant and relevant. A vintage of force, restraint and powerful lightness of being. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted October 2021

Domaine De Bellene Nuits Saint Georges Premier Cru Aux Chaignots 2019, AOC Bourgogne

The limestone soil Climat of Chaignots lies in the northern part of Nuits-Saint-Georges, up the slope and edging in location but also feeling towards that of Vosne-Romanée. The affinity is much discussed, real and therefore puts the Premier Cru at the top of what is most desired out of Nuits-Saint-Georges. A tiny (0.14 hectare) plot and simply a coup for Nicolas Potel to be able to secure this fruit. Everything about the aromatic front speaks to the Bourgogne mind and Chaignots heart. Cola but from the root, a tuber underground rubbed, that and a cocoa nut crushed between fingers. An almost diesel waft but not gaseous, instead sapid, nut-based, a liqueur toasted and intoxicating. The fineness of structure is the sort of wiry winding by winch that could cut through limbs due to tension so taut. All that you know, love, don’t know and hope to experience is in this wine. Neither I nor Nicolas Potel will be around when it blows someone’s mind in 2074. Look forward to that day young Alphonse. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted May 2021

Angela Fronti, Istine

Istine Chianti Classico DOCG Vigna Istine 2019, Radda in Chianti, Tuscany

One must have to look at, walk this and stand in awe of of this vineyard, the steepness at 30-50 per cent grade with a terrace in the middle to break it up. Heavy in Alberese inclusive of massive yellow calcareous boulders and also Galestro. In fact the medium stones removed were transferred to create terraces for olive trees on the other side of the cantina (by Angela Fronti’s father no less). The vineyard faces north so the freshness is off the charts, while the ripeness is so matter of purposeful vintage fact. The label represents the position of the vines in coordinates, echoed in the machicolations of a Fronti sangiovese that drops all the Radda stones on unsuspecting palates through fruit openings between supporting acid corbels of a projecting tannic parapet. Vigna Istine is at the forefront of Chianti Classico’s battle to win over the world. Follow this example. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted October 2021

“Molto parfumato,” binds an aromatic agreement between myself and Paolo de Marchi upon sniffing this ’11 found on Locanda Pietracupa’s wine list. “Cepparello needs time,” says Paolo, understatement of the obvious for the evening, year, decade and history with respect to sangiovese grown in the Chianti Classico territory. Also truth succinctly spoken, roses and violets exhaling and a 100 per cent varietal (or so it seems) profile of succulence and one to fully draw you in. Mint to conifers, multiplicity by complexity value, not to mention vigorous acidity sent straight to a mouth with a full compliment of wisdoms able to think about the situation. A linear Cepparello seeing its wide open window at the 10 year mark. And now a Paolo de Marchi story. “One side of the vine’s grapes were burnt and so I called up (Consorzio Direttore Giuseppe) Liberatore and asked are we changing the name of the appellation? Liberatore said what? To Chianti Amarone replied de Marchi, or sangiovese Port? Joking aside, a stringent selection and a five per cent inclusion of trebbiano did for this ’11 Cepparello what viognier might do for syrah. Not a Chianti Classico so perfectly kosher. A secret until now but all above board. Totally cool. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1999

The 1999 was the last (original) Riserva produced until it was again resurrected in 2011 and what’s so cool about this vintage is how it was held to some early esteem, though paling in comparison to that “vintage of the century” that was 1997. Underestimated over the last 20 years, drinking so beautifully now, with frutta di bosca, tertiary tartufo and fungi. Just doesn’t strike as a fully mature adult reminiscing about the way things used to be but more like a wine with an outlook for more promise, good times and adventures still ahead. If you are still holding onto ‘99s from this part of Toscana you will be very pleased. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Filo di Seta is Filippo Chia’s intuitive “transavanguardia” sangiovese of place, over the ancient beach where he and his father Sandro once painted the Montalcino sea. Mostly early picked fruit, all in tonneaux, at first thinking “croccante” but that’s too simple a way to describe what texture and sensation is combed in this reserve wine. Bottled on the 29th of June so just arriving at the ready, to look at if not to consume. Here there is a fineness of liquid chalkiness, a “fluido” or “scorrevole” to drive the way this sangiovese plays and also sings, a Riserva to move with the wind and musical sway. Somewhat unknown, finely tannic and clearly what could and should be described as “mountain” Brunello. Coming in late is the spice, almost cinnamon and such. Hate to refer to any wine as the best from an estate but too bad. That this is, beyond the avant-garde such as it is. Drink 2025-2038.  Tasted November 2021

Biondi Santi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Tenuta Greppo 1985

The longevity of this vintage is almost not to be believed. Has been in bottle for as many years as it would have matured in casks. The next year (2022) will se the re-release of this vintage (in 2021 that vintage was 1983) and the year 1985 is the one I entered university. A Biondi-Santi of resolved tannin but remarkably youthful. A wine that saw Grandi Botti more than before, seen in the gentlest of spice notes and the back to the future return of balsamic and pomegranate. Followed a winter of major snowfall, long and cold winter, a regular spring and uneventful summer. The acidity is just incredible, also youthful and so sweet, those lengthened tannins in liquid powdery-chalky form. The connection with 2016 may seem to be an uncanny one but so help me if the chain is not there. The bottle was opened one hour and forty five minutes earlier so grazie to Federico Radi and Biondi-Sandi for perfecting the timing. We can all learn so much from this wine, to be patient, calm, well-adjusted, confident and gracious. Style and temperament to live by. Should continue this way for at least 10 more years. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted November 2021

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 1979, Tuscany

A cooler vintage, especially as compared to 1978 and truly a Piedmontese style because the cellar workers closed the tanks, went on strike and returned two months later. Resulted in some carbonic maceration and surely an increased amount of vim in freshness. That mixed with true porcini, fungi and fennochiona. The extended maceration makes this act 43 years forward like an older nebbiolo, rich and once demanding tannins now long since melted away, tar and roses still showing with earthly perfume. Fabulous mouthfeel, lingering and lively. Surely the mean steak astringency would have been in control during the first 10 to 15 years but the beast relents and gives way to charm. Patience breeds gentility and the story is now unfolding. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

With Stefano Cesari, Brigaldara

Brigaldara Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2016, Veneto

Stefano Cesari’s farm concerns itself with all things sustainable and while that may seem like a catch phrase, In Brigaldara’s case it most surely is not. The family supports its workers financially, culturally and in health. The young winemaking team is encouraged to study and stage abroad, to learn new oenological skills and languages. The other farm workers and their families are additionally supported by being given stake in the profits of the farm. How can this not reflect in the qualities of the wines, including this very special vintage 2016 Amarone. A magnificent wine and one you can easily drink beyond one glass. Not that it’s a light example but it speaks in soft tones, clearly and with a distinct, precise and honest weight, in vernacular and feeling. All things fruit lead to roads of sweet acidity and fine tannin. A rare Amarone of this ilk and one to savour. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted October 2021

Errázuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2012, Aconcagua Valley, Chile

Don Maximiano 2012 is a blend of 75 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (12) carmenère, (8) petit verdot and (5) malbec. No cabernet franc back in 2012 and aside from the obvious notions ushered in by age there is a distinct lack of herbal notes as a result. This is just in a great place nearly nine years forward from vintage, now settling, acids still in charge but tannins having done most of their melting and rendering. This wine is far from done, in fact the next level notions have just begun to have their say and from a vintage as great as this there should very well be nine years nigh before true earthiness, umami and truffle set in. Pour this blind at dinners with old world counterparts and watch with awe as to the results. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Château Pétrus 1993, Pomerol, AC Bordeaux

Never easy to live in the shadow of siblings clearly designated as mom and dad’s favourites but sometimes overlooked vintages left for dead show greatness later on in life. The 1993 Pétrus is definitely a late bloomer and from a year when only 200 cases were produced, where normally 4,000-plus is the standard. Softened to an almost Burgundian sense of calm but the richness and concentration multiplied by a Spring verdant freshness and sweetly herbal pesto can only indicate one thing and that is Right Bank Bordeaux. I tasted this blind and immediately thought of Pomerol and its close proximity at the eastern border with Saint-Émilion because of the “fromage à pâte molle” feeling gained, along with vestiges of once formidable black fruit supported by a push-pull posit tug of merlot-cabernet franc acidity. A good hunch indeed and a more than surprising set of excellent parameters come to this for a 1993 Bordeaux. All in all a really satisfying and come together wine to hush the naysayers and win in the end. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1990, AC Hermitage, Rhône

Jaboulet’s 1990 La Chapelle is a kind of an echo of the year in history, an Hermitage of impeccable harmony, much like balance restored in relative peace and prosperity. In 1990 the Soviet Union fell, ending the decades-long Cold War. Hard to find more shiny opaque purple in a 30 year-old syrah plus a splendid floral nose of stone roses, pencil shavings and graphite. The combinative effect of heft and freshness elicit pleasantries from a bad boy able to play soft ballads to mellow a crowd. La Chapelle is a communicative, entertaining and business-like syrah, a link between the northern Rhône and the taster, an internet Hermitage that changes the way we think and feel. Things will never be the same after tasting Jaboulet’s 1990 and for good reason. Has 10 years left without worry of decline. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted November 2021

 

Reynvaan In The Hills Syrah 2017, Walla Walla Valley, Washington

Reynvaan is a family production of Rhône-style wines from two vineyard properties in the Walla Walla Valley. “In The Rocks” is their first vineyard located in Milton-Freewater, Oregon and the second vineyard is called “In the Hills.” short for “Foothills in the Sun.” It is found at the base of the Blue Mountains on the Washington/Oregon border and is planted to syrah, viognier and a gaggle of cabernet sauvignon rows. As one of the highest elevation vineyards in Washington (at 1200ft) and in this syrah co-fermented with up to 10 per cent syrah you might get a rendering of a northern Rhône-ish picture. Sure enough the perfume is floral but more than anything a smoulder of pancetta and smoked meat. Reductive as well, different as such than any syrah, anywhere else on the planet but liquid peppery and tire on asphalt nonetheless. The credibility and accountability here is profound and while the sheer concentration and beauty of In the Rocks in captivating, this In the Hills is alternatively vivid, dramatic and powerfully restrained syrah. Which one is you? Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted January 2021

Sine Qua Non Syrah The Hated Hunter 2017, Santa Barbara County

The hated hunter is named after Austrian immigrant and Los Angeles restaurateur turned winemaker Manfred Krankl’s grandfather, depicted on the label in gear, with rifle and hound. The blend is led by 82.4 per cent syrah with (7.8) petite sirah, (5.2) mourvèdre, (2) grenache, (1.2) petit manseng and (1.4) viognier. Clocks in at 15.9 alcohol but in this regard hardly garners even one per cent of the discussion. All anyone can talk about is the infinite expanse of pretty, pretty floral capture and personally speaking it simply reeks of syrah. A game of meat juices and marbling, part smoked meat and part pancetta. The only question tasting blind is whether to imagine it as Hermitage or Central Coast California. Once the abv is disclosed the answer can only be the latter but a syrah of such reclusive exclusivity is hard to pin down. Derives from a group of prized vineyards; 32 per cent Eleven Confessions (Santa Rita Hills), (41) The Third Twin (Los Alamos), (25) Cumulus (Santa Barbara) and (2) Molly Aida (Tepusquet Canyon). Adds up to the most luxe, deluxe and ultra-fantastic instrumental of a syrah, no lyrics needed. Man, Manfred, take a bow. A hunting bow. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Fèlsina Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico DOCG 2018, Tuscany

An absolutely lovely vintage for Fèlsina’s Vin Santo and for Chianti Classico Vin Santo as a rule because extract, temperament and adaptability are all in collective balance. All that you want, need and expect from this traditional and loyal dessert wine are present and accounted for. Dried and glazed fruit, low and slow developed nuttiness and a freedom of territory spoken through airiness and layering. The upside cake of life turns over to reveal a generational wine of clear standards, perfect layering and endless conversation. Nonna and Nonno would be proud. Drink 2021-2035.  Tasted June 2021

Agriturismo Hibiscus Zhabib Passito 2020, C.Da Tramontana, Sicily

From the island of Ustica in the Tyrrhenian Sea, 70 kilometres (36 nautical miles) of the coast of Sicily’s capital Palermo and the work of Margherita Longo and Vito Barbera. The vineyards for this zibibbo (moscato d’Alessandria) are grown very close to the water on volcanic soil and Hibiscus is the only winery game in town. There are other farmers that contribute grapes to this tiny production; also grillo, cataratto, inzolia to go along with the zibibbo that makes this Passito. A place where tomato, grapes and peached co-exist, in the gardens and in the wine. This carries that uncanny sweet to savoury feeling in the most specific and ethereal dessert wine both mind can conjure and emotion shall receive. Of orange, grapefruit, peach and tomato. Balanced, harmonious, silky, woollen and with a super-tonal capacity to love. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted October 2021

Taylor Fladgate Very Old Tawny Port – Kingsman Edition, Douro, Portugal

A bottle of wine is rarely tied to a film, let alone a Douro Port but Taylor’s Very Old Tawny has been blended and bottled to coincide and be product placed in the second Kingsman film, in this case a prequel to the first, this time set in the 1920s. Head Winemaker David Guimaraens chose reserve Tawnys from 70-100 years of age, wines crafted and set aside by generational predecessors past, no stretch for the master blender because we are talking about a house with extensive stocks from which to reach back into. Guimaraens was looking for harmonic balance between concentration and elegance and just a whiff will tell you he and his team have achieved a crossing between a magical vortex and a vanishing point of complexity. Two manifest matters have developed; concentration of sweetness and in this case by association, a focus of acids as well. Together they inspissate and cling comfortably to the skeletal structure. It feels like you are nosing 100 unique aromas, with just seven of them being marzipan, red velvet hazelnut cake, candied ginger rose, rau răm, roasting banana leaf, calimyrna fig and grilled pineapple express. Step six feet away from the glass and the aromatics persist just as sharp as if the glass were in hand. As for a sip of this maraviglioso Tawny, warmth, comfort, delicadeza and forever length make just an ounce last forever. Timeless. Approximately 1000 bottles were produced and in Canada 100 will be made available next September. That is when theatre goers should likely make a return to the cinema to take in the Secret Service spy thriller and Tawny Port fantasy up on the silver screen. Drink 2021-2050.  Tasted February 2021

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

WineAlign Nationals meet the Iconic Wineries of B.C.

Judging Rosé at the 2021 WineAligjn National Wine Awards of Canada – Photo (c) WineAlign

Back in the first week of October a special anniversary took place in Penticton, British Columbia. Special because it was the 20th running of Canada’s greatest wine show on wheels, now and for the past 10 years known as the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. Remarkable because the week of judging Canada’s finest wines and ciders brought together a group of erudite and beautiful people for the first time in nearly 28 months. It was in June of 2019 the last time a 50-plus strong NWAC gaggle assembled, of back room volunteers, behind the scenes technical wizards, scoring junkies and FOH judging professionals. The 2021 results are beginning to roll out, including the first four categories last week; Sparkling, Gamay, Pinot Gris and Rosé. Today you can read up on chardonnay and pinot noir. I was entrusted the Rosé category write-up and you can view it here:

Related – A record medal haul for Canadian Rosé

A record-setting number of wines were entered from coast to coast. The two-decade journey has been worth every moment for this most respected and important Canadian wine competition. I have been at these judging tables since 2013, to capture this most essential snapshot of Canadian wine and by now have witnessed a great change and evolution, as have mentors Anthony Gismondi and David Lawrason over two decades. The inaugural competition in 2001 drew 528 wines from 71 wineries and in 2021, 26 judges tasted 2,075 entries from more than 260 wineries.

Backroom at NWAC2021, photo (c) WineAlign

I have now published more than 270 wines tasted at the competition that can be viewed on WineAlign. Most have only been tasted the one time, that being during blind varietal and stylistic flights in Penticton and those reviews have only been edited for spelling, grammar, syntax and in a few instances musical reference fact checking. No information, estate history, principals’ stories or winemaking data have been added to those notes. In cases where wines had been previously reviewed or tasted in Kelowna just prior to the awards then the blind notes are added in.

Day one judging @winealign #NWAC2021 ~ With the inimitable @trevering and @bryantmao ~ Only 2,000 more to go ~ #canadianwine #winejudging #thenationals #wineawards

Upon arrival in the Okanagan on the eve of day one at the awards we were privileged to be guests at a walk-around tasting hosted by Anthony Von Mandl’s Iconic Wineries of British Columbia at Checkmate Artisanal Winery in Oliver. All seven estates were present and pouring some of their top tier bottles; CedarCreek Estate Winery (Kelowna), Checkmate (Oliver), Liquidity Wines (Okanagan Falls), Martin’s Lane Winery (Kelowna), Mission Hill Family Estate Winery (West Kelowna), Red Barn Winery (Oliver) and Road 13 Vineyards (Oliver). The following 19 tasting notes are from the bottles poured by all seven members of the IWBC.

CedarCreek Platinum Block 3 Riesling 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

From the Kelowna home vineyard and the oldest block of riesling vines at 30 years of age. A wild ferment, kept on the skins for 12 hours and aged half in stainless, half in German oak (not to be confused with the 1970s prog. rock/psychedelic band). “It’s very easy to make lime juice from this block,” is a reminder from winemaker Taylor Whelan to take great care, find focus and another gear. “We’re aiming for GG (Grosses Gewächs) numbers,” here emerging at 8 g/L RS, but the intensity and grip make the wine seem much drier. No detention or detection of wood whatsoever in a currently bracing riesling but one set up for a readied future of full embrace. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Cedar Creek Platinum Jagged Rock Vineyard Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

A 100 per cent wild and in barrel though with truncated malolactic fermentation, “because we’re CedarCreek, not Checkmate,” quips winemaker Taylor Whelan. Some banana emits in this moment of estimable youth and we both admit the wine is “not yet quite ready.” From the vineyard down in the valley below Checkmate Winery, a contributor to the freshness in a chardonnay straddling the line between reduction and flesh, flintiness and splendored expression. Tropical fruit hints, nary a creamy plasticity and zero gratuity, but plenty of gravitas. To say they are on to something would be a gross understatement in this a vintage readying to unroll later on in 2022. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted October 2021

CedarCreek Winemaker Taylor Whelan

CedarCreek Platinum Simes Vineyard Natural Pinot Noir 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Dark as a syrah night, pressed, full on violet to balsamic, rich beyond the pinot pale and fully into a film noir genre. A bit Wagner north, with gritty tannins and hidden greens.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Approximately 55 per cent (Clone 115) whole bunch concrete fermentation. A crunchy red in the guise of Beaujolais and the reference point is not such a stretch. Recently planted gamay vines will do the same or take the torch when they come to their fruition. Some pretty serious pitch and tannin, a cru on steroids, wild man, far from reductive and big. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Looking out from Checkmate Winery

Checkmate Queen Taken Chardonnay 2018, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench

From the unknown 1975 planted clone, same one used by Mission Hill going back to 1994 with a musqué intonation. The Vineyard is called Dekleva, coolish spot on the Golden Mile Bench. Lower slope soils are patch sandy, with fragmented rocks aboard a fluvial fan. The 2018 is a preview of what the vintage can be for chardonnay or perhaps better described in prologue as to what it has already shown to be. Layers upon layers, alternating chew and crunch, great freshness matching the buttery croissant and if you drop your guard this chardonnay will crush you. It has the game. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Checkmate Opening Gambit Merlot 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

From the Osoyoos Bench with 100 per cent merlot, a wild ferment and 21 months in new wood. Truly, ostensibly varietal Okanagan realism. Could be nothing but and anything at all, a merlot so cured, verdantly specialized and toasty because the growth cycle and viticultural handling all lead down a path where grape and place walk cane and shoot. Bramble, fully loaded spice masala, a modicum of intensity fleshing out the layers of brush, underbrush and ultimately a silken merlot style. Structured but not overtly so, best in the mid term though it will linger well into the latter stages of the decade. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Liquidity Reserve Chardonnay 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Poured by winemaker Amy Paynter, a Reserve chardonnay so aptly named as it submits to the ease with which assets of fruit and structural security are converted into ready to drink pleasure, without affecting cost, value or age worthiness. No searching for richness, nor unction neither, not to mention mille-feuille layering. Chewy enough, fleshy for certain and textural throughout, but always this ease of transitions, conversions and fluidity. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Liquidity winemaker Amy Paynter

Liquidity Viognier 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Golden hue, ripeness at the top, surely only B.C. can effect. Not nearly as unctuous as expected yet there is some sweetness and spice to be sure. Spicy too, tart, tincture of tang and all the while circumstantially evident.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Part estate with fruit from Oliver and Osoyoos. Very apricot in a chanterelle way so it’s scents is like the idea of a mushroom that smells like the memory of a ripe apricot. What else does one need. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Liquidity Estate Pinot Noir 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Made with one hundred per cent Okanagan Falls fruit, picked in lots, each small batch fermented, 14-15 months in (25 per cent new) wood. The decision as to what qualifies as Reserve is made at the time of bottling. A true OK Falls Liquidity Reserve in such regard, much in the way sangiovese is dealt with in Chianti Classico or Montalcino. But this is pinot noir, an animal all to itself, fickle and choosy, hard to get and yet Liquidity has their fruit down with proof right in this glass. Smooth, supple, strong and sure, a confident if simply delicious pinot noir of balance, harmony and grace. Tasted with incumbent winemaker Amy Paynter who’s first full vintage will be 2021 and look for her work ethic (and measured risks) to take this wine to a whole new level. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Riesling Fritzi’s Vineyard 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Shane Munn’s riesling from the volcanic, clay and white quarts Fritzi’s Vineyard continues to get better, all the while with a wine he seems to do less and less to try and control. Must be the place and the fruit from this 21 year-old block (as of this 2018 vintage) seeks a 48 hour skin-contact for oxidatively handled juice. Pressed once, lightly and so softly treated, then transferred to German casks where it stays for up to eight months. Just bloody delicious, hard to not conjure a frothie for this freshest of phenolic rieslings, which incidentally was only sulphured once, four months into the trek. Walks about from grippy to lovely and back again, with silk stops along the way. Will shine brightest two years from now. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Riesling Fritzi’s Vineyard 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Fritzi’s Vineyard on Mission Hill Road is a volcanic block on dry yet rich clay, with white quartz below, planted in 1997. The winemaking is consistent from year to year and as time passes forward what’s done to this wine “is very little, less and less” tells Shane Munn. Such a phenolic riesling and irrefutably circulating in a floating balloon of immaculate freshness. Yes there is some creamy richness but it can’t hold a candle to the level of “frische und enger” in a riesling interfacing the land at the base of Boucherie. Fritzbox and very cool cat. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir Fritzi’s Vineyard Missing Ear 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Some changes in 2018, nothing earth shattering but alterations nonetheless. This time around a 70 per cent whole bunch natural ferment for 42 days (and nearly Piedmontese cappello sommerso as such). No punch-downs nor pump-overs neither, instead a “semi-délestage,” notes winemaker Shane Munn, a fanning over the cap two or three times a day, to polymerize the tannins. Call this the Munn manifesto, unique to pinot noir, Fritzi’s Vineyard and the Okanagan, an infusion rather than a maceration. Fanning acts out so very gently, allowing for an elegant transfer of fruit through structure all the while in retention of some of the noble elements found in the skins. Surely an old-school reference point, a consciousness at the very least and a way to make a big but not dense wine, fulsome yet far from heavy, with great finesse and emotive wakefulness. Munn’s pinot noir is alert and at the ready, as should we all be, from the get go and with the slow moving current that will see aging take place over a six to eight year period. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir Fritzi’s Vineyard Missing Ear 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Tasted with winemaker Shane Munn, a 50 per cent whole bunch natural fermentation in concrete for 32 days, in this vintage quicker to resolve (five to seven days earlier) than the average. Polymers culminated, “melted” and melded with the richness of tannic volcanic thrush. The optimum if classic Fritzi’s pinot noir fruit at first precipitously gliding down so easy but the stem inclusion thankfully graduates the incline and slows the consumption process down to a much necessitated trickle. Also keeps the wine from lunging or lurching into its immediate future, ahead of promise and proper compulsion for brilliance. No comeuppance or envy here, only pinot mercy and possibility. Log life ahead, breezes in sails, drifts and finally, sandy shores. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Mission Hill Perpetua 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Top of the flinty pops, super reductive and oh so tight, taut and implosive. The fruit rolls on through, states a territorial claim and give thanks for all the right reasons. The includes a high level of quality salt, pepper and wood seasoning, which it submits to and willfully accepts. Fine work in chardonnay all around. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Mission Hill Terroir Collection Vista’s Edge Cabernet Franc 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Tasted with Graham Nordin, General Manager for Iconic Wineries of B.C. and a man passionate for cabernet franc, especially this fifth vintage of Vista’s Edge for Mission Hill. A wine that began in 2015 after winemaker Darryl Brooker took over from John Simes and the first full vintage for Aussie Ben Bryant who in 2018 succeeded Brooker as chief winemaker. The vineyard can be seen looking out from Checkmate Winery and just past Phantom Creek. The 2019 cabernet franc was fermented in concrete and then aged in Bourgogne wood. My this packs a punch, of fruit so primary, succulent acids secondary and bones tertiary, the latter only because so much flesh and antioxidant donation hangs upon the very backbone of the wine. A cabernet construct like this is neither common nor fully understood in such youth. Will exude charm and captivate to the fullest in two to three years time. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Red Barn Jagged Rock Vineyard Lost Art Sémillon 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Red Barn is the newest Black Sage Bench project for Anthony Von Mandl’s Iconic Wineries of British Columbia (IWBC). The seventh member joins Mission Hill, Cedar Creek, CheckMate, Road 13, Liquidity and Martin’s Lane. The winery should be ready to open its doors in 2022. The sèmillon is raised in both stainless steel and concrete, coming across with esteemed richness of fruit so very tropical, nearing a stylistic that usually comes from Okanagan viognier. Viscous with a lovely salt line running through, keeping the varietal faith and boding well for future renditions of this wine. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Red Barn Jagged Rock Vineyard Silent Partner Cabernet Franc 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

The newest kid on the Black Sage Bench for the Iconic Wineries of B.C. is Red Barn and this cabernet franc from Jagged Rock Vineyard of 30 per cent whole bunch fermentation was aged in concrete. Only 165 cases were produced for an all in, full varietal monty of great transparency, wonderful red fruit and perfect simplicity. A terrific entry point for vineyard and new order outfit. “I know, you know, we believe in a land of love,” that being this institution of an Okanagan bench, a pleasure zone for fun, ripe fruit and the sun’s perfect kiss. All the distractions are kept at bay in a cabernet franc well on its way. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Road 13 Vineyards Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2017, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley

Lots of fun here, funk too, western richness, sunshine and fulsome palate flavours and texture. Lots of lees and layers.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

From some of the oldest chenin planting in the Okanagan (1968) and North America for that matter, used exclusively for the sparkling wine program. Vinous yet sleek, rich and intense. Mineral fascination in bubble form, loaded with character. Spent 36 months on the secondary lees. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Road 13 Winemaker Barclay Robinson

Road 13 Vineyards Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2012, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley

Spent eight years on the lees, still now vibrant and acting as a solemn totem to what distance and time can do for chenin blanc in sparkling significance. Now a wine of fully developed character at the peak of complexities possible. Will linger in this lovely suspended state for a few more years. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Road 13 5th Element Jackpot 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

The intensity of blue fruit is something to behold, with imminent proposal and one’s imagination trends towards a high percentage of petit verdot (when in fact the number is only in the three to five range). Winemaker Barclay Robinson smiles a wry smile because he knows he’s onto something great and perhaps he too imagines a jackpot at the end of this rainbow. The merlot and malbec offer up interwoven waves of red and black fruit, all the while bespoken to chocolate and goji berry. Then the perfume hits, violet and hibiscus, followed by a return of that beautiful blue fruit. Onto something indeed. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Good to go!

godello

Judging Rosé at the 2021 WineAligjn National Wine Awards of Canada

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Niagara’s cool for chards

 

Niagara chardonnay, cornerstone of an industry, another one of nature’s mysterious constants, long-time member of both local and globally recognized greatness. A pandemic be damned the time had finally come to glide on down the QEW, inch by inch, to arrive in Niagara’s wine-lands and taste recently bottled vineyard bounty, plus some older surprises. At the behest, felicitations and facilitations of WMAO we the crü at WineAlign abided by the invitation. The visits included Le Clos Jordanne, On Seven Estate Winery, Stratus Vineyards, Trius Winery and Restaurant, Hidden Bench Estate Winery, Tawse Winery, Redstone Winery and Restaurant and the Bat Caves at Bachelder Wines. The next trip will take in at least seven more and after that, no less than seven again. And so on. Niagara is not conquered in a day, or a weekend.

And everybody tells me that it’s cool to be a cat
Cool for cats (cool for cats)

Related – A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

The steamy and canicular July varietal sally coincided with the physical return, if only in part and to limited display, of the region’s annual i4c Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. Ontario’s most famous annual gathering inclusive of international winemaking stars is one that so many media, sommeliers, producers, importers, marketers and consumers have come to know, embrace and love. With a commitment for more arms to get jabbed and further progress towards community safety be made in these next 11 months, there should be every reason for optimism that i4c 2022 will return in full force next July.

Thomas Bachelder between Hanck East and West

Related – David Lawrason’s Canadian Wine Insider – Niagara’s Regeneration

In addition to chardonnay (that cool refreshing drink) there too were touring pours of sparkling wines, riesling, pinot gris, skin contact whites, rosé, pinot noir, cabernet franc and gamay. Those tasting notes are included in this report because quite frankly Niagara’s varietal diversity and inclusivity on full display should be duly noted. The festivities concluded on Sunday afternoon with not one but two Bat Cave barrel tastings with the stupefied, hyper-hypnotized and monkified winemaking tour de force himself, the other tall and thin white duke, Thomas Bachelder. No I did not make any formal notes on the dozens of chardonnay and gamay thieved from his barrels because frenetics and focus do not jive, not when Bachelder, barrels and argumentative discourse are involved. Bachelder began with some re-visits of finished “Villages” wines in the guise of Mineralité de Niagara and L’Ardoise, same same but for different markets (Ontario and Québec), both from the 2019 vintage. Then the surprise of the tasting emerged, two unmarked magnums, as of that very moment yet untasted and very special. “From the Heart Cuvée Number 1” is a project with fellow enlightened, philanthropic aiding and abetting abbot Steven Campbell. Their chardonnay crushes the concept with its dynamic and lush configuration. Why because of the very notion of being figuratively layered, blessed with a frictional vitality burnished into its collective heart and chardonnay soul. I had to stop after each sip to reassemble my nervous system and scrape my mind of the cosmos, not to mention the universe, galaxies and stars.

Crazy eyes in the throes of a four-hour Bachelder barrel tasting

The concept began as an annual Canadian Charity Wine Auction in support of the battle against climate change and then further developed into the Rescue the Grapes auction in NYC in partnership with Christie’s. Campbell and Bachelder convinced dozens of winemakers to donate small-ish lots of unfinished wines to be gathered and vinified as a single wine, an Ontario supergroup-cuvée if you will and finished by Thomas, acting as lead singer and songwriter. In Canada he and Steven are asking wineries to sponsor winemakers dinners in their home province and if they do host a dinner also support our auctions in the other two provinces. For the other province they donate a six pack of wine and will include  VIP “Passport” to the winery to promote interprovincial wine tourism. So far in Ontario Trail Estate, Malivoire, Southbrook, The Farm, Trius, Cave Spring, Pearl Morissette, Bachelder, Henry of Pehlam, Tawse and Rosehall run have all stepped up with a few more in the wings. In British Columbia Black Hills, Stag Hollow, Burrowing Owl, Okanagan Crush Pad, Tin Horn Creek, Tantalus, Quails Gate, Mission Hill and an Arterra winery are in with more to come.

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

The chardonnays were pulled from Willms Vineyard, Wismer-Wingfield est and ouest, Wismer-Foxcroft, Saunders Organic and Bio and Grimsby Hillside Escarpment Red Clay Barn Block. The gamay barrels tasted were Bator, Jackson-Bai “Bai Xu,” Wismer-Parke, Hanck est and ouest. Thomas did reveal the first ever bottle of Grimsby Hillside Chardonnay. The personal connection to that storied plot along the Lincoln Lakeshore in Winona will be investigated to the fullest extent of Godello law in a report coming soon.

Godello with Hidden Bench winemaker Jay Johnston

Has one really taken full advantage of a cool chardonnay weekend if one has not gone nose, palate, heart and mind deep into a seven year Hidden Bench Marlize Beyers to Jay Johnston Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay vertical? Methinks not. Not to mention a viticultural tour with J.J. and Joel Williams, Brut 2014, Rachis & Derma skin-contact and of course, Gamay. Thanks to proprietor Harald Thiel and congrats on being bestowed with the honour of “Champion Chardonnay of the year!” Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving and industry leading partner. 👏 👏 👏

Hidden Bench Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturist Joel Williams

New to the Niagara Peninsula scene is On Seven Estate Winery, headed up by Vittorio de Stefano and with the charge in the hands of Canada’s most accomplished consulting winemaker Peter Gamble. Just as he has made giant viticultural and vinicultural strides with the likes of Stratus, Benjamin Bridge and Lightfoot & Wolfville, in typical, ambitious and big picture defining fashion it is Gamble who sees unlimited qualitative potential in the mineral-rich soils of OSEW’s Niagara-on-the-Lake soils. 

The sit-down at Stratus Vineyards titled “To lees or not to lees? That is the tasting” explained from the word go about the new direction concerns all things lees. To see two winemakers, they being J.L. Groux and Dean Stoyka existing on the same mad scientist solids page is something all Ontario wine pursuers should choose to follow. The pursuit is being played out in chardonnays and multifarious sparkling wines, in Blanc de Blancs, Brut Nature Zero Dosage and “Field Blend” Ancestral. For Ontario this means serious sparkling wine business.

Panko-Crusted Pork Rilette, poached plum & charred fennel salad, toasted hazelnuts, honey dressing, pickled mustard seeds – Executive Chef Steve Sperling, Tide and Vine Oyster House

“Lunch and Launch in Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard” moved us in many ways, first through distant Upper and immediate Lower Jordan Bench views, of Le Clos, Talon Ridge and Claystone Terrace. Tide and Vine Oyster House was responsible for feeding us to the breaking point, by oysters, yellow fin tuna tartar, cold smoked salmon, vichyssoise, pork rillete, surf & turf and olive oil cake. The chardonnay flowed, with Village and Grand Clos examples by hosts LCJ, but also international stars; Tasmania, Australia’s Dalrymple, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa’s Hamilton Russell and Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California’s Gary Farrell. Here are my notes on those three wines.

Dalrymple Cave Block Chardonnay 2018, Tasmania, Australia ($70.95, Noble Estates)

A steely year with the vineyard’s hallmark acidity in a cracker Tazzy chardonnay with lip-smacking energy, intensity and drive. Soil, site and place in relentless pursuit of a focus at the head of body and game. Crunchy, crisp, indelibly fresh and piqued with the finest wisp of white peppery kicks. Nuts, complexity, bolts and length. All in. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa ($47.95, Noble Estates)

From the air-conditioned, cool breeze motivated vineyards (52 hectares) 100 miles from the ocean. Wet vintage, cool and long-hanging. Concentrated flavours in chardonnay that draws from all parcels which is more than just the Hamilton Russell way but in fact the only way. No fruit is wasted, all parts commit and contribute to the whole. A vintage like this is special, restrained, understated and one should not be misled by the shadowy depth and layering. Fruit is but a conduit for all else happening in this streamlined chardonnay. The alcohol and opulence are subtle, the pleasure calming, the capitulations promising. Methinks time will be long, slow and kind to HRV ’18. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Garry Farrell Chardonnay Olivet Lane 2018, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California ($69.00, Noble Estates)

Pellegrini’s 1975 planted Olivet Lane Vineyard sits on 65 acres of sloping benchland in the Santa Rosa Plain, in between the warmer Westside Road region and the cooler Green Valley. If taking a step up from Gary Farrell’s estate label is even a possibility then yes Olivet Lane is just such an animal. Threefold (or ten times) more expressive, from jump started to flying ahead, in freshness, vitality and tightly wound intensity. Flesh and opulence submit to energy, motion and emotion. Captivated and caught up in a bold embrace. Forget bracing but surely feel the fineness and the purpose towards effecting satisfaction. Top, right, fine. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tres Cool Chardonnay

We’ve called on many estates over the last 10 years but truth is the visits were epic this time around, with thanks to the talent involved; Thomas Bachelder, Elsa MacDonald MW, Eugene Mlynczyk MW and the Arterra Wines Canada crew; Tide and Vine’s Mike Langley, Chef Steve Sperling and team; On Seven Estate Winery’s Vittorio de Stefano and Consulting Winemaker Peter Gamble; Stratus Vineyards Assistant Winemaker Dean Stoyka and Estate Director Suzanne Janke; Trius Winery and Restaurant’s Executive Chef Frank Dodd and team; Hidden Bench Estate Winery’s Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturalist Joel Williams; Tawse Winery Winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting; The Restaurant at Redstone Executive Chef Dave Sider and team; Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney. These are the 40 finished wines tasted over a near 30-hour period on July 24th and 25th, 2021.

Felseck Vertical

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($42.20)

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. No stirring, “I don’t like bâtonnage,” tells winemaker Jay Johnston, “unless I’m trying to get a wine to dry.” Never mind the lees aeration or the emulsification because texture in this ’19 is extraordinary to behold, gliding across the palate with Bench orchard fruit cleverness, penetrating perspicacity and juices running through unblemished flesh. Tighter and taut than ’18, while seemingly improbable but here yet unwound, far from the pinnacle at which point full expression will surely ache to be. The ’18 may be a beautiful thing but the ’19 is structured, manifold in destiny and ideal for those who know, or at least think they do. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench

First a walk through the Felseck Vineyard and then a tasting with winemaker Jay Johnston and viticulturist Joel Williams as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical retrospective. Very warm season, much like 2016 though not quite as scorching and sun-filled. Would not call this stoic but would say that concentration, grace and all things stretched are in optimum balance this time around. Pretty quick turn around for Johnston to exact an ideal Felseck chardonnay just a year and a bit into his tenure at Hidden Bench. Just crunchy enough, more than ample and most importantly understated within the context of a great richness inherent in its varietal meets plantation DNA. There is no denying how enticing, invigorating and attractive this chardonnay is and will be to many who showed buyer’s foresight, but also those now lucky enough to come across its terroir-motivated beauty. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A vintage of survival, saved by a glorious September and into October. Looks like the richness made it with thanks to the fall weather and yet the elongation, length, elasticity and texture are all what matters to speak, walk, talk and tow the Felseck line. Solid, mid-weight, mid-acid and structure chardonnay that acts with perfectly middling emotion between the warm ’16 and ’18.  Last tasted July 2021

Felseck gifts what chardonnay needs with fruit equipped to start out subtle, gain traction and then commit to gliding into grace. That state of delicasse is now, with a natural orchard-stone-melon sweetness and an integration seamless, layered and eternal. Drinking this now makes great sense and the honey notes that may follow will only add to the mystique. The Ontario epitome of intelligent and refined chardonnay. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2020

Felseck Vineyard

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. Smoking hot season, much like 2018. No other vintage will impress and woo a more general if elevated palate than this ’16 (save perhaps the high award winning ’18) because both concentration and grace reside in the arena of the beautiful, together, side by side. Not the tightest grain in the vertical retrospective Felseck ship. Can’t say this will live as long as the ’13 and ’14 but there is plenty of life in this gorgeous and not so alone 2016. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year, “we got slammed,” says winemaker Jay Johnstone, “but a wine of definite concentration.” Showing evolution and age in tones, developed richesse and caramelization well beyond both that of ’13 and ’14. No corn however, despite what the initial nose might have indicated. A faux creamed presentation that ended up more peach to apricot in drupe, not niblet. Nutty too, again idiosyncratic and a unique Felseck as such.  Last tasted July 2021

Sometimes I’m “walking down the street, minding my own business” when a taste of a chardonnay makes my eyes go wide. Like this lovely thing of really compelling and nuanced aromatics, diverting, bright and effusive. Intoxicating really, “must have been the sun beating down on me.” A soulful chardonnay, Darondo luscious, strutting at you, with golden fruit, layers of slaty under-vein, a bit of ancient bivalve fossil shell, piqued and long. Gets its texture from a pinpointed cru for sure and is very cool-climate Canadian, almost certainly Bench Niagara, more than likely in Beamsville. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year but a solid year. Now expressive with croccante and cracker sensibility. Aromatically touched by croissant to brioche biscuit richness, with still pulsing acids and mouthfeel second to none. This is a next era Hidden Bench Felseck and the launch point from off of the work put in through the previous five or six vintages. Tasted blind four years previous to now was a completely different experience. Drink 2021-2026.  Last tasted July 2021

Unction and creaminess, lost in a chardonnay dream because to nose it’s a sweet, floral, demure thing. Lees apparent so you can smell the work in progress and feel the texture. But it’s wound loosely tight with just enough give to make it so readily available. Beautiful little wine though I can’t help but imagine there’s more single-focus structure than a blind taste wants to give. Hope to come across this hard to get beauty again someday soon.  Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted with incumbent winemaker Jay Johnston as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. The vintage may very well be considered much like 2021 is shaping up to be, wet and humid, culminating in a late season. A short crop year but surely one of the Bench’s best dating back to 2009. Persistently flinty and aromatic, holding the citrus and stone fruit line, still quite tight and yet to evolve with any considerable haste. Not one to think on as a specific Bourguignons terroir per se but definitely Hidden Bench, amphitheatric Beamsville of origin, expression and conclusion. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Jordan Village Chardonnay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($24.95)

The first attempt and rather obvious pronouncement towards creating a Bourguignons Villages wine is this over-delivering for the price chardonnay from Thomas Bachelder and the re-invented spirit of Le Clos Jordanne. Jordan Village as in grapes gathered from the lower and upper Jordan benches. When warmed in the glass and were it drawn from a warmer vintage there might be even more fleshy opulence but with 2019 and this collection of LCJ single vineyards there is fresh magnification and edgy dance moves, shimmer and glitter, not to mention of glimmer of what this commercially viable brand will ultimately bring to the collective entity that is cool climate Ontario chardonnay. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2018, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($44.95)

Le Grand Clos signals the return of the lower Jordan Bench and “I’m very happen it’s back in the (Escarpment) lexicon,” says winemaker Thomas Bachelder for a chardonnay of origins truly different than the upper benches in Beamsville, Vineland and Jordan. A svelte vintage, not lean by any stretch but surely tight and what some might say restrained. That may or may not include fine white caramel, liqueur glazed fennel and a mild sense of grilling. A chardonnay from vines in a season that needed not shut down to either hydric nor heat stress. Funny how both 2018 in Niagara and Hermanus produced similar results. The big “E,” fine-tuning, chiseled features and sneaky structure.  Last tasted July 2021

Thomas Bachelder’s second vintage since the reprise of Le Clos Jordanne’s chardonnay and pinot noir is perhaps the most nurtured (and nurturing) because he and team treated this varietal fruit through all the early stages; newborn, infant, toddler and child. The attention to detail, from choosing cooperage, forests, barrels and in elévage design is both mathematical and surgical. After 22 months the result is just so imperfectly perfect. Unequivocally noted as a high acid vintage and rather then fatten up this fruit the monk chose the direction of vintage seasoning and identity. Drills down into the Clos and where it fits within the Twenty Mile Bench. The exiguity and heretical transparency makes this a great ’18 Le Clos because ambiguity is the enemy of accountability and also progress. As a forward thinking chardonnay it represents itself, the maker and proffers a sense of place. Perfectly easy to drink right now and imperfectly set up for aging, but that’s just not the point. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2020

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Seven acres, thus the name, in the hands of Vittorio de Stefano, “and a project paramount to wanting something sustainable that can compete at the international level and standard.” The vineyard is five acres and the property now 15.5. Planted half each to chardonnay and pinot noir, all organic. Bourgogne is the impetus, Niagara the goal. The genesis of planting decisions dates back to 2009, high vigour rootball SO4 rootstocks and clones finally acquired in 2014. Now at seven years of age the vines are ready to rock. A place of science, with oenological consultant/winemaker Peter Gamble at the fore and wines of minimalist approach starting out in reductive tendency, then finishing with longevity defining acidity. Richness and intensity meet at a general Côte d’Or vortex but in the end Niagara lake-proximate flesh and tension are the true meeting point. There is a distinct flintiness (and unlike other flinty chardonnays) but also a caramelization of high delectability and flavour. Vim and vigour, vivid and 20 per cent new oak over three years to gain such favour. Exotic too, with wood contributing to the extract, but surely essential trace elements; manganese, iron and calcium of causation allowing the minerals to make themselves heard. Intriguing wine if only at the beginning of a long story yet to be told. Only 82 cases made. The goal as the vines mature will be 800. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Perhaps not the highest of knowable excellence yet clearly the most intriguing chardonnay that may never be emulated any time soon, certainly not out of 2019 or 2020. Singular stylistic wine, reductive and opulent, more Pouilly-Fuissé (with thanks to 2017) and a warmth that creates such a textural buzz. More fat in spite of that 8 g/L acidity, but such energy and considering the age at this point it almost seems the wine is going a bit backwards. That said the vanilla and caramel comes in wafts and waves, the flavours and textures in layers, long, lingering, forever. Only 108 cases made.  Last tasted July 2021

The newest Peter Gamble consulting joint is this from upstart The Pursuit of Seven. The chardonnay fruit is Niagara-on-the-Lake and the concentration suggest established vines (of at least 15 years-old it would seem) and no holds barred in terms of extraction and wood support. The density and fruit bang for buck are impressive and there is some volatility in distraction. Ambitious to be sure and the acumen employed true to form, not to mention distinctly clear. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted March 2020

Vittorio de Stefano of @onsevenwinery with consulting oenologist Peter Gamble

On Seven Estate Winery The Devotion On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($65.00)

Imagine the minerals from these Niagara-on-the-Lake soils (manganese, iron and calcium) and the highest intensity fruit getting together in a tiny lot chardonnay case load. Then consider going against the grain with harder (elevated) turbidity in the ferments for more skin feel and purposed pulp for upfront loaded flavour intensity. That’s the direction and hyperbole of pursuit in The Devotion on Seven, an (only) 31 cases made chardonnay. Doubles (or perhaps triples) down on reduction, fulsome flesh and yet the warner vintage has as much to say as the inherent processes involved. Also a tannic chardonnay, in dramatic sensory extract as compared to the Pursuit on Seven ’18, though it can’t help but express more of everything as compared to the Pursuit of Seven. The acidity number of 8 g/L might seem extraordinary when considering the warmth and the ripeness of the vintage, however, and this matters most, ultimately it is the terroir that drives both the texture and the acidity of this special, barrel selection wine. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Peller Estates Signature Series Chardonnay Sur Lie 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Yet another cracker 2019 chardonnay with the coolest of vintages meeting varietal bones and a karst of energy to drive the lees machine. Spent 10 months sur lie to be exact in a fully malolactic confirmed textural tang that benefits from a certain restraint only such a season can affirm. That being particularly cool and elongated for a chardonnay just crunchy enough to support the promise and extend enjoyment for a good, long and fruitful spree. Expect a future filled with a soft and creamy centre, eventuating in some creamed Niagara corn. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($49.20)

“It’s not that we’re trying to change something every year,” explains assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka, which means that the R and D projects are in constant motion and take four to five years to come to fruition. The October 18-26 stretch is the latest harvest in quite some time (since 2009), fermented in various clay vessels and French oak, 76 per cent in neutral barrels and (24) in stainless steel. Great naturally developed acidity and just enough ripeness to gain favour with the fully-completely accessed, utilized and kept in the bottle lees. So lemon, so balanced and very fine. There is a combinative effect of mad scientist acumen for a wine that needs to be explained to a consumer mixed with absolute pleasure and amenability. One of the finest chardonnay peaks conquered nut just in Ontario but anywhere cool varietal mountains are meant to be climbed.  Last tasted July 2021

Tight one this 2019 chardonnay, seductively reductive and unwilling to relent this early in life. Knowable richness is optimized by being associated with green orchard fruit bite. Though so youthful and shrink wrapped at this time there are some ways to pair with potential and eek out enough charm. Boy do you feel the lees but the freshness really shines. Prosciutto comes to mind, as does mortadella, especially if it’s from Faenza. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2020

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Warm and ripe vintage if only because of a gorgeous September into October, more lees than ever before, no new wood and an extended elévage nearing a year in length. Alcohol has risen, as has the pH though neither are what you might call vivid. The palate is actually tightly strung, the texture fulfilling and a cloudiness so perfect for what the winemaking team had long wanted to achieve. Hard not to see 2017 as the teaching wine where lees usage is concerned, the (after the fact) ah-hah moment whereby knowing what to do and how deep to go was learned by how 2017 turned out. In this case fulsome of stone fruit, opaque clarity, an oxymoronic ying-yang of positives in apposite attractions. A Monet vintage, modernized and so very J-L Groux. A Stratus, unlike any other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

The 2014 vintage was essentially the first year when barrel lees would be left in the bottle and my how conservative this ’15 really was as compared to an evolution that culminates (currently) with the full on lees filed chardonnay vintage. Quite the opulent vintage mixed with aromatics still morphing, developing lees, brash and blushing by 40 per cent new oak, complimented by generous acidity. Showing with controlled drama and though the yields were low (only 88 tonnes) there is something quite special about this emotionally charged, vivid, scarce and remarkable chardonnay.  Last tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Tasting with assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka as part of a vertical exercise in “to lees or not to lees.” Neither hue nor aromatics suggest much evolution though the low-ish acidity and tropical fruit tell an emerging secondary story. Creamy and centred, gregarious of flavour, nothing left unsaid, hidden or kept hidden away. Up front and talking vintage warmth, opulence and ripeness. Was housed in only 18 per cent new wood. For a good time, drink up.  Last tasted July 2021

As per the house promulgation, in chardonnay, “still an assemblage process,” insists Groux, “no matter what we do.” Some grapes grown for Sparkling were added back in, for acidity, complexity and ultimately balance. That and though notably barrel burdened (a good, hard burden to bare) leading to a bargain, “the best I ever had.” Major key of whose who of Niagara fruit, power acoustic chords and 12-string harmonics. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted June 2015

A change in direction is duly noted with J-L Groux’s 2012 chardonnay, from fruit picked six weeks earlier than in 2010. The program is scaled back and the wine is more “typical” of the region, in weight, in barrel effect and in alcohol. Still quite defined by natural yeasts that “sometimes go a bit wild, but I’m getting better at it,” concedes the clinician of vinous letters. Those feisty microbes are difficult to work with, like dealing with a wine that lacks natural clarity. “You have to shut down the bacteria, teach the yeast to stop stealing the lees. In 2013 I really got it.” The ’12’s altered course is welcome and encouraged and the world should wait with bated breath for what ’13 will bring. Here the complexity of aromatics is matched only by the intensity of tropical fruit. Has balance and a soft, round feel. Again, more texture and aromatics than natural acidity. Classic J-L style. “It’s not about trying to imitate anyone. It’s about making the most interesting and most complex chardonnay in Niagara.”  Tasted March 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road 2018, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($35.95)

Definitely a warm vintage, picked on the early side, bite still clamped down, a bit of pesto and far from reductive as noted in Quarry Roads of the recent past (i.e 2011 and 2013). Pine nut pronunciation, no malic residual transformations (there will never me) and just bloody good freshness. Last tasted July 2021

No shocker that Quarry Road always finds a way to morph and change gears, meaning every so often, a year and up to two years later there will be some significant movement in this wine. Something about the Vinemount Ridge and how its players are in constant flux, adjusting sentiments and character to keep things curious, interesting and alive. Still the unencumbered and free-flowing expression it set out to be, free to be Quarry Road and as for me, I am always enamoured by how it marries personality with age. Natural (not unlike the Natural version of itself), enigmatic and very personal. Let it be. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Tawse winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge

Fantastic ten years after flinty reduction from arguably the most cracking vintage of the previous decade. As it is said, “you’ve got to feed the beauty, it doth not come cheap.” And that is what Paul Pender went for in 2011. At 10 Quarry is light on its feet, fresh, spirited jumping rope and spinning in concentric chardonnay circles. It simply reeks of beautiful Vinemount Ridge stone.  Last tasted July 2021

The pinpoint accuracy and gemstone capture of the Quarry is exaggerated in ’11, amplified and fully plugged in. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Carries that classic Paul Pender perfume; rocks and stones, flaxen, refulgent toast and the verdure Vinemount terroir. A free flying, linear, atmospheric smear of thermal fortitude and backbone. A polemic Bowie Chardonnay to make you believe “the strangest things, loving the alien.”  Tasted May 2014

Resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terroir makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit.  Tasted March 2012 (barrel sample)

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($34.95)

Prick, punch and torque from the conceptual vintage get-go, a classic 2019 in the making, if by so many yet to be understood standards. A chardonnay so cool it causes a brain freeze while simultaneously moving the soul. In fact put on some vinyl Gaye, get in on, or even disco foreshadowing Temptations, echoing the chardonnay law of the land. Don’t sleep on the high level fruit, not quite fleshy but surely potent and dynamic to match the season’s verve in acidity. Fine lees, better texture and all-around vitality so essential to chardonnay. Will improve with six more months in bottle. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($36.75)

A single-vineyard chardonnay once labelled Oliveira and then watching Tree Vineyard but no longer, though the source remains the same. Embraces a cool 2019 vintage played out through rewards in the guise of reduction, toast, flint and drive. In cool climate varietal terms this ’19 reminds of 2011 though to be clear and certain there is more focus where by the quantity and quality of ripenesses meet at the essential points of acidity and tannin. Here is a vintage to end a decade in the most poised and poignant way. Spot on, striking and graceful chardonnay. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Remarkable finesse, flavours and design @triuswines and Restaurant by Chef Frank Dodd with @coolchardonnay accompaniments.

Beyond Chardonnay

Hidden Bench Blanc De Blanc Zero Dosage 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench ($48.00)

Second vintage from a tightly contested and smaller crop, initiated by then winemaker Marlize Beyers and subsequently disgorged by Jay Johnston, following five years on the lees. Moves from the practice of poetics to the anticipatory embracing of tomorrow’s science. Full disclosure this was tasted while walking the Hidden Bench chardonnay vineyards with a traditional method sparkling wine in hand first disgorged in the summer of 2019, when the yeasts were removed and the bottle was topped with the same wine. This tasting featured a January 2021 disgorgement and the term “Brut Nature Zero Dosage used when no sugar is added to the finished wine, which provides the most authentic expression of (the Hidden Bench) terroir.” Truth and synchronicity, grace, striking engagement, pure citrus and pleasure. Who could not anticipate and wait on subsequent vintages of this wine? The best is yet to come. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Brut Nature Zero Dosage 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($100.00)

Comes across a bit cloudy, at least as compared to the B de B with thanks to the natural, lees left intact style. The citrus component is so pronounced, as is the taut, direct, lean and intense manifold destiny of what is truly a singular Sparkling wine. That being a living, breathing, inhaling and exhaling wine, slowly releasing proteins, acids and realizing its B de B Nature dream. Just amazing what lees can do for sparkling wine.  Last tasted July 2021

Released side by each with the Stratus Blanc de Blanc 2013 and while vintage and grape are the same, the similarities almost seemingly, ostensibly and allegedly end there. Yes in fact this 100 per cent chardonnay is a child of the most excellent varietal vintage and like the B de B spent six years on the lees. Comparisons cast aside it is the very fact that because much of the lees were transferred to bottle by a minimalist’s disgorging that this cloudy bubble with a Canadian artist’s series set of labels can’t help but elicit another memory. The Lilies of Monet and their clouds represent neither the horizon, nor the top or the bottom. Nor does a bottle of this Zéro Dosage Brut. The elements of water, air, sky and earth become intertwined in a composition without perspective, or so it goes in this hazy, opaque and dry as the desert sparkling wine. So many layers of lemon can be peeled, juiced and scraped away. If a Stratus wine could be a a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma then here it is. The texture here is palpable and the intrigue factor surely high, so it should be imagined that longevity will be this wine’s calling card. It’s more austere than the Blanc de Blanc but I think in fact it will. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($75.00)

One gram of dosage, disgorged in January 2020. Nearly six years on the lees based on the first R & D trials done in 2006 and 2007. High level autolytic entity, a toasted affair and an idea long time coming for the Stratus team. Fine tonic and bitters. With 15 minutes of air the blooming happens, floral, expressive and complex. This wine has really developed more layers, emotions and complexity.  Last tasted July 2021

The first (commercial) J-L Groux foray into traditional method Sparkling wine has been six plus years in the making, or in this case, senescence as the lees fly and his Blanc de Blanc has finally arrived. A notable moment in the Stratus continuum as they too now own a program of development, time, investment, research and acumen. The nose on this bubble tells a pensive story, or as fantasy goes like dipping your face into a tale-spun pensieve as it takes you back in time. In 2013 chardonnay excelled on the Niagara Peninsula and still today in 2020 we are drinking vintage examples persistent in their freshness and durability of construct. That this reeks of varietal lore is a hallmark moment, that and a conscientious adherence to reverence for solids and the focus on rotational detail. Speaks a Blanc de Blanc vernacular as a chardonnay should, with a bite out of a sharp fall apple, a pesto of verdant aromatics and a crunch of texture before drifting saline, briny and fine. Pretty good work J-L. Kudos for getting from there to here with intelligence and humility. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Vineyards “Field Blend” Ancestral 2020, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($35.00)

The inaugural Stratus commercially labelled release is what winemaker Dean Stoyka refers to as “in the mindset of monks.” A field blend of sémillon, chardonnay, riesling and viognier. Pressed all together, fermented dry and then re-fermented in the bottle with no sugar added. Dry enough, or so it seems, non-disgorged, under crown cap and so very fruity. Floral, allspice and spiciness overtop apricot, pear and black walnuts conceptually turning into Vin de Noix or Nocino. A natural testament to assemblage and a great use of varieties without a home. 100 cases produced. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Spark Laundry Vineyard Blanc De Noirs 2013, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

Actually quite shocked I’ve never tasted this wine before, a Spark about which winemaker Paul Pender exults by saying “2013 is my favourite vintage for all our sparklings.” Traditional method, pinot noir from Heather Laundry’s double L vineyard and a fizz that fits and sparks. Gingered and toasty, crunchy, wave cresting and fulsome by six years on the lees. The dosage was five to six g/L, in that Pender sweet spot all around, just right, so well and good. A little romanticism goes a long way where science is concerned, especially in this medium and in Spark Blanc De Noirs 2013 one is simply good for the other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Estate Vineyard Spark 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Tasted side by side with the 2013 Blanc de Noirs, making for a striking if surprisingly antithetical contrasting contract with this Blanc de Blancs. Aged three years on the lees and finished with the same 5-6 g/L of dosage yet here so upfront, centred and personal. More immediate richness than what pinot seems to do from Laundry Vineyard and so even in sparkling it is David’s Block and chardonnay that gift quicker satisfaction. Likely vintage driven (again, even in sparkling), very pear and shortbread, a savoury dessert of a sparkling wine. Like olive oil cake, all about the simple pleasures. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Brut Nature NV Méthode Traditionelle, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($55.00)

The dry as the desert Brut nature initiates with a yeasty faradism of excitement from what strikes as a minimum four to five years spent sitting on those fascinating lees. While the wine does not exactly smoulder with a toasty salutation that is no matter because textural acidity and blooming aromatics also arrive to an applause of immediate gratification. There is an exceptional level of “croccante” satisfaction that parlays that “texture” into a lasting display of bits and bites. The make up is 50 per cent chardonnay and (45) pinot noir with (5) pinot meunier and 2014 being the primary vintage source, though there is some 2013 involved. Zero dosage, top tier, notch and drop. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Rosé Limestone Vineyard 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($27.95)

Tawse began crafting Rosé from (Vinemount Ridge) Quarry Road Vineyard fruit in 2017 and now here they come with Twenty Mile Bench pinot noir. From Limestone Vineyard this represents a heads and tails Rosé, meaning 40 per cent is used for Spark traditional method bubbles and the bookends is destined for this salty, straight-shooting and crisp-freckled single-vineyard blush. Double-redheaded wow! Grape, place and style all on side for so many good reasons. 1000 bottles made. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Gris Lawrie Vineyard 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($27.15)

Not to be confused with the Lowrey Vineyard on St. David’s Bench and a best varietal vintage for Paul Pender. Far from being a “Miller-Lite or Corona” pinot gris, instead creamy, fulsome, well-versed and elastic. The furthest away from metallic and/or turbid, low on phenols, no bitters, nor tonics neither.  Last tasted July 2021

Fresh and while this young is full of its original fruit, which is the biggest plus for pinot gris because dry varietal wines have a hard time after enough time has passed on by. Sulphur is not really an issue so this delivers the varietal and stylistic goods with fruit at the lead. Good acids, persistence and balance. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted October 2020

Tawse Winery Carly’s Block Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

A sleeper vintage, not necessarily exacting out of the blocks, not heavy cropped, middle of the road in so many respects. If I tasted this before memory fails to draw any retrospective conclusions) but Carly’s ’15 has already turned towards the petrol sun, “let the shadows fall behind you, don’t look back, just carry on.” This perhaps began more than a year or two ago and today acts Rihanna outspokenly so. Lime and almost cordial by now, warm and friendly as a riesling liqueur. Quite stable, animated, holding its patterning, likely to do so for an additional three or fours years. Drink before it returns home. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Limestone Ridge Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Unlike the Carly’s ’15 (tasted at the same time) this Limestone ’12 has not moved forward with any vehement haste. The lack of advancing towards petrol is curious but the softening is surely comforting. Still resplendent with a particular 2012 meets Twenty Mile Bench acidity, now oscillating while integrating with waning fruit. Drinking beautifully.  Last tasted July 2021

From the newest estate vineyard, the single-vineyard Limestone Ridge exteriorizes its name in a rubric of pressed rock, struck flint and chalky density. Paul Pender has coaxed a multiplicity oft linear character, with major notes of lime zest and juice, persistent from start to finish. A mid-pause of oozing, residual sinensis is the determinant towards the wine’s matrix of longevity. A longer, leaner, meaner and mightier Riesling charged by a different sort of power. Kinetic, frenetic and electric.  Tasted twice, April and May 2014

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Aromatiq! Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster sauvignon blanc, viognier and riesling, layered atop one another, full on hilt in spice, a hit of gingerbread, light in talc and salve. Good-natured and textured when well chilled, oxidative for sure, drinkable, pleasurable, done in one puncheon. Simple really. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Chardonnay Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster chardonnay, more spirited than the Aromatiq!, crunchy even, definitely with more spice and plenty of bite. More tannin too, structurally sound to allow more secondary character and time spent developing cooler, more energetic waves of spirit. Wild ride yet just sound and subtle enough to attract the right kind of attention. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Gamay Unfiltered 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($29.95)

The inaugural gamay release from Hidden Bench is eight years in the planning and making, from 2013 through planting in 2017 and with third leaf fruit for this game changing 2019. That is because the grape and the maker were made for each other so the question begs, what took so long to take the plunge? No matter because such an auspicious start can never come too late. A wine of native yeasts, a properly prolonged, 24-day maceration, an eighth of new wood and the Lincoln Lakeshore being the ideal appellation for what wants and surely needs. More than impressive for such young vine fruit, of a light smoulder lending an essence of jasmine and by argan to red, red fruit, tightly winding acids and such gamay crunch, the likes of which are attributed to expectation, hopes and dreams. When the vineyard grows up there will be further anticipations, exegeses further afield to include cru and reserve concepts. That is a countable fact based on current evidence and credible speculation.  Drink 2021-2023. Tasted April and July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Gamay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Naturally refined, welcoming, open-knit and my oh my, juicy as a basket of Niagara plums and peaches blended into rooibos kombucha. Rachis, “main axis or shaft, a stem of a plant, bearing flower stalks at short intervals.” Derma, or Dermis, “the inner layer of the two main layers of the skin.” In R & D the inner workings of gamay are accessed at the natural axis between light to fruity and joyful to dark, before sous serious and after vide structured. Middle ground, believable and exhibiting intrinsic purity. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Noir Tintern Vineyard 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($50.15)

This July 2021 tasting is my first for Pinot Noir Tintern 2013 in bottle but I did run through two different barrels with Paul Pender back in March of 2014. The vines were only three years old at the time, on a site (next door to John Howard) Pender likens to “reclaiming the swamps,” or “the Golan Heights project.” From the Vosges medium toast the wine was already showing colour, freshness and drive. From the Vosges, medium plus toast it was a bit reductive, with more tannin and more sappy wood. This look back reveals not a vintage of varietal exhilaration but a malic one with credit due the high levels of potassium in the soil. A cherry generosity a la Central Otago by way of the Vinemount Ridge. Almost a volcanic presence, but not and yes a pinot from young vines come about as a result of winemaking. Up front, in motion, drinking really well. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Redstone Restaurant

Tawse Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($49.15)

Another high-toned pinot noir from an inverted vintage, in cherry spirit, a hit of fennel and enough lingering energy while there is a meld and morph towards darker black fruit. Broad shouldered, now tannic, settling in as a pretty big wine.  Last tasted July 2021

As for Cherry Avenue the twain is met, somewhere between Tintern and Quarry, in the middle of vintage and classic Tawse styling. Both firm and bright, the fruit a cherry but a darkening black one and then the grip of place though well within vintage reason. Less structured than Quarry but not as hematic and brooding as Tintern. Solid pinot noir. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted June 2020

Tawse Cabernet Franc Growers Blend 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula

How remarkably fresh, inviting, enticing and that is just the aromatic front. Effusive, the greater good of burgeoning, smelling like Bourgeuil in uncanny resemblance. Nothing leafy here, just the smell of youth, post-adolescence and from a notably warm vintage. A freshness that just may be a foreshadowing of what’s to come from 2021. Heat and water, humidity and rain, yet no vine stress nor disease pressure neither. A product of great agriculture and an example of 2010’s longevity. “On the riper side but not overly ripe,” tells Paul Pender with a pragmatically raised brow. Indeed. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Whole-souled, benevolent and keyed up though that’s the vineyard, persistent and in perpetuity. Red to charcoal fruit, quite firm and tannic for the Tawse-varietal relationship and in that sense mostly related to vintage. Was not picked until November 15th and stayed in barrel for 18 months. Not showy really, not the ripest vintage after all but surely one to promote variegation, fruit/acid layers and particularities. Wait long enough (as in seven-plus years) and these things become complexities. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Good to go!

godello

 

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

A Canadian summer for South African wines

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Great heart and value from the Western Cape, alcohol bans, limited time offers and 15 reasons why you should support the wineries of South Africa 

by Michael Godel

 

as seen on WineAlign

There is an undeniable truth that South Africa is responsible for producing some of the finest wines in the world, at all price points and for every imaginable palate. A local perspective shows how fortunate Canadians are to have access to so many of the Cape’s essentials. Wines so very helpful as chaperones whilst Canada finds itself in the throes of a steamy and canicular July, still weeks ahead of the dog days when the star Sirius will first appear in the night sky. Essentials, as in chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, Cap Classique, Rosé, syrah and cabernet sauvignon. The Capelands are the proviso and if there were ever a time to spend Canadian dollars on South African wine, that time is now.

Winegrowing areas of South Africa

As Canadian vaccination rates rise to a global lead and the economy continues to trend in an open and forward direction, here at home many wine consumers finally find themselves in a charmed position. Yet the story is not the same around the world. In Ontario visits to local wineries can now increase in earnest while looking ahead in anticipation for six further weeks of summer filled with touring, tasting and relaxing. South Africa’s situation is less fortunate and it’s wine industry remains in static, suppressed and uncertain limbo. The government continues to enforce a total alcohol ban while ignoring sound proposals from its very own constituents, to dire consequences. There just seems to be no consideration for South Africans who face job losses and poverty as their employers struggle to meet even the base and necessary tenets of the bottom line.

South African wine producers will tell you that the current moratorium on selling locally is the stuff of crazy town. The collective contention will express the view that the government’s decision making is rash, ill-considered and reactionary in the most peculiar ways. The President’s claim states that the ban on selling or drinking alcohol “is to ease the pressure on hospitals which are under strain,” yet anyone worth their salt in common sense and trusting medical professionals will acknowledge that keeping booze away from alcohol dependants will only add to hospital visits. The shut downs (and other restrictive government decrees) are now leading to protests, violence and bootlegging tactics. Canadians have little power to effect political will abroad but consumers can make the choice to support their friends and colleagues in the wine industry.

New development: Following the publication of this article on WineAlign the government of South Africa has since lifted the alcohol ban.

Production areas of South Africa

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

The LCBO is now doing their part. To make things easier and wholly accessible to an Ontario consumer, a joint “Flexspace” program between Wines of South Africa Canada and the LCBO launches July 19 and runs through August 15 with eight General List products. These LTOs (limited time offers) offer four weeks of discounted prices as incentive during down time summer holidays for people to try South Africa, if indeed they haven’t before. The LTOs coincide with the VINTAGES July 24th release inclusive of a thematic promoting the idea of young Cape winemakers.

Cape Wine 2018

Cape Wine 2021(2)

In a pandemic-free world Cape Town’s Cape Wine would be taking place just two months from now but the difficult and necessary decision by Wines of South Africa has moved the trade show from September 2021 to October 2022. Intensive planning for one of the great triennial wine fairs on the planet begins 18 months out and so with vaccine promise and good hope the industry has shifted preparations for a Spring 2022 “Capelands” revival. Soon enough the hurdles, obstacles, impediments and hoops of pandemic lockdowns, sponsorship landing and export bans will be added to the growing list of “what has been overcome.”

Nature, farmers and winemakers continue their work. Grapes are still growing and wines are still being made. Cape Wine is one of the greats, a collection and gathering by an industry of more varied character and industriousness than you will ever find. Let’s hope a global correction and stabilization brings everyone back together. In the meantime we focus are attention here in Ontario to General List, VINTAGES Essentials and VINTAGES release wines to do our part in support of a heavily challenged, beleaguered and surely resilient community of WOSA estates, farms, winemakers, distributors, retailers, marketers and supporters.

Andrea Mullineux

The Cape’s Young Winemakers

In two visits to the Western Cape (in 2015 and 2018) I had the pleasure of meeting and tasting with some of the most impressive, erudite and promising young winemakers anywhere on the planet. The list is long and winding, the resumés noteworthy and the wines crafted nothing short of inspiring. They are the present and the future of South Africa’s wine scene; Andrea Mullineux, Duncan Rall, Nomonde Kubheka, Chris Alheit, Emul Ross, Duncan Savage, Marlise Niemann, Carmen Stevens, Sebastian Beaumont, David and Nadia Sadie, Ryan Mostert, Jacques de Klerk, Sheree Nothangel, Ntsiki Biyela, Christa Von La Chevallerie, Alex Milner, Callie Louw, Patrick Ngamane, Francois Haasbroek, Eben Sadie, Tariro Masayiti, Lukas van Loggerenberg, Mick and Jeanine Craven, Samatha O’Keefe, Ernst and Nina-Mari Bruwer. This is but a small sampling and my sincerest Canadian apologies to those I fail to mention and also to those I have not yet had the pleasure to meet.

In South African winemaking terms and schemes, as the boomers and now the next generation have grown older their collective winemaking continues to mature and become exceedingly wiser. There will and should not be any abandoning for the call to uprising, subversion and experimentation, but there is a contiguous and concerted effort to create wines that are simply pleasurable to drink. Isn’t that the point? By the time I looked at Cape wines in 2018 assessment it seems that everyone had it all figured out. Tasting through 2019, 2020 and half of 2021, albeit here in Canada causes a persistent thought pattern wherein South African wines are cleaner by ‘n landmyl, with as much precision, purity, transparency and honesty than ever before. Their recent decades long developing epiphany is now ours as together we synchronically enter this new world of next level, reinvented and deeper understanding.

Eben Sadie and Rosa Kruger

Heritage Vines

According to founder and viticulturist Rosa Kruger, “aged vines bring an intensity, a perceived freshness, a texture, and a sense of place. They show less fresh fruit and varietal character, and more terroir and soil.” No discussion of the South African landscape can be introduced without a nod to the biodiversity and heritage work associated with the Old Vine Project. With great kudos first and foremost to long time champion of the Cape’s oldest plantings and pioneer Rosa Kruger, but also winemakers Johan Reyneke, Eben Sadie and OVP Manager André Morgenthal. Kruger, along with a select few viticulturists, started scouting for South African old vines in and around 2002. Then, just beyond 2006 Sadie released his first wine under the Old Vineyard Series, a Stellenbosch wine made from the oldest chenin blanc in South Africa.

Today winemakers all over the Western Cape are seeking out these old sites of dry-farmed, (un)trained bush vine plots of gold. “Stories sell wine,” says winemaker Johan Kruger, “and what better story the tell than the old vine one.” The Old Vine Project is all about preserving vineyards 35 years and older, through trade initiatives and sustainable projects to protect South African heritage. Only South Africa offers the possibility for wine labels to ensure certification by the regulatory authority. “Members of the Old Vine Project (OVP) can put a Certified Heritage Vineyards seal on bottles of wine made from vineyards of 35 years or older, together with the planting date. This is a guarantee to the consumer of authentic wines grown according to the OVP viticultural and winemaking guidelines.”

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc

While grenache, cinsault, syrah, pinotage, sémillon and many others take great promise from their old vine sources there can be little argument against chenin blanc being the greatest beneficiary of age, fortitude, focus and acumen as provided by the old vine experience. The list of Western Cape chenin sites from Stellenbosch, Swartland, Citrusdal Mountains, Darling, Hemel & Aarde Ridge, Breedekloof, Bot Rivier, Walker Bay, Cederberg, Paarl and Robertson, reads like a biblical scroll; Bottelary Hills, Granite Hill, Helderberg, Kapteinskloof, Kasteelberg, Paardeberg, Perdeberg, Riebeek-Kasteel and Skurfberg. Just last month a chenin blanc day Zoom session with four Cape winemakers yielded this Polkadraai gem from Bruwer Raats.

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa ($80.00, Lifford Wine & Spirits)

A single vineyard chenin blanc and the first vintage to the Ontario market for a unique project celebrating the family farm called Eden. From their Stellenbosch ward of Polkadraai and high density plantings on dolomitic, granitic soils. Of a richness, an intensity of parts and a presence only a handful of South African blanc ever reach. A wine that achieves a level of status by its work underground (through root competition) and a clone called Montpellier that produces small berries and even smaller yields, not to mention the plot is just 0.6 hectares in size. Eden is the mothership and matriarch of this clone and for that variety in South Africa. All parts contribute to a wine of outrageous acidity that is never sharp, vivid or dominant. Fruit, mineral, focus, elements and precision. Wet stone is pure Polkadraai, vaporous, omnipresent, all over the wine. “The most successful winemakers (and wine projects) are ones that specialize,” says Bruwer Raats. This Eden follows the credo to a “T” and with a capital “E.” Really cerebral and also age-worthy chenin, in the upper echelon of the finest in the pantheon. If ever a chenin signified “Bringing it all Back Home,” the Raats Eden is it. “Discuss what’s real and what is not. It doesn’t matter inside the Gates of Eden.” Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted June 2021

Braai

The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, can withstand warm and dry conditions and perform really well. The signature grape variety is South Africa’s golden ticket to global recognition and success. No other varietal message speaks with as much clarity and consistency than that of chenin blanc. And is there a finer example that also happens to be stupidly affordable than this.

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (23128, $17.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Gets me every time. Not just one of the finest meets best value chenin blancs available out of South Africa but an example to hang all your hats on no matter where white wine comes from in this world. Still the knowing nod and incredulous head shake that $18 CDN can buy you fruit from six blocks that are mainly 38 years of age but could possibly include 1974 Helderberg planted vines in Stellenbosch. “Core of the business” and arrow through a chenin heart. Great ferment, like a (catherine) wheel. Layers of design, creamy with thanks to secondary lees aging but somehow still texturally chewy. Barrel notes make a point in a vanilla brûlée way and yet each sip is like taking a bite from a piece of firm, ripe fruit. “I need more texture. You need to give me more texture, texture, texture. You need to give me more texture.” Old Vine Reserve obliges every time. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted June 2020

Bruce Jack Chenin Blanc 2020

Sometimes you just need some fun, spirit and energy in a well-priced chenin blanc that speaks to everyone. This by Bruce Jack and former Hidden Bench winemaker Marlize Beyers is just the ticket.

Bruce Jack Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Western Cape ($13.95, LCBO 13356, VINTAGES May 29th, Lifford Wine & Spirits)

There’s a whack of chenin blanc personality in the 2020 by Bruce Jack, proprietor of The Drift, literary philosopher. The vineyards are located in the Breedekloof, in the west of the Breede River Valley, an arid rift of alluvial soils with a river running through. Here from the Western Cape’s newer wine route area chenin blanc is exulted as a most important varietal component. Older barrels, the alluvial soils and a warm location are involved, which are duly noted in the platinum hue, tropical fruit and developed ripeness. Sunshine chenin blanc Superman, especially considering the price. Sharp and in flight. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted June 2021

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

Buyers’ guide to South African wines from current LTOs and the July 24th VINTAGES release

Back in late June (and we will do so again next week) the WineAlign cru sits down to taste through the LCBO LTOs and July 24th VINTAGES South African releases. When asked for his four top picks my colleague and mentor David Lawrason exclaimed, “Here you go Michael!  Kinda tough to narrow down these good values.” That’s exactly what you will find from these collective picks. Great value, as well as great heart from South Africa.

Haute Cabrière Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose Brut Sparkling

Haute Cabrière Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose Brut Sparkling, Traditional Method, WO Western Cape ($19.95, LCBO 18569, VINTAGES July 24th, LUSOCAPE)

This sparkling wine is part pinot noir, part Franschhoek and part traditional method in Cap Classique form. Haute Cabrière is the work of the von Arnim family in bubbles comfortably under a Brut number by residual sugar in attack mode made wholesome and free with a great pulse of acidity. Gingery and frothy, of red apple skins and a hint of blood orange. Also tannic, like rooibos tisane while ultimately sharp dressed, soda cracker crunchy and so properly defined. Good wine. Drink 2021-2025. Tasted June 2021

Rustenberg Petit Verdot Rosé 2020

Rustenberg Petit Verdot Rosé 2020, WO Stellenbosch ($14.95, LCBO 451773, VINTAGES July 24th, Woodman Wines & Spirits)

Here is what you get when you combine Rosé (first made in the 1980s) and petit verdot (first planted in the early 2000s). The grape is no longer employed solely for the John X Merriman Bordeaux blend but it is the same varietal stuff grown on Stellenbosch decomposed granite. Not exactly dry and salty with the specs tilting more to sugar over acidity but it is certainly balanced and quenching. Tons of fruit and flavour at $15 with a lovely side-step into adult lemonade. And it tastes like petit verdot, for what it’s worth. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc 2020

Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Robertson Valley ($10.00, LCBO 495507, Univins)

Made by winemaker Rianco van Rooyen as part of the “cultivar” range, of moderate acidity and a slightly higher content of residual sugar. Soft and cuddly, fuzzy peach, pear and apple slices. Simple and effective, Expect lots of floral perfume and plan to make use of this tropical chenin at brunch. Drink 2021.  Tasted June 2021

Fleur Du Cap Essence Du Cap Chardonnay 2018

Fleur Du Cap Essence Du Cap Chardonnay 2018, WO Western Cape ($12.95, LCBO 358960, PMA Canada)

The grapes were sourced from Stellenbosch, Somerset West, Elgin and Robertson. The oldest vineyard located in Stellenbosch was planted in 1990 while the rest of the vineyards were planted between 2000 and 2006. For 20 per cent of the wine, fermentation started in tank and was completed in French (90) and American (10) oak barrels. The remaining 80 per cent fermented in tanks on French (55) and American (45) oak staves. Quite heady, spiced and developed chardonnay for the cost with a flinty smoulder and notable reduction. Lots of wood feels but well integrated and pretty well in balance. Crafted with specific intention and there is lots of wine here for $13. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Spier Seaward Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Spier Seaward Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Vegan, WO Cape Town ($15.95, VINTAGES July 24th, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits)

A coastal sauvignon blanc by winemaker Jacques Erasmus with plenty of marine influence. Healthy of alcohol and weight, with some sugar but even more so acidity to blow an ocean breeze through the wine. Notably pungent and exotically perfumed, all passion and grape fruit. More texture than many, crunchy, tin cup sweet and roasted cashew salty. Lots going on in here. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay 2019

Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay 2019, WO Coastal Region ($14.95, LTO, Select Wine Merchants)

Always worth noting Boschedal’s connection to the natural world with the estate situated in the Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest yet richest such plant biosphere on earth, with an astounding diversity of plant and animal life. Their lands are still in inhabited by indigenous creatures such as duiker, klipspringer, porcupine, mongoose, caracal and even leopard. Michael Langenhoven is Boschendal’s white winemaker, here with sources threefold; Stellenbosch, Elgin Valley and Boschendal Farm. Just lovely and amenable coastal-influenced chardonnay, easy, somewhat soft and no obstructions in the way. Neither reduction nor barrel do anything to distract and the wine’s touch of sweetness is well managed by herbs, elastic acidity and sapidity. Very well made. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Lomond Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Lomond Sauvignon Blanc 2021, WO Cape Agulhas ($19.95, United Stars Corporation Group)

This 100 per cent Cape Agulhas sauvignon blanc is crafted and delivers specs eerily similar to the SSV, from the same sites on the farm’s upper reaches perched over the sea. Same soils and as a varietal wine the elements from various blocks are employed “to ensure that the result is greater than the sum of the parts.” Perhaps on a lower tier of complexity but surely expressive and satisfying. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Lomond Ssv 2021

Lomond SSV 2021, WO Cape Agulhas ($19.95, United Stars Corporation Group)

Mainly sauvignon blanc (80 per cent) with sémillon (15) and viognier (5) from the Cape Agulhas growing area. High ranking acidity and near to bone dry attitude make for a wine that shares it’s true sense of place, in this case south facing blocks on the higher reaches of the farm, as well as within views of the sea. The soils are sandy, gravelly and highly weathered with a clay substructure. If you have yet to discover these saline, sapid and spirited whites of the Cape Agulhas then it’s high time and tide you did. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted June 2021

Big Bill Shiraz 2018

Big Bill Shiraz 2018, WO Western Cape ($13.95, LCBO 10418, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.)

William “Big Bill” Millar was a boxing champ, decorated war hero and most celebrated for so many South Africans as their Springbok rugby captain. Also the first General Manager of KWV. Like the larger than life man it is the largest of barrels that houses this shiraz, a 22,000L oak stuk vat. Pretty much classic (Western) Cape shiraz of heavy set red fruit, bone density and rippling musculature. A commercially viable drop of work ethic and muscle memory exuding attitude and confidence. The Michael Jordan of South Africa. Be like Bill. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2019

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvèdre-Viognier 2019, WO Western Cape ($14.00, LCBO 292557, Univins)

Generally speaking the Wolftrap by Boekenhoutskloof is two-thirds syrah and one-third mourvèdre with a few points splash of viognier. Malmesbury in the Swartland is the source where the dominant soil type is the aptly named Malmesbury shale. The 2019 brings out the sweetest and most proficiently perfumed Wolftrap yet, with less grip, spice and bite. There is a warmth that is especially noted on the back end, like a hematic seep of plasmatic liquid but felt quite subtly so. Fine if not exceptional acids keep the pulse and truth be told the mourvèdre really stands out. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Glenelly Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Glenelly The Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch ($17.95, LCBO 132992, VINTAGES July 24th, H.H.D. Imports)

Fruit is Simonsberg-Stellenbosch from a most arid vintage with all aspects of the growing season having occurred with haste. Less than normal winter rains, early bud break and harvest in the third week of February. This is 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon with thriving acidity and a minor pinch of sweetness, fully versed from Cassis to Kirsch for a truly gelid, glycol and glycerin cabernet sauvignon. While seemingly soft and fruity at first it gains speed, traction and vitality because of the well captured acidity. Still seems just a tad sweet but overall the balance is quite good. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted June 2021

Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2018

Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2018, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch ($24.95, LCBO 414151, VINTAGES July 24th, Woodman Wines & Spirits)

The artist formerly known as “Rustenberg Stellenbosch Syrah” is now the “Buzzard Kloof Syrah,” aptly named for the Jackal and Steppe Buzzards that circle the thermal currents rising above the kloof. The syrah vineyard sits in the Afrikaans ravine, a cool, sun-deprived location ideal for growing meaty, savoury and sapid syrah. This is in great Stelly hyperbole, like a grilled and sliced loin of lean, sweetly gamy and iron-rich Springbok. Optimum ripeness, cool acidity and finesse take this buzzard on swift currents through breezy skies. Bloody delicious. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2021

Kuier

Good to go!

godello

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Memories of South Africa in 60 notes

Water hole, South Africa

As this passage through weltschmerz marches on, the defining feeling of melancholy and world-weariness continues, no doubt magnified in the hearts and minds of the wanderlusts accustomed to consistent world travel. So the question begs, as it has for 12 months, how to summon thoughts that will keep a deep sadness about the inadequacy or imperfection of the world at bay? Speaking from a personal place, a simple and distracting way is to compose retroactive wine reviews, unearthing and editing nuggets of meaningful playfulness, tasting notes created in the past but never having found their way to the light of day. Recent thoughts about South Africa are the impetus for this story.

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

In a pandemic-free world Cape Town’s Cape Wine would be taking place six months from now but a difficult and necessary decision by Wines of South Africa has moved the trade show from September 2021 to October 2022. Intensive planning for one of the great triennial wine fairs on the planet begins 18 months out and so with vaccine promise and good hope the time has arrived for the industry to launch preparations for a Spring 2022 Capelands revival. Soon enough the hurdles, obstacles, impediments and hoops of pandemic, lockdowns, sponsorship landing and export bans will be added to the growing list of “what has been overcome.”

Fly me back to South Africa

Related – Spotlight on South Africa in VINTAGES August 6th

Wine trips afford tasting hundreds of wines in a week’s time and while all bottles poured by every producer are given full attention and solicit a hundred or so scribbled words on history, tradition, agriculture, winemaking, varietal and regional relativity, many remain in raw form, relegated to computer folders and on the pages of moleskin journals. Pulling them out months, if not years later can induce that elusive feeling of relief and in some extraordinary occasions, epiphany. This to the creator of course, not necessarily to the producer, wine prose seeker, consumer, regional administrator or marketer. Notwithstanding who may be watching or reading, the exercise is a satisfying one and stands on its own merit, if only to be soothed and take refuge in a safe prosaic haven, free from the savage talon grip of a world gone mad.

“What happens in Cape Town stays in Cape Town” carries a three year statute of limitation. With the inimitable Ken Forrester

Nature, farmers and winemakers continue their work. Grapes are still growing and wines are still being made. Cape Wine is one of the greats, a collection and gathering by an industry of more varied character and industriousness than you will ever find. Let’s hope a global correction and stabilization brings everyone back together. During the last edition in 2018 I published several articles and many notes but these are the fruits of unfinished business left unsaid, scattered and streaming bits of consciousness having patiently waited it out for this moment in the sun. With thanks to all these erudite producers who shared a few ounces, engaged in conversation and offered up their time. These are the 60 wines tasted 30 months ago, assessed, critiqued, enjoyed and until now, unpublished.

A.A. Badenhorst Family White Blend 2016, WO Swartland

Simply a case of “fantastic grapes from old vineyards,” small parcels from Adi Badenhorst’s Kalmoesfontein farm, around the Swartland and the greater Paardeberg Mountain. A tienvoudig veldversnit of chenin blanc, roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, viognier, verdehlo, grenache gris, clairette blanche, sémillon and palomino. Hard to imagine that ten grapes could be so tactful and get together for such a discreet nose, but they are and they do. Secretive and seductive, full of mystery and enigma, ferments in 3000L vessels and then concrete, of a co-existence executing balance and a dedicated focus on texture. A ten-fold paradigm shift as part of the pioneering, Western Cape appellative white blend parade. Those who know it get lost in the varietal party and just like the makers the soirée will go on forever. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

A.A. Badenhorst Pinot Noir Bokkeveld 2017, WO Swartland

Grown further afield of the great old white grape vineyards, higher into mountainous terrain on the famed Bokkeveld shales. Makes for transitory, lifted pinot noir, “rain-slick’d, rubbed-cool, ethereal,” a little pastiche in a glass. Provides a cool flush of red berries, a note of allspice and truth is the fruit is really quite naturally sweet. Clean, characterful and only an afterthought of subtle savour. More than anything this pinot noir drifts and rises, kind of like reciting poetry. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Hanneke Krüger, A.A. Badenhorst

A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Cinsault 2018, WO Swartland

Of the Badenhorst second tier of wines, a red blend though mainly cinsault (82 per cent) with (10) syrah and (8) grenache. Though this is technically a tank sample it will be bottled next week so essentially across the finish line. There will be 130,000 bottles of this unfiltered wine. Red fruit incarnate Cape style, sweet baking spices and from a band knowing what is needed for playing live in concert, lekker balance seekers capable of working with any instrumentation, including 4,500 and 7,200L blending tanks. Badass sound, fury and energy, dry rocket fuel, pure, raw emotion and precision. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2018

A.A. Badenhorst Grenache Raaigras 2017, WO Swartland

From the home farm at Kalmoesfontein, a scant 1268 vines by lowest of low yields and considered to be the oldest (1951) grenache vines in South Africa. The Raaigras (ryegrass) is a vineyard choker so without human intervention it would literally strangle a vineyard. One of those wonderful whole bunch ferments though a portion is de-stemmed and well if this is not the right stuff from the right place, transparent, curative, a gastronomy of ancient meatiness and spice. Tannic yet elastic and one of those wines ready to go from creation but won’t likely change anytime soon. For now, long and wide. Feel free to think “see you in 15 years on the other side.” Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

Springbock Burger anyone?

David And Nadia Sadie Wines Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

A chenin blanc blend of 35-65 year-old 1960s, 70s and early 80s, mainly Paardeberg dry-farmed bush vine vineyards in the Swartland. Some shale and clay soils mix in for a top end chenin meritage with a faint if feigned salty vanilla sweetness. High and dry extract and grape tannin conspire in their conscription and into a stretched intensity requiring some patience for the opening up. Lingers forever thereafter. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

David And Nadia Skaliekop 2017, WO Swartland

Skaliekop, “hill of shale,” a curious dale of fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock amongst the Paardeberg granite. For David and Nadia Sadie a chance to make a chenin blanc with both prescient soils lending their presence and tutelage. The people here speak of the Skaliekop, knowing well the wisdom and aridity, the windswept open space, exposed and warm. They recognize and tell of the difference it makes, how a wine such as this can act so implosive, salty, targeted and fervent. The vintage only serves to magnify a sentiment already assured, that fruitful and mineral will align, swell and expand as one from these first grapes to be harvested in the wider Paardeberg zone. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

David and Nadia Aristargos 2017, WO Swartland

In 2017 a Swartland appellative white blend of chenin blanc (58 per cent), viognier (14), clairette blanche (13), sémillon (7), roussanne (5) and marsanne (3). David and Nadia’s only white that sees enough skin-contact to inch it up to but not quite breaching the natural-orange-amber stereotype so moving along now. A free-form, stacked blanc of multifarious juxtaposition, a Cape sensation that does this thing better and more interesting than anywhere else on the planet. Complex because florals and salinity get together and express the Swartland without a care in the world. What really comes across the palate is texture, downy and coddling with a finishing pesto of sweetly herbal fynbos and renosterveld. A perfectly broad expression overall though please don’t typecast or compartmentalize the Sadies’ white blend. Let it be. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Elpidios 2016, WO Swartland

An ever evolving or rather moving target, Rhône motivated but at this point in South Africa’s modern tenure just better to say Cape inspired. Has had many lead singers in its time; syrah, carignan and based on David Sadie’s language, who knows, perhaps grenache will take a turn at the microphone. Here in ’16 carignan (39 per cent) is centre stage with syrah (31), pinotage (16), cinsault (9) and grenache (5) rounding out the players. Elpidios means hope, as in “Cape of Good” and like the place itself there are so many layers to peel away from this heady foreland of a red wine. The berry aspect is magnified by the pinotage and you should know that David and Nadia treat this grape with utmost respect. A mix of styles and inspirations make this both muddled and brilliant as it stretches into breadth and potential. A nexus of varietal and micro-terroirs caught up in a whirlwind of extracts, flavours, liqueurs and expression. Still fresh, spirited and alive so drink this well over a ten year span. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Kreatuur Die Synachin 2017, WO Coastal Region

“A collaboration between a bunch of young blokes, making of-the-moment wines from little-known vineyards around the Cape,” and under monikers that refer to “pushmi-pullyu animals.” Also with the winemaking help of Alexander Milner from Natte Valleij. Really quite the drinkable Rhône-ish blend of 56 per cent syrah, (26) grenache and (18) cinsault. Iron in multifarious soils (mainly granitic) make this hematic and deeply plum but still, not so difficult to knock back. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Kop Ou Treffer Cinsault 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Ou Treffer, as in the ‘old hit’ in Afrikaans, also the old workhorse, in reference to cinsault of the Western Cape. Or if you will, like a hit song as the grape just seems to be the it one in South Africa these days. Or perhaps Traffic, by the Stereophonics. Beautifully aromatic, rich fruit and a soild funk from the particularities in these Stellenbosch vineyards. Half the ferment is de-stemmed, meaning the other half is whole bunch and old vines surely concentrate the fruit, stem funk and spun feeling all-around. Besides, “is anyone going anywhere? Everyone’s gotta be somewhere.” Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Knapsekêrel 2016, WO Stellenbosch

The second cabernet franc release of the De Kleine Wijn Koöp boys’ Knapsekêrel (a.k.a the spiky little black Cape plant) comes from the Polkadraai Hills. Not just any vineyard mind you but one planted in 2000 and biodynamically farmed by Old Vines Project pioneer Rosa Kruger and current Stellenbosch guru Johan Reyneke. The winemaking hands of Lukas van Loggerenberg are to thank and while this shows the sultry smoky smoulder that often emits from Cape franc it is a challenge and work in project to find the varietal sweet spot. That’s because cool temps and long growing seasons are best but look out for this breadth of a team’s members to find what works. In the meantime the tobacco, dusty plum and pushed to the raisin precipice make up a tasty if humid treat in a glass. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Heimwee 2015, WO Stellenbosch

As with the Knapsekêrel cabernet franc, the Polkadraai west of Stellenbosch is the fruit source, a biodynamic vineyard farmed by Rosa Kruger and Johan Reyneke. The boys at the Koöp are back in varietal town and refer to this all-around floral spiced cabernet sauvignon as running “with tannins as smooth as your grandmother’s polished imbuia coffee table.” No doubt and you can almost hear them singing in Phil Lynott workingman’s poetry. That said, this cab is no thin Lizzy, more like thick as a brick. Hung long and well-developed, of a liqueur that oozes of red, red fruit. Or perhaps, “man when I tell you she was cool, she was red hot. I mean, she was steamin’…” Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Johannes de Wet in Robertson

De Wetshof Riesling 2017, WO Robertson

A known fact that riesling and limestone make a great couple so this look at de Wetshof’s Robertson ’17 is met with great mineral anticipation. Yes the finest calcareous blocks are dedicated to chardonnay because Bourgogne is the de Wet inspiration but anyone who has learned a thing about riesling around the world will know that limestone can work wonders. Alsace of course, as in Clos Windsbul but also The Niagara Escarpment’s dolomitic limestone and Germany’s Muschelkalk (especially in the Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Franconia). And so Robertson joins the list as witnessed by this linguistically aromatic example, working the glass with a pure lime distillate notion. A nod to Alsace more than anything else with acidity that doesn’t need to scream and shout but it’s truly there. The potential to pioneer the movement is here, along with Elgin as Cape riesling standard bearers. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

De Wetshof Chardonnay Limestone Hll 2018, WO Robertson

Youth and drought make for the most naked and transparent of the past few Limestone Hill chardonnays. Absolute cool Kelvin freshness and a 270 degree vineyard scope to gather de Wetshof’s Robertson fruit from an amphitheatre of slope and aspect so subtle yet so meaningful. A fulsome regional DNA creates varietal layers gathered to make this cuvée a true spokes-wine for the limestone-based estate. Set foot on these soils, spin around, take it in. Then feel and intuit the truth in chardonnay that speaks to a place. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

De Wetshof Chardonnay Bataleur 2016, WO Robertson

Bataleur, as in a battalion of chardonnay soldiers, fruit up front, reduction and wood falling in, acids taking up the flanks and structure in support by land, air and sea. Or so it seems because this just marches like a military exercise in chardonnay. Flinty, biting back, yet buttered and toasted on the mid-palate with Roberston’s unique limestone felt from start to finish. Vanilla then white caramel with soft French cream fill and then the snap of lime acidity. Biting and downy, one and then the other, all tied up in robes and pearls, equalling out in the end. Fine work from 2016. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2000, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay

By this time 2000 is the 15th vintage of Hamilton Russell’s pinot noir and tasting both the 1986 and 1997 ahead of this only serves to heighten anticipation knowing full well longevity is by now a solid guarantee. The vintage seems like it must have been a demanding one because there is more hard grip, aridity and austerity here but it really has aged gracefully and beautifully. The posit tug between fruit and earth notes is performed like a string instrument’s bow, bending and angling with dexterity in balanced, fluid motion. Brings in the herbs and spices, wholly and truly of Hemel-en-Aarde origin, on hillsides and between rows of sagacious pinot vines. This is a treat and opens a portal into the future, beginning with the 2012 vintage that will usher in a string of sequentially impressive HR pinot noir. Drink 2018.  Tasted September 2018

Huis Van Chevallerie Circa Rosecco NV, WO Swartland

From a 32 year-old pinotage vineyard, great old vines that received some TLC from Old Vines Project pioneer Rosa Kruger. Secondary bottle fermented with a little help from “a special blend of liqueur de triage,” so unlike Prosecco in that regard. Early picked which is a given considering the granitic soil and therefore a “Rosecco” of low pH and severely high acidity. ‘Twas just a slight dosage and therefore comes across arid like the Swartland desert. A well cultured sparkling Rosé, crushable and easy like Sunday morning. Drink it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Jan Harmsgat Chardonnay 2015, WO Robertson

True reduction yet to dissipate as noted by the smoky smoulder with a healthy compliment of wood still needing to melt in and away. Looking to settle over the next six months or so and allow the combination of vanilla extract and green apple purée to integrate, compliment and go forward in agreement. Though creamy there is a bite back at the finish so while this is good now it still shows promise for improvement down the road. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2009, WO Constantia

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside the 1987 labeled “Blanc de Blanc” and the 1994. The vines date back to 1979, with the first South African sauvignon blanc made in 1986. That ’87 was a B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. A 100 per cent varietal wine, built by the soil and so bloody mineral as a result. Oak texture but really that’s the end of wood talk, a salty streak, so direct and so personal. The kind of sauvignon blanc that invades your airspace and a vintage more Bordeaux than the rest. Or, if you will Sancerre but not so much this time around. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 1994, WO Constantia

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside the 1987 labeled “Blanc de Blanc” and the 2009. The vines date back to 1979, with the first South African sauvignon blanc made in 1986. That ’87 was a B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. The ’94 vintage was another story altogether, apposite, far away from developing noble rot. Not the baller and perhaps even a bit “weak” with less weight but a saltiness that is more than intriguing. Perhaps more Sancerre-esque as a result but certainly lends longevity credibility to those passed over cool vintages neither celebrated nor considered to carry much staying power. May not be fleshy but is surely a curious and electric surprise. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Leeu Passant Chardonnay 2016, WO Stellenbosch

Andrea Mullineux continues to foster the Leeu Passant line of heritage vines wines with work from Rosa KrMuger alongside. The “post (leaf-roll) virus vineyard,” of smuggled in clean material planted in Stellenbosch in the 1980s. The site is home to loam-rich soils of the Helderberg and the wine stylistically modelled after the oxidative approach to chardonnay. “Death and resurrection,” as Andrea puts it, meaning after the fermentation you allow the must to oxidize again, literally to the colour of cola. Risk reward actionable take and one that requires some shall we say, cojones. This chardonnay is not about luck and the methodology can’t help but connect you to the vineyard. You end up with this unctuous, astonishingly rich chardonnay that bears a resemblance to the vines and the place from whence it came. Unlike the Mullineux chenins or Swartland and so say hello to Meursault. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Leeu Passant Dry Red Wine 2016, WO Western Cape

The throwback, ode and homage to South African reds made in the 50s, 60s, 70s, rustic, tannic, structured and reeking of the ancient soils that gave them life. Three locales are in the mix; Wellington, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. The vineyards are the first pro-Phylloxera planted sites, a willy-nilly varietal scattering, blocks of two cinsault, a cabernet sauvignon and a cabernet franc. “It’s a deconstructed reconstruction,” says Andrea Mullineux, “where you break down what you love and build it back up again.” First thing is to show utmost submissive respect to 95 and 117 year-olds, the oldest registered red wine vineyards in South Africa. So you hand harvest their low yields and keep a minimum half of the bunches intact for to ferment these wise and experienced grapes. They spend 20 months in barrel then emerge structured and fit for 20 years of longevity. As with those post mid-20th century wines the profile is rich, tart, spicy, robust and layered with serious grounding. Revivalist red, keeper of faith and a lost style, uniquely South African. Today that translates to vogue. Boom. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Sauvignon Blanc 2016, WO Greyton

The Cape’s south coast work of Samantha O’Keefe, a (500L) barrel fermented sauvignon blanc made in an oxidative way, or rather a wine of early introductions made with oxygen. Flinty no doubt then rich and full on the palate, of throttling grape tannin who’s antidote is a sense of settled calm. Late spice, Bordeaux in temperament but cooler still, an almost northern Sancerre-ish dexterity and layering. Composed and so very genteel. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Chardonnay Estate 2016, WO Greyton

From the Cape’s south coast and Samantha O’Keefe’s original Greyton Farm, in re-build for a promising future. This ’16 is 90 per cent estate fruit, a natural ferment and all done up in neutral (300L) barrels, 11 months on lees. No malo except when a great vintage comes along. Simply an orchard and gingered and delight, a woven tapestry of backroads eccentricities and southern exposures, with a kick and twist of finishing spice. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted September 2018

Lismore The Age Of Grace 2017, WO Elgin

From rose-quartz soil in cool Elgin, a 100 per cent viognier, so apposite relative to the achromatic shades of Greyton sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. High demeanour and a sense of vivid colour in the aromatic wonder but more so in the levels of palate, front through middle to back. They come like a rainbow, rolling, over stones, in “colours in the air, oh, everywhere.” Orange, peach, nectarine and fine, fine Elgin acidity. They are wrapped in sour spice yet sit cross-legged, in complete control. An aristocratic flower child, surely full of and situated in an age of grace. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Pinot Noir 2017, WO Western Cape

Fruit from both Walker Bay and Elgin and 30 per cent whole bunch (the first vintage was 15). So very herbal, savoury, stemmy and honest. A beacon in pinot noir you want to drink that comes equipped with an edginess about it. Full purity on display, grip, intensity and packed with provisions for the picnic. Marks the early beginnings of a varietal journey with some naïveté and dreams but look out. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Alette de Boer, Lowerland

Lowerland Tolbos Tannat 2016, WO Prieksa, Noord Kap

From South Africa’s furthest northern wine-growing area, a joint effort between grower Bertie Coetzee and winemaker Lukas van Loggerenberg. Wow does this ever smell like tannat with its depth of earthy fruit and suspension of oxidative animation. High acidity reminds of the really cool climate, more Niagara per se than southwest France. There really is something special here, as with Lowerland’s stellar whites, something singular, yet undefined, in enigma and mystery. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Witgat Viognier 2017, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

The viognier may scent of exotic flowers and tropical fruits but as with most of Alette de Beer and Bertie Coetzee’s range this is surely a cool climate wine. Subtly so and yet of a tension and a demand that accrue a sense of northerly South African wine-growing sense. The wine was made by JD Pretorius at the Constantia property Steenberg and it comes about quite normal, varietally speaking but also beautiful. There is a liquid chalky feel, a product no doubt of quality dry extract mixed with Prieksa soil of desert sand and silty clay. Lean and structured, a lanky viognier that in the end delivers quite the delight. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Die Verlore Bokooi 2016, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

Literally “easy drinking blend,” spoken through an indigenous vernacular from “the place of the lost goat.” At the time a blend of merlot, shiraz and tannat but like the Herd Sire Reserve that too will change over time. A racy and ripe red, earthy and parochial though fruitful in its red, black and blue mixed berry basket. There really is nothing to compare this too, neither old world origin or varietal mash up so assess it on its own terms. Just knock it back. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Herd Sire Reserve 2015, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

A red blend that will evolve (varietally speaking) but in 2015 it is based on cabernet sauvignon with petit verdot and a small amount of merlot. Bordeaux being the message but that too will change because the north of South Africa may actually share more affinity with the southwestern French wine-growing than anywhere else. This unique Noord Kaap Wyn van Oorsprong’s cool climate makes for early drinking reds and the 13 year-old vines here follow the party line for a red blend ripe enough to do what needs. There is more liqueur and spice here than what is noted in the merlot/shirtaz/tannat and also increased acid intensity. Somewhat oxidative but holding well and doling pleasure. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

Nina Mari and Ernst Bruwer, Mont Blois

Mont Blois Estate Chardonnay Kweekkamp 2016, WO Robertson

After 28 of not bottling their own wines the husband and wife team of Ernst and Nina-Mari Bruwer began again in 2017. This is one of the first, a single vineyard chardonnay off of 12 year-old vines, barrel fermented and aged 11 months. Speaks of Robertson, not specifically by limestone but with that WO’s orchard fruit and realism, by passing spice that’s merely a thought. Lovely snap, crack and bite which is truly Robertson while in delivery of everyday texture and mellow disposition. The kind of chardonnay to stay quiet and simply sip. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Mont Blois Chardonnay Hoog en Laag 2016, WO Robertson

“High And low,” in reference to the vineyard being a terraced block on clay. Heavy clay that is, a Robertson specialty and the Hoog En Laag receives the same elévage as the Kweekkamp chardonnay. Certainly a richer and fruit fulsome expression, less snap and bite. No subtle spice either and yet the barrel notes are equally noted. What this has is full-fledged texture, creamy and smooth, all day long. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Mont Blois Chenin Blanc Groot Steen 2016, WO Robertson

The “big” chenin blanc because of the dense clay that gives nutrient life to the 32 year-old block of vines. Quite the steen intensity, ripping with fruit and a mineral streak for layer upon layer of Robertson quality. Naturally sweet pears, ripe and dripping, plus an unusual or unaccustomed to herbology. Perhaps it’s the famous local Rooibos talking. Really persistent chenin with loads of potential. Likely some flint and smoulder in its future. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Western Cape

A true Cape chenin blanc assemblage, in fact it gives meaning to the gathered idea, like an AOC Chablis made by a houses in names of Fèvre, Drouhin, Moreau or La Chablisienne. Mullineux’s twist is the back blending with some old barrel ferments to balance to new and “other” fruit components. A chenin blanc that is bottled the same year it was picked though that’s easier to do in the southern hemisphere where harvest happens in the first quarter months. Expectation always dictates value from the Kloof Street and 2018 does not disappoint with an attractive spiciness that speaks to the preservation of freshness in a chenin blanc possessive of no boundaries. One of the most versatile wines on the planet. Sheet pan sausages and fennel would be just ideal. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Quartz 2017, WO Swartland

Soil is the single matter, catalyst and difference maker to dictate the peculiarities, idiosyncrasies and unique sets of behaviours in the Mullineux single-terroir wines. The chenin develops “freckles” in the sun, tells winemaker Andrea Mullineux and the warmth of the high presence of quartz retains and returns warmth, translating to a conduit of concentrated ripeness passing through the vines. Not a direct heat, otherwise the berries would burn but a reflected back-beat of light and one that is slowly transmitted with naturally occurring temperature control for how and when the plants are in need. The greatest positive is in the maturation of phenolics in the skins and not by a hasty overload in developed sugars. From out of the silica oxide comes vegetative growth that promotes and preserves a physiological process in retention of acid freshness. The result? A phenolic journey unique to chenin blanc as here with a striking 2017, dry as drought yet fresh as a daisy. Though there is some creamy texture there too is hyper intense clarity, a variegate of dappled aromatics and brindled flavours, all bound up in animated acid bounces. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Granite 2017, WO Swartland

In chenin blanc the Mullineuxs engage in this single-terroir comparison, first by Quartz and now through Granite. The reference is to the predominant mineral presence in the soil and in how it influences the chameleon varietal. In 2017 Quartz is a major concern but switching to sandy, decomposed rocky soil and everything changes. Berries leave the world of mottled and piebald to one of demure and decor with thanks to the diffused light set upon them. That and a place where roots must burrow, digging deeper through hunks of rock into the sub-strata. This is where trace elements and minerals are to be found in the water table below and while limestone and silex is not the tablet there is some ideological affinity here with the Loire. As such it is this Granite that speaks in a leaner, thoroughly mineral, less spice and increased sharpness vernacular. Precision cut, flint struck, metallic, a song of science and silence. Body and flesh are ambient, less “creamy” than in Quartz, linear in travels, long and of an aging potential surely cast forward. Focused all the way through, unrelenting but always in layers of overlap and subtlety. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Kloof Street Red 2017, WO Swartland

Kloof Street is a “heritage blend,” says Andrea Mullineux, “it’s a wine about the love for making wine, but having preferences.” From vintage to vintage maybe check the bottle for varieties because there is no steadfast formula. Heritage, as opposed to Rhône means playfulness, choices and the inclusion of a structure fortifying grape like tinta barocca, truly integral to the Western Cape meritage experience. Here in 2017 there are some notable added layers of flesh, drying tannin and largesse. An early extracted wine in fast stages of maceration to coax out the fruit and deter astringency. Comes away rich and robust, rocking the free and new world. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

“I still consider it a blend,” insists Andrea Mullineux,”because it comes from seven vineyards on three soils.” Spends up to six weeks on skins, depending on how big the tannins are. Big equals patience. Burly early with spice and elongation but that heft and girth will slowly melt away. An invisible friend called acidity will usher the transformation, those gnomes of silent structure. The next stage will celebrate the leathery cherry fruit and cumulative Swartland savour.  Last tasted September 2018

The first drought vintage for the Swartland syrah and so the extract, concentration and density are all in compression mode. The change is felt with palpable impression, meatier, more char, even tar, and a little bit of dogma was necessary to bring in more granite-raised syrah to keep things swimmingly cool and savoury along. It’s a hematic one in 2016. To some this would be the bomb, the massive reason to believe and to others it might seem an impossible wall to scale. With a combination of love and patience the ’16 will please them all. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Mullineux Syrah Schist 2016, WO Swartland

As with the two chenin blanc Quartz and Granite introspections there too is a Mullineux terroir combing of Swartland soils through the lens of syrah, there by Iron and here through Schist. The style or rather the result is befitting the monikers because Schist is the tamer one of the two and it is interesting to note that the syrah “blend” as Andrea Mullineux calls it is more like Iron than this elegant one. A huge January heat wave could have led this into the raisin danger zone because ripening under the shotgun is no way to approach harvest. Cooler heads and temperatures prevailed to allow for an unfurling, a plumping and a perking up. Schist comes out regal, aromatically civil and demure, but also juicier than a nosing might indicate. Acid retention is strong, sweet and quite friendly to work in cohorts with the cane and Baleni based spice. Dark in complexion, yes brooding yet sneakily serene, salty and so comfortable in its own skin. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Syrah Iron 2016, WO Swartland

The second of two Mullineux soil investigations for syrah is this dramatic and hematic nonpareil exemplar. Cultivar meets terroir, raised off of a heavy, gravelly clay, rich in iron, impressive and hallowed as antediluvian viticultural ground. That may not be completely Cape uncommon but this is clearly a paradigm shifter for drilled down South African syrah in attack meets beast mode, cimmerian, ferric and intense. Modish though, while inexorable character oozes from every pore and a mid-palate wells of extraordinary fill. Sharpens its wits on bullish tannin and expresses Northwest of Malmesbury iron with raw emotion and power, though without rusticity. What it may lack in elegance is made up by sheer force in reckoning, at first engaging and then gripping the palate by all means necessary. The velvet glove future lies somewhere in the next decade, likely latter first half. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2013, WO Elgin

Just a hint of evolution is showing in this five year-old pinot noir which is something because you had to work to find any in the just tasted 2009. The sweetest fruit comes from 2013, on of the riper, purest and most pristine vintages to express what Elgin has to offer. Ethereal actually, not loosely but effortlessly structured with a seamless bond forged between fruit and acids. Tannins are already subsiding in this elegant, balanced and slightly spiced pinot. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2011, WO Elgin

Such a composed vintage, cool, calm and collected. A Beaune Villages feel here, perhaps Aloxe-Corton with darker pinot noir fruit, almost black cherry but less obvious, more complex, full of baking spice. A genial and genteel Seven Flags nonetheless, elastic, pliable, amenable but not without undeniable and underlying composure. That backbone may bend with curvature ease but will not break. Provides the basis to see this Cluver from Elgin live easily up to and likely beyond its 12th birthday. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2009, WO Elgin

Harkens back to a time when the 1987 planted 113 clone was no longer the sole provider for the Seven Flags family after 115 and 667 had been planted in 2001. From 2009 it seems quite obvious the vintage was one to create big, robust, ripe and warm pinot noir. Even as it approaches its ninth birthday the evolution equation remains in early steps computation, perhaps just now moving to the next stage. Secondary development is still around the bend or on the next page, noted by the persistence of a cool climate, liquid but still grainy chalk. Also acts just a bit reductive which seems almost impossible but stranger things have happened out of South African vineyards. Just imagine the futuristic possibilities when these vines soon achieve heritage age. Remind me to ask Paul Cluver for a look at vintages from 2022 onward at Cape Wine 2039. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Callie Louw, Porseleinberg

Porseleinberg Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

Poured by Callie Louw at Cape Wine 2018, this Riebeek Kasteel, Porcelain Mountain syrah somehow sits at a pantheon’s peak vintage after vintage, as if each one is a once in a lifetime effort. This must have been the epitome of such a consideration because Louw calls it “a fucking hard vintage, eh.” Strong talking words from the stoic and pragmatic BBQ smoker, winemaker and cricket master. Callie may have experienced a craftsman’s pain but the 70 per cent foudres and 30 concrete elévage not only tamed the savage beast, it helped to turn heads and remind of where greatness comes from. Tasted side by each with 2012 and 2013 only magnifies the massive structure in this ’16, a reductively bouncy, glycerin and impenetrable syrah in need of getting lost in the cellar. Will also need an epic song, “into the blue again, after the money’s gone.” Through the next decade and well into the following one this syrah will remain in light. “Same as it ever was.” Drink 2022-2040.  Tasted September 2018

Callie Louw’s smoker hard at work in Malmesbury

The Sadie Family Palladius 2014, WO Swartland

If you Google “South African white appellative blend” the number one result should surely be Eben Sadie’s Palladius and these are the 11 reasons why; chenin blanc, grenache blanc, marsanne, sémillon, sémillon gris, viognier, clairette blanche, roussanne, verdelho, colombard and palomino. Eleven blocks, all on granites, some from the Riebeek-Kasteel side. If looking forward to the brilliant ’16 and seeing it as a wine of mixed tenses, then this ’14 speaks in the imperfect because it strikes as the one to talk about the past and to say what used to happen. As in language, love, war and the past continuous, all is fair when it comes to assessing the verticals of wine, especially in descriptions. The 2014 Palladius is the back to the future vintage, of warmth and spice when things were picked overripe and new beginnings are constantly forged. But the citrus preserve and sheer electric lemon-lime energy looks ahead to the intensity of a youthful 2016, leaving a taster confounded, satisfied and awake all at the same time. This may go forward before it retreats once again. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Palladius 2009, WO Swartland

When talking about the 2009 vintage Eben Sadie talks of the decision to add sémillon, clairette blanche and palomino to his appellative white blend that already held chenin blanc, colmbard, grenache blanc and viognier. “To up the acidity,” aid and abet the tendencies of fleshy fruit to fatten in overripe behaviour. More than just acidity mind you, Sadie also looked to heighten the “acoustics” in a wine that was quickly becoming a major Swartland concern. Tasting this is September 2018 it can’t help but be noted how development and evolution have nearly caught up to 2005, a vintage cause and effect action no doubt. Here is the spiciest, sauciest and flat out nasty attitude Palladius, unabashed and already having done most of its living. That said the track record of these wines tells us to stay put, be patient and continue to relish the sapid, saline and ever-changing paths carved out. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Pofadder 2017, WO Swartland

Part of Eben Sadie and family’s “Die Ouwingerdreeks,” the old vine series and a reference to either or both puff adder snakes and the small “bushman’s land” town in the Northern Cape. Can be 100 per cent cinsault though the percentage is 85 in 2017, aged in old but not Jurassic wood. The ideal, epitome and exemplar bench-land varietal wine, not to mention a pioneer in the South African paradigm shift to conscious exultation of a plan in collective commitment for varietal, heritage vine and whole cluster ferments. From granite shales (not the decomposed kind) and yet another red fruit incarnate, freshest of the fresh precision wines. Pure Cape cinsault is this, with tannin but the kind that is sweet and stretched. No bullshit here. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Treinspoor 2017, WO Swartland

Afrikaans for “railroad,” perhaps a reference to the method of transportation that brought these European grapes to the Cape, depending on how far back tinta barocca arrived in the Swartland. In fact it was in the 1920’s and now just a bit more than 200 ha’s of this hardy, rustic, dark-skinned, early ripening and versatile red lay scattered about, accounting for two one hundredth’s of a per cent for vineyard area in South Africa. Sadie’s is a single-vineyard line running through the Darling side of Malmesbury, a cimmerian blackish red reeking of Renosterbos which is ironic because animal activists have always believed that the railroads threaten Rhino habitat. Digressions aside this is a prime example of why some might consider tinta barocca to be the future grape of Swartland. Sweetly floral and in 2017 both ways perfectly ripe. Botanicals abound, bosplante in bloom while flowers await the bees. Where this shares affinities with cinsault and grenache is in the curative and salumi aromas leading to sweet yet elastic tannins. The finish and length are expressly Swartland in nature. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Columella 2016, WO Swartland

Red counterpart to the Sadie white signature Palladius and residing in the upper echelon of Western Cape appellative blends. Ontario lays claim to the Stratus White and Red while the Cape knows these. Allowing for some levity there is a kinship to be considered between Eben Sadie and J-L Groulx, two of the more unlikely mad scientists able to capture the lit and woke disposition of mastered assemblage. Imagine Groulx also pouring varietal shots of many different farmed varieties from the back of his pick up truck during a lawn bowl in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The full name is Columella Liberatus in Castro Bonae Spei, Latin for “liberated in the Cape of Good Hope” and as a pillar of strength Columella’s syrah, grenache, mourvèdre, cinsault and tinta barroca ascend to dramatic expression. Variegated in every respect; hue, perfume, flavour and structure, at once layered and then stratified with doric strength, able to bear the most concentrated weight. Relative acidity, fluted or grooved, wider in youth to help support and lengthen. Intensely fortified with help from the barocca, naturally and of itself, intuitively wild yet controlled. Such a focused wine one rarely comes upon. Drink 2019-2030.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family ‘T Voetpad 2017, WO Swartland

The “footpath” from both the Dutch (het Voedpad) and Afrikaans, also the name of Dirk Brand’s rooibos and wheat farm next to this oldest vineyard in the Kapteinskloof near Piketberg. Some say the oldest in South Africa, planted between 1920 an 1928, but others will say the first vines went in around the 1890’s through to the early 1900’s. Takes the Sadie Family “Die Ouwingerdreeks” to the farthest, most extreme reaches of the old vineyards idea. “The vines have seen it all,” tells Eben Sadie, “don’t fuck with us” is their message. “Don’t mess this up.” And so Eben co-ferments in an as is format but more importantly works at the agriculture to a point of obsession. Newer inter-plantings will go in, of sémillon, sémillon gris and palomino from massal selected material. To deal with drought cover crops will also be added between rows, all of course through an organic approach. The blend is sémillon, sémillon gris, palomino, chenin blanc and muscat d’Alexandrie, all processed together, but this is not about extreme winemaking. More like extreme farming, finding ways to keep these twisted kurktrekker and cavatappi bending vines alive for to produce their magic. The wine that emerges is all about tendencies and multiplicities of texture. The dry extract here is off the charts making it seem forcefully and fiercely tannic. Fantasy and zeitgeist just happens and the results are right there in the bottle. A remarkable wine and vintage from an isolated vineyard where drought is always a factor. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted September 2018

Abrie Bruwer, Springfield Estate

Springfield Estate Chardonnay Méthode Ancienne 2016, WO Robertson

Burgundian ode, ancient method of making chardonnay, a rare approach these days, with wild yeasts and no fining or filtration. No surprise that Springfield Estate is willing to give it a go because that’s how they roll. The plan is for deep longevity by a method akin to anti-aging serum, though 15 to 20 years would be astonishing in any case. Ground control to major tang, circuits wired tohu vavohu and a lemon custard to curd constitution that is simply merveilleux. Yes it is true that a hint of orange could turn into Cointreau after a half decade or more and the mid-palate cloud cover will continue to deliver warmth and appeal. Curious methodology plus romantic acumen equates to one of a kind. We’ll see where this goes. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Break A Leg Blanc De Noirs 2017, WO Paarl

Often referred to as a pink wine but to choose this term to call Lukas van Loggerenberg’s 100 per cent cinsault grown on Helderberg granite would not tell the right story. Blanc de noirs is more apt but even then more detail is necessary to do it justice. Sees nine months of lees time, “to remove the tutti frutti,” snarks van Loggerenberg, without jest but can you really know when he’s being serious? Leaves the arena of the Rosé absurd and settles at a hue of proper B de N colour, as if that really matters. Saltiness is the thing, the granite kind, the sort to set your eyes ablaze and your heart to rest. Not really a wine about texture, though there is plenty, but that’s not the goal. Anything but sweet and a wresting away from norms into a matter of reckoning. And all about five knee surgeries, something the winemaker and the critic know all about. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Chenin Blanc Trust Your Gut 2017, WO Western Cape

While there are wines in Lukas van Loggerenberg’s world that travel down the kamikaze viaduct, Trust Your Gut is not one of them. In fact there is a normalcy, a recognizable structure and an older Euro soul to the way this chenin blanc acts and feels. Sees 10 months sur lie in old French oak but no bâttonage, nor malo neither. Three zones bring the fruit; 45 per cent each Stellenbosch and Swartland plus 10 from Paarl. Take chenin blanc and treat it like a Villages wine by imagining Loire aromatics merging with Chablis texture. This my friends is a classic example of amalgamated Western Cape chenin style. There is irony in the name and no shocker there. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Early springtime in Cape Town

Van Loggerenberg Wines Cinsault Geronimo 2017, WO Western Cape

Geronimo is 100 per cent cinsault, 60 per cent from Stellenbosch and 40 “Break a Leg” Paarl. The get together finds energy that one without the other would not find “because cinsault doesn’t have high natural acidity,” explains Lukas van Loggerenberg, “it is a very good indicator of vintage.” The 2017 is, wait for it, 80 per cent whole bunch and while that is a factor of the Western Cape’s ripen anything, anywhere, anytime great advantage, it’s still an impressive strategy no matter where you are making wine. Spends nine months in barrel and comes out smelling like roses, candied petals mainly but other florals, hibiscus and such. A handsome cinsault to be sure and one that will take precious time to unwind, great acidity or not. Like the red Cape equivalent of white friulano in Collio, sneaky long and structured. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Cabernet Franc Breton 2017, WO Stellenbosch

A more than obvious ode to the Loire Valley, 100 per cent cabernet franc bearing the old world varietal name. Fruit drawn from Stellenbosch’s decomposed granite soils gets the 60 per cent whole bunch treatment, followed by 11 months in barrel. Transparent as cabernet franc is the understatement, open wide, ease of alcohol at 12.8 per cent and in delivery for the rapture of being alive. Lots of verdant tones but nary a green tannic moment. Seems like the beginning of a beautiful friendship so the future too is wide open. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Sheree Nothnagel

Wildehurst Velo White 2016, WO Swartland

A testament to non-pareil, Cape appellative white blend equanimity, of colombard, grenache blanc and viognier, 33 of each, give or take one per cent. Only the viognier is barrel fermented though the equilibrium os never compromised. Intensely herbal, of a nose uncanny in its fynbos reek, lovely glycerin texture, again balanced and knowing the place it wants to be. Acid structure travels though in a pas trop travaillé, no trouble way. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

Barrel fermented and six months matured, 100 per cent chenin blanc, acting as if freshly spiced and in Cape terms, a really chewy white wine. Counterbalanced by a leanness in vintage while wound tight, just now perhaps beginning to unwind in repeat of its specific refrain. Acid structure makes up the lyrical couplets, sung again and again, as a reminder that fruit and wood will always align and submit to the citrus rhyme. Almost feels like still perlage and chenin blanc like this is very much a string of pearls, inclusive of tannins in long chains. Helps to explain the success of Wildehurst’s Méthode Cap Classique. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Red 2014, WO Swartland

A blend of shiraz, grenache, mourvèdre, viognier and cinsault, aged in old French barrels for 18 months. Like the solo cinsault but an even more held back and hard to crack the savoury and sweet candied shell. Both elements emerge with good agitation, first the sweet variegate of red fruit and then the brushy and dusty fynbos bushiness, here acting as an energizer for equal opportunity. Spills over with that Wildehurst acid-tannin continuum as all the wines take their time to ready, pivot in the glass and then speak of their age ability going forward. Big bursts are all power and no cake. Rich yet elastic and surely capable of going deep. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Cinsault 2017, WO Swartland

Just two barrels were found to be extraordinary and thus pulled by Sheree Nothnagel, away from the red blend and into this solo album. Quite the richly emulsified and ropey red fruit cinsault and while it follows along the varietal Swartland thread the differences are as great as they are to the party’s similarities. That is due in respect to the Wildehurst style, tighter and more acid-structure intense, higher-toned and less in the meaty-salumi-curative vein. Still possessive of that red as red can be fruit but here more akin to barbera or sangiovese from high altitudes and limestone soils. There must be something about Koringberg and the other Swartland sites that bring a special je ne sais quoi to Joanne Hurst’s wines. Maybe in thanks to Swartland shale, granite, silcrete and alluvium Renosterveld. Who does not love the smell of Renosterveld in the morning? Drink 2019-2027. Tasted September 2018

The Wine Thief Costa Del Swart Viura 2017, WO Voor Paardeberg

From the Western Cape’s chameleon of a region where anything goes and all things are considered. Case in point this viura of Spanish roots as part of the single barrel series. Surely Swartland specific (as opposed to Paarl), 100 per cent viura and only 180 bottles produced. Less alchemy and more herbology, but flinty, sharp and exciting. Direct, full of fun and even a bit waxy, with a riesling or sémillon feel that can only mean some petrol in its future. So much citrus gets ya in the end. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Good to go!

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WineAlign

50 California blasts from the past

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

As each calendar year counts down I set out on a long December inward journey, sifting through thousands of tasting notes, looking for reminders to trigger emotion. The purpose is a honing, a zeroing in process, first to create a shortlist and then a numbered final register to match the century’s yearly suffix. The latest was Godello’s Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020. A bit painstaking to agglomerate while simultaneously offering a grouping of days in recollection of the year’s finest sips though rumination over the previous 365. On this the first of March 2021 there is a looming and gloaming of a particular sort, forced upon us by circumstance as the auspicious anniversary approaches. Thus it seems like a reasonably credible idea to act upon the concept of creating more top lists, or rather further “gathered reminiscences,” blasts from the past. These are 50 California wines tasted years ago, assessments that up until now remained raw and unfinished, just now committed to public record.

Carneros, Napa Valley

Chardonnay

Patz & Hall Chardonnay Alder Springs Vineyard 2014, Mendocino County

A vineyard of altitude and cool seven miles from the ocean at 1200 ft with fruit also sold to Kosta Browne. Her for banana, lemon and intense dry extract. Crisp as possible, freshness, balance, length, carries it all. No butter, no oil, no gratuitous aromas or flavours. Exceptional. Donald Patz has now retired having sold to Chateau Ste. Michelle. Buy it up. May never be this exceptional again. Wild ferment, full malolactic, 70 per cent new French wood. $60-70 US. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted August 2016

Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley

In the zone, reduction blowing off to the edges of the compound. The liberally spread butter fully absorbed, the wood subsidy subsided, now all laid out in retrospect. Ripeness from that beautiful vintage has settled into a cool, lemon curd tart and nectarous nectarine delectation. All tolled the cumulative is an effect of elegance, though in this case not necessarily richesse. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Kutch Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2014

Santa Mateo County, really reductive, very mineral, the most thus far in a line-up of 13 California chardonnays , from what is surely the coolest spot from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Great rocks, stones and bones. Yes bones, by karst and the sea air reaching out to make this seriously cool. The great mountain tang and natural acidity, intense, snappy, snapping back and long. From Jamie Kutch, “Burgundian to a fault,” this being his first effort with chardonnay. An “abandoned” chardonnay vineyard, 12 per cent abv, pH to give you lemon juice but when you get lemons you know just what to do. $40 US. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2016

Keller Estate Chardonnay Oro De Plata 2014, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County

This makes the previous wine (RS) seem oxidative. Reductive is at the fore for the Keller, freshness locked in, really wound on the coastal spindle, intense fruit and even more so, acidity, circular, reeling, wild. A Petaluma Gap leader to be sure, chardonnay of heritage with a winemaking tie to Hansell. No malolactic and all neutral oak. This is so very Chablis, Côte de Lechet and so, wow. $35 US, 800 cases. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted August 2016

Benovia Chardonnay Fort Ross Seaview 2014, Sonoma County

A coastal vineyard (and fruit that is also employed by Flowers) and many will rank this as the coolest spot in California for growing grapes. Mike Sullivan is the winemaker, with fruit that used to go to Marquesan. This done in a richer, expressive, layered style. Some tropical notes, deeply hued, mango, nectarine, creamsicle. Fresh, tart depth, Champagne like with toast and brioche. Luscious custard, 40 per cent new wood, 400 cases made. $55-60 US. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted August 2016

Melville Verna’s Estate Chardonnay 2014, Santa Barbara County

Both rich and really reductive, deeply hued, fully sun-worshipped and deftly but intently extracted fruit. A bite into a barrel, a Mutsu apple and the inside of a platinum pipe. Big, unabashed style with never ending mineral, tart, ripping and wisely no real malolactic. Plenty of lees though and the oldest of the oak. It’s all fruit, lemon curd and so dessert-like chardonnay but of savour and spicy sapidity. Saline finish. $40-50 US. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Migration Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

The richest and most “old-school” California of the lucky 13 tasting, fruit orchard apple and pear albeit folded and blended through ripe and creamy custard. Or at least the renderings thereof. Likely able to attribute that opaque, cloudy, clotted cream sensation from the fog injection. $40-45 US. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Presqu’ile Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County

Nice reserve on this nose, teasing some tropical fruit but keeping it calm, cool and collected. The calcareous aromas are quite fine, delineated like a chalky streak though less so on the palate follow through. Quite tart and nicely dry extract turn to creamy texture but not so thick in fluidity. Like barrel fermented chenin blanc so a unique expression. Listed at 13.9 abv, low pH, neutral oak and stainless, half and half. Matt Murphy is winemaker and co-owner. $35-40 US. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Ramey Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley

Some reduction and quite a corpulent, sweet herbology, genovese basil, pine nut and quality olive oil. Pesto of herb, glade, lemon and fine acidity. Always perfectly Russian River Valley, with a warm steal but ultimately cool. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted August 2016

Ramey Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley

Really showing some age from not the top of the top vintage, holding up but in display of its new barrels, nose oxidized and flavours still buoyed by acidity. So the corrective structure seems out of balance now while the wine marches on. Musty and microbial at this point with a fading sweetness on the finish. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted August 2016

Sonoma County vines
Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/SonomaCountyVintners

Beringer Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley

Continues along the Beringer scaling line of wood retreat, cool climate clarity and as a result a wider commercial appeal. Who would have predicted the success but it’s really working. There would never be a mistaking and the shining is always in play but the admiral work and practicum really does what is base, necessary and appreciated. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Martin Ray Chardonnay 2015, Green Valley Of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

A greener understanding, like the smell of algae on rock in a pretty little creek. Carries some unction and creamy sherbet texture on the palate. Listed at 13.7 abv, toasty by 40 per cent new french oak, full malolactic. It leans delicious but also verdant and commercial. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Rodney Strong Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast

Classic taut and reductive chardonnay with Petaluma Wine Gap scream, in suffragette of creamy, rich fruit. Early harvest, compressed vintage. The fruit is caught in the wine’s vacuum, a wine tunnel creating this centrifuge of richness and acidity. Commercial, composed and so very effective. $25 US Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted August 2016

Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands

A Wagner Family of Wines property, a fine restraint and a shine to cooler thoughts come from this highland chardonnay, with more than enough orchard pressed fruit to fill a trough for the quiet and the masses. Really ramps up and fleshes on the palate with some wild biters late. Good length. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Chamisal Stainless Chardonnay 2015, Central Coast

San Luis Obispo County, ocean proximate, cool spot, from the oldest producer in Edna Valley. Nicely lean, briny, saline, good acidity. Add some fish or seafood flesh and it will sing. Fresh and crisp. $18 US. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Menage A Trois Gold Chardonnay 2015

From the Trinchero Family Estates stable, classic buttery rich and slightly toasty broad California style. Barrel rendered middle road taken, wax polish, enamel-oleaginous spray. Intensely inward and uni-dimensional for commercial lobster fishing, crack a shell and pour into red plastic cup enjoyment. You know what’s it’s good for. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Scheid Chardonnay Escolle Road Vineyard 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County

The aromatics here are off the charts in the 13 strong grouping of this tasting. Waxy, caramel, smoky, flinty, butterscotch in gobs. Really odd conclusive nose and even stranger to taste, with a pencil lead and rubber tipped pencil flavour that reminds of childhood class boredom chewing mistakes. Inoculated, 7 per cent new oak, some of it “European.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Sonoma Coast
Photo (c): http://www.sonomawine.com/

Other White

Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley

Ripe and creamy aromas take this sauvignon blanc into fresh and exotic territory but it’s one of those wines that really improves on the palate, carrying weighty and energy together, expanding and elevating the status in so many ways. A gregarious and resourceful sauvignon blanc with more upside than many peers. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley

The high stirred SS, SB style, from high and dry extract effect, fine acidity and faux sugary spell. Full fleshy mouthfeel and terrific 2015 tang. Lays out the green carpet for the vintage, the varietal and what’s to come. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015, California

J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015, which strikes as pinot grigio in style, dry extract to aromatic sweetness, warm and inviting. Tart and citrus intense, very appealing commercial style and a buttery finish which tells some barrel is involved. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Treana Blanc 2015, Central Coast

A blend of 45 each marsanne and roussanne plus viognier, a bit of aromatic reserve, quite rich and dense on the palate. Flavours of very ripe pear and even riper apple. A bit into the sauce and the purée. Could use a more purposed shot of acidity and courage. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Cabernet Sauvignon

Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

As only Heitz can do this provides the combination of elegance and structure and what may just be the finest tannins available from Napa Valley for cabernet sauvignon. That this is so understated speaks volumes about the essence and the incredulity of a Martha’s and with the dry backdrop of a perfect Napa growing season this clambers through its reps with effortless ease, muscular tension and satisfying performance. More ballerina than gymnast and certainly more statesman than warrior. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted April 2016

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley

Continues the thread of dry, dusty, beautifully savoury and fruit fleshy cabernet sauvignon from the Groth team. It’s like biting into that perfectly ripe and juicy plum, in texture, not sweetness or even specific to the fruit, but that texture, its unmistakeable. Seamless, tender, age worthy and so friendly (but at the same time serious) cabernet sauvignon. Grothiness refined and defined. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted April 2016

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

A different world here, very floral, historic site with vines that go back as far as 1972, organic since the mid-1980’s. With a slice of reduction to grant forward structure where candied roses will always be there. Classic 1990’s Napa style, rich and full but focused, pure and detailed. Complex, 20 months in French wood, 60 per cent new, 88 per cent cabernet sauvignon 88 plus (8) cabernet franc and some petit verdot. The potential is great. This will become picture perfect. $185 US. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted September 2016

Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

The combination of fruit (could it be any riper or improved upon), acumen and no expense spared makes this the cabernet sauvignon of great esteem in that echelon where few reside. Berries in many forms; fresh, puréed and in clafouti are fully engaged. What will this not do for you, for 20 years and more? Everything. The most refined and sophisticated such a wine can be. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted April 2016

J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley

From Schramsberg Vineyards, a Napa Valley aromatic beauty, the most floral of any on this table and in so many ways the most Bordelais, or perhaps more specifically Margaux with such perfume only a scant few know or understand. So pretty and powerful, lovely, structured and intense. This will age for two decades easily and tasting this really puts it all into perspective. The palate brings more of the divine, silky, fleshy and with some spicy bite and chew. Really fine. Really, really fine. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted May 2016

 

Gallica Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Oakville valley floor Napa fruit gravelly soil, from Rosemary Cakebread. First wine in this haute line-up to amalgamate the blue, red and black fruit, with some volcanic aromatics. Acidity works in and all around and so this has it all going on with a chocolate finish more refined. Mainly (75 per cent cabernet sauvignon plus (25) cabernet franc, suave from blueberry to red currant to black berry. The corporeal tone is elegant and muscular. Has some real elegance and is is simply excellent. 249 cases. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted September 2016

Young Inglewood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Deep, low, bench land gravelly soils, extended maceration, rich concentrated depth, amazingly void of chalk and grain though the tannin is intense. Very refined, spicy and great acidity. It’s all in napa, all in from Josh. Wow, so long. $157 US. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Signorello Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, Unfiltered

From 1990 planted hillside, bench site vineyards, gravelly with good drainage, young but structured, just east of the Silverado Trail. Rich, black fruit, chalky, fine-grained and very sweet tannin. All natural yeasts, 22 months in 65 per cent new oak. All in but because the fruit is so rich and pure there is balance. Rich, spicy and focused, tempered chocolate finish, a prime example of today’s Bordelais in the retro-modern world. $156 US. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2016

Silverado Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Also high-toned but the level of serious, depth and bad-ass intent is on the table. From steep shale soils, there is a mountain herb aroma that is distinct, ahead of the chocolate curve,. All in 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 45 per cent new wood, heat factor notably reduced. There is a cool-menthol note but the flavour is a change of pace, into cool, thin mountain air and the tannins are a beast. Tart and grainy finish. Needs five to seven years to integrate. Exceptional wine. $150 US. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Y Rousseau Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Yannick’s work, in reduction and Mount Veeder depth. Further south with fog-maritime coverage so here winemaking is in, Bordelais for sure, reminds of St. Éstephe. Dark, pitchy, cimmerian, with a steep remoteness about it. Volcanic, serious at 2000 ft, so great acidity that just seems natural and raging. Candied flowers and this is just simply intense, gorgeous and alone. Eastern exposure, naturally fermented, 18 months in 75 per cent in new oak. The structure here is second to none with focus, determination and very aggressive tannins. Quite hot on the finish being the only detractor. 150 cases made. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2016

Daou Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Soul Of A Lion 2013, Paso Robles

Carries a cool, Mediterranean savour on the nose, with spirit, vitality and a black olive tapenade. Seamless, ripe in acidity and intensely naked but never wavering from its energy. This is a massively structured wine and no doubt will last 25 years but touched anytime in the first 10 will require hours of aeration and a more than obvious, double-digit ounce weighed, protein fleshy sidekick. It may be big and high octane on the nose, carry a truck load of architectural bones on its corpulent frame but it never loses sight of finesse and dare it be said, elegance. Well, maybe not elegance but it is charming, handsome and fine, even in the face of massive extraction. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted April 2016

Honig Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Going deeper and darker on the floor, ripe and tart black raspberries, dusty Rutherford fruit, 87 cabernet with a long splash of petit verdot, with some merlot. Aged in 100 per cent American oak (30 new). Good valley floor fruit absorption, some exotic black and white fruit, pod and kernel. Acidity is low profile, tannin slightly more but this is quite easy to get at for a Honig. A wine of good volatility. $78 US. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016

Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

High Mediterranean-savoury component, in black olive and caper volatility. So much ripe but tang-tart-sour raspberry, a product of high sun hours at elevation with the need for canopy management. Old vines, erosion hills, fog-influence, history and repetition. Very savoury and another wine with its very own kind of funk. Oak and spice with grainy tannins all over the finish. Wild, disparate and complex wine. A bit early to get to know and then it carries a bit of an advanced character or a natural cure to it that may always be there as it ages over a good long period of time. $175 US. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2016

Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley

Valley floor fruit where healthy ground cover leads for major florals and minor Mediterranean scents, namely black olive. Gravelly, Oak Knoll natural acidity giving rise to the AVA nature, that ripe and round acidity for a cool feel. Aridity, pinch of salinity, rises and lingers. Minor pitches from malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Overall epitome of red fruit. Better value than most. $60 US. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Rocca Family Vineyards 2013, Napa Valley

Single vineyard on a 21-acre farm, high toned, dark fruit from a warm bench land site, alluvial soil, organic. Sees 20 months in 75 per cent French oak and in this case it is necessary because the fruit and the acidity are ravers and ragers. Such a cooling back side, minty, chocolate mint, rubbed between the fingers, yes, like malbec. Oak is huge. $108 US. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2016

Darioush Napa Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

More of a proprietary red, 75 cabernet with some merlot and a minor amount of cabernet franc, plus malbec and petit verdot. More acetic tendency, tart and direct, even stark at first. High octane over bullish concentration, not so subtle, aromatically closed but the acidity and the overall structure is gritty. This needs time to settle, for the composed acidity to get together and layer into the fruit. The finish while hot is more composed. There is some dried fruit advanced character. Multifarious, both by varietal and picking times, or so it would seem. $95 US. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Farella Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

The tones are on the rise, up in the air, quite the herb influence, whiff of pipe tobacco, seems like a higher percent of malbec and/or petit verdot. From the most recently designated AVA, volcanic meets foxy, dried fruit with spice, fig, cherry, apricot, peach and plum. Chewy dried fruit, you need to work a while (it’s actually 100 per cent cabernet) some grainy, chalky tannin and really good length. New oak is well-integrated. Not as cultured and understood in fact perhaps a bit disjointed but so much potential and expectation runs high for what will come next. Oak is an imbalance factor. Simple finish. $65 US. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Sara d’Amato, ROM September 2016

Pinot Noir

Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros

The fullest of fruit, with spice and San Pablo Bay influenced tension. The combination of ripe and ripping, rich and ricocheting. Has found the right place. Typically atypical for Carneros or rather as Carneros within a Napa to Sonoma connectivity. Holds an ability to age like few varietal sistren or brethren in either AVA. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Longoria Wines Pinot Noir Lovely Rita 2015, Sta. Rita Hills

“Nothing can come between us.” A wine with a song in its title, offering up the lowest hanging fruit and ready for lyrical association. Fine and elegant pinot fruit, with slender, long fingers and legs, plenty of confidence and so perfectly Sta. Rita Hills representative of place. Restrained, elegant, beautiful and ethereal. That’s a really fine pinot noir with a shot of garrigue. Drink early, If for no other reason that there is no way to resist temptation. Drink 202017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County

Now under the ownership of Chateau St. Michelle Wine Estates, this is one of Donald Patz’s swan songs, a wine that has swept into a new price stratosphere, 50 per cent increase in the last what seems like five years (but is probably more like ten). Sweet pinot fruit in such a refined, elegant and classically secure Sonoma Coast style, with altitude, diurnal temperature changes and the maritime air all influencing the style. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Marimar Estate Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir 2013, Doña Margarita Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

Marimar Estate’s Mas Cavalis 2013 pinot noir shows great tension as always, acts nominally rustic and engaging. A turnkey pinot noir, expertly ripe and accented with sweet if spicy oak, tart but never lactic. Just terrific varietal wine noting vineyard and AVA with alternating slash double entendre distinction. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Reata Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands

From out of the Santa Lucia Highlands and a property owned by Jamieson Ranch Vineyards. Rich and velvety, slightly spicy but certainly spiced, very consumer friendly at the higher end of the scale, interesting in that it hits all the right notes and lingers nicely but it’s almost too vivid and appealing. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Benovia Pinot Noir Cohn 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

Sweet tension, red berry emotion, tar and roses, not as intense as perhaps expected. Great example however of Russian River Valley fruit, though low acidity, easy to like, hard to keep around. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016

Other Red

Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages 2013, Sonoma County

Full on deep, dark, arid and ranging wide trodding a silk road. Extensively far reaching red blend and with great formidable tannin and structure so perhaps the best of its ilk in many a moon. Top quality from Margo Van Staaveren through the looking glass of vivid transparency and vibrancy. Best I’ve tasted. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted April 2016

Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot 2012, Napa Valley

Duckhorn’s Three Palms ranks amongst the finest in Napa merlot and from 2012 I could paint my plate with this reduction. Thick, beautifully chocolatey and yet chalky, tart, angled and nearly bradding. It could pass for Masseto. Really Italianate and intense. So much chocolate and spice, clove, nutmeg, purple flowers. Not sure just anyone can handle its vivid truth but it’s a very intense and stylish merlot. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Twomey Merlot 2012, Napa Valley

From Silver Oak Cellars, just now coming into its window with the formidable barrel continuing its slow melt, now in a calm and gelid stage. Coconut and plum combine and then there is this chocolate smooth consistency and always the dusty feel of merlot. Still pulsing with energy but this is such a full on expression. All chocolate and espresso on the finish. So much oak. Silver oak. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016

C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery Syrah 2012, Sierra Foothills

From the Sierra Foothills, this is deep mahogany red pitchy, meaty and cured syrah, full aromatic fleshy and mouth coating/filling with terrific silky addendum. A seamless syrah from start to finish. Turns into something firm (feels like granite) and even porcine at the finish. There’s a lot of fun complexity and ever-changing personality, from its roots to the Rhône and back again. Fascinating. approx. $40 CAN. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Cline Big Break Zinfandel 2013, Contra Costa County

Cline’s Big Break zinfandel 2013 is rich, brambly and so full of dark berry fruit, though also a bit of oxidation. Chalky, lactic, not overtly tart and I like the fennel, tar and roses aspect. Complex and really big. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016

Good to go!

godello

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

Retrospective, alternative Argentina

One of my favourite all-time documentaries is the 1967 “Don’t Look Back,” D.A. Pennebaker’s backstage biopic of Bob Dylan on tour. Who can forget “Don’t look back, ooh, a new day is breakin’,” by the mysteriously, somehow and against all odds timeless band Boston. Crazy as “F” Van Morrison sang “Don’t look back, to the days of yesteryear. You cannot live on in the past. Don’t look back.” Finally, in his wistful 1980s Boys of Summer ode to better days Don Henley sang, “A little voice inside my head said don’t look back, you can never look back.” Yet here I am, doing just that, but in this case for good reason.

Gerardo Diaz

Related – Making tracks in Argentina

Related – High altitude heliophiles in Argentina 

Time allows for such things and when you remember unfinished business there is some truth to fulfilling a long ago made promise. A silent accord of salient requiem with passionate people who shared prized bottles and as a wine writer you are bound by the unwritten and unbinding contract. Things demand closure and so the August 2015 sit-down with Gerardo Diaz and David Neinstein at Barque Butcher Bar finally comes full circle. Gerardo’s then epiphany happened in Argentina and the alternative universe he discovered was spoken through a few cases of wine he paid 10 times in duties as compared to what he shelled out at the source. Later in April 2016 we sat down with Emily McLean and Josh Corea (I miss them all) at Archive 909 and tasted the lava. A volcanic time was had by all, naturally. Meanwhile, what does alternative Argentina even mean six years later? By the time I had visited Argentina in November of 2018 the idea of alternative varietals, new, innovative and alternative winemaking styles were already a part of the fabric. But in 2015 the examples were few and far between. Gerardo sniffed them out long before bottle shops lined with labels of the far, wacky and away were even a thing. These were the sixteen we shared and my notes were blessedly easy to transcribe, a testament to Gerardo, the wines and their rebel makers.

Bodega Cruzat Charmat Style Chardonnay, Uco Valley, Mendoza

Juan Carlos is the winemaker for tis fine lithe chardonnay of fine mousse with yeast induction. A yeast of gastronomy, already having passed through some development, long hanging, creamy, rich, full, well-made. Nettles, sharp, pointed, a new Charmat direction and idea. Decent length, peach fleshy flavours and then citrus, ripe and late. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted August 2015

Bodega Cruzat Cuvée Nature Método Tradicional, Uco Valley, Mendoza

A blend of 60 per cent pinot noir and (40) chardonnay, full malo, 24 months on the lees. Full on dusty, leesy, funky fizz, on the platinum, concrete, oxidative side. A grower’s crust, and such righteous proper fromage making this something experiential. Ginger and endemic yeast, like red fife bread, with ferric tones. Goes new and old at the same time. It’s actually chewy! Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015

Domaine Alma Negra Brut Nature NV, Mendoza

A traditional method Rosé and while Josefina Alessio insists “we don’t confess on grape varieties,” this is in fact a pinot noir and malbec sparkler of eight to as much as 16 months on lees. The grapes comes from uncertified biodynamic vineyards in the production zones of Vistaflores, Tunuyán, Mendoza (3,608 feet) and Gualtallary, Tupungato, Mendoza (4,265 feet). An implosive bubble, all about energy and a side-step, two-step into texture. Raspberry is everywhere, as if it could be nerello mascalese sidling up to malbec. Low pH and just about dry adds up to red fruit, lime and overall zest. Drink 2018-2020.  Last tasted November 2018

Aged in 20 per cent new oak and 14 months on lees, unfiltered, smoky as a cranberry marsh brush fire, from Tupungato. Limestone, smoky, sharp and unctuous of candied peach, inciting the need to match this with the smell of an open charcoal grill. Such an amazing response to changing the face of making South American sparkling wine. Turns to cheese and stone on its slow decline which will be six, seven, maybe 10 years down the Uco road.  Tasted August 2015

Bodega La Azul Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza

Steel to bottle for six months rest, 10,000 cases and ostensibly a $10 wine. Reductive, fresh, noting quinine, sparked, pinging and so saline. A briny capering of South America and there is nothing like this, though no capsicum or overt grassiness. Neutral, big mineral, sweet stones, a bit dilute on the palate but also no inspiration. Just La Azul. Drink 2015.  Tasted October 2015

Bodega Finca La Escarcha Viognier Entrelíneas 2011, Tupungato

Saw 10 months in French barriques, a rare Uco Valley sighting, read between the Viognier lines. Clearly about where it’s from, in bite and texture. Would be hard pressed to pick it out blind as viognier yet the oak gives cream and custard, also a bit reductive and yet chardonnay like. So wild, natural, divine. Great length, like the unfurling of a long strip of savoury, saline taffy, smooth and effortless in glide down as if over the sloping ups, downs and moguls of a water slide. Beautiful bitter citrus finish. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted August 2015

Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda 2012, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza

The grape of the people, what people care for and an integral part of the the future for Argentina. No matter how hot it gets, acidity remains. Dark current of currant juice running through a charcoal vein, spice in its drip, bursting of iron, VA and sprays of cooking oil flavour. Velvet tongue and much more spice than many. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted August 2015

Alma 4 Sparkling Bonarda 2011, Santa Rosa, Mendoza

Alma 4 project was started in 1999 by Mauricio Castro, Agustín López, Marcela Manini and Sebastián Zuccardi. Avant-garde, on the radar ideal, 10 day maceration, natural fermentation, 36 months lease the lees, traditional method MASH. A grape Ne-Hi, slice of black cherry pie, yeasty oven aroma, then metal smoulder. Dry as the desert with more acidity than Lambrusco. Santa Rosa nary minerality, sanguine and wound very tight. Dramatic departure from still bonarda, hung for ripe fruit but vilified with zero dosage. Beautiful oxidation. Oh where this might go. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted August 2015

Alma 4 Sparkling Bonarda 2012, Santa Rosa, Mendoza

Lithe by comparison, still oxidative and more elastic, not as rigid and more purity, clean, playful and clear, a blue sky day versus a cloudy brood. Still the grape soda, the current and the ripeness but something softer and prettier here. Lingerer too and the finish is even more blessed with natural aridity. That said the 2011 was a whole helluva lot more fun. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted August 2015

Cara Sur Bonarda 2014, Barreal, San Juan

Dry farmed, down a garagiste of a dirt road, small production, Zuccardi funded. Natural run-off water and yeast, 500-600 bottles, from north of Mendoza, “Valle de Calingasta.” The natural cure is off the charts, the Emidio Pepe of Argentina, Winemaking is really just perfect, smells like the scrape of the amphora, already holds the aromatics of years, the answers of age, the design of ancients. You could keep this in the glass for a week and it will hardly evolve, 40 year wine for sure. Purity incarnate. Drink 2015-2030.  Tasted August 2015

Cara Sur Criolla 2014, Barreal, San Juan

Not gamay, though could very well be, but criolla (cree-oh-jah). Dusty and so floral, earthy of sweet variegated beets, THE Cru of/for criolla, fresh and yet of terra firma. Still has the natural cure, expert finesse, allowance for reality glaring and expansive,. Heads to the atmosphere, hovers as if on magic carpet or broomstick. Pure roses distillate. Taste the novella in the glass, but not the frostbite. The natural sweetness is of a remarkable rusticity. Warmer on the finish than expected. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Vista Flores Single Vineyard 2011, Mendoza

Organic and biodynamic, bruiser, big-boned, so much oak. Chocolate, ferric, sanguine, top-tier commercial malbec, were malbec to be made in Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe. Graphite, pencil lead, full on massive flavour, truly varietal, layered, chalky, full grain and big tannins. Huge bleeping wine yet somehow bleeds natural. Somehow. You really feel the alcohol in the late palate (14.8 per cent). Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted August 2015

Carmelo Patti Malbec 2006, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza

The indigenous natural cure persists in malbec form, eccentric winemaking here, a contrarian Malbec, non-aggressive of fruit jam yet muscular, masculine, oak coffee-chocolate driven. But with Bretty, wood spice character, on the rubber reductive side. With the age of patience, the need for thinking, the lack of care for conventions and standards. Not a major concern for aggressive acidity. Best days are passed but so very flavourful and characterful. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted August 2015

Mar E Pampas Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Patagonia

Young vines, terpenes in juicy waves, very tacky, concentrated, but not so very ripe . Piercing acidity, a grapefruit citrus, not grassy at all and very little spice. Quite in tune with cool climate sauvignon blanc or riesling. Direct, crisp crunch and bite. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted August 2015

Mar & Pampa Gewürztraminer 2014, Patagonia

As fresh as gewürztraminer will ever be, like muscat from the flats of Patras and not nearly tropical. Pear for sure, from sea level flats, with salinity, crisp and delicate. First vintage, waxy and glade citrus, pretty amazing. A late night tang that will keep it from being as simple as say, gewürz nouveau. The most interesting gewürz emotion from bubble gum to bones. Producers in Patagonia be woke. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted August 2015

Mar & Pampa Pinot Noir 2014, Patagonia

Has natural cure, funky socks, brightness of cranberry being. Just a terrific funk, a concrete feel from natural yeast. So pure, with porcine intent, spice, truffle, but again, so bright. Would never guess its origins. The terroir is correct for pinot noir. Has nuance in its litheness. Not exactly Burgundian, no surely Argentinian, clearly Patagonian. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted August 2015

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

Twenty Canadian wines that rocked in 2020

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Year-end lists and greatest hits have always elicited a personal introspective fascination, not any lists mind you but mostly those involving music. Always curious to find out if someone else thought the same songs or albums aligned with your own. Such lists are met with growing skepticism and so the words “top” or “best” should be taken with a grain of salt, scrutinized with impunity, viewed with subjective prejudice. Music and wine need not be considered as ranked, top or best but instead contemplated with dead reckoning, as if throwing a buoyant opinion overboard to determine the speed of the mind’s emotion relative to thought, which was assumed to be dead in the waters of judgement. The feeling of being moved, stirred up in sentiment, excited and reaching deeper into understanding, these are the reasons to tally a culminating register. Neither for enumeration nor for classification, but for the indexing, of harbingers and that which makes us feel.

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

What transpired over the previous 12 months has not left the arena of the unfathomable and the absurd, but with respect to Canadian wine there can be no doubt that a next level of greatness was reached. Holiday time will be somewhat solitary as 2020 winds down and while the sharing of bottles will surely mean more repeated sips for the few involved, they will be sweet ones and are not to be taken for granted. As for the exercise of creating a rocking roster of Canadian made wine, well here on Godello this so happens to be the eighth annual for an instalment that first appeared in 2013. Now adding up to seven more entries than the first and acting as natural segue, a transition and salvo towards crossing over the threshold where 2021 awaits.

Related – Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

Twenty. Not an arbitrary number but rather an arbiter of perpetual and developmental prowess of a nation’s wine-producing ability and surely while knowing that no fewer than 20 others could of, would of, should of made the grade. The quote is a timeless one and will be employed once again. This curated list is “biased, exclusive and decisive but it is meant to celebrate a select few with a mandate to elevate and exult the rest. It’s also a proclamation read to many who remain ignorant to an ideal of great wine being made in Canada. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it.”

Related – Eighteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2018

In 2020 Canadian wine came to my tasting table in ways no other year made it happen. There were no excursions to British Columbia, Nova Scotia or Quebec, save for a 36-hour round-trip drive to Halifax in delivery of precious human cargo. No Cuvée or i4c. No VQA Oyster competition, Somewhereness or Terroir Symposium. No walk-around tastings. Despite going nowhere the opportunities to sample Canadian wines were of a number higher than ever before. Safely distanced tastings at WineAlign headquarters, at the welcome emptiness of Barque Smokehouse and in our homes brought Canada’s finest bottles to us. Though we were unable to convene in June at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, a prodigious alternative became surrogate in the guise of the Guide to Canada’s Best Wines, a.k.a WineAlign’s GCBW. Over the course of six weeks we tasted through 860 samples and not just any mind you but truly Canada’s best. We were sad to miss Tony Aspler’s Ontario Wine Awards and David Lawrason’s Great Canadian Kitchen Party, the artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates. Here’s to hoping 2021 will usher in a return to assessing and celebrating together.

Related – 17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

Aldé Rosé, Interloper and As Is

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

The numbers chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine continue to march ahead, as promised by the annual billing. In 2018 the list counted 18. In 2017 there were 17 and in 2016, 16 noted. In 2015 that meant 15 and 14 for 2014, just as in 2013 the filtered list showed 13. Last year? You would be correct if you guessed 19. There is no red carpet for 2020, it just doesn’t feel appropriate or right but keeping on is essential. “Whence comes the sense of wonder we perceive when we encounter certain bottles of art?” Here are 20 most exciting Canadian wines of 2020. Twenty Canadian wines that rocked.


Le Vieux Pin Ava 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($29.99)

Calculated, figured and reasoned, a 51 per cent roussanne, (36) viognier and (13) marsanne organized, Rhône motivated blend that just fits right. A kiss of new wood and a 35 per cent wood campaign, slightly more in steel and then the other freshener, that being a fifth of this exceptional vintage fruit having seen time in concrete tank. Yes the aromas are wildly fresh, far away tropical and cumulatively enticing. A white blend of rhythm and soul, actionable in every part of its drift and coil, democratic, of no accident, come up to please and at the same time, foil. Offers this and that, high tempo acids opposite fully ripened fruit and all tolled, wrapped up with a tailored bow. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted October 2020

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($29.95)

Cave Spring’s is Ontario riesling and along with three or four others the CSV has been the benchmark for decades. CSV is one of the reasons to believe in riesling, versatile, brutally honest, speaker of the mind, telling us like it is. As for 2018, frosts in late ’17 reduced the upcoming vintage’s yield potential. Long, hot and dry was ’18’s summer and so doubling down occurred. Less yet highly concentred fruit was pretty much assured before September turned wet and humid. CSV embraces and stands firm in its dealings with nature so while there is more flesh and flavour intensity there too is the tried and true structural backbone. Surely a highly phenolic riesling but every aspect is elevated in this game. A hyperbole of itself, gangster riesling, the jumbo package, age-worthy and stone-faced beyond compare. Best ever, perhaps no but perchance something new, riveting, magnified, extravagant and well, fine. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted October 2020

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2017, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($37.20, Stratus Wines)

The concept behind Baker’s single-vineyard riesling is for the top tier one to be possessive in the matters of majestic and dignified, which quite honestly it is. Funny vintage that ’17 was and yet in riesling there can be this slow melt, tide and release of intricacy and intimacy, which this Picone does. Like taking a picture with the slowest shutter speed, allowing the sensor a full allotment of time in its exposure to light. This is the dramatic and hyper-effect and how Baker captured the highest riesling resolution imaginable. The succulence in the acids over top juicy, juicy fruit and this great entanglement is majestic and dignified. My goodness Charles, I think you’ve done it. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted April and October 2020

Martin’s Lane winemaker Shane Munn

Martin’s Lane Riesling Simes Vineyard 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($45.00)

First tasted at the winery in 2018 after only one year in bottle. A cooler vintage and less residual sugar (4 g/L vs. 6 in 2015) and also one reaching for its phenolics. The Alsace Clone (49) planted in 2008 is coming into the zone with this textured ’16 from one of three single vineyards on granite in East Kelowna. There is that minor number of sugar but there are acidities and reminiscences to the motherland that supersede and infiltrate the nooks and crannies of the fruit. Who in the Okanagan neighbourhood would not be envious of the clean clarity that this riesling achieves. Very focused, tightly wound and surely able to unravel ever so slowly, developing beeswax, honey and gasses as it will, over a ten year period. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted April 2020

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($37.15)

Wound tight like a coil around a winch with precise threading and pinpoint spacing for chardonnay that wins the vintage. Reductive style to be sure but only truly noted because of the freshest vibes this side of Motown. Got rhythm and blues, not to mention funk and soul. Clean beats, in step, three-part backing vocals and a purity of sound. Taste relays all these things and more, of succulence and in satiation guaranteed. In other words timeless and the willingness to pour on repeat will be a continuous thing of perpetual satisfaction. Last tasted October 2020. There is no secret that 2016 can align itself with the best of them in Niagara and chardonnay is clearly right in the middle of the discussion. Knowing that, how could the iconic triad of varietal, producer and vineyard not rise like fresh summer fruit cream to the top of the discourse? The years of Pender and Bourgogne barrel studies have come to this; spot on in blending Quarry fruit from wood and associated forests, staves and toasts, here the crux of sonic, sonar, and olfactory waves are met in optimum phenolic crash. The crush of chardonnay, the cryogenic liquid wait and the ultimate goal is achieved. Balance is struck at 12.5 degrees alcohol and all the perfectly seasoned grape tannin you could want. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted May 2020

Leaning Post Senchuk Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario ($45.20, Nicholas Pearce Wines)

Set apart from the Bench wineries and while still beneath the Niagara Escarpment Senchuk Vineyard sits on more of a plain that gently slides down the Lincoln Lakeshore and into Lake Ontario. Perhaps it will become Ontario’s next sub-appellation. Sandy soil is maculated by largish stones three to four feet down. This atop a bed of grey clay so the low vigour of the sandy soil will be offer up a flip-side, a foil to the heavy clay of nearby locales like the Beamsville Bench. This third chardonnay from the home vineyard comes off of vines planted in 2011 so now this seven-year old fruit is starting to really mean something. And Ilya Senchuk is a winemaker who studies, concentrates and plans his work around clones. It’s not just about where to plant which varietals but which clone will work best and where within the greater where. Vineyard, vintage and variance. Senchuk truly believes that greatness is determined by varietal variegation, from vineyard to vineyard and from year to year. From 2018: 64 per cent Clone 548 and (36) Clone 96. Listen further. Warm season so picked on September 18. The grapes were gently whole cluster pressed (separated by Clone), allowed to settle in chilled tanks over night. The juice was then racked into barrels; Clone 548 – one puncheon and three barriques, Clone 96 – three barriques, where they underwent spontaneous alcoholic and malolactic fermentation. The lees were not stirred and it was allowed to age for 16 months. Power, body, tons of fruit, definite barrel influence, a southern Bourgogne kind of vintage, so maybe Pouilly-Fuisée or Maconnais Village with a specific Climat. For the time being we call the Village Lincoln Lakeshore and Senchuk Vineyard the geographical designation. The lemon curd and the acidity are there in a great tangle so yes, this is trés cool chardonnay. I think we can safely say already that the Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay grown in Ilya and Nadia’s home vineyard is on its own, one of a kind and makes wines that don’t taste like anywhere else. This 2018 cements the notion and opens the next stage of the discussion. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2020

Lightfoot And Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2017, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia (462093, $56.95)

Exceptionalities worthy of hyperboles are befitting this chardonnay of concentration, textural satisfaction and immediate gratification. Apple distillate to nose, a walk through a perennial garden on Fundy shores in late summer bloom and then citrus in so many ways, incarnate and teeming with briny, zesty flavour. If your are counting at home, this Lightfoot family wine by way of Peter Gamble and in the hands of winemaker Josh Horton is now six years into its tenure. As the crow flies, qualitatively and quantitatively speaking refinement has never ceased to improve. Has arrived at its new Minas Basin tidal heights, crisp and salivating, finishing on the highest of notes. Chardonnay god of ocean tides, “all night long, writing poems to” Nova Scotia. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted October 2020

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Mission Hill Perpetua 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($60.00)

Dichotomy in chardonnay, grand and graceful, powerful and elegant. Reductive and not acting this way but rather in what is now descried as the post modern style of chardonnay, from Australia to New Zealand, Bourgogne to B.C. Huge fruit concentration, wood equalizing yet in check, acids controlling yet relenting, structured assured though not overly complicating. Orchards combed and fruit brought in to make the composition sing with flavour while the work put in shaves down the rough edges and pieces fit snugly together. Top vintage for this label. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2020

Blomidon Cuvée l’Acadie, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia ($35.00)

The entirety of a sparkling wine oeuvre is modified and transmogrified, designed and decreed of a new morphology where l’Acadie is concerned. It must be conceded that the Nova Scotia varietal speciality is destined to create cracker, lightning rod, back beats and bites in Nova Scotia sparkling wine. This from Blomidon adds spice, apple skin, orange zest and stony moments throughout. It’s amazing. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted October 2020

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc 2015, Traditional Method, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (315200, $49.95)

As always 100 per cent chardonnay and 2015 is perhaps the vintage of the most golden toast, as if made by agemono, with the most lemon and lees ever assembled in a Cuvée Catharine, vintage-dated Sparkling wine. An intensity of aromas swirl around in citrus centrifuge into which the gross cells don’t seem to want to go. On the palate is where they rest, layered and leesy, textured with a sense of weightlessness and wonder. Henry of Pelham channelling an inner Japanese cooking technique. Feels like some time is warranted to pull all this together. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2020

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2013, VQA Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario ($75.00)

The first (commercial) J-L Groux foray into traditional method Sparkling wine has been six plus years in the making, or in this case, senescence as the lees fly and his Blanc de Blanc has finally arrived. A notable moment in the Stratus continuum as they too now own a program of development, time, investment, research and acumen. The nose on this bubble tells a pensive story, or as fantasy goes like dipping your face into a tale-spun pensieve as it takes you back in time. In 2013 chardonnay excelled on the Niagara Peninsula and still today in 2020 we are drinking vintage examples persistent in their freshness and durability of construct. That this reeks of varietal lore is a hallmark moment, that and a conscientious adherence to reverence for solids and the focus on rotational detail. Speaks a Blanc de Blanc vernacular as a chardonnay should, with a bite out of a sharp fall apple, a pesto of verdant aromatics and a crunch of texture before drifting saline, briny and fine. Pretty good work J-L. Kudos for getting from there to here with intelligence and humility. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2020

At a Somewhereness gathering a few years back Thomas Bachelder poured me his first gamay and while I remember the light, I could not have known what complex cru notions the maniacal monk had up his sleeve. Who knew that Twenty Mile Bench gamay would gain standing in “Villages,” “Naturaliste,” and two Wismer-Foxcroft iterations. And so here we are with the more intense of the two whole cluster siblings and the one chosen to celebrate its 52 per cent wild bunch inclusion. The fermentation technique transposed seems almost “alla vinificazione Piedmontese a cappello sommerso,” though by way of sangiovese in Chianti Classico what with a glycerin feel and a formative fabric so tactile to the mouth’s touch. Stemmy? Not a chance. Herbal? Nope. More like a Côte de Brouilly to the Wismer-22’s Brouilly, not quite Morgon but savour and structure are serious, righteous and very much here. That I did not buy cases of this stuff is a real concern. Drink 2020-2027. Tasted November 2020

Malivoire Courtney Gamay 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (524231, $29.95)

What Courtney brings to the table in gamay is what we’ve come to expect from Ontario, that is structurally contracted and age-worthy wine. Now understood to be a Cru designate, carved from a decade of research and well-defined. You could build an entire cellar by way of Malivoire’s multi-varietal work and the many tiers they fashion from drink now, through mid-term aging and up to here in a gamay that will go long. I’ve tasted a few older Malivoires lately and have been blown away by their longevity and also tasted this Courtney from barrel last winter. The whole bunch strategy has come to this, a knowable, beautifully swarthy, fruit protected and into the future protracted guarantee of fortitude and change. Reminds me of Michael Schmelzer’s Montebernardi Panzano sangiovese. Grande. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted October 2020

Rosehall Run’s Dan Sullivan and Goode

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2018, Prince Edward County, Ontario ($42.00)

Fortuitous time and place are the combined recipient of the primary assist for Rosehall’s JCR Vineyard pinot noir, a varietal stunner that seduces from the word go. A drinking vintage, early, ethereal, not lacking but easing in and out of structure, ready to please in the proverbial vein of immediate gratification. Then the County tones, reverb and static mosey on in like a Telecaster’s light jing-a-ling. Rises to an interlude crescendo and explodes into rock ‘n roll bands. In the County the poets make these things happen, then “sit back and let it all be. Tonight, in Jungleland.” Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July and October 2020

CedarCreek Platinum Pinot Noir Block 2 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($54.90)

Block “2” is genuine and fine pinot noir, a pinpointed example multi-faceted in its origins. An exclusive block and also a dedicated clone to make this what it is; ripe stem earthy in phenolics ripe and ready plus a natural and wild fruit sweetness that can’t be replicated by anything but what happens on and from the vine. Anytime pinot noir is experienced as a wine at one with site, clone and vine you know it, feel it and intuit the connection. The forging is a bond unbreakable, as here with Block number two. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted October 2020

Culmina Hypothesis 2014, Golden Mile Bench, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (414243, $49.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

The Triggs original, Hypothesis is an Okanagan Valley flagship red that celebrates the upper benches in what has become the great Golden Mile. This district is no longer a matter of new fashion, it is in fact a place to make serious Bordeaux-varietal red wine. Whether cabernet franc or merlot take the lead there is always cabernet sauvignon to tie the room of lit luminescence together. Culmina’s is bright-eyed on a face of dark fruit, chewy like liquorice and sweetly herbal, naturally sweetened by dessert warmth ripening. You smell, feel, sense and taste the land in this wine. That’s what makes it so special. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted June 2020

Black Hills Nota Bene 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($68.99)

Methinks winemaker Ross Wise is giddy (and that’s a stretch for the stoic man of leisure) in what he must know will be the great eventuality of the Nota Bene 2018. By way of reminder this is one of Canada’s most accomplished and massive reds of great notoriety. The flagship of Black Hills in Bordeaux blend apparel, master of ceremonies and lead singer for B.C. Climat, Somewhereness and terroir. The maestro blend to speak of mystery, riddle and enigma. This ’18 is smooth and I mean smooth, ganache silky and focused. In youth you chew the mouthful, later on you’ll draw and imbibe. Further on down the road you will sip and savour. Quietly luxurious, rampantly delicious and pridefully profound. Top. Grande. Drink 2023-2031.  Tasted June 2020

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Megalomaniac Reserve Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario ($49.95)

Ah, finally! This is the aromatic profile of a reserve style Ontario cabernet franc, well, not “the” but “a” godly one. Concentrated and layered, like phyllo or puff pastry folded again and again upon itself. May seem dense and without air at this time but with time the folds will expand and stack with weightlessness. The variegated red fruit in betweens are juicy, sumptuous and so packed with flavour they will burst when bitten into, or in this case, explode in the mouth. Texture too is all pleasure, as will be the eventuality of exceptionality created by a triangle that includes complete and fine tannin. One of the finest and from a vintage that holds the cards for cabernet franc excellence. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted October 2020

Thirty Bench Small Lot Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($75.00)

Niagara’s most premium solo cabernet franc is turned upside in 2017 and does everything that needed doing to make what is quite possibly the best solo effort in that vintage. Of fruit so dark yet pure and allowed to act, move and speak as varietal in place. Walks that Beamsville Bench walk and talks that cabernet franc talk. World-beating, wholly and truly. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted October 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($85.20)

From a La Brunante year to speak of truths and there is no doubt the team was excited about the prospects of this formidable Beamsville Bench blend. The triad is merlot (43 per cent), malbec (35) and cabernet franc (22). I’d say it was the warm climate and long season that lead to then winemaker Marlize Beyer’s decisions of assemblage. You could pour this blind with red blends from Bordeaux and Australia with nary a taster being able to truly separate one from many others. And yet there is a singularity about these aromatics that are so hard to define, like spices in their simmering infancy ahead of what brand of togetherness they will assign. As for texture and length, balance is exemplary and longevity guaranteed. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted May 2020

Good to go!

godello

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