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

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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

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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

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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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Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

1964

Tout vient à son heure pour qui sait attendre, wrote Clément Marot, Renaissance poet. Everything comes at its appointed time. From Cahors to Turin. War, peace, hate, love, fruit, acid and tannin. Wine is all about the pauses and the balances. At its core the value is in that feeling of things being natural and equal. That’s the way it should be. When you drink you enjoy what you have, without competition. One sensation after another. You feel like you have more, even if you have less. Like consomée with just a chop of vegetables.

Welcome to Godello’s annual list of the most conspicuous, head-turning and psychotropic moments, better known as his 19 mind-blowing wines of 2019. Godello first initiated the concept for a year-end culminating evaluation in 2012 though did not actually coin the phrase until publishing his 14 mind-blowing wines of 2014. Call it the sixth or the eighth but who really cares because the wines are the crux and the heart of the matter.

Related – Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

Hard to know how many wines he actually tasted in 2019 but the best guesstimate would be 2,500 because that is how many reviews have been posted to WineAlign in this calendar year. A couple hundred were for wines tasted in 2018 but the editing and posting of at least that many for wines tasted in 2019 have yet to become permanent. So the number is pretty close, one way or another.

There were at least a few dozen stellar and jaw-dropping wines that should of, could of, would of made this list. For every one chosen another was left behind for no reason other than necessity and its relationship to the mother of invention. These images exhibited are but a few that had every reason to be one of 19’s 19.

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

With thanks to everyone who poured a glass. The producers, winemakers, export managers, friends, colleagues and pirates, please be encouraged and read on. Godello’s 19 mind-blowing wines of 2019.

AB Wines Opçāo Avesso “A” Vinho Verde 2016, Portugal

From winemaker/oenologist António Sousa’s personal label (with partner Bernardo) and a vineyard planted in 2003, in Amarante. These are avesso grapes just a few years away from what António considers the optimum age, when they reach 18 years, 10 years older than the age from which they begin to deliver excellence. This A is in position A, from a perfect vantage point out of a very good vintage. This is the role model and exemplar for avesso, from a project that began in 2016, with all the adjunct components in line; lemon, lime, orange, ripe acidity, juicy nature and just a minor creamy, fleshy and boozy happiness. Great balance. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted October 2019

Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Tocai Friulano Collio DOC 1997, Friuli, Italy

So remarkable, from the old messaging in the riesling/tocai bottle, stricken from the consorzio record. This is now a wine bottled in Bordeaux style but this look back 20-plus years shows freshness, spirit and only the beginnings of secondary character. Gassy and lemon intense, a near-perfect example of what was and could be, of how aged whites of Collio can keep freshness and the saltiness of place. All thjis and without crazy acidity. That is the conundrum and the magic of Collio. The persistence is romanticism incarnate with fruit oozing out of pores in great remain. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Goisot Gulhem Et Jean Hugues Gondonne 2017, Bourgogne Côtes D’auxerre AOC, Bourgogne, France

A soil of kimmeridgian and marl, of white and blue, with great layering of fruit and that is in fact what you feel from Gondonne. There is something rich and overtly expressive here and while it’s anything but simple it could be imagined that so many consumers would understand this chardonnay, love it and want to drink it with abandon. That said the structure, goût de terroir and joie de vivre are just exceptional. The wood and the land just melt right in. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted November 2019

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2007, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa

These Helderberg vines would have been 33 years of age at the time and to think the wine would have cost $10 or so. Now 12 years later we’re graced with this hyperbole of toast, smoulder, lit paraffin and the edge of saffron honey. It’s hard to believe and this the from the tier-two, non-selected grapes at the back of the line behind a Forrester wine like the FMC. Nothing less than incredible. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted October 2019

Ornellaia Bianco 2016, IGT Toscana Bianco, Tuscany, Italy

The Bianco was first introduced in 2013, following fast forward to the original 1980s and 1990s work with Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia. That project had been abandoned because says Axel Heinz “stylistically it just wasn’t right.” That wine was mainly sauvignon blanc on one of Ornellaia’s great vineyard sites. What was wanted was something more than a varietal wine and a new age of finding vineyard sites that were more than merely good for white wine. That means making use of northern slopes and those blocks favourable to whites, including the use of (indigenous) vermentino and viognier. The practice had already been proven with success by colleagues. Bianco is the alter ego to the Rosso, priced as such “and reflects the spirit of Ornellaia, but it had to build itself up to that premium level. We intend to make one of the great white wines of the world,” explains Heinz. That may sound like bragging swagger but the reality is that experience, acumen and especially confidence breed the truth. I Bianci are aged for 12-15 months in (30 per cent new) barriques before bottling. I do dare you to find a wine that smells anything like this Bianco. They are flowers unnamed or perhaps not yet discovered. The flinty reductiveness is also truly and wholly unique. Though the way sauvignon is raised and the place are surely not the same, the Bordeaux styling and sensibility of affinities are more than uncanny and even served by purpose. The vintage brings great maturity, fruitiness and salinity. Fruit presence under the spell of fleur de sel. Nothing but a brilliant combination. Says Heinz without equivocation, “it’s a benchmark for us, ’16 that is.” Drink 2020-2031.  Tasted March 2019

Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2017, AOC Bourgogne, France

The couverture is all encompassing acting as a full sheathing tapestry in surround of a fruit core of sheer concentration and yet as a whole so understated. It’s hard to imagine more coaxing and less pronouncement. Relatively speaking there’s no estate equal to what has happened here. Great mineral crash into life and love, into fruit and impossible acidity. A magnificent chardonnay with 25 years of life ahead. Drink 2021-2039.  Tasted September 2019

Adelsheim Pinot Noir Boulder Bluff 2015, Chehalem Mountains AVA, Oregon

From a steep, southwest facing site and picked really early, especially in the warm 2015 vintage. Again the confluence of vineyard conflagration of more than one soil type leads to an estate stylistic but let’s face it one that is bent into shape by focus and precision. There is great generosity and freshness, again in spite of or despite the hot vintage. More floral from this bluff and bigger, albeit finer quality signature tannin from this neighbourhood, with more thanks to basaltic blocks. Long ageing surely ahead with fruit turning to bramble, at times. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted April 2019

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso DOC Vigna Vico Pre Phylloxera 2015, Sicily, Italy

The litheness of this nerello mascalese from Mount Etna off of 100-plus years of age pre-phylloxera vines cannot be over-stated or overstressed. The light, ethereal beauty of this wine may very well transport you to a place, to a vacuum within a bubble that is a hidden world inside a biodome. Few words are available when a wine speaks to you such as this Vico does to me at this time. This impossibility of such fruit concentration is also implausibly understated, as are the tannins and the acidity, yet all align and intertwine along a perfectly rendered line. You recognize the automatic brilliance, for the people and from the place. You just know it when you taste it. If you can find this wine, if you ever get the chance to purchase a bottle or two, you owe it to yourself to act, for you and for anyone you might happen to share it with. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2019

Donnafugata Mille E Una Notte 1996, DOC Contessa Entellina, Sicily, Italy

An arch classic from Sicilia sud Occidentale and more specifically Tenuta Contessa Entellina. Of the oldest wines this is one of the highest tonality, not unlike older and older schooled nebbiolo from Barbaresco, in a queen’s throne sort of way. There is siply no way to argue that this wine did not deserve to be aged this way and to be waited on for such a moment of appreciation. Age worthy and load management indeed, with every resolution hoped for and expected. Brilliance and a benchmark, with a half decade of life still ahead. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Scarpa Barbera d’Asti DOC La Bogliona 1996, Piedmont, Italy

At 23 years you just have to launch yourself headfirst into the blood orange. That this piece of barbera wow factor happened before the year 2000 is the thing, especially because climate was very different. Rain fell often and slowly through the year, as opposed to the deluges of globally disaster-orchestrated today. Higher acidity simply speaking and this of the great lean, salty and direct-fitted pieces of barbera composure. Still fresh with dried fruits and low alcohol (at 13.0 per cent declared) but who knows which way the marketing directed labelling in those days? More than a lovely look back. Educational, instructional, cerebral and mind-bending from the lesser appreciated Piedmontese sector. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted December 2019

Maison Roche De Bellene Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2012, AOC Bourgogne, France

Do not adjust your set. The vintage brought everything to the table and while the foreground presents a picture crystalline and transparent the entirety of the frame is frozen clear. As for the aromatics this teases a meaty cure like few other and teases as if by the ambience of a cave, restricted of access, hiding what lurks, hangs and excites. Crunchy to say the least, layered to say more and complex to speak the ultimate truth. Magnifique and still twenty years away from the beginning of the end. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted September 2019

Domaine De La Pousse D’or Pommard Premier Cru Les Jarollières 1964, Appellation Pommard Controlée, Bourgogne, France

Calling this 55 year-old Bourgogne Premier Cru a piece of history is not enough to do justice because family, lineage and the passing of the generational torch beyond domaine lines are everything that matters. Nicolas Potel pulled this one out of thin air and not merely by a human ability to disappear and reappear. No, Nico chose the way of disapparating and then apparating (in the wizard sense of “apparition,” a magical form of teleportation). His father Gérard’s ’64 was in his hands and a great big, merde-eating grin was posted all across his face. Les Jarollières is a 1.44 ha plot of marl and calcaire and even today half of the plantings are those that were fitted in 1925 and 1962. It was Gérard Potel who resurrected Domaine de la Pousse d’Or to its glory and in 1964 he acquired the domaine through a marriage to the then owner’s niece. Along with Henri Boillot this cru has been famous being meaty, earthy and owning an ability for supernatural integration. This 1964 had taken all that, everything and more, left nothing in the vineyard and had now become the epitome of the ethereal. The fruit was fully intact, so bloody strawberry, still with lightning quick reflexes and able to pour fresh glasses of spirit and energy over the course of a full hour. The experience was a once in a lifetime type, a shared moment and the kind to create a banked memory that will always be generous when a good one is needed. Thank you Nico. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted December 2019

 

I Fabbri Chianti Classico DOCG 2000, Tuscany, Italy

At the time it was labeled as an (Annata) Chianti Classico though it was really Riserva. Yes it has evolved but 18-plus years should have moved it much further along. Carries a spice like the exoticism in resemblance to 2006 but this is something other. Still some very fine, present and notable acidity. Amazing purity, honesty, luck, circumstance, place and gentile personality. The sapidity is there again and the age ability nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted February 2019

Volpaia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Il Puro 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($150.00)

Il Puro takes her purity to another level in 2015 with fruit so silky fine and chalky tannins integrated into liquid even finer than that fine. The accumulation is just impressive and the charm meeting grace even more so than that. The Mascheroni-Stianti family has really found a stride in this GS to explain why it exists and how it can make many people happy. The structure here will take this through two or three decades of unfolding. There is a house record to prove it, ironically regardless and in spite of the bottle’s name. This is sangiovese. Drink 2023-2037.  Tasted February 2019

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Diecianni 2010, Tuscany, Italy

“A muscle vintage, of huge character,” tells Lorenzo Magnelli. The name of the wine is Diecianni to tell us that Lorenzo’s Riserva is not released until the 10th year. Brings about all the complexities that come from such an extended elévage. Tobacco, savour, forest floor, frutta di bosco and frutto secco but don’t be succumbing to depths and sottosuolo because the freshness persists. A wine so wise beyond its years, like its maker. Sure you can release a Riserva one year after Annata but when it has been protected and taken care of for you then it presents as it was intended to. We are thankful for the triage and the investment on our behalf. The fruit persists with great natural sweetness out of 2010. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted October 2019

Conti Costanti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Colle Al Matrichese 2015, Tuscany, Italy

Andrea Costanti is convinced this is a great vintage. “One of the best.” The weather was perfect following a beneficial cold winter. The harvest was early but not compromisingly so and it saw no hurdles, obstacles or intendments. The barrel use is bigger, older and wiser. This is the sort of concentrated Costanti that speaks to the 2019 philosophy, of acidity, ripeness and balance. Time on skins was about a month (including two weeks of fermentation and oxidation introducing délestage) and no protective sulphur. There is a control in this sangiovese, a powerful restraint but more than that, more so a calm, but not before storm. Finesse, grip and beauty, like a statue of a stag, in a courtyard, lit by moonlight. Tannins are all pervasive, fully stated, yet to feel a necessity for attack. They will and we will retreat, Then we will advance, with caution, further to find full pleasure for two decades. At the very minimum. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted February 2019

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Vecchia 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($177.00)

Planted in 1968 and from a warm vintage all the way to the end, into October. Riccardo Campinoti is smiling wryly, knowingly and confidently after he pours and begins to speak of it. “The longer you waited the riper it became” and the healthy grapes allowed for hanging to mid-October. Deeper and of more sponge-soaked earth in the old vines with a higher tone juxtaposed against the depth drawn by long vine roots. The aromatic complexities run, jump and ride off the proverbial charts and you may find yourself drunk and mystified just from the smells. Once you gain palate entry you are hooked and then you climb in, headfirst, unencumbered, no strings attached. A tour de force beloved of sangiovese, Montalcino and old vines. Vigna Vecchia is the epitome of a true structured wine, one which does not grow old, despite the passage of time. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2019

Antiche Cantine Dei Marchesi Di Barolo 1990, Barolo Riserva, Piemonte, Italy

A grande dame or marchesa in the parlance of these woods, a nebbiolo of persistence, resilience and strength of character. Initiates contact with the past and a contract with tradition by way of the things that matter most. Family for one, roots dug into the earth second and the vineyard’s tongue, if it were able to speak. The overall gist in the parlance is heard and even understood although the dialect is hard to decipher if you are not of this place. This 1990 is found to be of high though level tempered energy and then with an ear, a nose and a soul so close to the earth. Smells like the soils amalgamated, preserved and demonstrated through the tempered liquor of a wise old 29 year-old nebbiolo. So much more than a piece of the past, this is an auguri gathering of storytelling, kin, culture and DNA. You must pay thanks for a chance to taste a thing such as this. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted December 2019

Gaja Sorì Tildìn 2016, Barbaresco DOP, Piemonte, Italy ($810.00)

Angelo Gaja sees 2016 as a perfect vintage in Barbaresco and the one from which climate change is viewed with great irony in the wink-wink guise of parenthetical thanks. That means the cosmic and astronomical alignment makes for wines that are both pleasant in their youth and also impossibly structured to age. Named for the sunny position of the slope and Mr. Gaja’s grandmother Clotilde. Now the clay and the calcaire have conspired, along with the purchased land of which Clotilde was custodian and in how she pushed her husband to make great wine. The vines are now on average 50 years-old and the composition meeting aspect bring a depth of complexity as poignant as it gets in this tiny part of nebbiolo production. All the flowers, rocks and elements are contained within the interior walls of this gently forceful Langhe red. It mimics the matriarch by the strongest power of suggestion and will not take no for an answer. Perhaps never will. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

godello

1964

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

All the wines of Sicily

Temple ruins of Giunone, Parco Valle dei Templi Agrigento

People get ready and listen up. Back in May of 2019 I paid a visit to the great and ancient, melting and wondrous pot of multiculturalism that is the island of Sicily. Sicilia en Primeur, a.k.a Anteprima Siciliana is one of Italy’s finest. JustSicily founder Giusi Macchiarella and her staff on a mission to be great provided my companions and I with an Enotour designed to make tracks through green pastures and winding roads mostly covering the eastern and southeastern sectors of the island. Though it flew by in an instant there was plenty of time afforded intensive investigations over backroads of Catania and Agrigento, replete with return engagements at four near and dear properties; Feudo Montoni, Tenuta Regaleali, Baglio di Cristo Campobello and Feudo Principe di Butera.

Related – Notes from 2019 Sicilia en Primeur

A walk through #villaromanadelcasale to see the exorbitant 4th century splendour of Roman nobility

These visits reconnected me with some of Sicily’s smartest and greatest characters; Fabio Sireci, Melissa Muller, Alberto Tasca, Davide Bacchiega, Carmelo Bonetta, Rosario Ferro, Antonio Paolo Froio and Alessandra Zambonin. It also made cause to pause and be reminded of the important vineyards and wines for which these messengers are custodians; Vrucara, Barbietro, San Lucio, Campobello di Licata and Deliella. On this 2019 leg of the journey a new vineyard discovery called Diodonos told an old nero d’avola story for the Agrigento cooperative Canicattì beneath the temple ruins of Giunone. Perfect segue for a walk through Villa Romana del Casale to see the exorbitant 4th century splendour of Roman nobility.

A glorious finale in Ortigia at Castello Maniace with @siciliaenprimeur

After the 2018 Sicilia en Primeur I asked “have you ever felt so at home or been so comfortable travelling as you have been in Sicily? If you’ve not been then you might not understand what I mean. Sicily is Casa quantu stai e tirrinu quantu viri, “home for as long as you need to be and land as far as the eye can see.” I always assumed it would be the water to captivate me, but from endless seas of wheat to grapevines covering plains, hills and terraces, it would always be about the land.”

“You might also think this island in the southern Mediterranean would ripen grapes with the sort of ease akin to some of the world’s warmest climates, like South Australia or the Western Cape of South Africa. Oh that it were so simple. In Sicily they say, Austu e riustu capu i mmennu, “after August, winter starts.” Growing grapes is truly a matter of place. You need to be specific with your grape varieties and match them to your micro-climate, but also your soils. This is a Sicilian necessity.”

Calling it a day with the @siciliaenprimeur sommeliers @orteapalace

In Siracusa we tasted all the wines of Sicily over two glorious Ortigia days in the palace. I have split up my 136 tasting notes into 12 separate categories, five of which cover the winery visits. If you’d like to go straight to a particular section covered in this report, please feel free to skip forward and click the quick links for any of the following categories:

It’s on the way back home We’ll be there soon.

Sicily’s Viticultural Year: 2018

For those who keep such records, 2018 will go down as the fifth hottest year on the Mediterranean  Italian island since 1900. Sicilia en Primeur took place between May 6th and 10th, 2019 as Assovini Sicilia presented that peculiar vintage to 100 international wine journalists through three days of eno-wine tours and two more of anteprime in Siracusa. This sixteenth edition of Sicily en Primeur hosted 50 producers in the Ortea Palace Luxury Hotel of Ortigia, with more than 500 wines available to taste. The technical presentation was delivered by Mattia Filippi, winemaker and founder of Uva Sapiens. Five masterclasses were presented by five Masters of Wine; Vineyards with a sea view, Travelling through time, DOC Sicilia, Etna, a constantly evolving territory and Small Destinations, a great history.

#piazzadelduomo #ortigia #syracusa #sicilia

We learned three simple truths about the Sicilian wine industry because of the collective reaction to the heat brought forth by 2018. First, production numbers were consistent with 2017. Second, the other two wine production regions of Italy with similar horizontal exactitudes were Piedmont and Tuscany. Third, Sicily proved that staying true to core values, paying attention to quality and limiting yields in the name of productive balance puts the island’s denominations in a league with the country’s elite.

Related – Sicily in review

Sicily’s aromatic whites

In Sicily, the climate and especially the many micro-climates bless the island with levels of aromatic complexity that come straight off of the skins of the grapes, especially the whites. The winemaker attuned to and in tune with his or her terroir is not in search of fat wines because quite frankly, in Sicily they already have so much of everything. So the question begs, “why do they need more?” This fundamental approach is surely an existential one but also one that is highly practical and when followed always leads to some of the most truthful aromatic white wines on the planet. From catarratto, grillo and inzolia to carricante and zibbibo, Sicilian whites are simply killing it. Two prime examples are noted from May visits with Fabio Sireci at Feudo Montoni and Alberto Tasca at Tenuta Regaleali. Many others offered up thrilling discoveries, including those made by Planeta, Tornatore, Donnafugata and Rallo.

Fabio Sireci and Melissa Muller

Feudi Montoni

Feudi Montoni Catarratto Masso 2018, Sicilia DOC ($22.95)

Masso is the cru, “conglomerate stone,” from the soil. Fermented in cement, locked in for and with freshness, sapid and ultra fresh. In 2018 it rained every 10 days, including during harvest so the aromatics are an about face from 2017, a vintage that saw no rain from March to October. What was a relative tropical 2017 is now an herbal, verdant 2018, with aromatics filled by wild finnocchio, fava, honeysuckle, chick pea and lentil. So to speak. Great freshness and so linear, with more age potential. More lime in ’18 and sapidity but only having tasted ’17 will you heed to that belief. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019.

Feudo Montoni Inzolia Dei Fornelli 2018, Sicilia DOC (539932, $22.95)

‘Tis a perfumed vintage for inzolia in Montoni’s world and while the length of time for its stay in stainless is not defined, it remains at service, ready when ready and different every year. If it’s floral so be it with thanks to the blooming heather or in this property’s case, the purple honeysuckle. Another indigenous wine extended from the pied de coup, wildly elegant and yet so simple. Will gain some honey and more flinty strike with a few years in bottle. “And we’ll all go together.” Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Montoni Grillo Timpa 2018, Sicilia DOC ($22.95)

Like the cattaratto and the inzolia the aromatics have turned 180 degrees in ’18 from the wet year, with linearity and direct to the senses notes. Still the fresh squeeze of lemon gets you quick, with smiling spirit. A wholly soulful grillo that will keep you woke and alive. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Montoni Nerello Mascalese Rosé Di Adele 2018, Sicilia DOC ($22.95)

“For you Adele I will pull out all the thorns and put in roses.” This from Fabio Sereci’s father to his mother. Also symbolic for bringing a vineyard back to life. The only wine not named after a cru, but after mama, the mama, the only mama. The “roses of Adele.” The most sapid, herbal, linear and did I mention sapid Rosé in the these parts and any nearby and far away. Take nerello mascalese, grow it in the wilds of Feudo Montoni and this is the result, elegant, lengthy and certainly piu sale. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Montoni Nero d’Avola Lagnusa 2018, Sicilia DOC (523738, $23.95)

The cru where the nero d’avola grows, the lazy one or better yet the smart one, intelligent one who is a late starter, but when he works he’s very good at what he does. Lagnusa. Also a grape gown in clay soils from which yields are low, once a negative now very positive in terms of quality. Some concrete aging and only a short contact with mostly (approximately 80 per cent) old barrels. Another factor of a vintage, herbal, dusty, so very fennel and aromatic enhancing legumes, non marmalata, far from dense, heavy or over the edge in any possible sense of reality. Just balanced in its slightly wild, feral, cured and elegant way. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Montoni Nero d’Avola Vrucara 2015, Sicilia DOC ($58.00)

The en primeur nero d’avola, finished but so far from even hinting at a readiness. Wild strawberry and the dreams of aromatics to come; carob, liquorice, salumi and all the herbs. Grasses and magical things that grow in a Montoni natural world. Top quality acidity for 2015, reeling, supportive and wild. A truly structured wine and one that will resist growing old despite the passage of time. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Montoni Nero d’Avola Vrucara 2010, IGT Sicilia

From Fabio Sireci’s pre-phylloxera vineyard in which some heritage nero d’avola with unparalleled root structures find water six to eight metres below the sand and clay layers. Some are as old as 120 years and still others have been raised by the Sireci method of propaginato, the bending of a heritage vine cane into the earth and then brought up as a new vine. The savoury here is fed by so many surrounding native plants, aromatic oils and how they share the terroir with the Vrucara vines. It’s a great wine, singular, mature and mellowing but done with such confidence and lessons learned. One of Sicily’s greatest wines of confidence and humility. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Montoni Nero d’Avola Vrucara 2008, IGT Sicilia

Still just a baby, curative youthful, high acidity very much in charge with an uncanny at present aroma of wild strawberry. Impactful wild fennel and roses still in bloom. Just the first stages of secondary character are upon the aromatics but structure controls the rest, all of whom still lay in wait around the next decade. We visited the queen by pickup at night where she sits on her throne, as she has for 120 years, with her children born by propaginato, over the course of all that time. Like a cavallo indonato or, if you like, non manzito. Untrained, not wanting to be fenced in, needing time to civilize, habituate and domesticate. We’ll all be long gone.  Last tasted May 2019

The answers are so simple and yet unanswered because magic is involved. You can understand the old vines and the way their fruit turns into wines that begin with ancient wisdom but move so little in the first seven years. What happens at 10 is the turning outward, to express the place and speak the dialect of the cru. The acidity is still high but is now in lift, with fruit at the height and en anergy that flows, really flows, moving across your palate with grace, grab and attention. A contiguous wine from start to finish, with intensity, impression and precision. The structure is come cavallo domato, like a trained horse. Dramatic nd’A but with no drama at all. Tamed and in respect of ancient vine, where it grows and what it wants to give. Ma zitto, a wine to keep you silent. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted May 2018

Feudo Montoni Perricone Core 2008, Sicilia DOC ($22.95)

The most interesting of grapes, known as guernaccia in this part of Sicily, “the grape of the farmer,” thick-skinned, disease resistant and perfect for making home made wine. Full phenolic perricone still has a green pit, picked late (in November), so Fabio cuts/crimps the vine very hard, blocking the flow of sap from the rootstock to the clusters, ostensibly creating an appassimento technique but in the vineyard, one week before harvest. Intriguing from bitter cocoa, through tobacco, carob, bokser and liquorice. You absolutely need lignification, brown stems, for whole bunch fermentation and add all this up, the grape, the techniques and the result is almost singular for any red wine in the world. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Montoni Passito Rosso, IGT Terre Siciliane

From nero d’avola and perricone. Upwards of 200 g/L of RS. That nero liquorice and carob is magnified, hyperbolized and liquified. The acidity brings stability and re-introduces the varietal centrifuge and microcosmic sense of place to the wine. This is like the place itself, centre of some people’s necessary universe, where everything goes on and on.  Drink 2019-2029. Tasted May 2019

Feudo Montoni Passito Bianco, IGT Terre Siciliane
From grillo with some cattaratto to elevate and manage acidity in a passito that is upwards of 136 g/L of RS. So much fruit goings on; gelid orange, caramelized orange, burnt pineapple and apricot. Just faintly nutty, surely unctuous and fine. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted May 2019

So good to be back @tenutaregaleali with @albertotasca

Tenuta Regaleali

Tenuta Regaleali Nozze d’Oro 2017, Sicilia DOC

A wine with a nod in ode to Alberto Tasca’s grandparents and their 30th anniversary, made from inzoilia off of the old (back to 1966) Barbieto Vineyard and blended with sauvignon blanc grown at the highest site on the estate. From a hot and quick vintage the two aromatic varieties layer to create something intense and the connection to Bordeaux Blanc in style is somewhat an uncanny one. A seamless and straightforward white wine with top quality sweet acidity and exceptional food pairing ability. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Tenuta Regaleali Nozze d’Oro 2014, Sicilia DOC

A cooler vintage makes for a flintier, tighter and more snappy white blend, from Barbietro Vineyard grown inzolia and sauvignon blanc. If the hot 2017 was thought to be a Bordeaux ringer than this will double down on that idea, in fact this makes that vintage seem downright tropical. Crunchy, sapid and in the truest sense of the word, so bloody mineral. Lovely bit of grapefruit like bitters with a note on ginger on the finish. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted May 2019

Alberto Tasca

Tenuta Regaleali Nozze d’Oro 2006, Sicilia DOC

A remarkable study in longevity for a Sicilian white blend but you have to delve deeper and into the microcosmic world of the Tenuta Regaleali Estate. Flinty like 2014 though of some more humidity and also residual, semi-tropical fruit substance still relative within the subtext of a cool vintage. It’s like lime dousing mango and gooseberry in cooling mode out of the stufa. Still very flinty and implosive, spirited and gaining speed, if traction even. Impressive look at a 13 year-old joint between inzolia and sauvignon blanc, acidity and structural elegance. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Tenuta Regaleali Perricone Tasca d’Almerita Guarnaccio 2016, Sicilia DOC

The artist also known parochially as guarnaccio is the magical grape variety of endemic proportions that only Sicilia can claim. A wine that will open doors to perception and change the way you see Sicily, not just because it’s different but because it’s exciting. Like cabernet franc with sweet basil, liquorice and sweet peppery plum. Just an ideal vintage, liquid chalky, high acid, full fruit complement and ideal extract. Crunchy like a mouthful of berry rocks.  Last tasted May 2019

Endemic perricone is the grape that has always existed at Regaleali, since 1954, in the historical San Lucio vineyard. The massal selection allowed for extending the vineyard, because believing in perricone (always known as Guarnaccio at the Estate) means respecting the winemaking past of western Sicily, which was rich in this grape. Because brother Rosso del Conte was always offering an age able wine, it was decided to bottle this varietal wine for freshness and possibility. It sees 12 months in 2nd and 3rd use barrique. The first vintage was 2012 and there is a sweet nuttiness about this grape made in this way, like marzipan or nougat, with currant red fruit and in a way, like cabernet franc but without any pyrazine intrusion. A note of carob or bokser joins in, advantageous acidity for buoyancy and a calmness without any real demand by tannin. So much pleasure and confidence. Too early in its tenure to know about aging solo but how can confidence not speak to an avowal of yes? Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2018

Tenuta Regaleali Rosso Del Conte Tasca d’Almerita 2014, Sicilia DOC

The famous blend of perricone and nero d’avola that does not tread into the danger zone of over ripeness and jam, keeping acidity and running with the devil, for the better part of 50 years. Extremely youthful wine, still reductive, still reeking of its multi-vegetal/floral scents of herbs, legumes, grasses and flowers that grow all around the infamous vineyard. The oak regime is still very much in charge of the fruit and so a vanilla-graphite film rests atop the syrah-like pepperiness of the endemic fruit blend. Should begin talking in a dialect that lends a sense of place in two or three more years time and will be a long-lived RdC. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted May 2019

Tasca d’Almerita Rosso Del Conte 1998, DOC Monreale

The original Super Sicilian is a nero d’avola and perricone marriage though over the years they have swapped place in terms of which one leads. Still a secondary time and place, with fruit coming around again and again, especially at the finish. A perricone bulk head wonder with nero d’avola wings. Very much a creamy chocolate ending that while certainly a matter of oak it’s really quite dreamy and through a connection to earthiness it brings you back to the vineyard. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello C’D’C Cristo Di Campobello Rosso 2018, Sicilia DOC

Proper Rosato, of chalk and a faint feign of sweetness, lithe in legerement, no more than two or three hours of free press run. An expression of nero d’avola, of currants and savoury but also sweet herbs. Perfectly salty and in salivation solicitation. That’s what you need and also because there is fruit, real nero d’avola fruit, inclusive of tiny wild strawberries. Only 8,000 bottles are made, out of an estate total of 300,000, in this the fifth year of blush production. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Adènzia Bianco 2018, Sicilia DOC

The 50-50 grillo and inzolio blend that is the expression of white wine as a philosophy from the estate. A Sicilian dialect word that means “pay attention and take care, to the little details, to something or someone.” A soil enriched white blend with tang, silk, salt and richness. It reminds of some Western Cape chenin blanc with melon and sweet lime flavours filling up a frame built on white crumbling stone and aridity. Good persistence noted from a persistently wet year. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Adènzia Bianco 2009, Sicilia DOC

Now a look at the 50-50 grillo-inzolio joint going back 10 years and a wine you might not expect to age this long. An estate credo for the dialectical expression that asks to “pay close attention, take care of the things and people you know and love.” Still carries some impressive energy mixed with some warmer fruit like banana and mango, dusted with dried herbs and fine chalky salt. The acidity persists cut with tonic. Better showing than than the 2008 poured here one year ago. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Grillo Lalùci 2018, Sicilia DOC

And so grillo on its own from Campobello stands alone with a pulse and a stand up to be noticed personality that speaks to a relationship with the land. “A most representative white for us,” says Carmello, “a great variety with a great potential.” Literally translates to “the light,” in reference to times when economics and potential were in the dark. Also means “hope” in light at the end of the tunnel. Rich and sapid, implosive and saline, like peaches sprinkled with rock chalk and fresh basil. Very fresh, very young, at heart. It’s Papa Bonetta who says it best. “I’d like to make a toast with Lalùci, to think positive and see the light in every day of our life.” Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Grillo Lalùci 2013, Sicilia DOC

Two bottles are opened because one is just slightly deeper hued and showing an oxidative note. Each does to an extent which comes us no surprise for a six year-old white from grillo of micro-oxygenated life moments. It’s still reductive, smoky, flinty and like a Sicilian marriage between Bordeaux Blanc and Hunter Valley sémillon. The oxidative bottle is not nearly as smoky or expressive and while it’s not necessarily faulted the advancement must be a result effected by the quality of the cork. It’s actually quite flat in comparison with the sound bottle offering more richness meeting salinity and tension on the palate. More than curious, in fact this is a fascinating look at grillo. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Laudàri Chardonnay 2017, Sicilia DOC

Tasted last year after only only week in bottle, now the reductive aspect and the equalizing barrel are front and centre in this youthful wine from a very warm and even more so, an extremely arid vintage. The chardonnay vines were planted back when no one wanted wines made from autochthonous grape varieties and here twenty some odd years later have become some important heritage vines for the estate. It’s chewy and structured chardonnay, will be improved in another year’s time and while may not live like some cooler vintage brethren, will still develop more interest. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Adènzia Rosso 2017, Sicilia DOC

Silky red, fine, refined and thorough. The blend is 50-50 syrah and nero d’avola, raised in large 100hL barrels. Tini in Legno is the tradition, from tanks meeting barrel where the bottom and the top portions are stainless steel. This allow every aspect of the winemaking to be controlled and the technique combines the old and the new. No surprise this is as smooth as you might imagine. There’s a chalky terroir doubled down by the chalky grain of barrel running through the veins of this deep and warming red blend. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Licata hospitality @cristodicampobello is always on point.

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Lusirà Syrah 2016, Sicilia DOC

Lusirà is Syrah in dialectical Sicilian speak. From a micro-climate and a soil that can express syrah with elevated, aerified and intense aromatics. Fermentation in stainless steel and aging in French oak barriques, new, second, third and fourth passage. All blended back together and the result is rich, richer and richest. It’s a silken feeling, a peppery liquidity and good persistence. Highly modified and prepared syrah for pomp, pop and pleasure. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Nero d’Avola Lu Patri 2016, Sicilia DOC

“The father” is the ultimate red wine expression from Campobello for which all things endemic and traditional are drawn upon for the crafted nero d’avola. The process is the same as Lusirà Syrah, stainless steel fermentation and aging in barriques from one through four years old. Rich as nero d’avola can be, of sweetly endowed fruit and plenty of swagger. This nDa knows exactly what it wants to be, sticks to its guns and tells the world. Look at me, I am nero and I am proud. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Nero d’Avola Lu Patri 2009, Sicilia DOC

The father, as opposed to “my father,” so that it celebrates all fathers. That and the fact that nero d’avola is the father of Sicilian grape varieties. A patriarchal wine and three different samples are poured. A bit oxidative and musty with some raisining fruit. More freshness and spirit with good acidity in the second but still showing similar to the first. The third is most similar to the first. They are all past their best but all show what nero d’avola can do if treated with hands off kid gloves. The 2016 is an example of the trending direction en route to finding the strange, kind and fine magic. In the end it grows on you to make you think of things that matter.  Last tasted May 2019

We tasted two bottles of Lu Patri 2009, the first being a bit muted, not very evolved, a character that could be described as one of slow micro-oxygenation. In the second a minute advancement and I agree with Carmelo that this is preferable, because by now it is clear that all of his wines get better with age. They are not that much fun when stuck inertia-like in their undeveloped youth. The evolution at this stage has brought wild cherry, part fresh (Yes!) and part dried. The acidity is linear up and down the sides of the mouth and the length exceptional. First wine with true chocolate and espresso ahead of the balsamico. The last supper nero d’avola. Truly. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted May 2018

Canicattì

Canicattì Catarratto Aquilae 2018, IGP Terre Siciliane

From the contrada of Aquilata, municipality of Canicattì and the “hinterland” of Agrigento off of limestone and silty soils. The quickest and fruitiest catarratto there just might be, with straight to the point starlight fruit after just a few months of fermentation/aging completion. Like value vermentino or greco, straightforward of recognizable orchard and tree fruit. The minor complexity is like Eledrflower and blanched almond. Simple, fresh, clean and dry. 4.35 euro ex-cellar price. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Canicattì Grillo Fileno 2018, Sicilia DOC

From the municipality of Canicattì and the “hinterland” of Agrigento off of limestone and silty soils. With some higher altitudes at play (up to 600m) this child of zibbibo and catarratto is a spiced, herbal and wildflower grillo, fresh and direct though quite expressive. There’s a fruit tincture meets tin cup sweetness elevated by arranged acidity and garnished by mint. Solid and very drinkable with a minor lemon pith bitter note on the finish. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Dining with the boys of @cvacanicatti at #restaurantecaico in #valleditempi #agrigento

Canicattì Grillo Acquilae Bio 2018, Sicilia DOC

From the contrada of Aquilata, municipality of Canicattì and the “hinterland” of Agrigento off of limestone and silty soils. The organic one and like father catarratto it’s a quick ferment and ageing for easy, fresh, sapid and instant access. What is lacks in complexity as compared to the Fileno it more than makes up for it in acidity, clarity and ubiquitous amenability. No over-thinking needed or involved. Fry some small fishes and exhale. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Canicattì Rosato Delicio 2018, IGP Terre Siciliane

From the municipality of Canicattì and the “hinterland” of Agrigento off of limestone and silty soils. The Rosé is 50-50 nero d’avola and nerello mascalese taken from younger vineyards and aged for four months. More about fruit than acids, although the latter’s presence is noted quite prominently. Strawberries, red delicious apple and currants meet sweet herbs and this is ultimately really well made Rosé with nary a bitter moment. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Canicattì Nero D’avola Centuno 2016, Sicilia DOC

From the municipality of Canicattì and the “hinterland” of Agrigento off of limestone and silty soils. Saw 12 months in barriques and the graphite-eucalyptus notes confirm the newness of the aging. That said it exhibits some notable varietal character albeit in a lush, modern, oxy and forward manner. Clearly a wine made with a specific idea and executed plan in mind. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Canicattì Diodonos 2016, Sicilia DOC

Next vintage from the 2010-ish resurrected vineyard beneath the temple ruins of Giunone, off of sandy, alluvial soils at valley floor altitude. This is mostly nero d’Avola two months in tank and 10 in barrels, then six more before release. A sense of place truly comes through from this youthful 2016 with both sugar ripeness and phenolic ripeness walking hand in hand. The 10 per cent coming from nerello mascalese and cappuccio is nicely supportive for a wine that tastes like nero d’avola should. Balanced, bright, fruit full and structured. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Canicattì Diodonos 2015, Sicilia DOC

From a once abandoned and now resurrected vineyard (around 2010) below the temple of Giunone, off of sandy, alluvial soils at valley floor altitude. Varietal nero d’Avola two months in tank and seven or eight in barrels, then six more before release. A sense of place is important because this carries more, albeit some dried fruit varietal character and in spite of 10 per cent coming from nerello mascalese and cappuccio. Chewy, fruit leather character and some finishing bitters. Goes all out for sugar ripeness, pressing and extraction with a minor green seeds astringent note. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted May 2019

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Feudo Principi Di Butera

Feudo Principi Di Butera Grillo 2018, Sicilia DOC

The child of zibbibo and cattaratto, a recent story actually, from an agronomists’ experiment. This is “A” type of grillo, also know as the “green one,” as opposed to the “B’ used in sweet Marsala production. The green association is a sauvignon blanc one. The verdant character may be present but plays second and third strings to the freshness and the acidity. Implosive grillo and salivating quite frankly. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Principi Di Butera Inzoila 2018, Sicilia DOC

A new soil which is both a blessing and a curse, a pain and a joy to work with. Quality comes from lower yields and specific soils. Here inzolia grazes into hyper-metallic and mineral territory, protected from the heat of the sun, in avoidance of saturated copper, sunflower and gilded gold. Very short skin-contact and nurturing care turn inzolia into this, sapid and even salty, expressive of the calcareous soil and the sea breezes coming from a mere eight kilometres away. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Principi Di Butera Inzoila Séro 2018, Sicilia DOC

Serò is inzolia that saw some time in old barrels and also extra time in bottle. It has maintained its vineyard and atmospheric character while also carrying an oxidative note in opposition to the reductive sibling. Takes the varietal out of vintage and into something structured, with tonic spirit and implosive tang. This is surely something new for inzolia, to be taken seriously into something from a winemaker’s (Paolo Antonio Froio) imagination and beyond. The finish adds toasted chestnut and brown butter, not atypical for wines that pass through Bourgogne barrels. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Principi Di Butera Syrah 2017, Sicilia DOC

The first red to harvest in August at a time with less of a probability to face climate stress. It’s rich, spicy, liquid chalky, peppery and finishing with a minor note of creosote or mesquite. The vintage only accentuates the character, concentrating floral aromas and fine-grained structure without compromise or consequence to über-heightened flavour. A third is put to 350L tonneaux and it shows, in depth of accent and overall composition. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Butera Pasta

Feudo Principi Di Butera Nero d’Avola 2016, Sicilia DOC ($18.95)

Find another nero d’avola that smells like this. I dare you. It’s wildly floral, feral and meaty but not really a matter of sauvage. The fruit optimization and concentration is simply unparalleled and while extraction is ambitious this never gets into over mature berries and cherries. Right now there is strawberry and the just ripe cherry but not so far away are balsamico, tobacco, truffle and all things leather. Only large botti and no tonneaux are used, in respect to the terroir.  Last tasted May 2019

Really complex perfume, jumping from the glass, fresh, vital, from large plantings that make up more than 50 per cent of the agriculture. It’s both dark red fruit expressive and also herbal, of fennel and then a territorial limestone impression running through the fruit. Quite chewy and expansive in the mouth, all a result of stainless fermentations followed by older, larger barrels, 30 and 50 hL. Gives a broad, soft, elasticized and stretched palate texture with no departure from varietal and place. Very focused, clean, modern interpretation with no excesses, attitude or conceit, nor ambition neither. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted May 2018

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Feudo Principi Di Butera Nero d’Avola Deliella 2015, Sicilia DOC ($55.00)

Take everything you think you have come to know about a Butera nero d’avola and begin to multiply, extrapolate and exaggerate. High acidity and a mentholated accent work with the dark purple fruit. Did not think the “normale” was one dimensional but this makes that wine seem simple by comparison. Only the best berries are chosen and only those of the right size and dimension. Precision and focus define this structured wine first produced in 2000 and one that has the potential to age gracefully for up to 20 years.  Last tasted May 2019

Deliella is a selection in the vineyard, from edgy, prurient and analytical investigations in special vineyard blocks with maximum of five bunches per vine to find more concentration from each vine. It’s actually quite a taut and reserved nero d’avola with a slow release of aromatics and charm, dark liquid fruit chalky, structured and quite calm. Takes its time but the acidity carefully climbs up and down the sides of the mouth to stress its position in the overall architecture. Aged in 30 hL casks (and larger tonneaux) for 14 months. There will be some extended longevity here, not forever but likely five to seven years. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2018

Feudo Principi Di Butera Nero d’Avola Deliella 2013, Sicilia DOC ($55.00)

From a time before Antonio Paolo Froio took over the winemaking duties and yet you can’t help but notice the terroir in this single-vineyard nero d’avola. Blacker fruit than red and plenty of spice. Although the oak-aging is stronger than perhaps what needs the fruit persists, the acidity is vibrant and supportive and the concentration handles tannins with great ease. Love the way the caress in energy remains in charge and expressive over the palate. Still very youthful but if you’ve tasted more recent vintages it will then come as no surprise. Very capable wine. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Sparkling Wines

Cantine Nicosia Sosta Tre Santi Carricante Brut Metodo Classico 2016, Sicilia DOC ($55.00)

Varietal carricante from Catania province carrying true green character, lime over lemon and dried herbs. Great grape spirit, high elevation airy tension and flavours promising orange zest, spry and finishing fine bitters. Make use of this ambitious, finely leesy and refreshing sparkling wine as a most excellent aperitif. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Cantine Nicosia Sosta Tre Santi Brut Metodo Classico 2014, DOC Etna ($55.00)

The use of nerello mascalese is certainly intriguing for traditional method sparkling wine, here from volcanic soil on Etna. The varietal character is not without its obviousness in light berry meets currant aromas and then the citrus aspect of red fruit takes over on the palate. Tart in just the right way, balanced and driving steady right down the middle of the road. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Firriato Gaudensius Blanc De Blancs, IGT Terre Siciliane

Labeled as B de B though a 50-50 carricante and chardonnay joint from Catania province with sulphur and citrus dominating the intensity on the nose. Leesy and creamy with some lemon pith for what adds up to a disparate and meandering sense of pleasure. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Casa Vincola Fazio Grillo Spumante Brut, Sicilia DOC

Here grillo from Trapani delivers the basics, with some sugar residually noted and not entirely captured by quick acting fermentation and acidity. Very peachy as per the varietal, the technical guru’s instruction and the method. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Sibliana Due Sorbi, Sicilia DOC

Trapani raised grillo supports a supple and fairly still bubble with concrete and lime aromas leading to a gain of ascension on a palate that comes as quite a pleasant and tension filled surprise. Goes herbal and tannic at the finish. A program with plenty of potential in need of more lees, more acidity and more time. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Sibliana Grillante, Sicilia DOC

Grillo from Trapani in Grillante form is much more direct, dry, intense and ultimately refreshing. There’s a true lemon and lime spirit in this simple, effective and really well made, balanced and focused bubble. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Tenuta Gorghi Tondi Palmarès Brut

Grillo of no specific production zone is a child of Trapani provincial heritage (Mazara del Vallo, south-western Sicily) and it’s one of the more leesy sparkling wines in Sicily. That and great acidity balance out the sweetness and the creamy consistency. Kind of goes for all out broke to layer and solicit pleasure, albeit with quite a whack of flavour packet concentration. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Firriato Gaudensius Blanc De Noir, DOC Etna

Mount Etna, nerello mascalese and downright intensity are the triad of notation from a sparkling wine of great freshness and drive. The lime notes are there from start to finish and there’s a reductive and peppery green apple bite, with an amazing note of green nasturtium seed. This would pair so well with a salad augmented by salty chèvre or feta with nuts, seeds and fresh nasturtium. Like a Brut Zero from Franciacorta, in a way, with great length and potential right here. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Principi Di Butera Nerlouce, DOC Sicilia

A 100 per cent Charmat method nero d’avola that was first produced in 2018 to initiate a sparkling wine program under the guide of winemaker Paolo Antonio Froio. The new traditional method program will launch in 2020 from the 2016 vintage and this “black light” is a careful play on words for a varietal wine made light, fresh, fruity and a touch sweet from the dark-hued red grape. It’s vibrancy is very useful for midday sipping under the Butera sun with a cool breeze and a view across the surrounding hills. It’s just the beginning of a long sparkling relationship ahead. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Carricante Brut Metodo Classico, DOC Sicilia

The varietal classic method sparkling wine come from the same vineyard as the Eruzione, picked around the 20th of September. First bottles were made in 2009 and first commercial release was 2010. Today the vintage (2015) is defined but actually on the back label. Stoic and sharp, attention grabbing and if short of eruptive, still blowing ash, smoke and pumice. So to speak of course but there is true intention, pet up tension and after a sip, release. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Gurvinder Bhatia

Whites from Etna

Cottanera Etna Bianco Contrada Calderara 2016, DOC Etna

Salty volcanic single cru Etna Bianco (at 750m) with a distinct lava-wild finocchio aroma that demands immediate attention. Also quite floral with as much of a sense of place in pocket as any carricante from anywhere on the volcano. Some tonic and ginger-orange bitters mark the back end in finale. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Cusumano Alta Mora Etna Bianco 2018, DOC Etna

Herbal, rich and lightly salty carricante with yeoman acidity and good soil derived tang. Quickly on the lime and savoury herb angle without equivocation. Basic really and perfectly serviceable. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Gulfi Carjcanti 2016, IGT Terre Siciliane

Highly curious and salty savoury carricante from Gulfi, apposite to Etna Bianco in more than simple denominational ways. It’s flinty reductive, white peppery and bloody spirited stuff, a Ragusa white of parochial and carefully if rebelliously constructed purpose. The tart aspect is angular to implosive and the length a matter of exceptional extract and tannin, if not necessarily acidity. It’s a different sort and so worth the visit. Will age really, really well. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Pietradolce Sant’Andrea Bianco 2016, IGT Terre Siciliane

This Catania Bianco is quite evolved in its own idiosyncratic way, with a barrel influenced note that still indicates reduction in a wine that has clearly seen its share of oxygen. The paraffin and beeswax are just ahead of what soon will be honey and lemon curd entangled romantically for soft lighting and music. A natural, in the local demure of dimly lit carricante for those who need to get lost in their wine. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Pietradolce Etna Bianco Archineri 2018, DOC Etna

The Archineri cru brings the most laser-like and saltiest intensity to carricate from Etna. It’s a syringe filled with concentrated lemon and grape spirt injected into the utmost varietal conjecture that can be captured from this volcanic moonscape. Such a crunchy mouthful of lava, basalt and love. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Pietradolce Etna Bianco 2018, DOC Etna

The Etna Bianco normale from Pietradolce shoots less of a laser shot into carricante and while it may be seen as rounder and more amenable than the Archineri and it is a perfectly knowable introduction to Etna Bianco. You should and will not be fooled for its honesty. It shoots from the hip and means serious Etna business. A must have for licensees and those who just want to share the volcano with friends, enemies and colleagues. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Vivera Salisire Contrada Martinella Etna Bianco 2015, DOC Etna

Salsire is by now well accumulated in character from time and evolution to bring a lovely sense of that secondary expressiveness only carricante can do with idiosyncratic oath. It’s round and full of lemons in many respects; juice, curd and zest. Has come to where volcanic Etna can and will. It just is, that’s all there is and it’s alright. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Alessio Planeta

Planeta Etna Bianco 2018, DOC Etna

Planeta’s Etna Bianco is the poster child, smiling face and sharp as a tack example, also carrying a smirk and an all pervasive knowing of what do to. This fruit and the way it is handled go hand in hand with what you want, need and desire from carricante, volcanics and winemaking. There is substance, a serious basaltic injection and more fruit than most white grape varieties are capable of giving without gushing, cloying or tropically distracting your attention. Such an ideal vintage too. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Carricante 2017, Sicilia DOC ($42.99)

Eruzione lies in wait, impulsively structured, set marbled in state as an implosive carricante (with five per cent riesling) class of its very eruptive own. It is a mimic of its volcano, a wine spewing smoulder and gaseous aromatics surrounding a core of fruit so compact, connected, exacting and protected. Perhaps a misunderstood and even strange vintage advance but in a world’s away way the evolution will take time to unwind and reveal what lays behind. There is nothing like fantasy and musical sci-fi imagery in a wine of such mystery and we’re all better off to be caught up in the presence of this great unknown. We’ll find some things out when this casts in a future light so for now, just enjoy whatever laser light show and sonic beeps happen to come your way. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted May 2019

Torre Mora Etna Bianco Scalunera 2018, DOC Etna

Scalunera is a new player steeped in Etna volcanic tradition from the house that Puccini built. The carricante fruit is highly augmented with complexities of almond pit, peach blossom and soft marzipan. It’s both herbal and fruity with these accents providing the salve greeting proviso to consumer pleasure. Can’t go wrong here. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Firriato Le Sabbie Dell Etna Bianco 2018, DOC Etna

The blend of carricante and catarratto (60-40) from the sandy basalt on Mount Etna is a rounder and more herbal pesto expression with sweet verdant personality and very lime driven flavours. It’s the salsa verde of Etna with fine acidity and true salinity. Golden and purely pleasurable, if slightly metallic Bianco. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Firriato Cavanera Ripa Di Scorciavacca 2016, DOC Etna

This Firriato carricante-catarratto blend (60-40) takes an about face turn away from the Sabbie sister and goes more linear, direct and intense. Still verdant but this time less herbal and more reductive, with green apple bite. A bigger and more focused and extracted Etna Bianco with more bones and further potential to develop beneficial bitters and secondary notes. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Tornatore Etna Bianco Pietrarizzo 2017, DOC Etna ($34.00)

The cru Pietrarizzo concentrates fruit, style, cause and effect in a carricante (with 10 per cent catarratto) that really builds texture upon a core of stability. There’s a lemon layering as mille-feuille as any on the mountain from which mouthfeel and balance are well-afforded time, grace and place. This is the quintessentially responsible, responsive and remonstrative Etna Bianco. It’s giving, generous and free-spirited, taking cleanest fruit and bringing a Contrada’s specificity to light. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted May 2019

Tenute Bosco Piano Dei Daini 2018, DOC Etna

If any other Etna Bianco were considered round and generous previous to now, this from Bosco re-writes the script. The fruit is quelling, welling and so up front, mostly citrus in orientation but aromatically speaking this bursts from the glass. Extreme freshness with heavy prejudice towards immediate gratification brings you in and keeps you fascinated. A gregarious wine with a solid core and a karst from bones that bodes very well for the future. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Tenute Bosco Etna Bianco 2017, DOC Etna

A blend of the two contrade (Santo Spirito and Pian dei Daini) made with 90 per cent carricante blended into by catarratto and inzolia. A triad of clean clarity, salty aromatics and confident fruit unction. Meyer lemon to peach and a metal-mineral set of moments. Basalt tang and pure intensity with persistence to just an amount you would ask for and to manage the bites you are enjoying from various depths plucked out of the sea. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Assorted Whites

Rallo Bianco 1860 2017, DOP Sicilia

No member of the Rallo family remains a part of the winery yet that need not distract us from a catarratto out of the terroir in Patti Piccolo ad Alcamo,with luminous acidity plus low and slow developed phenolics. The fruit has come full growing cycle circle so that the pith is truly a part of the lushness that flirts with the tropical. Organic, perfectly bitter and so drinkable. Nothing neutral or boring here. Should develop a sense of caramelization by way of flinty, smoky and smouldering ways. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Assuli Donna Angelica 2017, DOC Sicilia

A sample somewhat metallic, oxidative and quite glycerin in texture, of catarratto, grillo and zibibbo in the production area of Mazara del Vallo. A completely different style of extraction, longer maceration and lots of richness. Certainly a style and one that will solicit a consumer who likes their fruit and their metals. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Alessandro Di Camporeale Catarratto Vigna Di Mandranova 2017, DOC Sicilia

The parent of garganega (Soave and Gambelara) is a firm, giving and well endowed in acidity catarratto from this single vineyard in Agro di Camporeale. Some wood aging adds tonic and marzipan to what began as a smoky varietal wine. The concentration can handle the movement through wood so that basalt, fruit and elemental fineness all get on the same page. Quite complex and morbido (in two languages) at the finish. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Centopassi Terre Rosse Di Giabbascio R14 2014, IGT Terre Siciliane

From a warm area in San Giuseppe Jato on the northwest part of the island and a cooperative on lands confiscated from the mafia. Long aging adding up to nearly four years in tank plus barrel make for a tannic, evolved, metallic and soft catarratto. Full development and extract of all phenolics available in a wine predicated on winemaking above all else. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Arancio Bianco Riserva Dalila 2017, DOC Sicilia

The blend is grillo (80 per cent) and viognier from Contrada Portella Misilbesi in Sambuca di Sicilia. Very yellow orange, quite muscat like with sauvignon blanc lime, floridity and florality. It’s like how that grape can seem botrytis affected because of the peach sweetness and noble rot sensation. Nothing exciting but surely has its place. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Le Casematte Peloro Siclia Bianco 2018, DOC Sicilia

A blend of grillo and carricante, more than 60 per cent is grillo and yet the carricante develops the good and plenty complexity from high toned aromatics. A flinty and striking scintillant with laser sharp flavours. Lovely wine, focused, mineral, salty and fine. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Dei Principi Di Spadafora Catarratto 2018, IGP Terre Sicilane

Out of northwest Sicily, of land and respect for nature first. An organic vineyard, 100 hectares, 215,000 bottles produced annually. From sand and marl, essentially argiloso, so a very Good texture, some peach and almond pit notes that are gentle and influential. Lovely wine. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Dei Principi Di Spadafora Don Pietro Bianco 2018, IGP Terre Sicilane

A 50-50 split of catarratto and grillo, named for Enrica’s grandfather who first made this wine in 1993 and named it as such in 1994. The grillo adds sunshine but this is in fact more amenable and understandable with a different sort of mineral, here in alloy conglomerate accumulation. A beautifully arranged appellative blend. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Dei Principi Di Spadafora Grillo 2018, IGP Terre Sicilane

Grillo is held back two years, one in concrete tank and one in bottle, to mitigate the potentially obstructive freshness though more so, like riesling, a little extra time will bring more balance and delight. There needs to be middle ground between the old oxidative grillo and the new must drink in the first six months style. This is the compromise but even better the right way to accomplish what’s right, proper and necessary, And one to age as well. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Allemanda, Sicilia Noto DOC

A dry moscato (de Noto) that ranks as one of most aromatic you are likely to come across. While it is dry there’s a sweet and savoury tug at once herbal and then metallic enough to pique your interest straight up into the atmosphere. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Alastro 2018, Sicilia Menfi DOC

A varietal sauvignon blanc from the unheralded and exceptional outpost of Menfi which just may be Sicily’s version of the wild, wild, west. This is a searing, straight-shooter, powerful, elegant, direct and unintentionally ethereal. There’s a punchiness, a fruit punch lag and great mineral thoughtfulness. All terroir right here. Or if you could make riesling in Sancerre, when done well, this is what it might be. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Cometa 2018, Sicilia Menfi DOC

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 2016, 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

More dry #zibbibo please ~ tasting a diverse lot @siciliaenprimeur ~ terrific wines

Zibbibo

Donnafugata Lighea 2017, DOC Sicilia ($27.99)

Now into the lost art of grillo’s parent zibbibo, a once dominating Sicilian grape that can and will demand your attention when made this way. Like muscat with greater acidity and metal-magic ability, zibbibo carries fine lime and grapefruit bitters like the best of riesling and with a florality that intimates gewürztraminer. Just this example will tell you why some winemakers choose the skin-contact route with a grape that’s such a chameleon and able to maintain acidity plus structure without heading out to salve pasture. Prime example of that right here, finishing with a perfectly tart, just bit into green peach. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Sibliana Eughenes Zibbibo 2018, DOC Sicilia

Another example of dry zibbibo here with less petrol and floral notes but so much citrus fruit. Along with the lemon and lime comes that grapefruit and zesty orange. It’s amazing how it’s expressive of all this plus the kind of bitters that really tie the zibbibo room together. Some will find it challenging but the linger and length are nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Tenuta Gorghi Tondi Rajàh 2018, DOC Sicilia

Yet again another sort of zibbibo and even within the dry spectrum we see the versatility and diversity of this disappearing variety. More verdancy, herbal pesto, honey dew melon and unction now, with the floral return in lily of the valley and then some drops of orange in a tincture of coriander, stem and hay. The grassiness here is more sauvignon blanc than riesling or muscat and yes, a new way to look at dry zibbibo. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Rallo Al Qasar 2018, DOC Sicilia

The richest and sexiest of the five zibbibo tasted in this flight, of tropical, glycerin fruit and spicy white pepper. Surely less arid than the others, rounder and with added metallics. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Fina Taif Zibibbo 2018, IGT Terre Siciliane

Taif is zibbibo from Trapani and once again it’s profile and style is unlike any of the other four tasted in this flight. Though linear, high in striking acidity and certainly lemon-lime focused it’s also an aromatic white of texture and mouthfeel. Brings the muscat nose and zibbibo palate capability together for balanced culpability. Just a terrific example of pleasure meeting structure for the next five years of tight and copacetic togetherness. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Sunset over Siracusa

Rosato

Spadafora Dei Principi Rosato Don Pietro 2018, IGT Terre Siciliane

A wild strawberry and mildly earthy-funky Roasto without any bones about who he, she or they happen to be, which coincidentally is nero d’avola of the quickest press for just a hint of varietal inclination. Tart, tight, salty and direct, the brain with knowable and nodding understanding. Serious and who cares at the same time. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Cottanera Etna Rosato 2018, IGT Terre Siciliane

Well, now this is really something in nerello mascalese Rosato. It seems at first so fruity, amenable and commercial. The masses will love its fruitiness and what seems like the right amount of sweetness. Then it turns, salty and fine, complexities woven through the extract of time, tannin and crushed rocks sprinkled with lime. It’s chameleon ability to now reel in the the intellect and the discerning one is something to behold. Smart, funny and so charming. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Tenuta Gorghi Tondi Rosa Dei Venti 2018, IGT Terre Siciliane

A lovely dry and herbal Rosato with a distinct rose petal aroma that leads to saltiness and real Provençal styling on the palate. It’s the way nerello mascalese can imitate, intimate and walk the walk of such a stylistic. Really well made in that regard. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Tenuta Bosco Rosato Piano Dei Daini 2018, DOC Etna

Daini’s is recognizable nerello mascalese in Rosato styling and clothing with its tart aridity and fruit of a cranberry, currant and pomegranate vein. If that makes sense to you then read on. There’s a red citrus notation that some Rosés just seem to acquiesce and I tend to find it polarizing for those who like Rose. In this instance it can be imagined to work really well for grilled meats. That much I know. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Tenuta Bosco Etna Rosato 2018, DOC Etna

Rosato from only the pre-phylloxera vines found in Santo Spirito and yes, this is Rosato from those grapes, albeit at the lowest part of the vineyard. The saltiest (within perfect reason) and great fruit concentration rosato that makes you wish you could have the bottle all to yourself. A natural extract sweetness that Rosé so rarely gifts. Just ideal. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Pietradolce Etna Rosato 2018, DOC Etna

Pietradloce does Rosé with certain weight, not in density or heaviness but in magically drawn dry extract and grape tannin. Though it’s lithe Rosato made like a white wine from local nerello mascalese it comes across as a red because the unspoken and hidden possibilities in that extractive process bring trace minerals, elements and earth that most don’t find the way to do. Curious, expressive and with some serious potential. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Pietradolce Etna Rosato 2017, DOC Etna

Perhaps less expressive as ’17 but equally salé with a touch of pepe bianco, or if you concentrate the fruit like this and gift such clarity, the delicasse is more pepperosa. Lovely, fine, special and ideal. Celebrates the young vines growing in the pre-phylloxera Santa Spirito vineyard. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Torre Mora Scalunera Etna Rosato 2018, DOC Etna

Here is truly fruity, amenable and aromatic Rosato from nerello mascalese that walks the textured line. The components are all raised up on the bar; fruit, acids and also sweetness. It’s ostensibly made dry by its balance but the market is meant to be pleased with this style. And it will be. And more because the sneaking factor suggestive of structure raises the ceiling of potential. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Donnafugata Sul Vulcano 2018, DOC Etna

Here Donnafugata serves up a serious yet humorously chic Rosato of more seamlessness when you consider the gathering of fruit, texture and acidity. This just has a way of tying the varietal and purgatorial room together with some method in its magic madness and the result is quite hypnotizing. It’s both gratifying and mystifying from a hermaphroditic wine that crosses between the poles. So for Sul Vulcano there is no mystery. As for the rest of us, there is plenty. Erstwhile will watch to see where this goes. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Assorted Reds

Castello Solicchiata Cabernet Franc 2013, IGT Terre Siciliane

If you are not fascinated by what can happen when cabernet franc takes to the diaspora streets than clearly you are not a golfer. It is unfortunate that this particular bottle is a bit oxidized, not as a matter of age but just the bottle. And yet the captured acidity is still more than intact but it can’t make up for fruit that is at the edge; hints at cooked, roasted, torched and drying. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Castello Solicchiata Cabernet Franc 2012, IGT Terre Siciliane

While the bottle of 2013 is not so sound this 2012 resides in a place of much better condition. The fruit ripeness persists with a drizzle of reduced balsamico and a lingering that really drives the point. There’s a real sense of crunchiness now rendering into chewy leather and liquorice. Highly instructive wine that is a true rarity in these parts around Catania. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Tenuta Gorghi Tondi Dumé 2018, DOC Sicilia

This frappato from Trapani is a fruit bomb in the lightest and most acid-driven expression of the word. The light, airy and unencumbered brilliance is buoyant and responsive. This is clearly on the sour side of frappato and in a wholly intense and gastronomic way. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Valle Dell’acate Frappato Il Frappato 2018, DOC Sicilia

Here is a richer and riper frappato that has been pressed for success and squeezed for every last good and plenty drop it can give. There’s a sour candy apple tartness to the fruit and nearly negligible tannin. Ready to drink anytime you are ready. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Centopassi Cimento Di Perricone 2017, IGT Terre Siciliane

Cimento is high glycerin and rich perricone in the garnacha realm, nearly into syrup and certainly at maximum fruit. Dark and blue blood fruit mysterious with pectic and fine-grained tannin. Really well made. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Azienda Agricola Todaro Perricone Feotto 2016, DOC Sicilia

Rich, thick, unctuous and all pervasive glycerin perricone. Highly modern, extracted and wood modified red. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Assuli Furioso Perricone 2016, DOC Sicilia

The longest living variety in Italy, kept alive by a couple dozen producers that was at a time (in the late 19th century) the most planted variety in Sicily. From Contrada Carcitella in Mazaro del Vallo, far western Sicily. A varietal play with rocks, crunchy texture and highly parochial flavours; amaro herbal, blue pulpy fruit and quite forthright. Juicy, juicy wine. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Todoro Shadir 2017, DOC Sicilia

Varietal nero d’avola from Contrada Feotto in San Giuseppe Jato in western Sicily on the north coast. Clay soils at 450m bring dark, rich and warmth for fig, raisin and caramelized sunshine. Not very expressive aromatically though finely tannic and chalky. Acidity is quite supportive though the toasted fruit is not so interested in what it might improve upon were it so accede. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Di Pianetto Viafrancia Rosso 2014, DOC Sicilia

Contrada Pianetto in Santa Cristina Gela is the source for merlot (70 per cent) and cabernet sauvignon raised in controspalliera (cordone) trellising. Carries all the hallmarks of international varieties grown in foreign lands where it may or may not have found its way. The acidity is searing while the fruit fades into acetic ways. Chalky and grainy but very tart. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Maccari Maharis 2016, DOC Sicilia

From Contrado Maccari, in Noto with 100 per cent varietal syrah off of calcareous soils. Quite layered and expressive, peppery, high-toned and fruit liquorice leathery. Fragrant and crunchy at times too with savoury-sinewy, nearly resinous but just dialled back enough syrah style. The name comes from the watchtower built by the Arab inhabitants on this coast. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Duca Di Salaparuta Duca Enrico 2009, IGT Sicilia

This is just a lovely older wine with perfectly intact albeit transmogrified cherry fruit, uncanny as cherries dried, leathery and still somehow deliciously fresh. That it is nero d’avola, allevato ad alberello in Tenuta di Suor Marchesa in Riesi may or not bring further surprise but the tertiary qualities are nothing short of remarkable. Acids are still supportive and though the syrupy palate is advancing into marbella-like territory that earthiness just adds to the overall charm. As does the sweet smoulder of tobacco that comes at you in waves. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Duca Di Salaparuta Làvico 2015, IGT Terre Siciliane

Take a turn about face in such a nerello mascalese, not quite Etna and surely something other. There is a glycerin and wood structuring if mottled by a soothing coolness about this Rosso. It’s lavished with gilded texture and is very lengthy, like a dress on a mosaic depiction that runs the length of a 4th century Roman villa’s welcome hall. Another example of what a particular house in a particular place can do with nerello mascalese. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted May 2019

Gulfi San Loré 2001, IGT Sicilia

Gulfi’s Vigna San Lorenzo is the source for this umami-marmite-vegemite-roasted vegetable-meat curative Alberello raised nero d’avola from Pachino/Eloro/Val di Noto. This is essentially Sicilian royalty winemaking from fruit concentration at its very optimum best. Twenty-four months in all the right vessels has extracted all the magical character in charm and possibility from and for the grape variety. The acidity is extraordinary and the balance just spot on. So much life and further potential lay ahead. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Spadafora Nero d’Avola Selezione Limitada 2013, IGP Terre Siciliane

“We like to wait, we’re in no hurry. When the wine is ready we release it.” So says Enrica Spadafora. This ’13 is the current release, six years forward. The aging has been done for you and this one needed the time, in fact the tannins are still demanding and in charge. The dark fruit has not dissipated a moment or lost a step. Has 10 years left easy. Delightfully structured nero d’avola of tension, purpose and definitive direction. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Spadafora Schietto Nero d’Avola 2009, IGT Sicilia

From Contrada Virzi in Monreale this is nero d’avola fuller and with more tart ability. While the aromatics are less curious or idiosyncratic there is a wet concrete character that suggest less oxygenation and freshness, though with it comes more unresolved tannin. From Sicily’s northwest with rich soil structure that translates into this nero d’avola heading towards the sunset. It’s really good though not necessarily magically complex. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Leonardo di Bella and Enrica Spadafora

Spadafora Cabernet Sauvignon Selezione Limitada 2012, IGP Terre Siciliane

One of the few Sicilian wineries to not just bottle varietal cabernet sauvignon but to do so with such intention and to treat it with the same respect nero d’avola affords. From the island’s northwest and a small total output off of organic vineyards. So bloody smooth, of ribena and chocolate and one of the island’s great textural wines. Quite a Sicilian expatriate epiphany this one. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Spadafora Syrah Sole dei Padri 2009, IGP Terre Siciliane

This 2009 is the current release, held back for the consumer as will all the reds. A 100 per cent syrah, 50 per cent seeing 25hL barrels, 25 per cent in barriques and 25 in stainless tank. High toned, of creosote, graphite and syrah’s distinct pepperiness. Travels far beyond nero d’avola and cabernet sauvignon in terms of reductive expressionism though without the dusty plum or black forest cake syrup glaze. The flavours here are singular and striking, needing even more time to integrate because the tannins are formidable. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted May 2019

Donnafugata Mille E Una Notte 1996, DOC Contessa Entellina

An arch classic from Sicilia sud Occidentale and more specifically Tenuta Contessa Entellina. Of the oldest wines this is one of the highest tonality, not unlike older and older schooled nebbiolo from Barbaresco, in a queen’s throne sort of way. There is siply no way to argue that this wine did not deserve to be aged this way and to be waited on for such a moment of appreciation. Age worthy and load management indeed, with every resolution hoped for and expected. Brilliance and a benchmark, with a half decade of life still ahead. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Le Casematte Faro 2017, DOC Sicilia

A four-poster blend of nerello mascalese (55 per cent), nerello cappuccio (25), nocera (10) and nero d’avola. Another wine from Gianfranco Vailati that smells and tastes like the sea, like the far northeastern corner on the strait of Messina to almost reach out and touch Calabria. Sea urchin again, great black fruit, acidity and fine tannin. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2019

Le Casematte Nanuci Nocera 2017, IGP Terre Sicilane

A salty and marine, “ricci di mare,” totally and utterly uncanny in how it smells like sea urchin or perhaps Sicilian mussels and this is a red wine to drink with such an animal and to gaze out over the sea. Dark fruit and massive tannin from the native grape variety. Sit on this thymus one, take deep breaths and take in the vastness of life. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2016, DOC Noto ($75.00)

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 Nero d’Avola Plumbago 2017, Sicilia DOC

Young and chalky, a nero of very blue fruit, very much a Menfi d’avola, led to believe and also to act like it must from the place. The acidity demands mouth attention, not just up and down but also all around. There’s a certainty and a need for time, a waiting period for those grains of tannins to turn liquid, fill in the cracks and solidify as stalagmites and stalactites. Balance is already confirmed so the result will do the same. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted May 2019

The blend in 2017 is 60-40, nero d’avola and frappato and if there was ever so much power before I’m not sure I’ve been there alongside. The nero loves warm vintages and so really takes grippy control of lighter and more submissive frappato, but conjoined they form a formidable fruit team. Peppery plum and pomegranate plus a tarry note on fresh roses that speaks to an idea that reminds of modern nebbiolo. Big structure in the first of two CdV’s. So much teen grape spirit here. Smells like it. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Cerasuolo Di Vittoria DOCG Dorilli 2016

The blend in 2016 is 70-30, nero d’avola and frappato with the addition of 12 months in old grandi botti, 25 and 36hL. If the CdV (non-classico) was considered to be firm, grippy and in charge then just get a load of the chalky, non-grainy tannins that mark the structure in this DOCG. The aromatics speak to time, as in what’s needed to settle the graphite, creosote and distilled extracts that well up in elemental tension. Great liquid smoke of peppery fruit permeates and percolates. This wine is alive, organically reverberating about while it tries to find itself and you.  Last tasted May 2019

Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico is one thing, Dorilli 2016 is another matter altogether. The name of the estate marks the iconography of this Planeta blend, from a chosen vineyard carrying the dialectical tome of the river passing by. The old maps say Dirillo but through time this has changed, just like this Burgundian wine will draft through wake and evolve. There is a minor reduction here so it’s not as open as the normale though it’s offset by an extra year of aging for release 18 months after harvest. Blooming should happen some time in 2019 after the 70 per cent nero d’avola and (30) frappato begin to unfold out of itself for a full and layered Vittoria. Still there is the Cerasuolo fragrance from a guarantee by vintage and for texture. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2018

Planeta Nocera 2017, DOC Sicilia

This varietal rarity from Menfi is a tannic bruiser and while it often offers no respite at all, this vintage, warm as it was brings fruit nearly capable of standing up to the mother of all acidities and tannins. It’s like sangiovese, barbera and tannat all wrapped up in one big package; tart, tight, taut and of the most solid backbone. Black cherries and black olives through and through. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Mamertino 2016, DOC Sicilia

From Capo Milazzo the blend is 60-40 nero d’avola and nocera, so apposite to what such a blend will be with frappato instead, out of Vittoria. Here from a dry and relatively cool vintage though the vegetation period was fortunate with water filling the table beneath the surface. Richness preserved, ripeness exceeded and fine tannins resolving, nearly, almost, maybe. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Reds from Etna

Pietradolce Etna Rosso Contrada Santo Spirito 2016, DOC Etna

Santo Spirito seems like it doles fruit that wants to solicit immediate gratification when in fact it’s been structured to advance only to this point. It teases that luxe fruitiness and then lashes at you with repeated whips of acidity and tannin. Much bigger, bolder and grippier than the first attack provides and so it just keeps coming at you in waves. Not a wine of first impression so be sure to take your time or it may just overwhelm you. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted May 2019

Pietradolce Etna Rosso Barbagalli 2016, DOC Etna

Barbagalli is not merely just a year older than Santo Spirito but it is a contrada to deliver the most fruit in the Piertradolce stable. There’s also an earthy underbelly impression, plus a richness and an unctuous stability that breeds sour edging over the sweetness of its fruit. Does not fool around in fact it’s structured to last a short lifetime, or 15 years at the very least.  Last tasted May 2019

The estate flagship Etna Rosso Barbagalli is taken from Contrada Rampante in the area that is known as “Barbagalli” in Solicchiata. This northern Etna 80 to 100 year-old pre-phylloxera vineyard delivers the most naturally earth-crusted, umami-laden expression in hyperbole, concentration and peak spiciness. There is a buzz about this nerello mascalese that the rest of the portfolio does not pulse with, neither outward through expressionistic energy nor inward, retracted and self-effacing by implosive feeling. The texture separates itself with multi-faceted tenor and a tremor of explosive potential that might strike at any time, anywhere, any place. This will turn into something ethereal, of that there can be little doubt. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted May 2018

Tornatore Etna Rosso Pietrarizzo 2017, DOC Etna ($34.00)

Pietrarizzo comes with mentholated cool and savoury fruit that soothes the palate, this after having anaesthetized by way of the inhalant it provides. If you hang in there for 10 minutes or so it will exude lovely cherry and tisane notes before coming to grips with its firm constituent behaviour. The development over time shows the character of its building blocks for structure and longevity. Very fine wine indeed. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted May 2019

Tornatore Etna Rosso Trimarchisa 2016, DOC Etna

Tornatore Trimarchisa in Rosso clothing is rich, luxe and luxurious nerello mascalese with darker fruit as compared to many,. The volcanic basalt is reductive and reduced like a lava demi-glacé for Etna Rosso of deep, dark and hematic-blood orange display. Impressive concentration and intensity with seven to 10 years of ideal Etna DOC exemplary drinking ahead. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted May 2019

Tenute Rapitalà Etna Rosso 2016, DOC Etna

Here we climb right into the depths of the Etna Rosso glass in a structured nerello mascalese of hematic and ferrous red fruit. Plenty of depth, wood spice and high acidity, not to mention wound up, pent up and grippy tension. That’s the tannin speaking, fully extracted and presented to the fruit, which incidentally want no part of that anxiety at this time. The architecture is Roman and if not for an emperor, is at least at the level of nobility. Wait five years before returning to this place. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted May 2019

Vivera Etna Rosso Martinella 2013, DOC Etna

At nearly six years of age it’s a wonder this Martinella cru nerello mascalese from Vivera is till tight and reductive. It’s quite the spool of tannin this fruit layered with fine acidity is wrapped around. Good fruit concentration brings sour berries and sweet pomegranate into a pool where pectin and acids swirl with the fishes. Fine wine here. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted May 2019

Cittanera Zottorino Etna Rosso Riserva 2013, DOC Etna

Cool vintage, late pick, some rain at harvest for nerello mascalese in Contrada Zottorino, Castiglione di Sicilia. Fruit driven aromatics still quite persistent now coming into flowers and spices. Acidity and freshness plus structure in line with Etna’s possibilities plus an affinity with more famous or more established Italian kin like nebbiolo and sangiovese. Very much alive, less advanced to taste and eight in the window. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Cantine Nicosia Etna Rosso Riserva 2012, DOC Etna

From Contrada Monte Gorna in Trecastagni. Impressively youthful, still pulsating with original fruit and magically or if you will, skeptically un-evolved. Transparent and clear as a late summer afternoon sky with nary a moment of distraction. If only a perfect bottle it matters little because the showing speaks volumes about vintage, luck and acumen. Fruit rom start to finish but also a searing tartness on a sour spectrum that talks the varietal talk. If you love Etna Rosso this is a perfectly vibrant and classic example. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Benanti Etna Rosso Rovittello 2014, DOC Etna

Rovittello cru is a structure gifting one and that much is obvious from Benanti’s 2014, a wine at five years that has yet to move an inch. This from an estate known well for the elegance and understated nature of their nerello mascalese. Sometimes the volcanics in the soils give you pomegranates and at other time they give you demi-glacé. This is a long and winding structured road Etna Rosso travelled one. It winds in and out of fruit, acidity and tannin so where it will emerge remains to be seen. I would imagine the truth will lie somewhere between five years and not more than 20. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted May 2019

Benanti Etna Rosso Serra Della Contessa 2011, DOC Etna

From Contrada Monte Serra I Viagrande on the southeast volcanic slope soils of Etna. More evolution, looser and well into secondary character. Acidity keeps it alive while the fruit has moved into dried, leathery and browning personality. Quite earthy, nearly stewed and further along by a long shot. It’s both a glass of pleasure and also one of puddle mud. That said it’s charming and even if it may seem at least five years older than it really is, there is still something to get onside with, especially with a plate that might sing along. Drink 2019.  Tasted May 2019

Torre Mora Etna Rosso Càuru 2016, DOC Etna

Torre Mora Etna Rosso Càura is the entry level blend of nerello mascalese (85 per cent) and nerello cappuccio (15), meaning hot in the local dialect, taken off of younger vines 7-10 years old. Nicely floral and also a bit salumi curative, tangy and freshly volcanic. Chewy and persistent, somewhat youthfully rustic in the precocious ways of nerreli bambini on Etna’s slopes. Bodes well for what’s more to come. Future vintages from more mature vines will bring next level expressiveness. Count on it. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Torre Mora Etna Rosso Scalunera 2015, DOC Etna

From Imboscamento (inside Rovittello, or hiding in the bush within), the next level blend is not even what the top tier Contrada specific wine will be, either next year of the one after that. Tier two is older vines in the 15-20 year range, with savoury basaltic notes typical of the cooler clime and quite high-toned like Marsannay. An uncanny connection to cooler limestone raised Bourgogne, like the lighting red fruit pinot noir, here in nerelli clothing. Says that this Etna Rosso comes from a place, from a very specific terroir. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Cottanera Etna Rosso Diciassettesalme 2017, DOC Etna

Youthful to say the least and so the operative here is reductive, tight and unforgiving. A swirl, some air and some time releases the essential oils of a nerello mascalese out of a historic contrada with a great history of aging the wines. The fruit concentration is markedly given to the obvious and the fineness of acidity may be equalled by the high level of glycerin available. That said it’s a balancing act performed by going to the edges of all these places and peeling back to try again. This will age gracefully and consistently so that subsequent trips and sips provide new and improved information all along the way. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted May 2019

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso 2016, DOC Etna

The Rosso’s fruit is in Contrada Piano dei Dani, with 90 per cent nerello mascalese and 10 cappuccio. It’s ripe, bright, knowable and the fruit concentration reaches an apex of optimization without tempting fate, going over or pressing any problematic buttons. There’s a succulence with thanks to level-headed and easy-handed oaking so that the overall expression goes hand in hand with your wishful senses. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso Vigna Vico Pre-Phylloxera 2015, DOC Etna

The litheness of this nerello mascalese from Mount Etna off of 100-plus years of age pre-phylloxera vines cannot be over-stated or overstressed. The light, ethereal beauty of this wine may very well transport you to a place, to a vacuum within a bubble that is a hidden world inside a biodome. Few words are available when a wine speaks to you such as this Vico does to me at this time. This impossibility of such fruit concentration is also implausibly understated, as are the tannins and the acidity, yet all align and intertwine along a perfectly rendered line. You recognize the automatic brilliance, for the people and from the place. You just know it when you taste it. If you can find this wine, if you ever get the chance to purchase a bottle or two, you owe it to yourself to act, for you and for anyone you might happen to share it with. Drink 2019-2035. Tasted May 2019

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso Vigna Vico Pre Phylloxera 2013, DOC Etna

Allora e adesso. And so we travel back another vintage to when Vico was in its first vintage and the word Vigna was still on the label. Nothing else on the mountain smells like Vico, is as delicate while having fruit concentration that is so mysteriously connected to transparency, grace and structure. Though the vintage was difficult this is Etna Rosso of heritage and love that only this house can procure, from Sofia Bosco, the men and women in her crew. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted May 2019

Tasting @planetawinery with @plantdependent

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Nerello Mascalese 2016, DOC Sicilia ($42.99)

Mainly nerello mascalese but there is in fact nine per cent nerello cappuccio. Not so much an eruptive vintage but certainly a rumbling one, a low murmur, gardening at night. This is imagined to be the nerreli red that would work in the garden, at night, under an Etna moon, no clouds (as if) and absolute quiet. Fruit concentration is outstanding, liquid pepperiness calming and yet grappling for you attention. The grip is easy but wrapped tight and the next five years will see very little movement. A beautifully textured Etna red with everything to look forward too.  Last tasted May 2019

Like the yellow lorry carricante thriller it is Etna Rosso incarnate that is portrayed in this Eruzione red lorry nerello mascalese (with nine per cent nerello cappuccio) from up the mountain’s 890m vineyards of (Contrada) Sciaranuova, but with some fruit from lower altitude at 600m. The vine age is part 2008 and part 20 year-old vines and a small section going back 90 years but just a small spot. The higher you climb for nerello macalese the more finesse you acquire. This Eruzione is swimming through lava with it, smoothed by plenty of silky texture, raspberry and chalky liquid tannin. Nerello, “you ain’t nothing but a true embrace. You ain’t nothing but a hidden face.” Your Planeta edition gets neither more refined, elegant nor focused. You’ve been descried as the “alternative classic” or the new light pinot noir. Maybe frappato, but not you, nerello mascalese. Let’s leave you out of the discussion. Leave you alone. Talk about the weather. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted May 2018

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Spotlight on South Africa in VINTAGES August 6th

South Africa’s South Coast

as seen on WineAlign

Rosé all day, an absence of whites, reds in Portuguese, French and Italian dress plus choosing South Africa like falling off a log

It has been nearly a year since I last visited South Africa and every time VINTAGES rolls out an easily managed thematic collection of wines from that great country the heart swells and memories flood back into the brain. The powers that be within the LCBO’s New World buyers’ department do their finest no sweat work and narrowing down when it comes to Western Cape collections, surely witnessed and proven by the duck soup choices made for both the July 20th and August 6th releases. But we can’t lay too much emphasis on their easily accomplished selections as being the be all, end all reason for the successes. Producers are fortunate to work with exceptional terroir that includes dozens or more old vine blocks in many Cape nooks and transversely the Ontario purchasing choices are so numerous it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. The winemakers adage of “just don’t mess it up” translates into kudos to the buyers for getting things right. The fact is South African wines are of such high quality across varietal, producer and regional lines they speak for themselves and do so with great heart.

What do you do with the Swartland Swingers? Lawn bowls in Malmesbury of course

Related – Heritage and diversity in South Africa

Which brings me to what struck so strong in September 2018, straight to the heart and without equivocation. Heritage and diversity are the country’s two greatest strengths. Sure as a circle will turn you around there is this third tangible and credible something that seems so unmissable about South Africa and South Africans. Resilience. Neither politics, nor conflicts between and in the oppression of peoples nor drought can deter the farmers, workers and producers of this nation. The human condition mimics its heritage vineyards planted to century-old varieties, to perpetuate and to persevere. This is the South African way. And it is the wines that are exceptional in ways that require great levels of explanation.

Over the last several centuries grape varieties were brought, expatriated and forced into the blending of exile. No peoples should ever be de-humanized nor taken for granted and neither should wines be quietly dismissed. With each passing varietal situation time has been sublimed and wines produced in South Africa teach us that they simply are not examples of minor beverages. It has taken place in the heart of agriculturalist and winemaking ability, to change small things and see greatness in ascension to that which is simple, authentic and refined. It’s a matter of having felt sensations introduced into the absurdity of our lives.

We begin with some wines tasted and assessed back in September 2018. These are a cross-section of what the country’s makers do best, some unknown, others better known and collectively they act as examples in performance at the highest level.

Fourteen South African producers and wines you need to know

A. A. Badenhorst Chenin Blanc The Golden Slopes 2017, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

The Golden Slopes is chenin blanc planted on granite hillsides, vines in the 80-ish years of age and this surely has much to do with the paradigm of success predicated by a focus on texture. Remarkable heritage vines on the Badenhorst for which Adi is able to seek, measure and play. Like the Secateurs it is indeed all about texture but here, this is something other. Conatus. The Golden Slopes are marked by intense and impressive warmth, lees and the effects of managing lost acidity. Adi finds a way for them to be kept by the moments gained in flesh and layers. Old vines do what the young and inexperienced do not. They achieve an innate inclination, in this case for chenin blanc to continue to exist and enhance itself. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Craven Wines Syrah The Faure Vineyard 2017, WO Stellenbosch (WineAlign)

Like the sister Firs this Faure Vineyard site is also 21 years of age, east facing towards the Heldeberg, with rocks in the soils. The name is more than familiar to Jeanine Craven, who was a Faure before she merged with Mick. What really separates this place is the marine air, three kilometres from the sea, as far as the African Black Oystercatcher flies. Again the planning involves whole cluster pressing and on skins seven days, to make pure syrah. Separated by 15 kms the Faure is antithetical to the Firs, salted by the sea and of a furthered intensity in a different form. It’s near searing, linear, grippy and with acidity lifting everything. Really juicy, pushed by a wow factor, clean, no funk and so much spice. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

David And Nadia Wines Chenin Blanc Hoë Steen 2017, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

One of two single vineyard explorations from the Sadie’s work is this 1968 steen planted in deep soils to the west, towards Darling. This fourth vintage is a demure of chenin blanc’s deepest, richest and most glycerin textured possibilities. Time and a warming in the glass causes this floral emergence in a spiced space time continuum usually reserved for white wines like Condrieu. But this is entrenched in heritage steen genetics, not viognier and the acidity is all local, parochial and fine. The complexities are circular by nature, in rotation and encompassing all that we hold sacred for Cape wines. Takes hold of your mind and controls your breathing with its life affirming energy, like an invisible blanket wrapping you up in the desert, at night, under stars. Total production is 45,000 bottles. Get some. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2018

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir 1997, WO Hemel En Aarde Valley (WineAlign)

It was 1997, a point 10 years deep into the Hermanus pinot noir investigations and what Anthony Hamilton Russell called “the year the Dijon clones kicked in, or at least the use of them.” This is seemingly more evolved than that ’86 if only because the über ripe fruit may have baked a bit in the sun. Tastes so old school Beaune now with a cane sugar-cocoa-vanilla trilogy of development. Powerful pinot noir now in the throes of its soporific times. Drink 2018.  Tasted September 2018

Huis Van Chevallerie The Hummingbird Colibri Kap Klassique 2017 (WineAlign)

The Hummingbird is composed of 70 percent viura with chenin blanc from Christa von la Chevallerie’s Nuwedam Farm in the Paardeberg. The first viura as far as we can tell in South Africa, a Spanish grape variety not very high in acidity picked up and elevated by the chenin. This first vintage kick at the sparkling can in a Cava style is mostly 2017 fruit, in bottle 12 months so very much adhering to a Cap Classique model. Christa thinks both outside the box and the varietal groove with this textural beauty and so its moniker naturally importunes as Kap Klassique. As a bottle of bubbles it offers a forward rush of life, crystallized in a brilliant jewel of a moment. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Ken Forrester Wines Chenin Blanc The FMC 2004, Stellenbosch (WineAlign)

FMC, as in Forrester (Ken), winemaker Martin Meinert and chenin blanc. Here looking back 14 years to a time when they and only a handful of others had the true understanding of foreshadowing as to what the signature grape variety could become for South Africa. That is why they set to making this highly specific and purposed example. From a single vineyard, then 34 years old (now pushing 50) and the eighth vintage, by 2004 fully commanded stylistically by its makers. Barrel fermented and bloody rich, still viscous, now so honeyed and lit like a candle in a cool cave. A true original, like the Ford Motor Company, a female main character kicking butt in an action film, FMC. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Chardonnay Estate 2017, WO Greyton (WineAlign)

From the Cape’s south coast and Samantha O’Keefe’s Greyton Farm down a dusty road. The Estate sees 500L barrels, 35 per cent new and is a best fruit selection cuvée. It’s also about the ferment “to keep a limey tension,” tells O’Keefe, so it’s really about the combination of the two. Like the “normale” the orchard fruit persists but here there are stone fruits joining the apples and now the grip takes hold. If the other needs a year in bottle this “Reserve” could entertain three. In quite an awe-inspiring way it travels to and fro on a Meursault-Marsannay line, of high construct and palpable intensity. I’d wait the three for the grace and beauty of its future. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Momento Wines Grenache Noir 2017, WO Western Cape (WineAlign)

There are some South African winemakers who just seem to intuit what grenache is capable of realizing comme il faut from a Cape raising. Marelise Niemann is one of a select few who have mastered the art and science of grenache pulmonary resuscitation. Hers is 90 per cent Paardeberg and (10) Voor Paardeberg, so not labeled as such. “The most important red grape in South Africa,” she says with varietal diffidence and I will not be one to argue. Not with Marelise. These are bush vines, all itching to succeed off of decomposed granite. These vines scratch and claw their way out of the aridity and the adversity to gift a purity of fruit and very special tannins. Pretty and with a level of tension seen in its face, after some time on skins and a natural ferment crawled out of whole bunch pressings. Spiced and spicy, demurred, matured in old oak 16 months, wise, mature and nurturing. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Cape Winemakers Guild ‘The Gris’ Sémillon 2013, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

This was the year Andrea Mullineux began working with this rare and certified by the Old Vines Project sémillon gris from a 1960 planted (just 2 kms away from the chenin blanc), heritage dry-farmed plot grown on the granite soils of the Paardeberg in the Swartland. Only a few blocks exist anywhere and in 2014 some of this fruit began to augment the Mullineux Old Vines White. It is what Andrea calls “a project of the jumping gene.” It’s like a varietal ride on a pogo stick, in colour from pale like colombard to dark as cinsault. A citrus attack like no other and subjugated to the lush manifestations of skin contact. Still so flinty-smoky, lean and yet of a texture like an emollient of florals keeping the wine moist, fleshy and flexible. Though not the saltiest of vintages this gris is in complete control of its phenolic emotions. It’s also blessed of this unreal incandescence. Wholly unique in every respect. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2015, WO Elgin (WineAlign)

The most floral vintage of the Seven Flags and the first with clones 115 and 667 brought into the blend. This to create new concepts and levels of complexity with vines old, new and next level involved. The intermixing leaves us with a sensation involving many layerings; fruit, acid and structural. The fruitiness and fresh flower gatherings presents an aperture of severe harmony and adds up to a bunch of aesthetic yeses. Give it a year or two to integrate. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Palladius 2016, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

Palladius is the quintessential spear brandishing South African appellative blend with more varietal diversity than an oenology department’s nursery. It holds chenin blanc, grenache blanc, marsanne, sémillon, sémillon gris, viognier, clairette blanche, roussanne, verdelho, colombard and palomino. No one does varietal interaction and trickery like Eben Sadie. No one. The ’16 is a wine of mixed tenses, the whole echelon and the black hole in the sun. Fruit comes from eleven different blocks all on granites, some from the Riebeek-Kasteel side. Ages in clay amphorae and concrete eggs, then racked into foudres, “to bring it all together.” Palladius holds a casual disregard for synchronizing fruit, acid and extract verb tenses in the way it uses a conditional interrogative without the proper structural order. It’s a wine of fine and unfair intensity, iconic, wise, learned and all for good reason. Imagine this to age well beyond its 15th birthday. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Savage Wines Syrah Girl Next Door 2017, WO Coastal Region (WineAlign)

Though the négoce roaming transverses the entirety of the Western Cape, sometimes you just go home again. This as small as it gets Girl Next Door resides and is raised out of a 0.38 hectare Noordhoek vineyard, “the weekend hobby vineyard,” as Duncan Savage would put it. A block of great clichés, “the home garden,” or at least close to home and certainly “a work in progress.” The developing plot is a mystery wrapped inside an enigma within a narrative that currently fashions a wine to speak of a long term vision. In these first chapters it is already doling dark and mysterious, rich and silky, highly meaningful fruit. How this can’t turn into one of the great epic novels of Western Cape lore is beyond you and me. Home is where the heart soothes then savage beast. Winemaker and syrah. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Silwervis Cinsault 2016, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

A single-vineyard is the source and a unique one at that for the Swartland because here is the spot where the decomposed granite of the Paardeberg begins to meet the northern slate. Paardeberg cinsault. If you are not yet familiar with this lovely beast it’s high time you got stoned on it. A varietal echelon rebirth eschews decades of French mistakes and enters into a revolution. As I noted from the ’14, it’s also a revival, a saving and a reformation. Having made itself a home in the Swartland now cinsault can create its own narrative, re-write the book and speak of the terroir. Transparency is truth and in a tightly wound, uniquely tannic way this curls tart and cured meaty filaments around a paradigmatic red fruit core. It’s bloody caesar delicious. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Kamaraderie 2017, WO Paarl (WineAlign)

Just the second vintage of Lukas van Loggerenberg’s Kamaraderie is a chenin blanc from a 1960s planted, two hectare single-vineyard in Paarl. Lukas picks the bottom of the slope first and the top many days later so there is this natural layering of fruit. Reeks with reminiscence, of fennel and pistachio, of fronds and gelid cream. Only 800 bottles make this one of South Africa’s rarest chenins raised for 10 months in old barrels, unstirred, shaken or allowed to visit with the malolactic king. There’s a dissolve of delicious citrus seamlessly streaked through fleshy fruit in what is just such an organized and structured chenin. Finishes with the brine, oh the brine. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Stellenbosch Braai

In VINTAGES

While the August 6th VINTAGES is chock full of stalwart South African wines it bears repeating that July 20th also gifted some worthy picks. The list below takes a page out of each book.

South Africa picks – August 6th Release

651711, Cederberg Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Cederberg ($18.95)

Michael Godel – Next level chenin blanc from the Cederburg appellative specialist, so very herbal, lime driven and smart like dry riesling in a Rheinhessen way. Terrific acids lift and elevate the lime and tonic flavours. Most excellent arid example with a dried herb finish.

652867, House Of Mandela Phumla Pinotage 2017, WO Western Cape ($21.95)

Michael Godel – A pinotage that bridges the twain between old school and necessary modernity, with plenty of wood induced chocolate and some mocha but also quality varietal acidity and tannin. Rich, unctuous and spirited to the thriving point of attack.

355438, De Wetshof Finesse Lesca Estate Chardonnay 2018, WO Robertson ($24.95)

Michael Godel – Lesca’s fruit is drawn from three vineyards in Robertson notable for their predominant soils of limestone and chalk. Great work from the De Wetshof bros who just allow this grape variety to shine on, be explicit and act of its very own accord.

651810, Spier 21 Gables Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, WO Stellenbosch ($39.95)

Michael Godel – From the extraordinary Annandale Estate in Stellenbosh Spier’s is very peppery cabernet sauvignon with a distinct local touch of glare and flare. Steely exterior, massive fruit and and such a bloody lekker South African. Long and juicy. Who says you can never go back to old school.

South Africa picks – July 20th Release

698274, Rustenberg Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Stellenbosch ($14.95)

Michael Godel – Rustenberg continues to prove that it qualifies for top varietal value specialist out of Stellenbosch by pumping out pop hit after hit and this chenin blanc is no exception. Fruit riper than many, mild spice meeting wafts of vanilla and more than its share of lees-effected texture. All around right and proper.

698290, Bellingham Homestead Shiraz 2017, WO Paarl ($18.95)

Michael Godel – Deep, dark, handsome and peppery shiraz here from Stellenbosch with a syrupy confection and plenty of energy on the flip side. Really drinks like a bigger, more expensive and chic wine.

Best of the Rest for August 6th

498535, Malivoire Vivant Rosé 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($19.95)

Michael Godel – Canada knows Rosé but Malivoire really knows Rosé. Vivant may be there between entry-level and cru but it’s done up so right, light but too much so, gently expressed but enough that fruit gets through and shines bright as if picked just there. Salinity strikes through without splitting up that fruit, like a main vein bringing oxygen and essential nutrients like blood to the mind. Last tasted July 2019.

668335, Argento Reserva Cabernet Franc 2015, Mendoza, Argentina ($15.95)

Michael Godel – Argento is from the owners of Uruguay’s Bodega Garzón, Chianti Classico’s Dievole and Montalcino’s Podere Brizio. A year past the freshest time in its life but cool, savoury and without too much barrel overtake (thanks to second and third passage wood). Well-worked and solid to be franc, true to place, now chewy and offering proper value.

667527, Château De Montguéret 2017, AP Saumur, Loire Valley, France ($17.95)

Michael Godel – Ostensibly the driest and purest form of chenin blanc from Saumur with the Loire’s post-modern take on the Western Cape, in a way though without pungency, pepperiness or glucose inflected texture. This is dry as the desert, tart, tangy and intense. Needs some richness in food to make all ends meet.

964221, Le Volte Dell’Ornellaia 2017, IGT Toscana, Italy ($29.95)

Michael Godel – Welcome into the Ornellaia range by way of the second wine that has never shown even a modicum of compromise. Hot vintage but acidity is strong and true while fruit stays cool, seasoned and reasoned, There’s a real meatiness to this ’17 and a lovely sense of salumi cure. Once again an educational tool for Bolgheri and Toscana.

260802, Brancaia Riserva Chianti Classico DOCG 2013, Tuscany, Italy ($38.95)

Michael Godel – Sangiovese needing the bottle is proven here. Now a year and a half later this swirls into a grosso sangiovese like liqueur with plums, cherries and spice. Really Riserva in style and now just 18 more months away from its guaranteed due elegance.

922054, Silvio Nardi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2013, Tuscany, Italy ($50.95)

Michael Godel – Oenologist Emanuele Nardi draws his classic Brunello from the fluvial Cerralti parcel, a mix of jasper which is a type of opaque, granular quartz, along with shale and clay. Classic liqueur and modern texture give way to grippy acidity and more than necessary structure. This is one of those Brunello that speak with fruit early but with a knowing nod to longevity.

What goes best with chenin and cinsault? Tuna Burger at Sea Breeze in Cape Town

Thanks for reading up on South Africa once again.

Good to go!

godello

South Africa’s South Coast

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

Single white varietals: No roommates required

Godello

as seen on WineAlignRiesling, Other Single Red and Single White Varieties – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

It may or not need clarifying but the single white varietal category does not include chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris/grigio and sauvignon blanc. In terms of medal winners it does include albariño, arneis, bacchus, chenin blanc, coronet, gewüztraminer, grüner veltliner, marsanne, muscat, obrigado, pinot blanc, roussanne, sémillon, sauvignette, siegerrebe, sovereign opal, trebbiano, unicus, viognier and white pinot noir. The total medal count for single white varietal wines in 2019 was 70, an unprecedented number awarded for this competition covering 20 grape varieties. Can you guess which was the most celebrated? If you said gewüztraminer you would be correct at 21 total medals, with viognier a close second at 17.

There is little surprise that these French vinifera grapes make up more than half of the awarded wines because their acreage, vine age and their winemaker’s acumen in crafting quality goes back a generation or two, or even three. That 10 percent are pinot blanc is truly encouraging, as are the multiple medals doled out to grapes with great potential on Canadian soils, including grüner veltliner, albariño and chenin blanc. This will encourage more plantings and pioneering work backed up by post-modern viticultural theory, while also ensuring biologically genetic and varietal diversity. Most surprising is that two of the top wines made from marsanne and roussanne represent two of only three medals awarded to wines from these classic and exceptional Rhône Valley grapes. If two can be great, why not others and why not grow more?

Congratulations to the Road 13 Marsanne 2017 out of the exceedingly promising Similkameen Valley. There can be no denying the effect of ripe fruit and the richness of developed sugar into proportionally knowing phenols in this beautifully integrated wine. Black Hills Roussanne 2017, Blasted Church Small Blessings Sémillon 2017, Thirty Bench Small Lot Gewürztraminer 2017 and Road 13 Viognier 2017 round out the judges top picks from the competition.

Littlejohn Farm‘s Smoked Trout, soubise, french onion rings, pickled shallots – at Closson Chase Vineyard, Prince Edward County

The question truly begging to be answered is with 20-plus different grape varieties represented and being assessed side by side how do the judges separate the apples and oranges to figure out which wines stand apart as being more impressive than the rest. It may sound cliché and redundant to hear but balance is the key to our single white varietal hearts. If acidity matches, supports and elevates sugar than all will fall into place and if the wine is a dry example it will likely be flesh, mouthfeel and texture that work to elevate its status. Proportion, seamlessness and length are all essential tenets of quality single whites, as are energy, drive and spirit.

Plain and simple, single white varietal wines are able to succeed because of their inherent ability to express their varietal selves, provided they are planted in the right location and their handlers allow them to speak on their own behalf. Quality single white varietals display attributes of confidence and are anything but insecure. No roommates required.

I’ve also tasted some more single white varietal wines as of late and all would certainly qualify for medal consideration in this category. These are the three.

Mission Hill Family Estate Viognier Reserve 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($19.99, WineAlign)

Perfectly lovely, archetypal, required varietal sipping viognier here from Mission Hill. Yet another notch on the Okanagan Valley pioneer’s impressive climb to forging wines moving from strength to strength. There is nothing over the top about the the florals, the texture or the flavours. Fruit east to west, from the B.C. orchards to the south Asian trees is graced by a dreamy and creamy marzipan texture and finished with low and slow rendered spice. Just what viognier can be for one and for all. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted July 2019

Harwood Estate Gewürztraminer 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario $20.00, WineAlign)

The 2016 was made from Niagara (Four Mile Creek) grapes and vinified in Prince Edward County but the estate 2007 plantings have now matured so this 2017 marks a new era for gewürztraminer grown in the disapora. It’s one of extreme aridity, lightning quick reflexes, focused and intense. Quite the singular style of expression for Ontario. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

CedarCreek Platinum Block 9 Ehrenfelser 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($29.99, WineAlign)

Ehrenfelser is the German crossing of riesling and sylvaner, kept alive on slopes like CedarCreek’s lakeshore vineyard in semi-mimic of those cresting on great angles above the river Rhine. There’s a notable juicy sweetness to this from 13-16 year-old, low yielding vines in a very concentrated mandarin orange way. That sweetness yields to many other pronounced attributes like tropical fruit skins as well as creamy orchard fruit under a squeeze of lime. The acidity is ripping and there’s some potential for a bit of flinty, lit paraffin smoulder to emerge in a year’s time. The fun quotient runs high in this unique white wine and it offers up moments of both crushable and cerebral. Good on CedarCreek to keep the dream alive. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted July 2019

Good to go!

godello

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

A Canadian preoccupation with White Blends

as seen on WineAlign – Red Blends, White Blends and Sauvignon Blanc – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

The catchall collection funnelled into flights titled “White Blend” continue their ascent upwards into the essential echelon of categories at the National Wine Awards of Canada. These compound varietal meet and greets do so with increasing calm, cool and collected demeanour, a.k.a balance to offer up some of this country’s most pleasing and in very special cases, most age-worthy white wines. Another year later the judges are finding the quality of the wines to be at their best yet, perceptible and discernible beyond reproach from coast to coast.

The 52 strong medal count from the 2019 awards is a testament to the masters of assemblage known as winemakers in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. In fact five of the medals were awarded to Tidal Bay, the maritime appellative blend creation so apt-scripted and terroir specific to vineyards and estates in Nova Scotia. Tidal Bay is a model of consistency, progress and marketing genius. It hasn’t happened yet but the day will come when Ontario and British Columbia will become woke to the economic success of the great East Coast appellative party.

Dinner at Rosehall Run

Where do Canadian winemakers look for inspiration when it comes to designing their white blends? The obvious pioneers are unequivocally Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, the former being a matter of a sauvignon blanc-sémillon coupling and the latter a relationship between grape varieties that include grenache blanc, marsanne, roussanne and viognier. Other and lesser varieties employed are ugni blanc, clairette, bourboulenc, picpoul and rolle (vermentino). Many are grown and matched up in Canada but in 2019 it is Nk’mip Cellars White Meritage Merriym 2017 that we find standing alone at the peak of white blend success. The Bordeaux inspiration is an antithetical one at that with a two to one ratio of sémillon to sauvignon blanc and what one judge sees as a blend of “power and accuracy.”

Last year we noted that the white blends made with sauvignon blanc from out of the Okanagan Valley relied on higher percentages of sémillon than their sistren and brethren in Ontario. B.C.’s vineyards are not subjugated to the same winter kill that Ontario’s winters are often wont to inflict and so the vulnerable sémillon is planted and used to much greater quantity and effect out west. Ripeness and style are also great reasons why B.C.’s über rich and fat sauvignon blanc loves for sémillon to help out. The varietal mitigation and third party injection from barrel aging often leads to examples of flinty-smoky-mineral white blends of freshness, pizzazz, texture and style.

The Mission Hill Terroir Collection Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon 2018 is such an animal, taken from Jagged Rock Vineyard nearing 400m in elevation and the sém portion is 40 percent. Tightrope Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2018 is another though it may just be one of closest Bordeaux ringers made anywhere in Canada. The Pentâge Roussanne Marsanne Viognier 2013 is the most singular Gold Medal winner in 2019, first because it does the Rhône varietal two-step and second because of its age. That it caught the palates of so many judges is a testament to its balance and also its structure.

The 2018 Tidal Bays from Lightfoot & Wolfville, Jost Vineyards, Planters Ridge and Gaspereau Vineyards were Nova Scotia’s one Silver plus three Bronze category medallists. These Bay of Fundy/Minas Basin east coast wonders are true Canadian wines of quality and efficiency. Tidal Bay pioneers Peter Gamble and Benjamin Bridge Vineyards tell us that In 2010 Nova Scotia launched this wine appellation with a purpose “to showcase a vibrant and refreshing white wine compatible with our coastal terroir along the Bay of Fundy, a vast expanse of seawater that is home to the highest tides in the world. An independent technical committee ensures that only the wines displaying the region’s distinct characteristics and meeting a rigorous set of standards are approved to wear the appellation seal.” The blends are most often filled with the likes of l’acadie, geisenheim, chardonnay, riesling and vidal.

Two Ontario white blends joined the 11 B.C. Silver winners. In terms of Bronze, six from Ontario and one each out of Nova Scotia and Quebec were winners alongside 23 from B.C. Yes it is increasingly true that appellative blends are more than a going concern, in fact they have become some of our Canadian winemaker’s greatest preoccupations. At this rate we can certainly imagine a future filled with bright white lights and structured blends to rival some of the world’s best.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

Riding red blends from Canadian frontiers

Ancient PEC red care of Geoff Heinricks

Ancient PEC red care of Geoff Heinricks

as seen on WineAlignRed Blends, White Blends and Sauvignon Blanc – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

Some producers may be riding red blends all the way to the bank while others, including many winemakers simply love making them. Hearing about or looking at the broad term “red blends” causes many of us to think about wines that are big in every respect. Broad shouldered, big-bodied, long-legged, tannic and age-worthy.  As for how these wines are made we imagine a barrel room of oak casks filled with deep, rich and dark liquids made by winemakers and their science flasks layered by endless combinations of samples in varying percentages. This is in fact how most red blends are made. Barrel and tank samples of different grape varieties are pulled and with a conditional maximum amount of each kept in mind, the constituent samples are mixed and matched until the blend just feels to come out right. Add in a bit of chemistry for scientific balance and Red’s your uncle.

Red blends is employed as that highly scientific wine-speak term used to define one of the largest, broadest and most undefined categories in wine. There are blends established in the Old World emulated and mimicked from Argentina to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and everywhere vinifera is grown. Bordeaux’s Left and Right Bank are most commonly copied but so too is the Southern Rhône. The triumvirate of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot lead the way while grenache, syrah and mourvèdre are the source of much imitation. Blending does not stop at such multi-varietal exactitude because the Australians (namely) decided that syrah/shiraz goes with everything and why not. The concept of admixture or fusion is becoming increasingly relevant and the norm for red blends made in Canada, especially in British Columbia and to a lesser extent in Ontario too.

Chef Albert Ponzo’s Gnocchi with Morels

Basically anything made with two or more grape varieties qualifies and in some cases a kitchen sink is amalgamated from literally dozens of locally planted options. To be honest the methodology categorically removes said wines from every other varietal class or division, in competition or otherwise. So the question begs. How do judges at the National Wine Awards of Canada assess, rate and ultimately dole out medals when the comparisons are all apples to oranges? How do we as a team decide which blends are most deserving in a sea of peers comprised of wholly different, antithetical and multifarious combinations?

The answer is complex but in the end not exactly rocket science. Truth be told the necessity of knowing the percentages in the blend is the mother of invention. This is because each wine is a sum of its combinative parts while success is predicated on the communal effort and seamlessness of the gathering. But more than anything and it’s certainly cliché to say, wines as blends must achieve balance and those that do will reap the most reward. News flash to corroborate that theory. Most varietal wines are blends too, made up of vineyard slash vessel percentages picked, mixed and matched by the winemaker. What really is the great difference?

Is there any wonder why Canadian winemakers love the category of Red Blends? At this year’s Nationals there are 105 medals awarded to a group of wines that in their collective make-up include just about every red (plus a white or two) grape varieties grown in Canada. Read that number again: 105! Three out of four Platinum winners are from British Columbia and 12 of 14 Silvers as well. As for Bronze, 60 are from B.C., 24 from Ontario and three are from Nova Scotia.

While it would be a joyous exercise to break down all the medal winning wines it would also be one that just might put you to sleep. So for the purposes of analytical brevity and for the fact that we have an unprecedented four Platinum winners in 2019, let’s stick to these exceptional wines. The Hatch Dynasty Red 2016 is syrah and malbec from the Hans Estate Vineyard in Osoyoos raised in all new French oak for 18 months. Yes, ALL new French oak. Noble Ridge Reserve Meritage 2016 from Okanagan Falls is essentially classic Left Bank Bordeaux led by merlot with cabernet sauvignon with minor amounts of cabernet franc plus malbec. Hester Creek Syrah Viognier 2017 from the Okanagan Valley is a stunner and steal for the price though truth be told could have very easily been awarded a similar accolade in the straight varietal category. Niagara’s Tawse Meritage 2015 is a three-pronged Bordeaux varietal mix of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc “with so much going on you might not understand what it’s trying to say.” It’s like Glossolalia but will surely live on through epochs of Canadian Meritage notability and infamy.

OK I lied. Some mentions and some love for the Golds as well. Out of Niagara the judges jumped for the merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon in Marynissen Heritage Collection Red 2015 and the kitchen sink blend only Stratus Red 2016 can gift; cabernet franc, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, malbec, tannat and petit verdot. The hits keep on coming from B.C., especially strong in this category demarcated by grip, grit and strength. The following 12 began their journeys with a plethora of varietal combinations, spoke with great ability to reach the judges palates and all ended up Gold.

Note the seemingly infinite combinations is this diverse group. Maverick 2016 Rubeus, syrah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc; Bench 1775 2016 Cabernet Franc MalbecCorcelettes 2016 Meritage Estate Vineyard, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot; Corcelettes 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah Menhir Estate Vineyard; Black Hills 2017 Addendum, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon; TIME Winery 2016 Meritage, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon; Mission Hill 2016 Quatrain, merlot, syrah, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon; Sandhill 2016 Single Vineyard One Small Lots Program Vanessa Vineyard, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon merlot and syrah; Moon Curser 2017 Dead of Night, syrah and tannat; Sun Rock Vineyards 2016 Red Meritage, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc; Red Rooster 2016 Golden Egg, mourvèdre, syrah and grenache; Nk’Mip Cellars 2016 Winemakers Talon, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot, cabernet franc and pinot noir.

If you don’t see a clear and obvious pattern in these Red Blends be neither confused nor discouraged because this is how things function and in turn offer up so much possibility in fresher frontiers. In today’s garden of climate change affected vineyards it is Canadian winemakers who are the beneficiaries of a wild west, anything goes environment where mates can be made across varietal lines both renewed and re-invented. Embrace the diversity and let it ride.

We finish we a special red blend tasted with Maggie Granger in Prince Edward County.

Grange Of Prince Edward Bunny Wine 2016, VQA Prince Edward County ($65.00, 1500ml, WineAlign)

Bunny Wine is nothing if not playful, a field blend that tugs on conceptual heartstrings and has been doing so for 18 months. It has come into kairos, whether unexpectedly, by chance or by the intuition of the moment, it matters little. Bunny is an extension of three plus years of furry flirtations, in cuvées that have come before, of gamay and pinot noir, of passe-tout-grains. I’ve tasted barrel samples and now here we are at the real thing, “the milk of the gamay bunny, drinkers of spillage by tipsy monks. Even if you know little or care less about bunnies and monks it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen, based on memories and perception, just as a look back at that taste and this note will be. Seamless weaving here, between Bourgogne cousins, north and south, grippy and supple. Hard to tell one from the other and isn’t that the point? From the Victoria Block, four rows of pinot next to four of gamay, picked, fermented and crushed together. All thanks to fruit of exemplary patience. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted June 2019

Good to go!

godello

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