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 lime 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 block 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

Instagram: mgodello

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

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Pinot Gris goes National

One’s gris is another’s grigio but at any rate, more and more Canadian made pinot is coming your way

as seen on WineAlignGamay, Pinot Gris and Sparkling – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

We seem to be tasting and assessing a considerable amount of pinot gris slash grigio these days. In 2019 the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada bar was raised once again as increasingly the wines spoke to both matters of quantity and quality. The annual competition played host to this country’s largest gris/grigio gathering and 34 medallists prove that trends can also be realities. There are well upwards of 60,000 hectares of pinot gris/grigio planted worldwide and that number is growing, not surprising considering the varietal’s two-step, double-down rise in popularity.

The laconic story would say that when comparing pinot gris to pinot grigio the difference is mainly origin but increasingly so an inculcation of style. The endemically considered pinot grigio is traced to northeastern Italy just as pinot gris is to northeastern France. One grape, two places and ultimately each tracking an approach along one fork of the road. The simplest explanation says one is generally picked earlier and the other later, the former being fresher and crisper, the latter richer and more developed.

Call the grape what you will. Known as gris in Alsace, dry gives way more often than not to sweet, age-worthy, late-harvest styles. As grigio in Northern Italy it’s more straightforward and in Germany it’s also called grauburgunder or ruländer. In Hungary its moniker is zürkebarát. New Zealand may just be the great New World frontier for the pinot gris ideal. Or does that distinction belong to Oregon, a frontier many believe possessive of several AVAs more suitable to the gris stylistic than even chardonnay. It’s easier and less expensive to plant and maintain than chardonnay, harvests early and therefore puts cash flow reports in the green, or in this varietal case, also yellow, pink and orange. By the way, grigio and gris both mean “grey,” as noted by the pinkish-grey sheen of the ripe grape’s skin.

Vichyssoise by Albert Ponzo at The Grange

Where does that put the discussion concerning a homogeneity of Canadian style? Well at its simplest dissemination it means looking at a paradigm lying somewhere between Italy and Alsace. That being generally said it is simply ludicrous to imagine examples from British Columbia and Ontario (with few and far between examples from other provinces) to be looked at in one broad stroke of a brush. If you must ask and know, Ontario’s gris-grigio is generally leaner, more “mineral” and often crisper than B.C. counterparts but following that to the a letter of law would do great disservice to diversity and possibility. Get to know the producers and the greater picture will clear.

The grapes are in fact a mutation of Bourgogne’s pinot noir, are vigorous and lie somewhere is the middle of the moderate production mode. They are well adapted to and suited for cool climates with well-draining soils. Hardy, easy to grow with relatively small clusters and berries. Susceptible to Botrytis so can be a chameleon of a white wine for dry, off-dry and sweet styles but with some skin-contact also can produce pink coloured wines. Welcome to Canada.

It matters not which major appellation you look at in British Columbia you will always see pinot gris as one of its leading grape varieties. Kelowna, Penticton, Vaseaux-Oliver, Golden Mile, Black Sage-Osoyoos and Similkameen. At approximately 10 percent of the total plantings, only chardonnay is its equal and merlot greater in total acreage.

Snacks at Closson Chase

In Ontario pinot gris is the fifth most planted and harvested grape variety, trailing only chardonnay, riesling, merlot and cabernet franc. In terms of tonnage the number 3,627 from 2017 may still trail merlot by 1,600 tonnes but don’t be fooled by historical statistics. The gris-grigio juggernaut is losing no space-time ascension and continues to gain with exponential force. Ontario has defined three DVAs: Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore (LENS) and Prince Edward County (PEC). Within the Niagara Peninsula, five general grape climatic zones are further defined by 10 sub-appellations: Creek Shores, Lincoln Lakeshore, Vinemount Ridge, Beamsville Bench, Short Hill Bench, Twenty Mile Bench, Four Mile Creek, Niagara Lakeshore, Niagara River and St David’s Bench. Pelee Island is a sub-appellation of LENS. The pinots, gris and grigio are everywhere.

Why plant more pinot gris in Ontario? It’s more than simply a matter of market trends. If we look at cultivar by vineyard risk assessment, the professionals who study such things will tell us that a grape like merlot is less winter hardy and requires more heat and frost free days to reach acceptable maturity than both chardonnay and pinot gris. Do the math.

We also tasted some terrific pinot gris during our week-long stay in Prince Edward County, including the following six, all different, singular and stand alone.

Closson Chase K.J. Watson Vineyard Pinot Gris 2018, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($22.95, WineAlign)

Ask winemaker Keith Tyers what he thinks about pinot gris. “It can age,” he says, “if it’s made like gris.” The skin-contact affected hue is our first clue (if appearances mean anything) and the tannin from the vineyard is the second. In between these bookended ideals are dry extract, round to zaftig fruit texture and a chalkier consistency from out of this most curious vintage. The natural acidity and full fruit by way of low yields makes for a rock ‘n roll gris of inner mind and vision. Lush to a degree, full of metal motion, forward thinking and fine. Leaves a trail of mineral propulsion behind, a field of gris debris, to a degree, in hubris and in the end, so County and so Closson Chase. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted June 2019

Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($18.00, WineAlign)

Another light, airy, delicate and inching ever so close to the ethereal for pinot gris from Harwood with maturing vines now bringing some pear and peach flesh along for good measure. Still a bit obsequious and non-descript though the under the skin mineral Hillier accent is getting stronger and clearer in the context of an overall message. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted June 2019

Stanners Pinot Gris Cuivré 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($28.00, WineAlign)

All County fruit and Colin Stanners chooses a process of no de-stemming, no crushing and leaving the gris on its skins for three days. A highly textural wine is the result and one that in one respect creeps towards Rosé. There’s a salve within that mouthfeel and it’s one that feels so cool and smooth. Minty to be sure, if mineral were mentha, herbal, chilly and unconventional. The ebb and flow of its sensations are like the tide on the shore carrying the riches of the vineyard, in and out. Always appreciate the cadence of this wine and its confidence, but also its stoicism and its humility. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted June 2019

Hubbs Creek Pinot Gris Wild Ferment 2018, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($24.95, WineAlign)

Now we know how, why and where we can find great love for pinot gris because a wine like this from John Battista Calvieri allows us to anticipate the very thing that makes us salivate. Sapidity. Aromatically speaking we are prepped by the early scents of flowers opening, followed by the sweet succulence of textural meanderings. Then balance is afforded and brings that sapidity straight to the salty surface. A very precise pinot gris will do this and texture is a crisp bite taken from a just picked piece of orchard fruit. Long, honest and understandable. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Lighthall Pinot Gris 2018, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($25.00, WineAlign)

The fruit comes direct from the South Bay vineyard and one third finds its way into barrel. No shocker that this is both richly textured and developed pinot gris is an old-school mimic, like enriching valley fruit grown in the shadows of a Vosges Mountains canyon. It’s quite an abstraction this all-in mouthfeel, tripping the tongue, light show fantastic County gris. Creamy apples and pears meet expressive, raging, sapid and fortified acidities. Go big or go home I’d say. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted June 2019

Maggie Granger, The Grange of Prince Edward

The Grange Of Prince Edward Estate Pinot Gris 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($24.95, WineAlign)

This right here is the newest epiphany from 2018 and again for 2019. What that means is Maggie and Caroline Granger have struck gold (or copper, platinum and orange), depending on your skin-contact white viewpoint. That it happens to be an orange wine is completely inconsequential to the math, science or for that matter, the art. Mature and gifted acidity supports the fruit-tannin compendium in pinot gris that knows where it’s from and who it purports to be. That is to say it’s naturally managed and acts that way. In fact it smells and tastes just like its kin pinot noir and so the adage of white wine made like a red fits this to a “P.” E-P-phany, as in extended play, skin-contact style. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2018, February and June 2019

Head judge D. J. Kearney, #NWAC2019

There were 34 medals awarded in this category, two Gold, 12 Silver and 20 Bronze. British Columbia (gris) and Ontario (grigio) split the Golds while B.C. gris took home all the Silvers, not to mention 24 of the total 32 medals. Six medals were grigio in origin/style and only one of those was from B.C. Origins aside the category results at the 2019 Nationals prove that this didactic grape is showing qualities not seen before which tells us one main thing. Farmers and producers are putting time and money into its production, lowering yields and treating it with varietal respect. The pale Vin Gris and Vendanges Tardives examples persist and sometimes excite but at the top of the judges’ heap were dry examples that expressed richness and ultimately flavour.

Congratulations to all the winners and to those producers for offering high quality, well-proportioned and balanced pinot gris/grigio. The consumers are thankful as are we, the judges. Your attention to detail and dedication to crafting solid varietal wines will be repaid.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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The diplomacy of Canadian Sauvignon Blanc

What is sauvignon blanc? More importantly why does it solicit so much winemaking interest, continue to be planted at increasing rates and produced with so much great heart? The Grape Growers of Ontario see it as “an extremely precocious and vigorous cultivar in Ontario, even on sites of low vigor potential.” Though it is very sensitive to extreme cold it is attractive “for its vegetal or herbaceous flavours.” In British Columbia sauvignon blanc experienced an explosion in the 1990s” and is made in a “style (that) benefits from the natural high acidity and fruit ripeness. Both the crisp, zingy, green bean, grass and asparagus style, as well as a riper, tropical fruit, richer version can be found. Some of the most successful wines are oak fermented and blended with sémillon to make wines in a white Bordeaux style.”

Related – Red Blends, White Blends and Sauvignon Blanc – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

Related – Single white varietals: No roommates required

In Canada’s cool climate viticultural regions there just seems to be this persistent thirst for grassy, herbal and gooseberry gifting white wines embraced as sauvignon blanc but also those that are flinty, smoky, nutty, creamy and rich. This tells us that sauvignon blanc makes full use of its wiles to attain its ends. Whether or not you see its origins as Loire Valley (Sancerre, Touraine, Pouilly Fumé and Cheverny) or Bordeaux (Pessac-Léognan, Graves, Côtes de Bordeaux Blayes et Franc and Entre-Deux-Mers), Canada’s sauvignon blanc finds a way to please all camps.

Related – A Canadian preoccupation with White Blends

Related – Riding red blends from Canadian frontiers

There were 25 medals awarded to Canadian sauvignon blanc at the 2019 Nationals, one platinum, three Gold, four Silver and 16 Bronze. The split between Ontario and British Columbia was almost exact with the nod to the east by only one over the west. Trius Showcase Clean Slate Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2017 from Niagara-on-the-Lake took home top honours, yet another varietal wine in the ever-increasingly impressive Showcase line-up fostered by winemaker Craig McDonald. This is a wine that won Silver in 2017, Gold in 2018 and now Platinum in 2019. I’d say that’s called moving in the right direction. Nearby to Trius out of Niagara vineyards is the Peller Estates Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018, a consistently high quality example that continues to show remarkable success for sauvignon blanc in Ontario with its second straight NWAC Gold.

Related – Pinot Gris goes National

Related – Canada knows Rosé 

The other two Gold winners are from British Columbia, first for the Howling Bluff Sauvignon Blanc Three Mile Creek 2018 noted by one judge as “exuberant…zesty acidity and a textural, multi-layered core.” The Hillside Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018 from the Naramata Bench impressed as well as a “very ripe style of sauvignon blanc…crisp and refreshing with a smooth, medium-bodied profile and a subtly sweet, fruity finish.” The Silver winners are split two and two from both provinces, as are the Bronze winners in equal numbers, eight to eight. It’s just so bloody obvious that sauvignon blanc offers consumers what they want; equality, diplomacy and something for everyone.

Here are more sauvignon blanc tasted in recent weeks.

G.Marquis Sauvignon Blanc The Red Line 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (556894, $13.95, WineAlign)

Yes. Barrel fermented and flinty, reductive, smoky and with full fruit compliment. Crunchy, juicy, in metal motion and full of varietal excitement. So Fumé Blanc in character, rich, layered, variegated and fine. Plenty of acidity, herbal pesto, savour lemon square and length. Really accomplished wine. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Nomad At Hinterbrook Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2018, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario ($16.95, WineAlign)

Steely, juicy, melons of yellow, orange and green, full fruit straight ahead. Just fruit and stainless steel acquiescing sauvignon blanc. Nothing off track here. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Mission Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (57430, $22.95, WineAlign)

The hyper-spirited layers of fruit intensity are noted above and beyond the previous vintage of Mission Hill’s Reserve sauvignon blanc. A similar grapefruit to guava to mango to gooseberry accumulation gathers albeit on a drier and more focused frame. The result is a douse of lime and a sprinkle of herbal salt for more complexity and ultimately opening the door to greater and further far reaching food pairings. Great joy in Mission Hill-ville with a nod to Sancerre-land. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Reif Estate Drea’s Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($26.50, WineAlign)

Leafy, savoury, verdant and grassy sauvignon blanc. Metallic, orange juiced and then, more metallics. Not a matter of excitement but definitely a thing of botany, chemistry and integrated science. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

CedarCreek Platinum Sauvignon Blanc Border Vista 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($33.70, WineAlign)

Aromatic whites are integral to the CedarCreek project and so sauvignon blanc is a natural for joining the ranks and carrying a torch. The wild ferment, 1500L oak foudres and concrete egg all contribute towards this three-pronged effect; musky berry skin scents, creamy and nutty flavours and then the kicker in how texture swells and fills the mouth. You’ve likely never experienced sauvignon blanc this way, not in the Loire, not in the New World and not even in British Columbia. This vintage presents a magnanimous beginning for what will become a benchmark varietal wine when the wild, wooly and moving parts learn how to co-exist in a world of balance. Can’t wait to see how ’18, 19 and ’20 turn out. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Le Vieux Pin Sauvignon Blanc 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($34.59, WineAlign)

Wholly engrossing sauvignon blanc of great pungency and perhaps a kiss of barrel here. Grassy and in a sense a crossing of Casablanca with Marlborough though just for a fleeting cerebral moment. Some mango to pear fruit sweetness through texture. Ambitious and reminiscently woolly style but B.C. knows how to make this happen and considering the expressiveness, why not? Dry extract and tannin come across on the finish. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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To Chardonnay and beyond

Every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one man band, but #i4c Sunday @ravinevineyard is always #homewardbound

A week out and ahead of the greatest Rock ‘n Roll chardonnay weekend around it seems apropos to preview i4c, the Niagara Peninsula’s International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. Imagine Coachella, Collisioni and Glastonbury rolled into one big weekend of tasting chardonnay. Sort of. Equating chardonnay to infinity also seems relatively appropriate because the great white, genetically superior grape is in fact the world’s most planted white variety somewhere in the vicinity of 500,000 acres and counting.

Are you going to i4c? The ninth edition of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration is taking place in Ontario’s Niagara region from July 19-21. There are events already sold out but there are tickets still available for some of the weekend’s best venues and 51 wineries will be featured this year, split between locals and those from nine countries around the world. Food is varied and outstanding at the cumulative events and you can sample more 100 versions of chardonnay, plus some other specialities. For all the detailed information you could want about events, seminars and ticket purchases, go to http://www.coolchardonnay.org/. And of course this all would not be possible without the unwavering support of the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario (WMAO). Visit their website for everything wine in Ontario at https://winecountryontario.ca/.

I have made some pretty heady statements about this event. Lines like “The Cool Chardonnay weekend-long event is the stuff of dreams” and so to get you prepped for i4c here are 10 recently tasted examples from Ontario that you really must try.

Took all night but it was so worth it. Welcome to #i4c17 @coolchardonnay #ilivechardonnay

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (286278, $19.95, WineAlign)

Quiet and demurred chardonnay with salty-metallic feels and real oak intent. Lovely to nose, taste and drink. What more could you want? So long and extensive, if soft and just easy. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

The Farm Unmarked Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($22.00, WineAlign)

Unmarked as in a combination of earmarked and unoaked, I would think. This Neudorf family raised chardonnay is sharp, leesy and so clean on a line its in Petit Chablis to Chablis mimic, from fruit near Jordan though not of exact or pinpointed, i.e. unmarked origin. It’s (Twenty Mile) Benchland fruit one way or another, lovely, so drinkable, expertly tart and equipped with a smile. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($29.95, WineAlign)

The posit tug between fruit and tension is so strong it extends straight through the great lengths travelled all the way into the finish. This CCV has rarely if almost never moved with such circulative pace, in fact there’s a lurching and a wraparound effect, of acidity and structure encapsulating the fruit. Safe, bound and secure as it can be in the present so that the unwind will bring more and more pleasure. When texture arrives on the scene this will have come full circle, back to and in completion of fine union. It’s penitent and courteous, a function of winemaker Keith Tyers’ understanding of vineyard and vine. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted June 2019

Rosehall Run Chardonnay JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($29.95, WineAlign)

As a follow-up to the warmth and phenolic heights of 2016 you’ll have to imagine a meandering through zig-zagging directions for ’17. Despite the ups, downs and ups again this chardonnay has indeed found its way, charming us with insights and how richness ensues. The surety of this fruit and this composure ensures and enriches the great sleeper County chardonnay that continues to explain the concept of cool climate viticulture done right. It’s not really all that reductive but it is protective and crafted with indefatigable structure in surround of high quality ingredients. Another winner from Dan Sullivan. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted June 2019

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Château Des Charmes Blanc De Blancs 2015, Traditional Method, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (423111, $34.95, WineAlign)

Not unlike the previous ’14 with an almost almond-nougat creaminess, sweetness balanced by equal and opposing acidity, not to mention real richness. Winemaker Amélie Boury likes to pick later than many in Niagara and so that accumulation of style, chic and textural components really drive this chardonnay machine. That said you can never leave home too far behind and so place is the thing. Cool-climate sparkling wine that is, in Blanc de Blancs form. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted June 2019

Trail Estate Chardonnay Vintage Two Unfiltered 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($35.00, WineAlign)

Three acres of planted chardonnay (a bit more than a hectare) and 2017 was harvested on October 8th, set to natural ferment and put to 22 per cent new plus (22) 2nd use barrels half way through in for 11 months. Bottled unfined and unfiltered there is more flesh and complexity in number two. This is the first new, true leg of what will be a long relationship, the first that is crafted “as opposed to just seeing what we’ve got.” In many ways Mackenzie Brisbois’ first truly personal chardonnay. There’s a creamy apple custard vitalized by pulse and energy with good bite and it feels very seasoned, on it’s own, religiously made, slowly developed and with purpose. The acids are spot on. Bottled in November, wisdom already contained, herein. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted December 2018

Queenston Mile Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (10137, $35.00, WineAlign)

So very inscribed in the drawn buttery realm with oak notation from and centre, incumbent on melting sooner rather than later. For now it’s a richly textured chardonnay set in substantial oleaginous ooze though minus its original spice so full integration is coming soon. Curvy, creamy and pure, cresting at tender with an lovely white salted caramel vein, Stylish chardonnay with just enough cool. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Tawse Chardonnay Lenko Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($44.95, WineAlign)

Nice advancement here, moving past original fruit and now with mixed into creamed corn, certainly vintage related, of cold and cloud cover plus some wetness. Good representation of the vintage once reductive, now mineral and flinty chardonnay of intensity and structure. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Wingfield Ouest 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($44.95, WineAlign)

Exceptional chardonnay right here. Expressive, of both orchard and stone fruit in the same basket, beads of humidity forming on the aromatic skins. Not sweet but ripe as must be, tight, tart and structured along right proper angles. The real deal in chardonnay, with integrated wood, balance, precision and focus. Noted last there is length. Great length! Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Hidden Bench Blanc De Blanc Zero Dosage 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($48.00, WineAlign)

Every pop of a Hidden Bench Blanc de Blanc sets off fireworks at zero hour. Every moment marks the beginning of a great event, profound and set in the autolysis of fine design. Chardonnay such as it is like this is perfectly dry and raised on the promises of Bench life, the frosting on a cake made of pure driven varietal snow. If any sparkling wine made in Ontario is of “grower style” this is the one, purposed, born in the vineyard, bred in the fields. It is fed by chardonnay raised with a sparkling consciousness, intended to illuminate the chemistry of traditional methodology, to indicate a metal complex acting as a single unit, a polyatomic ion, a blanc de blanc molecular scintillant. The linger is complex and as a travelling companion you would be hard pressed to do better. Makes you feel just right. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted June 2019

Good to go!

godello

Every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one man band, but #i4c Sunday @ravinevineyard is always #homewardbound

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Don’t you, forget about IGT

San Francesco, Il Molino di Grace

Multiple visits to Tuscany over the past 36 months and more specifically to Chianti Classico have meant that nearly a thousand sangiovese have been opened for tasting opportunities. The tours have also acted to allow for benefactor moments, to present table wines made in part or in whole that either do not or have been chosen to not qualify for DOCG appellative status. These cases are purely opportunistic, in the name of IGT Toscana (and other typical geographical notations) for the purpose of impressing the merits from well-maturing vines of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, blends with sangiovese and other solo sangiovese wines of Chianti Classico producers.

The Galestro of Isole e Olena, Barberino Val d’Elsa

The idea of the IGT practice goes back four-plus decades, to a time when Bordeaux grape varieties began to infiltrate and populate Chianti Classico soils. So much of what was planted through the 90s remains and because only 20 per cent of a Chianti Classico can be filled by grapes other than sangiovese, in many cases it is the “international” varieties that fill in and those grapes still need to go somewhere. It is also a consideration that Chianti Classico aged in new oak barrels is a scarcity these days and so those vessels need to be used for something so ecco, it is IGT, big, small, super or baby that gets the nod.

Fontodi vineyards in the Conco d’oro, Panzano

In the mid to late 1970s Tuscany there developed a quick ascent of the Super-Tuscan, wines that eventually came to be called “IGT” as a by-product of a perfect bureaucratic storm. The micro-nationalistic wave of Denominazione di Origine Controllata (e Garantita) served Italy’s elite producers both a blessing and a curse because on one hand it afforded wines the highest level of (Italian) classification while on the other it added unbending restrictions on how those wines could be made. The rule breaking table reds thus became symbols of resistance, wines that told governments and consortiums where to go and in effect led to an eventuality of response, of a sweeping, money-grabbing movement across that region’s wine-producing territories.

Paolo de Marchi and Cepparello 1995

It was nigh twenty years later that authorities got wise to the situation and so Goria’s 1992 Law 164 was created, thus giving birth to the IGT designation. New monies began to line the government’s pockets. So much for rebellion though twenty years was plenty of time to establish and set up a group of famous wines for life.

The main reason for moving away from the appellation was the restrictive law that said you couldn’t make wine labeled as Chianti Classico if it contained 100 per cent sangiovese grapes. Later examples included Monteraponi when Michele Braganti changed from DOCG to IGT in 2012 because at 12.5 per cent alcohol it did not qualify for Chianti Classico and so it had to be Toscana Rosso. The great first wave began as Chianti Classico producers began to dismiss appellative laws by de-classifying their 100 per cent sangiovese. Fontodi’s Flaccianello delle Pieve and Isole e Olena’s Cepparello are two of the more famous examples. Outside the Classico territory and in other Tuscan lands there were others many consider to be the most rogue and famous of them all. Tenuta San Guido’s 1968 Sassicaia, Antinori’s 1971 Tignanello, 1986 Masseto and Ornellaia, first produced in 1985. But in 2019 the push for Chianti Classico’s Gran Selezione category to become a 100 per cent sangiovese appellative wine has sparked not only new debate but also great speculation. Will those once rebellious producers return their top wines and in many cases, single-vineyard sangiovese back to the appellation? Along with Flaccianello delle Pieve and Cepparello, the list of possible returnees might also include the following:

  • Badia a Coltibuono – Sangioveto
  • Carobbio – Leone
  • Castello di Querceto – Le Corte
  • Castello di Rampola – Sangiovese di S. Lucia
  • Fattoria Montecchio – Priscus
  • Il Molino Di Grace Gratius
  • Monteraponi – Baron’Ugo
  • Montevertine – Le Pergola Torte
  • Podere Campriano – 80 (Ottonta)
  • Podere La Cappella – Corbezzolo
  • Principe Corsini Le Corti – ZAC
  • Valdellecorti – Extra
  • Vignavecchia – Raddese

San Marcellino Vineyard, Monti in Chianti

In February of 2019 I tasted 21 assorted IGT wines, from Rosato to Bianco to Rosso. I’ve also added three others tasted a year ago that had not yet made it to print. These are my notes on that 24 strong, eclectic and impressive lot.

Rocca Di Montegrossi Rosato 2018, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Rosato from sangiovese raised from Chianti Classico galestro soils found in Monti in Chianti and only 30 minutes time through press. A 100 per cent sangiovese stunner with absolutely no excess, no onion skin, no oxidation, from all estate vineyards, including San Marcellino’s grapes that once would have been green harvested. Texture, sapidity and character are written down and expressed as a scientific problem out of which complexity sets all to high. One of Tuscany’s great Rosatos, made with great purpose, structure and food friendly to say the least. So good. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted twice, February and April 2019

Lunch at Le Fonti

Le Fonti Di Panzano La Lepre Delle Fonti 2017, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Antipasti wine, house wine, smells like good salumi. The Lepre tank is all the juice from the vineyard blocks where the ripening isn’t perfect and also some pressed juice not used in Chianti Classico. Theoretically from “de-classifed” grapes but in good vintages it could very well be Chianti Classico from a quality standpoint, though wouldn’t qualify because it’s made with 30 per cent merlot. A top notch vintage for Le Lepre, juicy, somewhat tannic and finishing with seed-noted beneficial bitters. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted February 2019

Le Fonti Di Panzano La Lepre Delle Fonti 2014, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Three years forward and the (70 per cent) sangiovese aromatics are eerily similar to the fresher and very forward 2017. Perhaps more salumi and certainly finnochio pronounced. Holding well with tannins resolved and this from the challenging 2014 vintage though truth be told it was the right one, of structure to carry a “second wine” like this forward. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted February 2019

Vicky Scmitt-Vitali and Guido Vitali, Le Fonti in Panzano

Le Fonti Di Panzano Merlot 2016, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

From vineyards planted in 1998 and 2000, this is the second vintage of the varietal hugger, with Le Fonti aromatics stronger than grape. It’s one year in barrel so in the baby Super Tuscan mold, fruity, juicy, lower in acidity and pretty much crushable. Easy and very proper. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted February 2019

Le Fonti Di Panzano Fontissimo 2015, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Certainly crafted from an easier, less stressful vintage and the blend is about 55-60 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 35 merlot and 10-15 sangiovese. Still those Le Fonti aromatics, of salumi and fennel, but here also pepper, graphite, Cassis and chocolate. Very Tuscan so makes sense in such a vintage for the reference to be Toscana as opposed to the frazione within frazioni called Alta Valle della Greve. Very grippy meeting the expected liqueur elixir and black cherry meeting black currant. Acidity is quite fine, purposed and integrated. Impressed by the length. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted February 2019

Le Fonti Di Panzano Fontissimo 2014, IGT Alta Valle Della Greve, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Fontissimo is a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese. A wine made in Chianti Classico to break in new barrels and to express territory through the ulterior processes of grape blending and winemaking. Here is where Guido Vitali and Vicky-Schmitt Vitali can work on their chops and hone their craft. Hello 2014, vintage of stars and bars, vintage of ages and for those who are paying close attention. Also, welcome to the highly specific Alta Valle della Greve. There’s a commonality for sure that is found in this valley but there is also a simplicity and a sense of place within a place within a place. Easy drinking actually. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted February 2019

Iacopo Morganti, Il Molino di Grace

Il Molino Di Grace Gratius 2015, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Gratius is the Molino di Grace 100 per cent sangiovese table wine that resides with a dozen other territorial greats in that existentialist realm outside of the appellation. If and when it will become Chianti Classico DOCG remains to be seen but this 2015 sits on the side of tangy, tart and so bloody structured side and yes, the dominant notes are distinctly blood orange. Elongated and elastic it’s offers up a free and equitable look in the varietal mirror, productive in perfectly perpetual inertia, firm, grippy and motivated. Will come together in a few years time and drift ever so slowly for seven more. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2019

Podere La Cappella Oriana 2015, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

“In my opinion it is young to drink,” shrugs Natascia Rosini. In fact it’s oft considered unusual to hold back white wines to drink, not just here but in Italy as a whole. Then again, who else makes vermentino from estate grapes in Chianti Classico. Salinity and sapidity reign in a shockingly good vermentino. Pear and herbal notes with richness that just put this over the top. Picked late at full maturity and kept in the cellar for two weeks (at four degrees) before pressing. Never failing San Donato vermentino. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February 2019

Podere La Cappella Oriana 1997, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

The last time I was able to taste such a comparison was 2014 versus 1998, two under-appreciated cool and wet vintages. Now we look at warm years, 2015 and 1997, the latter at the time considered the greatest. Many sangiovese have failed and fallen but this vermentino, well, even if the colour and the nose are far evolved, the palate has plenty of life. Salinity and sapidity still rock and stone their way, with that marine wind from the sea rushing through, into the air and the soil of San Donato in Poggio. Hard to decide between this and ’98 because there is more flesh here (bringing a honeyed apricot), but sometimes lean is so nice. Such a special moment. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted February 2019

Podere La Cappella Corbezzolo 2013, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

From sangiovese planted in 1981 and 1982, a vineyard not certified as Chianti Classico so this wine can’t be called Gran Selezione. To say this is young and perhaps even being unaware of what it can be would be an understatement. It’s calm and powerful, elegant and ready to strike with force. Such identifiable, formidable, indestructible and yet malleable tannins. A mimic of the singular Colombino rock found only here in the territory, calcareous white stone both strong to build houses (and cellars) and schisty to break apart between your hands. Imagine how this will drink when it allows itself to break down in just the right way and at just the right time.  Last tasted February 2019

The Corbezzolo from vine and into bottle is 100 per cent sangiovese and in name “the fruit tree that produces a very tart berry for making jam.” This comes straight from the heart of the Rossini matter, out of the oldest vineyard planted in 1990-1991. It would be hard not too think on Podere La Cappella’s sangiovese as untethered to family, to meals and the kitchen’s hearth. The demi-glacé in Corbezzolo is deeper, richer, slower developing, of graceful, elegant and ethereal aromatics, even a bit exotic verging on quixotic. There is this far eastern temperament because the fruit seems to simmer with cool, jasmine-floral savour in a galestro clay pot. The acumen is variegated in the singular Corbezzolo concentration but this is not a factor of extract or density. Depth is sangiovese light, dancing from 2013, a gorgeous vintage that everyone will want a piece of. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted February 2017

Podere La Cappella Cantico 2012, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

As always 100 per cent merlot with a grafting connection to chardonnay and American rootstock. The vintage is a savoury one for the thirty-plus year-old IGT. It’s a very Mediterranean sensation, of black olive and balsamico, hematic ooze and woodsy floor. It’s actually still quite closed or perhaps it’s entered a dumb or quiet phase but don’t be fooled; there is powerful restraint and it may pounce anytime. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted February 2019

Podere La Cappella Cantico 1999, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

A beautifully advanced merlot from vines that would have been 17 and 18 years-old at picking time. If you’ve got a truffle dog, take this wine and go truffling because this merlot is at the head of that aromatic game for the territory. Such a creamy merlot, with plenty of necessary acidity and the freshness of truffle. Merlot as tartufo incarnate. Truly. Delicious. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted February 2019

John Matta and John Szabo Vicchiomaggio

Castello Vicchiomaggio Ripa Delle Mandorle 2016, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Sangiovese (80 per cent) with cabernet sauvignon, all fruit and nothing but the fruit, plummy and with a nutty smokiness, but also manageable with simplicity from and for fruit. What works and gives from the basic and forthright IGT ideal. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted February 2019

Castello Vicchiomaggio Ripa Delle More 2016, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Sangiovese (50 per cent), cabernet sauvignon (30) and merlot (20), from “the hill of the blackberry.” A rich, purple flower aromatic, liquid chalky, deeply rendered red. Done up in a combination of new and pre-used barriques. There’s a salumi feel, a musky pancetta and a silky smooth mouthfeel. Nearing glycerin but staying its clay-mineral coarse. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2019

Castello Vicchiomaggio Villa Vallemaggiore Poggio Re 2016, Maremma Toscana DOC Rosso, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

From cabernet sauvignon grown on sandy soils in the warmer maritime area near Grossetto. The grapes comes from “the hill of the king,” and the attributes are so bloody varietal obvious. Cassis, ribena, blackberry, savour and spice. Chocolate and rosemary, tarragon and cinnamon. Very expressive and with good elevated acidity. Quite the tannic beast. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2019

Castello Vicchiomaggio FSM 2015, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

From a project that began in 1995, this is 100 per cent merlot of a small, 3,000 bottle lot. It’s hard to decide if it’s more varietal or more Toscana so let’s just say it straddles the two with perfect ease. Youthful, big and warm, very Mediterranean with gariga, black olive, rosemary and dusty notes. Silky smooth however and finishes in balsamic, viscous and reduced. High quality merlot to be sure, with fine tannic structure. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted February 2019

Amphora, Fattoria Montecchio

Fattoria Montecchio Priscus 2015, Toscana Rosso IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

The IGT is 100 per cent sangiovese of 1,200 bottles aged in 100 per cent terracotta amphora formed, forged and cured on the Montecchio property. Same must/juice as the Gran Selezione so the side by side comparison is the show. Winemaker Riccardo Nuti is interested in this investigation for family tradition, commercial continuity and passion project affirmation. Quick time on skins, fermented in terracotta tanks and racked into “amphora,” in this case elongated egg-shaped clay vessels for the next two plus years. The texture and the spice are higher, as is the volatility but the threshold is not in any danger of being breached. The tannins are more present, demanding and vivid. And I prefer them because they are just that more interesting. This is in fact a remarkable look at the relationship between grape, vessel, material, approach and place. Drink 2024-2033.  Tasted February 2019

Fattoria Montecchio Pietracupa 2016, Toscana Rosso IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

An IGT blend of sangiovese (60 per cent) and cabernet sauvignon with a percentage coming from San Donato in Poggio vineyards close by. Much deeper, bigger, broader and brooding as a blend with smooth silky consistency and fine silky tannins. Very oaky, completely mature and filled with the flavours that lie on the balsamic-chocolate-blackberry spectrum. Though the sangiovese character is lost it’s a real high-end charmer. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted February 2019

Fattoria Montecchio La Papesa 2015, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

A varietal merlot of high level ripeness and while it’s a bit overripe and certainly extracted the acidity is supportive, balancing and results in something charming. The tannins are soft and comforting with zero astringency so yes, think of this as a great big San Donato hug. Figs in reduced balsamico are the prevailing flavours, with lots of dark but not bitter chocolate coming through with the finishing next level morbido feelings. As big as it may seem to some palates it’s actually quite easy to drink. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted February 2019

Monte Bernardi Tzingarella 2017, IGT Toscana Centrale, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

A Bordeaux blend from young vines in frost spots and high humidity places not really suitable for sangiovese. The blend is merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and canaiolo. So what is it? Well for one thing it’s the “daughter of the gypsy,” and then it’s a high acid, taste of place before anything else red blend. High tonality, ripe purple fruit and and a boatload of currants. No pyrazine, well perhaps just a bit. Low alcohol for such an animal, remarkably so and once again it’s a great matter of sapidity. Just a hit of chocolate late, as per the grapes which needed to have a say. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February 2019

Monte Bernardi Tzingana 2015, IGT Toscana Centrale, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

The “Gypsy,” from the old Greek, or in Italian, gitano or tzigane. This gypsy is the old vine version, of 50 years, top grafted on a sangiovese/malvasia/canaiolo/trebbiano vineyard planted by the previous owner in the late 80s. It’s made from merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot (but no canaiolo) and also no sangiovese because tells Michael Schmelzer, there is no cannibalizing the Chianti Classico. This is deeper, richer, lower in acidity, still sapid but not as pronounced and higher in finishing chocolate. The wood needs a year more of integration. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted February 2019

Luca Martini di Cigala, San Giustro a Rentennano

San Giusto A Rentennano Percarlo 2013, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Percarlo IGT Toscana 2013 is the current vintage of the 100 per cent sangiovese that began in the 1980s when it was forbidden to label such a beast as Chianti Classico. “Percarlo is his identity so he will not come back,” insists Luca Martini di Cigala. Made from the smallest bunches and a selection of the best fruit, yet still from the same vineyards albeit blessed of more from tufo soil. Percarlo carries the same San Giusto richness and acidity working in silky tandem and the tannins are the most plush, which they’d have to be to match the high level of glycerin. Formidable and exceptionally refined sangiovese. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted February 2018

San Giusto A Rentennano Percarlo 2005, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Once again you would have no idea that any time may have passed, not just because the hue has yet to morph but because the aromatics and fresh gelée are one in the same, together as they have always been. The purity and exquisite texture also conspire for a sublime intertwine and then out of this comes the acidity, trailing like a comet. The tannins are still so strong and so the smoky spirit and intensity of variegated flavour persists, gets reprimanded and is held out for all to taste. Here the maximum coaxed from the grape is acceded above and exceeded beyond. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted February 2018

Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione 2015, IGT Alta Valle Della Greve, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Il Carbonaione is from the finest sangiovese on the Ruffoli property, a Chianti Classico vineyard declassified, with vines as old as 90 years but in reality, not exactly 100 per cent sangiovese. Some post-phylloxera ungrafted vines and many co-planted with no record of origin perhaps or likely place mammolo, colorino, canaiolo, malvasia, trebbiano and even occhiorosso in five to ten per cent amongst clones of sangiovese. The nose is like the Chianti Classico magnified, reduced, compressed and elevated. The florals rival the Lamole but they are more into potpourri and the acidity is super, super fine. The only comparison might be in acidity like Luca’s San Giusto a Rentennano, with the sandy soil base and the saltiness but the tannins here are set upon broader shoulders. With much less stone worked in the soil you lose the chalky grain streak but gain this broader complexity. With such beckoning and burgeoning acidity the vinatge is put on a great pedestal and the possibility seriously exists for two decades of aging. Ruffoli’s 400-600m elevation, with a long growing season (sometimes seeing pick times up the second week of October) means the full and complete phenolic ripeness is wholly realized. Not to put too much stock in here but 13.5 per cent alcohol. Just sayin’. Drink 2020-2034.  Tasted February 2018

Good to go!

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San Francesco, Il Molino di Grace

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