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

The School of Cool at #i4c14, Brock University: Studying Chardonnay with Zoltan Szabo, Mike di Caro and Godello,

The School of Cool at #i4c14, Brock University: Studying Chardonnay with Zoltan Szabo, Mike di Caro and Godello, photo (c) Kaitlyn Little

Tell me, why Chardonnay? Who can explain the exultantly singular science behind the world’s most wontedly planted, easily recognizable and widely endorsed white grape variety? How can something that seems so commonplace consistently blow people’s minds and convince them to have a go, over the course of a weekend in venues scattered about the Niagara Peninsula, at more than 100 samples in 50 hours? Where else is it possible that the fruit of one vine can be the sole proprietor to lead such a fervent tailgate of amaurotic yearning? What is the meaning of this Chardonnay?

The quest begins in Burgundy, centre of the Chardonnay universe, home to the icons, built upon centuries of micro-plotting and the act of influencing patrons, friends and enemies. At this point in history, success out of French vineyards is a given, blatant and obvious. Chardonnay’s foray into the global diaspora and subsequent boon is yet another matter.

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

The most recent Cool Chardonnay conference is the parochial focus of attention so for the sake of local argumentation, lets connect a line direct from Burgundy to Niagara. Peninsula winemakers (along with those from Prince Edward County and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley) draw inspiration and knowledge from the mother land. The fourth annual #i4c14 celebration in July is the stuff of Chardonnay dreams because of the cool visions of vignerons like Thomas Bachelder, Harald Thiel, Norman Hardie, Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble, Martin Malivoire, Ed Madronich, Bill Redelmeier, Doug and Karen Whitty and Moray Tawse. Not to mention the foresight of Niagara’s biggest players; Inniskillin Wines, Peller Estates (Trius), Stratus Vineyards, Chateau des Charmes, Vineland Estates and Cave Spring Cellars.

To give Chardonnay its due and to build a stage from which it can parade about, belting out its songs, there must first be assembled a team of passionate folks. In addition to the winemakers and winery proprietors there is an army of volunteers. Their contribution is immeasurable. This group is led by the #i4c14 concierge; Dorian Anderson, Trisha Molokach, Britnie Bazylewski, Elena Galey-Pride and Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser. Thanks must always be given to Barbara Tatarnic of Brock University, along with CCOVI director Debbie Inglis and Marketing and Communications Officer Kaitlyn Little. Event chair Del Rollo brings the A-game, as does Peter Bodnar-Rod, life giver to Everyman and every Chardonnay. The ambassadors of cool are lead by a team of sommeliers; Bruce Wallner M.S., Will Predhomme, Mark Coster, Serge Janjic, Emily Pearce, Sheila Flaherty, Lindsay Groves, Brett Fraser, Heather MacDougall, Bob Latham and Peter Lavoie.

The generosity of the event hosts come to praise Chardonnay. Wine Country Ontario, Brock University, The Grape Growers of Ontario, White Oaks Conference Resort & Spa, 13th Street Wines, Cave Spring Cellars, Tawse Winery, Flat Rock Cellars, Southbrook Vineyards, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery, Peller Estates Winery, Malivoire Wine Company, Reif Estate Winery, Vineland Research & Innovation Centre and Ravine Vineyard. The LCBO and VINTAGES join the party, setting aside time and space at the same time to sell some cool Chardonnay.

The School of Cool,  Photo (c) Elena Galey-Pride — at Brock University.

The School of Cool,
Photo (c) Elena Galey-Pride — at Brock University.

The weekend begins on Friday, July 18th with #TheSchoolofCool at Brock University. Luminaries are flown in to speak on behalf of the great grape. Tim Atkin (MW), Christy Canterbury (MW), W. Blake Gray (wine journalist, cool climate advocate) along with eleven panelists (winemakers, growers and researchers) of cool climate viticulture and winemaking explore, debate, provoke and disseminate.

John Szabo opens the Chardonnay Camp 2014 at Brock Univeristy Photo: Michael Godel

John Szabo opens the Chardonnay Camp 2014 at Brock Univeristy
Photo: Michael Godel

Three interactive sessions feature this global panel of experts. Renowned Master Sommelier John Szabo is the chair and most in control moderator of the panels. Here at Chardonnay Camp he is talk show host, politically motivated comedian and all-knowing Yoda wrapped into one Renaissance man package. Szabo notes that “quality, at the top end has diversified, especially in Burgundy.” He then wants to know “who is an acid lover?” The answer to that question is the first clue towards an understanding of the meaning in (cool) Chardonnay. “Does anyone here regret planting any variety? No? Nobody? Everything works in Ontario.” The sportive tone succeeds in marking a first strike for the grape guest of honour. As does his notation that “the panel is chosen to speak on the zeitgeist topics of Chardonnay.” A walk-around tasting of all 117 bottles being poured at the 2014 event following the sessions helps to build early Friday momentum.

Cool Chardonnay Camp Photo: Michael Godel

Cool Chardonnay Camp
Photo: Michael Godel

Tim Atkin begins. “We are here to have fun.” The British journalist spends his time defending the oft maligned variety, insisting that “the target of Riesling lovers should not be Chardonnay. It should be Pinot Grigio.” Atkin reminds that Chardonnay is still the fastest growing white variety in the world but that “even worse things have befallen this noble grape variety. It’s a victim of its own ubiquity and adaptability.” What makes it so special then? “Chardonnay expresses place, as well as production, terroir as well as technique.”

Grower Matthias Oppenlaender: “I like growing Chardonnay. It adapts to the different soil conditions in the sites I own. But I like drinking it even more.” The panelists debate Techno vs. Tech-No. Atkin’s take? “Recreating balance is a bad practice. All these things (manipulations in the winery) are fine if they are done sensitively. Overripe plus water equals bad.” Jeremy Dineen of Josef Cromy Wines in Tasmania says “wine should taste from a place, but also from a time.” His idea of technology “is to try to make my life simple. It’s a hell of a lot easier to plant in the right spot.” On reverse osmosis: “Technically, yes. Ethically, no.”

The panel seems to think it interesting that consumers consider that wine should be a natural and non-manipulated product, but food can be handled and bastardized in unlimited ways and be called gastronomy. First of all…consumers…really? Wine geeks, more like it. Secondly, wines comes from one ingredient: Grapes. Well, three if you count yeast and sulphur. Food composition is contrived out of a plethora of ingredients. Manipulation and over-handling is the norm, not the exception. Wine should follow the exact opposite course.

Manipulations, according to former Henry of Pelham winemaker, now of Niagara College Ron Giesbrecht include sorting, spraying, osmosis, acidification, de-acidification, overripe diluting, wood chips, adding tannin…the list goes on. He admits that “some degree of finessing and correction is OK. Add sometimes, but not any time.” Shiraz Mottiar of Malivoire is a purist. “When it comes to techno, I like (the ideas) of Calvin Harris (anyone get that…?). Add as little as possible, that’s my position. It would be unjust to the consumer to create something awkward and unusual.”

Giesbrecht brings out base wines with the addition of “winemaking tricks.” One is lactic, lean, mean and filled with cheap acidity. Another is terpenic, gum leesy and full of rounder acids. A third is volatile, medicinal, sacchariferous. A fourth is done very lightly, yet thin. Oak chips, micro-barrels, gum Arabic, these are all tricks of the trade and they all lead to faults.

Session two discusses Yield and Context. Mattias Oppenlaender discusses the Ontario opportunity of growing grapes for the high end, quality market. “If I grow Pinot Noir at (only) two tons per acre, it’s pretty difficult to make it economically viable.” Dr. Jim Willwerth, CCOVI Brock University adds, “in Ontario it’s important to have low yields from late ripening varieties. Vine balance is the key.” Willwerth cautions against stereotyping the vine vigor quotient. “Lower yields to highest quality is not a direct linear relationship. We know it’s not the case.”

Yet Dimitri Bazas of Maison Champy in Burgundy concedes that zero yields is not the best. “You can make good Premier Cru wine with yields of 40-45 L/hl. Szabo then asks, “and you can taste the quality difference based on these number?” Bazas replies, “yes, yes I can your honour.” Matthew Lane of Peter Lehmann in Australia adds a trump card. “There’s an old vine factor that has to be considered when talking about yields.” Lane believes you can extract quality from fruit at higher yields. Like Willwerth, he believes in the ‘Sesame Street’ word of the day. “If you’ve got a warm year and vine health, you can get great balance.”

Christy Canterbury reminds that crop yields are relative from variety to variety. Chardonnay in general is low (two to three tons per acre) as compared to Pinot Grigio and Riesling. “Perfect. An MW position there,” chides Szabo. Canterbury leads the room through four Chardonnays of various yields.

Maison Champy Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2011, Burgundy, France (377705, $215.00, WineAlign)

Opposites attract and this urges the fruit-wood compendium forward in a direct, unabashed way, followed by a sledgehammer clubbing of formidable acidity. The yield for this 12 barrel salute to upper echelon Burgundy is 30 hl/L. There are waves of richness that jab, poke and stamp their way into your Chardonnay heart. Pierces and injects by way of a hypodermic, splintered syringe filled with creamy, smoky oak. The balance is currently upended though there can be little doubt bottle age will calm the high extract and lead it to a calmer future.  Tasted July 2014

Maison Champy Pernand Vergelesses En Caradeux Premier Cru 2011, Burgundy, France (344143, $49.95, WineAlign)

The technical specs (sugar, acidity, PH, natural alcohol) on this PV are very similar to Champy’s Corton Charlemagne. The yield out of marl and limestone soil was 50 per cent (45 hl/L) higher and the fruit was picked seven to 10 days ahead of the CC. There exudes plenty of peeling citrus perfume in sunshine and some essential oil release, in wood, though it is by no means excessive. Very much citrus stoked, also reeking in green apple, forest glade, even more sunshine. Holds a tight, angular texture. Needs time to flesh and convert those phenols into gold. Most attractive is its subtlety and balance, from shoot to bottle. A Chardonnay very cool for school.  Tasted July 2014

Peter Lehmann H&V Eden Valley Chardonnay 2012, Eden Valley, Australia (agent, $20.00, WineAlign)

Surprisingly green, herbal and cool spirit driven Chardonnay. There’s a lime spark and texture woven by shavings of slate and chalk. Pure, ripe fruit, picked prudently early, means for a tang and a half, in all the right back of the mouth ways. The nervous energy component gives the wine a divine fit, “sends a permanent shiver down my spine.” Clean expression out of the Eden Valley and so well made.  Tasted July 2014

Trius Winery Showcase ‘Single Barrel’ Heubel Estate Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Though the soil for this rare and tiny production Chardonnay is sandy-loam, the mineral component is both pronounced and uncanny. A difficult vintage for the variety, wet, not so warm, noted by winemaker Craig McDonald, “we didn’t really get a summer.” He concedes that the wine was an experiment, “mainly out of curiosity, as a collaboration with the grower.” Like so many Niagara ‘experiments’ this Trius will teach and pave roads to a tart, direct, firm tartaric future. A wine that will act as a beacon for forward thinking ideas on thinning, canopy management and how the viticulturist must “dial into the frequency of what the vineyard is saying.”  Tasted July 2014

Chardonnay panel with Ann Sperling, Sébastien Jacquey, Miguel Torres Maczassek and W. Blake Gray Photo: Michael Godel

Chardonnay panel with Ann Sperling, Sébastien Jacquey, Miguel Torres Maczassek and W. Blake Gray
Photo: Michael Godel

Session three, The Living Vine: The Viticultural Continuum begins with W. Blake Gray. “If I buy an Ontario Chardonnay that you say has protected the earth but it’s not (organically) certified, I don’t know what that means.” In the world according to Gray, talk is cheap. Harald Thiel believes organics and biodynamics are much more complicated, beyond certification. “What is the buffer between organic/biodynamic vineyards and conventional ones,” he asks. “In Burgundy the rows are one metre apart. One sprays next to another.” Livelihoods are affected, compromised and yet who is policing the offenses?

Miguel Torres Maczassek admits “my family is a bit divided on organic and biodynamic but I am a great defender of organic viticulture.” Torres agrees and expands on Thiel’s concerns. “Being organic today is not enough. Organic needs to make an evolution. The problems are not the same anymore.” Sébastien Jacquey of Le Clos Jordanne: “Organic, biodynamic, sustainable. It’s about making wine that expresses something. We all need to work together.” Then John introduces Ann Sperling of Southbrook and Sperling Vineyards. “Ann, let me guess where you stand.” It is no secret that Sperling is a Canadian leader in this hotly debated field. “Biodynamics is something that allows me to connect with the vineyards.” Enough said.

Christy Canterbury wants to know who pays for the cost of lab analysis for wines looking for an organic affidavit. “The producer,” insists Sperling. “The consumer,” think many in the room. Four more wines are poured.

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (34561, $65.00, WineAlign)

From sandy loam and limestone soils, here is a Chardonnay that winemaker Sébastien Jacquey is looking to fashion with low PH and elevated tannin. A most commendable effort in the enigmatic ’11 vintage, clean, anything but lean and un-gassed by a jet engine’s aerified stream. Chardonnay running instead on the vineyard’s biofuel, a chalky lees and lime texture that turns green in a savoury way towards the back end. Full, rich, gaining in stature as it breathes, thinks and feels. Atop the green there is an ambrosial aroma and a honeyed sense of flesh. A wine of great respect and biodynamic energy.  Tasted July 2014

Sperling Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (378570, $31, WineAlign)

High altitude expression from a vineyard perched atop a gravel bed, a rocky pool of stone that seems to toss up pebbles at Sperling’s window to see if she would like to sneak away for a midnight drive. A crisp, clean and linear style, full of night-air freshness, white flowers and white fruit. This is undeniably picked early and ahead of any possible oxidative or overripe window, yet there is a rich quality about it that rages against the machine, calm like a bomb, “its narrative fearless.” Very mineral in its direct back and to the side of the mouth attack, full of salinity and lemon-lime acidity. Long, long Okanagan that will flesh with five years time. The slate bass line will soften, allowing the white fruit to further shine.  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (366500, $50, WineAlign)

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

Miguel Torres Milmanda Chardonnay 2011, Conca de Barbera, Spain

Milmanda was part of a route of medieval castles that gave shelter to Christians during the time of the Reconquest. This is the estate’s top varietal bottling, a warm honeybee of a Chardonnay. The toast is set on high, the malolactic pull in elastic heaven and the lemon/lime in curd form. From deep clay soil, this is the least cool of the lot and though harvested early (late August), the oak quotient steals the show.  Tasted July 2014

Barrels and Bonfires at 13th Street Winery, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Barrels and Bonfires at 13th Street Winery, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

On Friday night the host is 13th Street Winery for Barrels and Bonfires. The credo is this: “Join the twelve winemakers who congregated around that fated bonfire in 2009 as they celebrate their vision as its come to life five years later.” Many more than 12 pour their wines from barrel tops in the heat of a July evening while the band plays. Meanwhile in another part of 13th Street’s town, Peter Bodnar-Rod holds court with an impromptu blind tasting. I fail miserably. Thanks Peter.

Niagara's own PigOut Roasters, Image (c) Sherry Galey Photography

Niagara’s own PigOut Roasters, Image (c) Sherry Galey Photography

13th Street’s B & B party is a resounding success, complete with a pig roast by Niagara’s PigOut Roasters and a setting to combine casual, pastoral and The Hamptons, all in one stunning piece of real estate.

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,  Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,
Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Chef Therese deGrace of Good Earth Food and Wine, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Chef Therese deGrace of Good Earth Food and Wine, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Dinner at 13th Street Wines,  Photo: Michael Godel

Dinner at 13th Street Wines,
Photo: Michael Godel

On Saturday a group of winemakers convene at Camp Cave Spring for some Chardonnay and mobile Pizza oven fun. Kistler, Talley, Maycas Limari and Cave Spring also do the #i4c14 unthinkable. They pour something other than Chardonnay. Shocking! Pinot Noir and Riesling are on hand. What a refreshing, if fleeting change. Thanks is owed the Pennachetti families, winemaker Angelo Pavan, Rob Groh from The Vine and the culinary team at the Stratford Chef School.

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Stratford Chefs Mobile Pizza Oven Photo: Michael Godel

Stratford Chefs Mobile Pizza Oven
Photo: Michael Godel

Talley Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA 

The Estate Pinot is composed of fruit from three vineyards, Rincon (50 per cent), Rosemary’s (47) and Las Ventanas (3), then fermented for 13 months in 20 per cent new French oak barrels. Typically, even quintessentially California Pinot Noir with a developed, nearly candied palate made more complex by the earth of the Arroyo Grande Valley. Very ripe black cherry, some tar and plenty of warm spice. The alcohol reads 14 per cent but it manages to reflect a cool image in the mirror. Refined if expected Pinot Noir.  Tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards at Cave Spring Winery

Talley Vineyards at Cave Spring Winery

Kistler Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, California (330274, $77.95, WineAlign)

In yet another outstanding vintage Kistler flaunts its Pinot acumen, leaving other RRV neighbours to mire in a sickly, sweet and dusty trail of cola, syrup and black ash. Kistler’s take is rooted in wisdom, in plenitude and also restraint. “We remove any berries that are overripe,” announces Geoff Labitzke. This ’12 is singing, pinging and binging in red cherry. Picked in the cool of the night with a big crew, the RRV Pinot is tart, tight, intense and pure. The finish leaves with a slightly tannic, chalky residue, yet one that will integrate with five plus years time.  Tasted July 2014

Kistler at Cave Spring Winery

Kistler at Cave Spring Winery

Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (26372, $24.95, WineAlign)

According to Cave Spring’s website this newer Riesling from older (18 to 35 Year-old plantings) is from “a single block of vines in the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment, known as ‘The Adam Steps’. Really apropos, for this Riesling is the cantilever, the one with the outstretched arm. At 10.5 per cent alcohol and with an unmistakably stony, sweet and sour whiff the wine speaks of its off-dryness. The juiciest of all the Cave Spring Rieslings, with rounder acidity and good persistence. This is the all-around good guy, the one with an open invitation, the bridge from Estate to Dolomite to Csv. The well-adjusted one steps up its game to help win one for the team, especially out of the convivial 2013 vintage.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Wines

Cave Spring Wines

On Saturday night the scene changes to the big show. Vineland Research and Innovation Centre is the host once again for the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Grand Tasting & Dinner. In civilized fashion, it launches with bubbles and oysters by Katrina Steeves and Mike Langley, Tide and Vine Oyster Company.

Katrina Steeves and Mike Langley, Tide and Vine Oyster Company Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Katrina Steeves and Mike Langley, Tide and Vine Oyster Company
Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Saturday’s menu featured the Vineyard Chefs: Adam Hynam-Smith of el gastrónomo vagabundo, Andrew McLeod, Jason Parsons of Peller Estates Winery, Justin Downes of Vineland Estates Winery, Ryan Crawford of Gastrohomestead, Paul Harber of Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery and Craig Youdale of The Canadian Food and Wine Institute. The selection of pies for dessert were from the 13th Bakery & Marketplace and Whitty Farms.

Saturday Menu at Vineland Research Station

Saturday Menu at Vineland Research Station

Saturday dinner, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Saturday dinner, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Dick Snyder and Magdalena Kaiser at Vineland Research Station

Dick Snyder and Magdalena Kaiser at Vineland Research Station

On Sunday, the Cool Chardonnay weekend wrapped up at Ravine Vineyards, with one last chance to taste a Chardonnay or 117, if for some reason there remained an elusive bottle.

keep the cool i4c love!, Photo (c) Sherry Galey Photography — at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery.

keep the cool i4c love!, Photo (c) Sherry Galey Photography — at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery.

Events at #i4C14 are made possible by Wine Country Ontario, LCBO, Grape Growers of Ontario, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, White Oaks Resort & Spa, Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, Vines to Vintages Inc., Riedel Canada, Kerry Ingredients, Hope & Harder, A1 Label, The Canadian Food and Wine Institute, Richard Marazzi Design, Rempel Electric, cellar•tek, Lakeview Vineyard Equipment Inc., Winestains, Hunter Bottling, Special Event Rentals, Q water, De La Terre Kitchen, Dairy Farmers of Canada and Leslie Stowe Fine Foods.

The quantity of Chardonnays made available to taste through the course of the weekend was officially announced at 117. A number of them were wines that I have previously tasted and reviewed. Some I felt compelled to re-taste and update. For the sake of those I did not redo, I am including them here as contributing members of the Cool Chardonnay weekend and the links to their corresponding tasting notes, published at WineAlign.

13th Street June’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay Johnson Vineyards 2012, Yamhill Carlton District

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2012, Estate Bottled, VQA Niagara On The Lake

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2012, VQA Prince Edward County

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Niagara Peninsula

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula

Returning back to the original question, what is the true meaning of Chardonnay? It’s really quite simple. You’ve gotta be cool to be kind.

Stay tuned for tasting notes on 50 more #i4C14 Chardonnay. Coming soon.

 

Good to go!

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Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine

Extreme Lows, Niagara Peninsula, December 2013 and January 2014

Extreme Lows, Niagara Peninsula, December 2013 and January 2014
Photo: Weather INnovations Consulting LP (WIN)

as seen on canada.com

The physiological and emotional roller coaster heaped upon grapes and growers these past 55 days has been nothing short of exhilarating, frightening and exhausting. First this monster climatic Dementor known as the Polar Vortex. Along with the demonic weather came the devastation of an ice storm, followed by record low temperatures. More recently, thaw and re-freeze. Consequences and challenges have abounded. Also, a silver lining. Freezing temperatures can kill grape buds on vines unprepared and left to fend for themselves. Those little vine kinder can also just be unlucky enough to grow up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some Niagara growers are reporting heavy losses to Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay vines. Here are the numbers as reported by Wines In Niagara’s Rick VanSickle.

I spoke with winemaker Paul Pender of Tawse Winery in Vineland, Ontario yesterday. Paul is both unconcerned and not yet ready to make any sort of call on damage to his crops. “It’s still too early to tell,” he notes, “I won’t really head out to assess any potential damage until early March.” While Beamsville vineyards are reportedly hard hit, Pender is confident that his team’s strident and prudent vineyard management will see the vines through.

Balanced pruning means leaving a specific number of buds during the winter on a dormant cane for this year’s crop, the number based on the amount the vine grew the previous season. Tawse’s canes are cut back to two feet, the dead wood removed before winter’s freeze can hit. Buds this season were thinned from 12 to six, giving those tender bits a fighter’s chance to survive. And while Pender will not enter into an unequivocal conversation with respect to the heartiness of his vineyards as a consequence of 100 per cent organic and biodynamic farming, I can hear the surety in his voice and imagine the twinkle in his eye at the thought.

Other growers concern themselves with what may happen inside the many parts of the vine when there are freezes, thaws and re-freezes. Again, Pender is not concerned. Proper pruning should prepare a vine for a harsh winter, whether or not they are protected by a warm blanket of snow. In New York’s Finger Lakes region, Lenn Thompson is reporting “some minor bud damage to vinifera vines, but little to no vine death.” Steve Shaw of Shaw Vineyards on Seneca Lake had this to say. “Yes, this winter is definitely presenting itself in a rather volatile manner. As far as I can tell from checking a number of varieties and many buds, there does not seem to be any catastrophic primary bud kill. There is damage, but not too bad so far. I do not think that with things being this wacky that we can really rest easy until most of the winter has passed.” Brock University’s Cool Climate and Viticulture Institute in St. Catherines helps local growers with much needed information and infrastructure to deal with damaging weather. Their VineAlert program helps protect vineyards during frigid temperatures.

Icewine Hours 2013

PHOTO: Weather INnovations Consulting LP (WIN)
Icewine Hours 2013

The news is not all bad. According to many icewine makers in Niagara, 2013 will shape up to be what many are forecasting the best ever vintage for the province. Temperatures dipped to the requiem in late December and most picked their shriveled, sugary berries before the new year. That is unprecedented, allowing this season’s icewine to remain high in necessary balancing acidity and well ahead of the fermentation arresting challenges from most years. Wine Country Ontario reported that “early icewine harvest in Wine Country Ontario starts the festival fever.” Look for the most balanced icewines out of 2013. Not to mention the Grape Grower’s of Ontario reporting the province’s grape growers gathered a record 79,756 tonnes of grapes in 2013 valued at nearly $100 million.

The Niagara Icewine Festival encompasses three weekends in January dedicated to the region’s beloved ambrosial elixir, wines that have become the calling card beyond the broader confines of Canadian borders. Icewine has been made since 1981 and in that short span of 33 years, Ontario and B.C. winemakers have challenged, and in many cases lapped their counterparts in Germany and Austria. Canadian icewine is globally renowned, even if it is not the most important wine resource bequeathed upon the rest of the world.

Icewine 101. Simply put, made from grapes that have been left to freeze naturally on the vine. Ontario’s stringent Bolshevik Initial Decrees-like laws insist that icewine must be made from approved grape varieties; the most popular are Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Some small lots include Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Grapes are left on the vine until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached and then picked from those vines encapsulated in nets to protect them from birds possessive of a sweet tooth.

A national icewine debate is ongoing, inflamed by a recent Macleans Magazine article discussing the ideological differences between the VQA law preventing vine and grape separation before pressing and the Quebec practice of letting the grapes freeze in nets. Quebec growers do this out of necessity for fear of their fruit being smothered by excessive snowfall. Ontario’s old guard vehemently oppose the practice. The irony of VQA Ontario’s website low volume statistic, “with average yields of 500 litres for each acre netted,” is not lost on the curious. Two questions arise. How many grapes in Ontario nets end up in bottles of VQA labelled icewine and how can a culture of Canadian icewine be brought together without some form of compromise and collaboration? Yet again, is togetherness integral to the success of Canadian icewine, or more specifically, Ontario’s industry?

According to Klaus W. Reif of Reif Estate, apparently there are 3,750 berries needed for one bottle of 375ml icewine. Just consider the concentration for a moment, the hand-picked (though not all) labour involved and the specificity of the practice. The sweetest wine known to Canadians can indeed be re-worked as a palindrome for Niagara Ice Wine Festival.

A wet vial is fine nice agar

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Rick James Ice Sculpture, Niagara Icewine Festival

On Friday, January 10th, 2014 I was a most elated guest at the Xerox Icewine Gala: A Bacchus Evening of Icewine and Revelry. For a list of continuing events this weekend and next, here is a link to the festival site. More information here. With kind thanks to Magdalena KaiserSmit and Wine Country Ontario, I had the good fortune to taste a host of Niagara’s finest renditions, along with some very special bottles of sparkling and still wines. Here are notes on six wines sampled at the Fallsview Casino Grand Ballroom last Friday night.
From left: PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010, RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, and VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012

From left: PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010, RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, and VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012

PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Onatrio (284547, $31.95, WineAlign)

This is Peller’s most versatile fizz, a blend of traditional method Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sweetened by a dosage of Vidal icewine post disgorgement of its lees. The lees has been left to linger in the bottle, in spirit. Sapid, savoury bubbles tingle the senses to the bone and will offer the most comforting and proper pleasures to those discriminating and otherwise. Appealing to a large common denominator, this Peller Sparkling can really do no wrong.  90  Tasted January 2014  @PellerVQA

CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010 (202127, $39.95, WineAlign)

The floral lift from three to four percent Viognier gives notice to bend the brawny, savoury black olive and blistered Ancho fruit into balance. Syrah in a sunshine state but not from concentrate. Would accept a glass of this Brokenpress at any beck and call. “Grab your wine, take me where you been, with the violin time and the moon gettin’ thin.” From my earlier note: “Offers up gorgeous pine and pepper-laced correctness and so much juicy, fresh warmth from a terrific Syrah vintage in Ontario and even more parochial so on the St. David’s Bench. This Queenston Road Vineyard red is winemaker Rob Power’s secret weapon, absolutely freakin’ delicious stuff and the epitome of what Syrah should be like from Niagara. Verve, rigor and yet also flirtatious with expertly judged wood and tannin to re-fresh its spirit and lengthen its life. Love it.”  91  Tasted twice, October 2013 and January 2014  @CreeksideWine

PILLITTERI ESTATES MERLOT FAMILY RESERVE 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71753, $39.95, WineAlign)

Served from Jeroboam, one of 23 produced and a testament to the precocious, facile touch of then winemaker Sue-Ann Staff. The extreme five litre format has certainly been kind to the hermetic 11-year slumber of this Merlot, as has the above average red Niagara growing season. Charlie pulled out this rare behemoth “for the special occasion” and despite and with thanks to the perfect vintage meets size storm, it has held up with dramatic fortitude. Unmistakably predicated Pillitteri chocolate perfume, brushed violet, mulberry and oven-warmed baking spice. Holding in sustained concentration, the toffee, caramel and umami of wizened, oxidized fruit not yet a twinkle in its soapy sandalwood eye. How could Sun-Ann have known what time-cheating lengths her Merlot would see to?  93  Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, St Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (20483, $55.00, WineAlign)

This Bordeaux style blend (40 per cent Merlot, 33.3 Cabernet Sauvignon and 26.7 Cabernet Franc) is clothed in a coat of arms all about texture. A drawn and raised relief of dried, candied bramble fruit and charcoal lines of savoury, earthy hickory and herbs. Hearty warmth from a cool vintage, meat on a stick in a glass, charred, roasted and smoking. A spit of gamey goodness. Holding strong but drink now.  90  Tasted January 2014  @RavineVineyard

PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, Niagara On The Lake (46557, 375 ml, $60.00, WineAlign)

A most unique and striking rendition, wearer of many hats, confounding and curious. There is a funk about him that stands apart from the rest. Like a really well-aged, superb piece of washed rind cheese, then turning unabashedly sweet, with verve and symphonic tone. An orange sky of an icewine, anti-bittersweet, accented by mace and anise, carob even. “Here is what I know now brother. Here is what I know now sister.” Cabernet Sauvignon, in a vintage equipped with striking acidity, can turn into something to look forward to. One of the more interesting icewines to date.  91  Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (163018, 375 mL, $60.00, WineAlign)

This represents the icewine revolution, for the first time adding 15 percent Vidal juice into the Riesling mix. In 2012, the normally stand alone Riesling needed a shot in the arm, provided by the Vidal, a dose of icewine magic by winemaker Brian Schmidt. Lifted tree fruit blossom and added weight are the result, without hyper-sweet flavours. Riesling is the rock, Vidal the roll as this RV crashes into me. The pit orchard fruit is reduced and recognizable to taste, yet reserved and in phonic harmony. “Sweet like candy to my soul, sweet you rock and sweet you roll.” Brotherly love icewine, full of Schmidt wisdom.  93  Tasted January 2014  @benchwineguy

Good to go!

Three Rieslings to believe

Grape leaf

More reviews have been written, designed and pushed down your throats on Canuck Riesling than on any other grape. What’s up with that? Quality, that’s what.
Photo: hayo/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

There are many reasons to believe in Riesling, that versatile and brutally honest grape. Riesling holds no punches, speaks its mind, tells it like it is. Grown worldwide and vinified in so many varying styles, Riesling is not so much a chameleon but rather a mutant. It takes root in every vineyard, marking its terroir, expressing itself singularly and without apology.

Canucks make Icewine from many different varieties; Vidal, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and most often, Riesling. This coming weekend the most passionate Icewine lovers will gather to get silly with Niagara’s nectar gift to the gods. The annual #icewinefest is set to begin on Friday, roll through the weekend and continue on for three more activity filled weeks. Wine Country Ontario has all the details. For more information, click here.

In 2006, a Gothamist author made a poignant call in the column A Riesling to believe. Quote, “there was so much going on in the glass that it truly captured our undivided attention.” There’s one rub. In 2012, The BC Wine Guys stated in their post, You Give Me a Riesling to Believe, “thankfully, a hand full of the original vintners in the province held to the belief that world-class Rieslings could, and would, be made in BC.” True that. Wineries of Niagara on the Lake also employs the catch phrase in their discussion on several local wineries fashioning excellent versions of Riesling, notably Between the Lines, Cattail Creek, Konzelmann and Strewn. Montreal Gazette wine columnist Bill Zacharkiw‘s more than appropriate recent rodomontade stated that 2014 will be the year of Riesling. His stance? “It’s time to spread the gospel about this glorious and misunderstood grape.”

Riesling held centre stage in this column twice last year. In the post, 100 kilometre wine for spring, there was this: “A modern-day Riesling narrative takes place less than a 100 kilometres away, along the Niagara Escarpment and above the pictorial towns of Beamsville, Jordan and Vineland.” In June, there was the Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s Riesling Experience 2013. It was there I asked the $128,000 question, “are you wine experienced?” It was also there in St. Catherines that Nik Weis of the Mosel’s St. Urbans Hof winery furtively suggested, “Riesling is better than an isotonic sports drink.”

Over the past two-four months I have exonerated and upheld with the highest Riesling belief that Canada does the variety justice above and beyond the pale, in the vineyard and in the glass. Gushing praise has been doled out to Tawse, Greenlane, Flat Rock, Angels Gate, Sperling, Hidden Bench, Thirty Bench, Rosewood, Charles Baker (Stratus), 2027, Cattail Creek, Chateau des Charmes, 8th Generation, Featherstone, Fielding Estate, 13th Street, Calamus, Cave Spring, Tantalus, Colaneri, The Foreign Affair, Hinterland, Vineland Estates, Malivoire and John Howard. More reviews have been written, designed and pushed down your throats on Canuck Riesling than on any other grape. What’s up with that? Quality, that’s what.

If there is a better place to produce Riesling than up on the Beamsville Bench and the upper reaches of the Niagara Escarpment (the Mosel in Germany notwithstanding) then I’d like to know about it. With no disrespect to the Rheingau, Pfalz, Baden, Nahe, Rheinhessen, Alsace, Wachau, Clare Valley,  Eden Valley, Marlborough or the Finger Lakes, Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula and to a lesser extent, British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley should and will be making some of the planet’s finest juice.

As if the list of nearly 25 Niagara producers was not long enough, here are two more to add along with their three combined terrific Riesling interpretations.

From left: SUE ANN STAFF LOVED BY LU RIESLING 2012, SUE ANN STAFF GRACE'S DRY RIESLING 2011, and HINTERBROOK RIESLING 2012

From left: SUE ANN STAFF LOVED BY LU RIESLING 2012, SUE ANN STAFF GRACE’S DRY RIESLING 2011, and HINTERBROOK RIESLING 2012

SUE ANN STAFF LOVED BY LU RIESLING 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (322636, $16.95, WineAlign)

Perhaps camping in that gray area between a laugh and a tear, ostensibly off-dry and simple in succulence yet an undeniable stonking acidity manifests its ability for give and take. Honey, lemon, melon and yellow plum combine for fruit forgiveness, with no petrol and “I know there’s a balance, see it when I swing past.” Really terrific.  88  Tasted December 2013  @SueAnnStaff

SUE ANN STAFF GRACE’S DRY RIESLING 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (367086, $18.95, WineAlign)

Hard lemon drop sour candy, beautifully medicinal and waxy Riesling, dry yet intimating something more, something hung and harvested longer. More lemon, freshly squeezed and grapefruit too, with Alsatian promise but with a bent towards what I don’t know. Intriguing, beguiling and herbal, like a lemon balm tisane. “I know that you are strong enough to handle what I need.” Very unique Niagaran giving yet another reason to believe in the Peninsula as a dashboard confessional for Riesling prayer.  89  Tasted December 2013

HINTERBROOK RIESLING 2012, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (270512, $17.95, WineAlign)

Despite the pale hue this has body and a certain, distinct clarity. Nearly but not quite off-dry, this makes use of lake-effect for balance. There are fresh herbs, the tang of yellow plum and even an odd licorice note. Springs a full stein of mouth-watering Riesling belief, so much so that a “congregation gathers down by the riverside.” Another hymn to Riesling is sung.  88  Tasted December 2013  @Hinterbrook

Good to go!

Holiday wine weathers the ice storm

Ice tree after the storm

Ice tree after the storm
Photo: Michael Godel

as seen on canada.com

What a strange, trying and beautiful holiday season it has been. If you are still without power and heat, here’s hoping you can climb out of the darkness as soon as possible.

Ice storm 2013 tree Down

Ice storm 2013: Tree down in the middle of my street

Go figure that wine helped add warmth to a cold week. These past few nights I’ve been fortunate to share some memorable bottles with family and friends. I held in self-possession some ready to pop and pour Boxing week wines, but you may not have been so fortunate. Was the LCBO open to find them? No. Could you walk into a private wine shop to seek them out? Not so much. Is there a VQA wine store with its doors wide open to offer up these local beauties? Not a chance. Though the stretch between Christmas and New Year’s can seem like a purgatorial void where nothing seems to happen, it does offer the opportunity to take a trip down the QEW or across the 401 and find perfectly beautiful wines for sale at the source. My advice? Stay away from the malls and go in search of local wine. Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore are waiting for you. Just be sure to check winery hours first!

From left: Chateau des Charmes Aligote VQA St. David's Bench 2011; Rosehall Run Pinot Gris Cuvée County 2012; Rosewood Estates Merlot 2011; Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 'Exclamation Series' 2010.

PHOTO: Handout/Michael Godel
From left: Chateau des Charmes Aligote VQA St. David’s Bench 2011; Rosehall Run Pinot Gris Cuvée County 2012; Rosewood Estates Merlot 2011; Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Exclamation Series’ 2010.

CHATEAU DES CHARMES ALIGOTE VQA ST. DAVID’S BENCH 2011, St. David’s Bench, VQA, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (296848, $13.95, WineAlign)

A product of wise vines with a nose so tropically-scorched, in pear and banana bubble gum. Glycerin saturate texture, indelible, edible white, immersed and immeasurable for food connectivity. Amenable, personable, diplomatic daughter of aromatic proportions, doting and full of flavour. A Mayer Aligoté, in joule raised heat capacity and major Meyer lemon. “She puts the color inside of my world but, she’s just like a maze.”  88  Tasted twice, March and December 2013  @MBosc

A solar tobaggan walk

A solar tobaggan walk

ROSEHALL RUN PINOT GRIS CUVÉE COUNTY 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($21.95, winery)

Puts the exclamatory headline previously written for other 2012 County PG’s back on top of the front page. The band’s ’12 members include Norman Hardie and Hubbs Creek and now Winemaker Dan Sullivan’s effort joins the already raging party, “with ripples and the rhymes,” climbs the stage and dances on the tongue and in the mouth. Like a refreshing glass of water, with so much orchard fruit goodness, in cold play pear and citrus, with more crazy acidity than before. This despite the equatorial balm of the vintage. A Grise Fiord of Pinot goodness, a cool drink of Gris that never thaws.  90  Tasted December 2013  @Rosehall_Run

Ice Tree

Ice Tree

ROSEWOOD ESTATES MERLOT 2011, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (211896, $22.00, winery)

From Renacaeu and Wismer Vineyards fruit on the upper reaches of the promontory, plots of land vital and calculated to produce exceptional Niagara Merlot. The granular and green nature that can sometimes mar byland Merlot dissolves away into an elastic coulee of berry coulis and savoury syrup. Carob, star anise and the intoxicating effects of chewed myrrh and betel nut round out the eastern philosophy. Attains a new level of pansophy in 2011, building a bridge from the naïve ’10 towards a perspicacious future.  90  Tasted December 2013  @Rosewoodwine

Ice storm forms

Ice storm forms

PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ‘EXCLAMATION SERIES’ 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($38.00, winery only, WineAlign)

While exercising an option for plenitude wood use finds its way for the vine to make the savour of the earth intelligible to the imbibers. The poverty of the soil is this Cabernet’s prose and a taste brings out its poetry. Runs a fruity line from blue to black and digs deep, for the rocks beneath the clay. Drinking in expert evolution now and will do so for another few years, then angle towards a graceful decline. Offers shelter from the storm, “in a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm.” Really fine by the fire, surrounded by an icy, unforgiving winter’s tale.  90  Tasted December 2013  @PillitteriWines

Good to go!

Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

Mary Catherine Wasilik, (Merry Bee) the Assistant Winemaker of Rosewood Estates Winery checking out the Pinot Noir pick at Wismer Vineyard in Balls Falls, Ontario
PHOTO: KRYSTINA ROMAN, QUEEN SOCIAL BEE/ROSEWOOD ESTATES WINERY

as seen on canada.com

Taste Ontario is a special event. The VINTAGES prescribed gathering of Ontario wine, the makers and the marketers should never be missed. The Royal Ontario Museum is a terrific setting for such a palooza and the Bronfman Hall a cozy, comfortable and airy room to showcase the wines.

That this gathering is conspicuous as much for its omissions as it is for the unparalleled quality and consistency of the wines does not need to be overly debated. The figure of “80 wines from over 30 of Ontario’s most passionate and talented winemakers” is certainly a drawing card despite VQA Ontario‘s contention “there are over 125 Ontario wineries producing VQA wines of various appellations – all backed up by VQA Ontario’s assurance of origin and quality.”

The VINTAGES say in what specific bottles should be poured was certainly in evidence last Thursday and succeeded for the purposes of presenting the licensee and the consumer with a cross section of Ontario’s signature grapes. Chardonnay was not high in representation but considering the recent run from and following #i4C2013 (Cool Chardonnay) that was to be expected. What the general public does not know for certain is the quality potential in and necessity of Ontario’s production of Sparkling wine, Gamay and Syrah. Three categories virtually ignored at Taste Ontario 2013.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Red wines at Taste Ontario 2013

Taste Ontario was held in Ottawa (The Westin Hotel) on Monday, October 7th and in Toronto (ROM) on Thursday, October 10th with essential support from Wine Country Ontario. Thanks must go out to Hilary Dawson and Magdalena KaiserSmit for their pampering and generosity. The grand tastings were partnered with the LCBO “SHINE {ON}” campaign that ran from September 15 through October 12.

My reviews of wines that shone is specific to the event and let it be known there are dozens more to form best of lists, from producers represented and those who were not involved. Here are 16 top wines from Taste Ontario 2013.

From left: Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Méthode Classique Brut 2009, 2027 Cellars Riesling ‘Falls Vineyard’ 2012, Thirty Bench Small Lot Woodpost Vineyard 2006, and Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011

Sparkling

Tawse ‘Spark’ Riesling 2009 (winery only, $18.95) may just be that bottle of persuasive interrogation and torture to turn even the toughest hold-outs against Sparkling Riesling. A veritable homeland crush of signature grapes, put to a not so traditional test, emerge in piercing, capital dry scintillation. Sparks fly in Beamsville when winemaker Paul Pender and team, “the boy prophets walk it handsome and hot.” This sparkler does the E street shuffle and dances in the dark. The new deal in Ontario bubbles.  “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”  89  @Paul_Pender  @Tawse_Winery

Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Méthode Classique Brut 2009 (234161, $22.95) in just under a year has evolved to a grandiloquent level of sophistication.  Fino arid bubbles, with an elevated level of aromatic sweetness, ginger spice, lime and charcoal. Quite complex, jumpy, with pepper on the finish.  90  From my earlier note: “is a sweet-smelling misty mousse waterfall where white grapefruit replays from vapor to flavour. Driest fizz yet playing the Angostura angle. Good length.”  88  @Jackson_Triggs

Riesling

Cattail Creek Estate Winery Riesling 2012 (241547, $14.95) from Four-Mile Creek suggests peaches in every way; juice, flesh and pit. A battle cry bottle for the adage and generational anthem, “when in Niagara I drink Riesling for peace.” Really fine evolutionary Creek example for the price, located somewhere on the dry to off-dry line.  Palate cleansing, with solid rhythm and length, like Les Brers in A Minor. Makes me want to eat a peach.  88  @CTCWinery

2027 Cellars Riesling ‘Falls Vineyard’ 2012 (294041, $18.95) in contrast to brother Foxcroft, is the more serious vineyard in my estimation. Falls compresses less limestone chalk and instead thunder rolls out glacial boulders. Here there is less grass, herbs, citrus and sea, but rathergarrigue blanc, the windswept plain studded with gorse and deeper, sweeter, earthly purity.  91  @2027Cellars

Thirty Bench Small Lot Woodpost Vineyard 2006 (winery only) has achieved green patina and diesel in D minor as the wine is just beginning to act its age. A crisp, crunchy green apple bent persists and the fruit remains confidently perched on top of the wood pile. A smoulder of wood seems ghostly present, or at least as rusty ties keeping it upright. A self-supporting slice of Beamsville Bench recent history here. Really quite fantastic.  92  @ThirtyBench

Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011 (241182, $35.20) does not so much pick up where cracking ’09 left off (with no offence meant to the soothing and tuneful ’10) but rather re-writes the Baker book. From the almost famous windswept vineyard atop the Vinemount Ridge, this Picone, from older Riesling plantings is crazy lively. That ’10 is now imbued with rich, oily glück. The ’11 will realize such a future, but much further along and in combination with its inborn tension. Right up there with Baker’s “perfect vintage” 2006.  93  @cbriesling

Chardonnay

Lailey Chardonnay 2011 (193482, $19.95, Alberta, 739220, $35.67) butters toast with delectable lemon curd and a sprinkle of brown sugar. Well-articulated, bundled Chardonnay fruit, in spice cadence, big but never brawny. A measure of Niagara balance.  90   From my earlier note: “is right on brother Derek. This not only joins the right excellent Chardonnay club; it’s the incumbent President. Lifted honeysuckle, honey and bright lemon aromas, the deftest kiss of oak and just a punch of spice. Tingles and lingers.  If ’10 was “almost great,” ’11 is. Mikey likes this very much.  90  @laileywinemakr

Tawse ‘Quarry Road’ Chardonnay 2011 (111989, $34.95) carries that classic Paul Pender perfume; rocks and stones, flaxen, refulgent toast and the verdure Vinemount terroir. A free flying, linear, atmospheric smear of thermal fortitude and backbone. A polemic Bowie Chardonnay to make you believe “the strangest things, loving the alien.”  92  From my earlier (barrel tasting) note: “resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terroir makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit.”  91-93

From left: Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2012, Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir ‘Red Paw Vineyard’ 2011, Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2011, Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2012, and Fielding Estate Winery Gamay 2012

Sémillon

Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2012 (winery only, $18.00) drifts along, like a city swan, a white Beamsville white cut from a different cloth, wholly unique. Rosewood’s Sem is the case and the point for others to follow, to plant, cultivate, embrace and perfect this grape in Ontario. The ’12 is immense, articulate, hungry. It makes cause to say, ”I’m starving in your gravity. You’re made from something different than I know.”  90  From my earlier note: “is their most intense ever. An exceptional growing season amps the honey sounds to 11, speeds up the sugars to 33 and while there is obviously no sign of chapitalization, added acid stabilizes the high tropical nuance. Huge style for Sémillon, mulched in miele, fruit flavours amplified and lengthened by 14.6 per cent alcohol. Une cousine to J.L. Groux’s Stratus SV, if less grapefruit and increased value.”  90  @Rosewoodwine

Pinot Noir

Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir ‘Red Paw Vineyard’ 2011 (79228, $22.95) gets the best value nod because it’s just oh so pretty, in hue, bouquet, essence and mouth feel. Four-Mile Creek dusty wind, dried leaf grain and a unique sense of soil imparts earthly elegance and poise. Excellent stuff.  90  @coyotesrun

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2011 (1560, $29.95) may at first strangely seem that it had ”stepped out of the wilderness all squint-eyed and confused” but my how a swirl elicits gorgeous red berries and an emphatic oomph, even without a sip. Impressively ripe, blooming red rose and cinnamon from the heart of a winemaker’s boots. A mineral streak brings to mind Volnay, in spirit and tragically hip Pinot essence.  92  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd

Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2012 (125310, $35.00) cuts a rug with immense, stepping out juicy behaviour. It’s both turntable old-school, astatic in smooth groove rotation, but also digitally forward thinking towards a perdurable future. The nose is Norm’s most intense floral burst to date, with incredible brightness and sparkling acidity in the key of fresh plum. This brings to mind indelible Burgundy, enveloped in PEC’s warm ’12 blanket. Hardie’s measure of consistency abides in a Pinot of parity and undemanding polish.  93  @normhardie

PHOTO: Michael Godel Bachelder Pinot Noir ‘Lowrey Vineyard’ 2011

Bachelder Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2011 (361816, $44.95) springs eternal from an ocean of cranberry and an island of spice. The somewhereness of this St. David’s vineyard can’t be denied, and in the hands of Thomas Bachelder the extraordinary happens. I am simply blinded by the light, by the weight and the weightless gravity. By a sweetness that just isn’t sweet, like exotic red fruit that knocks you sideways upside the cerebral cortex. Not to mention an iron madness that “plays that song with the funky break.”  94  @Bachelder_wines

Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc

Lailey Vineyard Wines Cabernet Merlot 2011 (winery only, $15) speaks the language of vinous accommodation. Abundant very berry fruit if less knotty and peculiar and more accessible than most Niagara Bordeaux blends. No bones about it, languid Lailey in mind of its own wonder. Could drink it straight from the tap.  89  @Laileywinemakr

Cave Spring Cellars Cabernet Franc Estate Bottled 2011 (72751, $24.95) attains a level of varietal purity near categorically Niagara Escarpment perfect. A mess of sweet and tangy red fruit, namely berries, currants and cherries cut fine to licorice and the evolutionary effects of magnesium-rich limestone. Imagine cutting a cross-section of rock to project a swirl of this multifarious Cabernet Franc. An example to examine at an Expert’s Tasting 10 years on.  91  @CaveSpring

Gamay

Fielding Estate Winery Gamay 2012 (winery only, $17.95) is, without question, Richie’s best to date. A gleaming, ebullient, shining glass of rich Gamay fruit with an undercurrent of currant and gleaning vineyard floor. A Buddy and Gene snare drum attack. Takes the baton and parades about the province. Will lead the #GoGamayGo charge for the rest of 2012 and well into 2013.  89  @Fieldingwines  @RichieWine

Good to go!

Ontario wines shine on

Shine {ON} Ontario Wine Map PHOTO: LCBO

as seen on canada.com

After spending the last two days tasting through 150 plus wines as a deputy judge for WineAlign’s World Wine Awards of Canada 2013, a reprieve is in order. Today I shift gears, shut off the global wine valve, return home and focus local.

Fresh on the heels of the National Wine Awards of Canada 2013 results, the #WWAC13 threw a gauntlet of grapes my way; international red blends under $15, up to $25 and up to $50. Same for an amphitheater of white blends. According to fellow panelist David Lawrason, “there was no white grape variety not on this page.” We also tasted, took notes, scored and passed judgement on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro, Shiraz/Syrah and Riesling.

A year ago less two weeks this supplicating statement, Ontario wine. Can you feel the love? was posed. This reflexive, rhetorical question was quickly responded to with an emphatic, yes. A year on, I continue to talk with myself, with increasing focus on the wines of Ontario’s three most prominent producing regions, The Niagara PeninsulaPrince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore. Self, I preach, Ontario wines continue to shine on. The $64K question is why?

People. Passion. Community. Quality. Climate. Spend a little time in wine country and the first four points explain themselves. Then there is the weather. Mother nature has hurled everything at Ontario’s vines this growing season. Spring frosts, unseasonable cool and wet weather for most of Spring and Summer, tempests, wind damage, torrential rain and flooding. Then an early September spike of intense, humid heat. This will be followed by a twenty-five degree dip in temperature at the end of this week. Despite the mercurial, tsunami fluctuations, Ontario winemakers will make terrific whites and reds in 2013. This is because of the industry’s maturity. Global climate craziness no longer holds a candle to the ability, knowledge, innate understanding and confidence found in Ontario’s wine houses. Going forward, lesser and greater are the terms to consider. Bad vintages are a thing of the past.

For the next 30 days, Ontario’s grape growers and wineries will be receiving some tender, loving, marketing care. The LCBO has rolled out their Shine ON program, an eat and drink local, in-store promotion that runs from September 15 through October 12. A dozen food trucks, representing a wide range of food styles, will be visiting an LCBO location for a special outdoor wine and food sampling. The September 14th, 2013 VINTAGES release features 38 pages of print and photos in discussion with sommeliers, restaurateurs, chefs and international wine critics.

But wait, there’s more. Wine Country Ontario, always the most devout and righteous of Ontario’s wine promoters, is encouraging an experiential twitter colloquy:

Spotlight Toronto champions the campaign in a big way, by way of their extensive 30 Days of Ontario Wine coverage. Wine Country Ontario and VINTAGES will bring the fall celebration to a vinous crescendo when Taste Ontario comes to Ottawa and Toronto, October 7th and 10th. These events mark the largest assembly for sampling Ontario’s wines in one go around.

I have tasted more Ontario wines in the past year than I had combined in all my years previous. Here are six exemplary choices slated for release this coming weekend.

Clockwise from left: The Foreign Affair The Conspiracy 2011, Fielding Estate Pinot Gris 2012, Daniel Lenko Gewurztraminer 2009, Lighthall Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011, and Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc 2007

The Foreign Affair The Conspiracy 2011 (149237, $19.95) from ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’, (but I like wine), “kissed, re-passed over and threatening to push boundaries as if it were singing “if I could stick a knife in my heart, suicide right on stage.” This Ilya Senchuk beauty may only be ripasso but I like it. Eases my pain and my brain. Excellent verve and honed of a rock star’s capacity to be loved, with tart, red and black fruit in waves, tar and charcoal. Svelte balance in fruit, alcohol, sweet and sour. This is THE vintage for this wine. Ten plus years lay ahead for a long affair and it will be rewarded with praise in future tastings.”  92  @wineaffair

Fielding Estate Pinot Gris 2012 (251108, $21.95) unlike, or as much as any Niagaran, intimates Alsace. Greasy, well, not greasy but jet propelled, viscous and rich in texture.  Seems to indicate a sweet/nut/salt/stone fruit pit conundrum but never crosses into that dangerous zone where any of these notes might cause interference. Really solid Gris and says a lot about the vintage for this grape. “Will shine on, for everyone.”  89  @FieldingWinery

Daniel Lenko Gewurztraminer 2009 (356832, $24.95) offers obvious, distinct and succinct lychee-induced pleasure. Off-dry with an embolden, mineral tang and good acidity. Early picked yet quite ripe and almost “tannic” for Gewurz. A diamond in the aromatic white wine rough, “blown on the steel breeze.” Sings a long, long song.  90  @daniel_lenko

Lighthall Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (278226, $25) from A Wine Pentathlon, “has that crazed look in its eye, as does vintner Glenn Symons when he talks about it, knowing full well this Prince Edward County juice is a bursting and rising, rocket launching supernova. Steely like Chablis, sharp and shimmering in defiance to the heat of the vintage, the LVC is a dartle to the collective consciousness of the County. Startling revelation. It’s all about the rocks.”  91  @lighthallvyard

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011 (302083, $29.95) burrows towards, reaches and fleeces limestone with amplified ramifications. This weather whipped Chardonnay is both Bachelder’s kookiest and most severe. That is succeeds in agminate partying of power and pop is a tribute to savvy winemaking. Though the fruit does not currently ride the breakers, the wine’s length oscillates in waves. Will wait for this one and make an appeal. “Won’t you shine, shine on?”  90 @Bachelder_wines

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc 2007 (315200, $44.95) currently resides on the leesy side of the Blanc tracks. Rich, nervy, stoked by putty, pith and tankhouse grit. In toast mode and a full on attack of chalk and limestone. Not the faint-hearted bubbles of yesteryear. Must always take it’s rightful place in discussion of top sparkling wines from Ontario.  90  From my earlier notes: Lock, Stock and Sparkling Wines, “turns the brioche quotient up several notches and is consistent with last month’s note: “combines the exceptional ’07 growing season’s rich fruit with early harvested acidity and extreme patience to result in one serious Ontario sparkling wine. A frothing tonic of citrus zest, baking apples, soda bread, cut grass and creamy grume. Long and true.”  90  @HenryofPelham

Good to go!

‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

Golden globes, Trius Winery at Hillebrand
PHOTO: ESTHER VAN GEEST OF STEVEN ELPHICK & ASSOCIATES

as seen on canada.com

In July of 2011, the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Association held their inaugural event, the celebration, the fourth “C.” On the weekend of July 19-21, 2013 the third Cool Climate Chardonnay conference occupied the greater good of the Niagara Peninsula, cementing a legacy begun two years previous.

Backtrack a few years, when in 2009 Ontario’s Le Clos Jordanne’s ‘Claystone Terrace’ Chardonnay 2005 made by winemaker Thomas Bachelder trumped international competitors in a Montreal grand tasting. A light bulb went on. Fast forward to April 2010 and a group of romantics from 28 Ontario wineries get together to defend a grape. Were they singing “that’s what I like about Chardonnay?” No, but the grape had been down on the rock for so long and the panel felt compelled to come to its defense. To suffer an indignity like “Anything But Chardonnay” was an aggression that could no longer be tolerated. Thus an idea was born, a manifesto drafted and i4C was soon to become a reality.

For such a gathering to succeed there necessitates grand effort, partnership, passion, star power and serious thematic examples. Germination began with those first cool thoughts back in 2010 and the journey has since laid song lines by way of a barmy march of vignerons with rootstock firmly dug in Niagara (Harald ThielAngelo Pavan) and those with a second foot tracking terroirsbeyond and abroad (Thomas BachelderFrancois Morissette). Mix in some of this generation’s best wine-producing and marketing minds; Ron Giesbrecht formerly of Henry of Pelham, now Niagara College, Stephen Gash (Malivoire), Peter Bodnar Rod (13th Street), Del Rollo (Inniskilin, Jackson Triggs, Le Clos Jordanne), Suzanne Janke (Stratus) and Jeff Aubry (Coyote’s Run). The yeoman’s load has been in the multi-tasking hands of those who will work ’till their fingers bleed. Give it up for the cool concierge team; Dorian Andrewes, Trisha Molokach, Elena Galey-Pride, Britnie Bazylewski, Magdalena Kaiser-Smit and an army of volunteers.

Partnered in kind with Wine Country Ontario, the Grape Growers of Ontario and the LCBO, Cool Chardonnay has gone forth and prospered. Success can be directly attributed to community and a profound connection to the fruit of the land. Famous wine folk have come; Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator, Stephen Brook of Decanter, winemakers and vintners wherever cool Chardonnay is grown. Pours have been the best of the best.

For three straight days in 2013 they walked, talked, sung praises in favour of and flat-out got dizzy with Chardonnay. White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa became vinifera central for the visiting cognoscenti, including 1976 Judgment in Paris and Decanter Magazine’s Steven Spurrier,U.K. wine writer Jamie Goode (The Wine Anorak), Master of Wine Christy Canterbury and traveling winemakers from all over; Louis Jadot’s Jacques Lardière, South Africa’s Anthony Hamilton Russell, New Zealand’s Ruud Maasdam and Spain/California’s Marimar Torres.

The Cool Chardonnay weekend-long event is the stuff of dreams. The level of local and global wine excellence on display is sweeping and staggering. The congress acts both as social function and unprecedented academic experience. Most of all, i4c fosters and develops relationships for people within the wine industry and with its fans.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Brock University CCOVI

 Dizzying was the operative word of the weekend. Each time I had only just digested, assimilated, internalized and committed a group of wines to memory, another gala event and tasting was upon me. Friday morning began with “Global Perspectives on Chardonnay,” a winemaker’s panel discussion at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, moderated in minimalist, less is more fashion by Mr. Spurrier. The colloquium was augmented by a tasting of seven wines attributed to panel members. “The base for all wines should be harmony,” began Spurrier, followed by ”simplicity and clarity are the key points in wine.” Four matter-of-course questions were put to the panel and the dissertations ambled in many directions. Could the room of several hundred not question, “why is this symposium different from all other symposiums?” There was plenty of talk on barrels, clones, rootstock, soil and climate but what about the heart of the matter. How and where does Ontario Chardonnay go forth and prosper? How will exceptional quality translate to financial success? The answer lay buried in the polite, respectful and viniculture responses of the panelists, all of whom chose not to ruffle any wine making philosophy feathers nor to breach the moderator’s benign agenda. There were highlights:

Grape grower Albrecht Seeger:

Thomas Bachelder on behalf of and in support of the eloquent and verbose Jacques Lardière:

The outspoken and candid Francois Morissette:

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Chardonnay at Brock University CCOVI

Friday night at Trius (Hillebrand) in Niagara-on-the-Lake set off under blazing sun only to be swept away in tempest. What began with the promise of seemingly limitless and linear structured wine and food stations turned into weather induced, scrambled chaos. I may never see a group of cooks, servers, winemakers and volunteers work harder to save an event and satiate a crowd as I saw at Trius that night. Their efforts were nothing short of brilliant. It was difficult to focus on tasting but the scene afforded some priceless time spent with Niagara winemakers and Brit Jamie Goode as the event wound down and on the shuttle back to the hotel. Wine tastings rarely afford such personal moments, to talk about something other than phenolics and malolactic fermentation.

PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates
Marlize Beyers at of Hidden Bench, Mikael Falkman of Champagne Taittinger and Michael Godel at Trius Wines

Lunch events and tastings on Saturday were held at StratusPillitteriHidden Bench and at Southbrook, which I attended. While the first three conducted more formal, seated, panel discussion style luncheons, the scene at Southbrook was more of a walk about, casual nature. Once again this allowed for one-on-one time with some of Niagara’s wine minds. Great time was spent with Shiraz Mottiar of Mailvoire (Moira’s Chardonnay 2010) and Sébastien Jacquey of Le Clos Jordanne (LCJ Chardonnay Claystone Terrace 2010). Special thanks to Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier for their hospitality.

PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates
Mother Nature announces a change of plans – at Trius Wines

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre was host to the Saturday gala event. The gamut of Chardonnay flowed freely, including fizz by Cave Spring, Angel’s Gate and Taittinger alongside Tide and Vine oysters. Food stations adorned the lawn and the army of volunteers poured all available Chardonnay well into the night. My ABC moment came early Sunday thanks to Mike Di Caro and a very much alive bottle of ’98 Henry of Pelham Riesling. Sunday concluded with more, you guessed it, Chardonnay at Ravine Vineyard and some terrific eats. Pizza from the outdoor oven, prosciutto by Mario Pingue and great rib-eye hamburgers hot off the grill.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Chef Vikram Vij at Vineland Research Centre

In excess of 100 unique expressions of Chardonnay were available to taste throughout the weekend. More than half were presented in an experiential way, with a present winemaker or a carefully crafted food pairing. I sampled 72 to be exact. Much as I have thus far avoided the questions, and they have been asked more than once, I am willing to address the demand for ”what were the highlights and what were your favourites?” Apologies in advance to those I either missed or could not properly assess due to the sheer enormity of the weekend. Also to the little ones, the hard-plodding, day-to-day pleasing value Chardonnay. With so many top-tier, global examples from Burgundy, California, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, British Columbia and Ontario on offer, the under $25 set may not have felt the love. Here are notes on 13, guilt-free, bring ‘em on Chardonnay poured at #i4c2013.

Wines were tasted at the following venues:

Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI)

Trius Winery at Hillebrand (TWH)

Southbrook Vineyards (SV)

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (VRIC)

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre Rittenhouse Media Room  (RMR)

Ravine Vineyard (RV)

Southbrook Chardonnay Whimsy! ‘Sirgue’ 2011 (344531, $34.95) may come from the ‘masculine barrels’ but the integration is already seamless, in soft French cream spooned over a grove of ripe lemon dessert. Sister ‘Damy’ (sampled at 5-Star Casa Loma) is certainly ultra-feminine but together they speak of the symbiotic relationship between winemaker (Ann Sperling) and cooperage. Stone-free Chardonnay, “free to ride the breeze.”  90  (TH, SV) @SouthbrookWine

Poplar Grove Reserve Chardonnay 2011 (335760, $34.00) is not so much a more concentrated version of the estate’s normale as a hotter sister. Like her sibling, the reserve does not rely on any one feature but she is classically styled, quaffed, a marble bust made up as maenad. Sappy white and savoury, meloniuos winter fruit, spiced apple butter and cool, steely goodness alights. “Felonious my old friend, So glad that you’re here again.”  90  (TWH, VRIC) @poplargrovewine

Staete Land Chardonnay ‘Josephine’ 2010 (332494, $57.00) is built upon a Marlborough hendiadys, a complex conjunction of rocks and earth. Sharp, focused and broad across the palate. Ruddy specimen this Josephine and simply gorgeous.  90  (VRIC)  @liffordwine

Miguel Torres Chardonnay ‘Cordillera De Los Andes’ 2011 (296624, $18.95) out of the cooler Limari Valley impresses in structure from mountain top to valley floor. Candied lemon peel, spicy bite and a crisp, cool centre make a case for value Chilean Chardonnay of the year. I might go so far as to say the highest quality ever from Chile.  91  (RMR)  @MarimarTorres

Tawse Chardonnay ‘Lenko Vineyard’ 2011 (344796, $44.95) ”from wiser men who’ve been through it all” is the kind of one-off we should all wish to re-visit in 10 years time. The study: Daniel Lenko’s fruit in the hands of winemaker Paul Pender out of a most confounding vintage. That 2011 in terms of Ontario Chardonnay strikes and speaks to me in tongues is no secret, so the Tawse treatment fascinates in ways to make me giddy. Tension and elasticity are present here in super-hyper Beamsville Bench concentration. Apples pile upon apples, in magnetic purée and layered maceration. A full-on body attack and phenolic structure will see this Lenko to a future (five to seven years) in grace and gorgeous line. A Chardonnay to “scheme the schemes, face the face.” Tasted three times.  91  (TH, VRIR, SV)  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011 (931006, $32.95) may just be the most fascinating wine of the weekend. Aromatically it’s so understated and semi-breve spoken the oak-driven note is of the quasihemidemisemiquaver kind. Taste and find it ”is bathed every veyne in swich licour.” Chaucer-esque form, texture and meaning.  91  (VRIC, RV)  @WOSACanada

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2009 (303644, $40), tragically singular in expression, regardless and in spite of the terroir, mixes metaphors and pulls it off. “Takes arms against a sea of troubles,” by convincing ADHD fruit of an uncertain vintage to settle, play nice and “by opposing, end them.” Now entering the load out zone, this Hamlet cuvée is “the first to come and the last to leave, working for that minimum wage.” A sentimental ballad here to stay, be remembered and to set the stage for all dix-neuvième to come.  92  (TH)  @Pearl Morissette

Domaine Genot-Boulanger Meursault Clos du Cromin 2010 (331660, $59.00) intimates a sunshine daydream future carrying on wistfully in lustful fruit. Longevity will be supported by tight citrus and the wine, long on life, is long on deliverance.  92  (VRIC, VRI)

Bachelder Chardonnay ’Saunders Vineyard’ 2011 (324103, $44.95) takes the baton from Wismer ’10 in a transfer of power, tension and excitement. Clarity of textural fruit is driven by Beamsville Bench clay-silt soil. Highly dependent on yeast chains, sticking, spreading and expanding. Sapid, savoury, buttered stones show negligible encumbrance due to vines that will not carry an excess of new oak.  92  (CCOVI)  @Bachelder_wines

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011 (346049, $35.00) toasted low and slow enervates and implodes to its very core. Then it sparks, revs the engine and climbs to 140 fearlessly and without peer. For those who can withstand the atomic launch, what follows is a reward of the highest quality Berkshire porcine whip, melting in the mouth like adult cotton candy.  Slow simmered apple paste, spiced and cooling reaps moisture and vacuums in the cheeks. Madness in Prince Edward County Chardonnay.  92  (RMR)  @normhardie

Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2010 (120311, $90) is a study in Russian River Valley emotional depth, structured belief, reserved compassion and stoic understanding. Yes John Milton, there is intensity of the California sun present yet expertly judged in ripeness, concentration and restraint. Smooth, glabrous, luxuriant and prurient Chardonnay. Sip it, “look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth.”  93  (RMR)

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2011 ($40) is a child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or NOL in 2011?  93  (CCOVI)

Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche 2010 (332270, $129.00) is sinfully young to assess, enjoy and evaluate. Stinging nettle, metal and silken, concentrated wildflower honey think mellifluous thoughts. “Him that yon soars on golden wings” sings in gold ingot yellow, in sweet harmony. Milton meets Costello, not quite in its Utopian place but will one day achieve peace, love and understanding.  94  (RMR)

Good to go!