Niagara’s cool for chards

 

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

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

Related – A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

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

Thomas Bachelder between Hanck East and West

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

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

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

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

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

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

Godello with Hidden Bench winemaker Jay Johnston

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

Hidden Bench Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturist Joel Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tres Cool Chardonnay

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

Felseck Vertical

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

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

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

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

Felseck Vineyard

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

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

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

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

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vittorio de Stefano of @onsevenwinery with consulting oenologist Peter Gamble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tawse winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Chardonnay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tawse Limestone Ridge Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Gamay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula

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

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

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

Redstone Restaurant

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

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

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

Tawse Cabernet Franc Growers Blend 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula

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

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

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

Good to go!

godello

 

Twitter: @mgodello

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Quality virtual time spent tasting with Querciabella

A few years back I made my first visit to Querciabella, in September 2017, to be exact. Their position in Ruffoli east of the Greve hamlet and the eponymous river is one of the most distinct and perhaps least travelled of Greve’s frazioni. With stunning views towards the Val di Greve, the Colle di Panzano and the amphitheatre of Lamole, Ruffoli carries its very own perspective, one that is unlike any other perch where the Classico are made in Chianti. Several weeks ago I caught up with Querciabella’s n groot winemaker Manfred Ing for a virtual session, replete with a ten-deep taste through of his (and their) lekker wines.

Ruffoli, Greve in Chiani

Related – A river runs through Greve

The Ruffoli hill may not qualify for Chianti Classico’s newly minted UGA (Ùnita Geografiche Aggiuntive), but make no mistake. Ruffoli is the definition of a communal sub-zone in requiem of introspective investigation for its distinct soils, elevation, singularities and peculiarities. It is, as I have said before, “the Chianti Classico poster child for seeing the vineyards through the trees.” Along with Jurji Fiore’s Poggio Scalette and Il Tagliato by Marco e Elena Kupfer there forms a special bond for Ruffoli’s combination of elevation, thick forests and conglomerate soils that have been excavated from beneath those heavy woods. If Querciabella’s decisive resource and secret weapon are vineyard holdings in two other Classico communes, those being Radda and Gaiole, Ruffoli remains the epicentre and the wines can be imagined as residing at the rooftop and pinnacle of Chianti Classico.

Querciabella was founded in 1974 by Giuseppe (Pepito) Castiglioni. His son Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni, investor and entrepreneur, converted the estate to organic viticulture in 1988, making Querciabella one of the first wineries in Italy to employ this practice. In 2000 Sebastiano introduced a 100 per cent plant‑based approach to biodynamics that forbids the use of animal products in both the vineyards and in the cellars. The Chianti Classico estate that means “beautiful oak” has always been one that lives for today while always imagining and thinking about tomorrow. The wines arguably act as the most Bourguignons of any in the territory whilst always and unequivocally speaking for the land that gives them life.

In April of this year I asked Ing to assess the damage caused by uncharacteristic mid-Spring frosts. His response: “Unfortunately the cold weather that swiped through Tuscany on the April 6th and 7th caused us some frost damage, having hit especially those vineyards which were ahead in their development. Our team lead by Dales is still assessing the damage and it’s early to say how the affected vineyards will recuperate. We will know better in the coming weeks as the vines develop. In Chianti Classico, where our vineyard holdings are spread in different locations and altitude, isolated pockets of lower lying vineyards were affected, especially those around and below our cellar in Ruffoli. At a first glance, it appears that the frost bite hit some of the early budding Chardonnay and the young Sangiovese vines that were first out the blocks. Most of the higher altitude vineyards buds haven’t fully burst yet, so we are fortunate and remain hopeful. In Maremma, temperatures dipped to record lows in some areas, especially in the early hours of April 8th. The Sangiovese vines had an early start this year so were particularly exposed. Vines are an extraordinary plants which are known for bouncing back. At this stage we can only wait and see. It’s already clear, though, that we are among many other producers concerned about losing some crop to frost damage.”

It remains to be seen how pandemic and travel will play out over these next several weeks but I have every intention of climbing the Ruffoli hill this coming September (or anytime such an endeavour is possible) to see Manfred and team for a walk in the vineyards and a sit-down to taste more from their most excellent portfolio; Vineyard Operations Manager & Master Beekeeper Catiuscia Minori, Agronomist Chiara Capecci, Agronomist & Technical Director Dales D’Alessandro, Direct Sales & Visits Coordinator Daniela Krystyna Cappuccio, Head of Marketing and Communications Emilia Marinig, Global Sales Director Giorgio Fragiacomo, Winemaker Guido De Santi, Winemaking Director Luca Currado, Agronomist & Operations Manager Marco Torriti, CEO & Domestic Sales Director Roberto Lasorte, Marketing Assistant Manager Valentina Bertoli and of course Owner and Honorary Chairman Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni. In the meantime here are the 10 wines we tasted and discussed back on May 31, 2021.

Felt quite real to be talking Ruffoli, Greve, Maremma, Gaiole and Radda with Tuscany’s groot South African winemaker @bottleofgrapes ~ A virtual session with @querciabella maintains the ties that bind with @chianticlassico

Querciabella Mongrana 2019, Marermma Toscana DOC (13653, $23.95)

From 31 hectares south of Grosseto, divided into two re-planted parcels purchased in 1998-1999 near to Alberese, a village and frazione of the commune. Wines are crushed and fermented in Maremma and then transferred to Greve just before or just after malo takes place. The style comes from cement and stainless steel, of fruit purity kept intact and a coastal influence developing some muscle. Picked ahead of Chianti Classico with harvest always beginning two to two and a half weeks ahead of Greve. So much Tuscan coastal bushy and dusty herbology, of fennel and rosemary primarily. Managed by Agronomist & Operations Manager Marco Torriti and team who are responsible for this 50-25-25, sangiovese led blend with cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Drink this by the glass everywhere you go, matching the pasta shape on the bottle, if you are so inclined, wherever possible. Mongrana goes as does L, Maquis shrubland ingrained into an easy drinking, fun, juicy and exuberant blend. Will never mess with any course, nor wine that comes before or after. Has been labelled DOC Maremma since 2017. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 (728816, $45.95)

Remains 100 per cent sangiovese, as it has been since 2012, as a three-commune collection; Ruffoli in Greve (40 per cent), on the Volpaia side and across the valley to Radda (20) and San Polo in Rosso from Gaiole (20), across the ravine from Ama. The totality of the Gaiole fruit is raised on Alberese, the Radda in schisty Galestro and Ruffoli, well Ruffoli is really about elevation. A no extremities vintage following a very cold winter and no climate spikes save for the early August heat. The Querciabella richness is foiled but also optimized by a three-part mineral harmony that does not so much cut but adds three district notes to the wine. The epiphany may or not begin with this 2018 but the textural perception has undergone a transformational alteration, now in defence against the drying effect of sangiovese’s tannin. The winemaking team has moved forward from the experimental stage into a full-on working contract with Piedmontese cappello sommerso, keeping the cap submerged for extended periods (up to 45 days). The high elevation fruit is particularly promising, forging true connectivity with the process. You get it completely, intuit the polish and this Annata just melts straight into inherit structure, again with thanks for a portion that has settled early. The wheel is constantly turning for Querciabella’s wines. Stupendo. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2017 ($79.95)

Riserva, like most Riservas in Chianti Classico is usually more serious, often blended with cabernet sauvignon and/or merlot, subjected to more wood. Since 2011 Querciabella’s has been 100 per cent sangiovese but still a three commune (Greve, Radda and Gaiole) cuvée, a vibrant varietal wine, lush as it needs to be and what stands apart is its simple purity. The picking decisions are made throughout the season, not just at harvest and certain blocks are given the attention of dramatic foreshadowing. Riserva by Querciabella is a wine of evolution, including monthly tastings along the way (with 20 per cent new wood involved). Riserva is a factor of a trajectory, of sangiovese that is always rising, gaining character, fortitude and fruit in vessel that winemaker Manfred Ing knows in his heart is meant for Riserva. The tannins tell the story, croccante is how he describes or the flavour and texture he looks for, in my mind like crunchy and caramelized almonds and dried wild strawberries of a concentrated yet developing sweetness. A wine to age, surely, though not quite like ’16, but do sleep on this because the efficacy, youthful binding and wound intensity show the promise of great ability. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Turpino 2017, IGT Toscana ($59.95)

First commercial vintage was 2010 when at the time it was 50-50 Maremma and Greve. Since 2015 it identifies as 100 per cent Tuscan coast with more barrel exercise and power than Mongrana, now a cuvée of approximately 12,000 bottles. “Turpino,” as in a character from Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni’s favourite poem, like his son Orlando (and also for the names Mongrana and Palafreno). Frost was a major problem in 2017, followed by heat, no rain and vines that just went crazy. Small pickings were done in the first week of September and then the rain came. The vines dropped in alcohol potential by a degree but the vines were tired and so the fruit could not hang in there like it could (better so) in Ruffoli. A blend of 40 per cent each cabernet franc and syrah with (20) merlot. Spiciness but not in a traditionally Tuscan syrah (Cortona) way and so the franc is to thank for the pique, sharpness and pointed directive of this ripe wine agitative of pricks and sway. In the end this is truly Tuscan coast, carrying the dried and bushy herbs but with an extended olive branch, muscular arm and structured savour. Only 10,000 bottles were made of this succulent, strange bedfellows (for Tuscany) red wine. House wine, Querciabella style. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Camartina 2016, IGT Toscana

The first vintage for Camartina was 1981, originally mostly sangiovese, then in and around 2001-2003 turning towards becoming mostly cabernet sauvignon. Now at 70 per cent with (30) sangiovese since that 2003. With the most spectacular vintage in pocket the possibility and even more so the probability from 2016 is endless. A Vino da Tavola concept that has evolved to make for the most mature, wise and complex IGT from Ruffoli hillsides, but this vintage shows a special energy, liveliness and vim from acidity that gives the wine, regardless of grape varieties, so much youth and life. Another one of nature’s and Greve’s mysterious constants. So Querciabella, of pinpointed DNA. vibrancy and length. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Palafreno 2016, IGT Toscana ($214.95)

Since 2004 has always been 100 per cent merlot, before that being a 50-50 sangiovese and merlot joint. Has to be an ideal vintage for Sebastiano and Manfred to bottle this idealistic wine because it has to, must smell like Tuscany and Ruffoli. Places home to poetic settings which suggest inner meaning and invisible connections. With that essence of 2016, of high priority acidity, sapidity and vibrancy in mind, this drinks so well and truth is shows how merlot has been domesticated upon the Ruffoli hill. The vines average 20 years of age, with some vines nearly at 30, planted in 1995 and/or 1996. Sweet, verdant and grippy tannins with a little bit of grit are surely involved. This will show off some swarthy secondary character and essenza di tartufo in 10 years time. Only 3,000 bottles are made. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 1998 (728816, Price at release: $31.95)

Twenty plus years later and not by any means over the hill. Drinking with captured and preserved youth from a vintage that was passed over for being one to not give any sort of great attention or consideration. Fermented in 225L (some new wood) barrels, some big tanks, picked later than most Chianti Classico of the time and would not have been pure sangiovese. You can feel the botrytis induced blood orange and saffron from a vintage with pioggia, pioggio, pioggia, a.k.a. so much rain. Also liquorice, bokser pod and a smell of wet tar. Really textural Classico, holding firm and strong, with a few years of interest and more complexity developing potential left to seek out. Charm begets pleasure which leads to unadulterated enjoyment. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1999

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

Querciabella Batàr 2018, Toscana IGT ($149.95)

A joint between pinot blanc and chardonnay, whole bunch pressed, with furthered finer attention to detail, picked early in the morning and a decreased amount of new oak over the last 10 years. Now at about 20 per cent and less bâtonnage as well, keeping the strings tight and the backbone straight in the wine. “We don’t need to worry about getting richness in our wines,” tells Manfred Ing, and yes, the creaminess is automatic. There’s more bite to Batàr now, along with focus and precision, with an intention to allow for five (minimum) years ahead for energy to develop, flesh to increase and textural richness to become something naturally orchestrated over time. Batàr is a wine that defies flamboyance, deflates extroversion and muffles the most exultant cry. It knows what it is and what’s up. Terrific vintage for this singular, dual-focused and one goal achieved Querciabella bianco. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Batàr 2017, Toscana IGT ($149.95)

The effect of 2017 on white grapes meant a 40 per cent reduction in quantity and chardonnay surely suffered. Certainly true at 350m (south-facing) but also at 600m (on sandstone soils) where it thrives. The pinot bianco faces north so it did well in the season. The flinty reduction comes from the high elevation vineyard and you really notice it more in 2017, but also a fruit sweetness, like biting into a perfectly ripe apple, and also a peach. You still need to exercise patience with this wine because what it really shows you is how this particular cuvée will morph, oscillate and change, for sure and at least in its first five years. Definitely buttery, rich and creamy but let’s not sit on those laurels for too long because herbs, sapidity and a new kind of vim and vigour are just around the corner. A concentrated effort and one with many tricks up its Ruffoli sleeve. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted May 2021

Good to go!

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There must be 50 ways to remember Amarone

Memories of Verona

Buona Pasqua to everyone in the Veneto, Verona and as the title of this article indicates, a very Happy Easter to our friends and producers in Valpolicella. My last visit to the area was in October 2018 for a sidestep away from a Lake Garda focused journey west of the Adige River. Two years earlier I spent a September 2016 week in Verona and the Valpolicella Valleys. After that trip I published all my notes on the DOCs; Valpolicella (inclusive of Classico and Superiore) and Valpolicella Ripasso. The fact of the matter is on that week-long tasting through corvina, corvinone, rondinella, molinara, croetine and oseleta I also sipped, swirled and assessed a number of Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG and Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG. In between those two Veronese excursions there was a July 2017 Collisioni experience in Piemonte and during that festival a Progetto Vino Masterclass showed and poured the wines of eight Famiglie dell’Amarone producers. It just seems every trip to northern Italy must include Amarone.

Related – Valpolicella, Ripasso Valpolicella

Villa Moron, Negrar

Those collective tasting notes never made it to print, that is until now. Following those 2016, 2017 and 2018 voyages to northern Italian regions I published a host of articles and many notes, but as with every immensely immersive media trip there is always unfinished business. Each and every travel return to Canada requires the day to day of real world work detail; tasting through VINTAGES releases, consignment, private order and potential to market wines, followed by editing and publishing those reviews; restaurant buying and staff education too; most gratifying is wine education, sharing regional wine experiences and gained knowledge with sommeliers, other journalists and peers. The rigours of home and work life don’t always allow for every travel stone to be unturned.

Related – Barbera d’Asti Del Monferrato E Nizza Monferrato

Verona, September 2016

What can be attacked by retrospective means are notebooks scribbled by design and computer folders layered, pages and files filled with thoughts left to await their eventual fruition, temporarily resigned to the arena of “the never too late.”  This kind of post on Godello always comes accompanied by a huge sense of gratitude to the regional facilitators, logistical magicians and dozens of producers who share their life’s work, engage in conversation and give so generously of their time. These are the 50 wines tasted three, four and five years ago. Forty one Amarone and nine Recioto surveyed, evaluated, admired and yet consigned in those times, resigned to drafts, now unburdened, released and published.

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG

Bertani Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2013

“You can like it or not but this is what Bertani Amarone Classico is supposed to be,” the words of host Michaela at the historic estate founded in 1857. The first vintage was 1959. Made the same way today. “This is a medication wine,” no sorry, “meditation.” Again, points are credited for the lack of jam, the shortness of breath and the heavy shaken oak restraint. But once again the charm needs to be coaxed. There is undeniable structure to look decades forward and to read the tea leaves for its past. Perhaps a virtual walk through a forest will ensue. Perhaps. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2016

Bertani Amarone Della Valpolicella Valpantena DOCG 2013

A 30 day drying period instead of 50, quite short for the region. Aged in Slavonian oak barrels, an earlier developing, made to drink with food early in life kind of Amarone. Sour cherry and dark chocolate. Quite young but I can’t see it getting much more interesting than this. Made for a consumer that has never tried an Amarone before and wants a gateway entry. Clocks in at 15.5 per cent, certainly not jammy though you feel the density and the weight. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016

Brigaldara Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG Casa Vecie 2011

“At thirty three years old (1986) I came back to the family farm. It was the best decision of my life,” says Stefano Cesari. “I like this business. In my time the problem was the market. Now it is the cost of soil. You need big investment.” More elegance driven into this dusty, dried red fruit Amarone than most, with some frutta di bosco and fragola secco, heat on the nose in a slightly volatile way (or acetic) but plenty of equality abounds. Plenty of fruit and savoury character equals it all out. In Valpolicella west facing vineyards bring stronger wines and in the east more elegance. CCR, (40/40/20). Two years in barriques and two in 25 HL casks. The chocolate comes late. At 16.4 per cent this strikes an accord. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted July 2017

Alfredo Buglioni

Buglioni Il Lussurioso Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico Riserva DOCG 2011

Alfredo Buglioni’s Riserva 2011 is a case study of 25 per cent in 50 hL barrel in a Valpolicella that bridges the old and the new school of Amarone. It notes less confiture and dried fig, negative reduction, inducement and decreasing hyperbole, from concentration, of facets and tents getting on one page together and of sugar levels. Palates of the Amarone are rarely so alive, sparked and again, as per the thread run through this house, electric. The properties of chalky and tannic will churn this through a ten year development wheel. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2016 and October 2017

Ca’ La Bionda Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2011

The bright, freshest Amarone, light as it can possibly be, with smoky limestone and volcanic influence mixed with clay. If you can’t see the forests (minerals) for the trees (soils) than you won’t get this Amarone. “If I am home I don’t drink Amarone,” says Alessandro Castellani, but you just know he sneaks some sips in the cellar. There is cherry in softly crushed ways and the silky palate with nary a chocolate moment. Just a baby, fleshing quickly so just imagine the feel in another 18 months. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted September 2016

Ca’ La Bionda Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG Vigneti Di Ravazzòl 2012

A blend of 70 per cent corvina, (20) corvinone and (10) rondinella plus molinara from the renowned stony clay-limestone hill Ravazzòl. The vines average 50-70 years of age and in 2012 the Amarone is a lithe 16 per cent alcohol with necessary and alter-ego balancing acidity. Ca’ La Bionda acidity, singular, arisen from the mineral terroir to rise above most of the Classico territory. A wine that already sets about to linger almost before the first sip is taken, lending credence to the contemplative and meditative Valpolicella ideal. Even when a wine is so powerful it can elicit serenity and calm. Drink 2018-2032.  Tasted September 2016

Ca’ La Bionda Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG Vigneti Di Ravazzòl 2011

Generally speaking the Ravazzòl blend is 70 per cent corvina, (20) corvinone and (10) rondinella plus molinara. The clay-limestone soil is unequivocally the thing that changes the wine and with time the emerge is all about more mineral and spice. Much older vines (minimum 50 years old) bring about an increased richness but also a more lifted brightness. “This is my idea of Amarone, traditional but unusual,” tells Alessandro Castellani. “We’ve invented nothing.” Sapidity, acidity, supple peppery schisty-like, syrah-esque spice. Again a bite but no scathe. “It’s difficult to make an Amarone that is powerful with drinkability. You need a good terroir.” Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2016

Ca’ La Bionda Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOC Vigneti Di Ravazzòl 2008

Just bottled one month ago after eight years in wood (Botti Grandi) so despite the age its just a baby. The wood is still quite up front. Here the most floral though the palate is thick and compressed, spice of course, as in all the wines but somehow there is evidence of what you have come to expect, despite the youth. The confusion and the conundrum align to cause your brain to say “too young to really know anything.” This is the beauty of complexity in Alessandro Castellani’s Amarone, specifically from the clay-limestone hill that is Ravazzòl. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted September 2016

Ca’ La Bionda Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOC Vigneti Di Ravazzòl 2004

Opened two hours earlier, a cool vintage slowly fast-forwarded to today’s elegance. Is it mature? Of sorts as it carries the soil in its blood and whiffs like it was intended to be though I personally find it extreme youthful. A slight (as it used to be) sweetness (6 g/L of RS) and there is tobacco smouldering in a cedar box. Still not quite opening yet, spending an hour with it (or more) would be ideal. Undefined red citrus, exotica, florals, finesse, balance and elegance. Though it may have once been or at least acted-seemed greener, it has made it to this pretty stage. An integrated beauty. Drink 2016-2026.  Tasted September 2016

Locanda 800

Ca’Rugate Amarone Della Valpolicella DOCG 2013

Sees 32 months in barrel, of course there is richness and some very bright fruit but what is remarkable is the transparency, the claret consistency and the relative thin (and thankfully so) veneer. Finding this quite mineral, full of soil tang and with the barrel program here all new it’s quite an impossibility. As in Ca’Rugate’s whites, the barrel adds spice and some smoulder, not thick, glycerin and caky texture. This is Amarone you can drink, even if it’s a bit of smoke and mirror talk but it’s really done in the right way and for all the right reasons. At 16 per cent it fools with great acumen. Same vintage twice and yes, truly consistent. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2016

Cantina Di Negrar Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2013

A massive mouthful of Amarone with more varieties of chocolate than thought possible confined to one sweet and savoury bottle. Rich, extracted, caky and oozing with that aforementioned chocolate swirling in the machine, lathered like warm ganache and oozing out of a flourless torte’s every pore. Everything you might expect from Amarone in the developing Valpolicella world. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2016

Cantine Negrar Domini Veneti Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOCG Verjago 2011

From grapes dried between five and six weeks, here the octane runs high, the sugars fully developed for a warm and generous Amarone. The spice cupboard is joined by tobacco and plenty of sweet Amaro bitters, with dusty espresso and a minimum 76 per cent chocolate all over the finish, still with massive tannin. A huge expression with an RS between seven and eight g/L. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2016

Cantine Negrar Domini Veneti Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG Vigneti Di Jago 2010

Now here, in my opinion, from a most excellent vintage, with more red fruit and less obvious splintering the freshness persists and the charm continues to draw emotive consideration. The impression brings some soil/terroir gifting, with aromas that suggest multi-stone (limestone and basalt) and freshness from clay. Though the sweetness seems elevated (an RS of 12 or more?) at least the red fruit, citrus expressed and thriving acidity is a match to the Amarone thing. Though massive again, with raging tannin, there is more honesty in this wine. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted September 2016

Famiglia Pasqua Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG Villa Borghetti 2012

Comes in at 15 per cent, produced in Marano della Valpolicella, the drying process lasts up to four months (depending on the dates of harvest) for a 30-40 per cent loss of moisture into grape and sugars concentration. Sees 12 months in French barriques, is a fresher style of Amaraone, with quality red fruit but the flavours are directed by formula, cloyingly medicinal and acidified tart. Admittedly with its spice and its sweetness it loves the cheese and the dried fruit. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Famiglia Pasqua Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG Mai Dire Mai 2010

Joint ventures between two families, a whopping 16.5 per cent, from corvina (65 per cent), corvinone (15), rondinella (10) and oseleta (10). The work of never say never, single-vineyard (Vignetti Montevegro val d’Illasi), up to four months appassimento, 44 days fermentation, mostly in new barriques for 24 months. The wood occupies the central square in the city centre, taking up residence with what seems to be exceptional fruit though its suppression hides what it might want to offer. Mocha chocolate big time, heat of the night and so much spice. Chalky clay dense and weighty. Intense Amarone. Cherries seeping in spirit water, over the top but for the right reasons where many would follow. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2016

In motion at Fidora

Fidora Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG Monte Tabor 2010

A massive mouthful of Amarone with a boozy effect to make it seem as though it is quite sweet when in fact it’s an Amarone of extreme relative acidity. The RS level is oddly, curiously and impossibly low at 2.0 g/L with balancing thanks to massive dry extract and fierce, competitive and autocratic tannins. Not to mention 36-42 months in barrel that may as well have been 48, or more. Where else have you ever tasted such a thing? Needs a few to many more years to find its way. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2016

Masi Serego Alighieri Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico Vaio Armaron 2011

The descendants of San Pietro. Single Vineyard from the Serego Alighieri Estate, 70 corvina, 20 rondinella and 10 molinara, only in the best vintages. Use of cherry wood, brings more oxidation, but it’s only employed for four months. 15.5, illusion of sweetness, 6-7 g/L RS.  Last tasted July 2017

The Vaio Amaron is both highly polished and heavily composed Amarone with history, tradition and the way it has always been exuding out of every appassimento pore. Sourced from the eponymous vineyard which lays claim “it seems” to the name itself, this is Masi’s most iconic Amarone. The not quite reached prime time fig-centric red to black fruit is bright and alive but do not be fooled. The depths of plum and marly earth are plumbed, mined and excavated for full bore corvina, rondinella and molinara heavy exercize. From what I have come to recognize as a most excellent Amarone vintage (even though it is way too young to even begin to appreciate) you had better pull out the Monte Veronese for this dangerous and formidable Veneto. Drink 2019-2034.  Tasted September 2016

Nicolis Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2010

A blend of 65 corvina, 20 rondinella, 10 croatina and 5 molinara with a bit of SO2 that needs air to release. The reduction is consistent with the fresher Valpolicellas. Old school, deep red fruit, really fleshy, more than the price is drinkable, this has so much in common with similarly weighted reds, like sonoma cabernet sauvignon, Chianti classico Gran Selezione and Rhône Gigondas. Interesting comparisons aside (and stylistically they are valid) this is a rich, concentrated, high glycerin Amarone with a warm, sweet finish. Orange fleshy, summer patio melon liqueur cocktail. Very consumer friendly for a Keg Steakhouse red. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Nicolis Amarone Della Valpolicella DOC Ambrosan 2008

Tallying in at 16 per cent alcohol which is par for the Amarone course and a number completely normal for the 2008 vintage. While it may be a bruiser it has barely walked out of its toddler shoes and is indeed a corvina blend of deepest intent. The eight year mark is where the layering begins to unfold and a glimpse variegates right here in this glass. A thick one, with a naturally funky porcine cure, humid and ideal for slices of ham in all iterations. Also perfect for the cuisine of Chef Diego Donatelli at Locanda 800 in Negrar. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted September 2016

Nicolis Amarone Della Valpolicella DOC Ambrosan 2007

Single vineyard, current vintage available, sold in the LCBO, 70 corvina, 20 rondinella, 10 croatina, first made in 1990 (the normale was first made in 1978). This combines the rich extraction and big barrel impart of the Ripasso into a fortified, layered and deeply compressed Amarone. Sweetness seems magnified. The bretty voltility is part of the party. A mix of sweet, saline and savoury, not yet umami and still so young because it’s thick and taut. Will be late in 2017 before anything changes. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Novaia Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG Le Balze 2011

Bottled in March and will likely be released in December. Single-vineyard aged three years in (some new and mostly old) barrels. Vines were planted in 1996, so now just entering right into the proverbial wheelhouse of exceptionality. It will have up to another 10 years or so before those vines will likely succumb to the Mal d’este wood disease. Richer, softer, gentle and amenable especially to taste, but that acidity, power and tannin does not relent. The aging adds to the density, the clay in this vineyard adds to the power and all tolled this is bigger and with more layered brawn than the Corte Vaona. Two different slices of Amarone pie. This one with a big chocolate espresso finale. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Salvaterra Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2009

Plenty of oak, including American, on the nose with the gamut run in kernel, nut and smoke. With Monte Veronese cheese aged 18 and 24 months the savoury and herbal aspects are foiled with reigned in agreement. This is modernity to the extreme, like some equally forged or a cross between Gran Selezione and Barolo, firm, concentrated but not shaken. Still quite youthful. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted September 2016

Salvaterra Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2007

Seems typical of the vintage, softer, rich and quite getable though there is heat and the aromatics of distraction; menthol, clove, vanilla, lavender, fennel and even cola. How this reminds me of high octane California pinot noir I’m not sure but it does. So thoroughly modern but without the same structure of 2009 and certainly not 2008, if that were tasted here as well. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016

Santa Sofia Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2011

A representative of a best vintage, a specific vineyard and the addition of molinara (five per cent), stabilizer and a grape that has been ripped out to be omitted from the other wines. Quite remarkably perfumed with florals (roses and violets) that Amarone just does not often have. Except here it is, fresh and potpourri and then a mouthfeel that goes to velvet despite the dangerously intense acidity. The finish is dusted with espresso and shaved by bittersweet chocolate. Not as drinkable, with more structure and outright hedonism. Will live in infamy. Drink 2018-2033.  Tasted September 2016

Sartori Amarone Della Valpolicella DOCG 2012

The blend is 50 per cent corvina, (30) corvinone, (15) rondinella and (5) cabernet sauvignon. Comes in at 15 per cent abv, after a hot summer, four months drying process, raisin and plum with a baked fruit character. Fleshy and nearly though not entirely severe. Steeped tea of a few varieties, some forest floor, deep and brooding tannins. Sage and balsamic. Would not wait any longer. This should be consumed early. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Sartori Amarone Della Valpolicella DOC I Saltari 2009

Old vines (some more than 40, average age of 20), low yields (1.5 tonnes per hectare), again quite secondary, almost into prune but certainly of a fig character. Though this wine and the Corte Bra have developed quite quickly their body and disposition are left off in the middle, leaning away from the overs of extraction, over-pressing and over oaking. You may not accuse the Sartori wines of over oaking. They are made with some restraint, against the rising norm, but they do brood with dark as night character. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted September 2016

Sergio Zenato Amarone Della Valpolicella DOCG 2010

Founded in 1960, village near Lago Garda on the east side. Village of Santa Moggio, where the Valoplicella estate is located. Father was Sergio, now with sister and mother. CCR 60-20-20 plus oselata and croetine grown at 300masl, red clay with stones, difficult to retain water so irrigation is used. This is the dried fig and chocolate bomb, with soy, balsamic and five spice. So Mediterranean savoury, thick and shaken. Lots of French vanilla feel with 300L French tonneaux and 500L, plus 300L and 5000L French and Slavonian oak casks. This may never, ever fully integrate. It’s the thickest milkshake you will ever find. It’s a mess at this time and 17 per cent so wait 10 more years for it to get interesting. Drink 2027-2042.  Tasted July 2017

Speri Vigneto Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG Monte Sant’Urbano 2012

Family business in Valpolicella. Single-Vineyard, top of the hill in the Fumane Valley. Fume, as in hot, from its volcanic origins, especially for corvina. Soft soils (in texture, yellowish, friable but gets sticky when wet so over cover crops like fescue and clover are employed) and this will translate into the wine. Heavy in corvina (80 per cent) with reasoning because of its affiliation to volcanic soil and because winemaker (of 25 years) Alberto Speri simply thinks it’s the best grape. The grape that finds the most elegance. High percentage of drying (40 per cent), use of big oak, four years. Will go out on a limb and say this will indeed be the most elegant in a line up of eight formidable Amarone. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted July 2017

Good morning @C_Valpolicella from @accordinilgino

Stefano Accordini Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG Acinatico 2013

The latin name of the wine is Acinatico, from ancient Rome, indicating the wines delineated from this place, produced from these specific berries. The vines were planted by grandfather Gaetano and are now up to 85 years old. Quite reductive and so very rushed into market young but this is the normale so perfectly understandable. A whack of tannin is met by acidity in the most rushing wave of red citrus. The wine is so taut and wound that the house style of secondary savoury character hasn’t even become a twinkle in its eye. Chocolate shavings cover everything, they cover everything. The chocolate of Accordini. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2016

Stefano Accordini Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG Acinatico 2010

Has developed righteously, from a gritty and serious vintage, for which tannin was not at a premium. Plenty of expertly tempered chocolate works the mid-palate and the tart finish with a baker’s glaze. This is heavily wooded Amarone, sweet and custardy, mouth coating and really 90’s. Like Rioja or IGT from the same time period. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016

Tedeschi Amarone della Valponicella Classico DOCG Monte Olmi 2011

Monte Olmi is a two and a half hectare parcel, southwest in the Classica area, where the winery is located. This archetypal Amarone was first produced in 1964 and is now an 8,000-10,000 bottle per year effort. The mix is classic Tedeschi corvina, corvinone and rondinella, in a one third of each plus minor percentages of oselata and several other endemic varieties (rossignola, negrara, dindarella, croatina and forselina), from the oldest parts of Monte Omi. This is the Amarone to celebrate tradition, keeping history alive and always remembering from where you’ve come. It spent four years in large casks and emerged at 17 per cent alcohol. The ceiling is reached, with balls, brash and no worries but is it balanced? Remarkably it is and also sour-edged, with tannin and the crazy, wild and free spirit of red fruit drawn off of morainic white and yellow limestone. But it will certainly improve and last as long as any. The acidity will see to that, even if the fruit fades. Drink 2021-2035.  Tasted July 2017

Tenuta Sant’Antonio Amarone Della Valpolicella DOCG Campo Dei Gigli 2012

Youngish winery, still essentially first generation, started in 1995. Armando Castagnedi is one of four brothers and Paolo is winemaker. They were born and worked in the vineyards but sold to cooperatives before. In the east (not in Classico), Montegarbi. The symbol of the flower of Sant’Antonio. White limestone chalky soil, lime and sand. Corvina (35), corvinone (35), rondinella (25) with croetina and oselata because of their elevation, wind, proximity to the sea with that wind in mind. Three years in tonneaux, not big barrels (young producer compromise). Clean and fruity with a syrupy pool in the middle, welling on the palate. Clocks in at 16 per cent, come out tonight. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017

Tenuta Santa Maria Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2010

Separated five years ago from the parent (Bertani) winery. Gaetano Bertani is the winemaker with the help of consulting oenologist Franco Bernabei. One 7th the size of the larger Bertani, 380,000 bottles vs. 2.5 million and no one from the family works with them at all. Amarone is corvina, corvinone and rondinella, reductive and young, in need of air and so much more. Plenty of acidity and a rage of tannin. The red fruit capacity is boundless and with all the rage around this whirls like a hurricane. Rocking Amarone, old-school, leathery and dry. Drier than the Ripasso. Fruit leather roll-up. Restrained at 15 per cent alcohol and acts like less. The number is 7.5 g/L RS. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted September 2016

Tommasi Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico Riserva DOC Ca’ Florian 2009

Presented by PierAngelo Tommasi. Founded in 1902, the new generation is 1997, nine “kids” from four fathers. Only since 1990 has this vineyard been dedicated to a single-vineyard wine and since 2010 as a Riserva. “This wine tastes this way because of the vineyard,” says PierAngelo “and not because it is called a Riserva.” CCR, 75-20-5. Fermentation in wooden vats and the aging in 500L (French) tonneaux (in the first year) is a departure (for Tommasi) and the next three are in large Slavonian casks. This is the third vintage for Ca’ Florian and though it is massive, it is not volatile nor is it acetic. At 15.5 per cent and 4 g/L of RS it states the least obvious connotational expectation for the style and goes against its peers. This should be the top vintage of this SV wine, considering the integration, the level of fruit, the texture and the potential for aging. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted June 2017

Valentina Cubi Morar Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2010

Valentina’s estate is now farmed certified organica though some older Amarones were not. From 1963, the estate dates back to the 18th century. At 16.5 it has to be a lie, again, not just because of colour but clearly its lightness of being is anti-Amarone. The grip and the grit of the aridity and tannin is the crux of this wine but there is plenty of fruit. That said it has chocolate and woody notes that give it some commonality so it is obvious that Amarone is almost impossible to change and to seek revolution. But this is 2010, before Valentina could write organic on the label and before the winemaking turned to its present motives. It was also the vintage. Structured and long. 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2016

Valentina Cubi Morar Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2007

In ways that composition and result make for a dramatic difference, this is more traditional, darker and more extracted but also cooler, further into savour and with that umami prevalent throughout the region. This is not separate or antithetical, quite spicy and wholly tannic. and yet it is neither thick nor overdone. White chocolate is all in, This 2007 has more finesse but also real creaminess, sweet, savoury and blanketing. And that umami, mushroom and consomée. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Valentina Cubi Morar Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2005

Wholly, utterly, invisibly resolved, all umami, full truffle, dried forest floor and porcini mushroom. Something pine savoury but all vanilla and green tea ice cream. Spice and smoke all over the palate and the finish. Clocks in at 16 per cent alcohol. Very good vintage and showing well. Must have been a tannic beast in its time. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Venturini Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG Campo Masua 2011

Centre of the Classica area southwest of Negrar. Vines in the 20-25 year range, rocky and clay under the topsoil. “Toar” as in volcanic, a very friable soil. A very clear strata separation between soil and rock. Hot and very dried fruit aromas which conspire to mask the florals aching to get out. A corvina (70 per cent), corvinone (10) and rondinalla (20) blend, dried for five months “in the natural way” and aged in 3000L big barrels for four years. Dried plum and apricot, roasted almond, charred onion and smoked meat. Spicy off the piquant charts. Sweetness follows. 16.5 and every bit of it. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted July 2017

Vignetti Di Ettore Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2012

One of the more if not the most fragrant Amarone, of peppery plum and pomegranate fruit, richness, depth and plenty of dusty espresso. Acidity and tannin are equal and opposing, subduing fruit for the time being though three of four years down the road all should be in synch. This will develop umami. For now it lurks. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted September 2016

Vignetti Di Ettore Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2008

The 2008 is right where the 2012 projects to be in four years, carrying its peppery and stemmy spice into a secondary world inhabited by figs and still to be determined dried fruit. Tannins were tougher in 2008 and acidity higher so this remains just a baby. Plenty of espresso, again, but also some developed chocolate. A really well made Amarone from back in the day. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2016

Zonin Amarone Della Valpolicella DOCG 2011

Looking for freshness, fruit, that corvina punch. Plums again as are all the wines and grinds upon grinds of pepper. So much syrah is like this. New world syrah. Plenty of chocolate. A bit weighty but the acidity and tannin will drive this machine. It is a fruit first Amarone, that much is clear. The spice is everywhere though, which speaks to the wood as a major part of the impression. Very typical. How it was and many observe as should be. Hot finish detracts from the fruit freshness Drink 2017-2026.  Tasted September 2016

Recioto Della Valpolicella DOCG

Buglioni Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG ‘Il Narcisista’ (500 Ml) 2011

Like honey, with leesy, cheesy, red citrus and earthy notes mixed in. Gracious natural sweetness, use of sulphur to stop the fermentation, 140 g/L of rS (which is the maximum, can be as low as 110). The nose is remarkable, short on the sweetness despite the honey, so more like honeycomb. Good narcissist, if there is such a thing. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted September 2016

Ca’ La Bionda Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2012

The drinkable Recioto with a level of sugar comparable to many producers’ Amarone. Aromas resemble the Amarone, as does the mouthfeel. Once you taste this “dessert” wine you can never go back. Plum, strawberry, beautiful. Caressing. Elegant. Finessed. Drink 2016-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Ca’ Rugate Recioto Della Valpolicella DOCG L’Eremita 2012

From a 500 mL bottle, a sweet disposition on a moderate (13.5 per cent) alcohol frame with Amaro liqueur bitterness. Liquorice and menthol on the nose, then plum pudding, black cherry dominant and mint jelly to taste. So much cooler than to what expectation would have made a commitment. Oh, it’s a Cherry Blossom, dark chocolate and when cracked open lets out the ooze of silky confection. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Domini Veneti Amando Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG Amandorlato (Charmat Method Spumante Recioto) 2010

Charmat Method spumante Recioto, from one of last producers to do so, carrying on the home bottler’s accidental tradition. In the past apricot (or cherry) leaves or seeds were added to impart an almond flavour (Amandorlato) but today it’s developed leaving the Recioto in small cherry wood barriques with a low, slow and sugar burning fermentation. Naturally achieved 17 per cent alcohol without fortification, unique and meant for chocolate and cheese. “And a good cigar.” Less or more 25 euro retail or 19 ex-cellar or lets say $75-80 Canadian. Smells just like a Cherry Blossom, from the tree and out of the candy box. Sweet, bitter, drying and hot. An expensive acquired taste. Will drink for decades. Drink 2016-2046.  Tasted September 2016

Novaia Recioto Della Valpolicella DOCG 2013

From the oldest parcels in the oldest vineyard at La Novaia, the same process of the Amarone, using more ripe grapes, with an extended drying time to concentrate the juice. Fermentation arrested with cold temperature, registers 13.5 abv and spent one year in barrel. If it doesn’t happen the wine is filtered but that’s rarely needed. Full on black cherry syrup, runny raspberry confiture, sweet fennel tea and Chambord. Sweet but not milkshake thick. Great red chalky, spring maple bleed. A good Recioto ooze. Drink 2016-2026.  Tasted September 2016

Santa Sofia Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2009

Same make-up as the Gioé Amarone, aged in Frenck oak for 14 months, plus 12 months in bottle. “A niche product that is hard to transmit its importance.” Of course no sugar adjustment, so to maximize the natural design, the fermentation is arrested naturally when the alcohol number is breached. Here at 14.5, higher on the Recioto scale but stlll well below the level of fortified. A balanced effort with acidity, tannin, bitters, tonic and plum essence sweetness. Dries out at then end with a pasty finish like salumi. Drink 2017-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Valentina Cubi Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico DOC Meliloto 2000

At 14.5 per cent and not produced every year, after this 2000 again in 2003 and 2010. Vanilla bean and ground espresso, cherry ooze or confiture. Dark chocolate, mint and orange zest. There is your pairing. Drink 2016-2026.  Tasted September 2016

Vignetti Di Ettore Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2013

Alcohol equitable to weight, acidity buoyant, dry extract elevated and residual sugar well-adjusted. Here we have typical and rich, balanced and ephemeral Recioto. What it needs to be. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted September 2016

Zonin Recioto Di Gambellara Classico DOCG Il Giangio 2011

A 100 per cent garganega, aged in tonneaux, 24-36 months. “The typicity of this soil in garganega,” volcanic but dark basalt, apricot and pineapple with a minor herbal note and menthol cool, very sweet on the palate. Tart and sour, very pineapple, oil and mineral by basalt, not sticky but a salve, specific to Gambellara. There are 10-12 producers who make this wine (out of the 15-20 in the appellation). A very specific dessert wine. A 12-13 g/L RS number which seems impossible. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted September 2016

Good to go!

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Memories of Verona

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Memories of South Africa in 60 notes

Water hole, South Africa

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

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

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

Fly me back to South Africa

Related – Spotlight on South Africa in VINTAGES August 6th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hanneke Krüger, A.A. Badenhorst

A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Cinsault 2018, WO Swartland

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

A.A. Badenhorst Grenache Raaigras 2017, WO Swartland

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

Springbock Burger anyone?

David And Nadia Sadie Wines Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

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

David And Nadia Skaliekop 2017, WO Swartland

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

David and Nadia Aristargos 2017, WO Swartland

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

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Elpidios 2016, WO Swartland

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

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

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

De Kleine Wijn Kop Ou Treffer Cinsault 2017, WO Stellenbosch

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

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Knapsekêrel 2016, WO Stellenbosch

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

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Heimwee 2015, WO Stellenbosch

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

Johannes de Wet in Robertson

De Wetshof Riesling 2017, WO Robertson

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

De Wetshof Chardonnay Limestone Hll 2018, WO Robertson

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

De Wetshof Chardonnay Bataleur 2016, WO Robertson

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

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

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

Huis Van Chevallerie Circa Rosecco NV, WO Swartland

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

Jan Harmsgat Chardonnay 2015, WO Robertson

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

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2009, WO Constantia

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

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 1994, WO Constantia

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

Leeu Passant Chardonnay 2016, WO Stellenbosch

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

Leeu Passant Dry Red Wine 2016, WO Western Cape

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

Lismore Sauvignon Blanc 2016, WO Greyton

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

Lismore Chardonnay Estate 2016, WO Greyton

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

Lismore The Age Of Grace 2017, WO Elgin

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

Lismore Pinot Noir 2017, WO Western Cape

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

Alette de Boer, Lowerland

Lowerland Tolbos Tannat 2016, WO Prieksa, Noord Kap

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

Lowerland Witgat Viognier 2017, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

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

Lowerland Die Verlore Bokooi 2016, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

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

Lowerland Herd Sire Reserve 2015, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

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

Nina Mari and Ernst Bruwer, Mont Blois

Mont Blois Estate Chardonnay Kweekkamp 2016, WO Robertson

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

Mont Blois Chardonnay Hoog en Laag 2016, WO Robertson

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

Mont Blois Chenin Blanc Groot Steen 2016, WO Robertson

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

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Western Cape

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

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Quartz 2017, WO Swartland

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

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Granite 2017, WO Swartland

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

Mullineux Kloof Street Red 2017, WO Swartland

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

Mullineux Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

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

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

Mullineux Syrah Schist 2016, WO Swartland

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

Mullineux Syrah Iron 2016, WO Swartland

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

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2013, WO Elgin

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

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2011, WO Elgin

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

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2009, WO Elgin

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

Callie Louw, Porseleinberg

Porseleinberg Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

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

Callie Louw’s smoker hard at work in Malmesbury

The Sadie Family Palladius 2014, WO Swartland

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

The Sadie Family Palladius 2009, WO Swartland

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

The Sadie Family Pofadder 2017, WO Swartland

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

The Sadie Family Treinspoor 2017, WO Swartland

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

The Sadie Family Columella 2016, WO Swartland

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

The Sadie Family ‘T Voetpad 2017, WO Swartland

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

Abrie Bruwer, Springfield Estate

Springfield Estate Chardonnay Méthode Ancienne 2016, WO Robertson

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

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

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

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

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

Early springtime in Cape Town

Van Loggerenberg Wines Cinsault Geronimo 2017, WO Western Cape

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

Van Loggerenberg Cabernet Franc Breton 2017, WO Stellenbosch

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

Sheree Nothnagel

Wildehurst Velo White 2016, WO Swartland

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

Wildehurst Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

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

Wildehurst Red 2014, WO Swartland

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

Wildehurst Cinsault 2017, WO Swartland

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

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

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

Good to go!

godello

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WineAlign

Retrospective, alternative Argentina

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

Gerardo Diaz

Related – Making tracks in Argentina

Related – High altitude heliophiles in Argentina 

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

Bodega Cruzat Charmat Style Chardonnay, Uco Valley, Mendoza

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

Bodega Cruzat Cuvée Nature Método Tradicional, Uco Valley, Mendoza

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

Domaine Alma Negra Brut Nature NV, Mendoza

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

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

Bodega La Azul Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza

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

Bodega Finca La Escarcha Viognier Entrelíneas 2011, Tupungato

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

Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda 2012, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza

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

Alma 4 Sparkling Bonarda 2011, Santa Rosa, Mendoza

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

Alma 4 Sparkling Bonarda 2012, Santa Rosa, Mendoza

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

Cara Sur Bonarda 2014, Barreal, San Juan

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

Cara Sur Criolla 2014, Barreal, San Juan

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

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Vista Flores Single Vineyard 2011, Mendoza

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

Carmelo Patti Malbec 2006, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza

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

Mar E Pampas Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Patagonia

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

Mar & Pampa Gewürztraminer 2014, Patagonia

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

Mar & Pampa Pinot Noir 2014, Patagonia

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

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Yearning for the Langhe

Godello in Cherasco

My kingdom for an Albese plate of Tajarin at Osteria dei Sognatori or a platter of Plin at Ristorante La Libera. What a wine writer would not do for a Langhe reprise, a Piedmontese redux, a tasting of any Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero, Dogliani, Alba or Langhe Barbera and Nebbiolo, Langhe Roero Arneis, Na’Scetta e Favorita. Were things normal and they most certainly are not, but were life being lived now as it was one year ago we would be convening in Alba in two weeks time. What I would not give to break bread with a winemaker, colleague or friend in Piemonte.

Related – Barolo DOCG previews and retrospectives: 2016, Riserva 2014, 2006 and Riserva 2004

Mark these words. The two specialized and specific DOCs of Nebbiolo d’Alba and Langhe Nebbiolo will gain prominence and become a two-headed beast in 2021. The world will gather to exult, raise up and drink these fine and vastly underrated examples of classified nebbiolo. Of this I became truly privy to one year ago but also throughout 2020 as more and more nebbiolo came to be assessed across my desk. Yes it was back in January 2020 when I travelled to Alba in Piemonte for Nebbiolo Prima 2020 and Grandi Langhe. I tasted more than 600 nebbiolo, dolcetto, barbera, arneis, freisa, chardonnay, pelaverga and even riesling during the eight day work staycation. Grande.

Grandi Langhe 2020

Related – Barbaresco DOCG previews and retrospectives: 2017, Riserva 2015, 2007 and 2005

Nebbiolo Prima and Grandi Langhe Trade Fair are a back-to-back cumulative by the work of many, not the least of which are organizations such as Consorzio Albeisa, a.k.a Unione Produttori Vini Albesi, Consorzio di Tutela Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe e Dogliani, Consorzio Tutela del Roero and Regione Piemonte. During that trip I tasted and reviewed 230 Barolo: DOCG 2016 (197), Riserva DOCG 2014 (6), DOCG 2006 (20) and Riserva DOCG 2004 (7). For Barbaresco the number was 92: DOCG 2017 (59), DOCG 2015 (15), DOCG 2015, 2007, 2009 and 2005 (18). As for Roero DOCG, 38 notes: DOCG 2017 and 2016 (33) and DOCG 2006 and 2007 (5).

Related – Roero DOCG Previews and Retrospectives: 2017, Riserva 2016, 2007 and Riserva 2006

Here’s to hoping for a return at any point in 2021, or in 2022 for the 25th Nebbiolo Prima followed by Grandi Langhe, if that’s how it will be. In the meantime here are 44 further reviews of wines tasted in and around Alba back in January, 2020. Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC, Barolo DOCG, Barbaresco DOCG, Barbera d’Alba DOCG, Verduno Pelaverga DOC, Langhe Nascetta Del Comune Di Novello DOC, Langhe Favorita DOC, Roero Arneis DOC, Langhe Rosato DOC, Vino Rosso and Birbét. Care Langhe, spero di tornare presto.

Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC

Diego Morra Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC 2016

F.rom northern facing vineyards that receive no direct sun so essentially a cool Langhe climate. Nebbiolo that sees a short maceration and French wood. Not your everyday or expected nebbiolo in a really light and transparent style. Extremely fresh and refreshing, taut, high-toned and yet this creamy texture. Richer than half-and-half, perhaps like 20 per cent fat though lactose free and not enough to be whipped. So different. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted January 2020

Malabaila Di Canale 1362 Nebbiolo d’Alba Doc Bric Merli 2017

From the vineyard directly in front of Bric Volta. A lighter, but far from unstructured nebbiolo with a new and certain grace and still unmistakeable Canale DNA. Here you can mark another reference point, not to mention the genetic and torch passing material provided by 650 years of history, information and accumulation in experience. The demeanour is confident and gracious. Who would not want a glass every night? Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted January 2020

Mauro Sebaste Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC Parigi 2017

Comes from the same type of marly soil as the barbera, here out of vineyards located in the villages of Alba and Diano d’Alba. The vines are around 20 years of age and the wine sees one year in (30 per cent new) American 40L and French 30L barrels. The idea is to draw out soft and elegant tannins, especially by the American oak. That much is true in a nebbiolo heading towards that direction though not quite yet there. A return in two to three years should do the trick. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted January 2020

Nebbiolo Langhe DOC

Elvio Cogno Nebbiolo Langhe DOC Montegrilli’ 2018

A name taken from Valter Fissore’s grandfather’s vineyard in the Roero, not Barolo and yes this is a nebbiolo and a wine to drink. Immediately gratifying in so many ways. From vineyards on the other side of Novello, southwest exposure and very sandy soil with just a minor amount of sandstone. Fragolina di bosco and white raspberry, a juicy wine that can quench your thirst. Just a minor grip and chalk of tannin. Hardly causes any confusion and allows you to sip and sip and sip. Grill some fish and Montegrilli’s your friend. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted January 2020

Mauro Molino Nebbiolo Langhe DOC 2018 ($27.95, Le Sommelier Inc.)

From two vineyards, one in La Morra (estate) and one in Roero. Less than a year in old, large barrels and a purposeful one, for early and often drinking enjoyment. Bright fruit, easy, forward and will surely solicit many a happy palate for dual-drawn, doubling down pleasure. Floral, well made and proper. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted January 2020

Bollito Misto, Sinio

Azienda Agricola Taverna Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2018

Declassified nebbiolo from Barbaresco with mildly candied fruit, slightly oxidative, but charming. Only been in bottle maximum one month. Drink 2020.  Tasted February 2020

Sottimano Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2018 (454017, $32.95, Le Maitre de Chai)

Youngest vines in the Basarin Vineyard at 18 years old grown in sand and clay at the foot of Neive. The Langhe nebbiolo sees 20-30 days on skins (as opposed to 30-40 for the Barbaresco), ferments naturally and at low temperatures. Glaring as a vintage with a big grin on its face, unprecedented concentration, healthy extraction and completed by elevated dry extract. Incredible intensity for the appellation, something already noted in 2015 but bears repeating, like a mantra, for kicks, compliments, giggles and kudos. The Piedmontese maceration brings so much texture and chromatic accents; tangerine, vermillion, sorrel and umber. Longer maceration, less wood (four months) and no love lost for aging, not to mention waxing rhapsodically on. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted January 2020

Osteria dei Sognotori, Alba

Barolo DOCG

Agricola Marrone Barolo DOCG Pichemej 2015

Pichmej is a combination of two vineyards, Bussia and Santa Maria, what Valentina and sister’s Serena and Denise Marrone call “our grandfather’s wine.” Who happened to be Carlo. A nebbiolo that you really can drink now but then again that’s the thing about young Marrone Barolo. They and this ’15 Pichmej display a sense of the ethereal in their youth. Nature in conjunction with nurture, a delicate touch and phenolic regulation to near perfection. If you would like to access the portal into the reality of how nebbiolo needs to be made in modern times then begin right here and know what’s what in 2020. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted January 2020

Agricola Marrone Barolo DOCG Bussia 2015

Compared to Pichmej this nebbiolo from Bussia is a step up in concentration and also structure, the latter being in kinship with Bussia 2016. That said there is absolutely zero compromise to the stylistic execution that makes for a Marrone Barolo. Simulates the phenolic beauty of Pichmej and of ’16 but the fullest, deepest and most complete journey happens here. Enologist Donato Lanati has coaxed the fruit but not the bitters while the sisters Marrone find excellence in completing Bussia and all the rest. Lightness of being is also accrued while the wine clocks in at a hidden 15 per cent alcohol. Magic happens and success follows. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted January 2020

Cascina Adelaide Barolo DOCG Baudana 2015

From Serralunga d’Alba and the apposite Barolo cru, forceful, grippy, demanding, always mired in posit tension tug. That alone explains no differing opinion but pay attention to the kind of “tensione” Adelaide’s creates. The numbered beats are off, out of time, or at least not understood in fours, yet orchestrated and aligned as they should be. As in five or taking the fifth, with a spoonful of notes, lines, vocalizations and structural arrangements feeling like they are unanswered. A vintage that men are dumbfounded by but girls can tell. Baudana is a hyper real get together of brushy aromas, dedicated flavours and highly functional architecture. This one stretches and creates an elastic musculature, flexible and persistent. Wouldn’t mess with Baudana. Drink 2020-2031.  Tasted January 2020

Simone Ortale and Giuliana Drocco, Cascina Adelaide

Cascina Adelaide Barolo Riserva DOCG “Per Elen” 2014

A blend of two cru and says Simone Ortale “we choose the best to make Riserva. It’s our jewel.” The same grandi botti (as per Preda and Cannubi) but here 62 months of aging time. The most mouthfeel, filling and the silkiest chalky liquidity, tannins and layering of multifarious, mille-feuille multiplicity. A nebbiolo for the decades. Drink 2022-2035.  Tasted January 2020

Cascina Boschetti Barolo DOCG Gomba 2015

A smooth, elastic, stretched and elongated nebbiolo from the Commune of Barolo and Boschetti’s estate fruit. Drawn off of the higher reaches and also some that is sold to Marchesi di Barolo. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted January 2020

Cascina Boschetti Barolo Riserva DOCG Sernìe 2015

Sernìe is the cru inside the cru, a selection within the selection and a word in Piedmontese dialect that essentially means just that. Surely the richer, more concentrated, fully stretched, entirely elastic and truly elongated nebbiolo. Has the violets, purple fruit, foie gras and decadence. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted January 2020

Cascina Boschetti Barolo Riserva DOCG Sernìe 2012

This older version of the cru within the cru comes from a very select parcel and as an estate flagship nebbiolo is only produced in select vintages. The formidable 2012 season made a request that winemakers (in this case Maurizio Delpero) did not try to extract too much fruit which would also mean an excess of tannin. Yet Boschetti’s Sernìe was subjected to a Piedmontese 40-day maceration (a cappello sommerso), a classic technique that eight years later establishes an exaggeration of nebbiolo riches. Was also a generous vintage that saw to healthy fruit and quantity. Serious Barolo right here. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted January 2020

Crudo – La Libera, Alba

Diego Morra Barolo DOCG 2015

From the river between La Morra and Verduno, two plots with separate soils and expositions to combine for a double cru cause and effect. Balanced and dynamic, a nose of power meeting finesse. No winding or cinching but more a zig-zagging, ying versus yang, AC-DC, nebbiolo going both ways. Lovely spice. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted January 2020

Diego Morra Barolo DCOG Monvigliero 2015

From four hectares in the Verduno cru and the three Ms, Mosca, La Morra and Monvigliero. The V in the middle is for Verduno. The 2015 nebbiolo is a really pretty one, floral and understated but of obvious power. Near formidable in its restraint with bursting a real possibility at any near moment. Not quite there yet but it’s coming, it’s real, leaving meaning. “In a room made of stone your future was made.” Wait for it. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted January 2020

Elvio Cogno Barolo DOCG Bricco Pernice 2015

Ages three years in wood, one year further in barrel. One hundred per cent Lampia clone. A little bit more classic in terms of what is Barolo. The partridge is a special hill and a place that gives away these highly specialized nebbioli and 2015 is on the border between a red and a black vintage. More black then red. A vintage that will be so right and so joyous in middle age and ideal for salty (aged) cheese and meat. Splendido nebbiolo. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted January 2020

With Valter Fissore

Elvio Cogno Barolo Ravera DOCG Vigna Elena 2014

Rosa clone of Ravera, not quite yet released (will be in three months), dedicated to daughter Elena. A registered menzione geografica named many years ago so the size on the label is set above the DOCG. More of a Bourgogne style. Rose petals and potpourri. Red fruit and red citrus so obviously a red year. Cured like salumi, bresaola maybe or at least eat some alongside. A touch vegetal and that is ’14, sun-dried vegetable and yes, like pinot noir. The first vintage was 1997. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted January 2020

The quality of the wines gives everyone at Mauro Sebaste every reason to smile

Mauro Sebaste Barolo DOCG Cerretta 2015

Less weight and density in 2015, both in Serralunga fruit and also tannin. Much interest here in how it intimates the richesse of ’16 but not the youthful aggression of the tannin. More freshness, linearity and understanding. No hard edges, really easy to like and enjoy and enough grip to see it develop nicely over the next seven plus years. Might even last longer than imagined. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted January 2020

Mauro Sebaste Barolo Riserva DOCG Ghè 2014

Ghè is the Riserva of Cerretta fruit but only the smallest berries are chosen. A mega clonal version per se, a Cerretta of Ceretta. Celebrates and argues the merits of a challenging vintage, spends 36 months in tonneaux and like the Cerretta there is pure and substantial fruit. Acidity and tannin too, more than you might imagine considering the wood. Tension and grace live side by side and this is just beginning to act like it will for its essential and optimum 10 year window. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted January 2020

Palladino Barolo Del Commune Di Serralunga d’Alba DOCG 2016

A true commune Barolo drawn off of a scattering of vineyards, a Serralunga liqueur warming, comforting and reliable, plus a vintage tannin more stringent and yet to crack. Spent two years in grandi botti plus six further months in bottle. Of roses and tar, youthfulness and tension aboard a nicely balanced and upright frame. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted January 2020

Palladino Barolo Riserva DOCG San Bernardo 2013

The “oriental plot,” from the other side of the Ornato cru and a nebbiolo to speak of extended elévage just as it should. Now into a balsamico cadence and a tartufo lilt. A matter of funghi, acciuga and back to that truffled sensibility. So much umami, the anchovy sitting like a salty and briny slice of maritime butter on toasted crostini with shavings both pencil and earthen nuggets in origin. Oh how the feeling of the block and the greater Piedmontese emanates from one glass of Barolo that only San Bernardo seems capable of gifting. The secondary nature of this nebbiolo is astonishing, if like Christmas come early but why not celebrate now? Should keep developing, morphing, giving again and again. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted January 2020

Renato Ratti Barolo DOCG Marcenasco 2004 (713479, Halpern Enterprises)

Has quite obviously rounded into form, now beautifully rich and preserved. Poured from magnum yet showing all of its age, fruit sweetly hanging in the balance and as a whole an elegant nebbiolo worthy of the reference. Drink 2020-2024.  Last tasted January 2020

Of the famiglie Pola e Ferro is polar as compared to the non of the Burdin. AM and D nose “car exhaust.” I am tricked by its charm and think New World Syrah, but am reminded that the colour lacks gloom. Hugely muscular, girded by plastron and decades ahead of itself. “Leave it open all night and it’ll be amazing” says Dr. C.  Tasted April 2012

Cherasco

Barbaresco DOCG

Azienda Agricola Taverna Barbaresco DOCG 2017

Comes from one vineyard, the top part of the hill, Gaia Principe it’s called, one of four that make Barbaresco in the MGA. Quick maceration, only seven days, not very Piedmontese and because the house tradition is to make wines to drink and drink now. A very fresh nebbiolo, sweetly perfumed, clear, pure and precise. Drink this most days. No good reason not to. Drink 2020-2025.  Last tasted February 2020

Very ripe and organized, developed and heading forward with great haste. Acids are brighter than some so there is light streaking through the Neive vintage darkness. Another example that speaks to the great variability in 2017. Drink 2020-2024.  Barrel Sample tasted January 2020

Barbera d’Alba DOCG

Cascina Adelaide Vigna Preda Barbera d’Alba 2016

Same vineyard as the nebbiolo for the Preda Barolo but here the barbera fruit is notable deeper and darker. Spends up to 18 months in big barrel and high acidity for Alba with just the right and deft touch of necessary volatile acidity. Rich, luxurious and lovely. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted January 2020

Cascina Adelaide Barbera D’alba Superiore Docg Amabilin 2016

Named after the creator himself Amabile Drocco who as a child was called Amabilin. The name chosen for the wine pays homage to the family’s origins. The yields are ridiculously low (half a kilo per vine) from 3,000 kg per hectare that represents half of the consorzio’s disciplanare rule. So concentrated and a true gem in the Adelaide portfolio, in fact this is truly one of the tops in all of what is labeled Superiore. Includes eight to ten per cent Barolo fruit but not that which might end up as DOC Nebbiolo. High acidity again (as with the Preda) and ultra special tannins. Only 2000-2300 bottles are produced. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted January 2020

Diego Morra Barbera d’Alba DOCG 2016

Roddi is the source and direct sun exposure provided for a terroir-varietal relationship that is necessary when you consider acidity rates, ripeness measurements and structural assets. Here barbera gets into beneficial bitters, speaks with assuring alacrity and extolls the virtue of a mainly steely exterior. Really spirited, fresh and alive. Drink 2020-2024. Tasted January 2020

Elvio Cogno Barbera d’Alba DOC Bricco Dei Merli 2017

Single vineyard, aged for one year in wood. The hilltop of the blackbird and a wine nosing succinctly of black cherry. No way this is simply the wine of the osteria or the honky tonk bar. The maturation here is set so high on both fronts, first sugar and then phenolic. Acidity is supportive and there is no burn. There is no jam. What shows is body strength, spirit and a soft finish. Comes from elevation where the wind blows and you can feel the cool breeze running in the veins, like cool water. Picked late September and we are thankful for that. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted January 2020

The view from Elvio Cogno

Elvio Cogno Barbera d’Alba DOC Pre Phylloxera 2018

Pre-Phylloxera because of these barbera vines’ ability to survive with thanks to sandy soil and 500m of elevation. A red soil that was not inhabitable to the louse. The vineyard is rented from Marcarini and Valter likes to farm it to to keep the history of his family’s work alive. Lower acidity, higher concentration and an affinity with northern Rhône syrah. Cool, smooth, silky, crystal clear and the pinnacle of barbera beauty. Incredible texture. Only 2,000 bottles made. Drink 2021-2029.  Barrel Sample tasted January 2020

Lucrezia Carrega Malabaila

Malabaila Di Canale 1362 Barbera d’Alba DOC Giardono 2018

From a single vineyard, eight yearsold and aged in concrete, for a reductive environment and more important a low, natural and slow ferment. A rich deep cherry barbera to be fair, sure and completely honest with a modernity of acidity that belies the reasons why barbera fell out of favour and became hard to sell. This will do the yeoman work to continue the resurrection. A spice market from a time gone by connects Giardino to a loyal and traditional wine. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted January 2020

Malabaila Di Canale 1362 Barbera D’alba DOC Mezzavilla 2015

From 75 year-old vines in the Mezzavilla Vineyard, located between the villages of Cisterna (towards Asti) and Canale. Just a few percentage points of oak because the fruit demands it and concrete will keep freshness but doesn’t quite do enough for this fruit. Such a soothing acidity and a presence that speaks to the sand and the clay of the land from whence it came. Taste this fruit and you will understand. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted January 2020

Mauro Molino Barbera d’Alba Doc “Legattere®”‎ 2017 ($24.95, Le Sommelier Inc.)

A selection of barbera vineyards of soils calcareous/clayey, maceration of six days, fermented in steel, aged in French oak. Just a classic, pure red fruit, high acid and smooth texture/tannins. Round flavours, big yet somehow understated. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted January 2020

Mauro Sebaste Barbera d’Alba Superiore DOCG Centobricchi 2016

On the hill just above Alba on the way to Serralunga, of low yields that produce just about one bunch per vine. Spends one year in new French oak to gift spice, savour, silk and palate fineness. High acidity, at times too high but necessary to foil the hedonism. A piqued and plentiful barbera that in the end comes down to farming. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted January 2020

Palladino Barbera d’Alba Superiore DOCG Bricco delle Olive 2017

Big barbera, 15 months in (50 per cent new) tonneaux with violets and spice smothering all else. Despite the enormity of it all this is barbera in a balanced varietal world and Bricco delle Viole is clearly a Superiore terroir from which to approach with great ambition. All assets are encouraged and flaunted  within the grand scale of this particular Alba spectrum. Will improve with some further wood integration. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted January 2020

Azienda Agricola Taverna Barbera d’Alba DOC 2018

The red fruit juiciest and most succulent Barbera d’Alba with great acids. Make you wish more varietal wines like this would align, draft and glide alongside. Fresh and just lovely. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted February 2020

Verduno Pelaverga DOC

Diego Morra Pelaverga DOC 2018

Diego Morra’s pelaverga ’18 is clear, concise and pure, lying with a varietal heart at its most effusive. Prim as is imaginable while a big expression for a light and silken grape. From a “normal,” manageable and consistent vintage. A wine executed with molecular gastronomy to an end forged by a grape-wine relationship. Social, artistic and technical pelaverga, investigating the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur in farming and then, winemaking. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted January 2020

Vino Rosso

Malabaila Di Canale 1362 Donna Costanza Cardunaj Vino Rosso 2017

A digestif wine, a Brachetto vinified dry and so curious. A dessert wine with no fizz and just a touch of sweetness. A moment’s Amaro bitters but no sense of liqueur. Odd to be sure. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted January 2020

Método Classico Vino Spumante Di Qualita

Malabaila Di Canale 1362 Pas Dosè Método Classico Vino Spumante Di Qualita

A 50-50 nebbiolo and arneis mix, seven years on the lees, from the 2012 vintage and disgorged in October 2019. Yes you read this properly, seven years on lees. The Malabaila connection to the Esterhazy royalty in Austrian indirectly bridges two estates and you can’t help but think about the Blanc de Blancs made in the Burgenland. Zero dosage means lean, direct, sharp and energetic bubbles with remarkable precision. These are Grandi Langhe bubbles from Roero, not to be missed. First vintage was 2010. Can’t be Millesimato because it’s a blend. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted January 2020

Langhe Rosato DOC

Malabaila Di Canale 1362 Langhe Rosato DOC 2018

From Lucrezia Carrega Malabaila with perfectly typical Rosato colour for nebbiolo taken from Roero lands. ’Tis a coppery hue, sexy rusty, mimicked in flavours with a note like lemon tisane. Steep in some currants and sweet herbs and you get the picture. Poured from magnum and good thing because a table of six would have otherwise gone very thirsty. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted January 2020

Langhe Nascetta Del Comune Di Novello DOC

Elvio Cogno Langhe Nascetta Del Comune Di Novello DOC Anas Cëtta 2019

Cold stabilization and some wood aging but in botti, no longer in barriques. I have yet to put the nose to my glass and the aromatics are coming out. A semi-aromatic grape with here in 2019 from peach, elderflowers and high level acidity. I would imagine it’s most akin to chenin but even that is a stretch. The drinkability meeting complexity is off the charts. Once you go tactile-textile nascetta like this you may never go back. Approximately 16,000 bottles produced. One of now 30-plus producers in the Langhe. Barrel Sample tasted January 2020.  Drink 2020-2023

Le Strette Nas-cëtta Langhe DOC Pasinot 2018

Nascetta, or Nas-cëtta, as they say in the commune of Novello with fruit out of Pasinotti, Bergera, Pezzole and Tarditi at altitudes of 350 to 420m. Planted over many decades, in 1948, 1983, 2009, 2014 and 2016. The Piedmontese grape rarity likes the sandy, calcareous clay and its emission is semi-aromatic. This example sits somewhere between riesling and gewürztraminer though truth be told seems closer to friulano what with its glycerin and off-dry sentimentality. Novello is the place and the heights help bring about the oiliness and preserved citrus notes from the grape. Needs another year to fully bloom. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted January 2020

Langhe Favorita DOC

Malabaila Di Canale 1362 Langhe Favorita DOC Donna Costanza 2018

A label made by Lucrezia’s father (who passed away in 2010) for his wife and her mother. Endemic, full of drive, a touch of a sweetness and in a way a cool, northern example that is linked to inzolia, or even zibbibo. More texture here and alloy notation. Lingers with herbs and sweet citrus. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted January 2020

Roero Arneis DOC

Malabaila Di Canale 1362 Roero Arneis DOC Pradaj 2018

Pradaj in Piedmontese is “A valley with grass and flowers” and clearly a reference to the aromatics in the grape variety from this place. A perfectly correct and referenced arneis indeed and an ideal match to the local Plin agnolotti filled with herbs. When the arneis from Roero speaks clearly it does so like this, unadorned, floral and calm. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted January 2020

Birbét

Malabaila Di Canale 1362 Birbét Donna Costanza 2018

Mosta d’Uva parzialmente fermentato or, grape must partially fermented to five point five per cent alcohol. Served traditionally as dessert though it could certainly be employed in aperitivo format, as Brachetrto d’Acqui often is. Very cherry, lightly carbonated and sweetly herbal. Simple pleasure. Drink 2020-2021.  Tasted January 2020

Good to go!

godello

Godello in Cherasco

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Twenty Canadian wines that rocked in 2020

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

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

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

Related – Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

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

Related – Eighteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2018

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

Related – 17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

Aldé Rosé, Interloper and As Is

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin’s Lane winemaker Shane Munn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosehall Run’s Dan Sullivan and Goode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

There are times when you do it just for the continuity because time marches on, no matter the circumstances. There is no disputing how different 2020 was and frankly the flip to 2021 will not bring about significant change or any semblance of a return to what was, at least not in the first several months. Yet the compelling urge is there, to quantify and qualify this annual Godello list of wines that opened, expanded and blew a mind in 2020. The concept for a year-end summation was launched in 2012 though it was the publishing of 14 in 2014 that made it very official, if only in the mind of one Godello. Matters little whether this qualifies as the seventh or the ninth because in wine one should always eschew semantics for the liquid truth found inside the bottle, elixirs they are of most profound, ethereal and honest propriety.

Related – Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

This will be a much different list than ever before. While I did manage to squeeze in 25 days of travel in the first 56 of 2020 those were the last of this calendar year. That’s at least 75 short of my normal yearly schedule and so imagine that if an average of 30 wines are tasted each and every day on the road, well then that would tell us that at the very minimum 2,250 wines were missed this year. Not entirely true because at least half that many, if not 75 per cent more were made available to me and my WineAlign colleagues over these past nine month of quarantine, isolation and safe-distancing tastings. Still the make-up of what was tasted has been very different, the most notable being the lack of unrepresented or not found in market wines. Less discovery in 2020 to be sure.

Campo Spritz

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

According to my personal critic’s database on WineAlign I reviewed 4,450 wines in 2020, keeping in mind that many of those reviews were for wines tasted in 2019. Up until this year I was consistently behind or back-logged with hundreds if not more than a thousand tasting notes in the queue, unedited, unresolved, not yet reconciled, unfinished, not-posted. Since the global pandemic abruptly delivered me home in the dead of a late February night from Faenza to Firenze, through Frankfurt and to Pearson I have not been able to resume travel. These last 10 months have allowed for a massive catching up. There are now a thousand less wines to finesse and publish then there were this time last year, very few raw and rustic songs waiting for the editing process. All the choices on this 2020 list have been solidified and already been opined with confidence for the world to scrutinize. In 2020 there is nothing left on the table.

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

Slipped outta Dodge under the cover of darkness…

This year’s list is indeed different. The get togethers were few and far between. The travel non-existent. That is why you will recognize more producer names and also a more “archetypal” bent to the choices. The year dictates such a direction and as we all know, you have to listen to what the vintage tells you but also to remember and thank the true pioneers for getting all of us here. Perhaps the greatest influence on how this composition came to be was a conscious choice to omit the older vintages tasted in 2020. There were less to be sure but it just feels like keeping them kind of secretive is the way to go. Let’s hope a connection to that part of this exercise will make a return in 2021. As always, heartfelt thanks to everyone who poured a glass. The producers, winemakers, export managers, friends, colleagues and pirates, so please be encouraged and read on. Alas, Godello’s 20 mind-blowing wines of 2020.

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

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

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

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

Selbach Oster Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2018, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany (17498, $45.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

The triad of producer, appellation and vineyard gets no more arch classic than this with a riesling in Spätlese form at the hands of Selbach-Oster. The pitch and sway in this Wehlener Sonnenuhr vinyeard is 2018 dance card perfect, tight and fluid. Succulent acids are burgeoning and urging the fruit forward, sideways and every which way but loose. This is a wine that gets what needs and gives what is wanted. Will only improve with a few years and then there will come a day when an air or vapour trail falls away. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted November 2020

Tyrrell’s Belford Sémillon 2017, Single Vineyard, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, South Australia (14322, $46.95, Select Wine Merchants)

Belford Vineyard (formerly Elliot Farm) is Hunter Valley leader Tyrrell’s single-vineyard leased sémillon with so much promise in its corner. A top varietal vintage for one thing and the well-draining sandy soils for another. Sémillon thrives in these conditions and so what comes from this awe-inspiring wine is exactly what you possibly wish for when selecting from Hunter Valley. This wine is swiftly, justly and perpetually lit, a smoky, paraffin waxy, über salty, elemental, aerified, verified mineral wine. So focused and precise. Mon dieu, Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted June 2020

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

Fresne Ducret La Grande Hermine Champagne Premier Cru 2008, AC Champagne, France ($78.00, Nicholas Pearce Wines)

Hard to believe the age because while this almost certainly achieved an immediately retro toasted and evolved stage in its youth and though 12 years have passed the present day imaginings are dreamed to persist within that very immediate stage. As creamy as it is toasty, the textural body politic in La Grande Hermine is one of great cerebral and figurative impression. You feel, intuit and embrace such honesty and possibility. Drink this vintage dated Champagne all winter long. Its calming presence will preserve you in a state of grace lower than a snowman’s blood pressure. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2020

El Esteco

El Esteco 1947 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (15082, $24.95, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.)

From Argentina’s northern desert where some of the country’s oldest vines perpetuate existence while thriving fiercely in a hot climate. So yes it is true that some fruit from 70-plus year old vines, well trees really, make their way into this special Salta wine. Dense and concentrated, Cassis times 10, savoury and truly expressive. Oak is well-managed, not shy mind you but these old vines deserve some added and fortifying structure. Do not miss this. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted August 2020

Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Maipo Valley, Chile (403980, $160.00, Escalade Wines & Spirits)

Though essentially a cabernet sauvignon at minimum 90 per cent, it would normally need saying to never discount the blending attributes of cabernet franc, merlot and in recent years, petit verdot. The nooks and crannies filled by the other grape varieties are some of the senses of wonder that have illuminated and elucidated the magic of Don Melchor. And yet years of such thought is turned on its head in 2017 with a 98 per cent pure cabernet sauvignon Don Melchor and only two bits of cabernet franc. Speaks to winemaker Enrique Tirado’s vision of the varietal and vintage relationship. After all, this is his baby, a passion project that spans 20 vintages, from which he looks to “harvest the beauty of the balance of the Puente Alto terroir.” From Viñedo Don Melchor, D.O. Puente Alto and Valle del Alto Maipo, old vines planted 1979 to 1992, new from 2004-2013. The vintage was above average in terms of warmth, cooler temperatures at harvest preserved acidities and sealed the (near) mono-varietal deal. At 30 years into its tenure Don Melchor hits a new stride and it would be hard to argue against the levels of subtle, demure, balanced and ethereal in this 2017. Perfect fruit? Pretty darn close and a bouquet of fresh picked flower-herb-fruit that merge, meld and grace together. One for this age and to age gracefully, slowly and predictably for 20-25 years. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted October 2020

Taub Family Vineyards Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Napa Valley, California (849434, $235.00, Dionysus Wines & Spirits Ltd.)

From proprietor Marc Taub who’s family has been prominently part of the Napa Valley wine fabric since prohibition and who in 2013 acquired Napa Valley producer Heritance, later evolving into Taub Family Vineyards. His winemaker is Tom Hinde, a Sonoma and Napa specialist who cut his teeth for seven years at Flowers, but also at Kendall-Jackson, Hartford, La Crema, Lakoya, Cardinale, Stonestreet and Verite. Add in a mere three acres within the historic 300-acre Beckstoffer Vineyard first purchased by Beaulieu founder Georges de Latour in 1928, called Beaulieu Vineyard Number 3 and made by winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. The 2017 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon are a very special lot. That much we know. Add in the pedigree, torch passing and respect for these necessary tenets of wine-producing business and well, hello. Utmost attention to detail, optimum extraction and concentration, sultry, supple and ultimately divine. There is this fine, fine, almost indescribable salty vein that cuts through the fruit and the fat like perfect umami seasoning in the most decadent dish. With meat or seafood, California or Japan, take your pick. Drink this either way. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2020

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2018, WO Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $59.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Even though the ’18 HR PN took my breath away nine months ago, the not yet understood nuance of this wine surely clouded first impressions. However small a sample size this may be is more than enough to prove time’s effect on wine, pinot noir and Hamilton Russell’s spiritual connection with the grape and how it personifies the Hemel En Aarde Valley. Fragrance, perfume, essential oils, Lilac, Lilly of the Valley and the sweetest tobacco smoulder. Captivating now and quite likely will be so into the mid 30s.  Last tasted August 2020

There have been many Hamilton Russell pinot noir poured in my anxiously awaiting glasses over the last five years. It’s hard to believe we are here at 2018 but time is a joy when you are having a noirmance. The fruit is exceptional in this vintage because it just feels like the warm day/cool night fix is in. The diurnal flux has locked in freshness and sweet tension like no recent memory can recall. Makes for a most grippy yet excitable pinot noir of concentration, presence and promise. Benchmark in every respect. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted November 2019

That Marco Cirese Sangiovese stare. His Noelia Ricci and Pandolfo are crucial, fundamental and illustrative of what is possible in Emilia-Romagna. #sangiovesediromagna #viniadarte #viniadarte2020

Noelia Ricci Pandolfa Romagna Sangiovese Predappio DOC Godenza 2018, Emilia Romagna, Italy (The Vine Agency)

Godenza was the name of the podere (house) on site at a one hectare vineyard at 340m, the highest section of Ricci’s land. The introduction of concrete tanks is surely responsible (in part) to the freshness and reduction but also poor, well-draining calcareous soils that complete a relationship with open-knit and fragrant red fruit. Adds up to complexities and beauty, not to mention the hands-off, unadulterated feel of this wine. At the top end of quality and elaborate expression for the appellation. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted twice at Vini Ad Arte, Casa Spadoni, Faenza February 2020

Because he’s Dario F-in Faccin, that’s why g-dammit! #carobbio #sangiovese #chianticlassico #panzano #galestro

Tenuta Carobbio Chianti Classico DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy ($33.60, Alta Wines)

Stop in here for a rest and exult in the near perfect grace, charm and collective soul in the heart of an Annata. To say that the Novarese family and Dario Faccin should feel the greatest sangiovese reward from this appellation would be a grand understatement. This version of Panzano and Chainti Classico DOCG is what it is, what it can and must be. Should be. Has to be. Richly glorious and confidently understated. The cleanest sangiovese and the one that speaks most succinctly of the land. These are the reasons why Carobbio is the most underrated, but for how long? This ’16 will see proof to that and so much more. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted February 2020

With the brothers Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli

Now to introduce you to the Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli brothers, Alessandro and Andrea, two men who covet, own and articulate their western wing of Castelnuovo terroir. As custodians of these classic southern Chianti Classico Alberese and Galestro vineyards they have come to understand their nuance and their specialities. So, Riserva from 2015 now comes to its beginning having needed every bit of the extra two years in bottle it has received. Yes this Geggiano ’15 Riserva still needs time and if you abide by the premise it will come alive, surmise and in turn, surprise. In fact it will make a lasting impression and stay with you forever. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2015, Tuscany, Italy (Stem Wine Group)

The acumen, wisdom and also the persistent reduction are formidable in this incredibly concentrated wine. So Monsanto, so in delivery of San Donato in Poggio, so Laura Bianchi. Seemingly equipped with the needed stuffing in the way that 1968 managed to accrue over 50 years of travels. Here in Gran Selezione form the tendencies and the abilities are multiplied tenfold. Magnificent and magnanimous, the concentration is foiled by focus and precision, from all that has come before, moving into the present and then going forward with everything that occupies, in hopes and dreams. Drink 2025-2037.  Tasted February 2020

Vineyard at Salicutti

Podere Salicutti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Sorgente 2015, Tuscany, Italy

Organic, biodynamic and unfiltered, from the then first in Montalcino, at the hands of Francesco Leanza, in 1995. Now (and since 2015) in the custodial hands of Felix and Sabine Eichbauer, halfway between Montalcino and Castelnuovo dell’Abate. The last of the cru, single-vineyards planted at Salicutti and not surprisingly the one with most red fruity juiciness that keeps a lineage with the Rosso. If a portal into knowing what it makes to taste the bright side of 2015 could be described then why not make use of this ethereal Sorgente to learn of such things. Voltage, tension and vibration. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Francesco Ripaccioli

Canalicchio Di Sopra Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Casaccia 2016, Tuscany, Italy (Le Sommelier Inc.)

Barrel Sample. Now this is something exceptional. This is what Casaccia is obviously capable of producing, The sweetest Canalicchio fruit of all, to date and with a rising low and slow angling of acidity (as opposed to straight verticality) that carries the fruit to great heights. This will be a triumph and in fact it is already tasting like a piece de Canalicchio resistance while it sings a long maestro song. A soloist that needs no accompaniment although food, company and peace would not hurt at all. Obviously this is more than just the northern side of Montalcino and more than Canalicchio. This is Casaccia. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted February 2020

Lorenzo Magnelli, Le Chiuse

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Diecianni 2013, Tuscany, Italy

The ’13 will be released on January 1st, 2023 and as the name Diecianni suggests it is a Riserva that 10 years minimum are needed before readiness begins to take shape. The selection is from the smallest grape clusters in estate vineyards and mainly the oldest vines, originally planted in 1987. The vintage of the great polyphonic-phenolic, elastic and stretched ripeness, by photosynthesis without heat, of muscles with energy and ones that will develop, remain and use their power to keep the fruit alive. That said it’s a wine of wood and the highest level of salinity, sapidity and a tang that is exhibited by no other Brunello di Montalcino. A concentration that is simply outstanding and in some minds, will even be eclipsed (or not) by 2016. The finesse and architecture of this wine are as good as it gets. Drink 2026-2042.  Tasted February 2020

Lucrezia Carrega Malabaila

Malabaila Di Canale 1362 Roero Riserva DOCG Castelletto 2015, Piedmont, Italy ($59.95)

From Canale vines 50 years old and the most historical vineyard for Malabaila, as documents show. Riserva here means two years in two, three and four year-old barrels. Yet another silky Roero and example of nebbiolo that could not have been born anywhere else. The “little castle” is a charming nebbiolo, fine of all its constructive parts with an ease of sensuality that just shows how confident, casual and natural life as it is just happens to be. Castelletto knows what it is. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted January 2020

Elena Sottimano

Sottimano Barbaresco DOCG Basarin 2016, Piedmont, Italy ($103.95, Le Maitre de Chai)

Basarin in the newest Cru for Sottimano, established in 2014 though the vines are already between 45-50 years old. Released just at the start of 2020 and already displaying a prominence in aromatics that speak to this exceptional nook just below Neive. From a vintage blessed for its place in history matched by a requiem for a dream. Crunchy for nebbiolo surely caused by the policy of classically long Piedmontese maceration, drawing fruit with gentle impunity and long-grained tannins in thrushes and intermingling chains. Pure dark fruit (almost raspberry) and a generous application of wood varnish. Architecture, length and character, all together. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted January 2020

With Francesca Vaira

G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Bricco Delle Viole 2016, Piedmont, Italy ($113.95, Groupe Soleil)

The thing of Bricco delle Viole that is beauty emits with gala fruit force into the canals of the layers. Bricco dell Viole the singular Barolo cru, from which fruit, texture and extension are consistently planned out, mapped and organized. So wound, so found and following a path that runs along a line along a circle. Slow unwind and unfolding coming, culminating in developed notes, to be far away, somewhere between then and then. Too soon to tell. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted January 2020

Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz 2017, South Australia, Australia (12016, $150.00, Mark Anthony Group)

Another old friend, St. Henri, once a wine for a special occasion, now one for all times. No, not a baby Grange but to me this is to Penfolds as Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus is to Maison Bouchard Père & Fils. Not that there is any resemblance to pinot noir save for the fact that in terms of shiraz, St. Henri is the elegant or if you will, the Burgundian one. Penfolds like to refer to Henri as “an intriguing counterpoint to Grange,” and that seems right in the sense that power and optimum concentration are never the point. It is a multi-regional blend, from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Eden Valley and Port Lincoln. There is no new wood exercised; it spends 12 months in 50-plus year old vats. Distinct style, unique pedigree and alternative execution. Adds up to intrigue, enigma and mystery, which is just what an iconic and signature counterpoint should do. Acidity and structure are tops, bar none. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2020

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

Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2018, Douro Valley, Portugal (12076, $160.00, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits)

The third consecutively declared Vintage Port by Taylor is one of 18’s most powerfully restrained. Taylor describes their 2018 from a “year (that) seems to have given it an additional layer of density and weight.” Apropos it needs saying because texture this viscous is clearly vintage driven. After record aridity in 2017 it was a wet March that was welcomed with open arms and water tables but the rain kept up and so mildew became the challenge. Worse was damage from hailstorms in the Pinhão area, including Taylor Fladgate’s Quinta do Junco. But the heat came and on August 3rd at Quinta de Vargellas they recorded a temperature of just over 44°C. Ripening happened in a shorter and more concentrated window, a good thing in the world of VP, as witnessed by the no holes, all in, singular in vision and style Taylor 2018. Not the gangster power surge of some others mind you and the violets give little aromatic space to fruit nor perfume that tries to steal the spotlight. These are remarkable tannins and it could be periods of ages and epochs before this begins to move into complexities secondary and tertiary. If I were as young as I think you are I’d invest in this Taylor for the next 30-plus years of evolution. Drink 2027-2044.  Tasted November 2020

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Sangiovese is the future: Montalcino’s Rosso and Brunello

Fresh-pressed Sangiovese, Montalcino

Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino forever and always 100 per cent Sangiovese

Over the past four weeks in five online seminars we have been tasting Montalcino’s sangiovese while generating a high level of discourse between Canadian Sommeliers and Media to more than 20 producers of Rosso and Brunello. Isolation and global situations notwithstanding there has never been a joint action of this dimension before, a series of fortunate events that has been made possible because of the forward thinking and openness of the Conzorzio Vino Brunello di Montalcino. All because of and in the name of sangiovese, tissue of Rosso, bones of Brunello and grape of the future.

Related – Stamina and staying power: Brunello di Montalcino

In this sixth and final 2020 session it will be sangiovese that holds the spotlight, Tuscany’s most essential grape variety. On Monday, December 7, 2020 I will again play host and moderator, as I have done with the help and support from 25 producers and their sangiovese wines. “Sangiovese is the future: Montalcino’s Rosso and Brunello” the webinar will welcome agronomist Federico Staderini and Tenuta San Giorgio’s Ugolforte Brunello 2015; Sabina Sassetti with her family’s Sassetti Livio – Pertimali’s Brunello 2015; Elia Loia and Palazzo’s Brunello 2015; Andrea Cortonesi and Angela Biagiotti along with both Uccelliera and Voliero Brunello 2015.

Related – Ready for a long-term relationship? Brunello di Montalcino Vigna and Riserva

October Sangiovese, Montalcino

First love

We all remember our first love. We may hide the memory away and rarely speak of it but it’s always there. For me, Brunello di Montalcino was my first. In the spring and summer of 1987 I was a naive young McGill University student living in Siena. Bad hair, bad clothes, not a care in the world. My professor from the University of Toronto knew quite a lot about the wines of Toscana so when we made a class pilgrimage to Montalcino he asked if anyone would like to join him for wine tasting at the Enoteca di Fortezza during the afternoon break. All of my classmates opted for a siesta in the July shade and this at a time when there were no cell phones, computers or tablets to distract us from actually learning something. I was the only one who chose to accompany Professor Wollesen to the fortress.

In retrospect, what happened over those next few hours changed my life. It might have done the same for my classmates were they to taste, guided by a man of sangiovese experience, though 30 samples of Brunello di Montalcino 1982. If only I knew then even a fraction of what I have learned since, what value that would be for me now. No matter, for I have Professor Wollesen to thank for introducing me to the world of Brunello. And here we are.

Related – What the winemakers drink: Rosso di Montalcino  

Let’s talk about clones

What about the long-employed term sangiovese grosso? The word we know as Brunello translates loosely to “little dark one”, in reference to the local vernacular name for sangiovese grosso, “fat sangiovese,” the large-berried form of sangiovese which grows in the area. While Brunello di Montalcino and the clonal sangiovese grosso have been symbiotically synonymous for decades, with clonal selection so varied, in today’s modern Brunello lexicon it is simply sangiovese that speaks to the grape of the famous wines. It is imperative to learn which clones are nurtured on each estate. This is the quintessential Montalcino situation: Estate specificity for sangiovese and cru.

Related – Backstage pass to Brunello di Montalcino

Abbey Mood

A new era in Montalcino

With thanks to writer and educator Emily O’Hare it’s worth quoting the Brunello winemaking guru Giulio Gambelli who said that “the enological trend to reduce volatile acidity as much as possible annoyed him.” While that trend certainly lasted for at least two decades it seems that traditional ways are making their return, albeit with forward-thinking winemaking in the cleanest and sharpest of ways. There is so much red fruit and sangiovese purity in the 2015 Brunello, but also the 2018 Rosso that things just seem to have opened up a new era in Montalcino.

Related – Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials: 40 years of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Poggio di Sotto looking towards San Giorgio and Monte Amiata

Tenuta San Giorgio

Tenuta San Giorgio founded in 1982 is the second and sister estate to Poggio di Sotto that was founded in 1989 on the south-eastern side of Montalcino overlooking the Orcia Valley. In 2011 Poggio di Sotto became part of the ColleMassari family of wines and Tenuta San Giorgio has been a part of the group since 2016. Monte Amiata looms and protects while sea breezes blow in for 26 hectares that enjoy a unique microclimate immediately southeast of Castelnuovo dell’Abate in the southeastern part of Montalcino at 400m on the top of a ridge. Today the Tipa Bertarelli Family is the custodian of Piero Palmucci’s original vision. Claudio Tipa is the owner of ColleMassari and Grattamacco and beginning in 2011 for Poggio di Sotto and then 2016 for Tenuta San Giorgio he and his team committed themselves to the same quality standards and production techniques that have made the estate’s reputation. The same winemaking team led by Luca Marrone of nearly three decades an Oenologist Federico Staderini continue to produce sangiovese of great transparent, traditional and authentic construct.

San Giorgio Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Ugolforte 2015

The second estate of Poggio di Sotto delivers a solid core of sangiovese fruit swagger with more than a modicum of high acid tang in 2015. Tart, driven, ultra-phenolic and on the road to both freedom and happiness. I feel they are still figuring out the nuance and the possibility of the estate and 2015 is sending the team well on their way. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted February 2020

Tenuta San Giorgio Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Ciampoleto 2018

Quite the expressive Rosso here at heights across the valley from Sant Angelo in Colle and situated at a half tier away from parent Poggio di Sotto. A well extracted and healthy macerated sangiovese that brings some structure, multiplied by the rich barrels making their seasoning statement. Really like the finish on this flashy wine. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2020

The stunning white argileux of @pertimalisassetti with the Montosoli hill beyond

Sassetti Livio Pertimali

The wines of Livio, Lorenzo and Sabina Sassetti are made at the famous northern side Montosoli hill with south-east exposure. The Podere Pertimali and its 16 hectares of vineyards are of a terroir that is some of Montalcino’s greatest calcareous clay and the soils are strewn with ancient fossils and shells. On a day of perfect blue sky the light reflects of of these white, yellow and grey soils with blinding clarity. There is nowhere else in Montalcino like it.

Livio is one of the founding 1967 members of the Consorzio Vino Brunello di Montalcino. Today Lorenzo and Sabina Sassetti are the custodians and makers for both the Montalcino and Montecucco properties and they do so with knowledge of modern oenological techniques but also in full respect of family tradition and philosophy. That may be a familiar refrain in this region but in Lorenzo and Sabina’s hands it is as they say in Italian, “è giusto e vero.”

Lorenzo Sassetti

Sassetti Livio Pertimali Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2014

From primarily grey arglileux (clay) soils though truth be told the variegation includes yellow, black and brown. Also found is Galestro, Pietra (like Forte) and a wide array of fossil shells, all much larger than it would be imagined. Here to the south west of the Montosoli hill is a warm and humid place so airflow is much more important than anything, to prevent disease and because ripeness is rarely an issue. The fruit is dark, hematic, all in. I tasted 45 examples of 2014 this morning and none were like this. It’s also silky smooth without any oak sheathing, make-up or cake icing. Salumi notes define the curative nature, acids are fine and driving, a high-toned moment is slightly Bretty and tannins are super smooth. High quality from 2014. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted February 2019

Fossil shell at Sassetti Livio, Godello’s hand for perspective

Sassetti Livio Pertimali Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2009

No shortage of reductive sangiovese funk comes off the nose of this well on its way to aging Brunello. Though the secondary dilemmas of oxidation, dried fruit, old leather and seeping cherries are amassed at this stage, the acidity rages quite evocatively and with what seems to be tremendous purpose. The grand old bariques honesty working with great fruit intensity gives this the kind of old school charm that is rapidly disappearing from the likes of Brunello, Barolo and Rioja. You have to appreciate your tolerable level of Brett, the gritty char, animale and ferric tendencies of these types of reds. More often than not I can find it in my heart and from my palate to abide. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted October 2016

#liviosassetti #legend #brunellodimontalcino

Sassetti Livio Pertimali Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2012

Finally a nose of something not just recognizable but exacting and necessary for Brunello di Montalcino from this frazioni just to the northeast of the village. Dark cherries, rich and luxurious dark cherries. That and a cool minty savour plus a creamy gelato that silkens the palate. The grip and force are 2012 but the refinement is all 2012 and Sassetti. A very stylish Brunello and not even yet entered the zone. Drink 2021-2035.  Tasted February 2019

Vineyard at Palazzo

Palazzo

A great story. Perhaps it was by coincidence or by a curious sign of fate, but in 1983, Cosimo Loia bought the estate “Palace,” which bore the same family name of his wife Antoinette. The Loia-Palazzo family’s property in the southeast of Montalcino covers a total area of 12 hectares, of which four are cultivated with Sangiovese Grosso. Their approach is “Integrated Agriculture” using only organic farming methods. The terroir is mainly Galestro marl, but is also rich in limestone. In 1986 they began producing wine, along with their children. The first harvest was 1995. The work is still presided over by Cosimo and Antoinette, along with their son Angelo and daughter Elia.

Palazzo Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2013

From vineyards just directly southeast beneath the village of Montalcino there is a blessed, unobstructed warmth in this wine from a mixed idea vintage. Carries in its mid-weight stride the classic cherry-leather liqueur of central-south Montalcino sangiovese. It’s both traditional and sweetly spiced, with anise, nuttiness and a clearly transcribed Montalcino vernacular. It’s lovely Brunello is what I’m trying to say. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted October 2018 and March 2019

Andrea Cortonesi, Uccelliera (c) Brunello di Montalcino

Uccelliera

The name Uccelliera translates as “aviary” or “birdcage” in Italian, probably dating back to the Middle Ages when falcons where raised in the area. Today the estate holdings are 6.5 hectares of vineyards on different exposures planted to sangiovese in the southeast of Montalcino within the frazione of Castelnuovo dell’Abate, quite proximate to the Abbey of Sant’Antimo and also one of seven or so estates that are situated closest to Mount Amiata.

Andrea Cortonesi’s first Brunello vintage was 1991 but his work in the vineyards goes back much deeper and further. He was the cellar master at Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona until 1990 but also had a hand in helping to create many Montalcino estates, including Poggio di Sotto, La Torre, Poggio degli Ulivi, Mastrojanni, Tenuta di Sesta, Collosorbo, Sesta di Sopra and Podere Salicutti, many of them through the planting of their vineyards. Andrea purchased the Uccelliera farm in 1986 and planted in 1987. That he worked alongside some Montalcino giants of agriculture and oenology is not nothing. Giulio Gambelli, Roberto Cipresso, Maurizio Castelli, Alberto Antonini, and Attilio Pagli are some of those famous names and Andrea might just be the region’s greatest student, collaborator and torch-bearer. I am sure he also has some great stories. The year 1998 was when he was able to dedicate himself full time to Uccelliera. He is first and foremost a farmer. Andrea writes, “how can I believe that everything begins today just because I produce Brunello? Farming today requires considerable individual dedication, but that does not mean that it can be seen as a vocation to solitary labour. Growth must be collective, since if my neighbour makes mistakes, I will suffer the consequences, and vice versa. This is the reason I dedicate time to mutual agricultural concerns, to meetings, to the study of all those things that, apart from work in the fields, are part of our world. Our work has serious meaning for all of our society, so it bears doing with conscientiousness and responsibility.” 

Voliero

Another name for Uccelliera is Voliero, “birdcage” in Italian and the story behind Andrea Cortonesi’s second label is a good one. In 2006 he was running his own restaurant in Siena called Il Casato and a friend of his in Montalcino offered him grapes from a vineyard in the Canalicchio cru in northeastern Montalcino to make a private label wine for the restaurant. The wine was made from those grapes through the 2008 vintage but in 2009 Cortonesi switched to Castelnuovo dell’Abate and 200 metres higher elevation vineyards from which to source Voliero. With the 2020 vintage Andrea will make his 12th Voliero and while it only produces 1,000 cases max of Rosso and Brunello it is now imported into North America.

(c) Uccelliera

Uccelliera Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2014

A combination of sweet fruit and volatility gather in this tart yet reductive Brunello. The fruit is quite gregarious and almost generous. Hard to figure though because the tannins are also somewhat soft. Will drink well for a few years. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted February 2019

Uccelliera Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2017

Quite refined, dark-skinned, already showing resolve and fruit resolved, confident and ready to drink. Low acids and tannin, a Rosso for now while others wait and Brunello play seriously harder to get. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted February 2019

Good to go!

godello!

Fresh-pressed Sangiovese, Montalcino

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Ready for a long-term relationship? Brunello di Montalcino Vigna and Riserva

 

A four vintage vertical look at age-worthy, single-vineyard and Riserva Brunello di Montalcino

These are the sangiovese the agronomist and the oenologist spend their most time with, from vineyard work, by grape ferments and through botti epochs that receive the most nurturing and care. Montalcino’s Vigna and Riserva will change a winemaker, either for better or for worse and they are also the ones that will stand the test of time. The question worth posing to these Montalcinese makers is why? What makes that vineyard block so special and for wines already aged longer than most, why go even longer, sometimes five years further in wood? What is the impetus for it being better to be a thinking monk than a post-modern thinker?

Related – What the winemakers drink: Rosso di Montalcino

The answers may be forthcoming on Thursday, November 26, 2020 when I play host and moderator for the fourth of six online seminars covering all aspects of Montalcino, with the help and support from 25 producers and their sangiovese wines. “Ready for a long-term relationship? Brunello di Montalcino Vigna and Riserva” will travel back from 2015 to 2012 to see how vintage, elévage and specific vineyard blocks intertwine to create Brunello’s most structured sangiovese. The webinar will welcome winemaker Tomasso Cortonesi and his Cortonesi I Poggiarelli Brunello di Montalcino 2015; Francesca Bindocci with the Franceschi family’s and also her father’s (Consorzio President Fabrizio Bindocci) Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2014; Giorgio Masellis for Consorzio Vice-President Riccardo Talenti’s Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Pian di Conte 2013; Alessandra Angelini with hers and her mother Elisabetta Gnudi Angelini’s Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino Vigna La Casa 2012.

The hill that is Montalcino. The look that is Godello. The argilo of the northern vineyards #tuttoèpossibile

Vigna or cru wines have increasingly become the most talked about sangiovese within the trilogy comprised of Brunello, Vigna and Riserva. They are the territory’s answer to any question that prods or provokes a discussion regarding sub-zones and menzione geografica, a.k.a. MGAs. Chianti Classico as an example is delineated by eight communes and while the system is far from perfect, thinking about sub-zones by commune is a natural way to divide up the territory. Montalcino is really one entity and not all that large a zone as a whole. There are villages and hamlets scattered about and within but to say that all the vineyards in and around say Sant’Angelo in Colle produce Brunello with similar characteristics is just not possible. It would be like saying all Champagne made near Mesnil-sur-Oger should be classified together but it can’t be done and that is why Champagne opts for Premier Cru and Grand Cru designations. But Montalcino is not in need of any new or imagined such rankings. What would it offer the community as a whole that it does not already have?

Related – Backstage pass to Brunello di Montalcino

The regulations governing wine production dictate that the maximum production of grapes per hectare must be less than eight tons per hectare (approximately 52 hl/ha of wine). It also dictates the date of the wine being released onto the market, which is January 1st of the fifth year after harvesting. During this long period, the wine must spend at least two years in wooden barrels and age at least four months in the bottle. The Riserva wine must age at least six months in the bottle and is released a year later onto the market. To many Montalcino winemakers Riserva translates to “I’ll simply rack the wine from barrel and bottle it when ready.” In some cases that means releasing a Riserva in the seventh or eighth year, perhaps even further after harvesting.

Related – Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials: 40 years of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Related – Benvenuto Brunello 2020: Montalcino surges ahead

I recently asked a gaggle of Montalcino producers the pressing question on elévage.

How or why did 12 or 24 months, or in rare cases, 60-plus months further become the defined reason for how to make and qualify Riserva?

Lorenzo Magnelli, Le Chiuse: “We release our Riserva 60 months later than our Regular Brunello because I believe it helps the wine to get a stronger identity from Brunello showing a better balance and more complexity. Brunello Riserva, it’s not the wine that you want to drink young, in this way you really can’t.”

Riccardo Talenti, Talenti: “As a philosophy we do not exceed 36/40 months of aging for the Riservas and we do not produce the Riserva every year, but only in vintages that we believe have high aging potential, making a selection of barrels from the vineyards around the company positioned at 400 meters.”

Elisa Fanti – Tenuta Fanti: “The Riserva is a selection of the best Sangiovese in the vineyard. This Sangiovese, in the beautiful vintage, probably has a big structure, complexity and acidity and it is necessary for more time of aging (in the oak or in the bottle), to have an important wine with all its aromatics feature well integrated.”

Stefano Cinelli Colombini, Fattoria dei Barbi: “In my opinion any true Brunello is at his best between eight and 20 years, it is due to the peculiar character of the Montalcino Sangiovese grapes.”

Riccardo Campinoti, Le Ragnaie: “I am not a big Riserva guy, I keep all my wines three years in barrel and I think it’s enough. I much rather prefer single vineyard expression, I keep my best sites for single vineyards. Lately I prefer colder vintages. Warm vintages are too extreme and the wines are not that interesting.”

Conte Francesco Marone Cinzano, Col d’Orcia: “When my father arrived at Col d’Orcia in 1973 he found wine in the large barrels dating back to vintage 1968 (60 month). This was the tradition in Montalcino and still is the practice at Col d’Orcia when a vintage requires it.”

Donatella Cinelli Colombini, Casato Prime Donne: “The Brunello Riserva is born in the vineyard, not in the cellar. The clusters must have grapes that are very small, perfect in health and with thin skins. In other words we cannot produce Riserva with just any old cluster of Sangiovese. For this reason the amount of Brunello Riserva we make increases or diminishes, and so aggravates my sales office. Obviously the perfect grapes create wines that need a longer stay in barrel and then in bottle.”

Giacomo Neri, Casanova di Neri: “We do not produce Riserva, our Brunelli at most spend 42 months in wood. Brunello Cerretalto comes out in the sixth year but with twelve more months raised in the bottle.”

Filippo Chia, Castello di Romitorio: “Sangiovese is a very finicky grape that is really tied to the climatic conditions of the vintage, every so often in great vintages its power and abundance can withstand additional ageing in oak, large or small, and most producers tend to go to bottle sooner in order to avoid keeping the wine in stainless steel or wood for too long.  Usually it’s a barrel selection and when tasting the wines it is apparent when you can make a Riserva without cannibalizing your “Vigna” and without over-oaking and oxidizing the wine. Therefore normally only the very best and most balanced and structured fruit can give way to a Riserva.”

Francesco Ripaccioli, Canalicchio di Sopra: “The oak is not an ingredient. It’s a kneading for the wine.”

Tommaso Cortonesi, Cortonesi – La Mannella: “The Production Requirements ask for 24 months minimum for Brunello Riserva, but many wineries do a much longer wood aging. We do 48 months in large barrels and our Brunello Riserva is only produced in the best vintages from our oldest vineyard in La Mannella.”

Cortonesi and Cortonesi

Cortonesi

Cortonesi’s estate base is at La Mannella, down on the flats just below and to the northeast of the Montalcino hill. Tommaso Cortonesi also farms a second block, the single-vineyard sangiovese I Poggiarelli from the warmer, southern part of Montalcino at 420m of elevation quite near to Biondi-Santi.

Tommaso Cortonesi is a young superstar full of spirit who knows and understands the beauty and enchantment of wine. Sangiovese that gives you the feeling of having come through a storm because of simple wines that make you happy with the present moment. Also complex wines of great functionality, pragmatism and all due to great work ethic. Tommaso completed his tenure as a Vice-President of the Consorzio Vino Brunello di Montalcino but just watch his father pumping juice at dusk in October and you will understand all there is to know about this family and their dedication to Montalcino. The future is here, in these hands, with great humility, ethos and promise.

With Tommaso Cortonesi

Cortonesi La Mannella Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2018

Tommaso Cortonesi’s Rosso ’18 is pure La Mannella, expressly northeasterly Montalcino and bright as a February Benvenuto Brunello day. Crunchy and raised with all the land caught inside, the fruit expressive and elastic, the finish blessed with just a few years notability by structure. Promising and effective, proper and precise. Still showing some wood so wait a year. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted February 2020

Cortonesi La Mannella Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2017

Lovely aromatics, sexy and spicy, plenty of spice cupboard, herbs and flowers. Smell the argileux and the small rocks littering the vineyards. Tells a story of place so succinctly and what’s coming over the next few years. Sweet acids balance and foil drying tannins for classically trained and executed Rosso. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2019

Cortonesi La Mannella Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2016

Not simply freshness but unction, fruit culpability and basic perfection. The young vines of five years are just now coming into their speciality, that being quality fruit meeting and melting into more than a modicum of grip and structure. You could pour this Rosso for young Brunello seekers and old Rosso knowers. It will solicit and win over their collective hearts.  Last tasted October 2019

#tommaso @cortonesi_wine @brunellodimontalcino

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015

Tommaso Cortonesi’s 2015 Brunello is a ruby-red, spice studded star in 2015, high-toned and so very expressive. What spice oh my, what tripping fantastic light across the tongue and so very taut in its youth. Intensity does not begin to explain the freshness and the youthful nature of its being. Need to revisit La Mannella in one year and the 2015 sangiovese it has gifted in five years or so.  Last tasted February 2020

I’d like to say the tannins on 2015 Annata are sneaky but they are so much more than that. These are grippy, layered and nearly formidable tannins. Good thing the easy, generous and lush fruit is somehow capable of defending itself. Boom this is one of Tommaso Cortonesi’s most accomplished Annata and more capable of aging than even he would probably have guessed he was making. Power and beauty. This is that and more. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted October 2019

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2014

Like the same vintage Rosso the Brunello is showing with perked up freshness and almost no development. Slavonian oak and just the right amount of time has elevated the game and brought all the parts into line. There’s fresh porcini in this moment so no matter that Tommaso found none on a quick forage today. Good earth and crunch from in depth older vines construction and very impressive length. Fine quality for 2014 from a producer to look for when adversity tests your mettle.  Last tasted October 2019

Cortonesi works through the challenge with a sangiovese in 2014 that finds critical mass and therefore celebrates la vita bella in Brunello. With no reason to choose a Vigna-designate nor a Riserva to produce, the best of the best therefore finds its way into this eponymous family Brunello. It’s equipped with notable vintage fruit, finer acids than many and a tannic structure that is not only correct but highly promising. Lengthiness is one of the best in the vintage. Drink 2023-2031.  Tasted February 2019

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2013

The vintage posed more than one problem but success has been won by the Montalcino producer who after the heat waited out the rain, followed by a few weeks of settling and thus allowed their grapes to complete the phenolic journey. Case in point Tommaso Cortonesi’s 2013, a modern, many steps forward taken Brunello with little to no fear of a world hard to figure. It remains calm and focused in light of the challenging vintage. The fruit is intensely driven, the acidity equally so and the finale a continuance of linger in the face of great tension and demand. A northern location and an expertly farmed estate block (as opposed to single-vineyard) is the catalyst to this ’13’s success. The composure and details of minutiae acquiesced add up to a fine effort, not presently a matter of delicasse but certainly a result that is sure and exacting. This will be one of those fortunate Brunelli built to outlast a bigger group conjoined by jammy fruit, green tannin and astringency. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted February 2018

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino I Poggiarelli 2015

Skipping straight pass and over the sunless, tenebrous and obscured 2014 vintage it is this Tommaso Cortonesi 2015 I Poggiarelli that rises from the vineyard looking up the Montalcino hill to the southeastern side. Te offer is an ulterior one, an expression in contrast to what comes from northerly La Mannella. Warmer, fuller and without question more precise. Cortonesi has used the tools available to provide it a bigger architectural frame and the flesh of this vineyard dutifully abides, bedecking the incrustation of the facade and adorning the fills of the interior. Quite structured and yet fully fleshy of 2015 density and weight. Impressive stuff from Tommaso. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted February 2020

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino I Poggiarelli 2013

Tommaso Cortonesi’s Brunello from a single-vineyard at 420m hails from the southeast section of Montalcino. Warmth is not the only advantage/alternative to growing conditions but also soil which is rocky and rich in marl, as opposed to the clay-sandstone earth of the northern vineyards. The expectation persists for richer, deeper and darker, at least in terms of fruit. There is in fact this aphasic maroon sensation felt at the heart of the Poggiarelli matter. The rocks are so important to the southern vines, notably Galestro because it streaks through the tenebrous dimension with a clarity of cool savour. Power is kept in tow so that notes in mind of things like svelte and grace are given due consideration. This southern slice shows Tommaso’s specific mentality, as will the other, but here it’s one of care and precision. Poggiarelli as a cru is not La Mannella, but they are inextricably tied together by their one maker. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted March 2018

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino I Poggiarelli 2012

This is Cortonesi’s single-vineyard sangiovese from the warmer, southern part of Montalcino at 420m of elevation. Expectation allows for deeper, and darker yet the display comes without the La Mannella block crimson and cimmerian variegation, perhaps instead more like the single-brushstroke, dark side of dusk angle created by a fuzzy, warm blend of fiery colours. More Galestro soil influence here as opposed to clay at La Mannella and two years in part new French tonneaux followed by stainless steel vats. A deferential élevage to the one exercised with La Mannella and one to encourage depth and structure without too much power. Classic, modern, elegant and an apple to La Mannella’s orange. Drink 2019-2025.   Tasted February 2017

#Repost @nicholaspearcewines (@get_repost) ・・・ Serious Brunello talk going down #therealmontalcino #cortonesimontalcino @mgodello @marcora85 @barquebbq @brunellodimontalcino

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2012

La Mannella Riserva ’12 is composed of grapes taken from the oldest vines though by a predetermined decision communicated to the consorzio one year before release, whether it turns out to be a vintage from which a Riserva is made or not. This is an essential rule that prohibits producers from not giving a wine an identity. Riserva is a completely different wine than the Annata, as always with more mature notes though here in salumi hyperbole, long aging oak spice and fruit elongation. Cortonesi’s spent four years in large Slavonian oak barrels and at this five point five year mark it turns to wild strawberry, chocolate and cocoa. It’s both elegant and taut while just now beginning to stretch its legs. Even if you can’t quite imagine or envision what will be, there has to be some level of blind-spotting or just plain denial to not see this is as pure magic. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted March 2018

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2010

Now talking post-aggressive behaviour in Riserva not yet advanced ahead of time. There are secondary aromatic hints but the tannins remain in tact, charged and controlling. There’s a circular motion happening hear as fruit and acidity whirl around, outrunning the tannins or at least attempting to. All the sweet things that grow wild and are picked to accent your braises are swirled into the aromatic potpourri of this fine sangiovese of whispers, shadows and silhouettes. It’s a chiaroscuro of a Brunello, all in and we are in turn fully engaged.  Last tasted October 2019

Il Poggione

The story of Tenuta Il Poggione began at the end of the 19th century when Lavinio Franceschi, a landowner from Scandicci, near Florence decided to purchase the estate. Today Tenuta Il Poggione is one of Montalcino’s largest wineries covering an area of 600 hectares, of which 125 hectares are planted with vines. The vineyards are at an altitude between 150 and 450 metres, including Vigna Paganelli, planted in 1964, benefitting from the proximity of Mount Amiata and the Tyyrhenian Sea. Lavinio’s work was carried on through Leopoldo and Livia, followed by current generation Leopoldo Franceschi. In Montalcino Il Poggione is synonymous with the hilltop hamlet of Sant’Angelo in Colle and Consorzio President Fabrizio Bindocci is arguably the “King of Sant’Angelo in Colle.” Since 1999, Bindocci has been General Manager of the Franceschi family’s Il Poggione, for which he has worked since 1976. He was elected in the spring of 2019 and will serve in the position through 2021. Bindocci believes in focusing on and investing in the younger generation.

With Christopher Sealy, Alo Restaurant and Fabrizio Bindocci, President of the Consorzio Vino Brunello di Montalcino

Il Poggione Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2018

Top quality reach in expertly crafted ubiquity makes this a Rosso from the brightly lit vintage for all to explore. Take this road oft taken and use it to gain understanding of the DOC, the village and the ways of local sangiovese. High toned, generously oak spiced and really transparent. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted February 2020

Il Poggione Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2015

Refined and expertly executed if on the side where acidity really makes a play for queen in this Rosso. In a matter for when fruit so red, smoky and ripe is up to the balancing task. Another Rosso that just kills it for the vintage. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted February 2017

Il Poggione Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015

Il Poggione’s tells a Brunello vendemmia tale, in delivery of that vintage’s generous fruit, followed by a generosity of barrel and all the spice it can carry forward. High constituent parts, syncopated for possibility and most likely, probability. That says age will not catch up to a wine of great health because it was taken care of and will continue to take care of itself. You should pay it the same respect. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Il Poggione Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2014

This is found to be a dense, compressed and intense sangiovese and as a result the tannins are quite formidable at this youthful early stage of its evolution. Nothing says strutura like this angular and impressive Brunello but anything less than five years of patience will do little to offer an immediate or near-term reward. Plus the necessity for fruit longevity is part of the package of hope. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted February 2018

Talenti

Talenti

“Everything starts from the Pian di Conte estate.” That is where Pierluigi Talenti moved from Romagna to set up shop. Today, his grandson Riccardo Talenti runs the winery and continues to tirelessly research so that he can make some of Montalcino’s most important sangiovese. “Pian di Conte” is a stone’s thrown from Sant’Angelo in Colle, on the southern slope of the Montalcino hill and occupies a total of 40 hectares. The vineyards are divided into eleven different plots, each with different altitude, exposure and soil composition.

Talenti’s Brunello and Rosso come from vines in Sant’Angelo in Colle and Castelnuovo dell’Abate, a selection of sangiovese grown in estate-owned vineyards situated on the south-easterly and south-westerly slopes of the municipality of Montalcino, at altitudes carrying from 250 to 400 metres above sea level. The Brunelli spend over two years ageing in fine Allier and Slavonian oak. Pian del Conte is a Riserva from the oldest vineyards, near the centre of the estate (400m above sea level) and only made in exceptional years. Selezione Piero comes from two of the 20 estate hectares in Castelnuovo dell’Abate dedicated to the vineyard Paretaio, planted to a sangiovese clone selected by Pierluigi Talenti.

With Riccardo Talenti

Talenti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015

Riccardo Talenti’s Brunello is always a combinative, bringing together of double entendre ideals in the name of achieving the great estate balance. Fruit for the sangiovese comes from vineyards both southwest and southeast of Montalcino, aging is done 60-40 in 500L tonneaux and grandi botti of French and Slavonian oak. The vintage that does it all, a largesse of fresh fruit, the earth liquified in sand, clay, Galestro mineral and finally, the most stretched and generous tannin imaginable. The pinnacle and epitome of professionally executed high quality Brunello that never abandons its sense of place. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted February 2020

Talenti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2014

Here comes a sangiovese with swagger and confidence born and bred out of understanding and finesse. Sweet rose and violet candied floral fruit gives way to a caressing palate of fine acids and some of the vintage’s finer tannin. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2019

Talenti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2013

Talenti’s Annata comes from vineyards in the area of Castelnuovo dell’Abate and like the Rosso but 10 times more concentrated and focused this is sangiovese of a most intense aromatic, flavourful and textured liqueur. Cherries never came swelling and macerating so succinctly pure and fascinating as they do here, taking every advantage of vintage and how it works in conjunction with place. This is what happens when vines spend long hours in an arid yet humid place to develop grapes for the purpose of variegation and structure. The layers will take two years to peel away and expose the true character, followed by five more for a classic transparency of expression. Talent’s 2013 builds like a jet engine preparing the craft for take-off. The two years will pass and you’ll then feel the angle skywards while you press back in your seat. This is the effect created by truly tactile Brunello. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted March 2018

Talenti Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Pian Di Conte 2015

A Sant’Angelo in Colle viilage treasure is this Riserva made from fruit grown on estate vines at 400m just northwest of the administrative frazione. There is so much wine, substance and intensity at play in this near massive 2015. It is one with a soft core in its heart and so you can imagine the elasticity, nimble agility and the incredible length that will be the matter when the time comes to right. That fruition is at least five if not to be 10 years away. So much fruit from which tonneaux, grandi botti and variegated soils support the idea. Drink 2025-2035.  Tasted February 2020

Talenti Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Pian Di Conte 2013

A Sant’Angelo in Colle treasure is this Riserva made from fruit grown at 400m nearby. One year later the fruit just seems to rise, swell and flesh with great fervour.  Last tasted February 2020

Pian di Conte is only made in the worthiest of years from a select curation of grapes, much like Piero that comes off of 20-plus year-old vines out of two highly specific blocks on 20 hectares in Castelnuovo dell’Abate. At 400m of altitude it is the special vineyard Paretaio, planted to a sangiovese clone selected by Pierluigi Talenti. The ’13 Riserva exhibits that combination of wise and stylish, a well-dressed and seasoned veteran Brunello with expertise born of talent and ethic. The acids are some of the most succulent for 2013 Riserva, surrounding, lifting and extolling the virtues of a well-executed harvest. The texture meets the architecture in a seamless transition though not without that notable crossroads of tension-welling acidity and tannin. Impressive wine. Drink 2023-2036.  Tasted February 2019

Talenti Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Pian Di Conte 2012

Two of the 20 estate hectares in Castelnuovo dell’Abate are dedicated to the the vineyard Paretaio, planted to a sangiovese clone selected by Pierluigi Talenti. Pian di Conte is only made in years deemed worthy of carefully selected grapes from 20-plus year-old vines out of this highly specific, 400m of altitude micro-climate block. It’s a wow Riserva from 2012, perfumed with classic extra time in barrel that Annata Brunello only seems to reach. Notes like dark berries, pipe smoulder and rich ganache, the 2012 is already showing some maturity signs of integration. It’s a fineness of tart dark citrus styled-sangiovese wrapped so tightly around the structure’s finger, indelibly inked, modern and with all parts fine-tuned in synchronicity. Riservas will often sting until they pass at least a ten-year mark but Talenti’s croons romantically with stand-up base note ease. For Montalcino it’s a hit of the vintage and to it I can safely say “I can see the destiny you sold turned into a shining band of gold.”  Drink 2020-2030. Tasted March 2018

Vigna La Casa, Montalcino

Caparzo

Caparzo is located in the north of Montalcino where you can find the famous Montosoli hill and cru and is owned by Elisabetta Gnudi Angelini. The Caparzo Brunello is the label with the signature of Elisabetta Gnudi, an anniversary wine that spends three years in botti grandi. From the south-facing vineyard on the north quadrant of Montalcino is the single-vineyard La Casa, true ambasciatore of Caparzo’s Galestro-dominant terroir and residing next to sister Vigna Brunello Montosoli which is bottled under the Altesino label. 

Elisabetta’s daughter Alessandra Angelini earned her undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering from La Sapienza University in Romeand participated in research projects designing Formula 1 cars and racing dinghies. In 2013, she began working for Rolls Royce North America designing airplane engines. In 2008 she was a member of the Italian Olympic Sailing team. She returned to the family business of wine and hospitality in 2017.

Caparzo Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2018

Though the fruit source is an amalgamation of Montalcino in a multi-disparate form you can’t help but feel or at least sense the Galestro of Montosoli young vines making their way into this Rosso. Wet stone, crumbled earth’s elements and a crust of decomposition meets the cherries head on for a salty and sharp sangiovese. Really proper wine here. You know it, I know it, they will know it. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Caparzo Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2016

As in the Caparzo 2015 in Brunello the fruit bounds forward with red juiciness that Rosso di Montalcino raised in Grandi Botti will do from a gathering of fruit wide ranging in scope. Once again the vivid and bright acidity takes on citrus and sweet herbs but there’s a darker feel to this 2016. Raised on promises perhaps but after all, she was, a Montalcino girl. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted October 2019

Caparzo Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015 

Caparzo is surely driven by the wood it spends quality time in getting to know and the material sent to those barrels is up to the mixing and swirling task. You understand this fruit and its dark cherry upbringing. You inuit the way vessels work through the pores while acidity flushes and raises the level of ability. Finally you get to know these sweet tannic grains and chains that work magic for the fruit. Will all come together soon, or at least sooner than many vintages. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Caparzo Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2014

Caparzo’s is blessed with a sweet aromatic perfume, at once exotic but also different. At first it’s almost as if it strikes like riesling with botrytis-affected fruit notes but no, it’s more about flowers and fruit on the ripe side of life. The fruit is drawn from a few Montalcino poles but the southern blocks are what try hardest to keep it balanced. In the end it’s highly consumable, commercial and drinkable. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2019

Caparzo Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2013

The Caparzo Brunello 2013 is the label with the signature of Elisabetta Gnudi, a celebratory anniversary wine that spent three years in botti grandi. Caparzo’s Classic sangiovese gathers fruit from several sources, including the northern vineyard where La Casa is borne. This deep inhalant and liqueur also delves into earthly sand, Galestro and clay microbes in which earth and fruit challenge the notion of complexity and to which direction it pulls the senses. The earthy funk sifted though black cherry rich and always fresh and elegant fruit assumptions tells us this is part of the vintage package. High acidity into slightly volatile air confirms and eventually carries the visa to conform. Drying tannins are not a huge surprise considering the pressing matters of this wine. The low alcohol, easy to access, fresh and fleshy sangiovese carries a feeling, final and calm. Lovely wine. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted twice, February 2018

Caparzo Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG La Casa 2015

The ripeness of La Casa in 2015 is at the precipice if not the next step where denouement begins in descent. The aromas are quite fine and discreet while the flavours pool in a deep well of full on berry and plum, dusty and of a twinge that’s Ribena in twangy tang. It is what it is, this version of gregarious 2015, seemingly easy and generous but the pick was all you had. Great La Casa is spot on. This one misses by a hair. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2020

Caparzo Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG La Casa 2013

Tasting Caparzo’s home block Vigna La Casa 2013 this young may be even more difficult an assessment than looking at 2012 this time last year. But if noting what a year further in bottle did for that 2012 than some plenitude must be afforded the more confounding 2013. From the south-facing vineyard on the north quadrant of Montalcino, La Casa sits next to sister Montosoli (Altesino) and its pure fruit doles out high-level Montalcino elegance and in more ways than the normale Caparzo. It also behaves with more calm and collected demeanour. Though reduced with early bite and taut finings this is clearly a very refined Caparzo for the people. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted February 2018

Caparzo Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG La Casa 2012

From the south-facing vineyard on the north quadrant of Montalcino, quicker to amalgamate and settle than many in the region, the ’12 single-vineyard La Casa is a true ambasciatore of Caparzo terroir, rich and regaling but lithe and elegant. If you are trying to gain an understanding of the Caparzo way this is the place to start, in 2012, from a living, breathing Vigna, out of the storied vineyard. Perfume and finesse are special and this is how it’s done, without pretension and with class. So much to learn from an extra year in bottle. Drink 2019-2026.  Last tasted February 2018

Caparzo’s Vigna La Casa is quite rich and more approachable than many at such an early stage with the home vineyard ready to provide both the beauty and the stuffing almost before you realize you can sit down with a bottle to enjoy. It is refreshing to take a Vigna-designate bottle and be offered the immediacy of fruit though La Casa is more than capable with structure to take it through a five year primary stage. Some interest will develop after that but these early years will be the best. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2017

Good to go!

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