17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

As we taste through the #NWAC17 finals we thank @ZWILLING_CA for the rocking great glassware. Canadian wines are better for these vessels.

I first published this year-end summary of Canadian wine excellence in 2013 and four years on that original list of 13 has expanded with four more. It’s a good thing too because four years later 17 wines is but a fraction of what could or should be included. This exercise is more than difficult. It’s 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, to tell the insolent they are not welcome here anyway. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it. Roll out the red carpet. Here they come.

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

My writing about wine is a display that spills everything but subtraction, reduction and minimalism. It is an occupation whose reality is examined to points of madness, of long, run-on sentences, often at odds with grammatical winemaking realism. My tireless, tiring sentences and phrasing can at times offer a feeling that is potentially endless. So thanks for reading and putting up with me.

As I have noted before, I try to visit wines more than once before reviewing them, preferably from more than one bottle but even more importantly, with a good chunk of time having passed between assessments. The most complete picture is drawn from such a course of critical action but it’s not always possible. Not a single one of these 17 wines were decided upon at a single VINTAGES release, sterile and windowless LCBO laboratory tasting. The nearly 2000 wines (of which approximately were 20 percent Canadian) that I tasted in the LCBO lab in 2017 are kept, compartmentalized, reviewed and stored over at WineAlign. They are forged from and formed by a very specific, of the fleeting moment style. They are the results of root days and fruit days, often plagued by other writers present levels of distraction and time constraints. These 17 wines are children of repeated concentration and stand out because the makers went out of their way to bring them to me.

Please allow me to quote Wes Anderson. “It is an extremely common mistake, people think the writer’s imagination is always at work, that he’s constantly inventing an endless supply of incidents and episodes, that he simply dreams up his stories out of thin air. In point of fact, the opposite is true. Once the public knows you’re a writer, they bring the characters and events to you and as long as you maintain your ability to look and to carefully listen, these stories will continue to…,” continue to provide what you need to entertain your readers. Thank you to the winemakers for sharing their stories time and time again.

Related – 15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015


If 2016 was a most difficult year, what does that say about 2017? It was a most dippy, derisory, barmy and yet chimerical one. Once again too many special people were taken from us and in Ontario, no one more important to everyone who works in wine than Karl Kaiser. It can and should be argued that the industry we all call home is at its 2017 state because of Mr. Kaiser and what he pioneered more than 40 years ago. Karl Kaiser was eulogized by Brock University’s Dan Dakin. Please take the time to read it.

Related – Karl Kaiser left indelible mark on Brock University

Once again we all lost someone close to us in 2017. Celebrity deaths, especially the ones of loved musicians seem to hit us the hardest because we relive moments of our lives when their songs are played. I’ll ask the social media trolls to walk on past and to once again, please respect our reminiscences.

Gregg Allman. Richard Anderson. Harvey Atkin. Walter Becker. Chester Bennington. Johnny Bower. Chuck Berry. Glen Campbell. David Cassidy. Chris Cornell. Jonathan Demme. Fats Domino. Dick Enberg. Stephen Furst. J. Geils. Robert Guillaume. Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay. Connie Hawkins. John Hurt. Al Jarreau. Martin Landau. Jerry Lewis. Erin Moran. Sir Roger Moore. Bryan Murray. Charlie Murphy. Bill Paxton. Tom Petty. Della Reese. Don Rickles. Sam Shepard. Joni Sledge. Keely Smith. Harry Dean Stanton. Y. A. Tittle. Mary Tyler Moore. Adam West. Malcom Young. Joanne Godel.

Don’t forget the pouring rain

There was more than enough good news out of 2017, especially from Ontario. After one of the wettest summers on record and this looming harvest of disaster everything changed. The temperatures hit 30 degrees and remained there for much of September. October obliged with warm and slowly declining temperatures with very little precipitation. Not only was the 2017 vintage saved but it became one of the great phenolic ripeness stories in wine country history. Quality high. Check. Quantity high. Check. Win win for wine.

The year continued to throw thousands of wines my way. I did travel more and so the international count ran higher at the expense of the local. I plan to fix that in 2018. Things have a way of balancing out anyway. Still I’m sure I tasted close to 1000 Canadian wines once again. We continued to pay great attention to Canadian wines at the WineAlign office. I once again joined the judging with Tony Aspler at the Ontario Wine Awards, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and with David Lawrason at Gold Medal Plates.

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

My wine on tap program at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar welcomed a third child to the family when we opened Barque Smokehouse Burlington in August. With that opening we were proud to partner with Rosewood Estates to join the family that over the years has included Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus, Leaning Post, Between the Lines, Coyote’s Run, Vineland Estates and Creekside Estates.

It began, as it always does with Niagara’s Icewine Festival in January and in February there were Thirteen ways to taste Cuvée. In March I found Fifty ways to Taste Ontario and then travelled to Germany for Godello’s March through Prowein, The Ahr Valley and The Rheinhessen. As a Canadian and a representative of Wine Country Ontario I hung around the Canadian pavilion, talked with our coast to coast winemakers, vintners and marketing representatives, took in the seminars on cool climate wines led by David and Dr. Janet Dorozynski and of course, tasted some wines.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

In the company of #family so thank you judges, friends and badasses #NWAC17 #killedit

Any major dude will tell you

At the Terroir Hospitality Symposium in May we debated the highly controversial new category of Skin-Contact wines in Ontario. Orange is the new smack should have been my title but instead I chose to talk through hushed tones in Pop goes VQA, a story in three parts, each one more misunderstood than the others. It would take months to come to better and more improved conclusions to that haughty complex story.

In June we convened the WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards in the Annapolis Valley. It was the first time that Nova Scotia hosted our motley crew and what a smashing success it was. Great thanks must go out to all our tremendous hosts including Wines of Nova Scotia, Domiane de Grand Pré, Benjamin Bridge Vineyards, Blomidon Estate, Annapolis Cider Company and Obladee Wine Bar in Halifax.

In July I once again made the pilgrimage to i4c, the International Chardonnay Cool Climate Conference, “the local mecca attracting thousands, arriving to praise chardonnay in all its glory. It’s chanted with incantatory connotation by patrons cantilevered like alluvial fans across the Niagara Peninsula. It teaches us about more than chardonnay because the rapidity of climate change is real and the desire for fresh is yet unquenched. This transcends chardonnay. It’s about growing grapes and making wines in places we all previously discounted. Recently scoffed at. It concerns farming higher, further and edgier. This conference and this grape together let us know that we must change.”

At i4c we welcomed California’s Karen MacNeil, Dr, Jamie Goode, Bill Zacharkiw, Treve Ring, Kurtis Kolt and Rhys Pender MW and then I penned 69 chardonnay reviews. What did Godello learn from Cool Chardonnay in 2017? After a visit to Pearl Morissette I learned from François Morissette, vigneron about oxidation.“Whatever we press, we oxidize. We do not oxidize wine, we oxidize must.” There’s a big difference. The stabilization of these wines are attributed to this idea of getting rid of all oxidizable compounds before they enter into the next stages of the winemaking process. Pleasing aromas, flavours, textures and ultimately the sum of the above elevates the cool chardonnay game and speaks to the future. But I did not learn enough. I needed to move beyond the ubiquity of cool climate. I wanted to understand more about cold soaking and whole berry fermentation. Just last week Pearl Morissette’s savant winemaker Brent Rowland sent me these words of enlightenment.

“This is the main reason I am such an advocate to whole bunch fermentation. The best tannin and worst tannin are seed tannin, depending on how you extract them…heat and alcohol rip out aggressive angular tannins. By keeping the berry attached to the rachis for as long as possible you are creating a little microenvironment for fermentation that is low heat and low alcohol, enabling you to slowly extract long polymerized tannins. This and perfume is the reason I do everything whole bunch. To me whole bunch has nothing to do with the stems, tannins from stems or flavour of stems.” He continues. “I absolutely think that skin contact wines can have elevated structure and texture. I also do not subscribe to the idea that some arbitrary number like “10 days” defines the genre. I did say that Orange wine is not an in-between wine but its own genre and I believe that. For the record I feel the less rigid the criteria for the category the better. As you state the broader the category the more opportunity for discovery of a valued category.” Thank you mate.

Be part of the Greatest Wine Revolution since Prohibition.

Where are we one year later?

I’ve two words for you. WineAlign Exchange. The WineAlign Exchange taps into the world of wines beyond the LCBO and delivers a curated, mixed case of top quality wines directly to your door. All the wines have been carefully chosen by our panel of critics for their quality and value. David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Steve Thurlow and Godello. The first case delivered to hundreds of members was an all Platinum Award winners pack from the National Wine Awards of Canada. In terms of free trade we await a decision but don’t expect a miracle in 2018, Christmas or otherwise. As for the VQA panel in Ontario? Well, read my article referenced above and you’ll get my drift.

One of my favorite wines I tasted in 2017. All killer no filler. Beautifully ripe #cabernetfranc nice layers of cocoa, red, and black fruit. Tannin is liquid silk. Can_t wait for next

Let’s be Franc

Cabernet Franc is getting better all the time. In British Columbia the coolest sites are increasingly raising fresh, spirited and ultimately crushable wines with unmistakable west coast accents; savour, garrigue and mountain tea. With thanks to venn diagram circles drawn in and out of Niagara’s Lincoln Lakeshore, but also magically deep into the Prince Edward County limestone, the great Ontario hope is developing into what we thought it might be. Getable and structured red wine.

New World cabernet franc growing sites produce less delineation as compared to the various lieux-dites in the varietal homeland, France’s Loire Valley. Niagara is beginning to enter into an Old World state of mind, so now winemakers and by extension wine geeks, are posturing over micro-terroirs; Niagara-on-the-Lake, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, St. David’s Bench, Lincoln Lakeshore, Four Mile Creek. The same is happening in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley although the cumulative stylistic is worlds (four provinces to be exact) apart. In Nova Scotia Benjamin Bridge Vineyards’ viticultural and vinifying braintrust of Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Scott Savoy are allocating serious resources to cabernet franc in the Gaspereau Valley. But how is it that decisions are made as to where to plant this crisp, juicy and crunchy grape? While many will disagree, if you consider growing sites as circles within the aforementioned venn diagram, in Canadian soils the shared subtleties can easily get buried or muddled within the common areas. The lines may be drawn but the web is tangled. That said, the story of franc terroir is getting clearer and clearer. Interloper carries the torch.

Tonight brought to you by #interloper and the inner beauty of #cabernetfranc @RavineVineyard #vqaniagaraonthelake

At this most recent NWAC17 judging experience the results from cabernet franc paints a more palatable picture than those brushed by both merlot and cabernet sauvignon. We are collectively impressed with and solidly behind the direction growers and winemakers are taking with this noble varietal. The 546 acres planted in B.C. are rising steadily and if I were merlot I’d be looking in the rear-view mirror. In Ontario more than 4,000 tonnes were harvested in 2015, third to only chardonnay and riesling. Four of five Gold Medals were Ontario in origin, 10 of 16 were awarded Silver and 10 of 17, Bronze. While only four in Ontario are labled “LL,” no less than 10 of the 24 winners were made with at least some significant amount of fruit grown in the Lincoln Lakeshore/Beamsville Bench circle of commonality. The sites we want to call “cru” are no longer a mystery.

Taskmasters not pictured #punchdowns #interloper

I can’t say this list is full of surprises, save for the first of 17. You see this particular wine is close to my heart because I had a hand in its concept and design. My partner Scott Zebarth and I teamed up with winemakers Marty Werner and Ben Minaker at Ravine Vineyards to produce what we all feel is the most exciting fresh breath of cabernet franc air to arrive in Ontario in quite some time. It’s obviously self-serving to put it on a best of the year list but we are very proud of this project and its inaugural effort. If you’ve tried it you know. If you haven’t, give me a ring. We’ll break Interloper bread together. To the other 16, welcome to the list.

Scott, Marty, Ben and I are proud to present the now SOLD OUT #interloper Cabernet Franc 2016. We’ll be back next year #vqa #niagaraonthelake #ravinevineyard

Interloper 2016, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario ($19.95)

Produced at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery with the winemaking team of Martin Werner and Ben Minaker

Variety: 100 per cent cabernet franc

Fruit source: 55 per cent Estate (St. David’s Bench), 40 Creek Road, five Tanbark (Four Mile Creek)

Harvest Dates: October 26th and November 5th, 2017

Time on skins: Estate 26 days, Creek 21 days

Length and type of fermentation: Three weeks, ambient/wild for both

Élévage: Eight months in old 225 L French barrels

Case Production: 22

mgodello  scottzebarth  marty_werner  benminaker23  ravinevineyard

Charles Baker Riesling B-Side 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Vinyl records sound different because they are designed with grooves carved in that mirrors the original sound’s wave form. Their analog recording delivers a sensory feeling of warmth, an aural of texture, nuance and soul. There was a time when the hits spun over and over were also pressed onto the A-Side of 45 rpm singles. The discovery of a never before heard B-Side was a revelation because is was extra material from a favourite band and it was a great song. It meant the record was already too strong for that song to make the final cut and to choose it for a B-Side meant it would elevate the quality of the album. A well-chosen B was not an afterthought. This is the accomplishment of the first Charles Baker’s B-Side, for itself and for the vineyards of Iaen and Picone. Baker digs about in the Niagara Peninsula’s escarpment dirt for young vine, not ready for prime time riesling fruit. If perchance it seems like cheating on his per se Vinemount Ridge Picone and Ivan bottles so be it but one look at him and he’ll say “Hey, hey, what can I do?” His 2016 B-Side delivers a spray bottle Zeppelin expressing heady aromas, high in the stratosphere and raining down upon the earth. The notes are an all in, breath of classic Baker riesling air, blanketing from up above and with a landscape that reeks of lime and quivers with classic agitation. The fruit is wild and full, the salty grit infiltrating and gripping the bloody omniscience of this package. What is this B-Side and where will it be lead? To the top of the ridge, from earlier harvests, younger fruit and higher yields. Scratch the single vineyard elitism, just listen to the song and raise one up, to getting ‘er done before the conceptual singular side one and side two, Ivan and Picone. The Beatles? Forget it. Led’s flip side to the ‘Immigrant Song’ A is the one. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted November 2017  Charles Baker Wines  stratuswines  @cbriesling  @StratusWines  Stratus Vineyards

Tawse Riesling Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (198853, $24.50, WineAlign)

There is no substitute for seasonal Vinemount Ridge warmth when you are (or even if you’re not) trying to emulate a Mosel like, fleshy Kabinett tension. The Tawse Quarry Road riesling has shown signs of such mimicry in the past but here in 2016 the coincidence is uncanny. Riesling amounts to just 10 per cent of the 2007 planted vineyard, a Fly Road in Lincoln block where chardonnay (planted in 1998) and pinot noir (2007) are queen and king of the hill. But it is riesling that mines for limestone and uses it to distill, filter and enervate the outright fruity purposes of orange zest, lime juice and sweet grapefruit flesh. This ’16 has it all; adipose drupe, salty elements and stasis preserve. It will add some petrol and honey after a few years time and drink well for a few to a bevy more. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted November 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (AgentWinery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Hard to believe what I see, a hue not blush nor pink, but gris. That “if my eyes don’t deceive me there’s something going wrong around here.” Forget about Provençe, don’t think too hard about Vin Gris but concentrate only on what Shiraz Mottiar has acceded with Rosé for Moira in ’16. Light and lithe do not begin to explain the rub. Rocks and stones are what come through the good earth on the nose. Is this the blush equivalent of mineralité, away from chardonnay and into pinot noir? “Is she really going out with him?” But the pinot noir component is almost non-existent so what is the phenolic advantage here? Has this gone too far or not far enough? Don’t mistake the things I say. This is delicious, understated and fully underestimated Rosé. It will have great appeal to a specific cognoscenti population and who could not think to drink it any day of the week? Commercially considered however, it may not speak a universal language. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  malivoire  shirazmottiar  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @MalivoireWine

Flat Rock Riesling Nadja’s Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (578625, $24.95, WineAlign)

Nadja, like the Bréton novel begins with the question, “Who am I?” A surrealistic trigger is incited by the first taste, with excitement running in many directions but like the book, Nadja’s non-linear structure is grounded in Twenty Mile Bench riesling reality. She is an elite varietal wine in 2016, excitable girl, gregarious, punchy and so bloody juicy. I don’t recall the last Nadja with so much up front zest fervency and writhing aromatic gait, “exploding international, the scenes, the sounds, and famously the feeling that you can’t squeeze ground.” The lime flesh and cordial infusion brings the flavours into a once tropical, twice bitten realm. The vintage delivers the electric version, the new pornographer for the vineyard and the song sung loud swan song for departing winemaker Jay Johnstone. Was it all for swinging you around? Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted October 2017  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

First Fruit: Field Day Pet Nat, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

An escarpment Pet-Nat is born, thanks to the healthy and precocious idealism of winemaker Ryan de Witte and his Winona-based host Ilya Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines. The name “First Fruit: Field Day” carries three connotations; a reference to De Witte’s first commercial wine, the first crop off this particular block and the fact that it’s a field blend of two grapes. The erudite hat is thrown into the micro-cuvée, sparkling wine ring with interchangeable tracks of arts and science from near-equal parts muscat (60 per cent) and gewürztraminer. The style is pétillant-naturel, or as they say in Italy, Vino Rifermentato In Bottiglia, under crown cap with what Ryan notes “as much of the lees as I could get in.” The tightrope induces a two-fold increase, of reduction and for texture, from the nutrients fed the fermentation. De Witte’s math was sound because the effervescence is strong enough to blow the reduction off after a few seconds in the glass. One point for science. After tasting two samples I can safely say that the yeast deposit can’t be missed but it is those crafty and leaningpostwineconsolidated cells that drive the salvus meets salus machine. This lithe, re-fermented and crackling sparkler is both safe and healthy. You can feel its enzymes usher liquid happiness through your body and it makes you pause, leave the warrior behind and become at one with the experimental fizz. It’s raw and you want it to be so. The aromatic varieties collogue preserved lemon, ginger and aseptic vegetal scents in an almost funk-less Pet-Nat. It’s an impossible one actually, that is until you get a load of that slag at the bottom of the bottle. But the lack of danceable, rhythmic funk may deny you a Cissy Strut so think on it like Foam meets Talking Heads as in minimal, industrial, synth-pop. Or, in sparkling wine terms, one Pet-Nat’s riflessioni naturalische is another one’s clarity. One point for art. The intrigue here sets the bar high and looking ahead, when acidity can further provide boundless rhythm section support we’ll really have something to talk about. Inaugurals are never easy, nor is progress but the sophomore release will most certainly play on repeat. Let’s hope someone finds a category to place it for three-letter approval. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted Twice, February 2017  leaningpostwine  @LeaningPostWine  @Witte_Wine  Leaning Post Wines  Ryan de Witte

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2015, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

In a word, balance. Well two, balance and brilliance. CSV in 2015 takes the reigns from itself and stands firm. The fruit is in charge, the mineral a support system unparalleled and the minor celebratory sweetness a mere afterthought when it comes to rounding out the complexity. CSV is pretty darn back in ancient dolomite time travel and escarpments high great in 2015, uplifting, serious but yet not so. The numbers trip the light fantastic, fooling like gold and bones dry are seemingly preserved in karst but impossibly not. The sensoria apprised reel from the finest acidity it can possibly carry in its veritable truth. Deep lemon intent and a new wax vernacular speak the clarity of a wine that listens to its own expert advice. Might as well have made itself. CSV 2015 is one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted March 2017  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine – Robert Groh Agency

Sneak peak in the @TriusWines Meunier with Craig McDonald and a true Niagara Grand Cru @coolchardonnay site #lincolnlakeshore #oliveiravineyards #vqa #wildferment

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment Oliveira Vineyard 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $36.75, WineAlign)

When you consider the level of quality provided by the Wild Ferment 2014 it would be hard to imagine raising the bar any further but this is what winemaker Craig McDonald has managed with his exceptional 2015. The accomplishment is purely based on one year older, wiser and complexities developed Oliveira Farm vineyard fruit, the holy chardonnay grail, Lincoln Lakeshore playground. The site sits along the QEW below the escarpment’s Twenty Mile and Beamsville benches, a recipient of glacial till and rocks left behind by an ancient river running from a lake. It’s a chardonnay wonderland. Intensity of fruit purity, fleshy and real, remarkably juicy and notably crunchy has increased, upping the pleasure game and turning the impression knob up to 11. The windmill generates more power while always maintaining a classic Trius level of finesse. Then you think on the wood integration, equally impressionable because acidity is sweet and refined. Dry extract is also impressive, not to mention a fineness of grape tannin. The site’s unofficial designation as a Niagara Grand Cru should be upgraded with status. There is no better time than the present and the Wild Ferment’s 2015 ability is proof enough. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted July 2017   triuswines  @TriusWines  @triuswines

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Madeline Cabernet Franc 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

From the 19th Street Vineyard and wow, there is simply no cabernet franc like this cabernet franc. It pops and flies from the glass, in and out of your mouth, playful, buoyant, joyful, unbridled. A silky and spicy ripeness that’s also shed by its tannin, like shavings of a chocolate only a master knows to render, then currants electric and alive. Excels by its chewy mouthfeel and texture and you must ruminate on this cabernet franc. This is the it vintage, with all the enzymes in control, wrapped up in the enigma membrane and this low, classical Beethoven orchestral strings rumble, on a Verona stage, surrounded by the ancient rocks, acoustics perfect. You can get lost in franc like this. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (639641, $43.95, WineAlign)

Some of the Okanagan Valley’s great chardonnay fruit is found on its eastern shore and makes its way into this Quail’s Gate Reserve. The story and place go back 60 plus years and wait if you can’t nose it in this top North American chardonnay. Forget comparisons, competitions and blind judgements but pull anything you want from Sonoma and watch this raise eyebrows and turn heads. The variegations are numerous and in replay. Richness, bite, energy, spirit and firm conceit. The barrel is everywhere and nowhere. What is a great chardonnay? It’s completely invisible, yet always in sight. It remembers what people hate. It anticipates the consumer’s needs before the needs are needed. A great chardonnay is, above all, discreet to a fault. Such is the Stewart Family Reserve. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted October 2017   quails gate  hobbsandcompany  @Quails_Gate  @AMH_hobbsandco  Quails’ Gate  Hobbs & Co.

Sparkling wine you need to know @lwwines Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut 2013, from the shores of the #minasbasin #annapolisvalley #novascotia

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blanc Extra Brut 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot presented an early, less leesy glimpse of their 100 per cent estate chardonnay at i4c in July of 2016. It was a different animal than this recently disgorged (late February/early March) sparkling wine. The Extra Brut lives up to its designation, from fruit grown on the shores of the Minas Basin under the auspices of a markedly warm year with exceptional phenolic ripeness and 25 per cent malolactic gain. The time relative to texture lees accumulation is approximately 40 months and it’s an accurate representation of Nova Scotia low and slow. The flavours are wisely developed ripe and spicy, leaning into a moment or two of oxygenation, but seemingly richer than the amount of lees time that was given. Now emerging from the shell of not just a warm but a great chardonnay year (as previously proven by the Ancienne released two years ago). The notion here is of a sparkling wine that has been brought home, a B de B that you need to get to know. There are layers and layers of character that fold and unfold. The precision, focus and rendering is citrus tamed, mouthfeel in perpetual expansion and contraction, length linear and elastic. And it’s just the beginning. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted June 2017  lwwines  @lwwines  Lightfoot & Wolfville

Blomidon Late Pick Sparkling Chardonnay 2011, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

The 2011 late-picked chardonnay, the “Hurricane” is a hyperbole of itself. Normally picked in later October, the frost-free weather allowed further time and development. Picked from seaside vineyards just ahead of another hurricane (in a season that included Irene), this is sparkling wine you just have to try. Though lean, taut and as intense as you are likely to taste, the developed character and complexity is visionary for Nova Scotia and Canadian sparkling wine. Three years on the lees brings the texture and fills the gaps, holes and voids created by such a tightly wound cool climate chardonnay. The dry factor is exaggerated in 2011 (a one-off says winemaker Simon Rafuse) but the wine takes full advantage of the Extra-Brut intent. Did it require the anxiety of a recent and an impending cyclone? Can it be duplicated? “That’s the story of the Hurricane.” Visionary for Nova Scotia and Canadian sparkling wine. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017  blomidonestate  @BlomidonEstate  Blomidon Estate Winery

Southbrook Poetica Red 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (355859, $69.95, WineAlign)

It seems at first that Poetica 2013 was chosen by winemaker Ann Sperling to be the deferential one. The blend is dominated by 74 per cent cabernet sauvignon, the highest number ever for the wine. Conversely the cabernet franc component is set to 23 per cent and far less petit verdot (3 per cent) rounds out the blend. That number had been 29 per cent in 2012 because the varietal elegance shown at that time necessitated the relationship. In 2013 it is the cabernet sauvignon that displayed with elegance and an uncanny ability to sow of its own accord and yes, it is an exceptional vintage so look for 2013 to age on a 15 year curve. The Witness Block CS-CF follows suit and the SV-PV is better off for the allocations. Every wine wins as a result. There is this deep-impressed sous-terre tang in here, a wisdom certainly, and when it is released later in the year the heads will turn. Poetica is often but here not overly tannic, but it is endowed with bones, spine and structure. The flavours, spice and magnetism give cause to salivate. Only Ann Sperling makes Niagara reds like this, wines that can develop such architecture without an excess of tannin, astringency and chalky chocolate from over-wrought wood exchange. Poetica 2013 will drink well young and comfortably into the end of the next decade. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted January 2017  southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @TheLivingVine  @SouthbrookWine   @SouthbrookWine  The Living Vine inc.

A finer man, winemaker and host you will not find. Thank you @normanhardie @keeponshucking @clarsenault @cuveeletittia @Mknow21 @mclauriault and all.

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Cuvée Des Amis 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $150.00, 1500ml, WineAlign)

As exceptional as chardonnay may have seemed from out of the 2013 Ontario vintage you haven’t lived or loved until you get a taste of (only in magnum format) Norm Hardie’s 2014 Cuvées des Amis. This chardonnay attacks and ascends, recalibrating the inner workings of the brain and how it develops conceptualization. It is a state of the art and all-knowing elixir to remind that ’13 was a vintage with profitable yields and a generously stretched canvas on which to practice on, for when things begin to get real. The CdeA spent 18 months in barrel, the first 12 (in 35 per cent new), the next six in neutral and the last six in stainless steel on the fine lees. The spin class in the mouth manages agility, dextrous, furtive movement and completes many pirouettes. The dance is pure joy but the intensity is equally to disturbingly intrusive, suggesting more settling time is necessary. The flavour pearls are delicate and come straight from the oyster so they carry salinity, power and brine. Pure lemon essence is received by intravenous injection. Sumptuous is translated from Hardie-speak as a four-letter, Prince Edward County word. It doesn’t get more real than right here, with the best fruit, the tripping of the light fantastic, previously unheard and unseen unconscionable concentration. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted twice, June and July 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  Norman Hardie

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Syrah 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $80.00, WineAlign)

Èquinoxe is announced without equivocation as the Bricco of B.C. syrah and an absolutely lovely Bench expression from winemaker Severine Pinte. What came from these three-quarters Osoyoos Lake District and one-quarter Black Sage vineyards in 2013 was floral and peppery, with a fineness that belies a dessert climate but in 2014, well this is something more and other. You just have to think about texture here and a quality of acidity that is peerless in B.C. syrah. So juicy, beautifully tannic and rendered with culture and class. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2017  levieuxpin  @LeVieuxPin  Le Vieux Pin Winery

My eyes do not deceive me. It’s Decant @StratusWines #cabernetfranc bottled with lees #vqa #niagaraonthelake #karimrashid

Stratus Cabernet Franc “Decant” 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $95.00, WineAlign)

“A designer’s hands are tied. They are only as good as their opportunities.” The words of the brilliant bottle designer Karim Rashid fully apply to the mirrored universe in which winemaker J-L Groux works, here with a deferential and ulterior cabernet franc, bottled with its lees. When I first tasted it in February (in advance of this auspicious release), its unfiltered state spoke of a hyperbole of perfume, marked by exoticism. The aromatics gave far east five-spice, star anise, cardamom, miso and incense, all natural by-products of its purposed ferment. More grain spoke out but also a roundness of tannin and a smoothness both coating and comforting. There was chocolate accentuated by the treatment, with thanks to those lees left in the bottle. The chopped up and constructed bottle catches the lees while the volume flows out and the function out of form mimics the thought of lees delivering structure and yet they are invisible, caught in a hidden net or nook, out of sight, out of mind. But it’s not about pouring. It’s about the hand, or the slight thereof. Then there is the copycat idealism of strata in the vineyard, of geology transferred to the bottle and kept there, like a ship perfectly preserved inside. This cabernet franc will age better, as is the plan, with thanks to the lees that you’ll never have to deal with. There were 110 cases made. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted twice, February and May 2017  stratuswines  @StratusWines  Stratus Vineyards

Supper at Benjamin Bridge

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Estate Blanc De Blancs 2013, Nova Scotia (Winery, $119.50, WineAlign)

Tasted from a bottle disgorged in May 2017, there alights a plugged-in, three-pronged, dazed, charged and enchanted energy about the Bridge’s ’13 Blanc de Blancs. The history of go it alone pure chardonnay is a relatively short one for the estate so this quickly makes up for lost time or rather with haste sets the timer and heads out at first light. “Like sittin’ on pins and needles, things fall apart, it’s scientific.” Wild, of talking heads temper and yeasts, done up in demi-muids, with a wilder secondary fermentative push riding on the coattails of the primary fermentation. Everything in this wine is a productive child of the vineyard, of no third party sugars or consultations. “How do you do that without making a Pétillant Naturel,” I wonder aloud. It’s a second ferment, non-contiguous is the reason, even if the former is both influencer and mentor to the latter. It certainly falls under the category of “micro-cuvée. Like its cousin and predecessor (Blanc de Noirs 2011), this ’13 BdeB is mired intensely inward within its own specificity and is not so much a sparkling wine with competitive soul. It is a pure representative of chardonnay grown in Nova Scotia for one purpose. So let’s talk about true stories and wild, wild life. “You get on board anytime you like.” Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted July 2017  benjaminbridge  caveman__jones   winesofn  @Benjamin_Bridge  @benjaminbridgevineyards  @WinesofNS @benjaminbridgevineyards  @winesofns

As we taste through the #NWAC17 finals we thank @ZWILLING_CA for the rocking great glassware. Canadian wines are better for these vessels.

Good to go!


Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello


13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

Here are 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

Here are 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013.
Photo: valeriy555/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

It has been a remarkable year in the evolution of the Canadian wine industry. Some will rant and others argue over the lack of cohesion and togetherness when the idea of a Canadian wine culture is discussed. What is of greater interest, at least in terms of the year in retrospect, is the wines themselves. When the wines are assessed and considered in part or as a whole, who would dare to say there are no great wines being produced?

I have personally tasted nearly 1,000 Canadian wines in 2013. This thanks to friends, colleagues, events, winery visits, LCBO media and vintner tastings, restaurant wine lists and agents. Not to mention the necessary organizations such as The Ontario Wine Society and the Wine Council of Ontario.

There was Cuvée 2013 and the Expert’s Tasting at Brock University. Somewhereness, County in the City, The Riesling Experience, Cool Chardonnay and Taste Ontario 2013 were just a few of the many events to discover the wonders of Ontario and Canadian wine. A summer visit to the west coast opened a window to the wonders of the Okanagan and B.C. Wine.

This was a very difficult list to narrow down. It is based on wines tasted but not necessarily released in 2013, though I did try to focus on more current selections. In the end, these choices are meant to offer both a cross-section and a definitive compilation of what Canadian winemakers do best. That is producing unique, cutting edge and brilliant takes on cool climate grapes. They also match beautifully with the songs referenced in their tasting notes. Here are 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013.



CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES CHARDONNAY MUSQUÉ 2010 (318303, $16.95, B.C. 230961, $18.99, WineAlign)

The song: The Rolling Stones, If You Can’t Rock Me

Intensifies in juicy, bright, nearly candied fruit cut by sour patch and blanched nut. Clean, cool Chardonnay and right on. My earlier note, from ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ (but I like wine) is the unoaked result of aromatic Clone 809 combed from the heavier clay-based soils from the St. David’s Bench Vineyard and the silty, mineral rich soils from Seven and Seven Vineyard. Tropical, strutting stunner with “a thousand lips I would love to taste.” Tell Ms. Musqué if you can’t rock me, nothing can.  90  Tasted April 2013  @MBosc  From: Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay


From Okanagan Falls bolts rapido from the gate with the ripest fruit (pear, plum) and though there is citrus, it’s really quite semi-dry. At 12.9 per cent alcohol and 24gr/L of residual sugar this may as well be Mosel Trocken Spätlese. Fantastic presence and awesome winemaking from Bernd and Stefanie Schales. Got me by the vines and will be on my table. 92  Tasted July 2013  @8th_Generation  From: B.C. Wine: From Vancouver to your table

FIELDING ESTATE CABERNET FRANC 2011  (36194, $21.95, WineAlign)

Sets the pepper mill on speed dial and certainly knows the inside of a barrel but what more could you possibly ask for? Unabashed, unbridled purple goodness. From my earlier note: “…has to be the best yet from Richie Roberts.  From a 35-acre Grand Cru (Five Rows) vineyard in the making in the heart of the warmest Niagara locale (St. David’s Bench). Zanthoxylum, capsicum and pencil shaving. Ropy grain, chewy, sylvan charm. On the card at Barque 90  Tasted March 2013  @FieldingWinery  From: Masters wines in purple, yellow and green jackets

QUAIL’S GATE PINOT NOIR 2011 (585760, $26.95, WineAlign)

With a flat-out ambrosial aromatic entry bequeaths extremely ripe, fleshy red stone fruit and a hit of java, hold the crema and the splinters. Toss in some cool eucalyptus to that tincture, perhaps, like De Loach Van Der Kamp. Intimates a Sonoman dream in confected perfume unlike any Okanagan predecessor. This is flamboyant stuff for OV, toothsome, and were it from California I might think it OTT but from B.C., not so. Expertly judged fruit/acid balance and such plush texture. Gobs of fruit with just enough grit to keep it real. “The clamorous owl, that nightly hoots and wonders at our quaint spirits.” 91  Tasted July 2013  @Quails_Gate  From: A midsummer night’s chill red wine 

HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE JANINE SPARKLING ROSÉ 2010 ($29.95, winery only, WineAlign)

The song: Genesis, In The Cage

100 per cent Pinot Noir grapes is a phenomenal, inaugural genesis effort. More sanguine in colour than one would imagine, this sparkler is wonderfully sweet but also ”turns sweat, turns sour.” Pinot Noir is always potentially so dramatic but who knew it could be like this, like blood swirling in the glass. “Bottled in a strong compression,” with black raspberry, noticeable yeast and impressive finesse.  Out of the cage.  91  Tasted May 2013  @HuffEstatesWine  From: You can lead a county to the city




Cuts a rug with immense, stepping out juicy behaviour. It’s both turntable old-school, astatic in smooth groove rotation, but also digitally forward thinking towards a perdurable future. The nose is Norm’s most intense floral burst to date, with incredible brightness and sparkling acidity in the key of fresh plum. This brings to mind indelible Burgundy, enveloped in PEC’s warm ’12 blanket. Hardie’s measure of consistency abides in a Pinot of parity and undemanding polish.  93  Tasted October 2013  @normhardie  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

PELLER ESTATES CABERNET FRANC ‘SIGNATURE SERIES’ 2010 ($40.20, winery only, WineAlign)

The song: Frank Zappa, Joe’s Garage

Has got the funk in dark and dank waves. Top-tier barrel selection out of Four Mile Creek, this one is tight, tense and ready to jam with “a Stratocaster with a whammy bar” in Joe’s garage. Saw through to 100 per cent Malolactic fermentation after 20 months in barrel. If you are jonesing for Cab Franc, don’t miss this player.  91-92  Tasted March 2013  @PellerVQA  From: A long and winding tasting road


A child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or Niagara as a whole in 2011?  93  Tasted July 19, 2013  @PearlMorissette  From: Nine big November best buy wines

BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010 (73072, $41.95, B.C. $39.99, Alberta $44.99, WineAlign)

The song: The Beatles, Dig a Pony

This Syrah will cure so many ails. Vouchsafe for a pepper-laced, plasmic mouthfeel, a maroon liquid pewter party of rocks and stones in the mouth. Playful and childlike, digs a pony, playing and offering really good fun. Does its own Okanagan thing becuase “ev’rything has got to be just like you want it to.”  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC  From: Nine big November best buy wines



STRATUS WHITE 2006 (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)

Was a “great recovery year,” after the winter damage of ’03, ’04 and ’05. A cool vintage, which required careful picking. The Sauvignon Blanc driven ’06 has the highest melon component, not to mention Boxwood. Yet that rose/floral/honey medicinal note is even stronger. Not over the hill at all and developing a graceful white wine character. Very French with late acidity and verve. Remarkable. Love this one. “This is a style of aged wine where I want to go,” says J-L. Nutty finish.  93  Tasted September 2013  @Stratuswines  From: Select tasting through the years of Stratus Red and Whites

HIDDEN BENCH TÊTE DE CUVÉE CHARDONNAY 2009 ($45, winery only, WineAlign)

From Big wines from California and the Bench from HB’s oldest, most highly regarded and meticulously maintained vines shows ravishing and refined restraint in elegance. Warm pineapple and mango coagulation jarred by the vintage’s piercing acidity and immense length. Head of the class, rings the bell, nails the lecture.  93  Tasted March and May 2013  @HiddenBench  From: Around the world in eight Chardonnays


The Song: Bruce Sprinsgteen, Blinded by the Light

Defies logic in laying out the welcome mat. Fleshy St. David’s fruit, relentless aromatics, a glue of tannins pushing on the pedal. From my earlier note in Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013 “springs eternal from an ocean of cranberry and an island of spice. The somewhereness of this St. David’s vineyard can’t be denied, and in the hands of Thomas Bachelder the extraordinary happens. I am simply blinded by the light, by the weight and the weightless gravity. By a sweetness that just isn’t sweet, like exotic red fruit that knocks you sideways upside the cerebral cortex. Not to mention an iron madness that “plays that song with the funky break.”  94  Tasted Oct. 10 and Nov. 6, 2013  @Bachelder_wines  From: Vineyards, winemakers and their sense of place: Bachelder and Leaning Post

BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2007 (275396, $74.95, NSLC 1012526, $74.79, WineAlign)

The song: The Jam, Town Called Malice

Peter Gamble struck gold with this Gasperaux Valley, Nova Scotia Sparkling Wine project. This Bridge comes from ”radically and frighteningly low yields” (3/4 ton per acre, as opposed to the new 6 ton world of Champagne). The ’07 is spun so fine and endowed with a prominent and great leesy nose, along with baking biscuits and lemon purity. To taste there is zest, white pepper and ultimately this is streamlined and refined. A Gamble style that will integrate in ’08 the idea of emulating grower’s Champagne. One will find no holes and no holds barred, in tension and in ease. Like Iggy Pop, Paul Weller, Brandon Flowers and David Bowie rolled into one, a thin white duke with a lust for life in a killer town called malice. Eight some odd cases of the 2005 are still floating around in the monopoly’s system so keep an eye on the labels. You just might get lucky. Price tag, $75? Cost, “priceless.”  93  Tasted November 2013  @Benjamin_Bridge  From: Crack open these Canadian made apolitical wines

Good to go!

All I want for Christmas is a big red wine

Red wine

If you have $20 or $40 or $60 to spend on that red wine consumer in your life with a hankering for bold and beautiful, then this list’s for you.
Photo: 7artman/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

The three of you who read my bi/tri-weekly column must have noticed by now that I am diplomatic, almost to a fault, to be as inclusive as possible. I certainly make a point to unearth and make public the best Canadian wines that I can find, especially when they originate so close to home.

Old world, new world, rosé, Sparkling, red wine, and an increasing focus on white wine may have some of you running for the hills but spreading the wealth is the name of the game. Diversity is my keeper but there comes a time when logic and proportion need a break. All I want for Christmas, and for those of you who know me that’s a ridiculous thing to say, is a great big ole’ bottle of red wine.

Who doesn’t? If you have missed the last 25 or so recommendations I’ve laid at your gift giving feet, if you have $20 or $40 or $60 to spend on that red wine consumer in your life with a hankering for bold and beautiful, then this list’s for you. Or, you can buy them all, seven reds for $250 and change. Not too shabby.



BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, North Coast, California (356113, $19.95, WineAlign)

This 2010 is a new let’s groove label from the somewhat ambiguously defined North Coast appellation of California. An area of three million acres that includes Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, and portions of Marin and Solano counties. Dusty entry, peppery finish. In between there is distilled cooler red fruit which sweet-heat spikes if only temporarily and ultimately settles into a fine balance of earth, wind and fire. Gifts an admirable sense of wood restraint. Simply “let this groove, set in your shoes” and enjoy its simple pleasures. Available in small quantities for a limited time.  87  Tasted December 2013  @hk_Canada

BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010, Ribera del Duero, Spain (350215, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Iberian cousin to the North Coast Cabernet an ocean away likewise enters the fray dusty and flecked by white pepper. What gives it immediate density identity is the juicy, just picked cherry flesh and pencil lead minerality. A sweet blueberry flavour gets lift from edgy tannins so as you ponder this Tempranillo you will note that ”it’s gonna take you years to find out” what it’s all about. But there’s hope, however presently buried, in the descendent nature of its roots.  88  Tasted November 2013

ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, Docg Tuscany, Italy (930966, $21.95, WineAlign)

One of the most reliable Tuscan houses offers no apology for this CCR’s flamboyance and it works a great vintage for the genre to maximum advantage. There is an intoxicating, exotic soaking of teak, vine stem and bhang counterbalanced by a berry sweetness that cannot be denied. In the end there’s the expected enunciation in modern Italian verse. Like a Tuscan-treated Gaja, gorgeous and tough.  89  Tasted November 2013  @roccadellemacie



SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia (48579, $26.95, WineAlign)

Behold the utter pitchy Barossan, privileged by full-on extraction in as much fruit this amount of money can buy. Tempered by a cool centre, complimented by a tangy finish. The coverall make-up is in high fashion and the big red lives to tell a passionate story after 22 months maturity in oak. Lifted by temperate zest and though it’s more Barossa than Cabernet per se, there is a fortune to be won in the bottle.  89  Tasted November 2013  @SaltramWines

WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, Napa Valley, Califonia (357723, $49.95, WineAlign)

A curious magnum of this highly underrated Napa Cabernet appeared for tasting. Really delicate and already maturing savoury/sweet florals lengthened by a chain of vanilla grain. Fruit looming large, with a Gershwin summertime grace and Holiday ”unique diction, inimitable phrasing and acute dramatic intensity.”  Cool, soulful, jazzy Cabernet, loaded with pepper and phite. Lady Day Easy Living90  Tasted November 2013  @WhiteOakWinery

LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, Rhône, France (700922, $57.95, WineAlign)

Following a string of excellent vintages from 2003 to 2010, this clumsy Donjon could be dismissed as not up to par but I beg to differ. Such distinct aromatics can only come from a Donjon. Redolent red berry musk, exotic spices from islands east and west, metal replicate and a brush of vineyard funk. Though it thistle-stings the palate and is presently held back by a tannic core, this CdP has the track record and muscle memory for moving forward. Gathers anise, more funk and so much fruit as it aerates but clearly so much time is needed to settle it down. Look to patience in the requiem realm of 10+ years.  92  Tasted November 2013

BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010, British Columbia, Canada (343038, $59.95, WineAlign)

A National Wine Awards of Canada Platinum Medal winner. As massive a corporeal attack as can ever be ascertained from a B.C. Bordeaux blend, of the earth, or any other prodigiously structured Canadian red. Uproariously ripe fruit de rigueur and storming tannins. A boast of plum crushed by an intense, dry, rocky intent. To this Okanagan I say, “you’re the book that I have opened and now I’ve got to know much more.” Crazy stuff for sure, full of unfinished sympathy, with enough fruit to push it to 10 years and beyond. Priced at $45 (winery) and at a premium through VINTAGES.  90  Tasted November 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC

Good to go!

A Chile wind is blowing

The Chilean wine industry is no stranger to adversity, hurdles and bumps in the road.

as seen on canada.com

The time of year when night bleeds into day. October winds blow colder and trees shed their skin. Fallen leaves cause urban sight lines to tighten with vertigo-effect like an intense, paranoid dolly zoom moment in a Hitchcock film. Fall is a time of super-heightened awareness and also the best time of year to focus on tasting and exploring wine.

Speaking of cold climates, the last two weeks have seen me taken to Chile, well actually, Chile has been brought to me. First, an unforeseen exclusive and intimate WineAlign tasting of the wines from Errazuriz with winemaker Francisco Baettig. Then, with the travelling main stage show that is the Wines of Chile, by seminar and through a comprehensive gathering at the Royal Ontario Museum.

The Chilean wine industry is no stranger to adversity, hurdles and bumps in the road. But unlike Ontario and to a lesser extent B.C., Chile’s obstacles have been more than a matter of weather. I could go back further in time but for the purpose of getting straight to the point, let’s start with an 18 year dictatorship during a period when the wine industry could have been developing in earnest. The year is 1990, Pinochet is out and democracy is in. That Chile has developed as a cohesive wine producing, exporting and marketing unit in just 23 years is nothing short of astonishing.

That earthquakes, most notably the nearly devastating 8.8 measured big one in March 2010 and global economic crisis has not crippled the fast yet still ripening industry is a testament to a people of strength and fortitude. Chile’s wine growth seems to follow a two steps forward, one step back path. But it rarely wavers and always rebounds, as it will again following the most recent harsh frosts of 2013.

Two sets of “black” frosts hit Chile’s vineyards hard. Americas Export manager for Ventisquero Juan Ignacio Zuñiga told a room of journalists and sommeliers about the late September and early October double whammy. “The worst case scenario is 70 per cent of the crop,” said Zuñiga “and the best case, 30 per cent.”  Wineries employed wind machines and irrigation systems to spread the cold air and abate the damage but ran out of water by day three. “This is the worst type of frost,” he noted. “Beyond control.” From Reuters, “these frosts are the worst that agriculture has faced in 84 years, impacting the area from Coquimbo to Bio Bio,” the national agricultural society said.

Yet Chile will endure, as it always has. The Wines of Chile media seminar lent credence to the strong future in store for Chilean wines. Christopher Waters of Vines Magazine introduced six wines and their marketers after a quick yet concise dissertation on the effects of green viticulture on taste, cost and consumer appeal.

Chile’s wine regions are “blessedly Phylloxera-free,” hemmed in by the Pacific Ocean, the Andes Mountains and the Patagonian ice fields. The grape growing out of the many cool micro-climates are mitigated and assisted by beneficial winds that blow in from the edges of these three dramatic boundaries.

Waters quickly noted that the prevalence of organic farming and biodynamic wine production has surged throughout Chile’s wine regions. More dramatic is the adherence to the “sustainability code, of number one importance for gatekeepers.” This qualification has added essential meaning and is “a tool that winemakers have become empowered with.”

PHOTO: winesofchile.org
‘Wines of Chile: The natural choice’

For the Chilean wine industry, green practices are not enough. Wines must tell a great story, “carry a narrative,” says Waters. In Chile so many also happen to be made to the sustainability code. Five to 10 years from now that will be a universal given. Sustainability, story and content. “What makes these wines special is what’s in the glass.”

I tasted more than 40 wines at the Wines of Chile event. While some of the most impressive examples were to be found at the highest prices, it was the $15-30 range that showed what Chile can do best. Here are 10 examples of the new Chile.

Left to right: Via Chilcas Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Viña Ventisquero Grey Chardonnay 2012, Errazuriz Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2012, and Emiliana Coyam 2010

Via Chilcas Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($17.95, 309757) from the Maule Valley is graced by amazing freshness and vigorous, new wave energy. With an imagined dragon’s foot securely planted in the ancestry of Chilean wine, this radioactive red is a portal to the industry’s future. Roasted and brewed, in espresso yes but mocha, no. “Welcome to the new age, to the new age.”  91  @ViaWines

Viña Ventisquero Grey Chardonnay 2012 ($19.95) shows off Casablanca Valley elegance, from 13 year-old vines. Born of a south-facing slope on a single block of dirt within a vineyard. A mellow toast that sparkles aromatically is surely quartz and iodine speaking from out of the granite-flecked red clay over a granite foundation. A touch cool-climate turpenic, in citrus and apple. Veers anti-tropical with just a kiss (eight to ten months) of oak. Super fresh, low and slow bister layered despite the warm and challenging vintage.  89  @vventisquero  @FitoZuniga

Errazuriz Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($21.95, 143198) comes out of the Aconcagua Valley, very near and dear to its Andes ombra shadow. Maceration mouthfeel ushered in on a viscous, spicy, piquant, capsicum wave. High tree fruit notes for Sauvignon Blanc place the wine somewhere between California and Marlborough. An SB heavyweight, with spice that plays and replays, balm prominence and righteous length. Oh, brother, she’s got blue-eyed soul, “my mash potato baby, a little Latin Lupelu.”  90   @errazurizwines  @fcobaetting

Emiliana Coyam 2010 ($29.95, 649679) is the organic outfit’s “icon” wine, swarthy, round, powerful and well-rounded. While their flagship Gê achieves the apex of the sustainable movement, the Coyam is missing nothing. Has got everything but the girl; Syrah, Carmenère, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre and Petit Verdot. A prime example of what stressed vines in healthy Colchagua Valley vineyards can do on a wild and volatile yeast journey. A broad spectrum of vinous material is on display and they cry out in unison, “like the deserts miss the rain.” Great freshness and so very berry, with supporting though not overbearing vanilla and a trenchant yet clean Syrah finish. Notes Export Manager Fernando Pavon, “a wine that avoids standardization.”  90

Errazuriz Wines

Left to right: Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Max Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2011, Max Reserva Syrah 2011, Don Maximiano 2007, and Kai 2010

WineAlign, Friday September 27, 2013, with Phillipe Dandurand Wines and winemaker Francisco Baettig

Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (LCBO $13.95, 262717, SAQ 262717, $14.95, B.C. 284125, $14.99) from Maipo fruit flaunts varietal typicity, plain and simple. Was bottled under screw cap back in 2003! A bissel of Cabernet Franc adds complexity by way of juicy currants, tart raspberries and caper berries.  87

Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (LCBO 263574, $12.95, B.C. 286385, $13.99) is uniquely and markedly realized upwards out of schist soil from a high Aconcagua crop that required some necessary thinning. Decidedly pale yet spirited, like old school Marlborough. Sagacious Kiwi mineral salinity, lean, dry and grassy. Less herbiage, intensity and flesh than the Max Reserva and yet its steely, stainless character is better and VGV, especially at $13.  88

Max Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2011 (LCBO $18.95, 335174, SAQ 335174, $16.95, B.C. 287805, $16.99) is executed with more of a cooler and less New World approach than the chocolate, Cassis and easy drinking 2010. Here the smells are Cab Franc-ish, with more pyrazine, less mocha, more berries and it is coated by finer tannins. Mint, eucalyptus and purple fruit but not so much a riper style. More elegance, structure and balance.  “If you want to protect the Cabernet, you should do so with the leaves,” notes Baettig. The tartness of the fruit tells beneath the syrup. A confident wine made with some transparency, through indirect light, not with the hot Aconcagua sun burning on the fruit.  89

Max Reserva Syrah 2011 (LCBO $18.95, 614750, SAQ 864678, $18.95, B.C. 361311, 2010, $19.99) whiffs the most confounding nose of the line-up so far, cooler than the ’10 vintage, and very, very Northern Rhone. Bacon, smoked meat, juicy and spicy olive, dark but not woody, splintered or Java-scripted. The nose gets better and better and it shows good length. This is the 15th year of this wine.  89

Don Maximiano 2007 (LCBO 501247, $80, SAQ, 11396557, 2008, $79.25, B.C. 5012547, 2008, $$89.99) at the six year mark is showing extreme refinement and is not the California fruit bomb you might have been warned about.  Tenuous teng, tang and verve, unique to place and mighty, mighty fine. Goes well beyond “all the sacred boundaries we’ve overgrown” to “build a brave new foundry close to home.” The 2009 is being released as the “Founder’s Reserve Cabernet” with touches of Syrah and Petit Verdot. That wine (tasted at Wines of Chile) will rewrite the Maximiano book.  91

Kai 2010 (Private Order, $144.95, SAQ 12051411, $116) charms, entertains and regales in spectacular aromatics. Currently in beast mode, this is rich, unctuous Carmenère. 2005 was this wine’s first vintage and here high-grained tannins will one day soften and round out in oak sweetness. For now there is some balsamic and spicy forest floor, which, says Baettig, “is part of the variety, so I try to keep it in the wine.” From alluvial, flat and thin soils, attacked by high sun exposure under less canopy. More fruit exposure leads to intensity. Long roots, rock, Carmenère.  93

Good to go!

A Sancerre Thanksgiving

French vegetable garden

as seen on canada.com

October is a very busy month in the world of fermented grapes. The local harvest will (almost) entirely see to its conclusion and winemakers will breathe a communal and proverbial sigh of collected relief. They will gaze up into the blue sky and engage in salutary acts of gratitude. They will thank mother nature for allowing their babies to hang long enough for the purpose of achieving phenolic ripeness in varietal maturity.

Appreciation will be shown in spades this week when we wine geeks convene to taste recent years’ wares at Taste Ontario. The event is hosted in Ottawa (The Westin Hotel) today and in Toronto (ROM) on Thursday by VINTAGES and Wine Country Ontario. The grand tasting coincides with the LCBO “SHINE {ON}” campaign that runs from September 15 through October 12.

The lead up week to Canadian Thanksgiving also means the Wines of Chile are coming to the ROM. Chilean wines have lately been blowing my mind in ways not previously perceived. Case in point a recent WineAlign session with winemaker Francisco Baettig of Errazuriz. Later this month there will be stupefying opportunities to sample wines from Napa Valley, Champagne and the Loire Valley.

Ah, there’s the rub. The Loire. Can there be a region anywhere in the world with more varied and obvious wines to match the wealth and richness of foods at the Thanksgiving table? Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. A holy trinity of Silex mineral, peppery goodness and piercing acidity to cut through the utterly gluttonous and hoggish Thanksgiving feast. I have already delved into Canadian wines for the coming weekend. Here I add an Argentine Chardonnay, a Nebbiolo from Piedmont, a Pinot Noir from Burgundy and a couple of stupidly good and expensive Cabernets from Napa Valley. Most of all I am so proud to recommend the most altruistic Sauvignon Blanc I’ve tasted in a long time.

So, happy Thanksgiving Canada. I offer up Sancerre thanks, Escondida that emotion and hope to be blessed with a Cabernet on the Corison. Ugh. Sigh.

From left: Finca La Escondida Reserva Chardonnay 2012, Paul Prieur et Fils Sancerre 2011, Pertinace Vigneto Nervo Barbaresco 2009, Aurélien Verdet Moray Saint Denis ‘En La Rue De Vergy’ 2010, Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, and Phillip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: From 100 year-old Bodega La Rosa’s San Juan Andean vineyards, under the much larger ownership of Argentina’s Grupo Peñaflor

The lowdown: This is a phenomenal deal at $15

The food match: Cauliflower Steaks with Tomatoes

Finca La Escondida Reserva Chardonnay 2012 (270207, $14.95) has the Zonda lemon drop I love and look for in Argentinian Chardonnay. Attitude from altitude, the faintest smokey char and terrific restraint. Cool climate rendition and nearly as lovely as Chile’s Le Cordillera. Tight and a bit tingling. There’s a soulful, quiescent component too, if a bit stunted by a stannic cedilla. Never mind the stops and starts. “If you got the notion” buy a boatload of this elegant Chardonnay. Escondida that emotion.  90  @fincalaescondid  @winesofarg

PHOTO: Jill Chen/FreestyleFarm.ca
Barque Smokehouse Baby Back Ribs

The grape: Sauvignon Blanc

The history: Eleven generations have been making Sancerre on this 18-hectare vineyard at the foot of the Monts Damnés

The lowdown: Like I said before, superb

The food match: Barque Smokehouse Baby Back Ribs

Paul Prieur et Fils Sancerre 2011 (350421, $25.95, SAQ, 11953245, $22.95) has that je ne Sancerrais quoi, first in a fountainhead of Verdingy geology and then in plating everything that is Sancerre; verve, attack, the faintest herbiage and rustling, brushing grass. Tittilating and galvanizing in the most golden, autumnal way. To quote the canonical David Lawrason, if I may, “you can always use a good Sancerre.” Damn straight.  92  @LoireValleyWine

The grape: Nebbiolo

The history: A single-vineyard bottling from Cantina Vignaioli (Elvio Pertinace) in Piedmont, Italy

The lowdown: Patience or a good two hour decant is necessary to seek reward from this generously VINTAGES priced red. It’s generally a $50-60 dollar bottle south of the border

The food match: Pasta Al Forno with Pumpkin and Pancetta

Pertinace Vigneto Nervo Barbaresco 2009 (344705, $39.95) is a tight, saliva-sucking, bone dry, ossified, ferric Nebbiolo. Just two sips and my tongue and gums feel like a lorry has run over them. That and the crimson smell of climbing roses. Classic really.  92

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: A storied vineyard just above the very famous Clos Du Tart in the Côte de Nuits

The lowdown: This producer may not be a household name for its holdings in this Burgundy plot but step aside Bruno Clair, Lignier-Michelot and Pascal Marchand. Verdet can handle the terroirof Morey-St.-Denis

The food match: Grilled Arctic Char, za-atar crust, nasturtiums

Aurélien Verdet Morey Saint Denis ‘En La Rue De Vergy’ 2010 (353416, $44.95) noses my kind of MSD aromatics. Soft vanilla, black cherry, smoke and obdurate limestone toughness. Coated in fine, tinny tannin and stretchy length, this represents big value for the appellation.  92  @BadDogWine

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Cathy Corison holds a Master’s in Enology from U.C. Davis, made wine for Chappellet Vineyard, Staglin Family Vineyard, York Creek Vineyards and Long Meadow Ranch and produced her first Corison in 1987.

The lowdown: From Corison, “time on the vine allowed the development of the full range of flavors that Cabernet can achieve (red and blue fruits grading into the darker, purple and black notes) at moderate alcohol. Cold nights promoted great natural acidity.” Some Napa Cabernet is built upon smoke and mirrors. They cause fires. The honesty of Corison’s wines induce irrigation and germination

The food match: Duck Confit, potato galette, berry jus

Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (333328, $113.95) is certainly in its wheelhouse, offering up sweet, Napa plaisir. Not as fleshy as expected but open-handed and magnanimous in behaviour. Ceanothus, blue and perfumed. Berries, red and ever bearing. A (Geraldine) Brooksian wine that allows you “to fall down a rabbit hole, where the rest of the world disappears.”  93  @cathycorison

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Napa icon, from a vineyard at 2000 feet, near the top of Spring Mountain

The lowdown: Togni’s Cabernet has oft been compared to the wines of the Medoc, specifically Margaux

The food match: Grilled Beef Tenderloin

Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (31351, $137.95) may brood and bark but it is not over the top, in alcohol or extract. Imbued of mellifluous perfume, great grain and lay of the land. The 2010 is big on elemental design for Napa, cool in the middle, iron and sanguine at the end. This is serious stuff.  94

Good to go!

Ontario wines shine on

Shine {ON} Ontario Wine Map PHOTO: LCBO

as seen on canada.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!