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

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WineAlign

Why it matters to taste wines again

Dumplings

Dumplings

It would be foolish to think that a single taste or a brief assessment can ascertain everything that a wine will bring to the table. So many factors play into that moment in time; how that bottle came to arrive at this place, how long it had been open, its current temperature and certainly the temperament and mood of the taster.

The only true and valid important bits of information that we can cull from a fleeting meeting with a bottle of wine is whether or not it is marred by a fault, or faults. Is the wine tainted with TCA (trichloroanisole)? Does it contain high levels of Brettanomyces? Is it raging with volatile acidity? It is oxidized or reductive? Has lady bug taint found its way into the bottle? And so on and so forth. Quality can be guessed at with high probability but time is so essential to knowledge. This is why tasting for a second and third time matters.

Wines should always be afforded the opportunity to be reconsidered, especially after some bottle settling time. The fascination with seeing evolution from organic ferments is real. Wine changes, often for the better, that much we know. Wines deserve second chances, re-dos and re-tastes.

Writing updated notes is the essential by-product of re-tasting and the catalyst that acts as the chaperone to get to know a particular bottle and by extension, a winemaker’s portfolio. Here are seven new releases, coming into VINTAGES on March 7th. They are actually re-releases, having been previously made public by the winery or through the LCBO. I tried them all once again and can say with confidence, by way of the tasting note, that all seven have confirmed their quality and improved with time. These are the seven new notes for seven March 7th VINTAGES re-releases.

From left to right: Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013, 13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Bachelder Wismer Vineyard-Wingfield Block Chardonnay 2011 and Bachelder Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru Creux De La Net 2011

From left to right: Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013, 13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Bachelder Wismer Vineyard-Wingfield Block Chardonnay 2011 and Bachelder Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru Creux De La Net 2011

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89029, $17.95, WineAlign)

Juicy, spirited and eminently approachable. Citrus and peach fruit beg to be gulped by the key keg load.

From my earlier, June 2014 note: “The gateway of the Tawse Riesling portfolio and first to be released is an omnipresent beacon for what is to come from the single-vineyard sistren. Built fruit forward from an orange zest, stone rose and lemon glade guide, this is the Sketches most juicy sensation yet. Incredible vacuum of citrus acidity waterfalling into a great white hole. Though surrounded by so many a Riesling with site specific personality, “she’ll carry on through it all.” Intensity in dry Riesling.”

Last tasted March 2015  @Tawse_Winery

Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (373407, $18.00, WineAlign)

Carries the weight of the Peninsula within the bright frame of clarity that is the PEC oeuvre. In ’12 the warmth and the weight can’t help but break down to burrow into earth. Fine, grainy tannins and an increased structure will give this three more years of development but do not hesitate to enjoy it now.

From my earlier April 2014 note: “Tasted a second time, the floral lift is clearer than before, as is the understated earthiness. Also showing more body and verve so it appears the Voyageur is starting to come into its own. From my earlier February 2014 note: “Fruit here comes from two Niagara vineyards, Queenston and Malivoire. An earthy Pinot that positions itself in isolation away from its suave and handsome Portage and Benway brethren with a waft of merde. Taste brightens as a sweet cranberry, chalky, root beer float. Kudos deserved as it’s clearly recognizable as Pinot with a medium finish and a pinch of horseradish salt on a lithe 12.5 per cent frame.”

Last tasted March 2015  @KeintheWinery

Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (118638, $19.95, WineAlign)

Brilliant hue, like a ceiling fresco of gold-scrolled tiers. Has that feel of lemon peel shrivelling to scent. Was a Category Champion at the 2014 World Wine Awards of Canada.

From my earlier September 2014 note: “Pinot Gris with pears and more pears. A no hold barred, straight up, bring it with orchard fruit example. A spoonful of sweet lemon curd indicates a just post ripe picking and now oxidation, if not necessarily the intention. Off-dry with acidity that joins but does not round the shining fruit into absolute form.”

Last Tasted March 2015  @GrayMonkWinery

13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

This is spot on, both as 13th Street and as Niagara Peninsula Gamay. Very ripe, to the edge of extracted distraction and less funky than previous vintages. Really defines the genre, acts the act, walks the walk, executes the execution. Drives the point, carves the cliché, go Gamay go.

From my earlier note when tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014: “Spice and rich fruit head straight to Gamay welkin derived direct from the soil’s core, of Sandstone, Schwenker and the winery’s home vineyard at Fourth Avenue. Swirl away the gathered must and moss to reveal more Cru fruit than you can shake a stirring rod at. Such verve, said grit, such persistence. The thing about Gamay is, “if you want inside of her, well boy you better make her a raspberry swirl.” 13th Street has certainly made the raspberry sing in the ’12 Gamay so “raspberry swirl, mmm let’s go.”

Last tasted March 2015  @13thStreetWines

Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Napa Valley, California (396150, $29.95, WineAlign)

There are so many reasons not to find a thrill in this regional blend of Pinot Noir fruit but none of them stick. Sweetness, simple syrup silky fruit, brown sugar, every red and purple berry in all varieties of fields (plus ripe plums) and warm to temperate alcohol (14.5 per cent declared) all combine for full California sunshine effect. All this and I just can’t turn away. With all the excess fruit, texture and multiplicity in good times, how can I? I ask this Pinot, “how come you, how come you dance so good?” The answer lies in the feel and the ability to turn a Noir trick or two. Not to mention a rolling of barrels and Napa Valley stones through its very core. Well done.  Tasted January 2015  @sterlingwines  @Diageo_News

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard-Wingfield Block Chardonnay 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

A new release, mindful of micro-plot. From out of a Bachelder barrel, the great mystery of wood is not that it smoulders, but that it rests on water, or in this case, on grape juice. To label this Wismer as Wingfield is to give this Chardonnay a scientific specificity, a concentration of fruit so capable of inducing the ethereal, to hover as if in suspension. This is Wismer-Wingfield. The Chardonnay that floats, like hope.

From my earlier July 2014 note: ‘Has Wismer found a cruising altitude? Has this Grand Cru vineyard from a most perplexing 2011 vintage entered the telephone booth in civilian clothes, only to soon emerge as a super hero? Will it sing, “I am, I am Superman and I can do anything?” Wismer has rounded out a bit, at present in a grounded form, but we know it will fly to greater heights and at faster speeds. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice.” Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with it’s touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”

Last Tasted March 2015  @Bachelder_wines

Bachelder Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru ‘La Creux De La Net’ 2011, Burgundy, France (LCBO 403485, $47.95, SAQ 12089524, $38.50, WineAlign)

Purity abounds, florals leap and the heart fills with an arrow of red fruit. So linear, so direct. Wears the crux of Bachelder integrity on its sleeve. The pinpoint accuracy of plot, the ubiquity of gypsy soul, the bandwidth of frequency. Yet another Bachelder “ere the bonnie boat was won, as we sailed into the mystic.” Acidity rears and rails right through. Tannin trails like a burning star. Ten more years will see this to a moondance of quietude.

From my earlier February 2014 note: A metallurgical slant this time around and iodine, though sweet, like a geologist’s preferred cocktail. The palette is Rothko maroon and in cohorts with what is ascertained by the palate, scheme fruits and hearts both red and black.

From my earlier note of November 2013: Has the sense to be subtle, effortless and akin to Chambolle. Not so much openly ripe fruit but more the flowers that come before. Cherries dabbed by a citrus fragrance, or the spritz of squeezed zest and an unusually smoky musk. Insinuates new world (think Oregon) though it tells a rubble tale of its limestone slope climat.

Last tasted March 2015

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Du bon Bachelder: Burgundy, Oregon, Niagara

Bachelder Wines tasting. December 28, 2014 Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Bachelder Wines tasting: December 28, 2014
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Québec native and Niagara Peninsula resident Thomas Bachelder makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in three countries. He may not be the only gypsy winemaker on this planet but he certainly ranks as the most focused. Over the past few years I have had many opportunities to taste and be privy to the diversity, overlapping and incrassation of his portfolio. By now I know so much and understand so little.

There is one thing I do know for sure. Bachelder and partner Mary Delaney form a formidable wine-producing juggernaut. Together they are the vine and the fence. The question is which one is the vine and which one is the fence. If asked they and their guests would likely all produce different answers.

Thomas Bachelder Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Thomas Bachelder
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Thomas and Mary invited a group of us to taste through the Bachelder 2012’s just after Christmas. Ever the great hosts, Thomas and Mary not only poured 16 wines, they also offered up a most excellent feast and left us (Rick VanSickle, Michael Pinkus, Evan Saviolidis and Elena Galey-Pride) amazed and satiated.  Rick’s take on the tasting should be read here: Poetry in motion: Thomas Bachelder unveils his 2012 Pinots and Chardonnays from Niagara, Burgundy and Oregon.

Bachelder Wines Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Bachelder Wines
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

In Oregon Bachelder made wines at Ponzi and Lemelson Vineyards. In Niagara he was best known for creating a world-renowned portfolio of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay through an artfully applied science at Le Clos Jordanne. Beyond Bachelder there is now the Thomas effect at Domaine Queylus. He’s like the Chicken Man, “he’s everywhere, he’s everywhere.”

In Ontario his Pinot Noir fruit mainly comes from the St. David’s Bench vineyard owned by the Lowrey family. The Chardonnays are drawn from the Wismer Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench and the Saunders Vineyard closer to Lake Ontario. In Oregon, the sturdy contrariness of the vines show a marked preference for the sandstone and volcanic (Basaltic) strata, in Yamhill-Carlton and the Willamette, rhymes with dammit – thanks Mary … ;), Valley. In Burgundy the terroir in micro-plots diversify the stratagem even while some are considered lesser locales for growing great Burgundy. But one thing is clear. The lieu-dits that give of their fruit all qualify as appellative wonders of the Bachelder diaspora.

Thomas Bachelder loves his map of Bourgogne. He would crawl inside it if he could.

Thomas Bachelder loves his map of Bourgogne. He would crawl inside it if he could.

For a brief history on the Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara terroirist, check out my two previous posts on the Bachelder project.

Related –  Vineyards, winemakers and their sense of place: Bachelder and Leaning Post

Related –  Synchronicity in three terroirs

Wine writers hard at work. Clockwise from bottom left. Godello, Rick VanSickle, Evan Saviolidis and Michael Pinkus Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Wine writers hard at work. Clockwise from bottom left. Godello, Rick VanSickle, Evan Saviolidis and Michael Pinkus
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Order is an extreme obsession for Thomas Bachelder, in an organized, chaotic way. For this reason, the wines were tasted in the following progression, to make sense of the complexity and variegation in each country from the three distinct yet wholly antithetic bon (Burgundy-Oregon-Niagara) terroirs.

Bachelder 2012 Whites

Bachelder 2012 Whites

Bourgogne Aligoté Champs Pernot 2013, Burgundy, France (SAQ 12089559, $24.00, WineAlign)

From old vines in the commune of Puligny-Montrachet, Bachelder’s Aligoté is a flinty, indiscreetly pinching and itinerant example. More complex than it needs to be, it can be accused of being a risk taker. If Chardonnay is considered in terms of finding excellence out of cool climates, this Aligoté is downright gelid. The wine doth go both ways, at once reductive and then terpenic. Lime citrus concentrates aromas and flavours within a very platinum, mineral frame. Speaks several languages that can be related to but only if you can pry through the cracks in the hard protective shell. Confounding really, yet a fascinating study. Bachelder could do for varietal Burgundy Aligoté in ways similar to Sylvaner in Alsace.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Oregon 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA  (333278, $34.95, WineAlign)

Primarily constructed from the fruit of Yamhill-Carlton vines, a third of which is Lazy River, an apropos moniker because by harvest time it hardly moves. The warm vintage adds a calm dimension to a Pinot Noir more Burgundian than the Bachelder’s Niagara and also more table friendly. Pure perfume and like life in layered, rosy hues, a vie en rose, from the land and the river’s subtle flows. The terra mobilis. The underlying dream in Thomas Bachelder’s Oregon movement is mineral, like salinity, not limestone but something ambiguous from the river’s pull and under the river. Elegance lived and relived. Here is a wine from a very available warm vintage, with a mess of fleshy fruit, yet Thomas does not obfuscate the terroir. In 2012 and needfully so, it is served from a light hand. Currently available at the SAQ in Quebec and coming to VINTAGES in Ontario, Spring 2015.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Niagara 2012 and Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2012

Pinot Noir Niagara 2012 and Pinot Noir Niagara Lowrey Vineyard 2012

 

Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($29.95, WineAlign)

The fruit for Bachelder’s local environ comes from Wismer Parke within the essential Niagara vineyard. By way of setting bearings straight, the Park is contiguous to the Foxcroft and Wingfield sections of the Lowrey Vineyard. A precocious and most positive net gain Pinot Noir most of which, as Thomas so adroitly points out, will be consumed before being allowed to hit its prime. Despite the generic labelling, this is not a mass-produced bottling by any stretch and was swallowed up by licences. It’s a hallmark expression of warmth, texture, vintage and the capability of Pinot Noir in this specific place. What Thomas has achieved, with effective persuasion, is a cloning from intimate belongings; earth, fruit, Lowrey.  Tasted December 2014

Côtes De Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2012, Burgundy, France ($45, WineAlign)

Named for La Montagne, to recognize it for place because local rules forbid calling it what it really is, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. So what was ‘La’ is now ‘Aux’ and with the change, in this vintage, comes something formidable, eliciting a response of aux la la. Let’s talk about this, with no mocking tone, just real thoughts. Anything but regional, this Bachelder is so very Villages, specifically lieu-dit, with its depth of earth and release of perfume. A piercing sort of Pinot Noir from a which a sauce could be fashioned out of its sheer intensity, to bathe meats. The concentration has a citrus feign, bright, in the back, along with a giving and Burgundy forgiving mineral funk. In this Burgundy, the mountain lurks, in spirit torque. Will unwind for up to 10 years. Available at the SAQ in Quebec.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Johnson Vineyard Oregon 2012 and Côtes De Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2012

Pinot Noir Johnson Vineyard Oregon 2012 and Côtes De Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2012

Pinot Noir Johnson Vineyard Oregon 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon (SAQ 12065338, $44.50, WineAlign)

A hard-working wine that reaches for fibres not available for weave in the Bachelder ‘basic’ Oregon Pinot, the Johnson digs into the salty waters beneath the earth. Draws up its hydration, the astonishing fidelity of minerals magnetized and then redacts the smokey, splintering spokes of wood. The juice in 2012 flows and follows the inconsistencies of the skin and the barrel like the river travels along the irregularities of the land. Rich, dusty, brooding and intuitive. The Johnson is bent on serious intent, like a sculptor’s dentil relief, with increased shadow, less mannerist in 2012, deeper, darker and of more solemnity. When the ’11 was at first hard to figure then soon after revealed its charms, this ’12 will take much longer to unravel. The brightness of Oregon Pinot Noir is perhaps its greatest attribute so here that light is not yet known. Wait three to five years to find out its truth.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (361816, $44.95, WineAlign)

A balanced and thoughtful wine, from five rows of mostly mysterious, and unknown clones. There simply is no other locale in Ontario that you can grow Pinot Noir any further away from lake and river and still unearth such depth. Though terroir-driven, this shares little with other geographical perimeter outliers, like Ravine and Coyote’s Run. Can only be Lowrey; folkish, demotic, St. David’s Bench vernacular. From my earlier, October 2014 note: “To those who wonder aloud about the annual love affair with this vineyard, suck it and see. This connectivity and this wine renew again. Same time, this year. Bursts of all that have come from it before, are here now and in temptation of what will be for years to come. Has “the type of kisses where teeth collide,” a Sam Cooke ages to Arctic Monkeys kind of reckless serenade. It’s also a balladeer, this scaled back Bachelder, if that can be said to be done. Here now soft, elegant, perfumed, demurred, sweet, downy, pretty, not yet fleshed, surprisingly void in tannin, anxiety and tension. Work with it for 10 minutes and it will then begin to bite back, show its teeth, pearly white as they are, grind it out. There will be 10 years of development in this Lowrey, if not less, but in ’12, that is more.”  Last tasted December 2014

Nuits St Georges La Petite Charmotte 2012, Burgundy, France (357228, $49.95, WineAlign)

Here grinds a wine that could want for some decant, a pause for thought while the imbibers assess their ways through Oregon, Niagara, Johnson and Lowrey. A pent-up perfume, when allowed to breath in and then out, results in a concentration of aromatic certainty. Tight and bracing, with cedar and bitumen, cherry and rose, this single-vineyard NSG hugged up on a northern slope is both adamantine Nuits and the pretty dame of Beaune. Straddles the arrondissement’s Burgundian twain, the Neaune, from iron to sublime. The imprint of yearning and distance.  Tasted December 2014

Les Bas Liards Savigny Lès Beaune 2012, Burgundy, France (SAQ 12089567, $38.25, WineAlign)

Only two barrels (one and two year-old, zero per cent new oak) were procured of this 100 per cent Pinot Blanc. “I’m a barrel fermenting maniac,” admits Bachelder. He might also say “I’ve got a job, I explore, I follow every little whiff and I want my life to smell like this.” Stone fruit is in resolution and integration, fully, completely. This quenches thirst, like chewing on raw fish. Why Pinot Blanc in Savigny Lès Beaune is the $64K question with an answer tragically not really known. Its taste is not just Pinot Blanc, it is the flavour of Savigny Lès Beaune. It is PB looking for a place to happen. The argument is logomachy, the reality is Savigny. What it delivers is a clean, hip Burgundian message and at the same time asks, “do you taste Chardonnay?” Yes? No, I taste Savigny Lès Beaune.  Tasted December 2014

Bachelder Chardonnay Johnson Vineyard 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA ($44.95, WineAlign)

From the best four of twenty barrels (and 15 – 18 per cent new oak). The salinity drawn is deeper still, like a bone from the skin of the sea. Rich tones, components, tannic texture, filibuster Chardonnay. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “More specifically a product of its ocean meets sous terre soil than Bachelder’s basic (term used loosely) Chardonnay, the Johnson nicks more richesse, around and around fullness. Not to mention the cerebral wisdom of two Scots and a Charlemagne. Johnson’s progressive and forward thinking maker works with inconspicuous wood and the science of introducing oxygen into wine in a controlled manner.  He might say “for it is wisdom that we have for sale.” Like a white-winged dove, the 2012 will trod lightly towards a long walk to a very long life. It can be imagined aging to the edge of seventeen. The earthy feel, the salinity, not from tannin but from soil, “the music there, well, it was hauntingly familiar.” This is iridescent Oregon in a Bachelder voice. No doubt.”  Last tasted December 2014

Niagara Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (VINTAGES Essential 302083, $29.95, WineAlign)

Primarily fruit sourced from Wismer-Foxcroft and Wismer-Wingfield plots, the oak treatment is 15 per cent new. Shows so much more warmth than Oregon. More honey and tropical notes than many peers as well. And still limestone crusted apple is the major finishing key in a Chardonnay that sings a familiar Niagara hymn. From my earlier May 2014 note: “Bottled just one month ago, contrary to the monk’s assertion, there is nothing shocky about her. Her fruit is downy soft, round without being fat because as Bachelder maintains, real as always, you “can’t have the minerality of that perfect 2011, I’m not going to bullshit you.” The 2012 is a wine unconscious in its own obviousness, ready for anything. Gregarious, golden, fresh fruit that was ready to roll out of its barrel and into the waiting glass long before its maker was prepared to open the valve. And of course there is a mineral finish. It can’t help but be.” Last tasted December 2014

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay 2012

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay 2012

Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign)

From a site 2.5 km’s from the lake, right on the highway at 30 Bench. Derives its plushness from mere proximity so “serve it first,” pleads Thomas. So much lush, more richesse and yet today, Saunders is a bit closed, primary even. Will yet need some time to find its way. Coming to VINTAGES, Spring 2015. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.”  Last tasted December 2014

Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012

Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012

Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

An appraisal of Wismer, much further up on the Bench as compared to Saunders, is always fraught with side by each guilt. The two coax and dissuade each other in every respect, from vintage to vintage and in flip-book oscillation. Once again, the reversal is complete in 2012. Wismer gives not just power and warmth, but layering. Its voice is an astonishing fidelity of native rock magnetized. Wismer finds a way to make grace necessary and to make necessity graceful. While Saunders made yeoman’s work of 11’s crazies with precision and poise, Wismer takes the glow of ’12 and turns it into cool sunshine. This Chardonnay of wealthy fruit, controlled oak, olivine and feldspar tannin will slowly wash up like driftwood on the gravelly beach of life. Give it a year or two to assimilate the components and drink it for 10 more.  Tasted December 2014

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012, Burgundy, France (272005, $35.95, WineAlign)

From lower Puligny, this is rich, forward and expressive Chardonnay. While it may gangle out with a fierce, pierce of the tang, a change fills the air after much discussion about a barrel, how it is used and to what effect, both for its current and predictable future. Has that honeyed, lemon toasty unctuousness, a weave that is weighty and glazed. Some wood spice and a colourable, creamy curd of citrus. Oak compounds the sweetness and layering. Puligny runs through its wooden veins and pumps micro-oxygenated nutrients to the important, internal organs. The eventuality here is the alleviation of pressure and a retrofit of fruit to elegance. Strike another notch up and step forward for the Bachelder Burgundy sojourn. There is still so much to learn and even this will seem pedestrian compared to what will come but for now it’s just fine, thank you very much.  Tasted December 2014

Savigny Lès Beaune Les Bas Liards 2012 and Marsannay Clos du Roy 2012 

Savigny Lès Beaune Les Bas Liards 2012 and Marsannay Clos du Roy 2012

Marsannay Clos du Roy 2012, Burgundy, France ($39.25, WineAlign)

The ‘King’s Hill’ which is just half of the misnomer because how can a plot of such ability be considered so low on the Cru pole. Half of a new barrel went into the minuscule (two barrel) blend. Chardonnay like lace, from nothing less than an appellation prepared to offer up fine drink, in pastry and in textile. Tropical tree fruits hang in rows, connected by cream and the contending forces of smoke and bite. Always the end game of rock envelops the whole, like gabbroid nodules, permeating every fissure.  And so, because a Bachelder Chardonnay must comply, as the earth invisibly prepares its vines for successes and failures, so history is the creeping intent.  Tasted December 2014

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