Fourteen wines that should be on your restaurant list

Fish and Chips at Small Town Food Bar

Fish and Chips at Small Town Food Bar

I taste a lot of wine. Lots of wine. Were I to manage a restaurant list with room for everything that deserves a place to call home, to share with the world the honest and the natural, a long list I would indeed create. The wine list at Barque Smokehouse I build is predicated on that premise but you can count on two hands the number of wines we offer by the glass. Necessity is our master.

Related – A resolution to drink honest wine

At the start of 2014 I penned that column and looking back eight months later, the ideas put out within that post-ice storm, mild January day apply to the concept of formulating a restaurant wine list. For the most part, a wine card should endorse the virtuous and the sincere. “Honest wine is juice that conveys the salient facts of a grape’s life. For a bottle of wine to be on the up and up it must not be disguised by the unnatural ways of artificial intervention nor should it make itself so available as to be obvious. Fruit should reside in the realm of the sequestered and the sacred. I am not alone in hoping for table wines to be stirring, gripping, unsweetened and unencumbered by an excessive coat of oak. My hard-earned dollars should earn the right to be stimulated .”

If your job title includes choosing what wine is poured at your restaurant, you should never dial it in. VINTAGES releases more than 100 new wines every two weeks. If 95 are what you might consider wantonly microdontic or overly tangential in influence, so be it. Five new wines every two weeks is more than enough to keep your list rocking, rolling, current and fresh. In Ontario the choices are many and the options endless. If driving the construction-riddled streets of Toronto is for you the time spent equivalent of root canal surgery in a Chilean coal mine then call an agent, request a tasting and let the cases be shipped to your doorstep.

“Wine only recognizes two temporal states. Fermentation and party time.” Be creative, read Tom Robbins, listen to the Tom Tom Club, mix it up a little, try new wines and add a spark to your wine program. Give it the genius of love. Guests just want to have fun. Here are 14 new releases, from VINTAGES and through some really terrific agents here in Ontario.

From left to right: Tenuta Le Velette Rosso di Spicca 2012, Tawse Gamay Noir 2013, Freiherr Von Göler Pinot Noir 2011, Coyote's Run Pinot Noir 2013, Lealtanza Reserva 2009, Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2012 and Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012

From left to right: Tenuta Le Velette Rosso di Spicca 2012, Tawse Gamay Noir 2013, Freiherr Von Göler Pinot Noir 2011, Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir 2013, Lealtanza Reserva 2009, Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2012 and Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012

Tenuta Le Velette Rosso di Spicca 2012, Umbria, Italy (Agent, $16)

The “Spicca” family owned the farm where the vines now grow. For a Rosso, from Umbria, Toscana or Piemonte for that matter to stand out (spicarre), it must have something unique and noticeable. Le Velette’s understated Umbrian blend of Sangiovese and Canaiolo is all about aromatics. Spicy cherries, leather and cinnamon with an underlying petrichor that seemingly bleeds fresh piquant juice straight from concrete. Like the oil exuding from lavender and rosemary growing out of the fissures of cracked terracotta over clay, after a warm summer rain. The palate gives a wee bit of spirited spritz and pizzazz. All this for $16 and change for a finishing espresso.   Tasted October 2014  @Noteworthywines

Tawse Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (322545, $18.95, WineAlign)

Darker berries define the Paul Pender take on Gamay for Niagara and in ’13 there is a level of tension and girth not yet approached. This third Tawse Gamay is overt in attitude, connotative of Beaujolais Cru staging, an ovule of rebellion and a disposition just as though in the grips of Asmodeus. The Tawse effect is entrenched in clay and possessive of  knowledge as if derived by an invitation only junket to the Gamay motherland. If the stance seems serious, the fruit is up to the task. A Gamay for now and fully capable of aging five or more years.  Tasted October 2014

Freiherr Von Göler Pinot Noir 2011, Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany (390971, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

You can take the Spätburgunder out of the nomenclature but you can’t take the nomenclature out of the Spätburgunder. The porcine dry, crunchy bits are front and centre, the pig offal under the crust. This is Baden red wine of a bitter and surprisingly sweet palate nature, a modern take on old male Pinot pattern baldness. So worth trying towards gaining a deeper understanding of varietal diversity.  Tasted October 2014  @HalpernWine

Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (53090, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Estate bottle represents a balanced amalgamation of terroirs with essential Niagara On-The-Lake Pinot Noir aromas, accents and distinction. Highly floral, thanks in kind to the red Trafalgar clay loam of the Red Paw Vineyard, as much as it has and will ever be. Extracted with reserved prejudice, with props to the dark Toledo clay loam of the Black Paw Vineyard, showing as a robust and retentive treacle, rich in tangy licorice and cherry pie. Much flavour is found in this Pinot Noir, so it will be well deserving of accolades and sales. If the sweetness prevails it is only because the fruit is shepherded in clean and Shepparded with blending acumen.  Tasted October 2014  @coyotesrun

Lealtanza Reserva 2009, Doca Rioja, Spain (208223, $20.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

Old, old school Rioja ramped up, given a natural injection of rock brine and garriga then sent out to play. Rarely does Lealtanza give so much fresh conjecture, so much considered condensation and dense consideration. Soft and muddled palate, mottled rocks seeping berries and an accent of candied tomato leaf. Funky finish keeps it real.  Tasted October 2014  @ProfileWineGrp

Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (36194, $21.95, WineAlign)  NWAC14 Silver Medal Winner

A dusty and gilded Cabernet Franc from one of the warmest Niagara vintages in recent memory. Vivid in Bench specific varietal tendency, as if the berries on the black currant bush were ripening and bursting in the late afternoon sun, right into the glass. A blueberry by you CF, spiced by the faint childhood memory of grandfather’s unlit pipe on the coffee table. There have been more tense and exciting Cab Franc’s by Richie Roberts but none so suave and grown-up as this 2012.  Tasted September 2014  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012, Doc, Piedmont, Italy (388660, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

Don’t worry Mr. Parker, this rare chance at assessing a Langhe made from the Freisa grape will not join the 100-point club but I can say with certainty that this take is anything but “totally repugnant.” Borgogno’s Freisa is rustic, with dried figments of raisin and fig, though zero notes of reduction. More dried fruit, in carob and licorice with biting, spicy notes and the seeping of black tea leaves. The whole Mediterranean potpourri seethes in altitude and attitude. A dry and sensual red with enveloping chalk and acidity. Perhaps “Bobbo” Butch Cassidy should give this Langhe a whirl.  Tasted August 2014  @TrialtoON

From left to right: Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, Rustenberg John X Merriman 2011, Pirramimma Shiraz 2011, Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine 2012, Millton Opou Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Ascheri Barolo 2010

From left to right: Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, Rustenberg John X Merriman 2011, Pirramimma Shiraz 2011, Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine 2012, Millton Opou Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Ascheri Barolo 2010

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

A classic Adam, amplified in 2013, riper and not as piercing as previously noted vintages. Still the layering is omnipresent but there is more juicy fruit and texture then ever before. This is a consumer friendly Adam, gregarious, outgoing, off-dry as never before. New slang for the bottling.  From my earlier, July 2014 note: “According to Cave Spring’s website this newer Riesling from older (18 to 35 year-old plantings) is from “a single block of vines in the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment, known as ‘The Adam Steps’. Really apropos, for this Riesling is the cantilever, the one with the outstretched arm. At 10.5 per cent alcohol and with an unmistakably stony, sweet and sour whiff the wine speaks of its off-dryness. The juiciest of all the Cave Spring Rieslings, with rounder acidity and good persistence. This is the all-around good guy, the one with an open invitation, the bridge from Estate to Dolomite to Csv. The well-adjusted one steps up its game to help win one for the team, especially out of the convivial 2013 vintage.”  Last tasted October 2014  @CaveSpring

Rustenberg John X Merriman 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa (707323, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

Despite the colour as dark as monster’s gore this is a relaxed X Merriman, not overly painted or rubbed by charcoal and rubber tree plant. The Bordeaux-styled blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (55 per cent), Merlot (37), Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec from South-West slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain, Stellenbosch opens its tight angled gates to reveal a cool centre, with juicy, rich, iced espresso, though in decomposed granite grit it’s tannic as hell. Makes judicious use of its (41 per cent) new and (59 per cent) 2nd and 3rd-fill 225L French oak barrels, along with balance in alcohol (14.3 per cent) integration. Solid South African red with just enough primal activity to pleasantly alter the temperature in the brain, without causing concussion or grey matter to go totally askance. Will drink well into the next decade.  Tasted October 2014  @WoodmanWS

Pirramimma Shiraz 2011, Mclaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (987784, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

A Pirramimma in the new vein from a warm and rich vintage. So hard to scale back when nature gives you this much fruit. Though 15 per cent is hardly a twinkle in its alcohol eye, there is only so much elegance that can be coaxed from this kind of hedonism. It’s big, juicy and just so alive. As simple as a candle, without magic and void of mystery. It will range hither and thither for 10 years before it makes the long, slow journey back home.  Tasted October 2014  @bwwines

Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (1560, $29.95, WineAlign)

Seven months have softened and mothered Gravity’s adolescence in ways to now see it as the most feminine, certainly of the last four vintages. Pretty dabs, perfumes of natural conditioning, warm days and warm nights in the bottle. More accessible than previous takes and of a new modernity perceived. Sweet dreams and sweet fragrances, roses and cinnamon, nothing fancy here mind you, with no bite and no gathering moss. Cherries and vanilla, lavender and simple pleasures. Straight up Gravity, no pull down, no drag and no excess weight. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “In a vintage potentially muddled by warmth and a humidor of radio frequency, duplicating berry phenolics, Flat Rock’s Gravity remains a definitive, signature house Pinot Noir. In 2011, the head of the FR class from its most expressive barrels shared the limelight (and top juice) with the Pond, Bruce and Summit one-offs. In ’12, Gravity’s sandbox was its own. The style is surely dark, extracted, black cherry bent, as per the vintage. Yet only the Rock’s soil does earth in this variegate, borne and elevated by the barrel’s grain. There are no fake plastic trees in a Flat Rock Pinot. “Gravity always wins.”  Last tasted October 2014  @Brighlighter1  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd

Huff Estates Cuvée Janine 2012, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Looks can be deceiving so much so Janine might look as is she were leading a bubble to red dye number 40. Not the case, rather the expressive hue is winemaker Frédéric Picard’s colourful bleed from 100 per cent Pinot Noir fruit. So, it must be sweet and tasting cloyingly like a bowl of sugared strawberries. Again, not so. Janine’s aromas are very berry and her texture is certainly cheese and crème fraiche-inflected from a 12 month lees mattress, but dry she goes. Much demonstrative behaviour and perspiring humidity comes from vintage warmth and here results in layering. Janine is an earthy, funky squared sparkler, with nothing shy or demurred about her, but all of the outwardly screaming smells and tastes are in check. Strawberry cream and shortcake cease from wrapped tight acidity coming in from the backside. Big bubbles.  Tasted October 2014  @HuffEstatesWine

Millton Opou Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand (92478, $30.00, WineAlign)

From estate fruit on a single vineyard planted in 1969 on the Papatu Road, Manutuke, Gisborne. On Waihirere soils of heavy silt and Kaiti clay loam. A most mineral driven Chardonnay thanks in part to some Riesling in the mix. This varietal symbiosis, along with a co-planted orange grove gives what James Milton calls “the sharing of astrality.” The five year-old biodynamic Opou does whiff orange blossom, along with crisp green apple and the wet rocks of a summer rain. Quite full on the palate with a bite of black pepper and olive oil drizzle over toasted Ciabatta, smeared by churned, salted butter. The length indicates five more relish piqued years and five furthermore in slow decline.  Tasted October 2014  @TheLivingVine

Ascheri Barolo 2010, Piedmont, Italy (341107, was $35.25, now LTO $32.25, WineAlign)

Standard issue Barolo of a canonical character so bankable as Nebbiolo and nothing but. Classic Piemontese funk comes wafting out, along with licorice in as many ways as can be described; anise, Sambuca or fennel. The palate is creamy and slightly sweet, accented with pepper and a dusty, grainy sensation. This is Barolo of old with a cough syrup confection, wild herbs and grit. It could not be mistaken for Malbec though its disjointed ways could use some finesse and polish.  Tasted October 2014  @liffordwine

Good to go!

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It’s go Gamay go time

First wild leeks of the season with grilled rib-eye steaks and burgers PHOTO: Michael Godel

First wild leeks of the season with grilled rib-eye steaks and burgers
PHOTO: Michael Godel

Not that there is ever a bad time to partake in the wonders of Gamay, but with the mercury rising, spring is the right time to be with the Gamay you love. If you’ve never experienced the nuanced pleasure of great Gamay, whether it be from Beaujolais in Burgundy’s southern reaches or from Ontario’s cool-climate hinterlands, its prime time you did.

Dr. Janet Dorozynski coined the hashtag #GoGamayGo and it’s a good thing she did. Sometimes a little catch is all you need to get a ball rolling. Rhys Pender MW has written two prime articles on the subject, Gamay – The Grapes of Wrath and Gamay in British Columbia. Canadian winemakers are expanding production so the Gamay train is puling into wine stations across the country.

Related – Go Gamay Go

In May of 2013 this column noted “I wait for the #GoGamayGo network to convince our councils, marketing boards and vintners to establish a Canadian Cru system, or at least a comprehensive tasting of Canadian Gamay.” A varietal togetherness has yet to materialize but the appreciation is growing. Ilya Senchuk of Leaning Post Wines will be releasing his first Gamay go round from Wismer Vineyard 2013 fruit. “Gamay costs half of what Pinot Noir and Syrah do,” he notes. Conclusion? A small operation like Ilya’s can make an “entry-level” and consumer affordable wine for less money and without compromising their winemakeing oeuvre.

Gamay from Beaujolais in east-central France is thin-skinned, low in tannin and (more often than not), in acidity too. It is extremely versatile in its chameleon-like abilities and matches to more types of foods that you can likely prepare with any sense of range or flair. It makes much better wine than you think and it can outsmart you. Dismissing Gamay as in any way inferior is short-sighted and lazy.

Recent Gamay sightings and tasting are the impetus for these tasting notes. Ontario renditions were on display at Somewhereness and at County in the City. Woodman Wines and Spirits presented the Fleurie of Villa Ponciago at a recent Burgundy tasting. This spring, it’s go Gamay go time.

Villa Ponciago La Réserve Fleurie 2012

From left to right: Manoir Du Carra Fleurie 2010, Villa Ponciago La Réserve Fleurie 2012, Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2012, Villa Ponciago Cuvée Les Hauts Du Py 2012, 13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2012, Villa Ponciago Cuvée La Roche Muriers 2011

Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2012, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A six-month lay in French oak for 60 per cent of the Gamay fruit sourced exclusively from Malivoire’s Beamsville Bench estate vineyard is just what the go doctor ordered. Only Malivoire’s Gamay smells specifically like this; of tart and savoury capers, of small, earthy gemstones, of peppery currants, of meaty braising Bouille. A striking wine from a fortuitous Gamay vintage and great value that puts me in mind of how special the Courtney will be. Though the soils may differ, proximity wise they are close cousins.  Tasted at @Somewhereness, April 2014

Huff Estates Gamay 2012, Prince Edward County, Ontario (winery, $25, WineAlign)

If $25 seems a premium to pay for Ontario Gamay, consider all that is on offer in winemaker Frédéric Picard’s take on the friendly French grape. Picard caddies for 13th Street (Niagara) fruit, vinifies it bone-dry with the minimalist edge of 14 months in 15 per cent new French oak.  The fruit is so very ripe, in raspberry and gritless, creamy blueberry. Like savoury adult ice cream, silky smooth and with nary a hint of chalky grain. Well-designed and consumer-friendly as any Gamay has ever graced the Ontario consciousness. So you’ve “got that going for you, which is nice.” Shack up with Huff’s Gamay treat.  Tasted at County in the City, April 2014

Leaning Post Wines Gamay 2013 (Tank Sample, Projected Release Price $25)

Guiltless and virtuous straight out of stainless, the meaty side of Gamay game boldly goes where few from the Bench have gone before. Like a rare venison steak sitting in a silky pool of lavender-scented demi-glace. Floral like Fleurie and despite zero new oak, vanilla joins the gravy. A Senchuk steal of quality Wismer fruit sets this Gamay up for easy sell success.  Tasted @LeaningPostWine, April 2014

Manoir Du Carra Fleurie 2010, Ac, Beaujolais, France (364992, $24.95, WineAlign)

When the Gamay from Fleurie is spot on, the smells of meat and of flowers work both aromatic ends of the Beaujolais spectrum. Add some age to a solid core of black cherry fruit and voilà, get a nose of this Manoir Du Carra.  Clearly humid and drifting into a soft decline, the claymation action here weighs down and grounds this Gamay in an earthy impression. Would benefit by the company of some serious salty, savoury and roasted fare. In the name of balance. Fun to drink now, improvement with time is not in the Carra cards.  Tasted April 2014

13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula (130195, $29.95, WineAlign)

If roses were stones they would produce an aroma that only 13th Street’s Sandstone Gamay would recall. Some previous vintages have pushed the boundary to sky-high excess and a subterranean ferrous burrowing but in 2012 the perfume is both grounded and ethereal. The sandy tuff rock is so in that glass, like the smell of a rugged beach, mist and salinity spraying and rising off the rocks. The ’12 now knows “I don’t have to sell my soul.” Wholly singular Gamay and with hopes it will always be this going forward. Where as before it said “I want to be adored,” it now confirms “you adore me.”  Tasted at @Somewhereness, April 2014

Villa Ponciago La Réserve Fleurie 2012, Ac, Beaujolais, France (Agent Only, $30.00, WineAlign)

Slow ripening from up to 30 year-old vines on altitudinous slopes atop pink, granitic crystalline rock leads to increased elegance for La Réserve, beyond the paint and tar notes of the Millésime bottling. Cran-raspberry fruit gains density and vibrancy from the mineral-rich earth, transcending towards ripe strawberry. The lack of anxiety and tension is welcome and necessary for the simple pleasures given generously by this exemplary Gamay.  For the short-term, to 2016.  Tasted @WoodmanWines Burgundy event March 2014

Villa Ponciago Cuvée Les Hauts Du Py 2012, Ac Fleurie, Beaujolais, France (Agent Only, $37.00, WineAlign)

From a critical high ranging and angling vineyard of granite bedrock with a vein of quartz running through it. Les Hauts Du Puy suffered  during the 2012 season, with gloomy wet weather, storms and hail. Thanks to a September anticyclone return, the fruit was able to dry and then slowly mature, thus avoiding being blinded by the light. This single vineyard uses that white crystal like a thread of silk, allowing the coats of harder aromas to hang but never clamber aboard. More angst than La Réserve in the form of tannin and structure, something that can be attributed to the terroir of the Puy. Pure Gamay with a spring in its step, resolutely defined and with a cooler, blue fruit feel, tight, mineral-fed and charred on the finish.  Tasted @WoodmanWines Burgundy event March 2014

Villa Ponciago Cuvée La Roche Muriers 2011, Fleurie, Beaujolais, France (Agent Only, $60.00, WineAlign)

The harshest of the domain’s climatic and soil conditions lay a lashing of demand on this Gamay as much as any on the planet. It is nothing short of remarkable that it can maintain such a level of refinement and elegance so the fruit purity of this vineyard’s Gamay is noted and obvious. The most Burgundian of any Gamay out there today. Gone is the cranberry and tar of lesser locales, replaced by deeper tones and longer, elastic chains of tannin. A Gamay that nods knowingly and with impact.  Tasted @WoodmanWines Burgundy event March 2014

Good to go!

 

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Momofuku meet Henriot

Momofuku Daishō’s Roasted Rice Cakes
PHOTO: GABRIELE STABILE

as seen on canada.com

Stratus pairing last Spring defined modernity incarnate. Dinner at David Chang’s Má Pêche in NYC’s Chambers Hotel introduced me to “dishes as colourful canvasses, never over-painted nor as monochromatic abstractions.” Supper at Toronto’s Daishō this past September acquainted me with chef’s meticulous small plates and the finest crab dip the city has ever seen.

A 200 year-old Champagne house tasting was my fourth Momofuku experience and though it flashed before my eyes, it may have left the deepest impression. The Daishō kitchen and team, most notably Beverage Director Jonathan Gosenhauser and Front of House Manager Steve Sousa popped and poured five renditions of Henriot Champagne in expedient time. With out missing the beat of a room full of writers’ bleeding hearts, the gang then delivered six sublime courses in 15 minutes flat. Impossible. No.

The group was in a hurry to travel 20 minutes north on foot to the Royal Ontario Museum for the Napa Vintners Association seminar and tasting. With no disrespect intended, I would have been quite content to spend some further quality time with cellar master Laurent Fresnet of Henriot, our hosts Russell, Jason and Rachel Woodman, Mr. Gosenhauser and the all-day textures of Daishō’s plates. Another time.

PHOTO: champagne-henriot.com
Champagne Henriot

The wines of Champagne Henriot are a relatively new addition to the Ontario market. Founded in 1808, under Apolline Henriot, this is one of the last independent and family-owned houses in Champagne. Chardonnay is Henriot’s muse and each of the five wines at the Momofuku tasting stood singularly in contrast to one another. If I had to consider one to define the Henriot style, it would have to be the assemblage of their Blanc de Blancs. First, the plates.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Momofuku Daishō’s Falafel Bun, sesame, turnip, yogurt

Kimchi, napa cabbage
Falafel Bun, sesame, turnip, yogurt
Roasted Rice Cakes, pork sausage, Chinese broccoli, tofu
Hanger Steak, (McGee farms ON), kimchi, onions, bibb lettuce
Whole Speckled Trout, (kolapore ON), shrimp, tomato, smoked milk
Brussels Sprouts, fish sauce, puffed rice, mint
Crack Pie

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Momofuku Daishō’s Whole Speckled Trout, (kolapore ON), shrimp, tomato, smoked milk

Champagne Henriot Tasting, presented by Woodman Wines and Spirits

Momofuku Daishō – Monday, October 21, 2013

From left: Brut Souverain NV, Blanc De Blancs NV, Brut Millésimé 2005, and Cuvée Des Enchanteleurs 1998

Brut Rosé NV (Consignment) from 15 blended crus, contains a smidgen of Pinot Meunier along with a shade less than 15 per cent Pinot Noir to mantle the Chardonnay in bronze patina. Though not intended as a “visual wine,” Fresnet noted “We blend rosé in dark glasses so we’re influenced only by nose & taste, not by colour.” The quip that followed: “Perhaps everyone should blend in dark glasses.” Limitless aromatics, pear, ginger and the ticking kicker, the freshest peach. An alluvial toast, citrus emergence and a bull’s-eye of atomic probing all wrap this blush into one consumer-friendly basket of bubbles. Boundless beyond base.   92

Brut Souverain NV (959643, Nov. 9th, $59.95) from upwards of 25 crus hunts house parity in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Looking back in retrospect of the tasting, the Souverain is a brutally honest vampire in binding a consistency of the stable’s house style. So much so, “you found you’ve walked along these halls.” Faux-fumé, in a way, with toasted nuts, spice, grapefruit citrus and charcoal. An arid arrow through my Champagne heart, perfect for weekend sipping.  89

Blanc De Blancs NV (Private Order) is an assemblage of Chardonnay grapes mainly from the Côte des Blancs and village crus: Mesnil sur Oger, Avize, Chouilly, Vertus, Montgueux, Trépail, Epernay and the Vitry region. Though a blend of vintages, this B de B sulks and broods in adolescence. Red, skinless apple and citrus pith are its card of youthful exuberance. Gorgeous in reserve juice with a brioche waft on the back end. In a phase of careful consideration, this NV fizz will be held in kind hands for a good, long time.  91

Brut Millésimé 2005 (Private Order) is a du pareil au même complex union of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from 15 crus, mainly Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims; Mesnil sur Oger, Avize, Chouilly, Mareuil-surAÿ, Avenay, Verzy and Verzenay. In light of its own accord and magnificence from increased toast and an exotic level of perceived sweetness. The most ethereal of the line-up.  92

Cuvée Des Enchanteleurs 1998 (83774, VINTAGES Classics) is a mother of pearl, equipoise of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from six Grand Crus: Mailly Champagne, Verzy, Verzenay on Montagne de Reims, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Avize and Chouilly on Côte des Blancs. Shows plenty of lively, savoury goods; caper berry, herbal sauvage, marmite jam, baking orchard fruit, aromatic bitters. The elaboration is confounding and a lesson in 15 year-old Champagne humility. The deciduous, Crazy Mary of the line-up. One Champagne lover’s edulcoration is another one’s bitter pill. “Take a bottle, drink it down, pass it around.”  90

Cuvée Des Enchanteleurs 1990 (Private Order, from magnum) from 15 crus, including the most prestigious: Mesnil-sur-Oger, Avize, Chouilly, Mareuil-surAÿ, Oger, Verzy, Verzenay, Ay and Vertus. Showing more youth than that bottle of blooming ’98. Spoons out more segmented grapefruit, more saveur, more washed Langres rind. Blithesome like an evergreen forest after rain. Wild fennel and citrus in the most parched way. Linear nobility and mobility that appeals to my mathematical mind. Speaks as if to say, “I want to change your mind, said I want to set it right this time.”  Moving Champagne.  94

Good to go!

Ancient, state of the art Spanish wine

Barrels of wine are pictured in a cellar PHOTO: A.B.G./FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Argument suggests that the cradle of wine civilization, borne of Levant and of Mesopotamia should rightfully translate to talk of global influence and relevance as emanating from Greece and the Middle East. Not so much. The epicentre lies further west. A commonality shared by the modern romantic, European wine-producing nations is a mojo modus constructed of the most complex declensions. The language of the big three, France, Italy and Spain, inflects in case and number, the benchmark for fine and designed wine.

Spain’s vinous history stretches about as far back as that of its Western European neighbours and though it so often plays kissing cousin, Spanish winemakers do not pussyfoot in producing superannuated yet contemporary wine. My tastings over the previous two years of western (Latin) Europe’s 2009 and 2010 vintages have somewhat and hopefully only temporarily soured my palate for beloved southern Rhônes, especially from the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Up until a year ago I would have put CdP up against any global comparatives for quality and value in the $30-50 range. So many current examples, especially those 2010′s, are hot, over-extracted and completely out of balance. That feeling is also coming out of Piedmont (in particular from a virus of cheap, under $35, traipsing and awkwardly ambling Barolo), but also newly endemic in a hyperbolic convoy of flamboyant and trashy-sexy Tuscan IGT and Brunello. This, sniff, from my first wine love.

PHOTO: Michael Godel Bodegas Beronia, Patria Restaurant, July 18, 2013

Winemakers in Spain (and zooming in more specifically) from Ribera del DueroRioja and Montsant are more careful not to fall into modish vinification traps like sugar and spice wood splintering (France) or terroir-void, vinous compost (Italy). They are masters of their wine technique domains, in control of reductive aromas and in deft touch with acidification. Don’t misunderstand me. France and Italy are blessed with brilliant wines and winemakers. Conversely, there are plenty of examples out there these days in high-octane, alcohol elevated, barrel age-leveraging in ultra-modern Spanish wine. There are also wine making superstars. Red and white wine heroes. Matias Calleja, Juan Carlos Vizcarra, Maria Barúa, Luisa Freire and Alvaro Palacios all achieve Iberian nirvana by striking a balance between old and new world, antediluvian and 21st century, all the while making large quantities of commercially successful wine.

Bodegas Beronia talks of their “commitment to quality wine that expresses the personality of theterroir.” Their goal? “A philosophy based on respect for the environment and an ability to adapt to new market trends, maintaining the essence of Rioja.” Matías Calleja defines it: ”We combine art technology with traditional methods of production.”

According to their Ontario agent, Woodman Wines and Spirits, “if anyone embodies the promise and spirit of “The New Spain”, it is Alvaro Palacios.” It has not been much more than 20 years since he took control of the esteemed empire built by his father, Jose Palacios Remondo, but Alvaro Palacios has already become one of Spain’s most famous and well-respected winemakers.

Here are 10 perfect Spanish wines to pour, ponder and debate the popularity vs. quality discussion and to open the door to ancient, state of the art Spanish wine.

From left: Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat 2011, Lan Gran Reserva 2005, Bodegas Vizcarra JC Vizcarra 2010, Beronia Crianza 2009, and Beronia Gran Reserva 2006

Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat 2011 (216291, $22.95) is composed from 50 per cent Samsó (Carinena), 40 per cent Garnacha and a 10 per cent split between Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. A child of young vines, ready to roll Spanish charmer with a mingling floral nose, in barberry and bursting blueberry. Outlined by notes of pencil and charcoal. Timely acidity helps ease the heavy alcohol with some essential balancing grace. Stealth, arid ride through calcareous rock, deciduous oak and viburnum. There is something historical here, crafted yet serious.  91

Lan Gran Reserva 2005 (928622, $27.95) and its makers may now just be a cog in the Sogrape empire but it continues to do its own thing. Has that evolution I look for in Rioja. The slightest oxidative note, heaps of herbs and the umami of salty clashes with smokey Jamon. Rioja expressive of one love and one heart. Caught bobbing, dancing and wailing right in its wheelhouse, giving everything it’s made of, no holds barred and no questions asked. “Is there a place for the hopeless sinner?” Yes, in a glass of a weathered, leathery and just flat out real as it gets red Rioja.  92  @BodegasLan

Bodegas Vizcarra JC Vizcarra 2010 (214650, $28.95) while 100 per cent Tempranillo could understandably be confused for Bordeaux or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Wood driven to be sure, shrouded in tobacco, vanilla, coconut and the prevailing, hedonistic attributes of the Left Bank or the Rhône. Bounding in berries and liqueur with a hit of phite. JC works because it comes together by adhering to Tempranillo’s early ripening, Cabernet-like, savoury chain of command. Compliments all around to an under $30 powerful yet beauteous Ribera, all out contempo, flaunting and billowing gorgeous. Wow times ten for flavour, if a bit too much of a good thing.  91 @DrinkRibera

Bodegas Beronia, Patria Restaurant, July 18, 2013

presented by Woodman Wines and Spirits, (416) 767-5114, @WoodmanWines @BodegasBeronia

Beronia Viura 2012 (Coming to VINTAGES January 18th, 2014 – 190801, $14.95) exsufflates super ripe, fresh picked pear and emollient herbiage in pure, angled control. One hundred per cent, quick macerated and cold stabilized Viura of aromatics locked in tight. A pour that leads to a starburst of flavour. Complexity reaches the sea in an underlying tide of salinity.  89

Beronia Tempranillo 2010 (LCBO, 243055, $11.65) is a warm, tempered, six months in Sherry cask-driven “one-half Crianza” but not classified as such. Specifically crafted for the North American market, the oak is the protagonist, while the Tempranillo lies in macerated cherry state. At $12 it’s a no-brainer, crafted by a conscientious and forward-thinking vintner.  86

Beronia Crianza 2009 (Consignment, $16.95, Barque Smokehouse) offers more terroir and less barrel interference, in pursuit of a fruit/tension equilibrium. Redolent as if berries, cherries and plums were on the crush pad, with a touch of modernity as a result of both new and used barrels. Classic style (1970′s) Rioja, a five to seven-year wine.  89

Beronia Gran Reserva 1973 is both the dawn of a first vintage pathfinder and fountain of youth. Fast forward from the pre-disco vintage to ubiquitous 90′s soul-searching structure and know it was clearly there with untested confidence back in the beginning. Earth, Spanish bramble and aged expertly in barrel, you can ”tie a yellow ribbon ’round the ole oak tree” with this genesis of Rioja. Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo and five per cent Viura. Twenty minutes in the glass and still so alive. Old school with the proviso to entertain.  93

Beronia Gran Reserva 1982 is highly evolved, gone milky, breaking down as by proteolytic enzyme. A study in caramel, fruit removed, out of tension, past. A second bottle not tasted was purportedly sound, though not corroborated.  NR

Beronia Gran Reserva 1994 spent 34 months in new and used barrels. The bridge from past to future, definitive for Rioja in every pertinent way. Fragrant in licorice, iron and bigarreau cherry. American oak to see a 2020 future in shag, snuff, tea and forest compost.  94

Beronia Gran Reserva 2006 (VINTAGES, Release date TBD – 940965, $34.95) is so youthful it actually gives me bubble gum and dark black cherry from just a swirl. American vanillin oak and terrible tannins in a frightfully tough to assess wine Calleja says “will maintain this intensity for four to six years.” Oh, and then “will continue to evolve for 20-25 more,” slowly modulating as a result of its natural acidity. Judgment currently reserved though the future looks extremely promising.  92

Good to go!

Toronto Life Names Top 10 New Restos

Friday March 9, 2012

 

http://blogs.canada.com/2012/03/09/toronto-life-names-top-10-new-restos/

 

Since opening in April 2011, the wine card at Barque Smokehouse has been in my charge. Weighed favourably towards VINTAGES releases, the list makes friends with and flatters the meats smoked ’round the clock. The wine program is unique to this city; affordable, accessible and stamped by a carbonic footprint in the sand. Wine outsells both beer and spirits and 15 choices are available by the glass at $10 or less. The same operose research afforded tasting and writing goes into picking wines from the LCBO and through some of our most assiduous and industrious agencies; Barrel Select, Halpern, Lifford, Liquid Art, Profile, Stem, 25Brix and Woodman.

The cover story for yesterday’s release of the April 2012 Issue is “Where to eat Now, Toronto’s Best New Retaurants.”  Toronto Life has published this cutting top ten list with Barque listed at number six. Good on you David, Jon and crew. These boys are in, and in for good, so it’s no surprise they are going the whole hog. Not bad to be gracing a list inhabited by Yours Truly, Acadia, Aria, Keriwa, Ortolan, F’amelia, Modus, Volos and Mideastro. Here three deep reds available in the here and now on Barque’s wine list.

H.M Borges Douro Lello 2010 the fortitudinous one was born with a complaint in its voice. Spicy po’boy BBQ feel crossed by electric kool-aid acid, black cherry jello. “New blood joins this earth” as the Unforgiven wooden wolf, opening a door to Portuguese perception. Prune and Aussie licorice concentrate. The Lello says “‘I’m sorry I kicked you in the ass, but I’m not sorry I’m an ass-kicker.” It’s cheap so please forgive.  87

 

Pietro Marini Malbec 2008 (269045, $13.95) of alpine altitude up Cafayate way searches low and high for that synaesthetic middle ground. A no nose start, awakens, naps and rises again. Notes of smoked allspice, juniper and blueberries come and go. Flavours are faint at first, develop with time, end abruptly, then return and linger. Intriguing and certainly not like your mother’s Mendozan Malbec. It’s “got values but I don’t know how or why.”  87

Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (944843, $34.95) alights with its prominent, perfumed proboscis. A Katherine Hepburn nose in fact, classy, confident, twitching, pretty. Swirl a second time and Texas tea laced cassis persists, with a hint of solder. A multi-coloured and peppered berry interchange tongue lashes the inner cheeks then settles in for a long haul chopper journey. A balanced attack both on ground and in air. Dreamt about under a bed of California Stars. Easy rider. 92

Kenwood JL Cab 2007

 

 

 

Good to go!