Good to go!
Sparkling wine, fizz, bubbles, bubbly. Champagne. Mousseux, Crémant, Asti Spumante, Espumante, Cap Classique, Cava, Prosecco, Franciacorta, Oltrepò Pavese Metodo, Brachetto, Sekt. Méthode champenoise, charmat, méthode ancestrale. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chenin Blanc, Arbois, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois, Macabeu, Parellada, Xarel-Lo, Glera. It’s all just an amazing confluence of pressed juice, yeast, sugar and carbon dioxide. Nothing in the world screams “party!” like an effervescent bottle of fermented grapes.
Those who immerse themselves with any reasonable amount of time in the wine world need no introduction to the wonders of fizz. I taste at several Sparkling wines on a weekly basis and choose to open one in a regular rotation as much as I do whites and reds. Bubbles are made worldwide in so many styles and in so many price ranges. They are the most versatile (food) wines out there. So why do 99 per cent of the wine-indulging population ignore it, save for weddings, milestone anniversaries and in utilitarian fashion at a December fête? Such is life’s cruel mystery. Who isn’t looking for a Sparkling wine to pop open this month? Should we put up our hands so we know who we are?
Think of it this way. The grapes that are harvested for Sparkling wine are generally the first to be picked. By nature that means the winemaker had those very grapes in mind for Sparkling production. Bubbles are not an afterthought, they are not wines made from the discarded, the non-regarded or the neglected. You have to believe and want to make honest Sparkling wine. Otherwise you skip it altogether. Here are 10 choices, from $20 to $100, from Crémant to Champagne, to help celebrate what matters this holiday season.
Chardonnay and nothing but. Full arid, atomic behaviour, rehydrated pear and indicative of a grower’s Champagne style, like a petite Bérèche. Expands blowsy in the mouth, like pop rocks but it never wavers from being extra, extra dry. Nut, pith, no citrus and as a food wine it begs for something rich and fatty. Nothing creamy about it. Salted zest to finish. 88 Tasted November 2013
Arid, frothy and fitful, atomically speaking. White peach and preceding spring flowers. Charcoal rubbed, also clean and fine. Sparkling Chenin Blanc done right. 88 Tasted November 2013 @ProfileWineGrp
Racy like the coupe, this is curve hugging Champagne-method spumante full of velocità and terribilita. Yes, like the master painter, this storied northern Italian sparkler is full of heroic, awe-inspiring power and grandeur. Classic method bubbles made well, driving fast and on course. Call it ulterior motive-driven but this spanks and tickles the tongue with a struck match and a finessed power wield of fine mist. Il duce of Trentino. 90 Tasted November 2013 @DiamondEstates
From the earliest picked Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, on the hedge’s edge of phenolic gratification and a caterwaul of acidity. So acutely rosé, aromatically parched, sun-dried meridional as if Provençal procured via saignée. The tendency to deliver in dulcet tone is musical, to be pardoned and after all, don’t “we all want a love bizarre?” The usual suspects make themselves heard; strawberry, rhubarb, fresh basil and crème fraîche. Not to forget the warmth of 2010. Just add cool. Bring on the raw bar. 89 Tasted December 2013. @MBosc
Composed of approximately 60 per cent Chardonnay and 40 Pinot Noir. As close to greatness a house style from California can achieve. Discovers some secrets shared by cool-climate Sparkling wine, first with a delicate floral waft from out of a salmon copper tone. Complex, savoury bubbles, in rhubarb, tarragon and poached pear. Round, really fine, earthly, grounded stuff that spent a minimum two years on the lees. Marked by citrus too, namely pink grapefruit and creamy vanilla from the addition of some oak-aged wine. 91 Tasted November 2013
Aromatic rhetoric would argue this Marlborough bottle of bubbles is a ringer for classic Blanc de Blancs. Promises pleasure and class from the first whiff. Decidedly lemon citrus tight and stony until an herbal, splintered, stemmy tarragon balm takes over, rendering the wine more of its place than what it tries to emulate. Still, a really terrific effort. 89 Tasted November 2013 @oenophilia1
A grower’s Champagne from which you will immediately pick up good vibrations. A mousse phenom, lees-effectuated fizz. Dominated by a yeast reductive aroma, joined by herbs and spices. “I, I love the colorful clothes she wears and the way the sunlight plays upon her hair.” Boys, she’s a long walk on the beach. Creamy and mouth-filling but also pith marked, like grapefruit yogurt or guava crème brûlée. Tangy and beautifully bitter too. 91 Tasted November 2013 @Dhondt_Grellet
Simply classic triumvirate balance of citrus, brioche and exotic perfume. Centrifugal spun scents of nearly candied, spiked lemon, white grapefruit pith, wet yeast and bottled jasmine. Top value in big name, pherule bead, made in a house style. 91 Tasted October 4, 2013 @CHChampagne
May not be the esteemed house and vintage of the century’s love-child but I can’t think of a single reason not to spend a pittance more on a vintage-dated Champagne like this Moët in lieu of a sea of NV alternatives. Granted it’s wound maddeningly tight, spewing still young venom, crazed by pear and citrus concentrate but…trust must be placed in its charms. This Moët is quite refined. Apples tempered in acidity, beloved for its building blocks, it’s really good Champagne. 94 Tasted November 2013 @MoetUSA
Bubbles large as tobiko roe. The vintage has now and finally just let go as viewed in the wine’s once fuscia and now copper patina. The advance to secondary life smells like grinding metal, pink grapefruit and orange dominated south Asian potpourri. Great though not sacred is this compliment to give this typical ’02 and its linear largesse, fine finesse and admirable balance. 92 Tasted October 2013
Good to go!
Every once in while events come along in a confluence of conspicuous timing that just seem to indicate “a sign of the apocalypse.” Today is both the first day of the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. It’s also American Thanksgiving. The next time the twain (and the Maccabees) are scheduled to collide is in 79,811. By that time they will be making Barossa-style Shiraz in Vostok Station. Thanksgivukkah? Please say it ain’t so.
Yes, that's right, Hanukkah and American Thanksgiving today. Next time will be in 79811. washingtontimes.com/news/2013/nov/…—
Magdalena KaiserSmit (@mkaisersmit) November 28, 2013
Meanwhile, it’s the 28th of November and most of Canada has already experienced three straight days of true winter. While the winter of 2012 may have seen plenty of white stuff, who doesn’t remember the Spring conditions of November through March of 2011? Yesterday my neighbour pined for a return of global warming.
Now my thoughts turn to the Canadian wine harvest. Every Ontario grower has finished picking their grapes, with only Icewine left to go. Every grower? Even J-L Groux and team from Stratus Vineyards are done. In 2009 J-L picked Cabernet Franc on December 8th. What? Cabernet Sauvignon and last but not least, Sémillon came off the vines just a few days ago. This in a challenging vintage in which veraison did not exactly come early. Despite the trepidation heard all summer long, I have to believe that the wines from 2013 will be some of the most interesting and alt-exceptional we have ever seen. A collector’s vintage. Something is just in the air.
BC is already picking Icewine on Beaujolais Nouveau release day. Can Ontario be far behind?—
Tony Aspler (@tonyaspler) November 21, 2013
In British Columbia the Icewine harvest began on November 21st and picking is already complete. Nothing short of remarkable. Ontario will not be far behind.
So how do we explain this supernatural convergence of grapes having achieved phenolic ripeness and winter coming so early to complete the annual growth cycle of grapevines? Like Thanksgiviukkah I suppose, this kind of cosmic confluence only happens once every 77798 years. For that I am thankful. And for my family, my beautiful wife, my three perfect children, four healthy parents, and for my friends, new and old.
I am also amazed every day by the quality of food and wine we are growing in our backyards and just a hop, skip and a jump down the road. What a time it is to be a (cough) foodie or a wine geek in Ontario, in Canada and in the world. So, while the cosmos are in impossible exquisite chaos, I can think of no better time to put my wine recommendations on their head and offer up tasting notes on a winter six-pack of Canadian whites and bubbles.
ROSEWOOD SÜSSRESERVE RIESLING 2012, VQA Beamville Bench, Niagara Peninsula Ontario, Canada (258806, $14.95)
As per the (Süssreserve) practicum of adding in part, unfermented grape juice back into the main ferment, it could be argued that in a warm vintage such as this, the practice could be disadvantageous or even disastrous to the whole. Well, ambition differs from greed. “I’m going to show the way I feel unless I find you give a damn.” In Rosewood’s (and winemaker Luke Orwinski’s) honey-enlightened hands this Riesling is always “the start of something beautiful.” The 2012 is no house of cards, more like a porcupine tree, an unobtrusive, cohesive laser. The sweetness is of course stressed in honey, the pears nearing caramelization. There is lemon tang and she gives her for the pittance. 89 Tasted three times, October and November 2013 @Rosewoodwine
FEATHERSTONE CANADIAN OAK CHARDONNAY 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (149302, $21.95)
First things first. Creds for the use of Canadian Oak. Wines made using local oak will not improve unless vintners like Featherstone push the coopers to make better barrels. The butter, lemon and toasty char here is quite high-toned and approaching caramelization but all in the name of integration. The overall result is one of elegance and a long streak of flavours. Quite tropical, I must admit but a good, honest drink. 88 Tasted November 2013 @featherstonewne
BLASTED CHURCH PINOT GRIS 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley British Columbia, Canada (353128, $24.90)
I must admit I’m kinda fond-a this juicy, expressive and blasted rich Okanagan Pinot Gris. A “cool breeze blows through” carrying just the faintest note of fromage, even more pepper and the most sapid orchard fruit. Really goes out there to give the goods. Would I like to sample this Church again in a year or two? Roger Wilco on that. 89 Tasted November 2013 @BlastedChurch
FLAT ROCK ESTATES RIDDLED SPARKLING WINE 2008, With Crown Cap Opener, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, (187377, $24.95)
Shouts “hello!” with that crown cap opener but otherwise seems a bit quiet at this time. Prominent (pear) orchard ripe fruit, very, very dry and persistent. Wrapped up in lime zest and flint. From my earlier note: A completely different animal. “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key.” The key might be the yeast that brings animale to the wine. A bit fat and flat, with tropical notes of lychee and almond. Speeds up but is a bit of an acquired taste. 87 Tasted December 2012 and November 2013 @Winemakersboots
Fasten the seatbelt for these Okanagan bubbles of tension nonpareil, acids beyond compare, fruit screaming to be heard. Estate-grown Pinot Blanc picked and aged at classic Champagne numbers, 18 brix, 2.95 PH and 36 months on the lees. Low in alcohol (11.3 per cent) and supportive in reverse balancing residual sugar (6 gr/l). Of note were green seeds, “so we’re not fighting green character,” says Sperling’s partner Peter Gamble. Non varietally-driven fizz that concentrates on mouthfeel, place and method. Does this Brut have the most tension ever from a B.C. Sparkling wine? Travels electrically from pole to pole, wired tight, inside a smart machine. A tale of a northern soul, “too busy staying alive.” 91 Tasted twice, November 2013 @SperlingVyds
13TH STREET GRAND CUVÉE BLANC DE NOIRS 2006, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (364299, $59.95)
In a place right now where the lees seem to be doing all the talking, in a self-professed goût Anglaise way. While this oxidative, white caramel, and cultured style will only increase with each tick of the odometer, that time will also be needed to skim and separate that cream from the bouillon. High active, wicked this way comes froth, resinous for sparkling, pompous (not a bad thing), self-assured, Niagara fizz. Wondrous but not in its optimum place. A couple to five years away. 91 Tasted November 2013 @13thStreetWines
Good to go!
It began in the middle of October, on a Tuesday, on the ides I believe. Two weeks earlier I had penned this column: Fall is the time for Tuscan wine.
I was wrong. Fall is the time for all things Italian, wine included. At no time of year is there more of a conscious, active pursuit of Italian produce and gastronomy; salumi, chestnut, porcini, truffle and especially wine.
For the better part of a month and a half I have been tasting Italian wine, from just about everywhere it is made around the boot. Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Emiglia Romagna, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardia, Marche, Molise, Piemonte, Sardegna, Sicilia, Toscana, Trentino-Alto Adige, Umbria and Veneto. Three essential events brought Italy to Canada, two being of the intimate and tutored kind. The third, a massive annual affair (though no VinItaly) tied the Italian federation of wine-producing regions together under one gorgeously acoustic roof.
Lunch with Fiorenzo Dogliani of Beni di Batasiolo and Charton Hobbs, October 25, 2013
The Dogliani family produce a wine range of wines in Piemonte and although love has not been lost for the “beni,” properties encasing the symbiotic relationship between farmhouses and vineyards, or tradition as a guiding force, Batasiolo is not out-of-place in the fast, forward thinking aesthetic of modern Italian winemaking. “Past and future co-exist” and wine speaks of the estate’s “Great Vineyards,” Briccolina, Boscareto, Cerequio and Bofani. Vineyards that persist in producing outstanding produce.
Tutored tasting with Gaia Gaja of Gaja Wines and Stem Wine Group, October 31, 2013
Gaja owns 250 acres of vineyards in Barbaresco and Barolo. In 1994 they acquired Pieve Santa Restituta in Montalcino, Tuscany and in 1996 they added Ca’Marcanda in Bolgheri, Tuscany on the coast. The significance of this acquisition lies in the Bordeaux varieties grown there; Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and especially Cabernet Franc. There will come a day, not so far away, when that Cabernet Franc will make some truly exceptional wine.
The Gaja brand, while nearly 155 years young, has recently climbed into a league of its own. To consider the wines, the estates and the aura that surrounds, you might think there was a marketing team of hundreds blanketing the earth. On the contrary. There is Gaia Gaja.
Gaia Gaja brought her family’s wines to Toronto. She spoke for more than an hour. Non-stop. “I am a woman and I am Italian,” she confessed. No one complained. All were captivated by the presentation and the presenter.
It is quite something to have the opportunity to taste wines like the 2008 Rennina Brunello di Montalcino, 2009 Barbaresco, 2008 Conteisa Barolo and the ethereal 1999 Sperss Langhe. Angelo Gaja is the rogue master of Piemonte, the first to think outside the box and break down ancient restrictions and boundaries. Who would argue that success is owed, more than in part, to his determination to rid the region of pride and stubbornness.
The dichotomy in images and in wine is not something easily understood unless you have listened to someone like Gaia Gaja tell the story. Here, a small village in Piemonte, the photograph showing a rag-tag assembly of small homes packed tightly together. The story told that beneath every house there is a winery and the greatest Nebbiolo on the planet there being produced. The farmers growing grapes on slopes so famous, not because the terroir may be noted as terre bianche or terre brune, but because the wines, like Sori Tildin or Sori San Lorenzo transform the produce into magic and command never imagined prices.
Gaja, the brand, is as famous as any from Italy, but Gaia takes nothing for granted. She is the perfect spokesperson for her family’s business. She is outwardly nostalgic, plotting a course from the very origins of the family’s connection to the land. Her attention to the simple is what Edward Steinberg noted in his Gaja memoir, The Vines of San Lorenzo. “The growing of grapes on one plot of land and their subsequent transformation is the story of Everywine.”
On November 4, 2013 I attended the annual Taste Italy, a tasting of wines from Italy at Roy Thomson Hall. I was particularly impressed with the terrific value to be found in the wines of Ca’ Dei Mandorle and the excellence from Pietro Rinaldi. Rinaldi’s BARBERA SUPERIORE (90) elevates the genre while the BARBARESCO 2010 (93) exudes a sweet, floral perfume. Castellare di Castellina remains one of my favourite Tuscan houses. The CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011 (90) comes from a vintage of agglomeration; the brood and weight of ’06 combined with the beauty and hedonism of ’07. The ’11 CC is fresh, elegant and full of rich fruit.
Here are eight full tasting notes on a wide range of Italian wines, from the hills of Piemonte in the northwest to the tiny island of Sardegna in the south.
JERZU CHUÈRRA RISERVA CANNONAU DI SARDEGNA 2008, Sardinia, Italy (270272, $16.95)
Ancient carsic cave dweller, inhabitant of underground hollows, Brett monster, heartbreaker saying “don’t you mess around with me.” A salt lick studded with crushed aniseed on a bed of Mediterranean flowering maquis and garrigue. Coal-fired, stonking stuff full of tannic tension. A bit offal-ish and not for the faint of stomach or heart. For others a dream maker. 89 Tasted October 2013 @FrontierWine
Has travelled a well-worn path up on cripple creek. The band played a veritable fruit and vegetable smoothie, pulsed from prune, oxidative purple plum, chewy raisin, tomato leaf and pulp in concentrate. Really excellent tension and a tar/coal/charcoal tendency came late. “When that nag to win came around the track” sure enough this Aglianico had won. If it weren’t for so much tomato on the nose this would have been a very fine wine. 88 Tasted October 2013
BANFI CUVÉE AURORA ROSÉ 2009, Alta Langa, Metodo Classico (355693, $24.95)
The fifth and surely seminal year in production of this French oak barrique aged, 100 per cent Pinot Noir fizz, composed from 90 per cent ”clear wine” and 10 per cent juice of the previous vintage. Follows classic, traditional skin contact cold maceration methodology and seems to emulate the style of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut. Dry and savoury, distinctly rhubarb-scented, showing amazing freshness and wild borealis waves. A conglomerate Tuscan outfit paying attention to the small details in Piedmont. 90 Tasted November 2013 @CastelloBanfi
A syrupy rich and aromatically confected Tuscan coastal blend of 55 per cent Merlot, 35 per cent Syrah and 10 per cent Sangiovese. Anchored by a mineral stranglehold and intense aniseed studded grit. Dried rose, black tea and a trattoria’s wooden walls put you sitting in the taverna, waiting for the boar ragu to arrive. Will see to a serious future if the blackberry and Cassis fruit can hold up. The Promis is in ode to the past made in a clean and concise manner. Negotiates a partnership between the ancient Piemontese world of Angelo Gaja and a new generation of Tuscany style. 91 Tasted on October 25th and November 19th, 2013 @StemWineGroup
A Nebbiolo produced from two old vineyards owned by the Gromis family, acquired by Gaja in 1995, one in Serralunga adjacent to the iconic Sperss and the other in La Morra adjacent to Conteisa. Clay and marl Tortonian-era soils are its fodder and this Barolo comes across like iron-rich earth, boled through stucco and warmed to a rosy madder. Cultures 14.5 per cent abv with the most unimaginable, delicate nature. Mirror of her maker. 94 Tasted October 2013
BATASIOLO LANGHE ROSSO 2011, Piedmont, Italy (981019, $16.95)
Several local varieties (Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto) are sourced here from the hills of Langhe. Forward fruity, vinous and in turn, resinous, built solid and structured with juicy acidity. Plays all the right components to offer value. This Rosso is well-thought out, not heavy-handed nor overly composed. Excellent value. 89 Tasted October 2013
Spent a year in bottle following its 100 per cent new oak, two-year, early settling. Produced from a combination of nine disparate vineyards, ranging from valley low to hilltop high, it is ultimately a very fine value in approachable, qualified and legitimate Barolo as you are likely to come across. A farmer’s finesse loads up red berry fruit and ripe plum, bursting fresh and massaged by a healthy level of grainy tannin. A general list Barolo that acts quite serious, if perhaps out of a vintage leaning towards the austere. 89 Tasted October 2013
From a chord running through a vineyard across a ridge at the top of a hill. Full sun exposure boldly transmutes to modernity out of the highest extraction. An underlying funk pays homage to the single vineyard designation’s storied past and this Nebbiolo is to Batasiolo as Madonna del Piano is to Valdicava. Hard as nails, rapt mineral composure, linear and precise like the vineyard it comes from. So far from opening the door to conjugal visits. There will be chestnut Zabaglione when the times comes 10 years forward. At $75 this is Cru Piemontese for a song. 93 Tasted October 2013
Good to go!
It would seem that 99 per cent of the time wine columns are composed of a particular thematic that weaves facts, theories and tasting notes and into one tight, informative package. Most would consider it helpful and appropriate for wine stores shelves to be organized by varietal or style, as opposed to country or region. Why should a wine column be any different?
Sometimes you just need to grow your hair, let your freak flag fly and put out a random set of reviews. So, here are six unconnected wines, save for the fact they are all highly recommended and available right now, at a store nearby.
FEATHERSTONE BLACK SHEEP RIESLING 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95)
Has steadily become one of Niagara’s most recognizable and copacetic Rieslings. The 2012 is shaped and defined by tight corners and sharp angles. Crisp fruit, sour lemon drop, lime zest, unmistakable in Niagara Peninsula manner but added to by the blessedly atypical warm vintage. Early picking preserved freshness towards realizing a salient, direct arrow into a pierced Riesling heart. Tasted November 19, 2013 88 @featherstonewne
Has hit that age when brambly fruit begins to wane and alcohol takes over. Has not breached the tipping point but it’s coming soon. Dark berries and charred, smokey meat are still warm and inviting but a fig paste and effervescent hop, flanked by an astringent bite, take over at the midpoint. I am still a fan of this bottling, despite an adorned, arching swing of the fresh fruit pendulum. Though it does not venture over the top, it’s no shrinking violet. Certainly not squarely in whack but this Zinfandel uses its fins for maneuverability, buoyancy and a sharp attack. Tasted November 2013 89 @KundeEstate
HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (274753, $32.95)
Deeper, earthen, decreased propriety and more pelage than the previous two vintages. I sense longer hang time, more redress and slower slumber. In Hidden Bench I thought I knew and would always associate with a specific Pinot Noir feel but this ’11 confounds. In a way, that is a large compliment. Fruit reminiscent of a top Central Otago in that it grips my Pinot interest if not my Ontario heart. Tasted October 2013 90 @HiddenBench
From a 1978 planting, this teases late harvest-like with a sweet-sliding aromatic entry that glides effortlessly on the changeover to the palate and then bam! A red-letter sharp and acidulated takeover. The roots dug deep for the wise and wizened vines overtop a full limestone overlay “naturally stretch the nutrients in the bunches,” notes Sperling’s partner Peter Gamble. Low, old and slow, “all about circulation and flow.” Finishes with pith and citrus intensity. Yikes Riesling. Tasted November 2013 91 @SperlingVyds
Goes at it older, bolder, tried and truer than had recently been the case, especially in 2007. Leather, cherries, seeping tea and peppery, earthy, funky dates. Purity of fruit, obviousness in Sangiovese Grosso aromatics and it is only when you taste that you are dealt with the full effect of its power and girth. Quite viscous on the palate, tough, gritty chain of tannin and qualified, felicitous bitters on a very long finish. Best Pian delle Vigne in some time, at least back to 2001. Tasted November 2013 93 @AntinoriFamily
BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2005, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (Note: carried in specific flagship stores and could either be 2005 or 2007, 275396, $74.95, Nova Scotia 1012526, $74.79)
Takes no time at all to “stimulate some action,” and “give an exhibition.” Tasting this piece of Canadian Sparkling history is a curated event, offering living, bubbling proof that Nova Scotia is THE place to make fizz. Flaunts more baking aromas than I can recall from first nosing it two weeks ago. Gravenstein apple skin, gingerbread and freshly grated horseradish layered over Malagash Thrumcap oysters. Expansive, sharp, piquant and hinting towards a verge of oxidative tendency but I must note that this bottle is a bit warm and fuzzy. Though the maturity, elegance and judging is in another league, on a side note, there is something here that reminds me of North Fork’s Sparkling Pointe Brut Seduction 2003. Kindred spirits. The Bridge is charged, demanding and I believe this ’05 would continue to benefit from a few more years relaxation before finding its true elegance. Before midnight or after midnight, it doesn’t matter. Get some and you’re “gonna find out what it is all about.” Tasted October 25th and November 19, 2013 93 @Benjamin_Bridge
Good to go!
A quick Nouveau 101. According to a French law passed in 1985, Beaujolais Nouveau may not be released earlier than the third Thursday of November. In and around the six-week mark post harvest, Gamay grapes are “pressed”, quickly fermented, met with carbonic maceration (also known as whole-berry fermentation), filtered and bottled. Light, day glow-hued, fresh, fruity and virtually tannin-free are the hallmarks of the Nouveau. Is it your cup of wine?
While the producers from Burgundy continue to employ their preferred nomenclature, the wine formerly known as Beaujolais Nouveau is now simply Nouveau because other wine growing nations have joined the party. Italians produce a Novello and in Niagara they have adopted theNouveau, if only because “new wine” is not the most marketable of phrases. There was even amovie made about the annual celebration, albeit 35 years ago.
To be clear, I am a huge proponent of Gamay, the grape, but the Nouveau has not yet endeared itself to me in ways that make me want to gush with praise. That it receives so much more press and attention than the wines encompassed within the right proper @GoGamayGo movement is beyond me because the twain do not meet, nor do they cross any honest, vinous path. That said, some winemakers pay enough attention to detail, do away with manipulation and contrivance and produce some very quaffable Nouveau.
And so, “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!.” The LCBO rolled out nine to taste in advance of tomorrow’s world release party. Here are my tasting notes and in light of my own astonishment, three I would most definitely recommend for a day pass. Please, please, though, promise to drink it very soon. Tomorrow would be ideal. Age will not be a friend. Most important, pinky swear you will serve it chilled. The consequence, I’m afraid, is a wine that will taste hot off the presses.
NEGRAR NOVELLO DEL VENETO 2013, Veneto, Italy (899955, $9.95)
Grapey by-product and hard to imagine it’s even begun fermenting, though at 12 per cent it clearly has. Banana-scented band-aid, black cherry bubble gum and candy apple dominated though a sharp piquant tang and groove give it substance. Maleficently disjointed but makes use of some stuffing and guts to go for glory. Passionate attempt to represent power and prosperity for the Venetian Lion of San Marco. 84 Tasted November 19, 2013
TOLLO NOVELLO ROSSO TERRE DI CHIETI GIOCALE 2013, Abruzzo, Italy (271759, $8.95)
This Abruzzo Novello is driven by a doxy modernity and blessed with a perfume of violets. Noses all the hallmarks of an internationally styled blend so though it’s dominated by Montepulciano the support seems like it must come from Merlot. Not nearly as confected as many in the tasting, no banana to be found but there is a rubber tire/band-aid and/or smokey char note. Also a citrus lift, like orange zest flecked grape jelly, with cloves. Quite South African actually, evincing of Cabernet. Tough nut to crack but it’s neither weak nor avoids contact, although in truth, it’s not very Nouveau. Old hat perhaps, or like chewing on one. 86 Tasted November 19, 2013
REIF THE FOOL GAMAY NOUVEAU VQA 2013, Niagara River, Ontario, Canada (220483, $10.95)
To be fair, this could very well be an off bottle. This Nouveau and its candied junk is no fool on the hill but rather a joker down by the (Niagara) river. A flying (literally) foul funk needs some swirled air time to dissipate. Typically candy confected, like baseball pack bubble gum and variety store banana marshmallow. Sweet, glycerin, gasoline Vaseline. Oh my. 83 Tasted November 19, 2013
GENERATION SEVEN NOUVEAU VQA 2013, Ontario, Canada (318600, $11.95)
Though quite atypical to the Nouveau world, this striped Gamay shows no signs to being manipulated or contrived in any way. So much more settled than the others, the funk is in earth, not a chemical/manufactured candy tone. Juicy, fresh and ripe, with an underlay of white limestone and schisty bite. If you come looking for your parent’s third Thursday in November soirée Nouveau, you won’t find it here. Is that a good thing? I think so. “The feeling coming from my bones says mind your own.” Seven nation Gamay. 88 Tasted November 18 and 19, 2013
ART’S BEAUJOLAIS PRIMEUR NOUVEAU 2013, Beaujolais, France (366476, $12.95)
The gas, banana and confection are there, though not so pronounced as others of similar ilk. Some reserve here, in antithesis to the gaudy, faux-cubisme artwork on the bottle. Muted flavours follow and a dour-sour, arid taste is most prominent. As far away from vinous complexity as Art’s would have us believe might be there. 84 Tasted November 19, 2013
Hockey rink gumball machine, banana smoothie reductive syrup and diesel combine to deviate the septum. Good dry, dank and sour Cherry Garcia flavours rescue the runaway nose. “The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down.” Tightly wound Bojo, absolutely typical, unsettled and fiery. As expected. 86 Tasted November 19, 2013
DUBOEUF GAMAY NOUVEAU 2013, Vin De Pays De L’ardeche, Burgundy, France (891846, $9.95)
At $10, there can be little argument that no better value can be found than Duboeuf’s most basic Nouveau. Categorical typicity, as expected, in confected ways, and in every way. Only semi-sour to taste and sits alone as the driest specimen of the lot. As defined by Oxford, “a Beaujolais wine sold in the first year of a vintage.” High time to add Duboeuf’s name to the entry. 86 Tasted November 19, 2013
Picks up from where the Nouveau normale takes leave and immediately ramps forward with increased fruit complexity. Tones down the synthetics and adds in some real instrumentation. Drum kit with a resonating snare. Django Reinhardt guitar solo. Cherries and plums swell, then dry out at the abrupt music end. Worth every penny of the $15 though for just a few dollars more, I’d certainly go Cru Beaujolais. 87 Tasted November 19, 2013
JOSEPH DROUHIN BEAUJOLAIS VILLAGES NOUVEAU 2013, Beaujolais, France (113266, $15.95)
A confident Nouveau for sure, knowing full well its aromatics are the most real and king amongst a kingdom of serfs. Tender fruit most like its aged brethren, and even if it has a faint medicinal, candied tropical touch, you might not even notice that it’s there. Sour black cherry and in search of the trail that leads to minerality. Fails in that regard but what more should be expected from such young fruit. 88 Tasted November 19, 2013
Good to go!
I will gladly be first in line to bust the myth that says wine must be expensive to be good.
Much time and energy is spent seeking out wines that over-deliver, especially those well-made, honest and outright delicious ferments that clock in at under $20. The caveat here is the time of year when the exception to that value rule is personified by the need for luxuriance, surfeit and speed. The December holidays are embroidered of an entirely different import. Folks just seem to want to join the appliqué party, to take advantage of the generosity of the season, to drink the good stuff. Champagne, certainly, but also big wines, the kind that stick to your teeth for a week.
Gift giving is the other rampant and obvious part of December. No one wants to look cheap, ungrateful and thoughtless when gifting a bottle to an employee, a friend or a loved one. So I’ve made this list, checked it twice and formulated plenteous if euphuistic tasting notes on 10 meaningful and expensive wines to look for this coming weekend. Be proactive, track down one of these wine gems and prepare to channel your inner St. Nick, or if you like, your Ded Moroz, La Befana, Tomte, Jolasveinar or Pere Noel.
TALBOTT LOGAN SLEEPY HOLLOW VINEYARD CHARDONNAY 2011, SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS, MONTEREY COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, USA (716290, $27.95)
Slow glazed, golden cream velvety nose, of a demurred beauty’s proportion, arced yet elongated. An island of Chardonnay enchantment, where the wood is soft, “there is no suffering” and sweet lemon sherbet flows. Frank yet curtailed extraction, good acidity and a relaxed Surfer Rosa tension. That soft buttery oak only comes through on the finish, which drifts and lasts. 91 Tasted Oct. 25, 2013
URBINA GRAN RESERVA ESPECIAL 1994, DOC RIOJA, SPAIN (355743, $46.95)
Will not be your wine of the year but you absolutely must give it a try. Holding strong 19 years on, surely something to hang a hat on. There is some must, but it’s as much attributed to a classic, 90′s Tempranillo temperamental style as it is to the barrel and the bottle. Some prune and lingering alcohol detracts from the now waning fruit. That Rioja character, once obvious, now harder to recognize, maintains its weight and import. Some grain and chalk lingers due to oak that has not fully worked its way in and out. Wonderful study if not pure or gorgeous and alone. 90 Tasted Oct. 25, 2013
SELLA & MOSCA MARCHESI DI VILLAMARINA ALGEHRO 2008, DOC ALGHERO, SARDINIA, ITALY (954081, $46.95)
A Cabernet Sauvignon with an undeniably high level of unconventionally modern and stylish set of aromas. A very specific Italian smell mostly absent today, pushing the question “has it gone for good, or is it coming back around?” Acetate, wet hay and dried brick funky monkey that could endanger and render it non-negotiable, but it manages to walk the safer side of a fine line. Like great old school Brunello, herbaceous, tarred and feathered, stuck with thorns of roses and a waft of vanilla cherry coke, cough drop alcohol. Shouts Sardinian somewhereness in a way that is just so appealing. The iron, the sanguine, the Italian, the fireside, it’s all there. Sure it’s nearly balsamic but it will likely stay exactly this way for years. 93 Tasted October 25, 2013
PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008, PIEDMONT, ITALY (280412, $68.00)
This just has the look, the look of love. “A look that time can’t erase.” Nebbiolo you can see right through, this impossible light, this impossible life. Tea, tar and roses. A mineral spring, iron-earth field, where the game runs wild. You can relate to this Barolo, love it, relish it now but it will give pleasure for years. Not necessarily 25 but certainly 10-15. “Well, it takes my breath away.” Great vineyard. 94 Tasted October 25, 2013
M. CHAPOUTIER LES BÉCASSES CÔTE-RÔTIE 2010, AC, NORTHERN RHÔNE, FRANCE (280420, $82.95)
Strictly beautiful Syrah. The offspring of the Côte Rôtie’s two necessary points of view. First, the schist, silt and shingle of the Brune. Second, the silica and limestone of the Blonde. In combination they produce an iron-rust wine of a ferruginous nature, in colour and in aroma. Seeping, exotic Rooibos tea, Provençal tapenade and smouldering flowers send smoke signals clear as day. Smells so rich though it’s full of grace and bathed in ultra-elegance. 94 Tasted October 25, 2013
This Nicasia is the more monstrous of the two Catena single vineyard Malbecs coming to VINTAGES. So set in the future of its dreams and as a result hard to assess what it means to drink right now. A mountain of licorice, anise and Andean aromatics, in Jacaranda and Lupine, gorgeous in giant alpine bloom. Rich, unctuous, magnetic and in perpetual unfolding motion. If the chalk and circumstance come on too strong you might switch to the La Gualtallary Adriana Vineyard, for she is quieter, more accessible, wanting love earlier and unconditionally. Still the structure of the Nicasia cannot be denied, especially if it is allowed five plus years in time and space. Will be unbelievably memorable in 15. Mean it! 94 Tasted October 25, 2013
This refreshing and right proper vintage of Beaucastel dramatizes the Rhône epitome of elegance. Sure, the Kirsch and the ripping ripe berries are there but they are stirred, not shaken. Confident, full of tart, hubristic and racy energy, this CdP is great, hopping fun. Has an underlay of classic rocky and subtle pernicious tones. Pure pleasure, good chain of command, tannic as it needs to be. 94 Tasted October 25, 2013
MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006, DOC, VENETO, ITALY (215764, $99.95)
If a wine clocking in at 16 per cent alcohol by volume can be considered elegant and restrained and if that’s even possible, the Mazzano is the one. Though there is nothing outright prune, dried raisin or fig paste about it, this single-vineyard Amarone is enormously tannic. Any attempt at cracking its hard shell inside of 15-20 years should be thought of as counter-productive. Smells like the aforementioned fruit just picked at maximum ripeness so there is nothing cooked, roasted or overdone here. You simply have to wait for tertiary complexity to see what it will become. I sense great. Near-perfect vintage. 96 Tasted October 25, 2013
MASI CAMPOLONGO DI TORBE AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006, DOC, VENETO, ITALY (548677, $99.95)
Speaks in similarly heavy and futuristic tones but is not nearly as demanding and obtuse as brother Mazzano. Reduced red plums, riper, drier raisins and licorice here, sweeter and rounder, though that’s just a tête-à-tête relative observation. Will require 10-15 years patience for the purpose of proper scrutiny and the definite probability for enjoyment. 94 Tasted October 25, 2013
The label, celebrating the iconic IGT’s 25th anniversary, intimates the kitsch of say, Marilyn Merlot. Not exactly fitting for this perennial lady-killer from Bolgheri. Does it make you think about what it was like when you were young? Peering past appearances, cracked pepper highlights the turned up to 11, ever-present alcohol nose. The enormity of this Ornellaia is obvious and currently overwhelming. Pitchy, black as night, and bent of collector Napa-like extraction. Not exactly a red berry vintage for Mr. Brightside from Bolgheri, this has chalk, grain, funk, dark blackberry, kirsch, anise and mephitic fight. It’s a hugely serious, dank and brooding Cabernet-controlled Tuscan. The ’10 is “burning down the highway skyline, on the back of a hurricane.” Killer on the teeth, the mouth and the tongue. Twenty-five lashes for every vintage. 94 Tasted Oct. 25 and Nov. 3, 2013
Good to go!
This is a wine column folks. If you’ve arrived here looking for a human train wreck, colloquial references to sexual body parts or stories about illicit activity, keep on moving.
Perhaps the thing I find so refreshing about wine is its lack of political affiliation. Wine is apolitical, well, maybe not so in Ontario, but let’s not go there today. The science of making wine is apolitical. Grow grapes, nurture the vineyard, pick at optimum phenolic ripeness, use minimalist intervention in the winery and voila! Fine, honest wine ready and willing to please.
Imagine wine as a painting, depicting a ceremonial scene, as if there were visible hundreds of figures within, no two alike. This is what concentrating on the simple, the base, the lightness of being can do for your life. Choosing the wine high road as a distraction from political sideshow is a healthy lifestyle choice.
Even if you just can’t forget about the pathetic fallacy of local, provincial and federal government right now, consider moving onwards and upwards next week. Head out to your local wine shop and purchase one of these eight apolitical Canadian (or Canadians making wine abroad) bottles for next weekend. Crack one open and witness your dread and fear melt away.
From the sandy gravel soils of the estates Golden Mile Vineyard. Viticulturalist Andrew Moon and Winemaker Sandra Oldfield find exemplary natural sugars and classic Gewurz tendencies from mature, 16 year-old vines. Offers spice before pleasure and a funky beat ahead of the lychee and rose water/petal. Cool and dry specimen, somewhat Gris-esque, intuitive, integrated and consistent every step of the way. Nothing earth shattering but really fine, precise, on time and in time. Like a right proper Gin and Tonic, with a lime. 89 @Andrew_Tinhorn @SandraOldfield
PALATINE HILLS MERITAGE NEUFELD VINEYARD 2010 (361378, $29.95)
Cuts a positively pretty shape in silhouette. The blend consists of 40 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 40 Merlot and 20 Cabernet Franc though the Cabernet Franc certainly stands out, which is a very good thing in this warm vintage, in spicy bites, currants, dried and braised meat. Also notable are licorice, cherries and plums. The savoury vineyard floor adds but does nothing to overpower so this is quite fine, if a bit tinged by a coffee and cherry chalk. 89 @palatinewinery
DANIEL LENKO MERLOT OLD VINES 2010 (75622, $34.95)
Pure, ripe red berries dusted by a dried and pungent mulling spice. Dried flowers round out this easy-going if not overly complex red fashioned from likely the oldest Beamsville Bench Merlot vines. Good balancing acidity and verdant in a Cab Franc-ish way. I could drink this any day of the week but wouldn’t hold out for more age. Despite murmurs of tobacco tight tannins, this is as good as it will ever be. 89 @daniel_lenko
CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010 (202127, $39.95)
Offers up gorgeous pine and pepper-laced correctness and so much juicy, fresh warmth from a terrific Syrah vintage in Ontario and even more parochial so on the St. David’s Bench. This Queenston Road Vineyard red is winemaker Rob Power’s secret weapon, absolutely freakin’ delicious stuff and the epitome of what Syrah should be like from Niagara. Verve, rigor and yet also flirtatious with expertly judged wood and tannin to re-fresh its spirit and lengthen its life. Love it. 91 @CreeksideWine
STRATUS WHITE 2010 (660704, $44.20)
Quite possibly the most textured yet. A casted mass, like ingot or sélection de grains nobles, where viscosity meets candied fruit, apricot, quince and acacia flowers. A white moon with a medicinal and peaty tang that shows so much verve, earth floor even. This cracker jack ’10 will continue to add heft and flesh to earn its white stripes. Could be a classic for 20 years plus. 92 Tasted October 2013. From my earlier note: “sends me immediately towards Bordeaux, in neo-marmalade, but also buoyed in perfume and body by 25 percent Viognier. “This variety worked so well in the vineyard in 2010,” notes Groux. Niagara honey and near-botrytis via Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc void of grass, full of vigor. A sharp note, neither metallic nor mineral, but a combination of the two is present in this so very concentrated ’10. Of a warm vintage (self-explanatory) fully picked by October 23. Though loaded with early Spring maple sap, foie gras and appley terpines, its sharp and framed by “tannic” tang and protracted length. 92 @Stratuswines
STRATUS RED 2010 (131037, $44.20)
Tasted again, I do declare this to be the reigning bomb of Ontario red blends. Showing even better than I judged it two weeks ago. Intense ruby meets claret in every facet of its make-up. Rouge tomate, fresh and racy at the same time, with just enough chalk to lengthen the chain. You can actually imagine the hum in the clang and rhythm of its magic. Fleet of foot, mac-nanimously rendered red blend. “Chain keep us together, running in the shadow.” 92 From my earlier note: is a study in restrained, gilt-edged use of only 15 per cent new oak during assemblage, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon in the lead and so prudent considering the extreme warmth of the vintage. Cabernet Franc imparts simple but intense spice. Red talented, fresh finesse, the oak in support as a James Dean, cherry stained leather jacket. De facto fresh, with just enough trenchant acidity. 92
VERSADO MALBEC RESERVA 2010 (316984, $59.95)
This ultra-premium Mendozan from the Canadian winemaking team of Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling boasts fruit from “the finest barrels from the finest blocks.” Rare Malbec uniquely subsistent upon their own roots, that is, “ungrafted” as compared to the typically phylloxera-resistant rootstocks of native North American grapes. While certainly riding a splintered and jammy horse (what fully extracted Mendozan does not), this reserve Malbec has so much else happening, I owe it my time and focus. Dances to a triple jump height in oozing berry, compacted, brick wall infrastructure and overlapping delineation. Really like the consistency here, with no hollow middle, no umlaut, no pregnant pause. Very well made. 91 @VersadoWine
Peter Gamble struck gold with this Gasperaux Valley, Nova Scotia Sparkling Wine project. This Bridge comes from ”radically and frighteningly low yields” (3/4 ton per acre, as opposed to the new 6 ton world of Champagne). The ’07 is spun so fine and endowed with a prominent and great leesy nose, along with baking biscuits and lemon purity. To taste there is zest, white pepper and ultimately this is streamlined and refined. A Gamble style that will integrate in ’08 the idea of emulating grower’s Champagne. One will find no holes and no holds barred, in tension and in ease. Like Iggy Pop, Paul Weller, Brandon Flowers and David Bowie rolled into one, a thin white duke with a lust for life in a killer town called malice. Eight some odd cases of the 2005 are still floating around in the monopoly’s system so keep an eye on the labels. You just might get lucky. Price tag, $75? Cost, “priceless.” 93 @Benjamin_Bridge
Good to go!
I attend many tastings but none are better than the ones accompanied by the growers, the negociant and the vintner. To a maker, the adage is repeated again and again. Wine is made in the vineyard. Here is part two in the series on land, vineyard and terroir.
Assuming the essential information about Flat Rock Cellars proprietor Ed Madronich is on a need to know basis, know this. Madronich is entirely sure about what matters to him, his vineyard and how he approaches the science of making wine. He and winemaker Jay Johnston have embarked upon a new Pinot Noir project. The Block Series investigates the magic of Pinot Noir through a series of a vineyard’s three blocks and plots. Flat Rock’s is a study in soil, slope and altitude.
Notes Johnston: “We can’t learn or get better about our Pinot unless we enter into this type of experimentation.” Adds Madronich, “just don’t screw it up.” They don’t call him Unfiltered Ed for nothing. On Pinot Noir? “When I think about it, I think Burgundy, Oregon, New Zealand and Niagara.” On winemaking? “Jay may be hands on in the vineyard but we are strictly hands off (in the winery).” On closures? Only screwcaps. “The alternative closures are the only way to ensure the wine we make is the wine you’ll drink. Simple as that.” On taking risks in Flat Rock’s locale as compared to Beamsville? “He’s always had a crop,” says Madronich about a fellow Bench grower. “I’ve always made a better wine,” confirms the unfiltered one.
Soil. Flat Rock’s vineyard set on the Twenty Mile Bench is built of deep clay and till, limestone and shale. The Micro-block Pinot Noir share a commonality from that composition but each plot is possessive its own variation on the rock to soil ratio.
Slope and altitude. Flat Rock lays claim to the biggest elevation change (60 metres from top to bottom) of any vineyard in Niagara. Located approximately (as a function of proximity) 7 – 7.5 km from the lake, propitious air flow dries out the vineyard and mediates humidity. Yields are lower and vines are more vigorous on this part of the Bench, with more rocks dotting the earth. “A super vineyard, great for ripening,” notes Madronich. It’s all about the elevation.
Flat Rock’s Pinot Noir blocks would normally produce 100 or more barrels. Launched with the 2011 harvest, the Block Series encapsulated a selection of 12 barrels, four each from what Ed and Jay considered the “best expressions” of the grand cru determined blocks. Neutral oak was employed to guarantee a fresh, direct and unhindered capture of Flat Rock’s top Pinot fruit. Will this experiment persist vintage after vintage, regardless of cold winters and/or warm summers? Notes Johnston, “we can mine for gold, from block to block, but not necessarily in every year. We’re not trying to razzle dazzle with alchemy in the winery.”
Flat Rock Cellars The Block Series Pinot Noir 2011 tasting
From the northern most block, up at the Escarpment/Bruce trail. Thin, one foot deep soil meshes flaky limestone at this elevation. Smallish berries predominate and an earthly mote accents the flowers, cherries, strawberry and classic purity of this bonny Bruce. A Oregonian lightness of being, if you will. From one of the few south-facing slopes in Niagara (because of 20 Mile Creek), where the limestone chalk imparts fine-grained tannin so apparent to taste. 91 Tasted Oct. 23, 2013
This block’s base is slightly deeper, spreading over dolomite limestone. Diminished average temperatures mean berries develop lower and slower, hang longer (up to three weeks) resulting in higher phenolic ripeness. Summit may be the caveman of the three, seemingly in dire straits, covered in leaves, snapped twigs, truffles and porcini mushroom but damn if impossible Burgundy does not come to mind. This is one to ask where do you think you’re going? It will surely reply, “if you ain’t with me girl, you’re gonna be without me.” 92 Tasted Oct. 23, 2013
Crosses the twain between Bruce and Summit. A cottony touch, most pronounced perfume and of the three, the lowest acidity. Mellow, easy, J.J. Cale peaceful, void of chalk, grain or angst. Speaks in a cherry voice, smells like cherry and returns that cherry to taste. Ripe and soft. “Sweet as a morning sunrise, fresh as a mountain dew.” 89 Tasted Oct. 23, 2013
Two more Pinot Noir
ESTATE 2011 (1545, VINTAGES Essential, $19.95)
A blend of all 13 blocks, made in a rounder and more accessible style, but still consistent with the Blocks and Gravity. Hand-picked, gravity fed, naturally and in a search for fruit truth. Bottled early (August of 2012), the earth, cherries and plant phenol are all here. Blessed with 20/20 Bench vision, in price and location. Really pure expression and unsevered length from beginning to end. 88 Tasted Oct. 23, 2013
GRAVITY 2011 (1560, $29.95, Coming to VINTAGES Nov 23rd.)
From a blend of eight different blocks, 25 barrels were held back for the Gravity. Less made in ’11 due to the Block Series initiative. Magnified pierce, plum, freshness, flow and complexity, a completely gathered Pinot feeling Gravity’s pull. “Reason had harnessed the tame.” A fable of reconstructed Pinot Noir, the Gravity is Flat Rock’s most complete expression. From my earlier note: Top wines shine at taste Ontario 2013, “may at first strangely seem that it had ”stepped out of the wilderness all squint-eyed and confused” but my how a swirl elicits gorgeous red berries and an emphatic oomph, even without a sip. Impressively ripe, blooming red rose and cinnamon from the heart of a winemaker’s boots. A mineral streak brings to mind Volnay, in spirit and tragically hip Pinot essence.” 92 Tasted Oct. 10 and 23, 2013
Good to go!
Winemakers are very much like architects, in fact they are the architects of the agricultural world. They survey every square metre and scrutinize each handful of dirt to decide where to plant and cultivate their vines. No other farmed produce requires such specificity as grapes and where they are grown.The winemaker postulates with deep consternation the notion of terroir, the attributes that enable a plot of land as a conducive and necessary place to grow grapes. They consider the soil, the rocks within and beneath, the slope, the proximity to water, the air temperatures and the prevailing winds.
In Ontario wine folks are constantly and consistently in debate as to what grape varieties should be farmed and on which tracts of land. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are often at the centre of the discussion, as are Riesling, Chardonnay and more recently, Syrah. The most controversy concerns Pinot Noir. Passionate Pinotphiles can get outright irate at the thought of the difficult grape being cultivated in the wrong place. In Niagara, no variety receives more attention, causes growers and producers to lose more sleep and requires so many years of trial and error to gain headway into it’s mysteries.
Two local winemakers have made career decisions, to educate themselves and to discover what makes Pinot Noir tick. Thomas Bachelder produces wines in three countries, each imbued with its own unique sense of terroir. Ilya Senchuk of Leaning Post Wines is just a few years shy of launching a project that is both new and unique to Niagara. Three distinct Pinot Noirs produced out of three disparate and specific locales.
The common ground here, both figuratively and literally is the land. Micro-block Pinot Noir. Bachelder and Senchuk both make wines from a St. David’s Bench vineyard owned by the Lowrey family. Wilma Lowrey came to Thomas 10 years ago and said, “I think we’re going to grow a single vineyard, and call it Five Rows.” Thomas followed it from the start. It turns out that Wes Lowrey, their son, “is a great winemaker in his own right, and boom, he makes a brilliant Pinot at $50 a bottle,” says Thomas. “They define small grower.”
Small grower. Senchuk and Bachelder want to define what a négociant is, as opposed to a small grower. When it comes to Burgundy, the general idea says that the Beaune négociant is bad while small growers are good. Not necessarily. Notes Bachelder, “Jadot has, at most times been beyond reproach. Has Drouhin ever faltered? Their wines may sometimes be light, but they last, and are elegant.” The large négociant control all (44) 1er cru vineyards so there are not a lot of small growers working with Beaune fruit. Here Bachelder shows the other side of the conglomerate tracks. “At any big domain, how often is the winemaker in the vineyard? You can’t do it all. You have to be in contact with and trust your vineyard managers and growers. You have to let them farm.” This is where a farmer such as Lowrey creates and defines the niche in Ontario. Grand Cru terroir and a small grower paying loyal, careful attention to their fruit.
Over the past two weeks I had the opportunity to taste wines with these forward thinking men of wine acumen. They both share a desire to seek out essential soil and to manufacture exemplary wines that speak of the land from which they have come. Here are my notes on a group of crazy, gifted Pinot Noirs, along with a fascicle of consummate Chardonnay and one truly exceptional Merlot.
“My origins are Quebecoise, in Burgundy and coming to Ontario.” So says Thomas Bachelder, flying winemaker, architect of the Bachelder Project, of trois terroirs, in Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy. Missing from that statement is a stopover in Oregon, making memorable wines at Lemelson Vineyards. Not to mention the more than significant detail of establishing a world-renowned set of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay while running the wine show at Jordan’s Le Clos Jordanne.
Thanks to the generous wine enabler Tony Aspler, Bachelder and partner Mary Delaney procured last week’s comprehensive tasting– literally a one-off only chance to taste the wines comparatively, in one room, side by each. The LCBO missed the boat on the Bachelder Burgundian reds, all scooped up by the SAQ. The single-vineyard Pinots from Oregon and Niagara are already library bound. Bachelder quips, in quite serious tone, “I’d like you guys to have an influence on the tasting but we can only go one way.” Terroir over pedigree.When talking about Ontario wine, he’s adamant that technique should reveal Niagara terroir, the caveat being that he uses French oak. ”If we had a superb Cooper in Ontario, we could put all the wines on the same stage.” On Oregon, “if you don’t like their wines, it’s because they are being made by an American palate.” Burgundy vs Niagara? “If you know it’s my favourite, I’m not pushing Niagara out of chauvinism.” Thomas is all about “bringing up your children the same way, but letting them express themselves in their own way.” Most importantly, he begs the question “how do you define an elegant, refined Pinot that has staying power.” Let the wines answer the question.
PINOT NOIR 2011 (333278, $34.95)
In its first year is mostly Johnston Vineyard fruit. Warm plum, cool femininity, linear acidity. A base and primal building block as foundation for future excellence. Licorice, a mother earth’s perfume, and I must disagree with the group. This can be nothing but Oregon. Reminds me of Lemelson Thea’s 2001. 89 Tasted Nov. 6, 2013
PINOT NOIR JOHNSON VINEYARD 2011 (SAQ, 12065338, $44.25)
Here there wafts an increased “blister in the sun,” more terroir from a tight vintage full of pumped over tannins. An accented aromatic membrane envelops this Johnson, of orange zest and studded rind, in violet tendency, with more flesh. Even if she speaks in Frainc-Comtou dialect when she walks through the door, she walks out distinctly Oregonian singing as a Violent Femme. Pure and clean up front, she builds, then leaves a trail of tangy fruit behind. Tangled web of Pinot. 91 Tasted Nov. 6, 2013
PINOT NOIR LOWREY VINEYARD 2011 (361816, $44.95)
Defies logic in laying out the welcome mat. Fleshy St. David’s fruit, relentless aromatics, a glue of tannins pushing on the pedal. From my earlier note in Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013 “springs eternal from an ocean of cranberry and an island of spice. The somewhereness of this St. David’s vineyard can’t be denied, and in the hands of Thomas Bachelder the extraordinary happens. I am simply blinded by the light, by the weight and the weightless gravity. By a sweetness that just isn’t sweet, like exotic red fruit that knocks you sideways upside the cerebral cortex. Not to mention an iron madness that “plays that song with the funky break.” 94 Tasted Oct. 10 and Nov. 6, 2013
PERNAND VERGELESSES 1er CRU ‘LA CREUX DA LA NET’ 2011 ($39.95)
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. 90 Tasted Nov. 6, 2013
BEAUNE 1er CRU ‘LES RÉVERSÉES’ 2011 ($44.95)
Concentrated with cocked flowers in aperture and libanophorous floral lift. Juicier cherries still, with emerging, higher grained tannin. Chewy throughout, with increased anatomy but also clean and pure. Leans to Pommard, noted by an austerity on the finish in demand for patience towards realizing a settled future. 91 Tasted Nov. 6, 2013
Cotes du Nuits
CÔTE-DE-NUITS-VILLAGES AUX MONTAGNES 2011 ($37.95)
A yeomans work performs on the nose, though there is a fullness lacking on the palate. Still there is tension to tie the drone together. He’s a mason, hard-working, full of sauvage. Anti-plush,agréable mince, noted by Mr. Aspler, “a blue-collar Burgundy.” 88 Tasted Nov. 6, 2013
NUITS-ST.-GEORGES LA PETITE CHARMOTTES 2011 ($58.95)
Is so floral, mineral, intense and hypnotic it might be dubbed the Serpent Charmer. Iron and wine indeed, the iron of Nuits, the perfume of Beaune. This provocative bottling represents the third year of production, is conspicuous in Anis de Flavigny and an underlying gate. Ifmontagnes is the harming one, this is the charming one. These are all from the same barrels, so what really affects the wines the most? Land and hand. 93 Tasted Nov. 6, 2013
While Burgundian in hopes and dreams, this is very much a $29 Oregon white. No mask, no hidden altruism, simply the right Chardonnay for the right price. Bone dry, orchard driven, high acid, void of harmful terpenes. There is a salinity and piquancy not influenced by PH, perhaps by the ocean, by sandstone, but regardless it’s unique to place, unlike Niagara, Prince Edward County, or for that matter Burgundy. 88 Tasted Nov. 6, 2013
CHARDONNAY ‘JOHNSON VINEYARD’ 2011 (SAQ 12065338, $44.25)
Increased in perpetual density, butter, tine and philosophy. The barrel ferment has moreagréable onctuosité (verbal sic), like Meursault or Côte de Nuits Villages. Renders thenormale (classique) pedestrian by comparison, but only in relative, neo-tropical terms. Bachelder’s barrel ferments concentrate on micro-oxygenation, on air passage. That’s what matters. These Chardonnay may be the least favourite for Thomas, but he is amazed at how well they mature when treated properly. 91 Tasted Nov. 6, 2013
Bachelder: “When you are absolutely sure you that you can’t put all of a single vineyard into one bottle, that you only need some of the barrels, you move the ones that smell too much of specific things (butter, popcorn, lanolin) and send them to the blend, the classique. The ones that speak of the vineyard, the terroir, they become Saunders and Wismer.”
Lean and mean Niagaran, in a hue and a style that brings Burgundy to mind. Comblanchienlayers of limestone salinity, like a villages from Côte de Beaune. Tang, pine forest, Warheads sour candy and just a hint of the barrel but you know it’s there. A simple, Chuck Berry three chord arrangement. “I was anxious to tell her the way I feel,” even if I had no particular place to go. 90 Tasted Nov. 6, 2013
CHARDONNAY ‘SAUNDERS VINEYARD 2011 (324103, $44.95)
From Beamsville, right beside 30 bench, has a texture, a depth and a mouth feel in ’11 that bounds and leaps towards the ethereal. A dancing stag, displaying, performing a mating ritual dance. Melons, ripe and fleshy are in this Saunders. “What’s carrying this wine is site, site and site.” A great clay slice of the Beamsville Bench. From my earlier note: ”Takes the baton from Wismer ’10 in a transfer of power, tension and excitement. Clarity of textural fruit is driven by Beamsville Bench clay-silt soil. Highly dependent on yeast chains, sticking, spreading and expanding. Savoury, buttered stones show negligible encumbrance due to vines that will not carry an excess of new oak.” 93 Tasted July 20 and Nov. 6, 2013
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? 91 Tasted Nov. 6, 2013
BOURGOGNE CHARDONNAY 2011 (SAQ, 11856040, $26.95)
Mines mineral in a funky key and electrolyzes the slightest bruise of a crisp apple upon a swirl. Goosed by a boisterous and tickling palate, a masticate of buttered toast, crunch of popcorn and a mercurial temperature as if St. Aubin. Brings in the inner cheeks with held suction. 89 Tasted Nov. 6, 2013
BEAUNE ‘LES LONGES’ 2010 ($44.95)
This Chardonnay is forged sarcophagus tight and concurrently plush. Rocks for cubes in the glass, this a fantastic elastic Beaune, full of stretched and wound tension. Pulls on the palate and snaps it sharply back. Sometimes you taste the Beaune, sometimes it tastes you. 93 Tasted Nov. 6, 2013
PULIGNY- MONTRACHET EN CORVÉE DE VIGNES 2011 ($63.00)
Is an enigma, its parts ensnared in current astriction. Fruit just scratching the surface, trying so hard to come up for air, “so far you have nothing to say.” I dare to say there is a hint of tropical fruit or a decoy posing as such (because it’s so tight). Classic stony salinity runs a direct line across its marbled façade. Very difficult to assess but in five years the saga will begin to unfold. 92 Tasted Nov. 6, 2013
Leaning Post Wines
Ilya Senchuk may as well be Niagara’s fresh face poster boy for the young and brilliant but he already holds a wealth of Niagara winemaking experience. He worked for Daniel Lenko going back to 2002 and has made the wines at Foreign Affair Winery since 2008. In February 2011 Senchuk and his wife laid it all on the line and bought property in Winona, defined as Hamilton/Grimsby by geography, Lincoln Lakeshore by appellation.
Senchuk began making (virtual) wines under his private label in 2009 on premise at Foreign Affair. He made a 2009 Pinot Noir from the Lowrey Vineyard and a Riesling from the Foxcroft block of the Wismer Vineyard. In 201o there came another Lowrey Pinot and also a Merlot, from the McCleary block on the Wismer property. In 2011 there was only the Lowrey Pinot and 2012 was the first vintage he made on site in Winona, “in a barn” he notes. Just this past month he opened the tasting room. Virtual no more.
To the uninitiated, Senchuk’s chosen Winona locale may seem unconventional, curious and even peculiar to make wine in Niagara. Make no mistake about it. Ilya Senchuk is obsessed with Niagara soil and terroir. Set right off 50 road and straddling drawn circles within a Hamilton/Lincoln lakeshore Venn diagram, five of the 11 acres (10 plantable) were planted the past spring. Senchuk used clone 777 (reliable) along with 115, 667 for Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay are from clones 96 and 548.
Leaning Post has added Pinot Noir from the Mcnally Vineyard (Beamsville). By the time the 2015 harvest has come and gone, Senchuk will have made Pinot Noir from three Niagara terroirs. How many other Niagara winemakers will have that claim to make? There will also be Syrah from Keczan, from the east side of Beamsville and adjacent Tawse Winer’s David’s Block (formerly Thomas & Vaughan Estate). This unique spot is a clay bowl of climatic specificity, with a natural slope and dubious, vigorous vines.
I sat down with Ilya and tasted through four wines from his Leaning Post line-up. I was struck by the concentrated flavours but even more so by the language of the land clearly spoken in the vernacular of each sample. I have no doubt that Senchuk’s experience and deft hand will make the most from his soon to be realized young vines.
CHARDONNAY FOXCROFT 2011 ($34, winery)
Sourced from fruit split 50% each north and south blocks and picked a bit (September 26th) later than Bachelder, towards the end of a very warm vintage. Sharp, piquant and kissed ever so tenderly by older (100 per cent) oak. Full malolactic gauging, this 14 per cent ’12 comes across ripe, without pushing the envelope. A minute trace of tropical fruit draughts in a mineral wake. Quite an astonishing first solo Chardonnay effort, in constitution and viscidity where the solder is king. 170 cases. 91 Tasted Nov. 7, 2013
PINOT NOIR ST. DAVID’S BENCH ‘LOWREY VINEYARD’ 2009 ($38, winery)
From a tight, late-picked vintage (Oct. 25th), this Lowrey pushes chance’s unpredictable climatic envelope and scores a crouched, subjacent, slowly gained ripeness. Grapes come from the most sloped part of the farm, rows that are actually a hybrid of St. David’s Bench and flats of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Perfumed of the earth, where soil and beet meet raspberry. Wears its vigor on the palate’s sleeve, in spiking spice, as if new world Burgundy. “If central Otago and Pommard had a child,” this ripe but earthy Pinot were it. Tannins are still in effect so four plus years of downtime need be part of the package. 160 cases. 92 Tasted Nov. 7, 2013
PINOT NOIR ST. DAVID’S BENCH ‘LOWREY VINEYARD’ 2010 ($38, winery)
Can’t say I’m all that surprised but this is so much more approachable, pretty and glamorous. From an unrelenting hot vintage (picked Sept. 11th), a full six weeks earlier than ’09 and from the same vineyard. This was necessary as a means to preserve freshness. More sunshine, less earth but still there’s a cure and metal tendency that really defines Lowrey. Could of course be considered more of a crowd pleaser but it’s not as simple as that. That I can taste these twomano a mano, in my life is a rubber soul stamp. ”All these places have their moments.” 125 cases. 92 Tasted Nov. 7, 2013
MERLOT ’MCCLEARY VINEYARD’ 2010 ($38, winery)
Uniquely cultivated and fashioned at the top of the Escarpment, this “Niagara Peninsula” designated Merlot is lush, dusty, full of phite and barn door tannins. It’s cool, minty, cast by an iron, sanguine tendency and chalky, metal funk. No simple song this McCleary, whacking away at the shins. Were it listening, you might say to him, “I know that things can really get rough when you go it alone, don’t go thinking you gotta be tough, and play like a stone.” Never mind. Senchuk gets it right: “Merlot has to be in the right spot, treated the right way.” 115 cases. 91 Tasted Nov. 7, 2013
Good to go!