Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – July 22, 2017

Old and new favourites, Piedmont’s Collisioni Festival and the Cool weekend ahead
By Michael Godel, with notes from David Lawrason

What is the meaning of old versus new favourites?

Michael Godel

Michael Godel

The VINTAGES July 22nd release is compartmentalized as straightforward as it gets. The latest offering pits old versus new set up as a linear equation in which favourite places make use of grape varieties as their sectional conduit. We usually like to think of new and old in simpler terms, more often than not seeing wines as either hailing from Europe (The Old World) or everywhere else (The New World). This July 22nd VINTAGES thematic map is a geographical one, but its emphasis is on pinpointing the locales where Ontario consumers are most comfortable making their purchases, from what varietals and which specific correlative geographic areas they are most recognizably found.

The old and established varietal meets wine growing region thematic reads like a city’s suburban strip mall, juke joint wine list. Argentina and malbec. Australia and shiraz. Ontario and riesling. Bordeaux and the southern Rhône and red blends. The Veneto and Appassimento. Tuscany and sangiovese. Rioja and tempranillo. New Zealand and sauvignon blanc. California and chardonnay/cabernet sauvignon. No surprises here. Conversely the new favourites mélange (or mishmash, depending on your perspective) leads the Ontario wine seeker down the QEW in search of sauvignon blanc, to Washington for syrah, New Zealand for pinot gris, South Africa for red blends, Cahors for malbec, the Loire Valley for melon de bourgogne, Austria for grüner veltliner, Campania for falanghina, Abruzzo for montepulciano d’abruzzo, Rias Baixas for albariño. Thankfully, as hoped for and even expected, on this side of the thematic there a few surprises.

What happens in Piemonte stays in Piemonte

Having just returned from a trip to Piemonte during which the organized program led an international group down an off the beaten path, it makes this VINTAGES release all that much more conventional, habitual and comfortable. Piemonte’s Collisioni Festival provides the stage for professionals of passion to gather, create and establish one of the great vinous environment wonders of the world. What began years ago as an annual pilgrimage to the tiny hilltop hamlet of Barolo for music, literature and culture has evolved and morphed into something furthered, whimsical and complex, a gathering of expert minds and emotion, to celebrate, teach and learn about Italian wine in the most magical and avant-garde ways.

Progetto Vino is the vinous arm of the Collisioni Festival and takes place every July in Barolo, Piemonte, a northern Italian village in which 51 weeks a year the population maxes out at 600 residents. More specifically this week-long wine gathering takes place inside the Castello Falletti di Barolo, one of Italy’s great medieval castles. The brainchild of Dr. Ian D’Agata, Collisioni’s Progetto Vino is singular in concept, style and execution. Top sommeliers, wine journalists and educators from around the world are assembled to discuss one subject; Italian wine. Travelling through other parts of Piemonte precedes the Progetto Vino’s philosophical, economical, cultural and politically charged seminars and round table discussions. In my case it was a four day immersion into Barbera territory, in Costigiole and Castagnole Monferrato, with barbera d’Asti, grignolino, dolcetto, ruché and dozens more barbera interpretations found in Nizza Monferrato.

Barbera is a widely misunderstood, highly diverse chameleon of a grape. Ninety-nine per cent of what we see here in Ontario is of the barbera d’alba variety, mostly because the comfort zone for importers, the LCBO and consumers is found in the soils in and around Barolo and Barbaresco territory. Barbera’s most unique expression may just be located in Nizza Monferrato, a stunning territory where the grape maintains an intensity of high level acidity, maximizes phenolic ripeness and develops a structure unparalleled in the barbera diaspora. Several producers stood out in my tastings, most notably Coppo, Olim Bauda, Marco Bonfante, Eredi Chiappone, Cascina Garitina and Berta Paolo. In Barbera d’Asti lands it was Garrone Evasio & Figlio, Castello di Gabiano, Tenuta Il Falchetto, Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta and the white limestone soil-driven mineral litheness of Ivaldi Dario that stood apart.

Ruché is perhaps the most interesting Piemontese varietal diversion, a once noble grape lost to the world and only recently resurrected. Ruché (pronounced roo-K) di Castagnole Monferrato develops its sugars very early, well before its phenolic journey is completed. This poses a great challenge to the winemakers because the grapes accumulate high alcohol but have to hang well into October or even November before they are truly ripe. The closest comparison I can make is with garnacha/garnatxa in Spain’s Aragaon and Catalonia regions. Some Ruché producers really get it right, turning out that ideal combination of freshness and structure. Of note are the houses of Bersano, Ferraris, Demarie and Crivelli.

The Barolo portion of Collisioni involved seminars set up in three rooms inside the castle, with approximately 15-20 journalists, sommeliers and buyers in each. Italy’s wine regions from top to bottom were presented by producers and moderated by a group of wine educators, including D’Agata, Michele Longo, Michaela Morris, Levi Dalton, Laura DePasquale and Monty Waldin. I sat in on Piemonte (nebbiolo of Barolo, Barbaresco and also roero arneis), plus Friuli (Prosecco, ribolla gialla, sauvignon blanc, friulano, pignolo and refosco) Vulture (aglianico), Medici Ermete (lambrusco), Amarone and Montefalco. My notes for all the wines from barbera to sagrantino will be up soon on WineAlign.

Most noticeable to this Canadian was the quality and quantity provided by north of the 49th parallel content at Collisioni. Ian D’Agata’s roots in this country no doubt contribute to the number of Canucks stationed in Alba and Barolo for the festival. One of the chief moderators for the seminars was Vancouver’s Michaela Morris, an Italian wine specialist rapidly ascending to a level that pits her as one of this country’s top wine educators. Also present was Northern Lands Founder and journalist Gurvinder Bhatia, Ontario sommeliers Will Predhomme, Ellen Jakobsmeier, Chris Wilton, Arlene Oliveros and Rob Miller, among with Vancouver’s Jason Yamasaki, Jenna Briscoe and Kurtis Kolt. There were moments when not only the international dignitaries but also the Italians were wondering where all these Canadians were coming from. Just as we saw at Prowein in Düsseldorf back in March, we Canadians are everywhere, up front and centre. First Hollywood and now the world of wine.

Travelling through wine country in Piemonte is one thing, hanging around a castle for four days with temperatures pushing to the mid-thirties is another.  But it is this intense Italian wine immersion mixed with tens of thousands of Italians making a Woodstock-like pilgrimage to Barolo for four days that elevates the game. They come from near and far to take in on-stage literary dissertations and discussions and to catch a concert moment performed by Italian pop star acts playing on various stages erected around the town. Barolo transforms and the effect on sommeliers and journalists is hard to describe. Things happen, from good times to enlightenment. It’s not quite Las Vegas, Cannes or The International Festival of Authors but indeed what happens in Barolo stays in Barolo.

Cool Chardonnay International Celebration

14c Cool Chardonnay in my immediate future

Which leads us to the greatest Chardonnay show on earth, i4c, the Cool Chardonnay International Celebration beginning this Friday in Niagara. Last year’s Friday “School of Cool” seminar session’s keynote speaker was coincidentally Ian D’Agata and in 2017 i4c welcomes  California’s Karen MacNeil. Last summer at Niagara’s Cool Chardonnay conference I found out that we have to look at organoleptics and ask a very important question. Is your expectation of a Chablis going to be the same as chardonnay made from anywhere else? More important, who are we putting this wine in front of? Ian D’Agata’s take struck a Canadian chord. He talked of “a welcome astringency characterized by piercing flavours. These are cool-climate wines. Cool climate chardonnay is not about a long litany of fruit descriptors. If you have a cool-climate viticultural area it behooves you to give the people what they are looking for.” One thing is certain regarding Ontario’s world-class chardonnay conference. Memories will always come up cool.

For those of you making the trip down to Niagara this weekend I hope to see you there. Failing that it would be wise to put some chardonnay in your glass this weekend and raise a toast to our ever-progressing industry making lightening leaps and bounds on the world stage. If the local cool climate juice is not your wine of choice then perhaps think of making it Italian, if only to appease our soulmate cousins, especially in Piemonte. The choices are many, from nebbiolo to barbera, grignolino to ruché. Saluti!

Buyer’s Guide VINTAGES July 22nd

Old Favourites (Riesling, Malbec, Tempranillo, Sangiovese)

Norman Hardie Riesling 2016, VQA Ontario ($21.00)
Michael Godel – It’s as if there is no other riesling in Ontario that acts, tastes and breathes like Hardie’s and in fact I don’t think there is. It’s not fruit but rather it is mineral and salts that deliver, in the form of super saline lime and here in 2016, fleshy material for singular riesling intuition.…

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The WineAlign team looks forward to coming back with our picks and more stories of wine travels when reconvene for the VINTAGES August 5th release. Until then, happy hunting, ciao, a presto and arrivederci!

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Kenwood Chardonnay 2015