Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Feb 18th, 2017
Local best buys ahead of Taste Ontario and Cuvée, Kosher for Passover and searching for common ground
by Michael Godel, with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato
In advance of the fourth VINTAGES release of 2017 and just a shade post Valentine’s Day we find ourselves in anticipatory times. Here at the crossroads of February and depending on which overfed rodent’s shadow you align with, we may yet be faced with four more potential weeks of winter. Concerning ourselves with more important things, we turn to the Ontario wine industry’s lead in anticipation of Wine Country Ontario’s big month of March. Two seminal events lie in wait just around the corner, ahead of and into spring.
Taste Ontario! Toronto Trade and Media Tasting 2017 comes to the Royal Ontario Museum on March 6th and the 29th edition of Cuvée will happen in Niagara Falls. Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) will host more than 800 guests at the Scotiabank Convention Centre for the Cuvée Grand Tasting on Friday March 24th.
After tasting at Cuvée in 2016 I noted how riesling and chardonnay have not relinquished any stronghold on their domination, nor should they anytime soon. I can’t help but feel and notice that winemakers continue to reach for the big red machine and wish upon an intangible Bordeaux star when they should be concentrating on fresh, gulpable cabernet franc and gamay. They should also take some risk-reward chances with these necessary, best Ontario option red varieties. Press less, reveal freshness and let natural ferments find low-alcohol impressions of impossible, ethereal beauty.
It’s not just a matter of what, but where. By sifting through leads in geography, in the orientation of escarpments, benches and lakeshore flats, in the gestalt of the archaeology of tomorrow, in the vineyard landscape of today we can perchance unlock the riddle of the what and the why for varietal planting. The end game is to unlock the mystery within the puzzle of terroir, to figure out what grapes will thrive and where they can be given the best shot at success. It is not just about what happens beneath the soil, but also what happens above, around, beyond and in the minds of growers and winemakers.
Passover is sill nearly two months away but ever the proactive agency, VINTAGES lays out the usual Kosher for Passover suspects in the February 18th release, some Mevushal (cooked or, flash pasteurized), some not. Let us first examine the concept and then, the cuisine. An understanding of the rules and laws that govern wine on Passover is on a need to know basis. There are really just three key variants of information essential to purchasing and consuming on Pesach. This applies to Jews and non-Jews alike.
Number one. Passover wine is specific to a Jew’s level of Kosher. From Reform, to Conservative, to Orthodox, all Jews have different variances of belief. A Reform Jew will likely drink any wine on Passover and then again, may not. But, he or she will almost certainly not require the bottle to be Mevushal. A Conservative may only drink Mevushal but in more cases than not, Kosher is good enough. An Orthodox Jew goes it only one way or the highway. Strictly Mevushal KFP, do not pass go, do not collect the Afikoman (the broken Matzah) money. Most Jews who appreciate a glass of good wine with dinner, and especially those who double as wine geeks avoid Mevushal wine at all costs, thought being, consuming heat-damaged wine is no way to go through life. That said, a good deal of the Kosher for Passover wines in our market are Mevushal (KPM) and some are really quite agreeable.
It’s quite simple, really. All wines labelled “Kosher for Passover” are kosher, but not all kosher wines are kosher for Passover. Further to that, wine does not become kosher by being blessed. It can be considered kosher (from the Hebrew; pure, proper) once it has complied with strict rabbinic criteria that render it acceptable for Orthodox Jews.
Few holidays put food under as much duress as Passover. The cooking is a science and an art unto itself, having to make use of Matzo, eggs and oil for eight days. It is a form of penitence, a tortuous walk through a culinary desert, at times horrific like a Fear Factor episode. Charred eggs, Haroseth, Chopped Liver, Kugel, Farfel Stuffing and desserts made with cake meal and Matzo Meal. Believe me, this chef has had nightmares.
Up until a year or two ago I noticed that Kosher wines seemed to have migrated bigger and bigger with each passing Lunisolar calendar year. Israel continued to race towards big, lush, often high alcohol reds. This trend could be seen as a masking or a compensating/mitigating strategy to oppose the rigours and past failings of making Kosher wine. It can also be viewed as a stylistic choice, to mirror what has taken place in Bordeaux, in California and in Australia for the past 20 years. For the first time, the reds on this VINTAGES release seem to collectively take an extraction and alcohol step back.
The Kosher contingent on the VINTAGES February 18th release continues to be Israel-focused, which is not a bad thing, but if you really want a better selection, head to one of three LCBO kosher boutique locations; 675 Wilson Ave., 180 Promenade Circle, Promenade Mall and 502 Lawrence Ave. W. It is here that the LCBO has stepped up their Kosher game.
As for scouring the best of the rest, WineAlign’s John Szabo laid down the low-down on Australia’s impressive showing in this release and found great value in a hodge-podge of VINTAGES value releases. I am searching for common ground and was quite impressed with two iconic southern French producers and their stellar-valued, pull no punches red and white. One hails from arid Côtes du Roussillon, the other off of old vines in Costières de Nîmes. Magic and lithe Oregon, endemic Greece and a most pleasurable drop of Sagrantino round out my shortlist. David and Sara shore up the global list with much needed and appreciated support with pertinent finds of their own.
February 18th Buyers’ Guide:
Keep on tasting Ontario
Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($18.95)
Michael Godel – Though the VINTAGES literature reads 2014, it’s time for the ’15 to hit the shelves. Sketches is incredibly consistent essential Niagara riesling and this ’15 takes a bit of a risk-reward departure into that flinty, piercing nether-land. This is the one to age and watch the development, alongside and in contrast to singular expressions Quarry Road, Limestone and Carly’s Block.
13th Street Cabernet/Merlot 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($18.95)
Michael Godel – The clean and clear 2013 cabernet-merlot from 13th Street shows lovely purity of fruit and an internationally-styled willingness to please. There is always some sort of underlying rusticity in leather and cedar notes but the extract, ease of pressing and beautiful phenolics are beyond alright. Winemaker J-P Colas gets it all right from out the cloud cover vintage.
Kew Marsanne 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment ($19.95)
Michael Godel – The singular and path less taken Kew marsanne is a touch reductive and showing lovely subtle notes through the foggy window into the stony, flinty and smoky spectrum. This is found sitting regally on a high regard chair of flavour and savour and is Kew’s benchmark vintage for Marsanne. It surely is something that should be tried at least once in a lifetime of wine.
David Lawrason – To my knowledge, this is the only marsanne – a southern Rhone grape – growing in Niagara, which is not such as stretch when one realizes that growing degree days are not dissimilar. This captures all the marmalade exoticism of this variety along with considerable oak, that bolsters its complexity.
Henry Of Pelham Estate Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Short Hille Bench, Niagara Escarpment ($24.95)
Michael Godel – With this 2017 release of the Henry of Pelham 2012 pinot noir we are gifted another look back at then winemaker (and current faculty/coordinator of Niagara College’s wine programs) Ron Giesbrecht’s work. H of P’s pinot noir are in a distinct class of their own, able to age slowly, gracefully and without much oxidative/evolutionary change in their first five or six years. Life changes should really begin to take effect in 2019.
Huff Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County ($35.00)
Michael Godel – This is not just more incredible lightness of PEC pinot noir being but a wondrous example of advanced and furthered. Others do so in the County in similar ways but Huff’s is the one to match the fantasy with perfectly dark fruit extracted reality. This has blessed commercial appeal and immense structure. The tension on the finish seals the deal, on the edge of bitter and with that first sip still in mind.
David Lawrason – Huff, one of the early County wineries, may have come late to pinot noir but winemaker Frederic Picard has wasted no time joining the ranks of the County’s best. It oozes cran-cherry fruit, oak spice and toast served in a light, taut and sour edged package. I served it during the Cdn Wine Scholar course in Kelowna recently, and the BC students were mighty impressed.
Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir 2014, VQA Ontario ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This new Speck Family Baco is the highest expression of baco from the Speck family’s oldest vineyard blocks (circa 1985). It is an intriguing and impressive wine, with a generous almost piquant nose of blackcurrant fruit, rare roast beef, capers/herbs, coffee bean, pepper and grilled beets. It is quite full-bodied with firm, almost sour-edged baco acidity and very little tannin. Rhonish, and impressive. A very strong argument that baco, and some other hybrids, need to be given more respect by Ontario’s VQA regulations. It cannot, for example, be labelled from a single appellation or vineyard.
Kosher for Passover
Recanati Chardonnay 2014, Kosher For Passover, Non-Mevushal, Upper Galilee ($24.95)
Michael Godel – This Upper Galilee chardonnay is quite smoky and reductive so make sure to give it plenty of splash aeration before serving. It opens up into a more able-bodied and quite characterful chardonnay with apple, pear and melon notes. Could do with a shot or two more purposed acidity but even with non-mevushal, such is so often the case with KFP. In the end Recanati offers up a very good deal.
Jerusalem Wineries 3400 Premium Shiraz 2013, Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal, Judean Hills ($24.95)
Michael Godel – This is a new entry into the VINTAGES Passover scene and it’s one of the fuller fruit expressions for shiraz to ever grace the shelves. The edge of ripe and extracted fruit carries a smoky, roasted meat char and the palate is full and fleshy. Big wine in need of red meat at the Seder table.
Galil Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Israel ($24.95)
Michael Godel – Of all the red Kosher For Passover wines on offer this shows off the most honest and correct varietal acuity. Red verging to black fruit, Cassis for Ribena and dusty, sweet to savoury notes are all cabernet sauvignon. This is juicy, unpretentious and spicy from wood. A very well made Upper Galilee in the non-mevushal, reform Jews are going to love it way.
Searching for common ground
Tsantali Reserve Rapsani 2012, PDO Rapsani, Thessalia ($18.95)
Michael Godel – Though the wood makes itself clearly heard in this rustically modern Greek red there is more personality than previous vintages to weigh in and gain equal footing. This is where the endemic triage on the trio of xinomavro, krassato and stavroto morphs from rustic to modern. It’s quite a neat transformation for this Rapsani in 2012.
Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir Les Aspres Syrah/Mourvèdre/Grenache 2013, AP Côtes Du Roussillon Les Aspres ($18.95)
Michael Godel – In the Catalan language “Aspres” translates to “arid” and one taste of Bertrand’s SMG confirms it does not infer the alternate elucidation, as in “rugeaux,” or rough. This blend from the Pyrenees foothills is in fact a smooth red mix, silky in texture and fine in mouthfeel.
Château De Nages Vieilles Vignes Blanc (Bio) 2014, Costières de Nîmes ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Old vines add a lovely, desperate crunch to this right and purposed Rhône blend, of what is assumed as being led by grenache blanc and what must be some marsanne and or roussanne. Fact check tells me the blend in the vintage is Roussanne (40%), Grenache Blanc (30%), Clairette (15%), Viognier (10%) and Bourboulenc (5%). High on dry extract and aridity as it should, chill it well for best results.
Sara d’Amato – One of the best incarnations of this organic southern Rhône white blended from roussanne, viognier, grenache blanc and clairette. Fully organic and layered with floral and fruit character on the rich palate that offers surprising intensity. Potent enough to match with roast chicken or cream-based sauces.
Omero Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2013, Oregon ($29.95)
Michael Godel – A quarter whole cluster in the fermentation brings both fresh vitality and also secondary depth in what is simply magic from the Willamette Valley. Though the fruit meanders to near dark black cherry it’s really only in hue and not extraction. Every other facet of its lithe and bright being is on the cool, wise and mild-mannered side. The alcohol is beautifully low to fund the fruit which finds good phenolic ripeness in spite of the easy going humidity. The underlay of Willamette salinity ties it all together.
Sara d’Amato – A beautifully balanced pinot noir from construction manager turned Chef turned vineyard owner, David Moore, whose estate in the Ribbon Ridge AVA has been consistently turning out poised and charming pinot noir and grigio since 2008. The production is relatively small so it is a unique opportunity to purchase and enjoy and this sophisticated find of excellent value.
Lungarotti Sagrantino Di Montefalco 2010, DOCG Umbria, Italy ($42.95)
Michael Godel – Find me a firmer, deeper and more tannic red grape expression than Sagrantino and I’ll eat my words. And then comes along Lungarotti’s 2010, surely like the others in the brood but with great acidity, vitality and tannins that pause before clocking you on the jaw. There is fruit purity, fine chocolate and excellent length. In the realm of Sagrantino I find this a most pleasurable drop. Still you would be smart to wait two years, purchase a Tomahawk steak and salt it up real good.
Penmara The White Ribbon Sémillon 2016, Hunter Valley, Australia ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Only one place in the world takes the often flaccid semillon grape and ignites it with such energy. Frankly, most people still don’t like Hunter semillon very much, which speaks to its low price. But this is a very good example of its type; just what it is supposed to be.
Craggy Range Te Muna Road Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, North Island, Martinborough ($25.95)
Sara d’Amato – Not your typical, lifted Marlborough style of sauvignon blanc, this style is tight and nervy, focused more on mineral and saline as opposed to tropical fruit. Craggy Range’s acclaimed Te Muna Road site in Martinborough is steep and terraced with limestone rich soils that produce a distinctively elegant, tense and fresh style of sauvignon.
Maison Nicolas Perrin 2013 Saint Joseph, Rhône, France ($39.95)
Sara d’Amato – The Maison Nicolas Perrin is a relatively recent collaborative project between the houses of Jaboulet and Perrin. This very sensual syrah is musky and peppery, lightly reductive, dynamic and absolutely captivating. Coaxed by a sensitive hand, this ideal expression of a fickle grape variety is very much worth the premium price.
Valle Reale 2015 Sentieri Pecorino, Abruzzo, Italy ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – This ethereal find will bring you closer to spring with notes of blossom, jasmine, lemongrass, ginger and salty sea breeze. Light and delicate with typically high acidity that feels fresh and not tart or bracing. A lovely weeknight sipper, especially given the price, but would pair nicely with sashimi or crisp salads.
While I sip and taste through Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino at Antiprime Toscane I hope you all find your gems from the February 18th release. See you in March for a taste of Ontario.
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