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

Michael Godel

Michael Godel

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 Meshuval (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 Meshuval. A Conservative may only drink Meshuval but in more cases than not, Kosher is good enough. An Orthodox Jew goes it only one way or the highway. Strictly Meshuval 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 Meshuval 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 Meshuval (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.


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