Buyers Guide to VINTAGES – Sept 2nd, 2017

The WineAlign Exchange, New World Whites and Italian Reds
By Michael Godel, with notes from David Lawrason & Sara d’Amato

The WineAlign Exchange

Michael GodelThese last few weeks have quietly behind the scenes been some of the most exciting times here at WineAlign. We’ve asked if you would like to join our wine revolution and literally hundreds of you have emphatically replied “yes, count me in.” We are on the cusp of the first wave; the delivery of a curated, mixed case of top quality wines directly to your door. All the wines have been rated 90-plus points and have been carefully chosen by our panel of critics for their quality and value. Today is the last day to act on this most exciting offer from Canada’s largest and most trusted wine publication. Join TODAY and enjoy your first case in September. Your second case will arrive in December in time for holiday entertaining and gifting.

New World Whites

When we set out to talk about the white wines of the New World cool is hot. In fact, because the rapidity of climate change is real and the desire for fresh is yet unquenched, matters have shifted to the notion of growing grapes and making wines in places we previously discounted. It concerns farming higher, further and edgier. The recent successes and global recognition for the cooler climates of the New World confirms to all who are listening that we all must change.

Few ideals or notions are hotter these days than those relating to cool climate viticulture and the selvage regions from where such wines are produced. In a rapidly changing world there is a paradigm shift for wine growing, producing and ultimately consuming being led down an extreme, on the fringe and ultra cool path. Cool, as in temperature and slowly developed phenolic ripeness. Cool, as in places like Ontario, Nova Scotia, Uruguay, northern Chile and yes, even Australia.

It is no secret that Ontario winemakers have worked tirelessly to develop the ability and the acumen to make world-class white wines. There may be no better example of this then what was again on display at i4c, the International Cool Chardonnay Celebration that recently completed its seventh installation in Niagara. The September 2nd VINTAGES release is rife with what Ontario does best; chardonnay, riesling, gewûrztraminer and sparkling wine. I choose to include a Bordeaux blend because well, because it’s just that good. It segues beautifully to a cool Hunter Valley white due to the sémillon connection and also to a serious single-vineyard sauvignon blanc from New Zealand.

Godello and Tawse-Redstone winemaker Paul Pender (IMAGE #1)

Godello and Tawse-Redstone winemaker Paul Pender

Italian Reds

The Italian net of reds is always intricately woven, spread wide and omnipresent throughout the VINTAGES release cycle, more often than not concentrating on paths well-beaten path in representation of go-to regions and from ultra-recognizable grapes. On September 2nd there are two endemic, less than household name reds that both thrill and offer creature comfort. If you’ve not heard of or even yet had a taste of either cesanese or frappato it’s high Italian heel and boot time you tried.  Do not fear for the reliable security blanket of Tuscan sangiovese and Venetian (Valpolicella) corvina will always be present and are here, as expected, readily available.

Which brings me to this thought, that is the relationship between traditional Ripasso Valpolicella and a corresponding IGT example that I find worth investigating, They are two very different wines produced from grapes in the Veneto region fashioned in polar opposite ways. Most VINTAGES releases offer at least a few Valpolicella area wines but here we are treated to a grape match through the lens of two most iconic and traditional Veneto producers. The permutations are many but well-defined. Valpolicella, a style of wine as much as anything though qualified as a set of possibilities all capable of being labeled as a DOC; Valpolicella, Valpolicella Superiore and Valpolicella Classico Superiore. Ripasso, a next level stylistic, a traditional technique that promotes a second fermentation through the basic Valpolicella’s contact with warm dried grape skins from which Amarone has been pressed. This practice slightly decreases the acidity and increases the alcoholic content and enriches the wine with a greater concentration of sugar, glycerine, dry extract, polyphenolic substances and aromas. Ripasso intends to promote a heavier structure and longevity.

#rondinella #valpolicella #novaia (IMAGE #2)

The third category is IGT Verona (Veneto or Venezia), a wine style that expounds on the other polar bookend of the 21st century ideal. But there is another twist, that of wines with imaginative names on their labels to refer to an appassimento-style using grapes from beyond the borders of the Classica Valpolicella region. Amarone knowingly set aside, at least outside the terms of this report, tradition looks to Ripasso as the top of the pyramid for Valpolicella wines but when we talk of terroir, of marl, clay and limestone, of 11 valleys and all the hills, what represents the truest expression of Valpolicella? Authenticity must be borne out of spontaneity, in a product that shows itself in different ways, in every year. It should never act the same way twice. Valpolicella must remember the primaries; geology, geography and climate but also colours, uncontrollable forces and natural tendencies. Memories are only built on that which is not forced and the importance of little details.

Winemakers make use of the IGT designation to fashion Super Veronese (or Venetians), wines of local meets expatriate varietals bathed in oak. Still others make Valpolicella doppelgängers with traditional varieties that can sometimes act more like Valpolicella than so many legal examples approved under the DOC. The IGTs with international grape varieties blended in and subjected to new oak need time to develop and will age into their bubbles welling with balsamic, chocolate, espresso and even truffle. There is no disputing the modernity and mimicry of other Italian brethren and sistren. Recent changes to labelling say that a wine exceeding 80 per cent of a local variety (like corvina) could in fact now be called a Classico Superiore though if the methodology of winemaking (and/or growing) messes with the plan there are some that don’t resemble one in any shape or form.

More pertinent to this investigation is in holding hope that wines produced under the auspices of rogue decisions will soon find their way out of the scrap heap piled high due to discriminatory DOC penalties. Things like bottling under screwcap, omitting sulphites and exploring “the terroir and grape varieties to the fullest by pushing all boundaries.” Valpolicella is and can be even more progressive, not just to increase market presence, Amarone sales and the bottom line of all Valpolicella wines riding the skins of their provider, but also to lead with innovation. Have a look at the two examples below, consider pouring them side by side and then be your own judge.

Buyer’s Guide VINTAGES Sept 2nd

New World Whites

Riverview Angelina’s Reserve Gewurztraminer 2014, VQA Niagara River, Ontario ($17.15)
Michael Godel – In my mind this has always been one of Riverview’s signature bottlings, a dry gewürztraminer from a very specific place that always gifts terrific acidity to match the waxy lemon and tropically hinted at fruit. The vintage examines and delivers exceptional fruit, at which point winemaker Alyssa Bator takes over and allows it to become and remain a vintage affair. It just reeks, tastes and delivers texture of a wine that had to be exactly this. Really tart, elastic and long.…

Redstone Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is a pale chardonnay with the big Burgundian bouquet of pear, vanilla, spice and peat smoke. It is medium weight, fleshy yet nicely firm and intense with lemon and nuttiness on the palate. Great acid balance here, with minerality on the finish. Excellent length.
Michael Godel – From the cooler of cool Niagara vintages the perfume in Redstone’s ’13 chardonnay rises with and into the thinner air, with dried roses, nectarine and wax spray in the curious mix. The wood is completely resolved so that fruit which includes some flavours near-tropical can stand up and be counted on the palate. Well-made, reserved and without ego are all present in the ideal.

Riverview Angelina's Reserve Gewurztraminer 2014Redstone Chardonnay 2013Creekside Iconoclast Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Creekside Iconoclast Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($22.50)
Michael Godel – Iconoclast gathers Bordeaux varietal whites, sends it through a barrel-aged, malo-inducing car wash and delivers a two-fold, two-grape experience. The sémillon acts just as you’d expect; flinty, white lightning tart and tightly wound around sauvignon blanc, creamy, faux-sugary and peachy. Together they form an unbreakable bond, urged on by a very good vintage for such a marriage and in delivery of stone fruit flavour and texture.

2027 Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($22.95)
Sara dAmato – Wismer’s Fox Croft Block is one of Niagara’s great success stories and seems to spill out exceptional fruit that is coveted by the region’s top winemakers. In the hands of winemaker Kevin Panagapka, whose virtual wine project 2027 sources fruit from prime vineyard sites throughout Niagara, the result is unique and immensely compelling. A top Niagara chardonnay for less than $23 is deserving of attention.
Michael Godel – The ability of Craig Wismer’s Foxcroft Block to gift fruit, regardless it seems of vintage, is one of Niagara’s great stories. Even more special is how it allows each producer to own it and create value from differentiation. Kevin Panagapka works a decidedly reductive room with bees-waxy fruit from 2014 and of a wood creativity that deals more in spice than anything else. I really think this takes more risk than other Foxcroft efforts and they are numerous. A very good vintage, as good as the previous two I would say and creates even more buzz for what will come next.

Vineland Estates Sparkling Pinot Meunier Reserve 2015, Charmat Method, VQA Ontario ($30.00)
Michael Godel – The rare solo bird pinot meunier at the hands of (he’s much more the experimenter than you’d think) winemaker Brian Schmidt, this charmat method sparkler is faintly copper hued and even moire faintly light in aromatics but goes in all with its range of flavours. The use of meunier is a Schmidt specialty with plantings traveling back in Niagara time and strawberries mingle in a veritable pot au feu made savoury by potpourri, herbs and spice. There is some sweetness but also serviceable tang by acidity so balance is achieved within its rustic parameters. Love, love, love this.

2027 Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2014Vineland Estates Sparkling Pinot Meunier Reserve 2015Margan Family Hunter Valley Sémillon 2016Villa Maria Southern Clays Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016

Margan Family Hunter Valley Sémillon 2016, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Aussie semillon is rare in Ontario nowadays. This is not an outstanding edition, but it is intriguing and well priced if looking for something different. It pours fairly deep lemon yellow, surprising for a youthful 2016. The nose is quite ripe and toasty with honey, nuts, lemon and dried fruit. A bit of candle wax smokiness too. It is medium weight with very firm, quite tart acidity. Lots of flavour intensity. More evolved and complex than expected from such a young semillon.
Michael Godel – A sight for sore eyes and a pleasure for longing lips is this Hunter Valley icon. Margan’s sémillon is a stunning product of old vines in Fordwich Sill, a volcanic place with extraordinary salty and grippy capabilities. I urge everyone to use their $20 wisely and invest in such a powerful yet restrained, intensely basaltic yet oh so pretty wine. It’s the Santotrini assyrtiko or better still, the Western Cape chenin blanc of Australia. On second and final thought no, it’s expressly Hunter Valley.

Villa Maria Southern Clays Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Marlborough, New Zealand ($29.95)
Sara dAmato – The heavier clay-based soils of Marlborough’s Southern Valleys are known as top pinot noir growing country but also produce some unique sauvignon blanc. This incarnation is wonderfully harmonious and refined as opposed to green and edgy. A pleasant viscosity and impressive length will appeal widely.
Michael Godel – Villa Maria takes their already serious sauvignon blanc program further and with obvious literary concern, deeper, into their “Southern Clays,” a warm and intense place to produce this single-vineyard wine. The Ben Morven foothills in the Wairau Valley is the source and if this isn’t one of New Zealand’s more intense and most flavourful sauvignon blancs then it’s time to try 100 more. Really speaks to the tenets of high quality fruit and getting a grip on the allowance of terroir to do the talking. Will develop a combination of honey and faux-tropical sweetness with some time in bottle.

Italian Reds

Tedeschi Capitel San Rocco Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2014, Doc Veneto, Italy ($21.95)
Michael Godel – A limestone chalky, high acidity and chocolatey Ripasso with high energy and a bitter espresso/chocolate finish. I am impressed with the lack of over-pressing, avoidant over-passing and zero tolerance for milkshake driven flavours and texture. The honesty factor is advanced as a result.

Tommasi Graticcio Appassionato 2014, Veneto, Italy ($15.95)
Michael Godel – Graticcio translates to “trellis” and is in fact the local name for the bamboo mats used to dry the grapes for the first stage of the appassimento process. An appassionato is an enthusiast and because this Tommasi appassimento uses grapes from beyond the borders of the Classica Valpolicella region, some fun and enthusiastic imagination is employed in the labelling. It is in fact classic, red fruit and high-toned appassimento styling, with a touch of sweetness and a whole lot of soil, mineral and red citrus fruit tang.

Tedeschi Capitel San Rocco Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2014Tommasi Graticcio Appassionato 2014Casale Del Giglio Cesanese 2014Cascina Castlèt Litina Barbera D'asti Superiore 2012

Casale Del Giglio Cesanese 2014, Igt Lazio Rosso, Italy ($18.95)
David Lawrason – From a large, progressive winery south of Rome comes a juicy, fairly dense, savoury and fruity red from the local cesanese grape. Expect violet, plum, pepper and twiggy/herbal character on the nose and palate. It is medium-full bodied, fairly taut and juicy, with natural bitterness on the finish.
Sara dAmato – Lazio has very much stepped up its wine producing game over the past decade and has given rise to wineries such as Casale del Giglio who focuses on indigenous varietals and compelling international incarnations. The indigenous cesanese grape variety is capable of producing wines rich in texture but lively in character, brimming with fruit spice, perky berry fruit and an appealing sweet-savory combination of flavours – all of which are beautifully expressed in this intriguing wine of exceptional value.
Michael Godel – The small berry, low-yielding cesanese is a fantastic grape to get into, fruity and getable like gamay meeting savoury cabernet franc, yet grippy, quite tannic and fermented dry as the desert. The intensely blackberry and (simulating Cassis) flavouful aspects of this deeply purple hued red would do so well with the grill, the oven-roast and the meat-based pasta. It would also elevate the marriage so humbly and symbiotically with anything contrived from tomatoes and eggplant.

Cascina Castlèt Litina Barbera D’asti Superiore 2012, Docg, Piedmont, Italy ($21.95)
David Lawrason – Look for the stylized CCC on the label.  This ia a spiffy, maturing barbera with a typically lifted nose of raspberry, fine spice, woodsy and leathery notes. It is medium weight, fairly dense yet poised and almost silky, with barbera’s acidity rising on the finish. Some tannic grit as well. But overall there is finesse and just the right amount of edge.
Michael Godel – The rare and elusive barbera d’asti comes to Ontario with an example so correct for the Costigiole stylistic, celebrating the grape’s high acidity without masking it in overdone oak. The fruit is both (at the edge) alcohol ripe and phenolically right there so there is a sense of raisin and fig. But it is this great acidity that keeps the parts in kinetically frenzied motion. In the end this proves to be a proper barbera with a distinct asti edge

Planeta Frappato Vittoria 2015, Sicily, Italy ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Frappato is a distinctive, lighter hearted Sicilian variety. This has a lovely, quite delicate nose of ripe strawberry, perhaps pomegranate and cranberry, with some vanillin, mint, pepper and leather. To me it most resembles grenache. It is mid-weight, smooth and nicely balanced with fruit sweetness and low tannin and some warmth. Very agreeable.
Sara dAmato – If you have never tasted frappato, it just may prove to be your new favourite grape. A fragrant Sicilian variety, frappato has a juicy, fresh and peppery character. Often light when young and offering a wealth of complex flavours such as those thoughtfully characterized in this elegant find from Planeta. A divine drink right now that will continue to develop complexity over the next 2-4 years.
Michael Godel – It is hard to contain oneself when frappato appears in Ontario, being the dreamy varietal, such as it is. Here it finds itself sequestered, coddled and sent out like a Sicilian floral bloom from the grace of winemaker Patricia Tóth. This frappato deduces what it wants and needs and then induces the charm of the earth and the spice of endemic fruiting tree of life to send it out to the world. The delicate and the powerful are solicited, combining for a varietal wine that is nothing if not pure pleasure to consume. The acidity too is just so fine.

Planeta Frappato Vittoria 2015Brancaia Chianti Classico 2015Lealtanza Reserva 2011

Brancaia Chianti Classico 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($24.95)
Sara dAmato – Amongst the muscly Chianti Classicos on the market, it is refreshing to sample one with the degree of purity and authenticity demonstrated in this 2015 Brancaia. Fresh sangiovese character is unencumbered by excessive oak, ripeness or sweetness. A stimulating sipper and versatile with food.
Michael Godel – Classic 2015 Chianti Classico of dark raspberry fruit and maximum ripeness with a side show of top notch acidity, bright enough to stay grounded in loyal and traditional footing. The tannins do cause a minor drying finish which only accentuates the correct and justifiable humility of sangiovese. An example to live and abide by.

A Spanish Star

Lealtanza 2011 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very fine, elegant and complex Rioja for $20 – with a very lifted nose of cedar, spice, coconut and dried herbs, almost hashish-like herbaceousness, Then add in smoked meat and dried fig fruit. It is nicely balanced, lively and even-keeled with a dry but not austere finish.

As summer winds down the band is getting back together so look to see the entire WineAlign team on board for the VINTAGES September 16th release. Until then I’d like to wish you all a restful and re-energizing Labour day weekend. Good luck getting into the swing, back to work and back to school. Most importantly for all of you who have chosen to participate in our WineAlign Exchange revolution, enjoy your soon to arrive first delivery of wines!

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Michael’s Mix
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La Tremenda Monastrell 2012