I’m currently in South Africa’s Elgin Valley, which I visited last October for the Chardonnay Symposium. I’m here to experience vintage with four different producers: Iona, Almenkerk, Paul Cluver and Elgin Ridge. I’ll be working as a cellar rat, and documenting the experience in pictures and film. I’m really looking forward to it.
I’ve had a day to prepare. On Saturday night we went to the amphitheatre at Paul Cluver to see Watershed, a local acoustic/rock band play. Cluver host a series of concerts (hope@paulcluver) to raise money for local charity the Thembalitsha Foundation. It was a lovely setting and the band were pretty tight – the sell-out crowd really got into it.
Andries Burger, winemaker, Paul Cluver
Sophie and Julien Schaal, who make wine in Alsace and Elgin
Then yesterday we popped into Almenkerk for a tasting, and then headed over to lunch with the four wineries to discuss plans for the week. This finished around 6 pm, and I went back with Brian and Marion of Elgin Ridge to listen to Brian’s fabulous vinyl collection at a decent volume. This morning I’m off to Iona to begin work.
The view from Almenkerk
Impressive new releases from Iona: the 2016 Chardonnay and super-elegant 2015 Pinot Noir
Paul Cluver Seven Flags Pinot Noir, made with Martin Prier, shows real elegance – this is the latest 2015 release
I was given this wine to taste blind. It’s always interesting to try things without any clue what they are. I really liked it immediately, but it also tasted a tiny bit natural, with some (but not excessive) volatile acidity and a slight savoury spiciness. But these elements integrate beautifully into the whole of the wine, and it’s drinking beautifully now at age 8.
Lapierre Morgon 2009 Beaujolais, France
This is the version that has some SO2 added (labelled ‘S’ on the back label). Wonderfully detailed with a warm spicy, savoury character. Fine herbs with some sweet tea leaf notes. There’s a warmth at the end of the palate. So textural, complex and savoury with some pepper and herbs as well as some texture. Smoky, meaty cherry and berry fruits with lovely texture. There’s a bit of lift here but also lovely harmony and beauty. 94/100
This seminar at the Vancouver Wine Festival looked at the diversity of wines coming from British Colombia, and followed on from a previous session focusing on some more of the region’s wines. I was on the panel, which was very well led by Canadian wine journalist Treve Ring, and which included Rhys Pender and terroir expert Pedro Parra. These are my notes on the wines, of which a few really impressed.
Maverick Estate Winery Ella 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada
A sparkling wine from the Golden Mile Bench, disgorged in April 2015, 20% Chardonnay, 80% Pinot Noir. Subtle waxy, appley edge to the fresh citrus fruit. There’s nice warmth to the fruit here with tangy citrus notes and some pear, too. Intriguing and quite delicious with nice texture in the mouth. 90/100
Summerhill Pyramid Winery Ariel 1998 Okanagan Valley, Canada
This is a distinctive, mature sparkling wine that comes in a very striking bottle. Complex, rich, toasty and appley with lovely complexity. Pear, peach and nuts with some honeyed richness. Powerful, bold and long, with a sense of deliciousness. Sweet and savoury at the same time. 92/100
Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015 Vancouver Island, Canada
From the cool climate of Vancouver Island. Attractive texture here with sweet pear and citrus fruit with some melony richness. Nice weight here. Has lovely purity and appealing fruit. 89/100
Haywire Switchback Pinot Gris 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Lovely open fruit here with some fresh grape and pear characters. There’s a detailed texture to this wine which shows lovely purity and a stony, mineral character. Subtle nutty detail. 92/100
Little Farm Winery Riesling 2015 Similkameen Valley, Canada
Lively and keen with intense lemony acidity and some appley character. Some taut herb and nut characters. Waxy and complex with great precision and freshness. Distinctive and lovely with a stony minerality. 92/100
Tantalus Vineyards Old Vines Riesling 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Such a beautiful wine, made from one of the famous plantings of 1978. Appley, nutty and precise with some waxy notes and a lovely lemony core. There’s really high acidity but it integrates beautifully into the complex fruit. Powerful and expressive with real personality. 94/100
Cedar Creek Estate Platinum Block 5 Chardonnay 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
There’s a lovely citrussy core to this wine, with good acidity. Hints of pineapple, white peach and toast adding richness. Lovely precision and good acidity (pH 3.1, no malolactic) with nice focus. Puncheons and a concrete egg used here, and only 10% new oak. Very stylish and pure. 93/100
Checkmate Queen Taken Chardonnay 2013 Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley, Canada
Made from some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in Canada, trellised in an umbrella sprawl with wide spacing. Lovely fruity depth here with pear and white peach, as well as some sweet bready complexity. Broad, nutty and complex with some vanilla oak evident. Very sophisticated and bold, but still in balance. 92/100
Spierhead Winery Pinot Noir 2015 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Four Dijon clones, 10% new oak. Sappy, green edge to the sweet cherry and berry fruit. Made in a lighter, more expressive style with some sweet, supple fruit and a green edge that just about integrates with the fruit. Has a cool-climate edge. An attractive wine. 90/100
Foxtrot Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada
From the Naramata Bench. Sweet and sour cherry and plum fruit with a spicy, tarry, tangy edge. Strawberries and herbs, too, with a savoury spicy finish. Tangy. 89/100
Black Hills Estate Syrah 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
A beautifully sleek, modern wine with lovely black cherry and blackberry fruit. Sweet and lush with seductive fruit and notes of olive and roast meat. Satisfying in a ripe, luscious style. 91/100
Painted Rock Syrah 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Very distinctive with a lively peppery edge to the black olive and black cherry palate. Intense and vivid with dense fruit and grippy tannins. There’s a strongly savoury, saline character to this wine and it’s quite delicious in a bold, full-on style. 92/100
I’ve just published two films on my Mornington Peninsula adventures, with an introduction to the region. The two parts go together, and feature many of the key winegrowers who have helped put this region on the map as Australia’s premier for Pinot Noir (although Tasmania may dispute this.
Part 1 – in order of appearance
0:27 Mike Aylward, Ocean Eight
2:53 Lindsay and Jamie McCall, Paringa Estate
4:58 Simon Black, Montalto
6:48 Glen Hayley, Kooyong
8:39 Geraldine McFaul, Willow Creek
Part 2 – in order of appearance
0:28 Gary Crittenden 2:39 Sandro Mosele 3:32 Martin Spedding, Ten Minutes By Tractor 8:48 David Lloyd, Eldridge Estate of Red Hill 10:25 Hugh Robinson 12:49 Tom Carson, Yabby Lake 15:29 Mike Symons, Stonier 17:34 Kathleen Quealy, Quealy
You can’t put Dirk Niepoort in a box. He’s not your standard winemaker. Who releases a wine called ‘Clos de Crappe’ with the description ‘technically a disaster’? (See above from the Niepoort website.) As Dirk explains in the film below, Clos de Crappe was originally a wine made with a view to producing a slightly funky barrel to add seasoning to his high-end Burgundian-style red Charme. But now it has become a wine in its own right, stinky and reductive – flawed yet serious, and thoroughly likeable, if you can see past the edges. Here Dirk explains the wine to Canadian wine journalist Treve Ring and me while we are lunching with him at Quinta do Napoles in the Douro.
Niepoort Clos du Crappe 2013 Douro, Portugal
Remarkable stuff. There’s some spicy reduction here but it’s nicely integrated into the smooth, quite elegant juicy red cherry fruit. Very interesting and detailed with some grip on the finish. 93/100 (JG)
Niepoort Clos de Crappe 2013 Douro, Portugal
When you lift this straight to your nose without air, you can see why this wine has come by its memorable name. However, after a swirl or decant, the reductive and barnyard blows off to reveal fine cherry, raspberry, black plum and earthy notes. Tannins are fine and slightly grippy on the finish, easily supporting the seamless lightness of the palate. 60-80 year old vines of Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Sousão, Alicante de Bouschet, Rufete and others make up this charming Crappe. 92/100 (TR)
There’s a rather crazy video for Clos de Crappe here. Quite addictive.
There’s a buzz around sparkling wine at the moment. Sparkling wine sales account for 11% of global wine sales and this market is growing by 4.5% annually. And it’s something that Canada has a talent for, with its cool climate wine regions. Of late there has been the beginnings of something special here in Canada. VQA sparkling wine is 3.2% of market share in Canada, which means there is room for growth. By value, domestic sparkling wine is 12% of sparkling wine sales.
1974 saw the first sparkling wine from Ontario which was made from Chardonnay and labelled ‘Champagne’. It was the late 1980s when there was greater commitment to sparkling wine, with Hillebrand and Chateau des Charmes producing their own fizz.
Now there are at least 40 sparkling wine producers in British Columbia (but there may be as many as 75 if you count all those who have wine on lees but which is not yet released), and some 40+ in Ontario. There are 20 in Quebec making grape-based plus also fruit and cider fizz, and in Nova Scotia 10 producers make fizz (from 20 wineries). There are relatively few specialists though: in BC there’s Bella, and Ontario has Hinterland in Prince Edward County.
A lot of progress has been made in Ontario with the ‘fizz club’ which Belinda Kemp set up at Brock University. This brings together sparkling winemakers for a forum to discuss technical issues.
The latest buzz surrounds sparkling wine from Nova Scotia, which has a particularly cool climate that allows producers to make base wine with amazing acidity and yet also lovely flavour development.
This selection of wines showed the breadth of the offering of Canadian fizz, with some real highlights. This is an interesting future direction for Canadian wine.
L’Acadie Prestige Brut Estate 2010 Nova Scotia, Canada
pH 2.9, rs 2 g/l, 11.5% alcohol. Fresh, pure and lively with lovely balanced citrus and grape characters. Fruity and quite sophisticated, this is made solely from L’Acadie Blanc. This is traditional method with five years on the lees, and it has nice complexity. 90/100
Domaine de Grand Pré Vintage Brut 2009 Nova Scotia, Canada L’Acadie Blanc and Seyval Blanc. Almost five years on the less. Slightly creamy edge to the lovely balanced pear and ripe apple fruit. There’s a bit of toasty richness here with some sweetness, too. Nice weight on the palate with some grapey richnesss. Sweet finish. 89/100
Blomidon Estate Winery Late Pick Chardonnay 2011 Nova Scotia, Canada From Chardonnay left on the vine and picked on 8th November. No malolactic fermentation and 2.7 g/l dosage. Pithy, bright and herby with a slightly waxy edge to the lively lemony fruit. There’s some focus here with a bit of savoury grip under the taut fruit. Dry, lemony finish with keen acidity and purity. 90/100
Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008 Nova Scotia, Canada L’Acadie Blanc and Seyval with a bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Lovely delicacy here: there’s fine toastiness, ripe apple, lemons and some bright herbal characters. Sweetly fruited and well balanced with keen acidity. Precise, with some nice complexity. 92/100
Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catherine Brut NV Niagara, Canada Rounded and fruity with some white peach and pear notes. Generous with subtle toast and bread characters, with some citrus freshness here. Good balance. Has some deliciousness. 89/100
Trius Winery Brut NV Niagara, Canada Craig MacDonald collects disgorgement lees and uses them as the basis for the liqueur d’expedition. Fresh, a bit toasty and a bit herby, with nice bright lemon and pear fruit. Fresh and detailed with nice precision and a lovely lemony finish. Fruity and bright. 89/100
Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Entourage Sparkling NV Niagara, Canada 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, three years on lees. There’s a sweet fruit character here with grapes, citrus fruit and green apple notes. Fresh and fruity with some cherry hints and a smooth, rounded texture. Attractive fruity style. 88/100
Huff Estates Cuvée Peter F. Huff 2011 Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada Very rich and toasty with lifted apple and pear fruit. Very toasty and broad with nice acidity and a slightly chalky edge. There’s a lot of flavour to this rather distinct wine. Baked apple character with some herbs. 90/100
Averill Creek Vineyard Charme de l’Ile NV Vancouver Island, Canada Fruity, lively, bright and intense with lovely citrus and grape notes. Good acidity and clean, lively fruit flavours dominate. 88/100
Meyer Family Vineyards Brut NV Okanagan Valley, CanadaCrisp and pithy with nice citrus drive. Has some fine toasty, bready notes. There’s nice precision to this wine with some finesse. Youthful and pure. 90/100
Haywire Narrative Ancient Method 2015 Okanagan Valley, Canada There’s a distinctive grapey, floral edge to the nose. Creamy with a hint of talcum powder. Lively, pure and very fruity on the palate with some sweetness and a nice full, rounded mouthfeel. 89/100
Stellar’s Jay Brut 2009 Okanagan Valley, Canada First made in 1989. Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Distinctive fruity style with tangerine, grapes and pears. Has some sweetness, too. Appealing and fruity with nice brightness. 87/100
Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Brut NV Okanagan Valley, Canada Fresh, bright and detailed with crisp fruit. Really lively with grapefruit pith, lemon and table grape characters. Keen acidity and a bit of sweetness on the finish. Very appealing. 89/100
By a stroke of coincidence, while I was in Victoria (Vancouver Island, not Australia) today I got to try through this set of wines from Argentina star winery Catena, presented by Catena’s Andrea Nuñez and Daniel Stiefvater of Trialto (the company that brings them into this part of Canada). I was impressed, especially by the two high-end Chardonnays, and also the Malbecs. The wines here seem to have moved in a positive direction: they were always good, but they’ve got better. For more information on the rather special White Bones and White Stones Chardonnays, and why they are different, see here.
Catena Alta Historic Rows Chardonnay 2014 Mendoza, Argentina Adrianna and Domingo vineyard, 70% malolactic, 10-12 months in oak. Textured and nutty with some fine spiciness. It’s broad and mealy but there’s nice acidity with a bit of tension on the finish. Fine spicy finish, with some nuttiness. 92/100
Catena Adrianna Vineyard White Stones Chardonnay 2013 Mendoza, Argentina Fermented and aged in in 500 litre puncheons for 20-24 months. From stony soils with some limestone on them. There’s intensity to this wine, which shows pear and peach fruit with some lemony detail. Complex fennel and nut characters, as well as a bit of waxiness, and also a distinct slightly resinous mint character that reminds me of Fernet and Mediterranean herbs. Lovely mineral characters on the finish. Intriguing combining richness and freshness. 94/100
Catena White Bones Chardonnay 2013 Mendoza, Argentina This is from just 100 m away from the white stones, and it’s completely different. So fresh, floral and mineral with lovely precision and fine lemony fruit. There’s a really lovely mineral quality here with a stony edge and taut citrus fruits, as well as some subtle mint characters lurking. There’s a really fine lemony finish that just keeps on going. A beautiful wine with concentration, purity and finesse. 96/100
Catena Alta Malbec Historic Rows 2013 Mendoza, Argentina Four vineyards: La Pyramide, Angelica, Adrianna and Nicasia. Sleek, floral nose with lovely fresh cherries. The palate is supple and fruit driven with great balance and a lovely stony detail to the cherry and plum fruit. I love the floral aromatics and the freshness on the palate. 94/100
Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon Historic Rows 2011 Mendoza, Argentina
Two vineyards: La Pyramide and Domingo. Some warm cedary notes alongside the chalky black fruits on the nose. The palate is fresh and detailed with some spicy warmth, some grainy, chalky gravelly structure and a nice savoury edge to the blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Very stylish. 93/100
Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino 2011 Mendoza, Argentina Nicosia and Adrianna vineyards, 24 months in oak. Textural and concentrated with a fine-grained tannic structure and a hint of oak (but it’s well integrated). The palate combines fresh, floral, pretty red cherry and berry fruits with some structure and an appealing, sweet, rounded textural quality. There are layers of flavour here. It’s modern and ripe but beautifully balanced and beguiling. Power and elegance combine. 94/100
Nicholas Catena Zapata 2011 Mendoza, Argentina A blend that depends on the year. This is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec. Sweetly aromatic, liqueur-like blackcurrant fruit nose is pure and modern. Concentrated palate with structured blackcurrant and berry fruit with fine spices. Quite structured with some freshness on the finish. A modern wine with real class, and which needs a bit of time to show its best. 93/100
While I was attending Pinot Noir 2017, I put together a short-ish film of the proceedings, capturing some of the best moments of the three days. It was a trill remarkable event: it wasn’t just the 117 wineries and the lovely New Zealand Pinot Noirs they poured, but instead there was a narrative theme running through it. This theme was Turangawaewae – the place or places we feel especially empowered and connected to. We are shaped by place, just as wine is. There was also a wonderful sense of connection as we all got together.
I’ve eaten in a few places over the last few days in Vancouver, but the highlight was a meal at the fabulous Burdock & Co. It’s a small, intimate place with a menu based on sharing-style plates made from good local ingredients, with a brilliant wine list that’s compact, but offers real diversity, stocked with authentic wines.
It’s just the sort of place that I love to eat at, and the staff were fantastic.
Drinking: we stuck to the by-the-glass wine list. First up, a glass of the ‘bubbles of the moment’, which was a Loire fizz from Vincent Caille. Then, the Coenobium Vendemmia 2014 from Lazio, which is a detailed, slightly grippy white from Trebbiano, Malvasia and Verdicchio with a lovely perfume. We then went orange, with the Denavolo Caravel Colli Piacentini 2014, which is a skin contact white with lots of detail from Emilia Romagna. Finally, some red: the Pi from Jean Foillard, which is a profound expression of Gamay. This was the 2013 vintage, and it’s drinking perfectly now, with some silky texture but also a nice graininess.
Eating: shared plates that were pretty much perfect. Satisfying, creative, and not at all gimmicky.
After starting with fanny bay oysters (we’re working from the bottom right clockwise in the composition picture above), we had the fabulous Shaved Desolation Sound Scallop – Scallop Roe Chawanmushi, White Kombu (tastes much better than it looks), then Kohlrabi and Cabbage Gomae – Pumpkin Seeds, Maple, followed by a special with Arctic char on a risotto base with grilled radiccio and beetroot, and then Smoked Desolation Sound Mussels – Forest Mushrooms, Yuzu Miso Caramel.
Burdock & Co
2702 Main Street
BC V5T 3E8
604 879 0077
This session at the Vancouver wine festival focused on Pinot Noir from Ontario. ‘It’s a difficult place to grow Pinot,’ says John Szabo, who led the session. ‘There are realities to growing Pinot Noir. It is expensive to grow and it doesn’t always work out well.’
Altogether there are 17 000 acres of vines in Ontario, and Pinot Noir takes up just 800 of these, with 650 acres in Niagara and 150 acres in Prince Edward County. So, overall, it’s responsible for 6% of Ontario’s production, with 100-150 000 cases annually and 130 different labels.
Karl Kaiser first planted Pinot Noir here, but the big break came in 1993 with a joint venture between Inniskillin and Burgundian producer Jaffelin that ended up becoming Clos Jordanne, which was for a while the leading Pinot producer in the region. Now there are lots of very good Ontario Pinot Noirs.
The Niagara region has some interesting terroirs for Pinot Noir, with some limestone in the soil. In Prince Edward County, limestone soils are joined by a properly marginal cool climate: the vines have to be earthed over during the winter to protect from cold damage.
Farming Pinot is expensive. Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench reveald that last year his vineyards cost $7000 a hectare to farm for yields of 30 hl/ha. The current Pinot Noir grape price is $2000 per ton, so Harald couldn’t sell his grapes and break even.
These wines were a bit of a mixed bag with some real highlights, and also some wines that didn’t quite get it right. But overall, there’s a lot of very good Ontario Pinot being made.
Norman Hardie Winery County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2014 Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada 10.9% alcohol. Very fine, bright and direct. Such lively fresh red cherry fruit with some fine spiciness and keen acidity. Finishes bright and with lovely purity. 94/100
Closson Chase Churchside Pinot Noir 2014 Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada Distinctive cola, tar and rhubarb edge to the cherry fruit nose. Lively, tangy palate with fresh red cherry fruit, some damson and some stewed plum. Juicy finish to this sweet and sour wine, but there’s appeal here. 89/100
Rosehall Run Pinot Noir JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2014 Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada Supple with sweet plum and cherry fruit. Quite elegant with plums, cherries and a touch of raspberry. Nice freshness and acidity here. 91/100
Pelee Island Winery Pinot Noir Reserve 2014 Ontario, Canada There’s some richness to this wine which has some spice and herbs as well as sweet plum and cherry fruit. Finishes a bit sweet. There’s a sweetly fruited richness to this wine, but it’s quite simple. 88/100
Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 St David’s Bench, Niagara, Canada
Supple and elegant with real finesse. There’s fresh red cherry fruit, a bit of plum, and a lovely stony, savoury core, coupled with good acidity. It’s light and expressive with some fine herbal, autumnal, dried leaves complexity under the fruit. Delicate. 93/100
Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2013 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagar, Canada There’s some sweet and sour character here, with tangy red cherry and raspberry fruit together with some savoury herbal characters. Some chalky unertones. Juicy with a spicy, savoury twist. 91/100
Tawse Winery Cherry Avenue Pinot Noir 2013 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada There’s a distinctive, bright, open red cherry fruit character here: it’s almost liqueur-like and seamless, but very fresh and fruity. Supple, berryish and quite elegant with nice fruit purity and good acidity. 92/100
Malivoire Mottiar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 Beamsville Bench, Niagar, Canada Some warm herby notes here. Quite autumnal and savoury with a warm spicy quality and supple cherry and plum fruit. Nice combination of sweet and savoury characters. 90/100
Hidden Bench Vineyards & Winery Locust Lane Pinot Noir 2013 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada Generously fruited, with good concentration, and also some elegance and freshness. Sweet black cherry fruit with some plums and firm, slightly grippy structure, as well as some bright acidity. There’s some savouriness here as well as the fruit. 92/100
Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Le Grande Reserve 2013 Niagara Peninsula, Niagara, Canada This has a really appealing spicy, savoury, slightly cedary character that integrates nicely into the cherry and berry fruit. The fruit is supple and fine with supple red cherry and plum notes. Real elegance and finesse here. 94/100
Trius Clark Farm Pinot Noir 2014 Four Mile Creek, Niagara, Canada Cedary, spicy and savoury with a strange, slightly musty edge. Fresh with juicy acidity that sticks out a little. Savoury and mineral. Grippy. 87/100
Inniskillin Niagara Estate Montague Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 Niagara Peninsula, Niagara, Canada Supple and fruity with a slightly minty edge to the fruit. Lively cherries and raspberries with some grippy structure. Lots of fruit here. Lacking elegance. 88/100