In Canada: Niagara Falls


I’m in Canada, with younger son Louis. The reason? The National Wine Awards of Canada 2015, organized by WineAlign. I had so much fun being a guest judge last year that I’m delighted to be back. This time we are based in Niagara Falls. Louis will be helping behind the scenes while I judge. I’ll also be visiting some Niagara wineries.



What a place! On the one hand, we have the awe-inspiring spectacle of the Niagara Falls. They are huge and powerful and beautiful, and you can get really close. On the other hand, the town itself is like a bad theme park. 12 million tourists come here a year, and they don’t have high expectations when it comes to dining or entertainment. It’s incredibly cheesy and over-the-top.


The room Louis and I have is on the 19th floor of the Sheraton and it has fall views (the picture above is taken from our window). This is epic. I think we will have a lot of fun here.


Gamay Focus, 3 - Orofino 2013, Similkameen Valley, BC, Canada


For number 3 in this Gamay focus, we are heading to the Similkameen Valley in Canada’s British Columbia. It was served at a small dinner I attended last night in Niagara Falls, and of the several bottles served this was the first to be drained.

Canada does well with Gamay, but most of it is in Niagara. Out west, in British Columbia, there is very little of it, but in the cooler spots (like the Similkameen), this wine suggests that more should be planted. (Although, I suspect it isn’t he easiest to sell.)

Interesting fact: Orofino is Canada’s only straw bale winery.

Orofino Gamay Celentano Vineyard 2013 Similkameen Valley, British Columbia, Canada
This deliciously drinkable Gamay is the real deal, with more than a hint of seriousness. It’s bright, juicy and berryish with lovely fresh, detailed cherry fruit. Quite sappy and focused with lovely balance. 92/100

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Gamay Focus, 2 - Metrat La Scandaleuse 2013

metrat chiroubles

I’m going to begin focusing on Gamay a bit over the next few months, because it’s an underdog grape that really intrigues me.

So, here we go, with the first wine in this focus. [Actually, I may have to go back to the RPM Gamay I reviewed a few days ago and make that the first in the series. So this is Gamay focus, 2.] This is such a good wine. When I tried it, its vivid peppery black fruits made me think of the Northern Rhone. Well, it turns out that this wine was in previous vintages labelled as Cuvee Cote Rotie, which reflects its flavour profile but which is a bit naughty, so it had to be changed.

Domaine Metrat Chiroubles ‘La Scandaleuse’ 2013 Beaujolais, France
13% alcohol. Full cherry red colour. Sweet, slightly spicy, subtly meaty black cherry fruit nose with a peppery brightness. Almost Syrah-like. Serious, fairly dense palate with red cherries, raspberries, black cherries, a bit of pepper and some savoury herbal notes. Combines elegance and structure, with a lovely stony, mineral, dusty peppery spine. 93/100 (£14.50 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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Establishing geographic indications for wine

I’ve just written an article on ‘Developing Appellations’, which discusses some of the controversies and pitfalls surrounding the creation of geographic indications (GIs) in emerging wine regions.

Here are a few brief thoughts.

First, it’s quite useful to read this document on the topic from the World Intellectual Property Organization. It’s a broad look at the whole process, referring across a range of product types. The definition of a GI is as follows:

A geographical indication is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin.

Second, I think caution is in order before new GIs are created. Commercial incentives and local pride encourage the creation of GIs and this can over-ride the science and logic. The result? A profusion of meaningless GIs that confuse the public.

Also, controlling and mean-spirited people can punish people they don’t like by denying them the GI – this is especially the case when some sort of tasting panel is used. GIs can add more rules and form filling without any real benefit being derived.

Wine is already complicated enough. New GIs should only be created when it’s plainly obvious that they need to be because the differences in physical vineyard conditions create wines that are noticeably different. Even then, people should proceed with caution. And I also think that GIs should be linked to variety (or varieties) for them to make sense.

If you get a chance to read the longer article, let me know your thoughts.

Masi Toar 2011 Valpolicella

masi toar

This high-end Valpolicella, which until recently was labelled as IGT Veronese,  contains the well known Veneto varieties of Corvina and Rondinella together with rare, Masi-rediscovered variety Oseleta. Toar refers to the volcanic soils of the vineyards used to make this wine – from what I can gather it’s the local name for volcanic outcrops found here. It’s a striking, intense wine with plenty going on.

Masi Toar 2011 Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Veneto, Italy
13% alcohol. Lovely vivid, sweet blackberry, damson and plum fruit here, in this concentrated, lively, interesting Valpolicella. It has intense floral aromas and notes of tar and dark chocolate, as well as some ripe apple notes and a distinctive, very Italian, bitter damson twist. There’s a lot of flavour here. 92/100

UK agent: Berkmann Cellars

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Gamay focus 1, RPM, a serious Gamay from California

RPM Gamay

Gamay is happening. Officially. Here’s a really interesting one from California. RPM is a collaboration between Nathan Roberts and Duncan Arnot Meyers of Arnot-Roberts, and Raj Parr of Sandhi Wines/Domaine de la Cote. The concept is to make Gamay from granitic soils in the sierra foothils. Two vineyards are involved, both in El Dorado County. There’s Barsotti (granitic soil) and Witter’s (decomposing granite and volcanic clay-loam), both at altitude. These are, I believe, the only plantings of Gamay Noir in California (the old plantings labelled Gamay were actually Valdigue, an obscure but not unpleasant grape variety).

Winemaking is pretty traditional, with whole clusters, partial carbonic maceration and native yeasts. First vintage was 2011.

RPM Gamay Noir 2013 El Dorado, California
Sweet, fresh, appealing raspberry and cherry fruit. Savoury and quite mineral with nice freshness, and a deliciously sappy edge to the nose. This is quite lovely and elegant. 93/100

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Video: planting an Arinto vineyard in Vinho Verde, Portugal

A brief film showing an Arinto vineyard being planted in Vinho Verde, Portugal. It’s from Casal de Ventozela, which is one of the properties I visited in April when I was looking at the concept of single-variety Vinho Verde. This is old school vineyard planting: effective, but time consuming. You can get laser-guided machines to do the job too.

How to have a cool, happening palate

Scared of being labelled as an old-timer has-been with yesterday’s palate? Want to stay relevant in the modern world of wine? Want to be able to hang with the cool kids?

You have come to the right place. I’m here to help.

By following my essential guide to cool wine, you will be able to recalibrate your tired, and – let’s face it – out-of-date palate. Welcome to today, folks, because this is where it’s at in the world of wine.

So what’s in and what’s out?

First, let’s start with Bordeaux. Nothing gives away your age like a cellar full of Bordeaux. I’m afraid you are going to have to stop going to Primeurs, too. All those pictures of fancy Châteaux and people in sharp suits you post on your social media feed identify you as a definite has been. Bordeaux is only cool if it’s very old, or it’s obscure, or it is white. Left bank only allowed; there’s just too much spoof on the right.

Burgundy. Not a problem. You are allowed to like Burgundy, because it’s happening and small scale. But what might be even cooler is Cru Beaujolais. Gamay is tomorrow’s grape, especially if it is made quite naturally. Something to consider?

Jura and the Loire are both in, as is Alsace. Look for smaller producers, people doing biodynamics, that sort of thing. In the Loire, Chenin is seriously cool, as is Cabernet Franc, but even cooler still are Pineau d’Aunis and Cot. In Alsace, Riesling is super cool, and Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc gain points for surprise value. In the Jura, everything is cool.

Italy? Avoid the Brunello bandwagon. This could hit your reputation. It’s one of Suckling’s favourite regions. Piedmont is as cool as ever. Mount Etna is probably cooler still. Friuli can be pretty smart, especially if clay is involved.

That brings me round to clay. Anything that is fermented in any type of clay vessel, be they Tinajas or Qvevri or just plain old amphorae, is super-cool and you should probably be drinking it conspicuously or at the very least professing love for it on instagram.

Australia? Australia is full of some really cool wines these days, but beware, because there is a serious amount of uncool stuff there and you could confirm people’s worst suspicions that you are washed up and irrelevant if you get it wrong. Now nothing screams ‘has been’ louder than Grange, or anything from Penfolds, for that matter. It’s not that they are bad wines – and you need to realize that this is a theme running through all my advice – it’s just that the image is wrong. Besides, they’ve set their sights on rich dudes in Asia. Look at the ampoule wine: $100K and you have to have Peter Gago at your party to open it for you. Totally uncool. If you are going to get involved with Australia, then let it be with the cool guys: Mac Forbes, Ochota Barrels, Wendouree, Yarra Yering, Mount Mary, Ngeringa, Luke Lambert and so on. Be very careful.

Chile. You might be surprised, but you can drink Chilean wine and still be cool. Most Chilean stuff is a total no-no, especially if the word icon has been used in association with a wine. But there are now some cool guys. Check out De Martino for starters, or the crazy Tara stuff that Ventisquero are doing in the desert. But, as with Australia, exercise extreme caution.

California. It’s kind of easy in California, because although the spoof is everywhere, it is super-obvious. If you for a moment think that the big, high-points, spoofulated international-style reds that are so successful in Califonia are even vaguely drinkable, then there is little hope for you. Look for the In Pursuit of Balance crowd, or anything that Roberson Wine sell, and you’ll be OK. The uncool stuff in California is very uncool, but the cool stuff is super-cool. It’s a polarizing sort of state.

Time to talk natural wine. Natural wine is a sort of fast pass to hipsterdom, and so it’s something that you need to get into, and quickly. Natural wine transcends boundaries, so even uncool regions or grape varieties are suddenly cool when a natural approach is taken. The really smart take on natural wine is to be a little selective though, rather than just accepting all of them. But if you start mentioning the term ‘fault’ then you’ve gone too far and you have exposed yourself as a fraud.

Colour. If you like your reds dark and inky and your whites pale and translucent, then you’re pretty much a washed-up wreck, and you need to take action fast. Same is true if you insist on wines being bright and clear. Dude, pale reds are in. As are deeper coloured whites. And cloudy is good, not bad.

Grape varieties? Riesling is in, obviously, as is Chenin. Anything obscure is good: think Rufete, Bastardo, Counoise, Godello. For reds, Cinsault is super cool. Grenache can be both good and evil, depending on who makes it. Cabernet Franc is cool while Cabernet Sauvignon isn’t. Merlot remains uncool. Syrah is in while Shiraz is out. Nerello Mascalese rocks, and Mencia is brilliant. You get the idea. But remember: any variety is cool if it is made naturally by the right person.

I think that’s enough for now. I hope that this has helped start you on your journey from obscurity and failure to relevance and hipsterdom. I’m happy to have been some help.

The beginning of a new era: the 2013s from Reichstrat von Buhl

von buhl

I was really impressed by these 2013s from one of the leading Pflaz wineries, Reichstrat von Buhl. This large, important winery has recently made a fresh new start, and this was the first vintage of the new regime. Former Bollinger chef du cave Matthieu Kauffmann is now in charge of winemaking. He arrived in 2013, in time to oversee this vintage, and the results are excellent.

Reichsrat von Buhl Riesling VDP Gutswein 2013 Pfalz, Germany
12.5% alcohol. Very lively, bright and lemony with lovely purity and keen acidity. Hints of honey and lime. Bone dry. 88/100

Reichsrat von Buhl Forster Ungeheuer Riesling Trocken VDP Grosse Lage Riesling 2013 Pfalz, Germany
Very lively nose with grapefruit, melons, nuts and honey. The palate is lively and detailed with lovely lemon, grapefruit and mineral notes, but also with some melon and pear richness. Beautiful, complex and brilliantly balanced. 94/100

Reichsrat von Buhl Riesling Forster Musenhang Riesling Trocken VDP Erste Lage 2013 Pfalz, Germany
Lively, focused and very bright with a slight pithy edge to the lemony fruit. Linear and taut with high acidity. Needs time to broaden out and gain complexity. 91/100

Reichsrat von Buhl Forster Pechstein Riesling Trocken VDP Grosse Lage 2013 Pfalz, Germany
Incredibly taut and complex with distinctive grapefruit, melon, tangerine and pith characters. There’s freshness and depth in tandem here, together with a subtly cabbagey edge that isn’t unattractive. A complex, multidimensional Riesling with a distinctive personality. Dry but generous, this should age brilliantly. 95/100

Reichsrat von Buhl Spätburgunder Suez Rosé VDP Gutswein 2013 Pfalz, Germany
Pale orange/pink colour. Fresh red cherry, apple and pear nose. The palate is delicate with lovely elegant citrus and red cherry fruit, with good acidity. Linear and quite serious. 90/100

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More great rosé, this time a pair from Château d'Esclans

esclans rock angel

Following on from my glowing review of the Gassier 946 rosé, here are a couple more Provence examples worthy of serious attention. They are from super-ambitious Château d’Esclans, who make the world’s most expensive rosé, and probably the second most expensive, too. These new releases from them are quite lovely. Is it time to start taking pink wines more seriously? I think so.

Château d’Esclans Rock Angel Rosé 2014 Côtes de Provence, France
14% alcohol. This is the first year of this re-brand of what used to be the estate wine from Esclans. It’s aromatic, fresh and floral with lovely subtle herbal tones and notes of raspberry, tangerine and cherry. There’s elegance here, and also a bit of spicy warmth. Very textural, allying richness and freshness. 92/100

Les Clans

Château d’Esclans Les Clans Rosé 2013 Côtes de Provence, France
14% alcohol. Salmon pink with a hint of orange. Fresh, elegant and refined with lovely texture to the pear, spice and toast flavours. Quite warm and seamless with faint hints of cherries and strawberries, but this isn’t particularly fruit driven. Sophisticated but not intrusive barrel ferment characters, as well as fine fennel and herb notes. It’s quite hard to describe, because this isn’t a typical rosé, but it’s beautiful. 93/100

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