Wednesday’s Wow! – Generation Seven Gamay Nouveau 2012

Generation Seven Gamay Nouveau 2012 VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake is the Bosc family’s (Chateau des Charmes) take on ‘nouveau’ wine, and I think it’s definitely worth snapping up a few bottles.  After all, the holidays are almost here and this is a fun, celebratory wine to share with friends and family – it would also be a great accompaniment to Xmas turkey!

Nouveau Wine

‘Nouveau’ wine is sold the same year in which it is harvested, which means it finished fermentation only a couple of weeks before it’s bottled and ready for purchase.  It’s amazing to think that only 2 short months ago the Gamay grapes that were used to make this fresh, young wine were still hanging in the vineyard!

The ‘nouveau’ or ‘primeur’  style of wine was made popular in the Beaujolais region of France when Georges Duboeuf challenged other nouveau producers to a race to see who could be the first to get their newly fermented wine to the Paris market.  The race was a huge marketing success and in 1985, the third Thursday of November became the official release date of Beaujolais Nouveau.

Tomorrow, being the third Thursday of November, the Generation Seven Gamay Nouveau 2012 will be released at the LCBO, the winery, and the website, for only $11.95.  The label conveniently sports the wine’s own hashtag, #JeSuisARRIVÉ, so you can share your thoughts with others in the Twitterverse about this yummy wine.

Tasting Notes

This wine is bursting with red fruit aromas and flavours – including strawberry, raspberry, plum, and cherry – along with a hint of fresh herbs.  It’s soft and fruity and very quaffable.  Serve it slightly chilled.  This wine is meant to be enjoyed while it is still young and fresh, so it’s best if it’s consumed within a couple of months.

I suspect this Gamay Nouveau won’t last long at the LCBO, so pick up a few bottles to go with your Xmas turkey.  It would also pair well with salmon and trout, baked ham, hotdogs, pizza, and roasted chicken.

This wine was received as a sample.

The White Wines of Italy

Once known as ‘Oenotria’, or the ‘land of trained vines’, Italy grows an estimated 2000 different grape varieties and makes as much as 60 million hectoliters of wine a year. Much of the Italian peninsula is covered with vines, from the Alps in the north to the island of Sicily in the south. Many of Italy’s best known wines are red – Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti, Amarone, Super Tuscans, etc. – however, they also produce large quantities of very tasty white wines that are worth putting on your dinner table, as they are very versatile with food.

While the white wines of Italy tend not to be huge blockbusters, they can be very refreshing and food friendly. Most have subtle flavours and a good streak of cleansing acidity, and some can be quite aromatic.

Some Italian white wines to look out for are:

Soave DOC

Soave is a dry white wine from the Veneto region of northern Italy. The wines must have at least 70% Garganega grapes in the blend. Trebbiano di Soave, Chardonnay, and Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc) can make up the remainder. While some Soave is thin and dull, the best can be excellent. Garganega, when grown properly, can be both delicate and structured, with flavours of almonds, greengage plums, and citrus fruit with an alluring gentle spiciness. The best Soave comes from the Soave Classico region.

Pair Soave with fresh salads with slightly bitter greens such as endive, raddichio, and arugula. It can also be a great match with poached chicken and herbs, and linguine with clam sauce.

Masi Levarie Soave Classico DOC (LCBO 266221, $12.45) is a great value Soave currently available at the LCBO.   Pleasant aromas of white peach, melon, citrus, pear, almond, and white blossoms. It’s medium bodied and juicy on the palate, with a good length and a nutty finish.


Gavi was awarded DOCG status, Italy’s highest quality wine category, in 1998. The wines are made with 100% Cortese grapes. Cortese is favoured because of its ability to retain its zesty acidity, even in the hot summers of Piedmont in northern Italy, where Gavi is made.

Gavi can be an aromatic and fruity wine, with notes mineral and occasionally grass, with a clean citrus finish. It tends to be a fuller-bodied wine than some of the other Italian whites. Gavi can pair well with pastas with a cream sauce, grilled calamari with garlic, and Prosciutto wrapped shrimps.

Pio Cesare Gavi 2011 (VINTAGES 952523, $19.95) Juicy citrus fruit, white blossoms, and mineral.  Light-bodied and refreshing.

Fiano di Avellino DOCG

From southern Italy, in the region of Campania, Fiano di Avellino was promoted to DOCG status in 2003. The wine is made with at least 85% Fiano grapes with Trebbiano Toscano, Coda di Volpe, and Greco making up the rest of the blend.

The wines can have subtle aromas of flowers and spice with an attractive waxy texture. The best have the potential to improve with some bottle age.

Fiano di Avellino can pair beautifully with salmon canapes, and baby octopus salad.

Keep an eye out for occasional Vintages releases of Fiano di Avellino at the LCBO.  Currently, I could only find one Fiano di Avellino at the LCBO, Terredora Fiano di Avellino 2010,(VINTAGES 120048, $18.95), but  it may be difficult to track it down as there’s not much left.

Greco di Tufo DOCG

Also from Campania, Greco di Tufo is made with at least 85% Greco grapes and up to 15% Coda di Volpe. Greco has been grown in southern Italy for more than 2,500 years after being imported from neighbouring Greece. Slightly more aromatic than Fiano di Avellino, the best have aromas reminiscent of a good Viognier along with zesty minerality and peachy notes.

Greco di Tufo is a great match with raw shellfish, baked fish, and pasta with vegetable sauces.

Again, not much at the LCBO, but watch for occasional Vintages releases.


Falanghina is a high quality, ancient grape grown in Campania. It is thought to be the grape of Falernian, the prestigious wine of the ancient Roman Empire. The grape is used to make excellent dry and sweet white wines. The dry wines are usually vinified in stainless steel tanks and see no oak treatment at all. They are attractive, fragrant, and quite full-bodied, with aromas of white peaches, honeysuckle, green apples, citrus, and almonds.

Falanghina is quite versatile with food and pairs well with a number of seafood, poultry, and vegetable dishes.

There is still some Vesevo Beneventano Falanghina 2010 (VINTAGES 289538, $15.95) available at the LCBO.  Lots of lemon, grapefruit, celery salt, and white blossom aromas.  Light to medium body with a clean, bright finish.

This is a slightly altered version of an article first published on

Photo Gallery of the Mosel, Germany

Here are a few photos of my recent trip to the Mosel River in Germany. Click on any photo to start the gallery.

Weingut Lingenfelder – Pfalz, Germany

One of the absolute highlights of my trip to Germany was spending an afternoon with Rainer Karl Lingenfelder at his estate in the Pfalz wine region.  It was a very sunny day and almost unbearably hot – a stifling 38° C!  Rainer was warm and friendly and incredibly generous with his time and knowledge.  His tireless energy is contagious and he’s passionate about keeping German wine traditions alive.  He believes that German grape growers should concentrate on grapes traditional to Germany, saying that, “the world doesn’t need more Chardonnay.”  His business card sums up what Rainer believes the future of German wine should be – “The Age of Post Chardonnism.”  The Weingut Lingenfelder website describes Rainer’s philosophy as a vine grower:

“As ‘vine-farmers’ their pride and joy are the vineyards. Wine is ( or rather should be ) a reflection of its origin in both a cultural and geographic sense.”

The Pfalz, also known as the Palatinate, is located in the south-west of Germany, in the Rhine River Valley, just north of Alsace, France.  The region is the warmest, sunniest, and driest region in Germany – almost Mediterranean.  The climate is influenced by the river and by the Haardt Mountains, a continuation of the Vosges Mountain range, that lie to the west of this region.  The Romans were the first to bring winemaking to this area, giving the Pfalz a very long history of grape growing.  Several ancient Roman graves have been dug up in the area, inspiring the locals to construct a memorial to the Roman viticulturists high up on a hill surrounded by vineyards.  Rainer called it “The Tomb of the Unknown Roman Winemaker.”

We spent most of the afternoon bouncing from one vineyard to the next, where Rainer explained the different soils and various viticulture practices for each unique site and different grape variety.  The Lingenfelder vineyards grow a variety of grapes.  About 40% of the vineyards are taken up with Riesling, then there’s Spatburgunder at 20%, Scheurebe 10%, Muller Thurgau/Rivaner 10%, Dornfelder 8%, Silvaner 5%, Kerner 5%, and a very small amount of Portugieser (2%).

Back at the winery, we were shown around the production area.  Rainer stressed his winemaking philosophy.  “Wines are not made, they evolve.”  At Lingenfelder, they take a completely hands-off approach to winemaking – no addition of cultured yeast, no addition of bacteria for malolactic fermentation, no fining, no stabilization.  Rainer still uses a few large 100-year-old barrels to age some of his wines.  These barrels no longer impart any oak flavour, so they are usually used for the lighter style of wines.  He also uses some smaller barriques for the Spatburgunder.  Most of the oak barrels are made with German oak.

We tasted several Lingenfelder wines withRainer, including Riesling, Scheurebe, Grauburgunder, Dornfelder, and Spatburgunder. They were all well made and tasty. I was particularly interested in the Scheurebe (Shoy-ray-be) and Dornfelder as I haven’t had much opportunity to try these varieties before.

2009 Shoy Sheurebe Kabinett:  dry with aromas of spice, grapefruit, and a hint of peach.  A light and refreshing wine.

2008 Scheurebe Spatlese Trocken: notes of bees wax, honey, melon, and citrus.  Viscous on the palate with ripe fruit flavours and cleansing acid.  Quite expressive and bold with long length.

2005 ONYX Dornfelder Spatlese: Dark purple colour.  Lots of dark fruit aromas (including plum, black cherry, and dark raspberry), spice, and vanilla with a pretty floral note.  Sturdy and well-structured on the palate with firm tannins and good length.

There are a few bottles of Lingenfelder wines available in Ontario.  Check out HHD Imports for more details.

Weingut Stigler – Baden, Germany

I’m in day 2 of my trip to Germany sponsored by the German Wine Academy.  Right now we’re in the Baden region, exploring the many wines of this area.  A wide variety of grapes are grown here with a definite emphasis on the Pinot varieties (Blanc, Gris, and Noir), which are called Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder, and Spatburgunder here.  There is also a good amount of Riesling, and a number of other varieties – we’ve even tasted Swartzriesling (Pinot Meunier), Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot!

This morning we visited Weingut Stigler located in the Kaiserstuhl near Freiburg, the sunniest city in Germany.  It is situated in the south-east corner of the in the Rhine plain, facing the Black Forest.  The Vosges mountain range is to the west and can be seen in the distance.  One of Stigler’s best vineyards is the very stony Freiburger Schlossberg, perched on a 70° slope.  We climbed to the top of this vineyard, trying not to stumble or even look down as we went.  At the top, we were rewarded with some wines to taste.  A Weissburgunder, a Rose made with Spatburgunder, and a red Spatburgunder.  I have to say that, so far, I’ve been impressed with the quality and flavour of the Weissburgunders here.  I’ve tried several in the last 24 hours and have enjoyed all of them.

Interestingly, I found out today that Germany ranks 2nd in the amount of Pinot Blanc planted in the world.  It is number 3 in Pinot Noir plantings and number 3 in Pinot Gris plantings.

I’d write some tasting notes, but I have to rush off to taste more wine and go to dinner.  Tough life, eh?

Oh, by the way, this was lunch!

Variety vs. Varietal

Variety and varietal are terms that are used quite frequently in conversations about wine.  Often, there is confusion about which word to use – even among wine professionals.  In fact, it seems the term “varietal” may be one of the most misused terms in all of winedom.  But it’s not just when talking about wine – I recently heard a chef on TV mentioning different varietals of apples, and not too long ago, I saw a sign advertising “oyster varietals”.   So, what is the difference between variety and varietal, and how should these terms be properly used?


Pinot Noir grand cru BurgundyThe word variety is a noun.   When speaking about wine, a variety is a type of vine or a type of grape.  For example, Pinot Noir is a grape variety.  Many people will use the word varietal when they really mean variety.  Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine states that:

“Vine varieties are distinct types of vine within one species of the vine genus vitis. Different vine varieties produce different varieties of grapes, so that the terms vine variety and grape variety are used almost interchangeably. Each variety of vine, or grape, may produce distinct and identifiable styles and flavours of wine.”


The word varietal is an adjective and refers to a wine that is labelled with the name of the grape variety or varieties from which it is made.  According to The Oxford Companion to Wine:

“Varietal is a descriptive term for a wine named after the dominant grape variety from which it is made. The word is increasingly misused in place of vine variety. A varietal wine is distinct from a wine named after its own geographical provenance…. “

Wines that are named after the appellation or geological area in which they were made are not considered varietal wines. Most varietal wines are single varietal wines (made with just one variety), but there are some examples that may be blends of two or more grapes.  A few common varietal blends are Chardonnay/Semillon, Cabernet/Merlot, and Cabernet/Shiraz.  Varietally labelled wines are most common in New World wine regions, where they make up the majority of wines produced.  Some wine regions allow wines to be labelled as a single varietal even though they may contain up to 25% of another grape variety.

The phrase varietal character refers to the aroma and flavour characteristics typical for specific grape varieties, and is also known as typicity.

I hope this clears up some of the confusion.

A Visit to Fielding Estate Winery

Fielding Estate WineryPerched high on the Beamsville Bench in Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula, Fielding Estate Winery’s lodge looks like something that could be sitting on prime lakefront property on Lake Muskoka – from the tall gleaming windows along one wall to the row of Muskoka chairs lining the deck.  On a lazy, hazy summer day, you’d almost think you were there too, if not for the acres of vineyards surrounding the building and the glimmer of the Toronto skyline peaking at you through the trees from across Lake Ontario.

It was a beautiful, sunny day in mid-June when I drove along the winding driveway to the Richie Roberts, Winemaker at Fielding Estate Winerywinery to meet Richie Roberts, Fielding’s head winemaker.  I have enjoyed many Fielding Estate wines over the years, but I had never had the pleasure of meeting the winemaker before.  Following its opening in 2005, Fielding’s reputation rose quickly, and after winning numerous wine awards it was named in the Top 10 Wineries in the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards, just 4 short years after opening.  Riesling and Pinot Gris are their biggest sellers, but they also make top notch Gewurz, Viognier, and Chardonnay, as well as reds from Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah.

Richie, who joined the winery just after the 2007 harvest, is obviously passionate about his work and was happy to talk about the vineyards and his wines.  I inquired about the brand new rows of vines just beyond the deck.  Richie told me that they had just ripped out a patch of Merlot and replanted it with Riesling, a grape that fairs much better in the cooler climate high up on the bench.  Apparently, the vineyard surrounding the winery is mostly Riesling.  Another vineyard, not too far away, but in the appellation of Lincoln Mid-June 2012 vines at Fielding Estate WineryLakeshore, grows other varieties, such as Pinot Gris, Merlot, and Chardonnay.  They also buy grapes, especially Cabernet and Syrah, from vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Right now, the vines are about 2 weeks ahead of normal and had already begun to flower when I visited.  Richie was pleased with the progress so far this season, but admits that the weather is always a worry.  Fielding’s vineyards are not irrigated, but the only time this was a real problem was in 2007 during the few weeks of very hot, dry weather.  The clay soils do a good job of retaining moisture to keep the vines going.

View of the roof from the production area into the tasting room at Fielding WineryThe winery and tasting room are located in an award-winning ‘lodge’ that was designed with landscape and agricultural influences in mind.  The use of wood predominates in the building and I was very impressed with the one long gabled roof that runs from the tasting room right into the production space.  This very long span is made possible by the beautiful exposed beams that support it. The production area has state-of-the-art equipment, including computerized tanks and a climate-controlled barrel room.

Tasting Notes:

2011 Rosé: A blend of Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Syrah.  Overflowing with red berries and a pretty floral note.  Dry, refreshing, fun, and very quaffable! ($15.95)

2011 Chardonnay Musqué:  Made from Clone 809.  Pronounced aromas of ripe peach, apricot, melon, ginger, and a hint of cinnamon.  On the palate it’s off-dry with balancing acidity.  A nice summer wine! ($16.95)

2011 Estate Bottled Pinot Gris: About 15% was barrel fermented in old, neutral oak.  Aromas of baked apple and pear, citrus, and melon.  Round and juicy on the palate with a creamy texture and a pleasing fruity finish. ($21.95)

2011 Rock Pile Pinot Gris:  This Pinot Gris has longer skin contact than the Estate Bottled and about 80% was fermented in large, old oak barrels.  Tropical fruit, citrus and spice aromas dominate the nose. Rich and lush on the palate with cleansing acidity and a long length.  Excellent. ($25.95)

2010 Estate Bottled Riesling:  Fresh and delightful with aromas of lime, grapefruit, peach skin, and mineral.  Crisp, clean and off-dry (24 g/l rs) with a mouthwatering finish. Only 10.5% alcohol. ($18.95)

2011 Lot No. 17 Riesling:  Complex and aromatic, this wine shows lime, green apple, melon, dried mango, and mineral aromas.  The good dose of sugar (37 g/l rs) is balanced by the searing acidity.  Long length.  Only 9% alcohol.  ($25.95)

2010 Viognier:  Mostly stainless steel with some barrel-fermented juice.  Quite expressive with aromas of honeysuckle, tropical fruit, honey, and spice.  Good concentration on the palate with an oily texture and a very spicy finish. ($25.95)

2010 Chardonnay:  Barrel-fermented and aged 9 months in barrel (35% new French oak).  Aromas of ripe pineapple, smoky baked apple, and butterscotch.  A pleasant toastiness on the palate and a medium length.  ($22.95)

2011 Gamay:  The first Gamay to be produced by Fielding.  85% aged in neutral oak barrels.  A vibrant ruby colour with aromas of fresh cherry, raspberry and other red berries with a touch of spice.  Light enough to be served slightly chilled.  A great summer BBQ wine! ($17.95)

2010 Cabernet Franc:  This wine spent just over 1 year in barrel of which 30 to 35% was new oak.  A combination of French, American, and Hungarian oak was used.  Aromas of cedar, blueberry, roasted red pepper, and spice with a slight graphite pencil note. A good structure with smoky dark chocolate on the palate.  Fair value.  (21.95)

2007 Meritage: 65% Merlot, most of the rest is Cabernet Sauvignon with a small amount of Cabernet Franc.  Brimming with spicy, ripe dark fruit – dark plum and black cherry – chocolate, and ground coffee.  Big and full-bodied on the palate with firm velvetty tannins.  I think it’s drinking well now, but it could still use a few years in the cellar. ($44.95)

2007 Chosen FEW:  45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, and 14% Syrah.  Each wine was aged independently in a combination of new and older oak barriques and ‘hogshead’s, before being carefully selected and blended together.  A big, brooding wine with toasty caramel, smoky tobacco, dark plum, black cherry, cassis, and spice.  The tannins are still very strong and could use a little more time to soften and become more approachable.  Cellar 2 to 3 years before drinking – can easily last for 10 more years.  ($59.95)

Hine Cognac…Fine Cognac

Photo by Espen Klem @ flickr creative commonsFor almost 250 years, Hine has been making some of the finest Cognacs around.  The house was first established in 1763 in Jarnac, France by Thomas Hine’s father-in-law.  When his father-in-law passed away, Thomas, originally from Dorset, England, took the reins and worked hard to expand the company.  In 1817, Thomas renamed the company Thomas Hine & Co. after himself.  Unfortunately, he died of pneumonia a few short years later, but not until he had gained a reputation the world over for producing consistently exquisite Cognac.  Six generations later, the company is still a family run business, and remains faithful to the principles set over 2 centuries ago by Thomas Hine.  Their simple motto: “Produce little; but make it perfect.”  Since 1963, Hine has been the only Cognac house to have the honour of holding the Royal Warrant to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

What makes Hine Cognacs so special?

The House of Hine produces excellent blended Cognacs that are sourced fromPer Even Allaire, Hine's Global Ambassador fewer than 50 growers, all from the well-known Grande and Petite Champagne districts.  Hine is also acknowledged worldwide as the specialist in Vintage Cognacs.  A Vintage Cognac is made only in exceptional years, and only in limited quantities, which can explain their cost.  Hine is known for ageing their Cognacs much longer than legally required and longer than many other producers.

Hine also continues the tradition that began in the 19th century of sending a few casks of each vintage to England to age in the chalk cellars of Bristol.  Known as ‘Early Landed’ Cognacs, their different flavour lies in the climate, explained Per Even Allaire, Hine’s global ambassador.  Bristol has overall cooler temperatures that remain quite steady, and the humidity is rarely below 95%, resulting in less evaporation of the liquid than in Jarnac where the air is much drier and the temperatures fluctuate more.  As a result, the Cognacs aged in Bristol will be fresher and fruitier and may even have slightly floral notes .  Jarnac-aged Cognacs, subjected to more evaporation and oxidation, are rich and complex, with a distinctly woody character.

Timothy Hine & Co. CognacA Tasting of Fine Hine Cognacs:

Hine Rare VSOP Fine Champagne Cognac:  Fine Champagne means that it is a blend of Grande and Petite Champagne Cognacs, with at least 50% coming from Grande Champagne (not to be confused with the famous sparkling wine region, Champagne – a completely different place).  This is a blend of more than 25 Cognacs, the youngest of which has aged more than 6 years.  This is Hine’s most delicate Cognac with aromas of orange peel, caramel, and jasmine.  Mellow and smooth. ($86.15)

Hine Homage Grand Cru Fine Champagne Cognac:  A blend of three ‘Early Landed’ vintage Cognacs (1984, 1986, 1987) aged in Bristol and some extra old Cognac aged in Hine’s cellars in Jarnac.   Per Even described the Homage Cognac as being an introduction to a wider audience of the style of Early Landed Vintage Cognac.  Homage Cognac has fresh aromas of orange peel, ripe apple, and butterscotch. ($144.95. To be released at the LCBO September 20, 2012.)

Hine 1er Cru Antique XO:  Antique XO was first released about 100 years ago.  To celebrate this anniversary, Hine has made Antique a Premier Cru, a blend of over 40 Cognacs exclusively from the Grande Champagne region.  The youngest Cognacs in the blend are at least 20 years old while the oldest have been aged for several decades.  This opulent and delicious Cognac has complex aromas of rich caramel, baked apple, apricot, spice, sweet honey, and licorice.  ($226.75)

Hine Cigar Reserve Cognac:  Created in 1996 for the cigar connoisseur.  A blend of 4 regions: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, and Fins Bois.  Powerful and bold, Cigar Reserve has pronounced aromas of smoke, gingerbread, caramel, baked apple, and loads of spice.  ($129.95.  To be released at the LCBO September 20, 2012.)

Hine Vintage 1964 Grande Champagne CognacHine Vintage 1964 Grande Champagne Cognac:  This is a previously unreleased Vintage Cognac that was aged 25 to 30 years in barrel in the Hine cellars in Jarnac. Incredibly complex, a flood of aromas sweeps you away each time you nose it – chocolatey-caramel sweetness, an array of spice and baked fruit.  A soft and silky texture with earthy and spicy fruit flavours on the palate.  Very long and lingering and delicious.

Hine Triomphe CognacHine Triomphe Decanter Cognac:  The 50 or so Grande Champagne Cognacs that make up this blend were selected and put aside 50 and 60 years ago.  Exquisite and complex, this Cognac has soft and sweet aromas of vanilla, creamy caramel, and butterscotch, with candied orange peel, and a delicate floral note.  Round and lush on the palate with a smoky spiciness on the lingering finish.  ($830.  To be released on November 19, 2012 as an LCBO Classics Online Release.  Only 20 bottles available in Ontario.)

Ravenwood’s Joel Peterson – the “Godfather of Zin”

Ravenswood WineryRavenswood has a very simple motto: “No Wimpy Wines.”  Well, from the wines I tasted back in May at the Ravenswood Zinfandel tasting and summer BBQ (the food was prepared by celebrity Chef Rob Rainford) in Toronto, I can honestly say that these ripe, rich, full-bodied wines are definitely not wimpy.  They’re not your average simple Zinfandel fruit bombs either – these wines, especially the Single Vineyard Designate line, are flavourful and complex…dare I say even terroir-driven?

Joel Peterson, Winemaker

Joel Peterson, founder and winemaker of Ravenswood, started out as a clinical laboratory scientist and worked full-time as a cancer immunology researcher at a San Francisco hospital and dabbled in wine on the side.  Back in 1976, Joel brought in 4 tons of grapes to make two Sonoma County single-vineyard Zinfandels.  These were the first wines to bear the label of the winery that took its name from the ravens that taunted Joel as he toiled in the Joel Peterson of Ravenswoodvineyards.  In 1979, these same wines won first and second at a prestigious wine tasting in San Francisco, which helped Peterson recruit investors to get his fledgling winery going.  It wasn’t an easy ride, however, the winery moved around a lot in the early years, and it didn’t begin to make a profit until the late 80s.  In 1991, Ravenswood finally found its permanent home in Sonoma County.  It wasn’t until 1992 that Joel quit his job in the laboratory to concentrate exclusively on the winery and its wines.  Joel is now known as the “Godfather of Zin” for helping to turn the under-appreciated Zinfandel vine into a world-class grape.   He also makes Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot, and Chardonnay.

In fact, Joel didn’t know a lot about Zinfandel when he first started out.  He actually wanted his first wine to be a Bordeaux blend in honour of the French wines that he fell in love with as a young man.  Unfortunately, Bordeaux varieties were not easy to come by in California in 1976, except for Cabernet Sauvignon which was very expensive.  A colleague told him that Zinfandel is the “Bordeaux of California.”  So, Joel makes Zinfandel in a Bordeaux style.

In 2001, Ravenswood was purchased by Constellation for a cool $148 million – not bad for a guy who started with $4,000.  But, Joel did not ride quietly off into the sunset with his saddlebags full of cash, he became a senior vice-president at Constellation and he remains the winemaker at Ravenswood, where he continues to make “unadulterated, unapologetic, unfussy, unwimpy” wines.

Single Vineyard Designate Wines

Most of us are familiar with Ravenswood Vintners Blend Old Vine Zinfandel, but Ravenswood makes more than just this mass produced “Zinfandel with training wheels,” as Joel describes it.  Their top tier is the Single Vineyard Designate line.  The grapes for these big, bold wines are sourced from vineyards with old, low-yielding vines with soils that are ideally suited to the grapes that grow on it.  The wines have specific and consistently distinctive flavours that are unique to each site.

Ravenswood Chauvet Zinfandel 2008Ravenswood 2008 Chauvet Zinfandel: Not an official Single Vineyard Designate wine, but it does come from one small plot of land.  Aged 24 months in 100% French oak of which 30% was new.  14.5% abv.  Complex  aromas of blueberry, red currant, black cherry, spice, caramel, and chocolate, with a distinctive smoked meat character. Rich, thick, and lush with firm tannins and a long length.  The alcohol, while high, is balanced. ($59.95 – limited amounts) Paired with an assorted cheese plate.

Ravenswood 2008 Old Hill ZinfandelRavenswood 2008 Old Hill Zinfandel: 75% Zinfandel, 25% mixed blacks.  Aged 20 months in French oak, 34% new and 30% 1 year.  15% abv.  Intense aromas of ripe dark fruit – especially blueberries – vanilla, and chocolate.  Big and powerful on the palate with the very high alcohol resulting in a very warm finish.  The alcohol is quite noticeable. ($59.95) Paired with grilled beef and asparagus – a nice pairing.

Ravenswood 2008 Teldeschi ZinfandelRavenswood 2008 Teldeschi Zinfandel: 75% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah, 3% Carignane, 2% Alicante Bouchet.  Aged 20 months in French oak, 31% new and 30% 1 year old.  14.5% abv.  A powerful, yet very pretty nose of sweet, ripe, dark berries, black cherry, spice box, vanilla, and chocolate.  A very rich and generous mouthfeel with velvetty tannins and a very long length.  My favourite of the Zins! ($44.95 – not available until October 2012) Paired with fig with coffee infused mascarpone cheese – not in love with this pairing.

Ravenswood 2007 Pickberry Red Wine:  58% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon – a nod to Joel’s love for Bordeaux.  Aged 24 months in French oak, 40% new.  14.5% abv.  Overflowing with aromas of red plum, black currant, cedar, licorice and a touch of graphite pencil.  Full and dense with firm tannins and a long length.  Really good. ($44.95) Paired with charred beef tenderloin on crustini with coffee rub and Brie cheese – a good pairing.

Winemaker Joel Peterson and Chef Rob Rainford

G. Marquis – The Silver Line

G. Marquis is a new brand from Ontario’s Magnotta winery.  The brand consists of two tiers – the Red Line and the Silver Line.  Although I haven’t had the opportunity to try any, the website describes the Red Line as 100% VQA wines that are soft, fruit-forward, unoaked, and easy-drinking.  The Silver Line is the top tier and is made with hand-harvested grapes from the Stone Road Vineyard located in the Niagara-on-the-Lake appellation.  I recently sampled a few wines from the Silver Line – 2008 Chardonnay, 2011 Pinot Noir, and 2009 Vidal Icewine – and I was impressed.  These are well-made, tasty wines at very reasonable prices.

G. Marquis Silver Line Chardonnay 2008G. Marquis Silver Line Chardonnay 2008 VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake:  Aged for 6 months in French-American hybrid oak casks with a subsequent 16 months in stainless steel.  12.3% abv.  Good complexity on the nose for this price range.  Aromas include creamy vanilla, golden apples, tangerine, crisp lemon, some mineral notes, and a touch of butter.  It’s well-balanced with medium weight, cleansing acidity, and flavours of vanilla yogurt, butter, and yellow tree fruit.  The oak influence is light and well-integrated.  Medium length. There are still a few bottles available in LCBO’s Vintages. Good value at $16.95.


G. Marquis Silver Line Pinot Noir 2011G. Marquis Silver Line Pinot Noir 2011 VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake: 6 months barrel aging in new French and Hungarian oak.  13% abv.  A vibrant medium ruby colour, this wine shows aromas of cherry, red currant, raspberry, dried bay leaf, and a hint of smoky oak.  On the palate, it’s elegant and fresh, with medium body, bright acidity, and fine tannins.  The oak influence is there, but it is integrated and doesn’t overpower the Pinot Noir’s natural character.  This 2011 vintage will be released as a Vintages Essentials at the LCBO sometime in late summer or early autumn, but right now there are still some bottles of the 2010 vintage available at Vintages.  Again, good value. I’ve had much more expensive Ontario Pinot Noirs that I have not liked as much as this.  $19.95

G. Marquis Silver Line Vidal Icewine 2009G. Marquis Silver Line Vidal Icewine 2009 VQA Niagara Peninsula:  Aged for 6 to 8 months in stainless steel prior to bottling.  9.9% abv. This wine is a beautiful golden colour with intense aromas of sweet apricot, dried mango and pineapple, and sultana raisins.  It’s luxurious and rich on the palate showing honeyed apricot, citrus, and tropical fruit notes.  The high sugar level (204 g/L) is balanced by the almost searing acidity, resulting in a quite refreshing finish.  Serve very chilled.  Some bottles are still available at LCBO Vintages for $27.95/200 ml.

(All three wines were received as samples.)
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